Saturday, 17 January 2009


"I hate the french and I hate France, Mummy" sobs Trefusis Minor at the start of his second week at the local Ecole Maternelle. "Why can't I just go to English school like everyone else?"

At the school gate we're surrounded by uber-sleek French Mamans and their tiny tadpoles, each of whom is more beautifully dressed than a Bonpoint ad, and all defying the skanky official W6 dresscode to look seriously Bon Chic, Bon Genre. One petit têtard has a mink lining to her anorak.

Neither TM nor I is looking BCBG. We're looking decidedly Hammersmith, having spent the time I would normally have spent making sure my clothes vaguely went together and my hair was brushed on talking TM down from the parapet. After going through four handkerchiefs drying his tears whilst persuading - bribing/begging delete as appropriate - him to leave the house, I find I can't face trying to get him into the Ralph-Lauren-Goes-Gallic outfit I'd chosen as sartorial camouflage, and he's defaulted to his preferred look of miniature snow-boarder.

Poor T.M. He hasn't inherited his father's obsessive francophilia. He wouldn't be going to the french school at all if any one of eleven local primary schools had a place for him. Mr Trefusis, franco-phone that he is, had put his name down for the French school three years previously, and by some miracle he got to the top of the list just as Hammersmith and Fulham were threatening to force us to send him to the only state school with places in the borough. A school in the middle of a sink estate with 85% of pupils speaking english as a second language. So we've sent him to a school where 99% of pupils speak english as a second language - the one percent being Trefusis Minor, of course- the difference I suppose being that they all speak the same first language and they wear Cyrillus rather than kevlar.

We tried to fast-track TM's french over the Christmas break, which resulted in nothing more than him speaking english with a comedy foreign accent. He sounded exactly like the policeman from 'Allo, 'Allo. He may have heard french spoken all his life, but he seems also to have a strong sense of national identity, and rejects the idea of speaking anything other than his mother tongue. Isn't four a little young for such teenage rebellion?

Oh dear. I hope what they say about children being hard-wired for language is true and that TM will suddenly cede to peer pressure and meet me at the school gate with a cheery 'Maman!'. I hate the thought of him sitting there in class not really knowing what's going on.

I know that a bi-lingual education is a good thing, and at least he won't have to learn 'Human, social and environmental understanding' rather than history and geography, but it doesn't make a new school easier to explain to a tearful Trefusis Minor.

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