Tadpole and I hurry along the cobbled street, hand in hand, trying to avoid the patches of black ice that have formed overnight. An anxious glance at my watch reveals that it is 8.28, and I quicken my pace.
Tadpole is chattering nineteen to the dozen about the coming day at school. ‘We’re going to do a travail que j’aDORE,’ she says, making me rather nostalgic for a time when I could feel such simple, strong emotions (and also for a time when ‘work’ consisted of doing a spot of colouring in without straying over the lines). ‘The maîtresse has made some sheets with a 2009 on,’ Tadpole continues, ‘and inside every number there’s the beginning of a pattern. And we have to take a different coloured pen for each number, and continue the pattern, and then at the bottom it’s written ‘Bonne Année!’ with a big point d’exclamation, and we have to copy it, to practise how to do writing on a line, and then…’
Meanwhile, I am making a to-do list in my head. I need to edit at least three chapters before dinnertime. I must pop by the pharmacy to pick up my folic acid. It’s market day on boulevard de Belleville, and I compile a mental shopping list (peppers, mushrooms, clementines, kiwi fruit (Tadpole’s favourite), bananas and broccoli). I ought to try and finalise some tentative plans for our coming weekend in Yorkshire, assuming the black ice and minus double figure temperatures expected in Paris later this week don’t ground our plane and scupper our plans altogether. I need to fix the dodgy starter sparky thing on the gas hobs and get a battery for the torch so that if I manage to trip the fusebox again, like I did yesterday, I don’t end up running around in the dark looking for matches while Tadpole attempts to eat her dinner in the dark, with predictably messy results. I need to give UK bank details to my agents, because if they take it into their heads to send any advance money over to me in France at the current exchange rate, I think I will cry.
‘MUMMY!’ shouts Tadpole, her eyes flashing with anger. ‘You’re not LIST-EN-ING to me, are you?’
‘I am!’ I protest, untruthfully. ‘You were saying how much you were looking forward to working on your 2009 picture! It sounded great. I was listening and thinking at the same time.’
‘No you weren’t,’ says Tadpole firmly. ‘You only listened to the beginning. You’re not IN-TER-EST-ED Mummy. You don’t really CARE about my 2009…’
I curse the day Tadpole became so scarily perceptive. There’s no pulling the wool over her eyes any more. Whereas I can still fool The Boy – punctuating his lengthy, blow by blow accounts of poker games with a few strategic ‘mmm’s’ or the occasional ‘mouais‘ without him seeming any the wiser – Tadpole has an uncanny talent for knowing precisely when and why my attention has strayed and pulls me up on it, every single time.
And that’s not all. ‘When you say “Mmm” it doesn’t mean “no” or “yes” or anything,’ she explained to me the other day. ‘It just means you’re not really listening. And when you say “we’ll see”, you really mean “no”.’
‘And how about when I say we’ll do something later?’ I enquire, wondering if my arsenal is now completely empty.
‘Well,’ says Tadpole, furrowing her brow. ‘Later is more difficult. It can means lots of things. Sometimes it means “in a little while”. Sometimes it means “the day after the next day”.’ She pauses, and for a moment I think I may just have got away with this one.
‘But usually,’ she adds sagely, ‘if you say we’ll do something later, you mean never.’