France in the merde
Are you a francophile? Do you wax lyrical about everything French? Are you one of those Brits who jumps across the channel at any given moment, even if it’s only to re-stock the drinks cabinet?
Well, I have to confess to sharing some of that. I wouldn’t go so far as to ‘wax lyrical’, but the French do many things well, and most things at least tolerably well. As a cyclist, for instance, I can vouch for the exceedingly high quality of their roads. Even small country lanes are delightfully smooth and pot-hole free.
But not everything is perfect. One day, in Pleine Fougeres, we arrived with our tandem in the car, parked in a very pleasant and convenient car park in the centre of this small town, and proceeded to decant the tandem and assemble it. Our plan was to cycle out to Le Mont St Michel.
Suddenly, Jenny pointed out that I might have trodden in some dog ‘merde’. I checked, and sure enough, I had put both my feet in it. And they weren’t just a couple of dried up, past-their-sell-by-date, type of dog turds……they were voluminous and freshly baked! I was, naturally, appalled.
So I decided to re-park the car, only to discover that every parking space sported equally large (and seemingly fresh) dog deposits, on both sides of the car, placed strategically so that the unwary driver and passenger getting out of their car, will joyously put ‘foot in the turd’ unwittingly. I had to admire the local planning on this. Some one had done their sums……. It was a dastardly plan to keep British tandemists at bay.
So my ‘revenge’ was to go home and read Stephen Clarke’s A year in the merde and Merde actually. Both books transparently autobiographical, but written as fiction with Paul West as the self-serving, sex-seeking, French-bashing hero. The first book was inspired by the exceeding amount of dog ‘merde’ he encountered on the streets of Paris, but turned into an account of all the metaphorical ‘merde’ he met with settling into the French way of life. And the title of his second book manifestly betrays the similarity of the story with the film Love actually.
Neither book would ever feature, even on a long list, for a major book prize, and Paul West’s relentless pursuit of sex without ties becomes repetitive and even boring, but his prose would never tax the reading powers of the average literate reader. You can read his books in a couple of days.