It’s been a while.

What can I say? Things got busy and the old head took over – “well, I haven’t written anything today, so tomorrow I’ll have to write something REALLY good” – within a week you are committed to writing something that rivals Holy Scripture and it never actually gets done.

So I guess I’ll just start over and backfill as and when it becomes necessary.

The key novelty in our bilingual life is currently singing; or, more precisely, Piaf singing.

It started with “l’araignée Gipsy”; moved onto “dans la forêt lointaine”; and then, just recently, we have hit paydirt with “mon âne”.  She knows the words to these songs; she requests them; she even knows the gestures. When we sing “lundi matin” on the way to nursery (late as usual) I have to wheel the pushchair with one hand so I can walk alongside her, ready to “serrer la pince” at the appropriate moment.

Of course, as I am not French, most of these songs are as new to me as they are to her; I will see them in a book, or remember a reference to them in a novel I once read, and then have to learn them, music and words, from scratch, before I can then teach them to her.

Not knowing the tune is especially irksome. What I normally do is go onto and see if someone has posted anything from a children’s karaoke video or a 1980’s kids’ show and then play it practically on a loop while I sing along.

An unexpected find came about this way. I was looking into a song called “auprès de ma blonde”. Sure enough, Youtube had a useful kids’ pop video complete with lyrics and some animation that looked like it had been done with Clip Art.

But another link caught my eye – from the image attached, it appeared to be a grown woman singing this song. Her name was also a mystery – Olivia Chaney did not sound particularly francophone. Perhaps a Canadian? I clicked on it.

Watch it yourself now, if you are somewhere with sound. Ignore the fact that this is an old marching song that has since become a nursery rhyme. Ignore the fact that the scene is the Bishopsgate Institute and that Olivia is not French or even Canadian but very British indeed. Ignore the dowdy dress and tights. Ignore, even, the rolling eyes and involuntary tic-like smile that make her look, frankly, a bit possessed.

Listen, instead, to a woman singing about a husband taken as a prisoner of war by the Dutch and how she would give everything and anything to see him again and then tell me that this single rendition does not tell you everything there is to know about the human heart. Even if you hate folk music, tell me that any composer who omits the human voice from his or her work is not missing a trick.

I dare you.


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.


 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 …