The independent London newspaper

We English can be poetical too

23 April, 2019 — By Richard Osley

AS Notre Dame burned this week, people rushed to say that they had only been stood by the Seine last week, last month, five years ago, or in fact any point in their life – and now, how could it be, the cathedral was on fire.

An event like this, you see, is extra upsetting if you are a cosmopolitan city breaker, a cultured soul who knows the real romance of Paris.

Hint: I’ve never been to Notre Dame, but still – yes, somehow – felt sorrowful when I saw the film of the spire collapse.

In between the all-about-me tweets, however, came a poignant video that was to go viral.

It showed Parisians gathered by candlelight – or at least the glow of their phones ­­– looking at the cathedral inferno and singing hymns in unison with both sadness and hope.

Our classy French friends, we thought, how perfectly poetic.

But what would we have thought if an important London landmark was in flames, and people had turned out on the streets, weeping as they watched and softly singing Abide With Me or Jerusalem at what seemed like a hopeless cause.

Privately, I imagine the same tweeters, mainly journalists, often cliquey and usually bilingual and middle class, would have thought it all a bit much.

They may have dismissed the people mourning a burning Tower Bridge as just as strange as people who wait outside exclusive hospital wards for three days just for a glimpse of a royal baby. Go home, just look at them.

After all, how many buildings would you go and sing to if they were on fire? I can only think of possibly one, but do write in if your list is longer.

The same mismatched perception applies to fans gathered en masse in football stadiums.

When those crazy ol’ Dutch folk turn a whole stadium orange or the Brazilians turn the stands yellow and green, we marvel with floaty admiration at the passion of the fans, the wondrous colour.

And, of course, everything sounds better in a foreign accent, even the imaginative nickname: Les Bleus.

Yet when English fans wear a bit of a face-paint, maybe even some chain mail, a lot of the contrarians who live around north London think it all looks like the wrong edge of Brexit; harumph, football fans. From Luton, obvs.

And yet we can be as poetical and thoughtful as the French, and as crazy-colourful as the Brazilians.

The Champions League – and maybe the Europa League – is showing English clubs are the best out there.

We can be proud. The big winner may even come from these shores.

It’s just a shame it might be Spu…


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