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In reference to their appearance today at the anti-terrorism rally in Paris, Reporters Without Borders singled out leaders from Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates as being responsible for particularly harsh environments for journalists. These countries rank low in a list of 180 countries in terms of press freedom.

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Linking arms in an act of solidarity, more than 40 world leaders joined the start of a march in Paris today, when over a million people converged to demonstrate defiance and unity after terrorist attacks that left 17 people dead – perhaps the largest demonstration of its kind in this country’s history.

326

Ahmed Merabet was the first police officer at the scene of the Charlie Hebdo attack. His brother Malek reminded France that the country faced a battle against extremism, not against its Muslim citizens. “One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Mad people have neither colour nor religion,” he said.

325

Looking at images of the troops involved in the manhunt for the Kouachi brothers, I was struck by the irony that vast numbers of similarly armed, highly trained troops and helicopters were recently deployed to survey local environmentalists protesting at the destruction of 11 hectares of local wetland.

324

Bizarrely, while on the run after gunning down 12 people, Cherif Kouachi was interviewed by BFMTV. Asked if he had killed “des civiles” (civilians) or “des journalistes” that morning, he replied “We are not killers, we are defenders of the prophet, we don’t kill women. We kill no one. We are not like you.”

323

One of the things I love most about France is that people actively care & immediately demonstrate against injustice, denial of the democratic process, attacks on civil liberty.  Within hours of the horrific murders of satirical cartoonists, throughout the country hundreds of thousands of people gathered at candle-lit vigils.

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Abandoned and maltreated as a child, Marcel Storr was, by day, a road sweeper in Paris. And at night, a self-taught re-inventor of the world, visionary painter of architectural masterpieces.  Deaf & illiterate, he kept his work secret. In Paris, in 2012 – 35 years after his death – 12,000 people flocked to an exhibition to discover his extraordinary paintings.

321

The phone Santa brought is not programmed to speak French, yet autocorrects the texts I write in French. A fact I latched onto only after sending utter gobbledygook to several bemused friends who must be wondering if I made too merry over the festive period & why I sign off with “buses” or invite them to “noir in the”.

320

We’re about to land and suddenly a Virgin jet appears directly beneath our plane, balletically gliding in the same trajectory. Excited, I lean over and tell my sons, but the older child mishears. He thinks I’ve seen the Virgin Mary…

319

Best of days, Thanksgiving is a festival every nation would do well to adopt. One day a year, when we down tools, gather round us those we love, share food and give thanks. Top of my list this year (after the Arts, my friends & sons, good health & a home) is Laughter.

318

I took a mental snapshot of my local landscape, convinced nothing could be so beautiful – & yet for the second week running I’m flying into London on a beautifully sunny morning marvelling at the splendour of England’s ridiculously pretty patchwork fields, which always mysteriously appear to disappear on landing.

317

Noises you can hear on my street at 3am are: a solo tawny owl call, joy riders, and someone trying to smash the corner shop window with a rock. The drunk singing Imam was a one-off and the Gypsy King-playing gitanes have moved to another part of town.

316

I passed my neighbour dressed in her Sunday best, on her way to mass.  As usual, she didn’t speak to me and I’ve stropped trying to be polite since the time my cheery “Bonjour!” was met by her slapping her sizeable rump and screaming “La merde!”

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Blow me down, the “merci” really did come from the stick thin, poker-faced woman who works in the local bookshop. Her soar downturned lips usually open only to take a drag of her fag or scream “NON!” at customers. She famously never utters words like “Bonjour”, “Oui” or “Merci”.

314

Almost two centuries melt away as I duck under a narrow arch and find myself in one of the Inns of Court near Chancery Lane. Miss Flyte is nearby, feeding her birds and I feel the Wards of Jarndyce somewhere behind me in the shadows, hear the rapid scratch of Dicken’s pen…

313

I’m walking around London, falling in love all over again yet again with its architecture, wondering who coined the phrase “God is in the details”? A Google search says it was the influential German-American architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who also coined my other favourite saying, “Less is More”.

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When you’re on the ground, England can feel hideously built-up & overcrowded, all beauty destroyed by modern life.  Yet the view from the plane as I fly in from France is of pretty patchwork fields and mile up on mile of unspoilt countryside, a vibrant green, sublimely pleasant land.

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At first glance there was nothing remarkable about the middle-aged, saggy-jowled balding Englishman waiting to board an early flight to London. But then I noticed his bare feet, the alternately straight and gnarled toes, the carefully manicured nails, each varnished a glittering marine blue. I continue to stare and he reads his chicklit bestseller.