It was decided that a ten day trip to Paris would be a wonderful opportunity to help with our grasp of the French language. The fact that it meant that the luckier of the Xaverian Brothers would have a free holiday was obviously immaterial. It was decided that we would all spend the first night close to the south coast and it just so happened that the Xaverian Brothers had a boarding school, Mayfield nearby to Hastings being in Sussex. This meant that we could all share the dorm facilities and be refreshed the next day for our journey to Hastings and from there over the channel. I have very little recollection of that stay at Mayfield apart from remembering a very scummy dirty green outdoor swimming pool and a spartan bed.
I do remember that one of the boys was probably the world’s worse traveller. On every journey during the next ten days he would inevitably have to stop to be sick. Boys are never very sympathetic at the best of times and our patience wore thin very quickly. ‘Not again!’ was our usual grumble.
Once we arrived in Paris we were billeted in a girl’s boarding school which we shared with a couple of other schools who were on a similar trip. There was even a girl’s school. As a single sex catholic grammar school we had had very little contact with the opposite sex and there was the inevitable gossip and rumours concerning laviscious behaviour with some of the older prefects who accompanied the eleven and twelve year olds to keep us in order. Whether the rumours were true or not I had no idea but our imaginations were excessively fertile in those days. There was a teenage dance club in the basement – ‘Le Twist Club’ as it was labelled (the French language idea paying dividends) and I remember the ‘YaYa Twist’ record being played constantly.
The trip consisted of visits to all the main tourist attractions in Paris – too many as far as we were concerned although looking back I realise a developed a fondness for them which has remained. We went up the Eiffel Tower, visited Versailles and Fontainbleu as well as the Louvre, Notre Dame and even the suspiciously waxy looking bodies of two nuns who were preserved by a miracle due to their wonderfully pure lives – amazing.
We were accompanied by the brothers Plunkett and Finbar. Our class was taught French by Brother Finbar, later to disappear from Xavs under mysterious circumstances as outlined elsewhere. On each of the trips we were accompanied by two charming French Vietnam girls who acted as our guides. One always had a light rain mac draped over her arm. On one occasion it slipped off and I was horrified to see that her hand was missing. It had obviously been cut off judging from the way the end of her wrist terminated. I often wondered later in life what ordeals these girls had been through before making it to France at a turbulent time in both French and Vietnam history. On my first shy exchange with the other girl she asked me who Brother Finbar was. When I told her he was our French teacher she laughed. “He’s not very good! That must be the worse accent I have ever heard!”
We were told that our religious education was not going to suffer during this trip and that any boy who wanted to get up at 7.00 am to attend mass merely had to tie a towel to the end rail of his dormitory bed to be woken by one of the brothers so that he could attend. Ha! This proved a perfect excuse for some of the more humorous among us to tie the towels to the beds of unwilling participants for a bit of fun. Needless to say, they in turn got their revenge and 7.30 mass proved popular but unpopular at one and the same time.
Rumours that circulated included one that Bro Plunkett had become roaring drunk in a nearby tabac and on return to the UK he also disappeared quite soon after. Other rumours of course included shenanigans of a lustful nature between the boys and the girls but nothing of any tangible nature arose except the prefects were banned from ‘Le Twist Club’ after a couple of days.
My major concern in those days was always to do with toilet facilities. Having experience horrendous chemical toilets that were never emptied when on camping trips with my parents (the levels of effluent being so high as to virtually touching the unhappy victim’s posterior) that I had become completely traumatised by the whole rigmarole of toilets which impinged on my enjoyment of any time spent away from home. I can’t remember too much unhappiness regarding this but there again, I may have just erased it from my memory in a kind of post toilet stress disorder…