This post goes all the way
back to my adolescence.
You may well find it boring.
you won’t offend me.
When I had completed my second year at secundary school, I was sent to Southern England to improve my English during most of the summer holiday: “À moi les petites Anglaises”.
Our family had an acquaintance who organized langage-learning stays for French pupils in Kent and Surrey. He himself was an English teacher and a keen bridge player, having even challenged Omar Sharif on one occasion – and lost from the man, foreseeably so. As the English level of the Belgian is immensely better than that of their French counterparts, I was needless to say the youngest of the bunch. My first sojourn took place in Crawley, South of Charring Cross and not that far away from Brighton and its pier. My hosts were a very low-class family with one son, younger than I and a pain. I remember pretty little of them and the report they had to write just mentioned: “Luc has not been unpolite”. Taking British understatement habits into account, it tells you how much they had appreciated my personality! I, for one, had come to learn about good Chinese restaurants, sickening Wimpy Bars, hooligans in the public gardens and the stiff little nipples of just-not-nubile English girls. I was to turn fourteen in October that autumn.
One year later, the story was totally different: Shirley was the name of the village, in the Croydon area, and I met Michael and Marilyn Chapman, of Welsh origin but long established in the London zone. He worked with an insurance company and she was a housewife, the mother of Michelle, a sweet thing with a very extraverted temper, and Alister, a clever chappie with an enquiring mind. We liked each other at once and this became the start of a long-lasting friendship.
Somewhat later, I came back on my own – i.e. without the burden of the French organization – I even think it was in the middle of winter, as the pond was frozen. And then they moved to West-Wickham, near Maidenhead. Well, at least if my memory serves me well, as we’re talking some 40 years ago !
I went several times to visit them, once with a girl-friend, then with my brother, later with the mother of my sons, every time on a motorcycle, sometimes causing havoc in the quiet area when the 2-stroke engine would keep misfiring.
Then they visited us in Coxyde and we went on a short trip to Bruges.
At long last, they followed the Mayflower’s example and migrated to Florida. We have not seen each other ever since but Michael faithfully sends a long e-letter around Yuletide, every year. Now and again, I lazily answer his wishes.
If you have an inquiring mind, here’s what Alister does for a living: http://www.alisterchapman.com/
As for Michelle, she just got divorced and sings: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8sEqICQb0pAIiGliD7FghA
Michael is retired (must be around 70 by now, I guess) and Marilyn designs fantasy jewelry, for fun.
I wish they could taste my wine, but it’s a pain to send a bottle to the US and I have no intention to try and find a dealer over there. Moreover, I still live with the unproven belief I’m not allowed access to American territory anymore ever since I accomodated some legal European citizens, and a triplet of illegal Kurds, that is true, in my house during the late ‘90ies. They were believed to develop “anti-American activities” and it caused my becoming persona non grata. Tough shit !
This does not prevent me from wishing them
– parents, children and grand-kids alike –
all the best for 2013 !