Honest School Notes #11
3rd October 2017
Dear Madam Directrice (please advise – is this the correct way to address you? I should hate to be calling you Dear Leader or Old Farty Bosoms by mistake),
Thank you so much for taking in our three children this year. We are so grateful to you and recognise the extra time and administration required to transform three small feral kangaroos from Wollongong into global citizens. They speak no French yet and this is a significant challenge for them, as well as for you.
So far, we could not be happier with the school. The children and teachers are extremely kind and welcoming and the phrase ‘cuckoo’ for hello, which is called by children constantly from windows as we walk through the little village, warms my heart beyond measure. It could not be cuter if it was being spoken by a basket full of puppies wearing hats.
However, I do have some questions. As I don’t speak French, I have to take guesses as to what is happening at the school gate, and it’s a bit confusing. At my Wollongong school gate, parents are often barefoot and occasionally wearing wetsuits. Many are clutching coffee cups which we suck at like overgrown babies. Sometimes these cups are full of unlikely substances like ‘turmeric’. There is a lot of talk of gluten. There is a lot of active wear.
Here in France, there is a lot of fagging on at the gate, no active wear, no coffee, and once, the unmistakable tang of jazz tobacco in the air. (I believe it’s called ‘le shit’, here in France, but I’ve made terrible mistakes with translation before.) In Coledale if a parent lit up at the school gate, it would only be some sort of chemical-free vaporised bone broth delivery system that they had purchased on Etsy.
There are different cliques that hang under different trees, and even a hard-core biker dad that roars to the gate with high-decibel theatricality on his mechanical penis. His prison-style face tatts and waistcoat look menacing until his small, beautifully dressed daughter runs and leaps into his arms. In general, there are more Dads at the pick-up than at home, and all the parents are sweet to us, and tolerate my conversation, which is at about the level of Washoe the chimp that learned sign language. They even give me the three-cheek kisses of Southern France.
Last week there was a commotion as a loud argument suddenly began between a heavily pregnant school Mum and an elderly man and woman walking their dog. There was a lot of gesticulating and shouting and all the waiting parents were thrilled. I tried and failed to catch any of the French except ‘gros merde’. That’s ‘big shit’, I thought to myself. I concluded that the dog had done a big poo and the seniors had failed to pick it up. This is exactly the kind of thing that would inspire an equivalent shouting match in my home town, where we have a ‘dog beach’ and there is obsessive attention to the management of animal faeces.
A few days later, however, I got to school for the pick up to see police everywhere – the local police, and also the gendarmerie, which are a sort of local militia, unless my translation is off. Again, shouting, gesticulating. Surely it’s not the dog poo again, I thought? This seems excessive. But I had no other theories.
Eventually I picked up, through limping conversation, that there had been a fight between a couple of kids, and the mum had called the authorities. Not just the police, it seems; but the army too. This seems unlikely. Could it really be the dog poo? Possibly I was suffering some sort of contact-high hallucination from the fumes of ‘le shit’ and none of these things ever happened?
At home, we are currently reading an Agatha Christie murder mystery out loud. It’s not really necessary, though, I am coming to realise. The school gates are my very own mystery. It seems impossible to imagine that at some point I will understand how they work.
In the meantime, thank you again, Dear Leader, for taken on my children. It’s an experience they will never forget, and neither will I, unless of course, I’m so stoned that it all disappears like a dream.
Ps – I am hoping that in a couple of months, when the children can communicate a little, that they will stay at school for the 3 course lunch. Also, is this available for mothers? I will pay anything you ask.