Ever since the referendum vote last June, I’ve been on a quest to get my French nationality. It’s a maddeningly slow process; frustrating and, especially for a control freak like me, offering nothing but a feeling of helpless inertia. I want to shout at someone, talk to someone, know that the application is at least being considered somewhere, by someone, anyone. But there is no point of contact, just silence and the grinding sound of my increasingly fractured patience.
In the meantime, I can become more French. That way, whenever I’m called for that final interview, my ‘French’ credentials will be beyond question. I’ll saunter in, a Gallic 15 minutes late, belligerently question the questioner as to their own bona fides, fiddle aggressively with an unlit Gaulois and emerge confidently a short while later, slightly mystified that the thing had ever been in doubt. Well, I’m getting there, and this is the time of year when I find it very easy to be French indeed. In short, I’m winding down for the summer and right now enjoying a second weekend in a row at home.
June is a busy month in the social calendar. Last week there was the local Brocante where I shepherded Natalie from stall to stall like an over officious bodyguard concerned by an improvised walkabout from his movie star charge. ‘Keep moving’, I said every few minutes and to no avail. The building project for our chambres d’hôtes will hopefully begin in the autumn, ‘It is your project’, Natalie keeps reminding me, ‘I’ll be teaching full time, all the decisions are yours.’ She repeats, quite rightly treating me like a child on the edge of a life-changing decision.
‘What you think of that wooden horse collar?’ She said, pointing to what looked like a woodworm ridden BDSM neckbrace.
‘It wouldn’t suit you.’ I muttered, trying to move her on.
‘No. For the chambres d’hôtes. I’m thinking a rustic look would work…’
So much for it being ‘my project’ then. Apparently, my level of responsibility doesn’t yet stretch to interior design, even though antique horse-collars have, to my mind, a definite whiff of ‘Irish Theme Pub’ about them. But you know what? As the youth would say, ‘Whatever…’ It’s worth the sacrifice of retro farmstead tat just to be at home at the weekend, and we wandered around the Brocante, stopping every few metres to talk to friends from the town. We’ve been here 12 years now and the reminder that we are very much part of the community still gives me a genuine feeling of warmth. This is home, we know lots of people and are known by lots of people.
Again, yesterday Thérence had a school ‘Rally’, not linked to yet more elections but a kind of Treasure Hunt around the town and surrounding woods, followed by a kir-fuelled lunch. All the parents staying for lunch are asked to bring something to share out and the spread was colossal. The EU quiche mountain was wheeled out but it was clear, despite the conviviality and the enormous quantity, that not everybody was staying. There are many reasons for this, some have work to go to, the usual Saturday clubs and so on but also some people seemed to feel left out. One kid, having run himself into the ground in the searing summer heat, needed a drink but it seemed, from where I sat anyway, that his mother was nervous about asking for one as she hadn’t contributed to the spread. The woman had been on the edge of proceedings all morning, her son also, to a certain extent. The boy was dressed too warmly in an old tracksuit that was far too small for him and his mother nervously asked la maitresse if she could get the poor boy a drink. Of course, she needn’t have asked. Those that had been able to provide food and drink hadn’t done so just for others who had done the same, but for the whole school, the whole community. Yes, it’s a chance to show off, my own potato salad was to die for, but it’s a ‘Musketeer’ event, one for all and all for one.
That’s how society should be right? Those who can should look out for those who can’t. It’s as simple as that, and I don’t mean that in some kind of Socialist redistribution but solely in terms of common decency. In recent years’ ‘benefit cheats’ have been demonised way beyond their actual effect on the economy and usually as a smokescreen, a distracting flare gun shot into the air to divert attention away from corporate abuse and industrial scale tax avoidance. Of course, there are benefit cheats, but I’d rather put up with that tiny percentage than live in a world where it’s seriously suggested that to rid society of benefit cheats, you remove all benefits. You don’t remove mobile phone use in cars by removing cars. The Benefit cheat ‘scandal’ is designed to divide communities, the poorer communities first, and to build a wall of outrage from other, better off parts of society, who complain about the waste of ‘their’ taxes.
It’s the politics of divide and conquer. Any social provision is done so with a slap down, a ‘be grateful for what you’ve got’. Austerity politics, where the poorer parts of society have paid for the errors of gambling politicians and bankers, is surely now discredited. It has literally gone up in flames. I lived around the corner from Grenfell Tower for a year in the early 1990s. It was an unhappy time personally and I didn’t enjoy it, but was still angry when our landlord decided to sell ‘our’ flat and give us short notice to get out. I remember in revenge I tried to slaughter his beloved cheese plant which dominated the front room, but like the landlord himself, it was thick skinned and unbending. I don’t know if landlord abuse contributed to the horrific fire, I don’t know if rules of health and safety were broken or ignored. The word is that the ‘cladding’ for the building was chosen not for its fire-retardant qualities, but for its aesthetics. The richer people in the borough having their sensibilities catered for by a council horrified that the better off might have their view ruined, at the expense, it now appears, of life itself.
This government voted against making rented accommodation ‘habitable’. Habitable? Imagine if they’d voted against making food ‘edible’ or drinking water, ‘drinkable’? It’s a disgrace, a vile self-serving modern outrage. Why did they vote the bill down, talk it out? Because a great deal of Conservative MPs are landlords and they didn’t want the extra costs. That’s elected representatives of the people refusing basic human rights to others, because it would harm their financial interests. Is this the ‘control’ that people want more of? Is this the ‘sovereignty’ that people crave? The EU is corrupt people cry, we need more power in our own hands. More of this cynical immorality then. Good luck with that.
Lord Lawson, Margaret Thatcher’s former Chancellor who now lives in France but divides his time between climate-change denial and pushing for a Hard Brexit said last month that it was important for Theresa May to win a large majority. Brexit, he said, would give a significant short-term hit to the economy so she needed the extra seats now, so that she could afford to lose them in the next election, and still win. The sheer, derisive dishonesty of that position is grotesque. We’re going to ruin lives for our own good, so best hoodwink them now before they realise what’s going on. It’s a mocking, inhumane brand of politics – and all sides do it from time to time – that now has the Tory party in turmoil. This current untalented, mean-spirited, pocket-lining bunch of mediocrities have been found out. Theresa May herself, a hollow, confused, frankly weird looking human being, looks like she’s desperate to get the Hell out but is being propped up by her ‘team’, because no one else wants to take the reins of such a now toxic brand with self-inflicted economic disaster looming.
Officially, Brexit negotiations begin tomorrow. Negotiations led by a discredited leader, who has no mandate for her version of Brexit. A leader who is still turning a deaf ear to business and industry who are begging for the UK to remain in the Single Market. A leader whose party’s politics and sneering treatment of the less well-off is now so utterly repulsive and exposed that she would surely lose an election were it to be held now. Well, off she goes tomorrow to negotiate on ‘your’ behalf, you know, for the greater good, ‘we’re all in this together’ and so on. Nonsense, she’s off to try and destroy an even bigger community this time, and once again it will be those that have very little already who will pay the price, while those championing her stance will gain out of it.
Boris Johnson complained about the politicisation of the tragedy in London, as if somehow it is not a political matter. This is the man who ‘jokingly’ compares foreign leaders to Concentration Camp guards, a man who is so political I doubt he has a sentient thought without weighing up how it would play to his gallery. The truth is that we’re all political now, Brexit, terrorism, unnecessary, totally avoidable deaths in a tower block, all have politicised society in a way I can’t remember in my lifetime. So Boris, It’s not the politicising of events that’s wrong here, it’s the wrong people in politics.
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