Provence Guru is delighted to welcome Dan Briggs and his provence blog about life at the French school gates
Put it this way the first week has not been easy for any of us. Well, apart from Cathy, she’s been busy splitting an atom, which is a cinch compared with what I’ve had to put up with.
So there we are at the school gates on the first morning.
‘Smile they don’t bite’ I told the boys.
But in reality it was worse than a savaging. Those dark eyes seem to tear into us, our red hair, our freckles and our lily-white skin. I felt I could hear their voices in my head. Something like Voldermort does with Harry Potter. ‘Go back home, you are not welcome here.’
I’d have introduced us all if I spoke a word of the lingo, but all I bothered to learn back at school was how to order a beer. Which incidentally I mastered in 10 different languages, in case I boarded the wrong plane or train.
Pick up time is the worst. In the morning I can just dump and run, but in the evening, I wait all alone. Norman no mates. The Englishman who seems to have had his tongue cut out. Perhaps if Cathy were there with me it would be alright.
The village school is a nice enough place. I sit on one, out of a semi-circle of ten or so, old rectangular stones. The stones are from a local quarry and are disintegrating with age. Each one is just about big enough for two people to use as an impromptu bench. As I wait eroded fragments of rock poke uncomfortably into my bum.
The gates to the school look precisely as a set of Provencal gates should: large, wooden, flaking, indiscriminate in colour, comfortably wearing the patina of age. They are set into a crumbling stone wall which is twice my height. I can imagine Peter Mayle (Cathy made me read him before we left) waxing lyrical about gates like this for a couple of pages
Since I’m Norman no-mates, I like to let my imagination run, visualising all the waiting parents, as two groups, the audience watching from the benches and the performers standing, stage centre, gossiping in front of the gates. But before I get carried away with artistic notions of plays and stages, the children are released and I have to try to control the carnage and act natural while ramming two screaming boys head-first into the back of the car.
The guilt has been terrible. We plucked them from their nice little prep in Sussex and dumped them here in frog land. The tears are just transient. The tantrums will surely pass. I must remember the fastest way to develop a child’s brain is for them to learn a second language. Cathy says they are the lucky ones, but she’s not been there when their finger nails bite into my arms every morning when we say goodbye, nor in the evening when they fly, wailing like banshees, out of the gates.
They’re starving as well. And who can blame them. Week one, and here’s a run-down of the lunchtime menu:
Monday: Moules mariniere
Tuesday: Thumper (I mean rabbit)
Wednesday: Financiere (cheap meat off cuts – gristle I think we would call it in English)
Thurday: Pizza (oh relief)
Friday: Aioli – (boiled cod, vegetables, and garlic sauce)
Once the screaming has stopped I cram them with chocolate. There’s a brief respite and then the sugar high kicks in, and they are fighting on the floor beating seven bells out of each other.
On Tuesday though, Chris, was too upset to fight. He was in tears, he’s 9 and has just read Watership Down. He couldn’t understand why Fiver and Thumper made their epic journey across the English countryside (oh for a glimpse of this bucolic land) only to end up grilled for lunch in a French cantine.
And what’s with all the kissing? No-wonder nothing gets done in this country. It’s like a snogathone every evening. There are maybe forty parents waiting to pick up, and each time a new one arrives, she has to go around the lot of them, and kiss them on both cheeks. It takes about 10 minutes to complete the rounds. Cathy says it’s the same at work, she has to do the whole office, kissing her fellow physicists hello every morning. I have some sympathy here, they’re a smelly bunch, physicists.
Anyway on Friday I decided to join the party. Big mistake!
So I go for it.
Believe, believe, confidence, confidence. You can be part of the community.
I picked her at random, big nose, big bum, dyed blonde hair, always smiling. Got two kids in the same class as ours, and she seemed to be trying to make eye contact. I lunged in with confidence. A little too much like a teenager at a nightclub.
Here’s what happened – rather than offering her cheek she recoiled in horror. One step backwards was all it needed and I’m kissing thin air. My lips were searching for purchase, puckered and ready for social lift-off, instead carried forward by an unstoppable momentum, my face ended up in her cleavage.
It’s getting summer hot, so she was not wearing much and before I knew it, I was kissing the flesh next to her nipple. In England this would be called gross indecency and it is an arrestable offence. I tasted salt. I can still taste it now. It was her sweat. Instinctively my tongue did a circuit of my lips.
Only the fact that she fainted saved me.
Also she turned out to be in the early stages of pregnancy.
This was fortunate.
I know what you’re thinking – how can her pregnancy be a fortunate thing? Surely it makes the whole thing, viewed from the wrong perspective, as some of the Mums inevitably have, even more grotesque.
Here’s the thing, most of them put the swoon down to the heat and her condition. I even ended up looking like a bit of a hero, catching her as she fell.
When she came round, she couldn’t remember the bungled kiss. She even thanked me.
When they exited, the children sensed my unease. They quietly got into the car. Not a scream. Perhaps they are now used to French school life.
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