1950 – 1957
Cambusbarron / Stirling
‘Entente Cordiale’ (i)
France - July / August – 1953
If you have noted the location mentioned above, you might be wondering why the first photograph below that shows me with a tennis racket and a spaniel on the back step of a house in a sylvan setting in France is then followed immediately by an extract from a Test cricket scorecard of a match played in Manchester, England?
But …MATCH DRAWN
Well, it happened like this ….. and went on from there to provide me with some of the most exciting and novel experiences of my young life:-
Mr Pat Finn, a schoolteacher at St Modans High School in Stirling, who was the popular leader of the ‘Cambron Players’ Drama Club in Cambusbarron, asked my Dad if I would like to improve my schoolboy French by going to live for a month or so with a family in France that summer, and then reciprocate immediately by bringing the similarly aged son of that household back to Scotland for a few weeks. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance! A few details emerged over the next few weeks, and, despite my realisation that I would lose a major portion of the cricket season at home, I could hardly wait to get on the train again to London and thence fly over from Northolt to Paris …. to ‘enjoy’ or ‘survive’ whatever else might transpire from there on in.
Before my departure at the beginning of July I was told that my exchange-friend’s name was Yves LeMaitre of ‘Leyre’, Chateauneuf-sur-Loire, and that his father, Claude, was not only the local Mayor, but also ‘Senateur de la Republique’ for the region. I was going to be met in London again by ‘Uncle’ Charles Turner, taken home to High Wycombe for the night before being ferried back to the city in the morning to catch a BEA ‘Admiral’ propeller aeroplane to Paris.
I had never been to an airport before, far less flown in a plane, so I certainly suffered from a few ‘caullie-wobbles’ as I climbed the steps to board the aircraft. The hostess was nice as she settled me into a window-seat that looked out onto the port wing. I remember being disappointed that take-off and flying seemed just like starting off and riding in a ramshackle Alexanders’ bus back home. But the views from the air in a cloudless sky were startling as houses and other places below transformed themselves into miniatures like the ‘Maduradam’ in Holland …. and the outlines of the English countryside and Channel coast became recognisable and three-dimensionally atlas-like. Wow!
Breakfast onboard was soon served and enjoyed …. but …. as we crossed into French territory and started on our descent to Le Bourget, things got a wee bit bumpy … clouds swirled around my window to mask the sun that had already made me feel uncomfortably warm from reflecting off the wing …. my tummy started to churn …. then … utter disgrace … I emptied the contents of my stomach on the floor between my feet. Sheer nerves I suppose - hidden as they must have been by the brave face that I had been showing to all in sundry. If only I had been told about the window shutter and the cool-air nozzle above my head …… !
However, despite feeling a little abashed, I made a quick enough recovery, to enjoy the thrill of a somewhat fluttery-thumping landing safely back onto ‘terra firma’, and to ready myself to meet whoever was going to be there to look after me. Not that I knew it at the time, it was Monsieur Le Maitre’s personal secretary who whisked me off into the centre of Paris and deposited me in a comfortable flat just off the Champs d’Elysee, there to first meet ‘mon ami’, Yves.
Lunch was served there by a maid … but I could not eat or drink what was provided … a big red fillet steak dripping blood, the likes of which I had never seen in my life before … and red wine … ‘Surely not for kids like us’, I thought … but I took a sip … and hated it. Great start! Not for the first time in my life, I survived on water, vegetables and an ice-cream.
After lunch was over, Yves took charge … newly fifteen years old … with, thank goodness, better English than my French … and together we humped my case and hold-all down the stairs, out into the boulevard and then down into the bowels of an adjacent Metro. He muttered something about going to Orleans and this told me from my previous map-reading that we were probably on our first leg to Chateauneuf-sur-Loire. Having experienced London sub-ways, I was not over-awed by the Metro journey that went on for about twenty minutes, before, after surfacing for the umpteenth time, we transferred to a more orthodox electric train that was soon gliding out into the French countryside south of Paris.
Madame Le Maitre met us effusively in Orleans – a lovely person on first meeting, who became an even-more lovable surrogate Mum to me as the summer progressed. But she spoke no English …. Not a word! Another surprise followed as she handed the keys of her tiny Renault to the 15 year-old Yves for the ten miles or so drive to their estate home called ‘Leyre’ on the outskirts of Chateauneuf-sur-Loire. Yves was a good, if fast, driver, and proudly shrugged off his mum’s pleas of ‘Trop vite, TROP VITE’ with, ’Maman, vous etes mauvaise quand vous conduisez l’auto’. Resignedly, she intermittently responded, ‘Oui, oui, cher, mais plus lentement s’il vous plait !’
Entering the ‘Leyre’ estate was somewhat like going up the driveway of Polmaise Castle in Cambusbarron, but before we reached the impressive chateau there in its depths, I lost count of the number of ‘myxomatosis-stricken’ rabbits that the car mercifully despatched!
My comfortable bedroom for my time at ‘Leyre’ was the one inside the lowest window that can be seen on the right hand side of the mansion. The ground sloped from left to right thus I was in the basement area, and handily placed near the games room with its snooker and table tennis table … plus a ‘wireless’ that I could twiddle with to try to get UK programmes in English ! …. and of course …. cricket commentaries too!
I met Papa that evening at dinner … all meals except breakfast were very formal … an aristocratic touch to which I had to become accustomed. Monsieur Le Maitre impressed me greatly …. stately bearing … a caring person with a kindly smile … a great sense of humour … very wise …… and, although he spoke perfect English, he constantly reminded me that I was there to learn more spoken French as well as to have a good holiday.
Getting to know and respect the servants was a first priority with me (learned from the ways my Dad looked after his school cleaners and meal-servers) so I ‘cultivated’ Maria the young cook/maidservant and paid close attention to her equally young husband Mario’s (the estate grieve) advice, (as translated by Yves of course). As a result Maria spoiled me rotten!
Mario’s sound advice was mostly needed for three of our subsequent youthful activities during the next fortnight on the estate, namely, shooting, fishing and motor-bike riding. Our use of the estate tennis court did not interest Mario and the games room sports were not within his realm of management. Interest in tennis quickly waned between Yves and me because he was just no match for his younger Scots comrade and did not like being beaten nor feeling that at times that he was being allowed to win more points than he had gained our during early encounters. This was fine by me … as I particularly wanted to learn to ride a motor-bike and how to fish … but not to use a gun … Thus, for this last sport of killing diseased rabbits, I opted out and watched from a far. Although when later one poor beast ran under my front wheel while I was careering round the estate pathways, I realised that keeping them under control, from that point of view, as well as out of pity, was a necessary evil.
During my second week at ‘Leyre’, Papa announced that we were going off for the annual summer holidays to their peach and grape farm near St Tropez (totally undiscovered and unspoiled then in 1953). It would be a working holiday for him as an ‘absentee owner’ checking up on developments there at Domain de Bertaud. But for us it would be fun at the nearby beaches, seeing part of the Tour de France etc., meeting up with Yves’ elder brothers, Pierre and Jean Paul and their wives, as well as having the company of young cousins in the much livelier St Raphael.