1000 years of annoying the French…

28 02 2011

 

“We have been, we are and I trust we always will be, detested by the French.”

(The Duke of Wellington)

The above quote is pretty much the starting point for Stephen Clarke’s book, recently released in paperback, ‘1000 Years of Annoying the French.’

Clarke, best-selling author of the, laugh out loud, Merde novels (A Year in the Merde, Merde Actually, Merde Happens and Dial M for Merde) lives and works in Paris doing his best to maintain the Entente Cordiale, whilst gently poking fun at our neighbours across the so-called English Channel; a name provocatively used by the Brits, and a constant source of French annoyance!  

As Clarke suggests, “The English Channel may be only twenty miles wide, but it’s a thousand years deep,” and this well researched book takes a humorous look at how the love hate relationship between Britain and France has developed over the last 1000 years, largely due to two very different nationalistic versions of the same historical ‘facts’.

I’ve been chuckling away to myself, all weekend, at Stephen Clarke’s book which proved the perfect accompaniment to England’s 6 Nations rugby victory at Twickenham.  Following Le Crunch, retaining Le Grand Chelem title is no longer a possibility for Les Bleus but for England a first Grand Slam, since their World Cup winning year of 2003, is still very much in their sights.    

In attempting to light the blue touch-paper for Saturday’s showdown, French coach Marc Lièvremont’s comments about how much the English were disliked, not only by the French but our nearest and dearest Celtic neighbours too, merely served to save his English counterpart, Martin Johnson, the bother of a pre-match motivational team talk.

Lièvremont’s comments were an early indication that the French knew they were going to be up against it, which his final team selection merely served to underline. It was a fifteen designed to negate England’s perceived strengths rather than one that would liberate France to play to their usual game.      

During the first 40 minutes the French game plan succeeded to a large extent, they were in English faces hustling them out of their recent fluent style, forcing indecision and imprecision. But all square, 9-9 at the break, this developing England team showed it was able to rise to the challenge and move up a gear in the second half.

From the moment Northampton Saints full back Ben Foden breached the French defence (a latter-day King Hal, “Once more unto the breach dear friends…” ) diving over to touch down at the end of a fine attacking move, early in the second period, the French were always up against it and their eventual tormentor in chief was to be England replacement Johnny Wilkinson (remember him?)

Johnny, immortalised in English rugby folklore forever, by a certain World Cup winning drop goal (taken with his wrong foot, to use a round-ball parlance) against our Antipodean cousins (who also love us to bits!) has been plying his trade on la Côte d’Azur, with Toulon, for the past two seasons.

In fairness, the French rugby watching public have taken him to their hearts, even recently voting him sports personality of the year in a competition run by a south of France newspaper.

Johnny finished ahead of French home-grown footballing icons, Eric ‘Ooh Aagh’ Cantona (renowned for a flying karate kick at a Crystal Palace fan, writing deep and meaningful poetry about seagulls following a trawler and, more recently, coordinating a nationwide withdrawal of deposits from French banks – which failed miserably) and Zinedine Zidane (ZZ was last seen receiving his marching orders after head butting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final). Who said the French don’t have a certain je ne sais quoi?

Johnny is no longer, first choice for the England number 10 shirt (which says a lot for Toby Flood’s recent performances) but he is now the official England rugby security blanket, regularly coming on to steady the ship when the finishing line is in sight.

It must therefore have been pretty ‘gauling’ for the French to see their adopted Anglo-Saxon son trotting on to the pitch, a little earlier than usual on Saturday, immediately slotting a 48m penalty (taking him past All Black Dan Carter as the leading points scorer in international rugby with 1,190 points) and orchestrating an England second half performance, which prevented France from adding to their score.    

All that was left was for the English supporters to wave off Les Bleus with a cheery, time honoured, salute that allegedly has its origins with the Anglo-Saxon bowmen at Agincourt (actually Azincourt, according to Stephen Clarke – an earlier minor annoyance for the French).  

The last word, though, was with Marc Lièvremont, ‘Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’ A nice quote, pinched ironically, from that well-known Anglo-Saxon, Winston Churchill. C’est la vie!

If this post, seems un peu anti-French, I hope it is taken in the way it is intended. Actually, j’adore France, the French and their joie de vivre. I admire their rebellious nature and ability to prioritise so that work comes a distant second to good food, wine, women and song (well perhaps not good song – certainly not as far as Johnny Halliday goes), not to mention those extended lunch breaks and a surfeit of public holidays. And then there is that renowned Gallic sense of humour, particularly when it comes to choosing a president!        

Here’s to the next 1000 years annoying the French – santé!

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One response

1 03 2011
Gerry

Vive l’entente cordial!! Even I can see that the Slam is possible!

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