Les vacances en France

Arriving by air in Paris in the summer of 1964, I was met by Françoise, whose first word to me was “Goodbye”. I said “Hello” and we became firm friends.

Françoise and I had been penfriends for around two years when she invited me to go and visit her. Well, this caused a frenzy at home. I wanted to go so much but was worried about how much it would cost. Mum thought that I wouldn’t cope with going so far away from home, as I had never been anywhere on my own (not even a school trip). I found out many years later that my auntie had persuaded mum to let me go. I offered to contribute my pocket money of 6/- (30p) per week but was told that was not necessary. Mum insisted that I flew, as that would provide less chance of getting lost! There were no direct flights from Leeds/Bradford to Paris, so I still had to circumnavigate Heathrow. I had a suitcase which was almost as big as me!

Françoise guided us from the airport to the Gare de l’Est and onward to Troyes where her father was waiting for us. Very few details remain of the journey but I do remember that we were turned out of second class into third class on the train and that, trying out my schoolgirl French, I told her father that I had a 65 year-old cat (he was actually 15)!

We arrived at their house in a tiny village called Balnot la Grange and I sat down for dinner with grandmother, mum and dad, Françoise, her brother, little sister and cousin (who was her dad’s apprentice). We had yoghurt! It was so different from our little group of three at home, I was a bit overwhelmed.

Theirs was a big house but without an inside toilet or an inside staircase. There was large yard and Françoise’ dad had his workshop at one side. He was a craftsman in metalwork of all types. Françoise’ mum ran a shop from her kitchen and provided a telephone which most of the village used. People called in on and off all day to use the phone or buy cigarettes and sweets. Across the road was a long garden which ran all the way down to a stream.

It was hot. Even in the north of France it was consistently warmer than in the north of England. We wandered around the village, cycled and just enjoyed the sunshine but I was terribly homesick! We didn’t have a phone at home and the only way to get in touch was to write, so I sent mum a postcard telling her how homesick I was. It confirmed all her fears!

At the weekend we went out with the whole family for a picnic. I’d never seen anything like it! No tired sandwiches and a few buns for the Hugerots; we sat down at a table for a full meal. We had other trips, including the “village day out” by coach to Fontainebleau. By the time Françoise and one of her schoolfriends delivered me back to the airport, I was able to declare that I had a new family here in the heart of France. And I had developed a passion for yoghurt and crusty bread.

And, above all, during the trip to Fontainebleau, I invited Françoise to visit us in Bingley next summer.

Next time….. Photographs. I can’t wait to start looking through them to see who I shall find.

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