Parking in Oxford cost about £100/hour (allowing for the most marginal exaggeration), and even if you can afford the fees, the parking is usually limited to only two hours. I hate being under any kind of limit so I use the park and ride service where the parking is free and a double-decker bus runs every 15 minutes. I know that I’m generally an Oxfordian when I’m here – this is an easily recognised fact when you hear me pronounce Magdalene “Maudlin” – but if I have my camera with me I can play at being a tourist and I believe this grants me permission to take the front seat on the upper deck of the bus where the view is much better. Unfortunately it’s also the favourite spot of all the children I’ve ever seen.
This morning I shared the front of the bus with the most charming little family. I heard Parisian French coming up the circular staircase and three small children, ages about 8, 6 and 4, came running up to the front with mother and father closely behind. The two older children, Laurie and Thomas, took the front seats opposite and the youngest, Jeremy, began to register his protest.
His mother said, “viens ici”, and sat him beside me. The youngster felt shy and stood up. She then sat him between his siblings but he complained he was too squished. “Arrêt petit, ne bouge pas Cher(gurgle)émie. ” The mother said. Tomaaas arrêt, sil-vous-plait. Finally Jeremy moved to the seat behind me and the bus started to roll down the round-about, scratching the roof on the tree’s branches, much to the delight of the children.
Thomas noticed the black rectangle in front of him. “qu’es-ce que c’est ca Papa?” His father replied in perfect public school English, “That, Thomas, is a camera, which is focused on the mirror above. This allows the driver to see the status of his passengers on the upper level.”
“es-qu’il peut me voir aussi?”
“Yes, Thomas, most certainly”
Thomas grinned, pushed his index fingers into the corners of his mouth and stuck his tongue straight out into the camera. This was met with whoops of laughter from the children. “Assis Tomaaas” the mother said. “ Cher(gurgle)émie, arrêt petit.”
Jeremy was jumping up and down on the seat with excitement.
“Jeremy,” said the father, “try not to destroy the bus before we reach our destination.”
I tried to suppress my giggles. Laurie looked at me with a suspicious eye.
“Maman, maman, maman, es-que que-el qu’un peut me comprendre? ” She whispered.
The father said, “Remember when we’re in the markets of Bordeaux and we hear English, or German or any other language?”
“Do you remember when I told you to be careful to watch your language because anyone may understand?”
“Well, England is very multi-linguistic Laurie, you never know who can speak what language, so you have to be prepared for any eventuality.”
Laurie thought about this for a minute then turned to Thomas. “You smell!” she said and turned to look at my reaction. I really tried hard not to burst into laughter. “You smell like poo.” She said.
“Ça suffit.” Her father said.