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Monday, 24 July 2017


French written paper. Q: Fill in the missing accents
As Britain lurches through geographical, financial and cultural suicide more Brits ponder the future. Typically farmers ("You didn't imagine the UK would match EU subsidies, did you?) and pensioners ("You were lucky to live when you did. It's logical to penalise your good luck so  you may die in poverty.")

These days I need to speak something other than English. Cometh the holiday, cometh the opportunity. Normally we've avoided France in July - August but this year that would have deprived Zach of two weeks' crucial schooling. Because France is crowded in mid-summer it is now sensible to book our diversions, especially restaurants.

I go to France because I like showing off and speaking French there. I make no apologies, if you've got it, flaunt it. Yes, yes, it's an outmoded skill and soon it won't mean a damn. But while it does... Beyond, there'll be just an urnful of ashes.

Booking French restaurants by telephone is another matter. The vocabulary's simple enough but there's always the unexpected, a bank holiday or some such. The trick is to get a joke in; the person taking the call relaxes and what's exchanged becomes a conversation instead of a transaction.

Recently I booked a beach restaurant which impressed us last year. "A table far away from the kitchen and out of the sun," I insisted. The guy misunderstood: "Close to the sun?" he asked incredulously. "Far from the sun," I said briskly. "I know the system. Late arrivals get roasted." He roared with laughter and switched to English. I said I'd wasted my time speaking French. "No, no, monsieur speaks good French."

Balm to my remoaning soul. Usually in short supply.


  1. Geographical suicide - on top of all the Brexit stupidity our Lake District national park has been granted World Heritage status. Predictions are for even more, many thousands, of visitors, to a region with insufficient accommodation to cater for present requirements, roads with nose to nose traffic all year round, and parking problems beyond solution. Every week in the Westmorland Gazette there will be one or more articles describing plans "to attract more visitors to the Lake District."

    Whatever happens on your holiday I am sure you will not be denied the pleasure of employing your linguistic skills. "Have a good one" as the base jumpers say to each other as they leap from a four hundred foot building.

  2. That sounds lovely--particularly having a good mastery of French!

    Sir Hugh's comment sounds sad. Of course, next weekend here is Baseball Hall of Fame weekend. In the past two decades, we have gone from having an early town of literary and arts interest (Opera, Fenimore Museum etc.) and the BHF, all in a rural area, to a situation where Dreams Park (baseball for kids) incursion has despoiled the countryside with little rental cabins and tourist hangouts and so on. Happens fast.

  3. Sir Hugh: Ah yes, but wasn't the even bigger mistake going there to live? So that you might always be cheek by jowl with the region's corruption? It used to be called dog-in-the-manger, a phrase that appears to have gone out of fashion. The belief that immediately after you moved in the drawbridge would not only be magically raised but that many of the existing residents would strangely die off, never to be replaced, leaving you with a deserted fifties Wainwrightian paradise in which to wander and to enjoy cream teas at fifties prices.

    After all the Lake District wasn't given World Heritage status in error. If the promotion means anything the LD deserves it, it is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Also, to be retired and live there, you are divorced from those who must live there and must needs earn a living.

    Alas, I can afford to be smug. Herefordshire also is a beautiful area and lies adjacent to mid-Wales which is even more beautiful. But no one in metrocentric south-east England realises this. They confuse the county with Hertfordshire uneasily eroded by the M25 and who the Hell wants to go rock-climbing in Letchworth Garden City?

    The Knoydart peninsula awaits you and your tent. Amazingly France absorbs 60m tourists a year and yet one may still get lost there, even with satnav. And to be among the crowds in Cologne at the Christmas market is life-affirming; where being together, as implied in the Ode To Joy, is proof that one may rejoice in the presence of others. Others who seem content to be part of the EU.

    Marly: My fluency in French is not only partial, at best, but misunderstood by Anglos who don't speak it at all. Typified by a family who stood enviously by our table at a rundown caff in Paimpol, watching me stuff down forkfuls of stuffed cabbage (the sort of family dish that is, alas, becoming rarer in France) and saying piteously "We would have liked that but there was a mix-up and they gave us something else."

    To the French I announce: "I cannot speak idiomatic French but I can communicate in French." I said something like that when I entered the caff, thanked them for offering this rarity, suggesting I would have hacked my way with machete through a wall of tourists to eat there. Inevitably I was treated with the sort of interest usually extended to chocolate-box children and the pleasingly eccentric. My subjunctives were dubious but my enthusiasm was unmistakable.

    I am horribly sorry you are, in effect, bearing the incidental brunt of one of my great pleasures. I love baseball and have bored much of middle-class USA with my lectures on the subject. Cooperstown celebrates the sport's heroes and they are my heroes. Come to tranquil Hereford and I'll play you a little Elgar, we'll discuss Murder in Clehonger, the worst whodunnit ever, written by a man of the cloth and based on a nondescript village three miles away. Stand in my study and you'll see Hereford cathedral where Putta was the first bishop in 676, but only until 688. Then you'll find it in you to forgive baseball and its trespassers.

  4. Two of my three children have worked at The Baseball Hall of Fame, so I should not complain! And the boys aren't as uncontrolled as they were when the Dreams Park first opened...

    Well, I had French in high school and in Paris was continually astonished than anyone understood anything I said. Or that I remembered anything at all! Amazing how you can get by on little. I had a list of 50 Spanish phrases when I went to South America, and managed to do okay with that. Crazy. Did the same in Cambodia and Thailand. As long as I started with polite greetings, people seemed happy to let me fumble around. The world can be kind, despite its various and serious unkindnesses. Now I need to learn a few words of Japanese....

  5. Marly: Perhaps charm (a quality none of us dare admit to) had something to do with your reception in Paris. After all, you compel me, and others, to want to read your written stuff; it's not entirely fanciful that the same may apply to your conversation.

    And here's a point imperfect French speakers never understand: we may be embarrassed by what we utter but it's never as bad as we imagine on the receiving end. Think how entertained we are listening to English spoken with a heavy French accent and littered with "amusing" errors.

  6. You have me figured quite incorrectly. I deliberately chose my present abode because it was NOT in the Lake District based on the perceptions I expressed above, and also, unlike Grange-over-Sands for instance I am well placed for travel in all directions with a ten minute drive to the M6 and a railway station within walking distance of home. In the seventeen years I have lived here I have visited other places many many more times than the Lake District.

  7. Sir Hugh: Sorry about the gap. I was incommunicado during the holiday and then the lightning stomach bug (vomiting, diarrhoea, internal sensations of cold) struck. I stand corrected in detail but not in spirit. By moving closer to the LD you ensured more visits there. The comparative figures about other more frequent visits (To the Albion? To the loo?) are irrelevant.