Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Upper School

A Holiday In France By J Williams 4AU

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There have been many objections to the Admiralty decision that the Dockyards should have a closed period for the annual holiday, and it proved once again to be of great inconvenience when plans laid earlier in the year for a visit to France had to be drastically altered. The original idea was that apprentices should make use of a scheme under which students visiting France are able to board, at very cheap rates, in French schools; but unfortunately the closed period came just too late in the year for us to benefit; and so a week in Paris was substituted for a stay at Concarneau in Brittany.

Consequently only seven apprentices and two of the staff eventually made the trip, which meant that our group was roughly the size of any similar group which develops in a larger party after the first days of settling in. In fact we probably gained more than we lost by the lack of numbers, although if another such venture does develop, the more who come, the merrier.

Our activities covered the widest range imaginable - geographically from the top of the Eiffel Tower (a jaunt which incidentally cost us 8/-) to the sewers (interesting but uneventful), and intellectually from the Paris Opera to a typical French Revue.

Since this was the first trip abroad for all the younger members, every day brought its new experience and offered diversions for which there are no parallels on a holiday in England. First and foremost was the food. We had little hope at first of ever adjusting ourselves to a breakfast of rolls and coffee, but after a couple of days we found that the mid-day and evening meals were ample (that is for all except one of our number who developed a passion for French bread, and he could usually be relied upon to produce a piece if put to the test.) All admitted that the French have a justified reputation for their cuisine, and one or two others that we could do worse than adopt the very sensible national custom of the aperitif.

Keith Hart, Den Maggs, Ted OwenJohn Williams et alHow in England could there be any interest attached to buying a paper or using a post office? Yet abroad even these simple activities take on a new importance, and it comes as something of a shock to find that this 'obscure subject' called French can really be understood by these people. We derived endless satisfaction and a great sense of achievement from the simplest contacts with the French; some amusing and some unforgettable. Once, for instance, as I stood outside the door of a gift shop waiting for the rest to make up their minds on how best to eke out their francs, some dear little woman mistook me for one of the assistants. At least, I think that was what happened. She was probably just as much a foreigner as myself (they all sound much the same to me), but taking no chances I wove a few muttered phrases around 'je ne comprends pas' and 'je suis Anglais' (words which speak volumes for themselves apparently), and made a hasty retreat. Looking back upon it, with a little greater understanding of the language I might have had a very interesting conversation. We also discovered the danger of stringing phrases together from a book, and then asking questions in as knowledgeable a manner as possible; the victims of this wonderful display of our talents naturally assumed that we knew something about the language, and at once demolished us with voluble answers which left us with our heads whirling and just about able to gasp out a faint 'merci Monsieur'.

'By the river SeineWhat of Paris? The sight which impressed me most was of Sacré-Cœur a church in white stone built in mosque style perched on the top of Montmartre. It was magnificent enough when seen at close quarters, but an even better idea of its grandeur was obtained when we saw it from top of the Eiffel Tower. On our very first evening we climbed around Montmartre, the centre of Parisian life, with its numberless friendly little cafes and endless art shops. We couldn't have had a better introduction to the capital, for our cherished illusions remained unshattered and we looked forward to a full week of exploring. A week in which we visited such places as Notre Dame, Napoleon's tomb, the Maritime Museum and, going further afield, Fontainbleau and Versailles; the last two with a guide with an amusingly insecure grip of English and whose French history seemed to revolve around Louis XIV. I often wonder if he fully appreciated his inevitable nickname of Louis; if he did he was sporting enough to give no sign of it

One very noticeable aspect of the Paris traffic was the almost complete absence of buses; but when we did catch a glimpse of one or two of these lonely rattletraps we fully understood the reason for it. As it was we found that the metro suited all our travelling requirements, and was much easier to follow than the London 'tube'; except for one occasion when we wandered round for about ten minutes trying to find our way up to the street, after following an exit sign which very cunningly led to an unmarked fork in the tunnel.

Sad to report, we did have one brush with the Police, when, on the last day, a group of us gaily took our lives in our hands and tried to cross the road. With luck on our side we accomplished it, only to be met by a very irate gendarme who, with a very creditable impersonation of a windmill, explained to us that we were supposed to use the crossing. Once more my faithful 'je suis Anglais' proved our salvation.

These are only a few of the impressions and experiences crammed into those few days; and so for anyone looking for an eventful time next summer, my advice is to take a trip abroad.

Text Source: THE PHOEBUS Vol. 2 1954 -55 Portsmouth Dockyard Technical College

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