Adrian Hamilton: London begins to feel French, just as the mood changes

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Paris in the spring. It's the old cliché, of course. The plane trees coming into leaf, the cafés full of chatter. What makes it different is not just the chic. Where else can women grow old with such attitude? But it is also the light. The buildings appear to lean back, so that the sun catches the upper storeys in a way that is special in itself.

The mood this April is certainly more sombre than I have known it. The cuts in services are biting. There are more beggars. Prices have risen inexorably. But in a funny way, it seems to have made the Parisians more French, prouder of what makes them special compared with the collapsed arrogance of the Anglo-Saxon world and the wastrel ways of the Greeks and Irish.

Returning to London feels different. Not that the city isn't as beautiful. We've made a mess of the river and made it worse with the apartment blocks. The light does not have the same effect on them. But the trees, the parks and squares have nothing to apologise for. What is different in London is the sheer energy and vivacity which came with the financial boom and made every young Frenchman worth his salt want to live and work here.

Yet London has acquired something that feels rather governmental and French. Coming into St Pancras you are greeted by an enormous Soviet-style set of Olympic rings, a reminder – as if we needed it – of our status next year. I fear, as with Pompidou and Mitterrand's grands projets, it will prove out of tune with the times – fine when it was dreamed up but not now that the mood has changed. Paris may yet be pleased not to have won it.

So much for solidarity with the Japanese

I was surprised to find last week that one of my favourite lunching places, a modest Japanese restaurant in central London, has a large notice outside declaring that none of its fish came from infected waters around the stricken Fukushima plant. What was more, the restaurant assured its customers, none of its fish now came from Japanese waters at all.

Was it meant for its Japanese or its English customers? It's hard to tell, for the non-Japanese have proved anything but sympathetic to the plight of the Japanese in Japan. Many of the airlines have been stopping en route to Japan so that they can exchange crews for Japanese and take on other food before flying on to Tokyo, in the face of the reluctance of their staff to stay a night.

Can we really be so lily-livered? Nearly 13 million people live in Tokyo, yet we daren't go there. That may be a tribute to the basic fear we have of nuclear power. But it says little for the spirit of brotherhood that globalisation was supposed to engender.

Don't keep us in suspense about Sarah

Like most addicts of the Danish crime series The Killing, which has just finished its first series, we have tried to fill our Saturday evenings with the third series of the French TV crime story Spiral. It doesn't, in truth, fill the gap. Obsessed, as French cinema has always been, with an American style of gritty violence and language, it merely points up the degree of restraint and subtlety of the Danish production. In 20 one-hour episodes we saw only two bodies and then the camera did not dwell on them. In Spiral we've already had two bodies in two episodes, both shown lingeringly in their gory dismemberment.

The one thing that the two series do have in common, besides cinematography of a quality we seem to be abandoning in British crime serials, is the presence of a woman as the chief detective. We've been through dishevelled male detectives and the occasional female lead struggling with her life-work balance.

In the French series Laure Berthaud is still in this mould, although more dishevelled than any before. But Sarah Lund of The Killing was something else – a policewoman of tunnel vision who got it right only after getting it continuously wrong, and breaking personal and professional relationships in the process.

The BBC has promised us a second series of The Killing this autumn, but it won't say when. How can we plan our lives without knowing?