Fat-cattery, thy name is double-barrelled

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The Independent Online

"This fellow, head of Glaxo, what's his name?" said the resident Welshman, settling down at his table with the first pint of the evening. "You know the chap. Had his picture in all the papers. Driving away in a limo with his head averted, like Madonna trying to avoid film critics. Fat cat. Frenchman. Name of..."

"Jean-Pierre Garnier," said someone swiftly.

"That's the fellow," said the Welshman. "What I want to know is, how come suddenly there are so many Frenchmen in charge of things in England? Don't get me wrong. Personally, I'm glad. It's nice to see the English being pushed on to the hard shoulder now and then. I'm only sorry it's not Welshmen doing it. But the French? You don't expect to see the English let the French take over. Least of all Arsenal and Liverpool football clubs."

"It could be worse," said the landlord gloomily. "You could be Scottish and let a German take over your football team."

The landlord is thought to have Scottish blood. There was a moment's silence for mourning.

"It all started when they got that chap in to rescue the Dome," said the lady with the green hairdo, sipping the ginger wine which went so well with her hair hue. "Gerber. Gerbil. Ger..."

"P-Y Gerbeau," said the man with the dog. "Actually, old Gerbeau rather endeared himself to the English. First of all, he agreed to back a loser, or at least the underdog, at a time when no-one in Britain wanted to be Domemaster. Second, he didn't sound too French when he talked - he has a vaguely American accent. Just like most of the best top businessmen do, actually, whether French, Italian, Russian or even Japanese. Thirdly, he stuck around in Britain after the Dome closed, as if he actually liked living here."

"And fourthly, he had a ready-made nickname," said the Welshman. "P-Y. Sounded different. No man in England has a Christian name beginning with Y. So P-Y had a bit of a ring about it."

"Come to that," said the man with the dog,"nobody in England has a double-barrelled Christian name. Yet the French get away with it all the time. Jean Paul Gaultier. Jean-Paul Sartre. Jean-Luc Godard. Jean Jacques Rousseau. What kind of a name is Jean Jacques Rousseau, for God's sake? Translate it literally into English and you get John James Russell. Would you trust a man called John James Russell?"

"No, I wouldn't, " said the resident Welshman. "But fair's fair, nobody trusted the man called Jean Jacques Rousseau either."

"Sometimes you get French people with a boy's name hyphenated to a girl's name," said the green-haired lady.

We all stared at her.

"Jean-Marie le Pen," she said.

"Mmm," said the man with the dog. "And talking about girl's names, what about Eve St Laurent?"

"It's not Eve," explained the Welshman. "It's Yves."

"I know," said the man with the dog. "It was a joke."

We had the customary deathly pause which follows the explanation of a joke, followed by the first contribution of the evening from the Major.

"What about Valery Giscard d'Estaing? Where does the Christian name end and the surname start? And is Valery a girl's name or what?"

"No, it's not," said the Welshman. "All Christian names have male and female versions. Claude, Claudette. Yves, Yvette. Luke, Lucy. Charles, Charlotte."

"What's the female form of Wayne, then?" said the man with the dog.

"Juanita," said the Welshman, and the clever way he said it, we all believed him for a moment. "Actually," continued the Welshman, who loves showing off, "there is no letter 'w' in Spanish or French or Italian, so you couldn't really have the name Wayne at all in those languages. Which makes me wonder how you can get a Frenchman called Wenger."

"Because it's not a French name," said the Major. "It's a German name. It would also be a foreign name in French, like Wagner, or..."

"Whisky," said the green lady.

"Or whisky," said the Major. "The odd thing is that Arsene Wenger still pronounces his name as if it were German. The proper French pronunciation would be Ou-on-jay, or something like that. Not Ven-ga."

At this fascinating point, someone switched on the TV and we found ourselves watching football, so the conversation died.