Wednesday, 31 August 2005

Parlez-vous English?

I hear or read something that annoys me and I think, “Here’s my next slap!”, but more often than not something else even more aggravating gets in the way. It happened again today: I knew what I was going to write about and then I looked in my Inbox and found a weekly newsletter I subscribe to. It was from the French magazine ELLE. I like it: every week, it alerts me to interesting online articles and news.

I used to buy ELLE, when I lived in France (I don't now: it’s imported and costs too much). I used it as a study aid when I worked as a French Assistante, back in 1969-70 – well, that’s how I justified charging the schools employing me for the price of the subscription, anyway. No, no, it was useful. I was supposed to teach French civilization and there’s nothing better than newspapers and magazines for that purpose.

So this is what I read:

Une jupe pour jeune lady
Ambiance rétro british chez Didier Parakian

L'éternelle wrap dress
On ne se lasse pas des robes de Diane von Furstenberg.

Collectionnez les galets
India Mahdavi relooke les cendriers

Un club sucré?
Fauchon réinvente le sandwich

See a pattern here?

Only the last item is ok-ish. The word “sandwich” has been part of the French vocabulary for a very long time; so has “club sandwich”, but it looks like the French are now calling it “club”. They do that all the time, the French – dropping words here and there, like life is too short or something... As for the rest of the English interlopers... preposterous!

As Dickens writes in Nicholas Nickleby, French is a “good” language that can stand on its own two feet, as it were. LOL!

'What sort of language do you consider French, sir?'

'How do you mean?' asked Nicholas.

'Do you consider it a good language, sir?' said the collector; 'a pretty language, a sensible language?'

'A pretty language, certainly,' replied Nicholas; 'and as it has a
name for everything, and admits of elegant conversation about
everything, I presume it is a sensible one.'

I'm not an intransigent purist: I don’t mind a few foreign (for “foreign”, read “English” these days) words here and there, but this is nonsense.

I'm slapping pretentious French people who pepper their speech with pseudo English words. Who do they think they're fooling? Most of them are not even able to order a cup of tea when they travel over here.

C'est un peu too much! (as I heard someone say on the French radio once)

Sunday, 28 August 2005

I don't live there any more. Yay!

Today is the first day of the Notting Hill Carnival. How do I know? I heard some very very loud music earlier – coming from Shepherd’s Bush Green, over there (some revellers were on their way to the most pretentious borough in London). How did I know before 1995? The cutlery in my kitchen drawers used to jingle and my huge sash windows used to rattle. For 11 years I lived in one of the buildings that had the largest sound systems attached to them during the Carnival.

My blood ran cold today when I heard that distant booming music. I hated the Carnival. And so did everyone else around me.

Before I moved into that particular building, in a cul-de-sac, I lived, for five years, in one of those small ice-cream-coloured houses in a side street, not on the main Carnival route. It was loud, but bearable and I had no idea what a nightmare it would become for me later.

Those who had lots of money and/or second residences in the country used to pack a bag and leave for the duration – although the risk of being burgled was very high. Those who, like me, had nowhere else to go felt trapped in our infernal homes, surrounded by unimaginably loud music. It was like living in the middle of discotheque for two whole days.

My cat used to be terrified and refuse to come out from under the duvet. I couldn’t do any work since I couldn’t hear myself think (and August has always been my busiest time). I couldn’t watch TV or listen to the radio. All I could do was listen to music I did not want to hear. Once I tried to go out and take part in the fun; I thought, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” but I couldn’t get back in: the swaying throng outside the gates of my building was so thick. I had to wander around for much longer than I’d intended. I felt threatened, frustrated and angry.

And then, in the early '90s, they started selling whistles and the shrill, ear-piercing noise carried on long after the music stopped. It was even worse than before. It was impossible to sleep at all during that weekend.

Over the years, some residents of Notting Hill Gate have asked the Council to specify definite starting and finishing times for the partying, but it’s impossible to try and impose anything on the organisers because they instantly accuse everyone of racism. It's not even possible to reason with them.

So I’m slapping the Notting Hill Carnival for being a nuisance, and only fun for tourists and people from other areas of London, who don’t have to endure that racket and can walk away when they've had enough of the revelry.

Saturday, 27 August 2005

Silence is golden

I was going to write about something else today, but it'll keep and can join the list of stuff I want to gripe about in the near future.

I have a need – born of frustration – that is more pressing.

I need to slap people who rush to comment on what other people have said or written – in real life and on the Web – without making sure they have the back story first. They have a skewed view of the situation and therefore, contrary to what they think, cannot have anything relevant to contribute. And if you have nothing relevant to contribute you should shut up. That’s what I was told when I was a child, anyway. It would save everyone time and energy: one wouldn’t have to tell them where they went wrong, and explain the whys and the wherefores…. And, after they’ve acquired the correct information and been able to look at the whole picture, do they change their minds? Very often they don’t because the harm’s been done: what remains in their heads is what they thought in the first place, however wrong that was.

Think back…. Yes, that time, when so and so…. Exactly! They should have kept quiet instead of shooting their mouths off!

Thursday, 25 August 2005

Puzzle of the Day

I’ve just spent nearly two hours trying to book theatre tickets for the forthcoming Royal Shakespeare Company London season. The National Theatre priority booking forms are always a bit tricky and counter-intuitive, but you need a degree in something (but what?) to fill in the RSC ones.

There was no proper schedule of performances – a calendar with plays clearly marked, just separate blocks of dates for each play (and there were seven of those I wanted to see) so you couldn’t see the “big picture” and there was a risk of booking two plays for the same date.

Then there was the odd weird instruction and you had to rack your brain to try and fathom what on earth they might mean.

Why do they think anyone has the time for this? I suppose the subscription and seats are so expensive that they reckon only wealthy retired people can afford to book anyway. I adore the RSC – they are the reason why I moved to the UK (long story), but when the mailing from them lands on my mat my heart sinks and I get panicky.

And don’t get me started on the fact that they lied to me – and to Dame Judi Dench, which is much worse – when they promised to find a home in London that wouldn’t be a West-End type theatre. So what do they choose as their London base: the Strand Theatre (they can't fool us by renaming it the Novello Theatre? Ha!). Liar, liar, pants on fire!


Wednesday, 24 August 2005


A UK guinea pig farm is closing down in a few months. The owner has had to give in to years of constant and very violent intimidation from animal rights extremists. He and his family were stalked; their premises were broken into and trashed several times; they received death threats, etc. By announcing the closure of their farm, he’s hoping that the body of his mother-in-law will be returned: it was stolen from the local churchyard.

Who uses that kind of tactics to blackmail someone? Who are the criminals here?

I love animals, but I’m not a vegetarian and I cannot be against animal experimentation [addendum: strictly for medical reasons]. A few years ago, I had cancer and my life was saved by proton therapy, which, I’m sure, was tested on animals first. I take thyroxine every day. It’s synthetic and must have been tested on animals. Without it, I couldn’t function properly. I am grateful to the scientists who developed those treatments and to the animals that suffered and lost their lives in the process.

I would never deliberately hurt an animal but faced with a choice between saving an animal or a human being, I know what I would do.

Loving animals doesn’t automatically make you a better person. Hitler was a vegetarian and apparently adored animals. I wonder how many of the mob that made the lives of the farm owners a misery abuse their children in some way. I wonder how many of them would refuse life-saving treatment if they or their nearest and dearest developed a serious illness.


Monday, 22 August 2005

Just for the fun of it

Who are those people who take pleasure in destroying other people’s property? Who are those people who are, thread by thread, removing the woolly wall covering of the lift in our building? Who are those people who scribbled graffiti on the walls of the prehistoric caves in Lascaux and on the standing stones at Stonehenge so they had to be closed to the public?

Who are those people who slashed my partner’s tyres today? They didn't even stick around to see our reaction. Where's the fun in that?

Who are those people?

They are disgusting, irresponsible vandals. And I'm slapping them all.

Btw. "tyre" is the English English spelling (pneu in French, from the word pneumatique - you may thank me for telling you this one day): I don't want another "nauseous" vs "nauseated" argument. LOL!

Friday, 19 August 2005

It's not fair

I came to Sex and the City late (I came to sex late, but that’s another story). I began watching right at the end, when they started the countdown, because I thought I might have missed something, some kind of TV landmark. I don’t like missing landmarks. I’ve seen lots of them: the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth; the Hungarian uprising; the ’68 Revolution in Paris – I was there for part of it; the First Man on the Moon, etc. etc. Although, SATC can’t possibly be compared to those momentous events, it seemed a shame to miss it completely. So I watched the end, got hooked and then watched all the repeats, which ended the other day.

Most of the time I couldn’t identify with any of those four young women – even if one forgets about the age difference, none of them was like me, but there were things about life that I could easily understand and sympathize with, none more so than in the episode about the shoes.

I know, I know, lots of episodes featured shoes in a prominent role; I mean the one where Carrie goes to a party at a newly-pregnant friend’s – a baby shower. She’s bringing a beautiful present; she’s wearing a very expensive pair of Manolos and she’s asked to leave them at the door. When she wants to go home, she discovers someone else has made off with them and the hostess refuses to give her the money because she says paying that much for a pair of shoes is preposterous. She makes it sound like it’s some kind of crime.

There ensues an interesting reflection on lifestyle choices. Carrie says she’s not married so she hasn’t been the recipient of millions of pressies on the occasion of her wedding; she hasn’t had a child yet so … same thing, yet she’s expected to buy presents for her friends every single time. The only way she manages to get the money for her stolen shoes is by registering at Manolo Blahnik’s, announcing her “marriage to herself” and sending the details of the one present she wants to her friend, who finally gets the message.

I’m not married; I don’t have any children; I don’t have the money to buy Manolos, but over the years, like Carrie, I’ve been expected to furnish other people’s kitchens and supply their kids with toys. The daughter of the woman, for whom I worked full-time for 15 years but who sends me work now only once a year and doesn’t speak to me at all in the interval, is pregnant. Her other daughter has had two kids already and, of course, I bought presents for both babies. Now I’m expected to fork out for the other one. Has Mummy ever given me anything, except stress? Nope!

It’s not the money; it’s the principle of the thing. Oh, and what about mothers who get time off in the workplace? I don’t resent them having it; I resent the fact that women who are not mothers can’t have the same time off for other reasons. As if there was still only one acknowledged role for a woman.

Who’s responsible? Who should I slap?

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

The new invaders

So England is not what it used to be – possibly because, as the old joke goes, the Continent is not “isolated” any more.

France is changing too.

Now that they’ve lost their huge Empire, the Brits have undertaken to colonize huge swathes of the French countryside. They buy dilapidated farmhouses and try to recreate a corner of Britain in the middle of the Dordogne or Normandy. There are areas where ninety per cent of the population is English. Local mayors have to hire interpreters to communicate with townsfolk. Local grocers stock traditional English foodstuff – things like Marmite, Bird’s Custard, Heinz baked beans – as well as French products because the new inhabitants wish to “feel at home”.

The British have always settled down abroad (they invaded Tuscany years ago), but the sort of people who moved countries then were doing so because they wanted a different way of life: they loved the climate, the food, the lifestyle of their countries of choice. Nowadays, it’s different: egged on by endless TV programmes promising a better life somewhere else, people who have only been abroad maybe once in their life, and that on package tours; who cannot speak a word of French and have no intention of learning; who don’t really “like” the French, their culture or their food, up sticks and move to towns and villages, which soon lose their charm and their character.

It’s a preposterous and sad situation. Those people very often have to go back to the UK, their tail between their legs, because they haven’t been able to find work and can’t adjust to a different way of life. Even the ones who manage to stay – what’s going to happen when they get older? Will they want to end their lives in a foreign country, away from their extended family? What about their children? Will they want to remain in France or will they feel resentful towards their parents for uprooting them from their homeland when there was no need?

I think they deserve to be slapped for not doing their homework, for thinking they can just move in and not try to fit in.

I also want to slap my partner, who edits guidebooks with titles like Working and Living in France and therefore encourages more and more Brits to act like colonizers. And myself for checking the French in those same books.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

To slap and to un-slap

Some un-slapping is in order: Hammersmith and Fulham Council must have had second thoughts, or someone must have pointed out to them how moronic they'd been when they'd decided to turn off the lovely fountain in King Street (see Fiat aqua! for the whole story), because the fountain is back on again. I can hardly believe it: for once common sense has prevailed. Hooray!

I saw it earlier today; I went close to it and once again felt the benefit of its negative ions. It was late so no little kiddies splashing about, but no doubt they will have fun with it again, and dogs will again try to catch and bite it. It's very simple and beautiful, and it makes me - and everyone else - happy.

Sunday, 14 August 2005

A remnant of the past

This afternoon I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme called “Gardeners’ Question Time”. I don’t have a garden – I’ve never had a garden; I don’t even have a pot plant at the moment, but I love that programme. I started listening to it in 1969, when I first came to this country (I worked as a French Assistante in a school that year) and I’ve never really stopped. The panel of gardeners has changed over the years, but the ambience is still the same: that of a well-mannered meeting in a church hall 40 years ago. The audience ask polite questions about flowers and plants and insects and strange diseases; they are answered politely and with humour; they applaud politely. And so it goes on for half an hour and, at the end of it, I always feel like everything’s all right with the world. For a few minutes, at least.

Yes, it is middle-class. Yes, it is old-fashioned. But England was like that, even in 1979, when I moved here for good, and it was a great place to live. People were more relaxed than in France; you didn’t have to conform like in Paris; the pace was slower; politeness and consideration for others ruled. And now? Now, it’s like everywhere else. It’s rapidly losing its special charm; the thing that made it so different. It’s got tough, coarse, impatient, selfish, heartless somehow. I don’t recognize it and there’s no doubt I wouldn’t have left France if England had been the way it is now in 1979.

Perhaps it’s partly the fault of the Eurostar. I never thought a tunnel would be built under the Channel in my lifetime. I was over the moon when it was finished – I get seasick on boats and I hate flying – but maybe it has accelerated the demise of the England I knew.

So I’m slapping whatever it is that changed England beyond recognition.

Friday, 12 August 2005

That's it! We're outta here!

I’m dying to slap someone, but I can’t, so, I’m afraid, a lot of other people are going to get slapped in her place.

Three hundred thousand people have been affected by wildcat strikes at the height of the summer holiday rush. British Airways staff have come out in support of sacked in-flight catering staff, egged on by the unions, of course.

Now, the unions have their uses and I remember defending them to my father (who, as a small employer, had had a brush with them), years ago, when I was an idealistic teenager, but they can also be incredibly pig-headed and devoid of common sense. I’ve had experience of it.

In February 1986, I was on tour in Paris. I was working as a technical interpreter on a National Theatre show at the Théâtre de l’Odéon. I was interpreting for the French and British lighting crews and things were not going very well. The main NT man was a woman hater (you should have seen his face when he realized he’d be working with me) and the French guy was an impatient boor. I was caught in the middle and had to resist translating the curses that those two men (who couldn’t have been more different and had taken an instant dislike to each other) were uttering under their breath while I was speaking. Still, the set was being built and the play wouldn’t be played in the dark.

And then, late one night, the day before the technical rehearsal, it all came to a head: a few minutes before midnight the French oaf said something; I translated it; the NT chauvinist pig then answered and I’d just started to translate when the French union representative stepped forward and ordered me to stop. Stunned, I uttered one more word…. and the French lighting crew walked out. Nothing anyone said could make them resume work: it was past midnight; they wanted to be paid overtime, but had been told earlier that they wouldn’t be. I hadn’t been warned – I would have told the British crew and advised them not to go beyond midnight – and they used me as an excuse to strike. I’d never been in that position. It was horrible.

Time was of the essence, as always on such tours – there’s never enough time to do everything and one has to work all hours (we worked 40 hours non-stop once) – and the union rep used it to blackmail the theatre administration. The way he did it was shameful.

The following day, they had a meeting, which lasted most of the morning and afternoon thereby reducing the possibility of getting things right even more, and they resumed work grudgingly in the evening. By some miracle the lighting was fine on the night and, as far as the critics and audience were concerned, the tour was a success.

By the way, the actors, one of whom was Ian McKellen, remained totally unaware of what had happened.

A slap to the unions and their flagrant disregard of common sense and of people’s needs, except those of their members.

Things should be more considerate

I live in a minute flat.

It’s a studio and the main room is 13 feet and a bit by 11 feet and a bit. I have a bed and a chest of drawers, a large table that serves as a desk, with a large computer, a printer, two great big dictionaries, pens and papers, a filing tray, a clock, and stuff. I also have masses of books and smaller chest of drawers full of documents. And paintings and pictures, although I’ve kept one of the walls completely bare: I read somewhere, years ago, that it made a room look larger. Hmm… I don’t know, but it’s quite possible the room would feel even smaller if all four walls were somehow defined by pictures.

I also have a kitchen the size of a… kitchen cabinet; a bathroom that’s too big in comparison with everything else, and a narrow corridor that I couldn’t do without, since it contains half of my books, some of my clothes, boxes of stuff I shouldn’t be keeping, the cat’s litter tray, and a folding bicycle that’s never folded.

I was never meant to end up in that studio: it used to belong to my partner, but I sold the small flat I had in Notting Hill Gate just before they started shooting that film and then the big flat I bought in Shepherd’s Bush turned out to be … actually, you don’t want to know. It’s a really boring story.

Today, I would like to slap my flat. For being so tiny. For not being expandable (I don’t see why not). For not being up to the job of accommodating me, the cat and my belongings. I'm always very nice to my flat, but it's not that nice to me, and I resent it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

I don't need to know anything

Location: a shopping precinct in the North of England. Time: afternoon, on a weekday. A woman and a child are approached by two people with clipboards.

Q. Are you this child's mother?
A. Yes.
Q. Why isn't he at school?
A. He needs a pair of shoes.
Q. Can't you go and buy him shoes at the weekend?
A. I've got four kids.
Q. Do you not go out with them at weekends?
A. No.

Asked why she lets her son play truant on Fridays, another mother answers, "He's not missing much. It's only one day, ain't it?"

I watched this programme called Bunking Off, on the TV, last night. It was full of parents who didn't care whether their children got an education or not. They couldn't see any problem with letting their children play truant. They didn't see any need for them to acquire any knowledge whatsoever. There doesn't seem to be any stigma attached to being an ignoramus. Of course, the Brits have always despised intellectuals, but we're not talking higher education here.

I come from a family (and a race) that values education above everything else and I just do not understand that kind of attitude. I also don't understand it when my partner's mother, when asked whether she'd like maybe to do a course in some subject she's interested in, you know, just to pass the time with like-minded people, answers, "I'm old now: I don't need to learn anything any more."

A slap to anyone who sees learning as optional.

Sunday, 7 August 2005

Behind the cyber-mask

A couple of friends I met over the www wondered recently about identity on their interesting blogs: they were so in tune with each other that they even unwittingly gave the same heading to their posts. This has exercised my mind as well for a while.

It’s bothering us because we are genuine, trusting people, who tend to open up readily and reveal fairly intimate details of our lives, and we are worried that others may be taking advantage of our candour.

The Internet has been a boon for those who like to play mind games; who amuse themselves with creating multiple personae with which to mystify others. They claim it’s just a bit of fun and does no harm to anyone. I don’t agree. I like my relationships to be based on truth and trust. Just like in real life, if I’ve been talking to someone for a while, I don’t want them to suddenly slip away and become someone else, and to thumb their nose at me while they’re doing it. I don’t want to be wondering who is hiding behind this or that username, and whether they belong to the same person.

There seems to be a certain type of person who derives pleasure in concealing their true identity.

Today I’m slapping all of their sly and lying faces.

Friday, 5 August 2005

Murder is Murder

How do you know when you’re angry? Me, it’s when I start SHOUTING at the radio.

This morning I heard that Tony Blair had unveiled new laws to fight terrorism: foreign fanatics who preach violence in Britain will be kicked out and some radical Islamic groups will be banned. Not before time, I say. Everyone in the Western world is wondering why those people have been allowed to spout such offensive stuff for so long. All in the name of so-called tolerance and multi-culturalism. Problem is, in the UK, that’s synonymous with ignorance and apathy.

Of course, the lawyers are up in arms. “… let’s kill all the lawyers!”, as one of Shakespeare’s characters advocates. I should be concerned about the fate of people who tell me to my face that they want to kill me.Yeah, right!

Anyway, what made me mad as hell was this: a moderate Muslim official was asked his opinion on the new measures. He approved of them, he said, because, as a British-born Muslim, he didn’t want anyone threatening his fellow citizens with suicide bombings. However, he added, he was really worried that it would mean preachers couldn’t support suicide bombers in Israel.

My throat is still sore from shouting. I hardly have the energy to slap him and all who think like him.

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

Let us entertain you!

A plane skids on the landing strip and bursts into flames, but, by some miracle, the passengers come out unscathed; thousands of people and animals are dying in Africa; war and strife is going on in several corners of the world… the news is as intense and compulsive as ever, but not enough, it seems, for BBC Radio 4.

It has recently started to trail the news after practically every programme (and some of them are only 30 minutes long). If that wasn’t moronic enough, it's also trying to “hook” us with entertaining pieces of triviality, “… also on PM, find out why the pussycat didn’t come down from the tree…” I’m only slightly exaggerating. And those trailers pop up in the middle of the actual bulletin too, in case, after hearing one piece of bad news too many, we drift away, I suppose.

Have we all become so desensitized that we need to be told, “Don’t worry it’s not all gloom and doom and the usual death and destruction, about which you couldn’t care less any more, there will also be fun stuff, so please listen to our news programme.”?

PM, at 5 p.m. on Radio 4, used to be one of the best, in-depth news programmes anywhere, but it’s slowly turning into fluff.

A slap to the BBC for giving in to the demands of people with an ever-shortening attention span and a slap to us for becoming so insensitive and letting them.

Update (4 Aug): Today they went one step further: they trailed another programme altogether in the middle of the news!

Monday, 1 August 2005

I despair

There are, I’m told, 400 million porn sites on the Net.

I haven’t got time to write any more because I want to start slapping them all now and that should take a while.