I’ll Always Have Paris; Episode One

November 17, 2014

Most mornings, no matter what else I eat for breakfast, I butter a large piece of baguette from Grand Central Bakery and dip it into my coffee. As I pop it into my mouth the butter is melting, mixing with the honey sweetened coffee and I am once again in Paris on the morning of August 21th 1962, my sixteenth birthday. I am sitting with Wally, a school friend, and about fifty other teenagers from many countries in the cafeteria of the Auberge Jeunesse Internationale somewhere close to the Pigalle Metro station, just down the Boulevard from Le Moulin Rouge.

The day before Wally and I had cycled from Beauvais to Paris; about fifty five miles; stage four or etape quatre on our two week bike tour of North Western France. Wally, whose real name was Alan Wallace, was not a close friend. We were in the same year at secondary school; The Skinners’ Company School for boys. He was about to focus his studying on English and Languages; I would study Sciences and Mathematics (more about this choice later). We did not ordinarily mix. The only things we had in common were a love of cycling and perhaps a curiosity about France.

No Englishman can ever be neutral about France. It is close not just geographically but emotionally. Since Wally and I both lived in Kent the only thing that separated us from France was a shallow ditch of navigable salt water twenty two miles wide called The Channel by the English and La Manche by the French. The history of our country and indeed the county of Kent where we lived were soaked in a thousand years of Anglo-French arguments, diplomatic spats, invasions, ententes, and in 1944, a rescue.

kentIn the late fifties and sixties a wave of visits and ‘exchanges’ began. Organized by language teachers on either side they sought to introduce each new edition of their youth to their opposites. It has worked very well. Nearly every town in the UK now has a ‘twin’ city in France and more recently in any number of other European countries. But in the summer of 1962 these programs were in their infancy. Wally and I were in the forefront, boldly carrying a tiny piece of teenage Englishness to France. But that is not how two fifteen year old schoolboys rationalized and planned a two week cycle tour in the winter of 1962.

Visit again soon for Episode Two…







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