Provence Blog: Life at the French School gates, week 4

La Rentree proves anything but easy for Dan Briggs as he continues his Provence Blog.

Thank God they are back at school. Nine weeks in near 40 degree heat with two small children was more like a prison sentence than a holiday. Of course there were tears on the first morning back but frankly I needed my freedom and they needed some good old fashioned French discipline.

I was all prepared for a re-birth at the school gates. I would present a new confident me, an ex-pat comfortable in his own skin. Keen to learn French and not afraid to make mistakes. I would embrace those who were open to outsiders and not waste a thought on others. This new resolution lasted all of 2 minutes before I was completely thrown off balance.

Here’s how it went wrong. Back in August Cathy was working all day every day while I endured endless mosquito-bite-induced tantrums from the kids. Red haired children and hot climates go together as well as Iron-Bru and mead brandy (don’t ask why, but I did once try this mix.) By the end of the month I’d had enough.

‘Take the evening off’ said Cathy ‘ruffling my hair, go to the pub’

So there I was in the village watching the Rugby World Cup warm-up game, England vs France. The bar had put a TV outside in the street. The evening was warm and the beer was flowing. The bar’s satellite connection was on the blink and there were loud cheers and boos as the picture flipped on and off. A procession of cars wound through the narrow streets hooting their horns, celebrating a marriage. There was a carnival atmosphere.

A woman squeezed through the crowd to stand next to me. She was wearing an off-white party frock, short and frilly around the knees, revealing around the bust. Her hair was cut in a neat bob, her hair dyed blonde, and her eyes almond brown. She sipped on beer from a bottle and watched the game.

Because I’d had a few beers, I struck up a conversation.

‘How was the wedding?’ it seemed obvious to me that she was part of the party. Where I come from you don’t dress in a posh frock to watch rugby.

‘What wedding?’ she replied.

And in that moment I was lost. It was in my eyes, and in the slight quaver in my voice, as I pointed at the passing cars, ‘that wedding’. She knew that I fancied her.

Now this is a slightly embarrassing admission for a happily married man. I’m not supposed to fancy other women. I found the possibility disconcerting. But as I stood watching the rugby, my eyes kept twitching back to hers. Once or twice she caught me looking and demurely lowered her eyes. I flushed and eventually she drifted away into the crowd. No harm was done. I drank a few more beers and gradually the image of the coquettish, beer-drinking, rugby-loving French woman drifted from my mind. By the end of the evening I’d forgotten her entirely, as I cheered the English come-back. On the way back home I caught sight of her dress shimmying around a distant corner. And that was that, or so I thought.

Then on the first morning back, having pitched my children through the gates, I turned around and came face to face with those eyes again. I was too embarrassed, terrified even, to speak. How bad had that night back in August been? Did I flirt? Was it worse than flirting, lechery even? My reputation at the gates was already bad. I’d hoped that the summer and short memories might give me a fresh start, but now?

She stepped away without a word. My eyes followed her. She caught them and dropped her eyes again. And that was when I realised how terrible it was, I, a married man, had a crush on one of the other school Mums. My skin prickled, my eyes kept on darting across to where she now stood chatting to the other parents.

‘Oh shit,’ I thought. She’s going to be here every morning and every evening. She’ll tell everyone about my wandering eyes. And I’ll stand here dumber than ever.

When I got back home I pulled apart the drinks cabinet searching, on the off chance, for some mead brandy and iron-bru. Last time I drunk this concoction my memory of the last week was wiped out. If I got the dose right, I might even manage a month. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

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