A new face in a small town

Picture the scene: I was chatting to an artist inside her workshop; the walls were covered in watercolour paintings of the Norman countryside, while stacks of prints and unique painted bookmarks bordered the room. There were paintings of cows, drawings of foliage and caricatures of ‘typical Norman people’, some of whom I thought I recognised from the high street. It was clear for all to see that this place deserved the monopoly in this small town when it came to art.

But business was slowing. Ever since the council restructured the roads so that it would be easier for drivers to pass through the town, that’s exactly what they did. With no through traffic coming through the high street and no curious tourists stopping in on a whim, it is no wonder that many of the once bustling shops are now boarded up and empty.

So when we spotted an unknown man, hopping from door to door, weighed down by a huge portfolio, the conversation stopped. We stared out of the huge shop windows at him, we watched him enter the butcher’s across the street.

‘If Caroline buys one of his shoddy prints, I’ll never buy another sausage from her,’ said the artist. She made it out to be humorous – she knew her friend would never buy from another artist – but there was no mistaking the serious undertone.

We stood and stared at the butcher and the door to door seller for what seemed like hours. I kept reassuring the artist that her friend was probably just being polite and that she would not buy anything, but I couldn’t be sure.

After a while, both the butcher and the door to door seller looked us in the eyes. They had caught us staring at them and were staring back. The butcher smiled and waved.

The door to door seller left the butcher’s. She hadn’t bought anything, so he moved on to his next potential conquest. We watched as he was thrown out of the café as soon as he walked in. Then he moved on towards the opticians, but our line of vision was obscured by a parked van.

‘I wonder if he’ll come here,’ the artist said.

‘What would you say to him, if he did?’ I asked, interested. I knew this artist to be a feisty woman. I knew that she would not take kindly to someone so brazenly trying to undermine her business.

‘I’d tell him to eff off,’ she said, seriously, ‘you get to use that word an awful lot more when you get to my age.’

When the door to door seller eventually did appear, I knew I was in for a scene.

‘Bonjour Mesdames,’ he said, upon entering the workshop.

‘Have you got a license number?’ the artist shot at him, straight away. Apparently he did and he had had one for twenty years, but he was unwilling to show it or his business card to us.

‘It’s so pretty!’ he beamed, overenthusiastically, upon approaching almost every painting in the workshop. He practically skipped around the place. Meanwhile, the artist and I stood planted to the spot, watching him still. It is now easy for me to see why my reception in this town was not a warm one; it appears they don’t take too kindly to strangers. I couldn’t believe that I was now part of that act.

I stood like the artist’s henchman as she questioned the door to door seller and eventually showed him the door, just throwing an obligatory ‘Bonne journée’ out behind him.

I wondered where he would go next. In which small town would he next try to sell his pastel drawings of African sunsets? Was he even aware of the massive impact a sale would make, not only to the local businesses, but to the friendships of the people who owned them?

I don’t know.

But I don’t think he will be trying his luck in this small town again.

Maze Runner, Michelin Man Jackets and Christmas in November

On Tuesday, I actually felt proud of myself for having delivered my first real lesson, unaided! Most of the time, I take students for one-to-one sessions or help the teacher during her lessons. However, on Tuesday, I had to plan and deliver my very own lessons to about 30 12-year-olds. And it went really well. Of course, I knew that using a funny YouTube video would help keep their attention. And as it turns out, I did manage to have authority over any less-than-perfect behaviour. I don’t know how much of the vocabulary they will remember because I had to introduce them to a new topic, but it was a good foundation to build upon, and I am pleased with how it went.

And to top off a day of great achievement, I made myself a ruddy good cottage pie for dinner!

On Wednesday, I worked for a few hours and then met Sarah at the bus stop. We cooked a fabulous roast dinner at mine, then settled down to eat the creamy, chocolatey cakes she had brought for dessert. They were delicious! Afterwards, we ventured out to the cinema to watch the new Maze Runner film. I was a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep up with it in French, but actually it was quite easy viewing – except the zombies, that was not welcomed by me! We finished off the evening with loads of chocolate, just how a Wednesday night should be spent.

Thursday was decidedly uneventful, so much so that I have almost forgotten what I did…

Despite it being my day off on Friday, I decided to get up early and catch the bus to Vire for the market. It was a typically French affair: cheese stalls aplenty, people lining up to get their daily fruit, vegetables and bread, and strange, puffy, Michelin-man jackets for sale. But before I even arrived at the market, something interesting happened. After about 15 minutes on the bus, it stopped in a small town called Sourdeval, where two women got on. They were English and clearly struggling to understand the bus driver, so I thought I would give them a hand. As we got to talking, not only did I find out that one of them was also called Nikki, but that they had lived in France for over 8 years! As I hopped from one cafe to another, then back to the bus, I continued to see the women and chat about how we all came to find ourselves in rural Normandy.

When I returned to Mortain, I opened up a package that my sister had given me a few weeks earlier. She had told me not to open it until I had a free day, with no plans. She had also told me not to get too excited about it. But it was worth getting excited about. The package contained a copy of Glamour Magazine, a sachet of Cadbury’s hot chocolate, a pocket Sudoku book, a face mask, and a family-sized bar of Galaxy. Now, that is DEFINITELY worth getting excited about.

Saturday. I made the brave step into one of the many local hairdressers and hoped for the best. After having seen the results of the client before me, I was not hopeful. Thankfully, the hairdresser did not leave me with a wild, red bob, so all was well. I managed to successfully have my hair highlighted, trimmed and straightened, AND do a fair amount of useless chit-chat. When I left the salon, I went to check out the little Christmas market that had popped up in Mortain. It was a bit strange really, because it is still November, and as I write this, the market has already been taken down. Apparently, this strange arrangement is due to the fact that Mortain does not own its own market chalets, so they had to be borrowed from another town nearby. Nevertheless, the market was quite sweet; especially the ponies pulling children along in their sleighs.

So there we are, one more week over. There isn’t anything to write about today because it’s Sunday, in France, so naturally everything has gone into hibernation. However, after the market I am feeling more in the Christmas spirit, so I’m settling down to watch Elf.

A plus tard