Of Satellite TV, Advertising, Barbecues, German supermarkets French Wine, Napoleon, British Bangers and the Metric System

I love my satellite TV – over 300 channels and I can still say (hand on heart) that there is nothing to watch of en evening. Take out the news channels, the plethora of religious channels, the shopping channels and TV reality channels – there isn’t much choice left, BUT, I do get British TV. I have a direct window on British news, views and contemporary culture . I can enjoy some excellent drama and also follow my favourite soap operas. Best of all, (and the best indicator of social and economic trends) I get all the ads –

British ads are so different from the French TV commercials. They are funnier, quirkier and far more professional than their French equivalents – There is nothing better tan the humble TV commercial to highlight the cultural divide between France and Britain.

On this, the hottest weekend of the year so far, when common sense would dictate that we all crawl under a stone rather than stand outside in the blazing sun, the good folks don my street are all firing up their barbecues. Midday was the sound of popping corks, as neighbours « unplugged » their rosé wine, and come early afternoon – following a long aperitif, the air was thick with the irresistible odour of sizzling meat.

I daresay this scene is being repeated across the Channel – everywhere in the UK is enjoying unseasonably warm weather – And on both sides of the water, there will be people crawling in to work tomorrow morning with hangovers and red raw flesh burned by the sun – Yes folks, never get too drunk on a hot day like today, and never snooze off in the sun for a drunken post BBQ nap.

Back at the commercial break, I am watching an ad for that German discount supermarket with an unpronounceable name – Lidl –

The ad is doing the hard sell on BBQ goodies. I am told that at Sainsbury’s supermarket, a good bottle of French Champagne will set me back £30, BUT for the same price at Lidl, I can get a second rate bottle of French fizz, a bottle of French white and French Rosé wine, several slices of Italian ham and a Moroccan cous cous, all for £29,95. Now I am not sure that the advertisers have actually understood what a cous cous really is, and they perhaps mean Taboulé – notwithstanding that’s quite a bit of food and booze for just under thirty quid and it’s all FRENCH – Oh thank you European Single Market. Oh thank you EU trade deals. Oh thank you EU. On this, the day before Britain sends a delegation to Brussels, to being Brexit negotiations. AH, all those European garden party goodies. How much will they cost after Brexit? Food for thought indeed. BUT if you are enjoying beer, burgers and sausages – yes they might be British bangers made at your local butcher’s, but they were made in regulation with EU-inspired food and hygiene norms. As for that beer, are you sure it isn’t a continental lager ? Perhaps from Belgium?

And that was a tenuous link into my next rant which takes you (dear reader) to Belgium) and the small village of Watterlot, known to the Brits as Waterloo.

Before we head to the site of the famous battle though, a quick final word on TV ads – you would never get that Lidl ad on French TV. Under national French TV regulations it is illegal to advertise alcohol on TV.

Off to Waterloo, which was a battle that gave its name to a London mainline train station and the 1974 Eurovision- winning ABBA song.

Napoleon cartoon wih more than a littlle hint of Mr Stallone

So the Brits named a station after a victory against Napoleon, well the French did the same – Austerlitz train station in Paris, named after old Bonaparte’s December 1805 victory over a Russian/Austrian army under the command of Czar Alexander 1st (Austerlitz is situated in the boundaries of the modern Czech republic)

Now we have a phrase in French –«  C’est son Waterloo » – meaning that it is a person’s last heroic but futile stand. Ironically (more Brexit) Britain begins Brexit negotiations tomorrow (Monday 19th June) in the Belgium capital of Brussels, just 30 kilometres from the battlefield of Waterloo. Will this be the British Waterloo – in the French sense ?

Napoleon – love him or hate him – left us a few daily reminders. He was the guy who introduced the metric system to France and eventually to Europe. I noticed this week, after the tragic events at Grenfell House in northwest London, all the journalists, fire fighters and assorted experts were giving their measurements in metres.

Back t the weather – on Sunday June 18th 1815 it was raining and the battlefield was heavy going for the cavalry. On Sunday June 18th, afternoon temperatures in my corner of France hit the 34°c mark. On the Friday night BBC London News bulletin, a very voluptuous lady informed viewers that Saturday temperatures would hit a 32°c high – no more Fahrenheit on the BBC, although wind speeds are still given in miles per hour.

Meanwhile back at the Lidl advert, the bottle sizes are being quoted in centilitres and the weights are in grammes and t is all for French wine. Perhaps Napoleon did win in the long run.

Okay – time to sign off and uncork a bottle of French Rosé. Later on, I’ll be having my Father’s day treat of a juicy Aberdeen Angus steak with good old Mc Cain oven chips made in the Netherlands.

Before I go, this Sunday is polling day in the second round of French parliamentary elections – this isn’t one to bet on, Emmanuel Macron’s « La République en Marche » party is set to wipe the board a forecast puts him at over 400 seats in the 570 seat French parliament. I can’t help thinking of a recently elected British prime minister who would love a similar majority – no snuggling up to the nasty Unionists.

Of course, voter turnout has been low, everyone here is too busy at the BBQ to go and vote.

Ok it is officially wine time.

Cheers

Anarchy in the UK or Is there Eurovision after Brexit?

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Bored of the Brexit? YES – wall-to-wall news coverage of nothing else for the last week., and of course, being a “token” Brit in my small town, conversation always inevitably turns to the Brexit. I have a bad case of Brexit fatigue – So, on a lighter, and perhaps final post on the subject – my Brexit top ten – my playlist for the great British Exit.

In at number one is that classic song by the Clash – “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” – Yes, this was very much a pre-referendum song. There is that line – “If I stay there will be trouble, If I go there will be double.” Now that Britain (or rather England) have decided to leave, there will possibly our troubles are more than double.

At number two, the Abba classic – “Waterloo” – winner of the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest which, that year, was held in the southern English seaside town of Brighton. For the record, during the referendum on June 23rd, Brighton voted 68% to remain in the European Union. I suppose in many ways, the EU Referendum result could be termed as a British Waterloo. In many ways, the lyrics are quite prophetic

At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender, Oh yeah

And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way

The history book on the shelf

Is always repeating itself.

For historical buffs, Napoleon, was defeated at Waterloo, in Belgium. Brussels is just over 14 kilometres from the small village of Waterloo, accessible by train from Brussels central station.

Number three – the Pink Floyd classic track, “Comfortably Numb” –though far from comfortable with the result, I was certainly numb, and now I can see Britain’s position in Europe as being no more than “a distant ship smoke on the horizon.”

Number four – I had to have some kind of trashy Euro AOR (Adult Orientated Rock) so, what better than the Swedish group Europe and their 1986 chart-topping, trashy Euro-metal song “The Final Countdown” ? Very fitting as we countdown to the day that Britain will finally leave the EU. I like the lyrics on this one.

We’re leaving together,

But still it’s farewell.

And maybe we’ll come back

To earth, who can tell?

I guess there is no one to blame

We’re leaving ground (leaving ground)

Will things ever be the same again?

Of course though, we are not leaving together, Britian is now, by all accounts, a very divided country.

At number five, still in the European AOR vein, the Scorpions and their 1984 hit– “Still Loving You”

I left school in July 1984 and I spent pretty much all my time from early July 84 to February 1985 in France. “Still Loving You” was the standard slow dance track played in every discotheque at the end of the evening. I lost count of how many French girls, I unsuccessfully tried to pick up whilst dancing to this.

This choice is not only for old times, but also for all those Brexiteers who secretly still hanker a little after Europe and perhaps regret voting to leave in the referendum. However the lyrics could also apply to our European partners if they begin to make overtures try to get Britain to stay.

If we go again all the way from the start

I would try to change the things that killed our love

Your pride has built a wall, so strong that I can’t get through

Is there really no chance to start once again?

I’m still loving you.

Away from European-style AOR, at number six, that great song by the Talking Heads, their first serious UK hit back in 1985 – “The Road to Nowhere” – which in my humble opinion is pretty much where the UK is headed at the moment.

There’s been a lot of European songs in this list for the moment, so in at number seven, that Britpop classic by Oasis, their 1995 song “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” Not brilliant in lyrical terms, but this is for all the 18 to 25s who voted in majority to stay in the EU. In futue years don’t look back in anger on the older generation who voted to leave the EU.

Glancing across the channel from my side, the mid-nineties always seemed to be good times for Britain – Cool Britannia and things of that ilk. It was in the nineties that the French very much adopted the Union Jack as a fashion accessory and whilst France was in the doldrums, the UK seemed to be a kind of promised land. These were the years when young French adults started to leave France in their thousands to go and live and work in the UK, because back then anything seemed possible in Britain. Now, I’m not so sure.

At number eight – a little Anglo-French cooperation with the Serge Gainsbourg classic “Je t’aime, moi non plus.” So, the lecherous old Serge originally wrote this back in 1967 for his “muse” of the time, Brigitte Bardot. It was finally released in 1969, with the sultry female lines sung by the new love in Serge’s life – Jane Birkin. This, long, languorous, hot and sticky, orgasmic number was of course banned by the BBC. Less shocking in this day and age, the song is still the finest consummation of Anglo-French musical relations. I guess the message here is love one another and get into bed with our European partners, though on a Brexit level it might also mean “F*** Europe” in all senses of the word.

Three choices for number nine – all Eurovison song contest winners.

“Save all your kisses for me” by the Brotherhood of Man1976 winner.

“Making your mind up” by Bucks Fizz1981 winner

“Love Shine a light,” by Katrina and the Waves1997 winner.

So, if and when Britian finally leaves pretty much every single European institution, will we still be allowed to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest, or will the UK place be finally taken by the Australians, who have been “invitied” to take part for the past two years?

A note on the songs – they all won Eurovison and consequently made the number one slot in the UK charts – this being back when Eurovision success guaranteed chart success.

“Save all your kisses” for me was a real toe tapping and cheesy Eurovison classic. “Making your mind up” in 1981 was just a little more raunchy and the 1997 entry was actually a real song from a real group, Katrina and the Waves, who had already enjoyed chart success back in 1987 with their singe “Walking on Sunshine” – a note for Eurovison buffs – producer, arranger and conductor for the 1997 entry was a certain Don Airey – former keyboard player with the Brtish rock band “Rainbow.”

On a personnal Europhile note, in the long hot summer of 1976, mum took us on a camping holiday in the Vendée in France. The UK Eurovison winner was played to death at the camspite’s twice weekly disco. In 1981, I was actually in France during the Eurovison song contest, on a French exchange, staying at my penpal’s house at Aix en Provence – this was long before Peter Mayall wrote about Provence, so long before Brits started to buy up vast tracts of the beautiful Provençal countryside. The Eurvision song contest came just a copule of weeks before François Mitterrand won the French presidential election and brought the French socialists into power for the first time sine the late 1950s – those of a rightward leaning political stance might say that this was when “la vieille France” died – I don’t agree, but this was certainly the point when Euro outlooks changed. In the UK we had arch Euro sceptic Maggie Thatcher and France opted for the very Europhile Mr Mitterrand, who in 1992 penned his signature on the Maastricht Treaty. By 1997, I was living permanently in France – this was the year that my teaching business went bankrupt, so for survival, I joined the French teaching profession – something made possible by the Maastricht Treaty which became fully enacted in 1994.

Well, I’ve actually got twelve songs in my top ten, which will probably stop at number nine, because if I have a tenth choice, then in numerical terms this will give me thirteen songs.

So, a last double choice for number ten. When Britain officially joined, Europe on January 1st 1973, the number one spot in the UK singles chart was held by a certain Jimmy Osmond and his spew-making melody “Long Haired Lover from Liverpool” – I won’t say that such a song was a bad omen, but joining any serious political organisation when such a song is at number one cannot be good. However naff it may have been, this was a popular song, and however naff the result of the UK’s recent referendum, it was achieved after a “popular” vote – proving I suppose that politicians should never really ask the people what they want because it will never be the result they themselves want? Britain joined the EU (or EEC) as it was then because the country was in the doldrums and virtually bankrupt. We wanted a slice of the prosperous life that our European counterparts on the Continent appeared to be enjoying. You could say that early seventies Britain was as naff as Jimmy Osmond.

Anyway, for my final, joint number ten choice (and bring us up to fourteen songs) that Sex Pistols wake up call “Anarchy in the UK”, that sounds as good today as it did back then. Of course back in 1975 no one really understood Punk, but I suppose no one really understands the implications of Brexit – I guess there is more than a little Anarchy In The UK at the moment.

And the songs from the list that I would seriously listen to (and do)

Clash

Sex Pistols

Oasis

Gainsbourg

Pink Floyd

Talkinh Heads

A Long Time Ago, In a Cinema Faraway …

From February 14th 1978 to December 27th 2015.

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, that is long enough away to be another place in space and time, there lived a teenage boy, who stood in a cinema queue for long enough that it seemed to be forever, to see a film that everyone wanted to see because they weren’t sure about tomorrow.

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We are Tuesday February 14th 1978 It is the second day of the winter half term school holiday. It is freezing and I am standing in an interminable queue with my friend Mark to get in and see Star Wars at our local cinema: the Odeon in Bromley. In 1978 Bromley is dull semi detached asteroid on the extreme suburban outer rim of southeast London. This might be 1978, but Bromley still looks and feels like 1958. We don’t even have a McDonald’s yet (that won’t arrive for at least another three years). A McDonald’s hamburger is a rare treat – the sort of thing your parents might buy you on a family Christmas shopping trip into central London.

On this day that I am queuing to see Star Wars … well, something very important has happened – the U.S technology company Texas Instruments have just patented the world’s first microchip, which will eventually change the world, though we didn’t know this at the time.

This is one of the non-days – just another drab day in life, and yes, despite the nostalgia for the seventies, this part of the decade was very drab, take music as an example. Tuesday was « chart day » that moment of the week when the British record industry released the official results of singles and album sales – for teenagers everywhere this was the day when you would find out who was at number one – SHOCK on 14th February 1978 – British Eurovision winning band, The Brotherhood of Man have been knocked off their chart topping spot – after four weeks at number one with their single « Figaro » they have been replaced by Swedish popsters, ABBA with their new hit song « Take a Chance on me ». Yes, music back then was as boring as life itself.

FigaroBrotherhood_of_ManTake_a_Chance_on_Me_(Abba_single)_coverart

Music, so important to us teenagers, but on February 14th 1978, there wasn’t much around for teenagers to get into – this was the year of Boney M (need I say more). Most of my mates who are « into » music are firmly into big brother bands – mates at school with 16 or 17 year-old brothers who are into Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones – and there were some great releases in 1978: « Who Are You » by Roger Daltrey and the lads, « Some Girls » by Mick and his mates. The late, great and short-lived Warren Zevon released « Excitable Boy » and later in the year we got the Police and their first offering « Outlandos d’amour » with the hit single « Roxanne ». February 1978 itself saw the release of the second Blondie album « Plastic Letters » and the single from the album « Denis » – notable for Debby Harry warbling one verse in broken French. Denis made it to number two in the UK charts, denied the top slot by a certain Kate Bush and her blockbusting hit  “Wuthering Heights.”

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KATE-BUSH-_-WUTHERING-HEIGHTS-SINGLE-SLEEVE

In film, life and teenage terms, Star Wars represented something really exciting. Up to then exciting films were – well there was always James Bond. In 1977 we got Roger Moore cavorting around with Barbara Bach (Mrs Ringo Starr) in « The Spy who loved me, » and in 1979, James Bond made it into space in « Moonraker » – certainly influenced by Star Wars, after a such an epic, the only place for 007 left to go was space.

Those other films around that I could get into as a thirteen year old kid: « Close Encounters of the Third Kind » – this one never really fired my imagination, you never see the aliens and there are no spacecraft zooming around like in Star Wars.  « Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo » – No thanks. « The Rescuers, » the 1977 autumn cum Christmas Disney offering featuring the adventures of two mice, Bernard and Bianca. « A Bridge Too Far » – the epic war film released in June 1977 retelling the story of the Operation Market Garden and Battle of Arnhem – I did see this. I’ve always enjoyed an epic war film and this was probably one of the last ever made on such a scale, featuring actors who had actually been alive in World war Two.

Into this dreary cinema landscape comes Star Wars – an epic galactic tale of good versus evil in a far away galaxy with some decent special effects – yeah there were friends of mine, true science fiction purists who didn’t like the film because it was billed as science fiction but wasn’t really. (By true Science Fiction purist I mean guys with asthma, spectacles and a full collection of Arthur C Clarke novels.)

Star Wars taught me two things

  • Unless it is a question of life itself, there is nothing in life worth queuing for.

  • Everyone will always have it better than you, especially when you are not there

So, there I am, a chubby 13 year old clad in a polyester tracksuit and a quilted nylon anorak, standing in a long queue with my friend Mark. The queue goes from outside the cinema, down the street, snakes its way round the block and comes back to the cinema. The results, those at the front of the queue are only a few yards away from those at the back of the queue. It is freezing. I have been here for three or four hours already, finally I give up, leave the line and get on the first bus home. Yes, I miss Star Wars. The following Saturday though (18th February) mum slips me ten pounds (a lot of money then) to catch the train into central London and go to see the film at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square – and I don’t stand in a long queue, I get in straight away and the cinema is half empty. I can honestly say that apart from buses, I have never queued for anything since February 14th 1978. If I can’t get the latest « must have » there and then, I will just wait or go without. Apart from the lengthy Star Wars queue, the worst incidents of standing in line for something wonderful, that I have witnessed was around 20 years ago in Leicester Square in central London – hundreds of people queuing up for a fistful of free chocolates from a famous Italian confectioner – how long will you physically stand for a few Ferrero Rocher ?????

And so for the next lesson learned « someone always has it better than you. » –

I leave the cinema queue but Mark stays and back at school on the Thursday morning, Mark is waxing lyrical about his galactic experience. Naturally as soon as I had left, he had befriended the family standing behind him, they had offered him cups of tea from the family thermos and kept him supplied in chocolate biscuits. When he finally made it into the cinema, he had a front row seat, and I suppose this is the story of my life, everyone always claims to have done it bigger and better. People have the ability of transforming everyday events into great adventures. Years after Star Wars, I used to hear the same crap from mothers standing around the school gate at 4pm to pick up their offspring – listening to their gushing I’d always get the impression that every kid in the school, apart from mine, was a genius. So, in this lesson learned – people will always say they have had it better than you, but nine times out of ten, they are just talking rubbish.

And so to the latest Star Wars – Sunday December 27th 2015. I turn up at the cinema ten minutes before. I have a pre-paid cut price ticket. There is no queue as « The Force Awakens » is being pumped out every hour on the hour in six of the cinemas at our local 12 screen multiplex. 37 years on, I don’t have to queue and the new film is just as good as the first one – I fall back into my early teenage years, though far less chubby and no polyester tracksuit.

I have to close this episode of my Star Wars saga with a few words on clothing. All of my mates wear jeans, but mum refuses to buy jeans, she claims they are working class garments for poor children – far better a hard wearing Marks and Spencer’s or C&A tracksuit – which mum never calls a tracksuit but stylish leisure wear », though wearing them is no fun because my mates always take the piss out of me when I wear one and I wear tracksuits so often that some friends have actually refused to go out with me if I turn up wearing a tracksuit. Oh dear. I’m afraid tat is all I have in my wardrobe at the age of 13. At 50, I still boast a tracksuit, I wear it for gardening, painting and putting out the bins.