Pointing out that in translating `not a sausage', I had written about the `step of the sausage', my critic inquired whether it was a chipolata or Cumberland which took a stroll?

The Weasel
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The Independent Culture
Like Evelyn Waugh's wonderful creation, Captain Grimes, my partiality for French phrases has landed me in the soup. You may recall the passage in Decline and Fall, where Grimes complains about his new father-in-law, Dr Fagan: "You know, I used to use French phrases a certain amount - things like savoir faire and Je ne sais quoi. I never thought about it, but I suppose I haven't got much of an accent. Well, every time I say one of them now, the Doctor gives a sort of wince as if he's bitten on a bad tooth." In similar vein, a pained correspondent has pointed out that in translating the expression "not a sausage" as "pas d'une saucisse" instead of "pas une saucisse," I had actually written about the "step of the sausage." Warming to his theme, my critic inquired whether it was a chipolata or Cumberland which took a stroll?

When our peals of merriment at this badinage had ceased to shake the walls of Weasel Villas, I rang my Parisian pal for clarification. "Quoi? Are you English having trouble with your sausages as well as your bifteck?" she demanded. It took a little time to make my meaning clear. "There is no such expression in French," she announced. "What we might say is `pas la cour' - `not even the tail' of something. For example, we might say `pas la cour d'une saucisse.' But, of course, this would apply only to sausages." I felt a slight headache coming on, but decided to try out a couple of other colloquialisms on my charming informant. Judging by her reaction, I doubt if we'll hear "alors, j'irai au pied des mes escaliers" or even "les genoux de l'abeille" echoing round the arrondissements. Despite residing in the city where surrealism was invented, my friend displayed a dismaying literalism. "What is all this about going to the feet of some stairs or the knees of some bees. Pah!"

Sticking up for Blighty, I pointed out that French also contained numerous expressions which are ostensibly absurd. What about vachement (untranslatable, but literally "cow-ly") which has been used as a term of approval for donkey's years? "Yes, but it's a little obsolete," Madame explained. "Young people don't use it much today. It's much more fashionable to use English expressions such as `Super!'" Well, you can't get hipper than that.

It's not just English expressions which have become le dernier cri in France. A recent report in Le Monde declares that the British capital is "completely abuzz... a huge Culture Club rediscovering the attitudes and ideals of Swinging London." Well, I can't say I notice this exciting renaissance myself - come to think of it, I more or less missed it the first time round as well. Anyway, it appears that films such as the chortle- packed Trainspotting (set in Glasgow) and pop stars such as the chic and sophisticated Oasis (a Manchester band) have prompted an invasion of London by the golden youth of Europe.

To get the most out of their trip I trust our young visitors ensure they do a spot of boning up on the metrop before they arrive. Otherwise, they may find themselves in the same pickle as a weary Finnish backpacker who addressed Mrs W outside the Tate Gallery last week. He was fresh off the Eurostar from Paris and only wanted to see one thing in London. "Could you please tell me where Jim Morrison is buried?" As gently as possible, she informed him that the ex-Door was interred in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. In order to alleviate his disappointment, she pointed out to the young music lover that this famous necropolis is also the last resting place of Chopin and Edith Piaf - but it didn't seem to buck him up much. Shrouded in Scandinavian gloom, he slogged off in the direction of Waterloo.

It is an acknowledged fact that the 6,000 staff of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are la creme de la creme of the British civil service. The most brilliant scholars and laureates of our ancient seats of learning are skimmed off to serve in Sir George Gilbert Scott's Italianate pile on Whitehall or to represent her Britannic Majesty in far-flung postings from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. For keenness of intellect, shrewdness of judgement and verbal felicity, they are without peer. So I was interested to hear of a competition which promised to extract the utmost in creative endeavour from those silver-tongued polymaths - they were asked to come up with a title for a new FCO staff newsletter. In order to encourage them to exercise every fibre of their being in this task, a grand prize of pounds 25 was promised for the winner. We can only conjecture the magnificence of the entries. I would have thought that The Diplomatic Bag, The Ambassador's Party (with possible sponsorship from Ferrero-Rocher) or Embassy Tips might have fitted the bill. In fact, the runner-up was the ingenious, if rather contrived, suggestion, Text, Spies and Sellotape. (Sex, Lies and Videotape - geddit?) But for an unerring combination of insouciant wit and pithy memorability, it is impossible to improve on the winning title: FCO News and Views. Brilliant, just brilliant.

After the closure of the renowned literary journal Horizon, its editor Cyril Connolly noted that manuscripts continued to arrive "like a suicide's milk." Something similar occasionally happens with answering machines, which continue to repeat messages recorded by individuals who have long moved on from that particular telephone number. A story I heard recently from the depths of south-east London made me aware of the dangers which can arise from these devices. It concerns an acquaintance of mine who parted from his wife in a fairly amicable fashion until, one day, several months later, he rang his old number. Instead of hearing himself on the outgoing message, there was the voice of another man.

After brooding on this erasure of the ancien regime, he went round to his former home to take retribution. Before she realised what was going on, his wife's computer, CD player, video-recorder and fax machine were all bobbing round in the garden pond, like so many electronic tea-bags. Racing down from the bedroom, she managed to save her sole surviving undunked gadget. It was, of course, the answering machine.

Due to a change of ownership, a venerable tradition has been re-established at our local flea-pit - the Saturday morning children's film club. Though a keen juvenile cinema-goer, I never attended such a gathering myself, believing that it attracted a rather raffish crowd. (This view was confirmed by Mrs W, whose one-day career as a usherette came to an end when her tray piled high with Mivvi's, Kia-Ora and Butterkist was plundered by a screaming mob of homunculi. She ended up paying the cinema rather than vice versa.) For that reason, I never enjoyed the delights retailed by my schoolmates of watching scratchy episodes of Flash Gordon and singing the club ditty, which went something along the lines of:

We are the ABC minors,

We like Alfie Bass and Ronald Shiner.

How times have changed. Instead of serials and rotten British "B" movies, the viewing fare at the "Little Rascals Club" includes such critically acclaimed Hollywood products as Babe and the altogether wonderful Toy Story. Despite all appearances to the contrary, could it be that the younger generation are a bunch of cinematic sophisticates? Perhaps future programmes will include Last Year at Marienbad or L'Avventura and the young cineastes will be clutching copies of Cahiers du Cinema rather than choc-ices

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