Tuesday, 30 November 2010

And Another Thing...

Snow has returned to Angoulême, though I imagine it won't linger for as long as people would like, but still. I'm actually intruiged to see whether the French are any better at dealing with snow than we are in the UK - will there be mass disruption or does life just carry on as per? On verra...

I watched a debate the other day between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair in Toronto: it was really weird seeing Blair back on a stage speaking in exactly the same way, making the same unnecessary hand gestures and talking the same old bollocks as he did as PM. Yet I still felt strangely nostalgic watching the now-very-grey Tony do his thing - I never particularly supported Blairite politics, but for some reason there was this lingering feeling of solidarity between me and this much-maligned former politician...I can't really explain it. On another note, what a difference a week makes for Hitch. Whereas he looked well, sharp and fresh against Bill Dembski, the cancer certainly looked like it was winning in Toronto - here's hoping it was just a bad day and that his recovery is forthcoming.

I'm certainly more of a Times man than a Guardian man, but I will certainly dabble in the latter when the situation requires it (Charlie Brooker helps, it must be said). What does amuse me now is that the Guardian were so vocal about their support for the Lib Dems before the election and are now, quite rightly and understandably, castigating the Lib Dem section of the coalition for going back on all their promises. They have the right to feel aggrieved by Clegg and co, given his stance on tuition fees before May, but one wonders how they could have possibly supported anyone other than the Lib Dems prior to the election - they simply had nowhere to go. Being a centre-left paper means that they often attempt to take the moral high ground on certain issues, but aligning themselves with Labour would have been highly impractical, leaving them with no real alternative other than Nick, Vince et al. Their anger is therefore justified, but not altogether surprising - they indeed could certainly be accused of a lack of foresight.

Being without internet on the weekends mean that all sporting results come as a massive surprise to me on Monday afternoon when I can once again check up on them. No more so than the Gabba test - I was expecting nothing short of an England second-innings collapse followed by a strong media backlash...so imagine my surprise on Monday to discover what had really happened, given my last update had been at the end of the third day! This is England we're talking about, right? I'm still sceptical about our chances, and don't think we're as good as people are saying just yet, but for the first time I'm actually daring to hope, albeit with everything crossed.

Charlie x

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Hair, Flair and the Fallout From Blair

So it's been nearly a week, and things are hotting up...ish.

Firstly, I've just returned from having the speediest haircut of my entire life. It was just a case of my explaining to the lady what I wanted before she set off at Mach 1 to remove as much hair from the top of my head as she possibly could, without appearing to care a great deal about the actual consistency of length etc. It reminded me of the people who work at the checkout in French supermarkets - rapidity is the order of the day, where they veritably fling each product through the scanner, testing both my reflexes and bagging abilities simultaneously. My theory about this aberrant behaviour is that the pace of life is sometimes so slow in Western Europe that they feel forced to make up for it in other aspects of life, giving everyone more time to wander slowly down the streets and embrace every other person they meet, "inconnu" or otherwise.

Last Friday, while attending a soirée at the house of one of the other assistants here, some French friends of theirs rocked up with a guitar and an accordian. It was the sort of situation you'd imagine an Englishman creating in an attempt to lampoon French culture, but THIS WAS FOR REAL. Needless to say, it was pretty exciting. Never have the words "Can I play on your accordian" had more connotations...

So there are protests again, this time involving smashing vans. Great. The more damage that's done as part of the democratic right to protest, the more public sympathy for the upcoming plight of students is going to dwindle - it's really not difficult to fathom. So here's my take: if you want to protest, go ahead and do so peacefully; I will support you to the hilt. If you want to act like thugs, please have the decency to kindly fuck off and not do it as part of a reasonable demonstration, thus ruining the reputations of those who actually care about the politics of the matter. Preferably this controlled thuggery can be contained within certain areas, perhaps like Fight Club without the schizophrenia. Or with - either's fine with me.

Predicting an Ashes fightback,

Charlie x

Friday, 19 November 2010

Loose Ends

Ok, no rant from me today - am just tying a few things here.

1) I passed a sign the other night that said "Club des personnes âgées" - I'm so intruiged as to what that means? Is this U3A or a retirement home? It reminds me of a new-Labour plan to not let old people know they're old..."You're old and need care, but we don't want you to feel like a burden. Come to our club instead." That's my take on it anyway.

2) Surely banks can waste less paper. I mean really, 3 envelopes with additional unnecessary rubbish contained therein to convey a card to me is not a good use of their time and energy. It's not just here, it's everywhere. Silly people.

3) This is the bowing to peer pressure part of the blog. I've been bullied by a certain other assistant here into talking at length about a certain activity, so shall endeavour to humour her in an attempt to save my metaphorical eardrums. Basically, she feels the need to act like a frog occasionally, and as a result of this, launches herself at a certain, very tolerant, English boy in what is colloquially known as a "frog hug." She crouches, springs, and lands, with various consequences. Add the ingestion of soft drugs into her system and the results can certainly be interesting (most of all ocularly). Anyway, that's my shout-out - she wants this thing to go viral, so girls, if you feel like acting like an amphibian, you have my blessing. Here endeth the lesson.

4) Q. When is a bin not a bin?
     A. When it's laden.

No good? It's a mere digression from my actual point, namely that at what point does a bin cease to be a bin due to damage. I tried to put something in one the other day that resembled a pot with broken slats, and I couldn't be certain whether to go for it despite the possibility that it would just fall out straight away. Oh the civil dilemma...
That's all for now, folks.

Charlie x

Monday, 15 November 2010

Angoulême Has Mormons!

The title says it all basically. I was stopped in town on the way home last night by 2 Mormon chaps who were doing missionary work, in Angoulême of all places. Now, my knowledge of Mormonism is pretty sketchy, but I certainly didn’t let that stop me having some fun with these guys. After having asked me what I believed, they proceeded to tell me about their revelation stories, both of which involved their god revealing himself in prayer to them. When I asked for evidence of this celestial dictator, they responded in the most wonderful fashion: “Look at the earth.” Sweet, no? A question followed about whether I thought evolution was the cause of life on earth (I had to double-take at this point), and they finally offered me a Book of Mormon. I am still angry with myself for not taking it – free comedy literature should never be turned down, but for some reason this didn’t occur to me until after they’d moved on. So no Book of Mormon for me – alas.
This leads me on to something vaguely serious though. The 2 guys, both of whom were my age, clearly had no way of dealing with a conversation that did not follow their script – it was like talking to small, Mormon clones of Ray Comfort supporters. They did not possess the tools to argue their case, admitting to me freely that they had no chance of convincing me of their god’s existence, and in a way I pitied them. Growing up in an environment where you are not privy to a basic level of education, scientific or otherwise, before being thrust into a secular nation such as France to preach, does not sound like a healthy way to spend one’s formative years. They were very nice people; it is merely a shame that unfounded beliefs can be hammered in so strongly and unerringly into such young minds that they become unaware of reality.
As for the actual year abroad stuff, it’s really quite rainy. Little work is being undertaken due to the vagaries of my timetable, allowing me to sleep, eat, play the odd spot of golf and see friends ad nauseam. The real stuff recommences tomorrow though, whereupon I shall do my first full week (weeks for me here are always 4 days) for nearly a month – quite frankly it’s a disgrace that I’m being paid to do so little, but I certainly shall not complain!
Charlie x

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Same Coin

Yes I know I’m posting for the second time in quick succession, but something recently got me thinking, in an irksome sort of way. Those of you in the UK will no doubt be aware of the student protests taking place against the raise in tuition fees, which is absolutely fair enough. Indeed, were I in London and had nothing better to do, I would probably go along just for kicks. I would, however, be put off by the fact that the whole protest is an NUS project, given the proverbial beef that I had with them last year, and indeed still do. Just the association with them would be enough to dissuade me, unless they decide on some radical about-turn in violence policy. Because they sort of like it, this whole violence to make a point thing. Remember Durham last year? Apparently it would be OUR fault if the NUS and UAF brought up coachloads of people to incite violence, in order to effectively quash free speech (yes, the BNP are a hateful group in every single way, but tough – this is how a free society works – they get a say, no matter how deplorable and ridiculous their opinions are). But I digress. The whole thing sort of got me thinking about Nick Griffin (NG) again, and led me to compare his actions with an interview I heard earlier this week with Shirley Phelps-Roper (SPR). For those of you who are unaware of this bastion of tact and sanity, SPR is the daughter of Fred Phelps, a batshit crazy American fundamentalist preacher-cum-ex-lawyer who has his own church in which it is predicted that the rapture is about to happen ANY FUCKING MINUTE. Tinfoil hats at the ready etc. They’re even more famous for being the lovely individuals who stand around outside dead US soldiers’ funerals picketing, claiming that the fact that these young men have died is part of their god’s wrath at the USA’s tolerance of homosexual activity, among other things. So yeah, a wonderful lady.
So why compare the two? Yes, NG (I was tempted to use the first two letters of his first and second name to create an ironic abbreviation, but didn’t wish to inadvertently offend anyone) and SPR are both depraved lunatics whose political (the former) and religious (the latter) opinions are testing the boundaries of the free speech/hate speech debate. However, the way in which they deal with their publicity is completely different, and certainly interesting to notice. What NG does is squirm and avoid the question, pretending he never said the hateful things he actually did say, despite recordings (both in audio and paper form) of his having done so. SPR on the other hand is straight up about her beliefs, merrily shouting to all and sundry that she’s right and that everyone should just (and I’m quoting verbatim here) “shut up, stop thinking and just obey”, all while spitting vitriol at anyone she deems to be immoral (that’s everyone by the way apart from the majority of her family). Oddly enough, I sort of respect her a little more for that; at least if you’re going to be an ignorant, callous little cunt (I beg forgiveness for the word – I don’t use it lightly, but some situations require severe expression, and this is one of those occasions), at least have the decency to admit it and be consistent with your views, rather than hiding behind a veil of respectability before plunging once more into the mire of racism and bigotry, in NG’s case. So in a sort of wonky way, SPR leads the credibility stakes, though only in terms of consistency of action and the fact that she’s not actually running for political office or anything. Regardless, the world would be a better place without these dreadful people, yet we must soldier on as best we can.
Sorry for the rant, but it needed to be said. Love to you all.
Charlie x
P.S. There are no words in the English language that exist to encapsulate exactly how I feel about SPR and her ilk. To understand where I’m coming from, give the interview a listen on the link below:

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Clash

Ok, so I've given France the benefit of the doubt on most occasions; sure, the strikes were a bit excessive, but freedom of expression is nice I suppose. However, the banking system leaves a lot to be desired, the sneaky bastards. Basically, my nice shiny new bank card arrived the other week and appeared to be doing everything it was being told. So far so good, right? However, come the drawing-money stage, it doesn't bother to tell you that the PIN you entered the first time was wrong, allowing you to carry on as if everything's fine while secretly storing up tiny little microchips of vindictiveness (you know how a group of crows is a "murder" - this is the technical term for a collection of vindictivenesses) before pouring out all its bent up frustration in one fell swoop. Long story short, it ate my card without my knowing it, since it didn't tell me I had done anything wrong. Hooray. So, being France, the actual bank is shut for a 7-hour lunch break, meaning I have to come back after one of my classes to sort it out, whereupon I'm told that I can't simply reclaim the card thanks to their silliness, but that the card itself has been cancelled, blocked and destroyed, and that I have to have another one ordered (a feat that will take several days thanks to bank holidays etc). Quod. The. Fuck. In short, not a happy bunny. Also, my classes today were rubbish. Even the ones I tend to consider as pretty competent were in sleepy mode, meaning I was effectively trying to squeeze blood out of a stone, which by all accounts isn't the easiest task in the world, though I have yet to try it. One of my students did decide to take umbrage at the notion of Guy Fawkes' day because we were effectively celebrating the execution and posthumous proxy-burning of Catholics in protection of the monarchy. True, I say, but just you wait 'til I release my lions...

Remembrance day tomorrow. We work, we stand still and twiddle our thumbs for 2 minutes at 11am, everyone carries on as per. Right? No. Not here. We have a day off, followed by another one on the 12th because it allows for continuity into a long weekend. A very long weekend. 3pm Wednesday afternoon to 5pm Tuesday afternoon is my weekend, with exactly 4 hours of work undertaken. It's hard this language assistant thing.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Anyone who even vaguely knows me knows that I have no interest in football whatsoever: it just doesn't appeal. I also have this perverse pride in knowing as near to sweet FA (get it?) as I possibly can achieve, and, as such, a small part of me dies every time I accidentally acquire any item of football-related trivia (using the word in its literal sense here). Imagine my consternation, therefore, when the newest member of "English Footballers Whose Names I Vaguely Recognise" appeared in my brain, without actually knowing why. There is a man, it would appear, called Gareth Bale. Apparently he did something quite impressive recently, though I have no idea what it exactly was. Apparently he's young, and quite good. So there, another trivial fact enters my brain, despite my attempts to evade the sport while in France. Give me Radio 4 LW any day, listening to TMS as Henry Blofeld describes in great detail the texture of the cake he's just finished eating, all while 3 England wickets have fallen, seemingly unnoticed by the great man. That is the essence of British sport, not silly people being idolised for kicking a ball before the media inevitably turn on their new "hero" in 6 months' time for sleeping with 3 male prostitutes while simultaneously injecting the blood of children he cut up the night before into their eyeballs.

I would have thought that, when one does an international exchange, it would normally be for the purpose of learning the language of the other country? Apparently not. 6 French students are on an exchange with 6 Swedes, neither of whom can speak the language of the other, so they use English as their common language, despite the...interesting...linguistic level of the French hosts. Cue my entrance as interpreter etc. Most peculiar...


Monday, 1 November 2010

Cleggers and Loud Bikes

This entry will be jumping to the defence of Nick Clegg, just to warn you. Firstly, let me say that I did vote Lib Dem in May, but not because of Clegg - it was a local thing. I know, tar me with the tactical voter brush etc...this is all irrelevant anyway.

Basically, he's getting a bloody raw deal from the press, and I'm not entirely sure it's merited. People seem to think that the coalition will ignore the Tory majority and do everything Clegg, Cable et al had promised during the run-up to the election. Sorry folks, it doesn't work that way. Nicky was always going to be Cameron's bitch, with the only decision for which he'd be responsible being whether to spit or swallow (and even then there'd be considerable pressure from Mr C). However, better that than the spearhead of the angry 3rd party, to whom nobody ever listens, receiving occasional scraps of patronising allusion by the Tories and Labour. Whatever you may think of the coalition, at least he's actually in a position to MAYBE change things, unlike before. If he can't, fine; no-one really expected (I mean really) Clegg to influence things all that much. Even this London Oratory thing isn't really his fault - everyone knows Miriam rules the roost chez Clegg, so Catholic education will be the way to go, no matter how much he postulates about his atheism. Call him hypocritical if you must, but remember the limits of his choices in both his political and his personal life. After all, he's even more autonomous than Lassie.

There's something rather odd about the yoof of France, at least certainly the ones I've spoken to. Ask the boys what they're interested in, and the answer is invariably some combination of video games, motocross and football. Ask the girls, and it's art and reading. Gender stereotyping much? It's as if they combined the most polarised examples of the male/female divide and shoved them all into one school. Of course there are some exceptions (one boy liked guitars, had long hair and wore a Dirty Pretty Things T-shirt), but on the whole that's the trend. However, if you drive your stupid unsilenced motocross bike along normal roads, I reserve the right to think of you as a complete pillock. I don't care how nice you may come across, any respect I might ever have had for you will disappear instantly, replaced with nothing short of loathing. Please, please please please, wrap it around a tree.