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May 21, 2020 Bart Hulley 0

Je propose d’écrire cet article en français pour changer la routine. Je vous demande pardon si je commis des erreurs de grammaire ou des fautes d’orthographe de temps en temps, mais voilà. Malgré la rhétorique autour des chiffres de mortalité “il ne faut pas comparer les chiffres d’un pays à l’autre” j’ai gardé un œil sur ce fameux chiffre pendant toute la crise sanitaire. Même s’ils ne démontrent pas toute la vérité de la situation ils nous donnent une indication de l’efficacité des pays traiter l’épidémie. Bien que j’habite en France c’est le Royaume-uni qui m’a intéressé le plus, car les aînés de la famille sont là. Ce qui est évident est que la réponse de la France a été beaucoup plus efficace que la plupart des autres pays aussi touchés. Le confinement en France a marché. La pente descendant après le pic est plus raide que tous les autres pays, et maintenant il existe la possibilité réale que le pays va être capable de retourner à une vie quasiment normale d’ici quelques semaines. L’effort des Français eux-mêmes joue un rôle important dans cette phase, et heureusement les Français sont obsessifs au sujet de santé personnelle. Un rhinovirus simple vaut une ordonnance médicale et quelques jours de confinement en France, tandis qu’en Angleterre – c’est quelque chose à partager avec vos collègues et amis. C’est étonnant que le gouvernement français ait aussi critiqué pour sa réponse, quand la plupart des autres pays, à part Allemagne, n’ont pas aussi bien réussi avec leurs stratégies. Certes, la décision maintenir les élections municipales le jour avant le début du confinement était ridicule, et la situation chez les EHPAD inexcusable, mais avec une perspective internationale la France s’est bien débrouillé. En revanche, au Royaume-uni le gouvernement se semble immun de toute critique. Pour la première fois j’ai rendu compte que la BBC n’a guère fait l’effort de mettre la pression sur le gouvernement pour leur réponse tardive et de demi-cœur. Pour un œil plus critique de la situation britannique, je dois visiter les sites du The New York Times ou bien The Guardian – mais quand même j’ai toujours l’impression que la loi de diffamation britannique émousse toute critique. Donc même si mes voisins français ne sont pas contents avec la situation, moi, je suis vraiment content d’être en France au lieu d’Angleterre. C’est dommage que je ne peux amener mes parents à la [Read more >>>>]

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Vote for the virus

March 14, 2020 Bart Hulley 0

Thursday night was perhaps the first time in our 15 year tenure in France that we actually sat down as a family to listen to the President’s speech, and understood 95% of what he was talking about. The announcement of school closures was, of course, met with rapture and grins by those in the throes of an education. Knowing how hypochondriac the French nation is, if Macron had announced anything short of total lockdown – there would have been widespread outrage. Indeed, the slightest sniffle is seen as a valid excuse for a week off work in the Republic; so this is serious! Because of this attitude, that has every French person hammering on the door of their local GP every time they feel slightly off colour, it’s safe to say that the published figures for positive tests are most likely among the most accurate in the world. Unlike the USA where people are either unable to get tested or unable to afford to get a test should they feel unwell. So, considering that any gathering over more than 50 people in any confined space/area is now forbidden, it seems odd that the authorities chose not to postpone the local elections. The first round is tomorrow, the second next week. How better to spread a virus than to have every citizen pass through the same point in the space of 12 hours? It makes no sense whatsoever. Is it any wonder that there is so little trust in our politicians? So, I, like many of my fellow countrymen, will be heading to the polls as early as possible tomorrow, as the risk of contracting something will be far higher at the end of the day. Many, no doubt, will not go at all. The question is – who, exactly, will vote? Will the National-Front-voting xenophobes/idiots come out in force, regardless of the risk to their health? Will the educated bourgeois stay at home? Will the elderly, infirm and sick decide to give it a miss, as well they should? My greatest fear is that the “intelligent” among us will decide to stay away from polling stations for their own safety and thereby hand victory to the populist parties. I hope I am wrong. Anyway, here’s a quick run down of the main lists who are battling in the first round for the Eurometropole de Strasbourg: The Anticapitalist party. Main policy [Read more >>>>]

YATS is the word

November 17, 2019 Bart Hulley 3

This is the life of illusion. Wrapped up in trouble, laced with confusion. What are we doing here? Having emigrated to France with only a rudimentary level of French, a six month old baby and no particular career to speak of – many people described our decision to set up life in Strasbourg, fourteen years ago, as somewhere between ‘very ambitious’ and ‘flipping bonkers.’ That said, the very same people have recently described our move as ‘very lucky’ or ‘incredibly wise’ following the Brexit shitschturm unleashed on our former home nation by the Conservative party. Nonetheless, it is comforting to know that, now and again, Strasbourg has welcomed other couples with an equal sense of adventure. We sat down for a coffee at Café Brant some years ago with one such couple. They were from the United States and were hoping to use Strasbourg as a base for a new chapter in their respective careers. Careers as – opera singers. Being at the very centre of western Europe – equidistant between Milan and London, Paris and Vienna, it seemed a sensible place from which to add some of Europe’s most respected operatic stages to their respective résumés. What little we knew of the opera circuit from long time friend and stage hero, Darren Abrahams, this all seemed like a very feasible idea. We made encouraging noises, and crossed our fingers for them. However their plans, for whatever reason, did not pan out. The cosmos had clearly decided that their fates lay elsewhere. Elsewhere – as in another sphere-slash-domain, for they are still in Strasbourg and pillars of the English speaking community. And rightly so. Victor Benedetti (Baritone) and Juliana Rambaldi (Soprano) are the driving force behind YATS – the Young Actors Theater of Strasbourg. According to the YATS website: The goal of the Young Actors Theater Strasbourg (YATS) is to provide opportunities within the Strasbourg community to promote American theater culture through plays, musicals and educational programs. That mission, I can safely say, has been met, nay exceeded, time and time again over the past 7 years. All of my kids have participated in shows directed by Victor – who, at the time of writing, is about to strike set on this year’s YATS spectacular production of Grease* at Le Point D’Eau in Ostwald. What sets YATS shows apart – are the incredibly high standards set by the production team [Read more >>>>]


November 15, 2019 Bart Hulley 0

A mild shockwave of hysteria hit France soon after the Fukushima disaster. If locating a nuclear power station right on top of a fault line was now deemed a bad idea – then wasn’t a disaster of the same magnitude also possible right here in Alsace? After all, the Fessenheim Nuclear power station, and France’s oldest, was sitting on top of its very own tectonic plate boundary. At the time, I, like many others, thought that any comparison to Fukushima was nothing short of hysterical scaremongering. Shut up already, damn – we thought. When was the last time Alsace had an earthquake? When was the last time Alsace had an earthquake strong enough to crack open a nuclear reactor? This Tuesday however, I had to change my – admittedly hastily formed – opinion. When the first thud rumbled through the apartment block I was convinced that my upstairs neighbour was clumsily moving heavy furniture. The wooden floors had flexed slightly – as if a large 3-seater couch had been dropped onto its side by a couple of less than careful removal guys. What followed, however, could not be explained by any level of incompetence in shifting household furniture around a second floor apartment*. For it would have taken about twenty men simultaneously throwing five or six large upholstered items to the floor to replicate the shockwave that thundered through the building. It was the sound that made me run to the window instead of staring daggers at the ceiling. The thunder had reverberated outside as well as in. Shock-a-lock-a, boom! What was that? That …was an earthquake! 3.3 on the Richter scale. Apparently it was followed by another the same night – but it was going to take more than a piffling magnitude 2 to wake me! On 10 June a 2.3 magnitude quake hit Selestat (45km south of Strasbourg) and neighbours tell me there was an even bigger one about 15 years ago in the city – which got up to the 4 mag region. So a French Fukushima is a real possibility – it wasn’t just ‘project fear.’** Even after Fessenheim closes next year (as promised – but it was originally supposed to have closed a decade ago!) the risk of radioactive material leaking out after an earthquake will remain for the next 300 years. The last quake to hit the region strong enough to crack open a [Read more >>>>]

Cretinism takes hold of France

December 14, 2018 Bart Hulley 1

I write this with a heavy heart. Strasbourg, my home town, was torn apart this Tuesday night when a gun-wielding cretin took to the streets. Having randomly picked out innocents to execute he fled into hiding. Three days later, with his killing spree brought to an end by the forces of order, the city and its people are still coming to terms with what happened. I spent much of the evening watching the #Strasbourg twitter feeds to keep track of developments, the first time I have done so, and for news of the victims; for, I have made so many good friends in this fair city, I knew the chances of knowing one or more of them was a distinct possibility. I shall not bother with Twitter again. News of real events was muddied by egotistical cretins simply trying to ensure they got more likes or follows than anyone else, cretinous politicians who wanted to make capital out of the deaths of innocents, cretinous extremist sympathisers, cretins in general (gilets jaunes), racists, conspiracy theorists, adolescents sharing memes and idiots sharing fake news or real news (despite pleas by security forces not to.) Raking through Facebook and texting our closest friends – we ensured everyone we could think of was out of harm’s way before heading off to bed. Although we didn’t hear back from everyone, all of our inner circle reported back safe. Many had been caught in the following security lock-down, people hiding in restaurants, cafés, theatres, the parliament buildings and the basketball arena until the all-clear was given. I awoke the next morning in the belief that the dickhead would have been caught by now, and that no-one I knew had been among the victims. I was wrong on both counts. My sorry tale does not end there however: the “gilets jaunes” say they are intent on returning to their anarchistic ways this weekend. With almost 2000 security personnel deployed in Strasbourg throughout the week the government has asked these idiots to forego their grievances this weekend out of respect for the situation in Strasbourg. “Respect” however is a word, among many others, these people do not understand. Some even spent Tuesday and Wednesday insisting that the cretin murdering people in Strasbourg was nothing but a government stooge hired to distract the nation from their plight. Since Macron’s appeasement speech earlier in the week, there has been little [Read more >>>>]

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The Gilets Jaunes – France’s answer to Brexit

November 20, 2018 Bart Hulley 0

Reading the BBC’s “Have your say” comments yesterday, at the bottom of an article about Mrs May’s attempts to sell her deal to the populous, I was once again struck by the ignorance of the Brexiteering public. One comment particularly stood out: someone complaining that May’s deal to reduce immigration from the EU was not what he/she had voted for – it was immigration from OUTSIDE the EU they were concerned about! For me, the only thing that the Brexit vote underlined, was progressive governments’, and to a large extent the EUs’, inability to explain/educate people as to the way the EU functioned for the good (or bad) of the populous. After all, good education is fundamental to a tolerant, cohesive society – and likewise fake news (like the myth of the straight banana) will achieve precisely the opposite. Yet self-serving politicians, concerned only with their own prosperity, since the 1980s, never saw the need to invest in education. I recently had an online altercation with a old school-friend who thought that the camps in Calais were because of the EU and that “I, Daniel Blake,” by Ken Loach, was a film about the result of uncontrolled immigration. He, however, did not feel he was without brain-cells – having taught in a higher-education establishment. Needless to say, he wasn’t a professor of political science or philosophy! This week France saw its equivalent to Brexit spill onto the streets. The masses dressed in hi-vis vests stopped traffic, blocked roads, motorways, petrol stations and generally made a nuisance of themselves on Saturday 17th with the promise of more to come. Why? Officially, because the price of fuel is too high. At face value this seems, frankly, hypocritical – when the very same people have been pushing for climate change action. However, as any conversation with one of these vest-wearing warriors would attest, the real reason for their action lies in a more general frustration at their lack of social mobility and they want change. This is a symptom of the French psyche, which I have mentioned before. Yes they want change – but they want change to come about by OTHER PEOPLE doing the changing. (Who, precisely? Well – rich people of course! It’s all their fault isn’t it? Oh – and foreigners!) Precisely what change they want to see, as far as I am aware, has yet to be specified. Nonetheless, [Read more >>>>]

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Has Le Monde gone populist?

October 9, 2018 Bart Hulley 0

When I became a student again back in 2013 I took the opportunity to benefit from a very attractive student discount on the nation’s daily, Le Monde. For a mere 16€ a month I could get it 6 days a week, including the magazine on Saturdays, and get into the habit of keeping abreast of French news, politics and opinion while improving my level of French. However, in recent months, perhaps as my understanding of French politics has improved, I have become a little concerned with the political agenda of the editorial team, leading me to ditch my daily subscription in favour of a weekly one in the hope that their machinations will become less obvious. What am I talking about? Well, Le Monde is supposed to be centre-left leaning in its politics. That is largely supportive of a social agenda, balanced with practical economics. A position which I applaud. Or at least would, if they actually wrote articles that made you think as much. Since the election of Macron, Le Monde appear to have decided that they are more socialist than republican and that Macron is more republican than socialist – and he therefore must go at the next election. This is evident in the daily attacks on his administration, often based on little more than rumour or a dodgy ‘opinion poll’ they have put to the public. Indeed, things had become so obviously anti-Macron over the summer that the paper was forced to defend its coverage of the Benalla “affair” – when thousands of column centimetres were dedicated to the relationship Macron’s security man had had with members of the government, following being caught on camera beating up protesters in May. When you have been in France for some time you know that any changes to legislation do not take effect until January 1st of the following year, yet Le Monde have consistently attacked Macron for a lack of results – full well knowing that at least 12 months are required following any new law change to objectively assess its impact. While the editorial team may be hoping that Macron’s failure at the next Presidential elections might provoke the renaissance of the now almost extinct PS (Socialist Party) I fear that it will simply push wavering voters into the arms of Marine Le Penn’s re-branded National Front and Melanchon’s Rebels – the two populist, anti-immigration parties. But, as [Read more >>>>]

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Please update your list of acronyms

September 5, 2018 Bart Hulley 2

If there’s one thing the French love it’s a good acronym. Acronyms are basically sequences of capital letters that serve as a shorthand way of referring to something that would take far longer to say or write, or indeed to avoid rewriting or repeating the same words over and over. For example, it’s a lot simpler to write UNESCO than it is to write the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, especially if you plan on referring to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization more than once in a sentence (see what I mean?). However, as there are no strict rules about how and when acronyms should be used or invented, the French like to create them ad-nausea with the deluded assumption they will make your life easier. So, if you’re new to Strasbourg, here’s a handy list of local acronyms to get you through the day. AFGES: University service which runs the two large campus restaurants. Beware the bums at the door asking you to put a meal on your izly card for them. ASPTT: Strasbourg’s largest sports association. Located somewhere west of the motorway – though no-one’s quite sure where. BNU: The National Academic Library on Place de la Republic. Beware the security guard on the door – his BO is quite something. CAF: Family Allowance Office. Take a ticket, wait, argue, go home to get the justificatif you forgot.. CEDH: European Court of Human Rights. Surrounded by people camped in tents who don’t understand what the court actually does. CoE: Council of Europe – Luckily this one works in English. CPAM: Social Security Office (basic health cover). Take a ticket, wait, argue, despair. CRIG: Illkirch-Graffenstaden Rugby Club. The best place to send your nippers to follow in the footsteps of Serge Blanco. CROUS: Student Union, sort of. They don’t do piss-ups but do run eateries and accommodation round the University. CTS: Strasbourg Public Transport. Run an annual open-air Bingo event outside the one and only office in September – if your number’s picked you get to go in and spend money! ESCM / IFCE / IFSG etc: Private sector higher education schools. Generally going for acronyms beginning with E or I in the hope they will be confused with a University faculty. GCO: The Strasbourg bypass project. The bane of the Great Alsatian Hamster and Brigitte Bardot – though I bet neither have tried [Read more >>>>]

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Bad cop, bad cop

April 25, 2018 Bart Hulley 0

I had my first proper brush with the law last week and it’s not an episode I’d care to repeat. I had heard stories of mean, vindictive cops roaming the streets joyfully spot-fining ordinary folk for minor misdemeanours – but had not actually seen it with my own eyes, let alone been on the receiving end of it. French cops, or agents de police to use the correct term, are nothing like your friendly neighbourhood bobbies of yore. The raison d’etre of a French policeman is to strike fear into all those around – rightly or wrongly – to act as a deterrent to potential law breakers in the vicinity. Kitted out in blue military fatigues and carrying lethal hardware they strike an imposing figure of invincibility wherever they appear. While the law-abiding public might appreciate the work they do – few would approach an agent to ask for anything as trivial as directions for fear of being accused of wasting police time. I did once ask a cop for directions following a road closure, due to a security cordon raised around City Hall Broglie where M. le President was spending a few minutes, to which he replied simply “I don’t know, I’m not from around here.” Helpful, not. On the day in question I will admit to being in a bit of a hurry, as I was expected at a Doctoral Conference some minutes after the usual bicycle school run. Elsewhere in Strasbourg that day the European Parliament was sitting to listen to the day’s guest speaker, Monsieur le President Macron, students were blockading the university campus and the rail workers were demonstrating outside the station. All in all you could say it was a bit of a busy day as far as policing goes. Even so, clearly not every law enforcement official in town felt they had enough to do, for as I pulled up to the busy crossroads at Gallia/Pont Royal… Red lights are for everyone, sir. You’re supposed to stop. …said the motorcycle cop as he negotiated his way around me on his machine, having run through the red light I was stopped at. Things should have ended there but as he began to exit the scene I, stupidly, protested my innocence, pointing to the red light in front of me: But the light’s red! I’ve stopped. I know, bold of me huh? This protestation was [Read more >>>>]

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Ideologists or idiots?

April 17, 2018 Bart Hulley 0

If you have paid any attention to the current wave of strikes, or even last year’s presidential election, you may have noticed that much of what is being said by the discontented often bares little relation to the ‘controversial’ changes being pushed through by the government. Students in Strasbourg are currently blockading the city campus because recent changes to the law enable universities to ‘select’ students (via the new website Parcoursup). On an ideological level, they see this as unacceptable because no one should be barred from an education on any basis. Ideologically speaking, they are absolutely right. But, practically speaking, they couldn’t be more wrong. The basic premise for the change in the law was to enable universities to manage the number of students walking through their doors. Sure they can take anyone – but a lecture theatre only has so much space. It’s all very well saying every school leaver can go study – but if there are only 300 seats in the room what are you going to do? Close the doors, right? And that’s exactly how it works currently – as soon as the course has reached capacity – they stop taking students on. There’s no real method for how this happens – which is why it’s referred to as enrollment by ‘lucky dip.’ Giving the professors and teachers the chance to say what the entrance requirements for a course are is actually a fairer way of managing numbers. Upon application, no university is allowed to say “non” to a Baccalaureate student, only “oui” or “oui, si” (yes, if …you get the grades/you are among the first 50 candidates/you interview well..). By this fact the changes would only bring France into line with what the rest of the world has done for decades. Yet this strike goes on based on the ideological argument – which serves only to distract opinion from the real issue. Over at SNCF where the ‘loafers’ are working 3 days out of 5 until the end of June (when they go on holiday) are also protesting loudly about ideology.  The changes coming in are designed to reduce the company’s debt while preparing it for competition in the sector, so the strikers are shouting loudly against privatisation – and citing the scandalous UK rail network as an example of how things can go spectacularly wrong (shareholders raking in cash from government handouts, while [Read more >>>>]