France has become a giant self-pitying museum   Leave a comment

This once-great country now cuts a diminished, slightly pathetic figure – but at least it’s still a nice place to retire

The death of Europe, said André Malraux, with one of those broad verbal flourishes that French intellectuals find so attractive, is the central fact of our time. But was the novelist correct? Not really, Monsieur. People still come to our continent in their millions, to live, work and play, and they will be coming a hundred years from now.

What one can say, however, is that the decline of France is the central fact of modern European history. Outranked politically by Germany, culturally by England, and economically by both, Marianne cuts a diminished, slightly pathetic figure. French food is getting better everywhere, except France. Good news for us but not such good news for a proud people whose best and brightest are leaving in droves.

Croissant thief on the loose in France  Photo: Alamy

French wine, of course, remains unmatched – at least, their finest wines are. And their films are still very good. Much better than ours. But can you name a living novelist, poet, dramatist, artist or composer of exceptional merit? Pierre Boulez, did I hear? Cold, cold, cold. As for popular music, these are the people who gave us that shadow of a shadow, Johnny Hallyday.

Admittedly, the history of the past 500 years or so reveals the French to be the greatest all-rounders. In the arts and sciences they have traditionally been the highest achievers. They are also world champions when it comes to self-regard. “France has liberated herself,” Charles De Gaulle told cheering Parisians in 1944. Ah yes, we remember it well.

A visitor looks at photographs of former British prime minister Winston Churchill and French General Charles De Gaulle  displayed as part of the 'Churchill - De Gaulle' exhibitionPhotographs of Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle  Photo: EPA

But the symbol of modern France, as thousands of British tourists will find out during this holiday month, is of gendarmes looking the other way. Not on the Italian border, where their reputation for ruthlessness survives. But in Calais their officers of the law have behaved like descendants of the men who allowed the Prussians to march into Paris in 1870 and proclaim the German Empire in the Palace of Mirrors at Versailles.

Much, far too much, is made of that blessed Revolution. And what blessings, pray, did it bestow? The Terror, Napoleon imperial rule that plunged Europe into darkness, the restoration of the monarchy, the Paris Commune, and the humiliations of 1870 and 1940. Algeria didn’t turn out very well either.

It’s a history of action followed by violent reaction, which makes for instability and immaturity. Listen to their rugby fans hooting disapproval when France lose. There’s something despicable in that sound, self-pity competing for the high ground with vanity.

More than 300,000 French men and women have passed judgment on Hollande’s socialist paradise. They prefer to live in Britain instead. The cruellest blow of all. It is true that at least as many British people choose to live in France. Not to work, mind. Not usually. They go to enjoy the benefits of a beautiful country with a glorious future behind it. France: the world’s most appealing museum.

The finest voice of them all

Mr Trelawny was arrested by immigration officials on ThursdayA triumph of enunciation  Photo: BBC

It has been a so-so Proms season thus far. The Beethoven piano concerti with Leif Ove Andsnes were marvellous, and the Halle’s Elgar 2 was memorable. But there have been some ordinary evenings marred by silly applause between movements. Orchestral works are conceived as a whole, not in chunks. Tepid applause in the wrong place diminishes the effect .

One thing has stood out: Petroc Trelawny. The Radio 3 presenter has the finest voice in broadcasting. It is not just that every word is clearly enunciated in good English. It is that every inflection helps the listener to understand the sentence. There are no daft pauses or faulty stresses on the wrong words or syllables. Nor does Trelawny feel the need to talk for the sake of talking, unlike Tom “Waffles” Service, who also has the unfortunate habit of referring to a building called the Royal Alber’ Ho’.

Can’t the BBC put him in charge of their speech unit? An hour with him and Fiona Bruce, the highest-profile offender, might be a new woman. He could even have a go at Robert Peston, although he might have his work cut out there.

Books that bring a little sunshine

Summer readin’, had me such fun, as Miss Newton John didn’t sing. But summer, it appears, is not for having fun when it comes to books; rather, for literary showing-off. Plenty of folk will carry a worthy tome or two on to the beach, to stretch themselves, and some may even read them. A word of advice: save Doctor Faustus for a rainy day, and approved lists are best avoided.

UK Number One singles Top 40«Tell me more, tell me more – did you get very far?» «Ooh, no, I gave up at about Chapter 12»  Photo: REX FEATURES

Having said that, the Booker Prize long list has one wonderful book, Lila by Marilynne Robinson – but it is not a read for the beach. Far better to stick with the thriller writer Eric Ambler and George MacDonald Fraser of Flashman fame.

And, should you come across the novels of Robert Edric, dive in. The Yorkshireman has been writing books for nearly 30 years, and they are very fine indeed, despite the kind of acclaim that attends others eluding him. Don’t be put off by his low public profile. Start with his last novel, Sanctuary, which sees the Brontë household through the eyes of the wayward brother. Then work backwards. Book for book, he is the most readable of modern English writers.

Greatness beckons, Joe

Joe Root has scored 642 runs this year

Joy at Trent Bridge, where the cherubic Joe Root has again shown what an outstanding young cricketer he is. In the opinion of his fellow Sheffielder Michael Vaughan, Root could become England’s greatest ever batsman.

Here are two names for you, Michael – Hobbs and Hammond. Two more – Hutton and Compton. Two more – May and Gooch. There was another good ’un more recently. Vaughan, he was called.

He may be right, though. Root is already what Ken Tynan called “a high definition performer” – and, even better, he’s a bona fide Englishman. As they say up north: this lad can laik a bit.



Posted Αύγουστος 8, 2015 by msofcrete in Uncategorized


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