It is a very busy time.
There are times when life seems to produce, unless I do something about it, times when a lot happens, sometimes new things. The older life is still present of course. I try to ride my bike a bit, go to the usual seven or eight meetings each month, catch the odd bit of live music, do a few things around the house with my wife, perhaps manage a bit of fundamentally important shopping that I have postponed for months, sometimes years, a bit of garden work and so forth. Then, seemingly suddenly, new activities pop up, which are meant to fit neatly into the “normal” activities. I like my old activities, so tend to keep doing them. I started two of those free MOOC courses online. Plus I am now trying to do my old people’s walk each week (maybe two starting this week), and maybe go once with Naurika to the “fitness gym class” on Wednesday morning. I only have about five or six hours a day when I am sufficiently focussed to do things that require a bit of concentration. Oh yeah, there is the “theory reading group”. All of this does not necessarily mean much, except to say that if I could ONLY do “politics and cycling” in my life, I would be a very happy guy. But life is not like that. Not mine anyway.
Just a quick word about these courses. I am foolishly taking two at the same time. I think one has to go. They are about “Web Science”, the newly developed “discipline” which debates things around a complex model of the web, which includes the people that use it. Multidisciplinary. There are readings, exercises and wee tests. Supplementary readings for keen students. Then you can comment on “forums”, which are more like lists of responses, without many comments. A poor format for students, a kind of token participation. I think you can do Twitter too, but I draw the line at that “social network”. Loads of work for those who are keen. I did nothing last week, so missed a week, behind already. The “Ecology” course started last week, so I have not even begun that. Too greedy I am, should have started with lower expectations and a little less brash enthusiasm. I see something free which might help me understand my world, and I really don’t have time to do them justice. If some of you don’t know about this world, check out MOOCs. Much to say about them, perhaps later.
I actually have not ridden my bike once in ten days for one reason or another, like weather. During November I rode only four times. Even here. And I AM a cyclist. Not good, but the weather will be better in the real winter, when the water-fat clouds stop drifting our way. Days like today, dry, sunny, roads fairly empty, dress up for cold, are nearly perfect for the bike. Especially since you can take it easy in the winter, short days, bad to gulp cold air, just riding around for not that many hours or not much distance. Very soon, all the meetings will stop, things will die back for three weeks, should be more time for the bike. Although I have vowed not to start a ride when it is below five degrees or seriously windy.
As faithful readers know, about a year or so ago, I made it a personal project to revitalise the Social Forum here in Bedarieux. I founded the first one (with a crucial French pal), stepped back from the second one in 2009 (“leave it to the locals” and illnesses), and nothing happened after that. I thought it should happen again and made some serious efforts to find out if there were enough people in the area to organise another one. It was hard. Some meetings were awful. Lots of passionate conversation about local people and local politics. I will give details about all that in a more specialised blog, once the conflict is resolved. We seemed to have found some young people who are keen, seem competent, and are taking important roles in the organisation. We have some dates we like. I am sure it will happen, if … This next fortnight will see the visit of our four person delegation to the Mayor, to ask for the money. He is in charge of a budget of 25 million euros a year. If he wants to find five grand for us, he can. Or if he does not want us to happen, then he won’t find the money, austerity, cuts etc. Fortunately he knows what “we” can do, we have done it twice already. Not even the slightest doubt it will happen if he funds it (with “our taxes”) and that eight hundred people will drift through on the weekend. We picked the Fourth of July. The last two meetings were excellent, the minutes were written and clear. I took care of the agenda and we seem to have a very capable young woman who can animate meetings well enough and gets into it. It can happen. New people even turn up in ones and twos for each meeting and don’t disrupt, just listen and fit in. So after the meeting with the mayor, we will know if he gives us 6k or 3k or nothing. This local politics of the Social Forum is well worth one blog, which I will do when the meeting happens. The thing that makes me feel really proud and useful and skilful is that I have done my bit. It worked. Now I will think of what workshop or what star speaker I would like, maybe recruit specific people to do specific things, help enable the process of mending the rift between the Social Forum and Attac (oops, not yet, as I don’t know the ending). But there are others to carry on with most of the organising. I can back off a bit, catch up on other stuff. If I have a meeting at 18h00, I really cannot ride the bike between the nap and the meeting. I am just not disicplined enough. Although it gets dark by 17h00 around here at the moment.
Lately I have not been going to live music much. But last week I took in the 125th anniversary concert of the Harmonie Bedaricienne, and this week, the annual visit of the National Orchestra of Montpellier. There are nine national orchestras, the top flight for classical music pros in the state- supported symphony music business. So they are good. I always feel lucky that I can hear them. Sadly I also remember the previous years when they played for free in the local big church. Now there is a newly built events centre which can hold 600 people or maybe more. Acoustics fair, views through the back of the stage excellent, the huge windows frame green and cliffs. But now it costs 15 euros, although there are special deals if you buy more than one ticket to more than one event. Privatisation and budget cuts.
At the “bottom end” of the music business is “community music”. I have always been totally fascinated by community music in Bedarieux. A truly amazing programme. Town of 7,000, middle of nowhere, low economic level, being revitalised by a slightly visionary mayor, even if his vision is a little too mainstream for my taste. There are two main bands, the Harmonie, which has maybe 45 members, all winds, no strings. Horns, trumpets, trombones, tubas of various sizes, all four saxes, flutes, clarinets, drummers. Age range from ten or eleven (if gifted) and 14-15 (quite normally) to 70 year olds, maybe 80. Some good intermediate students, others played for decades. They play all kinds of stuff, including their own compositions. They played at the bull fights in Beziers quite regularly. The hall was totally full. When the old musicians came onstage to play the last number, must have been 90 musicians. Admittedly the audience mostly consists of all the family of all the musicians, but if I want the cosmopolitan up-scale people I go the Symphony.
The most interesting band is the Big Band. Most of the musicians in it are also in the Harmonie. But they are only maybe 15-20. They play, rather well enough to suit me, the music of the Big Band Era, the classics. Oddly, that is not a kind of music I had really appreciated much. Although I have one close pal who has played me that kind of music for many hours trying to educate me. He was right. It is is utterly fabulous, world class, historically crucial music. Now I like it a lot, although it is still not my favourite kind of music. But there is something odd going on with the local politics of the Big Band. They have not played much lately. Must investigate. But how many kids on earth could grow up and play regularly in a Big Band. Incredible! Don’t think a kid can do that in Montpellier. Well maybe, there are 400,000 in Montpellier, they should have one Big Band that kids can play in.
I do apologise for going on like this, but I feel like catching up and this is the only way. I have the time today and then not for a few days (in fact this editing is going on two days after I drafted the blog). And really, life is as full as it can get right now. Quick mention of the old people’s walks. After missing five weeks, school holiday, school holiday, rain, rain and Armistice Day … bloody holidays, we did it again yesterday. I now know I am ready for the Thursday Walk, the one that is longer and harder, but has mostly the same people as the Monday Walk. Next Thursday I have booked to go shopping n the morning, so I don’t know if I can make it in the afternoon. Late bulletin, Naurika got ill, no shopping, so I did the walk. It was in fabulous sunny weather in an area I hardly knew existed. They will stop for “Noel” and New Year. Actually Xmas is “light” in France, and things start straightaway after. But NOT Associations, who take the month off, to do family stuff or whatever. The walks are great. Walking around here makes me happier, such a gorgeous area. Good for me too.
I gotta stop. This week the Forum might find out about money. There is an evening with a movie about Tower Colliery, done by a French guy. A meeting of the local development group between Attac and the Collectif Non-violent. The walk already happened. I have not even mentioned the Theory Reading Group, for which I have to read some … theory. I am struggling a bit in that group, but our first meeting was a total pleasure. The books are a bit hard to read, take a lot of time out of my week. The impending “necessity” of reading the book hangs over me, until the book is read. I like the people though, each of them is slightly peculiar, the mix looks to be a little bit unpredictable. That is always fun when you “know” all the people, but get to know them in a new semi-structured situation. I expect that will be the most interesting aspect for me. I might write about that a bit, since reading groups are pretty familiar to some people. My first. We read Debt: the First 5,000 Years. We are taking two weeks over it, and also talking about future books and how to pick them. A pleasure, and I can walk to the next meeting.
Actually, I have been too busy to catch up with myself lately, much less the blog. Already one Attac meeting has faded so far in the distance (a week) that we just have to skip it. But I did see a great film last night with several of the local Attac folks, vetting it for an Attac event in December or January. Had an excellent bowl of vegetable soup as well. The Social Forum continues its active life, and within a month we should know if there is some chance we might actually organise one for the weekend of the Fourth of July, 2014. I mentioned it was “my national day”, meant nothing to them. But it is before the Tour starts anyway. So I restrict my high class gossip for these two events, and my reading group and my cataracts.
The film was made by a French guy about Tower Colliery in Wales. Attac is trying to have a wee theme for the next year, auto-gestion. Self Management. So we search for people who might come and be experts. We look for films where even the director might turn up to chat. All limited of course by the need for French subtitles or French films. So the Tower Colliery film as a very high class documentary. A bit old, made in the very late nineties I think. Trailer: http://www.filmsdocumentaires.com/films/638-tower-colliery We need to read a bit, which I have not done yet, about what has happened in the last 15 years. To be honest, I had never heard of Tower Colliery before this film, by a French director, with French subtitles. I thought it was really very good, but it bothered and annoyed me a little as well. I figure a film that bothered me and made the others think was a good one. I have no idea what film they “saw”, as none of them know very much about Wales and the Valleys and the history of coal in the UK. But still, this immediate area was a big mining area, with a rich history of coal mining and a residue of mining even now. I remember the passion which the others in the group, one militant especially were appalled by the idea of the miners’ management proposition to make some money by tourism. The proposed experience was an underground hotel for those who want to experience total darkness and total silence, as well as checking out the actual mine. The miners thought that mining was mining and should not be diluted with tourist ventures. The management-worker conflicts were all noticed, not ignored, even though all workers in the mine were “equal”, in terms of shares. Although Tower Colliery was is one form of a genuine co-operative, there were still quite usual conflicts. The film reminded me very strongly of Ken Loach, whom many of the French folks knew well. Not really the focus of my own history, mining and Wales, a film totally about men, except when they are eating, a moment when women appear. A little too “old” for me. But of course I am sufficiently conservative to understand people fighting for the retention of their traditional way of life. I only filled up about ten times during the movie, with the deep recognition of what they were doing, magnificent to see a real struggle unfolding. Anyway it was a nice evening, free, with pals. So I did a bit of “research’ and discovered that the Colliery is shut, they ran out of coal. They still own the land and might begin an open cast mine on their land. I find that vaguely upsetting, but then the very product they make, coal, is not a great product these days. Hard to find pure good guys in a dirty confusing world.
Then there was the arrival of my book for the first meeting of our six person “theoretical reading group”. Another guy is doing the organising, not me. I am just an active participant. Three men and three women, all English speakers. Maybe another woman might join. One Franco-Brit, one Australian, four English, one Anglo-American. Only one below 60. Four ex-academics, one ex-never-really-academic(me), two not-academic, but a thoughtful reader. Very different backgrounds, but with some kind of at least superficial desire to talk about heavy books, theory, with other English speakers. First book is David Graeber on Debt, the first 5,000 years. Been meaning to read that for some time. But its is long, 360 pages. Hope it goes fast. I have not read a serious book all the way through for ages. I am excited about this little group even though we are all so different that we might not be skilful enough to weave a tapestry together. Hard to tell. But we are all experienced folks, so if the will is there, a way will be found.
However, the best meeting was the latest one for the Social Forum. I have been more or less focussing on that group for a few months now, trying to get it going again. I had hoped there would be 15 at this meeting, the first one to really begin planning or trying to plan the next Forum. Our preferred date seemed to be the weekend of the Fourth of July. What was most interesting is that there were new people, which was the intention of the last event we had on Decroissance and Democracy. A couple about my age, who live in the plain just south of us. Hard to tell how they will fit in and do work, but they are keen and competent. Maybe more crucial were the FOUR younger people who who took part. Two of them have been with us for a bit, but one couple is quite new, attracted by our last event, which was designed to “attract some new people”. It worked. No doubt you will get to know them as time goes on, they are clearly part of the saga unfolding. They took responsibilities, all four seem to have good experiences and skills to contribute. They look like the key to the success of the next Forum, aided of course by us wise old figures who know the ropes. So we now have four people going to see the mayor to find out if he will give us some money. He should, as he has subsidised the two previous ones. Basically the Mayor finances them, with the money which we have all paid him in taxes. With a budget of 25 million a year, and if he fancies us doing the work, he can find the money. If he says no, things slow down a lot. Or at least change direction. With a yes for a budget of five six grand, we can do it. Another small group will look into some locations, find out if they are free for the dates we want. Another group is looking into finding some music, another into finding food providers, another beginning to make a list of workshops which will be organised, not by the organising group, but by one or two people who know the subject of the workshop. The workshop organisers do the work, not us. Loads of ideas emerge instantly, there is no doubt we can put on a quality show. Speaking of which we will have a series of films during the weekend, in the newly organised municipal cinema. So everything now depends on the mayor giving us back our taxes to do this work for the town and ourselves. There were loads of ideas, some quite practical. Like moving the “organic market” on Saturday, to the courtyard of the school for one day. So every shopper has to walk a very short distance, and see what is happening. Overall, a terribly positive meeting, especially with some of those young ones. One of the women seems to be blossoming as a bit of “leader” type person. She facilitated the meeting very well, for the first time. We always need someone like that and it was good she gave it a go and did a superb job. I will send her a wee article on facilitating.
Overall a fine last few days in the hotbed of politics that I live in. I also got on the bike twice. Although it was a bit damp on Saturday, so I watched two rugby matches all the way through. It was nice to be home alone for the last few days, I could be a little bit more spontaneous. Speaking of which, I should be writing the next blog with new lenses in both eyes. Cataract operations are now something I am a missionary for. Amazing to see so well with my eyes, supplemented by a lens, no idea even where it was made. I even had a good day, really quite good, at the organic market on Saturday, but I don’t have time to talk about that today.