The observant among you may have noted that I was absent last week. I had intended to write a column, or at any rate log on with a ‘Kathryn is away this week’ message but several factors mitigated against me. I left my Blackberry on charge in the living room as I gathered the final items for my holiday in the South of France, most of which was spent in true rurality. It was bliss and the effort of seeking an internet cafe was far less appealing than sipping wine and nibbling olives. Just this once, I’ll let myself off from the challenge I set at New Year to write each Thursday come what may because I was, quite literally, in another world. I could bore you with stories of wonderful meals, charming towns and the other minutiae of holidays but instead I’ll pick up on one significant impression left upon me. The boyfriends’ eldest has started collecting flags and requested a French flag. Readily we promised to buy him one. Yes, yes you shouldn’t make promises to children unless you’re absolutely sure you can deliver. But how difficult could it be? The World Cup was on and France still in the running, flags would be everywhere! France is beautiful. This is nothing new. If you haven’t wandered the pastel streets of the towns that dot Provence, poured wine from painted carafes or watched the sun set over the twinkling Mediterranean then you’ve seen the pictures and postcards, and watched the films of these things. The French dress stylishly, adhere to a myriad of planning rules for their buildings and regularly carry baskets with baguettes but most significantly, they are so assured in their national pride that they do not feel the need to attach the Tricolore to their cars. Or hang them outside their homes or wear them about their shoulders. No flags to be seen.*

Of course the French can be tiresome at times. One night at a party the boyfriend got chatting to a charming bloke who nonetheless divided the planet’s commerce between French and not-French. A lightly spirited debate over beer (I must say at this point that the boyfriends’ language talents were both surprising and delightful) caught me rolling my eyes and him demanding to know what I was drinking. My answer that I was drinking pastis caught him off guard and I was eager to stress my appreciation for a great many things French (personally I thought the fact I was spending my holiday in the country might have been a clue). Still, one can rather labour the point and his afterbirth had come out half an hour ago. Yet I was affected and left saddened by the infusion of national pride that I saw wherever I went. Perhaps football was avoided as a diplomatic measure and perhaps the circles I was moving in (British expats and the locals that befriend them) accounts for the subjects of film and food being notable topics of discussion but it was nice. It was nice to talk to people that love their cheese and are eager to hear which actors and entertainers are popular in England (much hilarity when Antoine de Caunes was mentioned).

Later, when an English woman mentioned the World Cup, I started talking about asparagus. We have amazing asparagus in Gloucestershire you know. I buy ours from Over Farm Market where it gets picked early in the day and is displayed casually on racks to be gathered by the handful. Luscious! I pointed out that it was tragic that our national pride was so tied to wearing football shirts and chanting for Engurland *shudder.* This isn’t to disparage football; despite not being a fan I was far more thrilled than I expected to hear of yesterday’s victory from the cheer arising at the Berkeley Arms as I sat at my desk at the Edward Jenner Museum a few moments walk away. But it is just a game... Anyway, she looked pensive for a moment and then agreed. We covered a few of the amazing things about our fair isle and she seemed positively buoyed in the face of surrounding French smugness.

I love the scene in Love Actually where Hugh Grant gives the kind of speech that is the Political Scientists wet dream** (from 1 min 20 secs particularly). ‘We may be a small country, but we’re a great one too.’ I’d like to see more recognition from this fact. Yes we are overpopulated with what can only be described as chav scum but we are also host to amazing talent that was tragically neglected during Labour’s party for the reliant. One of my hopes for the new government is that rather than fuel a culture of dependence where benefits are viewed as a right, we see greater investment in start-ups and R&D. There is a particular group of people that deserve as much focus as Rooney and his fellow dribblers and kickers and they are our entrepreneurs and our scientists. We have amazing standards of education and our footballers represent just a fraction of our raw talent. From pressing cider to conceptualising new pathways in medicine we Brits are pretty damn awesome. So while I’ll have my fingers crossed on Sunday (though I’ll actually be eating a picnic at Goodrich Castle) I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on the other things worth celebrating. 

 * An eBay order was placed upon our return home.

** If, well ya know, that happened to girls...



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