15 March 2018
Continentals in ditch.
By Chin Chin
“Bonjour, mon Cousin.”
“Bonjour, mon vieux croissant,” then kissing noises as ‘la bise’ is delivered over the receiver. No, no, not a French kiss in that sense, telephone receivers taste disgusting anyway, but the formal double kiss exchanged between French males of the same family. Anyway, that is what I had expected because Louis de Menton is from the French branch of my family, the ones who were left behind in France when my philandering ancestor escaped to England after seducing La Belle Epoque back in 1914. Charming young lady she was too, unless, of course, my ancestor paid a particularly high fee to the portrait painter.
Anyway, there was no kissing over the line this time. Louis was clearly in a rage and if telephone lines carried spittle I would have had a wet ear. “Perfide!” he kept shouting “Perfide! You ‘ave betrayed us!” What on earth had I done? I had no book of his that I had failed to return. The Christmas stilton which I had sent to his family was of the best quality. I was sure I had thanked him for that case of wine. Yet here he was raging and spitting like a lunatic.
“But Louis,” I objected, when he was out of breath for a moment, “how have I upset you?”
“It is not you, personally, mon cousin, but your pays horrible. Your Queen, your Parliament, your people, even your maison de seigneurs (Louis is very conscious of the “de” in his name). You are all working against us. Traitres, traitres, traitres!”
Well, at least I hadn’t done anything personally, but what had gone wrong? Then it came to me. English sparkling wines are now better than most champagnes. What is more, there is no limit on the amount of wine you can make in Kent. Piff, bang, the Champagne market is sur les rochers. So much for French cultural identity. They will only be left with garlic and snails. I tried to say something consoling about the increase in the number of restaurants serving escargot in North London, but it didn’t do the trick. Louis continued to mutter “Perfide” and “traitres.” Clearly it was something else which was upsetting him.
“Mais le balance, le balance.” He was almost crying now. “Le dessert, le dessert.” It seemed that some sort of desertion was taking place and it wasn’t just me, but the Queen, Parliament, the people of Britain and the House of Lords, who were all doing it together. It could only be Brexit. And then it all came out. Throughout history. Britain has held the balance in Europe between the Germanic tribes and the French, preventing either side from dominating too much. We had fought against Germany in two world wars, it was true, but we hadn’t hesitated to pitch into France when they had the upper hand. When Louis XIV had become too powerful, we had sent Marlborough to save the Austrians at Blenheim. Napoleon’s plans may have been wrecked by his invasion of Russia, but he had also been worn down by Nelson’s destruction of his fleet and Wellington’s campaigning in Spain. Generally speaking, when a European power needed taking down a peg or two it was the role of Britain to do it. Indeed, it was our duty. In their view, it was what we were there for.
And now, with the Germans turning the EU from a vehicle for the projection of French power (remember the theory that the president of the Commission should always be a Frenchman?) into a German financial scam, a device for selling German goods while breaking the rest of Europe through the exchange rate, what were we British doing about it? Were we fighting them in the Council Chambers, in the fields and on the beaches? Were we’re standing shoulder to shoulder with our French colleagues? Were we even putting a cautionary hand on the German arm and pointing out what they were doing to the southern states wasn’t ze cricket? No, we were looking to our own selfish preferences and walking away from our brothers, just as Halifax and Neville Chamberlain would have had us do in 1939, leaving them to their fate. What was the point of our building two enormous aircraft carriers if we weren’t going to use them?
To be honest I was a little embarrassed. You see, there is a kernel of truth in it. Read the British press on Brexit and see how much concern there is about the continental citizens who we are leaving naked before the icy blast of German commercial aggression. Macron may be popular now but he will be Macron Glacé once those cold winds have wrapped around him.
“Well?” asked Louis, when I confessed that perhaps we had been a tad thoughtless, “what are you going to do about it?” He has had slightly exaggerated view of my political position since I told him that I had been appointed chairman of the Little Wittering Conservative Party and left out the words “Little Wittering”. I thought hard. I am not often asked to intervene in international negotiations, but I knew that in return for changing our policy on the EU something big should be asked.
“You remember those lands which used to belong to the Plantagenets?” I asked. He did, and, indeed, it seemed to us both to be an appropriate price. I replaced the receiver to the sound of the double kiss which had come down the line.
Now, to do my part. “Memo to the Little Wittering Conservative Party executive…”