Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Back to the seventies

In anticipation and preparation of my trip to Deal I have been going through some photos to take with me and show my longtime friends T., J. and M.

But how did I end up in Deal in 1972 at the age of 15, you’ll ask. Well, there are actually three people to blame: a former classmate, my father and myself. I was in my third year of secondary school when this classmate, Lieve (I can mention her name, because I haven’t seen her since 1975 and haven’t the faintest idea of what has become of her), noticed a poster in the our school’s entrance hall, promoting an association that acted as an intermediary between Scandinavian and Continental families on the one hand, and English families on the other. Their mission was to give Scandinavian and Continental teenagers an opportunity to spend a language holiday in an English family.

The beach at Kingsdown, Kent.

Their program included a stay – full board, taking part in the host family’s daily life and activities – and, optional, languages classes in the mornings. Lieve, who was far more adventurous than I, was wild about the idea and immediately saw her parents about the matter, begging them to send her to England. Her father applauded the idea, but was a bit wary about sending his daughter off on her own. He therefore said she could go if she found a little schoolmate to accompany her. So Lieve asked everybody in our class whether someone was interested in joining her on this adventure.

I must admit that I was, especially as I was very into anything British at the time. My favourite song was ‘The streets of London’ by Ralph McTell – I probably didn’t have a clue of how sad this song actually is – and often imagined myself walking down Oxford Street, shopping in Carneby Street and crossing Waterloo Bridge, like my personal heroin Vivien Leigh did in the film by the same title.

I had very little hope though that my father would let me go. Being an only child I have been brought up in a very protective environment and my father had a tendency of over-protecting me. However, he also would have given the shirt of his back to offer me a good education. This was probably the reason why he said ‘yes’. I couldn’t have been happier. So, Lieve and I started filling out the application forms that where supplied by our headmistress. And then the wait began. It seemed to take for ages for descriptions of three potential host families to arrive.

When it finally came, my parents and I opened the bulky envelop and took a closer look at its content. As I said, there were three ‘profiles’. The first was of a family living in Sheffield. I can’t remember what the father’s occupation was, but there were three children, all between 17 and 20 years old. We quickly discarded this option as Sheffield seemed like a very long way for a first visit … just in case I got too homesick and wanted to come home early. Also my father thought that the children were slightly ‘too old’ to make good company for a fifteen year old.

The second family lived in Ashford, Kent. The father was a former RAF pilot. There was one child, a girl of sixteen. We liked this family, especially as my father was an ‘aviator’ too, working with Sabena as a flight engineer first, and a technical controller later. The daughter’s age was perfect too. We decided this family was a serious candidate.

And then there was the third: a family living in Kingsdown, a tiny seaside village near Deal. There were two children, a girl of fifteen and a boy of sixteen. The father was a civil engineer and the mother an artist and tennis coach. This was perfect: children of my age, a stay at the seaside and the possibility of getting some free tennis lessons (I didn’t play tennis then and BTW still don’t!).

Three days later we returned the filled out and signed forms, indicating family 3 as our first choice and family 2, our second (just in case our first choice wasn’t available in August). This time the wait wasn’t very long and a week later we received a confirmation from the association that family number three would be happy to have me for the requested period of ten days. My parents were kindly requested to pay 50% of the fee in advance.

In the meantime Lieve’s parents had gone through the same procedure … However, when it came to paying the 50%, the father changed his mind and cancelled his daughter’s trip. And that is how, one windy morning in August 1972, I set out on this epic journey. In fact, my mother and a friend of hers accompanied me as far as Dover where she left me in the care of a complete stranger …

(more to come)


Bob said...

Very interesting story on how you got to Deal. I was 13 when I moved to France and what an experience it was and what an emotional event it was for me. Those memories finally got me back to France for a visit many, many years later. Ironically that you are basically doing the same thing as I did. Enjoy the visit and take a lot of photos with your new camera. After you return, You will enjoy looking at the photos of "then" versus "now."

Dedene said...

What a great story! How awful that your friend didn't get to go. She probably doesn't speak a word of English to this day.
I'm looking forward to hearing what happened.

Craig said...

I really enjoyed reading your story of how you came to have a long standing connection with Kent. Look forward to more.

GaynorB said...

A fascinating story Martine. I'm sure that taking on the challenge and going alone has helped you to be a fluent (perfect) in English as you are today. Well done!

Enjoy your trip and I look forward to reading and seeing all about it...

ladybird said...

Bob, I never realized it, but you're right; we are basically doing the same thing. Hope I'll enjoy it as much as you did. And don't worry, there will be lots of photos ... I have two 4 GB memory cards. It will be hard to fill those in just four days time, wont't it. :)

Dedene, I don't know what happened to my former classmate, because she changed schools in 1973 and I completely lost track of her.

Craig, There will be more 'then' an 'now'; I promise.

Gaynor, At the time it was quite a challenge ... and it is today too. I somehow feel like that scary teenager angain, anxious of the journey and meeting people I haven't seen since 1984!

Jean said...

What an adventure. And what a shame you didn't come to Sheffield, which is not far from my old stomping ground - we might have met !!

Bob said...

I used 4 GB on my trip and took about 500 photos and only half of the card was used. I set my size setting where I would get a 1.5 to 2 MG photo, which is good for a quality 8x10 print. Be sure to look at your manual to make sure you have the setting you want. I guess you have an application to down size the photo for web use. Don't forget extra batteries or your charger. Nothing worse than to have a dead battery!!!!

ladybird said...

Jean, I'm sure we will meet one day ... it is written in the stars! :))

Bob, I'll charge the battery before setting out on my trip, but will also thake the charger with me. During my trip to the Loire Valley last year, I shot 750 photos in 5 days, i.e. 150 per day !!! Some of those were worthless, of course.

Bob said...

At that rate, you might need another 4GB!!!!! I thought i took a lot of pictures.