For French newspapers Britain means either riots or royalty, that is to say bad news or soap opera; and I was intrigued the other day to see in Le Figaro an article about Prince William’s recent interview with CNN about his accession to fatherhood.
What intrigued me about the article was the photograph that accompanied it. It showed Prince William sitting in the garden of Kensington Palace during the interview. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt (the People’s Prince, then) and by the side of his chair, on the ground, was a plastic bottle of mineral water.
Presumably he had to drink the water directly from the bottle, for there was not a glass in sight, let alone a silver salver. Now it seems to me that there is no point in being a prince if one has to drink mineral water straight out of a plastic bottle like any person from, say, Leytonstone or Walthamstow; at the very least water should be served to a prince by a uniformed flunkey pouring it into a crystal glass or a silver-gilt goblet. If royal princes are going to refresh themselves in the proletarian fashion that the photograph seems to indicate, we might as well move straight to a presidential republican system. I nominate Paul Gascoigne, the alcoholic and ill-tempered ex-footballer, as first president, since he not only represents the general population demographically better than the be-jeaned and be-T-shirted prince, but is also culturally more representative than he.
Still, there was more significance to that bottle of water than the trivial question of who is to be head of state of a country as unimportant as Britain. For surely, notwithstanding global warming, Kensington is not yet the Kalahari with its searing temperatures, where it is inadvisable ever to sally forth even for a moment without at least a goatskin filled with brackish water. True it was a nice day, but the sun in Kensington (in my experience) is seldom very fierce even when visible at all.
I used sometimes to examine medical students in viva voce examinations that lasted at most fifteen minutes. Increasingly they appeared clutching bottles of mineral water to their sides, often with dummy-like teats, as young children cleave to teddy bears and Basil Brushes. In an age of superabundance, it seems, people are uneasy to be out of the reach of refreshment for longer than a few seconds at a time, just as some people feel uneasy in the silence caused by an absence of electronic apparatus. No wonder we are fat.