This is a Long French Story, designed specifically to fill those Long British Hours between Monday's midday deadline and, say, Thursday evening - when that irrational but irresistible urge starts building, again.
It's the story of a song and a girl.
Back in Cork - a long while back - Friday night was Pizza Night. I'd put on an apron and a pork-pie hat and mix up a pile of dough. There'd be wine and music and friends and neighbours. It was terrace-life and we were sociable.
" . . . I had that Shane McGowan in the front room once for a New Year's party . . . bloke was skulled with the drink but the minder translated for him til he stopped making sense and got led back next door to that nice girl of his . . ."
That nice girl, Victoria, being the daughter of friends on the terrace . . .
One Friday - this was in the middle of us selling up and beginning the move to France - I played some songs from Samedi Soir sur la Terre. You need to listen to Francis Cabrel, and his despairing 'bull's-eye' view of the world of toreadors, to understand the effect I had on my twelve-year old daughter. By now she had basic French, and I knew that his songs, in simple words and striking images would hold her attention. Anyway, she knew that the alternative to her dad banging on about Chansons Francais, was her dad droning on about The Gang of Four.
We went through the song, La Corrida, and unpacked some of its meanings, but I think the unintended effect was possibly the strongest. The plight of the bull in the ring was easy for her to grasp - but I don't think she'd encountered my passion for words and languages before.
He sings exceptionally clearly, and from the heart, and while they may sound simple, the songs are full of the poet's craft: internal rhymes, assonance and alliteration.
This is a video diaporama put together by Blechet.
The song was also an opportunity to show how French, with it's gendered nouns, opens up possibiities for dramatic irony and insult: When the bull calls the bullfighter 'une danseuse ridicule' we can enjoy an intended/unintended insult. The bull just sees a human in fancy, swirly, coloured clothes: to him it's a woman dancer. For us, it's a neat clipping of the toreador's cochones.
To the bull this is 'un pantin' - a puppet, 'un minus' - a runt, a 'nobody'. 'I never learnt how to fight dolls.'
The bull's refrain is the song's theme: 'Est-ce que ce monde est serieux?' which can be taken straight as 'Is this world serious?' but which has the more everyday sense: 'Does this crowd really mean it?'
And this is where dramatic irony - where the reader/listener/watcher knows more than the actual protagonist - has a double edge. We know, better than the bull, that the gate is indeed locked behind him, and that this 'poupee en costume de papier' is backed by forces that will kill him - and by an audience that wants him to die.
To my young girl, this was no longer a bull in a ring - this was another damsel in distress.
But for the situation to be really poignant (literarily, a stabbing pain) there should be held out the possibility of escape. Twice in the song, Andalucia, where the bulls are raised in the wild, is evoked. First as a noble heritage, far above this tawdry circus; then as a dream of release from hell.
Again, we know what the bull cannot - he will never see those prairies again.
She's just off the Ryanair flight and back in our village - ten years on - with her 2.1 in French and Politics from Cork University. She's back from working 5 days/no pay helping set up Ireland's premier music festival, The Electric Picnic - the perk being an all-access all-stages pass. O my girl!
She's growing out her dreads, and will lose her lip-ring when her hair is 'straight'. She's been working hard to put herself through college and she's been partying hard all summer. But she knows that the difficult part of her life is just about to begin. And one day I won't be there to help her, with words.
Note. Cabrel has been one of the 'grand old men' of French popular music for many years now. He ranks just behind Johnny Hallyday: in 2008 he earned 4 million.
He might appear once a year on TV, or not. He lives modestly in a small village south of Toulouse. He has three daughters. For 15 years he was active on the local council, and for 20 years has funded a national summer school for young musicians there. His themes are personal and social. His style and his southern accent have been affectionately mocked, but he remains a national treasure, and I don't think his equal exists in any other country.