Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
We arrived just before 1400 at the cemetery in Libercourt, a small town off the A1 from Lille to Paris. It is a typical French graveyard, though not on the edge of town as many are, and completely unlike the grassy regimented war cemeteries we often see in the media. Walled with gates, concrete pathways and gravel, they have always reminded me a little of municipal dumps and I suppose in some ways they are, though somewhat prettier.
Max and I were in charge of the floral tribute and learned that we should place it by the chapel just across the road. This turned out to be a brick structure inside the main gate and not unlike a large bus shelter: it was one bare concrete-floored room with double doors opened to the outside. We found a place for the flowers and retreated to the undertakers' opposite to await the arrival of the coffin. Standing there rather uselessly, at one point Max's mother took pity on a weeping solitary man and joined him to our sad little party.
We were in fact there to support J-M who was J's partner of almost two years. We didn't know J particularly well though we were saddened by both the manner and the fact of his passing. As none of J-M's three children was present, we became de facto chief mourners.
We made our way back to the shelter/chapel, where the coffin had now been installed on a gurney covered with a richly coloured cloth. We stood inside lined up on either side. It was only when the mourners came in one by one to pay their last respects that I realised why we were there. Keeping my eyes mostly on the floor or towards the coffin avoiding people's eyes I nevertheless was able to see that the dress code was smart-casual with the emphasis on dark casual. I felt a little overdressed in my suit and black tie. Most people advanced to the foot of the coffin, stood a moment or two in contemplation, touched the coffin either briefly or more lingeringly and some made the sign of the cross. Once in a while an over-eager hand would literally leave the coffin rocking and J's brother almost tenderly held on to the other end. J-M managed to get through the ordeal without obvious tears though J's father's red-ringed eyes and the one girl who could not hold back her sobs, stretched my ability to control my tear ducts.
It felt like an eternity with each extended gap between mourners seemingly the last till finally the funeral directors came to take the family flowers and to place the coffin in the vehicle that would convey J to his final resting place. Once again his brother surprised me when he carefully wiped the surface of the coffin where the flowers had been. We had heard he was a bit of a brute and not accepting of his deceased brother's sexuality.
The cemetery was still resplendent with chrysanthemums of every hue placed there, as is the custom, for Toussaint (All Saints Day) on 1st November less than two weeks before. In the dazzling early winter sunshine you could for a moment have believed yourself in a formal garden.
Not 50m from the chapel we came to a vault, a concrete lined grave, lonely in the middle of the cemetery and with no immediate neighbours. It seemed a rather functional unforgiving spot for someone who less than a week before had been alive although evidently deeply unhappy. Then the coffin was propped up over the opening on a metal bar. It was at this point that we were directed along a path and we found ourselves blinking against the brightness in a line up. Max's mother ducked out, as I would have done had I known that every mourner would then make their way down the line murmuring sinceres condoléances and shaking our hands. This must be something like the Queen feels on a regular basis though mostly for happier occasions. For me it felt somewhat fraudulent and afterwards I learned that some people had asked who the tall fair haired man was. At least for them I had added a little mystery to the day.
Then back to the grave, into which the coffin had already been lowered, to see J-M drop a bouquet of dark red roses onto the lid. That was a particularly poignant moment. That was about it really. We stood to one side with J-M for a few minutes then made our way back to his house for coffee and chocolate biscuits. No words of caring and love had been said. There had been no ceremony of any kind, though I suppose we had taken part in a rite of sorts. Later on but before dark, J-M returned to say a final farewell when he had the cemetery to himself and all the mourners and family had departed. Perhaps then he was able to take time to think or to say the words he needed for his own fond adieu.
This was a life much grieved but perhaps the least celebrated I can remember. Perhaps there hadn't been too much to celebrate? J was 29.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
I instinctively supported Hillary Clinton but saw that her experience meant that she is linked inextricably to the past. I wondered whether, having accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama should choose the New York senator as running mate. He didn't, and the supposed "dream ticket" never was. He was right. It would have been as distracting a double act as it would have potentially been a good one. Will he now appoint her to a senior position in his government. Perhaps that is where she will be able to do most good rather than in the "non-position" that is the Vice-President's role.
This takes me back to 1997 and the long night when Labour swept away the tawdry Tories. We were then full of hope, and it is fair to say 11 years later that some of those hopes have been dashed, some of that expectation not realised. Much of what the Labour goverment has achieved is not well communicated and languishes hidden away in boring black and white whilst the new Conservatives' slick PR and colouful marketing grabs all the headlines.
Obama has four years, possibly eight, to turn the biggest democracy in the world around. Let's all give him the space and the support he needs and accept he won't be able to work miracles.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
We ate on Friday evening at Le Fetiche in Auteuil - we've been going there for a few years since the brasserie opposite lost its appeal - and I was taken aback at how expensive it has become. Two salads and two beers in total came to 36€. Later in the weekend we were taken out for drinks and I enjoyed two 25cl glasses ie less than a pint in total at a price that equated to approaching £10 a pint! Of course it is beautifully served in the correct glass at your table but that seemed somewhat excessive.
We discovered the Musée des Arts Décoratifs almost by accident. We'd been heading for the Musée de la Publicité only to find that they both were to be found at the same address ie part of one wing of the Louvre. We didn't ever find the Advertising Museum but the Decorative Arts collection was a delight taking us from the Middle Ages right up to the 21st century along galleries of carefully chosen object and numerous room settings. The views from the windows out onto the sun drenched Tuilleries Gardens and across to the Louvre were simply stunning.
After a refreshing apéro of champagne, we made dinner at Max's aunt's place - a fairly successful rösti with smoked salmon, fromage frais and coriander followed by a risotto of leeks, bleu d'Auverne, garlic and walnuts.
On Sunday we took ourselves along to Le Mondial De L'Automobile 2008. where we indulged our dreams a little by sitting in rather less ostentatious cars than some might have thought! The Smart Diesel for example, and the newly revamped Fiat 500. It was, as expected rather crowded, as many I suspect were not in a position to buy or replace but had allowed themselves 12€ of mechanical fantasy.
Then we visited Le 104 an arts centre opened in the Municipal Undertakers building in a rather run down area of the city. There wasn't a lot to see apart from the magnificent building but eventually artists will rent the studios and exhibition spaces and the public will be encouraged to come and watch and ask questions.
Unusually, the big department stores were open on Sunday offering big discounts and promotions. The debate continues as to whether or not Sunday opening should be become a regular feature of the weekend. My vote would be for opening but perhaps turning the current situation on its head ie have a set number of Sundays when the stores had to close.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
BTW yes that is a dead cow sprawled on the floor...and one more thing, it only just struck me why the french version of Big Brother was called Loft Story. Yes, being a bit slow here. It wasn't because the fascinating daily interchanges played out in a loft - oh no sirree - 'twas a play on words or rather because of the way the French automatically pronounce "love" as "lowv" not "luv". Geddit? Yes, Love Story! Going for a lie down...
Monday, August 04, 2008
Then yesterday we went for second helpings. The evening not so balmy indeed it was drizzling yet the dancers were still a-strutting their stuff across the rather damp exterior dancefloor. Some went barefoot to avoid mishap. This time I got photos! I overheard a Brit moaning that there is no culture in the UK. Something of an exaggeration but certainly the dance and the venue are something very special.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Wow! What a wonderful film. It was Merchant Ivory with added depth. It was Bridges of Madison County with less schmaltz. It was Saving Private Ryan with less gore. It was just brilliant.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Take it away Dima! Watch the video here
Have a wonderful weekend all my readers - both of you!
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Enough of the politics! I am well into the second month of relative inactivity since my contract with Better Bankside ended. Partly self enforced with various excuses and partly because I haven't really done much about looking for another contract. There has been a minor step forward in that there now exists a "micro" site dedicated to the working me! Check out the Newman-Legros Solutions page. There are possibilities in the pipeline but so far nothing concrete.
One of the brightest moments recently came during the visit of Ange and Pat when we took in the Sex And The City movie. I realise that some might be shocked or maybe just surprised at my predilection for such fluff but I am a SATC addict and have the complete boxed set of all 94 - count 'em - episodes. Actually my sister still has some of them on loan. Despite some of the less than enthusiastic reviews this is a FUN film and an escape from the mundane. Indeed the cost of getting to the actual place becoming increasingly prohibitive perhaps we will be reduced to watching old re-runs of Cagney and Lacey and I am already looking forward to owning SATC on DVD.
So what's coming up? A trip to London during which time we celebrate Angela's Freedom Pass. We hope to see The Common Pursuit at the Menier Chocolate Factory whilst in town. There are any number of reasons for seeing the play not least because Nigel Harman is in it. Then later in the month we are in Lippstadt, the town of my birth some 48 years ago. I hope to take advantage of our stay by buying, not Manolos, new Birkenstocks, another bottle of essig essenz and some 4711. I know how to live...
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Whereas here in Lille, we have recently re-elected Martine Aubry to lead us. I say "we" because I count myself amongst those who gave her their franchise. Somewhere in the top ten of popular politicians in France (Betrand Delanoë, re-elected Mayor of Paris is number one), Martine has garnered respect rather than popularity during her stint in Lille. Indeed this morning she officially succeeded the pépé of the Nord, Pierre Mauroy, to the presidency of the LMCU (Métropole Communauté urbaine). Mauroy now an octagenarian, is largely credited with revitalising the town we see today and was instrumental in securing Lille's place on the Eurostar network. Merci Pierre! If not for him we would perhaps not be living in Lille today. I look forward to being as grateful to Martine.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
I really didn't get the premise of the programme though. How interesting would 30 minutes dedicated to people who travel from France back to London on Eurostar be? I suppose they really wanted an angle and I don't really have anything that fascinating to say... I was in any case beginning to wonder what the quid pro quo would be. It all seemed a bit one way.
Anyhow, apparently they found someone who does the commute more regularly and who lives in the Pas de Calais. I have my suspicions that they confused PdeC with Calais itself. They hadn't done much homework because they didn't know there are no season tickets available on Eurostar and that the train only stops twice a day at Calais making travelling from that station tricky.
Still, on reflection, I realise that there is nothing more popular these days than being a voyeur into someone else's life - why else would anyone want to read this blog? - but there wouldn't have been much substance in the programme. I shall be looking out for it with interest nevertheless, though we cannot, as yet, receive Channel4 via our satellite. Roll on FreeSat!!!
Friday, February 29, 2008
This has been an interesting experience which has involved me wearing my Better Bankside hat every morning and my The Audience Club one every afternoon though the two have inevitably overlapped a little.
Angela is back in the wee small hours tonight - we may go and surprise her at the airport! - and I shall be relieved in more than one way of my responsibilities. It has been frenetic, almost stressful, and certainly has left me with a stiff neck at the end of each day spent staring at the computer screen whether it has been writing copy for the BB E Brief or uploading new shows onto the Theatre Ladder - join up if you want find out what that is!
It has surprised me at least a little to discover just how difficult it is to entice people to go and see a show. With seats to fill and venues to support I even resorted to special offers giving 4 tickets for every 2 paid for. I say "paid for" but in reality it is only a booking fee so 4 tickets for 4 quid!
What can you do? Are people really quite so despondent. Are they perhaps just choosy about the shows they want to see ie I wonder if Sound of Music would have much trouble selling out at £2 a ticket? Can they not be bothered to go slightly out of their way to see some creative piece say in Hackney or Croydon?
I wonder if in fact it is not just indifference though there are people who saw "free membership" and signed up with brusque alacrity and yet have booked to see precisely nothing in four months. Perhaps the telly has been especially great over that period (Life On Mars was repeated), or perhaps - like someone who once joined the ICA because ie me and I didn't go once in that one year I was a paid up member - it felt good to belong to something "worthwhile".
Thinking back I remember now that the call of home after a long day in the office was always louder than the gentler enticements of culture, be it yer actual thinking stuff, or the pub kind. Nothing changed there then. Just shows there are some things you can't even give away.