‘Do you know what I hate? When someone’s left oranges in a car. It’s a really distinctive smell. I can’t stand it.’
This was the woman with glasses, She’d been quiet at first but was now on her second glass of red.
‘I’ve never really noticed, to be honest.’
This was the other woman, the one with the mole on her cheek. On arrival in Le Gambetta, she’d asked Damien the serveur if they sold Babycham. When he looked puzzled, she’d repeated the question
‘Do. You. Sell. Babycham?’
She’d sighed theatrically and asked for an Orangina.
They had arrived with their husbands, who, for some reason I hadn’t caught, had temporarily gone elsewhere. Just before leaving, the mole’s husband had been describing how drinking vinegar made one’s nipples erect and somehow this had led to the remark about oranges. I couldn’t see the connection, between the vinegar and the oranges, that is, not between the vinegar and the nipples. Although I didn’t see that either.
Apparently they all live in Montmorillon, about 30 kilometres away, and had come to Poitiers for the day. I’d read recently there were quite a few Brits living there. I made a mental note to visit the place soon. In the meantime I would go home and ask Madame S if she would take part in a little experiment in physiology.
The River Clain is dangerously high at present and the nearby riverside park at Îlot Tison has been closed as a precaution. All this on top of the coronavirus. A plague and floods; positively biblical. One of the plagues was frogs, but best not to mention that in these parts.
My current concerns are more New Testament than Old, i.e. speaking in tongues … or rather failing to do so. Our French intermediate exam is less than three weeks away, and I am woefully unready. Madame, of course, is a little Scottish Edith Piaf, chirruping away happily to all and sundry in the Café des Arts while I stare moodily at my phone trying to memorise my irregular verbs. It’s all right for her; editing all day means that she has no time to agonise about the exam and the limited time left to get some proper revision done. Most days, once I’ve read the papers, done the crosswords and watched the afternoon cop shows (Meurtres à l’anglaise this week, which is French for Inspector Lynley), I’m lucky if I can get an hour in before we head out for our apéro.
I have done a lot of the necessary background work. I wear my beret when we are out and always carry a copy of Libération or Le Monde. My repertoire of Gallic shrugs and grimaces is impressive, and I can ‘bof!’ and ‘zut!’ with the best of them. I am good at reading the expression of an interlocutor and can usually insert an appropriate word when required. My carefully delivered ‘on verra’s (‘we’ll see’) and ‘peut-être’s (‘perhaps’) have given me the reputation of being a wise, reflective sort of chap. For a while I got a bit over-confident, randomly lobbing in the occasional ‘oui’ and ‘non’ when asked a question I don’t understand. I stopped this when one of Madame’s friends told her how strange it was that I loved scuba-diving but couldn’t swim.
I fear that none of the above will help me under exam conditions. So I’m now faced with three solid weeks of cramming. I spend my days with my coursebook and CDs, listening while ‘Clémence tells us about her pet peeves when going to the cinema’,reading ‘Claude describes what his dream house would be like’ and then settling down to ‘write 250 words about visiting a shop to exchange a scarf’. It wasn’t meant to be like this.
Watching the rugby yesterday, I spent a moment working out my allegiances. I naturally support Ireland in any game they play in, and after that, in deference to Madame, I cheer on Scotland. If neither of these is playing, I root for our adopted ‘home’ side, the French. It’s a close call as to the order of the next two, but I think those fellow Celts, the Welsh, marginally win out over the plucky little underdogs Italy. I think that covers everyone.