A collective sigh of relief on Monday as news is confirmed that Emmanuel Macron has been re-elected as President of France, seeing a threat from far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and, shortly after, crowds throwing tomatoes in a suburb of Paris. Macron, who won 58.6% of the vote, made his first post-election walkabout and was greeted by a barrage of spongy missiles, forcing his security service to trigger an Inspector Gadget-like device, after shouting : “Projectile! (Maybe it wasn’t a shout.)
The whole thing could have been a scene from James Bond, commentators noted, although the rollout of the death brolly looks more like a Mr Bean ring. The gadget, called ParaPactum and manufactured in France by Le Parapluie de Cherbourg, was invented in 2011 and is intended, in the words of its creators, for the “protection of high personalities”, including the President of the Republic. It weighs more than twice a regular umbrella, is made of Kevlar, costs €10,000 (£8,400) and when wielded it can ward off knife, dog, acid and fruit attacks. It is also waterproof.
Outside of France, the ParaPactum has been seen in the hands of protection officers walking alongside Vladimir Putin, and lest an umbrella might seem an insufficiently sturdy piece of kit, it comes in a special case that appears to have was designed for a sniper. Pure jingoism, this, but given the long, almost spiritual relationship between the British and their umbrellas, one imagines that no modern technology is needed for the average British protection officer to arm a standard model with a wooden handle – cracked on the head, Grandma Giles style.
Girls don’t like physics because it involves “hard math” is a statement that I find both appalling and one that I also identify with. I don’t like hard math, or any math, but that’s obviously not because I’m a girl. Mid-week, the government commissioner for social mobility opted to frame the low number of girls compared to boys taking the physics baccalaureate in terms only available to those who have given the matter exactly seven minutes of thought. Appearing before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Katharine Birbalsingh conjured words from her brain that “physics is not something that girls tend to like. They don’t want to do it, they don’t like it. Birbalsingh is headmistress of a Wembley school where girls pass A level physics at an even lower rate than the national average. Pressed to elaborate, she grabbed a bigger shovel and started digging again, continuing, “I just think they don’t like it. There’s a lot of hard math in there that I think they’d rather not do. The research in general… just says it’s a natural thing. According to Birbalsingh’s example, an evolutionary biology facility is also not a girl’s best friend.
On the other hand, Brownies are learning to code, which is great, although it won’t save me from the chill of my Brownie pack memories. Acquiring badges left me so defeated that I graduated Wendover’s second pack with only one badge (the hostess badge). Even then, I never achieved the goal of learning how to make a cup of tea – my mother, shockingly, signing the form to say she had witnessed the event when she had nothing does so. I hated the brownies, the uniform, the singing, the “mission”, whatever; the Milton Keynes wild pack we were taken to camp with. And even though I reached the dizzying heights of Seconder in Gnomes, it never gave me joy. You’d think it would be impossible to fail a Brownie badge, but I did, going overboard on a Thursday night towards the collectors badge. Other Brownies brought seashells, dolls and pebbles. I brought my collection of lollipop sticks, washed and dried, and the look on Tawny Owl’s face never quite left me. Twist me and turn me and show me the elf…
Two touching stories from ultra-seniors this week, one about the French nun Sister Andrew, who at the age of 118 became the oldest person in the world after the death earlier in the week of Kane Tanaka, 119 years old from Japan. Sister Andrew lived through the 1918 Spanish flu and in January last year became the oldest known survivor of Covid-19. She told reporters this week that she drank a glass of wine every day, while Tanaka, shortly before her death, gleefully told visitors she attributed her great longevity to “being myself” and to his love of chocolate and coke. Given the mold these stories tend to take, it’s a wonder none of them smoke 40 a day or live exclusively on a diet of bacon.
Fascination with extremely old people may diminish as their numbers increase. Japan has the oldest population in the world, with an average lifespan of 87.7 years for women and 81.6 years for men, and with 86,000 people currently over the age of 100. The idea of continuing for more than 110 years, even in the guise of Sister Andrew and the late Japanese record holder, fills us with existential dread, especially in the United States where the logistics of funding a retirement over thirty years old is truly terrifying. If 50 is the new 40, and 70 the new 60, we await with weary resignation the advent of the over-90s as a marketing demographic, with all the casual expectations that come with it.
It used to be BMW drivers who were the worst on the road. The weather is changing. We have a rental car this week and we notice that every time someone cuts in front, cuts us or slides on the shoulder to jump the line, it is most often the same car. Mercedes drivers are arrogant but respectful of the rules. Sweet guys in a Subaru always give way. A Honda Accord can drift on its lane markings, but won’t cause you any serious problems. It’s Tesla’s drivers – on the road, on the internet, in real and theoretical form – who are the absolute horror show, an affiliation with a brand that, no one needs reminding this week, goes as far as at the top.