As a former copywriter, I appreciate newspaper headlines that land with knockout force. Two examples spring to mind.
One is from The New York Post of decades ago: HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR. Another was a front-page single-word line in The Sun during the 1982 Falklands War, when a British submarine sank the Argentine cruiser Belgrano: GOTCHA!
Those two headlines stopped me all right, but they didn’t shock me. They didn’t make me sit up and say “Excuse me?!?” or “You can’t mean that!” That’s why I am grateful to The Mail that yesterday achieved all those feats with a 32-word headline.
The story was about King Charles’s visit to France, and specifically the banquet in his honour in the Versailles Hall of Mirrors. Even more specifically, the subject was the menu prepared by some of France’s top chefs. So here goes:
“Insiders reveal the food King Charles has BANNED from French state visit banquet – and the reasons why (but mushrooms are on the menu because they remind him of Queen Elizabeth II)”
It was the parenthetic phrase that went through me like a jolt. Really, Your Majesty? I understand that generational tensions exist in many families, and the royal one is no exception. But practically calling Her late Majesty a mushroom in public does take the brioche.
What exactly did the king mean? That his late mother was kept in the dark and fed on dung? Or something even worse? I’ve heard of lèse–majesté, but this is outrageous.
However, I must admit the headline had plenty of stopping power. It certainly stopped me, making me read the piece.
Thankfully, I was then able to heave a sigh of relief. The only sense in which mushrooms reminded His Majesty of his late mother was that she liked them. That’s why he endorsed a cep gratin, while at the same time vetoing some other suggestions.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I wasn’t really shocked by that headline. I instantly recognised it as an unfortunate turn of phrase, typical of today’s newspapers that seem to have dispensed with sub-editors and copy readers.
It’s King Charles’s vetoes that I found shocking. Had that happened before he acceded to the throne, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Prince Charles, as he was then, tilted to wokery so steeply that I’m amazed he never keeled over to his left.
However, since his accession Charles has shown few signs of his erstwhile leanings. He has deported himself with dignity and restraint, making me happy that my worst suspicions haven’t come true. Well, let me tell you: I rejoiced too soon.
First, His Majesty issued a royal interdict against foie gras, which featured on the proposed menu. He is deeply bothered by cruelty to ducks and geese that are force-fed to make their livers bigger and oh so delicious.
I wonder how the French swallowed that insult to their culinary tradition. Foie gras is their staple, as far as I can judge on the basis of my friends’ dinner parties. My French friends may not be perfect – who among us is? – but they are certainly not callous sadists who spend their time pulling wings off flies.
They don’t ponder the moral implications of some foods. Instead they are eternally grateful to God (or, barring that, to Joëlle, the best cook in our circle) for what they are about to receive.
The only thing they – and I – won’t eat out of principle is human flesh, and that’s how it should be. Imposing ethical standards that outdo the Biblical ones in severity goes hand in hand with flouting those that are actually mentioned there.
Yes, if you think about it, forcing corn down a bird’s gullet through a tube is cruel. So it’s best not to think about it – there exist much more momentous subjects for us to ponder. Such, for example, as the sustained effort to promote animal worship and revert to the darker periods of paganism.
As a result, half of our public school pupils, whose parents shell out up to £100,000 a year in tuition fees, think eating meat would make them fascists. Hunting, that traditional British sport, has been practically banned out of soppy concern for the wellbeing of foxes.
Speaking of which, King Charles has been shooting throughout his life. He’d have to explain to me why blowing a duck to bits with lead pellets or, even worse, winging the bird is less cruel than force-feeding it. I’m sure there must be a valid difference, but my moral gauge isn’t calibrated finely enough to perceive it.
One has to admit with some chagrin that the king’s injunction against foie gras is nothing but woke grandstanding designed to appeal to the very people who would destroy our monarchy in a second, given the chance.
Another item King Charles banned from the menu was asparagus. Can you guess why? Is it because the French prefer the white variety produced by growing the vegetable without sunlight? After all, keeping those stems in the dark may well be regarded as cruelty in some quarters. Imagine how asparagus must suffer and weep.
A good guess, that, but a wrong one. You see, asparagus is out of season in France. That’s why the delicacy would have had to be flown from elsewhere, at a terrifying cost to ‘our planet’.
Hence one has to assume that Their Majesties swam across the Channel and then walked from Calais to Versailles to attend the reception. No? They flew? I sob, thinking of the massive carbon footprint their plane left on ‘our planet’.
While we are at it, the £500 wines served at the banquet were between 10 and 20 years old. Just think of all the steel and fossil fuels that went into the machinery for planting and tending the vines, think of the electricity expended on keeping the wines at just the right temperature, of the trees that had to be felled to make the barrels, the glass factories polluting the atmosphere… .
His Majesty draws the line in such funny places that the seditious word hypocrisy refuses to leave my mind. Also, I wonder if his French hosts were offended by such pickiness. If they were, they certainly didn’t show it.
Other than that, the visit was a great success. His Majesty delivered a toast in a French that I had to admit was miles better than mine. And he was greeted with genuine enthusiasm everywhere he went.
That didn’t surprise me. The French, especially those of a certain class, are obsessed with our royalty. One detects a touch of envy there – by comparison any French president, and certainly the current one, comes across as a power-grubbing chancer devoid of the natural grandeur and dignity conferred by the throne. A bit like our prime minister, in other words.
Any conversation with our French friends and acquaintances inevitably gets to the royal family sooner or later. One senses that they find something missing in their post-revolutionary republic, although I doubt many of them would support the restoration of the Bourbons.
Years ago, when Sarkozy stood for president, I had an interesting exchange at our local market in France. A socialist activist tried to thrust a leaflet into my hand, which I rejected with disdain.
“So who are you going to vote for?” she asked with palpable hostility. “Sarkozy?” The way she asked that question suggested that such a choice would be morally identical to voting for Heinrich Himmler. When I said “non”, she was perplexed. “Who then?”
“Les Bourbons,” I replied, just to see that look on her face. Alas, that option wasn’t on the ballot. And I can’t vote in French elections anyway.