In the summers of 1974 and 1975, I holidayed in the South of France with school friends. My memory of these trips to the Giens peninsula is very poor, no better than 10 bullet points for each:
*Al, Nick and Paul were the companions. They did the planning, I fell in line.
*Train from London to Dover. Ferry to Calais. French train to Paris and then down to France’s Mediterranean coast. They pointed, I followed.
*Nick’s family had stayed previously at the campsite, near Hyeres, on the Giens peninsula.
*We were horrified at the price, before Nick realised the old guy was using the pre-1960 franc. Division by 100 sorted us out.
*The toilets and shower block smelled equally of shit and soap.
*My companions talked more than was natural about shampooing, drying and styling their hair.
*The heat was fiercer than anything I had known. I burned up atrociously. Had to wear a white tee-shirt on the beach. My shoulders were scarred for months after.
*Large dragon flies zoomed around our evening campfire.
*Vesta meals were the staple.
*We stopped off in Paris ‘en retour’. Found a cheap boulangerie somewhere on the Left Bank to feed ourselves.
* Same destination, but this time with Si Gaze instead of Paul. Si couldn’t speak French, which upset him at times.
*We travelled down in Al’s Saab car, with its column change gearstick. The car needed tender handling, and we bailed out on at least one big hill.
*More beer was drunk than in 1974. One evening we almost ended up in a bundle with a large group of leather-jacketed French lads.
*A group of French girls befriended us on the beach. Keepy-up football passed the time.
*The girls lived fairly locally. She who fancied Nick invited us to her house. We got pissed and drove the family’s mopeds through the town like lunatics, crossing the main road from narrow side streets with no view of the oncoming traffic. The police were called out to stop the English madness.
*Another drunken evening I was translating from the French, for Si, and for some reason repeating it all back in French to Al.
* We shopped at the first hypermarket I had ever seen. A Carrefour? Huge.
* My holiday trademark, as we drove through France, was to shout joyfully out of the back window. “Otez les cacks” was my favourite, translating roughly as ‘take off your pants”. Even now, I’m chuckling at that wit. What a cultural delight the English are.
*Another favourite insult was “branleur” (‘wanker’). I tried that on a hard-looking bloke pacing the street in Marseilles, who came racing after the car. Scary.
*On the way back we traversed Grenoble, and camped by Lake Geneva, where the saltless water required more effort in swimming. We also drove through Luxembourg, and maybe some of Belgium.