LE PETIT FILOU (the little rascal*)

Word reaches me, direct from gay Paris, that Nicolas Sarkozy, the former pocket President of the French Republic, has been convicted on charges of offering to bribe a judge in return for information.  He denies the charges and will appeal. He has the support of his drop-dead gorgeous wife Carla Bruni, who described the conviction and sentence as  ‘harcèlement insensé’ (senseless harassment*), and franchement (frankly*), what’s good enough for her is good enough for me.

The French have come a long way since Le Roi Soleil (sun king *), and not all of it memorable for the right reasons.  The unbelievably pompous and self important Charles de Gaulle, he who sat out the Second World war in London with no sense of gratitude for what the Allies did for him or La Belle France, was a ‘douleur dans le cul’ (‘pain in the arse).  The joke was told of him when he unexpectedly entered the bedroom and startled the fragrant Madame de Gaulle.  “Mon Dieu” (my God*), she exclaimed, to which he replied: “Yes I know, but when we are alone, you can call me Charles” (sacré bleu).

To name two more, Mitterand was deeply corrupt, as was Jacques Chirac, and I could go on, as corruption and incompetence seem endemic in the Elysée Palace.  To this list may be added the name of Sarkozy depending on the outcome of his appeal.  As to that, “les balles sont dans l’air” (the balls are in the air*).

Of greater interest to the likes of me as a lawyer is the sentence of 3 years in prison, 2 suspended, and the first year to be spent ‘chez lui’ (his pad*) with an electronic tag.  Nobody has asked for Carla’s reaction to being ‘amochée’ (banged up*) with Nicolas.  Those of us who are surviving the lockdown know only too well how time can hang heavy on our sanity, so ‘on va voir’ (we shall see*).

Here in the UK we have 83,500 serving prisoners, of whom 68% can be described as non-violent, and a fair proportion who shouldn’t be in prison in the first place.  The idea of using prison as a short term expedient has been shown over and again not to work.  I am therefore attracted to the French idea of serving part of a sentence at home.  Imagine the benefits: several prisons could close their gates for the last time, and serving any part of a sentence at home but with restricted liberty is treating offenders as human beings and not  caged animals.  Reoffending rates would fall dramatically.

Given Boris Johnson’s determination, against all the odds, to keep Priti Patel as his Home Secretary, if she were to adopt this scheme, it would show that she is not a complete waste of space around the Cabinet table. That dubious honour would pass without demur to Gavin Williamson, still trying to master his two times tables.  He would then become everybody’s whipping boy,  and ‘bonne chance’ (good luck).  It would also give Priti more time to hunt down the illegal immigrants and see them off.

THE RUSSIAN BEAR

I know I am not alone in condemning Russia’s repeated breaches of human rights, and some day it is to be hoped that common decency will prevail.

What is Tsar Vlad the Bad so frightened of that he neeeds to silence his critics in much the same way as Joseph Stalin, his hero of yesteryear? After all, he rules Russia with an iron rod, or so he believes, and like Jo, Tsar Vlad believes in the maxim that “you are either for us or against us”, there is no middle way.

Like any totalitarian dictator, the very thought of dissent will not be tolerated, so Alexei Navalry will not be tolerated.  He has been deported to a Gulag somewhere remote where he and his opposition will be forgotten, and with any luck, as the spotlight of world condemnation turns elsewhere, Navalry will simply disappear.  I hope not, but Tsar Vlad does not bow to public opinion, whether home grown or global, as witness the brass neck of the man who authorised the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury England.  Fortunately, the hit squad was monumentally incompetent, so the Skripals survived, and when challenged, Tsar Vlad simply denied it.

The thing about totalitarian dictators is that they never feel secure, and Tsar Vlad, rightly so, is no exception.  He joins a long list whose tyranny knows no bounds, but they are still driven by fear.

“Still as they run they look behind, They hear a voice in every wind, And snatch a fearful dread.” (after Thomas Gray).

THE MARS ADVENTURE

At first glance, the pictures coming back from Mars are impressive.  The headline in my newspaper trumpeted the posibility of imminent holidays abroad, but on further examination, what I saw didn’t excite.  No swaying Casuarina trees bordering peerless white sands, no beachside bars where the Brits could get puking drunk and lobster red, and no pulling spare totty for a casual shag, and who needs condoms!

There was also no sign of the Germans, a fixture on any  package holiday, with their towels carefully rolled and placed on beach loungers at the crack of dawn, no singing along to the marching songs of yesteryear, and no tinnies of lager to squeeze on the journey down memory lane.  Those were the good old days, nicht war?

I  believed, for more years than I can remember, that Mars was a planet somewhere out there, inhabited by little green people of dubious provenance, who spoke English, which helped, and, when making contact, demanded to be taken to our leader.  Nobody explained why, although rumour had it that former President Chump Trump was ready and waiting.  Never one to miss a photo opportunity!

Reality is often a disappointment as we read avidly about Perseverance, a rover mission which I am surprised to learn is the fifth.  Quite what this fifth rover will achieve that the other four failed remains to be seen.

The statistics are impressive.  The flight from Nasa took seven months and covered 292 million miles, so unappealing when compared with the Luton to Benidorm night flight.  Other than the little green people, there is no evidence of intelligent humanoid life, and no infrastructure that would support it. Mark you, if you’ve ever been to Benidorm, there is also no evidence of intelligent humanoid life, green or otherwise.

Some laud the achievement in eulogistic terms, with one commentator declaiming that “the Mission to Mars is an outstanding venture in our quest for knowledge, and a triumph of scientific endeavour.”  Yeah, whatever!

Finally, a word to the wise.  In 1953, man first set foot on Mount Everest when Hillary, one of ours, and Tensing, a Johnny Foreigner, made the historic ascent.  When asked why he climbed Everest, Hillary replied, “because it was there”.  Since then, climbing to the summit has become a routine and almost daily event, especially for the sons of Nippon, but nobody claims it to be a triumph of scientific endeavour.

Live and let live is my motto.  If you want to go to Mars, good luck to you, but count me out.

STAND UP AND BE COUNTED

Word reaches me that all is not gloom and doom in Hong Kong.  There was a fear that HK’s special status, honoured more in the breach than the observance by the People’s Republic of China 香港回歸, would be ignored by President Xi Jinping, their all powerful ‘democratic’ leader, sporting a name which sounds like a dodgy cocktail 狡猾的鸡尾酒, with or without the stuffed olive.

Freedom of movement has never been easy since the Chinese assumed control of Hong Kong back in 1997.  The British Goverment committed the cardinal sin of believing the assurances of ‘independence’ given to it, and twenty three years later they are meaningless.  The British government is doing its best to keep the flag flying, and introduced a British National Overseas passport to HK residents for travel to the UK. But guess what?  This passport is not recognised by the Chinese.

But there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, not as yet confirmed, that any HK residents wishing to leave, can do so after a period of ‘re-education’.  They will be transported, free of charge, in trains without heating or refreshments, to resettlement camps where they will endure enjoy an oppressive system of mass surveillance, detention, indoctrination, and even forced sterilisation.  Somewhat predictably, the People’s Republic spokesman, reading from a script prepared and vetted by President Xi himself, described these claims as “lies and absurd allegations.”  But then, they would wouldn’t they?

Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn, but as somebody once said, the surest way for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.  Time for those good men to stand up and be counted.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Just as you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, has let it be known that he is ready and willing to stand for election in 2024, and by all accounts, where most political commentators would howl with derision or sob quietly in a darkened room, he is apparently the candidate of choice in the Republican party.

I have a great affection for the United States, having spent three very enjoyable years at McGill University in Canada, which as the cogniscenti will know, is America’s 51st state.  Back in 1976 I also travelled extensively, when the Queen of England and I went to Philadelphia to ring the Liberty Bell to help celebrate 200 years of independence.  Representing the USA was their then President Gerald Ford, you remember him of course, about whom it was said that he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time.  A President greatly loved and respected by his fellow Americans!

But back to Donald Chump, I’m sorry, that should read Donald Trump, who when the shit hit the fan, was found shovelling it by the spadeful.  On any view, to millions of onlookers who watched events unfold with open mouthed horror, his conduct was inexcusable and downright dangerous, and it was only a groundswell of revulsion enveloping the seat of government that Chump Trump finally and reluctantly backed down.

Americans may feel that Limeys like me have no right to criticise their way of life and their governance, but when it affects us all, we cannot and shouldn’t remain silent.  But it was a fellow American, Hilary Clinton no less, who put her finger on it, or in it, when she described Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables.”  Whilst such a remark may have cost her the election in 2016, it has a frightening ring of truth in 2021.