To clarify before I go any further, rather irritatingly not only Mrs Forshaw but also She Who Must Be Obeyed (ie the wife, for those of you not familiar with Rumpole) insisted that this year the blog should be about the boys, not about me, so I will make some token effort in this direction. It might not last.
Anyway, we have arrived! Eleven long hours in the coach, but anticipation made the heart grow fonder, or something like that. Anyway, the journey was not without its excitements.
The fun started indeed even before we left Lockers as one mother (we shall call her ‘Mrs A’) could not tear herself away from her beloved son (we shall call him ‘Olu’) and boarded the coach for one last hug. One anonymous teacher (we shall call him ‘Mr P’) thought it would be a great gag to ask Malcolm (see previous blogs, our wonderful driver) to shut the doors and start to drive away, the boys – quick to catch on - offered hearty ‘good byes’ to the parents outside as from the corner of my eye I watched the suddenly stricken face of Mrs A who had bitten our little ‘blague’ hook, line and sinker. She completed the 20 yard dash from the back of the coach to the front in milliseconds, to give her credit. We were kind enough to stop the coach and let her out, also to allow the boys the opportunity to shout one last genuine good bye to their parents – as ever showing about as much enthusiasm for this as they do for cross country on a rainy day. So for the fifteenth year running, the mothers have duly wiped away tears of grief while being roundly ignored by the source of their emotional pain.
It takes a long coach trip to really find out what people are like. For example, Miss Harrison, for all her efficiency and sturdy northern common sense, is actually a Hello Magazine fan. I didn’t tease her about that at all. One boy (name linked to ‘chef’) writes a keen diary. Actually, he was writing a ‘dairy’ (his word, not mine), but I didn’t milk that one. (sorry) Record number of boys (God bless the Year 4s) needed no second invitation to look for the fish through the windows as we descended sous La Manche in the Channel Tunnel. To my horror, Malcolm gave the game away, and he has received a formal written warning for this lack of professionalism. And well done to you mothers who clearly let your boys choose their own clothes. Some lively combinations, to be sure, but to balance the various horrors, we did have a French Trip First as one boy actually deliberately and successfully colour coordinated not just his trousers and T-shirt (in itself a rarity) but also, drum roll, his hand luggage.
And congratulations also to the mums, for the packed lunches. Generally a great success though with some highs and lows. The request for ‘crumb free’ food didn’t quite work with two certain brothers (we shall call them ‘K’) who had each a box of bread sticks that they tucked into before we had even left Hemel, leaving a trail that would have led Hansel and Gretel through the whole forest and out the other side. Other boys devoured entire packets of biscuits by themselves (Oreos top of the pops this year), and a pizza box filled with Haribos. I promised Mrs P that I would hold fast to the diet. I don’t see how I can report back on this while concentrating on the boys, so will have to allow suspense to build on the régime front.
We arrived just an hour or so ago, the boys were outside playing football within minutes. I was too busy unpacking the Macbook (this blog doesn’t write itself) to ascertain who/what/where was supervising the game, but we still have 25 boys and 50 legs, so I am guessing that all went well. Then we had the fire alarm practice. This is a perennial gem. You know how in Blighty we have to clear the building and stay out until the fire brigade give the ‘all clear’. Here at the MCF we follow French regulations. I have to leave the building, go upstairs via the outside staircase, re-enter the presumably worsening conflagration, press some buttons, re-descend aforementioned steps, head once more back into the towering inferno and hit some different keys. All this surrounded by smoke and flames. Thank God for Brexit.
Euro finals start in 20 minutes, I am signing off.
7.15 am Never mind ‘it’s a blog about the boys’, they are still in bed and my day is already ruined.
The experienced blog reader will know that one of the great joys of the French Trip is the pleasure of a bath (I slum it with a shower in my nearly but not quite palatial rooms at Lockers). As I brushed my teeth last night, I looked round and saw – you won’t believe this – a plugless sight of horror. Well, for once forewarned was forearmed and I knowingly fetched my ‘Universal Travelling Plug, £2.99 from Amazon’ and placed it dead centre, ready for the next morning. (read on...)
Last night, just as I was nodding off early (couldn’t find TV to watch the final, curses), that familiar yet dreadful high-pitched squeal of the mosquito hovering around the ear. Not to worry, once again, I came prepared and sprayed the room liberally with Asda’s finest for a full five minutes. Then it dawned on me that I had created a toxic chamber of hell and had to wait 30 minutes for the fumes to clear. I was too angry to sleep by that point.
I woke up this morning feeling surprisingly refreshed and thought that it might be a good idea to have an early jog to shake off any remaining cobwebs. After a mile or so of rough terrain, I missed a loose stone and all of a sudden the ground rose up to meet me with fearful speed. Those with Buddhist sympathies among you will be familiar with the ancient koan ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a noise?’ (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_a_tree_falls_in_a_forest ) Well, I discovered that with only a couple of word changes, there is an answer to this timeless riddle. eg ‘If a man falls in the forest and no one is there to hear him utter a string of expletives, does he make a noise?’ It is a definite and resounding Yes. I tried to seek comfort imagining Sue there, offering unction, but only could envisage a ‘Charles, just get up, there is nothing the matter with you’, or ‘You still have to take your shoes off when you get back’ etc. So I substituted Sue for Noreen (Miss Harrison to the boys) and things didn’t improve (eg ‘Gerrup you southern Jesse’) so decided to limp home unloved, knowing a wonderful bath awaited.
Well, I hope Amazon aren’t litigious because I can state categorically that their universal plug was only fit for a universe very different from ours. I lay there, watching the water vanish as soon as it arrived. Spitting general venom and carefully preparing my exact words to Mark and Alex of MCF fame, I stood under the disappointed shower. I did notice they had provided a thoughtful bar of soap, small mercies, so tried to lather up a nice foam for a wet shave. Well, I said to myself, this French soap is rubbish. For 5 minutes, I was frantically and vigourously attacking le savon with le shaving brush and not a single bubble of froth. And then I noticed the cellophane wrapping. Feeling a tad stupid, I came out of the bath and stood straight on a very hard and pointy plug that was sitting all of one foot from the bath and, let me tell you, it was agony. If anyone mentions ‘poetic justice’ I will not be responsible for my actions.
So I skulked into the staff seating area to find Keeley making tea and instant coffee for her and Nors and she didn’t even have the decency to grind some beans, fetch down the coffee machine, dig out the filters and make me a fresh brew. And, now prepare yourself, it gets worse. You may not be aware that your school reports are proof read by a committee of highly trained staff, or ‘Keeley’ for short. You may also be aware that there are boys of Irish origin in the school, proud of their heritage and the accents in their name, for example a random ‘for instance’ would be Oisín. Notice the snazzy acute accent on the second ‘i’? Being ‘tête de langues’ of course I Made The Effort to spell the name correctly, writing it in Word and cutting/pasting it across to iSAMS. Smugly, I imagined the impressed joy and satisfaction on the parents’ face when they bore witness to my scholarship. Well, they did not reckon on the ‘efficiency’ of Miss Connelly. For the sake of uniformity, instead of going through every other subject and adding the accent, she simply removed it from my report. So once again, as one person tries to raise the standards for all humanity, a girl simply drags us back to earth. This is the story of life.
11.15 am What can I say? People have asked me to concentrate the blog on what the boys are doing, and inspiration saps away from my very soul. They are doing ‘stuff’. What more can be said? One group did a sort of ‘Simon Said’ (‘Jacques a dit’, in case you didn’t know) followed by a geographical bingo. I did try and join in by telling them that ‘vingt et un’ meant 84 etc. but was rather dismayed when they actually believed me (after all, who on earth has been teaching them all these years) so beat a retreat. Another group were making the apple tarts that we will be having for supper tonight. That’s it. They were cooking. Or not. Who knows. I didn’t really pay attention. And the third group were in a classroom, starting sentences with ‘j’aime’ and ‘je n’aime pas’. Does that sate everyone’s curiosity? I struggle to see how or even care.
So I shall allow my thoughts to meander away from the little darlings as I have a little niggle that I will share with you, cher lecteur. For many weeks, if not months, I have been gearing myself up psychologically for this trip and let me explain why. For those of you who have any contact with the boarding house, you know that Miss Harrison is ‘par excellence’ one of life’s ‘doers’. From dawn ‘til dusk she shimmers hither and thither doing all the jobs that need doing and plenty more that don’t. I know that I have a (wholly unjust) reputation of being ever so slightly on the ‘live and let live’ side of life when it comes to work distribution on the French Trip, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Noreen putting me to shame on every front. So long ago I braced myself to take over the photography, keep on the move and even ‘take an interest’ in the boys. I have been doing all three of these things for a good 3 hours now and it is killing me. And, get this, Nors is just planted immobile on a chair. How could this be? I hear you ask. Well, Noreen has been dog sitting a Staffie – Labrador cross that combines the joie de vivre of the lab and the well-known strength and willpower of the other. You may have seen ‘Jethro’ take Miss Harrison for walks around the school, it is a sight to behold. One is all smiles and joy, the other is being pulled along the ground screaming murder at the hound who is paying even less attention to her than Year 8s at lights out. (Actually, to be fair, everyone pays attention to Miss H when she is giving instructions) But after the end of term, Jethro took Nors on her last walk of the evening with a little too much vim and vigour and, serious hat on now, dragged her down the stairs head first, leaving our key matron with a knock on the bonce that is no laughing matter (well, actually, it does make for quite a funny story, if told in the right way, but let’s pretend). As a result, I am running around looking all keen for no discernibly good reason. So, in a nutshell, Noreen’s selfish injury is yet another way that I have been persecuted unfairly.
Ooooo, don’t believe it. I came inside to write this and just two secs ago all the boys were outside as the heavens opened. And I missed it!!! Damn and blast, the first thing the boys have done that would have been fun to watch (ie getting soaked) and it passed me by. God hates me.
The hike in the woods after lunch. Things turned from bad to worse for your intrepid scribe as he managed about a mile before his innards started to fail and beat a hasty retreat back to the ranch. I thought it would be a good opportunity to catch up my reading only to discover that the Jack Reacher I picked up at a charity shop is one that I have read before. To make matters worse, my initial love of Charlie Mordecai was ill founded as the sequel I brought is total nonsense and my reserve book I lent to Mrs Forshaw. I am now relying heavily on the couple of books that my namesake Tech teacher passed on to me before the end of term. If I am forced to rely solely on the company of colleagues and pupils to keep me amused, I will be on the next train home.
They have just all returned back and behold the quote of the day so far:
Nors (picking up item in dining room): Oh, I really like this cheese. It’s my favourite.
Malcolm: Help yourself. It’s a pencil sharpener.
After supper, the annual jigsaw competition. The winners.... Well, the teachers, obviously, who Play To Win, whatever the cost. It did help being the only team to remember the importance of doing the outside first. Any children reading this, take heed! They have a league of honour on the wall at the MCF of best times – staff and children of all visiting schools. Suffice to say, we all have a lot of progress to make. I suspect some schools must be autistic beyond belief to have notched up their times. I’m not saying they cheated, but...
On that bombshell!
Another early rise this morning for a cycle into Avallon with Malcolm to collect pastries for the staff petit déjeuner. I had forgotten just how hilly it is around here and the descent back into Méluzien was a heady moment as I simultaneously hit the speed of sound while realising the bike had little in the way of brakes. Not wishing to end up like Noreen after a dog walk, I employed some skillful swerving manoeuvres and just avoided flying over the handlebars into the donkey field. I would have felt a complete ass.
I suppose, after a night’s sleep, that you might want to know who came second in the jigsaw challenge. I am reliably informed that it was Charles H and Aidan A and they will return home with a nice MCF prize.
I also woke this morning hoping for a pleasant post at the bottom of the blog. As it is not a secret, you can see for yourselves, we have had, at time of writing, but a solitary offering. A mother asking ‘if Jed is warm enough’. Fortunately the coach turned right not left at the critical moment and we ended up in France (not Scotland) where the weather is more temperate, so I am guessing Jed is fine. To be honest, no one has seen Jed in days so we can’t ask him. Sorry. Malcolm reckoned he saw him a while back changing from his striking Chelsea tracksuit into a banana yellow outfit, so we are afraid more for his fashion sense than his warmth. Anyway, I promise to keep an eye out if he reemerges. Another mother, via private email, has suggested that it is hard to deduce if the boys are well and happy from this blog. I am struggling to grasp this concept, but I have just looked out the window and they are all running around, so fingers crossed this is a good sign.
Morning spent fighting a bizarre and painful battle with OneDrive to get photos on to the school system. While I am at it, does anyone out there know how to take photos off OneDrive and put back on the computer? It sounds easy but has me stumped.
The boys are dividing and conquering today. Some trooped off to do circus skills at the other MCF centre (I await the report from Keeley and Miss Harrison who accompanied) while others remained here learning French (in preparation for trips out to Vézelay and market) and doing archery. Will hopefully be able to update winners for archery later today as they switch around after lunch. I am rather hoping to stay put here this afternoon, will speak to Nors and Keeley.
Before I go any further, I had an email from a colleague whose anonymity I shall respect. We shall call her, say, ‘Michelle’. She has contacted me to say she did not understand the cheese/pencil sharpener anecdote from yesterday. Perhaps I was vague, perhaps ‘Michelle’ is not getting any younger. You, dear reader, must serve as judge and jury on the matter. Simply, the item in question was a pencil sharpener in the shape/colour/design of a cheese. Didn’t seem complicated to me. However, if ‘Michelle’ still requires further explanation, then she (or perhaps ‘he’) must contact me again. And, before I forget, I thank ‘Michelle’ for her thoughtful suggestion that I should be playing football with the boys. I will think about it, really, I will.
Mixed feelings about this afternoon. In previous years, I have cunningly dodged the ‘circus skills’ activity by telling Valda that she absolutely had to go to both sessions, morning and afternoon, as the most highly trained ‘first aider’ (so I could stay with my books, blog, bath, etc.). To be honest, it is not an activity that particularly appeals; it is a bit of a drive away and it doesn’t vary much from year to year. However, Noreen was very quick to stand her ground with a gracious yet rather unambiguous ‘Why the ‘eck should I go twice, you can jolly well go!’ (I am not sure if ‘jolly’ was the exact work, but it adequately conveys the sentiment felt.) I was reliably informed by Keeley and Noreen that I would have to help non-stop at the big top, making sure boys were safe, didn’t fall off trapeze, etc.. ‘We shall see!’ I said to myself. Well, now that I have returned, I can confirm that if one looks busy holding on to a large camera then no one ever asks you to do anything and I can happily report that Jane and the MCF staff did all the ‘heavy lifting’ and kept your loved ones safe while I pretended to take snaps for the French Room wall decoration. CP 1, Noreen 0, methinks. Kudos to Josh, Logan, Patrick, Jed and Baruch for their skills, by the way. If they don’t make it on the catwalk or in the City, they can always run away and join the circus. And the latter sentence should silence yet another emailing critic (we shall call him ‘Steve’) who actually dared intimate that once again this year I wasn’t taking an interest in the boys. Anyone reading this blog will have quickly recognised this to be arrant nonsense. For example, I know that the archery champions were Ben F and Daniel J. They too will be returning to Lockers with an MCF prize. I can also add that Logan was quick to tell me that he and Patrick came last. (I tactfully don’t give you Logan’s and Patrick’s full initials.) By the way, because of transport issues, I had the pleasure of spending the day with the Years 4 & 5, so please please don’t start asking me why there is no picture of your son on the website. You know you will just feature in the next blog. It isn’t worth it.
This evening we welcomed Matthew L into the fold. He was under the weather on Saturday so his parents waited until he made a full recovery. Mr L drove him down today taking the long route via Reims to avoid the horrors of the Paris Périphérique, driving for nearly 10 hours. This was before turning round and having to drive straight back again. All I can say is that it is a good job it was Mr L who brought him,and not Mrs, for I know not of a single mother in the world who would have coped with the farewell/thanks that poor Mr L received from Matthew as the latter bolted from the car, heading for food, the back of his hat muttering a faintly audible ‘Bye, Dad’ as the father stared in disbelief, contemplating the cost in time and money that he had just sacrificed unconditionally for the love of his child. And in return, he is rewarded with a cloud of dust from Matthew’s shoes as he disappeared quicker than a pie on Mrs Forshaw’s dinner table. Well, Mr Ledwidge, you get a Green Slip from me, that’s for sure.
As I write this, the boys are outside playing the annual boules competition. I can hear your collective voice, baying for me to be ‘taking an interest’ so I shall go and take a look. I can report already that we have had our first ever medical-attention-requiring-boules-related-injury. Mind boggles. I could tell you who it was, causing guaranteed consternation in one household among you, or say nothing more to keep you all in suspense. Hmmm.
Extraordinarily, the boules final was a contest between two brothers for the second year running. Who can ever forget the wonderful sportsmanship in the Battle of the Bascianos of 12 months ago when Harry pipped his elder brother to the post, with Mikey being so gracious and loving in defeat (truly he was). This year, it was a Klash of the Kutluoglus and Edu played a blinding game to take home the trophy. Happily, oh so happily, he went straight over to give James the most lovely brotherly hug and there is a fantastic photo that will hopefully accompany this text to prove it.
On this triumphant note, I am off to have a bath. There is a storm brewing.
A ghastly sleep. The French dustmen came past at an unholy hour and it rained noisily throughout the night, so it is a bear with a sore head that is writing this blog first thing this morning. Happily, Mrs F is an even worse mood as her dorm were up and running (and screaming) at 6.30 am and she is positively fuming. Then two seconds later in the staff area, a cross looking Keeley just appeared, complaining vehemently that she had been forced to have a cold shower this morning as there was no hot water. I pointed out to her that there must have been, since I had been able to have a wonderfully deep, boiling, luxurious bath before she got up. Instead of admitting she was probably wrong, she just give me a withering look and stormed off. Last time I bring women here. Nors has just walked in. I took one look at her morning ‘aura’ and kept my mouth firmly shut. Suddenly I am feeling a lot more chipper.
So now to your ‘posts’. You are all a brilliant bunch. We are just loving the parent asking about his/her son’s rash, but signed it ‘Anon’. Noreen told me to say ‘It’s fine’. I see that my sister has reared her ugly head, with that old ‘pull your socks up’ chestnut. Actually, I Skyped Clare just the other day (she lives in New Zealand, which still seems a little close for comfort at times) and she started reading out loud the blog from last year. Line 4 contained the word ‘apocryphal’, which pretty much left her for dead, both in its pronunciation and meaning, so I say no more. Mrs Moreno, please tell Nico that Alfonso replied ‘¿Quién es? No lo conozco.’ Actually, I made that up, I didn’t want to have to get up and look for him. Oh hang it, I will go outside and ask Alfonso right now if he misses Nico. Hang on. (5 mins later) He says ‘Si’. See how we bring joy and happiness to the world.
8.47 am The rain has just started. It is forecast to continue all day and tomorrow. Let’s hope the boys don’t notice.
Mrs F and I popped into Avallon with Malcolm this morning, Year 8s in tow, and I am rather hoping that by this stage in the blog Mrs P has lost interest, as the diet took a bit of a tumble. Obviously an almond croissant was de rigueur (see previous blogs) and the delicious sweets I bought to bring home to England didn’t quite make it back to the coach. However, I have stuck to the ‘no puddings’ at meal mantra, so all is not entirely lost. The Epoisses cheese keeps growing smaller and smaller each meal which is bizarre as I am the only person touching it. Fortunately chef has dug out a second one, so hopefully this will last longer. Boys played handball and made mosaics, dodging between the rain showers, I fear. Good news all round as I have decided the third of the Charlie Mordecai series is rather better than expected and will hopefully keep me busy during the imminent annual pèlerinage to Vézelay.
Keeley is boiling the kettle for a well-earned brew. I have worked with a few bi-polar colleagues in my time, and taught a few too, but never have I suffered quite such bi-polar weather. One moment I was stripping off layers and wishing I was wearing shorts, helping the boys buy ice creams and basking in the heat. Without warning, the heavens then duly opened and drenched all those who couldn’t move fast enough to find cover. Those standing in the queue were torn between seeking refuge and losing their place in line, or advancing ever closer to ice cream heaven just as they would least want one. Otherwise, Vézelay was quite a success. The boys dutifully filled in their questionnaires and enjoyed a pleasant ‘goûter’ overlooking the hills of Burgundy. I found my little café without GEN playing childish pranks (see last year’s blog) and all went well. It was interesting – and rather sad – to see how many businesses have closed down, or are on the brink, in this once thriving tourist town. Clearly the French economy isn’t what it used to be. As I type this, I believe the UK is ushering in a new Prime Minister. On a personal note, how wonderful to have a female PM with the prospect of a female US president, what with Mrs Merkel in Germany and even potentially Angela Eagle as leader of the opposition. A great stride forwards for gender equality. Long may it last. As I sip my tea now, I notice the sun is out, perhaps even the Almighty is cheering on this advance in humanity with a burst of celebratory sunshine.
Some indoor games while the decision is made regarding the football tournament. The rain has stopped, so the covers have come off, the boys have been given their teams and Euro16 is off again. Will fill you in with details tomorrow, if you are lucky.
Before I forget, you can look at photos also on Facebook, Maison Claire Fontaine – same photos as on link I gave you yesterday, but perhaps easier to access.
The ‘Blondine’ team won the football last night. Lifetime season tickets to Ipswich Town (world’s best team) to Josh, Harry, Harry, Louis, Jed, Edu and James.
Anyway, (the royal) we started the day with a pleasant jog and life seemed full of hope and promise. On returning, I bumped into all three ladies as they headed off to their own salle de bains, a picture of dawn beauty if ever there was one, all smiles and light (take this as you will). After une douche, I took a look at the weather forecast and saw a huge stinking rain cloud heading our way so the kayak is looking unlikely, which would be our first ever cancellation. Oh, no, I take that back. Elodie has just walked in to say we will go ahead, regardless. Joy. Suddenly things were looking not so bright. In the meantime, this is the day, as per previous years, when it is absolutely critical to go easy at MCF mealtimes in anticipation of the ‘all you can eat buffet’ in the evening. If ever there was a time for self control during breakfast and lunch, it is today – and then tonight it is every man for himself. The restaurant, normally closed today (Bastille Day), is opening just for us and I am hoping to make them live to regret it. For those unaware, ‘le quatorze juillet’ is the French ‘Independence Day’ when they celebrate decapitating the rich and sharing the poverty around equally. Not unlike our 5th November in England when we enjoy the wonderful ritual of burning Catholics. What a privilege to live in such enlightened times. Speaking of which, just seen that Boris is the new Foreign Secretary. He is probably taking lessons in international diplomacy from the Duke of Edinburgh as we speak. The answer, of course, is to allow 14/15 year girls to run the country while they think they know the answer to everything.
Miss Connelly here. I thought I’d take the opportunity to hijack the blog. Mr P is currently taking some photographs (Yes, he’s actually removed himself from his chair.)
As we speak one group are relishing Hannah’s French lesson. The subtle tones of The Elephant Song are echoing through the building. If Nors hears it one more time, I think she will launch herself into the river during the kayaking.
Oh, Charles is back, perched on a seat reading his book. Well, the photos lasted long.
I’ve decided that writing this blog is actually quite challenging; would listing the boys’ movements every minute of the day would be a little monotonous? Anyway, I’ll give it a go.....let me know what you think. I’ll fill you in on yesterday’s schedule.
7.30 We woke the boys up, and then they made their beds, after this they went on the swings, breakfast started at 8.30, they enjoyed cereal, bread with jam, orange juice and hot chocolate. Next, they brushed their teeth and then made their way back to dorms for inspection. They then had a bit of free time before the bell was rung for activities; mosaic and handball on the timetable today. It rained for most of the day, which was a real shame although they still had fun. The children swapped over after break. At 1.30 we have lunch, boulette de beef. This seemed to be enjoyed by all. Shortly after lunch, they had more free time until we all travelled to Vezelay, the boys conducted a survey, which consisted of them entering the shops to ask questions in French, looking out for signs to answer questions on their sheets etc. This all took place on one steep hill which led to the astonishing basilica placed on top. The MCF staff then walked around with the children, informing them of the historical background and pointing out the breathtaking sculptures. We all then went outside to see the awe inspiring views. The boys snacked on cake bars and sipped their cartons of juice. A great day visit by all. Still raining by the way.
Finally, we returned back to camp, had supper and despite the weather, the boys couldn’t get enough of the evening activity. Wait for it.....Football Tournament. The boys went to bed tired and at least Mrs Forshaw had a good night’s sleep. So there you have it. Informative but maybe a little boring. My point: He’s lazy, his jokes are terrible but I have to admit, he writes a witty, thoughtful and jolly good blog. And as he keeps reminding us he did get us here after all. You won’t be hearing from me again.
Miss C signing out.
I like it when colleagues attempt to write the blog; they realise just how hard it is, let alone maintain it to its annual high standards. Colleagues might also appreciate that being ‘Group Captain’ isn’t just all beer and skittles but involves an erudition and application that is not to be sneezed at. This, on top of the mighty burden of leadership and responsibility that weighs heavy before, during and even after each trip. This is why I need to lie down so much. By the way, after Keeley wrote ‘Well, the photos lasted long’, she, Nors and Mrs F vanished into the sunset with Malcolm, complete with coach, to leave me to supervise everything here, further evidence that despite whatever you hear, it is yours truly who puts in the most hours. For example, none of them have even gone over to admire their sculptures yet, but I have. When I say ‘admire’, I use the term loosely, but the boys seem proud of their output, that is the main thing. I think they are trying to carve gargoyles. In any event, good luck showing enthusiasm at their brilliance when they ask to nail it above the fireplace on your drawing room. ‘Yes, it is lovely darling, but perhaps there isn’t quite enough room...’ etc..
The boys have just run inside drenched, saying it has just started to pour down. That said, the official forecast says there is a 0% chance of rain until lunch, so I don’t know whom to believe.
Keeley has finished her kind efforts and I have just read her comprehensive report about what the boys did yesterday, proving my firm point that the boys’ activities are of little interest compared to what your current scribe can offer. And didn’t I already tell you that yesterday they played handball, made mosaics, went to Vézelay and played football?
Bad news, bad news, good news (as I save the day) (Nors rolled her eyes at this remark, perhaps this is why she wears glasses, I suggested, but it went down like a lead balloon.)
Bad news: The rain, OMG, Malcolm says that he has never seen the like on a kayak day, not combined with the Arctic cold. Even Noreen, who is from Yorkshire and is certainly weather resistant, has declared it unspeakable and refuses to let the Year 4s anywhere near the river. (She didn’t mention the Year 5s, I noted, there are limits to her warmth of heart.)
Bad news: First official cancellation of kayak.
Good news: Your peerless leader leaps into action and comes up with a plan to satisfy everyone – Nors, Mrs F, Keeley AND myself. Oh yes, and the boys.
We have postponed the kayak until tomorrow morning. Instead of the market shopping (which would have been demain matin) we will release the boys this afternoon into the hypermarket, armed with their euros, to buy their lunch for tomorrow. There is a precedent for this, it was a long, long time ago, probably before Keeley was born, when Mrs Forshaw was a 45 year old strapling and Miss Harrison was still in short trousers.. There are numerous benefits. We staff can buy a lunch for the gods (as MCF provide the dosh) – I already have planned some foie gras and apparently the others don’t like it, so it is a win-win – and the boys will have a different selection to every other year so I won’t have to witness yet another array of roast chickens with water melon and chocolate salad.
So we will have a whole massive supermarket to choose from and I have just heard this:
Nors: So, Jane, we can have anything we like, what do you want?
Jane: I fancy a nice ploughman’s.
There’s northern ambition for you. I may have misheard. Maybe she said she actually fancies a ploughman. She seems to have a spring in her step today. Speaking about things northern, Miss Harrison and Mrs F have started introducing me, via YouTube to the delights of a Peter Kay program called ‘Phoenix Nights’. Not sure if it is a comedy or a documentary, but it makes them chuckle like there is no tomorrow. The humour is wasted on this southern nonce, probably because I can’t understand a word they are saying.
(back from hypermarket)
Well that didn’t go as planned. In fairness, the girls did ask me if there was anything specific I wanted but I reckoned, apart from celery, they would struggle to find things that I wouldn’t appreciated. They managed it. To struggle, I mean. Having not touched the plate of salami at lunch they must have thought I loved it as they bought two more large packets of the wretched stuff. A large jar of piccalilli. (I didn’t know there was anyone in the world who liked this.) A large jar of pickled pickles. (seriously??) A potato/pea/carrot pre-made salad that looks like it has already been eaten once already. Babybel cheese, made from pure rubber (even though we have a cheese platter already at the MCF). And a punnet of peaches, presumably to go with the large pile of peaches sitting in the fruit bowl on our dining table. Fortunately, I bought some foie gras that I will not be sharing and the sulky mood that I am dealing out to anyone brave enough to come near me is set to last a while yet. Malcolm just told me that some of the boys bought some smoked salmon so it looks like I will be crashing their table tomorrow. Mind you, I have been doing well on the starvation diet so far today and am planning on doing myself justice later at the restaurant, so might not be hungry for a few days after tonight.
Oh, and one more thing; to show how people around here seriously need to grow up, listen to this:
Last year, GEN played quite a witty practical joke (see the Vezelay story of 2015) and you know already how we tricked Mrs A in a fun and loving way as we left Lockers. Every few years we ‘hide’ the coach from boys who are late, always an entertaining gag. Anyway, as the boys finished at Auchan (the store), poor Nick had got himself stuck in a slow queue so I stayed behind with him to keep him company while the others returned to the coach. As Nick and I finally emerged, I said to him that doubtless, someone would have told Malcolm how hilarious it would be to hide the coach from us. I rolled my eyes, (as did Nick, in thoughtful solidarity) to see that indeed it was not where I was expecting it, so stood nonchalantly chatting to the future Wykehamist until they finally decided to bring the coach round. As we entered, 27 boys all cheered as though they had just pulled the best prank in the world, not quite realising that this was my little joke which I was pulling long before they were even born. Disappointing. I suspect Jane/Nors/Keeley thought it was hilarious, despite my telling them on many, many occasions to leave humour to those who best understand it.
That’s it for today. I am too cross to talk.
I simply can’t go to bed without telling you about the utter success of the evening! My preparation, based on two years of experience bore better than expected fruit. While colleagues were wilting after just the starter, I was wolfing down the smoked trout, Parma ham, beetroot salad and the rest. The steak arrived; mine was devoured in record time, with room to spare for seconds of chicken that the chef brought round for the boys (they were way too slow). Boys had chocolate mousse for pud, we staff had apricot tart. I had the mousse, the tart, and then Keeley’s tart, she already had had enough – she had eaten breakfast and lunch, you see the mistake. Anyway, all that aside (and ignoring all the ladies’ attempts to blackmail me about telling Sue all I ate) I will relate this conversation we had over the course of the meal. Each ‘...’ signifies a 5 to 10 minute pause while we talked about other things.
Chef: (in French) Pudding is an apricot tart, ice cream and caramel sauce.
Me: (translating to colleagues) It’s apricot tart.
Mrs F: I like apples.
Me: Good, but it is apricot.
Mrs F: My mum always made a nice apple tart, but I don’t often have it.
Me: We are having an apricot tart.
Mrs F: That was a nice starter, looking forward to a nice apple tart.
Me: It’s apricot.
Mrs F: Wonder if they are local apples.
Me: Local apricots.
Mrs F: Can’t finish this chicken dish, I’ll never be able to eat the apple dessert.
Me: It’s an apricot dessert.
Mrs F: What is? No, this is chicken. Just saying, I need to have room for the apple tart.
Me: Apricot tart.
(pudding has now arrived)
Mrs F: This apple tart doesn’t taste of apple at all, I reckon it’s apricot.
Me, Keeley, Malcolm, Nors break down into uncontrollable laughter. Jane looks blank.
Boys are getting changed for bed. Last day tomorrow.
This is the last installment, last chance to see what happens, who killed JR, etc.. Boys as good as gold last night, fearing for the lives at the threat of their electricals being banned on the way back (they had been naughty). Despite my supper, I slept like the proverbial top. I announced pretty sharpish that I would not be having breakfast or lunch (for some reason, my stomach is a bit queasy), only to find that Mark and Alex have kindly bought us almond croissants for breakfast. I suppose I can hardly be rude, can I?
First morning kayak session (normally afternoon) so we moved fast after breakfast. Usual chaos, as the boys zigzagged from bank to bank, spending more time under the branches, hitting rocks, etc. than on the river. The mystery to me is how they do it. I mean, if you just sit in the middle of the stream, the current lets you gently drift calmly downstream with the occasional judicial prod with the oar to keep you on course. But no, the boys frantically row in contrary directions and exhaust themselves going nowhere. A couple of injuries but they seemed to recover with remarkable speed when they were told they couldn’t take part in the ‘go ape’. The kayak did throw up one of the great all time French Trip comments though. Olu was sharing a kayak with Mrs F, not being a confident swimmer (Olu, not Jane, obv) and was full of beans all the way along. Towards the end, he turned round and from the depths of his soul uttered the immortal, ‘Although I am really tired and I need a rest, I wish this would never end.’ And ‘Mrs T’, your son, ‘S’ was duly accompanied by an instructor, as promised!
Straight back to the MCF where the boys assembled their Auchan lunches. The two Year 8 boys, who have about 6 years of experience between them, still tried peeling and chopping carrots, they never learn. On a plus note, the newbie Year 5s had blinis and lemon to go with their smoked salmon, clearly there are some classy parents out there who teach the boys young on the finer points of life. I am writing this, sitting with my colleagues who are munching through the ghastly ensemble that they chose. Keeley has realised that piccalilli is a curse of nature, so that is some consolation. The pickles were forgotten in the jar, as were the peaches. Good job I am not one to make a fuss.
And so to ‘tree adventure, boys leaping from branch to branch. Not much to report, they all went up, they all came down. No disasters, much bravery.
On a final note, the packing was extraordinary, the first year ever when the boys claimed each and every item. Never seen the like. I am ending this blog now before anything goes wrong! A colleague has just coming in saying ‘I am going certain children’ so I am fearing things are coming adrift – have I spoken too soon?
5 am departure tomorrow (yes, you heard that right), and it occurred to me earlier that this is madness for future reference, no rush hour traffic to fight. Mental note to self. Get Motts to book later crossing next time.
Thank you to my wonderful, wonderful team, to Jane, Nors and Keeley. They never stopped caring for the boys, it was a joy to behold. Au revoir, MCF, back in 2018...