My attempts at 'entente cordiale' with the French was a blooming great failure long before Brexit/ Dave Thomas column

At grammar school many, many years ago I was always intrigued by the War of Jenkin’s Ear.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 12:30 pm
The ongoing animosity between the English and the French is the subject of Dave Thomas' column this week

It’s something that has stuck with me for over 60 years.

We’d had something of a spat with the Spanish hundreds of years ago and a seaman called Jenkins had his ear sliced off by a Spanish sword. He was of course pretty miffed, this was before the age of hearing aids, and when the ear was shown to the Prime Minister, he too was outraged.

And so began a conflict with the Spanish, not about fish but about an ear hole. For some reason, I suppose because it all happened at sea, it was the current spat with the French that reminded me of this Jenkins story.

This new spat is about the French thinking they own all the fish in the sea, hate Brexit, hate the changes to their fishing industry, impounded a British trawler that didn’t seem to have the right paperwork, and generally speaking are threatening mayhem if they don’t get more licences to fish in UK waters.

It doesn’t help that the French President, Monsieur Macron, (aka Mad Mac) wants to be another Napoleon, and a little one at that. It doesn’t help that the French would love to see themselves as the EU’s number one nation, following the slide of the German economy and the soon-retirement of Mrs Merkel, and that they have always seen themselves as the leading intellectuals of Europe. And for a spot of 'ooh la la,' there is no finer place.

We, the Brits, have never been forgiven for beating them at Agincourt and Waterloo and Trafalgar. Plus, Peter Seller’s performance as the bumbling, idiotic Inspector Clouseau drove them mad. Mind you Maigret was decent.

It’s just one of those historical traditions that the French and British don’t really get on. It goes back hundreds of years. De Gaulle who was given so much support by the Brits in WW2 (let’s be frank here, we saved their ass), immediately turned on us later when he became president.

The 'Emperor' Macron certainly doesn’t like us and with elections coming up sees a bit of Brit bashing as the way to the nation’s votes. To put it simply, there are all kinds of threats to make life and trade as difficult for the UK as possible, even unplugging the electricity to Jersey (as if).

The French fishermen are, as well we know, a dab hand at blockading ports when they feel like it. So, if the Spanish conflict was all about Jenkin’s ear, perhaps this we might say is the War of Macron’s Mussel. Or just a load of old scallops!

With wonderful timing, Boris will meet Macron at the great COP summit in Glasgow. Or will they avoid each other?

Permit me to say here what a waste of time and money this is with 25,000 politicians, diplomats, civil servants and assorted flunkeys all descending on Glasgow for a 12-day junket. It’s all about reducing the carbon footprint and saving the planet. But most of them flew in.

It kind of defeats the object. And anyway, as long as China and Russia continue to churn out pollution on such a vast scale, what the rest of the world does, is sort of undermined anyway.

Just one funny little aside. All these people were to be ferried about in electric limos (to save the planet) but then they realised they didn’t have enough charging points for these vast cavalcades.

My own attempt to promote a bit of Entente Cordiale was many years ago. It went badly wrong. We were on holiday and invited to see an old guy’s garden. At that time, I had no interest in gardens whatsoever and when he said (in French) 'Do you like flowers?' I thought he said 'Do you like gardens?'

'Pas beaucoup' I said, 'not that much.'

I knew immediately by the look on his face I had upset him and later worked out what I had actually said. It was a moment that certainly upset the entente cordiale. Today I can’t decide if I am still embarrassed, or actually quite amused.