Panem et circenses (Bread and circuses)
Ispend much time pretending to be a person of intellect and taste. Then there are occasions when I get to do what I really, really want. This happened last Sunday, on my stepmother’s birthday. She’s cracking through her 80s, so can ask to do what she damned well likes. One of the things she likes is the circus. Fantastic.
The Arlette Gruss company, among France’s finest, had its big top pitched an hour up the road in Avignon. There may also have been some dreary operatic performance on at the city’s Papal palace, but I’ll take a lion over a soprano any time. So, more to the point, will she.
“One other thing,” she said. “I want to go to McDonald’s first. I’ve never been.” For your birthday lunch? You don’t want something posh? Fellow with a bow tie? Wine list? Plates?
“Dear, I said ‘McDonald’s.’ ” Talk about striking gold. McDonald’s suits me fine, though guilt demands an excuse.
So we pulled into the outlet in a commercial estate near Avignon. “Happy birthday!” I cried as we escorted her into what looked like a concentrated airport departures area, screens, milling crowds and all. “I’ll choose for the three of us,” I said, full in the knowledge that if I gave the womenfolk all the McDonald’s options, we’d be there through Thursday.
No one, though, had told me you now order on screens. Here, then, was a chimp loose in mission control, fearful of hitting the screen and ordering burgers for 73.
So a pretty and charming young lady employee came and did it all for me, tapping images as if born to the task. Another equally charming young fellow then brought the order to the table. Table service! “Where do you find young people like that these days?” I asked. “McDonald’s, obviously,” said stepmother. The chips weren’t so great but then we whapped through the salads and burgers – peppered beef, chicken – as if in the shadow of famine. As is mandatory. They were as good as the gourmet burgers breaking out everywhere, but half the price and a tenth the pretension. “Lovely,” said stepmother, wandering off to find a member of staff to thank and, for all I know, tip. “We shall do it again, for my 88th.”
To the circus, with a chap tightropewalking above wildcats, parachuting rats, extraordinary acrobats, the world’s most voluptuous juggler of footballs – and young men on motorbikes soaring over our heads. Children whooped with delight. So did we. Later, I met a friend who’d spent her weekend at a non-stop, overnight read-through of That’s the sort of thing the French call entertainment. “No burgers? No flying motorbikes?” I asked. “No. Just Homer. I dozed off a little,” she said. You pays your money...