How the English Invented Champagne (and Other Facts Guaranteed to Infuriate the French); HISTORY

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Byline: BY MICHAEL SIMKINS

1,000 YEARS OF ANNOYING THE FRENCH BY STEPHEN CLARKE (Bantam [pounds sterling]16.99)

THE poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously wrote 'Frenchman are like gunpowder: each by itself smutty and contemptible, but mass them together, and they are terrible indeed.'

And whether it's William the Conqueror squaring up to King Harold, or Maggie Thatcher hand-bagging Jacques Delors, the French and the English, it seems, have always been the best of enemies. So for anyone requiring a good dose of Froggie bashing, Stephen Clarke's new book should put a spring in your step.

1,000 Years Of Annoying The French chronicles the various ways in which the Brits (and virtually every other nation) have been waging a campaign to infuriate our nearest neighbours. And if this account is to be believed, very successfully we've done it too.

The French have always considered themselves to be nature's aristocrats, whilst their failures (such as Crecy, Agincourt, and their candidature for the 2012 Olympics) have been swept under the carpet by a race who 'still consider Napoleon's retreat from Moscow to be a strategic withdrawal, and the Nazi occupation of France as merely a waiting period until De Gaulle was ready to come back and seize victory.'

But in chronicling a millennium spent glowering at one another from across the Channel, Clarke also makes a spirited argument for English ownership of virtually every great French tradition.

Take Champagne, for instance. Far from being a French invention, bubbly only became possible once British bottle-making techniques provided a product that could withstand all that extra fizz without the contents exploding all over your dinner table. And with the onset of global warming, the best vintages will soon be grown on the Hackney Marshes, anyway.

Even the guillotine, ultimate symbol of liberty, equality and fraternity, can claim to be an English invention. An earlier version of this device for achieving rapid weight-loss was allegedly being used in a small market town in Yorkshire some years before the eponymous Parisian professor came up with his own design.

As Clarke gleefully observes, it would have been even more fun to contemplate the French nobility having their heads collectively chopped off by something called 'Le Halifax'. …