Monthly Archives: January 2010

France, nous arrivons!

We’ve finally got our timetable together. Steve has quit his job. 10 years working for the council – it’s a bit like that Deacon Blue song, except not quite so negative. He gets to hand in his resignation today, and I think it feels like a ‘get out of jail free’ card – the end is nigh. I felt the same when I handed in my last resignation, with nowhere to go, no prospects, no hope, no planned future. It was a little weird. Of course, mine wasn’t in the same circumstances, but it felt liberating all the same, if completely and utterly terrifying!

I’d made a very beautiful, colour-coded timetable/calendar on Word, documenting our every move. I’ve started booking tickets, so I’ve hyperlinked all the reference documents in, put down key dates, started adding times and so on. It’s an OCD nightmare/heaven. Only Steve’s decided it works better in Excel, and has spent the last two nights working through it, counting up his days ‘en France’ until we’re over there permanently, all together, on the 18th August. He’s got 43 days down, 20 or so, ‘seul’. I don’t know what he’ll do with himself. I’ve suggested he takes his night fishing equipment, since he won’t have me, the dog or the boy to ‘entertain’ him of an evening, but I somehow suspect he’ll get lots of pleasure out of it. It’s a good thing, too, so he can get to know the area. I’ve been lots of times, know it more than he does, and to some extent, since I’m the one who’s seen it properly, it’s ‘my’ house – so I think it will give him ownership of it. I’m kind of hoping he eases into ‘bar’ life, going for ‘un cafe’ and meeting with the sage old men of the area, but I doubt it. I’m not entirely sure the bar, ‘Celtix’, actually opens. I’ve never seen it open, let alone seen people in it. I’m not sure where the local congregation meet, watering-hole-wise. I was looking on the town hall website yesterday, and it says, as of 2004, there were 499 people in the commune. That’s so lovely. Imagine having 499 people to be responsible for. Every single school I’ve worked in has been bigger than that, by far. It’s like the first year and second year of most schools. That’s bizarre. I can imagine knowing who lives everywhere. I plan on becoming the village Mary Poppins, bringing light and love and laughter whereever I go, making teacakes in the afternoon for anyone dropping in, taking cassoulet round to the elderly/infirm in bad weather, sorting out problems. I know it won’t be like that, but I can dream.

I packed all my lovely floaty skirts yesterday. They’re the kind that look good with wellies, in a ‘country chic’ type of way. I see myself, a hue of yellows and oranges, floating from house to house like some kind of social butterfly. I know I won’t speak to anyone for weeks, really, and I’ll be living in jeans. But, like I said, I can dream.

Steve’s pretty much looking forward to the fact that no-one will visit and he’ll be all on his own, allowed to do as he pleases. I think his day will pretty much go like this:

8:00 get a pot of coffee on. Take the dog for a walk.

9:00 drink coffee, go to grange to do some general woodwork/metalwork

11:00 eat a couple of croissants and have some more coffee

12:00 do some light gardening

13:00 eat a hearty broth and some home-made bread

14:00 nap

16:00 pick the boy up from school

16:30 take the dog out again for a walk/do some light fishing/wandering/cycling

18:00 eat a hearty ‘plot-to-plate’ supper, light the fire, snooze with the dog (whilst watching Cop Wars, Road Wars etc)

23:00 to bed.

We’re 38 and he’s heading for retirement behaviour!

I’m having a panic about work. Like work in England, it is littered with acronyms like URSSAF and CAF and RMI and weird concepts like being an author means being in a different tax bracket than a tutor/commercial writer, and trying to get to the bottom of how much tax to pay, and to whom, since some of my income will still be British income, and all kinds of unknowns like chambres of commerce and CIPAV and so on. It’s all vaguely reminiscent of England, but in complex ways. I’m hoping I find as good an accountant out there as I have over here. I love my accountant. He makes me happy in that he just takes over, sorts it out and usually finds me some kind of rebate at the end of it all. I know it’s all above board and sharp and so on, with him doing it. I need the same in France!

Sometimes, I think my French is good, and then I resort to ‘what???!’ when I realise how complicated it all looks and when I think of the ways those rude women in the council offices speak to less competant English speakers in England, how they speak slow and louder and louder, getting more and more irate, simply repeating the same thing over and over. Will the same happen to me??! I hope not! I’ll be standing in the chambre of commerce, desperately trying to start up a semblance of a business, and they’ll be yelling at me in complex bureaucratic language, and I’ll probably just cry and remember the north with a sadness.

Anyway, we’re on countdown. It’s 8 weeks and counting. I have a diary. I have dates. I’m organised beyond belief. I’m good at this.

No matter how much I tell myself this, I am still in a panic. Yikes.

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Les mauvaises herbes

A month in and no buyers. Can it get more nerve-wracking than this?? I really, really need a buyer, now!!

The sale is all going through in France. We’re waiting on one document for the Acte de Vente, and then that’s it. The deed is done. March is the deadline. Nine months from decision to doorkeys. Wow. It’s been a whirlwind!

But we have all the practical things to attend to. I’ve been busily learning French by watching various BBC clips, working through ancient textbooks in the library, translating documents from Le Monde and Paris Match, translating everything I can lay my hand on (and spending endless hours playing sudoku on Le Monde which, strangely, isn’t helping my french at all, but is definitely passing the time) and translating various crime-thriller books from french into English. If only I’d studied so hard for my A level!

Whilst working at clearing out cupboards, I came across my French A level paper. It’s no wonder I got an E. I wrote a poem. In English. Not a very good poem, either. Still, it reassured me that I’m not crap at French, just that I’d had enough of it at A level. We’d had this fabulous French teacher, Miss Mullineaux, for A level, who was like a cross old lady until you knew her, and then she was like your favourite old auntie. She was wonderful. She retired in the second year of my A levels, to be replaced by some randomer who was never there and I managed to get through my A levels having never really read any of the texts. I can’t remember the other french teacher much. I remember my GCSE french teacher had a penchant for wearing her clothes back to front, had a very neat chignon and always reminded me of the nowty french teacher in Malory Towers, the school which I always wished I’d attended. She can’t have been half bad, as I did very well, with little love of her. I think hers was the only subject in which I got an A without a huge girlie pupil-teacher crush on the teacher, or an absolute love of the subject. So all praise goes to her. My first french teacher had been Mrs Short, a welsh lady (who I recall wearing rather raunchy underwear) who seemed ancient, but was probably in her forties. She had a very flimsy blouse collection and was rather buxom. Lucky Mr Short. My first encounters with the language were therefore welsh-pronounced French. Better, then, than my Todmorden-pronounced Latin. I can ‘sall-way-tay poo-elle-eye’ in the best Toddy accent. I’m sure it’s not what Caesar envisaged, but ‘sall-way mag-eest-rah’ should always be said with a Toddy accent, I feel. My only memory of Latin was locking Emma Taylor and Sue Littlewood in the cupboard, where they hid and played recorders, whispering “I am the ghost of Lucius Marcius Memor” (I think!) which we thought was rather amusing, being twelve and realising we could get away with virtually anything. I got 3% in my second-year latin exam. Good stuff! I was surprisingly third from the bottom. I even remember who did worse than me. I think the worst thing was that I wasn’t actually trying to get 3%, unlike my french A level where it seemed like a really good idea to fail miserably, rather than pass miserably.

Hence, my language love has had to be re-seeded. And I’m enjoying it. I picked up South American Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese… so French had kind of got left behind. I know enough to eat out, buy stuff, read stuff… I got by in French life passing fair when I went over to visit my dad or stay in Paris. I even managed a whole four days in a windy, rainy, autumnal Dinard without speaking a word of English (including getting dragged to the casino at 10:30, half drunk, by two lorry drivers who were in town. They weren’t our type of lorry drivers. We discussed why there is no french word for heaven, only ‘paradise’ and ‘sky’ which don’t quite cut the mustard. And we discussed the difference between corsairs and pirates, piracy along the Breton coast, and the nature of romantic fiction – and the drunker I got, the better my french)

So learning it again definitely has its delights. It makes more sense why there’d be ‘le’ or ‘la’ – and it’s mostly predictable; it makes sense to conjugate verbs. But, more than anything, I’m loving the idioms. I like that weeds are known as ‘bad grass’, and that ‘a pot calling a kettle black ‘ is the equivalent of ‘the hospital f&cking the charity’. I like the strange weather idioms, as you can probably tell.

But I’m also loving my own Lancy-shire-ness. I think, in the spirit of our Todmorden latin teacher, I should celebrate the butchering of the English language with accent and dialect. I like that Middleton people say ‘Miggleton’ and ‘kecckle’ for ‘kettle’, and ‘frikened’ for ‘frightened’. I like words like ‘nowty’ and ‘mard’. I like that old story of my mum (from Gloucestershire) coming up North for the first time and being bemused by ‘side the table’.  I’m sad that we don’t have regional languages like the French, with six ‘official’ other languages, like Corsican and Breton. I think we should bring back Cornish, but celebrate dialect. I love being from the north, when I’m down in London. One guy I used to work with used to phone me up just to hear me say the word ‘stuff’, because I say the glottal ‘U’ as it’s meant to be said, like you’ve been punched in the gUts, not ‘a’, making ‘stUff’ into ‘staaff’, which is a very different thing altogether. I like being able to get my tongue around vowels and not marmalise them into other vowels. I like that my ‘bath’ is a ‘bath’ and not a ‘barth’ or even ‘barf’. I like the germanic gruntings of these harsh, basic, ancient words. And I think I shall do my best to celebrate it, though I know deep inside that I shall be softening my accent if I’m teaching English to non-natives, or to non-Northerners. I’m sad about that.

Language has always been interesting to me, not the least as an English teacher. I like that ‘arigato’ has Portuguese origins (which was one of those coincidences to me, that ‘obrigado’ should sound so like ‘arigato’ from two apparently unconnected countries, linguistically) and I like these connections and similarities, as well as the peculiarities. I shall enjoy it very much.

As for Steve, he’ll forget English and not bother with French. He just isn’t filled with Babel passion like I am. I’d definitely be a chatty monkey, whilst he’d be a silent gorilla. Or a lesser-spotted panda, perhaps.