Willkommen Bienvenue Welcome

Welcome, gentle readers.

This is an everyday tale of regular folk, who moved from Sheffield to the deepest Corrèze in France Profonde and thence to the rather more cosmopolitan Lot in search of something… different. We certainly found it.

The Lot is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Reputedly, a famous TV globetrotter was asked where, of all the places in the world he had visited, he might return to. He answered, ‘The Lot’.

Fans of Channel 4’s Grand Designs will know that we built a somewhat quirky straw bale house-with-a-view here in the Lot, not far from the celebrated Dordogne river. You can read all about it in my book,
Bloody Murder On The Dog's Meadow, or watch the re-runs of the programme on More 4, or view it on You Tube.

After a break in the proceedings to write a book or two, this blog now takes the form of an everyday journal. Sometimes things happen, sometimes they don't (but the art school dance goes on forever). I hope it will give you an entertaining insight into what it's like to live in a foreign country; what it's like in the slow lane as an ex-pat Brit in deepest France.

I shall undertake to update this once or twice a week, unless absent on leave. Comments always welcomed, by the way, but I do tend to forget what buttons to click in order to answer them.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stop the Week 14

One day long ago, I was walking down East Street in Brighton, where I lived for a decade. I was walking wiv me bird down the narrow street that leads to the sea front and the Palace Pier.
Suddenly, gor blimey, there was a sound of rioting from somewhere alarmingly nearby. We looked at each other with horror. The noise of an angry human throng came funnelling up the street, as if shot from some immense Bofors Gun. Where could we go? Where could we hide?
Then I saw the reassuring presence of the law in the form of a phalanx of Britain’s finest. They didn’t look in any way ruffled. I heard the sound of someone talking through a megaphone and realised that we had stumbled onto a film set. There were parkas and leathers everywhere. It was a re-enactment of the Bank Holiday battles between the Mods and the Rockers.
Some time later, I discovered that we had wandered into a scene from Quadrophenia – the movie! They showed it last week on some secondary ITV channel and Debs and I watched it on Thursday evening, after our visitors from Sheffield had taken the train back home. It had been so long since I last watched the film that all I could remember was that very realistic depiction of the notorious Bank Holiday bovver. Oh, and Sting’s be-mirrored Vespa parked outside the Grand Hotel. I had completely forgotten how the Phil Daniels character drives that scooter… No I mustn’t give the game away, in case you haven’t seen it.
When I were a lad… I used to read Fabulous magazine. I used to cut out the pin-ups and stick them to the yellow walls of my bedroom. Quite indiscriminately. The Stones and The Pretty Things vied for space with the likes of Richard Chamberlain (or Dr. Kildare as we knew him) and Trini Lopez (who earned his place for a lame version of ‘If I Were A Carpenter’).
One particular edition of Fabulous was devoted to a Mods v Rockers special. The playful editor playfully demanded what side you were on. Even at the age of nine or ten, I was on the side of the Mods. Those sharp suits, the thin ties, the winkle-picker Chelsea boots… Besides, they listened as I did to the Kinks, the Stones, the Pretties and the ‘Orrible ‘Oo. No contest. I knew even then that I would never ride a motorbike nor dress in leathers.
Quadrophenia was conceived as another Pete Townshend rock opera. Personally, I never succumbed to Tommy and found its successor even less convincing. The film, however, seemed – on second viewing, some 25 years or so later – quite another matter. It seems to have worn very well and its picture of tawdry norf Lunnon life in the early ‘60s looks depressingly accurate. The vicious battles between Mods and Rockers had little to do with kids’ pop magazines and much more to do with football hooligans, skinheads and the BNP.
What’s more, it was like watching a who’s who of British character actors of the day. The likes of John Standing, Hugh Lloyd, Michael Elphick, Tim Spall all popped up in minor parts. We failed to recognise Lesley Ash as ‘lead bird, she who married Lee Chapman of Sheffield Wednesday, which makes a rather unconvincing link between Brighton and Sheffield, where my wife and I got hitched prior to moving to France.
But enough of such inconsequential nonsense, because Arsenal are playing Birmingham City in the Carling Cup Final and I need to tune in to lend my support to the Gunners and their quest for some silverware.
However, I’m quite prepared to switch off if they haven’t scored a goal by half time. I’ll watch the recording of the Steve Winwood story instead. Now there’s a man. But kick-off is imminent, so that one will have to wait…

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ding dong! The guns have gone

One thing my time here has taught me about February is this: Never count your Wilfred Owens till the last shot is fired.
The arrival of the shortest month is always a cause for celebration in our house. February is no longer January – and January is for me, despite what T.S. Eliot might say about April, the ‘cruellest month’.
February represents my wife’s birthday, the imminence of spring and the month when the guns fall silent. In France, February means the end of la chasse, the hunting season. That awful time of year, which brings out the licensed hooligans, equipped with camouflaged jackets, “day-glo” caps and rifles primed for the kill.
The gunfire starts towards the end of September, putting a damper on the otherwise golden autumn in these arboreal parts, then underscoring the ponderous days and sombre mood of winter. 
The hunters get captured by the game... I wish.
Quite apart from the ethical debate, la chasse brings a number of practical considerations. You do not, for example, walk your dog in the woods at weekends. The hunters are notoriously trigger-happy and wildly inaccurate, particularly after a mid-morning snack of red wine and salami sausage. This is why they’ve taken to wearing regulation “day-glo” caps.
We and our neighbours have both lost a cat to the hunters – gunned down in cold blood. The chasseurs are renowned for shooting cats (and, frankly, just about anything that moves). The hunt is regulated and there are rules of conduct, which some no doubt will respect. But I’ve seen too many westerns to harbour illusions about men with rifles.
So, from late September to mid February, weekends are well-drilled states of red alert. First one out of bed in the morning locks the cat-flap (admittance/yes; departure/no mode), installs the litter tray and gives ‘the girls’ a full compensatory breakfast. If one of the sisters is missing, you go outside, shake the ‘munchies’ and make enough noise to alert every animal within five kilometres.
At dusk, you re-open the cat-flap and usher the cats out with an apologetic ‘it was for your own good’. After four months of this routine, they begin to display signs of acknowledging our best intentions.
Throughout the season, my blood simmers just below boiling point. Driving past menacing roadside bands of posturing armed males, I practise Ghandi-like hauteur as an example to our daughter. To be honest, though, I am concerned that a suitably rude gesture will prompt a volley of buckshot or some spiteful nocturnal act of revenge.  
I indulge in puerile fantasies involving the rifle of parquet off-cuts that my brother made me during an idle moment while laying a new floor in our former house in the Corrèze. Sampson the Avenger, who stalks hunters with his parquet rifle, boldly liberating the woods as he fearlessly trains his weapon on his prey. They drop their guns and scatter. ‘Aieee! ‘Ee’s mad, zees anglais. Run, I say! Run for your lives!’
The sad truth is that, come February, I am so inured to the echoes of rifle fire that I find myself (me, for whom every animal’s unnecessary death is another indictment of mankind) whistling ‘Whoops! There goes another…’ Perhaps it’s an early sign of madness. Perhaps villagers within earshot of the Western Front similarly dismissed each explosion. Just another unit of our nation’s finest fallen…
Ah, but when the guns fall silent at last! Ding-dong, the bells do ring! The cat-flap can be flung open. Spring must be somewhere in the air. The animals are free to reproduce in peace. The cats can wander again without fear of anything save cars, traps and poison.
And yet… there is always a certain lingering fear. Have they truly stopped? What if one lone maverick, some twisted gun-totin’ anarchist, decides ‘To hell with the regs, I’m gonna go out there an’ bag me a critter jess for the hell of it’? Thus went Wilfred Owen and all those other hapless men in khaki, gunned down in the final hours of the Great War when their comrades were already celebrating the Armistice. You cannot, in other words, be too careful.
But let’s be optimistic for once. Let’s suppose that they have called it a season. What of those yellow-livered hunters, forced to hang up their weapons till the following September? They lock up their dogs in pens, which is preferable I suppose to the unspeakable things that happen in Spain. Presumably they launder their fatigues, dust off their ‘day-glo’ caps… and get out their fishing rods.
For, yes, one sporting season segues seamlessly into another. Man the hunter-gatherer continues to do what he does best.
It’s killing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stop the Week 13

Just before I went away at the end of last week, my poor long-suffering wife was charged – and I mean charged: under pain of the most extraordinary punishment – with recording the first of BBC Four’s ‘Reggae Week’ programmes. She didn’t forget.
The golden age of Jamaican reggae is over now. Nay more the likes, in one era, of Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert, Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear and all those glorious vocal harmony groups like Culture, The Mighty Diamonds, The Heptones, The Gladiators and The Wailing Souls. A superabundance of wonderful one-drop, melodic, riddimic music has given way to the macho (not to mention misogynistic and homophobic) posturing of dancehall toasters.
But Jamaica’s extraordinary musical legacy has spread all over the world and that peculiar, compelling beat is still pulsating in places like the UK, West Africa, Brazil, Eritrea (c/o the superb Asmara All Stars) and, for heaven’s sake, in… New Zealand.
Redgie has been an important part of my musical life on earth ever since the day I bought The Wailers’ Catch a Fire in a sleeve artfully disguised as a Zippo lighter. As a ‘yoot’, I saw Bob Marley and the Wailers with the I-Threes at Exeter University’s summer ball. I can only imagine that our social secretary must have promised egregious quantities of ganja, as it was their only gig outside London during that particular visit of Mr. Marley to these shores. Little did I appreciate at the time that my presence among the skanking crowd of students would give me so much kudos with today’s ‘yoot’. ‘You saw Bob Marley???’ (Yes, but I never saw the Beatles…)
Toots sings soul classics and makes them his own!
I did, however, see Toots Hibbert, just a couple of years ago in Tulle – of all places on earth: the departmental seat of the Corrèze, but in all honesty a one-horse town with a declining population. Debs and I took our German friends, Achim and Martina, as a thank you for various acts of kindness – including a trailer-load of horseshit for the embryonic garden. They thought we were taking them to see the bluegrass band of our friend from South Carolinaah.
It turned out that they’d never even heard of Toots, the man who coined the word ‘reggae’, the king of Jamaican music at a time when Bob and his fellow Wailers were still covering American soul. But it didn’t stop them enjoying the diminutive leather-clad bundle of energy with the voice like Otis Redding as much as the rest of a very curious mixed crowd.
So the highlight of Reggae Week was the affectionate profile of Toots. A close second, though, was Rise Up Reggae Star, a documentary built around the ambitions of three very different would be stars: a shy girl from the country with a great voice, who – with infuriating inevitability – got pregnant and, after a session with Sly and Robbie, had to put her career on hold; a reformed rude boy from a Trenchtown yard, who found Jah and reinvented himself as the (rather good) Turbulence; and a most poisonous little spoilt poseur from Uptown Kingston, who called himself Ice Anastacia. I was delighted that his first public appearance with his fellow would-be ‘thugs’ was an unmitigated embarrassment. It wasn’t that he was booed off stage, but the silence was deafening.
While on the subject of ska (well, it’s only a little historical step backwards), I’ve been listening this week to a CD by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. There are a few crackers, but much of it is what I would classify as knees-up ska of the kind that Madness might have perpetrated. Great to listen to in a public place, but not necessarily in the privacy of my own living room. Retro ska will never be as rough and ready as the original variety. To hit my play button, it needs to be mellow and languid like England’s own Jazz Jamaica or as demented as Ska Cubano’s mix of ska and salsa. Besides – and I’ve got nothing against the Japanese, who press the best vinyl jazz records in Christendom – there’s something about ska from the Land of the Rising Sun that’s… well, it’s just not quite right. (‘Like wallin’ up kayatz: people jess don’t do that kinda thang these days’ – and anyone who’s ever seen John Huston’s minor masterpiece, Wise Blood, will know exactly what I mean.)
Reggae Week I think is now officially over, so I’m going to burn these various programmes onto a disc and dig it out again if and when I’m lucky enough to reach 80 to see whether the music still moves my geriatric limbs. I suspect it still will. Sly Dunbar wears glasses now, but he still drums some of the most alluring riddims known to I and I.
‘Jah, Rasta-fari!!!’

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Customary Ambivalence

I’ve been away for a few days, oop north in the U.K. – which explains the absence of a weekend post, for which, gentle followers, I crave your pardon.
I’ve come back, pursued across the Channel by grey skies and gripped by the ambivalence that gets me every time I leave these shores. Even in four days, you see enough to underline the best and the worst of what your English brethren have to offer.
The stylish old airport doesn't need a strapline
I flew from Limoges to Liverpool: John Lennon airport. ‘Above us only sky,’ its ridiculous strapline boasts for the sake of… what exactly? In the old days it was plain old unpretentious Liverpool Speke. You can’t imagine it proclaiming something like, ‘Welcoming back the Beatles since 1962’. Anyway, unaccustomed as I now am to public servants and the like putting themselves out to be friendly and helpful, I was immediately struck by the bonhomie of uniformed officials at the airport, on the bus and at the railway station. ‘Oh, it’s good to be home,’ I thought.
On Sunday morning, I arrived at Sheffield station too early for the sliding doors to separate and admit me to the forecourt. So I had to wait outside with a gaggle of legless football supporters. Judging by the state of them, they had stayed on after the match for a night on the town. No doubt bottles and even bus shelters had been smashed during the course of their carousal, but they were now so incapacitated that I didn’t feel threatened. Rather, wrapped up warm against the cold, I marvelled to watch them trying to place one foot in front of another, as if auditioning for a zombie film, dressed only in trainers, jeans and T-shirts.
The train took me across the Peak District and some of the most stunning scenery in England – rendered yet more sublime by the ominous rain clouds that were probably heading like me for Manchester. I had to change trains at Manchester Piccadilly, which has never been one of my favourite spots. An hour-long wait meant forking out 30p for the public toilet. While dutifully washing my hands, two beastly oiks burst in, mouthing a mantra of ‘shut yer fookin’ mouth’. I wasn’t sure whether they were addressing each other or the hapless attendant by the turnstile. I didn’t hang around to find out.
The incident triggered a kind of flow chart in my mind’s eye, which directed me to the classrooms they’ve disrupted and the teachers they’ve brought to their knees and then on to the loveless squalid homes where the cycle of abuse and violence is perpetuated. It’s not encouraging to hear that Mr. Cameron’s vision of a Big Society involves cutting funding to all those valiant groups and organisations that try to tackle the problem.
So it was good to get back to Limoges. Good to get back home. Everyone knows that the French are some of the least popular people on the planet, but at least you know what to expect from them. (Exasperation.) You may not get the highs from them, but you don’t tend to get such lows. There is a kind of median social decorum that governs society here, which means that it’s very rare to witness the kind of nasty, menacing behaviour you see depressingly often in the U.K.
The rigid education system here does at least instil in pupils from an early age a sense of social responsibility. The Daughter is looking forward to breaking out of it in 18 months time. This morning, I drove her to Brive, so she could sit her mock-Bac French exam. A four-hour ordeal involving two in-depth analyses of literary texts. In my day, you knew where you were with an exam: it was a test of memory and a validation of the hours of revision you were prepared to put in. Since I was a swot with a particularly retentive memory, I was extremely exam-adept.
So I did the paternal thing and passed on the benefit of my great wisdom and wealth of experience in the car. We got onto the subject of structuring an essay and I explained the basic scheme of introduction, main body and conclusion, which has served me well for so long. That wouldn’t do, The Daughter explained. She proceeded to elaborate on an incredibly complex scheme involving all kinds of arcane rules from Socrates’ School of Rhetoric. Surely, I proposed, that was just a suggested outline. ‘No dad, this is France. You have to stick to it to the letter, or you get marked down.’
No wonder she’s looking forward to going to a Scottish art school or a university that will have her – and pay her fees. I tried to impress upon her that fear of doing the wrong thing shouldn’t hamper her self-expression, that teachers are more interested in her ideas than a simple regurgitation of their own. She wasn’t convinced.
Watching her heading off to face her fate in the examination room, I wondered whether the sense of liberation she might find back home will be adequate compensation for her inevitable discovery of sordid reality 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Culture Vultures

The daughter is in Venice this week with her History of Arts class. She phoned home on Tuesday in a state of feverish excitement to tell us not about the beauty of Venice, but about the hotel room she’s sharing with four of her friends. It’s right in the middle of Venice and it’s ‘like a palace’: the floors are made of marble and there’s a Jacuzzi in the bathroom.
Lucky girl. Even if a trip to Venice had been on the agenda, my parents would never have let me go. It would have involved air travel and my mother is Madame Paranoia herself. She once instructed me not to put a suitcase down on the tiled floor of their corridor in case it cracked it (the tile, not the suitcase). Pointing out that my body weighed more than the suitcase and that the weight was less well distributed failed to make an impression.
No, the only school trip I got to go on was a trip to the Ulster Folk Museum when I was a pupil at Downey House Primary School. It was quite interesting and reasonable fun, but I don’t think it really compares to a cultural trip to Venice.
Anyway, I hope the daughter will get over the Jacuzzi and open her eyes to the extraordinary charms of Venice out of season. The fact is, her year will be the last to undertake any cultural trips like this. Her school has a reputation for its arts options, but theatre and the history of arts are to be cut. Presumably her teachers will lose their jobs. Pupils may still be allowed to choose a cinema option, because the cinema is a modern art form and it still brings France international kudos.
Our diminutive president, you see, Monsieur Snarkozy, is the very model of a modern politician – which means that he will make funds available for maths and other scientific subjects, but will starve the arts into submission. Because what possible use are the arts in the cutthroat world of economic competition? Everyone knows that artists, playwrights and the like are left-leaning non-conformists, given to criticising the government of the day. So ‘ptui! I speet upon education and culture and grind them eento the trottoir with the elevated heel of my leedel pointed shoe.’
It seems the message is sinking in, though. Tilley is already in the minority, because she chose to do a literary baccalaureate. Parents ask why. Why didn’t we persuade her to do something sensible and useful? Well, like her parents, she is no earthly use at any subject that is vaguely scientific and she has this strange yearning to want to create something of artistic value.
In times of economic crises, the arts are easy targets. If anyone’s daft enough to follow a creative calling, they’ll do it whether or not there’s funding in place to help them do it. So if they starve in their garret as a result, tant pis. (Or ‘so much piss’ as I used to like to think it meant when I was a truculent teenager.)
Such philistinism seems particularly shocking in a country like France. After all, doesn’t its 19th and 20th century artistic legacy still count for rather more than its nuclear power stations and its (admittedly impressive) TGV network? If the country attracts more tourists than any other, then people come, don’t they, mainly for reasons of heritage and culture (if you grant that eating and drinking are cultural activities in this country)?
Philistinism is just another facet of the police state, which France – like so many countries in the 21st century – is rapidly turning into. My wife phoned me the other morning from Brive. She was still shaking after a dressing down from a gendarme for going through an amber light. On one hand, you might say that it’s healthy to fear and respect the law. On the other hand, however, my wife is so law-abiding that she once went back into a supermarket – as a student, mark you – when she realised she had been given too much change.
House with shutter lowered to keep out gendarmes
You don’t get much change out of a French policeman. In Britain, I think, you can still reason with a custodian of the law. There’s a sense that there’s a human being under all that uniform. Here they’re like guards of the Kremlin: menacing and worryingly pea-brained.
The gendarmes have been known to go into schools to flush out illegal immigrants (particularly those of a darker hue). I wouldn’t put it past them to burst into my daughter’s school if they hear that culture is being taught behind closed doors.
Excuse me while I lower our security shutters.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Stop the Week 12

Wednesday morning is the time when I hit town. Once a week, I give my eyes the morning off and leave my nice comfortable home. I take my daughter to school in Brive, do the week’s shopping, then find a parking spot and saunter till midday, when it’s time to pick her up and bring her back home.
‘Sauntering’ often involves a visit to the remarkable music library, where I try to spend as much time as possible to recoup some of the horrendous local taxes we pay for my wife’s clinic. This Wednesday, though, I treated myself to one final visit (honest) to the multi-media shop for a last rootle through the sale bin. 
I figured it this way: I could either spend €1,70 on a miniature cup of coffee in the old-world comfort of Café Bogota, which would taste good and give me the brief sensation of being perfectly at one with the world, or I could spend a solitary euro on yet another CD that might afford me everlasting pleasure.
No contest. I’m utterly incorrigible. I’d clocked a disc the week before, which – in a gesture of supreme self-discipline – I’d put back, because I’d already gathered ten and was reluctant to spend more than ten euros of my wife’s very hard-earned money on something frivolous for me.
It was still there, which meant that no one had had the curiosity to part with a euro to find out whether it was as good as it looked. How come? You surely couldn’t lose at that price. It’s called Yellow Daffodils; it’s by a beautiful leggy black woman from Malawi called Malia, who looks like she would sing about interesting subjects rather than rant about bitches and motherfakirs; there’s a song by Duke Ellington, a song endearingly called ‘Purple Shoes’ and a guest appearance by the Swiss jazz trumpeter, Erik Truffaz.
And it proved every bit as good as I had hoped. One of those albums, in fact, where you can tell within the first few bars that you’re in for something special. What’s more, the wife and daughter like it as much as I do, so I plundered the family coffers to bring joy to the family.
Earlier this week, we watched a classic western by Anthony Mann that I’d somehow managed to miss all my life. The Naked Spur, with James Stewart, that splendid villain, Robert Ryan, and Jamie Lee Curtis’s mum, Janet Leigh. It’s a classic clichéd tale (of a man on a mission to catch a baddie and bring him back to stand trial) made remarkable by stunning cinematography, three-dimensional characters and suitably good acting.
You take Jimmy Stewart so much for granted that you forget what a compelling actor he was. Seemingly without even trying, he could do equally well the sappy hero of all those Frank Capra films, the muddle-headed nincompoop of Harvey and, in this case, the irascible, tortured man-with-a-past. Unsurprisingly, long before the end, Janet Leigh was starting to soften him up, good and proper.
We also started re-watching John Byrne’s brilliant Tutti Frutti. Last time we tried, the Glaswegian dialect proved too much for our Tilley. However, since she wants to go to art school in Scotland, we suggested that it would be as well to attune herself to the vagaries of the accent. Tutti Frutti more or less gave the world Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson and Richard Wilson, not to mention Maurice Roëves as the band’s pompous guitarist, Vincent Diver, or “VD”, as engraved on the cigarette lighter given to him by his pubescent looking girlfriend. The dialogue is scintillating and very funny and it seems criminal that the only award it ever won was for John Byrne’s credits.
Now as one week segues into another, I’m preparing myself for the marathon of the Superbowl on Sunday night/Monday morning. A very kind man from Madison, Wisconsin – a lifelong fan of the Green Bay Packers, who owns a holiday home near here – sent me a souvenir magazine, which I’m busy devouring in preparation for what Americans like to think of as ‘the greatest show on earth’. If the Packers win, I shall be in a very good humour all week. If they lose, I’ll try not to be grumpy for more than 24 hours.
Aaron Rodgers and the boys know what they have to do.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lingua Franca: Return of the Daughter

I was reading about Bebo Valdés, the great Cuban pianist, who has spent half of his long life in Sweden – of all incongruous places to lodge a legend of Cuban music – and how he peppers his (very good) English with bits of Spanish and Swedish, and what a challenger it was for his biographer sometimes to make out his meaning.
Bebo Valdes - the oldest swinger in town
Not long after arriving in France, we got to know a fascinating couple with two small children. He was Mexican: a woodworker, who specialised in hard-back chairs and chopping boards such as the lute-shaped board on which we still cut our bread. She was a ceramist from Austria. Their children were given the kinds of names usually reserved for the offspring of rock stars or actors.
After a few years, they sold their beautiful home – which they turned into a kind of nouveau Art Nouveau showpiece – and sold their possessions in a yard sale (including the Dual record deck on which I spin my vinyl) and bought a camper van in which they all took off for the Americas. They came to rest on Vancouver Island.
The point is that the two small children with the eccentric names spoke a bizarre combination of four languages: their father’s Spanish, their mother’s German, the English they spoke together and the French they were learning at nursery school. Imagine the linguistic scrambling and the mixed messages rioting inside their developing brains. It was no wonder we used to find them a trifle odd. Presumably now they speak three languages fluently and have lost all traces of French.
Our daughter only had to cope with two languages while she was growing up here. People used to ask us – still do to a lesser degree – what language we used in the privacy of our own home. Well it was a combination of ancient Babylonian and medieval German, of course. After 15 years here, I still struggle to express my innermost feelings in a language that refuses to come naturally. So in our early ‘farmhouse years’ (as they’ve become known) it was even less likely that I would use an adopted language for heartfelt conversations with my wife and daughter. 
Maybe they were worried that Tilley wouldn’t learn unless we demonstrated a stilted and incorrect form of French. They shouldn’t have worried. When she went to école maternelle for the first time – when just over two and pronounced propre or clean as in out-of-nappies – she apparently sat wide-eyed, absorbing everything like a sponge, but saying nothing until the great day came when she blurted out, with great pride, her first words of French. Rather like Thomas Carlyle, perhaps, whose first and somewhat tardy words, on hearing his baby brother crying, were reputedly, ‘What ails wee Jock?’
Her epiphany triggered a golden age of franglais, when she – and, by default, we – would mix our lingos with gay abandon. Tilley would talk about ‘grimping trees’, ‘ballaying the floor with a broom’, ‘pick-nicking au bord du lac with our chien’, ‘the sun brilling brightly’ and so forth. Whenever she played with bilingual expat friends it was ‘err, quite remarkable’ (in the timeless words of David Coleman) to watch them together. They might start off in English, before suddenly changing to French – as if some coded signal had passed among them – and then, 10 minutes later, segueing seamlessly back into English.
I guess it was a period of linguistic play and exploration. Now that Tilley is almost a fully-formed adult and has read books in English, watched countless episodes of Friends and acquired a considerable English vocabulary, it happens much less. I still frequently use French bricolage (D.I.Y.) terms – should I ever find myself discussing such a manly topic with male friends – mainly because I have cause to use them more often than their English equivalents (which I sometimes find myself forgetting). But franglais is no longer quite so rampant in the household.
Interestingly, now that things have settled down somewhat, our daughter seems to have two distinct personalities according to whichever language she is speaking at the time. Although she speaks French like a native, the timbre of her voice is higher and she seems stiffer and less comfortable than she does when speaking English. In her maternal language, she seems more relaxed, more natural and, not surprisingly I suppose, more her own self.
To use a very apposite French phrase, elle est bien dans sa peau. In English 'she is comfortable in her skin'.