The final month of the year, a time when one is traditionally slipping into the lead-up to Christmas, has been dominated by the yellow vests. The infamous revolting gilets jaunes have been burnin' and a-lootin' in Paris, and stopping traffic in the provinces and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Christmas can't come too soon.
The Good Wife of La Poujade Basse is out on the road more often than her house-bound house-husband, travelling back and forth to Brive four days a week. So she was the first one to notice the cars driving about with their fluorescent yellow security vests (an obligatory part of every motorist's kit for a number of years) folded or scrunched up above the dashboard. When I started spotting them myself, I realised there was something more going on than the breakdown-drill of a few over-zealous motorists.
Now I spot them everywhere I go. There's a couple in the nearby hamlet who have hung one on their front gate. I would say that one in every three cars now wears its yellow heart (as it were) on its sleeve. Maybe more. The drivers are a motley crew to look at: ranging from old people to brawny white-van-men to serious-looking young urban professionals. It's depressing. For some reason, I feel most down-hearted when I pass female yellow vests. It depresses me to think that the involvement of womankind is a sign that things have really escalated. I live with this touching faith that women generally know better than men and it's perturbing to realise that they can be just as dumb. It's only good manners that stops me giving them the finger, too.
Not that there's anything necessarily stupid about protest. It's high time for a revolution. We all wanna change the world. But I question whether the impulse for demonstration in this case has anything to do with a desire to change the world in the kind of truly radical way it needs to be changed. It seems much more about preserving the comfortable status quo. Being charitable, you could say that the yellow vests are doing what the Peter Finch character did at the end of Network, bellowing to the world that they're as mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. God knows, we have enough to be mad about in France. After Denmark, it must be the most taxed country in Europe. Over 50% of your income disappears without even seeing it. So the rise in diesel prices can of course be seen as the straw that breaks the camel's back. And yet...
On my way to the local supermarket last Saturday morning, a whole bevy of yellow vests had occupied one of Martel's fistful of roundabouts. They were handing out leaflets and proclaiming themselves on makeshift banners as citoyens en colère. I drove past one such angry citizen before he could thrust a leaflet at the car, employing the tactic I use for hunters: denying eye contact. Fairly tame, I know, but a little more ambiguous than flipping the bird, which could end up in the kind of scuffle that would leave me significantly worse off than my opponent.
Yeah, mate, I snarled from the safety of my car, I'm angry too. I am angry that Macron is revoking the wealth tax that will make the rich even richer. I am angry that the deputies of parliament have, I believe, voted themselves a nice fat pay rise. But I'm also angry that it takes a rise in the price of the filthy pollutant that fuels our cars and fouls our air to get people off their arses and out on the street to demonstrate their displeasure. And how telling it is that they employ the traditional French tactic of setting fire to old car tyres, just to confirm how little they are concerned by what's happening to the planet. Many of them, too, will no doubt come out with the Trumptonian angle that climate change is just a big hoax, anyway, and has nothing to do with the way we go about our daily business on this fragile over-populated planet of ours. It's just the media and liberal bleeding hearts trying to push an inconvenient truth down our throats.
I'm angry that my ungovernable compatriots seem happy to fiddle while the world burns, voting every four years for someone espousing much-needed change only to take to the streets each time he tries to enforce it. I'm angry that they will go on repeating the pattern until finally they put their faith in some strong and charismatic leader who persuades them that life will be better if they get rid of Jews, blacks, migrants, homosexuals and anyone else who doesn't conform to the norm.
I'm angry that instead of lobbying their representatives and the Fat Cats of big business, they take to the street and make life doubly difficult for the ordinary people they purport to represent. Brive was like a ghost town on Saturday morning when I went to buy some pipes for our imminent new water cisterns. Admittedly, I went early to avoid yellow militants, but I can imagine that shoppers are staying away in droves. And how's that going to help the small shopkeepers who are already feeling the pinch of online trade at the one time of year when they can normally rely on a bit of human traffic?
I'm angry, too, about all the Frexit posters popping up all around town. Instead of trying to reform the institution that has managed to keep Europe war-free for decades at a stretch, the gilets jaunes are just the very people to bring it down by voting instead for a trip down memory lane. Ah yes, the glory days of insular self-interested nation states. I remember them well.
Of course, when you talk to the folks at the barricades they'll tell you that some of their best friends are 'coloured' Jewish homosexual migrants, that they've got nothing against them on a personal level, but when you get them en masse... At which point, I should stress that I've got nothing personal against individual gilets jaunes. The couple down the road who wear their vests on their gate, for example, are good people. They walk their dog instead of letting her run wild, they've adopted two orphans from somewhere like the Reunion Isles, and Monsieur once gave me a whole basket of girolles he found in the woods. I know some of these people and appreciate how marginalised they feel here in the Styx, far from the capitalists of the capital. No, it's the thought of them gathered together in a mob that feeds my ire.
I fear the mob, even bearing legitimate grievances. The gilets jaunes could be the 21st century reincarnations of the sans culottes. They'll be there cheering at the guillotines when it's time to round up the scapegoats and despatch swift and summary justice. Every day in every way we reinforce our ignorance of what history teaches us. The next financial crisis is just around the corner now. The big one is coming to push us over the edge. Then we'll see how many of the good citizens of France, the ordinary people, swap their yellow vests for brown shirts. Be afraid; be very afraid.