Monday, 30 January 2017

Gap Year in Australia? What! (Part three)

My son was looking up information for his gap year in Australia.  He knew the best times of year to travel.  The best places to find casual work (but he intended not to have to work – all set to try to earn enough before he went).

I had given up trying to scare myself with Internet searches detailing adventures with horror story endings.  I was now becoming overwhelmed with the practicalities involved in a trip to the other side of the world.

The risks - a real notice.

The cost of the flight.

The cost of the accommodation (£20 a night over a period of six months coming in at around £3,800).

The need for medical insurance, travel costs (he can’t drive).

God knows what else I’ve not even thought of!

How could he believe any of it were possible?

I tried to be positive.  I managed not to come out with what I was thinking: you are deluded, my darling.

I deliberately played devil’s advocate with myself and ended up going back again to 1979 and Camping Sirene in Argeles sur mer.  The Bev who stood looing up at the sign she had found after an ill-advised march in the midday sun along country lanes piled high with oranges and their sellers, thought only of the present.

She saw colour and light.  She saw a place to pitch a tent.  She saw the small notice that told her and Carol that the site was full.

I like to think that I still have a good measure of the optimism and joie de vivre that I had when I was twenty-one.  I like to think that I would still board a train with my best pal with no thought of booking accommodation along the way.

I remembered that the camp site in Argeles had been our ultimate stop.  We had spent time in Carcassonne along the way.  We’d met two middle-aged men at the Camping Municipal and struck up an unlikely yet most delightful friendship.  How did that kind of thing happen?


It only took a moment for the most cynical of answers to come.

Carol and I were young and pretty.  The men were chancers.  They couldn’t believe their luck.

But this, of course, was not the whole story.

With a little more probing of my twenty-one-year-old self, I knew that there was more to it.  There must have been a kernel of something much more precious inside my firm body and beneath my smooth complexion. 

Our gentlemen admirers told us that we made them feel young again.  Of course, they were attracted to our relative physical perfection, but they were also captivated by our joyful approach to life, to our willingness to experience all that was new.  We accompanied them to a restaurant, a chateau, a supermarket.  We enjoyed outrageous and unfathomable conversations about food, love, politics and growing old.

When we left, they gave us money – not for services rendered (there was no physical gratification on offer), but because they genuinely wanted us to be happy and have fun. 

And money for them had come to represent anything but fun.

They were sad to see us go.

They would revert to the routine of signing on at the Social Security Office (they were retired and vehemently believed that they were entitled to their paltry pensions, which unfortunately meant that they were unable to move far from the camp site).

They had their cats and they had each other.

Carol and I had enjoyed their company, but they were remote from our world and from lives that had only just begun.  We left with no regrets and boarded the train for the next stage of our adventure.

My son wanted an adventure too.

That was all.

I knew that he should be free to choose – but I still longed for him to stay close.  At least closer than the other side of the world. 

I wanted him to follow in my footsteps.  Perhaps taking in a slightly wider area. 

And I wanted him to go with a friend – this was the sticking point.  If he went, I didn’t want him to go alone.

To be continued...

Happy Days!

Friday, 20 January 2017

Gap year in Australia? What! (Part two)


This is a recent pic of our campsite (La Sirene) - where are the tents? 

To say I remember every detail would be a lie.  I can’t remember the exact timing or the order of what Carol (I shall call her Carol because she said I should) and I had to do to make the trip happen.

We were lucky.  The three month stay in France was a course requirement.  I doubt whether I would have even thought of it had it not been.  University itself was a joy.  I could happily have stayed there forever.  I had worked in London as a secretary and knew the taste of defeat and deadly routine.

University was about opportunity.  A chance to add layers to my worth as a thinking human being.  To learn and to excel.  And to waste copious amounts of time.

France was just the jewel in the crown.  And with my best friend – who could ask for more?

At the time, I had a room in Horwood hall at Keele University – a beautiful place with its own lakes and swans and gothic building (where I studied English Literature).

What was it like?

What was I like?

It’s difficult to really pin any of this down.  But I shall try.

I have pictures from around that time.  I wore floral summer dresses and strappy sandals.  My hair was, as you can see from the first post, long and blond.  Not naturally blond, but not yet ruined.  I favoured a fringe, little makeup, and went to yoga classes at the gym.

I adored the sun and there was precious little of it at Keele or in Shropshire.  So, a trip to France would sort out the summer months.  I wouldn’t have to spend it on top of a mountain in Wales, where my father ran the accommodation and catering for The Midland Gliding Club.  Hooray.

Carol and I ate rice pudding and jam and talked about where we should head for.  What I remember most was the never-ending gush of possibilties.  And the fact that we and only we would be deciding which ones to choose.

It was easy in the end.  The South of France was irresistible as a destination.  I had already been to St. Tropez on a fortnight’s camping trip with my boyfriend. 

Is that the way it works?

You think you are being original and daring, but you are simply opting for a bit more of what you have already experienced?

Neither of us had any knowledge of the glamorous venues all along the Mediterranean coast.  They were just names on a map.  St. Tropez had yachts and street artists.  Bars and music.  It was a place where film stars and pop singers spent their hols.  Sting might even be there.

We bought our InterRail tickets and set off one day in late June with a vague idea of where we might end up.

And, this is the point.  Excitement and adventure, at least for me, had to have a huge random element.

I was beginning, reluctantly, to understand my son’s dream of a gap year in Australia.  Only beginning.  I still thought it would probably not happen.  There were, there are, so many ways it could fall through, or at least be postponed...

He would have to save an enormous amount of money, which meant, means, he would, will, have to find a job here in France.  And he’s only seventeen.  Surely he’ll have to wait until he’s eighteen to earn money?  After all, this is France – the land of rules and regulations. 

I was still convincing myself that he would decide not to go.  Or that something would stop him.

I felt mean.  But worry and fear still had me gripped.

I would have to rejoin the Bev that didn’t care about danger or insect bites or flooded tents or insurance, or anything much at all except being truly alive and kicking. 

The Bev that arrived at a campsite in Argeles-sur-mer with a rucksack on her back and no idea of having to book a pitch in high season.

Happy Days!

To be continued…

Friday, 13 January 2017

Gap Year in Australia? What!

A long time ago, I was lucky enough to spend three months in France with my best friend as part of my university degree course.  I was twenty-one.  My son wants to spend a gap year in Australia.  What could be more exciting?

Young, beautiful and alive

It might sound vain.  It might sound hollow.  But looking at this picture of myself when I was twenty-one, I think most people would agree with at least part of what I see. 

What has brought on this digging up of the past?

Why does it matter?

I’ll tell you.

My seventeen-year-old son wants to take a gap year.  He announced a couple of weeks ago that he was going to go to Australia before starting his university course in 2018..

You can probably guess my reaction.  Double it, times it by infinity and you’re probably still nowhere near the shock and fear levels that exploded in my stomach and my head.

I didn’t say much.  Just - ‘This is a new idea – I thought you’d decided on Spain...’.  

I didn’t want to hear more.  Far from it.  I wanted to turn back time and pretend we were still talking about things like an InterRail ticket around Europe, travelling with a friend, doing a bit of casual fruit picking to boost spending money.

You know what I did next?  And I consider myself an intelligent person…

I sat down at my laptop and put in ‘gap year in Australia’.  That wasn’t the worst bit.  I sought out the bad news, the disasters, the number of backpackers robbed, kidnapped, murdered, bitten by snakes, spiders or lost in the outback with no water and a mobile phone with no signal.  I knew I was doing the wrong thing, but I couldn’t stop myself.

After a week of trying to be more reasonable, I told my son, just before he went to bed, that he would be going to Australia 'over my dead body’  adding, ‘When you’re eighteen, I won’t be able to stop you, but you’re not eighteen yet.’  He took my mild hysteria with a pinch of salt and said that he would be going two months after his birthday as this would be the optimum time for casual work in Australia.


My son was getting the better of me. 

My husband said it was my own fault.

I slept on it.

Next morning, at seven o’clock, just before I waved my son off on his school bus he asked me if I had calmed down.  I said I had.  I said that we would have to talk about it.  He smiled and gave me a hug. 

It felt as though I were being handled gently by a superior being.

For the next few days I see-sawed between anxiety and excitement.  Anxiety that was, I eventually realised, due to the fact that I would not be in charge of his safety and well-being for the first time in his and my life.  Excitement because I thought back to the most memorable times of my own life so far.

I don’t mean the things like getting married or having children.

I mean the times when I was brave enough to step off the path I was taking.  To explore.  To take risks (although, at the time, I was mostly unaware of what these might be – there I go again, thinking like an adult!).

When was my first real adventure?

Who was I?

The answer is in the picture at the beginning of this post.  Or at least, partly.

I was young, beautiful (even I can see that now – at the time I remember wishing I were slimmer and didn’t have a scar on my nose) and, crucially, alive.

Alive in a way that somehow gets lost as we grow older and bury our free thinking in mortgages, taxes and our children’s futures.  When we end up worrying about absolutely everything that possibly might spoil the family life we have built.

So, I went back.  Or at least tried to.  To the summer of 1979 when I decided to go to France with my best friend.  After all, I’ve written a book about it, so it must have been memorable.  This time, though, I wanted to get further in.  To try to re-discover who I was in the picture.

Maybe it would help me to be more useful to my son.

It was worth a try.

To be continued...

PS I am interested to hear any reader comments - please feel free.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My French Life

The French tradition is to eat a large meal on Christmas Eve - a celebration known as réveillon.  The very best of everything is served exquisitely in a multiple course event which includes such delicacies as foie gras (no, I don't eat it), caviar, chapon and (not very nice) cake. We stuck to what we know and love...turkey with all the trimmings and a Christmas pud from Asda.

Well, Christmas Day is done and dusted.  And I'd say I did a good roast this year, not to mention my stupendous Jamie Oliver gravy.  Well worth the hassle.  On a last minute trip to LeClerc I found sprouts that hadn't quite putrefied in the bag, chestnuts in a tin, and freshly prepared sausage meat for the stuffing. I also loaded our trolley (chariot) with lots of lemons for margaritas - my husband's new favourite tipple.

I know you know what a margarita looks like, but I like the glass.

Sad to report that despite my whingeing at the LeClerc Information Desk, there is still no proper double cream to be had in the region.  No Harveys for the trifle.  No Paxo sage and onion to add to the sausage meat.  And I have to say it's becoming boring reminding the lady behind the counter, with no smile and dead eyes that Crunchy Nut Cornflakes are more necessary than seven kinds of chocolate muesli.

In other random news, we have blue skies with intermittent coastal fog and tailgating, and there appears to be perishing little budget for village Christmas lights - most of the streetlights are hung with unidentifiable motifs, although there is one very convincing Victorian lamp just opposite the baker's.

Closer to home, there's something in the fridge that should have been thrown away a while back -  I'd hazard a guess at cheese or cabbage.  All will become clear during the sterilisation process for the new year, when fruit will temporarily take the place of saturated fat and luxury meat products.

Time has skipped forward - it's January 4th and I have to get back to my writing.  It's an addiction, if you hadn't already guessed...

Hope it's not too late to say Happy New Year!

I'll leave you with a pic of two gormless but happy individuals setting out for a new life in France x

Best thing we've done so far...HAPPY DAYS!