Ever so French

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Monday 13th April 2015

Toulouse Lautrec Seated-Dancer-In-Pink-TightsMy family has always had a thing about France. Describing something as “ever so French” was the height of praise as far as my mother was concerned. She had happy memories of spending summer holidays in Brittany with Michelline, her French penfriend, and later on she encouraged me to do a French exchange too. My own penpal was the sweet Marie-Line, whose dad was a fisherman off the Normandy coast. I loved staying with her family, although I wasn’t so keen on the vast tank of lobsters they kept in the basement and the fact that at the age of 14 Marie-Line could gut a fish inside 30 seconds. Do penpals even exist any more? They probably don’t.

My love of France intensified when I was 15 and my parents booked a family holiday near Albi, in the Tarn region of south-west France.

Everything seemed more stylish there, from the red and white checked tablecloths on restaurant tables to the Breton T-shirts and canvas espadrilles worn by chic French teenagers. Me and my sister were obsessed with the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born in Albi and whose vibrant Moulin Rouge posters looked incredibly daring to our unsophisticated eyes.

The only downside of the whole trip was when we borrowed a pedalo one day and set off on a river trip. My sister and I decided to swim alongside the paddleboat while my mum and two-year-old brother pedalled sedately downstream.

Suddenly, to our horror, the pedalo capsized without warning, catapulting the pair of them into the river. My brother disappeared beneath the water and my mum, hysterical at losing hold of her baby, began thrashing around frantically to find him. It didn’t help that she was weighed down by her maxi skirt and huge platform sandals but seconds later she bobbed above the water again, clutching a slightly bewildered little boy in her arms. The pedalo, a clanking heap of rusting metal, sank to the bottom of the river and had to be pulled out a few days later by a kind local farmer with a tractor. Quel drame…

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