Legal Widow

Just returned from our two weeks in France. We tried to be grown up this year and stay in a hotel, with visions of drinking coffee on our balcony and reading newspapers while the children sported in the pool below. Doomed from the start; having children means never reading a paper again, mostly because your five-year-old son grabs it first for the Fred Basset cartoon, and your two-year-old daughter then dips it in the pool for an advanced papier mache session.

With the pool out of bounds while the son of the manageress swam around collecting shreds of the Daily Mail, we were forced to take the children out and amuse them. This means walking them briskly around medieval walls in blazing sun until they’re panting, then filling them up with lemonade and mint cordial. It’s exorbitantly expensive, which means the children want two each, and although it tastes like liquidised toothpaste that doesn’t mean I won’t have the age-old debate: “But why do I have to brush my teeth?” tonight. And every other night of the holiday.

Naturally, the most troublesome member of the family was the Lawyer. Liability had just tipped lemonade down her T-shirt, and Subjudice was about to stab Deminimus with a cocktail stick, when the Lawyer whispered: “I’ll just give the office a ring, dear,” and scuttled off to the nearest phone box.

Although he had been shuffling papers in the office three days earlier, and most members of his team were very surprised to hear from him so soon, he was unfortunate enough to get through to Nick the Nervous New Trainee, who managed to convince him that the entire legal system was about to break down in his absence.

Nothing would do but for Nick to fax through to him the project agreement he had been deputised to overhaul in the Lawyer’s absence. I had to explain to Madame the manageress that we would need her fax machine for a 200-page document, at which point she shrieked and fainted, and could be heard to mutter “Perfide Albion!” as she hit the floor. While her husband rushed to the kitchen for eau de vie, her son showed me into the back office, in which a small and very primitive fax machine glared up at me in a very Gallic way, daring me to get more than two pages a minute out of it.

I convinced the Lawyer that just one chapter would do, as a way of showing Nervous Nick what was needed, and was able to inform Madame, now sipping some vile and oily liquid brought down from an illegal mountain still, that we would only be getting 10 pages.

More shrieks, but this time accompanied by Gallic hugs and affirmations of perpetual friendship, together with copious amounts of hallucinatory French moonshine. All the children received sploshy kisses, in spite of the fact that Subjudice and Deminimus were doubled over in giggles, having seen Madame’s huge knickers when she keeled over, and Liability was trying to eat the visitor’s book.

By the time chapter one was done, the Lawyer had found a fax bureau in town, and proceeded to take poor Nick through the entire document, clause by clause. He went quite native by the end, spending his days at the Cafe de la Mairie, a Gitanes hanging out one side of his mouth, drinking Ricard and scrawling furiously on the document. He earned huge and completely unwarranted respect as a mysterious novelist, and I got two weeks on my own with the kids. It’s Eurocamp next time, and no messing.