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?

Bouche bée.

The French will claim to have invented all sorts of things if you let them. A Frenchman may or may not have invented the motor car. They lay claim to football and cricket (yes – cricket! is nothing sacred?) During a drunken conversation, a French student once went so far as to tell me that the French had invented bread. Surely that got a mention in the Bible, I ventured? Didn’t that suggest that the staff of life predated modern France? Or had a Frenchman written that too?

One thing that the French definitely were pretty much responsible for was the pop video. In the 1960s, when Hamburg, London and all points west were an unquenchable market for live bands, France fell in love with the Scopitone, a sort of video juke box found in cafes. At the same time as your record played, a film, normally of the artist “performing” or “interpreting” his or her hit, was shown on a small, built-in screen. 

Knowing and admiring your love of French popular culture, I have unearthed, on Youtube.fr, Sylive Vartan performing La Locomotion, the French version of Little Eva’s hit.

As this charming little “clip” makes clear, the French may have been world leaders in film-making and music video technology, but in the art of lip-synching they still had some way to go …

Like this? Try these. 

Je grimace, tu grimaces, elle grimace … 

Je présente, tu présentes, elle présente … 

J’écoute, tu écoutes, elle écoute …

Whether you want to laugh with Jamel or laugh at Cloclo (again) it’s all good.

Like this? Try these.

Je présente, tu présentes, elle présente … 

Je me moque de lui, tu te moques de lui, elle se moque de lui …

Je fredonne, tu fredonnes, elle fredonne …

For Papa and Piaf, Saturday morning is play time.

 For Piaf, of course, every morning is play time. That’s her job, that’s what she does. But for us as parents, weekday mornings are usually keep-her-safe-and-occupied-while-we-get-ready-for-work time. In spite of the impression I may have given yesterday , weekends in our house are low-key affairs. On Saturday and Sunday we take it in turns to lie in and the one who is not in bed has to make sure Piaf is sufficiently entertained that she will not unduly miss the parent who is.

 Saturday is my day.

 Keeping her entertained is all very well and not too hard after 18 months’ practice, but it is compounded by a moral obligation not to take the easy way out. After all, I sense she would happily watch back-to-back episodes of Trotro or Bumba, pausing only to say “gain” or “acor” when the DVD goes back to the start menu; but, sentimental fool that I am, I worry she will subconsciously feel this is unfair and reproach me for not interacting with her more (in fact, it is all I can do to get her attention for long enough to ask her to move more than six inches from the screen.)

 I also think that this is a golden opportunity for us to get several solid hours of Frenchness together (especially as we will often be going to French playgroup.)

 Here, then, is what I believe is called a negotiated agenda for this morning (all items to be confirmed according to mere whimsy and to whether I can turn the DVD off without promoting a tantrum.)

 6.30am – Wake up. Piaf is actually getting quite good at sleeping to a reasonable time during the week. It seems to go out of the window at weekends, especially on my mornings. Some days I like her less than others …

 6.31am – Milk. Nothing happens until the first milk feed of the day is provided.

 NOTHING.

 6.45am – Dressing. Key phrases – “Ouf! Elle est lourde, cette couche!” “Baisse tes jambes.” “S’il te plaît, baisse tes jambes.” “Baisse tes jambes, merde!” “Un bras, deux bras, abra-, cadabra!” And, after what seems an age, because it is, “Que tu es jolie!”

 7.00am – Pouring all the Duplo blocks over the floor.

 7.30am – When the Duplo is definitively finished with and Papa has put it all back in the box but not yet put the lid on, pouring all the Duplo blocks over the floor.

 7.40am – Pouring all the wooden blocks over the floor.

 8.00am – Reading and dancing. Piaf genuinely likes reading and playing with books in both languages. Once very fickle, often changing books or even wandering off part-way through a story, she is currently at the other extreme and will demand the same story again the second it is finished. Latest coup de cœurQuand la forêt s’endort (she likes doing her owl impersonation which is very cute indeed.) In the background a DVD, asked for and then forgotten, may well be playing though, for the reasons above, I try not to do this at the weekend. If not, some execrable pop as previously confessed to will be playing – I am trying to teach her to twist but she is just not willing to put the work in.

 8.20am (and earlier, and later) – Pushing doll around in £5 toy buggy from Argos and saying “baby”. Fairly self-explanatory. Spin-offs include covering said doll with makeshift blankets.

 9.00am – Breakfast. Piaf likes cereals but she is very stubborn at the moment about feeding herself and does not really have the competence to do so with cereals. We will probably go to the café, therefore, where she can sit in a highchair, eat croissants and pannetone and ogle other babies. Might do some more reading, too, if the mood takes us.

 10.30am – Charity shops and library. The public library is excellent near us, and has plenty of space for children to run around without bothering anyone except their parents. There are bean bags to lie on, toys to play with, books to pull of the shelf while saying “book!” over and over … Piaf loves it. However, within ten minutes of arriving she will probably unleash a large and foul-smelling poo and we will have to cut short our visit so we can go home and change her. (Of course, 15 minutes earlier and I could have changed her in the café, but why plan ahead?)

 When we get home, maman is up, as well rested as a working parent can be and overjoyed to see her beautiful (if far from fragrant) little girl. Once changed (see 6.45am – Dressing above, adding the phrase, “ça schlingue!” as appropriate) she will want to go to slide and the day en famille begins in earnest.

 Reading back over that, I can see that, to the untrained eye, I might appear not to be entirely serious in places.

Honestly. You’d think I enjoyed it …

I’ve hinted before how important music is in my relationship with Piaf and in our household in general. In fact, a big – I won’t call it a worry, but before I started putting The Plan into action it was definitely a negative – was that, by only speaking French to my daughter, I wouldn’t be able to share my love of soul music with her (although Johnny did do a very famous French cover of Stevie Wonder’s Uptight and Cloclo even went to the Motown studios to record C’est La Même Chanson).

I worry less about that now – one day at a time, as we say at the aforementioned after-school club – but it’s fair to say that music is my knee-jerk answer to everything. Need to get Piaf to sleep? Sing to her. Need to distract her when she’s crying without good reason? Put a CD on 

Everything we listen to is in French and it has to be unthreatening and generally pleasing to under-two ears. That’s my excuse. 

Here’s a sort of Top Twenty of songs she appears not to object to. To maximise my meagre chances of a positive reception, I have limited it to one song per artist and put them in alphabetical order so you can make up your own mind about which one is least bad. However, I have to say that to describe my taste in French pop as “catholic but poor” would be harsh but fair – it was shaped by lonely, lazy afternoons in Normandy listening to Nostalgie (“just the music and me,” as the jingle has it.)

Vous voilà prévenus.

  1. Les Ailes D’Un Ange              Robert Charlebois
  2. Boum!                                     Charles Trénet
  3. C’est La Même Chanson         Claude François
  4. C’est Ma Fête                          Richard Anthony
  5. Les Copains D’Abord              Georges Brassens
  6. Les Coups                               Johnny Hallyday
  7. La Danse De Mardi Gras       Balfa Brothers
  8. L’École Est Finie                    Sheila
  9. L’Équipe À Jojo                      Joe Dassin
  10. Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi            Jacques Dutronc
  11. Il A Le Truc                             Les Gam’s
  12. Mes Souliers Sont Rouges       MSSR
  13. Mon Manège À Moi                Edith Piaf
  14. Pour Faire Une Jam               Charles Aznavour
  15. Pourvu Que Ça Dure              Patrick Sébastien
  16. Quand Je Te Vois                    Les Chaussettes Noires
  17. Québécois De Souche             Les Cowboys Fringants
  18. Repenti                                    Renan Luce
  19. Tomber La Chemise                Zebda
  20. Tous Les Garçons                   Françoise Hardy

At this point I was going to be really swish and embed the appropriate sound files. I even bought a space upgrade. But the copyright killjoys say no-go.  Bugger.

In the end I gave in and linked it all to Youtube – I’ve changed a couple of the songs because I couldn’t find the videos I needed but this is still very representative and this way you’ll get to laugh at the haircuts at the same time.

Bon weekend.

You may remember I mentioned TV5 once before, describing it as, at times, “worthy to the point of boring.” We had it on this morning. After the Canadian Francophone news (does exactly what it says on the tin) there was an extra dose of cartoons – presumably there’s currently a school holiday somewhere in the world. I left Piaf watching them and went to get dressed.

I came back downstairs to find they were showing – at half past eight in the morning – a gardening programme. But not just any gardening programme.

No makeovers, no Francophone Charlie Dimmock, no flowers, no shrubs, not even any vegetable patches.

This was apparently a half-hour programme about how to make compost. I kid you not. The combined might of the Francophone cultures of the world, who, in Europe alone, gave us thousands of stars in all disciplines, from Brel to Hergé, from Gainsbourg to Sartre (thank you Egypt, too, for Cloclo), now equates entertainment and enlightenment with the rotting times for bark and twigs.

On the other hand, the drama series they show in the evenings about the nun who solves crimes with the help of the internet is something else …

Bilingualism is very rewarding, but it has led me into behaviour that really isn’t “me”. Here is a list of my top ten secrets that I wouldn’t necessarily share with a stranger at a dinner party …

1. Just for laugh, I sometimes use a Midi accent on certain words – “tu veux du peng, hein?” I also use reasonably “earthy” slang with her, again for no defensible reason except to amuse myself. “Vas-y mollo – tu vas te faire mal!” “Oh, la vache, pas mal de flics ici ce matin – ça craint un peu!” Or rather, “ça creng.”

2. She has several electronic “speaking” toys which obviously speak English. When she is not looking, these often “accidentally” get switched off, just to give French a fighting chance. I am happy to say that, fickle young thing that she is, they soon get forgotten and we move on to something else.

3. All her toys have French names as well as English names – Freddy the Frog, for example, is Gréta la Grenouille when Daddy is in charge.

4. If she asks me to read her an English book, I stall and pretend to be incapable of doing so and then suggest a French book instead. If she insists, I read the English book in French, translating as I go.

5. On the subject of books, before I had a routine for getting hold of French books for her, I would write my own translations of English ones. One of the most shameful items in our house is an ex-library copy, with a hideously ripped cover, of The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round . It is a bilingual edition – but, unfortunately, it is bilingual English and Spanish. For consistency’s sake, I have written my own translation in with a biro. How cheap is that? Piaf loved it though. Easily pleased, obviously.

6. I have made her a series of CDs of 1960s French pop interspersed with Cajun stomps and the hits of the massively-haired Charlebois. Even I cringe at some of the stuff on there. Luckily, she appears to take after her father in being wholly lacking in discernment or good taste. Dos à dos!

7. I make her help me get dressed in the mornings so that she will not be unsupervised. “Piaf, passe-moi une paire de chausettes et un mouchoir, s’il te plaît.” She has started to attempt to put on a tie if I leave one lying around …

8. The torture continues when we leave the house, as I play games with her on the way to nursery. We count the people we overtake (sometimes breaking into a jog to beat one before he turns the corner); we look for things of a given colour (cars are off-limits, otherwise it’s too easy); we look out for animals, or pictures thereof, and then I ask her to make the appropriate noise. I say, “we play” – as you can imagine, the overall effect to the untrained eye is of a man in a suit, apparently in sole charge of an infant, talking to himself in French about colours and animals and occasionally celebrating overtaking a fellow pedestrian.

9. I accidentally knocked her over one day in the park and she cut her lip. I felt dreadful and worried. Nevertheless, in spite of myself, I felt the tiniest of thrills when she responded appropriately to “ouvre la bouche, chérie” as I assessed the damage.

10. Since Piaf was born, I have started speaking to our cats, Keith and Barry, in French, so that her experience of hearing the language spoken to “people” other than her is broader. This is, perhaps, me at my lowest ebb.

If you have any similar – or, preferably, worse – confessions to make, it would cheer me immensely. Please feel free to post them in the comments box.

Piaf’s maman saw the site for the first time today. She was impressed, but …

“It’s quite long in places,” she said.

 “You need the odd shorter post,” she said.

 I think she meant biting comment on breaking news or thinking aloud.

But I shall take her at her word.

Here, then, is Claude François being bizarre, even by his own standards, and the coolest Frenchman ever, Jacques Dutronc – two more singalongs from the days in the kitchen in Peckham. 

They knew how to have fun in those days …