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florio was shakespeare So there I was in Patisserie Valerie, sinking my teeth into a wickedly creamy Tarte Aux Framboises and reminiscing about old times with the companion of my youth, John Florio.

“But tell me, John,” I said. “What do you say to people who claim you were the one who actually wrote all those world-famous plays of William Shakespeare?”

“William who?”

“You know, the country boy, the player from Stratford-upon-Avon who put his name to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice and all those plays set in Italy and Rome. Only an Italian could have written those plays, right?”

“I am not in verity an Italian,” he said. “I am an Englishman in Italian. Un Inglese Italianato, e un Diavolo incarnato!”

“Yes, yes, I know that. You were born here, in London. Your mother was an English woman…”

“I entreat you never to breathe a word about my mother.”

“Well, but your father only was Italian…”

“My father was Michael Angelo Florio, Italian tutor, preceptor, professor, pedagogue to the Queen of England, her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, why and belike to Lady Jane Grey and to many more noble gentlemen and noble ladies in the English court besides.”

“Indeed he was, and he did his job well no doubt, for they all spoke very fine Italian, I’m sure. But what I’m getting at is this. Was it you or Shakespeare who wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost?”

“We need not speak so much of that. Why, his plays are but men’s eloquence, essayes, histories, philosophy pieced together. You might as well say, several texts and multitudes of authors. Yea, marry, are not all writings thefts? If with acknowledgements, it is well; if by stealth it is too bad.”

“You don’t accuse him, then?”

“In this, our conscience is our accuser, posterity our judge.”

“And, let’s be clear, you were not the real author of those plays?”

“In that, our study is our advocate.”

“You mean you did write them?”

“Our readers are our jury.”

A glistening slice of a Tarte aux Fruits disappeared into the mouth of my interlocutor and his eyes rolled ecstatically. I sipped my coffee.

“Good?” I asked.

“Bellissimo.”

“You knew Shakespeare personally, didn’t you?”

“I knew many men and gentlemen, ladies, charmers, gallants, doctors, lawyers, secretaries, wits, scholars…”

“What was he like?”

“I will shortly cross the Channel to visit our erstwhile acquaintance Michel de Montaigne, he whom we spoke of but now. What say you we betake us there together and lighten our travels with goodly discourse and diverse scholarly digressions?”

“I would love to meet Montaigne again,” I said.

“You may with less labour meet him in your armchair sitting alone in a chimney-corner or on your English stage. England, it may be said, is a nation, if not for European influences, that hath no kind of literature, no knowledge of letters, no intelligence of numbers, no name of magistrate nor of politic superiority, no use of service, of riches or of poverty, no contracts, no successions, no dividences, no occupation but idle, no respect of kindred but common, no apparel but natural, no manuring of lands, no use of wine, corn or metal.”

“Ah, you are quoting those famous lines from The Tempest.”

“From, Montaigne, dear old fellow. From my Montaigne.”

“Then let us go and meet the man himself,” I said. “I’m at your beck and call.”

 

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Tom didn’t come for dinner on Sunday, so that was one catastrophe averted. The other German came, though, and without his English son. Father and son needled one another by text.

“If you run out of tissues,” Andreas wrote as the English team collapsed under the superior German firepower, “you can tear up some of those English flags for handkerchiefs.”

“The Germans may have won the football match,” his son retorted, “but they are still very bad at making at jokes.”

Lanying roared with glee everytime Germany got the ball.

“Which team are you supporting, Mingzhu?” I asked, expecting her to side with England.

“Uh, I don’t know. Which team is better looking?”

In the end her allegiance was with the handsome German centre-back Arne Friedrich.

I was sent to fetch some Sichuan kebabs. At first the streets of London were deserted but, after Germany scored the third goal, the will of the nation wilted. Disheartened fans sidled out of pubs and living rooms to smoke a much-needed cigarette, kick a discarded beer can, or simply stare at the bluest sky we’ve had in years and wonder where it all went wrong.

As I waited on the corner of a deserted south London suburb I began to doubt my choice of rendezvous. I couldn’t have chosen a worse spot to wait. The sun was beating down on me, I looked shady in the shade and my view of the road was obscured by a dirty red brick bridge.

As I stood there, furtively counting my cash and avoiding the stares of the occasional passing drunk, I wondered whether I should risk getting out my iPhone and taking a picture. People have been stabbed on that street for less.

I slipped it out, took a quick snap (see above) and tucked it away again, resisting the urge to read Tales of Chinatown on it while I was waiting.

Then suddenly he was there, the motorcyclist from the restaurant. As he handed over the goods and I passed him the cash, I saw he had thrown in a free bottle of wine.

I love the Chinese. They are so flexible when it comes to doing business.

It’s a shame they are useless at football even though, as I was informed in detail over dinner, they invented it.

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Geoff Hurst scoring for England

On Sunday England will be playing Germany in the World Cup. Such matches always arouse strong feelings in England. If you are German you had better stay indoors.

My wife, who is German, doesn’t understand. “I should hang out a flag,” she said last night as we were walking along the river bank. She had seen an Australian flag draped over a balcony. Elsewhere there are England flags in windows, tied to gutters, pinned to walls, stuck on cars, flapping and fluttering wherever they can be hung.

“Other people have flags,” she said. “Why not me?”

Luckily it is impossible to buy a German flag in England. Otherwise she would probably do it and I’d be sweeping up broken glass in the living room instead of writing this.

She doesn’t appreciate the history. “I’ll always support Germany,” she said innocently while they were playing against Ghana the other night. “Because I like to see football played well. Yeah. The Germans really know how to play. This is proper football. Not like when England play.”

Ghana were in an all-white strip. Germany in an all-black one. “I hope they are not going to wear those awful black uniforms when they play England,” she said. “Really! Why do they have to wear black?”

Fortunately, because it is very important and she will probably be talking about it all through the match again otherwise, the Germans will be in White on Sunday. White shirts, black shorts and black socks.

England will be wearing their lucky all-red strip. They could have chosen red shirts, white shorts and red socks, the combination they wore in the 1966 World Cup final when, let us not forget, they beat Germany 4-2. But the all-red strip brought them victory against Slovenia on Wednesday and may be lucky again tomorrow.

Not that I’ll be seeing much of the match. Yesterday was Lanying’s birthday and Sunday is Mingzhu’s, so we’re having a double birthday celebration. Lanying and Mingzhu will watch the match and I’ll be going to Lanying’s favourite Chinese restaurant on the other side of the Thames to fetch some Sichuan kebabs.

The kebabs are for the meat-loving Germans who will be joining us for dinner and for Mingzhu, who also loves meat.

We have some new friends, Carley and Andreas. Carley is Chinese. Andreas is German. And Lanying has also invited Tom. I’ve mentioned Tom before. He’s the German who really likes Mingzhu and would probably be going out with her if there was any chemistry there. Lanying invited him because she was feeling sorry for him. He has been stuck at home after being crippled in a skiing accident so he has put on weight and become depressed.

So seeing the woman who won’t go out with him after watching his national team get thrashed will be just the thing to perk him up I expect.

Mingzhu doesn’t know he has been invited yet. I hope she doesn’t choke on her kebab.

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