So here I am, in early September 1976. back to school. First homework of the year, obviously – write a composition about your holidays. Mrs W wants me to read my creation to the class. So, a deep breath and here goes (though this might not be exactly what I wrote)
“This summer we went on holiday to France. We went camping. First of all we went to a small town called St Gilles Croix de Vie which is beside the Atlantic, and afterwards we went to Normandy.
We took the ferry to go. We went from Portsmouth the Le Havre. We got up very early to go on holiday. We were all very excited.
After a long journey, we got to the campsite –“ le camping du Chateau”. In French a château is a castle. We had a very big tent, and there were two swimming pools on the site.
Every morning I would go to the local baker’s called a “boulangerie” and buy some bread. French bread is very long and is called a “baguette”. I paid for the bread in Francs, because the French don’t have English money.
There were French people in the tent next door to us. My brother played “boules” with them. This is a French game of bowls. He was very happy to play “boules” . He bought some plastic “boule”s at the local hypermarket and played with them on the beach.
A hypermarket is very big, bigger than Sainsbury’s in West Wickham. In a Hypermarket you can buy everything. You can buy food, and even a television. My brother also bought some flippers in the hypermarket. We also bought some fresh prawns that we took home and ate. The prawns were not cooked and I was very sick. I vomited all over the tent and it was very smelly. In the hypermarket we also bought some cream cakes and when we ate them, they had dead flies inside.
Sometimes we went to the beach. My brother played boules with other French children. One day I buried his boules for a joke, but the beach was very long and I could not remember where I had buried them. My brother was not pleased.
One day we went to a local “fete” which is not like a fete in England, because there was folk dancing and a big bar and people got very drunk. Some men had a fight.
At a French fete you don’t eat cakes and drink tea. You eat pâté sandwiches and drink wine. I had a rabbit pâté sandwich and it was delicious.
There are lots of things to do at a French fête. There was a hook-a-duck stall with real ducks. When you had hooked a duck, a hairy French peasant lady would wring its neck and give it to you. I had a go on the fishing stall. With a fishing rod you had to try and catch a surprise. The surprises were all wrapped in the pages of an old telephone directory. I won, a plastic soldier.
On the campsite we were next to an Englishman who spent his holidays drinking Guinness he had brought from England. Across the road there was a family from Glasgow. They were very nosey. The night we arrived, they came over to “interrogate” us on our life story. Mum said that dad was a journalist and that he was working in Switzerland. She also said that our third brother, who she had just invented, was on an outward bounds trip with his school. This sounded very posh.
During the first two weeks, my brother spent most of his time playing ping-pong with the French kids. I stayed in the tent to work. Mum had brought verbal reasoning papers and maths problems for me to do.
Mum says that I have to work hard if I want to go to a good school. Mum teaches in a comprehensive school. She says it’s crap and she doesn’t want me to end up in a school full of “scummy kids”. I might get nits or even worse.
After St Gilles Croix de Vie, we went to Normandy. The camp site was on the top of a cliff. It was called “Les Fossils” because the cliff was full of fossils. People would spend their day climbing around the cliff base to dig up fossils. They would pile them outside their tents, and at night, I would go out and steal some. I only stole the fossils because mum won’t let us go down to the beach to dig for them. She says the path down is too dangerous for us. Mum doesn’t want to take us down because she gets very out of breath. Mum only has one and a half lungs. The half she is missing was removed in the mid-fifties when mum had very bad TB. She was in hospital for almost two years. She only discovered she had TB when she was applying to emigrate to Canada. The TB showed up at the medical.
At the new campsite, we were opposite a family from Cambridge. The parents were teachers. They had two daughters. They were very snooty. They would go to the washing block in their dressing gowns. This family had a Citroen Diane estate car. They kept all their clothes in a big metal foot locker in the back of the car.
There was nothing to do on this campsite, apart from steal fossils from other campers. One day, On my way to the beach I found a metal object sticking out the ground. I got my spade and spent all day excavating. I thought that I might have found a D-Day Sherman tank. After many long hours digging I found that my D-Day tank was an old alarm clock… I was very disappointed, but the other campers were happy when I stopped digging up the footpath to the beach.
In Normandy, we went to visit the D-Day beaches. We went to a museum at Arromanches. The D-Day beaches were great. One of the snooty girls in the tent across the way told us that her dad had been a General in D-Day and had conquered Normandy. I was impressed, but the girl was lying because her dad told my mum that he was a 35 year old adult literacy teacher.
We enjoyed our holiday, and mum says that we are going back next year, but we will go to the south because in Britanny, Vendée and Normandy, the weather is always rubbish.”
AND WE DID HEAD SOUTH – 1977 to the Dordogne and to Argèles on the shores of the Med on our last French camping adventure, for more of the same.
Fact is, this is was our last real family holiday. in 1978, Big bruv was packed off to Germany and me and mum went to Yorkshire for a fortnight.
Returning home after the holidays. As a kid I was always really sad packing up and heading home, especially after our French camping escapades. Coming home meant going back to school, re-adjusting to daily life, getting back to the routine. I hated it. Mum always used to ease the pain with a couple of extra days off school. If we went back on the Wednesday, mum would keep my brother and I off until the following Monday – and there would be presents – new toys, sweets, comics.