I had a chuckle over the newspaper story about the MoD planning to recruit female Gurkhas from 2009. Apparently they fear an equality suit from Nepalese women unless they agree to let them enlist. I am not convinced recruiting women to fight wars is a fundamental step forward for feminism (in the same way fighting for the right to send your sons down coal mines has always perplexed me). But each to their own.
As a child, the tomboy in me wanted to join the French Foreign Legion when I grew up. I loved the idea of turning up at the gates of the FL barracks in Paris and whispering conspiratorially to the man on sentry duty that I wanted to be let in. I would then be whisked away to be fitted with a white kepi, issued my leather apron, red blanket and axe and taught to march at 88 steps per minute. OK, the pay is not great; not even 1,000 euros a month for a foot legionnaire, but I figured I could go without in return for some twiddly fringed epaulettes. Besides it seemed impossibly romantic - and attractive - that your own mum could turn up at the gate begging to know if you had enlisted and were off to fight for France and, if you didn't want her to know you were there, she wouldn't be told. This was before I became a mother myself. Beau Geste has a lot to answer for.
The Gurkha story reminded me of an announcement some years ago by the French Ministry of Defence that to conform to European equality laws the Foreign Legion would be accepting women recruits. Had I still been a young tomboy this would have been joy unconfined; as it was I realised I couldn't join even if I wanted to having passed the recruitment age. Nevertheless, I thought it might be a wheeze to try, so I phoned up the Legion HQ to ask when women were being drafted.
The commander on the other end of the phone sounded like he was being choked by his waxed moustache when I posed the question.
"Madame. There will never be women in the Foreign Legion," he spluttered.
"But the French government has said...
"Madame. There will never be women in the Foreign Legion."
"Do you mean I cannot join?"
Splutter. "Madame. I can assure you, whatever the French government has told you, there will never be women in the Foreign Legion.
"Well there is this new law that...
"Madame. Do you hear me? Women. Foreign Legion. Never. Ever. Ever."
I'll take that as a no then.