• School in England

    Going to school in England was for us a mixed experience. What you must understand was that it was presented to us as a way “to improve our English”, and we knew we also had to go because we couldn’t stay at Grandma’s all day long doing nothing. The first memories I have are of the infants’ school of Hazelwood Lane where Auntie Olive had once been headmistress (check this page), and where she asked if I could be admitted, probably some time during the month of July, in 1965 or 1966. I remember especially my emotion when being looked after in the playground by a very old and lovely girl of 9 (perhaps) who was called Julie, and I immediately found the name as beautiful as the girl. With her friends she must have thought we were an interesting specimen: little French boys, recently arrived in the school! What struck me too, God knows why, were the sports shoes, plimsolls, which we had to wear for the gym class! I wasn’t happy at Hazelwood, and it was an immense relief when we could walk back home with Auntie Olive, past the Triangle and up Aldermans Hill!

    School in England

    Then came the several times (3? 4?) that we went to Saint Monica’s primary school in Cannon Road. Here too there was first the introduction to the Headmaster (Mr Moffat, as Jane in the comments rightly reminds me) with Auntie Olive, who seemed to be so well known and respected! I was still smaller than she was, then. Mixed feelings there too, especially at first, when we were considered curiosities from an outlandish, fiendlike area of the globe where frogs jumped all over the place and the strange uniformed scoundrels facing us couldn’t distinguish us from them. Each summer, upon arriving at Saint Monica’s, we had to go through the painful experience of loss, when we were once again left to our defenceless resources and forced to learn the language and the codes of a new social zoo. No playground friends any more to feel glad with, no customary games, no smaller ones to feel superior to. We were the small ones. Assembly was a specially impressive moment: the whole school in one silent, obedient mass, looking up at the Head addressing each and all: and then the prayer, and the milk with a chocolate biscuit, goodness, how vivid all this still is!

    Classes used to be rather more fun, because we had special treatment. Teachers were of another species than the playground animals: they were considerate, and explained to the wild variety that we had been caged there for a good purpose: we actually were on holiday and still wanted to join classes here in England! Thirty turned heads and sixty eyes were ogling us, but it wasn’t as bad as outside. In fact it was a sort of protected haven, because the worst was still to come: school dinners! There, wilderness ruled anew, and not only that but the food which we had to eat was different! A whole new ordeal… It’s silly, but I have only bad memories of school dinners at Saint Monica’s! Everything seems to be bunched up in that one dinner when I was forced by everyone around me to eat that sticky rice pudding with a flashy red sweetener that everyone poured over it in gallons! My appreciation of British culture then was low. Back home at Grandma’s, food was so great! What had happened to it when I was transplanted at school? The only consolation was Grandma’s little bag with a bar and a fruit, in which I felt the protection of her closed front door and the familiar softness of her thick carpets:

    School in England

    Okay, perhaps everything wasn’t that bad after all, and indeed I think I was mostly describing the first times. There were also good moments when, having made a few friends, or being sheltered by courageous cousins, we became accepted and somewhat forgotten. There were rounders for example: I think this game gave me one of my life’s first great joys. The elation at being part of a team and helping others to win a round, or winning one myself, now that was truly something. It made up for all the rice puddings and red goo I ever ate.  I was never very good at batting, but boy I ran, and I was good at catching too, and saved my team more than once in this way. The very name “rounders” is full of the special, dense, pleasure of summer days in England when time utterly disappeared and concentrated bliss filled all my senses. I don’t know whether we stayed in the school grounds to play, or whether we had sports in the park, because the best rounders in my memory took place there. We would just have to go down Cannon Hill. The streets around the school, as the years went by and saw us returning to Saint Monica’s, were increasingly familiar and a welcoming environment that seemed to greet us as we walked up and down them. Conway road, and its little pedestrian passage leading to the end of Cannon road, past the pond with newts inside (once caught them in a jar filled with aquatic plants and brought it back to Mark's place), and the Guides hut (where I believe Mum had long ago Brownie meetings) and along the shaded railings to the school. The school soon entered our comfort zone, people remembered us from past Julies, and teachers took it for granted that we would be in their classes once again. Often we were invited for tea at Auntie Mary’s nearby, and could play with open-minded cousins who liked us.

    As I’m writing all this, I realize that today, such periods at school as had been organised for us French cousins would be very complicated. Recently we tried to see if our Joseph might spend some time with his cousins in Bexleyheath, but Hélène told us the school hadn’t agreed on grounds of security. Exchanges between English schools and the continental counterparts have become very difficult. My last experience of school in England was St Ignatius (http://www.st-ignatius.enfield.sch.uk/) in 1975, where Mark was a student.

    School in England

    We took the train at Palmers Green station in the morning, and went down the line to Enfield Chase; I had a train pass for the month, and it was the first time I went into the station after having walked so often up and down the slope which was in fact the bridge over the railway. Most of my stay was at AB’s that year, which made things easier with the organisation. But of course I depended on my cousin for common transport, and once he made us miss the train because he’d forgotten his tie at home!

    Mark would probably remember things better than me, because I was the subject of observation at St Iggs! And indeed I was sufficiently steeled from having been such a subject of observation in the past that it didn’t affect me much any longer. I decided I wasn’t going to bother, and indeed watch the comedy of silly school-conscious pupils confronted to an alien like me! Poor horrified Mark saw his carefully built status as an integrated Ignatian swerve dangerously when I fancied I was not going to heed his recommendations, and not wear anything else than my plastic sandals and a clumsily made shoulder-carried satchel! Because of the last item, I was immediately looked upon (so he told me) as a “poof”, and poor Mark had to suffer as a very guilty introducer of such a scandalous foreign species. Nothing less could explain such eccentricity. And my sandals got immediately labelled “Jesus boots”! Everyone else roamed the playground with incredible platform shoes, so I roared with inner laughter. It was easier than before because I was 2 years older than the rest of my group, and had mastered the rules of the subtle game of making my persona more enviable than ridiculous.

    So my days at St Ignatius come back to me as quite a tolerable experience. I belonged to a “house” (Campbell House if I recall well), and took part in the sports events – I recall helping my team almost win at badminton. I was in (Mark’s) 2C form, which was fun for me because this was exactly what my future French class in September was going to be called (the numbers go down in France, not up). A lot of the classes were spent for me sitting at the back doing not much when I didn’t want to participate (it was agreed that anyway I wouldn’t get any marks). Probably as a result of this boredom, I once carved a word in red ink on a table (“U-boot”, because I had recently seen a film about German war submarines), and I was told off by fellow-students. But even that didn’t make me lose my cool; I knew I would be gone back to France (my haven!) before coming back in that particular classroom. But I did like the metalwork class, in which the teacher had managed to give me a copper caddie-spoon for me to make, and this in time to finish it and bring it back home as a present for Mum. My diary for July 22nd, 1975 says that I had entrusted Mark with a goodbye letter for the 2C guys, which he gave to M. Crossing, the geography teacher. Wow, I’d completely forgotten that. I wonder what they said. Mark, do you remember? (check below)

    I read further about those holidays (something I had certainly never done before!) and realized that you had come back with us, Noël, Paco and myself that year, stayed at Bonnebosq until August 9 when your mum and Chris joined you, and you all stayed until the 19th: I wrote that I had been seeing you for 55 consecutive days! And I think I have never been to the beach so often than then!

    « Grandma's loveAuntie Olive anecdotes »

  • Comments

    Jane Evans
    Friday 20th September 2013 at 22:36

    Hi Yves, I have just read the missive about your time in St Monica's.  It's funny as I never thought about your time at school in England from your perspective, I only have good memories of your visits.  I remember the first time you arrived in my class and we listened to a French song which you translated for me.  I also remember going to Hampton Court on a school trip and the teacher - Mr Ainger I think had some sweets and offered them to you and said 'Bonbons' I always think of that moment when I hear the word. I think we were outside the maze at Hampton Court. Another word you managed to teach me was Merde....of course a word that had to be taught!! I also remember Helene fainting during one of the morning assemblies - that was quite an event it has to be said, as she fell straight backwards and caused quite a stir!!

    By the way the Headmaster was called Mr Moffat.  And you were not alone in your thoughts about the disgusting school dinners, especially the glutinous banana custard! That said the dinner ladies were probably as awful as the dinners themselves, as they had no regard for any pupil who didn't finish the meal, we had to stay and eat whether we liked it or not.

    Helene Pavey
    Saturday 21st September 2013 at 13:53

    Falling backwards? I don't remember that. It was an assembly and I thought I was kneeling. I think I was hungry. Must be something wrong with me, because I don't remember being bothered by the school dinners.

    I remember spending some time in Miss Brewster's (?) class, and some names of the children in that class, maybe because I either fancied the boys - what? at such an early age? the Chandler boy, Dermot Kelly (handsome and aloof) and Michael Caulfied, hang on, was it in that class, Jane?

    I also remember that old artist who drew Janet's portrait. I have a feeling he did a quick one of me, but if that is a real memory, not sure. And no idea where the drawing is, it would have been a pastel sketch. He had been invited to one of the Summer fairs and sat in the playground, charging for his portraits.

    At St Monica's, I performed a choreography of my own on the stage in front of everyone! It was to the sound of a Beethoven piece and one of the girls played the piano (was it Ann Bellchambers?) Jane?


    Saturday 21st September 2013 at 23:50

    @Jane: Hellooo! Nice finding you there Jane! While writing the post above, I did wonder whether I should mention you in connection with St Monica's, because of course I remember you there, but you know how it is, if somebody hasn't given you clear permission to refer to him/her, you hesitate. You were great because you were one of the rare exceptions of an English person who did intend to seriously befriend us (and of course succeeded, it wasn't very difficult). I had forgotten my role as a "teacher" though! And I wonder what song it would have been that I translated... I clearly recall that we (Helene & myself) had agreed to be penpals with you, and I still have the letters we exchanged in our young enthusiasm.

    Yes, Mr Moffat, that's right! thanks. And I speak about the Hampton Court trip here.

    And of course in this post I don't speak about the many good times at your home, with Simon and your parents...

    Saturday 21st September 2013 at 23:55

    @Tini: funny how certain people remember certain things, and others other ones. Now of course we were not necessarily at school together, and I half believe that in fact that even when you went, I stayed, and vice versa. So it figures.

    Monday 23rd September 2013 at 23:30

    Those school dinners were truly dire, possibly even sabotaged deliberately. There was no finesse in their delivery and not a lot of food value. If you ended up with a corner from the huge tin of nastiness, all pastry and no filling, well tough. The mash came in round scoops and was so not even potato. Semolina, I'll just take the rose hip syrup thanks. Maybe some people boycotted lunches because on one occasion the head actually came out to the playground to shout at anyone who hadn't been in for their ration. By contrast, the lunches at Hazelwood were much more palatable, even though they were shipped in from elsewhere.

    Yves' St Igs stint is well remembered. Some boys (not 2C) were rather scathing about his attire, especially the "jellies", which ironically became trendy, for a short time, so many years later. However Yves got them back when they asked to be told French swear words and those he gave, I am sure, were no such thing. I don't remember a letter being delivered or read out in class and there's no mention in my own diary. I was probably desperate to get away and started on the rest of the summer. As it happens, that was the last I would see of the lower school too and it ended up being demolished for a new housing estate. If anyone has any photos, I would love to see them.


    Monday 23rd September 2013 at 23:48

    Thanks Mark for this lovely comment; I thought I could almost hear an echo of Roger Waters in your evocation of the head going out in the playground and call the pupils in for their ration!

    Tuesday 24th September 2013 at 16:26

    Not just an echo, but "le meme son de cloche".

    Jane Evans
    Tuesday 24th September 2013 at 21:46

    Ah Helene....it was comical; you definitely fell straight backwards I remember being flabberghasted (is that the correct spelling!?!) The memory has lasted and lasted  The bang on the head must have made you forget about the school dinners!!

    I think the teacher you mentioned was called Miss Brewer, but I can't remember her at all. I remember Anne Bellchambers.  Was she related somehow to Carmel's family?  For some reason I think she was, either that or she was a very good friend of Carmel's. Actually that may have been the connection, they were just really good friends perhaps!

    As for the song you translated for me Yves, I can't remember what it was about, but I do remember where we were sitting in the classroom and being enthralled by the foreigness of it all.  It must have been at a time when we had some free time in class because I don't know why it was just the two of us sitting around the gramaphone (it must have been a gramaphone in those days as it was still in the '60s, ha!). I seem to think we were sitting on the floor. I think the class teacher's name was Miss Jeffcott; does that ring any bells?

    I remember wanting to be penpals with you and you asked Helene to write to me too. I think that year Helene hadn't come to England as you came alternate years I think.  I still have some letters from you Helene.  Do you remember we looked at them when we lived in Barnet - before the kids I think.  Of course I still have them - they are historic now - antique almost ha!

    By the way Helene, the 'boy Chandler' was Peter Chandler 

    Yves, I knew a Mark P who went to St Igs....I wonder if the writer above is the same one!!

    Wednesday 25th September 2013 at 11:19

    Mark P is my cousin Mark, you must know him!

    How funny and strange it is to be confronted with a memory that is very clear for someone else and yourself not remembering at all: this is the case for this song you're mentioning.

    Off to see your other comments!


    Wednesday 25th September 2013 at 21:03

    Maybe Jane was one of the older girls who came and helped with Mrs Buckley's infant class. They were actually referrred to as the "big girls" and I remember how impossibly gorgeous and confident they seemed to my my five year old eyes.

    Wednesday 25th September 2013 at 21:31

    @Helene - "that old artist who drew Janet's portrait" was called HG Woods. I think it was a similar sketch of Jan that led to the full portrait being commissioned. You know what? I won second prize for a painting at one of those St Monica's fetes. It was of a Canadian Mountie and I'm sure the reward was more for originality than any artistic merit.

    Wednesday 25th September 2013 at 23:29

    Jane, would you describe yourself as "impossibly gorgeous?!?"

    Helene Pavey
    Friday 27th September 2013 at 23:53

    Vivi, post photo of autographs of people at St Monica's?


    Saturday 28th September 2013 at 01:06

    OK, sure!

    Jane Evans
    Sunday 29th September 2013 at 11:33

    Oh yes....I am most definitely "impossibly gorgeous", but alas the Mark P (your cousin) is not the Mark P I knew all those years ago - hey ho!!

    I will check out souvenirs of years gone by and see what I can find hidden and buried and hope they have survived all the different moves from house to house over the many years since the St Monica's Days 

    Sunday 29th September 2013 at 14:34

    Great! Thanks Jane. Please remind me to your family and it's very nice to have you onboard this 9DR train!

    Jane Evans
    Monday 30th September 2013 at 21:16

    I will pass on your regards :)

    Brian Watling
    Monday 23rd October 2017 at 11:27

    Hi, The only teacher I can remember from my time at Hazelwood Lane School was Miss Belfontaine I,m afraid, I was at that school from about 1943 until 1949/50 when I passed the 11 plus and secured a place at Tollington Grammar School at Muswell Hill. Regards, Brian

    Monday 23rd October 2017 at 19:16

    Thanks Brian for this comment which indeed confirms what other people have told me about the succession of teachers at Hazelwood Infants.

    All the best,


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