Speaking in strange tongues.
I like this song, this video, for many reasons not least because it proved at the time that some of that French CSE exam that I was down-graded to when I was 16 years of age and not in the slightest bit interested in France or French, some of it must have sunk in for I first heard the song and realised that I could actually understand some words in French.
Its mid-1990s, we live in the house that had the river running underneath it, our girls are small and they dress in pink and play with dolls and such like and a man needs a place to go to when he has daughters, men with sons won’t understand because they get to take them outside with a football, men with daughters have to pretend to cook pretend food in a pretend kitchen and pretend to push pretend babies in pretend push chairs, because their daughters say so.
So while they dominated the living room with their hundreds of Disney video tapes and girl-stuff all over the floor I would retreat to the kitchen where I installed a TV set with a satellite connection and an audio link to the music system, a TV in the kitchen, how avant-garde (more French), and I’d watch the fledgling VH1 and CMT channels constantly, just to save having to push another bloody pushchair around and around the living room.
The subject matter also reminds me of the cycling holiday that Ned and I had taken the year before in Brittany, we cycled and camped in fields for a week and I still don’t know why I agreed to go on holiday with my brother instead of my wife and two very small children, in fact, it was my idea, I planned the whole thing, my god I could get away with murder in those days – they didn’t have a holiday that year, but I did.
Come to think of it, I’ve taken quite a few holidays on my own…
The last few days and we ended up in Dinard, remember we are carrying everything we need for a week on two cycles but I know that if I return home without presents for the kids then, well, its not worth thinking what would have happened, and so we ended up in a small toy shop and in that small toy shop they had lots of wooden toys, I bought a wooden clown for Jodie who was only 18 months old at the time, she still has it, and I bought a string puppet for Amanda just like the one in this video and I explained to the French lady in the shop who couldn’t speak any English “Pour mon filles” and she smiled and asked “Quel age ?” and I replied “Deux est cinq ans” because I didn’t know what “eighteen months” was in French, and then the thought passed my mind that for christ sake I was speaking French, with a French person and French was the only language to use, and here I was, speaking it, and making sense, to a French person – HA! What do think about that Pansy Smith, what do you think of me now, not so rubbish at your language lessons now am I ?
Later that evening Ned and I found ourselves camping in a small village that had a few bars clustered around a small village square, it was quite lively at lunchtime and so we cycled back into the centre in the evening to find it all locked up and everyone gone home, “What the fook do we do now” we asked each other glancing at our watches, 7pm, too early to go back to the campsite where only us and three other campers were staying (TIP – Brittany closes at the end of August, September is not a good time to go there, unless you like to re-enact Robinson Crusoe).
We cycled around that town square twice and then Ned spotted a chink of light coming from behind a closed blind in a hotel bar that looked as though it was locked up, “We’re going in there” he said, and off he marched, so I followed.
“Deux bierre” he yelled at the barman who looked as though he was going to tell us that he was closed for the winter but then noticed that our Ned had got the wad of money that we called “the kitty” out of his pocket and he must have thought “I’m having some of that money”, so he served us two beers (see, Ned didn’t even take CSE French but he could manage too) and then stood and watched us drink them, “Buy him a drink” I whispered to Ned recalling an old trick that Charlie Smith had taught me, a trick called “How to get a lock-in”, the trick being that you bought the bar tender a drink in every round so he can’t refuse to serve you, so we did.
And we got talking to the bar man who turned out to be the hotel owner and sure enough the place was closed for the winter and he was only there because in the back room they had a meeting of the local Rotary Club, and we bought him drinks and we talked some more and we got slowly pissed, and then more pissed and we held long slurred conversations with each other and even though he only knew about as many English words as we knew French, so that was about three words each then, it all made perfect sense and we laughed and shared jokes, and got even more pissed.
And then he disappeared upstairs and came back down with a bottle of calvados, except this bottle of calvados had never seen the inside of a bonded warehouse or suffered the indignity of having a tax levied on it for as he explained, this calvados was fifty years old, had belonged to his father and was distilled on a farm, somewhere, and he waved his hand in the air when he said “somewhere” as if he was totally innocent in the deal, he poured three very small snifters of the clear liquid and although I thought the quantity to be quite stingy, when I tasted it I was quite happy that there was barely enough to wet your tongue for it burned right through your tongue, like a very burny thing.
Suddenly his wife appeared and snatched the bottle from him, gave him the bollacking of a lifetime and disappeared back upstairs, Ned and I didn’t understand a word but in that international language of all husbands we know that he’d just taken a bollacking and we shared our sympathy’s and bought him another beer.
We left the place at 2am, absolutely blathered, so blathered that when he came out of the hotel walking his dog ten minutes later he found us sitting on the pavement in the dark outside his hotel laughing hysterically because we couldn’t find the correct key to unpadlock our bikes from the lamp post where we’d left them, the three of us sat on the kerb and his dog sat on the kerb too and we tried every key in our pockets, just the two keys we had, until eventually one of them fitted.
Boy did I have a hangover the next day.
So you see, you can often speak far more of a foreign language than you think, especially when beer is consumed.