Stephen Clarke… Annoying the French?

Stephen Clarke, photo: Johnny Ring

Stephen Clarke, known for his popular novel “Year in the Merde” depicting  the indisputably laddish protagonist, Paul West and his expat adventures in France, was in Paris recently promoting his latest book  “1000 Years of Annoying the French.”

His new work looks at conflicts between the French and the “Anglo-Saxons” over the past ten centuries. Clarke says that  “these bad memories explain why, even when we are trying to do something friendly, the past will usually come up and slap us in the face.” His foray into history comes on the heels of four “merde novels” including “Merde Actually” “Merde Happens” and “Dial M for Merde.”

Stephen Clarke made the following comments recently while signing his new book at Paris’ WHSmith Bookshop.

“When I finished ‘Dial M for Merde,” I wanted to do something completely different… something historical, because I’ve always been fascinated by various bits of French history, like the Bayeux Tapestry.

Every time I do a reading one question that I always get asked is: why this love hate relationship between the French and English? There is this ongoing thing that we have and I was thinking about what someone once said to me which was ‘the English Channel, as we arrogantly call it, is ‘twenty miles wide and a thousand years deep’.  I began thinking yeah, that’s exactly it. What happens is everytime that France and say Britain or France and America does absolutely anything, the past comes up.  So I started looking into it.

I went out to Bayeux and looked at the tapestry. I listened to the commentary which is a beautiful commentary and in English. It’s read by this wonderful man with an old BBC voice from the 1950s. You have to believe everything he says; it can’t possibly be untrue.

And I was listening to him and  looking at the tapestry while thinking about what he said and I thought what he said isn’t quite logical. I started looking into the literature and I found a book that seemed to confirm this by a fellow called Andrew Bridgeford, who points out that maybe the interpretation that we’re given today of the Bayeux Tapestry isn’t exactly true.

As I went thought history I just found that there are all these things that I’d believed, which were wrong. I also found, much to my amusement that the French seem to be in a terrible state of denial about these truths. Every time something goes wrong, it never happened. Or someone else did it. This book is a sort of lighthearted, re-telling of what I consider to be some of the juicier bits of our history… “