The Bayeux Tapestry is a thousand-year old cartoon strip with a thrilling plot and much graphic violence. There’s also a little bit of sex in the marginalia. It is one of the greatest artistic wonders of western civilisation. Or so they tell you - actually much of it is pretty shoddy; the proportion and perspective are all over the place. However, we generously overlook these things because we take the view that our 11th Century ancestor was a simple, primitive sort of chap and, much like the talking dog, the impressive thing is not so much how well he does it but the fact that he does it at all.
We are able to take this rather condescending line because fortunately we are at the very peak of human civilisation, and in another millennium hence our descendents will certainly not look back at our world – with our Twittering, our Agnostic Buses, our complete understanding of anthropogenic global warming, our End of History and our iPhones – and offer a patronising chuckle and pat on the head.
Anyway, even though the Bayeux Tapestry is rightfully British, it dwells in a strange foreign country called ‘France’. You may have heard of it. It is reached by a gruelling ocean voyage, and long and arduous the time was, tossing and turning on the fretful seas with only an over-priced bar, some duty-free shops, three restaurants and two cinemas to pass the six or seven hours, ere we spied land. There was also a disco full of French students dancing to YMCA – a tune with accompanying actions cooked up a couple of decades before they were born. Well at least that’s one thing that we can say with confidence our descendents 1000 years hence will still be doing. Our era will be remembered as the one that gave to Eternity the Village People, and until the final heat death of the universe, space station cantinas across the galaxies will see strange and terrible creatures whooping gleefully onto the dance floor when that “baaa ba ba” horn intro starts, all impatient to arrange their various tentacles and bionic limbs into the shape of a Y, an M, a C and an A as they bop.
Well since we were in France anyway we decided to do a few of the essential French things, such as: mooching jealously and gloomily round a market full of outstanding produce and casual animal cruelty; eating croissants; drinking cheapish vin rouge; and making various traumatic visits to what pass for public lavatories.
We also found time to have an evening meal in Ouistreham with some quite delicious food and perhaps the rudest service I’ve ever encountered. It was rude in that spectacular way that you can still only find in France: a total disregard for the wishes or comfort of the customer and a blank and immovable refusal to make even the slightest deviation from the menu. The Great Gallic Non. In Britain, that expert kind of rudeness is very much a dying art, so coming up against it is a shock to the system. God knows what the Americans make of it – for Yanks, a menu is merely a starting point for negotiations, not a take-it-or-leave-it-buster ultimatum. We left a tip of zilch, which I think I’ve only done twice before in my life.
Of course, if there is any area in this world where the locals have no right to be rude to the Brits, it is Normandy. We visited the D-Day landing beaches, Pegasus Bridge and the British cemetery at Bayeux. Scanning the ages on the headstones was a grim business: 20, 21, 19, 19, 23... That’s a lot of young English lads, and their lost and never-to-be marriages and children, grandchildren, now great-grandchildren. Sometimes I wonder if it’s still obscenely early to be forgiving about all this. But of course we’re embarrassed about our pensioners and their outdated xenophobic prejudices; we see them as archaic, primitive as Norman and Saxons. The machine-gun violence still isn’t as amusing as Harold Godwinson getting an arrow in the eye, but give it another millennium and you never know.
Be that as it may, we liberated the ungrateful Frogs in 1944 and left them to carry on their wicked ways unmolested. They’re aliens, honestly. Strolling through Bayeux the penny dropped, though no doubt you’ve had the same insight at one time or another. The difference between Britain and France, the crux of the opposition of souls, lies in the patisseries. Where there is a row of competing businesses in England, the result is innovation. Special offers! Buy X Get Y Half Price! Above all… NEW NEW NEW! Try our exciting new blueberry, avocado and chilli flavour! Try the latest import from Outer Mongolia!
There’s no NEW! in France. All the patisseries in the row sell exactly the same croissants, pan au chocolats and prissy little tartlets as everyone else, feeding the monoculture what it wants, has always wanted, will always want. France is convinced it has achieved the last word in civilisation and is determined to preserve it without deviation or hesitation and with as much repetition as possible. It is admirable, tragic, heroic, depressing, suffocating, exhausting. In France, there is No Future.