Some years ago (OK more than I should have let pass) a couple of our group of close friends suggested we visit Paris. Jan, was immediately up for it, but as always, all I could envisage was foreign food and the language I hated ever since my French teacher Mr Levey, ripped up my homework book telling me and the rest of the class with the aplomb that only French people seem to be able to sneer in words without turning their nose up that I had a head like a ‘waste paper basket’.
Despite my strop with Jan, a few days later Rosina finally convinced me that I should come with the group if not for me then for Jan’s sake. As usual, (I’ve always been influenced by Rosina) she persuaded me that I was not that sort of selfish person that would deny Jan a beautiful holiday just because I was frightened by experiencing something new, and of course I found myself nodding in acquiescence almost before I realised what I was agreeing too.
After a number of phone calls between the wives to organised the event, Jan drove our car, with me, Mickey and Pat to Ashford in Kent where (on one of the longest platforms I had ever seen) we boarded the Euro tunnel train. The girls had between them – organise the most sumptuous picnic breakfast from a number of baskets each had contributed and the camaraderie of the group managed to lift me above my innate reservations over the whole venture.
Eventually, after the dark tunnel boredom and the wet green countryside of France, we got to the Gare-du-Nord station where the sharp eyed might have noticed a struggling grumpy Englishman tramp to the Metro to purchase a Carnet tube ticket. With a large suitcase on wheels that had to be carried up and down a myriad of French platform stairs . I have to admit, I was impressed by Chris, Rosina as well as Eric and Jean, and my Jan’s ability to not only understand the Metro map but even identify the correct train to board in order to make a different connection by its destination displayed on the front of the train. The persistent drizzle didn’t seem to dampen the others spirits but I was longing to see a nice ordinary English pub that could supply me with a nice ordinary pint.
Eventually, we arrived at the hotel (well that’s what it the sign read) down a side street somewhere in the south east of Paris. If it wasn’t actually in the “red light district” I don’t think it was too far from it. Our room was quite small but it was en-suite with ancient iron old galvanised pipes feeding the equally old toilet cistern that clanked as the chain was pulled. Anyway we had all agreed to re-meet in the entrance lobby as soon as we were unpacked, which we did and back to the Metro we tramped, this time without all the baggage of the first journey. The rain was unrelenting and I was a bit taken aback by the number of women beggars that seemed to be all over the tube network. After a few station changes we emerged onto the great Champs Elysees – a very impressive broad avenue with the usual shops and restaurants but also any number of souvenir shops. The rain finally decided to stop so we walked the whole long way from the Arc De Triomphe to the Palace de la Concorde. By this time, I think it was Jeans Eric suggested, “shall we stop and have a coffee”? I was all for that but not for coffee – I wanted to murder a pint. Sure enough an hour or so later we headed back across Paris to the Sorbonne district to find a restaurant for a meal. All of the buildings were absolutely magnificent and many were outstandingly beautiful especially the stone block work and ornate roofs. That evening we had the tremendous good fortune to find a gem of a resonant that welcomed and rearranged the tables so that all ten of our party could sit together. The large room was decorated in the 20’s style. It was easy to imagine a long dead professor from the university sitting there eating his meal whilst reading a book. They catered equally well for my reserved English taste and the others more exotic requests. I seem to remember Jean even asking for Escargot (snails) whilst Jan had a large plate of mussels. Much later then, we made our way back to the hotel but decided to stop in a seedy little pub /café just round the corner from the hotel where we had a nightcap or two or three. I wasn’t surprized to see a couple of working girls were relaxing in there – presumably before going out on the streets to ply their trade.