Sunday, July 30, 2006

As A Chocolate Fireguard …

I was weaving my way home last night after a rather delightful dinner up in the wilds of the 20th Arrondissement, when I realised I was following a vehicle which, in effect, was totally against all why and wherefore.

The 4 x 4, SUV or ‘off-road vehicle’ is now a common sight driving around city centres, with an ever increasing number of road users, cyclists and environmentalists, calling for their removal. To the owners, they are simply a status symbol. With inner city traffic now rolling slower than it ever has, one has to ask the question: ‘why?’

Why do people feel the need to grumble around towns and cities in these expensive, wasteful and pollutant-filled tanks? These excessive vehicles typically use more fuel than cars (cost-prohibitive tank fill-ups of € 100 euros) and they generate much higher levels of carbon-dioxide. In turn, up goes the level of global warming.

I have often seen large 4x4’s driving through Paris driven by what appears to be a stick insect (of the female variety) who, at the same time, is either applying make-up or on the phone. “Yes, but ordinary drivers to the same thing”, I hear people saying. Indeed. But the fact is, with the combination of all the fuel required for a 4x4 and it’s increased output of noxious gases, there is invariably only ONE person in the bloody thing.

Apologies all round, but the streets of Paris, London, Berlin or Los Angeles are hardly 4x4 territory. There are local governments and city departments who have paved the way for wheeled vehicles by building roads - flat rounds. No mountainous terrain here. After all, my late Mother’s Triumph Herald seemed to make all over the south of England in the 1960’s without requiring four-wheel drive, roll cages and chrome bars.

If a pedestrian is struck by a normal car, then the impact is made at knee-level. With a 4x4, it’s at chest level. You do the mathematics.

Some affluent types defend their choice of car with; “It protects little Johnny when I take him to school”. That Triumph Herald was good enough for us ...

There’s a passive French vigilante group who have started a nocturnal movement called ‘Les Dégonflés’ (The Deflaters). It prowls the streets of Paris deflating the tyres of 4x4s as a protest to all of the above. Under French Law, their actions are not seen as criminal as a deflated tyre is not classed as ‘damaged’. Nonetheless, some 4x4 owners have attempted to prosecute but no-one has ever been successful.

Anyway, back to my vision of last night. It was a cool 26C night in Paris and the air was whistling through my shorts - the fresh gusts wafting round the orchestra's. A scooter is the only way to travel in these sticky times. Anyway, as I turned left at the lights on rue de Louvre, I found myself behind a 4x4 of laughable origin, his number plate delivering the punchline. Answer me this: why on earth would a Dutchman need a 4x4?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address …



Saturday, July 29, 2006

Food Fight …

In order to woo prospective customers, those lovely smiley people from Macintosh are hoping that people will read their oh-so-friendly 'it could be you' infomercials on their homepage. Namely, a fictitious blog from a good 'ole boy and his wife which explains how life would be nigh impossible to survive without a .Mac account. It concerns a 4th July party and says:

“Eight packages of hot dogs, six dozen hamburgers, and enough buns to hold them all. Five pounds each of potato salad and cole slaw. Twenty cases of soda. Ten gallons of ice cream. Eighty-two degrees, forty percent humidity, zero inches of rain.”.

What? No fresh food? No water? Only sugary drinks? In that heat?

The American diet (if you could call it that) is as stereotypical as it is unhealthy. In fact, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) claims that only 19% of Americans meet the daily dietary guidelines. Out of a country 298,869,502* people, a little over 56 million eat properly. Thankfully, American TV has woken up to the fact and has instated 'let's get slim' news items, driving home the message about healthier eating.

However, talking figures (sic), did you know that during the last Presidential Elections over here, 23% of the electorate voted National Front? Almost one quarter of the population.

But I have it on good authority that they all ate properly ...

* (estimated 2006 figure)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Who Farted …?

No-one over here seems interested in the Middle East war, the heat wave or the Governments attempt to curb the influx of illegal immigrants. The World Cup is far behind us and the recent news of the Tour de Farce doesn’t even scratch the surface. France is in the grip of holiday season, with real-life taking a backseat for the next month. Minds are turned to 4 weeks of doing nothing. Nowt. Jack shit.

Unless, of course, you’re one of those left behind in the capital and not migrating south on the ‘depart’. However, Paris has it’s benefits during the summer months. Firstly, it’s empty. Really empty. You can easily get a seat on a terrace café, drive around the city and park on street level with comparative ease. Many shops roll down their shutters, sticky-taped notices informing would-be shoppers that for the next month they’re buggered. Local bakeries share their ‘downtime’, guaranteeing that there’s always one open in the area (if the French were denied their daily bread, there‘d be a riot).

I took a stroll at 7am in a cool morning breeze. My apartment is 100 meters from a busy traffic junction which, at that time of the morning, is usually full of nose-to-tail vehicles, veraciously hooting with their drivers yelling obscenities at one another. This morning, I could have walked across the junction with my eyes shut with no fear of being struck by anything 4 or 2-wheeled.

Rue de Rivoli, Paris’ answer to London’s Oxford Street, was also devoid of humanity - a possible candidate to star as a backdrop in a film about nuclear holocaust. Smiling motorists made short work of the numerous traffic-snarling feu rouge.

The dearly departed (holidaymakers, for the cranially relaxed), have done us pedestrians a great service; they’ve taken their 4-legged turd machines with them. There’s no need to walk the streets with your head bowed down, eyes fixed on the next step of your foot. No more tread-fillers … not for another 4 weeks at least.

The café over the road is run by a little Jewish fella, whom I’ve known for a number of years. It’s the local PMU (betting office) which is, by 07h30, normally full of Gauloise puffing alcoholics, pouring over the day’s horse racing card. I’ve nicknamed him ‘Panoramix’. Anyone who’s read the Asterix comic books will know that Panoramix is the druid who makes the magic potion. By lunchtime, the race-goers in the café are in various states of health but most have been invigorated by the magic potion of the local Panoramix.

Even at 08h00 this morning, his place was looking more than a little abandoned.

Sadly, my upstairs neighbour has also jumped ship. Before he went, he switched off his wifi system ... so it's back to my normal disfunctional ISP for the time being. I wouldn't mind, but 3 months he made a point of coming downstairs and giving me his password so I could share his good fortune.

For those of us spending the summer in the city, it’s a time to relax and enjoy the pleasant surroundings. Shame those f**kers have to come back, really …


Sigh … OK, since people are now arguing about the real name of 'Panoramix', here he is for other nationalities: he is known as 'Panoramix' in France, Holland and Spain, 'Getafix' in England and 'Miraculix' in Germany. And, no doubt, 'Bombfirstaskquestionslaterix' in the USA.

Happy now??!!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Do Your Worst ...

Last evening we were the recipients of possibly the best storm known to mankind. It was both violent and aggressive - like any normal offering in the Far East - and certainly beautifully timed. After a day of clear skies and sweltering 39 deg C heat (102 F), finally at 22h00 the skies could take it no longer, and off it went.

I was a little way outside the capital, standing in a garden, watching in fascination as a band of black, angry cloud took control of the sky with remarkable authority. A reddish hue preceded it and the lower build-up appeared to swirl and shapeshift as it came nearer. A strong wind caused trees to bend past their normal flexiblity, but in fierce gusts it blew. Then distant flashing, the storm was agitated and in a foul mood.

Within 30 minutes from the first hint of its arrival, the sky turned a thick black soup as people on the upper floors of the building flung open their windows as huge blasts of cold air gave rise to communal ventilation. Nearly every window was taken by a heat-exhausted, half-dressed person, flocking to cash in on this respite. Then the sounds of far away grumbling.

Normally, with a drop of wind to aid it's passage, a thunderstorm will be above you in a matter of minutes but this one had other ideas. It took half an hour to get to where we were and wasn't going to leave without making sure that everyone knew that it meant business. Great globules of cold water fell out of the cloud and when the core finally settled above us, the lightning was like nothing I have ever seen before. To the left, to the right and directly overhead - no 'flash' followed by its corresponding clap of thunder - the lightshow was horizontal and continuous and the thunder was a constant growl, a roar, a crack. Each flash lasted between 2 and 3 seconds, lighting up the surrounding area, as bright as day.

The dogs in the area barked, children screamed in panic but I was as happy as a pig in shit. I was now much cooler and experiencing a light and sound show better, brighter and louder than Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones put together. An hour later, the storm wafted away to find some more nocturnal victims.

Don't you love Mother Nature when she needs to blow off steam?


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Shot Down In Flames, Twice ...

Manfred von Richthofen was, in my estimation, the greatest and most feared fighter pilot of World War One. With 73 proven kills to his name, it was no wonder that the young allied pilots were so petrified when they took to the skies. For some time after the Great War, many historians refused to believe that von Richtofen had faired quite so well in the air with some insisting that his tally had been exaggerated for reasons of propaganda. However, after years of painstaking research, his claims have since been confirmed. The Red Baron, as he was nicknamed, finally met his maker when he was shot down over the Somme on 21st April 1918.

88 years later, his family have hit the headlines again - not for aeronautical bravery, but for greed and murder.

On 23rd July, Suzane von Richthofen, whose father was a great nephew of Manfred, was found guilty of murdering her parents in San Paulo, Brazil. Along with her ex-boyfriend and his brother, the 22 year old was jailed for 39 years for the killings that took place back in 2002. Roberto Tardelli, the Chief Prosecutor, said that von Richthofen was motivated by a desire to "get her hands on the money and assets her parents had worked so hard to obtain" and that she "wanted her freedom and independence without having to work for it".

Apparently, the murders took place when Suzane von Richthofen's parents opposed their daughter's relationship with Daniel Cravinhos, who was from a lower class family. Von Richthofen took offence, planned the deed with Cravinhos and his brother, then beat her parents to death.

Great great uncle Manfred would be somewhat disappointed ...


Friday, July 21, 2006

Picked Up By The Fuzz ...

The next time you run into trouble with the Law in the Kiwi capital, Auckland, just as they hand you a ticket you might like to reply with "get f**ked!". So long as the Officer in question is female, then you're in with a chance of actually getting away with it.

A certain officer, whose name and rank have not been revealed (probably to avoid the rush), has taken a part-time job as a hooker. By day, she patrols the city centre f**king the locals with tickets a-plenty, but by night, the locals can get their own back and book her for a 30 minute handcuff session between the sheets.

Prostitution has been legal in New Zealand since 2003 but a police spokesman said although secondary employment was allowed, prostitution was "inappropriate and incompatible with policing". He added that it was known she worked for a limited time as a prostitute, but would not reveal where or when she worked. Senior police are believed to have discovered the nature of the officer's second job in the past month.

A spokeswoman for the New Zealand Prostitute's Collective said that depending on the brothel, the policewoman could have earned around $NZ500 (£168.16) on busy night. Ron Mark, the law and order spokesman for the New Zealand First political party said "I know a hell of a lot of police officers who struggle with the cost of living in Auckland but they don't all rush out and become prostitutes."

More's the pity.

"'Ello, 'ello, 'ello ... who's been a naughty little shagger then? I should like you to accompany me to the bedroom for a full investigation ... cash only ..."


Monday, July 17, 2006

Get Thee Behind Me Sad Man ...

It's holiday time nearly everywhere in the northern hemisphere. People are on the move, intent on making the most of their annual pilgrimages. This year even we got a week away but due to cash and time restrictions, we decided to go-it-alone, forget the train and fill up the car and drive. We're not exactly in the same league as Field Marshall Montgomery, but travel planning is a must and 'knowing your enemy' is all important. The enemy in question is the 'other' road user. The busiest time on the roads in France is between mid-July and the end of August with the evening news covering stories of the longest and most miserable tailbacks possible on the country's motorway systems.

We had decided to head 800kms south, to the Basque region of France (that's the only time you'll see the word 'Basque' and 'France' in the same sentence). So anti-France are the people down there, that the celebrations of Bastille Day are ignored - except the joy of taking the day off work. We avoided the rush by heading down on a Monday and we stopped overnight in a quaint little village called Mirambeau. Tuesday morning we set out again and between that afternoon and Saturday morning, we spent time by the ocean, gently cooking under a relentless sun. Leaving the Basque area after breakfast, we drove north again and stopped for a dip in the Landes area, south of Bordeaux. A couple of hours later we arrived back in Mirambeau for an overnight. The Sunday it was back on the road, a quick visit to the Gironde area (the river estuary north of Bordeaux) and then up to Poitiers for a stop-over before Paris on the Monday.

For the entire trip, all 1800kms of it, the one thing that managed to put me in an instant bad mood is ... that relentless slow-moving house on wheels - the caravan. Thousands of the bleeders and all forms and colours. French, British, Belgian and Dutch caravans. The Germans, however, seem to favour the luxurious mobile home, packed with kids and the obligatory bike rack filled to bursting point. But there they were, a blight on Europe's expressways.

As often as we felt like it, we'd pull over for a break and a smoke but however many of these bloody things we'd previously despatched behind us, they now got their revenge went merrily on their way, overtaking us as we relaxed under a pine tree in the rest area. There was one character in particular who sat at 78kph in the right-hand lane, his little white crap mobile covered in stickers, 'I've been to ...', that kind of thing. He was a little Frenchman wearing a peaked cap, his long-suffering wife acted as his co-pilot.

We got stuck behind this bastard for ages as no-one in the left-hand lane seemed remotely interested in helping a fellow motorist escape the clutches of this torture and let us out. For a full page of the map we were part of this sad little cortege, the caravan swaying from side to side like the balls of the old family dog. It was holiday hell and I wished, with all the strength left in my tired body, for sidewinder missiles and an afterburner.

These things should be forced to take another route or pay an enormous nuisance penalty.

Lock and load ...

Take That ...

Well, that's it for another 4 years. The cry-baby Italians made off with the World Cup after what was billed as an awful game for the French.

As full-time was nearly up, Zidane was apparently provoked into headbutting the Italian player after a racist remark. As in the 1998 competition, the saviour of French football was sent off for an early shower.

The Italian player has since admitted to verbally abusing Zidane, and Zidane himself, concurring that the Italian had a crack at him 3 times. Will FIFA do anything about it? I very much doubt it. After all, it was they who came up with the slogans Fair Play, For The Good Of The Game and my favourite, Keep Racism Out Of Football. So why should they police them? The Italians have hailed the player in question as the Man of the moment. The man who won them the Cup at any price.

I don't see 'Fair Play' or the 'Good Of The Game' being employed here. Nor do I see any proof of their players being anti-racisist. It seems perfectly obvious that their all-white team have something against other skin tones. A perfect reflection of the Olympic Games of 1936 ... in the self-same stadium with a certain little paperhanger in attendance.

However, that headbutt was a cracker. I've never seen that before.


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sunday, Bloody Sunday ...

The locals in my quarter are getting nervous about tomorrow's match. The Italian restaurant over the road is taking a bit of flack from all sides. The Mayor of Paris has put up posters saying 'Paris (heart) Les Bleus' - well, he didn't put them up personally and I very much doubt that he paid for them either.

So, will Les Bleus triumph or will Monday morning see the French down with the blues?

I'll be travelling down to a beach on holiday so I couldn't give a flying tackle ...


Friday, July 07, 2006

Camera, Sound, Action ...!

As other connoisseurs of the 'natural tripod' will agree, there's nothing better than finding a handy yet stable camera platform when out on assignment. I do it regularly. Rubbish bins, tables, parking meters and public benches all get the treatment.

There I was, enjoying an afternoon cup of coffee with my beloved, when Gramps (pictured), wanders up to a nearby scooter, places his handcam on the top box, zooms into a plaque on a wall ('Moliere was born here', that sort of thing) and starts narrating a pre-prepared text into the on-board microphone.

The thing is, the scooter in question was mine. I thought about toddling over and charging him for the facility. Cheeky sod. Then I remembered that I do exactly the self-same thing as he - I use other people's property all the time as a camera stabiliser.

However, it's different when it's your stuff, isn't it?

Coming, Ready Or Not ...

On Sunday evening France and Italy are to face-off in the final of the World Cup. Now there’s a match of two countries with a rich tradition for heroism and valor.

There's a rumour going around that they're not going to play football but indulge in a game of hide and seek.