Magazine article The Spectator

Diary of a Revolution

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary of a Revolution

Article excerpt

In May 1968, civil unrest, bordering on revolution, exploded on to the streets of Paris. Student protesters and striking workers brought France's economy to a standstill. President Charles de Gaulle warned of civil war. The Spectator's then editor, Nigel Lawson, asked Nancy Mitford for a diary on the unfolding drama, which she followed from her house, about a mile from Versailles.

This is an edited extract.

We have heard the young leaders of the revolution on TV for three quarters of an hour. Having said how much they despised everything in life, especially money, they keenly gave the numbers of their bank accounts so that we could hurry out and send them some. There was a great deal of wailing about their treatment by the police. I despise them for it. They were out for a rough-up and they got it. Nobody was killed and now they are behaving like babies who have been slapped. It's not very dignified.

The postman made our blood run cold by saying, 'Tout va changer'. Then Frank and Kitty [the Times foreign editor and his wife] came from Paris to see me. Very friendly of them. He thinks we are having one of those periodic student upsets which France has always known. He doesn't think it's serious. Frank is a clever man, knows France and French history, but I well remember that in May 1958 he never expected the return of General de Gaulle.

General Strike, so as I haven't got a car I am stuck here. Very good for work. The wireless has been taken over and the announcers who used to seem such dears have suddenly become extremely frightening. They rattle out bad news like machine guns. The French seem to have turned into Gadarene swine.

The wireless is terrifying. If the BBC were not always so utterly wrong about French affairs I would listen to it, but what is the good? They understand nothing. The Figaro still appears, screaming 'do something' to the government like a hysterical woman whose house is on fire. Marie [Mitford's maid] says her rosary whenever there's nothing else to do. I am afraid I think, like Frederick the Great, that God exists but leaves us pretty well alone to make our muddles while we are here. No good bothering Him, I'm afraid. 'Nancy Mitford is

on the line again, Almighty.' 'Tell her to get on with her work.'

I rang up Henry. He says that last night some youths dumped a lot of arms in his courtyard, saying they would come back for them later. No butter in the rue de Montreuil so I went to the market. The tricolour is still flying over the Lycée Hoche and all the boys seem to be there, but discussing instead of doing their lessons. What a bore it must be.

Marie, who has become rather bold, said this morning in the dairy: 'All these strikes are organised and the men have to come out whether they like it or not.' A young woman with a baby said, 'You are quite right. There's a little factory here where nobody was on strike. They came and told the men to come out. The men went to the patron and said, "We've got nothing against you but we've got to come out".'

The Archbishop of Paris speaks of much misery. It's so strange -- where is this misery? One sentence recurs among all my modest friends here: 'La France a été trop heureuse.' My impression for several years has been that France is almost entirely bourgeoisie. Marie's father was a poor peasant and his children were brought up almost hungry. But her nephews and nieces are more than well-off. All with motor-cars and little weekend houses.

The dustmen still come here to take away our rubbish. Something to remember when giving Christmas boxes.

All night a pitched battle raged around Jean de Gaigmeron's house. I hope he's gone away. These battles are a nightmare for those in nearby houses because of the tear gas which seeps in and can't be got out for ages. …

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