Once upon a time I blogged about TV5 and how it played a part in our bilingual weekends (saturday morning is a very “French” time in our household, because it is maman’s lie-in.) We don’t watch it half as much now, because the children’s programmes are currently a bit rubbish – not only less suitable for children of Piaf’s age, but also a bit try-hard, very Americanised or Japanesised (what a fantastic new word – use it today, I dare you.)

Back in the day, this is what we used to wake up to. Pacha et les Chats – the best thing to come out of French Canada since Rumeurs . Good times.


Okay, it’s not quite Christmas, but Advent is here.  At least, that’s my excuse for breaking out these two Christmas crackers. 

Claude François, c’est notre cadeau de Noël.” Tout juste, Auguste …

A whole year later, in 1978, and he’s at it again. Surely that’s the same jumper?

I do not really believe in fate. 

Nevertheless, in future, I intend to steer clear of provocative questions such as, “what’s the worst that can happen?”

The weekend, you see, was an absolute nightmare. The big things fell into place – we caught the train with no problem, for example – but, as regards the medium and small things, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. 

Piaf was constantly demanding, sulky and prone to tantrums. Shopping was no fun. It was like my worst day ever of looking after her, multiplied by three, back to back, with no respite or support.

Oh yes. And we got locked out of our room on the first night and had to insist that the emergency locksmith be called out because all of Piaf’s stuff was in there. 

This is the shambles of an apartment-hotel we stayed in. I strongly recommend you never use them. True, the woman on duty was fantastic. But her initial response – and this was clearly policy – was to give us a different room and say that it would be sorted in the morning. For me on my own, that might have been acceptable if they threw in a discount. With a small, hungry, tired, nappy-rashed little girl, it was a non-starter. 

The best bit was to come the next morning, though. I had to drop the keys of the old (broken-locked) room at reception and let them know I was planning to stay in the (adequate-locked) replacement. “oh, yes,” the concierge said conversationally. “The locks are bad on that floor. They need replacing. Where are you now? On the ninth? Yes, that room’s a bit more spacious too, isn’t it?”

Now, if you are a hotelier or know a hotelier, I have a question for you. If you have two free rooms at the same tariff, and one of them has a dodgy lock and is smaller, why would you give that one to a paying customer instead of the bigger one with a working lock? 

Anyway, the whole trip was pretty much an ordeal, though there were some lovely moments – Lille has a fantastic zoo, for example, and a brilliant and busy children’s playground (which I found by asking strangers in the street if they knew of one – after all, why mention it in a guide book with a section called “Enfants”? Another shit purchase you would do well to avoid.

The trip was in some ways summed up by an event on the last day. Piaf was manageable largely because she is under the powerful spell exerted by ice cream. It is a miracle cure for all ailments and worries and we ate it each day, bonding over three scoops and two spoons. On the last day, I thought we might go to Meert, a “glacier” recommended by the same shit Petit Futé guidebook

Sure enough, the promise of ice cream lured her out of the playground, Pied Piper like. But now I had a promise to live up to, the ice cream parlour was quite a walk away, and time was actually looking quite tight if we weren’t to rush for the train. 

But when Papa promises, Papa delivers. We trekked to Meert. As soon as we went in, I saw it was far too posh for us – a bit like Oxford’s Randolph Hotel, if the Randolph let its staff have bad facial hair. 

Still, a promise is a promise. Beardy wisely seated us at a nice table at the back and gave us the menus. I read mine, Piaf threw hers on the floor. Time was really not on our side. 

Back came The Beard. I ordered a coffee. Where, I asked him, were the ice creams on the menu?

“Oh, we don’t sell ice cream. Not out of season.” 

“So, you are a glacier who does not sell glaces?” 

Apparently he was. 

We left, went just round the corner to somewhere very down to earth, got ice cream instantly and had more happy moments before going outside to watch a very organised gang of brass-playing buskers and then head for a packed Eurostar home. 

Did I enjoy our trip? No, not really. Would I do it again? Yes, although I don’t think I could actually organise it better than I did – I just think it was maybe a couple of months too early and that experience is the only thing that will make it easier next time.

Most pertinently, did it work? Did it have any effect on Piaf’s French?

In theory, it shouldn’t. Almost no one spoke to her except me; and, as her other main source of French was DVDs, it was not much different to being at home. 

And yet, all of a sudden, French words were appearing where previously there had been English words, and repetition was offered where previously there had been silence. I can only posit that, hearing me and everyone else speaking it non-stop, she started to believe that this was a real language rather than an elaborate game of her father’s, and to respect it accordingly. 

Monday morning saw us make a very fruitful first visit to Cadet Rousselle, but that can wait. I don’t want to over-excite you. 

In the mean time, here is the weekend treat I cruelly deprived you of.

It’s good to be back.

Ils sont vraiment, ils sont vraiment, ils sont vraiment phénoménaux lah-la-la-la-la-lah-lah, lah-la-la-la-la-lah! 

Feel my wrath, Sedan!

Before we get started, an update – I still have not collected any leaves for my lions. I will keep you informed through the week of how close this particular endeavour comes to failure and humiliation. (Ironically, I am currently studying for the PRINCE2 project management qualification to improve my job prospects – I hope it never comes out that I struggled to sort out a children’s collage activity.)

But onto grander projects altogether. 

Piaf seems to be going through something of an intellectual spurt. Of most immediate relevance is that she is beginning to acquire a word in each language for some things (though this is very much a minority and, of the concepts she has only one word for, the vast majority of those words are English ones.) Still, this is the beginning of what Saunders described as Stage 2 in linguistic development – and, having the double whammy of being first-time parents and parents of a bilingual, however many researchers tell you something will happen, you don’t quite believe it until you see it.

She is actually requesting vocabulary now, rather than waiting for it to be given. Sometimes it is expressed merely by a questioning glance, a pause; other times she will bluntly state, “dat,” and wait for the name to be supplied. Of course, whoever is being asked the question replies in his or her “own” language. Now that she is showing awareness that everything has (at least) two labels, the assumption must surely be that she will ask for the missing one when she’s ready. 

But beyond language – if anything is ever really “beyond” language – she is showing signs of increased intelligence too. She is more dextrous, more independent, more confident – she is starting to run as well as walk, she refuses to be helped with feeding (however much in her interests such help would be), she puts her own shoe on (the right one – the left still has her baffled.)

She is, all of a sudden, interested in the alphabet, in numbers, in colours. All of this has had its root at nursery, where she routinely mixes with older children. In the case of the alphabet, it transpires they have an electronic toy that sings the alphabet song (the one to the tune of Twinkle, twinkle, little star/Ah! vous dirai-je, maman?) and she relentlessly pounds the “play” button. (Those nursery staff really do earn their money. Imagine listening to that all day!) With numbers, she has heard the older children counting and has started copying them. Colours have probably come up in conversation and around play – a favourite expression at the moment is “blue-car!” 

It really is wonderful to see this happening. I can quite understand why apparently every parent goes through a phase, however brief, of thinking his or her child is a genius. After all, this sudden Renaissance-like bloom in learning is happening at a time while Piaf is still acquiring massive amounts of knowledge, day in, day out, of how life actually works, and also still developing physically. It must be a bit like starting a brand new job with no hand-over from the previous incumbent; learning that job, therefore, by trial and error, including the goal, strategies and conventions of that job; performing at 100% from the off, so that everything you do is at least adequate; still fitting in an hour at the gym every night when you leave; and doing it all in a country where, initially at least, you don’t speak the language. No wonder Piaf can sleep for 12 hours at a stretch!

In this context, speaking two languages instead of one, which a lot of people (including me sometimes) think is such a major achievement, such a big deal, probably doesn’t even make the top ten on her list of priorities. I think a lot of people forget that she isn’t learning a “foreign” language – she’s learning two foreign languages, and attempting to make them both native ones. 

But it also makes me wonder. You see, especially when we lived in Peckham, I was responsible for a lot of the picking up and dropping off at nursery, simply because I have a cuddly, flexible, “work-life balance” public sector employer, and maman doesn’t. So I would spend a lot of time pushing Piaf around in her buggy. It was soon impressed on me by Those That Know These Things that rule number one if you want your baby to be clever rather than slow (in babies, it seems, it is one or the other – no babies are “average) is talk, talk, talk. And I got the same advice from Those That Know These Things if you want your baby to be bilingual. 

What do you talk about with a non-verbal, comparatively immobile (if only because of the straps) baby in a pushchair? Well, what I talked about was either spotting things of a given colour (qu’est-ce que tu vois de … vert? [Silence] Oui – un arbre!”) and counting games (“comptons les piétons que nous doublons ou croisons.”) 

In other words, for months I’ve been giving her every possible encouragement and opportunity to respond to concepts of number and colour and she has shown no genuine interest, then at once she wants to know it all. 

So – did that earlier exploration provide anything beyond the inevitable (and pleasurable) bonding, or was it just noise and socialisation? And, if it did, why is her reaction so sudden rather than gradual?

Also, even now, it is hard to distinguish what she “knows” from what she echoes. It is clear, for example, that she knows there are several colours in the world. But, unless explicitly told otherwise, Piaf maintains that all cars are “blue-car!” Similarly, she can say the names of some numbers – but they are not in sequence. And then, how closely is the concept of numbering (“chiffres”) linked to the concept of number (“nombre”)? After all, counting to four is not the same as knowing that counting to two twice is just as good.

I don’t normally get this philosophical in this blog. Perhaps it’s the Pepsi talking. I certainly don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. But I am aware that, in the days before Piaf, I would probably not even have considered asking them. I am also aware that, if only I can stay patient, I will find out in good time.

Like this? Try these.

Je fais le bilan, tu fais le bilan, elle fait le bilan …

Je confesse, tu confesses, elle confesse …

Je suis, tu suis, elle suit …

Piaf’s tastes in DVDs have broadened since the days when it was Trotro or Trotro (itself an advance on the days when it was Bumba or blank shrieking incomprehension.)

One of her current favourites is the distinctly old-school Bonne nuit les petits. At the end of an episode, she exclaims anxiously, “encore!” as if she has never seen a DVD and doesn’t realise that, actually, the chances of there being more of the same are pretty high.

Her mother, however, is no fan at all. She finds it creepy to the point of wrongness.

Here is an episode on which someone very kind (who? certainly not me, rassurez-vous) has put English subtitles. Wholesome and carefree, or dark and evil?

You decide.

Just a quick one today – morning with Piaf (Maman’s turn to lie in) – including lots of abacus and slide fun – and now driving down to deepest, rurallest Kent to old friend’s (child-free) wedding.

Looking forward to wedding and seeing old friend. Not looking forward to Saturday without Piaf and partner.

I’ll miss them.

That’s all.

A demain.

Bon weekend.