Here are the children, 17 and 13, preparing for their now annual stay in France with a colleague of their father’s and her family.
This annual cultural exchange started a few years ago when my husband’s colleague asked if James would like to accompany them to her father’s house in Brittany during the summer holidays as company for their son. Then Antoine, three weeks older than James, would come and stay with us for a week or so to practise his English. At first I was dubious about sending my 14 year old off to stay with strangers, not even having his own room as an escape, and I felt like the worst person in the world when we dropped him off at their home just outside Paris on our return from our own French holiday. Actually, scratch that. I felt that John was the worst person in the world for bulldozing me into the idea that he had cooked up with his forceful French colleague. Still, James being affable James, the stay went well and we even have a video of highlights of him falling off a windsurfer every day for a whole week in the cold and the rain while he tried to get to grips with Antoine’s passionately-pursued hobby. (He has a subscription to WIND magazine. I kid you not.)
The boys get on well together and it turned out that Antoine is a musician too,so we booked him and his violin on the Dulwich Youth Orchestra course when he came to stay the following year. It was a baptism of fire for him, but I do hope he felt it improved his English. We speak only English to him when he is here, and in return the idea is that our children are immersed in a French-only environment. For the last two years, both of our children have stayed with Antoine’s family in Brittany and St Romain, a tiny hamlet in sun-baked Provence. These Parisians with parents en Province are really incredibly lucky to be able to send their offspring off to stay chez les grandparents for weeks on end during the long holidays. I do wonder what Antoine’s high-flying mother must think of my comparatively lax parenting, though: Antoine has taken to telling her in a fit of pique that he’ll come and stay with us in London as I allow him to take more than one Magnum from the freezer when he’s here.
So this year, our offspring board that Paris-bound Eurostar next week and, apart from the windsurfing and equestrian courses they are undertaking, (it seems that French children are not allowed to relax and dig holes on the beach) they’ve been asked to play a concert in a 5 star hotel in Brittany. I’d tell you which one if I knew but detail seems a sketchy concept for most 17 year olds to grasp. Delighted at a chance to show off their musical prowess, James and Eliza are spending their morning preparing a programme of music with their father. They’ll each play a Satie Gymnopedie on the piano, but otherwise they are putting together a set that includes Rachmaninov, Bizet and Mozart. If they’re feeling radical, they might add some English music: Country Garden and Greensleeves are options. All in all, it’s important that they represent English life at its best to the French who, in my experience, don’t often pass up an opportunity to sneer disdainfully at Les anglos.
Here is a pic of them playing through some duets while their dad supervises:
And poor Oscar, a spectacular musician in his own right, sulks here, having been banished to the kitchen for singing along so loudly that no-one else can hear their music:
In the meantime, these were my preparations for my children’s French séjour: