It took one month, moderate French and the determination of a sloth, to get the phone line and internet sorted. Yes, I know I could have asked for help from the other Brits already here. – Just google ‘English in France’ and there’s an array of hold-your-hand services, pork pie makers, Heinz tomato ketchup importers.. all keen to give fellow ex-pats a helping hand. But at what price? “Oh by the way, can anyone help with pitching 50 tents for the new enterprise Clarice and I have started, “Camping Anglais?” ” They loved the Garibaldi’s we sold at the Fete last year, and the 2% pork Barnsley sausages went down a real treat… with a good helping of HP sauce. In fact, the plastic bags were in great demand too.” I really wanted to say to Clarice and Bob, “the French don’t like sleeping on the floor in tents they can’t stand up in, with nothing between them and the next man but a tatty bit of canvas and a bit of shitty grass – The French need privacy!”. I wanted to inform the sentimental fools, in Primark shorts and crocs, that the French won’t pee in a bucket or shower in a damp, slimey pit hole, with a piece of rustic plank outside, announcing that they have, after trudging across muddy fields and being shot at by seasonal hunters, finally found the “Douche Anglais”. A very English past-time, cold showers! It seems that we English have one masochistic streak which the French don’t share! But what the heck, you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours! So despite the sweat and the stale beer oozing from the pores on your hairy, freckled back… I shall return the advice you gave me, ‘don’t ever ask for Andouille in a restaurant”, with 3 hours of pitching tents in the former pig field that you just bought. Oh and by the way, Monsieur Blaggard, the pig farmer, has just had a new swimming pool built…with your money! So, don’t ask for advice from ex-pats is my advice to you. Not ex-pats, ex-brits, francophiles, belgians, dutch, irishmen… especially those called Pat who are now living the lie as an ex-Pat called Patrice. JUST DO IT YOURSELF. You’ll suffer, but you’ll feel much stronger and one day, if you live to tell the tale, you’ll gather your grand children around in your little hut at the bottom of your daughter’s garden in Guildford (because you hadn’t the foresight to keep your house in England and now you’ve sold up and can only afford this bijoux residence… and to make it worse, you have to endure the shame of your daughter and son-in-law peering out of their doubled glazed conservatory window and waving, ‘would you like a hot bath to warm you up, Mum!’)….. and tell your little ancestors all about the many successes you had in your life abroad. ‘Did you really save a snail from being cooked alive, Grandma?’ ‘You mean you actually went to a restaurant in France and ordered a steak, well-done!!’ “Daddy says, they put you in prison if you do that”. Ah well, it was all worth it just for the adventure, and the calloused skin.
Now, where was I? Oh yes.. the internet was on and I had contact with civilisation. I was in bed early, a bit chilly but happy in the knowledge that very soon I’d be tuning into BBC iplayer and watching all the old favourites. Tea on the bedside table, a few biscuits from the English aisle in our local supermarket, in case I get peckish. Dog keeping my feet warm and a wonderful feeling of quasi-serenity was enfolding me into the hollowfibre of the warm duvet. And there it was! ‘This service is not yet available in the country you are in’. Bejesus, where do they think I am, bloody Timbuktoo! “I’m just over here, over the channel, through the tunnel.. A stone’s throw from the white cliff’s of Dover!” I thought the worldwideweb was connecting us all – one world and all that? 3 hours later with all sorts of snails, worms and squirrels in my computer hard-ware, from trying to hide my location and watch Eastenders via something called, ex-pat shield…. I gave up. BBCiplayer only plays in England. Great!
Fact Time: Apparently there’s a secret E- address in China where they watch our every move in order to create the profile of the typical European mind… doh – like we have minds! They watch us through our computers! Their goal is to increase their numbers from 1 child per family to 10, disguise them as caucasians and ship them out, via the Cape, (less chance of being spotted in the Antarctic Seas than rowing through the Suez Canal), to take over Europe. Next batch will black up and conquer Africa, and in the final phase of the master plan, they’ll row Eastwards, across the Pacific, disguised in boring clothes, and conquer Canada, before their slippery infiltration south into the land of dreams – AMERICA! News AlJazeera, 2015, “Chairman Dung Pu Jong takes up his official residency in the White House today’. Might have to rename that.’
Anyway, I have to accept that English TV is a no-goer. I am not able to figure out French TV as my brain hasn’t yet located the necessary neural pathway even to enable me to understand what the heck is being said by the very understanding neighbours who bother to speak ‘lentement’ for me. I’ve noticed that women seem very willing to speak clearly and slowly enough for me to have a chance of understanding them, whereas French men just continue like the clappers – ‘amour’ this and ‘coeur’ that – with no apparent awareness that I am standing there speechless, and with a look of complete helplessness on my face. They do seem to notice that I have breasts though, so credit where credit’s due.
I know! I can listen to music! Music is a universal language, so French radio can fill my mind-numbingly boring days and distract me from the constant moving around the house of particles of dust that I seem to be absorbed in. I would just like to mention here that dust and pollution cannot possibly be linked, as previously I thought they were. Back in London, the city of smog, I used to berate the endless dust that would settle on my knick knacks (… say no more). I educated my children in the ways of using magnets and certain plants to eliminate particles of lead and other noxious elements which would enter the home riding on the back of dust. ‘No, it’s not a pretty slide for fairies to come into the house, no its not a pixie rainbow – it’s a death trap!’ ‘No, don’t eat that sweet off the floor, the dust’ll kill you!’ So, why is there twice as much dust here in the beautiful, pollution-free countryside? I digress. ……. 92.5 FM – accordion music, not so great after the first tune; 93.4 a great deal of talking; 96.5 someone rapping in French; 96.7 more rapping….. Ah, a bit of classical, not so bad… apart from the jazz- electro-schizoid-unsyncopated-shrill-tantric-migraine inducing ensemble, which is played throughout most of the day! Don’t the French like rhythm and blues? Just rhythm would do. “Turn the volume low, it won’t bother you so much”. After several days of not tapping my feel and not singing along, I checked through the English-French online dictionary to find the phrase, most useful for, ‘turn that shite off will ya, Pat!’
So, no to French TV and French radio.. and no to the French pop up ads on my laptop, which have clearly discovered where I am, courtesy of those inscrutable minds. That leaves only one thing…. I’m going to have to get out and learn French! Darn – I wasn’t expecting that.