Only when I laugh

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The Independent Culture
My flatmate Agnes says she likes my photo in the Independent, it makes me look so pretentious. She says this as we are boarding the Metro and I realise she has just fed me the line of a lifetime. So I place one hand on my chest, and protest at the top of my voice: "Pretentious, moi?" Which is pretty funny, right, because we're in France, and... well, you know what I mean.

So, does the carriage explode with laughter? It does not. Does anybody raise a knowing eyebrow at my bon mot? No. In fact, nobody pays the slightest attention, except for a junky type who looks at me like something he just stepped in. Why? Because they're French, of course, and, as we English know so well, the French are pretentious. They take everything so seriously.

Not like us. We like to laugh, and poke fun at serious matters. We send ourselves up, and everyone else too. We've got such a great sense of humour; you only have to read our tabloid newspapers and satirical magazines to see that. We're known the world over for our ego-pricking, thigh-slapping, back-chatting, quick-cutting, pie-throwing, piss-taking, fun-poking, sick- joking sensibility.

Ho ho ho, that's us, always having the last laugh. Especially when it comes to a bit of nudge nudge wink wink. Get your laughing gear round this, know what I'm saying? I said, get your lipstick around my dipstick. If wit were shit we'd be up to our necks in diarrhoea. Not like those miserable Frogs with their sniffy airs and graces. Joie de vivre? Don't make me laugh. Such is our disdain that we dismiss them with our lowest form of wit. Why else would we say, "Pretentious, moi?"

Then again, to condemn others as pretentious implies that you are qualified to decide what is real and what is pretend. In other words, you must first of all assume the role of Reality Monitor. But this itself could be condemned as the height of pretension, n'est-ce pas?

Now you can see why I'm confused. I think I'm pretentious, I have a pretentious photo at the top of my column, I work hard to maintain my pomposity levels, but I no longer have enough confidence in consensual reality to assume the necessary critical position. Even though I'm learning to speak French (oh, you'd noticed) and therefore have a plausible reason for littering my column with French terms (and a plausible reason is all the raison d'etre that any self-respecting poseur needs), there's the nagging doubt that I'm just a parvenu where pretension is concerned. Maybe I should consult those public schoolboys over at Private High. They seem to have more than a few self-appointed Reality Monitors among their number. I'm sure they can set me straight.

Anyway, the French, miserable buggers that they are, need to lighten up. That's why the English, a nation of jesters, like to say, "Up yours, Delors". I mean, look what happened at the end of last year. It's Christmas time, season of goodwill to all men, wall-to-wall Cilla, lashings of EastEnders and all our favourite oh-so-subversive comedians on the box, puddles of vomit outside boozers the length and breadth of the country, Knickerbox suspenders for the missus nestling under every Christmas tree, Queen's speech, all the trimmings, right? We're game on for two weeks of jolly holly and mistletoe folly. And what are the French doing?

Marching in the streets, through hail and blizzards, that's what. Millions of the grumpy gits, all over the country, on strike. Whole bloody nation brought to a standstill. And why? Because Prime Minister Alain Juppe wants to introduce a few sensible, basic economic reforms. Nothing sensational, just some cuts in education and the health service, reform of state pensions, making the unemployed pay income tax, bit of social division, setting the consuming classes at each other's throats, that sort of thing. Bog-standard Thatcherite policy, in fact, the kind that we've found so amusing for the past 17 years.

Didn't scare us, did it? We just laughed even louder. Ho ho ho, see if we care. Did you hear the one about there being no such thing as society; every man for himself? Not a dry seat in the house, mate. What about that great in-joke called privatisation, where they took our national utilities, sold them back to us, then appointed another bunch of jokers to run them at salaries that had them pissing themselves all the way to the bank? And what did we say? Ha! (Ooh-er, two of those and you're laughing, missus)

Bugger 'em if they can't take a joke. That's our attitude. Because we can take a joke, right? We're not pretentious. We'll always be game for a laugh - ask Jeremy Beadle. As for me, for the time being, I'll work a little harder on being pretentious - and also on my French, which, after all, amounts to pretty much the same thing. You know me. Anything for a laugh, right?