April In Paris
More from my mother's diaries:
When I was 12 my mother took me to Paris for a few days. Overseas holidays were far less common then and this was a huge adventure for both of us. From my mother's meticulous records I see that our five days in Paris cost £12, 12 shillings and sixpence each, which included travel "by rail and steamer", hotel accommodation, travel between the station and the hotel....... and free luggage labels. We stayed at the 'Hotel De Milan' which boasted 'Tout Le Confort' and an 'Ascenseur'.
Casual dress had not been invented in 1963 and I wore my Grammar School uniform throughout the holiday. This meant I stood out in Paris like a pork butcher in Tel Aviv.
My mother gives a fairly straight account of this holiday so I have added some of the details that stand out in my memory.
31st March, 1963
Apart from getting up at 4.30 am, the clocks were put on to summer time so that was really 3.30. We took a taxi to the station only to find that the 5.20 train was running at pre-summer time and was therefore an hour late. An hour's wait in an unheated waiting room on a filthy station was not an auspicious start.
However, our compartment companion made up for it. He was an Indian yogi who had been performing at Bristol Hippodrome - fire-eating, lying on a bed of nails, etc. 'Dani Almond' by name and very charming, he often appears on TV, knows many stars, and is also a clairvoyant and a judo black belt trained in Japan. He had been present when Gandhi had been assassinated.
[The train compartment stank of paraffin from the fire-eating equipment in his suitcase].
We sailed from Newhaven at 11.30. It was a French boat with French waiters and crew and it was nice to be in a French environment straight away. But the boat was so crowded we couldn't get a seat. We had a chicken lunch on board (12 shillings each). [60p]. It was too cold on deck for me but Willie spent a lot of time up there.
Then it was a two and a half hour train journey to Paris.
[At one of the stops on this train journey I announced to the whole compartment that we had arrived at a station called 'Hommes'. My mother told me I was looking at the sign outside the men's lavatory and everyone laughed. This embarrassment put me off speaking foreign languages for life.]
On the Sunday evening we had a walk around and tried to sort out our French coins. Willie was brave and started using his French straightaway, asking the prices and doing his own shopping. We had a meal in a small restaurant. The atmosphere made us feel we were in a Maigret story.
1st April 1963
We were late returning to the hotel and at nearly midnight in the Metro tunnel where we changed trains we heard a voice shouting "Anglais! Anglais!" excitedly and turned to see a workman appearing a little the worse for drink and pointing at Willie. He came up to us and I had quite a conversation with him. It was fun. He knew we were English because of Willie's school cap. He had worked in the circus and been in many different countries. He ranted on abut the brotherhood of man and about us all having the same blood in our veins.
[Not understanding the conversation, I had been terrified. In making his point, the drunken man had grabbed my hand and pointed at the veins in my wrist. I thought he was going to slash my wrist. But my mother was just glad to be able to practise her French and clearly enjoyed the encounter.]
2nd April 1963
We went to buy theatre tickets and had our meal near the Mogador Theatre at 'Le Gaulois'. Willie had made up his mind to try everything, even to eating snails, so he bravely ordered 'Escargots de Boulogne'. In spite of plenty of French bread and washing them down with lots of white wine, he didn't like them. I had Sole Meuniere. Then we were ready for the show at the Mogador - 'La Veuve Joyeuse' [The Merry Widow] which was excellent. It was nearly midnight when we came out and nearly one o'clock when we got to bed.
[I found the snails nauseating but repeatedly told the waiter they were excellent. Not wanting the waiter to think I was lying, I surreptitiously kept dropping snails into a paper bag in my lap and then put this bag into my mother's shopping bag. In the heat of the theatre auditorium, the bag of garlic snails began to smell dreadfully and several people moved from our row to other seats. En plus, as the French say, I was felling very ill from the few snails I had ingested and the copious amounts of white wine I had washed them down with, so several times I had to leave my seat to be sick in the toilets. To this day, the music of 'The Merry Widow' makes me feel nauseous.]
Keeping a 12 year old out on the town until 1 am and giving him white wine - today my mother would probably get one of the Government's new Parenting Orders.