I visited London in 2012 just before the London Olympics. There was a dental meeting that interested me and I couldn’t resist the temptation to see my hometown again for the first time in more than a decade.
I was educated at the French school in South Kensington. The Lycée Français de Londres (French Lycée of London) changed name whilst I was there. It was renamed Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle, after the French president. I find this now rather ironical because, during his presidency, Charles de Gaulle vetoed the UK’s application to become member of the European Economic Community, as it was then, no less than 3 times. He warned the EEC that accepting UK membership would cause its breakup. A visionary?
The school is situated on the busy Cromwell Road opposite the Natural History Museum. A group of students was waiting on the steps leading to the entrance hall in the same relaxed way as I had once done, all those years ago. You could almost feel the power of the vision of Jules Ferry, founder of the non-clerical French educational system.
The French Lycée and the Natural History Museum, together with the adjoining Science Museum symbolise, for me, the true values of a European ideal. Values of liberty, equality and brotherhood, together with endeavour, discovery and science. Robespierre, the French revolutionary and advocate of the poor and of democratic institutions; Darwin the intrepid discoverer who shocked the world with his insights; and Davy, who produced the world’s first “light bulb”. They, and others, all come together in our minds in one place.
And what can I say about the Victoria and Albert Museum, also so close to my school, the largest museum of decorative arts and design in the world. The museum is named after Queen Victoria, the longest serving monarch the UK has had, and her one and only love for Albert, a German prince.
Who says that European ideals never existed?