Let's take an example. Say I was sent -- against my will -- to a snobby British private school whose tradition was to force every boy to play rugby twice a week. Picture me, a frail, dreaming creature unable to bear the cold Scottish weather, longing only to closet myself up in my boarding school's Senior Common Room with the latest record by faggy glam stars like Lou Reed and David Bowie, being forced to stand around in a field with 21 other boys, knowing that if anyone passed me the awkwardly-shaped ball I'd get half of them jumping on me and thumping me half to death. Imagine me knowing that in the changing room afterwards there'd be a series of arcane rites known as "the operation" in which the thicker, more sadistic boys picked on the thinner, gentler ones, teasing them with jets of cold water and flicking ties and towels.
Then imagine me, a person of left-leaning political views, being forced to live through a seemingly-endless series of rightward swings that, from 1980 on, chip away endlessly at the Keynesian social provision I believe in, replacing it with a vicious and spiteful form of Social Darwinism -- the equivalent of the rich flicking endlessy and gloatingly at the poor with ties and towels in life's changing room.
Now imagine these two factors -- rugby and rightist politics -- being brought together in one nightmare day. Today, in fact. The day from hell.
A little later today I will take a train to Dover and a boat to France. I'm going to Paris because my dear friends Gilles (Toog) and Flo are getting married. They're the loveliest couple I know, people who met when they were eight years old, willowy, cool, quirky aesthetes who draw, film and make music almost compulsively, and live in two interlocking apartments on the Rue des Martyrs in Pigalle. I'll read a passage from Genesis at their wedding, then on Sunday morning we'll shoot a film: a tribute to Fassbinder's Effi Briest with Joseph and Alton, a mixed-race gay couple from Alabama who commission their favourite artists to make serenades to their relationship.
But my trip to Paris has been problematized by two things. First, France's fucking horrible rightist new president Sarkozy has decided that the state pensions enjoyed by train drivers -- probably inadequate as it is -- are "a relic of the past" and must be "reformed" away. The drivers decided on industrial action, and from 8pm Wednesday to 8pm Thursday there were almost no trains or metro services in France. Today, the BBC tells us, strike misery in France drags on.
This co-incides with the final of the Rugby World Cup, being held in Paris on Saturday. 60,000 English rugby fans are traveling to Paris, some of them paying up to £4000 for tickets to see the savage bullying rituals that blighted my childhood enacted on a field.
Now, I planned to take the Eurostar to Paris, either on Thursday or Friday. That turned out to be impossible. On Thursday the strike stopped Eurostars from running, and the company told me there would be no refunds if I didn't reach my destination. On Friday the Eurostar was booked up and tickets, even if they had been available, would have been over £200. The story was the same in the air: Ryanair had no flights at all between London and Paris, Easyjet had them at £200. So I bought a ticket for the ferry. Just £12 for the boat, £20 to get to Dover, and then whatever it costs to get the train from Calais to Paris (if I can find one -- the news is that the strikes are continuing to cause "severe disruption" on French rail services today, and with the huge influx of rugby fans seats are going to be subject to competitive scrums).
So today I'm going to waste the whole day traveling to Paris the snail-paced way we did it back in the days before the Channel Tunnel opened, or cheap budget airlines arrived. It might as well be bareback donkey riding. Actually, that would be vastly preferable: I wouldn't have to share one heaving, vomiting boat with 60,000 English rugby fans dressed up in plushy hats, draped in the St George flag, all tanked up on lager and shouting "Aye aye captain!" and "Aaaaarrrrrrrr!" at me because I wear a funny, funny eyepatch. And I wouldn't then have to contend with shrugging, passive-aggressive French railway officials passing on their legitimate sense of victimization to these nightmare passengers via a series of strikes and cancellations.
Fuck. Today will be a very personal kind of public hell. The light at the end of the tunnel is that -- possibly, possibly -- I'll end the day in the company of my two best friends and my girlfriend.