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Saturday, 27 April 2013

Freedom captured in image

I envy the multilingual – being able to dream in an alien language. I envy my daughter. Fresh from my adventures on the Lyon Metro and my fruitless attempts to shrug in French at Annecy, I went to a museum dedicated to the wonderful brothers Lumiere.  I ended up in a small auditorium crowded with French people watching a film on the Lumiere brothers in French. A few people, I noticed, were sleeping. Putain! Foreigners! I thought, taking my seat. All I had to do was keep awake, nod in the right places, and no one would be the wiser. Despite my dozy appearance I too would be taken for French. It worked. I think. Who knows?

The following day we saw people with even less choice than the animals in le Parc de la TĂȘte d'Or Zoo. They  couldn’t move at all. Worse they were mute.

I stood there for ages, wondering what might happen at midnight under a full moon, or perhaps on Walpurgis night. Would they come to life? Would those who observed them take their place in the blink of a Lyonnaise eye?

If you ever see this in a Doctor Who adventure, remember where you read the idea first : )

Thursday, 18 April 2013


Artist - Nicholas Sicard

This is a wonderful painting. It captures not only movement but also possibility. The eye is drawn to the woman half turning, and then drifts to every single individual there. Who are they? Where have they been, and where are they going? The painting fizzes with possibility and choice.

In real life choice is limited by many things, most commonly poverty. Still, there remains the thin possibility, for others aspiration or hope. 

That wasn’t the case in the zoo at le Parc de la TĂȘte d'Or in Lyon. A bunch of Lemurs on a small island, which they shared with two giraffes and a zebra, looked reasonably happy. There was sufficient room for the two giraffes to stretch their legs, but it was hardly savannah, and the zebra just stood there looking pensive. 

Worse was to come: two small landscaped enclosures, one holding a bear, the other a tiger. Each animal paced a well worn route, the same unvarying pattern that you suspect they had done for years and would continue to do so for more years to come. I watched for some time; slow motion horror.

We moved on to two large cages. One held a colony of gibbons; the youngest still intrigued by the possibility of escape. These sat on the highest branches of a dry looking tree, and fingered every loop of the taut black wire blocking the sky…exploring.

 The cage next to it held Lulu. She’d been there since 1961. Kennedy, The Beatles and Stones, Hendrix and Dylan had passed her by, the space race, glam rock, punk, the collapse of the soviet empire and the fall of the Berlin wall had all been and gone, and she sat there on the same tree in the same cage. A nursing home from birth. It was time to go.

We passed runners - well actually they passed us – running along circumscribed paths, but that’s a conceit followed my many who question the concept of freedom. These runners had choice, along with the prospect of a hot shower and a drink in a cool Lyonnaise bar.  

The following day I experienced another limitation on choice: language. I like to think I speak the language of the world with a happy smile, a shrug, sometimes a handshake. And of course you can point at things.

 You have to accept ridicule too.

 In Lyon I was puzzled by a word. We’d be waiting on the platform of the Metro and I kept wondering why every train seemed to be going to Prochain until my daughter, who is mostly very patient, told me Prochain wasn’t a destination, but advising us when the next train was due.  

It got from bad to worse. The following day we were in Annecy and I sat in the castle courtyard reading my Kindle. An elderly Frenchman sat on a bench opposite me, about ten feet away. He spoke to me, rubbing his forearms and glancing at the sky. I, too, looked at the sky, rubbed my forearms, and threw in a rueful smile. Clearly he was talking about the weather. He spoke some more. I resisted the temptation to spit out ‘Putain’, which my daughter assures me is a safe all-purpose word. Instead I shrugged and nodded, looked some more at the sky.

Five minutes later he stood up, inclined his head and said ‘Good-day’ in perfect English. I hadn’t fooled him. Even my body language lets me down. In this respect my ‘choice’ depends largely on the good will of others.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Midnight Cowboy and the Adventures of Robin Hood – the missing link

When we were very small we peered through our neighbour’s window to watch ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood on a black and white TV - with its 12 inch screen even smaller than us. Eventually we also got a TV and sang along to the hypnotically catchy theme tune. Listen to it once or twice and you'll be singing along too.

It’s only now, looking back, that the weirdness of its cast hits home. Richard Greene played Robin Hood. 

Clean cut and with an immaculate smile he was 1950’s man personified. To a child, knowing no better he suited Lincoln green well enough, but looking back now  I can more easily imagine him in a checked shirt and cravat, a jacket - cord or tweed, and cavalry twill trousers. He’d be drinking a pint from a dimpled pint glass and twinkling at Maid Marion in twinset and pearls sipping a Baby-Cham (a mildly alcoholic fizz for those who couldn’t afford champagne.) Having said that, Patricia Corbett looked a damn sight better in Lincoln green and well tailored leggings. 

 But where does Midnight Cowboy fit in?
 Well, we all have to start somewhere, even the sexually active John Schlesinger, who starred as Alan a Dale in an episode called The Dowry. One for quiz compilers everywhere.

And because this is a very short post, here a three samples aprox three minutes each.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Triangular Flapjack

A seven year old schoolboy was hit in the face by a triangular flapjack. The incident took place in a school canteen. Immediately the headmistress took action. With Napoleonic vim she banned the triangular flapjack - one of those rare occasions when Brussels wasn’t consulted first.
From henceforth the flapjack would be rectangular – which in my view just adds another lethal corner. Maybe there had been some discussion in Castle View School’s senior management team – round flapjacks perhaps mooted and then discarded. These could well slice across faces leaving Prussian dueling scars. So square or rectangular it is. 

For how long?

Thinking back to my school the consequences of this are fairly predictable. Experimentation – flapjacks whizzing along corridors, down stairwells and across crowded classrooms, like edible Frisbees in search of the perfect aerodynamic curve. Pandora’s box once opened….

            My heart falls…looking back… Opportunity lost - If only we’d had the flying flapjack when I was a child. There were fusspots then, but they had more to worry about:

 Still, childhood is a state of mind. I’ve bought my pack of flap-jacks. Just waiting the suitable moment.