Monday, 26 May 2008
There I am worrying about La Fille learning English when clearly I need to brush up on my French and in particular phrases such as: "What? Call that a Mother's Day present?" I don't wish to sound ungrateful, but in honour of my having produced La Fille just over three years ago - admittedly with the Frenchman's help - I was given...groceries. Yes, bread and butter and cornflakes and camembert and kitchen scourer and toilet rolls from Monoprix, the French equivalent of Tesco. It did include a small bottle of face oil - my official present - which cost somewhere around five euros (£3), but even so the weekly shop has to rank on the marital harmony scale alongside buying your wife a frying pan or a red basque and suspenders for Christmas.
I have myself to blame. When the Frenchman asked me what I wanted, I was preoccupied with booking holidays and Eurostar tickets and sorting out boring tasks like tax returns and unpaid bills, so I said "Oh t'inquiete pas" (don't worry) meaning, as women do when they utter those words in French, English or Martian Swahili: "Do absolutely worry and use your imagination". So Sunday morning comes and the Frenchman drags himself out of bed to fetch La Fille's milk and she sets off behind him. (I should add the Frenchman thinks he deserves a medal for getting her morning milk when what he actually does is deliver the warmed milk, get back into bed and go back to sleep leaving me to get up and make La Fille's breakfast.) There is a closed door between us but I can clearly hear urgent whispers from behind it. Then silence. Then a crash as La Fille flings open the door and it slams into the wall. "Bonne fete, Mama", she says in a sing-song voice, jabbing me with a card and waving the small bottle of face oil that now has the purple ribbon from an old chocolate box wound tightly around it, under my nose. I recognise the ribbon my husband has used. It has been hanging around in the kitchen for months. I hug La Fille and say "Thank you, it's lovely." She looks at the small bottle and looks at me. I can tell she thinks it's a naff present because for one thing, she doesn't ask if she can open it. "It's not really your birthday is it Mama?" she asks.
I say nothing to the Frenchman and he goes back to sleep. Later he peppers the day with excuses: "Well I didn't get you flowers because you're going to London"; "Well, I didn't get you chocolates because you're on a diet", "Well, I didn't know what you wanted and you didn't say." Still I say nothing. When one of his oldest friends, who was best man at our wedding, arrives from the south of France for dinner, the Frenchman admits to him his Mothers' Day offering might have fallen somewhat short of expectations. He points out that his Father's Day present - bought by La Belle Belle-Fille and me on behalf of La Fille - was a mini music centre. His friend says he bought his wife, on behalf of their two teenage boys, a decorative glass cage in which she can keep stick insects. Now that's imagination.
Later, after La Fille has gone to bed and the Frenchman and his friend have hacked their way into a wax-topped bottle of vieille prune, which at 40% alcohol could fuel a space mission, he is more daring and defiant. He says: "Well after what the doctors said five years ago about you never having children who'd have thought we'd be celebrating Mothers' Day?" It is late and I decide it's probably best not to say anything. I rub some of the oil on my face. It's the thought that counts.