Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Modern Myth continued

Face-Paint

Women have always painted their faces. Nowadays, they are bombarded by adverts calling for the constant renewal of the contents of their make-up bags. Magazines suggest completely new products every 3 to 9 months. Designer prices for Chanel lipstick and Dior concealers are through the roof.

In the past, the message behind make-up was simple. If you wore make-up, you would attract the man you needed for financial and emotional security. Since feminism brought women into the workplace and reduced their direct reliance on men, a new myth has had to be constructed around the same old products: a new need has been created for make-up that makes them look not only young, sexy, pretty and attractive, but now also appears professional, hard-working and capable.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Modern Myth

Ben suggested I add the disclaimer 'I'm not really mental' to the following essays... I feel that would probably be a waste of time but do hasten to explain that I was trying to compose a 'Mythologie' in the style of Roland Barthes. (Baby Josh's Christmas present has now been named Roland.)

In 'Mythologies', Barthes deconstructs what he sees as modern myths: in brief, these are socially constructed signs where an object or phenomenon has had a new meaning, one that may differ from or even be opposite to its literal meaning, added to it to perform a specific purpose. In the book this purpose tends to be to shore up the psychological and cultural reign of the bourgeoisie. It's very fun. You should read it.

But yes, in throwing myself wholeheartedly into this fun new game, I may have strayed somewhat away from my own beliefs and opinions. Still, see how it goes as can't be bothered to edit...

Next essay to follow shortly.

Urban Cycling
Since the election of the first mayor of London in 2000, encouraging cycling has aimed as much to reduce pressure on the overcrowded roads and railways of the capital as to aid a more global carbon conscious eco-friendly drive. The role of the mayor in London has been to create a new, smaller political world where citizens feel loyalty to their city, not to the ever more confusingly globalised national government.
Over the last nine years, cycling has been touted to us as healthy, good for our hearts, great for our carbon footprint, marvellous for our pockets, and on the whole, a fantastic way for an individual to contribute to the well-being of the city in general, while materially benefitting him/herself.
New cycle lanes, cycle networks, special traffic lights and thousands of locking devices have sprung up across the capital, complemented by reams of information for cyclists, maps, signs and even clubs to cycle safely en masse around town. A mini-industry in locks, helmets, reflective jackets and on-the-spot repairs is visible even in those parts of town formerly seen as the provinces of ‘yuppies’- the West End, the City and the Canary Wharf area. Of course, to get the cycle maps you have to write to Transport for London, which seems to rather contradict the rebranding of cycling as a mass form of transport in competition with the tube or the motor-car.
So why this sudden interest in a mode of transport that was first designed in the 1860s and for years seen as used only by those too poor to afford a car?
This skeleton of metal resembles a joke of a man-made machine, one that has not undergone any major changes for the last 150 years, never having been improved into any revolutionarily new shape or form. The multi-passenger bicycle rickshaws used in Asia seem very unlikely to catch on as anything other than a novelty in London. When compared with the car, the one-person bike seems feeble. But it is key to the urban bicycle that it is a feeble machine, one that is perfectly counter-balanced to the amount of human leg-power put into it. Calling chiefly on man’s greatest, and oldest, invention - the wheel - its spindly frame is often the same size and weight as the human riding it. Human and mechanised power are thus in perfect tandem.
So the bicycle, unlike any other form of transport, is perfectly streamlined to remain paralysed in history at a time when man and machine represented the perfect dialectic, when one had not yet shown sign of precedence, of greater strength or efficiency over the other, when a machine was something that made work easier rather than doing it for the individual. Now that society separates us from machines, from industry and the source of our wealth, the bicycle still stands for a two-way connection between man and machine while other forms of transport enclose us to emphasise our alienation from the source of power, the means of mobility, and thus from the entire outside world.
Most new cyclists will cite London’s eco-friendly transportation drive as being behind the thousands getting on their bikes. But while the new eco-mythology fools people into thinking they are doing their bit for the planet completely independently, the cycle revolution is not merely a direct reaction to problems with the environment. When you use one of the forms of larger, fully mechanised transport, you are voluntarily giving away power over yourself and your life to an engine. By choosing less environmentally damaging public transport, such as buses or trains, you are investing this same security in the hands of a public-private institution. Suddenly – and this coincided with the bicycle revolution – we do not hold the same confidence that we used to in such government-designed, business-powered institutions. As belief in self-controlling institutions that act in the public’s best interest becomes a thing of the past following the wobble of the 'credit crunch' and the country’s national politicians desperately slamming on the brakes to try and stop the City going into free-fall, a new autonomy of action is being marketed to us by the ruling bourgeoisie, an autonomy that has about as much power as a free-wheeling bike on a very small incline.
The first two mayors of London have invested a lot of time and money in getting cyclists on the streets. Now the ruling powers in the form of local authorities are taking this power back off all but the most dedicated cyclists, the cyclists who always cycled for simple reasons of poverty and efficiency. Now the myth that London authorities are cycle-friendly has been completely established, the counter-attack begins. New arguments are arising about sky-high accident rates, easily broken when one thinks that increases in cycling accidents are only in line with increases in cyclists, cyclists cause less than 1% of injuries to pedestrians and that in the past 8 years in London a cyclist has not killed a single person.
Westminster’s scrutiny committee recently claimed that “We’re always getting little old ladies who are knocked down and abused by a cyclist, who leaves them on the ground as they ride away.” Councils and the Metropolitan police have united to fine cyclists who jump red lights, who ride without lights at night, or who ride on the pavement. Not only is this new policy of on-the-spot-fines scaring naive new cyclists back onto public transport, but it is negating the myth that urban cycling is the transport of the future. Bicycles are getting in the way of the all-important tax-paying motorists who buy the country’s petrol, and must therefore be discouraged privately though encouraged publicly.
The myth of urban cycling is that it represents a form of progress in human relations with each other and the world while in reality, despite its numerous personal benefits in a city whose public transport is as erratic as it is expensive, it marks a regression in terms of effective transport systems that serve the people of London.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Textualisation

Gardiner expressed surprise that I use predictive text because apparently it is really long and annoying and difficult. I said it wasn't, at all, really, but today I noticed just how many times it has let me down it the three months that I've had this phone.

Just for ABC...
abergavenny
blog
cardiff (clearly Sony Ericsson have a problem with South Wales)
cabaret

Monday, November 16, 2009

Question- Can you entirely change the value of a council service by changing just one letter in its name? Answer- There is no longer a Children's Play Area in Mile End Park: there is a Children's Play Arena. Actual facilities have not been affected. Go Tower Hamlets Council, the masterminds who have renamed their libraries Idea Stores, their private police force THEOs (they're enhancing your Street Safety, dontcha know?) and rather beautifully adapted the Olympic Park to Olympic Parklands.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Back to school

‘Trop d'école tue l'école’ Potschke

Well I'm sorry it's been so long. I'd like to say that I've been busy, but quite the opposite is true. I have been simultaneously doing very little and living life to the max. It's been wonderful, especially on those rare occasions that the sun shone over Forest Gate this summer. Also, I haven't had a cigarette since the 7th July. Well, I've had like one-and-a-half, but they didn't count. It hasn't been so tough, but I'm finding it very hard to work without smoking. Usually I have a cigarette every 200 words, or whenever I feel I've written something worth writing, or whenever I get tired. Nowadays I write 200 words... then I just stop writing. My My Documents is crammed with things I started working on, vowed to finish, deserted for one second to make a cup of NRT tea, and then abandoned. The time it takes for the kettle to boil is just long enough for me to lose concentration and/or interest.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Barefaced

‘But Frances, what exactly were you so upset about last night ? ask Fausto kindly. ‘Huh?’ ‘One minute you were drinking your beer, the next minute you were shouting like a crazy person.’ Ah yes. Sarkozy, of course. We were sitting by the Loire on a rug, drinking cans of Braubergen and watching the river flow past. Enrique asked me what I thought about Sarkozy’s latest cheeky little sound-bite on the burka; I saw red. It took me a long time to work out where I stand on the subject of Muslim women’s dress for two reasons. One is that I grew up in a very Muslim area and went to school with Muslim girls- there I learnt to look at the person behind the headscarf. You have to learn, because on a purely personal level someone with their face covered can be slightly –slightly!- daunting. It’s not very hard, though.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Psycho-somatic

I’ve been sick in bed since Friday afternoon with a mild fever and a serious case of self-pity. Other symptoms included a throbbing head-ache, undefined pains all over and disturbingly high (for me!) rage levels. Outside my tiny window the blazing sunshine mocked me as I shivered under my duvet. Finally I had finished my play, handed in my dissertation, been given my grades for the year and I had to start my holiday in bed. I often get sick after long periods of sustained effort, especially when I don’t let my work-load stop me partying. (A maths friend: ‘Eight hours a day, six days a week, for a month? You call that a long period of sustained effort?’ ‘Well, I am taking literature. Things are different for us.’) But personally I blame my sickness on the events of Friday morning, which was when that pain in my stomach set in. (I have such funny, funny buddies in Tours. This one: ‘Sure, Frances always ends up sick in bed when she has to get up before 9am.’ Ok, I know my weaknesses. I’m not cut out for the working world. Point duly noted.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Struck

We're officially fucked. Teachers in our university have now voted to go back to the work. After 7 months of industrial action and 4 months of strike, they resumed teaching yesterday. They had been threatened with a 30% pay-cut, and most of my camarades are blaming this for their caving-in. I can't say for sure, not having been in their meeting (not invited) but if it's really that, it's a bit bloody low. Due to the independent status of French universities, teaching staff can strike without any significant cut in pay for long periods as long as they fulfill certain provisos- attendance at university, continuation of research, office hours etc. (Beautiful thing about university systems, even independent-ish ones- they couldn't give a shit about teaching as long as research keeps bringing in the cash). Minister for Higher Education Valérie Pécresse is trying to attack these rights with great difficulty. But she's trying to attack a whole lot of university rights, and in a lot of her other nasty little plots she's succeeding. Anyway, from this month teachers at Tours would be taking this pay-cut in order to carry on industrial action, and clearly there were just too many members of staff in the meeting who will only support industrial action if it doesn't affect how long they spend at the beach this summer. Maybe I'm being ungenerous- maybe they are trying to give students a chance to catch up on this lost semester. I'm guessing the same pressure is being put on teachers across the country as only between 6 and 10 faculties are still bloquées, down from 50 at the climax of the strike. University presidencies have panicked at the thought that the exam-diploma-job machine might grind to a halt and put the boot into what is now the weakest part of the strike- the teachers. It's the worst possible time to cave in. We were in a fight to automatically give people a pass mark for the semester, and we might just have won it. They couldn't make everybody repeat the year, and as long as exams were properly blocked, they would have been forced to pass everyone. Why strike all year then stop striking two weeks before the end of the already lengthened semester? It just doesn't make sense. I've passed the term. Not altogether honestly, but that's not really my fault. But my French friends are currently trying to learn a semester's syllabus in two weeks, having had about three weeks of class since Christmas. Usually they would already be on holiday. It's so unfair. I'm actually wasting valuable dissertation time worrying about their plight. This has effectively decimated the student side of the movement as well- no one can attend meetings or demonstrations now that they're suddenly under such exam pressure. The LRU or Pécresse reforms are set to go through now anyway, and have already been passed in the National Assembly. No one really still thinks we're going to have any kind of significant victory there. My major criticism of the movement all along (apart from that we didn't go far enough in our actions) was the lack of communication between staff and students. I think we got more and more divided, at least in Tours. We all started out in November fighting the masterisation of the CAPES and gradually we developed different priorities. Students went on to make demands for better benefits, grants, etc, whereas staff became caught up on the job losses and status changes alone. Students were generally a lot more radical in thoughts and actions as well, although there were certainly some very 'engagé' staff... Now basically the presidency has capitalised on this division. Even students who didn't particularly support strike action are completely against going back to school at this point, because it's such a travesty of a semester that it's completely worthless as an academic marker, and therefore represents nothing but a demonstration of power by university bosses and the government. I've been so excited all term to be part of such a huge movement- it seemed like in this country things actually got done, and the people had some kind of power. Now I'm completely deflated and miserable. No one takes my suggestions for bringing the great French tradition of boss-napping into the university. And no one seems to realise how badly they might be fucked- when students lose their power, the road is open for French universities to become English universities. If we lose the fight over masterisation, the next fight will be over marketisation.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Let no man tear asunder?

I went to a beautiful wedding last year. My friends had been together since secondary school, their kid was old enough to carry a bunch of flowers very nicely and young enough to be extremely cute. M and I were dolled up to the nines, hanging on the arms of handsome young men and drinking extra hard to mark the special occasion. When the lights dimmed and the bride and groom started to dance we clutched hands and held back tears. At some point before we had to start worrying about last trains back to civilisation (why can’t people tie the knot somewhere easily accessible, like East London?), I’m sure I gazed at my date through my beer goggles and indulged in a brief fantasy in which he figured as a minor character behind mounds of white tulle, giant cakes, and everybody knowing that it’s my special day... Afterwards M and I were too starry-eyed to indulge in our usual benevolent character assassinations of everyone present. (We never say anything vicious about anyone, but we are fond of feeling deeply sorry for people’s manifold faults, and blaming any untoward behaviour on their secret sorrow/ insecurity/ as-yet undiagnosed mental health problems.) ‘It was just... magical,’ we sighed. ‘The bride was stunning.’ (She was.) ‘The whole thing was... perfect.’ That’s the problem with criticising marriage- weddings. They really are lovely. On the other hand, I went to a Catholic church service on Good Friday. A man in a purple dress, flanked by a bunch of suspiciously innocent-looking pre-adolescent boys, chanted in Latin about the events leading up to Jesus’ alleged crucifixion for three hours. It was lovely. I was secretly disappointed that the friend who had dragged me there couldn’t come back for the grand finale on Easter Sunday, so we could find out what happened next. (Like watching The Matrix and Matrix Reloaded and not Matrix Revolutions- is he alive? is he dead? are they going to save the world at the end? Actually I never bothered watching the last Matrix film, but I’m sure it all turned out just as happily for humanity as the New Testament did.) My somewhat heavily made point is: just because it’s beautiful and moving doesn’t mean it’s not deeply sick and wrong. People aren’t idiots. You want to fool them into accepting an exploitative and enslaving institution, you got to put on a bit of the old razzle-dazzle. I’m pushing on now into my mid-twenties, and while that couple was not the first of my set to tie the knot, they had a child young and came from a very Caflic background. Now more and more of my friends are settling into couples, and I’m shocked and disturbed that no small number of them are contemplating marriage in one way or another. As M said recently (rose-tinted wedding-y glow now wholly worn off) ‘Even the feminists are getting married!’ We shared some smug pity over the sad plight of our clueless acquaintances over a cup of tea. So why on earth are people doing this? I don’t buy the ‘We want to share our love with everybody’ crap. No, you want to conform. In a big white dress. You want a party, have a party. Buy champagne. You want a wedding dress, buy a wedding dress. I have one. I have even worn it in public (on Halloween). You want a ‘special day’, wear the wedding dress in the street. Everybody will look at you, and probably think you look ‘glowing’. Where do the ceremony, ring, vows and licence fee come into sharing your love? I have regular parties to share my love. When I find a man that knows how to share his love in the same way, I’m gonna hang on to him. Double parties! ‘It’s not about the party, we want to commit to each other forever and getting married seems like the best way.’ When I was a teenager, I remember being very impressed that Fat Boy Slim and Zoe Ball just wandered down to their local registry office, clutching cowboy hats and a bottle of whisky, and pulled in a couple of strangers off the street to witness their marriage. ‘That’s real love- that’s not just for show- they’re only doing it for each other,’ Well, committing is not something you do for five minutes in front of someone with a really big desk. Committing is something you do every day, and all the time it’s because you choose to do it. It’s hard, I can tell you as someone who did it for a bit and then decided I wasn’t up to the task. Doesn’t anybody ever think for a minute about this? Why the fuck have women (and men) been getting married for thousands of years? Uh, duh- because they weren’t allowed to have sex, live together or have children unless they did. Why not? because keeping people in small family units managed and controlled by the ruling powers was an important part of the feudal system, which remained useful to said ( albeit slightly different) ruling powers after industrialisation.
“The worker is the slave of capitalist society, the female worker is the slave of that slave.” James Connolly
Marriage is an essential part of –and symbol for- the patriarchal system. Once, the only women who worked were spinsters, widows and the very poor. Even now, women’s jobs –often lower-paid and more casual- are among the first to go in the recession. Keep people locked into couples, where one has greater earning capacity, physical strength and social status than the other, and you have greater control over your workforce. If you need to, for example during a world war, you can get the women out too. In times of recession, send her back home and you know the family unit will still (probably) eat. (Taking your husband’s name is also still a sign that he has a higher status than you.) Then there’s the problem of the church. Yes, the wedding has been taken out of the church- the registry office ceremony loses all the ‘Who brings this woman to be married to this man?’ cant, and even in Church of England marriages the bride can now opt (as Victoria Beckham did) to cut out the promising to obey your husband bit. But choosing to get married at all seems to me like picking and choosing the bits you want from organised religion. ‘I don’t believe in God, but the ceremony He came up with (or didn’t) as honed and ritualised by generations of religious nut-jobs and tyrants, is just what I need to fix my life up. Just take His name out, won’t you?’ This is acknowledging the church’s cultural hegemony without accepting that other forms of almost identical manipulation are replacing it. In a world without God, why hang on to His ideas? Suckers! Black slaves in America were not allowed any kind of formal marriage ceremony. Instead, to be allowed to live together in a couple, they were often made to ‘jump the broomstick’, a basic (and self-explanatory) rite. Props required- one broomstick, or other suitable pole. The happy couple held hands and jumped over a broomstick on the ground together. I don’t know the origins of this ‘ceremony’, but it served to satisfy slave-owners’ moral qualms about men and women living together and having sex with each other, without giving them any status as Christians, which would imply rather too much shared humanity with their owners to be quite safe. (Jumping the broomstick is apparently still common as a jolly end to American, or at least African- American, marriages. But that’s by the by.) I would propose that when we read about sleb and royal marriages, when we’re conned into spending thousands we don’t have on imitations, even when we daringly run away to Vegas and tell the friends and family afterwards, we are still just jumping the broomstick for our masters. ‘But we’re not marrying for them, we’re marrying for us!’ Mmmm, love. Great stuff. I love a bit of love. I keep trying to tell myself it makes the world go round. But why do we still –even the feminists!- modify our ideas of love to fit in with what They want from young couples? (Sorry, keep meaning to stop capitalising that ‘T’ but can’t help myself). Marriage has far clearer advantages for the system than it does for the individuals concerned. It preserves class boundaries. Often it preserves gender roles which themselves preserve class boundaries. It locks people into their situation by law, and also by social opinion and peer pressure. It’s inextricably linked with a whole set of social mores and dictated behaviour that we might otherwise rebel against. I’m not saying anything against choosing a life partner, buying a house, and generally settling down eternally. Hell, have kids if that’s what’s gonna make you happy! Whether marriage is still synonymous with a woman’s oppression by her husband is no longer clear. I would tend to say no, as a general rule. Of course there are far too many horrific cases of abuse and violence, and less well-documented cases of mental and spiritual domination, mostly by men towards women although also the other way, but I don’t know if there’s a great deal of difference here between married and ‘common-law’ cohabitations. What marriage does still always entail, on the other hand, is an apparently voluntary nod by two ‘free’ individuals to the power of the state, the Church, the press, and what I am thus reluctantly forced to term ‘the ruling classes’. I repeat. Why the fuck? Afterthought The gay marriage question is of course not a question. I fully support everyone’s right to have an equal access to a completely harmful and stupid thing, much as I support freedom of religion, freedom to read the Evening Standard and freedom to hold an opinion that differs from my own. (You’re all wrong, by the way.) The answer is the same as Bill Hicks’ on the subject of gay people in the army: ‘Anyone dumb enough to want to be in the military should be allowed in.’

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Writers

Jo has written an excellent list of '25 writers who have influenced me'. As she points out, it's pretty difficult to choose them, although I could easily have borrowed twenty of the ones she chose. Here are some of the ones that always make me think 'I must write more myself, and will definitely start as soon as I finish this essay/academic year/sandwich'. Non-exhaustive list. Every good book I read influences me in one way or another... just not necessarily to write.
  1. Maya Angelou
  2. Margaret Atwood
  3. Charles Baudelaire
  4. William Blake
  5. Anne Brontë
  6. John le Carré
  7. Charles Dickens
  8. Franz Fanon
  9. Gustave Flaubert
  10. Thomas Hardy
  11. Seamus Heaney
  12. Cynthia Heimel
  13. Joseph Heller
  14. Herman Hesse
  15. Michel Houellebecq
  16. Christopher Isherwood
  17. Doris Lessing
  18. Toni Morrison
  19. Vladimir Nabokov
  20. Zora Neale Hurston
  21. Thomas Pynchon
  22. F Scott Fitzgerald
  23. Robert Service
  24. Muriel Spark
  25. Oscar Wilde
I separated childrens authors because I think they have a different kind of influence over you as a child (especially a child with no tv!) and as a grown-up, but here are some from whom I'll always take inspiration.
  1. Joan Aiken
  2. Bernard Ashley
  3. J M Barrie
  4. Antonia Forest
  5. Judith Kerr
  6. Roger McGough
  7. AA Milne
  8. Antoine de Saint- Exupéry
  9. Jean Ure
  10. Benjamin Zephaniah

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Held to ransom

Students demonstrating... students waiting...
It's not just me that's fed up. Although I have two fighting cats in the flat at the moment, and one of them (the bad one) just tore my hand to shreds. I have also done something to my sleeping patterns to which my body has taken great offence. It is therefore retaliating by giving me nightmares, preventing me from getting up in the morning, and generally behaving like a very mad old person's body. Headaches. (Cats also screaming a lot). Swollen glands. I told my body that it was logical, if I needed to be on a picket line at 7am and at a nightclub until gone four, to simply stay up all night. I was nice about it. I offered it tea. It remained unconvinced. I showed it the sunrise in a Unesco World Heritage Site. It made one of my eyes start twitching. Poor, poor me. But there's worse problems round here at the moment. My fellow students, here and in at least 24 other French universities, are in the centre of a power game between the government, faculty administration and teaching staff. It's driving me crazy, and as an Erasmus student, a UK fee-payer and pretty much a dilettante, I'm probably going to get away with attending next-to-no classes, taking no exams, and not receiving any credit for the second semester. For my camarades at Université François Rabelais the outlook is grim. Some students have attended around 6 weeks of some classes. With at least half of the departments of English and French on indefinite strike since January or February, some teachers have not taught at all this semester. The 'rules', here and for most French faculties, state that students must have attended at least three quarters of the 12-week semester to receive credit. Now the swine have extended the teaching semester until the end of May in the hope that they can catch this up, but to what avail? Teachers still aren't teaching, and why should they when the government took advantage of the two weeks' Easter break to push the LRU (Pécresse reforms) even further forward. Exams have been 'scheduled' for early June. Resits for September. Teachers may set exams, or then again they may not. There's a rumour that striking staff will set us blank examination papers. Which they may or may not mark. After which they may or may not release the grades to us and to the administration. At least the teachers are still fighting. A couple have had arrests and court dates after demonstrations. Two went to hospital after clashes with the police last month. And they're fighting for us too, working to get the year validated for all the anxious students waiting to know if they're going to graduate or not. Lucky the teachers are fighting for us, because they seem to hold a little more power than the students in the movement, who are now being attacked on all sides. The president of the university has moved on to tactics against students which amount, quite simply, to strike-breaking. In Monday's General Assembly students voted to continue the blocade of the Lettres et Langues building. After 7 months of action and very little success, its very important to keep up what little pressure we can. The next morning I came in at 7am to help man the pickets. Unfortunately by 10ish I had to urgently go to bed, and during the day's meeting a little later the president invited the police into the building to disperse strikers. 'I have always kept the university open to democratic debate,' he reminds us, smugly, in a general email. Guillaume Cingal, head of English, probably disagrees. After he sent an email to all English students to reassure them that the department would fight to get everyone a pass-mark for the semester he found his right to email his students had been taken away. He has now learnt to use Facebook. On the same day a motion was proposed by Minister Damien Meslot to fine students involved in blocades 1000€. It's all becoming nightmarish. The government has not hesitated to become involved in the 'validation' row. Obviously, students who have spent the year defending the rights of future generations still balk at the thought of not passing their degree. People have already had to cancel holidays, work placements, summer jobs. Everyone's paying an extra month's rent to keep up with the changed timetable. Many can't get their places confirmed for courses in September until they get this year's results. We're being blackmailed. The demands being made of us by the government and the President of the university have no relevance to our academic abilities and knowledge. They amount to
'Stop playing strike now children, or we'll take away something you really need. And don't forget youth unemployment is back up to 23%! Better behave, 'cos you're going to need that degree in today's France!'
It's patronising, and it's dangerous. We're not in Year 9! Most students are here to learn, and this semester we've certainly learnt a lot, even not all of it was on the timetable... But I'm a foreign student, and a lazy bastard, and if I were to take the exams normally tomorrow I would scrape a (pretty low) pass mark in every class. What the hell does M. le President think we've been doing for the last three months? Sunbathing? No, we have been studying the courses at home like adults. And sunbathing a little bit. At least marching in nice short-sleeved t-shirts to get our arms brown. And in general, how much of what one learns at university is actually taught in class? (Talking Lettres et Langues still here, not medicine). If I hear the words 'academic reputation' one more time I'm going to hit someone over the head with a book. Yes, M. le President, defend the academic reputation of an institution you're watching go to the dogs. I don't hear you mouthing off about academic reputation in the face of a thousand academics losing their jobs, or the dumbing-down of a teacher-training degree! Well, I'm a bit sick of it all. The government's taking a gamble on education, and we're the chips. It's not a fun position to be in. I was so happy to come to university in France, where education is not a market, but watching it become one is depressing me even more. Especially now, where the student movement to save the university system is in crisis, the universities themselves are in chaos, and the summer holidays (best time to push through dodgy changes in education law) are approaching far too quickly.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NHS Direct Pandemic Prevention advice

  • Ensure everyone washes their hands regularly with soap and water
  • Clean surfaces regularly to get rid of germs
  • Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • Place used tissues in a bin as soon as possible

Friday, April 17, 2009

It’s not all bad news- or is it?

Last time I skirted near the interesting subject of feminism, I mentioned women ‘whose confidence has been so buffeted they wish it was the 1950s again’. I’ve spent the past couple of days back in the 1950s myself reading ‘The Golden Notebook’ at last, a novel which puts Lessing‘s other excellent work in the shade (and certainly makes me deeply unenthusiastic about returning to my actual current self-imposed reading programme, mostly novels –American and French- from 1920s Paris). This article makes sense as a follow-up to my last rant on feminism because of this current nostalgia- not just in ‘The Rules’, but in Cosmo, and in intelligent people’s heads and in the air, for an age that was just as messed up as we are now, if not more. Thinking about what’s changed since then leaves me with a sense of one step forward, two steps back. Or, to be fair, three steps forward, two steps back. There’s so many connections between our bodies, our sexual needs, our relationships, our attitudes to society, that need more thought. And we’re not putting in the work! Reading a story from 50 years ago I realise that although institutions have reformed (divorce, abortion, contraception), our anxieties –and even guilt- about our own desire has not.

And I sat there and I thought: do you suppose he’s forgotten what he said and why he said it? Or aren’t we supposed to care what they say? We’re just supposed to be tough enough to take anything? Sometimes I think we’re all in a sort of sexual madhouse.’

Ella says drily. ‘My dear Julia, we’ve chosen to be free women, and this is the price we pay, that’s all.’

‘Free,’ says Julia. ‘Free! What’s the use of us being free if they aren’t? I swear to God, that every one of them, even the best of them, have the old idea of good women and bad women.’

‘And what about us?’

Lessing is fascinating on the subject of what women’s sexuality means, and one of the interesting things about this exploration of ‘Free Women’ in a patriarchal society is this old idea that if part of the people is not free, then nobody is free. The heroines’ act of defiance is not that they enjoy sex, or that they sleep with married men, but that they continue to do this as they are becoming middle-aged, and have children. And today, now we accept divorce and premarital sex and experimentation, we still put a very clear age cap on this tolerance, as exemplified in Bridget Jones, and Sex and the City, and other fiction about single women enjoying life. And the age cap is linked with fertility- Bridget Jones is in her mid thirties, and Carrie in her late thirties, when they finally find love (don’t ask me how I know that). And I’m worried it’s too deeply socialised to fight as individuals- I certainly forget half of this when someone with nice eyes asks me for a drink- so we have to fight is as a group, or even better, as a society. However, something else that stands out in The Golden Notebook (and, sadly, in Lessing’s much later work) is a highly uneasy relationship between the ‘Free Women’ in the novel and homosexuality, male and female but especially male. The single mothers in the book both worry about direct and associative homosexual influence on their children- in one episode the heroine asks her lodgers to move out because her child is becoming too close to them and their fairly open relationship. It reminds me of The L-Shaped Room trilogy written a decade later, where the protagonist, also a single mother, experiences a warm but nonetheless anxiety-ridden friendship with her housemate, a kind jazz musician who is not only gay but also black, and therefore has no natural place in her child’s world. Also, as ‘Free Women’ bringing up children alone, the heroines are trying almost to compete with conventional child-rearing- a sort of ‘I have made the choice to live outside the norms of conventional society, but will not force my child to live there too.’ While they encourage discussion, and certainly a left-wing morality, there is also the sense that the children are to be protected from their mothers’ extreme behaviour. [I went to a Catholic christening a year or so ago, a lavish do where both the parents freely admitted that they were not and had never been practising or believing Catholics, and that they had taken this step for their child’s future, not for themselves. ‘Good Schools’ were mentioned. (The child was about 18 months old). Why the fuck do we make moral choices that we are afraid to impose on our children? It amounts to admitting defeat straight away in any advancements we can make as a society rather than as individuals. Either the brat is going to be completely dominated by established social mores until the day it graduates from university, an independent adult, in which case you might as well follow your heart, or the parent’s influence will override everything else, so you might as well teach your sprog that you are not a complete hypocrite. Don’t even get me started on people who only get married for the children. Many of my school mates were as small-c conservative as you get, and no one ever blinked an eye at me being a bastard. (Or at least, not about my parents not being married, tee hee.)] I suppose the women’s lib movement concretised itself in the 60s and 70s into something more solid and all-embracing than mere Sex Wars. Here, however, the implication is that homosexuality is almost a threat to the liberated heterosexual woman, a ‘choice’ made by men that excludes women at the same time as aping femininity grotesquely. Of course, solidarity between what is now LGBT and women’s liberation owes much to other social movements, Black civil rights in America in particular. But to give Lessing her due, it also has a debt to pay to novelists such as herself. Despite its problems with homosexuality, the book opens a debate on gender identity; it both questions men and womens’ traditional roles and investigates where they come from and to what point they are necessary. One of the most irritating fallacies about modern feminism is when feminism amounts to complete or partial rejection of men. At the end of the day, if you’re a heterosexual woman, you’re going to ‘need’ a man on some level, and one of the things The Golden Notebook discusses is that it is always difficult to find a dignified equilibrium in sexual relationships, whether you rebel against typical man-woman traditions or not. (Molly, divorced ‘Free Woman’ and her counterpart, Marion, demonstrate this in their different relationships with the same man). This has taken me bloody ages to figure out for myself, and all I can really come up with now is- I have not been as honest and frank as I deserved to be in many of my relationships. I owe it to myself and to the men concerned to be more scrupulous in this matter. I think French men have shocked me into accepting the importance of this. I general, English men are pretty easy to drift along with if nobody asks any questions- I don’t think it’s French culture in particular but just adjusting to Abroad in general that makes me evaluate my assumptions. As always in my self-evaluations, the conclusion is that I need to be more assertive and more demanding, which will probably strike fear into the hearts of my more loyal readers. One of my best friends recently referred to me as sexually liberated- well, you aint seen nothing yet.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Best weekend EVER. Or at least in my top three this year. I drove around Essex singing 'Holding out for a hero' at the top of my voice. I surprised April in the bath. I practically overdosed on curry. I went Eclipse. I won the Grand National (ok, my horse did) at 100-1. I jumped out of a cake. I missed my plane and couldn't bring myself to care less. I played the Best Game Ever with my favourite people. I saw my wonderful new house and all the friends I miss. I hitch-hiked 650km back to Tours from Calais in the sunshine to find my buddies waiting on my doorstep with wine. It was wonderful.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why I Love France

Oh France, you gave your language to my children, your lovers and your mushrooms to my wife. You sang my songs. You delivered my uncle and my auntie to the Nazis. I met the leather chests of the police in Place de la Bastille. I took money from the Communists. I gave my middle age to the milky towns of the Luberon. I ran from farm dogs on a road outside of Rousillon. My hand trembles in the land of France. I come to you with a soiled philosophy of holiness, and you bade me sit down for an interview. Oh France, where I was taken so seriously, I had to reconsider my position. Oh France, every little Messiah thanks you for his loneliness. I want to be somewhere else, but I am always in France. Be strong, be nuclear, my France. Flirt with every side, and talk, talk, never stop talking about how to live without G-d. Leonard Cohen- from Book of Longing

Friday, March 27, 2009

Equal Opportunities

Gordon Brown and the Queen have been chatting about making her job more 'equal opportunities'... getting rid of the bias against women and Catholics. The Prime Minister said 'In the 21st Century people do expect discrimination to be removed.' What the fuck? It's not like they're ever gonna clean that job up enough so that it's the best applicant who gets it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Le Fabuleux Destin De Frances Grahl

My university buildings are still bloqué so I have been able to devote all my time this week to demonstrating and pretending to be Amélie Poulain, two of my favourite things to do in France. I've never really felt myself to be a particularly useful member of society -an ornament, at best- but still there is something very particular about not really having any demands on my time at all. After 7 weeks of strike, I'm finding it difficult to even bother to go into school at all (although to be fair that's a problem I've had for the last ten years.) I pop in for the general assemblies, and usually bump into friends. The great thing about an erasmus year is that when you end up in a café in Place Plumereau drinking café creme and discussing Gloria Gaynor, you are still working on your French. I did this (with some variation of classic ballads analysed) almost every day this week. The trees are in blossom and everyone's wearing T-shirts and shades. I should finish reading Les Miserables, but this is really what I came to France for... Cycling across the Cher, eating raspberries by the lake, playing Jungle Speed, a game that still needs to catch on in England, over several bottles of wine in my loft... 25,000 people marched on Thursday in Tours and around 3 million in France. French demonstrations can be awfully fun- here the union of Artists of Touraine came out, wearing bowler hats, playing trumpets, and dragging dozens of massive sheets of painted corrugated metal, with which they built a sort of Berlin Wall around the Hotel de Ville. Tours musicology students, who have blocked their own faculty building for the past couple of weeks, sent a brass band, and the big trade unions competed as to who had the best music on their van/float (SUD won). In one of the speeches, someone said 'We're sending Guadeloupe our support, and they've sent us their weather,' which was true, it was blazing sunshine in a clear blue sky. Strike in France can also be horrible. The march in Paris on Thursday ended with tear gas and flash-balls, not really for any particular reason. In my experience, that kind of police provocation is usually to give the demonstrators a bad name, but if 5% of the population was already in the street I really can't see a point. A few weeks ago I went to Paris to march with my university in a massive university demonstration (50,000 people) and the police had just blocked off the route of the march completely, with amoured vans in a double row across Les Invalides, stopping the march from getting to its planned destination of the Assemblée Nationale. I don't think that kind of order comes from the police. It doesn't make that much difference to them, except that obviously a lot of people were angered, so the fun began for the CRS around 4.30 instead of 7.30. I tend to assume that the decision to break up a massive popular protest comes from the same guy who said 'Désormais, quand il y a une grève, plus personne ne s'en aperçoit'. Also this week I went on a much smaller march for a little girl called Nora, an Algerian baby adopted a year ago by a French couple. Her parents are fighting the baby's deportation, which would certainly lead to her return to an orphanage in Algeria, not, one assumes, the most wonderful of places to grow up. Her father has been on hunger strike for several weeks, leading to his arrest last week (I think for setting fire to his own car but I'm not sure). Poor kid is 16 months old! There's been a spate of deportations recently, many of people who have lived here for years, have jobs, are reasonably successful, pay their taxes and contribute to French society. Moral? Credit Crunch classic. 'Doesn't matter if you're integrated, when push comes to shove we're gonna screw you over as much as we like to show 'real' French people [i.e. voters] that we care. Even if you haven't yet learnt to walk.' These cases are examples to other immigrants, reminders of their second-class not-even-citizen status. I'm afraid the recession is gonna foster a lot more racial discrimination before it's over... In other news, I've finally been proved right- not hanging out with your friends enough does cause cancer. Louis has made a friend, a big ginger and white tom from the next door flat who likes to invite himself in over the rooftops. I'm trying to decide what to do over the summer- could be my last long summer holidays before I have to face the Real World. Until then I shall continue making believe I am a character in a French romantic comedy. Feels right.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Attack by the Awful A's

La Nouvelle République (my local paper) featured six articles today voicing its fears about the 'extreme left' in Tours. 'Antis, Anarchists, Activists... they're taking over the streets.' Interesting alliterative grouping there. (Antis, Anarchists, Activists- what will YOU choose?) One gets the feeling that the rather bourgeois, comfortable department of Indre-et-Loire was trying to ignore various groups of disaffected youth and has been called to attention- literally while enjoying a coffee en terrace in Place Plume. (Since I've been in this town I've noticed a rift between wealthy and not-so-wealthy that has none of the disparity of a city like London. On Saturdays, middle-aged women in fur coats do their shopping at the Galleries Lafayette whilst appearing completely oblivious to young people begging and bumming fags. I had long assumed there were a lot of squats in Tours. It seems that suddenly they are a threat to our comfortable, middle-class town life.) Tolerated while all they do is beg, all of a sudden they are dangerous. In a country with such a high youth unemployment rate, isn't it fairly natural that some people choose to 'opt out' as much as they possibly can? Even where insecure housing and begging for a living is a choice? Well, everyone's been rushing to put in their two-centimes-worth about Saturday's events. The departmental Prefet made a speech in which he deplored the fact that 'Voyous and SDF' (hooligans and homeless people) were encouraged to join in what 'may have' started out as a genuine party. Since a lot of homeless people tend to beg on the corner of the square where the police started gassing people up, I'm not fully convinced they are guilty for this involvement. As for hooligans, one assumes they were paying customers in the bars until the police forced the bars to close early. In a lot of interviews with bar managers, all that most of them seem to be upset about is the early closure and consequential financial loss, which came after police intervention and not as a direct result of the party. The police, on the other hand, are trying to get to the 'instigators' of the party. A chap who created a facebook group after the event, 'If you, too, felt like you were in Baghdad on Saturday 7th March in Tours!' has been asked to cooperate with the local police in moderating his group so no one can organise a repetition. Even more cooperative are Facebook themselves, who are helpfully delving into archived records of the original facebook event to give the police names and details of the organisers. Thinking back, a couple of things strike me. One- the police have been pretty well-behaved since the beginning of the university strikes here, but already last Thursday at our march they were out in riot gear for the first time this year. I think they may have judged the time was right to cut down on the Mr Nice Guy stuff... you know what the police can be like- 'Yeah, we've been really tolerant for ages. Now we can do what we like, right? We don't need an excuse!'. Except that Saturday furnished them with the excuse. Two- Within the legitimate strike movement at the University, people have been sensible enough not to enter into debate about Saturday. However, given that a lot of the ridiculously overblown reactions are aimed not at us, the students, but at a different group altogether -hooligans and homeless people- (I think there's some racism involved as well, as poor people in Tours are decidedly more ethnically-mixed than students here) maybe we should think about a bit more solidarity here. After London, this town can be annoyingly petty-bourgeois, complacent and bigoted. And although if I were ever to encourage rebellion I probably would not do it on this blog, it does occur to me sometimes that it would not be that difficult to bring Tours to its knees. (More on actual university strikes soon, I thought I wouldn't mix the two issues.)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Strikes... Parties... Riots... Impromptu brass band concerts

At the centre of Tours is the old town, a network of cobbled streets grouped around Place Plumereau, the heart of the medieval city. It's a magnet for tourists and party animals alike, with buildings dating as far back as the 15th century and dozens of bars, clubs and restaurants crammed into a pedestrianised area a few hundred yards across. Traditionally a student area due to its relatively low rents and the extremely high bar:resident ratio, it was saved from demolition in the 1970s and glammed up during the 80s and 90s to become the most beautiful part of a beautiful city. View Larger Map After over five weeks of strike at their university, students at Tours are coming out into the town to increase public awareness. A demonstration last Thursday ended in a face-off with local police dolled up in riot gear as protesters blocked the two main bridges into town. This didn't stop the Commission for the Community from organising a party in Place Plumereau for Saturday night, a sort of flash-mob/ protest that was probably intended as much to boost strikers' morale as to create publicity. We're all a bit down this week after quarrels with the President of the university and even some disagreement between members of the movement. Well, I actually had another party, so I just popped by the square on my way to the under-the-counter-alcohol candy shop. It was a beautiful sight. Around the edges of the square, tourists and towns-folk sipped their saturday night demis, pretending not to watch the middle where jolly students and hippies drank bottled beer and danced in a conga line. I waved at my friends, wished them a bonne soirée and toddled off to my friend's birthday. Coming back at 1am from Les Halles I would normally cross Place Plume, but from la Place du Grand Marché I could tell something was going on in the square. I cut down rue de la Rotisserie and found myself slap-bang in the action at the corner with rue du Change. Crammed into the tiny street, a couple of hundred young people were being advanced on by CRS (riot police). A friend told me the police had burst into Place Plume at around 10.30 while protesters and partiers were dancing round their bonfire, and had been gradually pushed south of the square. Here it is necessary to comment- anyone who actually wanted to stop a bonfire would send the fire engines. This was a move on the part of the police to stop free protest, not fires. What the police hadn't counted on was the fact that every young working person in the Tours agglomeration gathers in the bars on Saturday night to kick back. My British readership may not believe this, but there are young working people in Tours who resent violent police involvement in peaceful protest. Some of them even distrust their police force. So by the time I had got there the students had in fact dispersed into largish groups around the centre-ville, but their numbers had swelled from a couple of hundred to maybe a couple of thousand as young people spilled out of the rapidly closing bars to help their cause. What I first saw on the corner of rue du Change was the hard-core of a mixed group of youth, the ones who were taking the biggest risks to keep the riot police out of our part of town. I had barely been updated on this by my friend Etienne when flares roared up in front of the police lines, blanks appeared to be fired and he grabbed my arm, shouting 'Run!'. We ran back into Place Plume as the narrow road was filled with tear gas. My friend pulled my scarf tightly around my face but it didn't make much difference. The gas filled up everywhere for a good hundred yard radius- it must have affected a lot of onlookers and people on their way home. Despite the gas I stayed in rue du Change for a good half hour, taking photos and talking to people. The police were trying to advance back north towards Place Plume, but kids throwing bottles and periodically rushing them in a mass impeded their progress, so they contented themselved with generous doses of gas (lacrymogène, my wortd for the day) avery five minutes or so. They'd been stuck like that for several hours and were clearly awaiting reinforcements. When my camera ran out of battery I went home and changed out of my party gear into a hoody. I decided this time to approach the riots from rue de la Monnaie, coming up behind the police lines. A small crowd had gathered to watch on this side, presumably all people who thought they would be protected if they stayed behind the police. When I got out my camera, however, there were problems. An officer told me to move further back, so I did. However when he told me to stop taking pictures I refused. He told me he would break my camera- I said 'I doubt that.' There were clearly too many witnesses for him to try. Then he told me he would break my camera if I didn't delete all the pictures, and if not, arrest me. He was one of those thugs doing crowd control safely behind the actual riot police lines, a real thicko. I replied that if he wanted to delete the pictures on my camera he would have to arrest me first, and we could go down the station and discuss the matter. 'There's nothing to discuss. It's illegal to take pictures of a police officer carrying out his duty.' I suggested here, perhaps a little rashly, that as an employée of the state, if he was doing things at work that he didn't want recorded, he was probably not doing his job properly. Classic answer- 'I don't come and take photos of you doing your job.' 'Alors maybe you're in the wrong job, Monsieur.' He grabbed my camera. I held on fast. Then the crowd saved me- all the young men behind me got out their camera phones and started snapping in solidarity. This posed enough of a mental challenge to the copper that he losened his grip, and I judged the time right to slip away, not without taking a quick pic of him. Funnily enough that was the only picture of the night that wasn't completely blurry. As I wandered away from the police lines, several more vans drew up. The long-awaited reinforcements had arrived. I kept on round the corner to the Place du Monstre, on the western edge of the old town. And what a charming sight after the CRS! A group of boys were leaning out of a first-floor window with brass instruments- one had a tuba- playing jolly music to the crowds below. Crowds were dancing to a variation on the theme from Tetris, a great song and one of my favourites. I saw my friend Benjamin and he introduced me to his girlfriend. 'Enchantée,' I said, as though we were all having an apero together. It was 3.30 am. The dancing carried on in Place du Monstre, but the newly strengthened police had nearly finished pushing everyone out of the old town via the 8 or 9 roads radial to Place Plume. I saw the smoke pouring out of the nearest side road, rue du Grand Marché, and gauged it was time to go home to bed. Skirting the Place to get home via tiny, winding side-streets, I could see cops fighting kids, and smoke everywhere. When I came into my road, rue du Commerce, the main exit from Place Plume to the east, there was still a line of protesters to one side of me and a line of police to the other. I ignored the flying bottles and went off home to bed, but the noise carried on till much later. This morning rue du Commerce was scattered with broken glass and blood.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'll give you fucking 'Rules'....

Am I living in a fantasy world inhabited only by me? Am I the cock-eyed optimist from South Pacific only the other way round? Was everything I learnt from my mother applicable only to her, and then only in certain, wintry sunshine, test-tube conditions? Well, yes, to all of these, and I think we all know that. But surely not about FEMINISM! My fucking immoveable ROCK of doctrine when all the others- socialism, pacifism, smoking- seem to waver. I know there are women and men who don't believe in feminism, just as I know there are people who are wrong about many things but still lead happy, fulfilling lives and try to be good people. But I seem to be surrounded by women who make no connection between a vague rebuffal of feminist theory and activism and the miserable conditions they 'find themselves in' in their own personal and particular ways. I didn't mean to read The Rules, it was lying around. And after Rule 16- 'Stop Dating Him If He Doesn't Buy You A Romantic Gift For Your Birthday Or Valentine's Day', I did decide to brush through the remaining 39 rules as quickly as I could, which took me all of 15 minutes. This book sold over 2 million copies! Although it is absolutely bursting with gems such as 'if you have a bad nose, get a nose job,' and 'It is never necessary to make eye contact... let him look at you!' I don't want to linger too long on this subject. It's a backlash classic. It's for women whose confidence has been so buffeted they wish it was the 1950s again. It's a bit like a religion in its canny, manipulative, win-win set-up, as it underlines over and over again that if you follow The Rules and he is The One, he will propose to you within 15 months. If you follow The Rules and it doesn't work out, then he was not The One. If you don't follow The Rules and you still get together, it won't work out, as reavealed in dozens of 'real-life' examples from people called things like David and Sandra. If you believe in God/The Rules, you don't need proof. If you don't believe/obey, don't be surprised if you get no proof. Don't ever call him. Don't ever ask him to dance. Don't offer to pay half. Et cetera, et cetera. The book's advice to women can be summed up as 'Nothing ventured, nothing lost.' Oh, and don't jump his bones until he puts a ring on your finger. I was getting really upset. I had to get out Cynthia Heimel to cheer myself up.
'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a net.' Cynthia Heimel
This is more of a rant than an analysis. I just get so tired of 'Even if you're a beast in the board-room, be an angel/little girl/bunny rabbit outside of work'. Passivity seems to be shoved in my face from all directions. And no one's happy! For one thing, who gives a fuck about the board-room? You call that being a successful woman? I fantasize vaguely about ways to rehabilitate you and the rest of your class back into useful positions in society. And don't get me started on 'equal oportunities'. I promise you, when I come across an equal opportunity I will be sure to blog about it. I'm sure it will be something along the lines of identical twins raised by wolves. I sometimes wish I was a man so that if I ever heard a woman saying 'Well, we got everything the suffragettes were fighting for,' I could punch her in the face. I could do it anyway, and have received the cue THREE times since Christmas, but it wouldn't be as good. Plus I'm mostly against violence. French women are making me depressed. I still have to finish reading The Second Sex but already I'm sure Simone de Beauvoir must be turning in her grave. I felt in London that women's lives had got better, that all women didn't necessarily have to campaign for their rights in order to be in the Sisterhood, that people irrespective of gender could get together and form adult decisions about their dignity, their bodies, their lives together or apart. God knows I haven't always had perfect relationships, but I never felt seriously attacked or compromised or that anyone behaved badly due to gender differences. Taking the rough with the smooth always had its place in relationships just like it has in every aspect of life. Here I find not that there is less confidence in feminism as a way of life- it's maybe taken more generally for granted, just like socialism, pacifism and smoking, but that basic principles that I barely think of as feminist but rather as good-sense, sound rules for everyone's happiness are ignored. Men are more macho. Women more docile in relationships. Relationships more serious, and even in people of university age, more likely to end in marriage. The divorce rate is the same here. Whatever. My close friend's girlfriend thinks I am Jolene from the Dolly Parton song, and cannot be reassured. My drunken comfort about 'La Sororité' left her more muddled. The only compromise I could find was to beg her to voice these fears to me as often as they came back, and to tell me straight away if she thought I stepped over the line that I in fact wouldn't have dreamed of straying near. Another girl was dumped by her boyfriend three days before Valentine's day, during which he slept with someone else, and then took him back. An English girl I know was amazed to find after drunkenly getting off with someone that they were now officially going out. Another English girl dated a French man for some time before overhearing him talking to a friend about his other, real girlfriend. I haven't moved to Saudi Arabia or somewhere, but these differences are freaking me out a bit. And everyone is so down, so nervy, so unconfident. No wonder there are people who will seize any Rules, no matter how Victorian, in order to feel they are in control of their love life and that they're doing things right. I would like to propose my own rules, which I personally think will either lead you to an engagement with The One in under 14 months. Or perhaps to a bit of self-respect.
  1. Have lots of friends. And make as many new ones as you have memory for in your phone. Then make some more.
  2. Tell the truth. Not necessarily the whole truth, but definitely nothing but the truth.
  3. Except if you're playing the 'Outrageous lies to strangers' pulling game. But you are only allowed to play this with people you're never gonna see again. And if by accident you do see them again, you have to confess immediately that you're not really a scuba-diving nun about to show the Pope some coral reefs in Indonesia.
  4. Never call a love/lust interest. Never answer his/her calls. Never go out with him/her. Never let him/her kiss you. Never sleep with ANYONE. Unless you want to. (Thank you Cynthia.)
  5. Think about stuff. Think about everything you can think about. Then buy books on things you want to think about a bit more and read them. Don't believe everything you read.
  6. Use a condom.
  7. If someone is really mean to you, never see them again. If you don't enjoy this, meet them once to discuss it.
  8. Never salvage a relationship. But start a brand-new relationship with the same person if you want to.
  9. Pay your way, you dirty sponger. According to your ability.
  10. Never treat anyone else's set of rules as anything more than advice. Make your own fucking rules!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lightning strikes twice

Students occupying the big amphitheatre in Tours university when the motion for indefinite strike action (along with 50 French universities) was passed this afternoon. I'm on strike in France. 30,000 people marched this morning in Tours, I've never seen anything like it. If you're in England don't forget to show your support to the students occupying part of Queen Mary for Palestine.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Going downhill fast

When I was little I can remember pushing my bike up hills just to whizz down them at what seemed like breakneck speed. The appeal of skiing is similar- it's as close as you can get to freefalling without doing something really silly. Add the beauty of the Alps, the clear air, the black pines against the bright blue sky. Being that close to the sky is literally out of this world. I kept laughing for no reason (the altitude?) and when I fell over (all the time) I was thinking 'This is life. I've really found something this time.' Of course I probably won't go back soon as I'll never get that deal again. I could probably get free accommodation with an old friend, but the lift-pass and the ski rental alone come to more than I paid for the week. The hordes of expensively sunglassed Brits milling around the lifts are not really people I'm keen on anyway. It's not for me. They're people who have to buy thousand pound holidays to experience the magic of spiralling downwards with no control. I feel that way when I wake up in the morning.