My parents wanted me to speak good English, and my English teacher had said that I should go and stay with an English family. My parents had arranged a one month trip and I was to stay in a family as a paying guest. I don’t even want to think what it cost them at a time when they couldn’t really afford it yet.
Anyway, I remember the trip on the ferry, from Calais to Dover. Were those ferries red, I have this picture of a red boat with lots of stairs, rather dirty, with a peculiar smell. I can’t remember if I was travelling with a group or on my own.
Taking the ferry was quite an adventure, you see. You felt like you were crossing the Channel, not just taking the train at Gare du Nord, and getting of at Waterloo Station as you do now. When they opened the tunnel, I swore I would never take the Eurostar, because, England would never be the same. But of course, I did.
Well, how I got to High Wycombe where my host family were waiting for me, I don’t remember, but there they were. And I can’t remember their name either. But they were just sweeties, all of them. They lived at a crossroads at what seemed to me a grocery store at the time. It was called The Compasses.
I had my own room and I can still remember my amazement and my embarrassment on the first morning when my hostess brought me a tray with early morning tea and the morning paper!!! Here I was, sixteen years old, being served. I protested that this was too much and that I wanted to have breakfast whichever way everyone else did, and to my relief, it didn’t happen again,
My English was straight out of my schoolbooks then. I could get a sentence ready, and utter it, but there was no understanding the replies.
My hosts were Catholic and I attended church with them on my first Sunday there. Their daughter-in-law was Polish and they went to a Polish Catholic church. On the second Sunday, I had exhausted the joys of church-going, so I bailed out and went for a walk, and… got lost.
My sense of direction, then as now, is hopeless. So I asked a policeman the direction of the Polish church, and asked him to speak slowly, as my English was approximate, and he started speaking louder and louder instead of speaking slower.
I did eventually find the Polish Church and my host family.
- Terri Dulong, with her My Beloved Paris series gave me the idea of this series.