Heading for adventure in France

Christopher Cape






It was autumn in 1962. We had toured the British Isles and lived in London since September 20. We had travelled, seen and noted a myriad sights on and off the beaten track. My father had, for the past five weeks, been attached to the BBC following up on aspects of outside broadcasting and religious programming. With about three weeks left before departure for New Zealand, we crossed the English Channel for a 10-day sprint through France, West Germany and Belgium. We had to leave travelling companions, our pet mice, behind in England. We’d sold 23 of them back to the street vendor in Shepherds Bush Market from whom we’d bought a pair back in May. At a shilling each, he was really not amused, but he paid up 23 shillings. Our car, too, had found a buyer with a £10 deposit. We would drive it in Europe and hand it over for the balance when we left for New Zealand. The gap left at the car’s rear window by the loss of the mouse cage was taken up by long French bread rolls that fitted snugly on to the ledge. At Dover on October 30, we had missed the ferry by five minutes because of a traffic jam and my father had forgotten my sister’s and my raincoats so we returned to London and started again the following morning — at 4.30am. My father’s diary takes up the narrative. October 31, 1962, Wednesday Up at 4.30 and away by 5.30. London is quite busy, even at this time. Cold with light frost in Kent, but got ph [photograph] of oasthouses, windmill etc. Arr. (arrive) Dover with 1 hr 15 mins to spare. Bought shirt and B’s (Barbara’s) pyjamas. Filled up with petrol, and drove on to boat. Very slick treatment — everything streamlined. Crossing takes 11⁄2hrs to Boulogne. Other side equally slick, then wrong side of road! First French purchase: 4 lollipops — find French adequate — vocabulary weak, no knowledge of nuances. Drove day loving tree-lined roads, then through groves of golden trees. France lovelier than England. Bought wine (one new franc), 1/6 cornflakes impossibly expensive. Near dusk I ask garage man where “le camping” is. He tells us — laughing happily because we’re not English. Pitch tent in drizzle in Poix, and find stove won’t work. Have magnificent steak in village restaurant — expensive, then to bed. November 1, 1962, Thursday It froze as well as rained last night. Packed and away — car starts quite well (I left the hurricane lantern burning under the bonnet all night!). Glorious day — stop at Beauvais for lunch to see highest Gothic cathedral in world. On (right hand drive becoming more natural now) through rolling unfenced country to St Denis, then Paris. Traffic heavy and a bit terrifying. Found le camping in the Bois de Boulogne. Also found help from a couple of Canadians, who took us into their caravan, cooked dinner for us, and entertained us for the evening. A cold wet night. [Saint-Denis is a commune, an area in the northern suburbs of Paris.] November 2, 1962, Friday Early, Clive Canadian drives in to Suresnes to buy a camping gas (butane) stove. Quite cheap, 17 NF (new francs). Back, breakfast, and drive into Paris. Traffic mercifully light in Place d’Etoile [Arc de Triomphe]. To Palais de Chaillot, the up the Eiffel Tower. On through heavy traffic to Notre Dame — magnificently gloomy and into the evening rush along to Rue de Rivoli and Champs d’Elysees. Mad roundabout at the Arc, but negotiated it safely. Spent the evening with John Reed of AU (Auckland University), who wants “Down the Hall” for an anthology of NZ verse, with Taumata (the longest place name in New Zealand, located in South Hawkes Bay). French public lavatories ambisextrous and most places just porcelain holes in ground with squatting room. Cost 22c. [centimes]. November 3, 1962, Saturday Packed and away to look at shops. Found in Avenue Victor Hugo, wine from small side street. Hungry soon after croissants and coffee, bought early in street market. Lovely smells — and bad ones — in Paris. On around Seine to Rue de Rivoli — bought doll, 10 NF, 15% reduced for travellers cheques [purchase tax on something taken off]. Lunched among dry leaves, then on to a parc des autos at the other end of the Rue. Ph. Notre Dame. Stephanie broke small Eiffel Tower in shop. Chestnut roasters by ND (Notre Dame) — we bought some then we bought postcards from the trunk stalls along the Seine, looked at Rivoli at lower [Shepherds Bush] end, and off out of Paris. Country different now: plains, no fences, and rows of golden birches — also multicoloured copses. Camp in dark at Sezanne. November 4, 1962, Sunday A damp camp. Up early to stop in Sezanne (hot bread and croissants) and down to a hard drive through golden autumn country. France is lovely. A long run, and have difficulty in finding an auberge (hostel) in the dark. La Chasseurs seems OK acc. (according) to the guide we have, but finding it involves getting off main road at Maimoutier and driving blind through misty countryside. Ask at two villages before we find it. Long “deviation’ makes us later and gendarmes with rifles don’t make us happy about camping. Stayed night at La Chasseurs — auberge where noone spoke English. Ended discussing common market in French with Peter with a dictionary between us. [The use of the word commune is distracting. In France a geographical area that we would call a suburb is named as a commune. Possibly because it is a community centred around a church or place of worship. Britain’s involvement with the common market was in its infancy and New Zealand’s trading position was being scrutinised. The frozen/ chilled meat export trade with England, initiated in North Otago in the 1880s, had been a mainstay for both countries. In 2021, Britain left the European Union (the Common Market) last year and new trade agreements have been struck with New Zealand on meat and dairy exports with tariffs being lifted. How strangely the world turns. It seems that nothing is new under the sun. We did finally get some rest and set off the next day, crossing the border into Germany.]