Last weekend something rather random happened to me and I have been mulling it over since.
Between visiting friends and relatives Mister Deadpan and I went camping in a field next to a very, very rural old fashioned pub. The sort where your beer is poured from a jug and you can have a beer mug with a handle if that’s what you prefer. After we’d set up our tent, we went into the pub to have a few bedtime drinks. Next to a canal, it was filled with people who had moored up their narrowboats for the night, and clearly all knew each other. We sat in our corner, drinking a pint each and, of course, reading. Yes, I read in pubs. I once knitted in a night club. Let’s dispel any ideas that I might be cool right now.
Mister Deadpan was reading a Donna Leon novel (he is romping through these currently). I’m not going to tell you what I was reading, because you might get spoilers from the rest of my story. Anyway, it was one of those lesser-known novels by someone very famous written in the mid 1800s. Sprinkled throughout the novel were sentences in French. My French is pretty poor, having last studied it over twenty years ago and not being that keen on it then. I had been muddling through, getting the gist of some, “Oh, they’re fussing about the curtains.”
But then came a few sentences I couldn’t translate. I read on a bit, and it was clear I’d missed something important to the plot. I complained to Mister Deadpan,
“Something important’s happened. It says ‘Elle est partie’ which means, ‘She is … something’ but I don’t know what partie means so I don’t know what the something is.”
Mister Deadpan was no use, as he studied German at school not French; and was buried deep in a murder mystery in Venice, so didn’t really care that something important was happening in my book to one of my characters. Of course very very rural pubs with hand-poured beer aren’t famed for their wifi or 3G coverage, so google translate was not an option. Faced with the option of going to bed without knowing, I decided on an old fashioned method of solving the problem.
“None of you can read French can you?” I asked a clique of narrowboat people. They looked at me in surprise. They’d been having an interesting conversation about accidents that happen on canals and I’d rudely interrupted. One woman shook her head. Another man, deep in a corner, asked me to repeat myself. When I did he replied,
“I don’t but he can.” He pointed even deeper into the corner to a small man with white hair and an even whiter beard. I practically fell on him.
“Something’s happened but it’s in French and my French is terrible and of course in the 1850s they assumed you could read the French and there isn’t a translation.”
The man murmured something about how years ago well-brought-up ladies could all read French, seemed to realise the implication this had about me, looked embarrassed and took the book while I babbled,
Me: “It says ‘She is something’, but I don’t know what the something is…”
Narrowboat man: “She is gone.”
Me: “She is gone?!”
Narrowboat man: “It says ‘She is gone’.”
Me: “Oh no! I can’t believe she’s gone. What does that bit there say?”
Narrowboat man: “She’s gone for good.”
Me: “I knew something important had happened.”
And then a bunch of profuse thanks until the poor man looked a bit scared and the whole pub stared at me like I was crazy. But I wasn’t embarrassed. The whole incident filled me with joy. I don’t think someone else has read something I couldn’t in a book since I was in school and Sister Winifred read The House that Sailed Away to us on the carpet in J1. It added to the suspense somehow.