Category Archives: Kids

The kids are alright…

I’ve been busy in marking land, coming to several conclusions whilst I tick and comment.

The first thing I do is set up a youtube playlist of 50 tracks, put it on shuffle and listen to them until I’ve done my 50 and marked about 20-odd papers (not 20 odd papers… just goes to show how important a dash can be) I pretty much go with whatever I’m in the mood for. Today, I seem to have regressed to being 13. However, one of the first tracks I added was ‘Changes’ by David Bowie. And it made me think, even though I thought I was an odd-ball geek like nobody else, and I was an odd-ball geek like nobody else, I was actually a pretty cool odd-ball geek like nobody else. And now I’m marking 400 papers, including some kids who are oddball geeks too. I like that. There aren’t so many of them, but sometimes you get a real insight into a fresh and wonderful mind – something quite entertaining and funky.

I’m sure people thought I was a lunatic for picking secondary school teaching. Like, you actually want to teach teenagers? Are you crazy??

Maybe a little bit.

But I love these emergent personalities becoming something new. It’s like watching butterflies emerge. Kids are great – under 11 when they’re just funny and childish – but when they really start becoming something interesting – that’s when they really fascinate me. Some don’t. Some go on to be carbon copies of each other, wearing what everyone else does, doing what everyone else does. For girls, they become Lauren and say ‘Am I bovvered, though?’ – with their townie clothes and orange make-up, tide-mark necks and Argos earrings. For boys, they become Kevin and say ‘It’s so unfair’ and want to wear their socks outside their pants and walk around with their hand down their elasticated waistband. I kid you not. It’s a chav trend I’ve seen several ‘young men’ of about 18 doing. Why?? Who knows??! I’m not interested in what I would have called ‘townies’ – in my generation with their Pod shoes or Kickers, or their Cabrini jackets and Farrar pants. Ski jackets were so ‘townie’ and being a townie was the equivalent of having your brain sucked out. You liked Duran Duran and wore gold sovereign rings and too much hair gel. The girls wore nasty lipstick a shade paler than their skin (oh, Dusty Springfield, if only you knew what you’d unleashed… although I can’t blame orange skin on you!) and huge socks rolled down past their knees and ruched up, like huge, thick legwarmers.

I never fitted in with the ‘in-crowd’. I was too poor to buy Kickers or big socks. I didn’t like Duran Duran or Curiosity Killed The Cat. And I mark papers for kids who don’t fit in with the ‘in-crowd’ sometimes, and it makes me a little glad there are still little unique personalities out there. I didn’t have ‘favourites’ at school, but I had kids I loved a lot – usually the weird ones or the funny ones who were a little bit strange. Sharp kids who didn’t want to conform. They reminded me of myself.

When I was about 12, with the proceeds of my hard work collecting milk money (not a euphemism for bullying… I was kind of like a little debt collector for dues for milk deliveries) I would go down to Bury. I earned £4.00 which wasn’t quite enough for an album unless I saved up a bit. Mostly, I would spend it at a second-hand record stall on the flea market, courtesy of a guy in his thirties who took the time to push certain tracks my way. I like that. I think odd-ball kids could do with adults to let them know they’re okay to be odd. I had a couple of teachers like that, and although I probably wouldn’t have put this guy in that category, he’s largely responsible for what I listened to before I became ‘rock and roll’. It’s kind of the music I listened to before I knew what was cool to listen to. And so much of it so hugely important to me still.

Changes was the first one I got. Life on Mars came next. Here I was, this little 12 year old with her 10p bus ticket buying arguably the best of Bowie. And so much of it meant so much to me. ‘These children that you spit on as they try to change their world…’ I felt like one of those children, sometimes, finding my way in an adult world.

After that, I went all Indie on a route of my own. At 13, I went to a gig in Manchester for the Sugarcubes – the band that brought us Bjork, who was odd before Lady Gaga. 

Sugarcubes, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Talking Heads and my big love, Depeche Mode. Depeche Mode released ‘Black Celebration’ in 1986 – and it got to me in ways music doesn’t do very much any more. Then came the Sugarcubes first album. Sure, Bjork is weird – but here, her voice is so… wow. Different, kooky, unusual, feisty, filled with emotion. The year before, Talking Heads released ‘Little Creatures’ and that was just lovely, bouncy, indie pop too. I wish I still had that Sugarcubes t-shirt now! I used to wear it with a yellow paisley silk scarf, a hand-sewn suit jacket, jeans and some uber-cool leopardskin teddy boy shoes I bought from the original Red or Dead in Affleck’s Palace. I had a little army satchel, made of olive canvas, which I covered with the names of bands I liked and badges I’d picked up.

Even when Guns n Roses changed my life for good in 1988 – the void had been filled already with some pretty funky stuff. And even when I fell into the uniform of the rockers with tasselled skirts, skin-tight jeans and motorbike jackets, I still did a good line in ‘LJ unique’.

At the time, I did it because I was poor and I didn’t fit in, but I like to think even back then, it was cool not to fit in. Luckily, I had some very good school friends who didn’t fit in, but who were SOOOO cool. Laura Johnson, Helen Pendlebury and Anna Lee will always be my heroines because they made it cool to be weird way before anyone else did. We wore second hand clothes, listened to David Bowie or Talking Heads, did mix tapes for each other, went to weird gigs at the University or at the International II when we were just 14. I’m as much a product of odd-ball Manchester as I am of them. The city benefits from a huge university (and in the 80s, nobody, but nobody was cooler than Uni students) which brought second-hand shops and good music. In fact, the Academy, one of Manchester’s better venues, is still part of the Uni buildings. The MUSU vanished a long time ago, but I saw some great bands there.

Anyway, here’s to cool kids who don’t realise how cool they are.

And a little track for them, too.

Things I love today…

Loving The Bird and The Fox, who play all day long. Fox has caught two mice today and no birds. Both of them have played underneath the sofa for at least an hour, climbing under the throw.

Loving the long evenings

Loving the fact my Mum will be here on Friday

Loving having my Dad over here too

Loving my turnips which are coming on great guns

Loving the garden

Loving the Tilly Flop when she skip-dances and when she skips back to the door, her ears flapping

Loving the Moll and her random energy bursts where she races about

Loving being in my comfy bed

Loving having  a bedroom that’s now 16 degrees at night

Loving having a posse of boys wave at me and call me Madame Lee

Loving how gorgeously made-up Marine, one of my Bac students, is – subtlety and style – no thick make-up that I went for when I was too young and dumb to realise what perfect skin I had.

Loving Deb and Joanne: how lovely it is to have some sensible company beyond my family

Loving cauliflower cheese and hoping that my cauliflowers grow into big ones

Loving finding photos of Dylan I’d forgotten I’d taken

And loving Jake, who is very sweet and very funny. I hope he knows he’s fantastic.

He came in after school and asked me what a ‘tire-bouchon’ was. I didn’t know. I know a bouchon is a cork or a traffic jam, a bottle neck. And I know tirer is to take. So ‘take-cork’??! Corkscrew of course. Not only did he have to read in class, but he handled it with aplomb. I’m so proud of him. Later, I was uncorking a bottle of wine for Steve and I said to Jake: “What’s this?” as I brandished the corkscrew.

“It’s a C-O-R-K-S-C-R-E-W…” he said, totally deadpan. “God, Emma, you’re so clever, but you don’t even know that??!”

And not loving??

Death threats

Sore ankles and feet from being on my feet all day

Tilly jingling all night last night. Back to the crate

How some people spend less time on their kids than I do with my plants. 81 minutes a week, say the stats. How can you justify that??

Joyeuses Fetes!

We’re on last minute wrapping duty… Jake can’t get to sleep and Steve and I are trying to hide our present-wrapping activities. However, this is not easy with three excited dogs.

Steve just went in Jake’s room to retrieve the sellotape (it’s been requisitioned by the boy for the purpose of making guns) and said “There’s a fat man in a red suit at the door wanting the sellotape.”

“What?” says Jake.

“There’s a FAT MAN at the DOOR in a RED SUIT wanting to borrow the sellotape.”

“What? And you’re just going to give it to him?”

Obviously sleepy. Mind you, I’m so gullible, I’d have said the same thing. On a similar note, I was talking about Père Noël with Aurore, one of my little students. She’s 8 years old and just adorable. I think she’s wonderful.

“Do you believe in Père Noël?” she asked.

“Yes!” I said. You don’t want to upset the philosophical balance in a household with children. It’s tantamount to fire-bombing them during Christmas dinner.

She leaned over to me and whispered: “He isn’t real, you know!” she said. “It’s just your maman and papa!”

“No!” I said, looking disbelieving.

“Yes. You aren’t upset now you know?”

Aurore looked genuinely concerned as if she’d just broken my heart. She put her hand on mine, nodded over to her little brother and said, “But don’t worry, Clement still believes as well and he gets lots more presents!”

Sometimes, kids are cuter than animals. But when Tilly Flop rolls on her back and does air-kicks, it’s still pretty special.

Merry Christmas to everyone – have a wonderful day!

Le Crissmass Pooddinguh

Yesterday, Jake came home from school with an impromptu request.

“Our teacher wants to know if I can bring some crackers in, because I’m English.”

Crackers, for those of you who don’t know, like the French, are toilet-roll inners wrapped in fancy paper. Inside this is a little bit of card with a tiny bit of powder that ‘cracks’ when you pull them with a partner, to reveal, oh joy of joys, a little plastic ‘Made in China’ gift. Apparently, China are outsourcing to Vietnam now, so it might say ‘Made in Vietnam’. There’s also a terrible joke and a paper hat. It’s compulsory to wear the paper hat if you want to look the part. That is… if the part is looking like a drunken, fashion-less fool. For this privilege, you usually pay about £10 for a box. My brother Al and I have a competition to see how many we can win – we even have a technique and a specific angle.

However, they aren’t known in France, and whilst you can buy them from various English shops, they’re three times the price, and since there’s not so many of us here over Christmas, it just didn’t seem worth it. So, no, we didn’t have any crackers.

I went to my dad’s to see if I could find any in his grange. I had a distinct memory of sleeping with a bag full of crackers next to me last Christmas. But we couldn’t find any. Just as we were packing up, my Dad’s neighbour turned up with a stere of wood for my dad’s fire – so we spent a good ten minutes taking them off the trailer and catching up on new dogs and local news.

So… in lieu of that, I decided to crack into a Christmas pudding as a swap. Most of the ingredients are available here, except they don’t really ‘do’ different mixed fruit – just raisins. I’d kind of adapted it and it’s now without glacé cherries. How can France not do glacé cherries? Surely glacé implies ‘iced’? I thought they would be like marrons glacés, but they aren’t available over here, despite how popular they are in England. Neither is crystallised ginger. All of these are missing, but my Christmas pudding seemed right. I shall have to make my own crystallised ginger and glacé cherries next year when the cherry crops are ready. I found the stout and enough dried fruit to sink a ship, so I managed to make three 2-litre puddings. One is for Christmas pudding ice-cream, one is for eating, and one was a spare.

So… I sent Jake with a note saying I was prepared to come in with a Christmas pudding and some custard. The French love custard, like we love crème patisserie. I got an excited phone call ten minutes into school time saying the children would be delighted to sample some Christmas pudding.

Unfortunately, between nine and two, a million things went wrong. I got a flat tyre, my dad’s Clio wasn’t starting, since it’s been out of use for a few weeks, the charger wouldn’t charge, every time we tried to attach it, the alarm kicked in, and Steve called me a chocolate fireguard and made me sit in the van, because all I could think about was 180 euros for two second-hand tyres like last time. That’s nine tyres this year.

So, by the time I got to school, I was a little frazzled. Still, rows of delighted children will cure you of that. They were all extremely excited to taste Le Crissmass pooddinguh and to take the recipes and get the ingredients. I have to say I was giddy, too, as they worked out what was what. Some said it wasn’t for them. Some liked it though it was a bit strange. Several came back for more, though I think they were just hoping for ‘la pièce’  the lucky sixpence. Axel, who’s a bundle of enthusiasm (I wish I had a friend called Axel. It’s a cool name. I wonder if he’s named after the German band who did the tune to Beverley Hills Cop, Axel F, or after W Axl Rose, the rock star who really should have taken early retirement. The cornrows didn’t do it for me like snake hips did in Welcome to the Jungle. Still, Axel is pretty cool anyway) had an English phrase book from way back when, complete with details of pounds, shillings and sixpences, and when he looked up la crème anglaise, it said “The custard” which I thought was quite cute, and actually accurate, except you wouldn’t ask for the bananas with the custard, really, unless you were reading from Axel’s pre-decimal phrase book. There’s a lovely, hyper-intelligent girl, Sara, in the class. One boy was flicking an elastic band at her, so I said “Donnes-moi!” in my teacher voice and put it in my pocket. Jake was horrified by this. He said: “That’s robbery!” and was quite outraged.

I’m sad he didn’t see me in my prime when I routinely confiscated several phones from various little beggars, would stand at the door with a bin and anyone who didn’t spit gum into it and was subsequently found with gum would be found somewhere with lots of gum stuck to the bottom and made to remove it all. If it came out in my classroom, it was considered my property. I considered my classroom as The People’s Republic of Lady Justine – You have no vote and no say. But I was fair, if strict. I had several rules, one of which was ‘you can’t wear more make-up than me’ and ‘you can’t do ‘THAT’ face’… ‘THAT’ face being that ‘I’ve just seen some dog licking vomit off a pile of doggy doo’ combined with the ‘I have no regard for you and I wish you would die a horrid death in a violent way, preferably involving me spitting on you repeatedly to show my scorn’. I patented this face. I have photographic proof. I can do the scornful adolescent sneer so much better than any child I’ve ever come across. So, any imitation of ‘THAT’ face was immediately banned. Much like a young Elvis might have banned all the ancient old impersonators who would come to represent him. I perfected that look. I made it an art form. None of my friends did it. In fact, they all had healthy, wonderful relationships with their family. However, we did do the class ‘scorn-n-sneer’ to teachers who we didn’t like. So… confiscating an elastic band being flicked at a precocious and amazing little girl is fair game.

Steve just said ‘but you’re not a teacher any more’ and has given an explanation as to how he’d have complained. Like Father, like Son. And little does Steve know that if he’d have complained after having had to have an elastic band removed from his personage by a guest of the school because he was aiming it at a sweet little girl, I’d have carted him off to the Maire to be told off and shamed. I’d have insisted on speaking to his parents (That’s you Susan!) to express my outrage and insisted they share my indignation.

I did this with a boy once, who shall be known as Darren. It’s a pseudonym, though why I don’t name and shame is beyond me.

Said boy was lurking in the corridor, trying to pull a few of my sheep-like fifteen-year-old top set kids out of the fold for mischief. I’d appropriately admonished them and pulled them back into the pack, and said to Boy:

“Who are you?!”

“Why?” *why do they ALWAYS ask ‘why?’ – nothing sets my sparks going like that. Especially when they do it with a whiney nasally tone.

“Because I want to know.”

“What have I done?”

“Well, you won’ t tell me who you are.”

“I don’t have to…”

“In fact, dear, you’re right. You don’t. However, like the police I reserve the right to detain you until you do, so to the back of my class, now.” And I prompted said Boy to my classroom door.

“And you can spit your gum out and tuck your shirt in.” *Any English teachers will know this instantly. I don’t know why British education still bothers trying to clothe pupils in what’s essentially a polyester suit, since all they want to do is wear their tie in weird ways and un-tuck their shirts.  I did the same. We wore shirts out to cover rolled up skirts. We had a doughnut ring of skirt around our midriffs. I’m not sure why boys do it, except that if you have your shirt in, you look like a ‘stiff’, as 11 year old me would have said.

“And you can suck my dick…” he said, smirking, thinking the class would laugh. They didn’t. Mouths opened. Jaws dropped. Eyes were on stalks. A bit of tumbleweed blew by.

“Fine… come with me.” I promptly escorted said boy to the headmaster, a portly fellow of great gravitas and dignity, about as prim as you’d want him to be.

“Sir, I’ve brought you a boy….”

Sir looked appropriately worried.

“He’s just asked me to SUCK — HIS — DICK.” I enunciated each word, loudly and clearly, as if the words aren’t common in my mouth. Darren blushed.

The head looked mortified and played along well. He made all the appropriate ‘in front of a lady’ noises, as if this was 1820. I asked for permission to call Darren’s mother. I did the same to her.

“I’m sorry to be calling you, Mrs Jones, but I have some very disturbing things to report. I’m afraid Darren has been incredibly rude. I have to say, as a woman, I’m sure you’ll understand, I felt quite violated by this, but Darren told me to SUCK–HIS–DICK….” I let the words echo. I’ve never seen anyone paler. “I’m sure you’ll understand, if a male teacher said this to a female 15 year old student, how horrific that would be – struck off, possible police investigations and so on.”

I laid it on thick and spread it about like a maturing cheese on a cracker.

By the end of it, Darren was excluded temporarily. He had a file like a telephone book and was on his ‘three strikes and you’re out’ last warning – hence why he wouldn’t tell me his name. I’m quite sure a young boy CANNOT be more mortified than when a female teacher repeats to his loving mother exactly what their little darling just said, and then milks it a little. I thought not, at the time.

It turns out, in Catholic schools, the way to get back in is to apologise in person to every member of the governing body. So Dear Darren had to apologise, precisely, using his exact words, to the priest, the head, the deputies, his parents, and finally, me.

So, Cillian with his elastic band, Stephen with his sympathy and Jake with his distress on Cillian’s behalf about robbery can join the queue of people I’ve caused grievance to.

They can find it directly behind Darren. By now, it’s about 200,000 people long.

What they’ve yet to realise is how boys actually need a firm hand. Rules is rules, but when Miss brings you cake and tells you all the rude jokes in Shakespeare, and sometimes lets you have a rest in her office, you’ll pretty much do anything for her. Boys like it strict. Let it be known. And, if they don’t like it strict, they need it strict!


School days and Musees

Yesterday, I’d gone with Jake on his ‘sortie’ to an archaeological site and then to the museum at Angoulème. There were a couple of other parents along for the ride as well, and it felt all lovely and small. With a school with 42 children, it’s very easy to know who all the children are, especially when most of the boys seem to be called Julian and their mothers Veronique. Jake likes to call the Julians ‘Julio’ although I realised he only does this at home, opting for the ‘Juli-[an]’ the French say when he’s at school. I think he’s sanitising the names for us, which is nice of him.

The children seem a lot younger, as I came to realise later in the day, and much more ‘childish’, in a good way. Though I am reminded at this point of a very giggly Jordan (the Julian of the English classroom) laughing all the way back from the WWE wrestling about wee and poo. Another mother turned up, and the kids latched onto her – she was surrounded by about ten kids in a huge group hug and then little Sarah, who spent much of the morning revealing how I’d been spotted in various places in La Rochefoucauld, spent the first leg of the trip telling her all sorts of wonderful information. I like this. So many English primary school teachers shy away from hugs and holding hands. I’m reminded of when I started teaching and I went to a primary school up behind the flats in Sheffield, where a boy held my hand for all the lessons. I realised I couldn’t be a primary teacher because I’d get too attached, but somewhere in the last 15 years, it’s now frowned upon to hug the children.

We first went to Mouthiers-Sur-Boeme, a site with a prehistoric grotte, bien sur, and a few cave carvings. The archaeologists who came from the museum were great. The first, a younger guy with a beard and converse, reminded me just how much I love French ‘city’ people – the intellectuals in their pea-coats and tight trousers and converse – how creative they seem, how different from the blueprint-copied ‘salary-men’ in Japan (and England) for example. The second, older guy, was hugely entertaining with his ‘super-cool’ – it’s really lovely to see people who are genuinely excited about the work that they do.

The carvings, however, brought out the schoolgirl in me. At first, it’s kind of a loose frieze of horses. Maybe. But then, once you really look, someone’s decided one of them is pregnant. No, that didn’t make me giggle. Behind that horse, someone has decided the two horses side-by-side are actually inflagrante delicto. Early Animal Planet. And then a horse being born. A life cycle. Still, the school girl in me got giggly that they’d carved two horses rutting. I’m such a child. Still, the kids didn’t find it at all amusing. I was childish by myself.

The tiny Mme Tasty and Mme Delhomme then took us on to the Musée d’Angoulême where we had lunch. The school had brought us a picnic, which included a very straightforward ham and cheese salad sandwich, a babybel and a banana. There was a bit of swapping going on. I realised all the kids talk at Jake as if he’s just completely French. Others asked me why he didn’t talk much in class, but having watched them talking a lot in class, I didn’t really mind that.

We looked at ancient dinosaur bones – as the Charente is the centre of Dinosaur France – and made flints. The enthusiastic archaeologist even cut his trousers as a demonstration of the cutting power of the flint. Très bien. But I bet Mme. Enthusiastic Archaeologist wasn’t so happy when he got home. The kids went mental for flint, and it just made me wonder if they’d be allowed to do something like that in the UK. Both Julians got cut fingers (from silly boy behaviour, bien sur!) and had to have sticking plasters, les sparadraps, but there was no mass panic.

It was a really lovely to spend the day with Jake – just to see how he’s getting on. It’s quite marvellous really that he’s settled in so well. He seemed a little lost at points when he was with less enthusiastic children, but he seems to have a little posse of boys who are perhaps not the most sensible of boys, but who are lovely all the same. And who says boys shouldn’t be boys? So they cut their fingers! They learned about flint, though! So here’s to Jake’s lovely new friends!

Je fait mon nid

I’m in full-on nesting behaviour. Not least for cleaning out the chicken house and putting down new flax, but mainly for getting out my sewing machine and arranging my sewing table. It took a while, but I’m getting round to unpacking. Looks like I might be staying a while. I’ve got the fabric for the draught excluders, and I hope to make them tomorrow. At least then, I won’t have a cold French breeze billowing around my ankles.

The main only user of the sewing machine so far has been Jake. He loves a bit of sewing, mainly because it is a machine. He was talking to Steve about the ‘piston’ – which I take to be the mechanism that makes the needle go up and down. He is well able to thread the machine and wind the bobbin on, and he has used more of the embroidery stitches than I probably ever will. He sewed his name and has spent the evening trying out all the different stitches. I love this side of Jake. He’s a gun-toting, cap-blasting fire-starting smoke-monger, and yet he likes my sewing machine. A man in the making who is perfectly at home with his creative side. As I write, he is sitting illustrating a poem (for his homework!) and Steve is sitting in ‘Steve Corner’ drawing too. A creative little household, tonight. I like the addition of the table to the living room – since Jake has already adopted it as his place in the room. It’s nice to have the three of us (and the Mollster, lying in front of the fire) engaged in creative pursuits, albeit with 24 as a backdrop in the warmth locked away from the cold. It’s the kind of winter-time pursuits I dreamed of.

What’s weird is this change on Jake – he used to leave homework until Sunday night  – way after his bath and tea – usually in tears of frustration and sulks. Now he’s showing us his schoolbooks and getting excited about doing homework. I have to say a lot of it is to do with the school. After half term, they are starting ‘la lutte’ in P.E. Wrestling. Indeed. How to make a 10 year old boy very happy indeed. He will also be doing ‘endurance’ – whatever that involves – in preparation for cross country running in February. I love that he’s already excited about going back to school. I love that he hasn’t sulked once about going to school. I love that he wanted to bake cakes for his classmates and have a party for them. I love that he comes home and talks about what he’s done. I don’t know if it’s just because we’re in the thick of it together, the only English speaking people, or if it’s because we’ve become surrogate friends, or if he’s growing up in a lovely non-English way where it means he hasn’t sunk further into Kevin-The-Teenager behaviour. He has occasional moments, but he seems a million times more content. And the little boy lying in front of me saying

“Give us a kiss, Moll!”

and the man behind me asking

“Jake, have you got a pen? I’ve got a puzzle for you…”

are two people who aren’t caught up in the stresses and pressures of English city life. By the way, the puzzle is the ‘As I was going to St Ives’ puzzle. Jake’s gone back to his table and is now writing  out the sums to go with it. The answer is one. But I’m not going to tell him.

Ah, and here comes the almost-sulk. But gone like a quick cloud. After all, it’s half-eleven and these two have been in each other’s company for several hours. A peace longer than an hour is to be celebrated as much as one between Israel and Palestine!

Preparations for Autumn

Jake’s been off school yesterday and today – so today we’ve been baking biscuits, as opposed to my usual cookies. I’ve dug out my cookie cutters for Hallowe’en and we’ve iced and decorated our biscuits. It’s a very simple recipe:

  • 225 g caster sugar
  • 225 g butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 450 g flour, sifted

Just cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and then add the flour in 50 g increments, mixing it in with your hands until it’s a dough. Leave somewhere very cool for an hour (or in the fridge!) and then roll and cut out. Some people are fussy about them being level and flat and so on. I don’t care because they don’t last long. Bake for 10 minutes at Gas Mark 4 – whatever that is. Then leave to cool, then ice!

I am unscientific with my icing sugar – Put a bit in, add some milk and mix to a thick paste. Add light colours of food colouring first and be very sparing if you’re adding darker colours to mix to other colours.

Jake and I painted them with a cocktail stick – and then we all enjoyed eating them!!

I’m planning on having a ‘feu de joie’ (a fire of joy – or bonfire to you and I) for the 5th November, seeing as we can’t get back to England at half term. I’ve planned an extensive list of potato and apple products – pommes d’amour (toffee apples), purée de pommes de terre (mashed potato) sausages, jacket potatoes done on the barbecue, parkin (only if I can find molasses, my make-do substitute for Tate and Lyle’s divine black treacle) bonfire toffee, fudge, baked bananas and chocolate, mushy peas, pickled red cabbage – so Jake can invite some of his friends round. I’ll invite a few neighbours and English people who I like – and we’ll have some games and a small bonfire (not forgetting firewood is now a commodity, not something to get rid of!) which I think will be jolly lovely!!

We’d also gone to look for the non-existent maison de la Resistance in Chasseneuil – apparently a room in someone’s house (not unlike a ‘teddy bear’ museum I went to in Japan which really was just someone’s front room done up!!) – but didn’t find it, so I dragged us up to the Necropolis in Chasseneuil instead. Amazing to think it was a small hub of Resistance activity. I thought Jake might be interested because these were your real life Jack Bauers and Tony Almeidas, taking pills to stop themselves confessing under torture. The Necropolis is dedicated to the Resistance fighters in Chasseneuil. It’s quite amazing to think of these real people fighting. Not like the British, sending people to war, but actual war around your own home, affecting everybody – your parents, your children.

Unfortunately, however, in the midst of this solemnity and sombre necropolis, Jake and Steve decided it’d be great to do their usual horsing about, throwing each other about, attacking each other, kicking each other, punching each other. I said I’m not taking them anywhere ever again. They can’t go anywhere without it being street theatre and almost a contact sport for the average passer-by. So they’re staying at home from now on. I shall not allow their noise pollution to escape Les Ecures. I’m sure it’s their way of holding hands, but it’s more like chimps playing. In fact, I’ve seen this very thing on Monkey World, where the little chimp chases after the bigger chimp and they roll about for a bit and then the little chimp ends up playing too rough and the big chimp ends up losing his temper and playing too hard. How little we have evolved.

I’m standing at the foot of this huge memorial, mulling over the seriousness of world war and contemplating life 70 years ago, and they’re rampaging through it like they’ve escaped from La Vallée des Singes.

Next week, I might go and look at some stuff on my own and leave them at home. Men.

As I write, Jake’s just gone outside to set fire to some pine needles, and is murmuring about ‘it only gives off a smoke’ – Neanderthal, then, rather than chimp?!



La rentree

Jake’s first day at school yesterday. I couldn’t have been more nervous. It was as bad as leaving Basil at the vets for an operation. If I could have done it for him, I would have done! Madame Tasty, the head teacher (really Madame Teyssié, but it really sounds like Madame Tasty!) had said she thought it was better for Jake to go in alone. As a teacher, I get what she’s saying. Mostly, teachers are a nice breed, even ‘Vile’ pointy Jackie who I used to work with, who said ‘that boy is vile’ at least 20 times a day… if she’d have had a new, non-English speaking pupil who looked a bit terrified in her class, she’d have looked after him. Dawson would have probably sneered a bit and treated such a child the same as everyone else, but he was too scared of being called a bully to show his superiority in such a way. To be fair, Dawson would have used anyone’s weakness, whatever it was, as a way to assert his mastery… making fat kids do more PE – that sort of thing. But neither Madame Tasty or Madame Delhomme, Jake’s teacher, are like that. Madame Tasty has a point. Full immersion will make him learn quicker (or make him hate it completely) and turning up with me in tow when you’re almost secondary school age would make you look a bit of a special. Kids are going to think you’re a mental and not talk to you.

As a guardian, though, I felt like I was taking him to the slaughter, following prolonged and agonised torture. I explained that the worst that could happen is they put him at the front of the class and laugh at him in French and that that wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t. I explained that French kids love a stare. And they did. Apparently the boy next to him stared a lot! He kept looking at Jake’s writing – which is different from the lovely curly French writing.

I dropped him off at the school gates, and he was a little tearful. Madame Delhomme found him some friends and both she and Madame Tasty helped him out. Both Steve and I spent the morning worrying if he’d be okay, though I knew they’d spend the morning sorting out folders and putting their name on things, which they did. Schools are predictable places.

At lunchtime, he seems okay. Not upset. Wants to get back to school early to play with the other kids. A triumph. No, he hadn’t understood much, but he’d managed to make it through and had done what everyone else had done. He’d played out at break and he’d played football. It’s all good. He wolfed down half a pizza, went off for some milk from the local supermarket (they have a newly installed vending machine, which he loves. Apparently, the milk tastes like ‘English Milk’ – whatever that tastes like!) and was in a panic when he got back because he thought they’d all gone in, but really they were just finishing their lunch.

So we felt a whole lot better about dropping him off after lunch. He seemed okay. When we picked him up, he was fine, too. They’d done sport all afternoon, and played some games, like I used to do in drama, to help people get to know each other. He was very tired – I’m not surprised. It had been a big day!

Then the panic began about what they’ll be doing today. He’s very worried that they’ll spend all day doing difficult questions based on complex text, but that’s not going to be true. I’ve started translating his reading book, and if it were in English, he’d have no problem. I have no doubt by Christmas, his french will be fine. But it’s still a painful process to watch it – and I know there will be hiccups and set-backs. But, each day, he’ll know a little more French, and each day he’ll build up his friendships, and each day it will be a little more familiar. But that’s not reassuring to a terrified boy who might as well be in a class with Martians! Still, the worst day is out of the way. It’ll get easier and easier, I’m sure of it.