Sorry, je ne regrette rien

"So, have they said sorry yet or haven't they?" said Jim.

"Sorry?" said Big Bertha, standing next to him at the bar.

I should explain to the more sensitive of my readers that Big Bertha is not actually very big. Nor is she called Bertha. We call her Big Bertha because her friend, Eileen, is enormous and we don't want to offend Eileen. It's one of those pub jokes that seemed funny first time round.

"Maybe he's referring to one of the water companies," said Tim. "Maybe a water company has apologised for something."

"Maybe it's the French and their nuclear testing," I said. "Maybe they have looked up the word for sorry and used it."

"The French word for being sorry is regretter," said Tim, "and it's only ever used by the French in one phrase: Non, je ne regrette rien."

"Which reminds me," said the landlord. "That bomb that went off in Paris the other day. Hurt some tourists. Know the one?"

The landlord speaks in little bursts. Like shotgun fire. Quite exhausting. Know what I mean?

"Yes," I said. "Bomb. Paris. With you."

"I have a theory. Maybe it wasn't a terrorist bomb. Maybe it was a Pacific island, testingits bomb on French territory."

The fact that no one laughed didn't mean it wasn't funny. It meant we thought it was quite feasible. In the middle of the pause, Jim came back in.

"Well, have they said sorry or not yet? The Japanese, I mean."

"What does it matter to you?" said Big Bertha. "They didn't torture you personally, did they?"

"No," said Jim," but I was watching The Bridge on the River Kwai the other day and I got so cross. It was the ultimate British story of Japanese cruelty and English stoicism. And nobody said sorry in the film either."

"Correction," said the landlord. "Not a British story. French story."

"I don't remember any Froggies in the film," said Jim.

"Film of the River Kwai bridge story was based on a novel by a Frenchman," said the landlord. "Who also wrote Planet of the Apes."

We had a five-minute diversion here, finally settled by Big Bertha who had once been in a pub quiz where this had come up and she confirmed that a Frenchman called Pierre Boulle had indeed been responsible for both stories.

"Well, anyway," said Jim, "I think someone ought to say sorry to the forgotten army out in Burma. Our lads."

"Hold on, hold on," I said. "Before anyone says sorry to them, I'd like to know what our army was doing in Burma in the first place."

"Fighting the Japs," said Jim.

"Before that," I said. "We had an army there for 100 years before the Japs invaded. What was it doing there?"

"Running the place," said Jim.

"Oh, really?" I said. "Did the Burmese ask us to come in and run their country? Or did we by chance just march in and take over? Did we take over the place just like the Japs tried to? And if so, did we ever say sorry to the Burmese?"

There was a short silence.

"Got a point," said the landlord. "Hate to admit it. But got a point."

"Have the British ever said sorry for anything?" said Big Bertha.

"Have the Burmese ever said sorry for anything?" said Jim.

This took us all by surprise. We raised a collective eyebrow at him.

"I went to Burma once," said Jim, "and although they're a peaceful Buddhist nation and all that, they have a bloodthirsty history. They once invaded and slaughtered the Siamese. The Thais have never forgotten that. Whenever a new Burmese king came to the throne, he always killed off the next 20 in succession to the throne to get rid of any threat. There is no record of any of them ever saying sorry."

"Look at the Burmese today", said Big Bertha. "Government of thugs. They're always mowing down unarmed monks and students. They lock up their Nobel Peace Prize winner. They never say sorry."

"Did God ever say sorry?" said the landlord.

We looked at him blankly.

"Made the world in seven days. Rush job. Bungled a lot of it. Imperfect place to say the least. Did he ever say sorry?"

There was the sort of silence that occurs when everyone knows a conversation has gone over the edge of the cliff. A chap called Bill came in.

"Pint of shandy," he said, "and why is everyone so quiet?"

"Well, we were just wondering if God ever had any remorse over his personal behaviour."

"Blimey," said Bill. "How did you get on to that?"

Nobody could remember straight off. But that's how it is with pub conversations.