I’m currently working in a campsite here in a very, very hot and sunny France.
Today I had the pleasure of helping out a young Norwegian family.
They came in, looking very flustered, telling me that they needed to to see a doctor, as their eldest daughter – who was the grand old age of two – had a rash that was spreading, and they wanted to take action before it got any worse. I ran a search on the internet, printed out a list of local doctors, and gave them all the relevant info.
“Ah….. yes…..” the mother of the family said, looking at me with despair in her eyes: “But although we speak English – we don’t speak any French”.
Luckily for them however, I’ve been living here a while, so I thought I might be up to the task. Nothing ventured nothing gained, eh?
I rang up the doctor. He answered. He clearly wasn’t a natural-born Francophone.
So here we were. A Norwegian family who didn’t speak French. An Englishman who didn’t speak French well. And a doctor from parts unknown.
Thankfully it all worked out and they managed to get an appointment for just a couple of hours later.
They will let me know if everything is ok with their little one as soon as they can.
Me? I’m just happy that my language skills are better than I expected. Or maybe it’s one of those extreme pressure-type situations, where your brain works at a higher rate than normal.
Now if I could only figure out how to make it work like that all the time…..
I went in to work today at the office. A couple of my French colleagues were there, one of them was watching something on his PC, I couldn’t see exactly what it was, but it seemed to be a news programme as there was a lot of chatter from various people. The other colleague asked me how I was and – using a French phrase she has helped me to learn – I said I was fine apart from ‘the shit weather’. She corrected my French as I’d made a slight error.
It was at this point that the ‘programme’ that my colleague was watching piped up with: ‘The weather is shit?’.
My other colleague wasn’t watching a news programme, he was on a conference call via Skype.
I was just on my way home and walked past the entrance to a local hotel, just as a white van with a builder’s merchant’s signage on the side pulled in. The driver – a well built, mustachioed chap – got out, nodded a greeting to me and commenced punching in the code on the gate to access the hotel’s courtyard.
I continued walking by and, as I drew level with the rear of the van, saw something scrawled there in the accumulated dirt and dust.
‘J’aime les licornes’ the legend on the back of the Ford transit said (‘I like unicorns’.)
I said something today that I never thought I ever would. Something that you may have read in books, or heard characters say in films and TV shows. It’s such a tricky sentence to say, because the context has to be just right, or you might just find yourself in trouble.
Well I managed to say it.
I even managed to say it in French too.
I work at a local school and – due to Covid 19 – we’ve had a lot of people that work in local government departments and businesses working with us, due to their workplaces being closed down for health reasons.
I recognised one of these ‘redeployees’ today while I was in the playground. She was stood off to one side watching the kids play, all wrapped up against the cold in her thick coat and scarf (and obligatory mask). Her name’s Stephanie, a lovely lady in her fifties who works locally and who myself and my kids have got to know quite well as we see her frequently – under normal circumstances anyway.
I headed over to her, weaving through masses of running kids as I did so, nodded my head at her and said: ‘Hello Stephanie, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on’.
Stephanie – a lifeguard at our local swimming pool – saw the funny side and, thankfully, laughed at this.
I say thankfully because Stephanie also teaches self-defence and judo.
I make my daughter her ‘quatre heure’ – or after-school snack – each day. This involves fruit, a drink and two small slices of toast, one with butter one with organic chocolate spread. I got bored one day and, with the aid of a pair of scissors, cut the pieces into heart shapes for her. She liked that. She liked that so much that she then refused to eat it unless I cut it into heart shapes for her each time.
Then I got bored of cutting heart shapes and tried my hand at other ‘designs’. They won’t win any art prizes, but she likes them and it’s quite fun for both of us. These are all first time efforts as I’m still ‘honing my craft’ but I will upload more photos one day when I think they are worth sharing. So here we have: Heart and the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, Pacman chasing a ghost (I realise for accuracy the ghost should really be blue, but I try not to feed my daughter blue things) and Jaws chasing a school of fish.
OK, so that’s a title and a half for a blog post, but bear with me, I’ll explain.
You see one of the things I love about French people is their frequent absolute refusal to do things in what I see as a logical, straightforward manner.
I should add this is just my opinion, and yours may well differ (he said diplomatically).
As an example of this I will tell you a little story from the other year, when I was working in a local travel and tourism office.
We had a village event coming up, a very popular, well attended event that spanned one entire weekend and happened every year. We had all the posters up advertising the event, but were still waiting for the programmes to arrive, with all the times of the various activities that were planned for that weekend.
The most frequent question we were asked – on the phone, and in person – in the days leading up to the event was: ‘Do you have the programme for the event yet?’.
The day finally came and we were informed that we would be receiving the infamous programmes, and so we could give them out to the locals and allow them to see what was in store.
The programmes arrived. They were delivered to another building, 500 meters away.
I offered to go and get them, and the conversation went a little like this:
Me: The programmes are here, down the road, shall I go and get them?
Colleague: Oh no, they are in a box, and the box is heavy, we will have to wait till we can get them delivered. I will contact the mayor.
Me: But people want them, and they’re not far away – I could take the trolley (indicating a small trolley we use to move heavy items around)
Colleague: Oh, but that will take a long time and the box is heavy.
Me: But that’s what the trolley is for.
Me: Well how about this? I go down, open the box, and bring up enough leaflets to hand out to people, then at least the ones who have asked for them will be happy.
Colleague: (long pause) (lots of blinking) No. No, the box is heavy. We will contact the mayor.
I’ve just repainted the bathroom floor downstairs, I know we are only two days into lockdown MK2, but I just can’t stop myself from painting things. Basically if it stays still for more than five minutes, it’s getting painted.
Thank god we don’t own a dog.
So the floor’s been painted, my son comes ambling up to me and asks me if he can use it. I check it out, it’s OK, but still a bit wet at the sides of the toilet.
I tell him he can use the bathroom, but to be careful of the aforementioned sides.
‘Oh you can trust me’ he replies ‘I don’t go on the sides of the toilet, I just pee on them’.
So, in case anyone is wondering why I repainted the floor, there’s your answer…
Check your food levels in the pantry. Put all your plans to one side. Stock up on toilet rolls and pasta. Make sure you’ve got enough ink in the printer for the attestation forms. Buy some extra baggy pants to slob about in.
And most importantly – buy lots and lots and lots of alcohol.
Yes folks, the day that we dreaded, the day that we hoped and prayed would not come, has arrived. With all the inevitability of a clock striking midnight, France has gone into (almost) total lockdown again.
Who’s to blame? The young? The old? The BLM protesters? The illuminati? I don’t know, personally I think people are equally to blame for this situation. Because people cannot stop touching each other, and seeing each other, and breaking the rules. Because people are like that. We aren’t – despite what many people on social media would have you believe – sheep. So we can’t be herded and ordered about – EVEN WHEN IT’S IN OUR OWN BEST INTERESTS.
And we love to touch each other. Oh how we love to touch each other! It’s OK if I just nip over the road to drop this off with my friend, that’s not contagious. It’s OK if I just touch this parcel and accept it from this delivery man, it can’t spread like that. It’s OK if I wear a mask, meet a group of friends, take off my mask, exchange a kiss and then put the mask back on – the mask is back on, I’m safe now, see?
This whole situation, as I’ve watched it unfold from my small town in France, has very much reminded me of someone trying to stop a dam from bursting it’s banks. Once you got the first hole filled with your finger, another hole appears, so you fill that with you finger – then another hole appears and so on. Every plan that the government puts in place to stop it is immediately cancelled out by the actions of the many, many idiots in our neighbourhoods. The ones who don’t move out of your way, the ones who stand too close to you in the supermarket, the ones who laugh and refuse to wear a mask because ‘It’s all part of some big government plan’.
Governments – as a rule – can not find their arse in the dark with both hands and a torch (See Brexit), so quite how they would go about coordinating a global-pandemic is beyond me.
It’s like Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park ‘Life finds a way’. Yes, it does find a way. A way to fuck the world up with its stupidity – because we are our own worst enemy, and Corona’s best friend.
So that’s my rant over with, now it’s off for four weeks (at the minimum) of playing games, watching films, keeping my kids entertained, and trying to find something to paint that I didn’t already paint twice during the last lockdown.
But hey, there is a brightside to this: the kids are still able to go to school.
We have plenty of alcohol and toilet rolls in the house.
Took the kids swimming yesterday. When we’d finished, and got out to get changed, I went and retrieved our clothing from the locker. The nice reception lady was in there, cleaning the floors. I had so many items of clothing I had to put my glasses in my mouth.
‘The locker’s so full it’s going to explode’ I mumbled with a mouthful of spectacles ‘Like a suitcase before you go on holiday’ I added. She laughed and agreed with me. Then I took my glasses out of my mouth and said ‘I think I speak better French with them in my mouth’.
‘Do you want to see my whopper?’ my neighbour Hervé asked me the other day with a cheeky glint in his eye. ‘It’s very big’ he added. I giggled nervously as I asked ‘How big is it?’. ‘Come and look at it’ he replied ‘I’ll show it to you now if you like, in my garden’. So I followed Hervé as he led me into his garden, and it was there in the shade of his cherry tree that he exposed his whopper to me.
My eyes went very big.
Herve must have noticed; ‘Have you ever seen one that size?’ he asked me. ‘No. no, never’ I stammered ‘Can I touch it?’. Hervé nodded his assent and smiled appreciatively as I bent forward to gently stroke it.
‘It’s so big and hard’ I said.
He sighed quietly and replied: ‘There’s none bigger in this town, or harder’. He nodded his head again and gave a grunt of pleasure as I asked him if I could take a photo. ‘Of course you can, but be quick, the ladies from the Bridge club are coming round soon, and they can’t wait to get their hands on it’.
So here you are, a picture of Hervé and his pride and joy. He’s going to expose it to the general public at a specialist show soon, where people will be charged to look at it, but you lucky people get to feast your eyes on his lovingly cultivated monster for free.
Incident: Travelling along road in usual vehicle at a slower than normal speed due to weather and time of night, what seemed to be a bush was observed and noted to be shaking oddly at the side of the road. It rapidly became apparent that this was not in fact a ‘bush’ after said ‘bush’ looked over its shoulder at oncoming vehicle and headed into the middle of the road. ‘Bush’ was then identified as a large wild boar and evasive manoeuvres (and screaming) were initiated.
Wild boar = undamaged
Vehicle = undamaged
Trousers and underpants = no longer fit for purpose.
Today with the aid of a cartoon I tried to explain what The Outback was to the French kids in my English class.
Me (In English and French): ‘So all the people mostly live around the edges of Australia’
Me (In English and French): ‘They live around the edges because the centre – The Outback – is very, very hot’
Me (In English and French):’ As you can see on the cartoon, Velma, Daphne and Fred are wearing jumpers and thick clothing, that’s not realistic, you couldn’t do that in real life there as it’s too hot’
Me (in English and French):‘You’re just saying ‘d’accord’ so I’ll stop talking to you and let you finish watching the film, aren’t you?’
I’m back at school now, teaching the kids – not MY kids, although they are there, I mean the kids in general. This return has been a long time coming, thanks to that ever-present virus, and to be honest with you I wasn’t sure if I’d be going back at all.
Just to recap/fill you in – I’m an assistant at my local school and I teach the kids English – quelle surprise – teaching is maybe a bit grand as it’s more of a mixture between entertaining and teaching, but I do my best and we all usually have a laugh. I take the kids on before and after their dinner hour, the bigger kids first then the the little ones. So I get load of distracted, hungry big kids and then a load of full, lethargic little kids.
Most of the time.
I’m up against it though in terms of popularity, as my fellow ‘animateurs’ – as we are called here – are all French and so offer a variety of exciting activities liked painting Pokemon, creating little purses, crafting cuddly donkeys and one activity that simply involves going in the ‘room of fun’. So put that up against ‘English class’ and it’s not really a surprise that I’m usually the last girl at the dance. The other animateurs have queues for their activities, me? I have to get the security ladies to make them come along.
That only applies to the bigger kids though – the little kids are more than happy to come along and find my accent fascinating. Strange how kids can change in a year from all happy, eager smiles to grumpy and ‘cool’. Too cool for English anyway.
So yes I’m back but it’s a very different landscape to the one I was forced to leave due to being furloughed following the Corona outbreak (part one?). Now all the kids are regimented, separated into classes, kept apart and generally monitored to ensure they don’t interact with other groups too much.
Like a kind of health-conscious segregation.
It’s masks on all the time for me as well, which makes it so much easier for the kids to understand me.
There also seems to be a lot less kids in general, I don’t know if they are hiding away or if some parents have simply opted, in the current ‘climate of fear’ to go the home-schooling route. I used to be that you would have to fight your way across the school playground, fighting through the crowds with all the speed of a salmon swimming upstream, dodging running kids, footballs, hats, you name it. Now you can just stroll right through them, like their fun-factor has been drained away.
Children that did not keep up with their studies during this current crisis have suffered the worst though. There was the confinement period, which was followed by a brief return to school, which was then followed by the eight week holidays. Some parents have not helped their children maintain their education levels, and never returned – albeit briefly – when they could. As a result of this some children are having to repeat the year, or have even been relegated into lower-level classes. It’s not great to see – potential like that, squandered.
Still, my kids are there too and it’s really great to be able to see them in this environment. I often arrive early and so get the privilege of being able to watch my children play with their friends, unaware that I am watching them – the office has mirrored doors and windows. I look at it as a kind of aquarium, just one for kids.
They can be my bridge for the other children too, when a concept is too difficult for me to explain, or I simply don’t know the words, bilingual kids come in very handy, especially when they are your own. Just don’t rely on them in crucial situations like at the bank or when asking directions as they have a tendency to shut down in times of real need.
So yes, I’m back, for how long I don’t know, and I’m not saying that as a reflection of my abilities, more of the ever present threat Covid 19 poses. The landscape at school has changed, but whether these measures will be sufficient? Time will tell….
My next-door neighbour thinks her neighbour at the back and to the right set her garden on fire.
It was her neighbour at the the back and to the left. It’s his holiday home and he was cutting the grass and decided to burn it – as you do – to get at the weeds. It got out of hand, he set my neighbour’s grass on fire, and then promptly packed up his car and legged it back to Brittany with his wife.
The neighbour at the back and to the right didn’t burn her grass.
What he did do was cut a hole in her fence in order to cut down a plant on her land that he said was toxic.
My next-door-neighbour is not happy with the neighbours at the back.
I know all this because for the last three days it’s been like world war 3 in the gardens around us with accusations flying left and right.
There was an attempt to bring me into this as the neighbour at the back – the fence-cutter – alleged that I had had enough of my neighbour too. ‘The Englishman is going to explode at you as well’ was the exact phrase used.
I was quick to assure my neighbour that I wanted no part in this, was not on the verge of exploding, and would prefer to remain ‘Switzerland’ if I could help it.
It’s been great for my French – I know so many more gros mots than I did.
We have now reached the point where the neighbour at the back and to the right is erecting a much higher fence, in order to avoid talking to my neighbour.
And she is now selling off a large number of her chickens as she fears they will be killed by the neighbour at the back (and to the right).
As for the neighbours that fled to Brittany? They have yet to return.
Hey, it’s not all sunshine and roses here in France.
I saw something quite lovely last night. I’d gone for a run, and as I reached my hour’s limit I headed for home. As I entered the lower end of my street and rounded the corner I was greeted by the sight of four of my neighbours, all stood on their individual doorsteps, well over 2 meters apart, each with a large glass of wine in one of their hands.
They were all in high spirits as they enjoyed their apéro, chatting and laughing away, one of them even gave me an ‘ooh la la’ as I jogged past, and they all bid me a good evening and a how do you do.
Now I know most of the people on my street, and this group is not one I’ve ever encountered out and about, and if you saw them individually you may not put them together. They had a distinctive ‘Breakfast Club’ feel to them, as though they had sought each other out during difficult circumstances, and were forging new relationships.
I’d like to think that when this is all sorted out – whenever that may be – and we can all emerge, and start to resume some semblance of a normal life again, that there may well be new, lasting friendships, created by this virus. It would be ironic if this thing that is isolating us all, and keeping some of us apart from our nearest and dearest, actually made us reach out to people that were even closer to home, perhaps people that we’ve never talked to, or socialised with before – maybe even people who live right next door. One can but hope, eh?
Dash downstairs to get a bowl of Cornflakes and settle in for the morning cartoons.
Get dressed, grab my stuff and leave the house, hopping on a 102 (I’m a Lupset lad, born and bred) to Wakey.
Get off in the bus station and nip into the bogs, passing by the bus drivers puffing away on fags outside their staff room. I use a cubicle – the graffiti on the walls mean it’s always an education in there – and I make a mental note to ring Sandra, she sounds like a nice girl, although I can’t believe she’ll do all that for ten bob.
I head down to the clock tower and take a seat underneath it, on the cold concrete, sheepishly eyeing up a couple of girls leaning on the railings next to the phone boxes. It’s not long before my mates roll up and we head down to the indoor market to have a gander.
We push through the doors – it takes two of us to open them – and go straight upstairs to browse the computer games stall. We’re not buying ‘owt, we just like looking.
One of the lads wants something new to listen to, so we stop off at the record stand and he buys it.
Then we make our way to Sun Lane, paying our fee and heading inside where we spend a happy hour-and-a-half splashing around and sheepishly eyeing up some girls.
We dry off and get dressed and leave and head straight for Chucky Chicken, pumping ten pence after ten pence into Final Fight, Robocop, Aliens, WWF Wrestlefest and many, many more.
We’re hungry now, so we go to McDonald’s just across the way. We get in line and queue. And queue. And queue. It’s always so busy in here, so many people. We get our food, but it’s standing room only so we head outside and eat on a bench, sheepishly eyeing up some girls while we do, and marvelling at how many people there are. Wakey is always rammed on a Saturday.
We stick our wrappers in the bin and head up the precinct, then we duck down the side of Boots and head inside The Ridings. We ride the glass elevator up and down, up and down, up and down, till the short stocky security guard with the moustache – the one that looks a bit like Super Mario, but with a redder face – starts eyeballing us, and we leave.
To the ABC cinema now, to finish off our afternoon. The smell of fresh popcorn hits us as we enter and pay. We take a seat and the sounds of Pearl and Dean greet us:
‘P-pah, p-pah, p-pah, p-pah, pa-pa-PAH!’
Then we disappear into another world for an hour-and-a-half or so.
The film finishes and we emerge, blinking into the daylight, and we each go our separate ways. I grab another 102 home.
I get off the bus, spotting a few local lads I head over and join them. We play hide ‘n seek and tigs as the sun goes down, only stopping when our mums yell out that ‘tea’s ready!’ at the top of their lungs.
We all say our goodbyes and head inside, the end of another lovely Saturday.
I don tonight’s specifically chosen attire and exit my home. I enter the outbuilding, pausing only to turn on the interior lights before taking the receptacles firmly by their handles. I then exit the outbuilding, again pausing only to turn off the interior lights. I approach the gate and unlock it. I move the receptacles into position next to the front of the house and look both ways up the street. I note the absolute lack of people, on foot or otherwise and note also the eerie silence. Normally at this point – in all previous forays of this manner – the street would have impossibly, almost miraculously, filled with people and vehicles. Tonight – nothing.
I leave the street and reenter my property, firmly closing the gate behind me and head back inside my home. It is at this point that my research assistant (although, having found and read several of my journals she has repeatedly stated that she prefers to be referred to as ‘my wife’) sees me and starts to laugh. ‘What’ she enquires ‘Do you think you are wearing?’. My explanation – that I am wearing a dressing gown and slippers in order to verify that this strange new world we live in is indeed a changed environment, and that normally – ‘As if by magic’ I add – the street would fill with people if I put the bins out in my dressing gown and slippers – falls on deaf ears as she continues to laugh and adds ‘Stop it, I’ll wee meself’.
I shall continue my research into this strange new world tomorrow when I attempt to perform a three point turn in the middle of the day, an exercise that under normal circumstances would immediately result in a previously dead-silent street filling with eight cars, one truck, two cyclists and four pedestrians.