Living With The French ~ A Novelette ~ Chapter One

I

One Small Step For Man,
One Giant Leap For Mankind!

Sunday 4th April 1993

“Oh, and it’s a bitterly cold morning, this morning! But that’s OK because you can just lie there in bed, all snug and warm, listening to the best radio station in the world! Radio Two!” said the voice on the radio.

My alarm clock had woken me up at 5:30am this morning! The last thing I wanted to hear was some DJ talking about how I can lie in bed this morning all snug and warm, when in actual fact I had to get up to catch a plane at 7:00am!

Anyway I got out of bed, got washed and dressed and then went downstairs for breakfast.

After I had eaten my Kellogg’s Frosties, I gathered my suitcases up and put them in the boot of the car. Mum, dad, my sister and I then all got in the car and off we went, to Bristol airport.

Horrible thoughts went through my mind. My God! What am I doing? How am I supposed to cope living with a French family if I can’t speak a word of French? What do I say when I meet them? What do I do? Do I shake hands? Do I kiss? Do I suddenly burst out in laughter and start dancing in the street? What do I do?

When we got to the airport and had taken my boarding pass, we went to the waiting lounge for a drink. I had an airport Tango which tasted more like a Piranha’s vomit. But I drank it anyway. I mean, I needed something to calm my nerves. This was my first ever flight and everyone’s nervous on their first flight… aren’t they?

When the time came, I gave mum and dad a kiss, my sister a hug, oh, and myself the complete embarrassment of walking down the wrong aisle, almost ending up in Jersey! But anyway, I managed to correct myself and put my ruck sack through the bomb detector.

Bombs? Oh my God! What if there’s a bomb on the plane!? We’ll all be blown to smithereens! Well… there’s no turning back now. I’ll just have to die with the rest of them!

I got on the plane and found my seat next to a window. How lucky! However, not so lucky when I found myself sitting next to a neurotic girl who was so petrified that she couldn’t decide whether to have the window shutter up or down. Anyway, after numerous attempts to make her mind up, she had annoyed me so much that I decided to keep it open, so that she can see that if the plane breaks down, this is how far we fall.

I noticed everyone waving in the airport building. I couldn’t see mum, dad or Catherine anywhere so I didn’t know who to wave to. So I just waved to everyone!

The plane, still on the runway, got faster and faster – up to 150mph the pilot said. He seemed extremely pleased with himself. Then I heard it. The one sentence that made blood rush to my head like a kettle that’s just whistled.

“Good morning boys and girls. This trip today should be an exciting one – not just for you, but for me as well. This is my first time flying…” the blood rushed to my head, I sweated buckets and sunk low in my seat with fear, “… Er… on the Bristol to Bordeaux route.”

Oh! Relief! Really? Me too!

You wouldn’t believe how relieved I felt, to know that the pilot is OK after all! The pilot continued, “Sitting next to me, I have a test pilot who will be taking some of the flight for experience. I hope you’ll wish him the best of luck.”

Simon, you know what this means… we’re all gonna die!

Actually, the thing about the flight I most enjoyed, was that I was amongst the clouds. The clouds are absolutely beautiful. I love to watch them. So it wasn’t all bad. I tried to name some as we flew past them.

Cirrus… Cirrostratus… Cumulus… Aeroplane wing… Cumulonimbus – what was that? An aeroplane wing? Oh my God! Calm yourself Simon, you probably imagined it – I hope.

The air hostess came along with refreshments after a short while. Why would anyone want them? How can anyone want them? I’ve noticed that no matter where you sit, there is always someone who wants one of those exotic fruit drinks, apparently from some tropical country, manufactured by Bristol airport itself!

I was offered a cup of lovely coffee. I thought about it… whether it was healthy enough to drink, then accepted. I took three sugar sachets. I spent ten minutes trying to open one sugar sachet! I pulled and pulled and pulled – and still I couldn’t open it. In the end I decided to get my trusty pair of scissors out and cut it open! I poured the sugar from all three sachets into my cup of lovely hot coffee. I stirred it, lifted up the cup to my mouth and slowly sipped. Absolute bliss.

That was the best cup of coffee I’d had in a long time. I just hope it’s as good as this in France – although I do prefer espresso. It has a more relaxing feeling about it.

Suddenly the plane jerked up and down!

“Damn it!” I said in anger. I looked at my jeans, “That’s the last cup of coffee I ever have on a plane!”

The plane eventually came down in France. There was a great jerk as the plane hit the runway. Everyone bounced up and down like newly born kangaroos!

In arrivals there was a huge crowd of students trying to find their French friends. In the hustle and bustle I was more interested in quickly looking through my French grammar book, trying to find the French for, ‘Hello, I’m tired and hot.’ I thought it might be useful.

I found the lady who calls my name out so that I can find my friend. My legs were full of jelly. I was very nervous. The lady called my name out.

“Er… Simon Jepps for Arnaud Chasseigne.”

I looked around. Nothing. Then, something emerged from the crowd of anxious people. It was him! I looked at his form. It read, ‘easily annoyed, a bit crazy at times.’ This should be a very interesting visit.

When we met each other, I said, “Bonjour Arnaud!” He took my suitcase and we went to join with the rest of his family. I felt so tired and hot, so I tried to remember what my grammar book said.

“Je suis fatigué et je suis chaud.” I said.

Arnaud’s mother gave me a very peculiar look and muttered something to herself. Did I say something wrong?

Arnaud’s whole family had come; his mum, his dad, his elder brother Lido and his younger brother Mattieu. Arnaud put my suitcase down next to a scruffy little Mini. It took me some time to work out how six grown people were going to fit in a Mini! However, as Arnaud’s dad kindly pointed out, their car was in fact the big Espace car parked next to the Mini, with eight seats in it. Phew. Had me worried for a moment.

We all got in the big car and Arnaud’s dad drove us home. There was complete silence all the way to the house. The house by the way was huge! Absolutely huge!

We all went in and Arnaud showed me the bedroom where I would be sleeping. We were sharing a room together. You would have thought with a house this big that two people wouldn’t have to share a room.

Anyway, at tea time we ate three courses of food and then dessert. All this food was new to me. For tea in England, I’m accustomed to having Pizza and Chips followed by a Banana. This was all a bit of a deal for me. But anyway, after tea I had a magnificent cup of coffee! Absolutely beautiful Espresso coffee! Oh the life!

It was 9pm when I went to bed. I was very tired. I closed my eyes thinking… Oh God! I’ve got to go to a French school for a week – I can’t wait!

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