Saturday, 28 January 2006

You can't replace old friends

Two years ago today, Simone – a very good friend of mine – died, of a pulmonary embolism caused by the Tamoxifen she was taking after having breast cancer, which had itself been caused most probably by years and years of unsupervised HRT.

The other day, when I went to the Vive la France! exhibition, it wasn’t just to collect brochures for my work, it was also to exorcise it: that’s where I saw Simone for the last time – 12 days before her death.

We’d known each other for exactly 30 years: we’d met in 1974, in Stratford-upon-Avon, where we both lived. She worked as a seamstress in the RSC costume department and was married to one of the most famous theatre designers of the time (he’d met her in France 18 years earlier and brought her back to England). She was separated from him, but it didn’t stop her colleagues from giving her a hard time. She felt isolated and we became friends immediately (although she was quite a lot older than me). We saw each other all the time over the next few months.

I returned to France at the end of the year, but kept in touch with Simone regularly. I stayed with her several times during the holidays. She stayed with me in Paris. Then, in the mid-’80s, she went a bit mad – her behaviour became very erratic. They put it down to the menopause and she was given HRT and everything went back to normal.

We lost touch in the ’90s, when I fell ill and stopped going to Stratford so often, but we still corresponded and talked on the phone from time to time.

In her 2003 Christmas card she told me she’d had breast cancer but she was ok. A couple of weeks later she announced she would be coming down to London to attend the Vive la France! exhibition and could she see me there, since the hall was very close to my house? As it happened, I was, like this year, updating a guide and would be going to the exhibition myself, so we arranged to meet. She sounded full of beans and I was very excited at the prospect of seeing her again after such a long time.

She was very late on the day and I nearly gave up, but just as I was preparing to move away from our meeting point, she appeared and we fell into each other’s arms. She’d been waiting in the wrong place, after going around the exhibition and seemingly buying every French product on offer. I remarked on the heavy bags she was carrying and how she should be careful not to overdo it. We had a very good time over a drink at the buvette, but after an hour I had to take my leave: the exhibition was closing soon and I still hadn’t got the brochures I needed. I took a few pictures and we parted, promising to keep in touch and see each other more often.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call from her son. The funeral had already taken place.

I want to slap her GP for repeating her prescription for HRT without giving her a thorough examination at regular intervals and for not warning her of the dangers of taking hormones for 20 years. As for Tamoxifen, the risk of developing blood clots is very small and it must have been balanced against the risk of a recurrence of the cancer. But by then it was already too late.

Thursday, 26 January 2006

Plus ça change…

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day in this country and, guess what!, the leaders of the Muslim community will not take part in the official commemoration that is to take place today.

This is what they say, “The reason the MCB has called for a more inclusive 'Genocide Memorial Day' is because across the globe – not just among Muslims – there is a widespread view that we in the West practise double standards and devalue the lives of non-Westerners. In the MCB's view, the subtext of the Holocaust Memorial Day would thus be better served and help make the cry 'Never Again' real for all people who suffer, even now.”

As it says on its official website, Holocaust Memorial Day wasn’t just created to commemorate the extermination of six million Jews, it also aims to:

Restate the continuing need for vigilance in light of the troubling repetition
of human tragedies in the world today.

Reflect on recent atrocities that raise similar issues.

Etc. etc.

(click here for the complete list)

So the Muslim Council of Britain's reason for not attending doesn’t wash – not with me, anyway. The reason is very simply antisemitism.

It's spreading and cleverly disguised as anti-Zionism. But it’s the same old thing.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has already described the Holocaust as a ‘myth’ and called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’. His wish was recently granted – at least for a few hours. At the annual UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, a map of the Middle East was displayed in the room: Israel (which is a UN member) was nowhere to be seen. Now, who else produced maps where other countries were renamed and Jews non-existent? Oh yes, Hitler!

And, then, there's Abu Hamza, who's been spouting the most virulent antisemitic venom for years. Now that he is on trial (not before time), everyone has been able to realize how loathsome that man is. He doesn’t call for all ‘Isra-ilis’ to be killed; he clearly says ‘Jews’.

The mask is off. Some of us have never been fooled.


The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem offered his services to Hitler.
The Nazis had a base in Lebanon.
There was a pro-Nazi party in Iraq.
Nasser was a Nazi sympathizer.
And so it goes on…

Monday, 23 January 2006

Mimosa R.I.P.

I have on my desk a small bunch of mimosa. The tiny yellow powder puffs are all shrivelled because they’ve been with me since Friday afternoon and they didn’t have a drink of water for several hours. I’m not intentionally cruel to flowers: I was at the Vive la France! exhibition and I got those few sprigs right at the start of my visit. By the way, how can the organizers of that event justify the £16 entrance fee? For a few stands selling expensive French products; a few others selling crappy non-French crafts; a cookery demonstration by Jean-Christophe Novelli and a fashion show (that’s the best thing, actually, but I managed to miss it). In previous years, I have been able to taste some rather nice liqueurs and cocktails and wine jellies, but not any more: all I had this time was one cashew nut and one very thin slice of wild-boar saucisson – in that order. Luckily, I didn’t have to pay to get in because I pretended to be someone else. I don’t make a habit of that either, but I needed to go to the exhibition in order to collect brochures from the Provence-Côte d’Azur tourist offices (I’m currently updating a guide to that region) so I took the identity of the managing editor of the publishing house that’s employing me. There was a slightly hairy moment when they couldn’t find her/my name on the list and they asked me to fill in a form so they could give me a complimentary ticket and create a badge for me. I wonder whether they noticed, later, that the name I wrote down wasn’t quite spelt the same as the one on the business card I handed them and that the email address was a bit different too. Ssshhhh!

Anyway, I am passionate about mimosa: it’s beautiful; it has the most gorgeous scent and it reminds me of Nice. Anyone who has only sniffed fragrances purporting to smell of mimosa has no idea how wonderful it is. (The only one that’s close to the real thing is the home fragrance by Diptyque. I smelled it in SpaceNK a while ago and for an instant I didn't know where I was. Trust me; it's the only one.)

I live in Central London. (How do I know that? Taxi drivers agree to take me home if I hail one late at night. That’s the test.) You know what the weather is like in London most of the time. Yes? What’s the likelihood of a mimosa tree growing in Shepherds Bush? Nil, I would have said a few years ago. Wrong! There used to be a beautiful mimosa tree in someone’s front garden, in a side street, between here and Hammersmith. I’ve lived in this area for over ten years, but I only discovered it three years ago. So, around this time – when it’s still dark and horrible, I used to go and stand underneath that tree practically every day, and inhale the wonderful scent. I also used to talk to it – it was so lovely.

And then, last year, in April, I think, it was cut down. I couldn’t believe my eyes. One day I’d been walking down to Hammersmith and had automatically looked towards the house as I always did (I don't any more: there's nothing to see). It wasn’t there. I thought I’d made a mistake. I checked the name of the street again and again. I got closer and stood outside the house. Stunned. I felt I’d lost a friend.

That tree was a real delight. I miss it terribly. I’m slapping the people who cut it down. I don’t care why they did it. (It’s quite possible they had a good reason for doing it, but I don’t care.) I doubt they even knew what sort of tree it was and what a treasure they had.


Thursday, 19 January 2006

Vade retro, eBay!

I went to the theatre last night. No, I’m not going to slap the RSC again although they deserve it for lying to me: a couple of years ago, they assured me personally that they would find a London home that would afford the audience comfortable seating. Oh, yes? So why did I spend over an hour last night with my little legs dangling (I’m short, but not a midget – am I allowed to say that, I wonder), desperately trying to find a way to watch the play without constantly being aware of how painful my body was becoming? Luckily, there was an empty seat in the front row and, ah bliss!, my feet finally made contact with the floor and I watched the rest of the play in comfort. On returning home, I discovered to my horror that I was going back to that same theatre twice in February and would be sitting in exactly the same seat (it was supposed to be very good, damn it!). I will have to bring some kind of footrest next time or wear huge platform shoes.

No, I’m not slapping the RSC today; I can’t guarantee I won’t do it again at a later date, though.

Late last night, after cursing the RSC, I found an email from eBay informing me that my credit card was expiring soon. “Yes, I know,” I answered. But eBay had brought itself to my attention so I thought I might have a look to see if I could get a new FP (no, I won’t tell you what it is!). I am not a regular eBay trawler. I have ‘one’ sale under my belt: last summer I sold a perfectly good handbag for not very much money (but, then, it wasn’t a very expensive handbag in the first place). I was beside myself with delight. My gain was Oxfam’s loss, of course. I know that charity shops have complained that they’re getting fewer donations these days (I thought I was keeping their shops open all by myself), but I also know they’ve got in on the act and making more money that way, so I don’t feel so guilty about depriving them of that handbag. As for buying, I managed to get two items in the past few months. The funny thing about it was that I used a sniping service (free trial) and got very excited when the machine placed the ‘one and only’ bid three seconds before the end of each auction.

I’ve been to a couple of ‘real’ auctions in the past. Years ago, when I was still at school in Nice. I was mad about Art Nouveau and, luckily for me, no one else appreciated it at the time, so I got what I bid for. It was very exciting, but even then I knew instinctively it had nothing to do with ‘winning’ and everything to do with being prepared to fork out more money for the item than anyone else in the room. My father loved auctions: he used to buy bails of haberdashery stuff for his business (when he was still making raincoats himself). Buttons, sewing material, etc., from factories that had gone bust. As a little girl, I used to be given anything that he couldn’t use, like masses of skeins of soie floche, for instance (no idea what that is in English, but it’s beautiful) or literally kilos of those tiny tiny beads that cost so much in the shops these days. Auctions were synonymous with ‘fun’. And they still are for millions of people. For my part, I’ve grown up and become a cautious, frugal adult, so the word has acquired an element of danger, and, since I’m not a natural gambler, I don’t relish it at all.

I went through pages and pages of listings last night. Isn’t eBay the most wonderful time-wasting device? This time I used two snipers and set them to place bids two seconds from each other. It looks like I will be bidding against myself and I’m curious to see exactly what happens in such a case. However, since I’m not prepared to pay a lot of money for that particular FP (it’s driving you crazy, isn’t it?), I will probably be outbid long before the end of the auction.

I’m slapping eBay for reminding me that it existed and for fooling people into thinking they’ve ‘won’ stuff. I’m also slapping those people who get so carried away that they practically bankrupt themselves. The expression ‘winning an auction’ should be banned from the vocabulary. Slap!

Update: FP was for Fountain Pen! As I expected, I was outbid. This is what someone else... won... no, paid a lot more than me for.

Up-update: the pen turned out to be a fake. I've had a narrow escape.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

Tête à claques VI

This one’s easy: George Galloway has been asking to be slapped for ages (I have a feeling he would enjoy it too). How do you become a figure of fun when you’re an MP? There are lots of ways - most of them involve sex, but George has done it in a different way, although he’s about as funny as a tinpot tyrant from a banana republic. You know the type. I don’t want to compare him to more scary bogeymen like Hitler or Mussolini, but if they sometimes looked preposterous so does he.

The way he’s done it is by taking part in Celebrity Big Brother (I slapped my beloved Germaine Greer for doing the same thing last year; what is it with those people?) and he's regaled viewers with his antics for the past week or so. It would be pathetic and rather funny if it didn’t cost money to the taxpayer: he’s being paid to do a job, but he’s not at his post and has already missed several important votes in Parliament. His long-suffering constituents and fellow MPs have now circulated a petition demanding for him to leave the House (the Big Brother House, that is, not the House of Commons, although….). It’s sad and it’s somehow typical of a certain kind of British politician. Who can take them seriously these days?

I don’t suppose his name will ring a bell with my US readers: George doesn’t export well. Saddam has heard of him, though. They used to be pals. They met at least twice in the past and George made a point of telling us that there was nothing wrong with Saddam; he was a good guy. Now, who am I to criticize someone’s choice of friends and think what you will about the war, but no one can seriously deny that Saddam was a despot, who ordered the deaths of thousands of his fellow countrymen. That’s when George stops being funny and joins the ranks of ‘dangerous’ apologists.

As Joyce Grenfell might have said, “George, don’t do that!”

Update: It's hilarious. The winner of the Slap of the Year award has commented on the performance of the current Tête à claques in Celebrity Big Brother. Ken Livingstone said, “I have occasionally got involved in media events that were not as ennobling as I would have hoped, but I have never done anything as spectacularly stupid as this.”

The words ‘kettle’ and ‘pot’ come to mind. And we live in hope, Ken.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Where did you say it was?

“You cut my dog’s balls off, you cut my balls off!” said a man last night on It’s Me or the Dog (I don’t have a dog, but that programme makes me laugh so much… and I’m always wondering whether I can pick up some tip I could try on my cat – some hope, eh?) He was the owner of a cute bulldog who terrorized one of his sons (the man’s, not the dog’s) and humped everyone constantly. Non-stop. He even tried (the dog, not the man) to mate with the presenter (a lovely, stern dog dominatrix) and the sound recordist (is that a word?) on camera, in front of millions of viewers, the shameless mutt. The solution for such macho behaviour was castration – obviously. The dog tamer explained that it was cruel for the poor beast to be pumped full of testosterone all the time with no way of releasing his sex drive. but the owner wouldn’t hear of it. No way!

How interesting! (It’s also preposterous and laughable, but that goes without saying so I won’t say it.) So, if I understand correctly, that man’s virility resides in his dog’s testicles. (He’s not the only man to have said that kind of nonsense on that programme, by the way.) Hmmm… let me see: I had my pussycat spayed a few years ago; I love my cat and sometimes identify with her, but I didn’t feel as if my uterus and ovaries had been removed. Why is that? Because… my femaleness was not in my cat’s reproductive organs. It wasn’t even in my own breasts, which were cut off a while ago. (My cat also had ‘multiple’ mastectomies when she was a kitten. Mine was just a ‘double’ – sounds like I’m ordering a drink, doesn’t it? “Make mine a double, please, surgeon!”, although the Cromwell Hospital did try to charge me – and my insurance company – for three breasts. Hey, I’m weird, but not that weird.) I know that some women feel less feminine when they’ve had a hysterectomy, for instance, but at least they’re talking about the loss of their own organs not that of their hamster’s or parrot’s.

I cannot quite understand that man’s reasoning (so what else is new?). It’s long been suspected, though, that men see their pets – and their cars – as extensions of their manhood, hasn’t it? What better proof does one need?

Slapping those morons who would rather jeopardize their marriages (the man’s wife was very pissed off) than do the right thing for their pets!

Saturday, 7 January 2006

Me, my goat and women

Do you know what gets my goat? Well, you do know what gets my goat: I tell you more or less twice a week. No, but do you know what really gets my goat? It’s women who define themselves (or are defined by other people) in relation to someone else. Newspapers write, ‘A 75-year-old grandmother blah blah blah…’ Why can’t they say, ‘A 75-year-old woman blah blah blah…’ If the fact that she’s got grandchildren has nothing to do with the matter in hand, why mention it? Why can’t she just be this human being who’s done something or to whom something’s been done? When was the last time you read the same kind of thing about a man?

What am I? A 57-year-old cat owner? I am that, but I wouldn’t define myself as such.

But some women are their worst enemies in that respect. They undervalue themselves and their achievements. Either that or, when they haven’t achieved much (or so they think), they boast about their spouses’ accomplishments in ridiculous terms. Not long ago, I heard a woman say – with no hint of irony – something like, “My genius hubby thinks that…” and there followed some incredibly banal remark. I wonder how many times a day that particular ‘hubby’ tells his wife he’s a genius and could be a member of Mensa if he wanted to (that is, if he wanted to associate with right-wing extremists).

My goat is especially got when the ‘little’ woman says, “I’m computer illiterate. I’ll have to ask my fiancé [aaaargh!] how to switch on the computer.” I only exaggerate a tiny bit. (I also know I’ve touched on that subject in the past, but, oh, how it annoys me!). Since when is it ok to admit to being illiterate in anything? Lady, if you’re computer illiterate, please learn how to use that now-indispensable machine and stop relying on a man for anything that doesn’t require sheer brawn. You have a brain – presumably. Use it! And remember that, on average, women live a lot longer than men and therefore you might suddenly find yourself lumbered with all sorts of things you can’t do (actually, learning how to put up shelves is quite useful too, and the same applies to the few men who survive their women and who can’t boil an egg or use the washing machine).

Slap, slap, slap! Slapping all the women who behave as if the term homo sapiens doesn't apply to them.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Slap of the Year

I’ve just spent two days trying to install my printer onto my laptop because my PC is really on the blink this time so there were a few contenders to the title, including my bathroom and other pesky people/artefacts/organisations, but the winner, the one that really took the biscuit this past year is... Our Ken... Our Mayor... Ken Livingstone!

To think that I helped elect him to that post! I’m not allowed to vote in the ‘big’ elections with the adults since I’m not a British subject (there are no citizens in this country because of Queenie), but they let me put a tick in front of that man’s name and he became Mayor of London and I could kick myself.

Ken Livingstone used to be the head of the GLC (Greater London Council) when Thatcher was Prime Minister. At the time there was a smear campaign against him; he was nicknamed Red Ken because of his left-wing excesses, as perceived by the Conservatives, but when Labour got in we all voted for Ken to be our spokesman and defend us against Central Government. He seemed to be the right man for the job.

Alas, we hadn’t yet realized the size of his ego. Everything he’s done has been to his own advancement and Londoners blame him for making their lives a misery, mostly because of the Congestion Charge and the preposterous increase in public transport fares.

It’s all very paradoxical: the Congestion Charge was created to:
1) relieve… erm… congestion in the streets of London
2) discourage commuters from driving into the city
3) encourage people to use public transport
4) provide funds to improve public transport

It didn't really had much effect, except maybe upsetting the owners of businesses situated within the Congestion Charge zone, so Ken decided to enlarge the zone. He held a referendum about it and the overwhelming response was a resounding ‘No’. Did he listen to the people he’s supposed to represent? Of course not.

Tube and bus fares have also increased just now – by the most incredible percentage. What will this do? It will encourage people to start using their cars again. Go figure!

If that weren’t enough, Ken is also a kind of loose cannon in his public life. Power has gone to his head and he’s lost touch with how a representative of the people is supposed to behave. Last year he compared Oliver Finegold, an Evening Standard journalist, to a concentration camp guard after being told he was Jewish. He has so far stubbornly refused to apologize.

But, then, he had previously embraced Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian theologian who advocates the murder of homosexuals and Israeli civilians, and beating-up women. Just the kind of man you’d want to be publicly associated with!

I’m telling you, I could kick myself, but in the meantime I’m slapping Ken Livingstone with all my might. SLAP!

Update: I've just read that Ken recently declared, “I am pleased to be able to host the lighting of the Menorah at City Hall. Hanukkah is an important period in the Jewish calendar commemorating the Jewish struggle for religious freedom. In recognition of this, I intend this to be an annual event at City Hall. I would like to wish London’s Jewish communities a very happy Hanukkah.”

A hypocrite - on top of everything else. As we say in French, Il a tout pour plaire.