On our second day I set about finding out about the local school. We had to drive to Puivert and then Sam would get on the school bus to a nearby village called Nebias. I had a EU passport but Sam only had a kiwi one. There was some red tape to be negotiated for insurance and vaccinations for him but eventually it was sorted.
In the meantime Sam and I did some exploring in the neighbourhood. We strolled around our hamlet and talked to the chickens and cats. I also made sure Sam had a new computer game to play among the strangeness. We very quickly came to meet Theo and Gaultier, the two boys Sam’s age in the neighbourhood. Gaultier’s dad ran the soccer team and after some more forms and photos, Sam was in the team.
We ventured a little further afield and walked across the gliding field to Puivert. This village was the closest with a tabac, a post office and a patisserie. We learned that a van from Puivert delivered bread each day to Campgast so we had to listen out for the klaxon and run out to buy or baguette.
We entered the tabac a little nervously but were greeted with warmth and friendliness. Laurent and Conquita ran the bar and I learned to request une creme de caffeine each morning. Sam and I played table football and in halting Franglish we introduced ourselves. I would come to love this little haven and spent many hours perched on the seat chatting and sipping pastis. Through the smoke haze we chatted and found out about the locals. The French love the all blacks and the south is a real stronghold for rugby.
On that second day we met Crystal, a young woman who spoke English and she took us along to the big pink house to meet Ann and Martin, English people who had moved to France to set up a B and B. They have three little girls and were very happy to be away from crime-ridden Nottingham. Ann told us about Nebias school where Sam would go and filled us in on details like lunch. For 2.50 EU Sam would eat at school each day. He would arrive home with the three course menu each week and there were times when I wished I could go for lunch. He would get bread, pasta, yoghurt, cheese, pastries and fruit. We didn’t have to pay for anything like books, pencils, school trips and so on. Everything was free. We had to see the headmistress the following Monday.
There has always been friction between the French and the English and many English were pushing up the prices of houses so that young French people struggled to compete. But on the other hand, the local lino factory in Quillan had just closed down and many were now unemployed and moving away. The English who live locally, rather than just holidaying in the summer were very warmly welcomed as they boosted the school roll and played a significant economic role in the community.
Ann took Sam and I down the road to meet her eldest girl from the school bus and there introduced me to Beverley whose daughter would be in Sam’s class. Verity had been in France a couple of years and spoke fluent French and maintained her place in class without any difficulty, even in French. Sam was hoping she would be a boy, but it turned out that boys were in short supply in his class. I was starting to feel that I could fit in and was very proud of uncomplaining Sam and how quickly he learned simple greetings and phrases. Sam played the flute so I began asking around for a teacher.