Raising One’s Spirits

The above flyer dropped through our letterbox on Wednesday and is just another illustration of the superiority of the French health system over that of the UK. Professor Bobohera’s services include mending broken relationships, curing impotence, and the lifting of evil spells. He can also ensure success in exams and financial investments. Apparently, he operates on a ‘payments on results’ basis, which should serve as an example to some of the Harley Street scoundrels I’ve had to deal with in the past. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is that results can be achieved by post, on provision of a photo and a stamped addressed envelope.

Flyers like this show the admirable proactive nature of the French system. When I lived in Paris, one would occasionally come across similar specialists, usually clad in colourful national costume, handing them out, outside Metro stations in the 20th arrondissement. I wish Professor Bobohera every success. If I ever meet him, he will no doubt be amused when I tell him that he bears a very strong resemblance to Monsieur Abubakar who, until recently, sold spare parts for vacuum cleaners in the Saturday Notre-Dame market.

***

One positive aspect of the current enforced inactivity is that I am on track with my fifty-books-a-year challenge. In January I’ve read Inside Story by Martin Amis, The Last Word, a collection of short stories by Graham Greene, On Seamus Heaney by Roy Foster, and Equal Danger by Leonardo Sciascia (a story of political corruption in Sicily). I’ve just started re-reading Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd, which I first read when it came out in 1987. It’s a good start, but I’m not deluding myself. The crunch will come if and when the current restrictions ease and we are able to get out and about more. For the time being, though, reading is a welcome escape from day-to-day reality.

One other book I’ve read in January is The Correct Order of Biscuits by Adam Sharp. I feel that this doesn’t really count, because I read it on my Kindle and it only took thirty minutes from beginning to end. It consists of a set of lists compiled by Mr Sharp, which, admittedly, makes it sound pretty dull. In fact it is hilarious. Like Mr Sharp, I am a bit of a list-obsessive (I even make lists of lists of things to do), but he is the James Joyce of list-making and brings it to a completely different level.

Here is one of my favourites:

The best ‘be quiet’ phrases I’ve heard around the world:

5. Shut your pie hole. (English)

4. Save your breath to cool your porridge. (Scots)

3. Shut your fountain. (Russian)

2. Close your beak. (Spanish)

1. If you don’t shut up, I’ll climb into your mouth and shit myself. (Hungarian)

***

Alan Clark, the Tory politician and diarist (and, according to his wife, ‘an S, H, one, T’), was also a historian. His first book was The Donkeys, a history of the British Expeditionary Force’s campaigns at the beginning of the First World War. Clark was strongly critical of several of the generals involved in the heavy loss of life that occurred. He took his title from the phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’, which has been widely used to compare British soldiers with their commanders. The book was well received at the time, but its accuracy has since been questioned, and it has come in for considerable criticism for its one-sidedness.

I mention this because, while casting around on the internet, I came across the following. It is a page from a 1956 edition of Owl Pie, the British Army Staff College Magazine, and outlines the fate of thirty-two members of the 1896 college intake – most of whom would have taken part in the First World War. It’s not for me to decide whether they were donkeys or not, but I imagine a conversation over a drink with the last man on the list might have been interesting.

***

After weeks of rumours that a new, more severe lockdown was in the offing, with every option, including the removal of our belts and shoelaces, being considered, Friday night’s announcement was something of a soggy soufflé.

In a televised broadcast, Prime Minister Castex said that, from Sunday (today), all non-food shopping centres larger than 20,000 square metres will close. There will also be a ban on all travel in and out of France from outside the EU, and all arrivals into France from within the EU must present a negative Covid test (previously this rule had only applied to arrivals by air and sea). The protocol on home-working will be reinforced so that everyone who can work from home does so, and the police will be stepping up checks on curfew compliance and cracking down on illegal parties and restaurant-opening. Monsieur Castex added, ‘The question of another lockdown is legitimately raised in view of the latest data. We want to do everything we can to avoid another lockdown. The coming days will be decisive. Let’s be very vigilant.’

For most of us, this means very little change for now, apart from making travel to and from the UK even less feasible. The threat of a complete lockdown is clearly still there, and there are many who think it would have been more sensible to go with that option right now, on the basis that the sooner it starts, the sooner it will be over. It’s difficult to avoid the sense that there is an element of fudging in the current government tactics. Coupled with the recent row over the supply of vaccines, this has not been the best of weeks, politically, for either France or the EU in general.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

The French for window-shopping is faire du lèche-vitrine, or ‘window-licking’.

After the battle of Waterloo, the Marquess of Anglesey had his leg amputated. It was buried with full military honours in a nearby garden.

Areodjarekput is an Inuit word meaning ‘to exchange wives for a few days only’.

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