Food is less fattening in French

A town square in Lille. Picture: Ruth Ellis

A town square in Lille. Picture: Ruth Ellis - Credit: Archant

A weekend visit to France is a mother and daughter bonding session

Lynne with a beer in Lille. Picture: Ruth Ellis

Lynne with a beer in Lille. Picture: Ruth Ellis - Credit: Archant

Bonjour mes amis. Hello, my friends (Trans. Babel fish).

I am back from a jaunt to Lille, on Eurostar. It was this year’s weekend with my daughter. Last year it was code-cracking at Bletchley Park, this time it was schoolgirl French in northern France.

Interesting fact: It took one hour 25 minutes to travel from Lille to London, St Pancras.

Even more interesting fact: It took two hours 25 minute to travel from London, Liverpool Street to Ipswich, including a coach between Ingatestone and Colchester.

It was my first time in Lille and one of my initial errors was to walk along the street, followed by a slow-moving line of traffic. I had wandered on to a shared car/pedestrian street and was oblivious to my entourage. Ruth spotted it: “Mum, you’re in the road!”

I waved what I believed to be a Gallic-looking apology at the frustrated drivers and skipped back to safety. There are bollards marking the route but with lots of people about, I hadn’t noticed and the paving is the same on and off the shared thoroughfare. I might write une lettre de complaint (Franglais, courtesy of the late Miles (Kilometres) Kington).

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Lille is a very beautiful city. The higher storeys of the buildings in the centre are ornate and the lower storeys offer numerous places to eat and drink. There were also great shops where you could go nuts with the credit card. (Note to husband: But I didn’t, dear, honestly.)

Ruth and I visited the museum of fine art and the natural history museum, and ate a lot of frites and chocolat ? that’s chips and chocolate but they don’t sound as fattening in French.

As well as my dreadful O level French which got me as far as “Bonjour” before the locals had me sussed and spoke in English, I was also woefully under-packed. I took only a shower-proof jacket and a back pack of necessities, expecting reasonable weather. I had not taken account, however, of Sunday closing. We had booked a late train back to England, anticipating a leisurely day of sight-seeing. Then it rained and it wasn’t just any old rain it was the sort of rain that prompted Noah to start building an ark and gathering in the species. A deluge.

After a latte and croissant at a coffee shop near our hotel, we decided it wasn’t too wet and set out for the zoo. Not only did we fail to find the zoo entrance, I started to take on water. My shower-proof hat was wet on the inside and, as a result, my glasses steamed up and I couldn’t see where I was going. My shower-proof, quilted jacket filled up, my T-shirt and jeans got soaked and my shoes were drenched.

Nothing was dry. I had reached the point where I was so wet, I didn’t care any more and would cheerfully have sat down in a municipal fountain, fully clothed to sing a chorus of Singin’ in the Rain.

Admitting defeat and accepting that, even had we found the way in to zoo, all the animals would be sheltering indoors, we trudged back to our hotel. We had already checked out but they let us back in. The receptionist took one look at me and found me a towel for my hair. I reclaimed my luggage, found a complete change of clothes and went to the ladies’ cloakroom to change.

Is there anything more difficult than taking off a wet sock while standing?

Stripping down to my pants and bra, I realised even my 38C-cup was water-logged and took advantage of the hand dryer to jiggle my bosom under the blower (it jiggles easily), hoping no one would come in and find me. My French definitely wasn’t up to adequately explaining my predicament.

Once changed - I was wearing a strange assortment of green trousers, green T-shirts, black socks and gold ballet pumps - I put all my wet things in Ruth’s foldaway M&S bag and joined her in the hotel lounge. The bag thunked on to the floor, the weight of water making it heavy. A European traveller from Australia, sympathised with my plight, not put off by my appearance. Chatting to her - she is from the rain-starved state of Victoria - made me realise we should count ourselves lucky in northern Europe to have so much rain. But still cold and a little bit clammy, I decided to feel lucky tomorrow.

It was while I sat there, damply, that I realised my daughter is now looking after me more than I am looking after here. We have entered a period of transition. She takes my hand when we cross busy roads; she looks after the room key, she’s talking in French while I’m trying to remember how to say: “Please speak slowly, I’m English.”

Who’s the mummy.

• There was a huge hornet in the bedroom. What did I do? Shut the bedroom door, squealed, ran downstairs, and looked it up on the internet, of course. It was, according to online oracle Wikipedia, the European hornet, a relatively mild-mannered representative of the species, which was reassuring.