Every Tuesday, the mail box is crammed full of publicité. This is advertising from supermarkets, garages, furniture shops, and places that sell nothing but plastic, disguised as furniture and sundry household items.
The supermarket flyers are filled with pictures of meat. I have always found this rather odd. If I know I want a piece of beef, or some mince, or a chicken, I don’t need to see it, glistening in various states of undress with a decorative bit or parsley or a lemon carefully placed. I’ll go to the shop and look at the meat on sale and decide then if it is up to my exacting standards.
There is nothing about a photograph of minced beef that is going to have me reaching for coat, purse and shopping bag and hurtling out the door with my tongue hanging out. As for the picture of a whole bovine tongue, ready to boil, curled cosily round a carrot – no, thanks. I’ll pass.
This week, however, there is more in the publicité. It’s the end of summer: all the aoutiens are returning to work, the roads are growing quiet (not that they were exactly busy at the height of the season) and the hedge cutters are out in force. It’s nearly autumn; and next week, the schools go back.
This is the excuse to try to sell anything in bulk. You’ve finished being on holiday, so you must want to stock up on toothbrushes, washing liquid, crockery and cutlery. It’s all there, under the heading of La Rentrée.
But the big thing is the stationery. School children here have to be provided with everything they will need for class and homework: files, folders, paper with special lines on to help them write neatly, pens, paints, labels, glue – all of it must be bought, and a bag to haul it about in, for each child in the family. It costs a fortune.
Back in the days when money was big, and weighed heavily in our pockets, there used to be a stationer’s on the way home from school, called E.P. Jones. I have no idea if it still exists, but to us it was an Aladdin’s cave of stuff. Pencils with gonks on the ends, exercise books with the Times Tables on the back, and weights and measures; crayons, fountain pens, ink in all the colours you could possibly need – all of it treasure, and all affordable, a bit at a time, from our pocket money. We bought it because we wanted it (and because it didn’t rot our teeth).
Now children are bent under the weight of what Mama has had to bring home by the trolley load. You see families with lists, poring over the shelves to make sure they get the right kind of felt pen. Some people try to spread the load over the summer, but the good offers will only be available at the last minute. They must sit beside their mail boxes, desperate to grab the publicité, and to get down to the shop with the best prices whilst stocks last.
I don’t know if the children are excited to be bought all this lovely new equipment, or resigned to the fact that it signals the end of summer. They may grow up to associate the buying of a new pen with Mama and Papa no longer having the time to play with them. There is no school uniform, so they aren’t all crammed back into the dreary colours of the English schoolchild’s daily wear, but even so, the message is clear, and must stay with them for life: when your world comes down to paper and ink, the fun’s over.