Caught With His Hand In The Cootchie Jar!

Internationally, the French have a certain reputation for being somewhat hot to trot. Perhaps not as much so as the Italians (as Berlusconi has proved again and again), but as far as infidelity goes, French politicians are high up on the scandal scale. The last remarkable ding-a-ling ding-dong concerned Dominic Strauss-Kahn, after he somehow managed to mistake the cleaning lady for his wife in a hotel room. So when French President François Hollande was caught with his hand in the cootchie cookie jar this week, nobody should really have been surprised.

Cookie Monster Sesame Street

The Cootchie Monster (Photo credits: Giphy)

When a French personality is caught with his trousers down, the first people to enthusiastically bare all about the ins and outs of his relationship with another member of France’s high-society quagmire are generally the French tabloids and gossip magazines. This motley crew vie for attention on the kiosk shelves, all scraping the bottom of the barrel with shocking, tacky titles just like like the one I deliberately chose for this post. They reassure Mr and Mrs Average that even rich, famous, and influential people suffer from hair loss, get fat, are badly dressed or rampantly unfaithful (or both). These magazines include a garish rag called Closer, a magazine I refuse to even touch in the doctor’s waiting room in case I catch some nasty disease (like the inability to write a correct sentence, or an inexplicable need to spy on my neighbours with my Canon and a zoom lens).

This week, Closer magazine orchestrated its own big break – after years of sitting it out on waiting room tables and being perused by sun-bathing bimbos seeking to live the high life by people-press proxy, this people magazine finally had a real audience. Their front page was flashed across TV screens all over the world. The magazine was even read with interest by people who wouldn’t usually be seen dead reading a publication based on compromising photographs and texts containing words of two syllables or less.

It caused such a kerfuffle that I even came across a new term on Google this morning: “Closergate”. My jaw dropped. To quote a well-known tennis man, “you cannot be serious!” Watergate was a political earthquake. In comparison, “Closergate” is no more than a fart in the tepid French bathtub of mediocrity, and will have zero impact on anything except François Hollande’s credibility and popularity, which is at an all-time low anyway.

So what’s the big deal? Monsieur le Président eez ‘aveeng an affaire. And not just any affair – that wouldn’t sell enough copies. An « affaire extra-conjugale » – an extra-marital relationship.

“Well, whoopee doo, another French politician having sex. Tell me something new,” MM grunted into her coffee. “Mon Dieu! Quelle horreur!”, screamed a large proportion of the French population, a huge grin on their faces, before rushing out of the door to fight tooth and nail for the last copy, lock themselves in the bathroom and check out the photos of François escaping from his golden cage and biking across Paris for a night with his “secret” lover.

Paris Match

Public Figure? Got a secret? See how long you can safeguard it.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, I’m sorry to be a party-pooper, but President Hollande is not married, so unless you have a very flexible definition of the word “conjugal”, this is not an extra-conjugal relationship. However, Mr Hollande did invite his partner to shack up with him at the Elysée when he was elected, thus putting her both in the limelight and in the taxpayers’ budget, and ipso facto making her France’s first lady – married or not. She has her own page on the Elysée website, and her own press team (who are no doubt now drawing strawers for the next press conference). Seen in this light, even someone with lorryloads of flegme britannique could perceive his behaviour as somewhat inappropriate. Poor wee Val has been dragged through the mud – by a Prince Charming with eyes bigger than his belly who has bitten off more than he can chew. Her recent tweet was unambiguous: “I chose an ugly man so I didn’t have to worry. #All men are bastards”. Who can blame her?

Caught “with his hand in the sack,” as the French say, Monsieur le Président is now indignantly bleating for “the respect of his private life” by the media. He’s just like everyone else, of course: Joe Bloggs the President. I couldn’t agree more – just like him, any humble citizen who is regularly seen leaving his home and knocking at a lady’s door in the middle of the night will eventually end up getting rumbled. Although we mere mortals don’t get international coverage, you can bet your bottom dollar that immeasurable numbers of unfaithful spouses have been named and shamed by the greatest and most unforgiving media network out: the village grapevine.

I would show some compassion, Mr Hollande, but I’m sure that you cringed and laughed along with the rest of the world – admit it, you did – when Clinton got egg on his face during “Monicagate”. (There is an opportunity for crude wordplay there, but I will behave.) You were in France when Chirac’s infidelity was brought to light, and again when Mitterand’s illegitimate daughter was mercilessly tracked down by the media and pulled out of anonymity. You saw how much private life President Sarkozy didn’t get. Incidentally, I don’t recall hearing you screaming indignantly to defend your previous rival DSK’s rights to privacy when details of his (very) personal life were copiously smeared all over the media not so long ago, either.

Your naive belief that the media should treat you differently is touching, and even concerning. As President, you’re being watched 24/7 by the very same media you welcomed with open arms and used as a legitimate means to blow your own trumpet in the run-up to your election. So… I have bad news for you, François. Yes, there are mean people out there who were waiting to see you trip up. Yes, they are enjoying it, and yes, they will make happily make money and forge a sad reputation out of your misery. That’s the way the leadership cookie crumbles, cupcake. You can’t have your brioche and eat it.

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Tuning in to Radio Badger.

My phone startled me out of my work on Sunday. There was a young Frenchman on the line who made an effort to pronounce my name correctly, and politely requested five minutes of my time for a survey to establish which radio stations the French population enjoyed. As I was working on a Sunday too, I felt sorry for him. I decided to break my vow to reply “Bugger off and find yourself another victim”, and said “yes”. (nb: Kathryn, I did you proud! )

Italiano: Radio Marea (1950)

Italiano: Radio Marea (1950) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think he was surprised by my answer. We are not on the same wavelength about radio stations in my family, leading to regular fighting over the twiddler on the radio. (Yes, I know that word doesn’t exist. Or didn’t. It does now.) We don’t listen at the same volume, either. (I thought that it was older people who needed to turn the volume up high, yet the opposite phenomenon occurs in our home).

NRJ is the kids’ favourite radio station. I can’t stick listening to it most days, although I would maybe admit after a few G&T’s, breathing in a balloon full of helium and sticking a 40 denier stocking over my head that Manu does makes me laugh in the morning.

PF listens to classic FM. This transforms a short family car trip into a long torture session. For my offspring, it is the auditive equivalent of having cocktail sticks slid under their nibbled teenaged nails. The boys whip out the teenager’s equivalent of musical earplugs for instant relief, whilst Little My wrinkles her nose and rolls her eyeballs in despair.

The last time PF did it, we were on our way out for the day. The tinkling piano music in the car deadened my senses and made me feel like I was in an airbus rather than a Citroën. My enthusiasm for the day waned as I saw myself transmogrified into a kind of Alice-banded member of the Parisian bourgeoisie, twin-setting her way across impoverished Provence in her private plane to show little Charles-Henri how lucky he was to be born with a silver ladle stuck up his Burberry-clad rear end.

I tried very hard to resist, but on arrival at our destination, I cracked. Pinching my nose closed, I held my mobile phone skew-whiff in front of my mouth with my little finger sticking out sideways, and launched into a loud Air France trolley dolly announcement. Imagine Pam Ann with a French accent, and you’ve got it (there’s a video for you at the bottom).

“Lay deezeuh andeuh Dgenteulmen. We ‘ave landeed een Lamaloueuh-les-Baings hairporteuh. Ze wezzeur eez fiyn. Pleeaseuh reemaineuh een yor seets unteel ze haircrafteuh ‘as stoppt mooveeng, andeuh be kairefool when openeeng zee over’edd lockeurs. Sank yio fore flyeeng MM hair-lines, an we ‘opeuh to see you agin soon”.

PF tried to look unimpressed, but the laugh escaped along with his opinion that we were all Philistines.

If I’d been alone, I would have tuned in to local radio. Here in the South of France, my radio is set on “Radio Badger” as soon as the kids leave for school. I call it “Radio Badger”, because the first time I came across it, the announcer had run all the words into each other, and combined with his strong accent, “Radio Bleue Hérault” turned into “Radio Blaireau”: “Radio Badger”.


The queue of candidates for Radio Badger’s phone-in competition read up on their encyclopedias as they waited for the final clash. (Photo credit: Clapagaré ! (Les chiquitos)

Radio Badger is the bee’s knees for anyone who enjoys observing human nature. The phone-in competitions are hair-raisingly nerve-wracking. Two housewives, both entrenched in the organza-curtained living rooms of their Wimpey homes, clutch their receivers in sweaty, manicured hands as they battle to the death to win one of two prizes. These are usually a Radio Badger watch or a ticket to see one of their geriatric French idols crooning through his false teeth at his last concert in Sète.

What is important to them is to win, because all their friends from the knitting club are listening in and they don’t want eggs Benedict on their faces for the next WI sale. The clock ticks as they hesitate before breathlessly delivering their reply, whether it is the name of the river running through Pezenas or how many Front Populaire strikers enjoyed boeuf bourgignon every Tuesday back in 1935.

This week, both candidates were disappointed. Alice lost the game as she wasn’t able to say who dubbed Columbo’s voice in the French version of the series. Régine won, but she didn’t want the Radio Badger radio because she had already won one a month ago. She didn’t want the latest CD of Maxime Le Forestier, either. She grumbled and said that she would have preferred the Gypsy Kings (no doubt desirous to twirl around her kitchen in her 1950’s pinny, using a pancake pan as a guitar and the washing-up brush as a microphone).

The man organising the competition was a born negotiator and moderator. He suggested phoning back again on another day when she could maybe win what she wanted. After twenty years negotiating with disappointed Languedoc housewives, he could no doubt settle current discord in Turkey by distributing complimentary Radio Badger oven gloves to all concerned. Radio Badger rocks. Before we go back to the studio for the news, here’s Pam Ann, complete with PF’s airbus music.