Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Lost in translation.

The bank holiday, and our French friend comes to stay. Remember him? He of the woolly jumpers dyed in socialism?

“Will you be in later?” I ask Middle One, “because Pierre-Marie is coming to stay.”

That’s his name: Pierre-Marie. He was once married to Marie-Pierre. I kid you not. She was much younger than him. Actually she had been one of his pupils at school. Honest to God. They had a very tempestuous marriage. If you got caught in the verbal crossfire, which we sometimes did, it was awkward. He's not married to her anymore. He's married to someone else.

“I like Pierre-Marie,” says Middle One.

“I know,” I say. “Moi aussi. Be here for dinner then, à sept heures."

On the way to the house Pierre-Marie calls in for a drink at the pub opposite the tube, with Husband. It’s a pub that for years we dared not frequent for fear of being caught in actual crossfire. Now it’s all leather sofas, mismatched lamp shades, and micro-brewed IPA. 

Dishing out presents and compliments left right and centre - but mostly left - he then arrives at the house like a whirlwind, bringing me a framed photograph of his home town, which is lovely. Actually it’s really lovely…

"I can see you are a victim of gentrification,” he says, giving me a French kiss, (that is, one on either cheek, then all over again). 

“Yes!” I say. “What is gentrification en francais?”

“Same,” he says.

He’s right, the area has changed. When we first moved here there was one coffee shop on the High Road. Not that I ever went in it because it had a large notice on the door, saying: ‘NO BUGGIES' and I had a buggy, with a baby in it. Soon after I had a double buggy, with two babies in it. I guess this gave them double the reason to refuse me, not that I ever put this to the test. By the time I had a third baby Café Nero had arrived, heralding a coffee house révolution. After that cafes popped up, gauche, droite et centre, sometimes overnight like, well... like pop-ups. Now the area is saturated with cafes and buggies and babies. 

During dinner Pierre-Marie talks to Middle One about politics and history. In English. The French government is a farce, he says, and too right-wing. He doesn't know who to vote for anymore. When I ask about Marine Le Pen he says she's not that bad but the niece is dangerous. Husband says, yes, but she's also very attractive. In French.

“Why don’t you speak French?” Pierre-Marie suddenly asks Middle One.

“He did German,” I say.

“Why not French?” Pierre-Marie says.

“He chose German in Year 7,” I say. “Then they offered French as a twilight class in Year 8. In the lunch hour. Hardly anyone did it. Probably because it was the lunch hour.”

“Your mother understands French perfectly well,” Pierre-Marie says. In French. “But she never speaks it.”

“I have no idea what he just said,” Middle One says.

"Moi non plus," I say. In English.

The breakfast club.

Half-term, Thursday afternoon. I decide it’s time for Youngest to get off the PC.

“Hey you,” I say. “Time to get off that computer. We are going out. The two of us. A day trip.”

“Oh, mate,” he says, “Really? Where are we going?”

“Don't call me mate,” I say. “It'll be good. Definitely. Trust me.”

I figure there are two things Youngest is interested in: computer games and eating breakfast cereal. I can’t bond with him over the former, but I have plan with regard to the breakfast cereal.

We catch a train from Balham to Crystal Palace, and then from Crystal Palace to Shoreditch High Street. We come out of the station and walk the wrong way for a bit. If Pierre-Marie thinks Tooting is gentrified, I think, he should see the good people of Shoreditch. 

Close to the station there are lots of tiny shops selling either vinyl, or jumble sale clothes they are calling vintage. I soon realise we're going in the wrong direction and we retrace our steps back to Brick Lane, where I finally find what I'm looking for: the Cereal Killer Café. We queue inside behind a giggling school party from... La France. Toujours les froggies, I think.

A girl in front takes ages to decide which cereal with which flavoured milk she'd like to sample. Enfin it’s our turn. Youngest orders a double rainbow (really), but I'm not sure. I don't much like cereal. I wonder if it's too early for beer. Probably. And they don't sell beer anyway.

A double rainbow with strawberry milk.

"Um... hot chocolate, please," I say to the girl at the till.

“What would you like with the hot chocolate?” says the girl at the till.

“Nothing, thank you.” I say.

“Sprinkles?” she says.

“No, thanks,” I say.

"Marshmallows?" she says.

"No, thanks," I say.

“Flake?” she says.

“No, thanks,” I say.

“Just cream, then?” she says.

“Not even cream,” I say, and I feel like I’m in The Simpson’s Movie. “Just the one bowl of cereal and a small hot chocolate. Thank you."

She looks at me as if I’m crazy.

“Of course,” she says. “That’ll be just £8.50 then. Please."

Love E x


P.S. It was a hit, by the way. "I want to go back there with my friends," Youngest said on the way home, "definitely."  


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