Lost For Words
I never really thought it would happen. When I asked if I could change my French Citizenship interview date for ‘safety’ reasons, I expected a ‘non’. I thought it would be like when a Primary School teacher is asked on the first day by a sobbing child if they can ‘go home now.’ There would be a faux tender concern, an arm around the shoulder and a gentle, ‘aww, of course not.’ That’s the beauty of French bureaucracy though, it keeps you guessing. They asked, possibly sarcastically, for my availability, like they were booking me for a gig, and gave me a new date, just a few days later. It’s still at nine in the morning unfortunately so I was briefly tempted to ask if it could be after lunch, when my spoken French would be kickstarted by a pichet of lunchtime rosé, but I thought that might be pushing it a bit.
It also gives me a few extra days to prepare, and I’ll need them too. The sort of thing I’ll be asked is, ‘How do you see the concept of fraternité manifested in modern French society?’, you know, everyday small talk like that. Which is lucky because that’s all me and the lads bang on about in the boulangerie of a morning. I don’t know! How does fraternité manifest itself in modern French society? Strikes? Synchronised shrugging? Everybody parking a car like they’re blind, what? I don’t know. I haven’t a bloody clue frankly. I’m going to have to improvise, wing it, make something up. I could go on about a French Dream or something, the way the Conservative Party seem to have latched onto the concept of a British Dream. A vacuous notion in lieu of anything concrete at all. I hate to point out that for an awful lot of people, the ‘British Dream’ was to retire to the Costa Blanca, and you’ve just stamped all over that. If the ‘British Dream’ is anything it’s to make it through to the weekend unscathed, drink yourself silly, throw up, and then carry on drinking. It’s what we do best, though even that seems to have lost its edge.
It was odd watching the Conservative Party Conference this year, it was like they were experiencing their own morning after. Last year it was all Fire and Brimstone. ‘Citizens of Nowhere’ were bargaining chips, we’d be a nation of all conquering jam producers, the world would be falling at our feet. Nothing’s changed, people were still wrapping themselves in the Union Jack like it’s Batman’s cape and will protect them from the horrors, but the response was different. Far fewer people were falling for it. The clock is ticking and the signs aren’t good at all. Boris Johnson tries his utmost to be Churchillian and looks less so the harder he goes at it. He should bear in mind that Churchill responded magnificently at a time of national crisis, Boris on the other hand, is responsible for a time of national crisis. The two are not the same.
The harsh truth is that Brexit as a notion is looking mean and tired. When the Foreign Secretary hails the British businessman for their ingenuity in clearing dead bodies to set up spa resorts in Libya, that doesn’t play well to new, prospective trade partners. Even a breakthrough deal with the EU on agriculture via the WTO is trampled on by America. We have been made weaker by leaving the EU, we have been made more vulnerable. The UK now is like Finding Nemo, we left the safety of the coral reef, but no-one can be arsed to come and look for us. In pop terms, we’ve left the successful boyband but we’re less Justin Timberlake and more Zayn Malik. It is not going well, not going well at all.
And the Prime Minister knows it too, which is why we now have the ‘British Dream’ piffle, the final embodiment of a failed non-plan. It was hard not to feel sorry for her during her speech, not for what she said but as someone who’s kind of been there. I am a comedian. I’ve done plenty of gigs where I’ve got dry mouth, where the backdrop falls apart, where the audience doesn’t think you’re up to the job, where there’s a smartarse heckler and where other, hungrier acts are waiting lasciviously in the wings. The dry mouth coughing was not the result of a cold at all, it was the result of having no faith in her own material. No faith in herself.
A total loss of confidence is when your shortcomings are most cruelly exposed and I know all about that too. I was asked to test for a voice-over in Paris this week. A voice-over for a Warcraft style console game where I would be playing a Viking or an English nobleman or something. Anyway, that’s how I understood it. Only what they actually wanted me to do was the voice-over of a Celtic warrior in French but with an English accent…
‘Can you speak French with an English accent Ian?’ The director asked.
‘Oh, I’ll give it a go.’ I replied. Finally, I thought, my Frockney (Cockney French) is being recognised as a skill.
A few minutes into the thing and the director came into the sound booth, shaking his head, nervously stroking his beard.
‘Yes,’ he said quietly, ‘can you make it a little less English? Can you put some French into it? Even just a leetle beet…’
I thought I was. Shortcomings, you see? Cruelly exposed. I once saw an act at The Comedy Store and he was struggling, struggling badly and a lairy audience member unhelpfully pointed it out. ‘Oh don’t heckle me,’ said the comic, ‘I can’t cope.’
It was wonderfully disarming and bought him a few more minutes before it started going downhill again and he left the stage. He got a polite round of applause anyway though, because he had their sympathy. There is nothing worse. I can tell you this Mrs May, and take it from someone who knows, once you have the audience’s sympathy you are in deep, deep, deep trouble.
This is the 57th Full English Brexit blog, and has so far had hundreds of thousands of reads, which is just lovely. It will – hopefully – be part of the book. But 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.