Here and There

The latest offering from the Le Mur Poitiers collective, who place a new work in Place Notre Dame every two months.

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Its been rather a quiet week in Poitiers, so I have been spending more time than usual reading the newspapers for some light relief.

Given the current global turmoil, the ‘news story of the week’ award goes to the BBC News website: ‘William and Kate dance and taste chocolate during day two of Belize tour’.

Some years ago, I vaguely remember reading about a Daily Telegraph editor – William Deedes, I think – who realised something needed to change when that day’s front page had a piece about the Duke of Norfolk having his tonsils out.

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People behaving badly (1). A story in Tuesday’s Le Parisien tells of a 94-year-old woman accused of harassing her next-door neighbours. The couple in question moved into a house inherited from grandparents on the Rue Laperrière in the Normandy town of Alençon in March 2013. Since then, they have been the target of numerous hostile acts by the elderly woman, including spitting at them, knocking on their walls with a hammer, and playing the piano in the middle of the night.

According to the paper, the police had intervened on several occasions, once to help the couple and their baby move their things to stay with another resident of the street in 2020. The husband said, ‘She tells me that I am the embodiment of evil, she just wants to break me so that I end my life’.

The police said that the 94-year-old had previously confessed to having perpetrated everything she had been accused of. In her defence she claimed that the man rang her doorbell repeatedly throughout the night, and ‘above all, he killed my little rabbit. Me, I apply the law of retaliation, it’s an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’.

This is bizarre enough, but the court case sounds almost surreal. Five minutes into the hearing, the defendant declared that she was leaving, alluding to hearing problems which were not picked up during the psychiatric tests she underwent (during which she had slapped the nurse who drove her to the hospital.)

‘Just now, when I spoke to you, you understood me perfectly,’ the judge said. ‘I am sorry, but I cannot hear you,’ the defendant replied. The judge then went to sit nearer to her and spoke loudly in her ear. ‘I can’t hear anything, I hear a buzzing, but I can’t understand anything,’ she said. ‘I’m not certain that you can hear nothing,’ the judge replied. Hubert Guyomard, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, stated that the defendant must have ‘selective deafness’, considering that she could supposedly hear her neighbour ringing the doorbell but could not hear the judge.

When the judge asked her about a petition signed by eleven people in the neighbourhood claiming that her behaviour had caused issues around the area, she grew angry and decided to leave the room. The public prosecutor Marguerite Gamber said, ‘It is not every day that we have a woman of 94 years of age in the dock – but age does not confer impunity’. The defendant was eventually served a suspended sentence of seven months in prison with the obligation to undergo medical treatment and pay a €7,000 fine. She is also forbidden from contacting the neighbours or returning to Rue Laperrière for the next five years.

I can’t help thinking there’s a play in this – with Maggie Smith in the leading role.

People behaving badly (2). The London Times this week reported the story of William Collins, a bare knuckle fighter from Sheffield. Collins, known as ‘Big Willy’ and the ‘King of Sheffield’, died, aged 49, while on holiday in Mallorca, in July 2020. He had moved to Sheffield from Ireland as a child in 1980 and raised his family in the city. One of sixteen children, he was the patriarch of the Collins family and had about 400 nieces and nephews. According to the Times, ‘Hundreds of mourners from the Traveller community attended Collins’s funeral in Sheffield in August 2020. He was buried in a 22-carat gold casket, delivered on a monster truck and carried into the cemetery in a horse-drawn carriage’.

He is in the papers now because a row has reportedly broken out between Sheffield City Council and Collins’s family over the memorial erected at the cemetery where he is buried. Alison Teal, a councillor, said, ‘Sheffield city council approved plans for a memorial, however the plans which were submitted and approved differ from the memorial now in place’. (The next sentence is my favourite part of the whole story.) ‘This was not fully appreciated until after the structure was fully unveiled’.

Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

The memorial, which weighs 37 tons, is carved from solid Carrara marble imported from Italy. It features a stone seat engraved with the word KING in gold block capitals and two life-size statues of Collins. There are four flagpoles bearing the Irish flag, images of Jesus Christ and biblical scenes, and a solar-powered jukebox that plays Collins’s favourite tracks. The headstone is lit up in LED lights that change colour and is monitored around the clock by CCTV.

Ms Teal said, ‘We have reached out to the family and intend to discuss changes which need to be made in order to satisfy the cemetery rules and take into consideration other cemetery users’. The Collins family insist that they had permission for the headstone, which they said was built on land they own.

I must say, I like the idea of a solar-powered jukebox (family, please note), but I can see the drawbacks. People quietly tending nearby graves might be pleased to see the sun emerging from a cloudy sky, but would be somewhat taken aback if Bat Out of Hell suddenly started blasting out a few yards away.

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When we moved to Poitiers, my ambition, after we had settled in, was to take advantage of the various rail networks and visit as much of Europe as possible by train. Covid put paid to that for a couple of years, but now that we have a ‘window of opportunity’, albeit one that could slam shut again suddenly, I intend to take advantage of it. The next few Postcards will not actually be from Poitiers, as Madame and I are heading off on a month-long train trek around Italy. First stop Turin next Saturday. Arrivederci!

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