It all just kicked off in France. The government’s plan to raise the retirement age from sixty to sixty-two seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back…when it was two days from retirement (there’s a great ancient Egyptian buddy-cop movie in there somewhere). Everyone who will be directly affected by this new law, plus all those liberal lefty do-gooders (exactly the kind that ‘South Park’ hates so much if you need an image) have downed tools and taken arms against the sea of troubles that is the UMD government. As well as the strikes which have caused the service industry to grind to a standstill (it took me eight days to notice), we have now seen riots in the big cities, prompting angry, impassioned protestors to smash up shops, overturn cars and, in a particularly shocking move for someone as British and middle-class as me, caused a girl to use a sweary word on the news. As I write the French Senate (the best way to explain the Senate? If you imagine the House of Lords in Britain as a demented old man; say, Grampa Simpson from ‘The Simpsons’; then imagine the French Senate as less active and even less influential. That’s right; the French Senate is the Hans Moleman of political bodies.) have just given the bill their approval meaning Sarko’ can stamp it without causing a constitutional crisis. This will only cause the protests, the blocades, the riots to escalate until France regresses into a second stone-age (they’re already half way there when it comes to hygiene and chat-up lines! I jest.). The one thing nobody seems to have suggested is a referendum, which has not been called on such a minor issue since the days of General De Gaulle (kind of like the Morpheus of France except with no help from a flying Keanu Reeves {JESUS CUBIE! STOP BEING SUCH A MASSIVE GEEK! THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T HAVE A GIRLFRIEND}). This would show whether the protest groups really are the downtrodden masses or whether the government is representing the people as a government should. Until then I would sum up the the current situation in a vulgur but appropriate way: Never fuck with the French.

If the French have the slightest of tendencies to overreact, it saddens me that Britain is at the other end of the spectrum. This week’s budget cuts are the final proof that the demon occupying Maggie Thatcher has vacated it’s withered vessel and found a new host – a smirking, round-faced fellow name Cameron. According to the BBC there has been only mild grumbling about the benefit cuts that threaten to destroy a welfare system which, if nothing else, has kept the working class hopeful and the upper classes’ feet on the ground. The closest British thing I have seen to the pseudo-anarchy in France this week was a photo of three students with banners outside Edinburgh University library. In fact, the only person in Britain who properly captured the slightly petulant revolutionary spirit of the French this week was Wayne Rooney; everybody hates him now, but he got the job done. I can only hope that this series of cuts will cause Britain to look closely at the snarl behind DC’s smile and say ‘Oh my Grandma, what big teeth you have.’

So I strayed a little from my experiences as an Erasmus student. To tell the truth this week in Albi, where the strikes are peaceful and there is not really any more of a dead stop for the town’s economy to come to, was reasonably uneventful until Thursday. My French is getting better; I am able to hold a conversation with my classmates about normal things like television and rugby, rather than just the health service or climate change; classes are plodding by; my first piece of marked work got a nice comment which amounted to ‘nice try’; of course the rugby team got gubbed spectacularly, but I have been ‘poached’ (i.e I begged to join) by the team we played against, which is good news as it comes before I have murdered any of my teammates in a blind rage: the usual.

On Thursday however things took a predictably whacky turn (OXYMORON ALERT). During my time here I have always had a slight suspicion that I was not actually attending a university, but a hippy commune with a surprisingly high level of intellectual curiosity. This view was confirmed when a hippy professor allowed a bunch of hippy students to throw an eco-firendly music festival on campus. Myself and two fellow Erasmus students, Fran and Caitlin  had signed up as ‘security’ for this event and therefore got to experience the action first hand. This was probably the loosest definition of the word ‘security’ in history. Our only real duty was to make anyone with a glass bottle decant it into a plastic one, which was not too taxing. My sneaking feeling that our jobs as security guards were not to be taken too seriously was confirmed when I, while drinking a generous sized cup of wine on duty, expressed my worry that one of the young boys attending the gig was smoking a spliff. My boss, of all people, addressed the issue by turning his saucer-sized pupils in my direction, swaying slightly on the spot, saying something like ‘Dude, it’s not hurting anyone,’ and then laughing like Beevis and Butthead. And thus the precedent for the two days was set.

The performance element of the first day was an Occitan (south of France)/Brazilian folk band, who I could not enjoy properly as my heart was bleeding for the poor fellow with the most embarrassing musical title in the world: rhythm accordionist. After this we had a couple of hours of ‘slam’, which I quite brilliantly translated into English for an interested (or more likely stoned) French friend as ‘Punk Poetry’, including a fantastic display by the nutty professor who organised the whole thing. I did not even begin to understand the point of the poem – they talk very quickly – but I kept hearing cool words like ‘sniper’ and ‘molotov-cocktail’, so I could tell it was edgy and political. After this there was a band which, to sum them up, amounted to Billy Bragg or Mike Skinner (‘The Streets’) with reggae backing and Seasick Steve playing the double bass.

The second night was much the same except I fulfilled a childhood dream of sitting around a fire, eating wild boar.  The main acts on the second night were a band that started off sounding like the kind of cool, post-country and western mob that would provide music for a Tarantino movie, but after an hour were just an annoying version of ‘The Shadows’. The headline act defies even my massive range of old music references; the singer was a postergirl for what happens if your mother smokes crack when she is pregnant and then the baby continues the habit every day for thirty years; at one point she literally barked like a dog  for a whole song. She did provide a lot of amusing moments swaying around in what appeared to be a wedding dress, backed by two guys who looked like a mixture of the ‘118’ advert men and  the singer of ‘Electric 6’ (minus his awesomeness).  Even funnier was when she tried to sing in English to seem poetic without really understanding it, and therefore came out with such gems as ‘You are not my huz-band’ and ‘I wear a big T-shirt to show off my curves’. A few weeks ago this would have been strange but I would actually have been disappointed if, by this stage, the festival had been anything less than the lunatics taking over the assylum.

Right I fear I have delighted you long enough. I’m on holiday this week but I’ll have to wait and see if I am able to go on my planned roadtrip to Marseille or if it will fall victim to the French revolution part two.



Categories: Albi, France

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