Sunday 7 November 2010

Slightly Unwashed

Exhausted after a long but productive week I have done no walking and little work this weekend aside from installing my new wireless router courtesy of Talktalk. I carefully meditate myself into the necessary Zen frame of mind to undertake such tasks but while meticulously following the instructions I am told on-screen by the installation disk that "We are struggling (sic) to find your wireless card/adapter" - that would be because I don't have one and you didn't tell me I needed one! Techies among you will scoff at my ignorance but I think I was owed the advice in advance. Grim-faced I drive to Carmarthen to source the required device from PC World. Unwisely I patronise the teenager serving me by suggesting we will need advice from the middle-aged professor-type at the "geek" desk but she of course knows it all (it is uniquely true of IT that you know more the younger you are) so I am patronised back, get the tiny but expensive hardware, and finally complete the challenge not exactly calmly but at any rate without hurling anything across the room.

Having my feet up allows me to finish reading Sebastian Faulks' "A Week in December", a satire on modern Britain which offers a surprisingly sympathetic view of Islamic fundamentalism in the person of a prospective suicide bomber. After 380 pages describing the hypocrisy, casual substance-abuse, greedy materialism, and pointless wage-slavery of our society I can see why some young idealists would want to establish a Caliphate on our shores. Of course they aren't going to convince anybody by blowing them up but they do have something to sell against the alternative of what we have now. It may be my classical education - or is it just contrariness? - which draws me to take seriously radically different models of civilisation.

Faulks is interested in serious mental illness (see my previous post here) and in this book portrays a young man - not the bomber - succumbing to schizophrenia as a consequence of living in western society. He apparently gets the illness by using heavy-duty cannabis in the context of disinterested, money-obsessed parents. Disturbingly in this analogy Faulks blurs the distinction between metaphor and real cause, making this difficult reading I suggest for people personally affected. In the end I fear Faulks is not really sympathetic to people with serious mental illness but uses them in his books to explore human nature.

There is a similar challenge to convention in Claude Chabrol's "Le Boucher" (1970) which I watch last night for the first time in many years having saved on the Humax. The butcher in question is a sympathetic character in spite of slaying a number of women in a sleepy Dordogne community; by contrast his teacher girl-friend gets the blame because she won't let him have his wicked way. Very French, as is the smouldering, slightly unwashed charm of Stéphane Audran. Chabrol was certainly charmed because unlike the butcher he got to marry her, lucky man. Most of the film is rather surreal and improbable but I take notes when the butcher gives authoritative advice on cooking a leg of lamb. He says it is a crime to use any garlic and to cook for just 30 minutes(!).

The idyllic scenery filmed around Perigueux is familiar and I recall that I was in fact in the area on a school trip at about that time, visiting the prehistoric Cougnac grotto where Mlle Hélène (Ms Audran) takes her school-children and discovers a body when blood drips from the cliff above onto one poor pupil's sandwiches. Outside the same cave but less dramatically I picked up shards of flint which our ancestors had napped off while making tools. I am glad we didn't discover a corpse although it would have been worth that risk if our teacher had looked anything like Mlle Hélène (which sadly he did not). We also visited an ancient farm-house foie gras factory including a matter-of-fact demonstration of the machine for force-feeding the geese which did not disturb us at all. Somehow you just expect the countryside to be brutal.