Friday, 1 April 2016


The thing about France is that it's often ferméEither it's lunch time, or a bank holiday, or a festival, or a strike, or a festival at lunch time on a bank holiday and everyone is striking. 

Example: we went to a French Center Parcs thing some years back when the boys were little, Pierre's Having A Vacance, I think it was called, and it had everything a proper Center Parcs has, except it was way cheaper… and most of it was fermé

We tried to dump a few of our spare kids in the creche… Fermé they said, for a refurb. Okay, we said. So we traipsed off to the pool with our towels, the male members of our party wearing those ridiculous regulation Speedos the French insist upon, showing up their male members… Also fermé they said, for lunch, of course, (parce que the French love a bit of lunch). Okay, we said. So then we tried to hire kayaks for a go on the river, but the kayak hire guy had gone for lunch… all day. Bof we said, because we were getting the hang of it by now.

So when we arrive at Toulouse airport with our friends, over the Easter weekend just gone, with only an hour to go before the hypermarket closes, after which time our party of eleven will starve to death for the next two days because everything will be fermé, for Pâques, we're rather anxious to get to it, and load up the car with supplies, loads of supplies.

Our friends get hold of their hire car before we do. “We’ll go on ahead,” they say. Okay, we say. My husband drives (he can actually drive) and I try and navigate to the hypermarket using Google maps on my phone and the address my friend just gave me, because this is the way we operate in France: he drives, I navigate, but it's the wrong way round because I'm the better driver and he's the better navigator. So it's not long before we're screaming at each other because I've directed us down a one way street and now we're sitting, all squashed together in our tiny Renault, face to face with a furious French man, also sitting in a tiny Renault.

"You've directed us down a one way street!" shouts my husband.

"It's not my job to look at the road signs!" I shout back, "I'm looking at my fucking iPhone! I can't do both!"

To be honest I'm quite proud that I've managed to direct us to a Carrefour at all. It's hardly my fault that it's the wrong one because Google maps automatically populated the nearest. I ring my friend.

"Where are you now?" says my friend.

"Good question," I say. "Definitely in France, probably on the outskirts of Toulouse."

"I think you need to retrace your steps," says my friend.

I get Eldest to swap places, so now he's in the front of the Renault with the iPhone and the Google maps app, and the irate husband, and I'm in the back taking a breather. Eldest immediately directs us out of town, towards a river and open countryside and the peage. Within minutes I'm back on the phone to my friend.

"We're heading out of town, there's a bridge!"

"You shouldn't be doing that!" says my friend, laughing down the phone.

"I know!" I say, and I hang up, because I have a very strong desire to scream at all of my family at the top of my voice and I don’t want my friend to hear this and know how horrible I am in real life. (We make it to the hypermarket in the end and load up the car with food, but then it gets boring so I’m skipping on).

Tuesday. The loads of food has run out, so all eleven of us set off for some lunch in the local town. It's a perfect day: sunny, powder blue sky, snow-capped mountains in the distance, all that.

Upon arrival at the local town at lunchtime, which is barely past breakfast for us (particularly for me, because I always sleep in) most of the restaurants are… you guessed it, either fermé or about to fermer. This is really not okay, we say.

We all live in London, south London, some of our party originally come from Sydney. Things don't fermer for lunch in south London, or any part of London, or Sydney. Tooting is alive with activity at all hours. Only the other day there was a drive-by shooting at the end of our road, on a Sunday lunchtime. We're used to round the clock action.

Fortunately a member of our party (a male member) speaks French, and manages to persuade a waitress, who incidentally looks exactly like that skinny moody love-interest in the film Ratatouille, to serve us some lunch. Fantastique! Except, they explain, there will be no choice whatsoever, it's Confit de Canard, or bust. Ça va? Okay, we say.

"Can we have pizza?" say the kids. 

"No, you can't," I say, "it's a fait au confit." 

That night we sit outside round a bonfire at the bottom of our friends' garden, under the stars, and the boys take it in turns to play acoustic guitar and some of us sing, or try to sing, and the frogs croak in the nearby pond, because they're a-courtin' presumably. I say, "I'm already living the memory of this," to my friend, and I hug her, because she's wonderful, and j'adore her, and because we're outside under the stars in front of a bonfire, listening to the guitar, and the courtin' froggies in the pond, and we've had two bottles of red wine between us, and because this is something that can’t ever be fermé.

This is so much more than okay, I think.

Love E x


P.S. Update (01.59 am, 02.04.16) - I wrote this in France, before I knew about the air traffic control strike, which meant that our flight home was cancelled. It just took us 16 hours to get back, via driving to Nice. No kidding. Funny.

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