Call of France

A Trilogy by Barry A. Whittingham

Have a Nice Something!

The French custom of wishing you a nice something on parting

‘Have a nice game of Scrabble!’

Given the doubtful nature of English cooking, the Frenchman in us can certainly understand why you Brits can’t be gulled into taking seriously someone who expresses the wish that you have a nice meal. He would, nevertheless, have thought that a conception of politeness which encourages you to display, from the very moment you meet, a maximum of familiarity towards your fellow man – even when he’s a total stranger – would, at least, require you to have the decency, on parting, to express the hope that you have a nice day. Toutefois, when you think about it, what could be less astonishing that a people who for centuries were preached to night and day that enjoyment of any kind was a cardinal sin should rarely wish one another a nice anything?
     Nevertheless, anyone wanting to embrace French lifestyle and culture to the full must be aware right from the start that the Gallics are incapable of parting from those they’ve been chatting to (even when not much more than half a dozen words have been exchanged) without systematically wishing they have a nice something. Such a well-established and accepted part of French polite etiquette is this that not expressing the wish that you have a nice walk, a nice game of golf or a nice journey would be perceived, at best, as a glaring omission and, at worst, the height of discourtesy.
     The most frequently-encountered of these turns of phrase are focused on parts of the day or week – ‘bonne journée’, ‘bon après-midi’, ‘bonne soirée’, ‘bonne nuit’, ‘bon weekend’, counting among the most common. Others (the untranslatability of which somewhere seems to endorse the fact that they’re alien to Anglophone polite culture) are more specific, and split morning, afternoon and evening into beginnings and ends: ‘bonne fin d’après-midi’ (literally ‘have a nice end to your afternoon’), ‘bon début de soirée’ (‘have a nice beginning to your evening’). And ‘bon réveil’ (‘have a nice wake-up’) is a favourite with early-morning newsreaders. What’s more, the custom is flexible enough to embrace any activity you’re already, or are soon to be engaged in and, if this is of a challenging or irksome nature, a ‘bon courage’ is usually forthcoming. In addition, you can be wished a vague, all-embracing ‘bonne continuation’ (‘continue having a nice whatever you’re doing now’) – even when you’re doing nothing at all! So the number of variants is without limitation (we’ve even heard ‘bonne partie de Scrabble’ (‘have a nice game of Scrabble’).

This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book, Barry’s Frenglish Folies – ‘A potpourri of humorous, serious, and humorously serious reflections on the French and English seen through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

Barry’s Frenglish Folies is available as a free Kindle download at :

                          https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZ39MUB

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Unfriendlily Polite?

Some kind of stockbroker?

All right. So, in true Anglo-Saxon spirit, you’ve started out on friendlily polite terms with someone you barely know. The problem is what do you do when things don’t quite work out as friendlily as you’d have liked? How do you become unfriendlily polite? Only the other day, for example, someone cold-called us (he was American judging by his accent) … from New Delhi, of all places! We don’t really know how he’d got hold of our name, and we later cursed ourself for not thinking to enquire. After we’d informed him he was correct in his assumption that he’d got Barry Whittingham on the end of his line, without so much as a by your leave he proceeded to drop the family name. And then, in between all the Barrys, we began to realize that he was asking us to believe he was some kind of stockbroker, and that the instant friendship his insistant use of our first name seemed to imply obliged him to reveal that, if we invested a rather daunting amount in the shares of a certain company, some corporate miracle would take place within the next two months causing their value to increase by at least 50%.

Though we did manage to resist becoming unfriendlily polite for the next few minutes or so, it was when he said, ‘But you’ve got to act now, Barry!’ that it all started to crumble. But, strangely enough, what irritated us most was not so much the unlikely nature of what he was trying to get us to swallow as his dogged use of our Christian name. And when he added, ‘Barry, grab a pen and jot the name of this company down,’ our annoyance got the better of us, and we replied (it must have been the Frenchman in us) rather shirtily that we weren’t going to grab anything at all … for the moment, at least.

‘But, Barry,’ he insisted, ‘this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Barry, this is something you just can’t afford to miss out on!’

At this point even our Englishman began to get downright hostile, and we proceeded to inform him that if he didn’t want our conversation to become unfriendlily polite he would have to take ‘no’ for an answer. And it only took another, ‘But Barry…,’ for us to lose most of our self-control, and the little that remained of the polite gentleman our English alter usually tries to be only just managed a peremptory ‘goodbye,’ before we slammed the phone down.

On reflection, we would much rather have preferred being addressed by the occasional Mr Whittingham, rather than an overdose of Barry – or even, for that matter, by nothing at all. And between you and us, we’ve got to admit that a nice, deferential ‘sir’ from time to time wouldn’t have gone amiss. We must be a snob at heart.

 

                             *   *   *

 

This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book, Barry’s Frenglish Folies – ‘a potpourri of humorous, serious, and humorously serious reflections on the French and English seen through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

Barry’s Frenglish Folies is available as a free Kindle download at :

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZ39MUB

Subscribe to our mailing list

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Anglo-Saxon Instant Friendship

 

Inappropriate Familiarity?

One of those many things the Frenchie in us has difficulty in understanding about you Anglo-Saxons is the fact that, in contrast to the more formal French polite codes where the use of Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle to address strangers is de rigueur,  the importance you attach to instant friendship requires you to greet people you’ve never met in your life before in the most familiar of terms. During our holidays in England last year, for example, we walked into a small  shop. There we were welcomed by an assistant, young enough to be our grand-daughter, and whom we’d never clapped eyes on in our life before, with a cheery, ‘Hello, young man!’ So much did her greeting smack of inappropriate familiarity that our French and Englishman joined together in firmly pointing out that, since she would never have addressed a genuine young man in this way, what really prompted her greeting was, in fact, the very opposite to what she was attempting to imply – namely, that we were no longer a young man!

‘Young Man’ and ‘Old Boy’.

So how is it possible for the uninformed Frenchman not to fall into total confusion in a country where the quest for instant friendship obliges you to  call a man ‘a young man’ when he’s not a young man, but rarely call a man ‘a young man’ when he is a young man, and where it’s quite possible to address both an old man and a young boy as ‘young man’, and both a young man and an old man as ‘old boy?’ Isn’t it far more logical to be friendlily polite with people you know, and just politely polite with those you don’t?

Instant Friendship?

‘Hello, I’m John.’

Mind you, we probably got off lightly. For such is the importance you English attach to instant friendship that when you go into a shop you can be addressed by someone you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing in your life before with a disconcerting variety of familiar appellations which can only lead the foreign observer to surmise that you’re on the most intimate of terms. What’s more, this obsession with instant friendship obliges us to invite people we’ve never in our life mucked the pigs out with to address us by our Christian name, or even its diminutive, and to take the liberty of using theirs. Last Saturday evening, for instance, we were invited to a dinner party given by a couple of English friends.

‘I don’t think you know Jennifer and John,’ said our hostess by way of introduction to a couple we’d never in our life met before.

‘Oh, just call me Jennie,’ replied the lady, her cheeks creasing into the sweetest of smiles.

Limits?

This addiction to instantaneous friendship can, however, show its limits. This was illustrated one day last summer when we took ourself along to an agricultural show with an English friend and his wife. As we were walking past one stand a young woman rushed up to our friend’s wife.

‘How wonderful it is to see you again!’ she effused, seizing her in a smothering embrace. A brief conversation followed between them after which we continued on our way.

‘Yes, I met her at a dinner party a couple of weeks ago,’ my friend’s wife explained, ‘but I can’t for the life of me remember her name!’

  *   *   *

This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book Barry’s Frenglish Folies, ‘a potpourri of serious, humorous and seriously humorous reflections on the French and English viewed through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

You can download the free Kindle edition of Barry’s Frenglish Folies by following the link below :

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZ39MUB

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Thoughts on the French Dunk

 

The English and French Breakfast

It has always been an enigma to the French part of our Frenglish self that you English, so universally condemned for the uninspired nature of your cooking, could have managed to impose on our planet such a varied, copious and delicious meal as the cooked breakfast; and our English half is no less mystified that the French, who have elevated cooking to no less than a creative art, could have come up with nothing more imaginative than a miserable slice of bread and a bowl of watery coffee by which to start the day. Nevertheless, this is not to say that the Gallics do not appreciate the qualities of a full English breakfast. But there exists perhaps no other country in the world where so many people unreservedly admit there’s nothing like a substantial meal to get the day off to a flying start, and where so few actually find it possible to believe that anyone can have either the time or the stomach to  take it – even at the weekend.

A Soggy Mass

What our Englishman finds far more regrettable than the insipid, insufficient nature of the French breakfast is the manner in which it is frequently ingested: for a widespread Gallic practice (as rampant as queue-jumping, street demonstrations, strikes and le Système D) consists in plunging bread or croissant into a breakfast bowl of coffee (or hot chocolate) until the former has imbibed as much of the latter as the laws of physics will allow. The soggily unappetizing mass thereby produced is then popped into mouth, munched with relish before finally being allowed to slide down throat.

 An Ancient Ritual?

Does the practice (hereinafter referred to as ‘the French dunk’) draw its origins from some ancient Gallic ritual which required food to be dipped into a recipient containing the still warm blood of a vanquished foe? Is it now considered to be a pre-masticatory phase essential to a digestive system not yet in full working order at this early time of day? Or does it simply provide a means of adding a modicum of taste to a meal more suited to a prison punishment diet? Whatever the case may be, the habit is endemic enough to constitute an infallible sign of French presence in the breakfast room of any foreign holiday hotel.

A Breach of Table Etiquette

Beyond the doubtful gustatory merits of the French dunk and the nauseous spectacle it presents, what shocks the Englishman in us even more is that this use of bread to perform a function more commonly associated with that of a sponge represents a gross breach of table etiquette: for an elementary rule of good table manners states that solids and liquids may only  be united after being despatched separately down throat.

Other Meals

Our Englishman might have been prepared to grant some attenuating circumstances, had the French dunk been restricted to breakfast alone, which, considering the early hour this usually takes place, would have enabled it to go unnoticed by those non-dunkers still under the influence of their recent dormant state. Regrettably, the same technique is unashamedly presented to fully-awakened public gaze during meals consumed at other times of the day, particularly (though not limited to) ther final stages when most solid matter has been transferred from plate to stomach, and little else remains but the sauce. In this respect, moreover, such is the assiduity with which bread is used to wipe the plate clean that subsequent washing is rendered entirely superfluous.

The Pronged Derivative

The rules of French table etiquette, though making no mention of breakfast dunking, do, in fact, condemn the main-meal habit of using bread digitally to mop up sauce. It would, however, appear to be tolerated when bread is impaled on fork. But even our Frenchman has rarely witnessed this pronged derivative in action, and personal experience would lead us to believe that, like most rules in France, it tends to be ignored. It might also be thought that in this land of rampant individualism, daily strikes and general protestation the nation would have counted an equal number of anti-dunkers. In reality, this is not at all the case. For on this point, at least, the country is resolutely united. Indeed, so much a part of the national heritage is the custom that not only has the verb ‘saucer’ been derived to describe it, but it is systematically inculcated in progeny barely weened from their mothers’ milk.

Attenuating Circumstances?

Though our Englishman remains stubbornly hostile to the French dunk, the Froggie in us recommends that a far more tolerant stand should be taken. For who can say whether even the most well-mannered of English diners would not succumb to the temptation to dunk, were he presented with that rich variety of deliciously-fresh, good-quality, easily-prepared, natural and inexpensive sauces which the French have elaborated to accompany food?  And would it not be something akin to profanation that they should suffer the same cruel fate as their crude, often bottled English and American counterparts whose un-dunked remains are so frequently laid to rest down the kitchen-sink plughole?

 

This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book Barry’s Frenglish Folies, ‘a potpourri of serious, humorous and seriously humorous reflections on the French and English viewed through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

You can download the free Kindle, Ebook or PDF edition of Barry’s Frenglish Folies by following the link below :

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/691726

Living with the French

IdiosyncrasyThe following are tips on how to deal with what I’ve personally found to be some of the more common things which may surprise or even shock the  Anglo-Saxon expat when he first starts living with the French. The list is by no means exhaustive.

1. Don’t be surprised at the number of strikes and/or street demonstrations going on every single day of the year. The latter are perceived by the French as being a legitimate manifestation of direct democracy. When it’s safe to do so they’ll even take the kids along. French Street Demonstration

2. Living with the French also involves being led to believe that they invented the game of tennis, rugby, golf (I once even read an article in my local newspaper claiming they’d invented cricket). Use all your inborn phlegm and reply something like: ‘This might possibly be the case but don’t you think …?’

3. Think twice before admitting you’ve made a mistake. I know that in Anglo-Saxon countries it’s usually considered to be a sign of honesty but in France it’s an admission of incompetence. You can blame anyone or anything.

4. Be patient at your local tennis club’s Annual General Meeting (or any other meeting for that matter). Expect them to waste a considerable amount of time chatting about what you consider to be irrelevancies. And don’t be surprised if the only result is that they agree to disagree. Oh yes, and you’re not expected to turn up dead on time.

5. If you see someone letting his dog do it on the road or pavement in front of you, turn a blind eye. After all, it’s none of your business. Aren’t people in uniforms paid to stop this sort of thing? Dog Pooping

6. Bear with them when they keep reminding you that France is the cradle of human rights. This is drilled into them at school. It all goes back to their main claim to glory (apart from Napoléon) – the Révolution and the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (1789).

7. Don’t be too hard on them if they seem to spend most of their time moaning. They’re the first to admit they’re a nation of criticizers, complainers and protestors.

8. Don’t be surprised that in a country like France which has a plethora of rules, regulations and laws you find people doing their best to get round them.  Be aware that applying them officially is often considered to be the ultimate sanction.

9. Just as the English show a deep distrust of the weather but love talking about it, the French have no faith in their politicians but adore discussing politics. So gen up on Mr Cameroun (or whoever’s replaced him by the time this blog is published) and his policies. You’ll be expected to know all about them. And they still love to hate Mrs Thatcher.

10. Despite the fact that Marxist-inspired, egalitarian ideology still influences Gallic thinking, living with the French will soon reveal that they’re a bunch of conservatives at heart with little desire for change. As an Anglo-Saxon (especially the U.S. version) be prepared to be treated as an ultra-liberal capitalist with a strong tendency to exploit the downtrodden poor. The media remind them of this every single day. American Capitalist

11. Be suspicious when he tells you he agrees that motorway speed limits should be lowered, there should be more speed cameras, tax evasion should be punished more severely, etc., etc. What he really means is that all this is fine as long as it applies to everybody but him.

12. When an Englishman walks past a pretty woman in the street he’ll usually fix his gaze on an imaginary spot two yards ahead. Any Frenchman worthy of his salt will actually look at her with desire. I quite understand that the newly-landed Englishwoman might find this a little disquieting at first, but try to be positive and consider it to be a form of flattery. Though they’ll never admit it, most Frenchwomen expect this. And if a Frenchman doesn’t eye you up and down, it could simply be that you’re getting on a bit. Or you’re just letting yourself go. Take a cold, hard look at yourself in the mirror to see what needs to be done.

13. Living with the French also means you’ll have to deal with that infuriating habit they have of serving tea with a jug of warm milk. Be sure to point out to the waiter when ordering that you want it ‘avec du lait froid’.

14. If you’re English and are confronted with authority in France, try and get out of that silly habit of doing what you’re told without asking questions.

15. Unlike the English who’ll go to extraordinary lengths to reply, ‘Well you certainly might have a point but on the other hand don’t you think that …? when they’re intimately convinced you’re speaking total rubbish, the French don’t normally consider direct rectification, disagreement or contradiction as being tantamount to a declaration of war. So don’t be offended if you’re told, ‘Non, je ne suis pas d’accord!’

Boucherie Chevaline16. Living with the French also involves not throwing up your arms in horror when he says he’s looking forward to eating a nice horse-meat steak for lunch. Though the number of boucheries chevalines is now fast declining you can still buy horse meat in some specialized shops or market stalls.

And finally be aware of and make all necessary compensations for the fact that with many French people the sight of a uniform can have very much the same effect as that produced by a red rag when dangled close to the nose of a bull.

 

La Percée du Vin Jaune

La Percée du vin jaune (2)On 5th and 6th February the flag-bedecked Jura town of Lons-le-Saunier will open its streets and wine-cellars to the 20th edition of what has now become the biggest and most unique of all French vinicultural festivals (it now even enjoys an international reputation), the Percée du Vin Jaune, traditionally held on the first February weekend of each year in one of the four AOC yellow wine-producing communes of the Jura (though this is the second time round for Lons-le-Saunier).
      La Percée du vin jaune (1) And what’s more understandable that a unique festival should celebrate a very special kind of wine ? Though its origins are blurred by the mists of time, legend has it that all goes back to that period long ago when a Jura wine grower forgot all about a cask of white wine he’d stored in a far corner of his cellar, only to discover many years later that it had undergone an incredible metamorphosis – wonderful enough to justify the appellations of ‘divine nectar’ and ‘liquid gold’. It’s true that the wine’s rich yellow robe, its subtle nose of walnuts and spices and complex nutty flavour with hints of honey and apple are such that nothing really comparable exists. Vinification is also special as the Savagnin grapes are harvested later than most other varieties, giving the wine its higher alcohol content; and after fermentation is over it’s allowed to age peacefully in oak casks for six years and three months during which a veil of yeast forms on the surface, thereby insulating the wine from all contact with the air. After ageing the cask of vin jaune is pierced (hence the name la Percée,) by a tap being inserted, and the bottling process begins.  And the specifically-shaped bottle is just as special as the nectar it contains. Going under the name clavelin it contains 62 cl compared to the normal 75 cl – the 13 cl difference (the ‘angels’ share’ as it is so charmingly called) representing the inevitable evaporation during the lengthy cask-ageing period. What’s more, once the precious liquid has been bottled it’s almost as immortal as the angels themselves with an ageing potential far outstripping other wines : at an auction in 2011, a clavelin dating back to 1774 sold for 57 000€ ! Le vin jaune can be drunk as an apéritif with diced portions of Comté cheese; and if you happen to be in the Jura and get the chance to eat in a restaurant of repute, I’d whole-heartedly recommend the speciality dish of coq au vin jaune with cream and morille mushrooms which you’re sure to find on the menu.
      La Percée du vin jaune (3)The event itself is a festival of warmth and good humour attracting an average of 45 000 visitors each year. Not only is it a golden opportunity to savour a glass of vin jaune but you can taste the whole range of white, red and rosé Jura wines offered by the 70 or more wine growers present. Attractions begin at midday and include street musicians, sketches, talks on the different Jura wines, wine tasting and cooking contests, an auction of old vintages, not forgetting a special Percée evening on Saturday. The official cask-piercing ceremony (la mise en perce) is scheduled to take place from 11.15 onwards on Sunday morning, and starts off with a procession led by the red and yellow-robed brotherhood of wine-growing organisers, les Ambassadeurs du Vin Jaune, proudly escorting the first 228 litre, 2009 vintage cask of yellow wine which is triumphantly borne to the platform on which it will be publicly pierced and tapped.
      So why not come along and enjoy this rare festive occasion? Parking is free, extensive and well signed up. Vouchers can be purchased on Internet and exchanged for tickets (14€) on the spot. The price includes a special commemorative glass in which you’re offered a sample of the divine nectar along with 10 taste tickets allowing you to enjoy the distinctive flavour of other Jura wines. What’s more, this could be your last chance to be part of this very special day. For apparently rising costs and the extensive organisational efforts involved might cause the 2017 edition not to take place. And I’ve even heard rumours that la Percée du vin jaune could be abandoned forever. Quel dommage!

 

Barfield School Preview

                                 Barfield School

CALL OF FRANCE Front Cover 2
One

The classroom door burst open and in marched Ron Cooper. Michael hadn’t heard a knock and he was sure there hadn’t been one.
      ‘Hey, you!’ Cooper barked, pointing an imperious forefinger at a boy sitting in the middle of the second row.
      ‘Wipe that stupid grin off your face, lad, and sit up straight! Where d’you think you are? At home watching telly?’
      The boy spun round.
      ‘No, I mean you, you idiot.’ The finger was waggled with simulated impatience. ‘What’s your name, boy?’
      ‘Me sir?’
      ‘Yes, you sir. I’m talking to you, you half wit!’
      ‘Higgins sir.’
     ‘Stand up when you speak to me!’
     Higgins shot up. It was as if Cooper’s command had triggered some jack-in-the-box-like spring sunk into the seat of his chair.
     ‘Mr Morgan, the headmaster would like to see you at break,’ Cooper announced, hardly bothering to lower his voice, his glowering face still half turned towards the boy. Without one word more he stormed out with the same studied theatricality as he’d swept in.
     ‘OK. You can sit down, Higgins!’ Michael said gently. Though it was obvious that this intrusive display of gratuitous authority was yet one more calculated attempt by the deputy head to reinforce the reputation of fierceness he had among the pupils, Michael suspected it was also his way of expressing contempt for the more enlightened approach followed by young teachers like himself; but the indignation he felt was prompted just as much by the retrograde effect this sort of random victimization might have on the boy. Higgins was not the easiest of pupils to manage, and Michael was even tempted to think that he might be suffering from some form of emotional disturbance which could be affecting his concentration; however, he’d recently had proof he was a good, sensitive lad at heart, and had been congratulating himself on having obtained a kind of co-operation based on a still tenuous strand of respect. So, what it suited Cooper to have seen as nothing more than an imbecilic grin was simply Higgins’s way of demonstrating to his young French teacher that he was doing his best to show interest in his lessons. One thing Higgins reacted against – and this with his own special brand of obdurate tenacity – was what he considered to be an injustice; and what was more unfair than this type of adult bullying which he was probably all too exposed to at home, and which Michael himself – though he did have the excuse of mitigating circumstances – had been guilty of not long ago?
      It had all happened at the beginning of this new school year. Several times during their first lessons Higgins’s restless determination to reject his teacher’s efforts to encourage his participation in the process of learning French had reached such an uncontrollable paroxysm that, without the slightest warning, he pushed his chair gratingly back, stood resolutely up and, gazing out of the window next to him, announced to the rest of the class in his broad Yorkshire accent, ‘I can see seagulls on t’ football pitch.’ A chorus of loud guffaws had followed. The first time Michael had ordered him to move to a vacant desk in the middle of the second row in the hope that the simple expedient of increasing the distance between pupil and window would significantly reduce the likelihood of any future repetition. It had the opposite effect. Each time he’d told him patiently but firmly to sit down and look at his text book. The boy had grudgingly obeyed. But the final straw was when it occurred three times during the same lesson. Michael had lost his self control, marched up to the boy and given him a solid clip round the ear. In a fit of rage Higgins’s had seized his book, flung it across the classroom before lapsing into a deep sulk.
      ‘Right. You’ll stay behind at the end of the lesson, my lad. I want to have a word with you!’ he’d simply said. Higgins had glared at him with sullen dissent.
The end of lesson came, the class filed out and the boy trudged out to the front. He was the first to speak.
      ‘You shouldn’t hit people smaller than yourself!’ he declared, his eyes blazing with defiance.
      ‘What did you say, lad?’ He’d heard perfectly well the first time but his question was intended to grant the boy a chance to moderate the tone and wording of this undisguised challenge to his authority while giving himself a second or two to think.
      ‘You shouldn’t hit people smaller than yourself!’
The words were spoken with the same dogged determination. It flashed through Michael’s mind that this might justify a second slap, but he was lucid enough to see it would probably be the cause of an irretrievable breakdown between them.
      It wasn’t the first time he’d been brought to ponder on the fact that a show of physical force by a teacher could in no way be a solution to establishing a mutually respectful relationship with his pupils. His memories of that first time were still painful. It had been during the second term of his teacher training course when student teachers had each been appointed to schools where they could observe seasoned teachers at work and gain direct teaching experience by taking classes alone. Michael had been assigned to a traditional boys’ only grammar school where a ‘streaming’ system was in operation: pupils were placed in ‘A’, ‘B,’ ‘C’, or ‘D’ classes according to their level of ability. Usually he was given easy ‘A’ or ‘B’ forms where pupils were eager to learn and class discipline never posed any great problem. However, there had been one notable exception: trainee teachers had to present a second teaching subject as part of their course and, as Michael had chosen English, he had regularly sat in on the lessons of a ‘D’ form of fifteen year olds. He remembered asking himself at the time if the ‘D’ didn’t stand for ‘dustbin’; for it was a motley class of low academic achievement where some thirty pubescent youths were dumped together as so much waste. He couldn’t help feeling undercurrents of resentment, hopelessness and low self esteem. However, their regular English teacher was extremely gifted in his ability to understand and communicate with his pupils. It made Michael realize that a good teaching rapport is a mixture of sincerity, empathy and vocation. The lessons took the form of class discussions – so many question and answer sessions where pupils could give vent to their problems and frustrations. Michael was struck by the trust they had in their teacher, the involvement they showed in his lessons, the frankness with which he answered their questions, and the resulting atmosphere of respect that reigned. One day the teacher suggested that Michael should take them alone. It was a total disaster. The minute he stepped into the classroom he knew they were determined not to give him the slightest chance. Their sole motivation was to make this student teacher suffer for the humiliation the system had forced on them by creating a riot from the start. Perhaps things have changed since then, but in those days teacher training courses did not include advice on how to establish and maintain classroom order. Teachers were simply expected to learn from hard experience. Michael’s reaction to this collective aggression was to give those he considered to be the ringleaders a violent swipe across the face. It only made matters worse: such was the racket that a teacher from the classroom next door had to come and re-establish order. The class was immediately taken from him. It had served as a mortifying yet salutary lesson.
      So, it must have been this humiliating experience along with one of those vaguely understood bursts of spontaneous empathetic feeling we are all at some time or other seized with that prompted him to say, ‘O.K. Higgins, you’re right. I’m sorry I hit you. I promise it won’t happen again. And I hope this won’t stop us from being friends.’
      It briefly occurred to him that it might be dangerous for a teacher to expose such emanations of the heart so nakedly to a pupil; but the boy’s reaction had not disappointed him. His face had lit up, they’d shaken hands, and since then the seagulls on the football pitch had gone unnoticed. Moreover, this morning as they crossed paths in the corridor he’d been considerably gratified when Higgins greeted him with a cheery, ‘Hello, sir! Did you see that programme about France on telly last night?’ He’d taken this as a sign that he hadn’t associated Deputy Head Cooper’s loutish weight-throwing with teachers in general, and that there had been no resulting deterioration in the relationship of respect he was congratulating himself on having established with his pupil.

CALL OF FRANCE

1- BARFIELD SCHOOL

“Would this loathsome inner creature which had poisoned his past and was now infecting the present leave its slimy traces on his future?”

Cover-BradfieldSchool-draft3dDisappointing academic results, an unfortunate first love and a negative first job experience all go to make Michael Morgan deeply disillusioned with the path his life has taken. He decides to train to be a French teacher. But at home the atmosphere is poisoned, his work becomes tedious, and his disastrous management of relations with two female colleagues leads to disturbing repercussions … and tragedy strikes. He longs to wipe the slate of his past clean by starting a new life in France. And then he’s given the chance to immerse himself in an exciting business venture. Should he stay in England or pursue his French dream? But is it himself he’s running away from ?
The first novel in the trilogy CALL OF FRANCE, Barfield School is a psychological dramatization of some of the things which led the author to start a new life in a country he’s always felt an irresistible attraction for.

 

 

 

 

 

Promoting and Marketing a Self-Published Book

BARFIELD SCHOOL

End of BookThere’s an understandable tendency among Indie authors to think that when their book comes to a final full stop they’re somehow at the end of their labours. For beyond the satisafaction it brings, I can’t help comparing that moment when you tell yourself that the actual writing is now complete to the sorrow you feel when faced with the finality of having to bid adieu to companions you’ve shared your life with for so long that they’ve now come to be a part of yourself. For not only did you invest yourself in your work of fiction as a whole but, above all, in the characters you portrayed. So what’s more understandable that the two years I spent writing Barfield School ( Book 1 in my CALL OF FRANCE series) should have created such an inextricable association between author and his characters that the separation has got such a conclusiveness about it that I can’t escape the thought I’m being severed of chunks of me? Fortunately, I’ve planned CALL OF FRANCE as a trilogy; so for some of the characters at least, it’s only an au revoir.

This is not to say that all these companions can be considered as friends. For though those portrayed in Barfield School are fictitious in so much as each consists of an imaginative re-assembly of varyingly proportional bits of different people whose paths have crossed mine in life, my feelings are mixed in regard to some; and one even turns into an enemy. And in an autobiographically-oriented novel like Barfield School it’s hardly surprising that the person who contains the most of myself – my past joys, dreams, doubts and fears together with my failures and failings – is the central character, Michael Morgan. Am I being presumptious when I say this is not without reminding me of Gustave Flaubert’s alleged declaration, Madame Bovary, c’est moi?

'Madame Bovary, c'est moi.'

‘Madame Bovary, c’est moi.’

But even though I’ve finished, past experience has taught me that I’m nowhere near the end. For I’ll now have to focus my efforts on promoting and marketing my self-published book. And I don’t mind admitting that the emptiness I felt on severing my two-year-long literary osmosis is being replaced by a growing unease at the thought that the next step will be to place both creator and creation into  what I can’t avoid thinking will be the uncaring hands of strangers. As the first steps in promoting and marketing a self-published book I’ll need to find a portrait photographer who’s sensitive enough to be able to coax me into adopting a pleasant authorial pose. I’m already anticipating problems as I don’t smile at cameras easily. And I’m seriously hoping he can make me look at least ten years younger. I’ll then have to get a graphic designer to come up with a cover illustration captivating enough to tempt people to buy the masterpiece I keep trying to convince myself lies behind, while  satisfying the author that it’s as near as you can get to conveying the spirit of its contents. What makes me even more uncomfortable is that the two are not necessarily compatible. At the same time, I’ll have to concoct what has got to be a short but well-crafted author bio. I’ve been informed I can blow my own trumpet provided I fit a mute. And since I’ve already published a non-fiction book ( FTT’S FRENGLISH THOUGHTS) comparing the English and French (humorously, I hope), I’m just wondering whether I should be bold enough to describe myself as an ‘award-winning’ or ‘best-selling’ author. After all, it’s what everybody seems to be doing these days. Or perhaps I could stick this in what has got to be an equally brief but compelling back cover blurb. Finally, before I can publish I’ll have to get somebody to convert those 82,000 or so words I’ve labouredso long to produce into a suitable ePub, Kindle and PDF format. But the worst is for after. I’ll then have to get down to promoting and marketing it all. Apparently, it’s the most daunting part. So it’s far from being the end. In fact it’s only just the beginning.

I’ll keep you updated.

French Tourists Abroad

StereotypingWhen the annual summer holidays cause France to pull its shutters down for a month, the holiday reservation site Travelzoo carried out a survey on how their European subscribers viewed the behaviour of French tourists abroad. The 2,398 people who took part were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the behaviour of French tourists who seem well on their way to being considered the worst in Europe. Criticisms only go to endorse the clichés we frequently hear applied to the French. So, what exactly is it they find so hard to stomach?

For one thing all seemed to agree that  French tourists abroad are extremely hard to please, and never stops belly-aching. The French have a high expectation level with regard to their holidays, so everything must be just right – to the most minute detail. Apparently, one of the favourite occupations of French tourists who’ve just taken possession of their hotel room is to go round looking for the slightest speck of dust. And they’ll even look behind that picture frame above the bed! And if their room doesn’t have a magnificent sea view they won’t hesitate to bounce down to reception and demand that it be changed immediately. What’s more, the present economic crisis has made things even worse. The British tourist, on the other hand, will only complain in the most extreme cases, and as long as there’s plenty of sun and cheap booze available, is perfectly happy.

Arrogance French tourists abroad are also considered to be an arrogant lot – mainly because, like their English counterparts, they make absolutely no effort to speak a foreign language. The French are proud of their country, its culture and language, and are inclined to consider themselves slightly superior to others. Not only do they act as if they were still in France, but they expect to be able to find what they’re in the habit of eating at home. Mind you, to be perfectly fair, I don’t think this is a particularly French trait. At the age of 14 I went on a school trip to the South of France. For me it was a paradise on earth, and the food, though certainly different, was for me an absolute delight. But many of my fellow pupils didn’t seem to agree: their main gripe was that there weren’t any fish and chip shops around! And what is more normal with this nation of gastronomes that the French also expect to have not only quality food and cooking available at the lowest possible price, but the high level of service that goes with it. The British tourist on the other hand, as long as he gets a cooked breakfast, is quite happy with a ham sandwich or a mediocre buffet-type meal.

StinginessBut even though the French consider holidays to be extremely important, and will only deprive themselves when they have no other choice, they don’t want these holidays to cost them the earth. This explains the growing popularity in France of the all-inclusive type of holiday where you know down to the last euro exactly how much it’s all going to cost you, and where you’re certain that, if you don’t want to, you won’t have to fork out a cent more. But what contributes most to this ‘stingy’ image is when it comes to leaving a tip. French tourists will only tip when they’re fully satisfied with the service (which is extremely rare), and even then (as, to be quite honest, I’ve personally often been in a position to note), this is far from being a general rule. One of the main justifications for this is that the waiter receives a salary just like them. On the contrary, Anglo-Saxons are culturally more inclined to leave a tip – even when the quality of the service leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s also understandable that in this country of haute couture and designer fashion clothes the holidaying French tend to pay more attention to what  they wear.  And even though they tend to dress more casually, there are still certain standards which they rarely abandon. The British and Germans, on the other hand, will stroll nonchalantly round holiday resort shops clad in nothing more elaborate than flip-flops and shorts.

Seville tour guideNot only do the French want their holidays to bring relaxation and enjoyment, but they also like to come away with the conviction that they’ve added something to their personal culture and knowledge. The guided-tour type of holiday, where you visit different places of cultural or historical interest each day are, therefore, far more popular than with holidaymakers from other countries. So frequently can this be observed that in Seville it has prompted the standing joke that at 4 o’clock on a sweltering summer afternoon only dogs and French tourists are to be seen in the streets. The English and Germans are more inclined to spend their days soaking up the sun on a lounger round the swimming pool, or just lazing on the beach with the occasional dip in the sea.

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