Monday, 31 December 2012

My New Year's Eve....

The Independent's online editor has posted a short piece today to say that New Year's Eve is his least favourite evening of the year because it's no more than a drunken "booze-fest." He is quite obviously right about the pointless drinking aspect - after all, who would deny that New Year's Eve is, for many people, no more than an excuse to get as pissed as a newt and pick a fight with the wife/husband/guy next door before vomiting on someone's carpet and crashing out in the bathroom? But unlike him (her?) I like New Year's Eve very much.

Not because I'm going to sink 5 pints and three-quarters of a bottle of Jack Daniels - I don't need an excuse to drink and I do in fact drink alcohol every day, although I mostly avoid excesses these days - but because, on the contrary, I'm going to stay at home, alone, drink my few beers as usual, and think. Bliss on a stick.

What I like about New Year's Eve is that it is the perfect moment for me to remain far from the madding crowd and take stock of who I am and what I have done this year, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It just seems natural to do that on this day.

The Good is that my first thought as a man of almost sixty is that I'm almost surprised to be alive to see this day to be honest, given the drug and other excesses of past years. Some of my fellow drinkers and drug users from the Seventies and Eighties are no longer around to read these words unfortunately, so I suppose I should consider myself lucky in a way.

It's also gratifying to know that I have not become cynical and blasé about people and life in general as the years have slipped by, although it could be fairly said that I'd have a good excuse for being very cynical indeed given some of the lousy hands life dealt me in the past. God, when I look at the 'Yours, Angry Pensioner From Tunbridge Wells' brigade I am filled with deep horror and I'm grateful that I am not like them and that nor shall I ever be.

It's been a good year for my professional life too. As a self-employed translator/interpreter/teacher in specialist fields I have finally built up a sizeable and faithful clientèle and no longer have to scrabble in the dirt and beg people to let me translate their latest Sony TV User Guide. I lead an intellectually fulfilling life and am glad about that. After all, concerning one's intellect - and as is the case for sex - if you don't use it you lose it.

Lastly in the 'Good' category, I have finally embraced the idea of getting older and can even say that I've never been as happy and confident in myself as I am now. It's taken some effort to get to this point and I can't actually explain how I managed it, but now I have there shall be no going back and I contemplate my future as an older person with optimism.

So much for the Good. Hmmm, the Bad. Where do I start. The big Bad concerns my continuing and stupidly stubborn à-la-Churchill refusal to give up drinking and smoking. I drink more than the 'safe' limit every day, and as the safe limit for cigarettes is 'none at all' I have obviously abjectly failed to make progress on this. It's very annoying and, even worse, my excuse - that I happen to enjoy both activities - is pathetic. I 'know' that they are detrimental to my health, even though I am not a major drinker and smoker, but yet I continue! Grrr...

Coupled to this is physical activity. I am probably fitter and have more energy than many people of my age, and I have remained slim too, but I have done less bike-riding this year than I did in 2011. Marks - 4/10. It seems that this is due in part to the fact that I spend more time on the Internet than I should and I must do something about that next year. Yup, more exercise and less alcohol, cigarettes and Internet is the way to go, so this MUST be worked on.

Another bad point is that although I have made big progress to curb an unfortunate tendency towards arrogance and condescension when discussing subjects like politics I still do too much of it. I have made some progress as I have managed to not participate in anything like as many political discussions as I did before, particularly if they veer into arguments, but still, things could improve. I mean, it's not as if I'm not aware of this failing. This bad habit also creeps into some of my blog entries here on politics unfortunately. I don't see it whilst writing, but only when I reread entries later, after I have posted them, although I do not change them because that would be dishonest. So, Fripouille Must Work Harder.

My almost criminally lazy approach to dealing with mail and personal admin is still a sticking point, as is my penchant for neglecting my finances. It's not as if I spend more than I earn - I don't finish the month in the red any more, like I used to - but maybe I should save more. Or maybe not. My jury's still out on this but....

Now the Ugly, and the good news here is that there is none. No serious spats with anyone I know and no intellectual or other forms of dishonesty vis-à-vis others either. Most of us have done some highly regrettable things in our lives, but the last few years have seen me avoid these pitfalls. Maybe that has to do with getting older too? Dunno, but let's hope next year is the same in this respect.

So there you have it. I shall be considering these and other aspects of my life in 2012 as the day and evening go by, and I shall be alone. New Year's Eve represents a chance for me to catch my breath and detach myself from the world a little in order to see what I did wrong and hope I can do something about it next year. I'll be on the Internet with a couple of beers in the fridge and hey, maybe even a bottle of champagne.

Finally, may I wish one and all a very Happy New Year and that you have a wonderful evening, whatever you choose to do with it. I'll leave you with a song. It isn't a New Year's Eve  song, I know, but still, it somehow seems to fit the occasion for me......

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Lyon's St Jean quarter

Today is the 30th of December and I don't know about you but I woke up this morning feeling that it was more than time that I went for a long walk to get some air, stretch my legs and shake off the effects of five days of drinkin' an' eatin'.

And so it was that I found myself in the St Jean area of the city this afternoon. This is, I have read, the biggest and oldest renaissance period quarter to be found in any major town in all of Europe, and that explains why it's full of tourists most of the year. So here are a few photos of it. Enjoy.

When you get out of the metro station you see this.

A place where people go in an' pray an' all that

It's the St Jean Cathedral. Now I'm not big on religion or anything but I readily admit that it's a wonderful edifice.

Then again, so is this. It's an English-style pub and it's a good one, because the boss and most of the staff are, actually, British, that which isn't the case for many other 'English Pubs'. St Jean has lots of British-style pubs which are full to the gills every night with the thousands of foreign students who live in the area.


These are typical of the colours used to paint the facades of buildings here....

People meeting to plot an overthrow of the government

I popped into this shop for a bottle of milk. That was a lie. What you are looking at here in fact is a photo I took of a miniature model of a shop which can be seen in St Jean's Miniature Museum. This minutely-crafted marvel measures about 16 by 12 inches. Yes, 16 by 12. Amazing!

"A pound of Granny Smiths please"
Lyon is well known for its 'Bouchon' restaurants, which serve simple but what-can-be-rather filling and fattening recipes. The best ones are not to be found here (it's a tourist area after all) and you need to reserve tables in advance in them, but still, St Jean has a few which are fairly reasonable and here are some of them. Not only that, and unlike France in general, which refuses to sell meals after 2pm and before 7.30pm, many restaurants in St Jean are open all day to cater to tourist (and mine when I want to eat at 3pm) demands.

Kilo-a-gogo restaurants

'All Aboard for Funtime', as Iggy Pop would say......

Not as good as bumper cars

This place looks like some cheap Hollywood sandwich bar, but it isn't. This is Chez René Nardone, an ice-cream maker which has existed since 1899 and set up in Lyon in 1924. See the people queuing up? Yup, they're queuing up for ice-cream on a day when the temperature is 15%. That's how good Nardone's ice-creams are.

"Un café liègois s'il vous plait"
I did say "full of tourists", and here they are. Still, locals go here often, even if they don't like to admit it.......

Why does everybody wear black? No, seriously.....

On a different tack for a second, it was just after having taken that photo that two young women approached me rather purposefully. I thought it was Christmas once again, of course. But then one of them asked me a question I have heard dozens of times since I grew my short beard. She asked "are you the actor who plays Doctor House?" Jesus, I don't even watch television so I have no idea what he looks like apart from the odd photo I've seen here and there, and having seen them I can't see too much resemblance, but oh well...

Anyway,  I stopped for a couple of beers after that, after which darkness began to fall. This is a picture taken from the nearby river Saône as I began to walk back to the metro station. You can see the Croix-Rousse quarter up on top of the hill.

Awww... innit pretty?
A splendid building this, and I love the silvery tones which have been chosen to illuminate it. It's the Palais de Justice and it's massive doors have witnessed may a notorious criminal, including Nazi butcher Claus Barbie.

Bad photo, sorry, but I've seen this young busker around town quite a few times over the last couple of years. He was singing 'Wish You Were Here' when I took this photo.

A lead role in a play.........

If only those walls and cobblestones could talk........

Time to go home, so back to the metro station with the cathedral. It had been lit up by this time.

 Lovely. Still not goin' in tho'....

That's St Jean. A tourist Mecca, a magnet for students, and an architectural treasure which is a must-see if ever you're in Lyon.


Saturday, 29 December 2012

Hollande's confiscatory '75%' and other milk the rich policies are getting their predictable commuppance

Hollande imitates a man of state
I think that rich people should be made to pay much higher taxes than they do now and that it's more than time that the markets, banks, hedge funds and all the rest of those money-spinning schemes for the rich should be taxed more, and I believe that tax rates on major companies (but not small ones) are outrageously low. Finally, I and most other people living in France would like to see Hollande succeed in taking concrete and efficient action to ensure these measures are taken.

But I also consider that waging an unfair, discriminatory and confiscatory - in other words illegal - fiscal war on any section of the population, including the rich, is not the way to go about taxing citizens in a democratic country, and nor is it efficient, as three recent examples have made more than obvious.

Hollande and his government have been ferociously intent on hastily and ill-preparedly trying, and failing for various reasons, to enact such laws ever since they came to power, and today saw Holland fail yet again as the French Constitutional Council threw out his most emblematic proposal, that of taxing the rich at 75%.

The Council rejected the measure for the very two reasons that most level-headed people have been saying it would for months. It was ruled to be confiscatory and thus illegal (the last time confiscatory laws of this amplitude were enacted was in World War Two during the Occupation of France, when they were applied to Jews only), and the Council also decided that it did not affect households equally because of its excessively one-sided effort to raise tax revenue. The council also refused a proposal for a 75% tax on complementary retirement pensions and two more minor measures because they too were confiscatory.

In other words, these proposed measures, which so pleased left-of-centre voters during the election campaign and thus got Hollande elected, have been reduced to political dust and the government will have to start all over again with a new and less discriminatory policy. That means we will have to wait for oh, four months at least whilst they go back to the drawing board and come up with something that is actually legal in constitutional terms.

Meanwhile, the rich will continue to pay more or less the current, much lower, rate of 45%. What a fiasco and what a waste of precious government time given the urgency of the need for tax reform. It was a ham-fisted effort to bludgeon discriminatory legislation into existence against all common sense which has already seen thousands of badly-needed tax euros disappear abroad with their owners. And the cherry on the cake is that even if they had gone through, these measures would have resulted in no more than a few hundred million euros of revenue - a drop in the ocean of the country's debt.

The second example of this administration's stubborn refusal to put its brain into gear before putting its mouth into motion concerns Minister for Industrial Renewal and polical loose cannon Arnaud Montebourg's attempt to renationalise a sprawling steelworking facility owned by the Mittal conglomerate and comprising several separate steel-related activities. He tried this on because he didn't like what the company's chairman was planning for the future, which he believed (wrongly as it turned out) involved massive layoffs.

This harebrained idea was also decided in great haste, essentially by Montebourg alone, and it too was judged to be potentially legally impossible because of its spoliatory and discriminatory nature. Not only that, both Hollande and PM Jean-Marc Ayrault were warned that it would send out a disastrous message to foreign investors at a time when France desperately needs them, so they put the kibosh on it and did what they should have done in the first place, which was to come to an agreement with the company's owners. Montebourg was furious and is now being touted as a possible contender for replacement in the next government reshuffle, particularly if he continues to decide policy alone and on-the-hoof, which is probably why we haven't heard a peep from him since then.

The third example involves housing the homeless, particularly during winter, and thus it was that Minister of Territorial Equality and Housing Cécile Duflot woke up one morning a few weeks ago to announce to a waiting world that she was going to implement a policy of government requisition of empty houses and business premises which have been empty for over 6 months and put homeless people in them. Brilliant! Except that it wasn't.

Most of this kind of property is owned by the rich or big companies, and as French law only allows this kind of measure in cases of 'national emergency' it soon became clear that it wasn't going to fly and that there may even be grounds under these conditions for the buildings' owners to contest the decision on the grounds that this situation is not a 'national emergency' and could thus be ascertained to be, yes, you guessed, spoliation. Again.

The government also realised, weeks after announcing the plan, that it was fatally flawed in many other areas. These properties would have needed massive investment (particularly office premises) to adapt them to human habitation, many of them are not situated in areas which are suitable for those who would live in them (too far from work sources and other facilities), the plan would have necessitated a whole infrastructure of administrative staff to oversee the project and select candidates etc and, most importantly, the procedure as it stands takes months. Even housing associations said that this was not a substitute for a housing policy.

All of which explains why a humiliated Duflot was forced to announce yesterday that she was abandoning the idea just weeks after coming up with it because the procedure would take too long as it couldn't be shortened without being unconstitutional and that "no senior politician can break into a building with a crowbar. The state is subject to the rule of law."

Another climbdown, another reversal, another waste of time which has pushed back efforts to help the homeless and another reason to think that this government seems incapable of creating policies which oblige the better off to help which are not totally over the top, illegal, and immoral.

It's high time this government abandoned its ideological hit-the-rich attitudes and began legislating not to please popular sentiment for relatively paltry sums of tax revenue but in order to do what is possible, as in legal. This government is wasting far too much preciously-needed time in its vain (in both senses of the word) efforts to legislate the impossible.

My dad used to say that "you're better off with 75% of something than 100% of nothing."

He was right.

Friday, 28 December 2012

In memory of those artists who took their final bows in 2012

I was born in the early Fifties, which means that my lifelong love affair with music began during the Sixties. It was arguably one of the most fertile periods ever in the development of postwar musical genres.

Many of those I loved and listened to at that time are now in their 60s and 70s, which unfortunately means that each passing year sees some of them take their final bows and leave their wonderful music behind them to be enjoyed by future generations. So here are five of the musicians who left us this year and who had a major influence on me in one way or another.

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of soul singer Fontella Bass. Born into a family of musicians (her mother was a gospel singer), her precocious talent persuaded her mother to take her on tour from the age of nine as a gospel singer and although she turned to soul music during her teens she never lost her love of gospel, to which she returned in later years.

Perhaps her best-known song, 'Rescue Me' was released in 1965 and became one of the best-selling singles that Chess Records ever issued. I was 12 at the time and that song opened my eyes to American soul and Tamla music, both of which I have loved ever since. She used her exceptionally agile voice to create some very complex and fast-moving triple and quadruple note combinations such as the first time she sings the word 'side' on the song, where she strings together four effortlessly-delivered notes in less than a second. 'Rescue Me' may well have been one of those cherished songs of mine which later led me to decide to become a singer. I owe her so much....

Another major Chess artist and gospel-blues-jazz (among other styles) singer to pass away this year, in January, was the enormously influential Etta James. Several of her ballads were major hits on both sides of the Atlantic and her immensely touching talent was rewarded by the industry on many occasions before she was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone put her in 22nd position in its 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list. Etta James' voice has inspired many fine singers over the years, including Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and Christine Aguilera.

It is difficult to pick just one song to illustrate her powerful and emotion-charged style, but her 1960 cover of the Mack Gordon-Harry Warren 1941 classic 'At Last' is one of my favourites.

You know how it is when you're very young and bow easily to peer pressure. I used to idolise bands like the Stones, the Velvets and Pink Floyd back in the Sixties and Seventies, so (and I suspect I was far from being the only one) I had to hide my love of the Monkees from certain of my more musically-polarised friends.

I fell easily under the spell of Davy Jones' happily infectious and almost naively optimistic voice during the years he spent with the Monkees and their lusciously addictive pop arrangements (the harmonies!) would stick in my head for days on end. As was the case for 45s by The Beatles I was the first in the shop to pick up their latest single.

Davy Jones, who died in February, was perhaps the only 'Teen Idol' whose work I identified with, and I still listen to Monkees songs today. Ah, wonderful memories....

Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb, who died in May, was also - and like Davy Jones - a teen idol. But unlike Jones, Gibbs had one of the most original and inimitable voices that modern music has ever produced and some of the Bee Gees' songs are timeless classics.

His extraordinary career lasted almost sixty years, during which he and the group became one of the biggest-selling acts of all time. His versatile voice could handle everything from melancholy low-key ballads ('Massachusetts', 'I Started a Joke') to high-octane falsetto disco blockbusters like 'Stayin' Alive' and 'Tragedy'..

Did I buy any of their music? No, I didn't (you have to count your pennies when you're young and you can't afford to buy everything) and I rarely went to discos either, but I was transfixed by the awesome quality of his and the band's music every time a song of theirs came on the radio. Robin Gibbs was one of the greatest of all great singers and one of the few whose music was able to persuade me to look outside of my established genres. The same goes for Abba incidentally.

I was one of those millions of youngsters who discovered the music of Ravi Shankar after George Harrison became inspired by it, and Shankar went on to become an instrumental figure in the West's discovery of Indian music and the sitar.

Some scholars of Indian sitar music were (and still are) critical of what they saw as his oversimplification of the genre, and although I can understand why they would hold that opinion, he was nevertheless an important part of my musical education because he taught me and many others to open their eyes to the fact that there was more to musical creation than simple guitar chords and Western musical scales.

The early Seventies saw me using drugs on a regular basis and I would often listen to his music whilst doing so. I went to many music festivals where drugs were freely available and was present at the 1970 Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music (Zeppelin headlined that one.) I was wandering around, rather the worse for wear, on the Friday evening when I came across Ravi Shankar sat in a little clearing in the trees far from the stage area, playing his sitar with a group of fans around him. Or should I say I think I did. Did anyone reading this go to that festival and if so do you remember seeing this impromptu and informal appearance, or did I just imagine it?

Those are just five of the talented performers who left us this year, but there are others too, most notably Whitney Houston, Scott McKenzie, Donna Summers and Earl Scruggs.

All of them and many more have enriched the cultural lives of countless millions of people over the years. May their music and its legacy live on, never to be forgotten.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

How many cars will be torched this New Year's Eve in France? Answers in January...

Manuel Valls
President François Hollande is expected to insist upon a government reshuffle in the New Year, and the names of up to half-a-dozen underperforming ministers - including PM Jean-Marc Ayrault, who has taken a lot of flak over the last three months - are being regularly touted in the press. One name has not cropped up in any predictions however - that of Interior minister Manuel Valls.

Valls is proving to be one of the most effective ministers in the current government. He enjoys the majority support of the public, including the grudging respect of a substantial proportion of those who support opposition parties, and his latest announcement is likely to further improve his popularity.

Reversing the precedent set by the last two Interior ministers he has said that he will release precise figures on the number of cars torched by vandals on New Year's Eve this year as well as the numbers of arrests for car-burning, and he justifies his decision by the reasoning that he does "not want to give the impression that I am hiding something" Valls' courageous decision is to be applauded.

The burning of cars on July 14 and New Year's Eve has been a national sport for French vandals for many years, and each year would bring its lot of statistics for the press and public to mull over. It became apparent over time that gangs of vandals in many French cities were very well aware of the substantial press and TV coverage which was being devoted to their antics, and this inspired them to redouble their efforts to burn as many cars as possible in attempts to to get even more coverage and enjoy the kudos of being the most successful car-burning gang in the country. Videos of cars burning were commonplace on Youtube and Daily Motion, with many of them going viral in France.

Things changed under Nicolas Sarkozy however, and his Interior minister Brice Hortefeux announced in 2010 that no figures would be given for that year's July 14 or New Year's Eve celebrations in an attempt to starve the vandals of publicity and thus reduce the 'incentives' for burning as many cars as possible. But he did, as promised, give the global figure of cars burnt in France during 2010 as soon as his ministry had collated the data, in January 2011. That figure was a whopping 43,701.

Claude Guéant replaced Hortefeux shortly afterwards and he went even further than his predecessor. Not only did he give no figures for days of celebration he went back on his promise to announce a global figure for 2011 when he announced that year's crime figures in January 2012.

This tactic allowed the government under Sarkozy to sweep the figures under the carpet and pretend that the phenomenon didn't exist. And because it didn't exist officially, at least in statistical terms, almost nothing was done to find out why it was so widespread, and nor was anything done to address the social and other problems which had led to it in the first place. This policy was much like that which still prevents detailed figures being given on phenomena such as racism. The reasoning goes that if governments have no figures to defend or explain they would be dispensed from the dirty and difficult task of actually having to do something to address the problem.

That is why Manuel Valls is right to be taking this bold step. It may appear to be a risky move but if it leads to a two-pronged effort to make many more arrests whilst at the same time doing more to address why the phenomenon is so widespread it will surely pay off in the long term.

Monday, 24 December 2012

It's a sick, sick, facepalm world...

A compact automatic machine pistol. Which make? Who cares, it kills. Unfortunately...
Permit me if you will to copy-paste some of the content of a press article I just read about the recent killing spree in Newtown in which 20 children and six adults died;
"On the heels of the deadly shooting tragedy in Connecticut, parents' anxiety is driving a surge in sales of bullet-proof backpacks, in the hope the armored bags can give their kids a safety edge, AFP reports.
For under $300, the company Amendment II -- a play on the Second Amendment to the US constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms -- is selling a boys' pack with Avengers characters on it and a Little Mermaid one for girls.
"Sewn into the rear of the pack, you can always be confident that the armor hasn't been accidentally left at home and that you or your child are protected in case of the unthinkable," the company says.
"It is an awful thing -- you would never imagine your child with this kind of stuff -- but since the Newtown tragedy, our sales are more than 10 times better than usual," said Richard Craig, head of the Utah company.
He refused to give precise sales figures, and his company also makes a less-costly bulletproof insert.
Amendment II is among a handful of companies that have seized the moment to offer protective gear for US schoolchildren whose parents arguably feel more vulnerable than ever.
Another company, BulletBlocker, is offering inserts for $150-200 that slip into a backpack like a book -- but with a different purpose.
"Light, easy to use, it is as big as a book" says Elmar Uy, vice president at the New Hampshire company.
He said that since Friday, sales were up by 40 percent to 40 inserts a day.
"We don't guarantee anything," he stressed. "It is just peace of mind, security for parents."

This is really sick. These companies are selling prettily-packaged self-protective armour to the parents of schoolchildren at a profit by playing upon their fears. And parents feel obliged to buy it. And nothing is being done about why this situation exists.

No but seriously. Are Americans just supposed to accept this reality? Just what the hell are they and their president doing?

More fun and games skullduggery in French politics and a very Merry Christmas!

George Bush's brothe...sorry, Jérôme Cahuzac
During the last few months we have witnessed the long-running and amusing Cope-Fillon own-foot-shooting-into spectacle which has revealed how the French right cheats in its own internal elections, we have been ROTFL at the bitchy actor catfighting spat antics during the Depardieu tax exile episode, and we are now front-row viewers of yet more proof that French politicians and their flunkies-hangers on seem resolutely intent on imitating a bunch of drunken clowns running round a minefield.

So are you sitting comfortably children? Good. Then we'll begin.

This instalment features a Socialist called Jérôme Cahuzac, and he is the latest victim of the muck-rakin... 'investigative journalism' site Mediapart, which is much-feared in political circles because of its bad-boy habit of dropping politicians in steaming vats of the proverbial.

Mediapart alleged in a recent edition that Cahuzac had a dodgy-looking Swiss bank account at the UBS bank for many years before political circumstances made him decide to move his money to somewhere even harder to trace - a bank in Singapore. Cahuzac vehemently denied the story, and that's not surprising of course, particularly when one knows that he just happens to be the current Junior Budget Minister at the Economy Ministry and that he puts himself across as being the incarnation of budgetary rigour and fiscal incorruptability. Oh dear. Hollande, who has always wittered on about not accepting wideboy geezers in his government, was embarassed, although he didn't sack/hasn't yet sacked him.

All very straightforward so far.

The most crucial piece of evidence that Mediapart has obtained is a recording of a phone message allegedly left by Cahuzac on a friend's mobile phone during which he discusses the UBS account. The trouble is though - the story goes - that he had *ahem* 'inadvertently' phoned the wrong number and left the message on someone else's phone. Hmmm.. Cahuzac is heard to say among other things that;
"What pisses me off is that I still have an account open with UBS. And UBS isn't exactly the most hidden of banks."
And who was the unintended recipient of the message? Well well well and looky here, it just happened to have been an old political opponent of his, the former right-wing politician (now retired from politics) Michel Gonelle. He must have been as happy as a pig in shit to hear the eminently compromising news. He decided to keep it under his hat for future use if necessary and we'll get back to him further down the page.....

Enter another protagonist in the form of Cahuzac's wife, Patricia, who is in the process of getting a divorce. Her lawyer however turns out to be the sister of political cheat and current usurpateur of the UMP presidency Jean-François Copé, and she, as (bad) luck would have it is also strongly suspected of opening a Swiss bank account back in 2005. The thot plickens.

Still keeping up? I hope so because it's not over yet by a long chalk.

So, back to Mediapart and the question of how they got the information and recording on Cahuzac. Take a bow Mister Rémy Garnier, a rather shady private investigator who was hired by Patricia Cahuzac to inquire into her husband's business and other dealings. And, by another dazzling coincidence, it just so happens that Garnier would be more than happy to see Jérôme Cahuzac chucked out of the government and into the nearest Job Shop. Because he has a grudge against him.

Garnier was a senior tax inspector back in the late Nineties when he was sent to investigate the tax affairs of a company called France Prune which, the reader will be surprised to learn, used to deal in, well, prunes. (Someone's got to do it I suppose.) Garnier recommended to his bosses that France Prune (try typing it. A pound to a penny says you won't be able to stop yourself sniggering) be wound up because of its poor finances. Trouble was though that the company was in the town of which Cahuzac was mayor so, fearing job cuts in his community, he used his political influence to get Garnier's appraisal of the company expunged. Garnier, it is said, was not a happy bunny when he found out that his superiors had overriden his conclusions.

Meanwhile, Michel Gonelle (do try and concentrate children, he's the guy upon whose phone Cahuzac erroneously left the compromising message about the UBS account) denied at first that he had ever received it, never mind given it to Mediapart, but he then changed his mind and said that he had given a taped copy of it to a famous former investigating magistrate in charge of counter-terrorism affairs. AND YES I AM BEING SERIOUS!

His name is Jean-Louis Brugière and he promptly denied ever receiving the recording, as one does. Then he, like Gonelle, changed his mind and admitted that he had received it but that he had "never listened to it" because he, as "an ethical man" found Gonelle's account of how the message landed on his phone to be suspect. This, of course, is pure poppycock (I like that expression - 'pure poppycock') and if the thinness of his excuse could be compared to the thickness of ice on a pond it would be so thin that were an ant to walk upon it it would fall through into the water to a forlorn and freezy death.

(Is anyone still reading this I wonder? Probably not. Oh well, ever onwards, ever onwards....)

But why, even if he had heard the tape, would Brugière wish to destroy the ministerial career of Jérôme Cahuzac by sending it to Mediapart? Easy-peasy according to Gonelle. It also just-happens-to-be-once-again that after leaving the magistrature Brugière entered politics as a Sarkozyst and attempted to get himself elected to parliament in the 2007 legislative elections. But it was not to be, alas and alack, because he was defeated by a Socialist candidate, who was...wait for it... no other than...guessed yet?....yup, the man 'imself, Jérôme Cahuzac! You couldn't make it up could you, and nor have I.

That's how things stand as of now, with Cazuhac's wife, Gonelle, Garnier, Brugière and others all having excellent and credible motives for wanting to see Cazuhac dipped in deep doo doo, but what about Cahuzac himself? What has he been up to in his attempts to deny the existence of the account?

The first thing he did of course - and I say "of course" because French politicians are inordinately fond of doing this - was to instruct his lawyer to begin proceedings against Mediapart for libel. But the press and its dog began noisily asking why Cahuzac didn't do what many others in his situation have done in the past in similar circumstances, which was to use a perfectly straightforward standard banking procedure for Swiss banks which allows people to ask the UBS to formally confirm in writing that they have never had an account with them. Cor blimey, said Cahuzac, "that will nail Mediapart's mouths shut!"

But strangely, very strangely, strangely strangely even, enough though, the bank declined, citing 'procedural difficulties'. "Which procedural difficulties?" the press predictably retorted, refusing to give up its bone. But they have not yet received a clear answer to that question.....

So there we have it. A murky mucky Byzantine saga of intrigue, double-dealing and lies that, had it been written by a political fiction author, would have been laughed out of every publishing house in the world because of its totally implausible plotline.

But it isn't implausible, it's real. It's 'la vie politique 'à-la-française'. You gotta larf innit.......


Finally, may I wish all my billions of readers a very Merry Christmas Day, and I'll leave you with a short video I took a couple of days ago of some pretty Christmas lights under a beautiful dusk sky.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

President works during Christmas shock horror outrage scoop!!!!

The good people of France have been formally informed that their President shall actually be working and available over Christmas, presumably in case a nuclear was breaks out or a mass killing takes place in the Paris Metro.

He "won't be taking a holiday " say his minions.

Oh. I see. And I'm supposed to be grateful that the President  of the country I live in is actally doing the job he was elected to do without taking a few weeks a year off to go to Club Med?

Thank heaven for small mercies....


Empty Room

This photograph was taken by the highly symbolic and artsy-farty pretentious but oh-so-morally-tragico-jubilant self-flagellating genius and modern master of post-fururist Surrealism an' 'ighly-clevah'-an' all that photographer, the friend with whom I am investing (as a minor partner) in a two-house property in the country (more here). It needs renovating and she borrowed my small digital camera today before going there to see how the work was going and plant I-don't-no-what kind of tree with her mother. Or something.

What you see here is a photo she took of the inside of her place, stripped down to basics. Waiting for the renovations to begin.

If Andy Warhol or someone had taken this photo they'd have been paid a fortune for it.

Worthless and wonderful. Just as good photos should be.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Never mind the rich, France is forcing its young and poorer talent into fiscal exile too

Get Out!
The French government's reaction to Gérard Depardieu's self-imposed fiscal exile to Belgium has revealed what many commentators have been saying for some years now - France is a country which doesn't like itself any more.

That a Prime minister and members of his government can violently criticise a rich man who quite rightly - and legally - seeks to save himself from a vindictive witch-hunt against the country's rich in the form of what amounts to mafia-style racketeering is bad enough, but that he does so by trying to stir up populist and socially-divisive sentiment by saying that they are 'shabby' is almost criminal.

The government is hiding behind a fig-leaf of 'economic patriotism' which laughably assumes that people should love the country more than their own well-being, but nobody in his right mind sincerely believes that, nobody ever paid taxes for patriotic reasons, and the bald fact is that this administration has gone further than any other to stigmatise those who succeed in life.

To his credit, François Hollande has now recognised that this tactic has backfired badly and he is desperately back-pedalling in an effort to counter the negative message France is sending not only to its own talented entrepreneurs but also - and more damagingly - to foreign investment. But the damage has already been done and a lot of France's richer citizens are leaving the country.

Most French governments of the last 40 years have adopted divisive tactics to resolve economic problems. Immigrants have suffered systematic official and unofficial discrimination and no real effort has been made to integrate them, old people with low income have been neglected and forgotten, the principles of equality and freedom were ditched years ago and now it's the turn of the rich to become the scapegoats.

Scapegoats is what French govenments do best to avoid taking the heat. French politics was hijacked a long time ago by a gerontocratic elite which has shut down all meaningful debate, concentrated all the power in Paris and confiscated official figures on sensitive subjects, and turned French politics into an antidemocratic farce, as Fillon and Copé have just shown. Governments have piled up debt to buy off the voters with no visible results and France's exceptionally high unemployment rates have persisted for years because they are an inbuilt feature of an economy which refuses to become competitive an a fast-changing world.

The result is a country which has no faith in its leaders and no faith in the future. Pessimism and blaming others have become national sports, jealousy reigns, and no country in the world takes so many antidepressive drugs in a vain effort to combat its doom-and-gloom outlook.

Of all the losers in this sorry mess however, none have lost more than those who constitute the country's most vital resource - its young people. Unemployment for 18-25-year-olds is in excess of 25% with lower rates in affluent 'white' areas and rates as high as 60% in some immigrant areas, and the current generation shall be the first since World War Two to have lower living standards than their parents did.

It's not surprising then that young people are leaving France in ever-increasing numbers, and, like their rich elders, they are moving to Britain and other Anglophone countries, Belgium, the Far East and anywhere else where they may earn a decent living.

And the backlash is picking up speed. In a scathing attack on their own country and its unwillingness to create real jobs, members of 'Barrez-vous' ('get out!'), an association which offers advice for young people who want to leave France published an article in Libération with the headline 'Young people of France, your salvation is elsewhere: Get Out!' which began with the words "Young people of France, this is not an incitation to fiscal evasion, but to evasion pure and simple."

Other, similar, websites are springing up all the time, and the press is publishing more and more articles written by young people who have found success in other countries. Non-whites often express their relief at being judged on their talent and not on their skin colour, particularly in Britain and the United States, and most agree that they have more options for the future abroad than they did in France.

Britain is a particularly popular destination, to the point where London's French population of 400,000 makes it the 6th-biggest French city in demographic terms (I wrote more about this here.) That explains why so many French politicians go there to press the flesh during elections. Needless to say, having to beg for almost half-a-million votes in a foreign country, and Britain in particular (quelle horreur!) represents a humiliation for France.

I see this phenomenon often in my own life too, and I know a lot of younger people who have either left France or plan to do so. They include my two nieces, one of whom has been depressed since she came back from a year of study in London to complete her studies here. She, like many others in her position, finds France to be an unappealing place with few prospects and she intends to move back to London as soon as possible.

The facts are undeniable but this government, like its predecessors, refuses to recognise them. And, like its predecessors, the only 'jobs' the government are able to 'create' are what they call 'Jobs for the young'. They are nothing of the sort however. They consist of activities like standing on metro platforms to 'help' users get on and off the trains. As if people need help to get on or off a train! They are soul-destroying, a waste of time, and worse still a waste of public money because those who accept them are paid a pittance by taxpayer's money, so not one cent of wealth is being created. That is how the government treats France's young people.

But young people are now voting with their feet in revolt against their humiliation by a government which cannot see that they are, or should be, the country's future.

So, Messrs Hollande, Ayrault and others, having stigmatised the rich for all the country's woes and having called one of them - and by implication all of them - 'shabby' for having left this execrable mess, is your next target to be the young?

After all, they are also leaving the country in ever-increasing numbers so are they too - and just like the rich - 'shabby'?

Friday, 21 December 2012

Bernard Tapie is back in business in Marseille

Bernard Tapie (left) with journalist Alexandre Delpérier
Marseille and France are still trying to measure the impact and implications of the business renaissance of one of the country's most colourful and controversial characters and you can almost feel the panic.

Bernard Tapie, who has what could be politely referred to as a chequered past record as a businessman and dabbler in politics, has just bought out one of France's most important regional papers, the Marseille daily La Provence, in a deal worth fifty million euros. The deal also gives him control of several other, smaller, papers in the South of France.

A flamboyant risk-taker, Tapie made his name and fortune in the late Eighties and Nineties as a troubleshooter for failing French companies who was known as a ruthless operator who did not hesitate to slash jobs if he thought it would increase a company's value to the point where he could sell it at a profit.

The high point of his business career came when he bought Olympique de Marseille football club in the mid-Eighties and subsequently took control of Adidas France. He then changed tack and became involved in politics, and his persistance paid off in 1989 when he became the socialist MP for Marseille. This success led him to be appointed as a cabinet minister in François Mitterand's government on condition that he sold off several of his holdings, including Adidas, but he lost that job in 1983 when the left took an electoral drubbing.

It was at this point that his luck began to run out. He was found guilty of match-fixing and witness coercion as Olympique de Marseille's owner in 1993 and was widely suspected of being behind massive financial irregularities which almost bankrupted the club. More bad news followed when he was investigated for subornation of witnesses and complicity to corrupt, and he was jailed for two years in 1995. His private yacht and expensive furniture were sold to help pay off his debts.

But his troubles were far from over and he was prosecuted for tax fraud before being declared personally bankrupt and banned from football. No longer the man with the Midas touch, he scratched out a living for a few years as a TV show host, a writer, an actor, co-starring in a Claude Lelouch film, and he recorded a song with French rapper Doc Gynéco. The political left shunned him because of his shady business dealings and he hit rock bottom.

The pendulum finally swung back his way in 2008 when he won a long-running court battle over the purchase and sale of Adidas and was awarded 285 million euros by the courts. Tapie was flush with cash and back in business.

Which leads us to the present day and his debuts as a press magnate. Owning newspapers has proved to be a stepping-stone to political success for several French business personalities, and it is this possibility which is leading Marseille's business and political communities to wonder just what his long-term plans may be.

Tapie has made many political and business enemies over the years and, as a man who is known to hold a grudge, there is growing speculation that he may use his new found power to get his revenge for what he considers to be past injustices.

The journalists at La Provence see his move as a potential job threat because of his stormy past relations with the paper's editors, and it is feared that he may get his revenge by asserting his authority over it, firing journalists he doesn't like and imposing his own editorial line.

This in turn is worrying local politicians, many of whom consider that he may use his position to relaunch his political career with a bid to become Mayor of Marseille in upcoming elections in 2014. The implications of this could not be clearer for his many political enemies on both the right and the left, and it can also be assumed that some of those businessmen who are currently enjoying the fruits of their business collusion with politicians are also fearing retribution should he succeed in becoming elected.

Their worries are understandable, and they were aptly summed up by one local Green politician, Sébastien Barles, who is afraid that Tapie "is bringing us closer to Berlusconi-style Italy, where affairism, press control, personal control and money are being mixed together in a cocktail which is putting our democracy in peril."

Is Barles exaggerating? Nobody knows at this stage of course, but one would be foolish to forget one of Tapie's most infamous quotes;

"Why buy a newspaper when you can buy journalists?"

Indeed, and now that Bernard Tapie is in a position to buy not only journalists but their papers as well, it would be wise to be wary...

Monday, 17 December 2012

Psychobabble, the deep malaise in the French teaching profession, and the doctor's advice

No pupils....and no teacher
I read an article on L'Express a few days ago which related the recently-released results of a study carried out by a research team from Bordeaux into the incidence of work-related "burnout" among young French teachers. The article included statistics on the phenomenon as well as an analysis of its psychological characteristics and how they manifest themselves.

Here is an extract which describes the three symptoms of burnout identified by the study;
"Emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation of relations with pupils - the teacher can no longer express empathy and can even express cynicism and rejection vis-à-vis pupils - and an absence of a sense of accomplishment in his or her work. [...] The evolution of depersonalisation and emotional exhaustion demonstrates an upward tendency. [...] Burnout increases or at best remains constant over time and teachers are not able to break the downward spiral of the resources they need to teach."
To be perfectly honest I thought all that was totally over the top, psychobabble, pseudo-scientific, call it what you will.

After all, not all teachers suffer from burnout, far from it, so what this study reveals in simple and non-psychobabble terms is that some young teachers discover after beginning their career that they are not suited to teaching after all for reasons such as a) some children are extremely unruly, disrepectful, even violent and the teacher can't handle it, b) the teacher is frustrated at the lack of teaching facilities which hinder the progress of pupils, c) The job is more time-consuming (marking homework after work, extra-curricular events etc) than had been anticipated, d) (and I know someone in this position) the teacher is appalled by the negative opinions expressed by senior colleagues about pupils and children in general as well as their penchant for taking days off under pretexts they admit to be false in teachers' room conversation, e) other, and f) any combination of them.

In other words, my reaction was "Let's call a spade a spade here. If you don't like teaching or aren't suited to it well resign then and do something else godssakes!"

I almost put up a post here to that effect but something stopped me from doing so. I felt uneasy about what I had read. I was bothered by something I couldn't put my finger on. So I bookmarked the article in my 'may come in useful one day' file.

And it came in very useful three hours ago after I read that a French teacher hung herself today in her classroom during the lunchtime break. She had recently restarted work after being off sick for a year and had been off work sporadically before that. The reason for these absences was said by the state investigator to be her "excessive tendencies."

Needless to say I was horrified by the news, particularly as this is not an isolated case. I can recall reading about several similar cases over the last year in which teachers have committed suicide at work. One particularly terrifying incident involved a teacher who poured petrol over herself in front of her pupils and others in the playground and set herself alight. She died where she fell.

It would be safe to say that many of those who commit suicide must be in deep emotional distress, and in even deeper distress to be driven to the point of doing so in front of children.

So I reread the survey conclusion I quoted from above to see if it would help me to understand what was going on and that reminded me of the recent (ongoing?) two-year spate of suicides at France Telecom which began after the company imposed a highly aggressive market-oriented marketing policy and more demanding working conditions upon its employees. The press has published details of every suicide and each time it has done so it has added a slew of 'analytical' articles by/interviews of psychologists, psychiatrists and other 'experts', many of whom use the same kind of jargon-ridden language as that used in the Bordeaux study.

Then I reread this post I wrote a while back about the exceptionally high suicide rates in France.

I have no definite conclusions to draw from all this but I can't help thinking that there is something very unhealthy going on here. Okay, the world of work is getting harder, and okay, it's hard to change jobs these days, but at the risk of appearing insensitive isn't all this obsession with concepts such as "depersonalisation", "emotional exhaustion", "inability to express empathy" and "cynicism and the rejection of pupils" to describe job dissatisfaction rather overdone, fatalist, negative and apt to foster in teachers and others feelings of psychological/psychiatric inadequacy or failure which may lead to depression?

Researchers and mental health specialists have valuable insights to offer into why people find their working conditions difficult of course, and their data is valuable. But where is the positive counseling support? Why are teachers so cynical about their work? Where is the research which offers ways of combating depression in the workplace? Why do we only talk about the downside and never about how to improve things?

The answer to those questions are to be found in French hospitals. I did some research on pain management in French hospitals a few years back after meeting a French pain management specialist who informed me that France only started implementing the concept in a serious manner about 15 years ago, many years after its adoption by Northern European and Anglosaxon countries.

His opinion was that Latin and Catholic mindsets and what he called their "inherent acceptance of the inevitability of pain, suffering and guilt" had hindered progress in this field of medecine for decades.

He may be right, and if he is his words may offer some insights into why so many teachers seem to accept the 'inevitability' of what ails them.

And from there on in, suicide becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy...

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Gérard Depardieu isn't the only 'shabby' individual in France

"Who art the shabbiest Sire, ye or I?"
Gérard Depardieu is (was?) one of France's best-paid actors. His long career has seen him perform in 170 films and pick up two Césars for best actor as well as a Goden Globe for best actor and many other awards at film festivals around the world. The other side of the coin is his fiery personality and reputation as a heavy drinker, which have often led to some rather unflattering headlines along the lines of 'Depardieu urinates on floor in airliner/punches a photographer/crashes his scooter whilst drunk.' In other words, he is a rather singular man.

Enter the Hollande administration with its promises to tax the rich at 75%, introduce stiff new taxes for businesses and adopt a populist anti-rich stance, all of which were designed to extend Hollande's 'honeymoon period' after being elected. This policy has resulted in an exodus of wealthy French businessmen and others, who have left for kinder economic climes, taking their money with them and thus rendering the whole exercise relatively self-defeating. But no matter, the hunt for the rich is on and the government hopes that the public will notice and approve of its actions.

Depardieu joined the long queue to leave and eventually bought a house in a small town in Belgium just next to the French border. His decision resulted in a barrage of criticism from the government which reached boiling point last week when PM Jean-Marc Ayrault called his actions 'rather shabby', and incensed Socialists are now calling for people like Depardieu who leave the country for tax reasons to be stripped of their French nationality and made to pay a hefty 'exit tax.' Hollande has even gone so far as to bully his smaller Belgian neighbour and ask it to start taxing its rich residents more heavily.

Depardieu finally responded to the heavy flak today in an irony-laden open letter in the French press in which he denounces Ayrault's remarks, says that the government's anti-rich policies are punishing "success, creation and talent" in France and angrily declares that  he's sending his French passport back to the government in protest, giving up his French nationality, and forfeiting his rights to Social Security aid.

Now I am no fan of Depardieu believe you me, be it his acting or his personality, and his actions do indeed remind one of 'rats leaving the sinking ship' but this affair does at least have the merit of cristallising the ugly undercurrent of venimous class sentiment which has begun to permeate French society over the last year or so.

Things were bad enough under Sarkozy, when the country almost had a nervous breakdown so obssessed were the French about the polarising effect he was believed to be having on the country. This is why the French didn't so much elect Hollande as evict Sarkozy. They would have voted for your alcoholic neighbour as long as he or she was anti-Sarkozy.

But the atmosphere has become even worse since, and the current administration seems to be intent on using the rich as their whipping boy, their scapegoat for all that is wrong with the country. Of  course the rich deserve some stiff scriticism as well as more taxes and stricter laws on finance - after all, we're all paying more so why not them? - but the current and heavy-handed clumsy witch-hunt approach is not working, the public knows it, and it won't extend Hollande's honeymoon for long.

Take the vindictive words of the government's class-warfare militant and Minister for Industrial Renewal Arnaud Montebourg who, during the recent negotiations over the future of the Florange Steelworks and its jobs, acrimoniously declared that the company who owns them, Mittal, "was not welcome in France", that it "lied" habitually, that it owed "astronomical' sums of money to the taxman (without offering any evidence for either) and that "we don't want Mittal in France any more." He went on to unilaterally announce that the government would renationalise the site.

Montebourg and other ministers have shown a similar disdain for other large companies and rich individuals recently, but Montebourg's latest cack-handed outburst proved to be too much even for this government and president, who disowned his words for fear of a negative backlash from foreign investors, both current and potential.

The last thing France needs right now is to scare off investors by declaring full-scale war on them and the rich in general. This shabby rabble-rousing tactic is already blowing up in their faces and the government will regret it before next summer.

So where's the opposition, whose job it is to act as a democratic counterbalance to government? They are nowhere to be seen of course because their actions are just as shabby as those of their opponents.

The UMP has been hijacked by Jean-François Copé, its self-proclaimed leader who only sits in the party president's chair because of a blatant fraud perpetrated by his henchmen during the recent internal party presidential election. This man is arrogantly defying the wishes of the 80% of his party members and about the same percentage of the public who are demanding a rerun of the election. He is a political bandit whose banana-republic mentality is a disgrace not only to his party but to French politics as a whole.

Not that the Socialists can criticise them too loudly of course (and they have been wise enough not to moreover), because their own party leader was not even 'elected.' He was quite simply parachuted in as the head of the party by a troika of top Socialists who designated him during an hour-long secret meeting in some office or another in the parliament building. No internal election, no opportunity for rank-and-file members to express their preferences. If that's not shabby behaviour I don't know what is.

But perhaps the most illustrative example of boorish behaviour in French politics during this government's tenure came on the very first day of the new parliament, a day upon which all elected parliamentarians are held to respect the parliamentary tradition which demands that they all shake the hand of all first-time députés during a special welcoming ceremony. But they shamefully refused to follow this tradition of common courtesy and refused to shake the hands of the only two Front National députés in parliament, both of whom had been elected for the first time.

That was a disgrace. Make no mistake, I have no truck for the hateful policies of this, an extreme-right wing party, but whether we like it or not these two French citizens were given their parliamentary mandates by other French citizens in a free and open election, and all politicians in any civilised parliament owe it to those who voted for them them to respect the democratically-expressed decision of the people and refrain from ostracising legally-elected political opponents in such an insulting manner.

Yes, Depardieu's behaviour is reprehensible in some respects, and yes, tighter fiscal laws and control for the rich and big business must be introduced, and quickly, but when one looks at who is giving them lessons on civilised and respectful behaviour the only word which comes to mind is 'hypocrisy.'

The French word for 'shabby', or 'pathetic' is 'minable', and I can't begin to count the number of times I have discussed French politics, multinational business practice and tax-exiling rich elites with friends and others only to hear 'minable' used to describe them.

No wonder then that just under 80% of French citizens declare in polls that they are sick to death of the behaviour of their political and other elites, and no wonder either that the Hollande-Ayrault tandem has reached the lowest level of popularity of any administration since the beginning of the 5th Republic.

'Minable'? They all are, the whole lot of 'em, and I wouldn't trust any of 'em as far as I could chuck 'em.....

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The world ends on December 21 so should we cancel our Christmas turkey orders?

Where can I catch a space ship outta here chrissakes?!!
Well that's that then I suppose and that'll teach me to buy my Christmas presents early instead of waiting for Christmas morning as usual and seeing what the shops in my local train station have left on their sadly depleted shelves.

Anyway, there I was a couple of days ago, minding my own business and happily wrapping the presents in godawfully gaudy paper (it's the only kind there is apparently) when a friend phoned. After we had arranged to meet at the end of the week for a drink he casually asked "Did you know that Christmas is cancelled this year? In fact the whole of the future of the world has been cancelled." "And why would that be prithee?" I asked, my curiosity aroused. "Because the Mayan calendar says so. It says that the whole world will end on December 21. That's it. Basta. Game over, we lose."

So I went on the interwebs thingy and googlised it to check and lo and behold he was right! The Mayans did predict doomsday for December 21, 2012. They said that an intergalactic planet would smash into Earth on that day and kill everyone yessiree ma'am (tips hat.) Trouble is that I find that to be highly inconvenient to be honest as I had planned to play a gig in the New Year and so I don't feel like being vaporised into oblivion by some angry god or other. Besides, I'm not even religious so I have no original sins to pay for. So I thought it may be worth seeing if I could find a way to escape this unfair and vaporisory fate just in case it happens. Back to the computer to do another googlethingy then and, praised be The Lor.. Liverpool FC, there's a village in France called Bugerach (Pop. 179) which has a mountain where if we go into one of its grottos we'll be saved from Armaggedon. Yup, I read it in the papers.

It must be true because flight bookings to that part of France are up by 41% for that week, and that's just reservations by Brits. Surely they can't all be wrong? New Agers say there are extraterrestrials hiding in the mountain in an 'alien garage' in the mountain who will take us away from Earth if we go there. There's just one thing bothering me though because the article also says there's another mountain, in Turkey this time, where other Doomsday predictors say that the extraterrestrials will be waiting for us there instead. Hmmm, time for another Googlisation to find out more.

Oh dear, it would appear that hotels in a sleepy little town in Serbia are also being beseiged by people who want to book rooms there. The village is also near a mountain, and Predictors of the Apocalype there are also saying that if we go there we shall be saved. Oh Come. On. Just how am I supposed to know which is the right mountain? Maybe if I do a little Yahoogle or two I'll find a few clues.

From bad to worse I'm afraid. Not only do I find that there are villages all over the world with mountains nearby who say we'll be saved if we go there, I am also beginning to see articles by people who think it's all bunkum. Really? Are they sure? Be that as it may, nobody can be absolutely sure so as I can't afford to go to China I'll just find out more about Bugerach and if they're offering any cheap package deals.

I'm thoroughly confused now. The Mail Online (which, as we all know, never sensationalises news stories)  has an article on Bugerach. I'm reading it now. It says that I can rent a house there for €1300 a night. Bloody 'ell, that's a bit steep innit? But there is another option, which is to camp in a field whilst waiting to die. Price - €350. Sod that for a lark. Still, I could while the time away by eating a new local speciality called an 'Apocalypse Pizza' whilst getting as drunk as a newt on half a dozen bottles of a new issue of local plonk they have called 'End of the World Vintage'. On the other hand, if I feel like saving my money for when I get to the other side and staying sober I could always drink a bottle of local spring water for just €18. Not much in the way of cheap food though, just a local stone from the mountain for a mere €1.50.A bit crunchy but 6 of them should leave me feeling quite full.

Hey but wait a minute, further down the page it says that the local mayor says I won't be welcome If I go.. And it says that the local county prefect says he's fed up with local people trying to rip off gullible hippies, dropouts, spiritualists and other varieties of illuminati by flogging them tacky rubbish at extortionate prices. And they're drafting in the army to stop too many people from entering the village. In fact they even say they're actually going to stop people climbing the mountain on D (for Destruction) Day.

Worse still, the government and various other bodies are warning of the danger of mass suicides like the one a few years ago in France when some guru's End-of-the-World prediction turned out to be wrong. Then there's what happened at Waco in the United States, where 76 wacky Davidians and various other End-of-the-Worldist men, women and children died in a fire they themselves had started.

It's beginning to look like the whole idea of me going to Bugerach is a bad one. I mean, what's the point of going all that way just to be stopped from going up the mountain on the 21st and being saved? I'd be really fed up at the sight of the blessed intergalactic spaceship taking off with those few lucky ones who had managed to get through the army cordon undetected. Besides, watching disappointed sectists committ mass suicide isn't exactly my idea of fun, at least not often. Not only that, I'd look like a right silly bugger if the world didn't actually end. After all, what would my friends say?

Tell you what, after weighing up all the pros and cons of this End of the World palaver I've finally decided that I'll stay at home that day and take my chances. And I'll order a turkey tomorrow. After all, even if I do wake up on December 21 to see a Saturn-sized 60 trillion ton ball of fire hurtling straight down towards my apartment from a fire-filled sky I'll have other things to worry about than the money I'd wasted on my turkey...

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Le Musée des Confluences - Lyon

What on earth is this?! The front of a massive space vessel during its construction maybe?

Front end of a space vessel under construction

And what about this??!! Could it be that the hand of god has picked up an enormous pile of steel girders and crushed them in his mighty grip before letting them fall to the floor in a tangly mangly heap?

God did this. Naughty boy....

What you are looking at in fact is the construction of the future (and futuristic) Musée des Confluences in Lyon. The museum being built just down the road from where I live, at the point at which Lyon's Rhône and Saône rivers converge before flowing south towards the Mediterranean Sea.

Here's a short video of it from the West side. It reminds me of an aircraft carrier...

...and here it is from the East side.

It is quite a spectacular sight and if you want to know what it will look like when it's finished go here and you will see that it will be a wonderful building. Also, the Musée des Confluences has an informative website with lots of information (in French) about the project, including (as I discovered whilst having a quick look around) the news that the biggest crane on the site is capable of lifting 33 tons, which is the weight of one of the elements to be hoisted and installed.

I can't wait to see the 'finished product', which I'm sure will be beautiful, but I thought I'd post these pix and videos of the edifice as it is now for the record because it crossed my mind that even if they decided to stop work on it tomorrow and leave it as it is it would nevertheless be an engineering masterpiece as well as a work of art. A massive and majestic statue which perfectly illustrates the imaginative capabilities of the human race.