The Columnist
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Graham Spiers
France

July 26 1984

Dear Mr Spiers,

Thanks for your chatty and subtly flattering letter. Why can’t people write more letters like that?

There was a programme on radio 3 last night based on Maupassant’s last months, as described by his valet Francois. Bit dreary, I thought, as they did go on about his syphilitic descent. Anyone can get syphilis, but only Guy de M could write those stories. I taped it, though, as I have a close friend who is the top venereologist at St Thomas’s and he might well be interested in the diseased bits. He usually is. I had a blocked ear recently and he offered to look at it. Hardly your speciality, I said. Don’t be so sure, he said. I had an Italian waiter last year who had a genital wart in his ear.

“Wow,” I said, “How did it get in there?”

“Alas,” he said, “I cannot speak Italian so I had to refer him to a colleague and I never found out. I didn’t eat Italian for six months, though.”

How did I get on to all that? Very briefly, I took French and German all the way through to Oxford, though as I played so much jazz at Oxford I started there with a scholarship and ended up with only a Third. I have kept up the French ever since, mostly by reading rather than chatting and even once translated a whole book. A selection of pieces by Alphonse Allais, who I secretly believe was an Englishman born in the wrong place.

My filing system is so rotten that I can’t remember which piece (May 25) you liked so much. But thanks.

I have – and this is where you can stop reading, if you know what’s good for you – contracted to do a book on prejudice round the world, and to this end I am collecting all contacts with foreign experience to plague them shortly with request for knowledge about local angles. You know – what the different regions of France think of each other, etc. Would you mind if I pestered you one day? You sound like a kindred spirit, even if you read the ‘Gurniad’. Give it up, man! Get the Herald Tribune, like me. The only American paper that thinks Americans are kinda dumb.

I’d love to know just how you use Franglais, my version, as a teaching tool. Is it just a question of “Now turn this into decent French?” or something more subtle? I once came across a French book which tried to do the same thing in reverse, called “Sky, My Husband!” (Ciel, mon mari, ha ha) but I didn’t reckon it much. Well, I wouldn’t, would I?

You may be interested/aghast to know that Channel 4 are broadcasting ten ¼ hour programmes based on Let’s Parler Franglais. A small TV company got a commission from their educational (!) department to do it, and asked all the famous people they could think of to act in a short sketch each. Result: people like Cliff Richard, Sasha Distel, Willy Rushton, Nicholas Parsons etc making a star-studded cast. The company went bankrupt last month, but fortunately Channel 4 already had the tapes. This all starts on Aug 6. The ones I’ve seen all work quite well, though I was convinced they wouldn’t. This thing’s getting out of hand.

You will also be delighted to know that everyone in England was dead pleased that France won the European Cup. And it wasn’t just because the Germans lost.

yours sincerely

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