Cover of Molesworth (Penguin Modern Classics)I used to have the Molesworth books...the tales of a small boy's survival amidst the perils of his prep school in the 1950s, written by Geoffrey Willans - spelling mistakes intentional - and illustrated by Ronald Searle.
Goodness only knows at which point in my life I parted company with them...I suspect the intervention of a third party with light tastes and lighter fingers.....but their memory lingers still and is often aroused when observing the current scene.
Molesworth is a realist, not deceived by image.....as witness his views on grandmothers...
'Grandmothers are all very strikt and they all sa the same thing as they smile swetely over their gin and orange.
It is a grandmother's privilege to spoil their grandchildren... GET OFF THAT SOFA NIGEL YOU WILL BRAKE IT.'
Or on the concept of social change...
'This meant the Rise of the People and the People hav gone on rising ever since like yeast until you kno where they are now hapy and prosperous you ask them when the television programme is over.'
His antithesis is Basil Fotherington - Thomas 'uterly wet and a sissy', who lives in a cottage called 'swete lavender' and skips about saying 'Hullo clouds, hullo sky.'
When it comes to books, blogs, television programmes and newspaper articles about living in France, the Fotherington - Thomas view prevails.
People have come to France for clouds, sky and skipping about and that's what they are determined to portray...to others and to themselves.
The way they wax lyrical - even about croissants - you would think that they had just clawed themselves and family from the worst horrors of Manchester in the time of Engels and arrive to kiss the soil of France exclaiming
'For loe, the winter is past, the raine is ouer and gone.
The flowers appeare on the earth, the time of singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.'
To which the Molesworth tendency reply
A chiz being a 'swiz or a swindle, as any ful kno.'
I came to France to save money...more than twenty years ago....based on a swift compare and contrast of costs in the U.K. and in France...based, at that moment, on property prices, access to a fax machine and the hindsight of many years of holidaying in the country.
Many Brits had landed up in France before me, seeking a cheaper way of life.....Emma Hamilton for one...but I had no intention of living in a British colony...not that they existed in my time outside of the Dordogne...for the upper middle classes...and the Cote d'Azur..for those who thought that they were just upper.
I could earn my living via a fax machine...I could reduce my outgoings dramatically by selling my house in England and buying one in France...and I thought I knew what I was getting into.
After all, I had been touring France for years...I read French well....I thought I understood the culture...
I had a lot of learning ahead of me.
Luckily, I had good teachers....Edith and Alice, Monsieur Untel, Madeleine and many others, at whose hands and hospitable tables I came to appreciate the realities of France.....why unions in France were nothing like unions in the U.K......how wasteful the health service system was.....how Mitterand's decentralisation of government was reinventing feudal barons....how wine was actually produced....why there was no justice for the average person....how everything came down to tax...and how much misery was disseminated by that most characteristic of French sins - jealousy.
I learned to play boules.
I enjoyed the village walks and the village picnics.
I joined...under duress...the amateur dramatic group.
I was taught which mushrooms to pick and where to find them.
I've even counted votes in a Presidential election.......probably illegally.
I went everywhere I was invited. I had a great time. And I learned a lot.
The chief lesson was that France is a one way society....those at the top keep the rest in their place....and woe betide the person who steps out of line.
No risk of that for the Fotherington - Thomases. They swallow the myths of France hook, line and sinker.
In my view, to keep on skipping after living in France for more than a few years, you have to be blind, deaf and deliberately obtuse.
Or concepts like liberty, equality and fraternity mean nothing more to you than words painted over the door of the mairie.
Or you live in a self contained immigrant circle where your contact with daily life in France is limited to going to the supermarket where the only French words you have to use are 'bonjour' and 'merci'.
But if the Fotherington - Thomases are happy like that, why should it bother me?
It bothers me because this view....the only view presented in the mainstream media...leads people to come to live in France with very little idea of what actually awaits them.....and some get into deep water.
At which point all the Fotherington - Thomases point the finger and jeer.
I am with Molesworth's brother, Molesworth Two.
'Reality is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder.'
So do the Fotherington - Thomases.
Thanks to Lo for picking up that I had muddled Searle and Scarfe.....I appreciate help like that!