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U3A Writing: Going Abroad

Hazel Dracup tells of her first holiday abroad in a beautiful small town in Southern France.

Hazel Dracup tells of her first holiday abroad in a beautiful small town in Southern France.
My First Holiday Abroad by Hazel Dracup

Back in 1964 when I was at boarding school, the opportunity arose for me to go abroad for the very first time. That year Millau, (a small town in Aveyron, Southern France with beautiful surrounding countryside) was the venue. Millau was about 530 kilometres from Paris (as the crow flies).

We left school on Tuesday, 14th July, three days before the end of term, about 30 of us girls and boys, accompanied by four teachers, two female and two male (the male teachers taught French.) The day we left was Bastille Day in France, a national holiday there.

We made our way to Newhaven in Sussex for a four-hour ferry crossing to Dieppe. From there a train took us to Paris where we changed stations for the night train to the southern coast. The train we went on was said to be one of the fastest in Europe. We slept on the train waking early and watching the world go by - seeing the French farm workers in their fields and waving to them as we went on our way, excited. For many of us it was the first time we had ever been abroad.

We got off the train at 9.00 am. We were staying some some 70 miles from the Mediterranean coast. One of the female teachers had lost her suitcase, found she had left it in Paris and had to wait three days before she got it back!! Not a very good start.

Sightseeing was the order of the week, visits to to the beautiful Gorges of the River Tarn. A visit to Roquefort where the famous cheese is made followed. Many of us purchased cheese whilst there and spent the rest of the holiday trying to keep them cool in our toilet bags. My father was a great cheese lover and for me it was a "must bring back item". It smelt foul!!!

The drama of the holiday happened half way through the week. In Millau there was no swimming pool, but there was access to "La Plage" in the River Tarn through a large campsite some 20 minutes walk from the hotel. Many of us went together each day for a swim and to cool off. We had a wonderful time there swimming across to the opposite bank of the wide river and back. It was a bit like swimming a couple of lengths in the swimming baths back home.

However, that particular afternoon, a canoe fastened to the bank of the river by a rope was the centre of the drama.

Later on that evening, just before the evening meal we noticed that two gendarmes were talking to the two male teachers (who spoke fluent French.) We sensed there was something afoot because of the looks on the teachers' faces. Alarm bells were ringing in our ears, wondering what on earth was going on.

After the evening meal we were told to stay put and then were told what had happened and given a "right tongue lashing". We had been branded as hooligans by the gendarmes. Apparently the canoe I mentioned earlier had broken off its mooring and drifted downriver, and the rope it was tied up by damaged. The owner of the campsite who had seen us a few times before immediately called the police, hence the presence of the gendarmes at the hotel that night.

The teachers eventually managed to diffuse the situation with the gendarmes and the owner of the campsite. Luckily, the canoe had been retrieved undamaged, and one of the teachers himself paid the owner the cost of a new rope. (It wasn't cheap our teacher told us!)

We all listened gobsmacked, simply unable to believe what had happened, we were all adamant that when we left the canoe was still at the bank of the river.

What really happened we will never know. We all admitted we might have clung to it, or some just touched it (as in my case), but we certainly did not remove it from its moorings. There were others using the river besides ourselves at each time we went.

The next morning those of us who were at the river the previous day met together, and we chipped in equal amounts to reimburse our teacher for the cost of the rope. (It cost us a few francs each.) When we gave it to him, he was very touched by the gesture as he had not asked us to reimburse what he had paid out.

Well, you would be forgiven for thinking that the last few days of the holiday went without incident, not so! The next day a fire broke out at a garage some 100 yards from our hotel, flames several feet high and smoke billowing even higher. The local fire brigade's fire engines and equipment were primitive and way behind ours.

Oh, and three pupils suffered from sunstroke after a visit to the Mediterranean coast - but these are a completely different story.

All in all we had a good holiday, certainly something to talk about at school the next term. Somewhere in the Millau police incident records for July 1964 would have been mentioned that English hooligans were on the rampage!


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