The Blog

Long Shadows and High Hopes

It's December and I feel a blog coming on what with Advent commencing, and the advent of war just around the corner (for the UK, who look all set to pile in like Scrappy Doo). From France the bombing is ongoing, and in Paris right now we live under the paradoxical shadows of war and the pretence at least that we're going to attempt to secure the planet for future generations at the 21st Conference of the Parties. Not since the Napoleonic Wars has Paris been the international cynosure for such a sustained period of time, and right now it definitely doesn't feel like the city I moved to for a quiet life. I think everyone will be relieved when the spotlight is taken away and the world leaders have all gone home. The only blessing is that it's cold, so there's none of that mad dog heat that caused the deadly paranoia of 2005 that ended with the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Here comes another winter of long shadows and high hopes...

Barack Obama warned of "cynicism" in his speech last night, but it's difficult not to be cynical given how slow environmental progress is, and in spite of all the annual grandstanding. He spoke for 14 minutes when he was allotted three, but despite making all the right noises and even admitting US culpability, one just hopes he's serious when he says: "We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it." I want to believe him, like I always want to believe him. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, a road map towards the lowering of global emissions will go some way to silencing the critics.

As for what happened in the Dixième and the Onzième and Saint Denis a fortnight ago, COP21 simply had to go ahead here, even if it makes us all feel a little insecure. You step outside your door, or you sit on a terrace drinking coffee with friends, and your brain tells you the likelihood of another assault in that moment is extremely low, but your gut isn't so sure, and imagining dark ghouls materialising in the middle-distance isn't hard to do. Chatter about what happened is kept to a minimum; it's too painful for most to even contemplate, and it tends to bring a convivial atmosphere down, so it's best to just shut up about it.

The strange paradoxes that Paris finds itself under at the moment makes it a peculiar place to be, and I can only speak for myself when I say that. Maybe as an outsider, Paris, je t'aime only goes so far. Francophilia diminishes when you live in the place, it's just home, and the clichés dissipated a long time ago. And no, you don't really want to listen to someone's mixtape of yéyé thanks all the same. A nation that prides itself on its laïcité et liberté d'expression (while also being quite conformist in many ways if you think about it), has made peaceful protest interdit for the time being. The huge presence of gendarmerie with big guns feels like a necessary evil, but naturally it still rankles. A not-so-peaceful protest broke out at République on Sunday - ironically about the interdiction to gather and protest - and I find myself in the very odd position of cheering on the police as they turn the hoses on angry people in V for Vendetta masks, the kind who probably nodded sagely when they heard Thom Yorke compare Google to the Nazis, because right now everything is fucked up enough, and we don't need yet more angry voices in the melee. Let's try and sort out the accumulated problems before making more if that's possible.

Obama also often calls France the US's oldest ally, referring of course to the Continental Army led by the likes of the Marquis de Lafayette against the English. This must annoy certain people who believe in a supposed Special Relationship, which for my money seems to run no deeper than the economic Big Bang of '86. For David Cameron, the road to war seems to be a simplistic one, which involves toadying up to the big boys and bombing brown people indiscriminately in the Syrian desert without much thought about what happens next. Clearly he thinks the electorate is fickle and stupid enough to have forgotten the fallout from Iraq and even Libya, and he might be right. Collateral damage in hospitals in Raqqa or even on the streets of London is unfortunate, but it usually strengthens the resolve of the electorate while making the incumbent government more popular, allows for further infringements of privacy and propagates the sale of more arms to regimes that will further supply the enemy we're supposed to be eradicating. It's either an un-virtuous circle or an ingenious economic miracle, it depends how you look at it.

Still, with failed bombings fresh in minds, the tabloid press didn't want to take any chances today, and so they've pinned the war on Jeremy Corbyn just in case. They're also lining up the sinking of the Lusitania, the kidnap of Lord Lucan and Shergar and the suspicious deaths of Robin Cook and Dr David Kelly for later in the week. Well, he uses the word "socialism" freely for starters; he's a sheep in wolf's clothing and he must be stopped. Here comes another winter, waitin' for utopia, waitin' for hell to freeze over...