À LA MOD
Ian Moore thought his teenage son wasn’t appreciating the freedom of France as much as he should, but it turns out he’s enjoying it more than he ever imagined
This month, columnist Ian Moore is on track with letting his teenage son have some freedom
It has become a modern lament that children either ‘grow up too quickly’ or ‘aren’t allowed to grow up at all’. That the world today is so dangerous and unremitting, children are catapulted from nappies into business suits without the short trousers and dirty fingernails interlude. Without the fun that is; without the adventure.
One of the reasons we moved to France was the space, both geographically and in its attitude to childhood restrictions. Somehow we thought rural France, with its laissez-faire attitudes would offer our children a Famous Five and Huckleberry Finn mash-up, and an idyllic, pastoral childhood, of traditional length, would be enjoyed before the real world kicked in. We hadn’t reckoned on ‘the teenager’.
I suspect that if you offered a chocoholic teenager free-range access to a games arcade made entirely of chocolate, and where the prizes were more chocolate, they’d baulk at the idea. They’d probably mutter something under their breath about how unfair life is, before sloping off, hands in pockets, the physical embodiment of an unjust world.
Nothing ever pleases a teenager. So while idealistic adults go about creating an environment as close to Narnia as possible, the children themselves want the world that you’ve deliberately left behind. You can’t win. We left a bleak Crawley for the bucolic open spaces of the Loire Valley but is that life-changing move appreciated by the teenager? Non. In fact, the infrequent visits back to the old country to see family have had the opposite effect. Crawley, it would seem, is now seen as an exotic holiday destination.
The romantic idealism still persists in us parents though, despite protestations that we are (and I’m putting this in more polite terms than I heard it) “in the middle of nowhere”, that wifi speeds are “from the Middle Ages” and that there’s nowhere within an hour’s drive to buy decent trainers. Clearly these kind of cruel disadvantages are what make country folk such hardy individuals in the first place, their stoicism in the face of these shortcomings a lesson to us all.
But even if what we’ve tried to create for our children goes unacknowledged by our teenage son – and we have two more sons who will fill his teenage void when he leaves it – our ideals remain undimmed. That’s the thing about childhood, it’s only really appreciated by adults anyway and rural France offers plenty of misty-eyed opportunities for us rose-tinted dreamers.
Like the other week when I was waiting to drive over the level crossing a couple of kilometres from home, there were no barriers down because there are no barriers. You see? Laissez-faire. The slow, one-carriage train rolled heavily past and as it did so, in the distance to the right, I saw a group of boys walk back on to the track and walk in the direction of the passing train. A lovely image, full of everything childhood should be; relaxing, adventurous and shared. I was jealous. It was everything that… hang on! Is that my son? Suddenly panic set in, what the hell was my son doing walking around on railway tracks?
I stayed at the crossing waiting for him to approach. They all looked very young and very happy; a summer’s afternoon clearly well spent, one of those days in childhood that you’d look back on. They also looked very wet.
I tried to appear relaxed. “You look wet?” I asked. “Yes,” came the reply, “we’ve been jumping off the railway bridge into the river”.
I paused, while inside I was screaming, “He’s jumped off a bridge into the river! Now he’s walking on a railway line! That’s like bathing WITH A TOASTER!”
“Sounds good,” I said nonchalantly, though my breaking voice may have given the game away. “Well, see you later. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” I lied and drove off, secretly planning a safe summer break back in Crawley.
Ian Moore is a comedian, writer, chutney-maker and mod who lives with his family in the Loire Valley. His latest book is C’est Modnifique!, (£8.99, Summersdale Publishers). ianmoore.info