Every third Tuesday I teach a group of mostly retired, lovely French people, whose only goal is to improve their English.
I asked them the last time for suggestions on what they would like to do at the next class.
‘Tell us about England, about the colour, the life’ they said to me.
‘Speak about where you are from, tell us about Yorkshire’ they asked me.
‘We love hearing all the different ways you say things’ they told me.
They may regret their requests when they see what I have in store for them tonight. The handouts I provide aren’t just for reading you see, they are also for reading ALOUD.
Bonus points will be awarded for correctly pronouncing ‘sithee’ ‘ey up’ and ‘Eh by gum, tis chuffing cawd enuf t’freeze t’balls off a brass bloody monkey aht theer’
I thought I would draw attention to a little-known and underappreciated sport in my new country – French Mole Rugby League. I took a few photographs of a match currently being played on a pitch local to me today, in order to show people what they are missing.
As you can see in the first photograph the home team – Jasper’s Jets – are playing fantastically well. Their prop-forward – Bob ‘The Burrower’ Brown – is just about to make a pass and has achieved a remarkable distance in what is a new record time for the sport of mole rugby-league (7 weeks).
On the other end of the pitch it’s a different story altogether. The visitors – The Taupe Terrors – are looking distinctly disorganised as they have yet to even get started, and some may argue that they appear to be moving backwards.
Further adding to their embarrassment is the fact that their star player – Dave ‘The Digger’ Dawkins – has been sidelined for the second time in as many matches after he was caught smuggling illegal, performance-enhancing equipment under the pitch (a trowel).
Rules are strict on this kind of behaviour and could see him hit with a two-match suspension, meaning he may not see the light of day till 2025, and his sponsors (Moleborough) may put an end to his lucrative advertising deal.
The tension is truly mounting here and for more on this up and coming sport tune back in the same time next year for the half-time update.
Teaching English today.
Little girl looks at me quizzically.
‘You talk English?’ she says, sat in my English class, blinking her eyes in confusion.
‘Yes, because I am English’ I reply.
‘But you talk French too’ she continues (blink, blink).
‘Yes, but I speak better English than I do French’ I counter.
(Blink, blink) ‘But you speak French well’ she says, making my day.
‘Thanks, I try my best’ I reply, feeling quite pleased with myself.
‘But not too well’ she adds (blink, blink).
I don’t think there’s anything quite as honest as a 7 year-old child.
I’m taking a gamble today trying the kids out at a new place. Always a risky choice with kids, deviating from the norm. Plus I wasn’t sure if the village I’d decided to visit had a park. I knew what would happen if I didn’t find one. That would be all I would hear about for a week. I saw promising signs on the way into the village, and pulled up at the local lake. Parks and lakes go together like fish and chips, right?
The kids were not initially impressed by my risky gamble…
Me: ‘Look at this, what a great view, all that fog’
Him: ‘It’s all white daddy, look! Everything is white!’
Me: ‘Yes, this is a reaction caused by the cold weather’
Him: (a rare moment of parental concern) ‘Will you be warm enough daddy? You don’t have a thick coat like us on, yours is thin, you might be too cold’
Me: (tear rolls gently down face and almost freezes on cheek) ‘It’s OK son, I’ll be fine, thanks for asking though’
Her: ‘Awwww….there’s no park here’
Me: ‘Yes, but there might be one on the other side, and look at all this fog, doesn’t it look great?’
Her: Blows air out of her mouth and makes a negative ‘Pfffffft’ noise that you would expect to hear from someone in their forties. This ‘Pfffffft’ effortlessly conveys and encapsulates her disappointment with the location, the scenery, the weather and me.
Me: (Looking up at the chateaux shrouded in fog and pointing it out to the kids) ‘What a great castle eh? Look at the height of the walls, I bet this was a good place to defend and look (pointing at ditch that runs along the base of the wall) I bet there was a moat here once too, what do you think?’
Her: ‘There’s no park here’
Him: ‘What’s that daddy?’
Me: ‘It’s where we put naughty kids’
Him: ‘Can you open it?’
Him: ‘Ha, ha! Daddy can’t put us in there, he doesn’t have any keys. Ha, ha!’
Him: ‘Why are you taking pictures of a toilet? Why daddy? Why?’
Me: ‘It’s just in such a great location, look at it, surrounded by all the trees and leaves’
Him: ‘Weecee, it’s a Weecee’
Me: ‘No, it’s a ‘WC’
Him: ‘What’s that mean’
Me: ‘I don’t know’ (I’ve remembered now, without the aid of Wikipedia, and I think it means ‘Water Closet’)
Me: ‘Come on, I’ll take a picture of you both under this little house’
Her: ‘There’s no park here’
Me: ‘There’ll be one round here I’m sure. Now why don’t you both get under the house for a nice photo for mummy?’
Him: ‘No, I want to hug a tree instead’ (Hugs tree)
Her: ‘Weeee! A park!’
Him: (disappears in a puff of air and reappears on the see-saw)
Me: (thinking: ‘Everything looks wet – where are the swings?’)
Me: (Now bored of the park – quickly done) ‘Let’s have a look over here kids, I think I can see something’
Both: ‘What is it?’
Me: ‘I think it’s….
Me: ….another toilet! And look, it’s got a little heart-shaped hole, how romantic’
Him: ‘I am getting really annoyed at you daddy, why do you keep taking pictures of toilets? Stop taking pictures of toilets daddy!’
After venturing inside and using the ‘facilities’
Me: ‘Why is the lock on the outside? How strange…and a little bit worrying’
Her: ‘Can we go back to the park now?’
Me: ‘Let’s have a look over here, I think I can hear something, can you hear the water?’
Me: ‘Maybe it’s a waterfall?’
It’s NOT a waterfall….
Me: ‘Well, it’s not a waterfall, but it’s close’
Her: ‘No it isn’t’
Me: ‘Let me take a picture of you in front of the foggy lake, and promise not to stick your tongue out’
Him: ‘OK daddy, I promise’
Me: (takes photo knowing exactly what will happen)
Him: (is seven-year-old boy, therefore sticks tongue out anyway)
Both: ‘What’s that daddy?’
Me: ‘It’s a little island, do you want to live on it for a couple of weeks and give me and your mum some peace?’
Her: (launches a series of physical attacks upon my person, primarily focused on the groin-area)
Him: ‘What are you doing daddy?’
Me: ‘Just taking a nice photo’
Him: ‘Shall we play a game? It’s where the first person to speak loses, so everybody has to be quiet’
Me: (nodding so eagerly that I develop neck ache later in the day) ‘Yes that sounds like a good game’
This is now my favourite game and one that is unfortunately short-lived, but lasts just long enough too get us back to the car, whereupon it’s business as usual and I drive home with what appears to the casual observer – and sounds exactly like – two wild animals in the back of the car.
It could have been worse though.
At least there was a park eh?
New kid in my English class today.
He was colouring in a work sheet with the rest of the group, when he started laughing at the title. The title was ‘Can I have a pet’.
I thought he was confused about what it meant, and gave him a detailed explanation as to how he would put this question to his parents in French if, for example, he wanted a cat or a dog.
He waited patiently for me to finish and then told me that he was laughing because he thought ‘pet’ sounded just like the word for ‘fart’ in French (which it does, especially when you add the sound-effects, like he did.)
I like this kid.
I’m trying to integrate into my new community here in la belle France. It’s easier when you’ve got kids as you can talk to the other parents and offer your services at their school. If you don’t have kids and you do that you just seem strange.
And when I’m not offering my services my partner is offering my services. Which is why today I found myself escorting a group of four and five-year-olds to the local park, so they could learn about the rules of the road. Except not actually on the road, because that would be madness, no we just set up a few obstacle courses that effectively mimicked things they would need to look out for when they did eventually ‘hit the road’.
As an example of what these obstacle courses amounted to I will tell you about the section I was in charge of. I was in charge of the roundabout, or ‘rond point’ as it’s called over here. This meant I had to stand there and make sure they went around it the right way. Which, depending on where you hail from as you read this, may actually be the wrong way for you. It used to be for me, coming from the UK where I went round it the other way. But I’ve adapted and now only occasionally go round it the wrong way. Which is the right way for the UK but the wrong way here. What was I talking about? I’ve forgotten…oh yes, the safety course.
So the teachers laid down the rules to the kids before we began, and ensured they knew exactly what they had to do. It boiled down to this:
The teachers said: ‘Children, this will help you understand the rules of the road and be better riders. The skills you learn today will set you up for now, and also for later in your life‘.
That seems pretty standard and straightforward to me, as it must do to you too. However judging by what I then spent two hours (they asked me to cover two classes, what can I say? I’m stupid) watching I don’t think that’s what the kids heard because…
The kids said: ‘This is our chance to get even with the other kids we don’t like! Smash into everybody! Run them off the road! THIS IS NOT SAFETY TRAINING THIS IS A RACE – AND ONE WE ARE GOING TO WIN AT ALL COSTS!!!!’
It was like Ben-Hur crossed with Death Race 2000 with a dash of Battle Royale. I felt particularly bad for the kids whose parents had forgotten to bring a bike, and so were relegated to using the school’s tricycles instead. They were slowly squeaking round that park like Danny in ‘The Shining‘. They did not fare well against the rest, and were picked off with ease by the larger predators.
My daughter was a keen participant in the ‘race’, I saw her take down two other competitors that weren’t actually competing but were just trying to navigate some bollards. She then discarded her jacket, ostensibly because she was too hot, but I think it was because it made her less efficient, as after that her hit ratio went through the roof. It’s very odd to see such a mad gleam in the eye of someone who is only four-year’s old, and is wearing a pink Disney’s Frozen safety helmet. I won’t say no next time she asks me for a second story at bedtime, I’ll be too scared to.
I got away relatively unscathed in my position at the roundabout. There were only four collisions, and one child who needed to have plasters and cuddles applied. I did have to move out of the way a few times though as some of the kids seemed intent on hurtling into me, as well as their ‘friends’.
I’m going on a museum trip next. It’s a museum full of old agricultural implements, you know: scythes and things with points.
I need to stop offering my services….
I have endured a spate of thefts since arriving in France and I am under no illusions, and in fact know that it is being perpetrated by a couple of ex-pats.
This happens every day, at all hours and can sometimes even happen while I am in my own house, asleep.
It’s not huge amounts – but the amount is irrelevant, it’s the fact that it continues to happen that annoys me.
I’d like to warn anyone in the 18 region of France to be on the lookout for them – one is seven and the other one is four. They will be all smiles and laughs but then later on you will realise that you are 50 Cents lighter and someone’s nicked all your Ferrero Rochers.
Their usual technique is to say ‘Daddy I love you, can I have a cuddle?’ while batting their eyelids. Then while you are cuddling them the other one will be standing on a chair and hunting for your chocolates.
I have looked into this but unfortunately it appears that there is no escape, and this scam will continue, unabated, for the next 14 – 20 years and will evolve into other, more sophisticated scams involving lifts home, radio controlled cars and ‘lending’ them a few quid ‘Just till Friday’.
Due to French teachers enjoying a glass of wine (or six) with their dinners to mark the half-way point of their working week, I pick the kids up early on Wednesdays. Our favourite thing to do on this day is to go and feed the animals in one of the local farmer’s fields. I say they are farmers, but to be honest they just might be people who enjoy having massive fields, and then shoving some animals in there.
Wouldn’t surprise me in the least, this is France after all where everybody has at least two or three things with four legs.
So here we head, during the week, just me and the kids. It’s a great, cheap way for them to see some animals up close (just the price of a bit of bread, or fruit) and the livestock have got that used to us that we don’t usually have to call them anymore, they just recognise my son’s mass of curls and come shambling over.
It wasn’t like that to start with, back then I had to rattle my (appropriately named) Asda Bag For Life in the air for a few minutes before I got any response. These days though, they are there like a shot.
It must be the nice bread.
Either that or they’ve realised that if they don’t get over quickly my daughter will eat it all (It’s very nice bread).
They don’t like buns though – we’ve discovered that if you offer buns or cakes to the donkeys or the horse, they’ll eat one then sniff your next offering, with a distinct air of mistrust, and refuse any more sweet baked goods.
Although if the goats are there you won’t have any problems off-loading four-day-old cakes – they will eat anything.
They’ve even tried to eat my son’s hat a few times.
Either that or they were trying to eat my son.
The road that runs alongside the field is well travelled, and one of the weeks while we were feeding the animals a group of French visitors passed us. They made appreciative ‘cooing’ noises and voiced the opinion that it was great to see something like this: a bit of country life in the middle of a city.
I wouldn’t call where we live a city in a million years – but I got their point.
It’s great to be able to open your door on a morning and see ducks, geese and chickens roaming in the fields (and even the odd cow from time to time). And being able to throw on some clothes and be able to feed horses, donkeys and goats within five minute’s walk is also something I don’t think you can put a price on.
The kids love it and it’s such a thing to see, these giant beasts, taking food from their hands in a very delicate manner – as if they know they are small and fragile.
That lasts right up to when one of the goats or sheep get too close, then the horse or the donkeys lose their shit and chase them away. We love feeding them, but there’s definitely a hierarchy going on here – and the sheep and goats are definitely below the horse and his donkey buddies.
So yes, a great activity for me and the kids on a Wednesday.
Oh and if you thought we only fed them when the sun’s shining on a glorious day like today…
….you’d be wrong! Nothing stops our Wednesday fun!