is rather limited. I am entirely self-taught in that and every other modern language I know anything about. Modern languages were not taught in the rural schools I attended.
I can understand this now - although I still do not condone it. The schools were poorly staffed. Teachers were often the youngest and newest teachers. They were there to provide the basics to boys from farms, boys who need agricultural science and physics not French or German. Girls were expected to make do with sewing and domestic science. A few of us were siphoned off into the "academic" stream known as the PEB (Public Examinations Board) stream where we also did what was considered "boy" oriented classes in Maths, Physics and Chemistry but never a modern language. There was no guarantee that a teacher of French or German would be there the following year. My father saw to it than I managed to learn some Latin - the only language apart from English with which he has had contact.
Things have changed - although not as much as they perhaps should have. Still, it meant I never had the chance to learn a modern language at school. My brother did not have the opportunity either. My sisters did. They went to secondary schools in the city and were taught French and German. They have forgotten anything they managed to learn - or so they claim.
It is therefore perhaps a little odd that my day job involves working in multiple modern languages. No, I do not speak any of them. I can, with dictionary to hand, make some sense of them.
And I sometimes do quite mad things with them. A friend of ours, my sister's old French teacher, is turning 80. There will be an afternoon tea for her next weekend. A birthday card is in order. The Senior Cat looked severely at me and asked whether he had to buy one or was I going to make one.
I thought about this. When I make a card it is not something with fancy calligraphy. I am barely capable of putting a paw print on paper. Instead I search for quotations, type them out so they are all in the same font, print them off, cut them up and paste them at random over sheets of card. There have to be the same number of quotations as the birthday - so eighty for eighty.
I once made one for someone else turning eighty. He had spent part of his life as a missionary in Africa. He still translates things into Swahili from time to time. I found a handful of suitable quotations in Swahili for him - just for the fun of it.
But our French friend? Could I do some French quotations? They would be easier to find but could I find the right quotations - things that would suit her?
I took some time out yesterday morning and hunted through an old book we have. There are quotations in a variety of languages. French, German, Spanish, Latin and Greek all appear - along with the translation. There are proverbs in it as well as quotes from better known authors.
By the end of the morning I had some suitable proverbs and some even more suitable quotes from the likes of Montaigne, Voltaire and Rousseau as well as others. I typed up forty. I will do the card half in French and half in English. There are already suitable English quotes in a file.
I left them on the table for the Senior Cat to see when he came in for lunch. He looked at the pages and then looked at me.
"Do you know what they mean?" he asked.
"Yes, of course."
"It's just that you need to be careful - careful that they are suitable you know...and will she be able to read them? I mean all these, aren't they in French or something?"
I looked at him. It took a moment. Yes, our friend does read French.