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Swellboy on… a family trip to Charvet

A trip to Charvet is a vital part of any child’s curriculum

Swellboy on… a family trip to Charvet

Image: Brijesh Patel

December 26 2010
Nick Foulkes

I do try not to think too much about domestic politics; it is after all a rather parochial field. And, not to be too much of a snob, it does tend to involve the sort of people I spent much of my time at university avoiding, the rule-proving exception being Brobdingnagian Boris Johnson, a political giant in a landscape populated by Lilliputians.

Of course I have no right to complain as I am ashamed to say that I did not vote. The great contrapuntalist Nicky Haslam might say that exercising one’s democratic franchise is common; not that that would stop me – it is just that the choice back in the summer was of the Scylla and Charybdis variety and I was spared having to make it because I was in Bordeaux for a few days. Lovely town, Bordeaux, especially the bits knocked up during the Louis Quinze period by royal favourite Ange-Jacques Gabriel, who also did the smashing hotels particuliers on the Place de la Concorde.

Incidentally, it was in one of these, what is now the Crillon, where Marie Antoinette is said to have taken music lessons in a room overlooking the square, the same square in which, on October 16 1783, Dr Guillotine’s eponymous invention caused her head to part company with her body. I wonder if, as the blade descended, she thought back to happier times on square; then again, maybe she hated her music lessons.

But even after France had dispensed with royalty of both the Bourbon and Orléans varieties, Bordeaux’s legacy continued to be felt in Paris in other ways. Haussmann was préfet here and the impression left in his mind by Bordeaux’s 18th-century riparian architecture is plain to see in the Paris he revamped for the much under-appreciated Napoleon III. And, in a way, it was to the boulevards of Haussmann’s Paris that the Cleggeron coalition had driven me shortly before Christmas.

One of the regrettable by-products of politicising a generation of young people who might otherwise have remained sedated by cheap beer and computer games, is that I am now likely to be shelling out for my children’s tertiary (as well as primary and secondary) education. Given that the Tory Party is traditionally the party of self interest and opportunism (one only has to look at its current leaders), it seems strange to me to think that I might have been financially better off voting Labour.

I am now sufficiently concerned about the threat to their schooling that I have been inspired to follow the example of the Hon Toby Young (who I believe is founding his own school, which I hope he names after his distinguished father, the founder of, among other things, the Open University; I think that “The Lord Young Academy for Young Gentlemen of Limited Means” has a good ring to it).

I have decided to arrange some of their education myself. On the whole, my own curriculum of home tuition seems to be going well. I am proud to say that my older son is already able to tell a decent cigar by the small pyramid or cone of slow-burning ligero leaf in the core, which emerges after the first drum of ash has been tapped off the end. He and his brother are also proving to be quite astute judges of vintage tweed; moreover, whenever I pull out a Dupont lighter they both cock their ears to listen for the clear and bell-like “kling” that is emitted when the lid is flicked back.

Of course this learning is valueless unless set within the context of the compensations that other civilisations are able to wring from life. No son of mine will see his education blighted by the bigotry of a Britanno-centric view of world affairs. In other words, it was high time to take them to Paris, and Charvet.

In particular I was keen that they acquaint themselves with the legendary Wall of Whites, where some of the 400 different shades of white that Charvet offers its customers are displayed. In sartorial terms, this Mur des Blancs is every bit as significant as those other well-known walls: the Great of China, the Wailing of Jerusalem and the Berlin of Berlin; it is part of the patrimoine national de la France and should be designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.

While wondering at this marvel of human creation, they were also fortunate enough to see an extinct species: in one vitrine there was a tangerine (or perhaps it was persimmon) cashmere V-neck made by Ballantyne, for Charvet, when Ballantyne still had its factory in Scotland (the factory is now called the Caerlee Mill). Had they seen a dodo riding on a snow leopard on its way to visit a Siberian mammoth, they could not have been more awestruck.

Of course it was not all plain sailing – a few feathery flakes of seasonal snow had rendered the Eurostar terminal a little like what I imagine leaving the American Embassy must have been at the fall of Saigon in 1975. But it was worth it to see the fire of intellectual curiosity burning brightly in their young eyes.