In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
It was bitingly cold. The wind whipped in off the angry Atlantic and funnelled itself down High Street Royan like the glacial ice of a failed love affair. It was the cold that decided me. I couldn’t stand outside the immoblier all day, and it looked warm inside, and as important, customerless. I went in.
“Parlez vous Anglais, madame.”
There was an apologetic inclining of the head, and a polite, but distinctly negative smile. “Un peu, monsieur.”
I knew what that meant, it meant ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and little else. I sighed. Oh well, I am in their country, I should speak their language.
The lady was called Brigitte, which recalled memories of the first woman I fell in love with, the delicious BB, before she went crazy, and started castrating donkeys with garden shears. This Brigitte was about sixty, fat and not a challenger for Miss World. Very much like BB at present, but without the shears.
About twenty minutes later, my courage reinforced by a successful discussion, en Jeanne, with Brigitte, I tried again in an other Agency. Here too was a lady, aged about twenty seven, fair of face, and figure, with entrancing brown eyes. This vision, it later transpired, was called Nathalie. To my question as to her ability to speak the language of Shakespeare, she replied brightly, “Yes, I speak English very well.” One of the more endearing qualities of the French is that they are untroubled by false modesty. An other attractive quality, at least for an Anglo-Saxon male, is to hear a Frenchwoman speaking English.
Nathalie introduced me to Stefan, a pleasant young man, who, he told me, had two children, who had quatre and six ans. It was arranged for me to visit several properties on the following morning, and although I had a fair grasp of what Stefan was telling me, I welcomed Nathalie’s offer of coming along also to act as ‘traductrice.’ Never look a gift traductrice in the mouth.
As I ventured once more into the street, I was warmed by this little encounter. Two thoughts struck me. Firstly, my father, long dead, God rest his soul, would not have understood why his son would have wanted a second house in France, or anywhere else for that matter. Nor would he have understood why I drove a Jaguar. The second blinding revelation was about Nathalie. Without her, or her sisters going back as far as Eve, man would still be living in caves, and beating up helpless animals.
My father was a simple man, in all the best sense of the word. He was a nationalist, a republican and a devout Catholic, and he could not understand why his eldest son was a loyalist, a monarchist, and a lapsed Catholic who looked more to his Huguenot past than to his Catholic present. His son, worse to relate, had accepted the Queen’s commission in her armed forces of repression. My Dad and I shared little, and we learned to accept that situation, and love each other just the same. We did share one abiding passion however, and for this I will always be grateful. We were one-eyed Manchester United supporters, as I am to this day. The last words he spoke to me before he died in St Peters Chertsey were to ask if United had won. Thank God they had, and I hope this eased his passing, but I would have lied if necessary.
He could never see the sense in buying a house when he could rent one. I never saw the sense in renting if I could buy. It is sometimes said that a house is the most expensive move you can undertake. Wrong! A wife is the most expensive thing a man can attempt.
Houses are not simply places where one lives, any more than cars are simply a means of transport. If that statement was untrue, we would all live in council flats overlooking Hackney Marshes, and drive Smart cars. A house, like a car, is also a statement about a person’s perceived place in life, and of his or her ambitions and prejudices. I don’t need a second home in France, in which I can spend the summers of my declining years, and in which I can see my children and hear the laughter of my grandchildren. I don’t need it, but insh’Allah, I shall have it.
So who is right, my Dad or me? He lived his life in a rented house, and drove a Vauxhall Viva. I will, insh’Allah, have an apartment in Epsom, a house in France and hopefully, I will drive a Jag until I pop my clogs. Dad also stayed married to the same woman until her death killed him too, while I am divorced. I couldn’t say he was wrong.
Are you listening, Dad? So, w ho is right? Incidentally, if you are listening, the Reds are doing OK, and we won the Treble in ’99. You’d have been as proud as hell.
Written by my Father B.M