La Bonne Vie
There are things beyond the tragedy of the Concorde disaster. But it
does serve to think about flying and locations. A hotel at the end of
a dangerous runway is probably not a great idea and yet, there are hundreds
of them all over the world!
You probably wouldn't want to put a University Campus at the side of
a runway either, but they have. The University of East London in London's
Docklands boasts just such a place. A brand new campus around 50 feet
from the runway. How long before we don't think that's a good idea anymore?
Just because aircraft are safe-ish, we feel we can take great risks.
Things do fall out of the sky. That's a certainty.Sometimes we grow
complacent. That's all. Concorde is a wake up call.
But even though the disaster happened in France. France remains a good
place to live and an excellent place to be if you are in a disaster.
They respond quickly and that is a good thing. There are many places
to crash where you might have to wait a long time for rescue or help
putting out the fires. Next time you lfy, why not work out the odds
of survival on any given place to crash land. Something to while away
the endless time between food trays huh.
Sometimes it isnt good to be reminded that there are better places
to live that where you usually reside. You dont really want to
know that place is pettier, more aesthetic, had better food, friendly
people, who know how to win at football, wonderful beaches and isnt
even expensive to live there. Its no wonder that the average small
minded Brit with their Sun or Daily Express wrapped around their soggy
greasy chips resents France. Theres a lot to resent.
Recently France, (aside from winning the Euro 2000 competition) was
voted by the UN as the best place to fall ill. This can
be explained by waiting times in France for an operation being around
two to three weeks, as opposed to nine- to fourteen months in the UK
for the same medical treatment. The children and students of France
are better educated, get better jobs and can generally expect to have
a better life than the average English person. Just to compound the
slur, the weather is better in summer and the women are generally more
attractive. Compare Sophie Marceau to Jane Horrocks or Vanessa Paradis
to Mo Mowlam for instance.
They always firmly believe they drive the best cars, wear and design
the best clothes and believe that ambition should be rewarded.
This of course doesnt stop the French from going on strike for
better pay and work conditions, nor prevent the average French worker,
civil servant or even academic that he or she is hard done by. In fact,
the average French person may actually believe that they are living
in hell in terrible conditions on slave wages and the damn British have
it good with lower taxes and higher pay for equivalent work. I have
spoken with English speaking French workers and teachers in France recently
and they genuinely believe that they are hard done by, generally taking
for granted the huge investments the government there has made on their
behalf. The wonderful fast TGV rail network, the vast good, cone free
motorway network, huge civic investments, and privatisation has resulted
in unleashing formidable investments in the web industry and hi-tech
futures that will pay off in the later half of this decade.
For the people on the ground who seem to take all this for granted
it is the little things that make the difference. Lunch is still lunch
there. Where but in France would you see road repairmen with a vast
table laden with food and all of them sat around it on the fast lane
eating lunch. In school, I was amazed to see the teachers drank wine
with lunch, they seemed to visibly relax. The students seemed genuinely
polite, keen to learn, even their graffiti was spelled correctly. Overtime,
forget it. You just dont do unpaid overtime and besides
the government has banned it with this 35 hour week rule.
The trouble is, it is human nature to go on strike in paradise and
South-West France is as close to paradise as can actually exist. On
the Atlantic coast from La Baule to Bayonne, it is hundreds of miles
of beautiful landscapes, quaint towns, wonderful beach towns with manicured
streets and they are so confident about life they even drive around
in Rover 75s (which look so much more elegant on their tree lined
In 19th century Biarritz the wonderful grand tumbling edifices terrace
down to the ocean, all looks so elegant in the sunshine and the old
ladies more spy, the young ladies so damn healthy. Bayonne lies just
five miles away, sitting astride a broad river with 2000 years of history
resting on its shoulders. It is a walled town with narrow streets,
little art galleries, sweet coffee bars in unexpected places, smart
shops in a wide tree-lined avenue. The people live well in the French
Basque country. They might be seething with discontent, but it isnt
visible to a strangers eye.
In heavy industry Bordeaux there are problems. There is a large immigrant
problem, gypsies occupying car parks and a constant pattern of revolving
strikes by public sector workers, postmen, sewage, academics, civil
servants of all kinds. It could be a terrible place to live, yet it
still functions. The protests can be violent, but in the evening cops
and strikers alike will stop to wine and dine. It is understood.
On weekends, you might take the whole family to Arcachon, 50ks away
at the beach. Here lies Pyla, the allegedly worlds largest sand dune.
(Obviously they have not seen South West Africa (Namibia). Nevertheless,
elegant little communities line the wide bay and shoreline. This is
a wonderful place to come to windsurf, dine, sail, bring the family
- a secret you wouldnt want to share with too many people. Hotels
costs around 550 francs a night in July and 350 ff off-season.
Sometimes we, the English, forget how big France is. How sophisticated.
They might seethe at whatever Government they have elected, but the
La Bonne Vie still exists and its within reach of many. Not necessarily
riches, but a good life where families dine out together at the beach
or on the lawn, drink wine, get passionate about music or politics,
but get passionate about something. To take a Frenchman and set him
down in Sheffield, for example or Hull, the brutal architecture, the
general paucity of restaurants and complete absence of edible food or
drink, the young roaming in packs drunk and loud and careless of others
would probably appal. Put the same man or woman in the mirthless death
of Falmouth or Newquay or any other deathless seaside town (Cleethorpes,
Great Yarmouth) and if they werent reduced to sobbing out loud,
they probably steal a boat and head for home within a day, never to
leave France again. Theyd be a lost less unrest in France if they
all travelled more and saw how badly we live.
In England we have perfected the art of living badly. From our vistas
of pebble dashed terraces to our horrid shabby beach cafes serving Nescafe
and packets of instant foam, we dont actually aspire to live a
good life as sink beneath it. Yet, inspired by politicians and rabid
newspapers we decry the French and the dreaded Euro because we dont
want to lose our identity. What is this identity?
Hooliganism? What defines us except our capacity to live badly and expect
Sadly, there in France, the workers believe we have it better and sad
bastards that we are, believe it too. Its just that we have nothing
to show for it and little future .
The French are investing, they have bought us lock, stock and barrel,
water, power, telecoms, publishing...we meanwhile act as if we still
own the family jewels, but they have gone my friends. Check the cupboard.
We envy them, they envy us. It has always been so. Makes you want to
open another bottle of Bergerac doesnt it. Pass the corkscrew.
©Sam North - Managing Editor