I HAVE IN MY HAND A PIECE OF PAPER. Historic words, first uttered by Joseph Chamberlain in 1938, that resonate with the combined weight of history and hindsight.
And also words that I now utter, in reference to another no less important piece of paper that I am holding in my hand, from the French Ambassador to Great Britain, Xavier Louis Whohe. Well, it's not actually a piece of paper. Nor is it actually from Xavier Louis Whohe. But it is, nevertheless, a vitally important and stimulating email from the secretary to Xavier Louis Whohe, or at least someone doing work experience for her.
Perhaps it is not as important as the piece of paper Chamberlain held in his hand on that fateful day in 1938 (some historians claim it was the MOT certificate on his Austin 7, others insist it was a 10/- birthday postal order from his Aunt Mimsy, nobody can be certain). But my - admittedly metaphorical - bit of paper is important in that it gives us, for the very first time, the proper French translation of the last episode of The Roquefort Files. Yes, it's that big a deal. Huge.
Think of the Rosetta Stone. Double the amazement that caused when it was discovered. Done it? Well that whole 'cracking of an ancient civilisation's language' thing was near exactly 897,746,552 times more exciting than this.
You may remember (you may not; in all honesty it's not a deal-breaker) that in the last instalment of The Roquefort Files, Roquefort died tragically (as opposed to flippantly or ecstatically) when he was pushed under the wheels of a train on the Metro in Paris. Well, it seems that my translating skills are perhaps not all they might be. To wit, they're shit.
So I sent a copy of the story to the French Embassy in London, confident that they would probably not have much on and would therefore be able to supply me with a top-notch, word-perfect translation of the original French.
I received a reply today, containing a translation by Claudine, a Parisian girl on work experience at the Embassy. She admitted in her email that her English was not very good and that she had in fact only been in Britain once, on a school trip to Newcastle. But she thought she had got most of the translation correct. She said she had added some bits of her own, for clarification.
Strangely, I noticed in the extended history the girl had left in her email by accident that my initial correspondance had been bounced around lots of people at the Embassy. Again, my French fails me somewhat, but from what I can gather they seem to be under the impression that many of us Brits love our mothers a lot, as well as members of our own sex, and that we prefer to not engage in fighting, which is nice. Here is Claudine's translation.
THE ROQUEFORT FILES: NEVER SAY CHEVRE AGAIN
WHY-AYE MAN. Roquefort he encountered the detective, his brave number two, Percy De La Bercy, sitting in his favorite Parker Knoll Easyboy declining armchair, drinking from coffee and to snack on an chocolate indigestion biscuit.
In a flirtatious mood Roquefort snatched the policeman's cup and finished his ciggies, his 'tabs'. "Come on canny lad," he murmured demurely, "Somebody has been killed today, my good man".
The two gentlemen raced down to the world famous Paris Metro. Roquefort puffed and wheezed like an old farting English harlot as he made his way down the escalator. He got his breasts back and explained the situation to Bercy.
"Alreet pet. The famous cheesemaker M. René Eblochon he has yes he has been encountered with his lower face area cut by cheesewire. The whole of the French country of the majestic French nation are in mourning for this worldwide hero of a great, cultured and important country, France.
"We must apprehend the perpetrator of this ludicrous crime, canny lad, and quickly, before he does it again and then where will we be, eh mate? Eh? We'll be knackahd alreet - seez us a Newky Broon mate."
Bercy he looked reet concerned. Not that long ago he had read a newspaper report in the 'Cheese Monthly' newspaper about the very same man, the very same man that had now been recently killed or murdered by a killer or homicidal murdering maniac, ye ken?
He and Roquefort - grotesque - waited on the platform of the wonderful efficient Metro (which was far superior to the shoddy, dangerous shithole equivalent in stinking, rotten London across La Manche) for the gleaming new train to empty its cargo of beautiful, healthy Parisian people who were bound to live well past their life expectancy thanks to a combination of an exemplary public healthcare system and a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit and vegetables.
They were about to jump aboard the beautiful train when a dark figure stepped out of the shadows behind the fat detective and nudged Bercy out of the way. Bercy he reeled back and hit his head on the low roof of the station. "Ah ya bastahd," he pronounced.
The figure pulled Roquefort by the lapels as he tried to disemre-emboard the train. "Howay!" the tubby detective shouted. Other beautiful French people looked on in shock and gasped as the figure pulled something out of a bag that looked like a gun and prodded it at Roquefort's face.
"Whey yer bugger man!" the figure said. "Yer forgot yer bleedin thin loaf of bread that is far superior to the flaccid white crap what the English eat".
It was Roquefort's mother. She handed him the baguette and walked away. "Howay! What a fool I've been mate!" declaimed Roquefort to Bercy. "We can't eat on wor empty stomachs, canny lad!"
Next time in the Roquefort Files: Our two heroes discover the true identity of the killer of celebrated cheesemaker M. Rene Eblochon - a disciple of a secret religious sect called the Priory of Simon, which requires that every member changes his or her name to Simon. There is a chase in the Louvre. And another, involving dirigibles zooming across the nightime Paris sky, with its twinkling lights and that.