Monday, 27 April 2009

iPhone, uPhone, noPhone

La Fille and I have been spending the holidays in the UK. We had a lovely time until halfway through the last evening when someone stole my brand new iPhone from a zipped handbag that hadn't left my shoulder or been out of my sight at a friend's party in a restaurant/bar on the river at Richmond. Don't ask me how the thief performed this particularly nasty trick of spiriting away a 16-day old phone inside a case, inside another case, inside a closed bag on the very day my new binding two-year contract came into effect, because I really have no idea. I felt nothing.

I should say that I've been lucky until now; I've never been a victim of a crime before (unless you count being shot at while trying to report from warzones). So I admit I was a bit shaken and emotional. Not hysterical after all it was "just a phone" as someone pointed out, but a bit spooked. The reason for this wasn't just having the phone pinched - and knowing I would have to pay 700 euros to replace it - but the fact that in the early hours of Sunday I found myself in a police station, not sure exactly where I was, without a map to find out, without a taxi rank in sight and without any means of finding out if the Frenchman and La Fille had got home safely or letting them know where I was and what was happening.

I found myself in the early hours of Sunday in a London police station talking to a young duty officer who quite clearly did not believe a word I was saying. It wasn't that he told me he couldn't find any record on his computer of the crime report I'd already made by phone having been astonished to find that Richmond police station closes at 8.30pm on Saturday nights. It wasn't even that he told me there was no evidence of "theft" ("the removal of something from someone with the intention of depriving them of it or use of it," as he pointed out. "Err, exactly", as I replied.). It wasn't just that he was unsympathetic and suggested I'd mislaid the phone, but that he made judgments he had no right, in my opinion, to make. What really shocked me were two comments he uttered during our exchange conducted in the station reception with him sitting about two feet behind a glass screen.

I am going to recount them as accurately as I remember given my state of distress and frustration at the time. At some point half way through our conversation at around 1am he made a remark about "alcohol on your breath". Taken aback I said something like "I beg your pardon," and he repeated that he could smell alcohol on my breath. He knew I'd been at a party when my phone was stolen, I'd told him that, but I didn't deem it necessary to say I'd only been at it about an hour before it was nicked nor that I hadn't drunk anything since, a period of around four hours. I mean, I wasn't rolling drunk so what business was it of his? Then he recounted a story of how someone had come in claiming to have been attacked and had their mobile stolen in the street by two "black men" (his words not mine), when it turned out the phone had been at home all the time. Frankly I couldn't see the relevance of either of these comments except to make a judgment about me and cast doubt on my claim. Everything I said, he shot down. The phone, fully charged at the time, was redirecting to voicemail, I said, suggesting it had been turned off. "The battery's probably flat," he countered. "It was in my bag, then it wasn't and it wasn't on the floor," I said. "You said your bag was zipped, how could it have been stolen?" he replied. "But the police hotline told me they'd put a crime report on the computer and told me to come here for the papers." "Well call them." "I can't I don't have a phone." "Here's the website address." "I don't have access to the Internet either." And so we went on sparring over whether the phone was mislaid or misappropriated until I stopped being nice and said I wanted his name. "It's all on CCTV," he replied neatly sidestepping the request. I wrote down the letters and numbers on his shoulder tabs.

I am ashamed to say that at one point I did say to the officious officer that I knew the Mayor of London (which isn't strictly true though I do know several members of his close family) but I was sorely provoked. On the other hand, I did apologise for being somewhat emotional, an apology he didn't even acknowledge. In the end he flatly refused to make a crime report and gave me a grudgingly written Property Lost in Streets form on which his belief that I was a liar was evident. Despite the property not being "lost" and certainly not "lost in streets", under 'Where Lost' he wrote: "Believed to be..." and under "Circumstances of the loss" he had written "Unknown"; neither of these were strictly true or what I had reported. Later, the phone company took one look at this mealy-mouthed document and refused to put an international block on the phone meaning the thief is probably still wandering around making free use of my expensive property. Thankfully, the female operators on the Metropolitan Police non-emergency line were less judgmental and considerably more helpful and, after hearing my tale of telephone woe, promised to send a crime report. (This is their number should you ever need them: 0300 123 12 12).

Look, I realise being the duty officer in a London police station on a Saturday night cannot be much fun and must involve fobbing off drunks and trying to spot fraudulent claims. What I should have said was women of a certain age with energetic young children who get up early and who are on the last night of their holiday in London have better things to do in the early hours of the morning - like sleep - than hang around police stations trying to convince members of Her Majesty's police force that they are not simply a dozy cow but a genuine victim of crime.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Rosbif and the Frogs

I am turning native. I ate frogs' legs yesterday. They were sautéed with a lot of garlic and served warm as an apéritif. This is the French experience, eh?

Not much to it really, psychologically or physically unless you are a frog lover. Or a frog. You'd be hard pressed to get fat on them. For the curious they taste like very tiny chicken legs, though the squeamish might be turned by the fact they are served in pairs still joined at the hip. I worried that La Fille might be a little disturbed by the idea as her favourite series of books at the moment is Frog and Toad. I was ready to explain - though I'm not sure what or how - but there was no need. She was so keen the Frenchman said: "Aha! You are half French after all", as if there might be some doubt about this.

I was with French friends and the conversation turned to other national delicacies; it was admitted that the French do have some very dubious culinary habits. For starters there's Tete de Veau, or indeed the process involved in the making of foie gras, which, is cruel even if the end product is delicious. "Aha, but you English have boiled lamb and haggis," said our hostess. "No, that's not us that's the Scottish," I said.

But there are lines to be drawn with my efforts to integrate. I can say with 100% confidence that you will not find me eating snails or, as I prefer to think of them, slugs with shells. In this case I will make an exception to the rule, oft repeated to La Fille, that one should try something before deciding one doesn't like it. I don't even want to know if I don't like snails.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Ant, the Grasshopper and the Immigrant Cockroaches

France's political incorrectness can sometimes provoke quite sharp intakes of shocked breath. Like the chocolate coated meringues some people still call a "Tete de Nègre" or "Nigger's Head" . Like referring to the children of mixed parents as "métis", or if it is a girl "métisse", which translates as "halfcast". Somehow I cannot see the Golliwog row happening in France. Then again I cannot see an English schoolteacher calling one of her pupils of African origin a "Little Monkey" as la Fille tells me her French teacher did the other day, and not being severely reprimanded for racism at worst and insensitivity at best.

It is true, political correctness can be taken too far, but where is the line to be drawn? I received the following email from one of the Frenchman's friends. At the beginning I laughed. At the end I had stopped. The words: "a gang of immigrant cockroaches" made me feel distinctly uncomfortable even in the context of cultural parody in which all the characters are insects. Thinking I might be overreacting - it has been known - or that I'd misread the nuance, I asked La Belle Belle Fille what she thought. She declared it to be too close to the truth to be funny, but didn't seem particularly shocked. I asked an American friend what she thought. Like me, she laughed at the beginning. At the end she said: "Noooo, that's awful." Maybe it's just one of those Anglo-French cultural things; a sense of humour lost in translation. Here's the mail translated.


The ant works hard all through the summer heatwave.
He builds a house and stocks up food for winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is stupid. He laughs, dances and plays around.

Winter comes. The ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper shivers with cold and has neither food nor shelter. He dies of cold.



The ant works hard all through the summer heatwave.
He builds a house and stocks up food for winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is stupid. He laughs, dances and plays around.

Winter comes. The ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper shivers with cold. He organises a press conference to demand why the ant has the right to be warm and well fed when others, less fortunate than him, are cold and hungry.

Television stations organise live shows showing the grasshopper shivering with cold and include video clips of the ant in his warm house with a table covered with food. The French are shocked that in such a rich country, a poor grasshopper can be left to suffer while others have so much. Anti-poverty organisations protest in front of the ant's house.

Jounalists run interviews claiming the ant has become rich on the back of the grasshopper. They call on the government to increase the ant's taxes so that he "pays a fair contribution". The unions, the Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist League, the Gay and Lesbian Pride groups organise sit-ins and protests in front of the ant's house. As a show of solidarity public servants decide to go on strike for 59 minutes every day for an indefinite period.

A famous philosopher writes a book establishing links between the ant and the Nazi torturers at Auschwitz. In response to opinion polls the government rushes through laws on economic equality and anti-discrimination. The ant's taxes are increased and he is fined for not having employed the grasshopper as his assistant. The ant's house is requisitioned by the authorities because the ant doesn't have enough money to pay the fine and increased taxes. The ant emigrates to Switzerland where he contributes to that country's economic wealth.

A television report shows the grasshopper has now become fat. He is in the process of eating what remains of the ant's food even though Spring is still a long way off. Gatherings of artists and left-wing writers are regularly held in the ant's house. The singer Renaud composes a song: "Ant, beat it..."

The ant's former house, now a local authority home for the grasshopper, becomes increasingly run down because the grasshopper does nothing to maintain it. The government is blamed for not providing enough money for the work. An inquiry costing 10 million euros, is set up.

The grasshopper dies of an overdose. The newspapers Libération and Humanité comment on how the government has failed to address seriously the problems of social inequality.

The ant's former house is squatted by a gang of immigrant cockroaches.

The cockroaches deal in drugs and terrorise the local community.

The French government congratulates itself on the multicultural diversity of France.