Dom Marquis wrote Archie and Mehitabel, Faber and Faber published it, and when I first read it (in my teens) the book cheered me immensely. Fifty years later it still does.
Mehitabel, a once-attractive cat-on-the-tiles has fallen upon hard times. In 1960 one could get away with calling her a clapped out old whore. Now we would categorise her as a superannuated sex worker. And miss the point. Although the times are tough, Mehitabel claims she remains cheerful: toujours gai, Archie, toujours gai.
For gaiety we humans have the racing game. From Cup to Cup a nation in its cups loves a winner. Memories of breaches of trust have no currency. The past? – another country. Our crooks, our own, they’re OK. So long as the offender isn’t an oriental, an emir, a sheikh.
The trainer Tommy Smith was a winner, his daughter is another, his bookie son-in-law Robbie is a winner. So too are the bookie grandson and the jockey Damien, a non-dynast.
Toujours gai we head off to the races, to the TAB, to the gambling sites and we invest. Mug punters all, a nation toujours gai, we surrender to the winners. Our screens and our papers salute the winners. Lipstick, champagne, heels, joie, winning is the theme. There is no other.
In the carnival of innocent joie Damien speaks of his redemption – I did the crime, I served my time – and, unblinking, a stopped nation knows the game’s all clean now. Gai was fined, remains unrepentant, defiantly innocent. Clean. She faces fresh charges (allegedly committed on the very day she became The Winner). These stir no reflection, no recollection. The stewards offend the mood. They are churls, wowsers. Singo forgives Gai; who are we, in all this due process, this penitence, this righteousness, who are we to question, to misgive? Cheer up, pay up, drink up. In all this joie, we must look to Mehitabel and remain toujours gai.