I have been re-reading David Nobbs's Henry Pratt novels, a very funny nostalgia trip. Even though Henry Pratt was born more than a decade ahead of me, his childhood rings all sorts of Proustian bells. There's some mixing of metaphors; I blame Mr Nobbs!
I confess that I was a little bit miffed to discover that David Nobbs was not a Yorkshireman at all, even if he did buy a house in Harrogate. Somehow it's all right to poke gentle fun at northerners if you are a northerner yourself but less so if you were born in Kent. It's rather like families: I can be mean to my siblings and say what I like about them but I will defend them and turn against you in righteous fury if you dare do the same. However, I have decided to grant him honorary northerner status.
Most chapters in the books have some reference to things going on in the real world on specific dates important in the life of Henry Pratt. If you removed the Henry Pratt story you would have a succinct history of the period. Here is an example:
"On Tuesday April 3rd, 1979, Mts Thatcher opened the General Election campaign, promising tax cuts and warning the nation not to accept the attempt of James Callaghan, the Labour Prime Minister, to blame Britain's problems on the world recession."
Somehow, all of that sounds ever so familiar and not just because I remember 1979. It seems to me that some people in the here and now have not been learning from history and are being condemned to repeat it.
Returning to the twenty first century, I read that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is trying to make his wife into an official "first lady". It's a funny thing; before President Sarkozy came along with his glamorous, already famous wife, Carla Bruni, nobody really heard much about the wives of French presidents. At least, you didn't hear about them until after the said president was president no longer and suddenly the scandals could break about who had a mistress or an illegitimate child or whatever. But during the presidency you never even saw the wife.
Then along came Mrs Sarkozy, standing alongside her husband, looking chic and ever so presentable, giving the rather funny-looking president a bit of cachet! The Blairs did it as well, of course, although I read that their plan was always to see which of them could get into parliament first and then that person would be supported by the other. (This in no way suggests that I am a Blair supporter, by the way!) When David Cameron came along, Samantha had to appear with him on the steps Number Ten. Isn't she a design specialist or something? Not political anyway. But suddenly the world was awash with First Ladies.
And now Monsieur Macron wants to make it official and give her an office in the Elysée, a staff and an allowance. The French people are not happy with the idea but apparently he always had this in mind. “I would like a defined framework and I will ask for the subject to be worked on,” he said during his presidential campaign. “The person living with you should be able to have a role and be recognised for that role.”
Why? Just because the Americans do it? Should we all follow their lead in everything? Is there a Mr Merkel demanding to be First Gentleman of Germany? In what other walk of life does this happen? Apart from maybe being queen?