Thanks to Phil Blinkhorn for his amazing memory dredge, the level of detail is stunning. I was on the junior trip and remember Phil and his brother from that time. The mystery departure of Bro Finbar is solved for once and for all and can only admire Phil’s gumption for managing a quick snog with the gorgeous oriental guide – well done!
Now this is going to be a long confession 😂 In the summer of 1962 I had just finished in Lower Five Three, there being four forms as my year of birth, 1947, was known as a “bulge” year, possibly because of the large number of ladies sporting pregnancies that year.
The Paris trip was split in two. The first three years travelled in mid July, the rest of the school in early August. I should have gone on the second trip but I had joined the Air Training Corps and the summer camp at RAF Kinloss clashed with the senior trip. My brother, two years younger, was going on the junior trip and it was arranged that I would go too. There were rumours that the trips would be cancelled as the OAS were active in their campaign to prevent Algerian independence but, eventually, the go-ahead was given. The senior trip went directly to Paris but it was thought the juniors would need a break so a night was planned at Xaverian College, Mayfield, which was both a day and boarding school.
A carriage had been reserved on a Manchester to London train. Living in Stockport it was agreed we would join at Edgeley where we were met by Mr Price, who lived in Heald Green and was also joining there. The journey to Euston was long, punctuated by frequent slow running due to the electrification work being carried out on the line. At Euston we embarked on a couple of dark maroon coaches supplied by Rickards, who held the royal warrant. They took us on a sightseeing tour of London before heading into the Kent and Sussex countryside on a route I would regularly drive a quarter of a century and more later when I lived in Crowborough. A singsong inevitably started. Watneys had been heavily advertising their Red Barrel brand and sight of the pub signs started a repetitive chant of their “what we want is what we want and what we want is Watneys” promo line followed by their “Roll out Red Barrel” ditty. Advertising beer to pre-pubescent boys obviously paid dividends.
Xaverian Mayfield was large, drably decorated but set in far more beautiful srroundings than Rusholme. I was the eldest on the trip and, as the rest were put to bed, Mr Price walked me round the grounds and said I would be given more freedom during the trip in return for helping with head counts, keeping order in the dormitory and keeping a diary. This I was to take advantage of in different ways.
Next day we set off for Folkstone, visiting Battle and Hastings on the way, again courtesy of Rickards. As I remember the crossing was smooth and, we cleared customs as a group, joining a steam hauled train at Calais Maritime. The carriages, which we gained by climbing steps on the carriage continental style, were totally different to British Railways with green plastic covered seats. We arrived at Paris Gard du Nord after dark and were transported to the girls school in Les Lilas by coaches which had five seats across, the fifth seats in each row folding down across the gangway.
It soon became apparent that an English girls school was in residence on a lower floor. Much to the apparent disgust of Bro Finbar (whose interests were elsewhere) many of these girls were able to be seen in the evening as we passed their floor, in the then very fashionable baby doll nighties.
Paris was an amazing experience. For most it was the first time abroad. The different shops, posters stuck everywhere on walls, a certain shabbiness in Les Lilas, different drinks – remember Pschitt which caused great hilarity – the smell of French cigarettes, the old fashioned buses with long bonnets and the open rear platform and the metro trains running on rubber tyres. We did all the sites, not a few churches of course and out to Versailles.
Then of course there were our guides. Two lovely Vietnamese girls. One had one hand having lost the other one in either an accident or some act of war. I was just fifteen but tall. The younger guide was just nineteen and had aspirations to be an airline stewardess when she got to twenty one. She was studying in France and had the job as she could not afford to travel home for the summer. I told her I was seventeen. In those days you could walk down the whole length of the Eiffel Tower and, on the fifth day in Paris she and I did, stopping on the second stage for breath and my first real kiss. As part of the freedom promised by Mr Price, I was allowed to go into Le Lilas in the evening so long as I was back by nine. I met the girl a couple of times, had my first glass of wine and a few more kisses! To my shame I cannot remember her name and I wonder did she ever get to be a stewardess or did she return home to be caught up in the years of war which were to follow.
We were generally blessed with good weather. Towards the end of the trip I found there were two second years on the trip who, like me, were aircraft enthusiasts. I persuaded Mr Price that, having done the Louvre and not being interested in another art gallery, I should take the two youngsters to Orly Airport for a day of plane spotting. Imagine that in today’s world. We set off by Metro, got to Les Invalides where we bought tickets on the Air France express bus to Orly where we spent a good few hours watching the early jets mixed with piston engined airliners. We arrived back at the promised time, probably much to the relief of a seemingly unconcerned Mr P.
We slept in a dormitory and, inevitably there were some disruptions. Bro Finbar seemed to make every excuse for settling the younger boys and after the trip there were allegations and he quickly disappeared.
For the journey back to Calais we were handed lunch packs including boiled eggs still in their shells. These were used by some to bombard a station we passed. The boat trip back to Dover was followed by a trip on the boat train to London and another long journey back by train to Stockport.
I’ve been to Paris many times since and know the city well but that first trip will always rank as the most memorable.