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

Living France - - Contents -

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

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