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This article is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

Beyond La Grille Richard Price

There is an episode of the TV cartoon show The Simpsons that, with a little reflection, encapsulates Scotland's recent relationship with France. Homer Simpson, the overweight, feckless father-figure decides to build a brick barbecue in his back garden. His hardworking and intellectual daughter Lisa has already laid the concrete base for the new structure. All Homer has to do is build the self-assembly barbecue into the concrete. As loyal viewers and flat-pack victims will have expected, the plan quickly goes awry. Homer's structure slips and then topples into the grey porridge of Lisa's carefully designed foundations.

Homer is not deterred. The series is testament, after all, to his overcoming greater problems than a subsiding barbecue, even if the problems are often self-imposed (see the recurring nuclear meltdown theme). A 'triumph' means that he is usually returned to right back where he started. This time, he manages to rescue the instructions. Although the English text has been obliterated by wet concrete the French version is still intact. Finally, it is time to despair: '"La grille"?!' he shouts, angrily, only to add, with a whimper, 'Oh, why are foreign languages so hard to understand!'

That's not quite the end of the story, though. The next time we see him, his barbecue has been completed. It's utterly unusable - bricks and tools and 'la grille' stick out from a concrete composite. With the luck inherent in the glorious fiction that The Simpsons is, an art collector happens to ...

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