Thursday, November 18, 2004

english yobs, french snobs
Standing in the blustery arms of strange air, the English and the French face each other. Each army bustles in the dim twilight with the pitching of defensive camps on top of opposing hills, the enemies surveying each other with hostility across the grassy expanse of an open valley.

The English are gathered around their fires to keep warm and burn chunks of slaughtered beast in the roaring flames. The best spots go to a few talented ancestors of Lennon or Albarn who are keeping spirits high by strumming instruments and banging pots, just as they would back home in the pub, yodelling anything as long as it rhymes and is about whipping French ass. The quartermasters are kept busy rolling out barrels of beer to the men who get busy playing drinking games, lying under makeshift holes tapped in the side, ale spilling freely until exhausted.

Meanwhile, across the valley, the French soldiers are seated away from the flames as an army of cooks tend to the boiling of vegetables, the making of sauces and the braising of steaks. An army marches on it's stomach after all, and what with the gallic noses being bathed in smells of home, their General fully expects them to be fighting hard for their own corner of La France tomorrow. The soldiers ravenously wait in the dark, talking to each other about tomorrow's demise of English scum. Wooden crates packed generously with straw are cracked open and the timeless shape of wine bottles is revealed twinkling in the moonlight, ready to be passed around.

The wind blows around the valley, carrying the drunken but tuneful sounds of the English camp across to the ears of their French foes, and the lifting the scented aromas of garlic and herbs back to the underpriveleged noses of the English. As each side talks, as each General stirs hatred and sells propaganda, the soldiers grow instinctively to despise what they know of their enemy. The uncourtly music and beery yelling of the English is transmuted by the French mind and discourse into the ignorant howlings of a barbarous rabble, indulging in drunkeness and reduced to facing death without dignity or honour. The English for their part cannot believe the French are going to the impracticality of preparing what smells like a banquet. What arrogance and pretence, to luxuriously cart all the ingredients, cooking kit and crew around when it's weaponry and soldiers that are needed for a battle. But the battle's tomorrow, and the English turn back to their beer to squeeze some final pleasure and revelry out of what will be for many their last night under the twinkling stars.

In the morning at the crack of dawn, the armies are raised and readied. Sharpened swords are sheathed and unsheathed, the harnesses of cavalry saddles checked and double checked. Signals are watched for and nerves grow tense, as do hatreds, kindled and rekindled, ancient wounds remembered and bitterly sworn for avengement.

With cries and yells the two sides launch at each other in blind fear and fervent anger. Men are cut in two, disembowled, de-limbed, beheaded or blinded, left lying in pain with the shrieks of their friends and brothers ringing in their ears as death watches on, notching his stick busily. Blood runs so thick on the ground that the grass is as crimson as the last gasp of sunset.

Hours later, the survivors have gathered behind their lines sullied, stained and exhausted. The general and his lieutenants, where still alive, huddle in tents to digest the implications of the slaughter. A side won, a side lost. Terrain has been ceded, bounty gained, reputations established or destroyed. Just as the dust is settling two lone messengers stir it back up into the aggrieved air, racing off on the strongest horses to the national capitals, keeping the politicians informed.

As time passes by, viewed under the frozen stony gaze of monuments of remembrance for the heroic dead or for victory's glory, the stories of the survivors become gossip and cultural folklore. The habits and qualities of the enemy seen from afar across the valley become ridiculed stereotypes. Music, beer and roudy good cheer is contrasted against cuisine, conversation and dignity. Each set becomes a more rigid identity against the emotional undercurrent of a hundred thousand grieving hearts.

Once chosen, the identity grows, but growing misshapen and distorted against it's cultural cousin. Dignity over-emphasised becomes snobbish arrogance, good cheer yobbish loutism, each extreme prevented from finding integrity through embracement of its opposite by the mental walls of patriotism and political identity.

Hundreds of years later, events and thoughts and cultural shaping forgotten and consigned to deep within the subconcious, the nations continue their contrasting lives.

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