It was Suttonford’s turn to host the exchange with its twinning partner, Bric-a-Brac, in Normandy. Carissima was on the committee and, at the AGM, she proposed many ideas which would showcase the town and surrounding area to its French friends: a coach trip to the house of a famous authoress (this was objected to on the grounds that it would mean nothing to the guests); a visit to Evensong at Wintonchester Cathedral (agreed as they could avoid the entrance fees, since they would be attending a service); a trip to a local vineyard ( d’accord, but some muttering as there was insecurity as to whether French wines would appear superior.)
Some of the members thought that Carrie should tenez silence, considering that she was not going to be hosting anyone herself. She was somewhat embarrassed by this, but, although she had a biggish cottage, Nutwood, her six children tended to fill it to capacity, especially when they brought their friends round at the weekend.
On the whole, though, there was little to worry about as most people were hosting couples whom they had stayed with on previous occasions, especially people who had wined and dined them very well. There was one gentleman, a widower, who was remaindered, however.
Gyles’ mother, Ginevra, propped herself up on her Zimmer frame, waved her walking stick at the Chair and said:
He can stay with me. Ola, my carer will set the table for his breakfast. The French don’t eat much for petit dejeuner as I recall and he can get a café crème or otherwise at ‘Costamuchamoulah’ on his way to the coach park when he goes on trips.
Carrie appealed to the Chair with a significant gaze that she hoped would hint disapproval. Her mother-in-law was ninety three. Still, it was true that she had plenty of room and a well-stocked wine cellar. The monsieur would only need somewhere to lay his head, as he would join the group every day for activities.
When the coach arrived at the car park everyone welcomed their guests and bore them off triumphantly to the various stately piles, seats and halls in the vicinity. Carrie met the widower who was tres sympathique. He kissed her cheek several times and assured her that ze billet- cela ne fait rien- pas de problem.
Carrie was amazed how her French came rushing back and she found that she could understand him.
He climbed into the 4×4-at first on the wrong side!
You had good voyage? she inquired.
Formidable. I buy some Arpents du Soleil for my hostess, but it was moins cher at the Duty Free. Tant pis! Your belle-mere, she like wine?
Elle adore Le Piat D’Or, said Carrie, turning into the drive. But surtout, she adores the gin.
John-Paul was very fit and he jumped out and opened the door for Carrie. She loved those French manners. Usually Gyles was too busy unstrapping one or other of the kids from their booster seats to make her feel special. The Frenchman made her feel like a natural woman. Jean-Paul did not want to trouble her and said that it was pas necessaire for her to pick him up on the school run, in order to deliver him to the coach for outings. He would be ‘appy to march.
Friendships were cemented over the week that followed and the band of brothers learned the significant songs of each country. Ilkley Moor Bar t’At alternated with Je T’aime (moi non plus). The visit to the local vineyard went well, though Carrie could have sworn that she overheard Mathilde and Alain commenting: Acide! Later she saw them with a carrier from Pop My Cork which seemed to contain bottles of Dewlap’s Gin for Discerning Grandmothers and Jane Austen’s Secret Tipple.
On the final Friday lunchtime, Carrie decided to drop in to Giles’ mother’s house, to say adieu to Jean-Paul. But, quel horreur! Quel etait cet odeur desagreable?
Her mother-in-law was seated round the table in the kitchen with Ola, her carer and Jean-Paul and there was a basket of sliced baguette from the deli and a board with an oleaginous Stinking Bishop fromage oozing over the table. There was another cheese in a wooden tub and it had been been partaken of very liberally, along with the bottled gift from J-P.
Carrie, try some of the cheese. It’s very good, though I shouldn’t say anything about it as it is made by Trappist monks in an abbey near Bric-a-brac, giggled Gyles’ mother in a tipsy, nonagenarian way.
And have some geen, said J-P, rolling his eyes. On doit celebrer!
Stifling her disapproval, Carrie admitted, Oui, it’s been a good semaine, n’est-ce-pas? But all these choses have to terminer tristement.
But, no finish, J-P shook his head. Commence! We are getting married in the morning and then we go to Biarritz for Les Noces, comme d’habitude. Honeymoon, you say?
I don’t think Gyles is going to like this, Grandma. She never knew what to call her mother-in-law, as Ginevra was so formal, but when push came to shove, she used the children’s mode of address. You are ninety three, after all and no Veuve Clicquot!
Calm down, dear. Your kids are still in the will. Jean-Paul is engaged to Ola. They are going to arrange for me to visit them in Normandy when they get settled. It’s only a hop across The Manche, as they say, even with a zimmer frame, and the French do produce such lovely vino.
Vin, Carrie hissed, glaring at the carer. She was gobsmacked by this coup de foudre, but couldn’t think of the correct idiom.
Like the cheese, beamed J-P, it’s La Providence!