OF THE WORKING CLASS IN FRANCE
I enter Elysee Palace with toolbag via tradesman’s
revolving door. Small wiry geezer enters door behind me but comes out in front.
This must be a Hungarian I think since Uncle Woicjeck (former despot) warns me
they only people who can do this. Geezer asks what I do in palace (like he owns
place). I say I here to dismantle the Chirac showers. Former president had many
girlfriends who all called him “three minutes including shower”. Since he often
jump on maids in corridor or cleaners in toilets it important to have shower
Geezer has heard this but says he not carrying on
tradition. Wife has dumped him also he not drink although Putin got him sozzled
by ruse when he ask “encore de l’eau Nico?” and push over slug of pure vodka.
Yes, my interlocutor is new boss Nicolas Sarkozy. He greet me as fellow
immigrant worker and we have chat. I much disturbed by new project to degrade
pensions and tell him how previous administrations from Louis Philippe, Second
Empire and Third Republic have constructed the best pension system in the world
and given France its great cultural heritage.
Flaubert, for instance, used to drive cab round Rouen. He
drive slow and give extended monologues on lives of the saints – especially St
Anthony. This bore most clients but youngsters would get in, pull down blinds
and do jigajig while Gus droned on. Later he get stagecoach route from Croisset
to Trouville but soon give it up and retire early. Final interview go like this:
Stagecoach boss: You say you had a funny turn Gus and then
the coach fell in a ditch. Funny turn? Could you be more explicit?
GF: Not quite the right word is it. But I don’t know –
weird like, everything sort of blurry, ringin in me head etc blah blah know what
SB: Well what am I goin to put down? Would it be
GF: Yeah! That’s it! Etourdissement! How do you spell that?
SB: And in the file there’s a complaint from a passenger,
Madame Schlesinger, who says she had to go behind a tree to change her wet skirt
and top…Gus?....Gus?! Christ he’s gone again! GUS!!
GF: Wha.? Yis boss. Just driftin..
SB: Well you’re obviously unfit for continuing employment
and since you are twenty four and have been doing the job satisfactorily for the
last three weeks I’m recommending you retire immediately on 95% of full pay.
What’ll you do next?
GF: I think I’ll stay at home with me mum and write books.
SB: Books!? Well you’d better mug up on the language that’s
all I can say. Think yourself lucky you’re not English – they have five times as
many words as us. With your struggle for the right word you’d never do more than
a paragraph a year. Naturally your books’ll be the property of the state and
they’ll get royalties if there’s ever a Pleiade Edition. Har bleedin har!
GF: Would that include my letters?
SB: Nah! Nobody’s going to want to read those.
And Baudelaire. He was a deckhand on the ferry between
Honfleur and Le Havre but soon found this uncongenial. This is how he got to
Ferry Manager: Well Chas you say you get seasick easily,
you’re allergic to seagull shit and that the smell from the refinery turns your
CB: Yis boss. That’s about it. I want to go to Paris, smoke
weed and hang out with my new black bitch.
FM: Sounds a worthy aspiration. But what about this poem
the Albatross? You sound like Captain bleedin Ahab with all that stuff about
“hommes de l’equipage” and “vastes oiseaux de mer”
CB: But that’s what poets do boss. We’re all liars. We just
make it up. The biggest bird I’ve ever seen was a fat seagull what swooped down
and snatched me baguette. No, I’ve had it with this job. I want out. I want a
bit of luxe, calme et voluptue. I’m entitled.
FM: Hmm. Yis I agree. You’re well unfit for deckhand duty
and since you are twenty eight and have bin a good employee for the last four
weeks I’m recommending immediate retirement on 98% of full pay – with free
prescriptions for weed and opium. We don’t want the missus on the game now do
we? By the way what’s it like with them black bitches?
And Proust. Marcel was briefly employed as a librarian at
the Bibliotheque Mazarine and did turn up for one afternoon during his year long
tenure proving that the discipline of work was not beyond him. He then became a
ratcatcher. This suited him well since, like rats, he came out at night. But
even this job faded and he asked to retire:
Chief Ratcatcher: Well Marcel you’ve been a good ratcatcher
and your workmates say you get very excited when you bag one and stick hatpins
into them to finish them off. So why do you want to pack it in?
MP: That’s partly the problem boss. See, when I stick a rat
I get a hard on. That’s why I do it. But then when I knock off and go to the
Ritz for a nosh I’m walking in with this massive stiffy pushin out the front of
my pants. They don’t like it at the Ritz. My mates Oscar and Andre and Jean hoot
and make fun and might even lunge at my privates. They ask if I’ve got a rolled
up pair of socks down there.
CR: Couldn’t you just whack the rats with a spade like
MP: Not really. That’d mean stretching my best Astrakhan
coat. They probably wouldn’t let me into the Ritz with a spade anyway.
CR: But what would you do? Your timetable is completely out
of synch with normal folks by now.
MP: I’d stay in bed and write. I’m not renouncing
ratcatching. If I saw one in the bedroom I wouldn’t be calling the department –
be like asking someone to give your missus one – no, I’d see to it myself with a
special silver handled razor sharp hatpin what the Princess de Guermantes gave
me for Christmas…
CR: Calm down Marcel. I can see you’re getting
over-excited. Yis, you’re obviously buggered as a professional ratcatcher but in
view of your loyal service, killing six rats in the fortnight of your
employment, and your previous excellent record of service at the Bibliotheque,
I’m recommending retirement as from now on 99% of full pay. There’ll also be
special string quartet vouchers just in case you want to hear a bit of Beethoven
at 3am. Oh, and if you are going to write might I suggest that the spare,
skeletal prose of that tosspot Gide should surely be superseded by now. Make it
richer Marcel. Forget about narrative drive. We don’t want another trivial
page-turner like the Counterfeiters.
Zola was another one. He had more jobs than soft Mick but
his last one was the jackpot. Train driver. There’s still pictures of him on the
footplate. And of course train drivers are the aristocracy of the working class.
They don’t have to turn in if they have a headache or the gas man’s coming.
SNCF: So you’re thinking of jacking it in Emile. Any
particular reason? You are entitled especially since your grandfather help lay a
few lengths of track on the Marseilles – Avignon line in 1845.
EZ: Well it is a bit bestial – and I worry about what the
wife’s up to when I’m on the Paris – Bordeaux run.
SNCF: Yis, we get a lot of that. I see you’ve retired early
from several key jobs: farm labourer, greengrocer, coal miner, off licencee,
brothel keeper.. and all on a 98% full pay pension. Christ Emile you’ll be
rolling in it! On top of all that you’ll have your train driver’s pension and
free travel for life. What’ll you do next? You’ve done virtually every job there
is. How about president of the Third Republic?
EZ: Nah! Too dangerous! Look what happened to Felix Faure.
No, I think I’ll buy a big gaff in Medan, build a grotesque tower extension, put
in a hideously ornate table and just write my head off. Have a few pals down at
weekends. Get a bike.
SNCF: Sounds idyllic Emile. Be careful about the gas fires
EZ: No probs there boss. I’m poodle registered for gas –
one of my earlier occupations.
SNCF: Well go to it Emile. You’re a hero of the proletariat
and deserve all you get.
Sarko seemed very moved by all this. He not man of culture
I think like Mitterand and D’Estaing or skirt-chaser like Chirac. One worries
about future of Republic if these harsh Anglo-saxon measures are made law. I
myself aspire to pack in plumbing and become full time writer like Flaubert,
Baudelaire, Proust and Zola. I prefer to do this in Paris but fear I may finish
up in a flat in Hackney under the beneficent regime of the well known arts
patron Gordon Brown – if I can become single parent with special-needs dog.