PARIS Looking back to the 30s, and the way children accepted discipline almost unreservedly, and taking into account what we got up to in Paris, I am amazed that teachers still take School excursions today. One Easter we had a school excursion to Paris. We went everywhere and at or some places I think the teachers wished we had not gone, including the British Consulate. We were received royally given refreshment and shown great courtesy, but as luck would have it, they had an automatic passenger lift, which none of us had ever experienced before. All I remember was looking through the glass doors at frustrated people, standing on the landings, as the cab full of schoolboys, hurtled up and down at great speed.
We went to the Fete de Pains d’epice, The Gingerbread Fair, held on the outskirts of Paris. We went on every thing and did everything and came away with the conviction that the French, generally, could not throw. At some stalls we threw bundles of rags to demolish piles of tins arranged on a shelf, to win a bottle of cheap sparkling wine made up to look like champagne. As far as we were concerned we couldn’t lose and returned to the hotel armed with a great quantity of fizz. Obviously the corks came out immediately with interesting results. One boy was found leaning on a railing on a landing, overlooking the glazed dome over the dining room, saying, ‘I am a feeding the fishes,’ while scattering stale bread. I and another boy took a trip on the Metro and promptly got lost, causing a certain amount of worry, but it seemed not too much. The whole trip in fact was pretty laid back with the highlight of the trip to the Cluny Museum with all the excesses of the Revolution on display.
The journey home was a complete pantomime, firstly some were hobbling about with cigarette lighters in their shoes, not wishing to pay duty, and one in particular had a hypodermic syringe, in the days when drug abuse had not even been heard of. One of our party was very greedy, and had been the bane of the people whose table he shared. On the boat, about mid Channel, we consumed our generous packed lunches. Prior to that we followed the boy with the syringe to the washroom, where he proceeded to make a huge amount of strong soap suds, with which he filled the syringe, produced an orange, and injected it thoroughly. During the meal, he casually set his orange on the bench and said generally, ‘ Anyone fancy another orange?’ We all shouted that we wanted it. Predictably, Tubby grabbed and gobbled. He was fine when he hobbled painfully off the boat trying vainly to walk normally, with his shoes full of the contraband cigarette lighters he intended selling when we got back to school, but was not very well on the Dover to London train.
SWITZERLAND The trip to Switzerland was remarkable because we saw the real Switzerland, the country as it had been for tens if not hundreds of years, where women carried huge trumpet shaped baskets on their backs up rocky, unmade paths, where the houses they lived in were made of dry-stone walls with horrendous gaps between the stones, and mud floors. These hovels were probably their summer homes when the cattle were on the high slopes, but to us, straight from London, it all seemed terribly primitive.
Another find was the cigar, not in packets but on the broad naked thighs of peasant women high up there. Years later, in the Navy, I was to become familiar with leaf tobacco. On that trip I saw it for the first time in the raw, at a cigar factory in the mountains of Ascona. Some of the girls were stripping the leaves, others were doctoring them and moistening them, while a row of girls would form the leaves in a pattern, and having placed a fine stalk through as a mouthpiece, and positioned it at the end of the cigar tobacco, with a deft rolling action away from them they would start to roll the cigar on the bench, finishing it on their thigh, which, itself had become a deep rich brown, partly natural but mainly from the tobacco juice. Since all the later furore about cancer and nicotine, I have often wondered whether these women suffered in old age. On this trip I first rode in a charabanc, the open, petrol driven coach, where each bench seat had its own door, approached from the street, and the body of the vehicle extended some six to eight feet beyond the back axle, to give the necessary short wheel base for cornering. When the vehicle was going round a mountain pass and met another in the opposite direction, which ever lost the decibel war of the motor horns had to back up until the back wheels were on the edge of the chasm and the last two or three rows of passengers were poised over nothing for several hundred feet. You can imagine the way the schoolboys scrambled to get into those back seats and the thrill of hanging on to the collapsed
canvas hood while looking down over the end of the bus into the void. When I went back in 1956, things had changed little but in ’64 when we went as a family, Switzerland was much better organised and, worse luck, more sophisticated