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Sunday, 20 February 2011

More quintessentially Parisian than an onion-seller eating a croissant under the Eiffel Tower

  Of all the sometimes quite unexpected manifestations of the deep imprint left on British collective consciousness by almost two centuries of regular contact with the Onion Johnnies, one of the most revealing is certainly the apparently endless source of similes & metaphors that the Breton peddlars unwittingly seem to provide writers & journalists with.
  From the supposed obsolescence of the BBC, to the distinctively Parisian elegance of a French model or the formidable outbursts of the former Labour PM; from a pack of condoms to a plump bunch of Christmas stockings or the histrionically bulging eyes of a B-movie actor, there seems to be nothing that the proteiform Leon-men cannot morph into a vehicle for.

“And opportunity like Johnny Onions
appeared briefly in the strange summer
biked and dangling to make us weep
far as we were from its swinging door.”
George Gunn. “Behind the Blackboard.” 
Dream State: the New Scottish Poets2nd ed. Edinburgh: Polygon, 2002.

-“Rev. Wood, priest of Grace Episcopal in Middleway (...) and St-John’s in Rippon, discussed all of us being born as wrinkled “Johnny Onions.”
“Rev. David Wood give self-concept students address.” Spirit of Jefferson Farmer's Advocate. 29 novmebre 1984.

-“When did we first start using the word “condom”?”
“No idea, sir.”
“In my day it was “contraceptive” or “johnny.” “Buy me and stop one!”Suddenly it’s a condom. Funny, ain’t it?”
“Care & Protection.” A Touch of Frost.  Série 1. Yorkshire Television, 1992.

So, would you buy a string of onions from this man?
As the French President arrives in London today.
-“The symbol of France, the Gallic cockerel, is often used for making weather vanes: it is therefore fitting that Jacques Chirac should be the country's president. He always knows which way the political wind is blowing, and is always determined to follow it.
As Chirac arrives in Britain today, it is salutary to remember just what sort of man - and politician - he really is.  (...)”
Laughland, John. The Daily Mail. 14 mai 1996.

-“She knew she was doing wrong - but how to get out of bad habits like no exercise, no breakfast, no lunch, and more cigarettes and cups of strong black coffee than a French onion seller could put away in a week?”
Pallister, Marian. The Herald. 4 octobre 1996.

-“My second question concerns Paul Grayson. Admittedly he made the best of a bad job. But why did he persist in lying so flat when the scrum was being hauled hither and yon like a rope of Breton onions?”
Watkins, Alan. “Rugby Union: Garforth and Leonard were shunted around like two locomotives in the old Swindon sidings.”
The Independent. 10 février 1998.

-“ “Gallus Gaul is no onion bag Johnny.”
IT is tempting to suggest that Rangers haven't imported a French goalkeeper so much as some sort of cultural attache. Have no fears that, should Lionel Charbonnier flap at an aimless cross at Ibrox this afternoon and end up in a pile with a splintered pancreas, he will have nothing with which to fill the long void of football-less hours. With his horses, his paintings and a seeming surplus of other passions, conversation with this man convinces that the chores for his pay-cheques come pretty subordinate.”
Scotland on Sunday. 4 octobre 1998.

-“And there was hardly a Christmas, despite the ringing bells and steaming puddings and the stockings tied to bedposts like the wares of Johnny Onions, come over to Llwyn-y-pia from Brittany, that didn't mock a small child's dreams.”
Illuminations: an anthology of Welsh short prose.Welsh Academic Press, 1er novembre 1998.

-“Since then the banks have been knocking each other about in public. Amusingly for us, they realised that up to 40 per cent of their shares are held in London, and so the City has been treated to the greatest French influx since Johnny onion seller, as they all come to press the merits of their plan and pour scorn on their opponents.”

“City Comment: Oh la la! You naughty French banks.” The Sunday Telegraph.”15 août 1999.

-“The RX4 provides permanent four-wheel drive, a real-time system which is regulated by a viscous coupler - a clever wee electronic brain also manages front traction control and ABS anti-lock brakes. And the grip is quite fantastic. Even the tightest corners can be taken at speeds that normally would tip an onion seller from his bike.”
“Invasion of the gallus Gallic.” The Herald. 8 août 2000.

-“I don't know if I'm getting more squeamish, or simply less charitable at being exploitatively manipulated and taken for a moron: possibly both.
But I think others will share my disgust at several scenes in Bless The Child. It's a trashy recycling of The Omen material - from the same producer, Mace Neufeld - that puts a small girl in jeopardy from a New Age Satanist (Rufus Sewell, with eyeballs that should be on a French onion-seller's stall).”
Alexander Walker. The Evening Standard. 4 janvier 2001.

-“The prime asset of any grand plan is an over-view.
The sort of vision required to transform Liverpool city centre with the super- league opportunity offered by the Duke of Westminster's pounds 750m Paradise Street shopping development.
Such a definitive re- shaping of a large central location cannot be achieved by circumnavigating obstructions on the grounds of sentiment or unwanted upheaval.
The Grosvenor Estates plan is a capital idea for one of Europe's new capital destinations.
When Napoleon III commissioned the redesign for the great shopping boulevards of Paris (based, it is said, on Lord Street,Southport), he did not turn this way to avoid an onion seller, or the other to placate the boss of a bistro.
His plan was somewhat bigger than that.”
“ Plan for the future.” The Liverpool Echo. 4 août 2003.

-“I have only had this car for a few months. Fundamentally the engine, body, interior, handling an look of the vehicle are well designed and technically advanced.
It has, however, a sequential gear semi automatic system that is so bad it defies belief. It has a full auto position, a semi auto stick shift option and cool steering wheel paddles as well. Great, but they just do not work. It squirts away in first like an Onion Seller on steroids, then as it tries to change up, the onion sellers bike slows, stops, a slow Gaulloise ciggie emerges, perhaps then a lingering Cafe au Lait, then it might, just might hit second.”
“2004 Citroen C2 VTR review from UK and Ireland.”

-“Sacre bleu! It may not be long before the service goes the same way as the Onion Johnnies.”
“A Long wave goodbye to the BBC?” The Daily Telegraph. 8 mai 2004.

-“A Weird Wood Soul single review - Why is it that all the best bands find themselves on small, under-funded labels with barely enough resources to do that band justice? It happened with Nirvana when Sub Pop was but a boy, it happened to Pavement, it happened to Travis when Independiente didn’t have the cash to buy good exposure. I know, Travis, but they offered proof that it doesn’t actually matter what the critics say, and after ‘The Man Who’ went ballistic more than a few critics were backpedalling faster than a French onion-seller careening down a steep hill.”
“Jam sabbatical reviews.” 2005.

-“Step forward Shane, with a jinking sidestep if you may, and prove to all the disbelievers that you're way ahead of your time in everything but the mullet. And somebody had to step forward in the early skirmishes yesterday as France opened up on Wales and temporarily reduced whatever confidence had been building to something so whiffy it might well have been around an onion-seller's neck.”
James CORRIGAN. “Shane the quickstep kid shimmies into dreamland.” James Corrigan at Stade de France. The Independent. 27 février 2005.

-“Somebody should send in the trades descriptions inspectors. Gyles Brandreth's musical version bears as much relationship to Shakespeare as a deep-fried Mars bar does to a Sachertorte. It is a pantomime in every sense, which largely seems an excuse for Brandreth to dress up in stockings and suspenders and sing Thank Heavens for Little Girls as a French Huguenot Malvolio, sporting an accent that would make a bicycling onion-seller weep. Throw in a Caribbean Maria and a redundant mermaid and you have a show that is all Greek.”
Lyn Gardner. The Guardian. 15 août 2005.

-“Our horizon-scouring helmsman, the bloke who was meant to be calm in a crisis, didn't half lose his rag at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday.
He threw a wobbler, as Mrs Thatcher used to call them.
"I WILL NOT," yelled Gordon Brown, tonsils waggling at David Cameron, "accept any advice on competence!"
With that he thwacked his hand on the despatch box, as hard as an onion johnnie slapping a 10 franc coin on the zinc of a local bar after being knocked off his bike by yet another British caravan.
“Downing Street must reek of decline.” The Daily Mail. 21 novembre 2007.

-“I bought a sequinned jacket a bit like this one,” she says, in her warm, deep voice, while gesturing with slim, elegant fingers at the sparkly black blazer she’s wearing. It’s part of an outfit that looks more quintessentially Parisian than an onion-seller eating a croissant under the Eiffel Tower. Her long, slim legs (she once likened her figure to a “giant asparagus”) are encased in straight dark jeans, and teamed with a Breton top and midnight-blue velvet Vivier flats.”
“Belle de toujours.” Carola Long. The Independent. 2 janvier 2010.

-‘t’s deeply manipulative, with its child carers, sick children and crying charity workers. And it is all a bit cheap because the semi-scripted nature of these programmes means they don’t take any proper documentary risks of duff shots and no compelling narrative. It is like shooting a police chase in bumper cars; exciting enough, but ultimately completely safe.
But isn’t it good! With four series and an episode under their belt the makers of the programme must be responsible for more tears than a French onion seller.”
Mark Lewis. “The Secret Millionaire review: predictably good.” On the Box. 8 mars 2010.

-“He [Boris Johnson, mayor of London] rides, he says, “at very elderly French onion seller speed”, but makes up time with a fair bit of ducking and diving, including one weave across a lorry that wasn’t too far away from causing a new election.”
“Boris Johnson, the cyclists’ friend.’ The Times. 31 juillet 2010.

-“If novelist Jon McGregor had his way he would be read and not seen. This, however, is not acceptable in an environment in which high street  bookshops may soon become as obsolete as onion johnnies.”
“Editor’s blog.” Scottish Review of Books. 27 août 2010.