Magazine article The Spectator

Land of the Free

Magazine article The Spectator

Land of the Free

Article excerpt

ARE YOU longing for a fag, right now? Does your mouth water at the thought of oxtail stew with sticky suet dumplings? Do you itch to take potshots at small furry things in the woods, or, indeed, watch porn on cable?

Here, in the capital of Euroland, you can do all this, and more - without fear of political correctness, the health and safety enforcers, quangos, or the tut-tutting of self-righteous friends. You can even wear fur, if that's what turns you on, without having red paint thrown all over you by supermodels from PETA.

Come to Brussels, all you rosbifs who worry about Britain losing its soul if it bunks down with Fritz and the frogs in the big Euro-dorm across the Channel. Come and see, all of you who marched in the countryside rally to protect the rural way of life. If you want natural-born freedoms and time-honoured traditions, come to Brussels, the very same city where bureaucrats of 15 nations get into such a tizzy about straight bananas and curly cucumbers.

Consider my neighbourhood: the typically bourgeois 'commune' of Uccle, populated by smart women with dogs whose excreta dot the pavements in randomly repeating patterns of noxious hillocks. Although such fouling is banned, no one to my knowledge has ever told an Uccloise sporting her own coat of streaky blonde fur where her pooch should perform. It's not on, or as they say here, fa ne fait pas.

Leaving my house, picking our way down the pavement, we come to my local shops. Now this is what I call consumer choice. How the health and safety people back in the UK would salivate. At the butcher's, cooked quiches and oozing goat's cheese sit squashed next to raw game sausages, which are piled atop the plucked game, trays of lasagne and farmhouse eggs.

Willy, my butcher, will go so far as to stub out his cigarette before reaching for a duck breast, but certainly does not wash his hands after handling money or - I rather suspect - a visit to the gents. Somehow, the pettifogging legislation that made British butchers throw away their wooden chopping blocks, wear hygienic hats and gloves and handle cash separately from meat has passed Brussels by. Meanwhile, Willy's bouchees a la reine are to die for, and soon someone probably will; but they will die happy, for everything in his shop tastes sublime.

Next door, we have the large, busy shop devoted to selling 'tenue de chasseur', the sort of olive, tweedy clothes huntsmen wear for killing and maiming. Next to that, there's the shop which purveys only one luxury item: foie gras, from the fattened livers of ducks and geese who are force-fed through funnels down their throats. Oh yes, I have a local McDonald's too, but for some reason the chain is licensed here so I can wash down my Big Mac with beer brewed by Trappist monks.

To live in a society so untainted by both the animal welfare, food safety and health lobbies is exhilarating, however sorry one feels for the geese, or however often one skids in dog-mess or suffers the occasional tummy bug from a bad oyster. Having arrived here from Washington, where life is sanitised to destruction and everyone carries wet-wipes in their bags in case they have to touch something dirty, it makes Europe, not Britain or America, feel like the Land of the Free.

I'll never forget the expression on a head waiter's face in a Provenqal restaurant, when I declined the cheeseboard at lunch and explained I was pregnant. …

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