Politicians the world over must be wishing they were French. This isn’t an obvious choice, but it would seem at the moment to be a popular one. No one normally wakes up one morning and wishes to be French. At least no one in England. Or Italy, for that matter.
No, not Greeks either, let alone the Spaniards or the Irish. The Dutch are too busy being happy to be themselves, the Scandis are too busy loving everyone equally.
As far as Europe is concerned, this leaves a few stragglers and the Germans. And we know how they feel. The rest of the world loves everything French, but I would hazard a guess that few and far between want to be French.
But politicians are a most peculiar species, and at times (most times) a rather confused one. Confused about their purpose, their ambition, their legacy, their fame or future fortune. Confused about the meaning of their lives. Confused even more because so many others depend on their confusion. I think we can somehow empathise: honestly, which of you would think for a moment to embark on such a journey?
In principle, the idea of having a vision for the bettering of your nation and having the intention to dedicate one’s work and effort towards achieving that goal is powerful and enticing. It gives one a real sense of purpose, direction and achievement; you can even make history.
But that is no longer what being a politician seems to be about. Very rapidly after the innocence and enthusiasm of youth wear off, the bitter realities set in. Being a politician is accepting you no longer have a life and you are not as much serving your people as sacrificing freedom, individuality, opinion, desire, originality, character and privacy.
To be a politician today is to give up your sense of self, to blend into the personality blandness that gets you elected. It is accepting that your family is part of a cruel and unforgiving reality show, broadcasting day and night to your country (and sometimes the world) some of your crudest details.
It is a show littered with traps and deception, surrounded by powerful mandarins who serve their own higher purposes, which often include bringing you down or humiliating you along the way.
This is, of course, all orchestrated, or at least enjoyed, by newspaper editors and their ghouls, who rehearse it for the baying crowd’s entertainment. Very Roman indeed. Only the most peculiar of creatures would subject themselves to this. Or the stupidest. Or, sadly for us, a blend of both.
And here the French wish comes into play. In the depths of despair that most politicians must find themselves in at some point (all points) of their political life, they may consider any option — including wishing they were French politicians. Thanks to the antics of the current king of France, the latest in a long line of lusty forebears, we are all reminded what a difference a little je ne sais quoi makes.
How our politicians wished they had some of that va-va-voom. That little frisson of untouchability. That soupçon of independence. Chapeau to you, François.
Ah, to be a French politician, to be the French president, quel plaisir. Bespectacled, balding and short-ish — or even tall, grand and austere — they have all dreamed of being elected into office. And once they have, out goes the wife — or at least in come the mistresses, in no way attracted to such unprepossessing men by the power of the Elysée Palace.
What bliss to have the press subservient and accepting of such arrangements! More than accepting: supporting or even helping through its muted acquiescence, code of silence and shuddering at anyone bold enough to mention it.
This is not only because, very cleverly, most written press has historically been indebted to state-influenced banking institutions, but also because most Frenchmen want to be François — either him or Nicolas, Jacques, the earlier François or Valéry: powerful, somewhat unattractive and very seductive, gallivanting, with a bit of Gainsbourg in them.
A maîtresse is a must for all French presidents — partly, probably, just because they can. While it couldn’t have gone lower, the Closer story, this breach of printed press tradition, has only raised his popularity. This break from the ranks by an upstart cheap magazine is his Toison d’Or. Closer is not just what he murmurs to aspiring Elysée Palace châtelaines, it is his Cheval de Bataille now. His Gloire.
Imagine this anywhere else, even in England. An unmarried prime minister with lovers a go-go; First Ladies revolving through the doors at Chequers; a bed permanently reserved at a local hospital for heartbroken courtesans; who knows who will show up for a state visit? No, over here and in most over theres, we seem to want someone who can at least contain his appetites.
But at least I know one person who would make a perfect leader under these circumstances: Prince Philip. He always has a eye for the ladies, and a good eye at that. It should finally make all those banquets a little less dour. And instead of the National Anthem, perhaps we would all sing: ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?’
Chilli, hazelnut, wheat, egg white and Sauvignon Blanc. That is my list. No, not the basic ingredients of a new cake my son Brando wants to bake, inspired as he is by watching The Great British Bake-Off. This is my Red List, my no-go area, taboo territory.
I’ve heard how dieting friends and aspirant supermodels have been ostracised from dinner parties because they’re just too difficult to cater for. I seem to be part of that list, but with no such excuses. Instead I did this willingly so as not to get ostracised from my own bedroom by Angel Wife on account of excessive bloating, burping and flatulence. How harsh.
I finally succumbed to this faddy, fluffy medical excuse to make money, mainly in the hope that the flatulence could be returned to its naughtily recreational status but also in the belief that a little more knowledge is never a bad idea. So I had a food intolerance test.
Just the name of it made me giggle: one look at me and you would know that I am food over-tolerant, not intolerant. Angel Wife and the twins know how intolerant I am about just about everything else: kids, noise, other humans in general with limited exceptions, bad food, worse wine, unkindness, stinginess, egotism, dilly-dalliness, Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney, international cricketers, Jack Russells. But not good food.
My blood was drawn and my blood cells were tested against 600 food items, to see which would live happily ever after, which would have a messy divorce (the Orange List) and which hated each other’s guts on sight (the Red List). My Red List was short but annoying; similarly, my Orange List was brief but bothersome, since now even Chardonnay is excluded.
This is all that Angel Wife has allowed me to see, as there is also a whole set of analysis from a hair sample (head only) which tells you loads of other things, none of which she seems to think I should be particularly concerned with.
This area may be more of an issue for other married men out there, as these are the results that would show signs of slow poisoning by cyanide or plutonium. I know my wife wouldn’t be that subtle if it came to it, so am happy not to know what is on there.
But back to my intolerance list. I must admit that not only was I reticent in the first instance, I was also concerned that once I became aware of the results I would become a bore, completely obsessed with them. But funnily enough, I don’t think I will ever be a waif, in body or spirit.
Like with so much else, information can be used or misused. I haven’t sold my collection of Montrachets but am certainly adding white Ermitage and Condrieu. I hadn’t had Nutella for a while and am exploring the tasteless realms of gluten-free food, encountering weird-looking people along the way. But I still loved my poached egg and fonduta the other night.
I am delighted I did the test. I navigate the list and don’t let it control me or become an obstacle to enjoying my food or life. On the contrary, I now have one more excuse not to go to certain dinners — and I am in Angel Wife’s bedroom to stay.