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This article is taken from PN Review 153, Volume 30 Number 1, September - October 2003.

The French Trip Grevel Lindop

School trips aren't what they were. When my children and their classmates set off on the coach to Boulogne or Le Touquet, each with disposable camera, Walkman and worksheets, we know that they will be counted, shepherded and monitored every inch of the way. The preparatory talk is all about prohibitions: no gum to be chewed, no cigarettes to be smoked; no alcohol, fireworks or replica guns to be purchased. Likewise no one is even to think of buying a flick-knife (for American readers, that's a switchblade) or, more mysteriously, a flick-comb, an object I have yet to encounter. Parents are reassured that pupils will never be allowed to go anywhere in groups of less than three, and even then only for a maximum of two hours.

They ordered things differently in 1963. I don't have many happy memories of my minor public school, but it certainly knew how to run a French Trip. When the twentyfour of us, with accompanying masters, had staggered with our suitcases from the Gare du Nord onto the Metro and thence into our dark and unwelcoming pension in some nameless by-street, we gathered in the dingy sally-d-manger to be told certain essential truths. France, it was explained, was different from England. People grew up faster and the rules were not the same. We would have to get used to drinking wine with our meals; we'd have the afternoons free - in groups or alone, it was entirely up to us - ...


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