We've just returned from the UK having discovered that in spite of French schadenfreude over the reported demise of the "Anglo-Saxon free-market" the country appears to be:
a) still afloat
b) not up for sale as a job lot
c) home to people dreaming up cunning ways to get one over the liquidators.
Under c) I include the soon to be jobless Woolworths' shop assistant who told a musician friend that the CD he assumed was going cheap was still £14.99 but "If you give me a fiver it's yours". She then pocketed the money.
While being a Prophet of Gloom, Doom and Destruction is now a la mode, I feel patriotically honour bound, given that markets function on confidence, to buck the trend with a few upbeat, if non scientific, observations.
There was nothing decent left in the sales (except a lovely pair of black leather boots and I bought them). Even Oxford Street had been picked to the bone.
Shops are reportedly desperate to offload stock but a sullen girl in Currys refused to sell me one of the large stack of CD players marked £24.99 because "that was the Christmas price and they are now more expensive." Silly me. I thought shops were legally obliged to sell at the marked price and told her. She ignored me.
When we went to the pantomime ("Oh yes we did...oh no you didn't") on a schoolday evening, it was packed with child-free adults who'd paid up to £20 a ticket.
(And while we are on about the pantomime: Nurse Nelly? What the hell is that all about? I don't remember her from the Brothers Grimm. Who was the bright spark of a child sitting between me and her grandmother who, in that dramatic moment of theatrical suspense in a pin droppingly silent auditorium shrieked at Snow White: "DON'T EAT THE APPLE"? What politically correct Fairy Godperson had the bright idea of changing the wicked stepmother into a malevolent aunt and why didn't the horrid bag say: "Mirror mirror on the wall...tra la la" like she is supposed to. Why, for that matter, didn't the seven vertically challenged persons sing "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go"? And why wasn't Stephen Fry there in person?)
Nearly every single child in the audience, including La Fille, was waving a plastic flashing magic wand or light stick (some both) that had set their parents back a whopping £4 and which, in La Fille's case, was broken simply through being waved before the end of the panto. (And no this wasn't "rich" London)
The brasserie near where we were staying was packed on Friday evening. At one point the queue for tables stretched halfway out of the door.
The nearby hotel was full of Welsh people who, as far as I know still spend pounds and are not euro-rich like the Irish, spending lots and lots of said pounds on overpriced drinks at the bar.
In four days in London I did not see a single beggar on the London Underground. Rarely a day goes by without at least one person asking for a "coin, luncheon voucher, ticket or cigarette" on the Paris Metro. Ditto people living in cardboard boxes on the streets: here I pass two or three every morning on the way to La Fille's school.
So if the French can do schadenfreude so can we. I know, it's not big, it's not clever and it's not grown up but I quote from an article in a left-of-centre French magazine. Under the headline: "This was Swinging London", the piece reports the end of the world as we knew it in the British capital. As evidence of this, it says even the Christmas parties where everyone goes "off their rocker" were cancelled.
It finishes with a quote from London property expert: "I know you French are not unhappy to see the Anglo-Saxon miracle fall from the sky. But don't kid yourselves. The Vieux Continent is always nine to 15 months behind us. Your turn will come."
Or to be really childish: "It's in front of youooooooo".