Prince William and I were picnicking at Regent’s Park today. We were sitting at separate ends of the blanket we bought from Cath Kidston on Marylebone High Street, which is not but a few minutes away. We weren’t at separate ends of the blanket because I don’t like him, if that’s what your thinking. He is my best friend, after all, and my prince, so it’s kind of a grey area whether I can disobey him anyway. It’s just that whenever I’m journaling he’s always trying to peak at my notebook, pestering me to know if it’s about him I’m writing. It really interrupts the flow. Also, though he just picked up a beautifully published edition of Harry Potter from Daunt Books, he isn’t reading it because he’s a hopeless cloud gazer. Though, for all that practice, he’s not very good. Every shape in the clouds is a castle for the king. Sometimes he throws in a palace, or a hunting lodge, but it’s always for the king. He gets terribly irritated whenever I offer my own suggestions as per cloud shapes. Like I just suggested that I saw an elephant. He stared at the cloud for a moment and asked, “An elephant for the king?” And I said, “Sure.” And he said, “Nah. Looks more like sweet turrets for a castle, for shooting arrows at invaders and things like that. Bloody Vikings.”
Today, however, Prince William did something extremely out of the ordinary, especially on a partly cloudy day, where castles dot the sky as they did the 1066 English landscape. He changed the subject.
“Can I ask you a question?” he said.
Like usual, I pretended not to hear him, but like usual, he persisted, repeating my name until I capped my fountain pen (today it’s a Lamy 2000, black, if you must know) and I looked up.
“It’s just that I’m The Prince of England…” he continued.
“And I know how much you love London, but honestly, I just saw you were writing something about Paris, and I just think that when you’re in London, you would do well to concentrate exclusively on London. Seriously mate it’s time to get your head out of the clouds.”
“How could you say such a thing? I’m in love with London.”
“Then where are you going next, mate?”
“I’m taking the Chunnel to Paris, of course, but I haven’t said a word about it here in London.”
“No, but ever since you landed, you’ve used every downtime to plan your days in Paris.”
“But that doesn’t mean I’m not living for the present in London.”
“Then I command you to stay in London. I mean enough with the Paris talk, already. And it’s Eurostar, not Chunnel, bloody tourist.”
“Can you give commands like that? I’m always wondering.”
“Well, if I can’t, then surely this blanket can! It’s only spread over the grass of bloody gorgeous Regent’s Park. Have a look at the goodies we picked up on Marylebone High Street not but a few minutes away and not but for a few quid. What Paris could possibly be keeping in its walls that England cannot possibly conquer, I’ll never know.”
“Paris and London are just different,” I said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Besides, don’t the English monarchs claim the French throne?”
“Psshhh. Maybe in 1328, in the middle bloody ages, when King Charles IV of France died without sons and his nephew King Edward III of England claimed the French throne for himself.”
“So what happened?”
“What do you mean what happened. The Hundred Bloody Years War happened. Of course, old grandpappy lost that one, in the end, the cheeky bugger. Then I guess out of spite, and because King of France just sounds cool, we claimed the title in coronation ceremonies for another few hundred years or so. But then of course in the 1800’s there was the French Revolution.” Prince William drew his thumb across his throat and made a ripping sound. “It’s hard to be king of a country that beheads its kings. If you ask me, they regret it. Did you see the crowds when Kate and I took that carriage from our wedding? Now the best French girls can hope for is some senior partner at some snooty French law firm. Nope. No princes for them.”
“It’s strange to think, though, isn’t it,” I said, “that the English monarchy tried to conquer France and failed, considering the line of current monarchs was in fact started by a Frenchman.”
“Um. Were you not just on our stroll of one street in London? Can you not see the spread on this blanket before you? Bulls&%t we didn’t conquer France. What in Paris can you not find done better in London?”
“In Paris there’s cheese.”
Prince William chocked on the soft cheese he had spread on a cracker and it sprayed all over me. “In London one only has to stop at La Fromogerie on Marylebone High Street, where they speak your bloody language and you can talk cheese without having to order it at some French restaurant while pretending to know what the hell the waiter is talking about. France conquered.”
“What of French pastries?”
Prince William bit down so hard on his éclair that chocolate squirted up his nose, which he then sneezed out all over me. “Look at the distance that chocolate flies. Lighter than air, that. France conquered.”
“Wine?” I suggested, “at an outdoor cafe.”
William took a sip of wine we picked up at from La Fromogerie (who even lent us two plastic cups for the park) and mimicked a water sprinkler as he spit it out over the grass in a repeating pattern of arches. When the grass started to grow, “France conquered,” he said.
“The French also have Proust. Balzac. Victor Hugo. It’s just kind of cool to be in Paris where people like Victor Hugo wrote, What Is Love? I have met in the streets a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat worn, the water passed through his shoes and the stars through his soul.”
Prince William stood, wiped the cheese dripping from his chin with indignation. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Jane Austen. France conquered.”
I stood and faced him. “Passion is universal humanity. Without it religion, history, art, and romance would be useless. Honoree Balzac. Whose last name, I might add, is bigger than yours.”
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. Oscar Wilde. France conquered.”
“Oscar Wilde also said,” I reminded him, “The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius. Do you know of whom he was referring? Those critical hack writers who read one page of Marcel Proust. Proust is the French genius who said, after all, that Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us. You can’t compete with that.”
Prince William stuck his hands into his pockets and took on a contemplative manner. “That is inspiring. I’ll give you that. In fact, it really makes you think, and now after so much contemplation, I’ve got a question I don’t think I’ve ever quite asked myself before.”
“That’s a good thing, My Prince, for it was Proust who also said, Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees.” I said it a bit more smugly than I had intended, though, and I hadn’t yet picked up on the fact that he was allowing me to bathe a bit too long in my own smugness, but I was on a roll. “So, what’s this new question that French literature has inspired in you?”
“Funny you should ask. It’s nothing, really, I suppose. I was just wondering whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
I sat back down on the stripes of the Cath Kidston blanket.
“Or,” continued The Prince, still standing, “to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.”
I halved the éclair with a knife and fork so that we could share.
“To die—to sleep…and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”
“Oh, look at those clouds,” I said, I bet you could come up with some cool shapes for those.”
“So to answer you, dearest Johnny, To be, or not to be? That is the question.” Prince William dropped his Harry Potter book, written by a British author the same as William Shakespeare, as if it were a mic. Then he took my half of the éclair from my fingers, and while chewing, “France,” he muttered, spraying chocolate, “conquered.”