When we had been here two or three years, I went into the art shop in Lamballe one day, and started talking to a very friendly lady working in there, in fact it was a fortuitous one-off, she was just helping out her friend who owns the shop that day. She asked if I'd be interested in helping her young daughter with her English. I said why not, and we exchanged numbers, but then months went by and nothing happened. Then some time later, I was at a point when I began to feel life here had hit the doldrums; there was still (and always will be) an enormous amount of work to do on the house, but that was not always in my power to effect; a return visit to England to a school reunion had rather left me wondering where my life was going, seeing the über-career women and mothers all my peers had turned out to be, who, I was fairly sure, were not all significantly cleverer than I was, (though I realise now they mostly were significantly more focused and harder working, had probably made fewer bum decisions...) Anyway, suffice to say I thought perhaps I should make the effort to take a step outward.
So I called the family and went to see them. Anaïs was then a delightful little sprite of about eleven. I hadn't much clue about teaching English one-to-one setting a child of that age, but we persevered, and bit by bit we started enjoying ourselves. They told their friends, who told other friends, and for a time I was racing round Lamballe and its environs of a Saturday in between their various dance, football, babysitting and other commitments, gulping down a quick sandwich and letting Molly out of the car between whiles.
A couple fell by the wayside, and it calmed down, and I just had Anaïs and her brother and a pair of very lovely sisters from another family. Now all is changing. Anaïs turns 18 next month and has just received her Baccalaureat, with a good mention. A joke was made yesterday about how perhaps she could come back and start giving me lessons in French, and Tom said he thought in fact that the family had already given us some excellent French lessons. I knew what he meant but lacked the words to explain it at that moment. We have been generally very fortunate in the contacts we have made since we came here, but this family have been an exceptional blessing. They are dynamic, open, affectionate, cultivated, funny, unaffected... I cannot find enough good adjectives. They love their local and regional heritage ( Frederique comes originally from a Breton-speaking family in Finisterre, Jean-Jacques is Lamballais), the paintings of Matthurin Meheut and things Celtic, but are well versed in wider French history and culture too, are happy and interested Europeans, and open to the wider world as well. Anaïs can tell me more about the Enlightenment from her studies than I've ever learned, including the English speaking figures of the time, but dislikes much about modern French literature; the sentences, she says, are far too long and there is too much bad philosophy! Phew, it isn't just me then...
As you can see, she's very beautiful. Mind you her mum's pretty gorgeous too,
( Tom's come over all daft on account he gets to give her a squeeze...), and her dad's not so bad either.
It is a source of great wonder to me that the little girl I met then has turned into this fabulous, amazing grown-up creature, so full of potential and promise. I suppose parents must feel like that all the time. She may not be mine but I'm absurdly proud of her all the same, and will miss her hugely, though I look forward to seeing her from time to time and catching up with what's happening in her world, which thanks to her and her family, is a little bit our world now too. And I'll still give lessons to her little brother Max, which I need to keep me up to speed on French provincial youth culture, and who wears Nike and who wears Vanns, and whether you should tuck your trousers into you socks or not... He wasn't here yesterday, because he's been away playing football in the Ukraine.
Since she was three apples high she has wanted to be a journalist , and now she is off to university in Lannion to take communication studies. Such a combination of brains, beauty and personality must surely go far. So just remember, when she appears on your screens or newspapers or wherever in a few years time, you saw her here first!