lundi 22 décembre 2014

France's outbreak of offensive driving

Mme Beezer had already agreed to take the boy to see Paddington this evening. Dubbed into French, but never mind: well, mostly. We did regret not hearing Julie Walters in person. Nicole Kidman was certainly an impressive baddie--the lad was trembling--and he roared at the CGI'd slapstick. It was perhaps an irony that the film made, as is customary, very light of a car chase, at the denouement of which, no-one (of course!) was in any way injured.

I myself had been feeling a mild duty to see the film after reading this excellent blogpost on how Paddington (and the Browns) would be treated, were he merely an undocumented human migrant from Peru in Britain today.

Anyway, we got the tram into town, as is so very convenient for us, and we were a bit early, so we wandered back out into the Christmas market after picking up our cinema tickets in order to get a present for Mme Martin, Mme Beezer's faithful help. The cinema faces onto the Christmas market in Place du Commerce; fifty metres up an adjoining street is the other, larger, part of the market, in Place Royale.

These markets are a Nantes tradition: in the last week of November, highly efficient crews erect what is basically a large collection of garden sheds, from which are sold variously artisanal salami, handknits, battery-operated drones, candy floss, plaster models of the nativity, winter hats, and vast cheeses. A pleasant feature of the set-up are the many stalls selling vin chaud (mulled wine); and in one corner of Place Royale is a large traditional merry-go-round, around which the children of Nantes form a willing scrum.

Anyway, we ducked out into this for ten minutes, and then back into the cinema, in good time for the 7.10pm start (lest the trailers be the best bit).

At which same time, also, reportèdly, and most unhappily, the generally calm and orderly life of we Nantais, was shattered by the driver of a white van, who, for reasons best known to himself--though there may be clues in an indecipherable notebook found in his van--decided to plunge his vehicle at the crowd standing round one of the mulled wine stalls on the south-west corner of the Place Royale. Panic briefly ensued; staff from the pharmacy opposite  came to the aid of the injured immediately; the emergency services arrived in strength with commendable promptness.

We were in blissful ignorance of all this until the film finished around 9pm. We were oddly captured on video walking towards Place Royale by a dude with his mobile phone, and then walked on a few metres to find our path home barred by a cordon of gendarmes, and the rumour, on the lips of a fellow citoyenne, that 17 people had been injured by a madman crashing his car into a mulled wine stall.

Getting home, and turning, as is my wont, first to the google news and the twitter, it is consistently reported that the number of people injured was in fact ten, four seriously, and one of whom, a woman, is on the critical list. The driver himself, "of European surname," and a Charantais (where his vehicle was also registered) apparently then tried to stab himself several times (between 2 and 11 depending on what you read), and is also seriously injured, though not critically.

 Various right wing commentators on Twitter were quick to spread rumours that the driver had shouted "Allah Akbar" as happened in Dijon the other day. (if you want to read it, try a Twitter search on #Nantes + Akbar; you will also quickly find the reason why the swivel-eyed are best ignored on-line). This sectarian provocation has been firmly denied by the Nantes Procureur (chief prosecutor) and the police. A full investigation is under way; a lone madman the dominant hypothesis.
("The madman didn't shout 'Allah akbar,' prosecutor confirms")

My thoughts, naturally, are with the injured. It certainly could have been us standing there having a glass of mulled wine before the film. Let us hope that all concerned, not least the driver, make a full recovery, so the lessons can be learned. And it certainly could have been worse: those poor Glaswegians! My condolences.

A former doctor writes: if you issue random humans with personal armoured vehicles, this kind of thing will happen from time to time. Making it harder to acquire, and easier to lose, a licence to drive a motor vehicle (cf. commercial pilots) would probably reduce the lamentable toll of death and injury on the roads. It would be unsurprising if this character's psychiatric case record turns out to have been many inches thick. Should he even have been at the wheel of vehicle that works by exploding petrol? That most useful of diagnostic instruments, the retrospectoscope, is evidently reading NO off the scale; but are the social structures in place to keep the wayward, the demented, and the blind, and those, bless them, who are heading that way, off the road? Evidently they are lacking. And all that before even considering the place of the "essential car user" in society. Which must remain a topic for another day.

Update 15:15h, 24/12/14: According to this Liberation article, the driver responsible had little history with the psychiatric services or police. One of the victims, a 25 year old man, has died of his injuries.

Update 13:03h, 17/7/16. The accused is reported to have hanged himself in Nantes' prison.

Update 17:56h, 17/7/16. The substantial planters placed at all the points of road ingress to the 2015 edition of Nantes Christmas Market were a welcome security measure. Whether this would have been enough to stop a 19-tonne truck remains an open question.

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