We have found a place for La Fille at the Halte Garderie, a sort of drop-in nursery, in Paris. The way it works: she can go for up to four hours in the morning or up to four hours in the afternoon up to five times a week. Each four-hour slot costs the princely sum of 10,28 euros (£7.15). The place is run by an exceptionally friendly woman and is remarkably flexible. They do not mind her dropping out for a fortnight at a time, and will not even charge us for missed days, if I give them 24-hours notice. Frankly, it is the least I can do. I was keen that, having taken her out of the full-time crèche, she should still have a chance to play with children her own age and this is perfect.
State child-care facilities in France are really very good. The crèche, run by the local Mairie or town hall, cost us 23,75 euros a day (£16.51). It is less for children from large families or parents on low incomes. It, like other state-run crèches, took infants from birth and was from 8am until 6.30pm. Lunch, an afternoon snack and nappies were included. The charges were tax deductible.
Given this, it is hardly surprising that every new French mother’s dream is a place in a crèche. Each adopts her own tactics for persuading the civil servant that heads the Mairie’s committee for allocating places, that her life depends on getting one. Some cry, some ring every day to cry, some picket the offices crying. Mothers who had places advised me the key was persistence and being a pain in the rear. So I rang almost every week for several months and made appointments at which I wailed about having no friends or family in Paris to look after my poor child and would lose my job if she did not go to the crèche (the sad thing was it was almost all true). I delivered this sob-story in increasingly hysterical pidgin French, punctuated with regular sniffs into a damp tissue. After several repeat performances at the Mairie, La Fille was offered a place. There was no explanation of how or why I had succeeded while other parents, whose performance skills were probably equally good and who were probably equally deserving, had not. I did not push my luck by asking.
In London, most state-run nurseries I have found will not take children before they are three years old. Private nurseries I contacted charge between £50 and £60 a day. How can ordinary (ie not wealthy) parents afford this? At that rate full-time nursery care for someone working 222 days a year (252 working days minus 30 days of holiday) comes to around £13,000. One French friend, considering moving to London, refused to believe me until I slapped the glossy brochure for one private nursery under her nose. “What the hell are giving them for that money?”, she wanted to know. “Caviar and silk nappies?”
In Paris, although demand far outstrips supply – only around 25,000 crèche places for an estimated 72,000 under-3s – the capital boasts more than 320 public crèches offering good, safe and affordable child care. The Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe has promised to build more each year and, while it is not happening fast enough for everyone, he is keeping that promise. This is the state behaving like Nanny, but in a positive way.
The move to France was only supposed to be for a couple of years, not forever. Then I met The Frenchman. Then I had La Fille. Now there's no way back. But La Fille, to whom a horse is a cheval and a frog is just pond life is still half English. So before the Gallic nation claims her for its own, sprinkles her with garlic, sautés her and swallows her up whole we make regular escapes on the Eurostar. And we have discovered the grass is various shades of green either side of the Channel.