Today is the 14th of July and all over France people will be celebrating the overthrowing of the ruling classes and the beginning of liberté, égalité, fraternité. Not me. As a royalist I will be celebrating the birthday of Sweden’s Princess Victoria. She is 30 today and here we will be eating meatballs in her honour.
My most memorable July 14th was in 1989 when I was staying at the British embassy in Paris with my best friend Iona whose father was the ambassador. We were relaxing in the family sitting room after dinner when there was a knock at the door.
“Do you mind if I come in?” said a woman’s voice. It was Margaret Thatcher. She had with her a first edition of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities which she was planning to give to President Mitterrand to mark the bicentenary of the revolution.
“I don’t want to devalue the book by signing it,” she said.
“I don’t think you would devalue it prime minister,” said the ambassador.
“Well, what shall I write?” she looked around the room. “You!” she said pointing at me. “You’re studying English. What should I write?”
I suggested something along the lines of ‘on this occasion of the bicentenary of the French revolution I have great pleasure in presenting you with Dickens’ book A Tale of Two Cities.’
“Perfect, now where’s my pen?”
“I think it’s upstairs,” said her personal secretary. “Shall I get it?”
“Prime minister,” said the secretary as she was leaving the room. “While I’m up there, is there anything else you need?” Upstairs at the embassy was about a four-mile hike.
“I don’t think so,” said Mrs Thatcher. “And if we do, we’ll just send you up again.”
Such a revolutionary spirit and one I intend to emulate.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2007