Monday, November 16, 2015

‘Allez les bleus, allez les bleus - allez, allez, allez les bleus...’

‘Allez les bleus, allez les bleus - allez, allez, allez les bleus...’

The dusty streets of Saint-Denis, let alone the cram-packed market square town centre, were a swirling mass of chaos - football fans in their multitudes taken aback by what they had just witnessed.
Though this at least was not the horrified, terrified shock of last Friday, but the frenetic, ecstatic surprise of a Sunday way back when in July 1998.
On both occasions France’s footballers had just beaten the reigning World Cup holders to nil - last week, Germany; last century, Brazil.
But the experience and aftermath could hardly be more divergent - to put it mildly, of course.
Fond memories still linger of not only being among the throng, close to the Stade de France but missing tickets, making gladly do with watching that first French World Cup triumph on an outdoors big screen instead.
The preceding six weeks had tempted many English fans - always among the biggest contingents at a foreign tournament anyway - that short distance across the Channel.
As will next summer’s European Championship in France, with the Welsh and Northern Irish among those guaranteed to come along as well.
That then-newly-built Stade de France had not only stolen the thunder of Paris’s existing Parc des Princes but also attracted the world’s attention to a previously-neglected district to the north of the capital.
And yet Saint-Denis proved not only impressive as a synonym for that gleaming new edifice, but also welcoming in its slightly-down-at-heel enthusiasm - imagine, say, an England-hosted World Cup staging its final in Tottenham. 
Or, well, indeed Wembley...
The following day’s open-top bus parade along the crowd-crammed Champs d’Elysees bristled with not only triumph but wonder, the previous evening’s surprise trouncing of Brazil only adding to the sheer success of hosting for a second time, winning for a first.
Even more admirable, it seemed, was the mixed ethnic identity of a side earlier denounced by far-right mixer Jean-Claude Le Pen - part-Algerian Zinedine Zidane with his two goals in the final, Guadeloupe-born Lilian Thuram with his brace in the semi-final, among many attesting to a happy diversity.
Of course, such golden moments seldom - no, never - last nor remain untainted.
Within three years a fractious France-Algeria ‘friendly’ had to be abandoned following a pitch invasion by ‘away’ fans who had already booed La Marseillaise.
Le Pen defeated Socialist challenger Lionel Jospin to force his way into a too-tight presidential election run-off against Jacques Chirac in 2002.
And his daughter Marine has not only been surging in recent opinion polls compared to the already-beleaguered Hollande, but may well depressingly reap further benefits from an anti-immigrant backlash now.
Oh, and the reigning European and world champions France crashed out in the first round of the 2002 World Cup, failing even to score a goal while star striker Thierry Henry departed in further disgrace, red-carded.
More momentously, riots broke out in northern Parisian districts in November 2005 following the electrocution of two youths pursued by police - while Thuram has been among those condemning his nation’s residual racism.
This year - first the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in January, now the even more gruesome, unbearable atrocities across the same city. 
No wonder the Western world has responded in stricken sympathy. That Tuesday night’s England-France friendly has not only been made to go ahead, albeit with extra armed police patrols aimed at easing - while perhaps also adding to - existing tensions.
All together now: #rechercheParis, #JeSuisParis. All can and will and should mourn and support ... albeit, perhaps, up to a point, and with a feeling of reserve that the non-bereaved might best avoid narcissistic bewailing?
Hollande, captured on camera looking predictably stricken on Friday night, appears to have responded stolidly since - despite subsequent revelations about his security services’ hapless failings.
And the decision to wallop IS capabilities in Syria on Sunday evening - 20 rockets pounding down on Sunday night, albeit meagre against the 100 each day during Iraq’s ‘shock and awe’ - only puts paid even further to all those old ‘cheese-eating surrender monkey’ taunts.
What happens next - or ought to happen next - is, for all the frothing punditry, pretty much anyone’s guess. 
The one and only easy answer may well be that there is no one and only easy answer. If any answers at all.
French insistence their latest raids are precision-targeting only IS stockpiles, arms routes and HQs are to be welcomed - with instinctive misgivings, mind, about civilians being killed as well, even if IS capital Raqqa has been well and truly ransacked already.
The attacks do, however, pose questions of why - if such capabilities were known - they have stayed unhit during previous months, even if the recaptures of key areas such as Sinjar this weekend suggest IS is actually on the defensive as well as sporadic attack.
What little the rest of us without key codes or influence can do is only too limited, whatever our many opinion-forming. 
So: emotions, instead.
Symbolism, solace and whatever might be the French for solidarity can be emotionally important and useful.
Sport, after all, can fire the emotions, soothe the spirits - proving its importance precisely in its relative lack of importance.
And yet, for all the well-wishing of Tuesday’s night’s minute’s silence and unison rendition of La Marseillaise, such fair-enough stuff can only go so far, do so much - despite some papers’ claims that shading your Facebook picture with the tricolore colours would ‘help’.
Ah, if only it were as easy as to intone pretty sentiments, words, tunes - as some Place De La Republique songstrels chorused, ‘Take a sad song and make it better’, or 'Imagine', or else another Beatley track and one not only 'One World' but with a French connection: ‘All you need is love...’
Bleak as it may be, the lyrics that come to mind here are more Nick Lowe’s: ‘As I walk this wicked world, searching for light in the darkness of insanity, I ask myself: is all hope lost, is there only pain and hatred and misery...?’
From a song, that is, plaintively titled ‘What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love And Understanding?’
If only, as a terror-laden 2015 approaches its end, with the promise/threat ahead of another bleak midwinter and beyond.

All together now: 'Never felt more like singing the blues...'

Monday, November 09, 2015

Scrapping the Human Rights Act low priority for Brits, poll shows - while Peep Show's Alan Johnson agrees

Brits have little appetite to scrap the Human Rights Act, new figures suggest - as celebrity campaigners rallied to save the legislation.
Eight out of ten people approve of equality for all, according to a new poll, when asked about government plans to repeal the law.
David Cameron’s desire to abandon the act enshrined in British law since 2000 is only a top priority for three per cent of the public, a new ComRes poll found.
A government consultation on replacing the act is about to begin.
But now TV stars including Game Of Thrones’ Oona Chaplin, Doctor Who and Broadchurch’s Arthur Darvill and Peep Show’s Paterson Joseph are backing an Amnesty International campaign to keep it.