Our parents must have been mental. Not only did they let us go on school trips, but they actually allowed us to leave the country. To France. With teachers, some of whom were madder than we were.
The Hotel Perfect, we found, was from from Perfect. It smelt funny, was only about ten feet wide and a hundred feet tall. And they put an entire party of schoolkids on the top floor. It was OK for most of the party, but James and I were forced to share with Mr Douglas, who had bizarre habits at the best of times. He had a beard, too. Totally irrelevant, but some of the girls had to share with Miss Harper, and she had a beard as well.
The hotel staff, alas, smelt funny too, and just to rub in the national stereotypes, they all had beards too, mostly under their arms. The only thing the Hotel Perfect really had going for it was the fact that it was slap bang in the middle of the Paris red light district. The hotel couldn’t cater for large parties at mealtimes, so they worked out a deal with the Moulin Rouge (yes, THAT Moulin Rouge) who fed us in their rather tatty-looking cafeteria that looked exactly like a school dinner hall. The food was exactly the same as well. So much for that famous French cuisine.
Every day we marched off through the streets of Paris towards Montmartre, and every day Mr Douglas and Mr Townsend would be accosted by dirty old men who tried to drag them bodily into the sex cinemas. Miss Harper sometimes got dragged along too, but only until they realised she wasn’t a bloke after all. With the staff distracted, it was no problem for the fourteen year old entrepreneurs to stock up with packs of dirty playing cards to sell on at a profit on our return to school.
Some days at the Moulin Rouge, we didn’t have time for a sit down meal, so they gave us all packed lunches. They were decidedly French affairs involving fruit, hard boiled eggs, a carton of drink and a bread roll with something hideous lurking inside. Call us fussy rostbifs but these usually went completely uneaten, and often accompanied us back to the hotel of an evening, where they died horrible, horrible deaths.
The problem was what to do with them. With the teachers out of the way - they were going “to church”, almost certainly a euphemism for some local bar and/or knocking shop, we were left to our own devices. Holiday crushes were resolved (usually by a slap round the face, though Tracey and Grant’s attempt at “the sex” was cruelly scuppered by a brawl in the corridor over whose turn it was at the keyhole), and the jinx were definately high.
In the end, we ended up in Harry and Gray’s room. It overlooked a small courtyard about six hundred feet below, crisscrossed with laundry in the traditional French stylee. With mountains of inedible packed lunches staring us in our bored little faces, something was bound to give.
We played football with an orange. We kicked it round a bit, but when Brian, hardly the Kevin Keegan of the party gave it a hefty boot, it flew out of the French Doors (or as we were already in France, I s’pose they were just called doors) and rolled over the edge of the balcony. We all legged it outside to see the end result. We arrived just in time to see the orange hit the courtyard with a splat, pulp and juice flying in all directions. This was good. Actually, it wasn’t, but that’s the way fourteen year old minds work.
A new game! Soon a shower of lunch was raining onto the courtyard. The idea wasn’t to hit the laundry, that would have been mean. The idea was to try to hit the splat of the last object thrown down there. This was, naturally, a recipe for disaster. Let me confess. I throw like a girl. As a matter of fact, even girls throw far better than me.
So, I confess that the yoghurt pot slipped out of my hand in the most girly way imaginable. Instead of falling in a graceful arc into the centre of the courtyard to land with a splodd with the rest of our detritus, it spun straight down and out of our sight. Instead of hitting the ground, it bounced off a handy canopy shading a window on the second floor like a stuntman in a between-the-wars movie matinee and spun in through the door of what we took to be the laundry room.
There was a scream, followed by an intelligable stream of shouting in French. An old dear, aged about a hundred and fifty staggered out into the courtyard, her chest spattered with pink goo. I had scored a direct hit on Charles de Gaulle’s grandmother. She was followed out of the door by several other ancient scrubbers, all covered with pink goo and a burly looking guy who looked like a lumberjack on his day off, who had so many tattoos and yoghurt that there was hardly a patch of bare skin.
If they saw us, there would be no doubt: I was going to be his bitch.
They saw us.
There was a tirade of French shouting, and loads of arm-waving and gesticulating in the way that only the French could manner. There were no actual words, it was all “Lu Lu Lu LuLuLULULU LU!!!” accompanied by a wave of the arms in our direction, follwed by a scream of “Pompt de Pompt de Pompt-Pompt” and the curse of the gallic shrug. We were doomed. Garlic was being prepared.
We were saved in the nick of time by Mr Douglas returning from “church”, his breath reeking of communion wine, propped up by Miss Harper, singing hymns from the sacred book of St Nigel Starmer-Smith, patron saint of Rugby Songs. He sobered up enough from his deeply religious trance to make us go down and apologise and clean up the mess we made.
Madame de Gaulle accepted our grovelling and “Je m’excuses” with a shrug and the word “Bouf!”, but the lumberjack was something else. He was a construction worker called Jean-Pierre and spoke perfect English. He broke out the smokes and a bottle of wine, and we spent the rest of the evening “apologising” to him, watching football on French TV until we were very tiddly indeed.
“Let that be a lesson to you,” said Mr Douglas, as we staggered back at some time approaching midnight, his night manipulations cruelly disturbed by our tumbling through the door.
“Yes sir,” we replied.
So come the next day.... we went up the Eiffel Tower. With packed lunches. At the very bottom they were filming "Condorman", a turkey of epic proportions. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to Michael Crawford for shouting "Mmmm Betty" right in the middle of his take. And all the stuff with the oranges, obviously.