All The King’s Men
There’s a long and inglorious history of fighting forces using hallucinogenics in battle. The illusion of invincibility added to a tireless energy has often made up for military inexperience or weaker artillery. For example, at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 the British Forces had greatly superior, state of the art firepower while the Zulus were armed only with pointy sticks and exotic fruit. The Zulus were also off their faces on local magic mushrooms though, inducing a frenzy that even 7-Pounder mountain guns couldn’t tackle. The Zulus won, and it was one in the eye for sobriety, bullets and squares.
In similar vein, and thanks to a spiteful bout of sciatica, I limped through the medieval walls of Tours whacked off my tits on Tramadol, determined to confront French Bureaucracy and demand (beg) that they change my Citizenship interview date. It’s unreasonable, I would argue, to expect me to drive through the night to make said rendezvous. I’m prepared to do it, I’d avow, but is it safe? Is it wise? Do you really want a ‘Remainer’ martyr on your hands? It’s an argument that would have righteousness on its side. Righteousness and, currently, the kind of optimism only heavy opiates can bring. The medication I am on stops pain signals from reaching the brain, but drug-induced confidence can only take you so far. Tours has the reputation of the ‘cleanest’ French language in the country, whereas I am on an Interpol list somewhere for crimes against its usage. No drug can fix that.
Even now, years down the line, I can begin a sentence and a French person will look at me in the same way I imagine Art Garfunkel looks at a Karaoke singer violently slaughtering Bridge Over Troubled Water. There’s a mixture of bewilderment and contempt. I start off well, then the illusion I’ve managed to create falls away, leaving a pathetic, ugly reality, and nobody wants that. Reality really does bite.
Fantasy is comfort. Brexiteers, for instance, who promised a Trade Agreement windfall, we’d have more trade than we know what to do with apparently, hadn’t reckoned on Trump sticking a 200% tariff on some non-American goods early doors. Non-American goods that involve thousands of British jobs too. Awkward that. And when reality does reveal itself in its mundanity, the anger kicks in. A couple of years ago, I started getting heckled the minute I walked onstage.
‘Oi mate, how did you get your feet in those shoes?’
‘Oi mate, where’s Sherlock?’
Obviously the blinding wit and brilliance of this banter left me reeling, but for some reason, and it happened often, people thought I looked like Martin Freeman. And when I quickly slapped them down they became angry that I wasn’t, even though they never really thought I was. The determination to believe that something would be better than it is, despite all the evidence that it won’t be, was, is, just too strong for some.
I went to the Préfecture and told the receptionist my plight. She sent me to another office further down the road, quite rightly I thought, to the Bureau des Étrangers. The only reason I had gone to her building in the first place was because that’s where my interview would be. The Bureau des Étrangers sent me back to the Préfecture. The distance between the two buildings is perhaps 50 metres, maybe less, but the drugs were wearing off, my weekend luggage getting heavier, the limp more pronounced. I hope you’ve never had sciatica, or ever do. It’s a vindictive kind of pain, imagine someone has a voodoo doll of you and keeps twisting the pin. Its sudden intensity leaves you looking like you’ve been shot with an invisible ray gun. Thankfully it doesn’t occur often, the last time was a few years ago in Cyprus and I ended up spending two days on a lounger by a pool, drinking God-awful Cypriot wine, listening to TMS while a porn film was being shot next door. Anyway, the point is, despite a bucket-full of Tramadol, my resolve was beginning to weaken. I am no Zulu warrior, and I was starting to wilt at the futility of it all. Just do the bloody drive, I was thinking, it’s got to be easier than this.
I have good intentions in my pursuit of French citizenship. I like its values. I think that French society prioritises family over work, and I like that too. I have a sneaking, though weakening, regard for their unions, though the Lorry Drivers have just announced a new strike for mid-October even though they haven’t yet finished the one they started last Monday. I like the size of the country and the culture of not getting into personal debt. I think I’ve contributed to the society and will continue to do so as long as I can. I’ve given them two and a half little Frenchmen (the eldest was born in England). I like cheese. But as I staggered up and down the Rue Bernard Palissy all I had was a searing resentment for the low-brow, 21st century knuckle-draggers, the callous right-wing jackals and the opportunistic Hedge Fund billionaires that had driven me to this position. Those that had proffered Great Britain MK2 and the idiots who had fallen for this blather about economic utopia, and are still, unbelievably clinging to those fallacies, like it’s driftwood from a sunken ship while frothing that the ship is still in fine fettle really.
I resent too the lack of effective opposition to all this. Labour is less of a political party these days and more of a personality cult. Brexit isn’t even discussed at their conference, but a whole swathe of other policies are, despite the fact they’ll be negatively affected by the one issue in town. People of the centre ground are pilloried for their reasonableness; radicalised Bumfluff Bolsheviks send tweets with numbers on them listing historical deaths at the hands of right wingers and neo-liberals, but there’s no mention of Stalin or Mao in their blinkered league table. ‘There shouldn’t be freedom of movement’ according to these Bugsy Malone Marxists, ‘people shouldn’t be treated like coffee!’ They weren’t, it was a movement made of freewill and economic necessity. Coffee can do many things, but sentient upward-mobility and opening an account on Trivago aren’t included. And anyway, why shouldn’t people be free to see where what they have produced has gone? How dare you deny that right for ‘their benefit’.
And most unforgivably the continuing games being played over the rights of EU nationals in the UK, and British nationals on the continent. If Theresa May’s government – and it’s less of a government more the political and intellectual equivalent of the children’s ball pit at IKEA – if her government has achieved anything, it’s that it’s caused an unprecedented degree of harmony between the CBI and the TUC. They issued a joint statement saying that this ‘human poker’ must end, forcing her hand into making some concessions on residency rights. It’s a start, a plan may eventually be forged like this, sudden concessions as the reality of the situation is acknowledged, i.e. that there really is brown stuff all over the fan.
The Préfecture sent me back, again, to the Bureau des Étrangers, and I felt this was my last go. I hobbled back, and I was not a pretty sight. I get looked at strangely in Tours all the time anyway, I don’t know why, maybe I look like someone local, but it’s always a double-take of ‘I’m sure I know that bloke.’ I had it all last week in London too, which I cunningly turned to my advantage by convincing Maurice, my middle son who was with me, that I’m more famous than I actually am. The truth is more mundane of course. I was wearing impeccable English tailoring, a tweed frockcoat, a shirt and tie, carrying an umbrella and The Kingsman 2 had just been released. This is something else that has crept up recently, that I’m now apparently a spit for Colin Firth. Ironically he’s also been seeking dual-nationality. He is now Anglo-Italian, having taken Italian citizenship thanks to his Italian wife, and because of the ‘uncertainty’. I know, it’s like we’re twins. But that will give you some idea of how long the French naturalisation process takes, I started it looking like Martin Freeman and now I look like Colin Firth. Martin is slightly younger than me, Colin is ten years older.
I explained for the umpteenth time to the receptionist my problem, and this time she took pity on me, maybe she was a Pride and Prejudice fan, who knows? She spoke to a colleague on the phone and it became very clear that no-one, no-one, had ever challenged their interview date before. Nobody had questioned the process or the rigidity of the system. I felt like that Zulu Warrior again, with a bit of Oliver Twist asking for more thrown in. Maybe my bravery would impress them, and anyway, how much more French could it be than to question authority?
So, they have promised to get in touch, and now, again, I wait. I limped for the final time down the Rue Bernard Palissy, the drugs had now completely worn off and so to add to the sciatica, the arthritis was biting too. Still, I’d achieved something. Of course, they may not reply for weeks, they may not even reply at all. That’s Brexit though, that’s this whole nonsense, a waste of time, painful to endure and even slower than arthritis.
This is the 56th Full English Brexit blog, and – hopefully – will be part of the book. When that book comes out is difficult to say, it’s with a brilliant agent and the feedback is good… but, you know, Brexit innit?
My other best-selling books are available here IAN’S BOOKS.