FRENCH lesson this morning for Ian and me, in Askrigg, the fourth in our ‘Beginning Conversational French’ series laid on by the district council, and maybe the last opportunity for such an adventure before the cuts begin to bite. We can now discuss the weather, ask for a drink, exchange pleasantries – with each other, at least – and even say where we come from. I’m puzzled by Ian’s insistence that he’s from Edinbugh until I realise that his truthful reply to “Vous etes d’ou?” would have to be: “Je suis d’Hull.”
We’re thrilled with our progress, limited though it is, in preparation for our mini vacation to Avignon, via Eurostar and TGV: slightly giddy at the prospect of actually having the confidence to ask for un tasse de the au lait or an eau minerale gazeuze as we soak up the sun on a pavement cafe. We refuse to allow ourselves even a moment of shame that we’ve got to 63 without being able to negotiate such a minor life hurdle, and instead give ourselves a rather smug pat on the back.
Meanwhile transport in France is grinding to a halt, rubbish piles up in the streets, petrol is running out, ports are blockaded, airports shut. Blazing cars and rioting students fill our television screens. And all because the government wants to raise retirement age from 60 to 62. As a friend in Askrigg says: “They could raise it to 80 here and nobody would notice.”
Apart from the strikes and disruption, France is apparently on its highest alert ever for a possible terrorist attack. Travellers, especially, are warned to be vigilant. I knew there was a reason we weren’t big on foreign holidays: it wasn’t just the language barrier after all. Ah well – c’est la vie.