I work for a French company, in a factory with lots of modern machinery.
This machinery frequently breaks down, meaning we need to call in engineers.
As many of these machines are foreign made, it follows that the engineers are also foreign.
Part of my job involves me translating what these foreign engineers are saying.
We use English as our common language, and I then translate it for the benefit of my French colleagues.
We had a major problem with one of the machines recently, a machine of Dutch origins, and so we had to call in the engineers from Amsterdam.
A full team of highly trained, specialist engineers with many, many years of experience between them duly arrived.
They spent the first part of their morning preparing their equipment, assessing the problems and setting to work on it, with efficiency and speed.
Their tools were all laid out, gleaming, on the side, they were in constant contact with their boss back in Amsterdam via Skype, and they even had the very latest in Microsoft Virtual Reality headsets, so they could show the problems directly as they repaired them, and their boss could advise them in real time.
They then asked me, following the successful analysis and repair of the machine, if my assembled French colleagues had any questions for them.
I translated this to the group and there was much muttering and discussion, before a consensus was taken.
‘Could you ask them’ began the spokesman for the group ‘If they still have the ladies in the windows in Amsterdam?’.
I was chatting to one of my (French) colleagues at work today. He was annoyed because the machine he was working on was playing up, and he had to wait for the engineers to fix it before he could continue. I had the exact same problem.
‘What do you think about it?’ he asked me. I just shrugged my shoulders in response, as if to say ‘These things happen, what can you do?’.
‘Ah!‘ he said ‘That must be the English way, you aren’t bothered about it at all. Me? I’m really annoyedand I’m going to let the boss know how I feel!’
‘That’s one of the differences between our two countries‘ I replied. ‘It’s likewhen the price of fuel goes up. In England we just shrug our shoulders and accept it, at least the French do something about it – you go out and protest‘.
‘Yes we do go out and protest‘ he replied ‘But you know what? The price still goes up anyway!!‘
Now that’s a (hopefully) funny headline, and obviously I’m joking because vampires don’t really exist – right, right? – but this is something of a cautionary tale, and an example of very, very poor parenting on my part.
The kids are currently into having fun on wheels – my son is in love with his skateboard that he picked up at a brocante (a second hand market/car boot sale/fleamarket for readers not familiar with that term) for a mere four euros. He tries to skate everywhere on it, even inside the house, much to my annoyance. Whereas my daughter is all wrapped up in her scooter, a metal-framed pink thing on two wheels that may have princesses on it. Or pink fluffy dogs.
Or unicorns. I forget which.
Anyway, so they are in love with these wheeled-wonders and they task me, each time we venture out, of finding them what they call ‘ramps’. These ramps must be gently sloping tarmacced areas, can go on for any distance but crucially must be smooth and downhill. If they aren’t smooth then my son generally approaches me, skateboard stuck under one arm, and explains to me, in detail and at length, what the problem is. Generally if there are holes in the road/ramp with a diameter in excess of 1mm, he will not be happy. Likewise is there is too much in the way of old, dead branches he will request that I ‘Make myself useful and clear it away’.
My daughter, on the other hand, does not care about holes, branches, people, dogs, tanks, or aliens. She just gets on her scooter and off she goes. She’s the same in swimming pools – while you are patiently trying to explain the best way to enter the water, she’s already jumped in from one of the diving boards, screaming ‘Banzaiiii!!!’ as she does so and almost giving the ladies in the water-trampolining club a group coronary in the process.
She’s seven by the way.
So this week, as it’s the holidays, I’ve been doing my best to find them great ramps. I found one, a great one, a super smooth one.
I wished I’d never found it.
You see I forgot the first rule of parenting when it comes to doing anything with kids involving wheels – always use a helmet. I didn’t bring them with me, as I thought, naively, that it would be OK, nothing would go wrong. But it wasn’t OK, and it did go wrong…
The kids had been up and down this ‘mega-ramp’ quite a few times, with no problems whatsoever. In fact we’d just decided that we’d had enough and would go and look for another, even better one. the kids just wanted one more go, and looked at me with that look – you know the one – and so I relented and off they went, for one last blast.
My daughter came hurtling down – sans helmet of course – then made a kind of ‘Whoah’ sound and wobbled to the left. Then she slid, and fell completely off her scooter, just sliding along the floor on her front, and then immediately sat up. I thought she was OK at first. Until she started screaming, then looked at me and I was forced to watch in horror as her forehead turned green. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I never want to see anything like it again. It was like some bizarre special effect, only it was real and it was on my daughter’s head.
I quickly bundled her into the car and we raced off to the hospital, stopping to pick her mum up from work on the way, and getting her checked out by the on-site medical professional while we were there, who thought she was fine but ‘You never know….’. My daughter had regained some of her composure by this point, even with what appeared to be a small planet stuck to the front of her head, and was able to count all fingers held up in front of her and let us know that she was hungry.
We were seen relatively quickly at the hospital, they checked her over, admonished me for neglecting the head-protection, and then let us go after a brief period of monitoring, advising us to watch her for the next 24 hours and return if anything was ‘off’. Happily she’s recovered well, only feels pain if she touches her bump and is very happy with the bottle of perfume that Daddy bought her to assuage his guilt (it didn’t work 100%).
However as the swelling has progressed it’s made her face take on a distinctly disturbing aspect, changing the way her eyes appear, and making her look, well, a bit creepy. A bit like one of the vampires from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, truth be told. It’s gotten so unnerving that we’ve even mentioned using garlic, crucifixes and holy water on her if she answers back, or doesn’t eat all her food.
I also asked her if she wanted me to take the mirror out of her room as ‘It’s useless for you now’. She even plays into the ‘part’ and will happily chase you around the house, hissing and baring her teeth. She even faux-chomped my neck last night, which was quite the most bizarre sensation I’ve ever experienced, and not something I want to repeat, ever.
She’s been a very, very good sport about it, and I’m surprised at how little it bothers her, as she can be very self conscious at times (she pointblank refuses to have any form of physical contact with myself or her mother outside the school gates). The swelling will go down, very soon, hopefully.
And in future I will make sure that where there are wheels, there’s always helmets too.
And soon, very soon, I’m sure I’ll be able to stop sleeping with a wooden stake under my pillow…
I also encourage them to ask questions; where in England am I from? What’s it like over there? What is the weather like? Do we eat similar foods? What are the schools like over there? What do I think of the current situation vis-a-vis the ongoing problems facing the country following Brexit? etc. etc.
I also encourage them to ask questions regarding the language and how to ask questions, directions, what the days of the week are, general conversational matters and so on and so forth.
With that in mind, here are – in no particular order – the top ten questions I get asked:
‘How do you say ‘Bottom’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘Fart’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘*INSERT SLANG TERM FOR A PENIS HERE*’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘Poo’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘Boobs’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘Burp’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘You smell’ in English?’ (this one made me sniff my own armpits)
‘How do you say ‘*INSERT SLANG TERM FOR A VAGINA HERE*’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘*INSERT ANOTHER PUPIL’S NAME* smells’ in English?’
‘How do you say ‘I don’t want a bath’ in English?’
Well, that’s the problem when you work with kids between the ages of seven and eleven – you might have lofty ambitions about what you want to achieve, but they’ll bring you back down to earth very, very quickly.
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’.)
‘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.