Mary Dejevsky: Slow down – and get things done

 

Share
Related Topics

A return to London from the Continent, as David Cameron would surely attest, comes with a rude shock that has to do not just with the summary transition from countryside or small town to metropolis – or even, this week, with the switch from apparent Gallic tranquillity to the reality of mayhem, but with something more fundamental, rooted in the general pace of life.

Having recently returned, albeit in a more leisurely fashion than Mr Cameron, from the small spa town in southern France I have known for the best part of 20 years, it was this difference in pace that was most striking – and not just the pace of daily life.

Four years ago, perhaps more, I had attended a public meeting called to discuss the town's future development. Among the topics presented by councillors was the deplorable state of the town's original spa hotel, which had been forcibly closed after failing a fire inspection, sold to another hotel owner in the town, then un-sold because of an inheritance dispute among the sellers. It was now gradually falling into inelegant decay, with no new buyer in prospect.

A second topic was a plan for a new road layout at the entrance to the town, which would incorporate a big new traffic island. Giratoires have become a fashionable part of French planning over the past 10 years, and now, it seemed, we were to get one, too. A third related to criticism of the recently introduced plastic wheelie bins. A fourth was a project to transfer the town hall to the old military hospital, which was to be refurbished partly at state expense, along with the provision of a big new car park. And a fifth was the regrettable need to cut down, or at least back, the plane trees that gave the main street much of its character.

Of all these, it had to be said, only the fate of the trees drew any real passion. Was there really no other way of keeping the trees healthy and accommodating the increase in traffic? A couple of years later, it emerged that there was: the plane trees had been viciously lopped, but they were still in place and the thoroughfare made one-way. Of the other projects, though, there was no hint, and the belle-époque hotel was more derelict than ever. I assumed everything had been consigned to the hated wheelie bins.

But no. Approaching the town three weeks ago, you could not miss the works on the giratoire, now in full swing. The town hall, which was in its old mansion opposite the school as recently as last autumn, was now fully functional in the restored former hospital building, complete with gilded lettering and flags. The vast car park behind the main street is finished, and incorporates discreet underground receptacles for household rubbish. And the hotel, while still derelict, has just been sold, to a new owner hoping to restore it to its former glory.

In other words, my expectations had just run a bit ahead of French reality. Which is not to say that everything in the neighbours' jardin is wonderful: they have their ugly banlieues, their disaffected youth and their – almost routine – summer riots. But the sense of measured purpose married to local ambition that plans on a modest scale, to a realistic timetable, is something we could learn from. It also contradicts the notion that nothing in France ever changes. It does change; just in its own sweet time.

Government IT doesn't have to be a disaster

British MPs recently published a report exposing the wastage and incompetence in government IT projects – billions of pounds, the same MPs might reflect in their emergency sitting tomorrow, that could have helped improve education and policing in our many deprived areas.

What never ceases to amaze me, though, especially in health policy, is the enduring infatuation of our politicians, civil servants and academics with the (totally inapplicable) US example, even as they ignore pertinent, and positive, experience across the Channel.

That includes IT. The French have just launched an upgraded version of their national health website (ameli-direct.fr). You can search by area, hospital, specialist and procedure and find a detailed breakdown of the cost, how much is covered by standard insurance, how frequently the hospital or specialist performs a particular operation, and ratings for care and food. Exactly what you need. I've just tried to make equivalent searches on the NHS website. It doesn't do the job. And this is one element of government IT that's supposed to be working.

Love in the hayloft: the dream that never dies

In 1995, just as France was gearing up for some of its most disruptive industrial and social unrest of recent times, jaded city dwellers allowed themselves to be swept away on a wave of nostalgia for a rural idyll most had never known. Le bonheur est dans le pré, (Happiness is in the countryside), directed by Etienne Chatiliez, was a town-country film that traded on the French bourgeoisie's quite false image of itself as just one step away from Rousseau's world of the noble savage, as though a spell in the very same countryside that their forebears had hastened to leave would suffice to purge all their ills.

Something of that same nostalgia has returned to make L'amour est dans le pré – a reality show based on the British series, Farmer wants a wife – this summer's unexpected smash television hit. The first series was in 2006, but viewing figures for this summer's series have outstripped all other primetime programming. I suppose it could be the particular appeal of this year's stars, or the particularly gorgeous locations. More likely, I suspect, French urbanites are feeling almost as fed up with the world as they were in the 1990s, and seeking refuge, once again, to that elusive bucolic dream.



m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map