Charles Nevin: Some advice for Leo Blair: pipe down, mon vieux

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The Independent Online

Implications. Inferences. Pointers. Straws in the wind. Pondering. Mulling. That's the trick to this comment game. Take a report, analyse, expound, advise, warn. But it's not always easy.

Perhaps you saw, too, the report that three Arabs charged in New Jersey in connection with the 11 September attacks had also stolen £60,000 worth of cornflakes. A tough one. That's about two lorryloads of cornflakes. How many bottles of milk would you need for that lot? And a lot of sugar. Did they want the cornflakes or the boxes? Were there any little toys in them? See what I mean? Best to move on.

Leo Blair. You must remember him. He's 18 months old now. Last week, according to another report, he wished President Chirac a happy 69th birthday. In French. "Bon Anniversaire, Oncle Jacques," he said. What do you make of that? His dad couldn't spell tomorrow yesterday, and now this little fellow is conversing with France's top man in fluent French.

Implications, inferences? Well, for starters, if that's how good his French is, imagine what his English must be like. I seem to remember at the time that Leo's arrival was considered a great boost for his dad, you know, a beguiling mixture of the human, emotional, sensitive side and a bit of not bad for an old bloke, good old Tony, who'd have thought it, that sort of thing.

They said, too, that Leo had helped his dad win the election. Given this latest revelation, I can see what they meant: he probably wrote the manifesto, briefed against Oliver Letwin and stressed the importance of public services. Now we are aware of his linguistic skills, it's easy to imagine him taking a pensive pull on the Cow & Gate and muttering: "Sacré bleu! I can't believe they've nailed their colours to Le Pound!"

On the other hand, though, a phrase we use quite a lot in the comment game, it could be that he is merely a Francophile. The evidence, after all, is pretty persuasive: despite unconvincing attempts to pin it on a weekend at Balmoral, it seems pretty clear that Leo was conceived in France, and he has since spent quite a lot of his life there on holiday.

This is not such good news. The harm that has been done by small, forceful French speakers has not been entirely recompensed by a mellifluous and easily remembered name for a London railway terminus. And even if he has inherited less robust tendencies, Leo will doubtless be affecting black polo-neck sweaters, complaining about the essential meaningless of life, sending out for endless packets of wafery biscuits and pretending not to understand English by the time he's two.

About now, we commentators tend to go for a wider point. Ready? Precociousness. On the whole, it's not terribly popular in this country. May I mention a name? William Hague. You must remember him. Looks a little like Leo, too. Did you know that Bruce Forsyth was a child star? He was: Boy Bruce, the Mighty Atom. Thank you.

But, in America, they love precocious children. They crowd, and have always crowded, the screens, with Temples and Culkins, Fosters and Osmonds. All manner of pipingly solemn, archly innocent and droll feats are affectionately indulged by twinkling, kindly adults. WC Fields, who liked his children either boiled or fried, laboured in vain. It's a new world, young country thing, I think. We'd had quite enough with that Mozart.

Time for advice and conclusions. So, Leo, if you've turned here from the crossword: pipe down, mon vieux. Nobody likes a show-off. Keep your Malraux under the pillow, leave copies of the Mr Men books scattered artlessly about (although Mr Fussy is not without a certain bleak angst). Don't correct your dad's spelling, don't yawn when Uncle Gordon is speaking and, whatever you do, don't complain about the standard of English cooking.

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