Our last full day in Nantes.
My wife and I are having a discussion: that is, she’s telling me what’s going to happen.
“So you’re coming to hear me speak at the conference?”
“Because it’s the same speech you gave yesterday. Alright, it’s a different audience but there’s a limit to how much excitement a woman can cope with.”
Do I detect a hint of sarcasm? In a word, yes. She has the chance to listen to her husband talk about blogging for two hours and my wife would rather do something else. I’ll never understand women.
“So what are you doing?”
“Going shopping. For shoes.”
Ah. That I can understand. I’ve occasionally mentioned the word ‘shoes’ at various points in my life: the woman next to me has always sighed and look wistful.
I’d never understood the obsession. Until I came to Nantes. Every other shop is a shoe shop. And they’re all elegant. Stylish. And remarkably sexy.
In fact, I may become a Frenchman. If I have to give up cricket it’s a small price to pay.
“And if you see a nice sac let me know.” Yep, un sac. I too have an obsession. I’m going to become a thoroughly modern European man. Carrying my slim line iPad and notebook in my slim line sac pour l’homme.
My wife looks doubtful. “A hundred and fifty pounds on a man bag seems a bit much…”
I’m about to point out the cost of shoes – especially those navy blue ones with the zips – when my phone goes ting. It’s a text. From Jessica, currently travelling round Europe and at that moment in Paris.
I need you/mum to call me. Right now.
Oh &*%$ - that doesn’t sound like good news. And it isn’t. Jessica has been robbed. Charging her phone at the railway station in Paris. Turned her back for a second. Backpack gone.
Cards gone. Most of her money. All of her clothes.
Jane and I sit down to assess the damage. First and foremost she’s OK. She’s not been attacked, no-one’s mugged her, she’s physically unscathed. And we can replace a backpack, clothes and money. But we can’t do anything about the memories: the hockey tops from her first year at university are gone forever.
Six hours later I was walking back from the conference centre, speech duly delivered. Jane was at the hotel trying to contact insurance companies. No prizes for guessing what I was thinking about.
A week ago someone asked me how I felt about my daughter travelling round Europe. ‘Remarkably relaxed’ was my answer. But that was before she was robbed: before she became a backpacker without a backpack. Before she’d sent us another text.
Everything I own is in a plastic bag… Followed by a small, tearful face.
How do I feel now? Less relaxed. Beyond angry that someone is currently deciding which of my daughter’s possessions he’s going to sell and which he’s going to dump.
But I’m still pleased she’s travelling. What’s the alternative? We wrap her up in cotton wool and don’t let her do anything more risky than stand behind the counter in Tesco? No thanks.
She’s upset and we’re upset. Looks like travelling is a rite of passage for the parent as much as it is for the child.
But our two eldest children are adults and adult things are going to happen to them. As you quickly learn, Mrs Smith saying they’re not trying in Geography isn’t the worst news you’re ever going to hear.
And so much for the sophisticated European buying un sac. I know a girl who needs some new clothes…