We’re in the departure lounge at Manchester airport.
90 minutes and we’ll be in the air. Next stop Nantes.
Jane and Ben are looking forward to a really pleasant flight. They’re in 14A and 14B. Owing to a disagreement with the online check-in (thanks, flybe) I’m in 21B.
“But you can still pay for our drinks, dad.”
Who are we meeting in Nantes? Our beloved daughter. And there she is. Standing in the Place Royale and… well, not looking much different to when she left home a week ago.
But she’s a seasoned European traveller now. Belfast and Dublin have fallen by the wayside: now it’s Nantes, next stop Amsterdam.
“Look,” I said a few months ago. “I’ve been asked to speak at this blogging conference in France. You should come.”
“OK,” she replied. And then Jane and Ben decided to come along for the holiday – a decision not unrelated to missing the first two days of school in my son’s case.
All we need is a satellite feed to Tom and the family’s complete.
But we’ve a sub. Jessica’s best mate Lisa is with her and right now she’s puzzling over a menu in the Bistro du Cours. As they all are.
Thank goodness I’m fluent in French and Spanish – at least that’s what I told my new Facebook profile.
“Let’s have tapas to start with,” I said confidently.
“We’re in France, dad…”
“Tapas are international aren’t they? Look at the menu. Tapas Italienne. Espagnol. And terroir. What does ‘terroir’ mean?”
“I thought you spoke fluent French, dad?”
The waiter arrived. “You are ready to order?”
Extraordinary. He hadn’t mistaken me for a Frenchman.
“Oui. To start with, les tapas, Pour cinq personne.”
How did I say we wanted a selection? “Tout les tapas. For five of us.”
He seemed doubtful. “All the tapas? For all of you? That is quite a lot, monsieur…”
Jessica wasn’t very tactful. “Dad, you’re trying to order four plates of tapas for every one of us. That’s twenty plates of tapas.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sure. Order that much food and you won’t be able to give your speech. You’ll still be here with six plates of Italienne to wade through.”
She was right. We settled on ‘terroir’ – local produce, my wife explained. And yes, one plate was quite enough.
Oh well, anyone can make a mistake. On to the main course. I confidently ordered steak. A burger arrived. “Nice one, dad…”
Now it was Ben’s turn to get stuck in. “Well why don’t you order for us?” I retorted. “You’re the one doing French at school.”
So he is.
And assuming he’s not taken into care when we get back, what will he do?
He’ll write a short piece explaining he’s called Ben, that he has fifteen years and he has a brother and sister.
Also a dog and two cats.
And – now comes the important part – he has blond hair and green eyes.
The GCSE curriculum seems to assume that all French people are visually impaired.
Excuse me, Mr Gove’s successor, they can see he has blond hair and green eyes and they don’t care what his cat’s called.
Just teach my son how to order a meal and have half a conversation.
Anyway, enough ranting about the education system.
Time to go. I’m speaking in half an hour.
And what a platform. My French pal Xavier has shown me the hall.
Huge stage. Surround sound. 300 people. Screens beaming giant pictures of me…
Hang on, he’s coming back.
“I’m sorry. There has been a mistake.
“You are in the much smaller room. Along there. In the corner…”