WHY WE’RE NOT BLOODY MOVING TO BLOODY FRANCE
or “In the Chunnel, arguing with the missus”
Buggers, bankrupts, cheated heirs
Clutching bogus railway shares;
Bigamists and syphilitics,
Traitors, wastrels, literary critics;
Mortified, a lord departing
For in the royal presence farting;
And tortured folk who liked to try on
Women’s clothes, and Wilde and Byron –
Escaping bracing common sense
To exquisite irrelevance,
Howsoever they’ve offended
Punished with a life suspended.
“Je t’aime,” declares their rented friend,
But how they grieved to leave Mile End!
Cabbies in a Queensway queue
Call politely, “After you!”
In dented vans at Hyde Park Gate
Builders smile, benignly wait.
Between its scheduled stops a bus
Picks up passengers without a fuss,
And Lycra’d cyclists say they’re proud
To only go where it’s allowed.
With shaven heads, tattoos and scars,
Robbers racing stolen cars
Brake amid their getaway
To cry out, “You first, sir. I beg you, pray.”
Such kindness Londoners display!
But most of all an oath of silence
Sworn on every driver’s licence
Guarantees their holders know
A motor horn is just for show.
But zut alors,
Hear those Paris klaxons roar.
In fancy sashes, pince-nez glasses,
Cummerbunded bow-tied asses,
Prodding peevishly a phrase
At the Académie Française,
Prolong their tongue’s post-mortem rigor.
Mine is strong on mongrel vigour.
Left the French with nothing to do
Except to perfect the vinaigrette,
While we had an empire on which the sun never set.
Pretty Paris saved her skin
Letting Adolf slide right in.
Pardon therefore London town,
Bruised as a boxer who would not lie down.
And This is Us if We Did Bloody Move…
Snobs who snub the British poor,
To Breton peasants we declare, ‘Bonjour,’
Daily at our costly hovel
Which they rebuild – while I attempt a novel.
For we’re convinced my talent stands no chance
In chilly Britain: but instead, in France,
In some far corner of a foreign field
Surely my sulking Muse will smile and yield.
In turn, our builders think we’re great
For paying them in cash at rosbif rate.
But that’s not why they’re working at the double:
Instead they know our house is built on rubble,
Rubbish, rot, in the town’s old landfill site.
No wonder – half in greed, half fright –
They work so fast: forget a firm foundation,
This building’s base provides its transportation
To move it through the view we both adore
On trash from Monoprix and crap from Carrefour,
Dooming our dwelling to be mixed with
The very vista we’re transfixed with.
One morning while they race to tile our pool,
I dredge up dregs of French from school
To say, ‘Amis! Tomorrow when our projet ends,
Je hope that nous will still be friends,’
And slap their backs, half shy, half hearty,
And ask them to our opening poolside party.
‘Mais oui!’ they cry, but with a smirk
That shows they only value us for work:
That and your beauty – for with what furtive glances
They dream and pray and weigh their chances
Of demonstrating what ‘le vrai France’ is:
For all have known those British Madame Bovarys,
Maddened by empty hours and itchy ovaries,
Who notice that a no-doubt charming view
Can hardly qualify as things to do,
And that – of wine and sun and heat and dust –
Boredom’s most of all the fount of lust.
As for your spouse – that sorry figure,
Whose every word provokes a sneer or snigger,
At home perhaps a so-so sort of okay male
Is here bewildered, creeping, feeble, pale,
And still forgets the French for “roofing nail”.
Thus humbled, I renew my story – a
Wild romantic phantasmagoria
Of art and thought around a passionate affair
Between a writer (British, debonair)
And some bucolic buxom Breton cutie.
Oh, how I love to annotate her beauty –
Her dimples, derriere, deportment, dress
Described to near-adulterous excess.
At one fence only does my fancy fall –
The woman has no character at all.
(For how could I evoke a love
Whose life and lingo I know nothing of?
My paltry talent could as well design a
Village beauty in the wilds of China.)
What ruby lips so ripe for kissing!
What personality entirely missing!
Except for this: an appetite
To hear her lover’s wisdom, wit, insight –
For tirelessly I drone for endless pages
With well-worn thoughts on loving through the ages
While the poor shadow’s conversation
Confines itself to admiration:
“Oh mon amour, so wise, so kind, and so
Wise and kind, and oh, so, oh! – ”
For at this point the beau she so admires
Inflames her with insatiable desires.
No girl was ever sweeter, neater, wetter:
No wretch like me, of course, could ever get her –
For though such Breton belles be ne’er so many,
British scribblers here are ten a penny.
Then you, inflamed by some young navvys’ torso,
His t-shirt tight, his trousers more so,
Appear beside me with that snack for codgers –
My milky tea and (rationed) jammy dodgers –
As, with a hurried button-push,
I quit my scribbles with a guilty blush.
Thus, at our poolside do in gloomy chats,
Trapped with a pack of sad-sack Brit expats,
We flee our dreams but see our all-too-real fate –
What malice, moaning, melanomas wait!
See where the husbands clump, already stewed,
In one undifferentiated lump to wolf our food
(For, monolingual to the end,
French comestibles are all they comprehend),
Airing their only source of conversation –
The wisdom of their Gallic relocation,
For clearly such disruption and expense
Demands its own proportionate defence:
Bureaucracy, banlieues, a brutal mistral breeze,
A smug sommelier, unpleasant peasant, wines with anti-freeze
Seem almost charming in the feckless Frogs;
Benighted Blighty, though, is “going to the dogs”.
Their dried-up wives, meanwhile, with thirty summers
Shrivelled here, detest newcomers.
It’s true they hate their men likewise,
Resent the French, and tourists too despise,
But understandably their chief disdain
Is used on fools whose move repeats their pain –
So constantly through rat-trap mouths they sneer,
‘Doubtless your local friends will soon appear.’
Indeed our builders, bladdered, land at last at ten –
And drink what’s left, and reel away again,
For even these mechanicals refused
To hear the tongue of Moliere so abused
By us appalling Anglo-Saxons,
Our skin like lepers’, and our voice like klaxons.
And from that night, with curdling hope
You in increasing irritation mope
Around the house (both kiln and fridge)
Or blankly gaze at ridge on empty ridge –
A vista once so dear to us
(Though surely growing yet more near to us)
And note around the house, disaster
Writ in proliferating fissures down the plaster,
While I in turn observe my still-born tale
From blatant lack of talent turning stale.
In desperation, in a cheap café
I plug the laptop in and sit all day,
Fiddling with fonts, the screen, the keyboard,
Bored, and double-bored, and over-bored, and re-bored.
The owner meanwhile thinks, “One thé. My power socket,”
Does the maths, suspects he’s out of pocket
And sweeps me out amid the Gittaine stubs.
“No problem,” you’d suppose, “there’s pubs.”
But no: this proud provincial town
By eight o’clock is all closed down.
Roaming the lonely streets I’m seized with fear:
Blocked in Britain, now I’m blocked out here.
I stand in darkness in the empty square:
I’ve failed in France, as first I failed back there.
But then the town clock strikes – and with it inspiration.
Of course! The problem with my novel is location.
That’s it. We’ve been away too long.
I’ve lost the lustre from my native tongue.
For surely, to compose convincing fiction,
A Brit must daily hear the British diction –
To write, he
Must have contact constantly with Blighty.
We pack within a day;
Within a week we’re on our way,
Aboard a budget airline taking wing
The house for rent, for sale, for anything;
Within a fortnight at an arty party
I stammer out, half shy, half hearty,
‘Yes, really – such tremendous luck –
That move abroad to finish off the book.’
A fellow guest attends, looks thoughtful, he’s
Felt just the same. He frowns, agrees,
Hesitates, then says, ‘You know,
In England, always, somehow, one’s so…’
The deal is done, no time to waste,
For fools that follow fools proceed in haste,
An endless witless cycle treading round,
For fools to follow fools indeed abound
And chase that futile fakery, The New –
Tarnished when touched, a bride at once untrue,
Whose status symbols join the status quo
Like thrilling summits stretched to dull plateaux.
And hence my settled stance:
I will not countenance,
For all its vaunted elegance,
Insouciance, romance –
Any bloody move to bloody France.