So here we all are, hanging on a knife-edge. On the 23rd of this month, we shall be tuning into the national news via satellite – a thing which of course we don’t very often do – to see whether the ayes or the nays have it. That’s yes or no to leaving Europe and, at the moment, it looks suspiciously like it’s the ayes who will prevail.
There are valid points on both sides of the argument, but since the Brexit camp seems to be stocked full of entrenched conservative politicians, contrarian economists and the kind of football yobs who were provoking all and sundry in Marseille with their brainless chants, I’m inclined to vote for a far-from-perfect centralised bureaucracy crying out for concerted reform.
The European Union has at least promulgated important change in areas like the environment and animal welfare – areas about which the other camp rarely give a monkey’s, since the only thing that seems to stir them is the spectre of immigration. The idea of Britain going it alone in a modern world overseen potentially by Putin on one side and Trump on the other is frankly horrifying. Let’s just go back to Palmerston’s day of gunboat diplomacy and see whether we can make Britain great again by gobbling up new colonies.
Without a vote, we three can but wait and see – and hope that rational thought will prevail at the 11th hour. It’ll be a close-run thing and I’m not banking on it. I had high hopes of being able to deliver our paper-weighty French citizenship dossiers before the 23rd. I imagined that we’d maybe have to book up our appointments with Grand Frère in Toulouse about a week before, but Tilley the Kid delivered a bombshell the other day. No block of three available till the back end of August.
Clearly, there are many more people than I would have credited applying for French citizenship. In getting in early, my hope was that it would earn a few plus points from the adjudicators. It would show them that it wasn’t a simple knee-jerk reaction to losing our EU membership rights. Ah oui, these Sampson family have clearly thought about all these carefully. Admeet them? D’accord, très bien. The rubber stamp descends with a brusque thump.
So this, too, is out of our hands. Nothing more to be done apart from checking and double-checking that every single certificate and attestation is included, so that there’s no excuse for rejecting our applications on a technicality. At least it means that I can get on with other things. I’ve embarked at last on a long-nurtured musical non-fiction project and have set myself a target of 60 days in which to finish it.
With all this rain, I won’t be side-tracked by strimmer and mower, but can sit back and watch the grass grow while I endeavour to spurn the temptation of the European football championships held, this time around, in my adopted country. With England already throwing away two precious points against dem Russkies, I’m banking on a giant-killing act from Norn Iron. Alas, this time there are no Danny Blanchflowers, Jimmy McIlroys or George Bests. Not even a Norman Whiteside or a Gerry Armstrong. Failing them, I’ll root for the Welsh. And then the French.
We’re rapidly approaching the half-way mark in June and have yet to see any semblance of a summer. Even the weekly barquette of local strawberries I buy from Martel market have shown little sign of sweetness. Not enough sun, you see, I can pronounce with the certitude of a countryman. Normally I’m in shorts and bare feet from about the beginning of May, but periodically I’ve been reaching for my fleece-lined slippers to keep my tootsies warm.
Whether this estival absence will worsen or improve my mood come the longest day remains to be seen. It’s a time when I customarily go into mourning for all the beauty of spring that has just passed, but maybe the hope of warmer weather to come will give me the strength to ride out the depression and come out fighting for July. Anyway, spare a thought for the poor Sri Lankan cricketers forced to take on the hardened English in sub-wintry conditions. They must be dying for home.
It will hurt The Season of course. People like James Heath and Louise Baker, whom I met for an article on vegetarianism in France (surely a non-starter, you might protest) rely heavily on the few months of the tourist trade to keep going for another year. It’s even harder for them, since they took the courageous (and some might say insane) step of opening a vegetarian restaurant here in rural France – thereby at least halving at a stroke their throughput of potential customers.
With The Daughter armed to the teeth with her mother’s grown-up camera, we met up for lunch in the enchanting garden of their concern, Le Jardin de Cabrarets. It serves as restaurant, afternoon tea room and bed & breakfast, so they’ve got their work cut out. Cabrarets is an extraordinary little village that nestles under the scarred limestone cliff that circumscribes the rive droit of the Célé, not far from its confluence with the Lot. It depends largely on the renowned and remarkable Grottes de Pech Merle for its tourist trade.
Talking to them about the motivation behind their resuscitation of a restaurant that had lain fallow for a couple of decades, it was clear that they weren’t crazy, just young and fearless. Pioneers. Five years ago, perhaps, when they first opened for business in 2011, I might have pronounced them clinically insane, but it seems now that there is some evidence to back my gut feeling about a recent gastronomic shift. Encouragingly, for example, most of their customers are actually French.
My research took me to the AVF (the Association Végétarienne Française) and I felt so buoyed by my discussion with their president that I became there and then a fully paid-up member of their community. There is such a strong vegan and vegetarian movement among the young, for example, that a district of Paris around the Gare du Nord has earned the appellation ‘Veggietown’. It seems that 3% of the French are vegetarians now (compared to about 0.3% when we first moved here) and 10% have stated that they would like to be.
For once in my cussed pessimistic life, I felt positively optimistic about the future. It’s not just Albert Einstein who recognises that a change to a vegetarian diet is the only way to ensure our survival on a planet teeming with billions of human beans. Currently 70 billion animals are slaughtered every year worldwide to feed us. Yes, 70 billion farting farm animals. Imagine the quantity of methane gas produced.
There won’t have been many ethically or environmentally motivated vegetarians among the legions of football fans who came to France to do battle in the streets of Marseille. Yes sirree Bob, the spectre of the English football hooligan has raised its ugly shaven head yet again. But this time they have met their match in the form of a new breed of super-yob from Planet Russia, where their posturing putain of a president offers his foot soldiers the very model of modern machismo.
Enough alliteration already! What was that I was saying about optimism? Look upon the news pictures ye mighty and despair. Look upon the weather for that matter. Ridley Scott’s depiction of the future in Blade Runner (be it director’s cut or not) is looking increasingly prescient.