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Dinizulu

As already mentioned, I have found some old newspapers in my attic, when we bought our crumbling house. I am trying to read them to try to understand how the British are thinking, and so far it has given me a rather useful insight in how to understand the locals. That said, I am getting worried that I will never get there. Whenever I think that I have progressed, something happens to prove me wrong. Lastly, it was a passenger on my flight back assuming that I was a tourist going to London for the Royal Wedding. So much for being almost British…
Anyway, today I am taking you back to Saturday, May the 4th, 1889. There is a whole paragraph on the “Zulu Sentences” “It cannot be said that the tribunal which tried Dinizulu and the other Zulu chiefs tempered justice with mercy. They were arraigned and convicted on the serious charge of high treason, and no doubt there were technically guilty of that crime (I like this expression “technically guilty”). But matters had drifted into such a chaotic and misty condition in Zululand that these poor savages ( it says it all, doesn’t it?) might well doubt whether they owed allegiance to Queen Victoria. They probably had a hazy idea to that effect, but not to the extent of conceiving that their levying war against Usibepu could be construed as high treason…” I have to admit that I knew nothing about this, so I had to look it up. Zululand was a monarchy in Southern Africa. Dinizulu was the son and contested successor of King Cetywayo. He turned to the British for some help to be recognised as the new king  but, as they did nothing, he took matters into his own hands and fought them, hiring mercenaries. He was sent to St Helena- the same island as Napoleon- for seven years of exile, starting in 1890. Zululand is now a province of South Africa. Who knew?
There is also a long section on “A Hospital For The Insane” : ”The London County Council has appointed a Committee ( you have to remember that England is the country of Committees -they have a committee for everything here-, so I am not that surprised) to inquire into and to report to the Council upon the advantages which might be expected from the establishment, as a complement to the existing asylum system. The Report of the Committee will be awaited with much interest by all who devote attention to this most painful subject. It may be thought that the existing asylums do all that can be done ; but this is extremely doubtful….That insanity, on its physical side, is simply a disease of the brain, all the authorities agree; but the causes of the disease may be so complicated or so subtle as to be far beyond the reach of science. We have no right however to assume, that this is the case.” You see, that’s what I love about this country. They are not as judgmental as the French. In France, it remains a shame to suffer from a mental illness and until the early 1900’s patients were chained in mental hospitals. You have got to love the openness of the Brits here.
There is also a refreshing, politically incorrect account of the progress of the Paris Exhibition : “The British Section is well ahead amongst the foreign departments, the United States, Russia, and Italy are rather behindhand, and Spain is almost empty.” You have got to love the British humility here.
And this week, we have a few ads of soap, as if there was an obsession about hygiene. I especially like this one:
“A Fair Beautiful Skin -Sulpholine ( what an odd name!) Soap gives the natural tint and peach-like bloom of a perfect complexion. by washing with Sulpholine Soap the skin becomes spotless, soft, clear, smooth, supple, healthy and comfortable.”
And, finally, I love this one:
” Electricity is life
Pulvermacher’s
World-Famed
Galvanic belts
For the Cure of Nervous diseases
Have received testimonials from
Three physicians to
Her majesty the Queen,
The academie de medecine of Paris, and
Forty members of the Royal College of Physicians of London”
Next week will be my last post on my old newspapers, I hope that you have enjoyed it!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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It is freezing, it is empty apart from the tourists and the journalists. There is an helicopter above Westminster to cover the Royal Wedding -it is making an awful lot of noise- and people are camping out of Westminster Abbey. The Royal Wedding is simply everywhere, and even mentioned on the oddest places (look at the scaffolding : cute, isn’t it?). In short, it is London.

I am back, and not sure where I belong any more. I don’t think I am French any longer, and even with a British passport, let’s face it, I will never be truly British- I got a stark reminder of this on the plane: this guy asked me whether I was going to London for the Royal Wedding. It seems that I will always look like a tourist.
The truth is that I am happy to be back for the following reasons:
1.    I can now have a decent coffee in the morning. I love it;
2.    Chocolate croissants are great (and no, it is not like pains au chocolat);
3.    My home is clean and tidy;
4.    I can have a massage -in France, we don’t have this massage culture…
5.    Tomorrow is a day off – thanks to this Royal Wedding…just for this, I wish them well!

And let’s admit it: I have more fun here. This morning for instance we saw a Europcar van full of policemen -I should have taken a picture. The police had to rent additional vans to beef up the security of this Royal wedding…funny, isn’t it? This is happening in London and nowhere else (I never saw policemen in a rented Europcar van before. Have you?)

This helicopter is driving me mad. I hope that it won’t stay all night. Coming back feels a bit weird too. Especially with this wedding. It is simply impossible to escape and I don’t believe in fairytales any more. Let’s see how tomorrow goes. As much as I deny it, I can’t wait to see the dress. And in my humble opinion, she badly needs a haircut! Watch this space…

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I will soon be back in town, and life in the French Riviera is becoming a tad boring. On top of this, my Mum’s house is a complete mess and I can’t say or do anything about it because she would be upset. Anyway, all is not bleak : my husband has managed to find some time in his busy schedule and is spending the Easter week-end with us. Actually, he is catching up with sleep as I write. But let’s not complain: he didn’t forget to bring with him a copy of “The Illustrated London News” , which is good. For those of you who don’t know, I found some old newspapers in my attic, when we were renovating our house in London, and I am trying to read them in the hope that it will help me to understand the British…
Today, we are Saturday, March the 19th, 1898. On the front page, there is a huge illustration of the Queen’s visit to the Riviera ” Her Majesty’s departure from Nice railway station for Cimiez”. Well, it looks like I am in the right place. Lucky me.
But my joy is short-lived. The newspapers is full of good, old fashioned generalisations and judgemental comments.
1.    Against the French
“Why are Frenchmen so unwilling to quit their native country and spread themselves as pioneers over unoccupied parts of the earth, like the English? A French writer ( no name is given of course) mournfully confesses that it is the fault of French mothers. They are adorable women; they inspire the life-long attachment of their children….English prejudice is fond of attributing to the French a lack of moral fibre; but it is the very ardour of the domestic virtues which disqualifies most Frenchmen for the labours of colonisation.”
2. Against the Germans
“Mr. Forbes-Robertson, who is playing Hamlet in Germany, has discovered that Shakspere (that’s how it is written)is a German author. The critics have judged his performance not only from the standpoint of German dramatic art, but also through the refined and lucid medium of the German language. Shakspere in English is unsatisfactory to German ears accustomed to his wood-notes wild in their native Teutonic. It is, perhaps, the most singular delusion of English egotism to suppose that Shakspere was an Englishmen, whereas it is well known to all educated Germans that he was born at Postdam, and that his dramas, which are occasionally seen on the London stage, are played in a corrupt English translation.”
3. Against female nurses
“The hospital nurse is more intent upon flirtation than upon healing.”
4. Against Korea, “that singular and sequestered country”
5. Against people in general
“Great number of people travel by the Underground. It makes you wonder where in the world they all come from.”
It made me wonder something else: why do people in general and British in particular have this need to prove that they are and know better? It is not new: it was already the case more than 110 years ago apparently. Why do we have this need to comment and judge? Is it because it makes us feel better? Probably. The sense of belonging to a group of like-minded people is powerful. It is as if we belong to some sort of elite. It is also because the group may have followed the same education, the same initiation rites. There is a long section, in today’s newspapers, about “whipping boys”. The section starts as follows:
 “When Dr. Markham asked George III how he wished his son educated, “like the sons of any private English gentleman ,” his Majesty replied. “if they deserve it, let them be flogged; do as you used to do at Westminster .”
Maybe, when you are a private English gentleman, this sense of belonging to the same group is extremely strong ( courtesy of extensive flogging during childhood) and somehow gives you the right to believe that you are superior to the whole world. Maybe. Well, I believe that it is high time to be more open minded!
And finally, a couple of nice ads:
-” harlene”, the great hair producer and restorer. The finest dressing. Specially prepared and perfumed. Fragrant & Refreshing. Is a luxury and a necessity to every modern toilet.”
-“asthma cure” Grimault’s Indian cigarettes. Difficulty in expectoration, asthma, nervous cough, catarrh, sleeplessness and oppression immediately relieved by these cigarettes”
See you next week!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am spending some time in France, with my two daughters and my (dysfunctional) family. My parents are divorced and haven’t talked for the best part of 20 years, which means that I have to spend some time with each of them separately. Having a driving license is obviously a must to make the shuttle and also to hear each of them badmouthing about the other (in a subtle way, they are clever).  Lovely.  But something deeper is happening to me. I think that I have just fallen out of love with France.

In France, you see, we have good state schools (entirely free, even the pens and the books…). If you decide to go private, you are not going to pay for the teachers, just the additional management/discipline. But everybody thinks that it is REALLY expensive (we are talking about €100 a month here).  So what do French do? They complain. Too many children in a class, you see. Private schools are so expensive that it is unfair (I think that I understood the meaning of expensive when I moved to London).
Healthcare is fantastic.  When you see the local equivalent of your GP, you will have a full examination (blood pressure, weight, height, chit chat to check that you are not depressed…), and your GP will usually give you a long prescription for each symptom. You will have to pay 23 € for the privilege and you will get reimbursed something like 21€ (which means that it will cost you the cost of a cappuccino if you don’t have a private health insurance). And French have the right medication for everything. My grandfather was suffering from a heavy shoulder (I think that he must go to his GP at least once a week just for the company. Or maybe he fancies the secretary, he has always liked beautiful women). His GP gave him something that, apparently, worked. Everything courtesy of the French healthcare system. My father thought that I was a bit tired and wanted to take me to the doctor (maybe for some blood analysis). I thanked him for the advice and am feeling perfectly fine after a good night of sleep. He was shocked. It must be tough to see that I am a big girl now, but here we are.
These are only a couple of examples. The list is long. Childcare is a lot cheaper than the UK. Universities cost less than €300 a year…and so on, and so forth.
But despite all this, the French are not happy. They are moaning all the time. Life is tough, you see. When I asked why the extreme right was so popular over here, I really got some aggressive responses: where the hell have you been (in London, actually)? Can’t you see that it is really going downhill (no I can’t)? In short, I have come to the conclusion that the French have MORE than the British, but for some unknown reason they are LESS happy (my thinking seems to be corroborated by the fact that the prescriptions for anti-depressants have rocketed this side of the Channel). How weird!
And now, I have a confession. I have received my UK Permanent Residence. This means that, provided that I pass my Citizenship exam, I can have a British passport in a year.  Will I take it? Am I British enough? I honestly don’t know. But watch this space…
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am so behind that it sometimes frightens me. OK, here we go:
40blogSpot has received:
–           the Kreative Blog award, from Working LondonMummy (alias Nazima);
–           the Versatile Blog award from Jenn at Serendipiditylibrary
On top of this, 40blogSpot has been nominated for the MAD blog awards (Best Writer) and has been mentioned as “something different” by Mummyattheschoolgate (which I find a very nice compliment ).
Where to start: First of all Thank You, Thank You, Thank You…I find it really funny that I get more support from fellow bloggers all around the world rather than my family, friends and colleagues.
The rules are:
1.       I need to pass on the Kreative Blog Award to 10 blogs, notify them and tell you 10 things about me that you don’t already know;
2.       I need to pass on the Versatile Blog Award to 7 blogs, notify them and tell you 7 things about me that you don’t already know.
OK, here we go. For the Kreative Blog Award, here are the winners:
1.       Isabelle and her funny stories about life in London as an actress http://isabellegregson.blogspot.com/
2.       Cathy, the advanced writer. Her writing is simply breathtaking… http://cathykozak.com/
3.       Jenn, from Serenpiditylibrary  http://serendipityslibrary.blogspot.com/
4.       DathaiC, or the adventures of an Irish expat in England http://daithaic.blogspot.com/
5.       Kenya’s stories about LA and sleep deprivation: watch this space, one day Kenya will be a very famous writer. You should also check out her book, Depth Of Focus, simply a gem. I will write a more detailed review eventually. But remember: you saw it here first! http://kenyadwilliamson.blogspot.com/
6.       My Self Care Blog http://myselfcareblog.blogspot.com/
7.       Mummy And The Beastie http://mummyandthebeastie.blogspot.com
8.       Valerie at Life 4 me by me. http://life4mebyme.blogspot.com/
9.       The Accidental Londoner. Being an accidental Sloane Square mum, I can only like this blog: http://theaccidentallondoner.blogspot.com
10.   And, last but not least, Janine’s beautiful photos and stories: http://reflectionsfromaredhead.com/

And for the Versatile Blog Award, here are the winners:
1.       Nazima, or the WorkingLondonMummy, http://www.workinglondonmummy.com/
2.       Mummyattheschoolgate. I especially like the story with her au-pair!!! Hilarious (and so British – I hope I am not offending you!!!) Check it out! http://mummyattheschoolgate.blogspot.com
3.       Crankymonkeys in London, at http://crankymonkeys.com/blog
4.       The expert blogging of geek mummy http://www.geekmummy.com/
6.       Deborah’s life about life in Provence   http://deborah-lawrenson.blogspot.com/2011/04/wisteria-and-shutters.html
7.       Yankee Texan Mum: http://yankeeturnedtexan.blogspot.com/
I have decided to bend the rules and instead of telling you things about me that you don’t already know, I am going to reply to the Guardian Q&A. This is also because I am really, really behind and I was tagged by Mummy And The beastie to do it anyway, so here we go:
Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Must other bloggers say that it is their Mum. Well, I am coming from a dysfunctional family, so I have to think laterally here. I will have to say that it is my Grandmother’s Grandmother (that would me my great great grandmother I think), because she bought and kept a piece of land that I am now using for my business. Thank you and well done for following your instincts!
When were you happiest?
I think that it was the first time I went to Venice with my then boyfriend, now husband. I felt like I was flying!
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Learning to drive and smashing my parents’ car in front of them. They still mention it today.
Aside from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
I would have to be the setting up of my business. I had to talk to bankers, lawyers, accountants. Scary stuff!! That said, I have never looked back…
What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t really like things. I tend to prefer people. If really pushed, it would be a neckless I bought in Rajasthan. Sentimental value rather than anything else.
Where would you like to live?
I would like to live in Bali and never to have to work again!
What’s your favourite smell?
I like the smell of the earth when the rain starts. It is as if it was breathing.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
I am a very normal person, I am not sure that anyone would want to play me. If I had a choice, I would like Juliette Binoche to play me.
What do you owe your parents?
They taught me discipline, hard work and resilience.
What is your favourite book?
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. I don’t know why, I just love it.
What is your most unappealing habit?
I touch my hair and my nose when I am bored or stressed.
What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
I don’t really like fancy dresses (I know, I am a killjoy).
What is your earliest memory?
Running in the Marseille zoo with my mother following me.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Chocolate, junk food and tiramisu.
To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
I would like to say sorry to all the people I have offended by being too direct. That’s just who I am.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My husband and daughters without a doubt.
What does love feel like?
Having projects together, and wanting to build something.
What was the best kiss of your life?
My daughters’ first kiss.  A dream come true…
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I am not sure”
What is the worst job you’ve done?
Working in a can factory in Germany when I was 17. I had to work in shift and everybody was drunk during the night.
If you could change one thing from your past, what would you change?
I would have learned to speak English at a much younger age!
What is the closest you’ve come to death?
I was on the Tube, in London, on 7th of July 2005. It was my second or third day back, after my maternity leave.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having two beautiful & intelligent daughters!
When did you last cry, and why?
I am a serial weeper. I cry all the time. I probably cried last time I was watching a cheesy movie on the TV!
How do you relax?
With a book, reading in the sun if possible.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
Not having to work anymore.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Keep an open mind.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Before we start, I have to confess something.  I am not in London today. I am sitting outside, in a small village close to Saint Tropez. The sun is shining; the light is so intense that I actually need sunglasses (In London, I put them on when I want to show off because there is a tiny bit of sunshine). But I miss London. Yesterday, I couldn’t find any coffee in my Mum’s house and had a terrible headache. Withdrawal  syndrome. I am pathetic. Addicted to coffee. Where is my coffee shop at the corner of my street? The Internet connection is, at best, patchy, and Twitter seems only a dream from here. Fortunately, I had brought one of these old newspapers found in my attic. Just opening it felt nice. The smell of the old paper reminded me of London. I am a City girl. I miss the buzz. Something has gone badly wrong with me.

I will never know why I only have a few copies of “The Illustrated London News”. Who bought them? Why did they keep only a few copies? Anyway, we are Saturday, February the 10th, 1877, and for some unknown reason the “Illustrated London News” feels incredibly thin today. One of the illustrations shows a fight between two polar bears.
“This fight took place, one day last year, in the Zoological Garden at Cologne. It is to be hoped that the attendant keepers were able to separate these infuriated enemies before either of them had suffered mortal injuries (Well said. But did they stop them or not?). The visitors to our own Zoological Society’s gardens in Regent Park (I miss London. Don’t talk to me about Regent Park) have often remarked the unsociable temper of the white bears, which seem never disposed to amicable play with each other or to entertain the friendly greetings of their human admirers. In this respect, they behave differently from the brown and black bears…”You may remember that we were all amazed with Knut the bear. Apparently, there is nothing new here. Zoo fights and gossips were of interest more than a century ago. Human nature doesn’t seem to have changed too: the colour of the fur seems to be of importance to determine how you behave…Men seem to love to generalize (I know, I am deep today. Must be the sun on my head).
In Italy, “The Chamber of Deputies has passed a bill abolishing imprisonment for debt.” I didn’t know. How civilized of Italy! Oh, and “The English cricketers played against the Auckland team on the 2nd inst., winning easily.” I thought that the Brits were into fair play. This comment is borderline arrogant, isn’t it? Clearly, I am still missing something. Cricket must run in the British blood. Maybe it awakes their inner white polar bear? Just speculating here.
There is also a full transcription of the opening of the Parliament by the Queen. Apparently, “The ceremonial was favoured with the proverbial Queen’s weather, the day proving to be as fine as an early English spring could be expected to produce.” I am not sure what it means. Probably that it wasn’t raining. The Queens mentions the hostilities between Turkey and Servia (yes, with a v).  At the end of the ceremonial , “the brilliant assemblage immediately broke up, and the Royal procession drove amid the clanging of the bells, the salvoes of artillery in the park, and the loyal cheers of the populace.” Some things never change. I miss London.
Lots of adverts are for new songs and clearly, the mood seems to become more romantic:
“ Love Never Dies. New song. It is just the composition to take the popular ear, and to be a favourite with all who can sing and all who hear it.”
“My Laddie (yes, with two d’s) Far Away. A new and excellent song.”
“Only Love Can Tell. Peculiarly fresh and charming, and will prove a great acquisition to sopranos and mezzo sopranos”.
As you can see, all is well under the sun. See you next week!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Brits are very polite. At all times and in all circumstances. They never say “No”. I once asked a colleague whether he had already used a new software I had heard about. I thought that it was a yes or no type of question. How naive of me. He replied “Not directly”. I am still wondering what he meant. I have come to the conclusion that, in this instance he just couldn’t say no. It must have hurt him. Saying “No” is, actually, a no-no. A true Brit can’t say no. He has to window-dress it. The best examples are as follows:
“Well, I am not sure”
“Yes, I hear what you say”. (although it is nice to hear a yes, do not kid yourself, this is a no)
“I don’t suppose so” (this is quite direct, it must be a good friend of yours)
“I will contemplate it” (this one is the worst. Once you have understood that contemplating doesn’t mean doing, you have made a big, big step forward…)
Likewise, here, when you apply for a job, a school or anything else you get, most of the time, a very polite rejection letter that can read like this:
“Dear xxxx,
Thanks for your application. Unfortunately, we have received a lot of applications of exceptional quality and, despite your breadth of experience, we feel that other candidates might be better suited….”
From time to time, you don’t get anything. Radio silence.
So my question is: does it make it easier to be rejected politely?
Simply put: no, it doesn’t. I think that I would prefer an honest explanation of why  I didn’t get what I wanted, with quantified justification (it must be a French thing, I love numbers…) like:
– what the grades my daughter at her assessment are and what she would have needed to pass the test;
– why exactly my CV didn’t make the cut;
– how much the other tenant earns and why did he get the flat.
Instead, what I get are wishy-washy explanations like:
“the personality of your daughter should have shone through”
“we feel that you are oversized for the job”
” the flat is not available any more”
“you are too good for me” (used by my friend’s boyfriend to dumb her)
Why are they so polite? Why do I hate it? Why is it so difficult to say “No”. I can’t understand. I don’t get it. Please, just say No.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am starting to believe that my old Victorian house has a mind of its own. London is, finally, under the sun, which is nice. But for some unknown reason, my wooden entrance door has decided to dilate with the heat and coming home is becoming more and more of a challenge. The door needs a really big push! I must have done something to make the house angry. I can’t help thinking that it must be because I am revealing its secrets…anyway, as London is not really famous for its weather, my concerns should be short-lived.
As you know, I found some old copies of the “illustrated London News” in my attic. Today, I am taking you back to Saturday, November 7th, 1874. The picture on the front page is an illustration of the civil war in Spain, it shows donkeys bringing food rations for Carlist (I.e., supporter of Don Carlos) soldiers defending Estella. It is a part of history that I have never been taught. This week, the tone of the paper is a little bit more measured. It looks like the journalist is starting to get worried for Germany – or is it because of the power of Germany ? ” However confident Germany may be in the adequacy of her own resources, she is deeply impressed with the necessity of organising and utilising them to the utmost. She is in geographical contact with three great military powers. Upon two of them, in single encounter, she has inflicted the humiliation of defeat. What if they should combine against her? The contingency, it may be, is not on the cards just now ; but it may be at some future crisis of European events. At any rate, she will prepare for such a possibility to the fullest extent of her means. For the present, Germany aims only at keeping what, at great cost, she has won, and at tranquilly enjoying the conquests she has achieved.”
The news from France are quite boring this time, so let’s jump to the local section. “There were 2359 births and 1368 deaths registered in London last week. The births exceeded by 20, and the deaths were 149 below the average numbers. The deaths included 1 from smallpox, 8 from measles, 128 from scarlet fever, 4 from diphtheria, 12 from whooping cough, 43 different forms of fever, and 21 from diarrhoea. Six deaths were caused by horses or vehicles in the streets. The mean temperature was 53.3 deg” I am not sure that the transition between the numbers of death and the temperature is that well managed. I am also thankful for living in 2011 as smallpox has disappeared, and antibiotics or vaccines can prevent or cure most of the listed death causes. I certainly tend to easily forget that it wasn’t the case not that long ago! And for those of us who don’t do Fahrenheit, the temperature was 12 degrees. Chilly.
The funny bit is that there is a long section on “Paul and Virginia”. What, you haven’t heard about “Paul and Virginia” written by Bernardin de Saint Pierre? Let me brief you: it was a best seller at the time.  It was published in 1789 but stayed at the top of the game for a long, long time and was even translated in several languages. It is the story of two children brought up together as brother and sister, in Mauritius. When Virginia becomes a teenager, she realises that her feelings towards Paul have changed. She loves him, but ends up being sent to France, where she feels miserable despite her aunt’s attempt to educate her. After a year, she decides to come back but her ship goes upon the reef of rocks just before reaching Mauritius and she dies either because she doesn’t want to get undressed to swim (there are men onboard!) or because, being almost naked, she doesn’t want a sailor to carry her -I can’t remember which one, but I know that it always seemed to me pretty ridiculous a reason (times have changed). I wouldn’t hesitate to go and dance naked on the street if it could save my skin. And mind you, everybody was almost naked today in the park, which was not always a pretty sight. The journalist seems to agree with me (with his own words obviously) “Poor Virginia was the victim, perhaps, of a mistaken sentiment of duty and honour.” Well, spot on.
And finally, if you are looking for a present for your friends,”the magic sailor will, when placed on the ground, immediately commence dancing, in perfect time, to any tune, astonishing all present. post free 14 stamps. HG CLARKE and Co.”
See you next week!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I recently attended a debate with work colleagues. It was about whether HS2 (i.e. the new high speed train between London and Birmingham) was a good thing. It was the first time I attended a debate and I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I couldn’t recognise my work colleagues. They had prepared arguments, were playing roles, and were passionate about debating.  What surprised me the most is that the topic of the debate didn’t really matter, they just loved debating. You could see it on their face. They were actually having fun.  There was a bell and it rang  when one of the speakers was taking too long. Furthermore, one of our Directors was playing the role of David Dimbleby, who is a famous BBC political journalist.

I started to wonder where this love of debates was coming from. Well, believe it or not, it starts at primary school. My daughter explained to me that, from time to time, since she was seven, (yes, seven!) they had been having so-called “hot balloon” debates. Basically, they pretend that they are in a hot balloon but a couple of persons need to jump out of the balloon in order for the others to survive. You need to make your case and then you have to vote to decide who goes. Honestly, what sort of game is this? To make matters even worse, apparently it is good fun! This is probably because she never was “thrown out” of the balloon as she is very popular. According to my daughter, it is so perfectly normal and acceptable that she didn’t even think that it was necessary to mention it to me. To be fair, they also debate current affairs, which I knew about.

This is not where it stops. There are debating clubs and even competitions in every secondary school. Furthermore, Oxford and Cambridge have debating societies. You know that you are set for life once you are one of their members. Apparently, it also increases your chance to become a Prime Minister.

What I don’t understand is: why is it a good thing to debate for the sake of debating? Why is being a good debater so well recognised? Shouldn’t we value substance over style? You have to understand that the emphasis, in my (very French) education, was to come to the “right” solution (or “as right as possible given the circumstances”), and make a good decision. To a large extent, it is disrespectful in France to discuss a decision that has already been made. You just have to make the most of it. Well, not here, where every piece of decision is dissected bit by bit until you don’t understand the point of the initial decision any longer.

The name that sprang to my mind was “Sophists”. In Athens, they were teaching their skills for a price, because they spoke very well. They use rhetorical techniques to make their point, and it was working very well. It has certainly helped democracy, but as a sophist could successfully argue opposite opinions I doubt it made the decision-making process any easier. So, don’t you think than Great Britain is a Sophist Country?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London