Several times yesterday, I was asked the question: 'What do you think of the results from the first round of the presidential election?' I am more than usually cautious when broaching the topic of French politics, especially since, as I have noted before on this blog, the French operate on the basis of the truism: 'He who is not my friend is necessarily my enemy'. For a nation that declares itself devoted to freedom and egalitarianism, the French people are more than usually hidebound by the spirit of the closed shop.
Still, all day I fumbled in a kind of mental stuffiness to find the right words to express my feelings on the matter, until, finally, a long dim memory stirred itself into life and these words of Hilaire Belloc came back to me like a breath of fresh air:
The accursed power which stands on privilege,
And goes with champagne and women and bridge
Broke! And democracy resumed her reign,
Which goes with bridge and women and champagne.
Now that Le Pen has had to hang up his pantomimic villain's outfit, the attempt is being made to force it over Sarkozy's head. Segolene's various recent gaffs, on the other hand, have cast her in the role of clown. So, here we go for Round Two on 6th May:
Buttons versus Wicked Stepmother
Cor, that almost makes me feel interested in the outcome. I'm not saying who is who.
On to far more important matters. Yesterday was the Feast of Saint George, and also the birthday and anniversary of the death - yes, he was born and he died on the same date - of William Shakespeare. In a way, I'm rather pleased nobody mentioned it. I'm especially glad nobody dragged it into the commercial filth like Saint Patrick's, although when I commented to the manager of Jonny's Kitchen that his failure to mark Saint George had been noted in the House - J'sK (or should that be J'sK's? Ah, those gerund nouns, Humphreys!) being directly opposite a church of that name, for goodness sakes - he winced at me with the pained realisation of a grocer who has missed a marketing opportunity.
Still, the best way to celebrate it is not to demand that it be dragged down to the level of the shop shelf, but rather to let it rise in sweet song beyond the corrosive embarrassment of a rational nation currently gripped by the battle between Buttons and the Wicked Stepmother. They say video killed the radio star, and my betting is that newspaper killed the para-liturgical song. So, yesterday after supper, filling my glass with French beer, thinking of Henry V and smiling into the sapphire sky of a most unusually hot April evening, I hummed to myself these lines from the pen of who else but Chesterton:
St George he was for England,
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail,
It isn't safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.
St George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon's meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn't give him beans.
St George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn't safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.