Je rugis, tu rugis, elle rugit …

August 11, 2009

We have a tiger mask in the toy box. It is not a very good tiger mask. In fact, it is home made from a paper plate. And I made it.

It is actually undergoing a bit of a renaissance at the moment – Piaf is learning her animal noises (in English and in French) and, in answer to the question, “que dit un tigre?” she responds “raagh!” and does a very camp pouncing gesture with her hands. Use of the mask at this juncture just makes it even more comically sweet.

The mask was made because, when we had been attending the playgroup in Crystal Palace for a while, one of the organisers fell pregnant and they needed more parents to help out with organising. By now we were regulars – but, even so, I was surprised that they would let a non-native like me lead an activity. Surprised and, to be honest, a bit scared. What would these real French people think of an Englishman telling them and their children what to do, in French, and perhaps unwittingly polluting the purity of their children’s language in the process?

First things first – I had to find an activity appropriate to the time we had (20 minutes tops) and the age of the kids (no one over three.) I am no expert on handicrafts but, after a fair bit of internet- (and soul-) searching, I settled on this tiger mask . The time constraints mentioned above meant that I would have to do a fair bit of preparation at home beforehand. At 11 o’clock on the Friday night, I set out to paint twelve large paper plates orange and cut out noses and ears to match.

I don’t know what your experience of painting paper plates is but, if you’re a novice, then here’s a tip – it takes more than one coat. I finally fell into bed at about 2am, hoping that the third coat would dry in time and not leave a streaky finish. 

The masks were a great success, as it turned out, and I didn’t fluff a single instruction, but I already had weightier matters on my mind. In the email correspondence around the masks, it had been suggested I might like to bring along and read an animal-themed storybook.

 Well, telling the French what to do is one thing, but reading to them in their own language? If I made a mistake here, I’d be lynched in the park. Nor did I really have any animal books (apart from my bilingual edition of Rod Campbell’s marvellous Dear Zoo, bought in Grant & Cutler when Piaf was weeks old). I decided to stretch a point, took along Piaf’s favourite, Vive Le Roi Pépin and hoped for the best.

Maybe they were an easy audience; maybe I was in my element reading a book I could almost recite after so many readings and had customised accordingly; maybe everyone was in a good mood; maybe, just maybe – though I remain to be convinced – I’m doing a good job raising Piaf bilingual and did a good job on the day too. Suffice it to say that, when Pépin took on the sea monster, a few other parents started joining in …

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