The slogans are (roughly from political left to extreme far right) Le camp des travailleurs (Trotskyist); ensemble changeons d’avenir; l’urgence anti-capitaliste; la France des jours heureux (looks like an 80s pop star); un autre monde est possible; faire face (Green Party); La France authentique (ruralist); nous tous (= Macron);  le courage de faire;  femme d’etat (links with Putin); Liberté (ironic) and pour que la France reste la France (peddling hatred and lies, dangerously rewriting history).


Today is voting day, round one of the French Presidential elections. It’s alarming to see what’s happened politically in the years we’ve lived in France.  I want to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower and shout so the whole country can hear “Be careful what you wish for!”


Older cars may now face hefty fines if driven in some French towns.  It’s supposed to be a move to tackle pollution – as if manufacturing the big gaudy-coloured SUVs you see everywhere is good for the planet.  What’s needed is an affordable, reliable, well-thought out public transport system.   


I could fly to Naples – 4000 km away – for 26€ return, less than it costs to take the train and tube to visit my son 50kms away in Toulouse.  Public transport costs three times more and takes much longer than one person driving a car, even with motorway tolls.  And trains don’t always run at convenient times. 


With less than two weeks to go before the presidential election, The Shift Project has analysed in detail each candidate’s policies on the environment. Not one meets the criteria set by the Paris Agreement.  The far left candidate is closest, with ideas for changing infrastructures to adapt to climate change. The further right the politics, the worse it gets. The far right’s policies are actively detrimental to the environment (among other things!).


In his book The Creative Spark, Augustin Fuentes argues that creativity and cooperation have been the great drivers of human progress, that the ability to imagine and turn imagination into reality is what makes us distinctive. Without art, he says, we’re not human.  Making, seeing and thinking about art is positively good for us.  So let’s make art, not war.


From Denmark to Indonesia, Taiwan to Greece, Russia and India to Canada you will find adaptations of King Lear. Lear’s words cast spells in innumerable languages including Arabic, Polish, Urdu, Yiddish, Tamil, Greek and Japanese. Lear has been found beside a broken-down bus in the African desert, ranches in Texas and Iowa, getting stoned on a sofa in Ireland…


… Lear is  there in big corporations, mafia circles, an old people’s home. His story has been played out by samurai warriors, Indian film actors-playing-actors, Keralese dancers, puppets, Polish Catholic clergy and in oils on canvas. His story makes sense in the Noh theatre of Japan, Taiwanese dance, comic book format, feudal Russia.


King Lear is about the breakdown of society, families, civilisation.   It’s a tragedy in which all the values we think of as protecting our sense of humanity are attacked. A play about confronting the worst, it can prove overwhelming in performance.  An inmate at a high security prison said: “I had to leave. It was like my own family – that’s how they carry on.”


Last Sunday I went to the market early and came home feeling ill.  There are pictures of Zemmour everywhere – smiling white people pledging their support for the man who is deeply islamaphobic,  incites racial hatred and who hopes to be France’s next president.  Guilty of twisting history, he plays on people’s (unfounded) fears and is a powerful force in the media.


This cheery Spring morning was an example of what France does exquisitely well: a poetic bike ride around our small country town.  Without embarrassment or any sense of irony, people stopped and read poetry on pavements chalked with poems. It was very moving.  Surely the event didn’t need one armed military police officer for every ten people watching,  half of whom were little children/babies/toddlers.


Exceptionally for a Sunday, the library was open and at least a hundred people – young, old, adults with learning difficulties, a lycra-clad septuagenarian cycling group, the odd oddball, a couple of clowns and some musicians – piled in to hear  teenagers play short discordant compositions for violin, a man on guitar and people read poetry. 


In all the years since Assad started bombing,  torturing, murdering his own people, the EU has failed to agree a compromise about welcoming refugees.  In just over seven days they reached a unanimous agreement for those fleeing the Ukraine.  Last year there was a huge outflow of Afghans after the Taliban’s return to power. Millions of people live in refugee camps. Tens of thousands drown trying to get to safety. All refugees need help.


I asked students to find a map of conflict zones around the world.  My search brought up real maps from reputable institutions showing conflicts all over the globe.  Google offered my students images of video games.  A standard Google search doesn’t exist. Everything is filtered, tailored to what tech companies decide you want to see.   


“Nought can deform the Human Race / Like to the Armour’s iron brace.”  William Blake, Auguries of Innocence.  In the last month, Putin waged war in Europe, the Taliban banned girls having access to secondary/further education, North Korea launched yet more missiles, millions continue to languish in refugee camps. And sex traffickers are targeting fleeing Ukrainian women and children.


Fred has one good and one droopy eye, favours Colonel Sanders beard growth and General Custer hair.  These fields, he said, were once small vineyards, each wine grower having a greeting all their own –  He!he!  said one, another O!O! a third eh!eh! his neighbour Ei!Ei! and so on round the valley.


Fred said sheep and cattle grazed in Gaillac when he was a boy, in the middle of town. The smell in summer was awful.  Housing estates once were fields and a river ran along what’s now a tarmac’d road. People washed their clothes in the  lavoire.  North Africans still do, though mostly it’s rugs you see hung out to dry.


I like winter – grateful it’s not a long summer C21st heatwave – but January was a cold month full of challenges.  February arrived and a Canadian cousin asked if there were signs of Spring. No, I replied, only to walk out and see buds on the cherry tree, violets and now almond blossom.


Older son phones on way home from night shift to tell me about a patient who sounded like a velociraptor that had swallowed a crow.  There followed a fabulous imitation, for which he has a true gift.  The medical diagnosis was that a schizophrenic with Alzheimer’s was suffering from pneumonia.


Here’s Joan Littlewood, creator of The Theatre Workshop and Oh What a Lovely War! – “People ask why I came into the theatre. I didn’t come in to it. We’re all part of it, because theatre is the soul of the people. It’s the joy they feel in life. It’s the way they express the art of living.  Let’s set the clowns free, the villains and the nutcases – and what they make will be theatre.”