It’s the Easter holidays and, like every year, we find ourselves in France visiting the in-laws. For those not ‘in the know’ – and I’ll be honest I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it in much detail – my other half is French. This means I get to make lots of people jealous at the fact that I, just a lad from Yorkshire, have a relatively exotic lady for a partner. It also means I get to holiday in France twice a year, soak up the culture and stuff my face with lots of cheese and other fine foods.
The holiday is generally broken up into two parts, due to the fact that her parents – like mine – are divorced. The first part we spend at Chez Mamy – my partner’s mother’s house – and the second, smaller part at her dad’s. Then after the jaunt to her dad’s it’s back to her mum’s for the final part of the holiday before the inevitable, and unwanted, return to the UK. Chez Mamy is in Aubigny Sur Nere, a beautiful little town tucked away in the French countryside. It’s small, but still has a bustling heart and busy main street, as you can see:
The town has all the things you need, pub, boulanger, patisserie, charcuterie and a variety of small shops selling all kinds of unique items. The village itself is also twinned (or jumilee as it’s called in France) with a Scottish town called Haddington. Sometimes the ‘Scots’ even make a special trip over, to acknowledge this fact:
It’s midway through the holiday and so we are settled in at her dad’s, in his rural retreat. His house is based near a beautiful town, called Charité sur Loire:
We spend more time at Mamy’s house than we do at ‘Papy’ Guy’s, so my knowledge of his home-town isn’t as extensive. Therefore I won’t be putting you through an exhaustively in-depth 1000-word description of his, like I did with hers. It is a stunning place though, and sights like this are commonplace:
Just five minutes by car from the main town finds us at Papy Guy’s house, in St Leger Le Petit. It’s a large converted farmhouse set within quite a few acres of land, with a variety of large outbuildings for the kids to entertain themselves in. Some of these are full of rusty farm machinery though, so a watchful eye is always needed.
The kids love it here, they have far more places to explore and, if the weather is fine, they can spend hours wandering the estate, discovering new and interesting things.
Then there’s the animals.
Papy Guy is the proud owner of two lovely animals (which is two more than we own) cat, Gabi, and a labrador called Fleur. The grounds of the farmhouse are still used for a variety of farming tasks, and it’s planting season. This means lots of work for Guy, and his partner Josiane, in the fields. During a walk myself,my son and Fleur encounter Josiane, busy shovelling manure onto the soil. She tells me something, pointing at the dog, and shaking her head. My French is ok, but try as I might, I can’t fully understand what she’s saying.
We complete our tour of the grounds and head back in for dinner, and it’s then that what Josiane was saying to me becomes apparent.
I take my place and tuck into my freshly-made bread, dipping it in some homemade mayonnaise. It’s then that the smell hits me. Is it the mayonnaise? I think to myself. has it gone bad? Surely not. The smell gains in strength, reaching a crescendo (can smells do that?) and I feel a nudge at my thigh. Fleur is resting her large head on my leg, looking deep into my eyes and imploring me to give her some bread. And it’s then that what was earlier lost-in-translation is now all too clear to my nose.
Fleur likes rolling in the horse manure, and then coming for a cuddle with yours truly.
How to broach this subject with the in-laws? Even if I was fully fluent in the lingo, how to mention this delicate matter? The simple answer is you can’t. You just have to do the British thing and suffer in silence.
And suffer I do.
I’m not sure know if it’s because I don’t pester her as much as the kids, or if it’s because I’ve given her treats in the past, but she favours me with her presence. Especially at meal times. I can’t full enjoy the delicious meals laid out in front of me, because they’re always, always, accompanied by that ‘freshly laid dump’ aroma from le-cheval.
We get to the end of the ‘Papy-segment’ of the holiday, and get ready to depart. It’s then that everyone begins to freely comment, about the reek coming from the dog. It seems everyone is aware of it, and everyone agrees – none more vociferously than I – that the dog needs a wash. All except Papy Guy himself, who says he can smell nothing untoward. But then he would say that, he constantly refers to her as ‘Ma fille’ (my daughter, in French). And what dad would admit that their daughter smells of horse-shit? Still, I hope he concedes and gives her a bath.
We’re going back in August, last summer it was very, very hot, and I dread to think what she’ll smell like by the time we arrive, if the situation isn’t remedied…