I am going back a way for this but some of the best times in my childhood were spent on family holidays.

We used to go to France a lot. My mother was a polyglot. She spoke English, French, Greek and Norwegian fluently. When she was in her early thirties, she bought herself a Teach Yourself Greek book, and immediately enrolled in the Intermediate class in the local night school, having decided that the Beginner class would be for people who hadn’t thought to buy a book.

When I was about seven, she’d taught me to count to ten in French on the ferry heading over to Brittany. Once on land, it turned out quite quickly that I was inappropriately dressed. It had been cold in Croydon and so I was head to foot in wool. In France, it was pretty warm, and so we went into a shop. My Dad didn’t have any of the language, and I could only count to ten, so my mother took control of the situation. It was an attitude that suited her well.

Calling over a shop assistant with a wave of her hand, she asked him, in a language neither my Dad nor I could understand, for a t-shirt for her seven year old daughter. The man looked at her for some time before she tried again. Pulling at her sleeve, I told her that I hadn’t heard her say “Sept” yet. It was then that she realised she was speaking Norwegian.



A day or two later, we saw a crepe stall on the side of the road, and my mother, in her wheelchair and therefore unable to see over the counter, taught my Dad, by rote, how to place an order. She threw in a little bit of counting for good measure. He repeated exactly what she had said in the vain hope it was a language of some sort, but couldn’t quite manage the “s’il vous plait” bit so went with – “Un, deux, trois crepes er… please.” It was all a little bit “Thank you very much” in The Great Escape.


My mother had a soft little idea that if we moved to France before I was twelve, I’d pick up the language in moments. Once I turned twelve, she figured it was too late and, not long after, we settled in Devon. I don’t say that Devon was the last resort. It was just that it seemed better to simply persevere with English at that point.

Okay. Day 36 of 365 Happy Things – Family Holidays.