I have done it again. Having learnt nothing from the tiger mask incident, I have agreed to lead an activity at French playgroup without having any idea at all what I am going to do. All I do know is that it will ideally be connected to autumn but cannot involve sticking leaves onto tree pictures as we have already had a couple of variants on that theme.

Playgroup so far (two weeks, though it started the week before that when la famille Papa-Piaf was en vacances) has been generally positive. The children (especially Piaf) are all quite timid, at least at the beginning of the session – they have just had a whole summer away from each other and perhaps find an hour and a half of communal Frenchness quite emotionally exhausting. 

Then, of course, six weeks is a long time developmentally at this age; everyone is suddenly able to “do” a lot more than they could at their last meeting, and there have clearly been subtle shifts in the power structure as a result. And of course, at the beginning of these things the attendance will always be a bit in flux as the stragglers come back, new families try it out, and families who had tried it and weren’t sure it was for them get revitalised and try it again. Honestly, we could get a soap opera out of this if we could only decide what language to do it in. 

Which still leaves me with the question of what to prepare. My main two sources of ideas are this site in French and this site in English. They are both run by wonderful people who believe in you. They believe that you are a wonderfully skilled and nurturing parent. Crucially, they believe that you have the time and energy to make a pumpkin seed necklace with a small child “helping” you or that you can arouse genuine interest and excitement in the same small child with the prospect of making a book about grapes .

But I, as you will by now perhaps realise, am unworthy of this faith, because I am a coward. Academically, I am one of nature’s truth-seekers, but, when it comes to handicrafts, then, if it is hard, prone to failure, or even just lengthy (more than 30 minutes), I don’t want to know. Don’t take my word for it – ask my woodwork teacher. 

I think I may end up doing the leafy lion . Okay, I know I said at the beginning of this piece that I would avoid leaves – but “feuille” is one of Piaf’s best French words (i.e. she uses the French and does not appear to know the English yet – Papa: un, Maman: zéro). And, yes, I know I got my fingers burnt with the tiger mask – but, again, Piaf (and, I guess, pretty much every small child) likes big cats and especially likes roaring, so that’s another box ticked. And I’ve learnt my lesson. After all, I’m not likely to leave it till the last minute and then stay up till 3 a.m. drawing outlines of a lion’s face and washing dog’s piss off leaves, am I? 

Am I? 

Like this? Try these.

Je rugis, tu rugis, elle rugit … 

Je m’intègre, tu t’ intègres, elle s’ intègre … 

Je me lève, tu te lèves, elle se lève …


I don’t understand people who don’t like music. It doesn’t much matter what type of music. On the Venn diagram of musical taste, my circle overlaps but slightly with that of Piaf’s maman, and that’s fine. But we’d never have got together if there had been only an empty space where that circle should be. 

It is a given, therefore, that Piaf will grow up surrounded by music of all sorts. Of course, if I have my way, a lot of it will be in French; but a lot will be in English, too and some of it will have no words at all. 

A key difference between Piaf and me is that I learnt two languages while she is learning to live through two languages. She will gradually (I hope) become a person who can not only access two distinct musical canons but can think, speak about and feel either canon in either language. 

That’s ultimately down to us as parents, obviously – we need to foster that interest; we need to provide her with the vocabulary and structures that make self-expression possible; we need to expose her to the music we like and let her see we like it; we need to lead her into those discussions and let them develop into arguments where necessary; we need to foster passion in her. 

All well and good. But what does Piaf think? 

So. Early signs that my daughter is not averse to music.

There’s the sudden interest in the £10 blue electronic keyboard I optimistically got her in Argos last Xmas (blue ones cheaper than otherwise identical pink ones – go figure). Not only does she press the various buttons, she then appears to “groove” to the Xmas-themed demos. 

There’s the way she will pick up songs she hears and then demands to have them sung to her again and again (the long drive down to Dorset was much enlivened by singing the Alphabet Song in both languages when she prompted us by intoning “Ay Deee Deee Deee!”)

 There’s the way that encouraging her to clap along to early Motown distracts her from a tantrum in the car. On Sunday, it was Smokey Robinson’s Mickey’s Monkey. (It’s disloyal, I know, but I cannot think of a single French disc from the Sixties, by anyone, that comes close to the Miracles.) 

There’s the way that, even in my “distinctive” voice, a song sung low gets her cuddling in close at bedtime.

Is any of this unique or even unusual? Probably not. How would I know? I’m just glad it appears to be there. A child who didn’t enjoy music and dancing, even if it’s only in private? I’d sooner father a monolingual.  

Like this? Try these.

Je danse, tu danses, elle danse … 

Je grimace, tu grimaces, elle grimace …

Je me demande, tu te demandes, elle se demande …

I mentioned at the weekend that I’d bought a couple of novels in Blackwells. Acide Sulfurique is one of them and, having finished it at lunchtime today, I can confirm that I quite liked it – I won’t spoil it for you, but if you are interested in Holocaust literature (think Primo Levi rather than Elie Wiesel) or find Big Brother a bit odd, you might quite like it too.

For those of you whose French is a bit too rusty to contemplate reading a short novel, it’s been translated into English too – it’s called (unsurprisingly) Sulphuric Acid and is also available from the Amazon gang.

If you do read it, I’d be interested to know what you think.