Once upon a time there was a language in which words had meaning.  And then came the devil Ambiguity, along with his minions, Politics and Religion.  From that moment forth, meaning became as cloudy as a shower of piss.

When contentious events unfold, anywhere in the world, there is a scramble to gain control of the narrative.  It is commonplace for businesses, governments and individuals on occasion to hire people to manage the flow of information and colour it appropriately to try to morph the story into a predefined version.  This behavior affects all forms of media, stretching from newspapers and magazines, all the way down to simple memes which people share online.

One of the key strategies in public misdirection is the inappropriate use of labels.  When a news story becomes attached to sometimes a single word, or a single idea, the public’s attention is driven away from considering what truly happened and instead the public become recipients of a ‘manufactured’ intrepretation.  A recent example is the shooting in Paris.

For those of you that have been hidden under a rock for the past week, two gunmen entered the office of a satirical magazine and murdered a number of people.  Various ‘labels’ for the shooters were flung around in the beginning such as ‘terrorists’, ‘extremists’ and ‘Islamists’, before they were quickly replaced by an ideology so important to Western European societies that almost immediately the crux of the problem was forgotten.  At some point it stopped being a terrorist attack, we were all mistaken, it was in fact an attack on free speech.  Except that it wasn’t.

There are always few bare facts in a story.  In this case the one fact that is crystal clear – a satirical magazine was attacked for cartoons which satirized Islam.  It was not the office of journalists without borders.  It wasn’t an association against censorship.  It was a targeted attack against one magazine.  To claim that this attack has anything to do with free speech makes as much sense as blaming it on cheese, or blaming it on religion.

In France there are an estimated 4.7 million Muslims.  There were three gunmen involved in this spate of attacks.  If by any chance this was genuinely caused by religious beliefs the result would have been significantly different.  And yet there were no riots or large-scale protests like we’ve seen in the past.  There is only one conclusion any rational person can draw from this.  What is the label that adequately describes men such as these, that purposely acquire weapons so they can murder people who create cartoons?  Mentally ill, perhaps?

Last weekend people marched in solidarity and didn’t really seem to know why.  They felt the very human urge to say that they are not scared, that they believe in free speech and that violence will never win.  Despite the fact they weren’t really sure of what they should be afraid of, nor were they sure of what precisely free speech is or who is threatening it.  The important thing is that ordinary people marched arm in arm with the free-speech (not so) loving leaders of the free world to send a message.  And the message was thus ‘we are blind’.

This ‘wave of feeling’ which has ridden across the western world is not going to be a catalyst for change.  Therefore it is meaningless.  The idea that doing absolutely nothing is going to stop further terror attacks is absolutely mental.  If anything they will only increase, as every single example only further demonstrates what sitting ducks we all are.  The worst thing is that whilst we all focus on the European narrative, while we raise our pens and proclaim ‘Je suis Charlie’, little by little our freedoms and our rights are going to be stolen from us piece by piece.

Le Courage Et La Baguette

True courage is easily quantifiable.  It is measurable.  It is a valuable method by which we can judge ourselves.  Recently, I discovered something about courage in the most unlikely of places…. France.

It was with great trepidation that I made my way by planes, trains and automobiles to the city of Nantes.  My head was full of confused prejudices.  It was as if I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to like France, but was unable to put my finger on exactly why.  Stereotypes aside, I had absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for.  Nantes.  Nantes.  In my English accent it sounds like the plural for a group of nuns.  A Pride of Lions and a Nantes of Nuns.

The Elephants are rising up…

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Nantes is not actually a group of nuns, but a rather enchanting city.  Nantes boasts a magnificent gothic cathedral (from the outside at least) with a collection of gargoyles which look like photographs of my family, two rivers, an incredible mechanical elephant and a charming old town which gives Nantes a vibe which made my inner Bohemian drink absinthe with joy.  On top of that we were lucky enough to be visiting during Le Voyage a Nantes, an artistic trail featuring countless art installations which essentially give the city the equivalent of Bohemian warp speed, so much so that I am sure that I can play the accordion just because I have visited there.

Another highlight was the visit to Parc du Puy du Fou.  The park is a kind of theatrical theme park which gives children and adult children alike, the opportunity to both walk through and observe different ages.  We watched Musketeers, Knights, Vikings and Gladiators leap and dive and slice and stab with such a swashbuckling panache that my swash was well and truly buckled.  There were a few oddities, such as the fact that every child in France appeared to be there, that the actors were all miming from a recording and that the Vikings only pillaged and didn’t rape.  The highlight of the day was a simply astonishing display of over forty different species of birds of prey.

Some fit birds…

They swooped over us at such a close proximity that if I would have reached skywards I would quite probably have been able to touch them.  However I have always enjoyed having two arms, and didn’t see any reason to change that.  Parc du Puy du Fou is worth a visit for the birds alone, and that’s no disrespect to the astounding special effects and the incredible cinema-like sets.  Without a doubt Parc du Puy du Fou is truly a unique experience.

Part and parcel of travelling is always the stories you go home with.  None make me smile as much as the morning I volunteered to go the boulangerie to buy a baguette.  I entered the shop and said heartily ‘La Baguette’.  The man behind the counter merely pointed at the 6 variations standing behind him.  Panic set in as I realised that I had absolutely no idea which I should take.  Despondently I muttered the word ‘shit’.  The man then handed me a baguette.  As I walked back to the flat I was somewhat panicked as I privately feared that I had inadvertently bought a shit baguette.  Our host then explained that it was a traditional baguette which only served to confuse me further as I thought that a traditional baguette would be a fairly good one.  Regardless of what type of baguette it was I can happily inform you that it definitely wasn’t shit.

Was this the courage I mentioned?  Was it the courage to buy a baguette solo?  Not really.  The courage to stay calm when you are terrified that an eagle is going to shit on your head?  Not exactly.  It is the courage to admit that you were wrong.  After all, it must be difficult or everyone would do it.  Now where did I put my beret…..