Looking, on Arté, for documentaries about French culture I find instead a programme about living off-grid in West Wales and on the island of Gometra (west of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland). I greatly admire those trying significantly to reduce their carbon footprints and bring children up in a more sustainable fashion.  


Another documentary, this time about a passionate handful of volunteers trying to restore a handsome old synagogue in Lviv, where once a third of the population was Jewish and there were 40 synagogues.  A Herculean labour of love by people who literally risk their lives (the wobbly scaffolding was terrifyingly) because they believe in community, in Jewish culture.   


I went to the library for the first time in two years and walked home, arms full of books.  The graphic novel/BD section is a veritable treasure trove: I’ve borrowed beautifully original pictorial histories of Brassens, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gainsbourg & Daho. I also have a wonderful illustrated volume explaining all you need to know about politics- to children!


Research for my interview to become a French citizen underlines the wonders of  immigration for culture: some favourite graphic novelists have roots in Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Vietnam. Marie Curie was Polish, Chagall Russian, Picasso & Louis de Funès Spanish, Georges Moustaki Italian-Greek-Jewish/born in Egypt. Charles Aznavour, Armenian… 


…. Like the comedian Gad Elmaleh, Jamal Debbouze is Moroccan. Uderzo’s family were Italian. Georges Perec’s parents Polish Jews, as was Goscinny’s father – Goscinny’s mother was Ukrainian. Omary Sy is from Sengal/ Mauritania, Louane has Polish, German, Portuguese and Brazilian heritage, Isabelle Adjani Algerian and German and Jeanne Moreau’s mother was English. Milan Kundera, Miriam Makeba and Josephine Baker all took French Nationality.  


Serge Gainsbourg (born Lucien Ginsburg, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants) began his career in a drag cabaret club.  Piaf grew up in a brothel. Toulouse-Lautrec, whose parents, a Count and Countess were first cousins was, like Gainsbourg, an alcoholic with a penchant for prostitutes.  Alcohol and syphilis led to a rapid decline in physical and mental health. Toulouse- Lautrec died, aged 36.


From The Guardian : Boris Johnson has been accused of “staggering hypocrisy” after it emerged that he flew back to London from the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow by private jet to go to a dinner at a men-only private members’ club.  Earlier he told a roundtable of leaders of developing nations: “When it comes to tackling climate change, words without action, without deeds are absolutely pointless.”


It’s usually with great excitement I await stories from older son’s internships. Not this time. He’s doing psychiatry.  Last night’s stories, of the fragility of the human mind, the tools people adopt to get through the minefield we call life made me cry; tales of real madness and sadness, exclusion and otherness.  


Apparently Greta Thunberg has not, officially, been invited to COP26, despite being the most vocal and active climate campaigner.  A documentary, I Am Greta, I found disturbing. Abused by world leaders, vulnerable – she reminds me of the Fool in Lear, ignored, trying to make a leader see sense as chaos reigns and a wild storm rages.


Trip highlights include drinks in a Victorian folly with stunning views from the battlements; reclaiming a seat in the Shakespeare Institute Library; running workshops with people from South Korea, Bangladesh, the UK & Americas; striding up the Welcombe Hills where I swear I saw Lear raging at the element, Richard III in battle, confused lovers stumbling, tripping over the roots of trees.


… I saw a Fred Karno blue plaque, streets where Charlie Chaplin lived, ancient walled gardens, vibrant community parks, an amazing theatre set, worked in a Victorian dance Hall, drank in funky places, got locked in, got locked out, dealt with a dead rat, cycled along historic canals, met talented theatre people, reconnected with family – and became fully orphaned.  An unforgettable trip.


When I heard the news my mother had died I was in the exact  same place I’d been the day my first child was born, 24 years earlier. Monumental events, both Thursdays, both at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford.   Coincidentally, older son was born on his other grandmother’s birthday.


In the weeks I’ve been gone I’ve met fascinating minds, had door after door open for me, been part of a wonderfully dynamic (quirky) academic community, re-met passions, connected with old friends, charged batteries, discovered the thrill of finding “my people” again, shaken off the tough, laughed long and merrily.


I tuned in to a new theatrical venture – sound theatre – last night, live from Scotland.  Basically, it was radio!  An anthropocentric eco-parable by Timberlake Wertenbaker, Who Are You? examined the metaphorical & literal space people inhabit on this planet.  Nature told Man: “Every time you expand, we regress. You call it progress.”


November 2021- a busy month. I’m taking part in an online Research Conversation about Shakespeare and Climate Change & a research symposium; running a seminar; have meetings lined up with directors, plus my interview to become a French Citizen – Yes!  I’m also looking forward to a second PhD supervision, Thanksgiving and my birthday. 


Finally, an interview to become a French national and little time to swot up on the geographical features, history, culture, economy and politics of France.  Question Number One asks why I want to become French; another, what motto I’d add to Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.  I know what I’d say – how about you?!


Gendarmes will visit my house. Why?  To “verify everything’s in order”.  I go to the gendarmerie, find locked gates, locked doors, guns on hips, more locked doors, doors locked each time anyone goes in or out.  The only other person in mufti is reporting a parcel delivery fraud.  This is, after all, a sleepy rural town.


The boat docked at 4am. Half an hour later, after a hellish 7-hour journey and mere 20 minutes’ sleep on the crossing, I was driving through the pre-dawn streets of Dieppe. Ten hours later, I was home. What joy, French roads, after the gridlocked hell of English motorways.


A pitstop in Bedford at the really remarkable, (small, but well worth a visit) Higgins Art Gallery & Museum which houses Edward Bawden’s archives. Sadly, only a few Bawden prints were on display, but there’s a fabulous William Burges room. A Victorian architect & interior designer extraordinaire, Burges left us such magnificent jewels as Castel Coch (Red Castle, Cardiff) & The Tower House (London).


Weekend trains can take 7.25 hours to reach Edinburgh from London.  Daily Covid rates topping 40,000 &  travellers appearing not to feel the need to wear masks, I drove, horrified that one person in a car also works out cheaper than taking the train.  Would governments everywhere please & urgently address the issue of reliable, affordable public transport?