Women in Paris finally allowed to wear trousers

parisOne year ago yesterday and a long-established chauvinistic law was finally abolished in France – the law that said that women were not allowed to wear trousers on the streets of Paris.  A strange relic of the revolution.  Enjoy my potted history, embelished with a soupcon of poetic licence.




Vive the revolution!
That’s when it all commenced;
when rebels had a notion
to show their difference.
Abandoning their breeches,
pants of the bourgeoisie,
they donned instead their trousers,
garb of the peasantry.
The women said “we’ll join you”.
The men said “no way, Marie.
Women can’t wear trousers
on the streets of gay Paris.”

What a joke that women-folk,
who’d fought for liberty,
could not invoke the rights of blokes
of French fraternity.

And then one day concession.
“Mesdames, you’re right of course.
You shouldn’t have a dress on
when mounted on your horse.”
A second time the law was changed,
as good as it would get,
that women could wear trousers
astride a biciclette.

What a joke that women-folk,
who’d fought for liberty,
can’t still invoke the rights of blokes
of French fraternity.

Now Madame Valland-Balkacem,
in charge of women’s rights
proclaimed that les Parisiennes
have won the long-fought fight.
No longer shall they cower
on the streets of gay Paris
afraid to be arrested
by the French gendarmerie.
The bells of Notre Dame ring out,
the glorious Marseillaise is sung
in the heart of the gallic nation.
The femmes de France dance and shout
for the victory they’ve won,
on their day of Liberation.

No longer now are women cowed
on the streets of gay Paris.
Shout out loud for they’re allowed
to wear their trousers – legally.

3rd February 2013 – headline from the Telegraph

Notes:  Women in Paris finally allowed to wear trousers.”  Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s minister of women’s rights, has made it officially impossible to arrest a woman for wearing trousers in the French capital.  The law required women to ask police for special permission to “dress as men” in Paris, or risk being taken into custody.  In 1892 and 1909 the rule was amended to allow women to wear trousers, “if the woman is holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse.”  The law was kept in place until now, despite repeated attempts to repeal it, in part because officials said the unenforced rule was not a priority, and part of French “legal archaeology.”  The restriction focused on Paris because French Revolutionary rebels in the capital said they wore trousers, as opposed to the knee-breeches, or the “culottes,” of the bourgeoisie, in what was coined the “sans-culottes” movement. Women rebels in the movement demanded the right to wear trousers as well, but were forbidden to do so.


Groundhog forecasts early Spring in Pennsylvania, USA

groundhogOne year ago today I wrote about ‘Groundhog Day’, that strange phenomenon where the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil is supposed to be able to forecast the coming weather.  A little story about the legend of Punxsutawney Phil.



Groundhog Day

Many, many years ago,
before the age of man began,
when crystal clear waters ran,
groundhogs wandered o’er the land,
fearless, free to come and go.

They wandered free as caribou,
they made their homes most anywhere
for sabre-tooth they had no care,
unafraid of wolf and bear,
revered for what they knew.

They knew they had a special skill
and one who in this art was great,
as he would often demonstrate.
You see he could prognosticate,
Lord Punxsutawney Phil.

One day he woke and sniffed the air.
A dreadful vision he foretold:
the earth would soon turn icy cold,
a deathly grip would soon take hold,
with snow and glaciers everywhere.

He said “my children, to survive
we must adapt to what I’ve found.
I’ve had a vision most profound –
we must burrow underground
to keep the groundhog race alive”.

With tooth and claw, cry and sob,
with fortitude and iron will
they followed Punxsutawney Phil
and tunnelled deep beneath the hill
they now call Gobbler’s Knob.

One hundred long and tough millennia,
the groundhogs thrive, fit and strong.
And though the fabled Phil’s long gone,
through his genes his name goes on
in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Though now we humans rule the earth,
as weathermen we’re no great shakes,
our forecasts riddled with mistakes.
Each February now, when Phil awakes,
he shows us what a groundhog’s worth.



2nd February 2013 – headline from the BBC

Notes:  “Groundhog forecasts early Spring in Pennsylvania, USA”.  Each year thousands of fans from as far away as Australia and Russia visit the tiny western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney where people have been looking to groundhogs for weather forecasts since 1887.  They gathered on Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania to watch the furry rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, emerge from his lair.  According to folklore, if the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, winter will last six more weeks. If he does not, spring will come early.  And that is what the Inner Circle – the group that dons top hats and tuxedos on Groundhog Day each year to oversee the ceremony – reported to the crowds.

Hair today, gone tomorrow

shameOne year ago yesterday a scandal hit the Japanese pop culture.  For this Japanese story I decided to return to Japanese verse form.  The first verse is a Tanka, which just tells the story, although traditionally the Tanka is unrhymed.  The middle verse is a Senryu which is similar to a Haiku in construction but tends to be about human foibles.  Then I used a variant of a cinquain to give a western perspective.  The interesting aspect of this story for me is exploring the cultural contextualisation of the concept of ‘shame’.


Minami Minegishi
on illicit date.
Kowtows to the public blame.
Shaven head hangs low in shame.

Inner soul of guilt,
laid bare, caught in culture’s frame,
blamed, distraught in shame.

Accepting blame,
guilty, cringing, despairing, bowed,
cowed, shaven in her culture’s frame,
Minegishi pays the public price, recants out loud.
Ironic shame.


1st February 2013 – headline from the Independent

Notes:  “Hair today, gone tomorrow: Japanese pop star Minami Minegishi shaves head after getting caught having sex”.  A week ago Minami Minegishi was a silken-haired jewel in one of Japan’s pop music crowns, the all-girl group AKB48.  Now, she has shaved her hair after issuing a tearful online mea culpa for disobeying one of the cardinal rules in Japan’s squeaky clean pop idol world. Her crime? She slept with her boyfriend.


Ambergris treasure trove on beach

Ambergris treasure trove on beach

One year ago today, end of the first month of the Janus project and I was struggling to find a significant headline so I ended up with four and a short verse on each.  From David Beckham to dead sea-birds – enjoy!




The Final Quartet

From the gallic charm of Paris
to the balm of Ambergris
the headlines flutter, swing and sway;
from Iceland’s reach to Devon beach
they weave their way today.


From LA where he was ‘The Man’
Beckham moved to St Germain.
Let’s hope that he regrets rien,
not another ‘also-ran’.

On Morecombe beach a man and dog found vomit of a whale,
or ‘Ambergris’ as it’s well-known in the perfume trade.
It’s worth ten thousand pounds a pound, so now it’s up for sale.
From this smelly log-like lump they’ve had their fortune made.

An Iceland maiden, oh so fair,
wanted to use her name of ‘Blaer’.
Translated it means ‘gentle breeze’.
The court rejected all her pleas.
Her mother, Bjork, then waded in,
saying “it is Icelandic, there’s no sin
in my daughter’s name, it’s real”.
Today they won, upon appeal.

Lathered in adhesive coat
that waxes wings and makes legs sore,
struggling to keep afloat,
sea-birds die on Devon shore.
Wings in waxy coat,
razorbills and guillemot
die on Devon shore.


31st January 2013

Notes:  Four small headlines today – “David Beckham joins Paris St-Germain and will play for free”;   “It’s floating gold! Dog walker finds ‘horrible smelling’ lump of sperm whale vomit worth £100,000”;   Icelandic girl wins right to be called gentle breeze”;   “Rescue for birds covered in ‘wax’ in the south west”.

Treadmill desks: How practical are they?

treadmillA year ago today and I picked up this bizarre headline – the latest in must-haves for the dynamic office.  Keep fit whilst working by replacing your desk with a fully equipped treadmill with laptop, phone and all the necessary accoutrements for maximising office efficiency!



Rush, rush, no time today to walk outside
in this roller-coaster ride,
the supersonic pace of life,
no time to ease the stress, the strife.
We use the lift and not the stairs.
Our working days are spent in chairs.
Our bodies wither, muscles waste,
arteries clogged with cholesterol paste.
What’s the solution you might ask?
The answer’s simple – multi-task.

In fact the answer’s quite grotesque –
an ergonomic treadmill desk.
Yes you can now both work and walk
on a treadmill whilst you talk.
Choose the programme to suit you best –
long-distance, mountain, and all the rest.
Whilst you tap your laptop keys,
change your programme as you please.
Two miles per hour, three or four,
still use your mobile as before.

It seems like the employer’s dream
but it’s not that simple it would seem.
Now “Miss Jones please hold my call”
means “I’m about to hit my wall”.
And when you’re marching up Scafell
can you decide to buy or sell?
“Hold the front page” is secret code
for “two more miles along this road”.

You have to ask “have we progressed?
Is this the answer to our quest?
Are we the human race for real?
Or just hamsters on a wheel?”


30th January 2013 – headline from the BBC

Notes:  “Treadmill desks: How practical are they?”  Many experts believe that there is convincing evidence that sitting all day is killing us.  Faced with such a litany of negative consequences, Levine has tested and promoted the concept of a treadmill desk as a way of countering the effects of modern day living.  Google, Microsoft and Evernote, and the hotel chains Hyatt and Marriott, are among the companies using treadmill desks.  Some companies have a check-out system, while other users prefer to have their own dedicated desk, for the entire day.

Nursery ratios raised ‘to improve standards

nurseryOne year ago yesterday and the government was positioning itself for educational reforms.  This one was taking the continental model, essentially of employing graduates in nursery schools.  Questionable.  I haven’t heard anything more about it.  I suspect it was just another of those political headline-grabbing statements.


IT’s Childs Play

It’s child’s play on the continent,
where it seems there’s overall assent:
a child’s formative years of ABC
need a PhD in psychiatry.
Really?  No.  I jest!  That’s not quite what I meant.

For certain there’s educational intent
for academic grades to complement
the caring skills there need to be –
it’s child’s play.

They’ve surely set a precedent,
a pointer, claim our government
that academically qualified staff would be
good for the child, reducing costs for you and me –
more kids, less staff to implement –
it’s child’s play.


29th January 2013 – headline from the BBC

Notes:  “Nursery ratios raised ‘to improve standards‘”.  Nurseries and childminders in England are to be allowed to look after more children, in a package ministers say will improve quality and cut costs.  The ratio of children to carers can be raised, but only if carers’ qualifications meet new standards.  Children’s Minister Liz Truss said the proposals would make more childcare places available and reduce costs for parents in the “long term”.  But she came under fire for citing other European countries which allow nursery workers to look after more children than in Britain.  Critics warn the change in ratios could actually compromise quality of care.  They also predict the changes – which are due to come into force in the autumn – will be unpopular with parents and are unlikely to reduce the overall costs of childcare.  Professor Helen Penn , Professor of Early Childhood at the University of East London, co-wrote a report for the government with Professor Eva Lloyd last year which warned relaxing ratios would lead to a ‘deterioration’ in the quality of care.

HS2: High-speed rail route phase two details announced

HS2One year ago today the details of the proposed high-speed rail network were released.  My question is why do we need to go so fast.  Is half-an-hour off the journey to Birmingham going to make a difference to anyone, especially at a likely cost of £40 billion plus?

This is written as a rondeau.

(As an aside, spooky to hear that after I’d posted my blog yesterday Pete Seeger died)


The Pace Of Life

In the pressured pace of life the golden age of steam is passed
but do we have to go so fast?
Do we really need the high-speed train,
the HS2, perhaps someone can explain.
No choice, I fear the die is cast.

Who can recall the whistle’s blast,
the stench-filled smoke that billowed past?
Romantic times but now we live in new terrain
in the pressured pace of life.

We’re expected to succeed, exceed, surpass
but the gap with quality of life is vast.
Public transport should surely take the strain,
but give us time to talk, share, shallow breathe again,
laugh, sing, live life in colours to its full contrast
in the pressured pace of life.


28th January 2013 – headline from the BBC

Notes:  “HS2: High-speed rail route phase two details announced”.  Speeds of up to 250mph on HS2 will reduce a Birmingham to Leeds journey from two hours to 57 minutes, while phase one will cut London-Birmingham travel to 49 minutes, from the current one hour and 24 minutes.  More than 70 groups oppose HS2.  StopHS2 argues the project is “fundamentally flawed”, saying the majority of journeys will be to London so England’s North and Midlands will lose out rather than benefit, and that projections do not take into account competition from conventional rail.  StopHS2 campaign manager Joe Rukin said: “Fifty-five percent of the economic benefits are based on the cash value of time, no-one works on trains and every business user is worth £70,000 a year – it’s basically a train for the rich that everyone else is not only going to have to pay for the construction of but also have to subsidise throughout its lifetime as well.”