Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Le Dernier Mot - articles by Samantha David

 

DERNIER MOT - The Old Ladies 

 

      The best thing about living in Moisson is talking to the old ladies about the olden days.  It started when we first bowled up in Moisson, two eager-beavers still smelling of Calais sea-spray, and I was offered a temporary job filling in for the local home help. 

      I was thrilled and went at it with a will, walking miles to get to dilapidated farm houses with my Marigolds in my handbag.  It was quite an education.  None of my old ladies had Hoovers - they were deeply suspicious of such modern contraptions and morbidly afraid of running up their electricity bills so they made me sweep up with their twig brooms.

      Also, none of them had squeezy mops, they had lumpy grey floor cloths and special hard brooms, and one old lady lost her temper with me because having swept up all the bread crumbs, I stupidly threw them in the bin instead of leaning out of the window and scattering them for the chickens.

      So I was nervous to begin with - until I realised that most of my victims were as nervous as I was - hence they were cleaning up before “l’anglaise” arrived, proudly determined that the foreigner from the city shouldn’t say they lived in dirty houses.

      I started to slow down, only giving floors a vague wave with a broom, dusting round rather than under ornaments, allowing my baby to crawl all over their floors and letting my dog sniff their bins... 

      Which was when my job really took off.  No-one really needed a cleaner.  What they preferred was a good old chat.  With my limited French I wasn't ideal but nevertheless I was better than no-one, and I was good at listening.  One of my old ladies told me proudly that her husband had only once beaten her - for losing one of her ear-rings when she was out with the goats. 

      “I stayed out there on the hillside for two days looking for that ear-ring,” she said.  “It was pure gold with a ruby chip in it.  But it must have got caught on a thorn bush and flown away.  I don’t blame him for beating me though.  I was a daft as a girl.  But I looked for that ear-ring for twenty years - until we gave up the goats - but I never found it.  I still wear the other one though.  See?”

      And then she dug a bottle of scent out.  Her son had given it to her before he died of cancer, but she’d never been able to unscrew the top, she told me.  “But you’ll know how do it,” she said and she was thrilled when I showed her how to spray it on her wrists.

      Old Eglantine was a tougher proposition altogether.  "I've asked all the neighbours in!" she cackled on the first day.  "To keep an eye on you!  Everyone knows you English do everything the wrong way, drive on the wrong side, refuse everything just to be contrary!"

      "I bet she mops before she sweeps!" hissed Old Yvette and went off into fits of laughter. 

      "And dries before she mops!" said Old Delphine.

      Now I might be stupid, but I'm not THAT dumb.  I know when I'm being wound up.  "You're right!" I said.  "I also usually have a sit down before I start!"

      "That's you told!" screeched Eglantine, flicking olive pits at her cronies.  "She's not as stupid as she looks!  Sit down, English, sit down!  Pick that baby up!  Let me tell you something..."

      Which was the end of any attempt to clean Old Eglantine's house and the beginning of my induction into Cévenol village life.

 

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