In France few charity shops exist unlike the proliferation of charity shops in the UK, which adorn every high street and have become an important common denominator in the commercial sector. Here most people hang out for the vide-greniers and brocantes; regularly held markets selling second hand junk. However, in the winter, due to the open-nature of these gatherings, there are few to be found.
Fortunately, for junk addicts like myself, the homeless charity Emmaus provides much needed jumble riffling during the long winter. Open just once a week, Emmaus provides a haven of dirty bed linen, old handbags and chipped teacups for the junkies to trawl through in the hopes of finding hidden treasure.
On a recent visit through a rather large expanse of night clothes including several saucy vintage French numbers bought and shown here…
Bibbed up, the children take to the canteen, walking in a crocodile across the road. And today will partake of starter; Oeuf dur en vinaigrette….then, Saute de porc with julienne de legumes, followed by a piece of Comte and finally a slice of Tarte Normande.
All for the delectable price of E1.50 per child. Pretty sweet non?
The twins complain about the length of time spent in the canteen, it seems that, like their elders, the French children take their time and linger over their lunch savouring each mouthful. In stark comparison to their Anglo cousins across the water who will more than likely wolf down their ham sarnies and packet of cheese and onion crisps within ten minutes, maybe less.
Having traded off a spot in the commuter-belt of Kent to transport our offspring somewhere less pressured and 4×4-choked up, we aimed South with high hopes and innocent dreams etched on our minds.
We landed in France and promptly found two places at the local l’ecole Maternelle for our twins – Rosebud and Fealte….In late August we danced the dance of the smug expat wallowing in late evening sunshine and cheap vin rouge, the frogs croaked and the hazelnut trees bloomed with noisettes. We thought we were ahead of the game.
The day of reckoning arrived.
We left the children in their tiny rural school and abandoned them to their French fate. As we drove away guilt poured down on us like grey January rain.
Those bugs, they struggled. They struggled a lot, French school is old school it turns out, just as we wanted, but tougher. The farm-kids out here are independent and are left to their own devices far more than our swaddled infants. The school day is long and many children as young as three catch the bus to school; enduring an 8.5hr day.
But we pressed on, for their sakes, or was it ours? I cannot remember now, but surely speaking French will help them get along.
Full of freaks, misfits and oddbods; the French France of expats and longjohns is the current one we imbibe. Having left the middle classes of Blighty, in the hopes of hanging out with the cultured bohemians we assumed embraced the rural beauty of deepest frogsville, we have been sorely disappointed. And have actually met very few sane English-speaking folks inhabiting this countryside. A beautiful, bountiful countryside full of fresh walnuts, hazelnuts, damsons, pears, apples, fat juicy quinces and old horse boxes.
The children are on the front line everyday, in the local village school hanging out with the farmers children of roundabouts and the other English offspring subjected to incredible four-course lunches and long days learning frere jacques.
It’s not right and it’s certainly not bouncing our balls. But for many it does and for those who want it enough; baguettes and cheap Bordeaux are widely available.