I have no idea where my interest in France came from as a teenager. I was good at French, passing my ‘O’ level with a grade three; not bad for someone whose main subjects were scientific. French was not considered a suitable subject for a boy; including and especially by my fellow pupils. I recall my class destroying a new French assistant within three weeks with a concerted barracking. He soon left dejectedly but we were not punished for our bullying.
Paris Match 1967
As a paper delivery boy at the local newsagent, it was my job to deal with the special orders for magazines. In Raddlebarn there was one person who read the Times Literary Supplement, one other who ordered the Scientific American, and one who read Vogue; all delivered to the posher houses on the way to the university. A couple of people would get magazines in Polish and someone else had an order for Paris Match.
How I imagined French intellectual life when I was a teenager
I ordered an extra copy for me. It probably helped my French but I never came to understood the complexities of French politics; at the time there was some impenetrable scandal over Algeria. I affected a ‘French’ look with a black polo neck sweater and Gauloises to give flavour; I even had a beret. Being the only ‘beatnik’ in Selly Oak meant that I had no-one to talk to so I became the proverbial outsider and thus an existentialist, as far as I understood what that might mean.
Poets: Verlaine, Rimbaud, Baudelaire
When I reached London, France would be part of my new intellectual world; I read Verlaine, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. I discovered Zola, Camus and Sartre; I went to the French Institute in Kensington to see plays by Jean Anouilh and films by Jean Cocteau. Jean-Luc Godard became a favourite film-maker.
My girlfriend was to join a school trip to Paris in spring 1968. Although there was little chance that we would be able to meet in Paris, I decided to follow her on my first trip outside England. I would spend £5 for the return trip from London to Paris on a student discount ticket.
Copyright Derek Perry 2018.