14. Avril – bienvenue á l’été – welcome to summer!

All of a sudden the rain has ceased and we are bathed in sunshine. Harry’s parents have called and asked to visit, and we are gearing up for their arrival towards the end of the month.

 In the meantime we are glad to be able to throw open the French windows to the summer air and get out into the garden. One of the first things that we notice is the speed with which the grass is growing. It is time to start mowing the lawn! It is a Sunday, and after a long and lazy breakfast Harry has taken the mower out of the shed and set to the vast expanse of grass. It is not long until the neighbour comes round. It is strictly forbidden to cut the grass or, in fact, do work with mechanical equipment after mid-day on a Sunday. The grass will have to wait until tomorrow evening!

 The following evening, Harry arrives back after a long day at the office. It is already nearly 8pm, and cutting the grass is not really top of his wish list, but it is starting to resemble a field, and so the mower comes out again. I have always found the smell of cut grass a pleasant one, and the drone of a lawn mower a rite of summer, but hardly has it done a turn of the garden before the engine is cut, and five minutes later Harry appears in the kitchen slightly jubilant that the local gendarme has instructed him that if he continues, he will be fined 100 euros, and perhaps he should consider a cold beer instead! The field remains uncut until the following Saturday!

 The summer sun has also brought the cycling Mamans out for a weekly Friday afternoon “balade”. This is somewhat a problem for me. I love cycling and have every intention of joining the group for a swift jaunt through the forest outside my door, however every Friday I pick up my huge stack of publicity from the depot on the quayside and throughout the winter have spent Friday afternoons sorting it before the children arrive home for the weekend, and so that it is ready for delivery on Monday mornings.

 The whole “publicité” issue is shrouded in secrecy. Fundamentally we need the money, despite being on a “management” salary, I can’t help thinking that we have been “fleeced” somewhere along the way – and the application of the exchange rate (or lack of) could have a whole lot to do with it! Incredibly I quite enjoy my weekly distribution! What I enjoy most is being part of “real france” and not living on a superficial social level. Quite literally I am seeing the “other face” of France. The crowd that distribute range from the elderly retired to the low-income groups and students, and a myriad of personalities in between. The distribution zones also reflect those income levels, plus the nicer parts of town.  The depot radiates a general good humour, and everyone takes the time to shake hands and pass the time of day. Obviously I come up for a fair amount of flack, particularly after an international rugby or football match, but it’s all part of the rich tapestry of life (as they say).

 I am not really sure how the French Mamans in a private school would appreciate my current job, hence the secrecy. At first I was hugely disappointed not to be distributing to the smart areas of town, as good architecture enriches me as much as eating a delicious French fruit tart or having a picnic on a beautiful beach, but in retrospect, the zone I am in is way out of the normal stamping ground of the St Do mamans, yet is in itself not an unpleasant place to be. What I have enjoyed most is tae pleasant banter with residents who have come to recognise me, and watching the seasons change their gardens from their bare snowy skeletons, to the abundant flowers of summer.

  The French mamans are delightful, there is no getting away from the fact that they are inclusive and chatty. There is also no getting away from the fact that they are stylish and do not work. Since my comprehension factor is rating only about 50%, the subtleties of thought are still elusive to me. It seems wise at this point to keep my day job to myself!

For weeks now, the non working mamans have been inviting me to cycle with them in the Foret Vert. I have been slippery as an eel, illusive and surprisingly busy for weeks, however, if the truth be known, the Foret Vert is within touching distance of my house and of course they all know that because I invited them to tea only a month or so ago

The first week that they invited me I couldn’t possibly go. The papers were stacked high on the dining-room table ready to be sorted. The sun was high in the sky and frazzling me through the French windows and so I pulled the curtains across to counter the glare. And lucky I did. Not twenty minutes later the bell to the gate buzzed. I stopped, startled. It was early in the afternoon and I was convinced that it had to be the mamans arriving to persuade me to join them. I held my breathe as opening the door was not an option without giving the game away. The bell buzzed again. Silence! Thinking that all was safe, I was astonished to hear voices coming round the side of the house and then the phone rang, first the house phone and then my mobile. Boy, were they a determined bunch!

Later, at school pick up there was a general clamour, “had I got the message – where was I , the car was in the drive but no sign of me” – The penny finally dropped and I felt so guilty. One of the mamans had had a puncture. Being miles from home, they had called on me on the off-chance to see if they could leave her bike at my house and borrow a bike or catch a lift. In the end they had been forced to ride two to a bike back to the centre of Rouen, teen-style! I was mortified!

The following week I agreed to go, the sun was shining and five of us set off down the grit cycle paths of the beech forest. It was exhilarating and excellent for my cross bicycle chatting skills! Definitely a weekly event from now on!

At the end of the month Harry’s parents arrived having wisely booked themselves into a great Chambre d’Hotes down the road.(The house being a touch on the small side)  They explored, and loved Rouen, which is a city full of museums and wonderful collombage style buildings in the old antiques quarter and we welcomed them back to our house every evening for an authentic french meal and were hugely pleased to do pudding “French style” – ie directly from the boulangerie.Four days later,  After a final visit to our local sunday market to stock up on fat ripe cheeses, olives and stuffed tomatoes, they hit the road for their return to the U.K. and we got the bags out to pack up for Theo’s imminent  residential “Classe Poney”.

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