My Dunkirk

It was 1974. Unlike many kids from Hull, I had already been abroad. My parents had driven in 1962 from Hull to St. Tropez and back in a Reliant Robin with me in tow. We still have cine film – miles and miles of french hedgerow goes flying by for much of the film as my parents marveled at their bravery of driving so far on small French roads in a three wheel car that attracted looks of disbelief from the locals. I guess they felt like they would never return and so best film as much as possible? The film also has me in it sitting in the warm blue ocean, looking at artists painting St. Tropez harbour and interfering with the locals’ game of boules…. But, I digress. I had also been to Switzerland and Italy in 1969 again camping and driving miles and miles on little French, Swiss and Italian roads – no motorways back then you know!

So, my exchange with a French student wasn’t quite as exciting as it might have been. France was no mystery to this 14-year old. I already knew the country as beautiful and the girls even more so. French – the language that is – was more of a challenge. I have no brain for languages and I was terrible at French. Jean Luc was excellent at English however so all was well. He came to Hull first and was duly taken to such wondrous locations as Brid, Scarboro, Whitby and York. He purchased several LPs by some band called Status Quo and before I knew it, I too was a fan. He also liked Pink Floyd. He had good taste in music.

Jean Luc and I in Dunkirk 1974

Jean Luc and I in Dunkirk 1974

The train ride to Dover from Hull is tedious – it was back then even more tedious. The train was full with strange pairings of English and French kids all over excited and boisterous. The ferry then from Dover to Calais and then a car ride to Dunkirk – or a small village outside of Dunkirk. My adventure had began.

I recall the concrete floors painted green and total absence of carpets. The blinds that wound down to create total darkness at night. The dirt in the streets – yes – it was dirty. The food. New tastes including raw minced beef with raw egg. To be honest much of the trip was a blur. His father was the Captain of a ship and wasn’t home but Mother had a small car and we went all over the region – even as far as Brugges in Belguim. It was all too soon over but it began my love affair with France and all things French.

The next two summers we repeated the exchange – privately however. The summer before college I spent 8-weeks hitch hiking around using Jean Luc’s home as my base. For a while, we were firm friends. I wonder where he is now? I was lucky I know to find such friends and to enjoy so many experiences as a growing child and young adult. It broadened my young mind and by 18, my French was more than passable but not fluent. It was good enough to talk to the girls….

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