Unable to sleep, I watched the last episode of David Attenborough’s latest series – the one about environmental destruction – the one the BBC refused to broadcast for fear of upsetting those responsible (see #2117). I hate the schmalz, slow-motion and music but feel it should be compulsory viewing, simply demonstrating how easily damage can be reversed – if only we cared.
Never knowing how much time to allow for traffic I set off very early, arrived in Toulouse with a good hour to spare and sat chuckling my way through the opening pages of aPG Wodehouse novel. I hope my delight eased the tedium for the only other person in Oncopole’s rather grand atrium, a young man in splendid bow tie and earrings.
Last year a cable car first proposed in 1936 finally opened. It links Paul Sabatier University, Rangueil teaching Hospital and Oncopole, a centre for cancer research which, from the air, looks like a massive architectural crab (the zodiacal symbol for Cancer). From the ground, the crab is rather more prosaic, plasticky and, though young, not ageing well.
The annual magical Easter Egg hunt was even more magical this year, children happily playing in the grounds of a beautiful château, climbing trees, looking for insects, not a screen in sight. Parents lounged, chatted, happily whiled away a sunny afternoon feasting on Easter cakes, beer and prosecco.
Talking to the French, you would think this country has gone to the dogs. Today’s Guardian has an article by Emma Beddington about how appalling things are in the UK – raw sewage in rivers, the proliferation of food banks, near impossibility of getting a doctor’s appointment, queues at A&E (ER), border problems, racism, the trains….
… it should read as a wake up call. There is a pattern. The rot really set in with Reagan in the US, continued with Thatcher in the UK. What we are seeing is how low countries can sink when people put wealth before society and well-being. A headline today says ambulance crews in England spent 1.8M hours on mental health call outs last year. Macron take note!
In light of a torrent of resignations for misconduct, lying, bullying, tax evasion, catastrophic incompetence (etcetera etcetera etcetera) surely the time has come to stop using the title ‘Right Honourable Member’ in reference to Tory MPs, who appear devoid of moral compass, compassion or talent for running a democracy.
Mary Quant has died and pictures conjured in tributes are images constantly fresh in my mind – of where I grew up… the run down, bohemian fantastically hip epicentre of a cultural revolution where It-Girls and pop stars shopped in boutiques with names like Granny Takes a Trip and I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet.
There were still run down Victorian terraces then, where tenants lived in great poverty. There were betting shops, laundrettes, a Woolworths, greasy spoon café and 16 pubs nearby. It’s where Twiggy, the Rolling Stones and other 60s icons hung out (see # 620 & 621). The middle classes started buying and doing up houses now owned by oligarchs and multi-million-billionaires.
In 2019 when the New York Times stopped publishing political cartoons, Patrick Chappatte was among those who lost their jobs. Political cartoons are there to be thought-provoking. ‘You feel hurt? ‘ he says, ‘Just let it go. You don’t like it? Look the other way. Freedom of expression is not incompatible with dialogue and listening to each other. But it is incompatible with intolerance.’
At heart, The Guardian is still a vital, rigorous, independent, intelligent, caring voice, a news source that believes in fairness and accountability. The paper’s pursuit of The Windrush Scandal revealed despicable truths about institutionalised racism and its new series on royal wealth looks set to continue an honoured tradition of questioning.
In recent weeks The Guardian has been asking folk at Buckingham Palace questions relating to royal incomes, tax rates, the cost to the public. Palace responses ‘boil down to “ask someone else”, “work it out for yourself”, or simply “you have no right to know”. We beg to differ’. Long may they do so.
Jacinda Ahern, Nicola Sturgeon and now Sanna Marin. The world is caving under male bullyships intent on stamping out democracy, silencing voices, extinguishing hopes of healthier, equal societies. Obama once said ‘I am convinced that if we could try an experiment in which every country on Earth was run by women for just two years … I am confident the world would tilt in a better direction.’ We need, too, an accountable media.
With housing unaffordable, tens of thousands of people are living in vans. The UK’s new Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act means they can be prosecuted forintending to reside on land without consent or being likely to cause distress. Vans (ie homes) can be removed, £2000 fines imposed and ‘offenders’ sent prison. This doesn’t just criminalise those who can’t afford to pay rents, it is an attempt to wipe out Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and nomadic cultures.
A map of dictatorships colours roughly half the world’s habitable surface. A Stanford University map of Far-Right extremism shades the UK, Norway, Italy and North America. Yesterday Finland too lurched Right. Then there are militant/Islamic states. Friends from all over the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the United States tell me, ‘I don’t recognise my country any more’.
From life in exile the writer Mikhail Shishkin mourns the very solid ground under his feet, Russian culture, being blown away: ‘One hundred years ago Russian immigrants were not ashamed of speaking Russian on the streets of Berlin or Paris. But now they are ashamed to speak their language. Putin,’ he says ‘has the psychology of all dictators: ‘If I leave this world, the world must go with me’.
The prime industry in this rural French town appears to be digging up roads. Already in an appalling state, they never improve as a result of constant roadworks. The main bridge into town is totally out of action with no re-opening in sight. Construction is also booming, rashes of horrible cell block houses breaking out all over town, even in people’s gardens.
1,173 homeless people have been arrested since 2021 under an archaic Vagrancy Act. Police forces across England and Wales say they are arresting folk for ‘being found in or upon enclosed premises’ and ‘begging and wandering around.’ The law locks up the man or woman / Who steals the goose from off the common, / But leaves the greater villain loose / Who steals the common from off the goose (English folk poem c.1700).
Really distressing is the language used to dress up facist policies: ‘We must not elevate the wellbeing of illegal migrants above those of the British people,’ immigration minister Robert Jenrick told MPs. Accommodation ‘should meet only the most basic standards’ (damp and mould are prevalent problems). Their goal is to deter, or failing that, swiftly deport asylum seekers whom they persistently label ‘illegal’.