A Decade in the Merde


There’s a race of men that don’t fit in, A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood, And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don’t know how to rest.

As you can see from this fairly accurate artist’s impression, this stretched goatskin parchment is not dissimilar to the outline of France. This parchment (or, if you will allow this contrived metaphor to continue, carte blanche), has proved to be just the creative outlet the jaded English middle classes craved. Over 500,000 people have paralleled their forefathers’ hugely popular land trading game Entente Cordiale by talking turkey with the French around 30% of whom wholeheartedly agree with Dorothy that There’s No Place Like (Someone Else’s French Countryside) Home. There is but one tiny problem with this de rigueur gentrification of Provence, Brittany and the Dordogne – the English. Whatever it may be that drives the droves to drive through Dover, more than enough have forgotten they’re not in Kansas any more. Tales of Conservative Clubs popping up is the kind of pitiful recidivism we’ve come to expect, but the neocolonialism of property speculators is a far more worrying trend.

Some of the most conspicuous sights of the world are in France  – most notably the staggering For Sale sign currently towering over Paris. L’hôtel de la Marine is the latest monument to be lost to the highest vested interest, a turn which all but garroted the President’s public opinion. While the current military involvement in Libya may yet curry favour with those wondering where the country’s spine has gone, this kind of surrender of the country’s land is the annexe of urban and rural loss most recently seen in the wound-licking economies of Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The French have a right to be worried – foreign money brings foreign problems.

As a disclaimer, the meaty example I’m going to use is bloody rare (for that is how the French like it). The Château de Fretay resort was supposed to be the motif of expat luxury – a designer mansion retreat replete with a one hundred acre golf course. But for Joanne and Robert Hall, the epitaph of their little Englander renovation will be mistaken as hardboiled crime fiction. It would be churlish to suggest that their ignorance of French tradition and customs held their project back so long; however, their naïvetés towards the duplicity of French bureaucracy certainly curbed progress (within a year abroad they were humoured towards using their wealth for such hare-brained endeavors as a hot air balloon station). The desired open golf resort was unfortunately always going to be a non-starter – French law rather self-preservatingly states that three trees must be planted in the same region for every one cut down. If, as with Robert Hall, you don’t speak the lingo, promoting bio-diveristy to well-forested locals can be quite trying. While you can’t knock the ambition, the Halls had previous for catastrophic blueprints. A beleaguering trail of bailiffs, trading injunctions and abandoned enterprises led to them Channel hopping into relative exile – all the more disconnected given that after a decade in France the only Halls that spoke fluent French were the children. If they, like their parents, hadn’t been able to speak more than their mother tongue, would they have had the freedom or even inclination to call the police? It would seem that providence only intervenes for the purposes of justice.

The prosecutors office claim that a drunken, violent row resulted in the accidental death of Joanne Hall. But after ten years in monoglot exile, the cogent mind must surely be vacuum packed. Due to the treatment of Joanne’s dead body the police are investigating Robert for aggrevated murder. Claiming that he was carrying out his wife’s entombment wishes, Robert burned Joanne’s body before adding her ashes to the building site cement mixer in order to create a DIY mausoleum. Whether this is a short-sighted lover’s tryst or a short-sighted ensconcement attempt is for the courts to decide. Would this have happened were the Halls not so financially and domestically tethered to and yet so linguistically marooned in the Breton region? I’m not convinced. While its highly plausable that something so psychopathic would, in time, have happened on these shores, a large part of me would hope that the arterial human interaction of any society would negate the potential writing of many harrowing annals.

The Hall’s business model could have been applied to any country. So why France? Acres of natural British forest can be hard to come by – and rightly so. The red-faced shame of Cameron’s forest sell-off u-turn thankfully brought politics back in line with the thoughts of the public. Open forests remain one of the few pre-capitalist sensual joys still available. They serve as a fourth dimension through which our placing along the line of time becomes blurry – trees, plants and animals will live long before and long after our flash-in-the-pan human race does. Coasts recede and cities decay, but forests replenish. To own them is futile, and too much of a burden for mortal man. The current coalition government saw fit to try and pass on their responsibility in exchange for a quick buck or two (hundred and fifty million) – a parallel universe which may have ensured the wood-owning Hall’s kids are alright. But when you vote in favour of robbing Peter to pay Paul you effectively mortgage the next generation’s life away. One Owl had to learn the hard way when he was told ‘your property is at risk if you do not keep up repayments’. Yet in the not too distant future, should you not safeguard yourself from the Tories, your children will gasp when you tell them there was a time when you could walk freely through any Hundred Acre Wood.


News & Star


And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

Well, I have imagined the life and times of this particularly biblical looking fella just from his mug shot. He strikes me as an 18th century confidence trickster, masquerading in full merchant navy plume somewhere fecklessly sea-faring like Venice… or Birmingham. He needs pieces of eight to get back home or maybe even just 10p to get a cup of tea/make a phone call. It’s not always clear; the man is constantly plagued by these terrible headaches (I feel it is important at this stage not to draw attention to his crazy right eye). I have christened him Pietro Criminales, on account of being both detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure and having no small amount of Mediterranean, doe-eyed glow about him. As a shameless acolyte of loose journalistic stools such as Chat!, The Sun and Weekly World News, I came across this brute through a thunderous new idea from a similar doggerel champion – the website for Carlisle’s News & Star. If doom-mongering to the residents of a fairly satellite town in Cumbria wasn’t enough, they now catalogue the faces of all known baddies.

Now I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this one. On the one hand its a disdainful decision. Prison is largely supposed to be about rehabilitation – the point being that most inmates have re-entry into society to look forward to. So you’d think that the newspaper would sagely warn its readership to the perils of a life of crime through a rogues gallery of the never to be released, or more importantly, never to be seen. But lo! They did not! Fire and brimstone rained down, zeal met with revulsion and those without sin did cast their shower of stones. Unfortunately these stones also rained upon the niggly little fuckers who were creasing the covers of the county’s freshly made societal bed. I can’t help but think its ludicrous that people who have been given an 18 month sentence or similar should be tarred with the same brush as someone given 22 years. The judicial system doesn’t do that so why should we? The idea that petty offenders have to accept that their face is now a jail time stigmata (with associations of far more heinous crimes by proxy) beyond their localised community is a sign of how ignoble journalism really has become.

On the other hand, it’s really funny. It’s like an ASBO news ticker. I can see it now – Delinquench with Krishnan Guru-Mirthy [sic]. If you catch something that falls off the back of a lorry… ho, ho, ho, suddenly you’re on Interpol’s most wanted list (nowhere near as cool as I was led to believe, by the way). You photo’d? You bad. It’s like a tagline from The Running Man or something. Except if we were to predict 40 years from now how we’d procure entertainment from criminals, I don’t think we’d have them fight for their lives. We’d carry on living in our not-so-Brave New World and probably spend Friday nights texting our vote in to Channel 4. The ultimate aim of which is to get your favourite of these lost little souls over the moral cattle grid and into Tebay Services before dawn – depending on how they fared in ‘the House’, of course.