Tadpole and I are in a taxi, speeding along the A1 on the way to Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. Tadpole is chattering away, nine to the dozen, and I am marvelling at the ease with which she has slipped back into English after a three week holiday spent entirely in French mode with mamie and papy.
“I’m so excited to go to see grandma and grandad,” she says, her eyes sparkling. “Grandad, he does always call me ‘long skinny banana legs’ and ‘curly top’, and he make me laugh…”
The previous day, when Mr Frog answered the door, I was overjoyed to be greeted by shrieks of “mummy, mummy, you’re here… I did miss you!” as a blurry, long-limbed figure with honey-coloured ringlets launched herself across the room and into my arms, nearly toppling me with the force of her hug. Usually it takes her a few hours to acclimatise herself after a prolonged absence, with me speaking English in the meantime, but Tadpole replying in French. Mr Frog, I noted, looked as surprised and pleased as I did to see her plunge into her mother tongue the very moment she clapped eyes on me.
“Mummy?” says Tadpole, putting a hand on my arm.
“When I’m thinking,” she says slowly, “on top of my head there are some clouds.” Her hands motion in the air above her curls. “A little cloud here, another little cloud on top, and then a big big cloud that touches the ceiling of the taxi car… Like in a bande dessiné. Can you see my clouds, mummy?”
I pretend to study the air above her head before I make my answer. “No,” I reply with a frown. “I think they must be invisible.”
“In the big cloud,” she says confidentially, “there is a picture of a teddy. Because I thinking that I would like to buy a new teddy.”
I grin, then lean across the leather seat of the taxi and cover her face with impulsive kisses.
That evening, chatting to my boy on MSN, I tell him about the thought bubbles, knowing that he will be suitably impressed, being a typical Frenchman with a sizeable collection of BD on his well-stocked, slightly intimidating bookshelves.
“If I had a bubble over my head right now,” I write, returning to the subject later, when our conversation has veered onto other, more adult, topics, “it would probably be prefaced with Viewer Discretion Advised!…” This elicits a virtual chuckle. My boy, who has been immobilised for a few days with a back pain of mysterious origin (for which I intend to take full credit in the absence of any compelling medical evidence to the contrary), pauses for a moment before replying.
“J’aurais peur de lire ‘previously on the world poker tour’ au dessus de ma tête,” he confesses sheepishly.