Friday. There is a mysterious new billboard campaign in the metro. For now, only teaser images are on display: attractive men and women (pretend to) yawn in a very aesthetically pleasing manner, photographed in all-forgiving black and white. Not even the merest glimmer of a filling in the back of their wide-open mouths. It is very difficult, I note, to walk past these adverts without yawning back at them; regardless of the time of day.
I quiz Mr Frog to see if he knows what the campaign is for, being as he is an insider in this business, but he hasn’t the faintest idea.
Sunday. We drive to Mailly Champagne in a borrowed car to visit Mr Frog’s cousin. If indeed ‘cousin’ is the right word to describe the relationship between Mr Frog and his father’s cousin’s daughter. Are they second cousins? First cousins once (or twice) removed? More complicated still, what exactly is Tadpole to this lady’s children?
To complicate matters further, Mr Frog’s grandparents, originally from Northern Italy, emigrated to France post WW2 with grandfather’s sister and grandmother’s brother, also married to one another. The brothers and sisters have lived in adjacent houses in a tiny village, an hour’s drive from Besançon, ever since. This tightly woven genetic heritage means that all their grandchildren were cousins to the power of two. A gang of assorted tanned children would spend idyllic summer holidays in the grandparents’ village, roaming wild in the fields around the (former farm)houses, playing hide and seek in haylofts and paddling in the village lavoir. Inevitably, as the second bottle of wine is uncorked, Mr Frog and his ‘cousin’ are overcome with nostalgia for their childhood escapades and I tend to tune out as familiar anecdotes are taken out and polished, and undoubtedly embellished, for the nth time.
But this was all yet to come. We had to actually get there first.
Mr Frog was instructed to print out directions to Mailly at work on Friday, as some time has elapsed since our last visit. I don’t bother with a printer at home, and as a no-car household we don’t even possess a road atlas. En route, hurtling along a rain-drenched Autoroute de l’Est, I examined Mr Frog’s itinerary, dismayed to see that all we had to work with, courtesy of Mappy, was:
quitter l’autoroute à la sortie n° 25
continuer sur la N51
entrer dans Reims
continuer sur la Route de Louvois (passer par un rond-point)
sortir de Reims et continuer sur la Route de Louvois
continuer sur la D9
prendre à gauche la D26
It was about as clear as our misted windscreen. Particularly without any sort of map to refer to (Mr Frog had omitted to print one), and given French road signs don’t generally indicate very clearly which ‘D’ or ‘N’ road you are driving along, or take it upon themselves to point out which road is referred to by the locals as la Route de Louvois. My boss’s mantra echoing in my head – “never assume anything” – I decided that it was the last time I would ask Mr Frog to take care of that kind of thing.
Suffice to say that we managed to add almost an hour onto our initial ninety minute journey, driving around in pointless loops, phoning relatives for garbled verbal directions and swearing not a little. On Tadpole duty, I had the pleasure of singing the theme tune to ‘Postman Pat’ approximately forty times, enthusiasm levels rapidly dwindling, to stave off an imminent toddler meltdown.
I think this may be my new definition of hell.
On the way home to Paris, several hours later, after a very French afternoon spent entirely à table, feasting and knocking back champagne from cousin’s husband’s family vines, I plugged my trusty ipod into the car stereo and let it shuffle, only nudging it on a track if I judged the selection too chaotic or profanity filled for toddler’s ears. The car stereo was hardly top of the range, the road surface was noisy, and a piece of the rubber seal on Mr Frog’s window was coming away, the cumulative effect of which was a fearsome amount of background noise. I cranked the volume up one notch, then two, then three, straining to hear the lyrics. Tadpole was reading her books, seemingly in a world of her own.
We embarked on a magical musical tour: Suede chasing Electronic, hot on the heels of Duran Duran and Goldfrapp. I eased the volume up progressively. Tadpole still didn’t react. I only realised an hour later, when I clambered into the back of the car, that there were actually more speakers back there. Just behind her head. We spent the rest of the journey in a guilty silence, traumatised that instead of giving Tadpole an eclectic musical education, we might instead have robbed her of the faculty of hearing altogether.
Monday. Feeling drained and listless after protracted car journey and champagne abuse. The posters in the metro still feature beautiful people yawning. Only now there is a tagline plastered over the top. “Re-Vittelisez-vous!”
I feel rather cheated that it is nothing more exciting than yet another incitement to drink bottled water.
I suspect it will take more than water to perk me up today, unless it is boiled and poured over powdered caffeine. With a crystal meth chaser.