La Manche et moi – Le prix d’un café

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La Manche et Moi – Le prix d’un café

Public transport where I live ‘au fin fond de nulle part’ (in the back of beyond) is non-existant. The village train station closed ‘il y a des lustres’ (many moons ago) and the 150 inhabitants don’t ‘justifient’ (warrant) a bus service. I have no car at the moment, so my friends have kindly offered to chauffeur me until I can sort something out. ‘Des requêtes impromptues’ (impromptu requests) for lifts (de m’emmener en voiture) are no problem at all. In fact people have been knocking at my door to check that I have ‘fait les provisions’ (done the shopping)! But pinning them down to a particular day or time ‘voulu’ (of my choosing) becomes a ‘problème délicat’ (delicate issue). My train to England leaves at 7:45 am and ‘tout naturellement’ (understandably) this is viewed as the wrong time to ask for a lift. ‘Je suis obligée’ (I am forced to) hitch a lift with the English couple who already ferry my daughter to the bus-stop and I try to assuage ‘mes sentiments de culpabilité (my guilt) with the promise that I will return with Cadbury’s milk chocolate and Marmite (La Marmite est une marque de pâte à tartiner salée à base de levure, appréciée ou détestée, au Royaume-Uni mais inconnue en France ).

After a 5 am réveil (wake-up), and a frantic ‘course’ (race) with our wheelie suitcases (undoubtedly waking the entire village up anyway), we get our lift to the bus stop, then wait with the school kids for the public bus to the station.

The bus provokes ‘une débandade’ (a stampede) of suitcase-laden students, but a stern looking driver ‘les chasse’ (shooes them away) and ‘montre du doigt’ (points to) the bus behind. Before I can battle my way past them, the bus pulls off, and a ‘bus scolaire’ arrives, destination Gap – about 30 minutes further than Veynes, the station I want. Hysteria mounts as I have visions of missing my 4 train connections home. I plead with the driver to let me on – and more importantly let me off – at the desired stop. ‘Il opine du bonnet’ (he nods his head) reluctantly.

My first coffee of the day is from an (old-fashioned) ‘démodé’, almost (derelict) ‘délabré’ bar near the station. A ‘café crème’ sets me back a reasonable 2,20 €. ‘Un habitué’ (a regular) exclaims indignantly at the cost. ‘Ce n’est pas moi le patron’ (I’m not the boss) the bartender counters. After a 2 hour train journey to Grenoble, I have 10 minutes to ‘descendre’ (down) a ‘noisette’ at the bar (au zinc). ‘Installez-vous Madame! (Please sit down) the waiter offers, but I explain that I am ‘à la bourre’ (in a hurry). The thimble-sized cup of expresso with a tiny bit of steamed milk, also costs 2,20 €. On the train to Paris, an expresso in ‘la voiture-bar’ (the buffet car) is a shocking 3,75 €. But in the café in front of the Gare du Nord ‘je grimace’ (I wince) as I hand over 4,50 € for my final expresso of the day. And that’s it. ‘Je nage dans la caféine’ (I am caffeined up to the eyeballs) and all of my euros are gone.

‘Il se met à pleuvoir’ (it starts to rain) as soon as we emerge from the Channel Tunnel and after a twenty minute swim from Kings Cross St Pancras to Euston station, I order a filter coffee. It is handed to me in a receptacle the size of a small bucket ‘sceau’ and it tastes like ‘l’eau de mer’ (seawater), but at £2.50 it’s a hot, wet, hand-warming bargain which ‘je sirote’ (I nurse) all the way home.

For more information on how to order coffee in France, have a look at this great blog by