Tag Archives: Paris

June 6th

On this day in 1654 Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated her throne and converted to Catholicism.

Queen Christina liked to have some sort of bird on her horse's bum when she was riding

While she’s known as Queen Christina, she was more properly a king. She took her oath as a king and she was brought up as a prince by the order of her father. Apparently when she was born she was so hairy that at first everyone thought she was a boy, which sounds odd to me. Surely if she was that hairy they’d have thought she was a monkey or a werewolf or something, but no, clearly they thought it was normal for a baby boy to be born covered in hair. Anyway, they noticed she didn’t have a winky and realised she was a boy. Her dad, Gustav II didn’t care, he was just overjoyed that she was bonny and healthy because four children had died before her and he wanted an heir. Her mother didn’t like her so much and spent the first six years of Christina’s life giving her a hard time for being a girl and causing her mother pain when she was born.  Then Gustav II was killed in battle and suddenly Maria, Christina’s mother, was all over her like a rash, clinging to her like a limpet and basically being a huge pain in the arse. Christina didn’t want to hurt her mother, but she did want her to eff the eff off. In fact she was such a pain that eventually she was sent off to live in another castle and Christina was brought up for a few years by her aunt Catherine, as per her father’s wishes.

Apart from having the mother from hell and losing her beloved father so young, Christina had a fairly good childhood and was an intelligent and capable young woman. She spoke many languages fluently, rode well, was well-versed in history and politics and was much admired throughout Europe. She remained in the background politically until she was 18 and then became Queen regnant proper. It’s fair to say that she wasn’t the best of queens, but that was as much due to circumstances as any shortcomings on her behalf. She steered clear of marriage, saying privately that she found the whole thing distasteful and while she enjoyed the company of men, her closest relationships and truest affections were directed toward the women in her life. Was she a lesbian? It’s hard to say for sure, but given her distaste for the institution of marriage and all it entailed, it’s fair to say that if she ever did have sex it was far more likely to have been with a woman than a man. She reigned as queen proper for a decade, but she never really enjoyed it. She had wanted to abdicate long before 1654 but kept agreeing to stay on because parliament begged her. She felt a bit of a hypocrite, ruling over a Protestant country when she was secretly a Catholic, but it also made her a very tolerant woman. She did not discriminate against anyone based on religious distinctions and believed that everyone should be allowed to worship as they saw fit. These were very liberal views for the time.

But la! She had a nice abdication ceremony and then buggered off through Denmark and down to Rome, where they were well happy to

She wasn't much of a looker

see her what with her being all famous and a Catholic convert. They didn’t even seem to mind too much that she’d made most of her journey dressed as a man. That was another thing about her: she did like men’s clothes. She made quite the impact among the gentle ladies of Italy who were astonished by her manners and the ease with which she comported herself. She got invited to loads of parties and everyone was keen to have her in their home because she was such a big celebrity. The rest of her life was spent between Paris and Rome with short trips back to Sweden and elsewhere before she eventually died in Rome and was buried in St Peter’s Basilica, which is well posh.

The thing that makes her stand out in history is that she wasn’t like others around her. She dressed how she pleased, she did what she wanted and she wasn’t at all bothered by the constraints of class and gender. That she managed to do this whilst still being accepted by the establishment of Europe and the Roman Catholic church, which was even more Conservative with a capital C and a “don’t you be  poof or a Jew or one of those funny laydeez around us, you fucking weirdos!” then than it is now. So much was her masculine demeanour and her deep voice noted at the time, that in the 60s her body was exhumed so that scientists could figure out if she was intersex and/or had a winky and a lala. They weren’t able to discern from her bones whether or not this was the case, but as there are diary entries along the lines of “Fuxace!!!!1 On the rag. Again!!!!111!1”, we do know that she menstruated, so she did have a lala even though she looked a bit like a man.

 

Today was the Birthday of the novelist, Virginia Andrews.

She may mean nothing at all to a lot of the men out there. To be fair a lot of women may also be going “Who?” But there are a lot of us who remember reading Flowers in the Attic and then if were obsessed nutters, the whole series of Dollganger novels. It’s fair to say that her books were the crack cocaine of trashy literature and we were her desperate little junkies all wanting just a little more of her sick and twisted little world.

Like Village of the Damned with added incest

If you’ve never read these books, here’s the story. In Flowers in the Attic we first come across the Dollganger children, Chris, Cathy, Cory and Carrie. Their parents are Christopher and Corrine. Christopher dies in a car accident and Corrine who is afraid of being destitute asks her mother, Olivia, if the children can live with her while she tries to get work, etc. Olivia is all “yeah, that’s fine, but your father cannot know about them, so we must hide them in the attic.” The kids are all “Do we have to?” and Corrine is all “Yeah, your grandfather didn’t like it when I married my half-uncle and he’d have a fit if he knew we had children, but he’s going to die soon, so I’ll be nice to him, he’ll leave me lots of money and then we can all live together.” and so the kids have to live in the attic. It’s horrible up there, Grandma’s a bitch, Mum pretty much reneges on her word, there’s arsenic, drinking blood out of hunger,one of the twins dies and Chris and Cathy end up doing sex. They escape when they realise that their mother is trying to murder them and head out to an unknown future.

Petals on the Wind, is even more batshit mental. The other twin dies, Cathy gets to be a ballet dancer and Chris a doctor. She tries to stay away from him, but he still loves her. She wants revenge on her mother. There’s death, love,madness, a fire, more death and then Chris and Cathy give in and pretend to be husband and wife. Onto If There Be Thorns which again ups the mentalism. Cathy and Chris are together with “their” children, except they’re not, they’re Cathy’s with her first husband and her mother’s husband. She’s nothing if not prolific when it comes to inappropriate relationships. They adopt a little girl. Everyone’s happy then Bart starts visiting the old lady next door who is … oh come on, she’s Corrine the evil mother with her evil butler and Bart gets made all mental by the pair of them and there’s another fire and more death and at the end, Cathy and Chris are safe and Bart’s a bit less mental.

Seeds of Yesterday concentrates on the children, Bart, Jory and Cindy. Bart is still mental, Cindy’s a bit of  a strumpet and Jory, a ballet

This is the woman who came up with this crazy web of incestuous madness

dancer, has an accident and ends up in a wheelchair. Much mentalism ensues. Chris is killed in a car crash just like his dad and Cathy goes up to the attic and dies. As you do. This is the end of the series, but then – oh joy (really, I wish I was being sarcastic, but I’m not) – there’s Garden of Shadows,  a prequel wherein the madness begins to make some sort of sense. Not in a real “oh well that’s all right then!” way, but more “Well bugger me with witch’s broomstick, the whole damn lot of them are a bunch of incestuous mentals!”

By this time, Virginia Andrews had died of breast cancer. The last book was partly written by her and partly by a ghost writer, Andrew Neiderman, who was hired by her estate. He is still writing books as Virginia Andrews, which brings a nice touch of real-life mentalism to her literary heritage. Not as crazy as the plots of the books she actually wrote, but pretty strange all the same.

Anyway! I’m sorry, I have introduced you to a strange world of wrong, or maybe reminded you of it, if like me you wallowed in this filth. I should have chosen a more worthy subject, but if it’s any consolation, going back through the plot summaries of these awful, trashy, outrageously schlocky books has made me want to read them again. Surely that is penance enough?

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June 4th

On this day in 1411 King Charles VI of France, granted a monopoly on cheese to the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Not just any cheese, natch, because that would be unfair to the rest of France, which is a nation of cheese makers (who as we all know are blessed), but their own brand of stinky blue cheese, riddled with mould and stuff. From that day if your cheese wasn’t made in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, then you could not call your stinky blue cheese, riddled with mould and stuff, Roquefort.

A cave of cheese beyond your wildest dreams

This has been repeated throughout the ages from the days of yore right up into smoking hot modernity. In 1925 Roquefort got France’s first ever Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, which was basically what Chaz had given them back in the day and then in 1961 there was some sort of council meeting in Millau, which is near the special caves of Roquefort (more of those in a minute) called a Tribunal de Grande Instance, where they told everyone that they could use the same method of cheese manufacture if they felt like it, but if they tried to call it Roquefort they would have their goodies cut off. Probably.

So, there we have a little potted history of how special Roquefort is, even though it’s stinky, blue and full of mould. But how do they make it so mouldy? Well, here’s the legend, which is more full of holes than the cheese before they stick mould in it. A little shepherd boy was having a breather in the caves when he saw a fit lass and thought “I’ll have me some of that” and he went off to follow her, leaving his bread and cheese behind. So far, so plausible if dull and uninspired. Then, we are expected to believe that he didn’t go back to the cave for “a couple of months”. What now?! I mean, yes, one could get struck by a bit of a coup de foudre, but what was he doing for a couple of months? What about the sheep? And why didn’t some other animal or something happen into the cave and go “Mmm! Cheese! I’ll have me some of that!” But no. Allegedly the little shepherd boy went back there a couple of months later and there was his cheese gone all mouldy. Rather than be put off by it, he was apparently so hungry that he decided to eat it and upon eating it he  was all “Well, bugger me sideways with my shepherd’s crook, that sure is tasty!” It’s actually more likely that he mounted a sheep, entered it into a rodeo and then stuck a chicken feather up his arse and flew to Paris.

But, however the whole thing started, there is a long history of cheese making in that region. Pliny the Eldermentioned it in AD 79 (his

They call it blue, but yes, you're right, it's green

words were along the lines of “For something so minging to look at, it tastes pretty good, but when it comes to a nice snack I prefer wolf nipple chips“) and archaeologists have found prehistoric cheese colanders in the region.  How do they make it. Well there’s something in the caves around Roquefort-sur-Soulzon that produces the specific type of mould that gives the cheese its taste. Back in the day they’d put bread in the caves until it moulded up good and proper, then reduce it to powder and stick it into holes they’d made in the cheese and then leave the cheese in the caves until it was good and ripe. These days they can make the mould in laboratories if they want and they tend to inject it using aerosols. None of it sounds particularly pleasant, but the aerosol thing makes me think of cheese in a can, which is even less appetising than blue cheese (you might have guessed by now, I’m not a big fan).

And there it is. You’re left with a nice crumbly white, ewe’s cheese that’s full of mould and rather salty and well-liked by those who like that sort of thing. The French do; it’s their second favourite cheese after Comté which is not blue.

Today is the birthday of Russell Brand.

Brand is a bit like Marmite. Those who love him love him. Those who hate him need to get over themselves. I do understand, well sort of. There was a time when I thought I hated Marmite, but one day I found out that Twiglets– which I love – are basically a wheat based snack

Rusty Rockets in the flesh

covered in Marmite, so I did in fact love Marmite.

I didn’t have a Damascene conversion about Mr Brand. I found  him hilarious from the get-go and if anything find him even more hilarious now. I think that his shift into the world of movies may be a mistake, but he’s hard to touch as a stand up. The man is funny. He is very, very funny, and despite his rat-like teeth, he is also quite attractive in an “I know I’ll feel dirty if I go there, but I can always have a shower afterwards” kind of a way.

He’s a Victorian urchin, mixed with a terrible rogue, mixed with a filthy horndog, mixed with a raconteur of rare erudition and wit, mixed with … he’s funny, he speaks all cockney, he used to be a smackhead, he isn’t now, he used to be led by his cock, but now he’s apparently found true love with Katy Perry.  And he supports West Ham, which shows that the man knows all about suffering.

If you’ve never seen him do stand up watch the video. I love him and I’m happy to wish him a well happy birthday.

 

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June 3rd

On this day in 1140 a chap by the name of Peter Abelard was found guilty of heresy.  He probably would have been sentenced to death, but he got past that by heading off to Rome to plead for clemency and dying on the way. Smart move.

Fulbert catches Abelard trying to tit Héloïse up the armsleeve

The name may be ringing a bell with you. If so, yes, you’re right. This is Peter Abelard of Abelard and Héloïse, the couple who had the great love affair. Apparently. I have my doubts about this. Is it really true love when, after popping his lady love’s cherry, the popper goes around bragging about it to his mates? See, I don’t really think so. To me, it’s more the medieval equivalent of pulling in a nightclub, going back to hers, making her sleep in the wet spot and then leaving before she wakes up and, of course, not leaving your phone number.

That said, he didn’t leave her. The continued their illicit relationship, but were found out by Héloïse’s guardian, Fulbert and forced to separate. They did, but were still getting up to their filthy shenanigans in secret. So much so that Héloïse got pregnant. Abelard, ever the gentleman, sent her off to a convent to give birth. Here, again, we can find parallels with modern behaviour. You know how people love to laugh when celebrities give the fruits of their loins unusual names like, Apple or Fifi Trixibelle, or Dweezil or even Moon Unit. These slebs are so far behind the times. Héloïse called her son, Astrolabe after the scientific instrument. Nice.  Anyway, by this time Fulbert the guardian is a bit pissed off, so Abelard suggests they have a secret wedding. Héloïse isn’t too keen, but somehow she gets talked into it. Why secret? Well, it wouldn’t be good for Abelard’s career as king of all the philosophers and the best teacher in all the world, if he were married and anyway, all the sex is having a deleterious effect on that career. Yet again, Héloïse finds herself  carted off to a nunnery and this time Fulbert decides that Abelard is abandoning her, so he decides that he’ll put a stop to the whole thing, which he does by hiring some blokes to attack him in the middle of the night and to, well not to put too fine a point on it, cut his nuts off. That’s right, Abelard was to spent the rest of his life castrated and nutless.

That pretty much put the kibosh on the love affair and Héloïse stayed in the nunnery, eventually becoming prioress, even though she hated being a nun, and Abelard joined a monastery and became a monk. The legend of  their “romance” is held in the letters they then wrote to each other, but frankly, some of those letters just tell the story of Abelard taking advantage of a young woman, being a bit of a dick, getting her pregnant, abandoning her and always putting  his career first. On those grounds an awful lot of women are having great love affairs these days and they should stop being so bloody miserable about being taken for granted and be happy that in  a thousand years time someone will be writing about them and being all “Aw, isn’t it romantic!” or some bitch will blog about them saying “what a shit relationship that was!”

Anyway! None of this was the reason that Old Peter the porker got convicted of heresy, although it does show some of the character

Abelard teaching a class shortly before he parted company with his balls

traits that made him enough of a dick to make powerful enough enemies to get him to a place where they decided to take the fucker down. The thing is, Abelard was a brilliant man (and for the record, Héloïse was a brilliant woman who was far too good for him). He was a genius philosopher and changed the direction of western philosophy. He was also a  sought after teacher and famous throughout the known world. All of this stuff went to his head and he thought that he was King Cock of Christendom. This sort of arrogance is bound to make you a powerful enemy or several and his particular nemesis was Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was one of those dead holy blokes who gets all “you can’t say that” if people get a bit rational and all about the human reason. When Abelard used this method to discuss the Trinity, Bernard was not a happy chappy. What followed was basically twenty years of recriminations, Abelard being all “I know you are but what am I?” until finally, Bernard got his wish and a Council of Bishops decided that Bernard was right, Abelard was a heretic and whatever. Personally, I think that the bishops had just had enough of two old men going at it over and over and over again, so they just decided to go along with Bernard, who was the one giving them the most earache. Historic decisions have been reached for far more flimsy reasons.

And then, dear readers, Abelard ended up in Cluny  and died. Apparently his dying words were “I don’t know”. What is less well publicised is that they were the answer to the question “If you had to shag one of them or die, would you do Hale or Pace?”

Today was the birthday of  Tony Curtis, but do you know what? I think he was an utter prick, so that is all we will say about Mr so-called Curtis today.

Josephine in the 1920s

Instead, I’d like to talk about another birthday person: Josephine Baker. Ms Baker was, to put it succinctly, an amazing woman. She grew up dirt poor, she worked as a servant for a while, but she was abused by the women she worked for and left to live on the streets when she was still a child. She made money by dancing on street corners and that’s how she was discovered. She went on to be the best paid chorus girl in Vaudeville and then a company she was with toured Europe starting with France. She pulled out of her US contract, went to work at the Folies Bergères and became one of the biggest stars in the world.

Starting out as a dancer who sang a little, she became a singer with a big and powerful voice. She was the muse to many artists at the time including Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Picasso and Christian Dior. She made three movies, becoming the first ever black leading lady and she was adored.

The adoration grew during the war. She was such a big star that even the Nazis were loath to treat her badly. She, however, hated them and worked for the resistance, helped refugees and was an all round top woman. For her efforts she won the Croix de Guerre, the Rosette de la résistance and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by Charles de Gaulle.  Unable to have children, she adopted her rainbow tribe, twelve children of differing nationalities and ethnicities. She continued to perform and although no longer an American citizen she became active with the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement in the US. She spoke at the March on Washington in 1963 and in 1968,

Josephine with 9 of her 12 adopted children

when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, his widow asked her to take over leadership of the movement. Josephine eventually turned the offer down because her children were too young and still needed her.

After one final performance, which received rave reviews, Josephine suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and died peacefully a few days later. She left behind a fine legacy. Her talent will long be remembered, but more importantly, her humanitarian work, her generosity, her fearlessness and the fact that she made it on her own in a time when that was hard for any woman, let alone a dirt poor black woman. She was a damn fine woman and it’s a shame that she had to travel to another country for this to be appreciated. But she did, it was and there ain’t many of us can say that.

Happy birthday, Josephine.

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April 30th

On this day in 1315 a man you’re unlikely to have heard of was hanged on the public gallows at Montfaucon. His name was Enguerrand de Marigny and this is his story. To be perfectly upfront with you, his story is not that interesting, but as I was flicking through it, I came across the name of one of his employers and it chimed with me in a that name sounds like someone who has not been in the news at all sort of a way and so I decided to tell it. So, here goes.

de Marigny also stole dolls houses from children

Enguerrand was eventually a chamberlain and a minister of Philip IV (known as Philip the Fair). Philip was a bit of a git. He suppressed the Knights Templar because he owed them a lot of money. By suppress, read disbanded, arrested, tortured and had a few burnt at the stake. He also expelled all Jews from his Kingdom in 1306. In short he was a nice looking chap, but his personality was less than pretty. Now, before Enguerrand got to work for a chap who was already a chamberlain to the king and his secretary. This bloke’s name was Hugues de Bonville.  Unfortunately, Hugues career was cut short when he was found to have paid one hundred and ninety-five francs for sexual relations with a floozy. No one would have minded at all, as most everyone expected his sort to be a bit dirty, but the silly arse tried to cover it up. He lost his job and then got killed in a battle.

None of this matter to Enguerrand who got to be close to the king who thought he was aces and skill. Others didn’t so much because de Marigny was a bit of a smug and oily little twit. He did whatever the king wanted of him, and took bribes and made enemies and created an oil slick in the English Channel. He would have continued on in this way, but unluckily for him, Philip the Fair died after having a bit of a stroke when out hunting. Now, de Marigny was left without his mate, but still with all his enemies. It did not go well for him.

Louis X, Philip’s son and the new king, was creeped out by Enguerrand, so when Charles de Valois denounced him and said he was all about the bribes and putting on over on the king, Louis had him arrested. He was found more or less guilty of all his so-called crimes and Louis decided he should be exiled to Cyprus. De Valois  didn’t think this was good enough as he had really taken against de Marigny, so he made up some shit about Enguerrand being involved in sorcery. As you can see this royal court was all about intrigue and a bunch of bastards trying to out-bastard each other. Despite the charges being so much made up nonsense, Enguerrand was found guilty and hanged in front of a baying crowd on this day in 1315. Many years later, on his deathbed, Louis X felt quite bad about putting Enguerrand to death, so he confessed, said sorry and gave  lot of money to the poor or Paris. But not to the prostitutes as he felt that old de Bonville had done quite enough of that in the past.

Today was the birthday of a curious young man by the name of Kasper Hauser. He was allegedly born on this day in 1812 and died in 1833. We don’t know his birth date for sure, because, well, therein lies the story.

In 1828, young Kasper turned up in Nuremberg with a letter addressed to a Captain Von Wessenig. The letter stated that the author

Kasper, the stabby little liar

(anonymous, but male) had taken Kasper into his house in October 1812 and never let him step outside it.  That he’d instructed him in reading and writing and religion, but nothing else. He asked that the boy be made a cavalryman like his father, but stated that Von Wessenig could either take him in or hang him. Which was nice. The boy also had another letter, allegedly from his mother, which gave his name, his date of birth and that his father, a cavalryman, was dead. Curiously both letter were written in the same handwriting, Kasper Hauser’s handwriting as it turned out. When in front of Von Wessenig, the only words that Hauser said, repeatedly were “I want to be a cavalryman as my father was!” and “Horse! Horse!” He later claimed to have no idea what these words meant and that he had been taught to say them by his captor.

Hauser’s story was that he had lived his whole life in a dungeon, that he woke up to find bread and water by his bed each day and sometimes the water was a bit bitter, at which times he would sleep a lot longer and then wake up to find that his bed straw had been changed and his hair and nails cut. He said that until he was about to leave his captor for ever, he never saw him or any other human being, that he was then taught to stand and walk, to write his own name and to utter the words he’d said to Von Wessenig. Which sounds like utter bollocks and is belied by the information in the letters.

The whole thing caused quite the stir and Hauser was put into the care of a schoolmaster who taught him many things and discovered that Kasper had a talent for drawing. Things were going well until Kasper was allegedly stabbed by the man who’d brought him to Nuremberg. What is more likely is that he had cut himself with a razor because the schoolmaster was starting to get the idea that Kasper was a little liar.

He was moved on to another house and before long he was injured again, again almost certainly by his own hand after, again, his guardian was pretty sure that Herr Hauser was a dirty liar. In fact Hauser’s death was almost certainly self-inflicted (a stab wound to the chest), when it turned out yet again that the people he lived with thought he might like to play fast and loose with the truth.

The truth is that Kasper Hauser was almost certainly a pathological liar, who made up the story of his life, conned people and had a strong need to be seen as special and the centre of attention. He did succeed in this. His story is still well-known, especially in Germany and there is even a statue of him in Ansbach.

So, today may or may not be his birthday, but the little liar has been dead for a very long time, so there shall be no happy birthday from me, just the relation of a slightly interesting little story to you, my readers.

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April 8th

On this day in 1820 a French soldier and a farmer were digging about on an island in the Aegean when they found some bits of a statue, the two main bits were the legs and the torso and head of a statue that we now know as the Venus de Milo.

It strikes me as odd that they should find the statue on the island of Milos, that it should be dated to somewhere between 130 and 100 B.C. , be modelled in the Hellenistic style and yet, they should insist on calling it Venus and not Aphrodite. It’s Greek, FFS give it the right goddess name, you bastards!

Anyway, the two guys who found it were Yorgas Kentrotos and Olivier Voutier. Given that Yorgas was only along for the ride, being paid for his digging and a peasant to boot, that’s pretty much the last we’ll hear of him. Olivier, however, was a bit of an art man and

She's got a right snotty face on her, but she's 'armless (gets coat)

realised immediately that he’d  happened on something a bit special. He got some French naval officers to come and have a look at it and one of them, Jules Durmont D’Urville, who got well excited when he saw the broken lady and wanted the French Ambassador to Turkey to buy it for the French. I have to say that it was nice of the French to want to pay for it. The English just found nice bits of old stuff they liked and took it. I guess this is why the Greeks want their Marbles back but are happy for the Louvre to keep the limb-deficient lady.

 

There are stories that she still had her limbs attached when they found her and they fell off in a fight. Not a fight that the statue was having, that sort of thing only happens in films where the great Ray Harryhausen does the special effects, but a fight over who could buy her/keep her/whatever. However, her arms were found with her. When she was carved, she had one arm on the drapes around her legs holding them in place and the other outstretched and holding an apple. Other facts  you might like to know are that she was originally carved out of about six pieces or marble. Two bits for the upper and lower body, a piece for each arm, one for the plinth and one for her feet. Bits of her were carved better than others, i.e. the bits that were going to be looked at, so by studying the quality of carving we can tell which way she was posed. The arms and hands are a bit shit, because they were well above eye level and wouldn’t really be looked at all that much.  There are also a few holes on her where jewellery would have been attached. She would, of course, have been painted and made to look as human as possible in that way.

It’s quite funny really. We think of the Greeks and Romans with all their classical style and “oh my, the lines, isn’t it just beautiful and so simple and not at all over the top.” Bollocks. A Greek or Roman temple full of statues would probably make a Baroque cathedral look a bit minimalist.

Anyway, she eventually ended up back in France after a bit of wrangling and King Louis XVIII gave it to the Louvre so anyone could go and see it. Now, she’s not a bad-looking statue, but the reason she got so famous is tied up with the French loss of the Medici Venus back in 1815. I say lost, the truth is Napoleon Bonaparte had stolen it when he’d been wandering around Italy duffing people up. Everyone in the world was a bit in love with this statue, mostly because it was a life-sized nudie woman and they could see tits and everything. The French were a bit sulky when they had to give her back, so when they got the Venus with no arms, they were all “Oh look, she’s even better than that Italian one. Look at her tits, way perkier!” and stuff like that. The fact is that she was all right, but nowhere near as great as everyone made out. Renoir, for example, thought she was shit. I think that’s a bit harsh, but she really isn’t all that.

 

Today is the birthday of Dame Vivienne Westwood, designer, eccentric, British treasure and gold-plated nutjob.

 

Over the top? Only if you say so

Vivienne was into art from an early age, but coming from a working class background she didn’t think she could make a living out of her work and so left art college (where she was studying fashion and silversmithing) went to work in a factory, took a teacher training course and became a primary school teacher. I would love to hear from people who were taught by her. I’ve a feeling it was quite the experience.

 

Throughout this time, she was making jewellery and selling it from a market stall. She also married and had her first son. The marriage ended when she met Malcolm McLaren and from thereon in it’s all very familiar history. In 1971 they opened “Let it Rock” which became “Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die”, “Sex” and “Seditionaries”. She still owns the shop which is now called “World’s End”. She started off creating the clothes that McLaren conceived, but blossomed into a designer in her own right. She remains interested in the punk sensibility, but her love of seventeenth and eighteenth century (especially the latter) cloth cutting and designs is also a huge and rather wonderful part of her work. Her tailoring is utterly stunning and her clothes remain as relevant now as they were back in the 70s. Not bad for a 70-year-old Dame who started out life as a primary school teacher.

Westwood is also a bit political, but in the way of many artists, it’s all a little removed from reality. That’s not to say she doesn’t get it right, but her politics can be as eccentric as he clothes, but with slightly less brilliant results. I don’t hold this against her, it just is what it is. She’s married to Andreas Kronthaler these days who is 30 years her junior and quite the honey. They’ve been together for about twenty years and are devoted to each other, which is just lovely.

 

Just beautiful

Oh and when she went to Buckingham Palace to collect her MBE, she went commando, which fact was captured by newspaper photographers when she left the Palace. The Queen, as far as we are aware, did not see her muff.

 

She’s great, her clothes are beautiful and witty, she’s bonkers, she sometimes look like  badly dyed bag lady and she is one of the greatest designers the world has ever seen. She dressed the Sex Pistols, Bow Wow Wow, Adam and the Ants in the early days. She was front and centre of synthesis of music and fashion in the seventies. She was, and is, a total fucking heroine. If I could spend an evening in one of her ball gowns, there’s every possibility that I might just faint with joy. (Please note, anyone wishing to buy me any Westwood, jewellery, shoes, clothes whatever, please go right ahead and do it. Really, get on to it right away. I won’t be shy about receiving lavish gifts. I promise).

Dearest Dame, I wish you happiness this year and for another seventy to come. You’re not allowed to die you see. We need you and they really and truly do not make them like you any more.

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March 18th

En ce jour de 1871, la Commune de Paris a commencé son gouvernement de Paris. Ne vous inquiétez pas, nous sommes de revenir à l’anglais dès maintenant! As you were!

The Paris Commune of 1871 was an uprising of the workers and lower-middle class of Paris in response to what the Franco-Prussian War had put them through. In the previous year Paris had been under siege, Parisians were starving and forced to eat rats and domestic pets. Things had been pretty bad for years, but this was pretty much the shitty cherry on a cake made of shite. However, the Parisians had something going for them.

Fuck you, we won't do what you tell us!

At the start of the war, in July 1870, the government – which had buggered off to Bordeaux so that they naughty Germans wouldn’t kill them – the National Guard of Paris had been expanded to protect it from invasion by German troops. This meant that many ordinary citizens were armed. They also had cannons and heavy arms which meant that they were pissed off and heavily tooled up. Not a good situation if you want your citizenry to remain all well-behaved, especially when many of the men being elected to head the Guard were of a socialist or anarchist persuasion. Fast forward a few months; the Prussians are triumphant and want to have a little march around Paris. The Parisians are not happy about this and the provisional French government under Adolphe Thiers realise this and decide they’re not going back to Paris as it’s a bit angry; they’ll go to Versailles for a while. The government also decide that they want their cannons and shit back and this is when everything goes a bit Pete Tong for Thiers et al.

The Communards – as they members of the Commune were called – were not having it. Some of the soldiers who were sent in to get the heavy arms, decided the Communards had it right, so they joined up with them, shot a couple of officers who didn’t like their attitude and there you have it. The Commune began.

Alas, it only lasted until May of that year, but for all the disdain flung at it by the la-di-da government, they were well organised, were not even demanding that much and had a rich culture of their own. After all, it was here that Jimmy Somerville and Richard Coles

The aftermath

developed their musical chops and their cover of Never Can Say Goodbye was a heartfelt tribute to the day the Commune was broken up, the lucky escaped to make their way in the world and the unlucky were gunned down or arrested. The end was pretty heinous. In the week of May 21st-28th, nearly 20,000 Parisians were killed and 25,000 arrested. Thousands of the arrested were executed and about 4,000 deported to the province of New Caledonia (out near Australia somewhere). Many of the deported were treated appallingly, tortured and abused. The bad feeling among the poor of Paris as a result of the events of 1871 remained for many years and was only slightly assuaged by the outcome of an inquest into the treatment of the (now returned) deported that published its findings in 1881.

So, that was that. Mais ce qu’il était? Well, it was the first mass working class revolt, which could have become a full on revolution. It was the working classes demanding to be listened to, claiming rights for themselves, refusing to be treated as an afterthought and demanding equality of rights. It was a full on fuck you to the establishment that may have been quashed at the time, but was not forgotten and bore the seeds of later revolutions and the violence they contained. Violence is never right, but here’s the thing; if you’re happy to kill people for standing up for their right to be treated like a human being, you should never be surprised if those people are just as happy to kill you when they have the upper hand. Vive l’esprit de la Commune!

Today is the birthday of young Marvin Humes who is a singer in a boy band called JLS which apparently stands for “Jack the Lad Swing” (Sweet mother of god!). Now, normally I’d have no time for this sort of fly-by-night outfit with their vaguely ear-wormy tunes

Marvin likes to protect his penis while he sings

that are at once lingering and instantly forgettable, but then the band took part in a great sketch on this year’s Comic Relief and I decided that young Marvin deserved a happy birthday on the back of that. Not least because JLS are going to do a record with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and indeed went out for a pint with him after the recording of the sketch.

I mean, it’s music, Jim, but not as we know it. It’s all X-Factor (American Idol, etc) type shite that in many ways is killing real creativity and making Simon Cowell more rich, more powerful and more unbearable with every passing second.  In 1971 at the height of the Vietnam War, Marvin Gaye released What’s Going On? In 1981 with British cities erupting in riots and the economy in the toilet The Specials released Ghost Town. The Falklands War brought us Shipbuilding from Elvis Costello. Now? We have Everybody in Love. Still, it’s not Marvin’s fault that he’s pretty and vacant and he did some good stuff for charity (and his own profile) on Comic Relief, so la!

Happy birthday, young man. Look after your money because this won’t last forever and do try to enjoy the ride.

 

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