In a car, this town appears to be flat. But get on a bike, and suddenly there are hills everywhere. I’ve just freewheeled down a dangerously steep one. Had a vehicle been coming the other way, my bike and I would have been total right offs. But we were lucky and the roller coaster decent proved exhilarating!
Things I appreciate about France include – health food supermarkets, the organic movement, free education, grants for students from low income families, accommodation for low income students, MJCs and music conservatoires in every sizeable town, organic wine, cheese, diversity of landscapes…. Things France could do with – flexibility, entrepreneurialism, thrift stores, general joy!
Beware, not of Greeks, but neighbours bearing gifts. The offer of dead apple trees has led to hours of chopping and stacking wood. But it’s free, it’s recycling, and I’ll be glad of it this winter. Disappointingly, my log piles look nothing like those in Lars Mytting’s book of Stacking Wood the Scandinavian Way.
Long after midnight I left the party, drove my glasshouse-on-wheels car into unknown hills, parked on a ridge. Billowing clouds scudded across a recently full moon and windstorms rocked the car till dawn. Sunday began with a ravishing Aude landscape, painterly sky, choreographed crops and absolute peace.
The friends who’d been dancing till three were up and breakfasting by seven, cheerful, chatty, full of laughter. Except for G., who’d flown a thousand miles only for the cruel and battering disease that’s dogged her for decades to incarcerate her in a darkened room, vomiting, surrounded by pills, believing in hell.
The first lake I found allowed camping and fishing but not swimming. (Why not?) The second was a vast emerald-turquoise inland sea, a well-kept secret. I hired a canoe, paddled to an island and swam in agreeably warm water. More complicated, the return journey, wind and currents strong, a welcome challenge.
I drove home, not on motorways but country lanes, navigating by the sun’s shadows (until the storm broke!). French landscapes are richly diverse, often dramatic. I drove through villages with strange and improbable names, saw hoopoes, bounding hares, hovering kites and a hen running in circles round her cluster of chicks.
Visiting childhood friends a thousand miles and several decades from where we grew up. Effortlessly we pick up where last we left off, talk about people we all knew long ago. There’s invariably a startling new revelation, something to laugh or fall silent over. Good food, good wine and suddenly we’re in cars driving back to the present.
We went kayaking again on Sunday. The summer so hot, I didn’t think to check the weather. We were dressed for sun and it poured with rain. Soaked and frozen, spirits nevertheless high, we laughed a great deal on our descent down the Averyon. Another fabulous day, messing about on the river.
Many years ago, in the early ‘90s, colleagues at the Royal Shakespeare Company spoke passionately of the right – the need – to fail. Failure often gives rise to our best work. Fear of failure kills creativity. I first worked in theatre before corporate sponsorship forced so much of it to be tame, chocolate-boxy, predictable.
Heavily made up creatures in pink dresses and fake tans spout “ intemperate, idiotic, illiberal” nonsense on what passes in America for news. Good to read one of their number, Janine Pirro, was suspended (albeit briefly) by employers Fox News after an anti-Islamic outburst. A practising Catholic and vociferous Trump supporter, Pirro (whose family came from Lebanon) still calls immigrants “invaders”.
Amélie Nothomb’s Stupeur et Tremblements is a terrifying portrait of hierarchy in corporate Japan. The Belgian author lived there as a small child, thought of it as home, and so returned. Serving coffee during a meeting one day, it’s clear she speaks perfect Japanese. This simple fact triggers her downfall. And down she falls, into the abyss.
The worst thing about Years and Years (HBO/BBC) – a depressing depiction of post-Brexit Britain – is that it’s not far-fetched. Each terrible scenario – political, social, private, environmental, technical – seems credible. So what hope do we give our children? How do we empower them to stand up to hatred, intolerance, mass surveillance, lack of freedom?
Seth Meyers says Trump has “always been a racist, he’s always been a con artist, and he’s always been a conspiracy theorist.” the Republican fundraisers sum up American politics: “a paranoid president spreading unhinged racists conspiracies while raking in millions from mega-rich supports who don’t care, so long as they can line their own pockets.”
August 2019. People are paying $250,000 a ticket to dine with their deranged President whose latest conspiracy theory has the Clintons bumping off Jeffrey Epstein in jail. To put a quarter of a million dollars in perspective, four years ago, 71% of the world’s population were living on under $10 a day.
Engrossed in a book I gave my older son of Tolkien’s drawings. Tolkien the philologist early learned Old English and Gothic (Latin, French, German…) & invented many languages of his own – the foundation stones of his mythologies. But he was also a gifted artist. Drawings, maps, calligraphy and alphabets illustrate how rich the worlds in Tolkien’s mind.
Peter Gumbel’s essay On Achève Bien Nos Ecoliers (translated as They Shoot School Kids, Don’t They?) outlines very clearly the problems of the French education system; the ruthlessness, negativity and humiliation that causes so much suffering and failure. He writes of a culture that will give 0/20 without batting an eyelid, but never 20/20 for excellence.
On the worktop a satisfying display of jars containing compote of apricot, rhubarb, cherries, fig. In the garden I dig up kilos of potatoes and try to rescue runner beans from the heatwave, strawberries from ants and lizards and harvest a handful of raspberries. Soon there will be plums and almonds. Yet how I miss London.
It can be frustrating that fear – particularly fear of competition – holds so much creativity in check. Healthy businesses are great teams, and the best teams are made up of diversity: of skills, personalities, experience and strengths. So often in the corporate world though little is done to build, maintain, foster ensembles.
Adventures in Human Being and Shapeshifters: two amazingly good reads by an Edinburgh GP. Seamlessly Gavin Francis weaves medical practice, anecdote, literature (ancient & modern) and myth into riveting illustrations of the inter-connectedness of things. His reference points are as wide as his CV – he’s visited all seven continents and worked in India, Africa and Antarctica.