Lavez-vous maintenant les mains

Handwashing illustration

The NHS has suggested singing “Happy Birthday” twice as the recommended duration for hand washing. Alternatives are the national anthem or La Marseillaise.

While every good Cub would have learned the national anthem (if you were a good sixer you’d learn the verse about “knavish tricks”), but few, being brought up in south London, would have had La Marseillaise high on their musical repertoire, unless your dad had been Charles de Gaulle, Charles Aznavour or Asterix.

Or, of course, if you had a French teacher at your school who decided to introduce a “Continental Evening” (as if the recent introduction of Scandinavian quilts wasn’t abhorrent enough).

At my Tooting school in 1970 we had just that.

Our class was to sing La Marseillaise.

It has fifteen verses.  Fifteen!!! (If you washed your hands singing that you’d end up with fingers like ET).

In 1970 we’d not even joined the European Community let alone left it; many of us were still smarting after the 1967 NON! rebuke by the aforementioned Charles de Gaulle (who, after retiring from being President of France, became an airport).

We simply learned the French words. This was to protect us knowing that the last line translated into English is: “To cut the throats of your sons, your women!”. In Tooting, in the early ‘70s, the only person who was likely to cut your throat was your barber if you’d tried to hide a copy of that week’s Parade up your jumper.

We duly learned the song and performed it in front of our parents. However, this foreign lark didn’t catch on in my house and after a week of being served escargots, mum reverted back to egg ‘n’ chips.

Vive la Révolution? bugger that, thought my mum.

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