Avant La Deluge

Before the plunge into the home straight, launching our Cradle of English and its platform of podcasts in celebration of the English language, we took out a week to relax. Only the one week, this summer being as busy as it is, but it has been very much the proverbial change that’s as good as a rest – even with the grey skies and thunderstorms that have punctuated our seven days in the Cevennes, in the south of France.

It is hard to imagine an expanse and a moment as contrasting this much with the compact intensity of Fleet Street over the last six hundred years. In the time it took to transform a language from a minor European orphanage of noise into the pre-eminent linguistic powerhouse of the world, this vast arboreal French fastness of granite and greenery has simply, powerfully, quietly existed – conferring with its bird choirs, drowsy afternoon tinklings and midnight callings of owls a keen sense for its transient human population of what is meant by eternity.

There is no need down here for a notion of celestial heaven (although for many down here, it exists): but the Cevennes manifests it here, on Earth.

But in Fleet Street: ahh, what transcending excitement awaits. If the Cevennes is one of those places on the planet where one can indisputably say that there is the most beautiful “there” there; what makes Fleet Street special is that, for six centuries what has distinguished that place is that there, anything is possible. And there, people would write that anything down, and publish it. It is no wonder that we should have taken to describing the area as the Silicon Valley of the sixteenth century.

Two of the most significant requirements of any entrepreneurial culture are that it incubates best in a place that is conducive to its growth; and in an area where there is a clear market for its product – ideally a clear need too but, in many instances, a clear market will do. And the longer these conditions apply, the more quickly a momentum builds so that a third factor kicks in and, in turn, sustains itself.

People gravitate to the place from increasingly large distances, eager to join in the fray and the frenzy for the simple reason that so many other people have done it, and are continuing to do so.

We return to London tomorrow to oversee the launch of www.cradleofenglish.com. The site will provide a testing bed and launch-pad for a library of podcasts charting the development and spread of the English language.

But it will engage also the potential of modern technology in crafting new ways of looking at language, how that language serves as an engine of culture, how it moves people as a species to overcome primal promptings and articulate new definitions of light, and of heaven. It is curation in the most active sense: consolidating and memorialising, for sure, but growing too: towards and beyond eternity.