Monthly Archives: November 2010

American diplomats… bunch of bitchy little girls

I try not to get involved in politics these days. It boils my blood. A friend of mine yesterday pointed out that the news often makes her cry. It does me too. I was chatting yesterday with a French friend about wikileaks, and when I said we old Europeans tend to be cynical about politics, he said ‘no, we’re realists’. Perhaps he’s right, but I for one am very cynical. I wish I could trust a single elected government official. You know my thoughts on this already.

However, I’m actually quite amused by the Wikileaks scandal. Firstly, I don’t believe anything has been revealed that someone with any political understanding didn’t know already. North Korea being a ‘spoilt child’? Only yesterday, I said China would never stomach a war with America using Korea as a pawn. Russia too. Cold war/Asia/East fighting battles on chessboards with pawn nations against Europe/the New World/West hopefully went out of the window with Vietnam and Afghanistan and so on. The pawns fought back with weapons we provided for them and decapitated all the black and white Kings and Queens. So is it any surprise to anyone in the world that China would prefer diplomacy to war? Not at all. Is it any surprise that Washington (I use this term to mean politicians, rather than the American public!) would rather bomb the shit out of them, having failed to learn a lesson in 1953? Not really.

Obama regards (present tense??) David Cameron as a lightweight? Well, didn’t England?? Two thirds of the country didn’t vote Conservative. That’s a lot of people who didn’t believe in him either. Maybe still don’t. To be honest, as a probably slightly central thinker (belief about free education and hospitals weighed out by a right-thinking capitalist approach) I like his fairness. But in my opinion, he’s a bit like that shiny-faced, slightly-plump goodie-two-shoes kid who always had his shirt tucked in and his tie done up properly who’d say ‘Miss… such-and-such has been doing this when you were writing on the board.’ I’m thinking Martin from The Simpsons. Lightweight, probably. He’s not a political heavyweight like Tebbit or Thatcher and so on, but is that a bad thing?

The US has been bombing Yemeni Al-Quaeda camps? Quelle surprise! Yemeni officials have been saying they’ve been doing it?? Yeah right. I’m pretty sure when you look at what’s happened there, you know the US have something to do with it. If I were Al-Quaeda, I wouldn’t look at the damage and think for one single minute that Yemeni troops had done this. Not to mention the fact that most governments are about as watertight as a sieve. I’m quite sure Bin Laden could work out this for himself.

Hillary Clinton has been spying on the UN. Isn’t that kind of her job?? If she doesn’t know what the hell’s going on everywhere, I’d be pretty worried!

My favourite stories are the Prince Andrew ones. Firstly, I kind of like that he’s actually doing something. You have this vague understanding that the royal family are out there ‘doing stuff’, but I’m pleased to hear he’s actually trying to do something useful. I did say trying. Secondly, I like that he is a ‘neuralgic patriot’. If anyone is a neuralgic patriot, I’d hope it was the Royal Family. I’d be pissed off if he’d been calling England names!! I like that he said Americans don’t know geography. I know it’s a very, very sweeping generalisation, but Sarah Palin? Come on. Fess up, America. You’ve got people who like Palin, who voted for her. This worries us. There are four US states where it is ILLEGAL to teach anything other than creationism as the theory of how the world was created, thus making it not so much theory as four states’ ‘fact’ that this happened. In a supposedly secular nation! Four states!! And I like the fact he said ‘English geography teachers are the best in the world.’

Obviously, he’s not met MY geography teacher, Mr Mulroy, who was responsible for losing my GCSE folder and getting me a D. My only D. He talked more about a fireball his grandmother had seen and less about favelas and shanty towns. However, I like that Prince Andrew said our Geography teachers are the best in the world, even if he was exaggerating. Honestly, he sounded like he really believed it. Why’s that a bad thing? I want my Royal representatives to believe, without doubt, that British stuff is best. Apparently, the American ambassador, ‘who speaks 6 languages’, was not impressed by Andrew’s intelligence (or lack of) – did she NOT know Andrew AT ALL before she went to the meeting??! Everybody knows a) Prince Charles is a green-alliance soft-touch who talks to plants b)Andrew is a Hooray Henry of Prince Harry standards c)Edward is probably a bit gay and d) Anne likes horses and swears a bit and is probably a bit like Princess Margaret was. And she was an old lush. Maybe I should be the American Ambassador. I wouldn’t be surprised by Andrew’s lack of finesse or brains. So he’s more like Phillip, who we all know to be a bit of a ‘foot-in-mouth’ pensioner. Is this news to anyone??! Even the pro-monarchy (well, pro-Diana) Daily Express knows these so-called secrets.

US ambassadors think Berlusconi is ‘feckless, vain and ineffective’? Honestly, that’s quite diplomatic. I’d have said a second-rate mafiosi one step down from Mussolini, myself. Some say hanging round with 16 year old Moroccans is a ‘playboy lifestyle’ – I say it’s one year older than paedophilia. Just to point out, the guy is 74. He has hair plugs and bad Just for Men hair dye. Vain?! That’s putting it mildly. This is the man who said Obama was ‘more tinted’ than the last one… feckless? I’d say a rude racist, myself. Accusations of money laundering, corruption and lying – none of which stick because everybody knows he’s got so many people in his pockets. I’d personally have gone for ‘wannabe gangsta-cum-mafiosi-paedophile’ and it’d have been much more accurate. Allegedly. For a man who controls the media in Italy, he’s not very media-savvy. I personally like his justification of ‘it’s better to like beautiful young girls than to be gay’. This is the Italian Prime Minister, people.

Putin is an alpha-dog? Anything we didn’t know?! He’s risen up through the ranks and turned the country around from a corrupt oligarchy to a financially and politically stable place. You don’t do that if you haven’t got a killer mentality and brute force behind you. Human rights not really a strong point, nor Chechnya, but he’s got KGB connections coming out of his eyeballs. This is a man who probably knows YOUR secrets. Let’s not forget, we might have got Gorbachev and Glasnost but then we had the pisshead Yeltsin.

China hacked Google. Really?! As Jake would say, in his uber-sarcastic tones. So, a technologically savvy nation (who invented the world’s first eggless egg) hacked an organisation it was threatened by? Hmmm. There’s a surprise. I’d have been more worried if they hadn’t tried to see what was afoot at Google. I’m not at all anti-Google, having been one of the first googlers back in the day when Ask Jeeves was still popular, but it doesn’t do well for corporations to get involved in politics. China have hacked into other stuff? I’m not surprised. I’d be more surprised if they weren’t spying on everything.

Afghanistan is still corrupt?! Oh My Word!! So one of the world’ major political hotspots has failed to be sorted out in five years, despite a centuries-old mess left by East and West. I like the fact the Afghan VP had $52, 000, 000 on him. Where do you keep that kind of money?!

The CIA have made a boo-boo and arrested (and probably tortured) the wrong person and asked Germany not to prosecute them for their error. I’m saying nothing. But shit like this happens all the time. England were no better with suspected IRA terrorists. We don’t have to look back very far to realise we’ve made similar errors as a country. So who gets to cast the first stone?

On The Daily Beast, the first comment ‘I wish I could say I’m surprised’ sums it up for me. Steve kind of said it all this morning when he said ‘there’s a difference between suspecting and knowing’, which is true, but it still makes me laugh. If any one of these people, organisations or countries didn’t know precisely what was going on, they’re not very good at politics!!

It reminds me a little of someone finding a popular schoolgirl’s diary (the Burn Book, I guess, from Mean Girls) and sharing it around. Nobody is surprised to find their names in it. Nobody is surprised to realise what the other one thinks of them. Still, it creates a scandal because everyone’s upset that the diary is out there. If America is Regina, England must be Gretchen or Karen – are we an insecure rich girl or sweet but dimwitted?? Rumours, gossip and bitchiness. The Burn Book is Uber-Bitch Regina’s secret diary of scandal, gossip and meanness, not unlike some of these wikileaks documents. The school (perhaps in this case, the UN) make everyone fess up and apologise. Maybe that’s what should happen here.

Berlusconi: I’m sorry I said paedophilia is better than homosexuality

Homosexuals: We’re sorry we said you looked like a leather-back turtle

Berlusconi: I’m sorry I said Obama was tinted

Obama: I’m sorry we said you were vain and feckless. We know how sensitive you are about your hair plugs.

Saudi Arabia: I’m sorry we said you should bomb Iran. We’re just mad because they get so much press attention

Iran: we’re sorry we have such a terrible human rights record. We love all of you really.

China: Sorry, Google. I know we should be best friends, what with China having such a high proportion of the internet, but we can’t have you taking over

Google: Sorry, China. We know how sensitive you are about what your people can do. We shouldn’t have interfered in your politics, dude.

US Ambassador: Sorry, Andrew – I didn’t mean to say you were stupid.

Andrew: That’s okay. I forgive you. I shouldn’t have been so nasty about France. Forgive me, France. And so I like Britain? So sue me!

France: Hmmm. Okay, but America, you owe us a big apology for saying we’re thin skinned.

America: we’re sorry; we’re just pissed off you didn’t support us over Iraq

France: I know, but we felt strong-armed, and you need to admit it was a criminal action

America: yeah, we know. Sorry, Iraq. We didn’t mean to say you had WMD… it just got so out of hand. If you’d just have sold us oil at a sensible price…

Iraq: well, what’s done is done. Saddam’s dead now. Maybe you could help us rebuild the cradle of civilisation?

America: fair enough.

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Dans le jardin

The heading of this reminded me a little of my very first experience of French, from a textbook, in Mrs Short’s class. She was blousy, busty, middle aged and Welsh. Très bizarre.

Anyway, we had a Longman audio-visual textbook which introduced La Famille Marsaud, including the older daughter, Marie-France. I don’t remember the other family names (a web search reveals the names Jean-Paul and Claudette) but Marie-France stuck in my mind, mainly because I thought it very odd to include your country as part of your name. I wish I had been called something-something. Something-England. Something very English like Polly, and then England. Polly-England. Not quite the same as Marie-France. Anyway, I was convinced M. Marsaud was always ‘dans le jardin’ and the website confirms it. Sometimes, my memory is reliable.

But… one of the nice things about coming back is getting into the garden. I love my garden at home, and here, it’s less of a garden and more of a functional plot for stuff. There aren’t pretty flower bushes, or bulbs. There aren’t lovely plants, just only functional ones. I like this, but I do want a little more ornament in amongst the practical stuff. However, I was perfectly happy with functional stuff.

I raked leaves. I feel compulsion with leaf-raking. I can’t stop it once I’ve started until there isn’t a single leaf left. Not a single, solitary one. I know you realise at this point that this is quite a ridiculous compulsion, since it’s autumn and there are lots of leaves. Only yesterday I swept up all the plum leaves from the tree nearest the house and today, there are just as many again. The definition of futility, perhaps. I’ve got lovely piles of leaves all over the garden, waiting to be lifted and put on the compost heap.

I also cleared out some more of the polytunnel. I’d completely weeded it back in April. We’d planted some stuff and set up a basic watering system. Unfortunately, without being able to weed and prune, by the time I got here in July, it was like Day of the Triffids.

At first, this lovely poly tunnel (quite wrecked, knackered and in need of complete dismantling and ‘re-mantling’) was a mecca of order. I had neat rows of herbs and veggies starting off, all composted in well and watered well.

However, the watering system died before we were back out, some stuff died off and other stuff flourished. I weeded it a lot and sorted it out, so that by the time we went back to England in June, it looked like this:

Next time, we made sure the watering system was okay. Between June and July, this happened…

It’s quite nice to have it back to some kind of order now. I’ve planted some lettuces in, some carrots and some broad beans. There are still some final tomatoes in there that went a bit rampant. This time I shall be keeping a closer eye on it. Still, it is nice to be digging it up and finding potatoes going spare, as well as the remaining weeds. The problem was, once we’d let it go between June and July, there was no getting it back. I had some lovely-looking Kale in there that completely went to seed. This coming year, I shall be keeping a much closer eye on things!!

Post-whinge normality

Sorry for the accidental whinge yesterday. I’m at the mercy of my Step-father’s obsession with the Daily Politics show and it makes me feel all ‘ARGH!’ – David Cameron really needs to stop saying ‘… we inherited…’ now – we get it! This is what England does to me. I’m far too wrapped-up in the politics and far too powerless.Plus, the chair is uncomfortable – the keyboard is at an odd angle to the monitor and the longer I type the more frustrated I get.

Anyway… I benefit from another influence whilst I’m here: my mother’s. My mother is a craftswoman extraordinaire. She does AMAZING things with bits of cotton and fabric. Her house is like an Aladdin’s cave of crafty wonders. I’m fully packed up on the excellent ideas I’ve gleaned here (embroidery, definitely. A bit of knitting may be on the agenda too) and I can’t wait to rush back, get to Gifi, Oasis and Cache Muraille and stock up on fabrics, cottons, colours etc for Christmas.

I thought last night that I should have a ’25 days of Christmas’ advent craft event at home when I get back. I’m dying to get started. I’m starting with fabric stars, moving through a range of tartan-y goods and Jake and I are going to be B-U-S-Y! I’ve even found stuff for Steve to do. I can’t wait to get them up on display. I looooooove Christmas. I love decorating my house (I’ve even had autumn decorations up) and I like moving through the seasons.

It has to be said, I have beautiful Christmas decorations – all in France, because the sensible stuff got left here and ridiculous stuff went over on the first van. Lots of lovely jewel colours, courtesy of the now defunct Pier. I also go for themed colours for wrapping – and I’m good. If there was a job as a professional present wrapper (not rapper as some of my exam kids might spell it, or even raper) then I would have it. I think I was an elf in a former life.

This year, I’m braving felt. I hate felt. I hate the feel of it. It goes through me. I have a friend who feels like this about cotton wool – it gives her the creeps. I shall brave it because I want to have a very festive house – although I wish I had time to paint and decorate before then. I doubt it. The ceiling, maybe. I might manage that if I get on to it when I get back. Could do with the papa bringing some proper paint round, and not this stupid French paint that’s thinner than my mother’s gravy (sorry mum)

I did the whole ‘pink and black’ very very fetching thing in 1997 – then lime green and blue… this year, maybe I’m back to white stuff? I’m not sure yet. There won’t be much by way of presents, since we’re so poor, but it’s always a great day anyway.

I’m a fan of velvet ribbons too.

So… so far, I’ve got some fabric stars planned, some snowflakes, some cool Christmas stockings, baked goods of course, Christmas cards and the likes… Maybe even some Christmas stuff for the garden too. Watch this space : )

Etsy, as always, is a source of inspiration, but as always, there’s little you can’t do yourself.

Don’t bank on a bank

My sister thinks I am anti-England. In a way, she’s right. I love this country but watching politics and banks destroy it is like watching an old friend being ravaged by an entirely preventable disease that, once in motion, cannot be stopped. Negative imagery perhaps. And, no, it’s not just England. All around me, I look at a world damaged by politics and economics and I feel sympathy with Marx that he knew something had to, and must, change.

Politics and politicians are the easy target. They are public. Most people know the name of their president or Prime Minister, and it’s easy to slander them. Some are utterly ridiculous. The posturing, posing, preening and frankly mafiaesque behaviour of Berlusconi; the completely bonkers actions of Qaddafi. Some are not what we thought they would be – Blair take note. A couple of world leaders seem to have their hearts in the right place – Lula is a shining example. Some are bully-boys, like Kim Jong-il. Some inherit, as D. Cameron likes to point out, crazy, corrupt governments. Some try to make it better; many make it worse. But they are public figures and they face the firing line, literally, sometimes – like JFK and Lincoln, or Berlusconi faced by a mad-man. Sometimes they face the firing line in retrospect, judged for their rule, like Saddam Hussein.

We are who we elect. As The Jam said, ‘you choose your leaders and place your trust’ – and then they renege on promises and ideology – maybe because of the situation they inherit. And they face the music. I feel for them, a little. Reading Coriolanus is insightful – Shakespeare’s masses (and his interpretation of Roman masses) reads like politics today. (As an aside, I’ve just seen that Coriolanus is due for release as a film this year… with Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus. Excellent casting.) He said of the public, ‘he who depends on your favours swims with fins of lead’… ‘with every minute you do change a mind’. A noble, fierce, honest yet not publicity-hungry general who does the right thing and totally understands the fickle nature of the masses who care only about their belly and the today, and who is turned upon when he decides to go for government. There’s a story for today.

Yet it’s not these men, with all their hubris – or lack of it – that inspire my wrath. In a way, I pity them. They inherit problems, can’t start afresh, rely on public favour and can only do what they are permitted to do. Sometimes you are the public’s darling; sometimes you face their judgement without doing anything differently. Take pensions. Let’s get some perspective. Pensions have only really existed for 100 years. Much of the world have no access to a pension. I kind of understand the French anger about their pensions, but in reality, five generations ago, pensions didn’t exist. And pensions need sorting. The country has a plughole of money it needs to fill. People must accept something needs to happen to allow pensions in the future. More money is needed or people need to die. Such is the simplicity of the situation. But the public have a short-sighted vision that things that are thus must ever be thus without realising how lucky they are to have a pension in the first place, let alone a lifespan of 67.2 years – the global life expectancy. France is 10th in the world. Its people will live 12.5 years longer than this. Maybe not in good health. Maybe ill every single day. But over 40 years longer than people in many African nations will live. Such is life.

But yes, politicians of the past (and of the present) made mistakes. Trouble is, they’re all too involved in the blame game to say sorry for their part in it. Or for their predecessors part in it. Governments around the world have done horrendous things in the name of governance and in the name of the country. Australian government-sponsored forced adoption of aboriginal peoples… American removal of lands from indigenous tribes… English treatment of the Irish… countries who’ve waged war and fought themselves, making enemies of brothers… Does anyone stand up and say ‘Actually, we SHOULD ensure African life expectancy improves, since the race for colonisation fucked everything up quite royally’ – or ‘Actually, we SHOULD be in Afghanistan, helping out, since we’ve used it as a pawn in the Empire/Super-power game since time immemorial’. No.

So politics is one bad boy.

But, banks are worse. We elect our governments (sometimes) and we elect them from our masses. They are us. They do as we do. We can say ‘no’ to Mugabe and say ‘that’s not right to Idi Amin’ – who starve and subjugate people, remove their land from them.

But we never say no to the banks.

Banks have been around for about 600 years. That’s all. That’s nothing, in the scheme of human lifetimes. The Romans’ rule was slightly less. Chinese dynasties lasted longer. They’ve existed for about the same time as ‘America’ – I say that with tongue in cheek. We still see America as a new country; fresh. It’s a baby in World Domination. In fact, the banks dominate us much more. McDonald’s can’t get into Cuba. Banks can.

Of course, money lenders have existed since way before then, as Jebus tells us. And they weren’t good news either.

The fact is banks rule the world, not governments. I see Icelandic banking collapses worry my parents more than pension changes. My step-dad was concerned about his money in the Irish banking system. One crash can destroy their life together. Banks can remove houses, ruin lives – all on the back of their own dodgy behaviours. They lie, they over-predict, they gloss over, they make bad loans and bad debts and they squeeze the little man.

Let’s face it, the banks caused the Great Depression, not the Government. The banks caused global recession, not the Government. We worry about the euro, but it’s the banks who are more concerning, even the IMF, lending money to countries who are bad-debt risks.

I grew up in the eighties where ‘ethics’ mattered to students opening accounts. You didn’t bank with Barclays because you knew they were involved in excessive debt collecting from African nations – many of whom had seen the debt repayed many times over. (I’m reminded the Germans have just finished paying for the First World War!)And interest rates on loans were impossible for countries to manage. Combinations of corrupt governments and giddy-school-boy banking has meant that the people of the world suffer.

They can be regulated – they are supposed to be. So why do banks still fall apart? It is, after all, an industry and its primary purpose is profit. That’s why they fall apart.

In England, if you put your money in a bank, it doesn’t even belong to you anymore. The American Federal Reserve is a privately-owned company. “The Reserve Banks… are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations.”

They, therefore, dictate monetary policy, being independent, TO the US Government, not the other way around. They can introduce Qualitative Easing, not the government. They decide whether to introduce this – and QE is introduced when other things have failed. Colloquially, they print more money. It failed in Japan in the early 2000s. It has many risks. And a privately owned corporation can force this to happen! The Federal Reserve doesn’t have to say who it has guaranteed money to, and although it was forced to say by Bloomberg, it is up for appeal. We may never know where American money goes, who influences it or what is influencing the politics of our world-leading cross-Atlantic bigger, younger sibling.

And that should scare you. Banks dictate economy. Economy drives politics. Politics alter every single aspect of our life – whether it’s what we are reading, what we can say, who we can do business with, how much income we have, our health…

And forgive me for being a little bit concerned that not enough people accept that when they take their pay cheque to the bank, they’re contributing to starvation in some countries, or forced devaluation or inflation.

This is why I have a non-cheque, non-card La Poste account in France. The only money that goes into it is in cheque form. I need a hidey-hole for my other money, I think. I might start investing in guns or bullets for when the end-game is played out ; )

Whilst I end with a bit of a joke about my own paranoia about the bank (and the reality of my part-state-owned account – france is definitely not without its banking problems!!) I have to say we easily forget Lehman Bros, Barings Bank, Nick Leeson, Icelandic banking crises, almost-bankrupt Eurozone countries, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Northern Rock and Great Depressions and other events that have altered the course of history. Banks are not in it to protect our money; they are there to make a profit. And the majority of people who started banks, with all their risks, wanted to make a profit. And so they did.

Lehman Bros was set up in 1850. That’s 158 years of trading. A sniff. And yet it helped set in motion a global disaster that, as one Moroccan market trader said to me ‘has affected the whole world, from Timbuktoo to Alaska’.

I know Lehman Bros suffered a loss in the 9/11 terrorist attack, and I’m reminded of why (apart from ease of target) the World Trade Centre was chosen. It’s such a potent symbol of trade and banking.

Criminal as well as civil prosecutions are underway as to whether banks lied about conditions – whole corporations who are up on trial for causing global financial issues.

The Icelandic banking problems are not yet over and had a knock-on effect all over the world.

National bankruptcy happens.

It happens more than you’d think.

p.s. My money isn’t under my mattress. And if it all goes to pot and collapses, you’re welcome round mine anytime for homemade wine and some homegrown veg. Luckily, Jake’s good at traps and fancies himself as the next Michael Weston from Burn Notice, so we’ll be fairly well-protected. My house is older than all these banking crises.

Returning to England…

It is exactly 100 days since I last set foot in my home country. Tomorrow will be my day 101 and I shall be returning via Liverpool to the hub of the North. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Landing in Liverpool is one thing – us Mancs aren’t well-known for a love of Scousers, and in all honesty, the Scouse accent does nothing for me. In fact, having once spent a holiday in Crete, where I heard one Scouse girl shout across five balconies to another Scouse girl:

“Aayyyyyyyyy, Laurrrrrrrrrrrrra, I’ve gorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaa diseeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaasssssse!”

I can safely say that I categorised all Scousers in a similar manner: easy, loud, cheap and as lovely as an orange fake tan. Sorry to any Scousers who don’t conform to that stereotype; it’s the Manc in me. It’s the ‘rrrrrrrrrrss’. I blame Cilla Black.

This is both ‘pretend’ Cilla (and watching it, I’m reminded actually how lovely she was. Great legs for an old bird!) and the Scousers by Harry Enfield. It shows you the great Scouse style and the ‘Dey do doh, don’t dey doh?’ as well as the ‘Calm Down’ that probably plagued Liverpudlians for a long time.

However, I dislike that the scouse accent has seeped over the borders into Warrington and St Helens, thus giving rise to the ‘Plastic Scouser’. A Plastic Scouser is a wannabe-Scouser. I’m thus reminded of the man a few months ago who cut me up and then put on a fake scouse accent when I was videoing him with my phone as he continued to swerve and drive badly. He’d already spoken to me as he cut me up – cut glass Bolton accent. But, by the time he got out of the car, it was full-on Plastic Scouser. Needless to say, he was not so happy when I challenged him on this. I’m sure he was trying to imply that he was ‘connected’ and that he had Toxteth or Croxteth connections. I did the whole ‘Calm down, Calm down!’ routine and he eventually got back in his car. Seriously, even I could do a better Plastic Scouser accent.

Ironically, having looked for a Scouse video on Youtube, virtually all the videos are posted by (or accused of  being) Mancs and are all quite – how shall I say? – derogatory. Virtually all of them have ‘Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey’ as their soundtrack and I’m reminded how much the Scousers love a bit of Gerry and the Pacemakers. Whilst they may have called their airport ‘John Lennon Airport’, it’s noticeable that the famous Beatle did not remain in Liverpool; neither has Sir Paul McCartney. On that subject, I’d be pretty pissed off if I were Sir Paul; they could have at least named the bus depot after him.

In all seriousness, I think it’s much of a muchness, and it’s a friendly rivalry, not unlike the French and the English – the difficulty of close neighbours with very different habits but with rather more in common than otherwise. We call them ‘bin dippers’ – as if they all go foraging in bins; we joke about their unemployment and their football loyalty. You only have to go to a Manchester City/Liverpool match to hear the worst of the songs come out. I blame all of this on ancient rivalries.

In reality, both cities have more in common than they would like to admit. Unemployment hit both towns badly, as did the 70s and 80s. Both have reinvented themselves. Both are massively proud of working-class roots, and both are fuelled by Irish immigrants.

I know the Scousers get (perhaps rightly) upset about the local ribbing, but there are many more programmes that mock Manchester in much worse ways.

Shameless is one of my favourites… although it’s less comedy and more real life these days!

And a little clip from The Royle Family – another Manchester classic!

School days and Musees

Yesterday, I’d gone with Jake on his ‘sortie’ to an archaeological site and then to the museum at Angoulème. There were a couple of other parents along for the ride as well, and it felt all lovely and small. With a school with 42 children, it’s very easy to know who all the children are, especially when most of the boys seem to be called Julian and their mothers Veronique. Jake likes to call the Julians ‘Julio’ although I realised he only does this at home, opting for the ‘Juli-[an]’ the French say when he’s at school. I think he’s sanitising the names for us, which is nice of him.

The children seem a lot younger, as I came to realise later in the day, and much more ‘childish’, in a good way. Though I am reminded at this point of a very giggly Jordan (the Julian of the English classroom) laughing all the way back from the WWE wrestling about wee and poo. Another mother turned up, and the kids latched onto her – she was surrounded by about ten kids in a huge group hug and then little Sarah, who spent much of the morning revealing how I’d been spotted in various places in La Rochefoucauld, spent the first leg of the trip telling her all sorts of wonderful information. I like this. So many English primary school teachers shy away from hugs and holding hands. I’m reminded of when I started teaching and I went to a primary school up behind the flats in Sheffield, where a boy held my hand for all the lessons. I realised I couldn’t be a primary teacher because I’d get too attached, but somewhere in the last 15 years, it’s now frowned upon to hug the children.

We first went to Mouthiers-Sur-Boeme, a site with a prehistoric grotte, bien sur, and a few cave carvings. The archaeologists who came from the museum were great. The first, a younger guy with a beard and converse, reminded me just how much I love French ‘city’ people – the intellectuals in their pea-coats and tight trousers and converse – how creative they seem, how different from the blueprint-copied ‘salary-men’ in Japan (and England) for example. The second, older guy, was hugely entertaining with his ‘super-cool’ – it’s really lovely to see people who are genuinely excited about the work that they do.

The carvings, however, brought out the schoolgirl in me. At first, it’s kind of a loose frieze of horses. Maybe. But then, once you really look, someone’s decided one of them is pregnant. No, that didn’t make me giggle. Behind that horse, someone has decided the two horses side-by-side are actually inflagrante delicto. Early Animal Planet. And then a horse being born. A life cycle. Still, the school girl in me got giggly that they’d carved two horses rutting. I’m such a child. Still, the kids didn’t find it at all amusing. I was childish by myself.

The tiny Mme Tasty and Mme Delhomme then took us on to the Musée d’Angoulême where we had lunch. The school had brought us a picnic, which included a very straightforward ham and cheese salad sandwich, a babybel and a banana. There was a bit of swapping going on. I realised all the kids talk at Jake as if he’s just completely French. Others asked me why he didn’t talk much in class, but having watched them talking a lot in class, I didn’t really mind that.

We looked at ancient dinosaur bones – as the Charente is the centre of Dinosaur France – and made flints. The enthusiastic archaeologist even cut his trousers as a demonstration of the cutting power of the flint. Très bien. But I bet Mme. Enthusiastic Archaeologist wasn’t so happy when he got home. The kids went mental for flint, and it just made me wonder if they’d be allowed to do something like that in the UK. Both Julians got cut fingers (from silly boy behaviour, bien sur!) and had to have sticking plasters, les sparadraps, but there was no mass panic.

It was a really lovely to spend the day with Jake – just to see how he’s getting on. It’s quite marvellous really that he’s settled in so well. He seemed a little lost at points when he was with less enthusiastic children, but he seems to have a little posse of boys who are perhaps not the most sensible of boys, but who are lovely all the same. And who says boys shouldn’t be boys? So they cut their fingers! They learned about flint, though! So here’s to Jake’s lovely new friends!

Chavs, scallies, Essex girls and the Manc swagger

I’ve been having conversational lessons with a marvellous client and I’ve been briefing him on all things Anglais. It must be said, I’m becoming a bit of a Daily Mail complainant about English life. I need to stop reading British newspapers with their doom, gloom and minute-by-minute analysis of the economy, because it’s making me miserable about my home country.

It confuses me that French newspapers seem not to print pictures or stories that are inflammatory. A fellow forum-user posted some pictures of the riots in Lyon in response to the recent strikes about retirement age, and I have to say I’d seen nothing like them in the press here. Whilst on the one hand, it’s kind of dishonest to ‘hush up’ the extremity of the violence, the riot police, teens up-ending cars and so on, it’s also a little more gentle. England, however, seems to revel in inflammation. If a newspaper can act as a catalyst for emotions in England, it seems to take every opportunity. Today, I was mostly incensed about a man from Bury who hanged his dog from a bridge when he was drunk and has got 10 weeks of a prison sentence. I went through the whole gamut of Daily Mail emotions – anger, frustration, a desire to become a mercenary and go out and do the same thing to him – posted links to Facebook and got myself all upset about a dog which, as Steve says, is probably better off dead than it was with its owner.

I wonder if such things happen in France. Undoubtedly there are cruel people here: France isn’t necessarily renowned for its sentimentality about animals, but they do love a ‘hand-bag’ dog. Perhaps a crime in itself to keep a dog in a handbag or dress it up in little coats, but I never saw a story like this in the French press. There’s been a Tony-Martin-esque story down in Toulouse, but it’s not really ‘national’ news. The news seems much more political, much more intellectual, lots less American and lots less sensational.

And I have to query what this sensationalist news reporting has done to me.

Back to the client, I realised when writing up my vocabulary list after today’s session that I’ve taught him about chavs, painted a picture of England beset by teen thugs, taught him that Britain’s cities are poverty-stricken and violent, taught him about Jeremy Kyle, teenage pregnancies, ‘rainbow’ families, discussed bullying and intimidation and when he asked about Colchester, I informed him about Essex girls and squaddies on drunken rampages. It sounds not unlike a third-world warzone. “The Only Way is Essex” can’t, surely, be how it is in Essex. Yet it’s how I think of it. Blonde WAGs, boob jobs, hair extensions, sunbeds… and all images planted in my mind by the media. The people I know from Essex aren’t like that at all. Admittedly, I only know four people from Essex, but not a one of them conforms to this image. So is this cynicism worsened by the media?

But then he got me on the subject of Manchester. And my love came swimming back. Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, New Order, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis – the bulk of great English music in the past few years has come out of Manchester. And I love that.

I told him about my friend who had come up from London to work. After a couple of weeks, she told me she was going out with a ‘musician’. I laughed. Virtually every Northerner I know is in a band of a sort, or can play an instrument. I know about 20 bass guitarists, a good load of singers, drummers and guitarists, all of whom are ‘in bands’. If you aren’t kicking a ball about, you are making music in Manchester. You might be 35, live at home with your mum and have never worked a full week in your life, but if you can’t aspire to be the next big thing, you haven’t got any Manchester in your soul. This is Manchester.

It’s a little sad that my client now knows the words ‘chav’ and ‘trailer trash’ and ‘scally’. It’s very sad I told him about Essex girls. I think I need to be more kind to my home country, though it hasn’t always been kind to me. It’s still within me to wax lyrical about the wonders of Manchester. I hope that little bit of wonder doesn’t turn sour!

Coincidentally, I picked up a French book about the top 100 cities in the world. Manchester was in there – alongside London. I looked and it made me feel very proud to be Manc through and through. I might not like the scallies and the chavs, and men who throw dogs off bridges. I definitely don’t like the fact I was mugged by 30 teens and not a single thing happened to those criminals, and I don’t like the fact my car was keyed. I disagree with the quangos and the bureaucracy and the civil servant state. But I still love my Manchester, warts and all.

The devil’s forest

I’m developing a ‘Forêt de la Braconne’ obsession. I seem to spend all my days looking for maps of it and wanting to wander through its splendid glory. It’s a big piece of foresty land about 2 miles from our house, stretching almost to Angouleme, La Rochefoucauld and it includes many fascinating things, including forest roads, little lakes, devil stones, devil holes, moving caves (allegedly… I’m holding fire on actual belief until I see it move with my own eyes…) and a never-ending ability to get you lost.

I find myself, these days, being very ‘fairy-tale’. The woods, of course, make me feel all Hansel and Gretel, and I’m quite convinced I should be leaving a trail of pebbles lest we can’t find our way back to civilisation. But the Hansel and Gretel theme has continued – albeit accidentally – with my urge to push Steve into the fire. I don’t know why. When he is poking it, I feel almost compelled to send him face-first into it. It’s alarming. I’ve told him about this, but he still does it. And when I bring my red coat back from England, I shall be in full ‘Red-Riding-Hood’ mode.

Autumn seems a longer season here – it’s definitely not winter yet, despite the cold snaps from time to time. The ferns have faded, the leaves are taking their time to change. In England, autumn seems to be a couple of weeks between wet summer and long wet winter. Here you get the full range. This morning, we had autumn mists. A couple of days ago, we had bright, cold, blue skies. Little rain, as yet. The whole world has faded and is seen as if through a veil. The corn that remains is skeletal and grey-yellow; the trees are soft brown and the sky is filled with amazing hues that words cannot describe. Last night, a pale orange glow settled over the fields as the sun went down – yet the night before, the sky was a vibrant orange-pink, the clouds lilac. Though the colours are softer, they are just as beautiful. I don’t think I ever appreciated autumn like this.

I’m starting to make an autumn quilt (although, as Mr Stephen rightly points out, I am a starter, not a finisher, so watch this space!) with scraps of yellow, red and orange satin (used to make ‘Rey Mysterio’ style luchadore wrestling pants for Jake) which I’m currently sewing leaves on to. I’ve a vague idea of how I want it to look. I saw a fantastic quilt in a patchwork magazine, and it kind of inspired me. Although, if you search for ‘Autumn quilts’ you get so many fabulous designs I think I’ve died and gone to quilting heaven!!