London Letter

London Letter

BEVERLEY BAXTER September 1 1956
London Letter

London Letter

BEVERLEY BAXTER September 1 1956

London Letter

Bax has a whirl at roulette


Veesibility is good,” said the French pilot. “We shall arrive at Deauville in one hour and one quarter. After the take-off, tea will be sairved. Merci.”

The setting was the London Airport and the passengers consisted of ten Britsh members of parliament and their wives. We were off to spend the week end in sporting contests with members of the French parliament coming from Paris. Our plane carried the golfers, and a second plane would bring the lawn-tennis players. The yachtsmen MPs were naturally traveling by water in their own boats.

Monsieur André, a man of elegance and dignity, is the owner of the casino at Deauville, and the casino owns practically all the hotels in the famous old Normandy town. But Monsieur André is not interested merely in the money of the gamblers.

For example on this particular week end he had arranged for an aviation rally. Thus many of Britain’s most famous airmen and airplane manufacturers had come to add to the good companionship in which we politicians were taking part.

On the Friday night of our arrival we were invited to a gala dinner at the casino at ten o'clock, and when Monsieur André says a gala dinner he means it. Elegant uniformed waiters served the best wines of France—which means the best wines in the world. Vaudeville performers and dancers had been brought from the Paris theatres for our pleasure and an excellent orchestra stimulated conversation at the tables.

When the dinner ended toward midnight we went to the playing rooms of the casino to chance our luck at chemin de fer, baccarat, roulette and trente et quarante. As we had to be at our best for the next day’s sporting contests our group went home early to bed. In other words we left at about three a.m.

Just to complete the social side of our stay let me put on record that Monsieur André gave a gala dinner on Saturday and Sunday nights as well, and they seemed to grow in size and splendor.

For example at about midnight on Sunday night the lights went out. and suddenly through the great windows we saw a shower of lighted stars falling from the sky. There must have been thousands of them as though we were celebrating the marriage of Cinderella and her prince.

Only one more event on the social side and we shall move to sterner things. There was a reception at the mayor’s house where we met the French Députés and their wives. The mayor has held that office for six years. And why not? If you have a good mayor why get rid of him?

Appropriately we golfers a/>d our w'ives stayed at the elegant Golf Hotel which is right by the course. From our balcony we could look across the fields and hills to the sea. Lovely France! . . .

Three times in living memory she has been invaded by the Germans, but when the invader has gone this most beautiful of all countries rises from the shadows and is herself again. France is no longer a great military power, and her parliament reflects the confusion of her politics, but in the art of living she is still supreme.

I am not a Catholic. In fact my grandfather, Alderman John Baxter of I oronto. used to ride in that fair city on a white horse on July 12. He was an Orangeman to the last pip and opposed popery to the end of his days. But what a hold the church has in France! For example my wife and I went to the Catholic church on the Sunday morning of our Deauville visit. It was quite lull although the sun was calling everyone to the beaches and to the hills.

There was one girl of about fourteen by herself. She had a dark cloche hat which was the same color and texture as her hair. Her eyes were dark and rather sad and her mouth just avoided a pout. But she had enough personality to supply an entire girls' school. There was not one move of her eyes or her body that was not distinctively her own. How she has escaped the films I cannot imagine.

Behind her, and also by herself, was a stout, fair-haired girl of about twelve. She was as unsubtle as an apple and her face was in danger of breaking into a smile at any moment. An artist could have painted her and the girl with the cloche hat and called it “Sunshine and Dusk.”

“Any curiosity as to the female form is satisfied with the aid of a French bathing suit”

After church we went down to the beach and watched the bathers. Whole families were there with excited fathers running into the water to rescue the toddlers who had no fear of the waves whatsoever. As for the older girls may I make no other comment than to say if there is any lingering curiosity as to the female form divine it will be fully satisfied with the aid of a French bathing suit.

But then France is feminine just as America is feminine, whereas Germany and Britain are masculine. Perhaps though I should not have noticed this so soon after church.

So off we went to the Golf Hotel to lunch with our French opponents and their ladies. The normal conception of a French Député of parliament is that of a wild, undisciplined individualist who is always helping to precipitate a crisis. In fact that eminent American comedian Will Rogers used to say that in London he went to Whitehall to see them change the guard, but in Paris he went to the Quai d'Orsay to see them change the government.

As for demonstrating against Mr. Speaker — which Canadians will understand — they do it daily.

Therefore it was not without interest to find that our golf opponents were men of personality and unpompous dignity. And as always with Frenchmen they were on excellent terms with their wives.

It was somewhat of a shock however to find that my golf opponent spoke no English whatsoever, yet he was an amusing companion on the course. In fact by the end of the match we were chatting like old cronies, which is a great tribute to Harbord Collegiate in Toronto where I learned to count in French and realized that a table was feminine but a hat was masculine.

Quite frankly my opponent was not a very good golfer, yet he accomplished a feat that has probably never been equaled on any golf course in the world. He lost his ball on a putt.

In fairness it must be admitted that the grass by the side of the fairways was so long and thick that it was almost impossible to find a ball that went into it. Nevertheless his quite amazing feat of losing a ball on a putt has probably never been accomplished before.

His caddy was a stout boy who had no trouble carrying the heavy bag of clubs. By contrast my caddy was a slight girl of about fifteen who had to carry my bag which was by no means light.

Whenever my opponent hit into the long grass, which was fairly often, the boy caddy would leave his master’s clubs with the girl. Thus she would hoist the two bags on her shoulders in spite of their enormous weight. Again and again 1 tried to persuade her to iet me carry my clubs during this double shift but she would have none of it.

1 thought of some of the women I know who would be horrified at the thought of carrying even a suitcase a few yards. But let us repeat that the glory of France is the female. They are romanticists and realists and a joy to the eye.

By staying on the fairway I managed to defeat my opponent, but alas! my confreres had been less successful. The British parliament went down to defeat

not only in golf but in tennis and on the waters.

On the way back to London we held a discussion as to how we could repay this annual hospitality of Monsieur André and how we could invite the French parliament to contest in sport with their British opposites. One suggestion was that we might hold the affair at Brightonon-Sea.

We could arrange a banquet in the pavilion where the gluttonous Prince Regent used to conduct his amusements and amours, but what could we offer

them afterward? The British are inveterate gamblers but gambling is against the law except on race courses.

No doubt we could take our guests to the amusement piers where red-nosed comedians and a few dancing girls put on a show each night, but the piers are closed at eleven p.m. By midnight Brighton is a dormitory and the only sound is the lapping of the waves upon the shore.

The casino at Deauville, like the casino at Monte Carlo, is a social rallying point. The rarest sight is anyone the

worse for drink although the bars remain open to the early hours of the morning. We renew old acquaintances and make new friends for a night. The croupiers who collect the losings and pay out the winnings are men of good appearance and complete integrity. Whatever the hour, if you wish refreshments the restaurant rooms remain open.

Let us look at it as a matter of pure economics. By drawing foreign visitors the casino brings money to the hotels and to the shops, for a winning gambler is an easy spender. The friendly intercourse of visitors with local residents makes for better understanding. If we Britishers carry ourselves well we gain the respect of our hosts.

But when visitors from abroad arrive in London, or shall we say in Montreal or Toronto, where can they make acquaintance with the local residents?

Perhaps the puritan conscience rebels against organized gambling but what is life itself but a gamble? We hazard our gifts, our judgment, our brains for the chance of reward. We buy and sell shares on the stock exchange in the hope that our number will turn up.

But then perhaps my friendly feeling toward the casino is partly due to my farewell coup in the early hours of the morning of our last day. Luck had not

Lunch hour is rush hour

Here's the break that no one's late for. What from 9 a.m. we wait for,

Wears our nerves down, keeps us hopping Crowding in that extra shopping,

Chasing round for theatre tickets,

Lining up at tellers' wickets.

Switching from the latter to Trying on a hat or two.

Greeting friends along the street—

And. maybe, snatch a bite to eat.

P. J. Blackwell

been with me and 1 was down to my last mille plaque—the equivalent of one pound.

I put it on number seven. The croupier shouted "rien ne va plus” and sent the little ball spinning. Yes—you are quite right. Seven came up and 1 was solemnly paid thirty-five thousand francs, the equivalent of thirty-five pounds.

Next morning our same French plane was ready for us but the clouds were low and we had to wait for an hour before taking off. And so to London with its surging streets and its vast reality.

Not for the first time I had left part of my heart in France. The shadows are deep on that fair land but as a people they have developed the art of living to a degree unequaled by any other race. It is above all a land of the spirit and of the mind. They do not seek entertainment as a drug but love to talk and enjoy the richness of companionship. Their courtesy is grave and their manners belong to a gracious past.

Each year Monsieur André will renew his invitation to the British parliament to send a team to contest with Deputies from Paris. And each year our MPs will come away with memories not only of the casino and the gala dinners but of the crowded churches, the laughing families on the sun-warmed beaches, and good companionship of their French parliamentary opposites.

But why. at school in Toronto, was I not taught to speak French instead of bothering about its grammar? Words are the universal language of the mind and we are poor without them. ★