Category Archives: Language

Semi-colon terrorists

Michael Rosen’s latest blog is about the ‘semi-colon terrorism’ from the Department for Education. He is anti-semi-colon. He says the semi-colon is neither ‘fish nor fowl’

He says: “I am utterly convinced that forcing primary school teachers and primary school children – no matter how able  – to spend time on this is really a waste of time.”

Well, I for one would like to take issue with this, as a semi-colon apologist. Probably this will be of no consequence to you whatsoever unless you like punctuation or you like me ranting. Feel free to come back tomorrow when I will have got over this little language issue.


Firstly, ‘terrorism’ is silly. It’s like calling people a Grammar Nazi. I don’t like these terms simply because they’re clichéd and also, all in all, a little mark never hurt anyone. Unless you’ve read Cieran Carson’s amazing poem ‘Belfast Confetti’. I’m not a Nazi because I like grammar and order. I like to break the rules as much as the next man. I make up words and play hard and fast with dialect words and regionalisms and sentence structure. I’m not a Nazi because I think there and their are easy to learn and everyone with a modicum of literacy should know how to use them. And I’m not a terrorist simply because I like a semi-colon from time to time.

Here’s a confession. I once went out with a guy because he used a semi-colon appropriately in a text message.

I lurrrrrve the semi-colon and I don’t agree that it’s neither fish nor fowl. Of course you can get away your whole life without using it, but why would you want to? It’s such a delightful thing.

And its rules are simple.

A semi-colon is a pivot. It sits where a full stop or a coordinating conjunction could go. It’s a beautiful little balance.

Consider this:

Cats are whimsical, independent and somewhat neurotic; dogs are loyal, dependable and sometimes completely crackers.

Yes, it could be a full stop.

Cats are whimsical, independent and somewhat neurotic. Dogs are loyal, dependable and sometimes completely crackers.

Or it could be a conjunction.

Cats are whimsical, independent and somewhat neurotic whereas dogs are loyal, dependable and sometimes completely crackers.

Cats are whimsical, independent and somewhat neurotic, and dogs are loyal, dependable and sometimes completely crackers.

The first alternatives are fine, but too matter-of-fact for me. There’s nothing really that tells you these ideas are connected, other than your own fine head. If you don’t have a fine head, I might want to tell you that there’s a little Alice-in-Wonderland mirror in that semi-colon where one thing is reflected in the second. Let’s face it, we have punctuation to tell people what to do. It says stop. It says go. It says the tone has changed! Does it tell you my mood? It tells you if I’m feeling… uncertain. It tells you that I’m explaining something: punctuation is bossy. It tells you I’m disjointed – or disconnected. It makes sense of things like a man-eating tiger and a man eating tiger. It tells you that somet’ing is missin’ and it tells you how I, the writer, wants to you read something. It can add something (like when you want to put in something extra) to your work. And if we didn’t have punctuation it would make it fairly hard for most of the population who would then have to ponder about where you would want them to stop or go or how you would want them to proceed because sentences are very important and punctuation is the stuff that makes them without them our words are just mushed up mess and we might as well not have anything at all which would make it a lot easier for some people to write but a lot harder for most people to read.


Punctuation was invented for a reason.

It’s bossy and magical.

That’s probably what I like about it.

So why single out the semi-colon?

I suspect it’s because Michael Rosen doesn’t fully appreciate its beauty. And it is beautiful. It’s a ballerina of punctuation marks, pivoting and turning. It’s the point on which the whole sentence pirouettes. It dances; it turns. It allows you to make one point and lead a reader; it allows you to turn and make another. It forms a beautiful bond between two ideas; it marries them and links them forever in ways that a full stop can never do. A semi-colon brings clauses together; a full stop divorces them. A semi-colon is therefore a beautiful wedding of a punctuation mark; do not let what one man has joined be torn asunder. It doesn’t matter if the clause before comes loaded with punctuation marks of its own, like the humble (and almost ungovernable) comma; the semi-colon can cope with a sentence as long as you want beforehand, with as much non-stop punctuation as you care to use.

A semi-colon is mathematical; sometimes I like to ensure the clause before has the same number of words and mathematical cadence as the clause after it. Sometimes I like to use it to be playful in ways that most other punctuation isn’t.

It’s a misunderstood mark. It’s so much easier to use than a comma (and you can see my post on the Oxford comma if you disagree) and it’s so clean and perfect. It makes the reader work to my rhythm.

Kurt Vonnegut said that the only reason to use a semi-colon is to show you’ve been to college. He might be right. But a semi-colon does things that other marks just do not do. No, there aren’t hard-and-fast rules about where it should go (though I’m pretty clear on where it can’t) and yet it’s so easy to use. It makes language dance. It is a beautiful and glorious shift-and-echo.


“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
(Peter Drucker)

What I don’t like is how Mr Michael Rosen tries to use Dickens to further his argument: “I like to punctuate them [sentences] with full stops and not semi-colons. I got this from a writer I like. His names is Charles Dickens.”

He is obviously forgetting the most beautifully-balanced semi-colon use of all:

“There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France.”

That’d be Dickens.

Now, Michael Rosen needs to think about his strange and misguided approach to this most elegant of punctuation marks. It brings my sentences together in the most marvellous of ways and being told that it makes writing heavy when in fact it can make writing dance and spin, well, that gets my goat. Michael Rosen needs not to bring in punctuation into his argument about why the British government should not have set rules for 11-year olds for grammar.

Plus, if we had no semi-colons, how would I do this? 😉

An online wink is just about the nicest thing to do with a semi-colon. So yah boo, Michael Rosen.

Site Stats

The weirdest things bring people to my blog. Seriously weird.

On wordpress, you get a list of search terms that people have used to find your blog and thus the whimsy of mankind is revealed. The problem is, it doesn’t reveal nice things about mankind, only weird things.

Take Monday. On Monday I blogged about Adam Ant. Most of the content was about the King of the Wild Frontier himself. I had videos and pictures and text. The big three.

Does Adam Ant bring people to my blog? No.

Shakin Stevens does.

Firstly, why are people searching for Shakin Stevens in the first place? I can only assume those four misguided souls were  actually people who read my blog, had no idea who Shakin Stevens was and decided to have a gawk at the old sexless one himself. I hope so. In that case, the internet is operating like a little closed circle. I read a blog. I find a name I don’t recognise. I google it. I come back to the blog.

But I can’t believe this to be true. That would require only one internet site for the old Elvis wannabe and that’s impossible. In fact, there are 2,480,000 websites given to you by Google when you search for that. I’d put SS to be cute, but that would probably just lead to ALL sorts of hits I don’t want. Or $$.

So how far do you have to go through Google’s listings before you get to my blog? I’m sure it’s on about page 50. I got to page 11 before I got bored. So far, it’s all youtube links and lyrics links.

That means you’ve got to be a pretty dedicated internet researcher to get that far. Why not stop at his fan page or wikipedia? I have no idea. Or you have to really love Shakin Stevens.

Not only that, let’s assume that the dear researcher is a fan. You’d have to be a fan to get through all of that. Well, they’re not going to like what I’ve written about him, are they?! Or what I said about them. Mme. V has already taken me to task over it. I’ve already taken her off my Christmas card list for the next two years.

And I was kind of nice.

I could have been much worse.

Yesterday, I called Michael Gove a fat-faced loon. And that was kind of nice. Unfortunately, I just stole it from Macbeth, when he calls the boy who comes to tell him about Birnam Wood moving a ‘cream-faced loon’. I wasn’t even original. A google search revealed that one other person in the world has used that phrase.

Now they’re looking at their site hits and wondering why anyone would search for ‘fat-faced loon’.

Google searches are great inventions. I use them to settle battles with editors. I say ‘but my phrase is more popular than yours. 74,000,000 people used mine. Only 3 used yours.’

I don’t add ‘you bleeding buffoon’ to my answer. I don’t need to. I’m waiting for one to say ‘that’s because mine is original’, like I was with the fat-faced loon thing. Then I will say ‘no… yours is just bad English. I was just using facts to make a point.’

Statistics can obviously be interpreted in many ways.

However, the good thing is that dear old bland-Elvis has only 2,480,000 hits. Adam Ant has 38,000,0000. Who won that battle in the end??!

Mind you, two in the top ten have nothing to do with the bestriped one. One is a dictionary page about the word adamant and the other is a page about a computer web store. Weak-sauce Elvis mk 2 is at least original.

Google searches are my writerly way of finding what is unusual and what is not. I thought my business slogan ‘for all your wordy needs’ would be quite original. There are 750 other people who might have thought so too.

Once, I cornered a boy on his coursework via a 0.7 second google search. Said silly boy had handed me work that was just much too good to be his. It could have been mine. I googled one phrase and up popped the exact same essay. I printed it off.

“Is there anything you’d like to tell me?” I asked, sitting on the stern side of my desk, holding the documents. His and the print off.

“Nope.” he said, smug as anything.

“It’s very good. Did you have any help? You know you’re not allowed to have help, don’t you?”

“It’s all mine.”

“And I just need to remind you that if you stole this coursework, if you copied it from somewhere, you could be jeopardising 300 other students’ work. Our centre could be investigated for cheating. We might not be allowed to enter any single student. All our coursework could be investigated. You know that’s what could happen?”


“And you’ve nothing to tell me?”


“Your own exams could be affected. None of your results would stand.”


“Still nothing you want to tell me?”

The grinning loon was still grinning.


I then presented him with the whole kit and caboodle. Print-offs, date the original piece was done, who did it, the ISP address for the site, the location of the ISP address, the ISP itself.

Luckily, he looked a bit embarrassed and didn’t try to lie about the fact that he’d written it in Canada as a nine-year old boy.

Some things are a little sad, though.

When I was 19, one of my boyfriends used to send me poems. They weren’t very good. However, there was bit that was quite beautiful: “Of all the things worth dying for, none sweeter have I seen, than the rose that is my England in her cloak of leafy green…”

It was quite lovely.

It was also stolen from a folk-metal band circa 1991. If only I could have Googled it. I’d have seen through that poetry-writing charlatan in no time. As it was, it took me a good year or so to realise he was a bit of a waste of space. I’d quite accept he wrote all the bad poetry.

It’s pretty amazing, this internet world. It can show you as a Shakin Stevens’ lover, a fat-faced loon, a charlatan poetry writer, a silly boy who should have had more brains than to get himself into a corner with me (eat your heart out, Brenda Leigh Johnson) or an editor who can’t write.

Twenty years ago, it would have been impossible to learn most of that. Or at least to prove it with google stats.

Oh Brave New World, that has such people in’t!

Being obstreperous

By Wednesday, much of my Much Love Mondayness has run out. I start work at 8:45 am and finish at 8:45 pm which reminds me of what I’m like in work all the time. I have an hour off mid-morning and then go all in, hell for leather.

To be fair, I start with the lovelinesses and end with lovelinesses with lovelinesses in the middle. But it still makes me crabby. I don’t think I should have started doing content writing straight after, but I figure if you’ve spent 12 hours working, you might as well spend another one on it. I’m writing content about handbags. Mostly, web designers don’t care what you write as long as you fill the text with key words that pop up in search engines. It feels a bit like stuffing a goose to make fois gras. It’s un-natural and a bit over-facing.

In fact, it makes me obstreperous.

I love this word.

My Nana uses this word a lot about me. She knows me very well. It describes me perfectly of a cold September evening when it has rained all day and I’ve been driving about all over the countryside or wrestling with slow internet connections on Skype and then some editor tells me I need to write things with ize instead of ise. To be fair, this is my own fault. I usually do. I don’t feel like explaining to a bunch of Yanks that a z is redundant because s trapped between two vowels is always z. Hose. Use. Rise. And thus organise-categorise-utilise.

Plus, Merriam liked French. He took loads of French spellings, like color. So why he decided it should be a z, I don’t know. Maybe we English mainlanders had a z and then we moved to the s. Anyway, I usually do it. Google tells me to. Word tells me to. Even wordpress tells me to. So I do. And being tired and a bit cold and a lot obstreperous is never a good time to get into an editorial battle especially when it’s my own fault.

It did get me thinking about some of those words my Nana uses that I love. Words that are sometimes made up, like marmalise. No. Not marmalize. I was surprised to find 4,500 hits for marmalise. 12,500 for marmalize. I’m pretty sure my Nana made that word up though. Pretty sure. It said it first came into use in the 1960s. I’m pretty sure my Nana has been using it longer than that.

Now, whilst she might have made up marmalise, I know she didn’t make up my second favourite Nana word. Mard. Mardy is a good Derbyshire and Yorkshire word. Mard is a more Lancashire thing. I think. Mard. For that time when you’re pouting and sulking and you feel all angry and awkward and soft and wimpy and stroppy all in one. Mard is the best word for that.

My third-favourite Nana word is nowty. When you’re nowty, you’re in a really, really bad mood, all crabby and cross. It’s a good northern word too and I know my Nana had nothing to do with the birth of these words. Mard and Nowty. That’s exactly how I feel tonight. And obstreperous. I think most of my Nana’s words are to do with being in a bad mood.

In my Nana’s family, there’s also a congenital defect. It’s a pouty lip. We call it the Oakden lip. It is prone to make an appearance when you don’t get your own way. I don’t suffer from the Oakden lip myself, but my sister does. I’ve seen it. I have the Oakden calflick that’s not so much a defect as an affliction. Who knew that calflicks were genetic? And yet my Nana and my Auntie Lynne have the same little bit of fringe that grows the wrong way. Tonight, I’m feeling a bit pouty though. I might tell that proof-reader to stop making me nowty and mard and obstreperous or else I’m going to marmalise him. It gets me right mithered.

Let’s see what he makes of that.

Grammar rantings

Mostly, I do very well with content writing and translation. I enjoy it very much. I am given a topic, some keywords and a word limit, and off I go. I get by with editors, though sometimes they are hard work. Sometimes, they make me want to explode. This is the issue…

When I proof-read, I check spellings. I sometimes add commas, because I’m a comma-stickler. Here’s my beef. You move a clause to the beginning of a sentence and technically – technically! – it should have a comma to distinguish it. For example:

I sometimes add commas, because I’m a comma stickler.

That comma is my choice. I put it there because I want you to pause a little. It’s neither right nor wrong. Some people don’t like commas before coordinating or subordinating conjunctions, but I’m not one of those people. See. I just did it before but. 

However, if I were to write:

I sometimes add commas because I’m a comma stickler. 

That would actually be right too. And if I were proof-reading this, I would let it pass. 

However, when you move ‘because I’m a comma stickler’ to the front of the sentence, to prioritise it, you need a comma. You just do.

 Because I’m a comma stickler, I sometimes add commas. 

And sometimes, people don’t put them in. I put them in sometimes, because they should be there. I admit I’m comma-heavy. I know where they go. I know where they can’t go. But there’s a lot of places where they could go, or they might go. And there’s a lot of grey areas for a comma. Give me a semi-colon every time. A lovely semi-colon, splicing two complete, coordinating sentences together like a beautiful little pivot. A delightful little mark replacing a coordinating or subordinating conjunction. Mainly black or white; mainly right or wrong. Or give me a colon: that beautiful dictatorial mark that tells you quite categorically that an explanation is coming next.

Commas ARE yucky and most people don’t know what to do with them.

Once, I gave a classroom of 40 English teachers an unpunctuated text. In that room, there were Masters holders, BAs in writing, linguistic experts, literature experts and language experts with over 750 collective years of experience. Not one teacher came up with the exact same text as the original writer. We could all agree Miss Angela Carter was not wrong, and that we weren’t wrong, but why did we have so many different responses?

Because commas are largely subjective. That’s why.

If you want to start a comma war, ask an American English scholar and a British English scholar about the Oxford comma. Those people can’t even agree on its name. Is it the Harvard comma? Is it the Oxford comma?

An American will tell you that you need a comma before an and in a list.

This is a terrible example. It’s terrible because in fact, the sentence should read “we invited the strippers: JFK and Stalin” if it means Stalin and JFK are strippers. I can see why Americans argue very strongly for Oxford commas in some sentences. However, my line is that this sentence is a terrible sentence. It could say “we invited JFK, Stalin and some strippers” and then no-one can use the line that you need an Oxford comma before the and so that nobody is under the misguided illusion that JFK and Stalin are strippers.

But I’m mindful when I write a text that Americans might read it. If I’m writing for an American audience, I slip that Oxford comma right in there. If I’m writing for a global audience, I leave it out. Plenty of the English-speaking world have learned English because of the UK, not because of the USA. In fact, the USA haven’t colonised anyone very much, so unless it’s for an American reader, I stick to British English rules because we’ve had the sad and weighty duty of spreading the language across the planet.

And do you know what? That Webster fellow – the one who decided Americans should write gray and categorize and organize and color – he was actually dumbing down the language so that it made sense in the New World. There. That’s a controversial yet true statement. He simplified it because those there USA citizens couldn’t understand that an s between two vowels, just like in French, is said as a z. Organise. Categorise. If you want to make an s sound between two vowels, you do as the French and put in another s. Vitesse.

And why take issue with some spelling? Why not take issue with most of it? Why keep daughter and laughter the same? They’re way more complicated to spell than grey or gray and a world full of language learners and writers would have thanked him. That’s my beef with Webster.

However, I’m down with the fact that Webster existed and that he tried to do something and a nation followed (most likely out of spite over the Boston Tea Party and a couple of wars… rather like rebellious teenagers than righteous linguists) so I can do American spelling if I need to. And I avoid American spellings and English spellings if I can because then you’re not putting anyone’s nose out of joint.

Believe me, these grammatical and lexicographical decisions weigh heavily in my mind when I write and when I edit.

However, some ‘quality control’ proof-readers seem to think it is their sole purpose to change stuff that’s perfectly fine.

And this makes me MAD!

They forget that the sole purpose of language is to communicate and seem to think that language is some kind of bizarre set of rules by which we must all live. These are the same people who don’t like split infinitives and sentences ending in prepositions.

Unfortunately, this type of proof-reader is living proof that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. They wield their laws in an arbitrary fashion, removing things hither and thither with ne’er a thought that there’s no purpose to their editing other than their own self-importance. They fail to answer the two most fundamental questions. Does it make good sense? Is it acceptable usage?

And above all, does it communicate clearly?

That’s all.

And thus, I find myself involved in arguments with a pedantic proof-reader whose main aim is to show they’re earning a crust tinkering with a comma rather than accepting that it’s fine. Not only is it offensive because I know more about language than they do, and by the rulebooks, that comma is fine and dandy, but it’s offensive because it goes against the fundamental rule of a proof-reader. Primum Non Nocere. Above all, do no harm.

My stance on language is much like that of the much worthier opinion of Professor David Crystal, perhaps the most eminent linguist in the world today. As he would point out, punctuation didn’t even really exist until the printing press came along. The same with standardised spelling. There’s a need for rules, certainly, so that we all understand each other, but no need for rules by which we can beat each other in some kind of weird battle for grammatical superiority.

As Professor Crystal says: “we are no longer living in an age which accepts that a few self-appointed individuals can impose their personal linguistic tastes on everyone else”

“All linguists care about clarity and precision. What linguists object to is the attempt by individuals to impose artificial and unauthentic rules on everyone.”

Luckily, I end up feeling uplifted as I turn to DC as inspiration and remember that not everyone is a pedant, and in fact I feel sorry that my poor proof-reader has probably never come up against anyone who so vociferously questioned their bizarre standards. But nobody, nobody, can tell me that I have to spell accommodation as accommodations. So it might be acceptable in the USA and Canada. It’s not to me. There’s no point in it. It’s like writing cattles. Accommodation is a mass noun, an uncountable noun. It might very well have been plural in England back in the day, but it’s not now. Sheeps. Fishes. Cattles. Informations. Knowledges. Musics. Trashes. I’m sticking accommodation firmly in that list.

So, if you want to edit my work, please remember I do not take kindly to people who change my spelling and punctuation for worse examples. And if you do, then I retain the right to complain tirelessly and ceaselessly on my blog.

Chickens, Brazilian flags and thongs

The 27th is the date of Rouillac market – a date firmly in my calendar. It’s where we bought ‘the girls’ from (liberated!) and it’s also the scene of my 20 euro cheese. The whole town closes down and is filled with stalls, kind of laid out into an order. If you can’t buy it at Rouillac market, it isn’t for sale. Kettles, huge jam pans, massive wooden spoons, shotguns, wood fires, chickens, quail, ducks, pigs, dogs, pigeons, budgies (which my friend John just reminded me are for budgie smuggling when you are wearing speedos) overalls, housecoats, slippers, wellies, copper pans, rotivators, donkeys, shetland ponies, rabbits, sausages, cheese, garlic, onions, haricot beans, potatoes, seeds, plants, herbs, massive granny knickers, thongs, towels with Bob Marley on them, tractors, shutters, pan pipes (why is there always a Peruvian fellow on every market in the world? Is it some kind of profile-raising marketing?!) bread, mice, chestnuts, goji berries, socks, army fatigues, berets, knives, scissors that can cut four things at once, utensils for making julianne vegetables, italian grapes, harem pants (the current french fashion of the moment) and patchwork, plastic tablecloths (de rigeur en France!)

It puts Bury’s ‘world famous’ market to shame.

Irish setters

I fell in love with these Irish setters. I love the Moll, but fluffy dogs are my thing. We had a gorgeous spaniel when I was little and she was the most lovely dog, save the Moll. There were all kinds – bichon frise, shii tzu, Irish setters, Jack Russells, spaniels – could have bought them all! I know the Moll would make a good Nanny dog – she is great with little animals to mother – just as she was with Clinton the Cat.

If I can make a pond or some kind of water feature – for which we have plenty of space! – I’d love some ducks. I’m a sucker for poultry!

Now our lovely ladies are settled, I’d love to add to the flock. I think some little black ones, some lovely white ones – all would add wonderfully to our harem! I think I need to change rabbit auschwitz into a chicken house!!

After having made our way around the market, I was trying to take a picture of a very nice copper selling van. They had a kind of make-shift kitchen, then all the pots and pans. Yet I’d barely snapped it (and it was ruined by my Nana standing in front of the stall gazing aimlessly like a not-right, and my father’s shoulder as he moved in to shepherd her on) when a guy came over, shook his finger and said ‘interdit, forbidden’ – So I launched into a full on assault?

“Pourquoi, vous n’etes pas le Maire.”

Each time, he just kept saying, ‘interdit’

“Mais, c’est une place publique… c’est pas Le Sahara Occidental ou Le Pakistan. Nous sommes pas les muselmans ici… ou les gens avec une objection religeuse”


“Mais, je comprends pas! Pourquoi les photos sont interdit? C’est pas un bâtiment gouvernmental… c’est pas les choses militaires, c’est pas les choses religeuses. C’est une marché et je suis une touriste. Pourquoi?”

Interdit. He then said ‘secte’ – a cult?! Dealing at a market!

I laughed and said it was ‘stupide, une farce, un ridicule’ and he went back to his stall. How utterly ridiculous. I told him he ruined the day for people visiting the market and he was an idiot. He wasn’t the mayor. There’s not a law against it. It’s a public place. We’re not in Western Sahara or Mauritania or even Greece, after it nabbed a busload of British tourists taking pictures in an airport. I think he realised he’d picked on the wrong Englisher today. I told him he hadn’t explained it at all and he was being an idiot. Who the hell would want a picture of my Nana, my dad’s shoulder and a very distant ‘secte’ marchand selling copper pans??!

There’s no way on earth I’d have posted this dreadful photo if it weren’t for that little Hitler trying to control what I take pictures of in public places. Liberté! Anyway, here it is. If you can work out what’s offensive about it, what’s ‘interdit’, send me a postcard. Otherwise, feel free to share in my righteous indignation and also my glee that I was able to put this man right and challenge him with the same fervour I’d have attacked an Englisher on Bury Market who told me not to take a picture of Bury Black Puddings’ stall. What an idiot! I feel like setting up a facebook group!! Maybe I should warn the world about sects selling copper pans. After all, it could be another Jonestown or Waco… and Sarkozy, as you will know, is not fond of people who are uber-religious. It might be a catholic country, but religion isn’t taught in state schools. Hurrah. Schools is for learning, not Catholic values. How I wish that were true in England, where a third of schools are forbidden from telling pupils to use a condom or go on the pill, thus proliferating teenage pregnancy, STDs and lord knows what else. I might write to M. Sarkozy with my concerns about the man next to the copper pan stall on Rouillac market.

Mes dames fantastiques!

I have been having chats with a woman called Kathryn, up near Civray-On-The-Wold, the local centre of Anglaises. I’d cheekily nudged my way into her life via one of her companies, Accents, in Civray, which is a not-for-profit bilingual association for children of English parents who are worried about their children losing their English. You’d think it wouldn’t really happen, but it does. In less than one month of school, Jake is perfectly happy to communicate in ever-developing French, coming home, asking ‘what does A demain mean?’ and enquiring how to say various things in various ways. Funny to think only a week ago he was begging me to come with him to ask if Artur was playing out!

It has to be said, though, he’s still got a way to go. He came home with a book yesterday from the library – the children’s section! – which was decidedly rude! It’s based on a little boy, Titeuf, who is like a French Bart/Lisa. Sometimes he’s more Bart than Lisa. The first comic strip involves him asking his father who invented air, then asking his teacher what an abortion is, before asking his mother how you catch Aids. Jake, needless to say, particularly with some of the more graphic cartoons including a biologically accurate drawing of a penis and Titeuf accidentally falling over two people in flagrante delicto, was mortified. Honestly, I’m a little mortified. Surely someone should have put this in the grown-ups section? Or am I just being prudish??! I know the French have a more liberal view of sex education, but…

Honestly, some of it was funny. Because Titeuf can’t get an answer to these many important questions about life, he ends up playing a version of ‘tig’ where when you get tigged, you’ve passed on Le Sida (Aids) and one poor boy goes home to a shocked mother and tells her he’s upset because he’s got Aids and none of the other children will stand still long enough for him to pass it on.

In a view of how kids are, it was quite funny!

Anyway, back to Kathryn. She runs a smallholding with the usual sheep, goats, chickens and bees. I want to keep bees. She also runs an equine rescue centre. I want to run an equine rescue centre. She started a bilingual group. I want to run a bilingual group. Needless to say, I was giddy as a kipper when I came to meet her.

She’d brought her teacher, Alicia, with her. Alicia is also fabulous. Like me, she lives in a commune with no Englishers, and so her children are permanently immersed when outside the family home, in La Vie Francaise. It was absolutely great to meet two women who are uber-wonderful, doing great things in unconventional ways and totally in keeping with how I view myself – not as these old oxygen-thieving, sock-and-sandal-wearing, beige-shorts and checked-shirt-wearing, panama-hatted, grey-haired coffin dodgers who clog up Limoges airport with their namby-pamby southern ways and total ignorance to the world around them. Alicia, in fact, hails from Whitefield, where my Nana lived, and Kathryn, though a southerner, spent a long time in Newcastle.

We’d met in the PMU ‘Le Penalty’ in Mansle, a sleepy little ghost town that hasn’t really been able to resurrect itself post-deviation. The RN10 used to run through it  – bringing business and traffic – but since the by-pass, it hasn’t been able to pick itself up. There are several sad shops with faded displays, a handful of estate agents, a couple of bars and a deserted high street. I’d planned to meet in Le Colibri, which is across the other side of the crossroads and has a little deck area – but it was shut. C’est la vie. The PMU is the local working men’s bar, complete with Loto and betting station. Spit and sawdust, a little, but we sat and chatted for 2 hours solid. It made me very excited.

Suffice to say, I can’t wait til next time and I can’t wait for our plans to unveil and come to fruition!

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.

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.