I was quite a hit in parent’s rural village. Being under the age of eighty, and not having a beard, made me quite a sensation. I felt like Jessica Rabbit when I walked into the local bar and all the men stopped talking to stare without shame and make crude French jokes that I understand well enough to gag over.
One man, named Napoleon, (after the homemade hat he wore, day in and day out) took a particular shine to me. When my dad introduced us (like I was a debutante), Napoleon asked if I was married, and dad, who covets Napoleons’ trailer, stayed quiet. Smile nicely’ he told me, while Napoleon wrote down his phone number, ‘I might be able to do an exchange’.
Later, me clad in a 1970’s ski-knit belonging to dad’s 80-year-old friend, we went up the mountains, where French toddlers whizzed down black runs and trendy snowboarders smoked Gitanes in orange googles.
When I was a kid, skiing was for the rich, and we weren’t, and I have no desire to learn now because I know it’ll involve making an utter fool of myself. Instead, to celebrate her turning 70 I pushed my mother down the kid’s slope on a round sledge we found in the garage that was impossible to control. She came spinning down the middle, taking out kids left, right and centre, while their parents shouted ‘Zut Alors’. It looked so much fun I had a go myself, and then we stood watching people falling off the ski-lift. Later at home, we played ‘swearing scrabble’ and I ate baguette after baguette.
Saying goodbye was hard, as was trying to cram my handbag into my suitcase after being told ‘one piece of carry on luggage means one piece of carry on luggage’ by an Easy Jet Umpa Loompa.
Obviously, when I opened my suitcase, my tiny training bras and giant knickers all pinged out. Obviously, as I was going to see my parents, I’d packed my comfiest/ugliest underwear. Had I known I was going to show Gatwick my gussets I’d have dug out my best.
After trying and failing to zip up my case, I was forced to try and flirt my frizzy and frazzled way out the situation. ‘Ooh, you look nice and strong’ I cooed to a man near me, ‘would you like to come and sit on my suitcase’. ‘No, he wouldn’t’ his girlfriend said, before he could reply. She then stood watching me as I bounced up down on my ‘International Traveller’ swearing/sobbing.
All I wanted was a cup of tea, but I’d forgotten to retrieve my wallet, and I daren’t risk opening the suitcase of shame again, so I spent the flight watching the person next to me drink a cup of Clipper, just how I like it and eat a croque monsieur.
The husband refused to admit he struggled without me. I might have felt unwanted were it not for the constant stream of texts from my youngest daughter, claiming her heart was broken without me and that I was the sea and the stars and the sun. How I missed waking up to her face, her bluer than robin’s eggs-eggs blinking at me sleepily.
Being away from my children is an odd mix of arm-room and stomach-ache. When I finally got home, late and filled with longing, they were standing in arrivals, clad in jim-jams, smiles lighting up their faces like glow-worms. I wanted to leave them all over again, just to get another grin. Just to feel as magical and important as I did in that second, when they threw their arms round me and sniffed and snuffled my skin.