During lockdown, we showed long-overdue appreciation of health care workers. We need to do the same for teachers, many of whom are literally risking their lives to support students in challenging circumstances. And those who work in mental health, a field both under-resourced and increasingly in demand. Anxiety levels, stress and depression rates, all are rising. Workers need every bit of support we can give.
What we should do is ask young people, What are your dreams? Why do you want to follow that path? What skills do you need? We should be handing them practical tools so they can work and live sustainably in an unpredictable world with increasingly erratic weather patterns. We should no longer be training them for a world and career paths that have disappeared.
Dreaming. Raise the status of teachers, introduce philosophy in primary schools, run debating classes, teach kids to listen to one another, train them as mediators. Each school has a community kitchen garden, students engage in cross-generational projects, learn basic plumbing and electrics, are taught to use the internet responsibility, encouraged to look out for each other, to vote.
The educational system here shows over and over again that it needs to adapt, evolve, refocus. Young people with dyslexia, autism, very high IQs and other learning differences are expected to change who they are, become “normal”. Classes start before most are even awake. What they study insufficiently equips them for the realities and challenges that lie ahead.
Yesterday on a walk I was thinking about Lyn Darnley, Head of Text, Voice and Artist Development at the RSC. It was Lyn who suggested I do an M.Phil in Shakespeare in Performance at the Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham) while I was creating education programmes for the RSC Regional Tour. Today I learn Lyn died, of cancer, on 8 September. Her energy, smile and great knowledge will be sorely missed.
Great difficulty this morning working out what old folk at market are telling me. It’s the masks. Combined with strong regional accents and fact many speak patois. All I can hear is mhmmhhmghmmnnmhhma. I lean in, ear almost touching the mask. Making a nonsense of social distancing. Infection rates soaring.
Predictably, neighbours I meet returning from market moan about grey skies and a light, occasional drizzle. Empty wells, cracked earth, barren gardens and still people want sun. Even in autumn. They all have swimming pools. Washing lettuce (a daily staple here) uses litres of water. Not even the elderly appear to have made the link between water and rain.
I adore coincidence. As I hand my medical card to a hospital secretary in Toulouse, she looks at me and asks after my sons. The woman behind the plexiglass grew up thousands of miles from here. I last saw her, a child by a pool one magical summer long ago, a remarkably beautiful child whose photo hangs on my study wall.
I fell into a circle of hell today somewhere north of Toulouse. After looking at a map dopey dreamer that I am, I thought I was heading to a watery idyll. Only to be met by the worst of American imports: miles of trucks, heavily polluting traffic, strip malls, fast food diners, billions of tonnes of non-biodegradable eyesore landfill.
Victor Gruen, the Austrian born architect who created – and came to despise – shopping malls, wailed, “they destroyed our cities!” I was in one this afternoon, my shoes having holes instead of soles. A delightful young assistant was both helpful and disappointed as I refused all the silver, glittery, sparkly shoes she offered me. “Vous n’aimez pas être originale?” she asked. Strange how very differently people see things.
Just back from a squirrel ride, bike basket full of nuts. Walnut trees are suffering with climate change. Every year more trees produce shrivelled, blackened fruit, some just a writhing mass of maggots. One tree on a busy crossroad appeared to have a healthy crop. Not wanting to be seen scavenging, I pretend to be squatting in a ditch, having a pee as cars pass. Drivers, embarrassed, look away and I fill my pockets with nuts. Only later to find they too are rotten.
There’s a neighbourhood near here of mean, grey-beige houses with tiny windows, shutters stained poo brown. Joy is sucked out of the atmosphere, lack of colour casts gloom over streets named for painters whose canvases were riotous vibrant celebrations of life. Painters who must be raging, furiously tossing in their tombs, cursing those who took their names in vain.
Nonsuch, a fairytale palace built by Henry VIII to rival the Château de Chambord has always intrigued me. During the civil war Nonsuch was confiscated and given to a General. Come the Restoration (1660), it was returned to the Crown. Charles II later gave the palace to his mistress who pulled it down and sold bits off to pay gambling debts.
Richmond Palace which, like Versailles, began as a royal hunting lodge, fared no better than Nonsuch. Beautifully imaginative, a marvel of geometry, towers, pepper-pot chimney caps and ornate weathervanes, it too came a cropper after the restoration, demolished and sold off as building materials.
Climate change means ancient permafrost is thawing. Bacteria and viruses, dormant for thousands of years, risk being released into the atmosphere. A reindeer carcass frozen in Siberia in the early C20th, exposed to rising temperatures releases anthrax which kills 2500 reindeer and a 12-year old boy. Spanish flu, bubonic plague and smallpox may soon be among us once more.
My house is filling up with stink bugs. I don’t know how they got in. Stink bugs (punaise in French, the word also used for thumb tacks) defy Darwin’s theory of evolution. They seem particularly slow and awkward, bash into walls, make a din no predator could fail to hear and when I set one free in the garden, it flies straight back in through the door.
16,000 new cases of the virus yesterday in France alone. Medics on the radio say homemade masks are all very pretty, but pretty useless. Surgical masks offer better protection. Urban and rural landscapes are now littered with them, hanging from trees, lying on the sides of roads. 53.5 million are dumped each day. 1.6 billion masks every month.
A fabulously energetic phone call with older son this morning crashing about in Monty Python, renaissance literature, 1970s TV shows, medicine, politics, snatches of song. We mongrel between languages and time frames, clash and roar with laughter as we expound theories and I elaborate on my latest road to Damascus moments after another sleepless night.
A Welsh actor I knew couldn’t pass a messy farmyard without wanting to order the chaos. I approach life at times wearing the same wonky glasses, am slowly learning it inevitably means schism, intolerance, assumptions, incoherence, stupidity, greed, pettiness, missed opportunities – all dashed with great moments of love, humour, joy.
In court on several counts of corruption and conflict of interests, our local mayor was nevertheless re-elected recently, with 2011 votes (in a town of almost 15,000). Yesterday a court found him guilty on several counts including “passive corruption”, arrogance and “harmful actions”. Sentenced to prison, fined 20,000€, stripped of all powers, my faith in justice systems has been partially restored.