the French exchange
BEATRICE has just turned 17. A farmers daughter from Brittany, she is studying for her baccalaureat at college in Nantes.
It was her parents idea that she come on this exchange with the Wilkes – a "très agréable" West Country farming family they met on a study tour last year. She would feel at home on a dairy farm, they thought, and it would really help her English.
"Allo, good moaning," Beatrice says each day as she sidles into the kitchen.
"Allo, Allo," says Tom, the cowman, having coffee at the table. Then, when shes out of earshot, he adds: "I vill say dis only once."
Beatrices English, although good, is still the subject of much merriment at Valley Farm.
Her eating habits have also raised a snigger or two, especially on the first day when she poured her coffee into her cereal bowl then started dunking her toast in it.
"What you need, my girl, is a nice traditional English breakfast," said Mrs Wilkes, eager that her own children shouldnt follow Beatrices example.
But the prospect of soggy fried bread, sausages of dubious origin and under-cooked eggs "sunny side up" fills Beatrice with gloom.
She misses Jean Patrick, too. Theyd only been going out for a few weeks before term ended. But how she longs for his easy conversation, the whiff of Pastis on his breath, the strange thrill she gets riding through the village on the back of his moped…
Instead, she has to put up with the unwanted attentions of her English host. Shes still slightly suspicious of Mr Wilkess enthusiasm for kissing her four times on each cheek every time they pass in the yard. And was it really an accident the third time he burst into the bathroom while she was having a shower?
Tom thinks the whole things hilarious. "That wont last long round here," he says, pointing to a snail on the ground outside the milking parlour.
Beatrice doesnt see the funny side. Shes having problems of her own. The Devon dialect, for one. And as for this strange obsession with the weather, the royal family and something called "The Archers" – its beyond her comprehension.
Shed always suspected the English were a little mad. Maybe it was something to do with their beef. "Our ministre says the BSE is rife here," she says, defiantly.
Tom bites his tongue. "Bloody frogs," he mutters under his breath. His comment doesnt go unnoticed.
Beatrice wants to be fond of the English. Maybe work in London for a while after leaving college or perhaps tour Scotland with Jean Patrick on his moped.
But for now she just wants to go home.