Year Abroad Diaries: 12 October 2012


When I made that prediction a while ago about doing a LOT of diary writing, I didn’t know to what extent that would be true. Now I am here, and I look back on what I’ve written. It’s a pretty sizeable chunk of my journal.

Writing in the morning or just before I go to bed is a relaxation. It’s not even a chore; it’s just a necessity before I turn off the light. In the early dawn, I sit in my bed and scribble, when it’s not technically rude to be locked in my bedroom. I could still be asleep.

Most nights (read: all nights) I think of home. Not the building, not the scenery, but the people. My parents painting the kitchen; my brother travelling the southern states; my grandparents in their flowered house that scents of soup and C in his apartment, sitting, talking to his flatmate. The latter I always think of.

Between pilgrimages to the two schools and strides for shopping, I take an occasional power nap in the afternoons. Swirling to unconsciousness and then to dusted chocolate; one of my teachers had made me a hot drink with added chilli; merging into a silly scene where I feature as a member of a whorehouse… then C’s face looms into the picture with an untamed beard. That would make some analysis.


I was so nervous when I arrived at the school on Tuesday at 0815; stressing when I discovered the classroom door was locked; sweating as the photocopier spat out more sheets. I had created an exercise on Great Britain, a label-and-colour designed for the young sixièmes. They were well-behaved, until I drooped after repeating the same lesson four times, and several boys began to chat. Oh well. A majority success rate will do just now.

Sandwiched like a less appetising filling between these four stale blocks was a cinquième class where we talked about classroom objects. Or rather, I spoke about things in my bag and explained why they were there. I’d ransacked my room earlier, parodying a burglar in seizing the less-expensive items: my pink umbrella, an apple, a novel (Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things – very useful for encouraging ‘horror’ vocab) and my 2012-13 diary. The pupils then repeated the same procedure, scribbling an object on the board and explaining why it was in their schoolbags. This worked far better than bits of paper – they enjoyed being active, chatting and laughing.

It’s an impossibility to know beforehand if something will work or not with a dynamic group of teenagers. What an obvious comment! But it’s something that would ease my stress levels if I knew I was guaranteed success.

The following day, I struggled out of bed at 7am, pasted on some make up, swirled some soggy cornflakes and banana together and threw myself into the teacher’s car. To the collège, forcing my legs up the stairs to class and – there’s the cleaner. The room is empty. She regards me quizzically and then twigs who I am. “The prof is ill. The students are in permanence.” AKA: I have nothing to do until early afternoon. How conveniently marvellous.

Letters and loathing

Y returned from her class on the second Monday in France bearing paper. Not just your average paper: mail or post as us Brits deem it. My faith in La Poste has been renewed: three letters from the bank (recycling…) and turquoise and cream envelopes. The biro engravings were from Mum and C. I sorted out the banking jargon first and retired to my room to read the others.

Mother had borrowed parchment Paperchase cards from my room at home, which was a nice touch. It was a hit to see her writing, to read about her pride and what she was doing. It made me feel loved. C’s letter for last. It was heavy, and within two safety envelopes were enclosed four sheets of paper. It smelt of him. He could have been there, apart from his words resonated inside my own voice. “Even the thought of being able to hold your hand…”

A cruel cutting of these calm moments was our trip downstairs to ‘Mademoiselle’s’ office. The manager of everything ‘en ce qui concerne’ our apartment, the magnitude and centrality of her job seems to have gone to her head slightly. I informed her that my door was difficult to close. She cut me off before I concluded my loping French. “Show me now,” she commanded, and marched us upstairs so I could demonstrate.

Since K and Y were debating about asking for another set of linen, I thought, ‘two birds, one stone,’ which should have set warning bells. It descended into ‘one French bird, lots of stoning.’ She raged. “No, we can’t give you more sheets. We’ve already given you towels and linen. We’re actually not even obliged to put you up here.” I tempered the situation by grovelling, many merci‘s and a smile. The three of us closed the door and descended towards a cup of tea and a bitching session.

Another letter par avion. It was from Gran, which was lovely, saying how she hoped I was well and that Grandfather had been “at the tatties” the other day in the sunshine. I am amassing a small collection of letters, as precious as the special manuscripts at the height of the Glasgow University library, as dear to me as the first rare parchment. They are mantras in the morning and numbing at night.

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