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.

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