"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese

Author John Corby also writes as "Bulldogge" for the British Canadian newspaper.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

10 Things I Miss Most About Britain: #2 The English Channel

Mes Amis Francais
Regular readers of Blighty's Blog might be tempted to doubt my reverence for anything French. Let me state for the record that I have a lot of good friends in Quebec and have the highest respect for French culture, the French language (ok, maybe not so much for Quebecois French) and, above all, les vins de France. With that disclaimer in the bag, I can now go on to bash the blackguards.

A Beach Too Far
English feelings toward the French were forever forged when an armada of thugs called Norman landed on the beach at Hastings and killed the King of England, a British chap called Harold. That was in the year 1066. For the last 943 years the French and the English have exchanged insults, snubs and ownership of swathes of each other's sovereign territory. Territorial disagreements extended across the Big Pond to Canada where, in 1759, the French were decisively beaten by the British redcoats who, having shown the French who was best, promptly handed ownership of the territory straight back to them.

Glass-Bottomed Boats
But I digress. The English Channel is probably the most important defence Britain ever had. It stopped the Germans marching straight into Britain during the Second World War and it provided an excellent route through which Sir Francis Drake chased the fleeing Spanish Armada in the 16th Century. An old joke has it that the modern Spanish navy uses glass-bottomed ships so that Spanish sailors can look at the old Spanish navy.

Rough Crossing

The English Channel can be a very rough stretch of water to cross. I recall one crossing from Boulogne back to JOE (Jolly Old England) during which the big ferry ploughed its way through monstrous waves that crashed over the deck of the big boat. The cascading seawater helped to wash the decks of some of the stomach contents deposited all over the ship by green-faced passengers.

Garcon! Garcon? ...

The English frequently make day trips across the Channel to load up with supplies of les vins de France. I recall sitting with a group of friends in a Calais cafe waiting to get served. The waiter was ignoring us. I tried to order une biere at the bar but the barman refused to serve me. "Il faut appeler le garcon" he told me. I returned to my table, raised my hand and called "garcon!", but to no avail. Les Anglais were not welcome at that French bar.

Passport Please
The English Channel has high white cliffs on the English side and to the south, on the French side, lie the beaches of Normandy where the D-Day landings took place in 1944. An old retired British Tommy visiting Normandy was asked for his passport by a French border services officer. "I don't have a passport" said the Tommy. "Have you been to France before?" inquired the French officer. "Yes" replied the Tommy. "Then, monsieur you should know that you need a passport!" insisted the French officer. "The last time I came to France was in 1944" responded the Tommy "and there wasn't a Frenchman in sight to show a passport to!".

And so the nearly thousand year old rivalry entre les deux nations continues. Vive le difference and twenty one miles of water between us.

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