Wednesday 13 February 2013

La Gloire de mon père

As I remarked to the French Ambassador yesterday evening, name-dropping rarely gets you anywhere, and anyway, where was he hiding the Ferrero Rocher? All in perfect French of course. He had the good grace not to throw me out, but the pyramids of flunky-borne chocolates never materialised, a searing disappointment on what was otherwise an exemplary and very enjoyable evening in West London. There were some fab chocolatey mini desserts, and whilst it was tempting to utter the odd under-my-breath "echellente" [sic], their non-pyramidal presentation was a real block to what would have been a hilarious joke. Hilarious only for me obviously. You can probably tell I don't get invited to Ambassadors' parties very often..... Or any parties in fact.

You may or may not know that I am a huge francophile. I lived there as a child, I worked there as a teenager, I "studied" there as a young adult (believe me, the inverted commas are sooooo necessary), and now as a middle-aged adult with kids I go to Disneyland there, which is essentially the pinnacle of french culture. I also like to stuff myself with cheese that is made there, and 95% of the wine I drink is made there. As, of course, is 100% of the Champagne that I bathe in. So it was a pleasure to receive an invitation from Son Excellence l'Ambassadeur de France au Royaume Uni de Grande Bretagne et d'Irlande du Nord (Bernard to his mates) to an investiture ceremony for services to the expansion of French culture. Despite the amount of wine I drink, that only contributes to the expansion of my waist, thus I was not the one getting invested.

Non. It was in fact mon Père, to whom (and Maman) I owe my love of France. He was being promoted from a rank and file Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques to a full Commandeur. With a medal and everything. Children rarely know what Daddy does. When I leave the house in the morning, for many years now I have always said I'm going out to earn money for toys (lenses count as toys....). and this mantra is now chanted at me as I leave every day. But of course they have no idea what I actually do, though they do see camera lenses littered around the house and presumably put two and two together. Yes, that's right, I am a fluorite machinist for Canon. Anyhow, like many children I confess to actually knowing very little about what my father does. I mean, I know where he works at the moment, and I could probably tell you most places he has worked in the past. But what he has actually done? Aucune idée. Well, as of yesterday, all that changed. Monsieur l'Ambassadeur, perhaps as an alternative to really spoiling us, gave a run down of my dad's career from about 1968 onwards. It was like something out of This is Your Life, except at the end he got a purple medal rather than a red book. I have to admit I was impressed, filial pride welled up inside me. I thought he just waffled on about French Art and Literature (which to be fair, he probably does), but it seems he has done a great deal more. I discovered this morning that just like Lady Gaga he even has a Wikipedia entry. Who knew? Although after last night it is now out of date. Chevalier, pah!

The actual moment of investiture. Note the Gendarme behind, employed for his expert cushion-holding and knot-tying. Note also the air of gravitas and decorum that my mother is lending to the whole affair. To be fair, you had to have been there in the five seconds preceding this photograph. I have no idea if she is now Madame Commandeur - we can only hope, and I may call her that anyway!
I doubt very much whether I will ever have a Wikipedia entry. A recurring theme last night, faced with various Cambridge people who hadn't seen me for years, including one who could only remember me in a pushchair in 1975, was what did I do? Stacked up against what my father has done, I have very little to say. I guess it is rare that the children of academics follow in their parents' footsteps - my sister is in finance too. So I told people I worked in a bank, including the Ambassador. Being rather well-connected, he happened to know two of my "colleagues". One was the Vice-chairman, the other the global head of Investment Banking. I guess we mix in different circles, his somewhat loftier than mine, although he has promised come birding in Wanstead, followed by attending the next birders drinks at the pub in Hornchuch that poisons people.

Not really.

I guess it's lucky this event coincided with my return to full-time employment; although in my mind perfectly valid, had I replied that I was a house husband and domestic Goddess it may have caused even the highly-polished Ambassador to stumble, if only momentarily. As it was, amongst all these high-fliers, leaders in their fields, I was able to talk eloquently about my role in the wonderful and mercenary world of international finance. A CBE though, or whatever the equivalent is, is going to be a long time coming.

The Résidence de France is in that posh cordoned-off street that runs between Kensington and Notting Hill, and is rather fabulous. It most closely ressembles stepping into a museum, but without all the velvet ropes surrounding the furniture, and with impeccably smart French people everywhere. My first act upon entering this high-class establishment was to spill my dad's cousin's tomato juice all over the floor whilst he attempted to kiss Mrs L and I attempted to kiss his wife. This gave the highly-decorated and shiny Gendarme who was stood in the corner something to do, which was fetch a flunky with a sponge who made light work of it. Very slick. After that, it remained only to accept any and all Champagne that was offered, make polite conversation, and listen to my father's life history and his acceptance speech, both in French naturally, and containing references that caused vague recollections of books studied in yesteryear to mysteriously surface. Groupe de Médan anyone?

We left clutching a book about the French Residence in London, showcasing the various rooms and all the priceless artwork in them, discovering on the tube that we had been in the Salon Jaune, a very lovely room as you can see in the photo above. This has led to the immediate renaming of the "Middle Room" in Chateau L to the "Salon Orange avec dirty handprints". It is an excellent book, and I have already found two gems within it. The first is a photo of the library, where on the desk is a framed photo of the Résidence burning to the ground in 1990. A splendid touch! The second is found in a description of the Dining Room, which is "dominated by a large full-length, three-quarter portrait of Louis XIV displaying a nicely-turned calf". It is indeed pure perfection, and all I can say is that the art of turning one's shapely calf has gone well and truly downhill since the 1700s.

So, that was my evening. Compared to sitting around correcting whites in photoshop and then blogging about it, it made a very pleasant change. And free Champagne is always to be welcomed. I must do it more often.


  1. I was at the Portuguese Embassy a couple of weeks ago. There were no Ferrero Rocher there either. Very poor. Anyone would think these people never watched TV in the 80s.

  2. You must be Proud Jonathon, they don't dish them out willy nilly. Chapeau a ton pere.