President Macron came to visit Poitiers on Tuesday. All very exciting – helicopters overhead, police cars everywhere. He was visiting the Palais de Justice to announce the opening of États généraux de la justice, a major review of the justice system in France – a headline-catching exercise, probably not unconnected with the coming presidential election.
There is growing concern about recent violent attacks targeting magistrates, but it would seem from their comments afterwards that the local judiciary were not particularly impressed by the President’s visit. ‘He says one thing and then the opposite – he tells us that justice must be faster but also that it must take time to reflect,’ complained one magistrate. ‘We are told that everything must be broken, and we are then given four months to rebuild it all. It is not serious,’ declared another.
The President had a more sympathetic reception when he took part in a charity football match last week. Watched by his wife Brigitte, he took to the pitch in Poissy, outside Paris, alongside former international defender Marcel Desailly and ex-Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger. Some ‘highlights’ of the game can be seen here.
Macron, who played football at university and is a keen tennis player, played midfield and had a fairly easy time of it, with overawed opponents retreating deferentially as he advanced with the ball.
Unsurprisingly, when a penalty was awarded, he was chosen to take it, and the goalkeeper didn’t seem too bothered about saving it. Still, I have to say he looks more convincing in football kit than one of his predecessors, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was showing off his own sporting prowess by jogging while at the recent Tory party conference, though with true British decorum he decided to do this while wearing a formal white shirt and a pair of black brogues.
Somehow the photo seems more credible if you imagine him being chased from Downing Street by a crowd of angry voters, just out of shot.
I have mentioned in the past that Poitiers is a relatively quiet place. Even though students make up a significant element of the local population, there is a general lack of boisterousness in the air, and many of the local citizenry seem to live a quiet, almost hobbit-like existence behind closed doors. I used to put this down to an innate conservatism, but recently I have started to develop another theory – half of the population are permanently stoned.
There are several reasons for thinking this. Firstly, a recent survey has shown that, as a nation, France is the largest consumer of cannabis in Europe. According to the newspaper Aujourd’hui, there are about a million daily cannabis users, and 18 million people say they have taken the drug at some time: these are people ‘at all ages and in all walks of life. Whether you are unemployed, a student, a senior executive, a manual worker, a policeman, or a journalist, whether you live in the [upmarket]16th arrondissment in Paris or in a village in the Aisne, the joint is everywhere.’
Secondly, recent analysis shows that the decriminalisation of cannabis is now supported by a majority of French people: 51% are in favour, nearly twice as many as when the first study was carried out (27% in 1977).
Thirdly, in almost every city in France there has recently been a sudden rush to open shops offering cannabis-related products. In the past six months, at least five have opened up here in Poitiers. Some of these are franchised outlets, such as Deli Hemp in Rue Saint-Nicolas.
Others are small local shops, like Le Bistrot des Graines in Rue des Vieilles Boucheries.
They all sell a variety of cannabis-based oils, infusions, and mixtures that claim to reduce anxiety and depression, ease pain, and inhibit the symptoms of arthritis.
The sudden influx is due to a change in French law in November 2020, which makes it legal to sell products that contain the cannabis molecule cannabidiol (CBD) as long as they contain less than 0.2% of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ‘stupefying’ ingredient that is found in other (still illegal) forms of cannabis.
While these shops are careful to promote the health-enhancing aspects of their products, I can’t help thinking that shops with names like ‘High Society’ and ‘Dream Flower’ may have a slightly wider customer base in mind.
One thing that is interesting is that CBD products are also legal in the UK, but as far as I am aware, there has been nothing like the spread of new outlets for them there. One might think that, given the steady resurgence of Covid cases, the fuel shortages, and the emptying supermarket shelves, anyone selling a product that reduces stress and anxiety would be on to a sure-fire winner.
A recent tweet on Twitter asked, What’s your most tenuous claim to fame? My dad’s godfather was Bruce Forsyth’s dentist.
Some of the responses:
Ronnie Corbett once held me as a baby.
My great-grandad was converted to Catholicism by the priest who was the inspiration for Father Brown.
My grandfather met Johnny Weissmuller. Also, Brian Eno once called our house.
My dad went to the same school as Prince Charles, but not at the same time.
I had pie and chips with Gloria Gaynor in a Coventry pub.
I sang at Fidel Castro’s niece’s wedding.
Richard Burton told me to ‘fuck off’ when I was about 13.
Tom Jones once came to my parents’ country pub for a pint. I was in Belgium at the time.
Mum’s cousin Dave’s dog, Pickles, discovered the Jules Rimet Trophy after it was stolen just before the 1966 World Cup.
My dad – a dentist – once threw Fanny Craddock out of his surgery for being bolshy. My dad was a horrible bloke, so my loyalties lie with Fanny.
My own claim to fame is that I once stood next to (Lord) Melvyn Bragg in the gents’ toilets at the Almeida Theatre in London. We did not speak.