Island Life by David Slack


A tale of two Audreys

Inside every chubby Londoner there may well be a svelte and stylishly-dressed Parisian wanting to get out, but I have my doubts. You walk down the boulevard to Gare du Nord, you pick up your Eurostar tickets, and a couple of hours or so later you're in another world. They're stylish people, the French, and wherever you go next, the locals are going to suffer by comparison. We have been here for the weekend to see friends, family and war correspondents. I should apologise now to one or two people reading this who I didn't get a chance to call. We should have allowed more time. It's been nice here, but we're all pining for more French food, French style, French weather and another apartment as nice as the one we left behind. Tomorrow morning we will be back under the channel, picking up a car in Paris and heading south.

You go into a holiday with certain assumptions and they are inevitably awry. We thought it would be hard to persuade Mary-Margaret to endure long hours in museums or art galleries, but she has been enthusiastic. This should not be read as smug gloating. We have our moments over TV, food and choices of destinations, but it has been possible to do many of the things we had imagined might not be viable and that's been a pleasant surprise.

Inside every block of marble is a work of art just waiting for the right movement of hand and tool. We think it may be a bit like the Weetbix boxes Mary-Margaret and her friends have been lately raiding for All Black cards. I see one enthusiastic collector back home was so eager to find out what was inside he opened up a dozen boxes right there in Pak'n'Save. Another Tana. Another Tana. Another Tana. If we saw one marble statue of Diana and her dog, we saw a hundred. You chip away, you reveal the creation within. Another Diana and a dog. Another Diana and a dog.The Kiss? No just another Diana. That Rodin got lucky though; every piece a surprise. I have perhaps a hundred photos of The Kiss, if you would like one.

Photos, we have gigabytes of them. There are a few here, if you're interested. The lady with the cat said, as she watched the Tartan Army spend their four days in Paris drinking their way to the Scotland versus France qualifier for the 2008 European championship: how can they come all this way and just drink all day? We are mostly drinking a little in the evening. Also occasionally at lunch. You can feel inordinately content with the world after a couple of glasses of wine in a smoke-filled café. A good-looking young waiter comes to the table and charms our daughter, and we tell her she should consider marrying a Frenchman one day. On sober reflection, you wonder if fecklessness and infidelity is something you should wish upon her in her adult life.

She is learning about life on the streets of France and also in its apartments. In Montmartre there was a box collection of Audrey Hepburn movies. She embraced them all, interspersed with many screenings of Zathura and the execrable Mary-Kate and The Other One in Paris. She is entranced by Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her father is entranced by the reader of the evening news on 3, whose name is also Audrey. She has a singular talent for delivering news in the manner of a stylish waiter, that is to say: with a smile and good wishes, rather than following the pantomime cues suggested by the gravity or pathos (or absence thereof ) of the story. She is also, it has to be said, attractive. A friend tells me from home that broadcasting is still in some flux and that perhaps the solution would be to bring back Judy. I recommend Audrey.

Meanwhile, on the streets, life has its dismal dimensions. The hand goes out for money, sometimes with skill, sometimes with dejected resignation. The buskers on the Metro, of course, are not panhandling. They deserve, and probably earn, plenty from the violins and accordions that fill the carriages with music. You may recall a scene in Amelie where the panhandler tells her not to put money in his cup because it’s Sunday and he’s not working. There was a guy on our street who sat in the same sunny spot each day, Monday to Friday, with his little dog. His clothes were a little shabby, but by any measure of living rough, he was a yuppie. His face had a measure of mystery and a hint of the malign in it, but he was essentially cheery, and doing well. We were also accosted in les Halles by Romanians purporting to be mute and deaf and raising money for their school. I found a couple of coins, Karren chided me for falling for something so obvious. She was right. We saw them a few minutes later gathered and arguing amongst themselves with some vigour, untroubled by neither hearing nor speech difficulties. For truly bleak spectacles, though, down and out in London still makes the bleakest picture: grimy, desolate, resigned, hopeless. As I write this, the BBC is describing the first run on a bank in the UK (mortgages from Northern Rock to six times the value of your income) since the 19th century. You should see the cranes on the UK skyline. Time to get back on the train.

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