Sid Smith front page

 

 

 

 

 

WHY WE’RE NOT BLOODY MOVING TO BLOODY FRANCE

 

or “In the Chunnel, arguing with the missus”

 

  

 

Buggers, bankrupts, cheated heirs

Clutching bogus railway shares;

Bigamists and syphilitics,

Traitors, wastrels, literary critics;

Mortified, a lord departing

For in the royal presence farting;

And tortured folk who liked to try on

Women’s clothes, and Wilde and Byron –

Escaping bracing common sense

To exquisite irrelevance,

Howsoever they’ve offended

Punished with a life suspended.

  “Je t’aime,” declares their rented friend,

  But how they grieved to leave Mile End!

 

         **

 

Cabbies in a Queensway queue

Call politely, “After you!”

In dented vans at Hyde Park Gate

Builders smile, benignly wait.

Between its scheduled stops a bus

Picks up passengers without a fuss,

And Lycra’d cyclists say they’re proud

To only go where it’s allowed.

With shaven heads, tattoos and scars,

Robbers racing stolen cars

Brake amid their getaway

To cry out, “You first, sir. I beg you, pray.”

Such kindness Londoners display!

But most of all an oath of silence

Sworn on every driver’s licence

Guarantees their holders know

A motor horn is just for show.

   But zut alors,

   Hear those Paris klaxons roar.

 

         **

 

In fancy sashes, pince-nez glasses,

Cummerbunded bow-tied asses,

Prodding peevishly a phrase

At the Académie Française,

Prolong their tongue’s post-mortem rigor.

Mine is strong on mongrel vigour.

 

         **

 

Waterloo

Left the French with nothing to do

Except to perfect the vinaigrette,

While we had an empire on which the sun never set.

 

         **

 

Pretty Paris saved her skin

Letting Adolf slide right in.

Pardon therefore London town,

Bruised as a boxer who would not lie down.

 

         **

         

And This is Us if We Did Bloody Move…

 

Snobs who snub the British poor,

To Breton peasants we declare, ‘Bonjour,’            

Daily at our costly hovel

Which they rebuild – while I attempt a novel.

 

For we’re convinced my talent stands no chance

In chilly Britain: but instead, in France,

In some far corner of a foreign field

Surely my sulking Muse will smile and yield.

 

In turn, our builders think we’re great

For paying them in cash at rosbif rate.

But that’s not why they’re working at the double:

Instead they know our house is built on rubble,

 

Rubbish, rot, in the town’s old landfill site.

No wonder – half in greed, half fright –

They work so fast: forget a firm foundation,

This building’s base provides its transportation

 

To move it through the view we both adore

On trash from Monoprix and crap from Carrefour,

Dooming our dwelling to be mixed with       

The very vista we’re transfixed with.  

                                                

One morning while they race to tile our pool,

I dredge up dregs of French from school

To say, ‘Amis! Tomorrow when our projet ends,

Je hope that nous will still be friends,’

 

And slap their backs, half shy, half hearty,

And ask them to our opening poolside party.

Mais oui!’ they cry, but with a smirk

That shows they only value us for work:

 

That and your beauty – for with what furtive glances

They dream and pray and weigh their chances

Of demonstrating what “le vrai France  is:

 

For all have known those British Madame Bovarys,

Maddened by empty hours and itchy ovaries,        

Who notice that a no-doubt charming view   

Can hardly qualify as things to do,

And that – of wine and sun and heat and dust –

Boredom’s most of all the fount of lust.

 

As for your spouse – that sorry figure,

Whose every word provokes a sneer or snigger,

At home perhaps a so-so sort of okay male

Is here bewildered, creeping, feeble, pale,     

And still forgets the French for “roofing nail”.                 

 

Thus humbled, I renew my story – a  

Wild romantic phantasmagoria           

Of art and thought around a passionate affair

Between a writer (British, debonair)

 

And some bucolic buxom Breton cutie.

Oh, how I love to annotate her beauty –

Her dimples, derriere, deportment, dress      

Described to near-adulterous excess.   

 

At one fence only does my fancy fall –   

The woman has no character at all.          

(For how could I evoke a love

Whose life and lingo I know nothing of?

My paltry talent could as well design a   

Village beauty in the wilds of China.)  

 

What ruby lips so ripe for kissing!

What personality entirely missing!

Except for this: an appetite  

To hear her lover’s wisdom, wit, insight –

 

For tirelessly I drone for endless pages

With well-worn thoughts on loving through the ages         

While the poor shadow’s conversation

Confines itself to admiration:

 

“Oh mon amour, so wise, so kind, and so

Wise and kind, and oh, so, oh! – ”

For at this point the beau she so admires

Inflames her with insatiable desires.

 

No girl was ever sweeter, neater, wetter:                  

No wretch like me, of course, could ever get her –

For though such Breton belles be ne’er so many,   

British scribblers here are ten a penny.         

 

Then you, inflamed by some young navvys’ torso,

His t-shirt tight, his trousers more so,

Appear beside me with that snack for codgers –

My milky tea and (rationed) jammy dodgers –

As, with a hurried button-push,

I quit my scribbles with a guilty blush.

 

Thus, at our poolside do in gloomy chats,

Trapped with a pack of sad-sack Brit expats,         

We flee our dreams but see our all-too-real fate –  

What malice, moaning, melanomas wait!     

 

See where the husbands clump, already stewed,

In one undifferentiated lump to wolf our food   

(For, monolingual to the end,

French comestibles are all they comprehend),         

 

Airing their only source of conversation –

The wisdom of their Gallic relocation,

For clearly such disruption and expense

Demands its own proportionate defence:      

 

Bureaucracy, banlieues, a brutal mistral breeze,

A smug sommelier, unpleasant peasant, wines with anti-freeze

Seem almost charming in the feckless Frogs;

Benighted Blighty, though, is “going to the dogs”.

 

Their dried-up wives, meanwhile, with thirty summers

Shrivelled here, detest newcomers.

It’s true they hate their men likewise,

Resent the French, and tourists too despise,

 

But understandably their chief disdain

Is used on fools whose move repeats their pain –

So constantly through rat-trap mouths they sneer,

‘Doubtless your local friends will soon appear.’

 

Indeed our builders, bladdered, land at last at ten –

And drink what’s left, and reel away again,

For even these mechanicals refused

To hear the tongue of Moliere so abused

By us appalling Anglo-Saxons,

Our skin like lepers’, and our voice like klaxons.

 

And from that night, with curdling hope

You in increasing irritation mope

Around the house (both kiln and fridge)

Or blankly gaze at ridge on empty ridge –

 

A vista once so dear to us

(Though surely growing yet more near to us)

And note around the house, disaster

Writ in proliferating fissures down the plaster,

 

While I in turn observe my still-born tale     

From blatant lack of talent turning stale.

In desperation, in a cheap café           

I plug the laptop in and sit all day,

 

Fiddling with fonts, the screen, the keyboard,

Bored, and double-bored, and over-bored, and re-bored.

The owner meanwhile thinks, “Un thé. My power socket,”

Does the maths, suspects he’s out of pocket                   

 

And sweeps me out amid the Gittaine stubs.

“No problem,” you’d suppose, “there’s pubs.”

But no: this proud provincial town

By eight o’clock is all closed down.

 

Roaming the lonely streets I’m seized with fear:

Blocked in Britain, now I’m blocked out here.       

I stand in darkness in the empty square:

I’ve failed in France, as first I failed back there.

 

But then the town clock strikes – and with it inspiration.

Of course! The problem with my novel is location.

That’s it. We’ve been away too long.

I’ve lost the lustre from my native tongue.

 

For surely, to compose convincing fiction,

A Brit must daily hear the British diction –

To write, he

Must have contact constantly with Blighty.  

 

We pack within a day;

Within a week we’re on our way,

Aboard a budget airline taking wing

The house for rent, for sale, for anything;

 

Within a fortnight at an arty party

I stammer out, half shy, half hearty,

‘Yes, really – such tremendous luck –

That move abroad to finish off the book.’

 

A fellow guest attends, looks thoughtful, he’s

Felt just the same. He frowns, agrees,

Hesitates, then says, ‘You know,

In England, always, somehow, one’s so…’

 

The deal is done, no time to waste,

For fools that follow fools proceed in haste,

An endless witless cycle treading round,

For fools to follow fools indeed abound

 

And chase that futile fakery, The New –                         

Tarnished when touched, a bride at once untrue,                      

Whose status symbols join the status quo

Like thrilling summits stretched to dull plateaux.     

 

And hence my settled stance:

I will not countenance,                       

For all its vaunted elegance,

Insouciance, romance –

 

A bloody move to bloody France.     

 

 

 

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