Saturday, 20 December 2008

Letters from France - 31st July 1947

40 rue Pasteur

Last minute, but I only managed to book last night.

I shall catch the 4.45 from Paddington on Tuesday 5th [Augus], and shall hope to be met at Shrub Hill [Worcester].

I am crossing Monday, and I don't arrive till 10.22 at Victoria. Very late. I am staying with cousin Cordie overnight.

Have done a good bit of shopping in Paris Tuesday and Wednesday. Everything is very expensive.

Looking forward to seeing you all.


Friday, 19 December 2008

Letters from France - 24th July 1947 - 2

The next morning Arsène again had business visits to make, and I should again have spent the morning shop-gazing contentedly, if I hadn't caught the eye of a man who persistently followed me about for 10 or 15 minutes. I don't mean that I caught his eye with mine - for of course I ignored him as best I could - but that my general appearance must have done. I have never known such a persistent "wolf". All I wanted to do was gaze in the shop windows, but of course every time I stopped he stopped too, and finally came to rest at the same window as me and said "Bonjour Mademoiselle". Of course I said nothing and determinedly crossed the road and thought I had thrown him off. However, a few minutes later he was again walking beside me and making the same sort of remarks that English "pick-ups" make - only of course in French. I was just beginning to wonder desperately if he might be put off by my speaking English to him - tho' I hold it is best to say nothing at all - when he finally became discouraged and left me in peace. But it was the end of enjoyment for me that morning. However, I revived my spirits over lunch, and in the afternoon we visited Notre Dame, another newspaper office, another café, and then the station and home. [You can read another account of my three days in Paris in my main blog here.]

Arsène tells me that I bring him luck - that he never sells as well as he has this week with my company! It's a good thing he doesn't want my help selling brassières or something like that!! Not of course that I should be prepared to give it for such!

Well so much for the main events. It's the little impressions which are so much more difficult to recall. On second sight I would say that possibly there are more smart women than in London. At any rate one sees a lot more of the fashions that are just penetrating to London.

One is liable to pay a fine if one crosses the road otherwise than by the pedestrian crossings. The policemen on point duty blow whistles to stop the traffic besides weilding truncheons. At first I thought there must be no end of road-hogging or smashing and grabbing going on - but no, just traffic regulation.

Apparently it is as difficult to get house painting done as in England.

Masses of post was writing for me when I got home last night, including from you and Jane, for which many thanks. They helped to soften the regrets I felt at leaving Paris.

You certainly have been unfortunate with weather. I think we must go to the sea for a week in September. I don't know how hot it is here, but it is quite as bad as that very hot spell in June. I have bathed again today - also sunbathed.

You did well at Vingt-et-Un. I've never played it for money, which is just as well, because I always lose at cards. Quite a welcome misfortune, when one considers the old addage. ["Lucky at cards, unlucky in love."]

No, my "dent de sagesse" is not giving me any trouble.

I don't plan to go to Antwerp. I shall come back the first week in August - I don't know the exact day yet, but will of course let you know.

Yes, the water is safe - they do drink it, but not much. I am beginning to like beer tho'.

I am afraid I shall not be keeping my pure accent - and anyway, it is hard to know what is good French and what not in their speech. You are hopeful if you think I am able to discuss things like politics already!

I am not sure that I really want to go to Bournemouth. I have had a vaguish invitation, which I think I can consolidate, to spend a weekend by he sea with an old friend from Secretarial College - Southsea I think.

Will you excuse my writing to Jane for me - I still haven't much time for writing besides to you, tho' of course receiving long letters is quite a different thing. Tell her I am a good guesser like Sigrid.

Yes, the official Intermediate results came today. A long screed list all the London University Inter. passes, and of course Birkbeck Higher School Certificate completions were on the very last page, so that by the time I got there I had begun to worry!!

I feel I want to stay here months and months. When I realize that I am only beginning to know London after nearly 2 years there, I wonder how one can hope to see Paris in 3 days, let alone all the rest of France.

25th July -

There is no doubt that Paris is a cleaner more attractive town than London. London seems to have a blacker spirit, too. There are trees along many of the big roads, too. There are in London, too, sometimes, come to think of it, but they don't seem so green. One reason for freshness, is that the roads are sprayed regularly from water carts, to allay the dust.

The main roads in the centre, besides the pavement cafés, have sweet stalls and rifle ranges and so on, which don't close down till towards midnight. Then in the suburbs there are street markets like in Bethnal Green and along the King's Road.

God! it is hot. The moment you put two bits of flesh together (such as crossing your legs) they start to pour with sweat, and when you get up after sitting in a train or bus you feel as if ..... well, you feel darn'd wet! It was 52°C in the sun yesterday. Work it out if you can - I can't!

Well, T.T.F.N. Love to all and sundry. Especially Sundry!


[52 degrees Celsius would have been 125.6 Fahrenheit. This seems unlikely, though possible perhaps in the sun. My searches on the web tell me that on 24th July 1947, the day after my return from Paris, the temperature in the capital reached a record high of 40.4°C (104.7°F.]

Letters from France - 24th July 1947 - 1

Dear Folk,

I arrived back from Paris yesterday evening having spent 3 very happy and interesting days in Paris, and consequently decided not to return till after August Bank Holiday, in order to pay another visit and do a bit more sight seeing and some shopping, as things like woollies and suits are now off points I gather. I have already bought a sunhat and some white summer shoes.

Well, I will being (strangely enough) at the beginning and try to tell you all ("confessions of a fallen character" etc.) I rose at the ungodly hour of 6.30 on Monday morning, and met Arsène at the station to catch the 8 am train. (By the way, in case you are trying to make four out of two and one, knowing that I have been seeing Paris with this fellow, and my having said that he is threatening to come and demand my hand [in marriage], let me reassure you that such talk is merely part of the general air of banter to be found where he is around. He is already engaged, or practically, to a German girl who was here during the war.)

Well, we reached Paris about 9.15, and spent the morning going to various newspaper offices with his cartoons, booking places for theatres, and booking my hotel room. Then we returned to his room and made lunch - or rather he did all the cooking, to make up for which I did all the washing up! Daft state of affairs, but he cooks well.

After lunch we set out in sweltering heat to view the views. It's a wonder I managed to enjoy anything, what with the heat, my feet giving me jip like never before, and my body absolutely covered with heat lumps (not mosquito bits after all) - to add to which I caught a flea in my bed Monday night, and one of my spots swelled on my knee in a great red patch the size of a jaffa orange. Still, inspite of these trials I did enjoy myself. We visited first the Panthéon, where famous folks are buried, and then the Latin quarter with the Sorbonne, or University. Then we went to Les Invalides, a sort of Chelsea Pensioners' place I gather, where Napoleon is buried; and then to the Tour Eiffel. You may know that there are three "floors" one can go up to by lift. I wanted to go up to the top, but Arsène was afraid of vertigo and wouldn't go further than 1st. However, there was a beautiful view from there. We looked over to the Trocadero, which we didn't have time to visit, and to the Sacré Coeur - which I forget what it is. (Have enquired - a church.)

By the time we had drunk a "jus de fruit" (we did nothing but drink "jus de fruit" and "citronades"), it was time to sprint back and gobble our supper in 20 minutes in order to get to the theatre in time. In fact both nights we were in such a hurry that the washing up was left till I arrived for lunch next day. Then we would begin with dessert - fruit bought during the morning, then do the washing up, then drink some beer, then make the lunch, then finish up again with dessert - what a muddle.

Well, the first evening we went, believe it or not, to the "Folies Bergère". I was not impressed by the quality of the turns - they were mostly an excuse to wear either extravagant dresses or nothing at all. With one exception - two men who did the mast amazing poses, supporting each other by their hands and arms alone:

Extraordinarily badly drawn, but perhaps you can gather - one of the most spectacular.(Actually, I am not sure now if they did both get horizontal together, but I am sure the top one did at one time.) My first impression about the nude women, is that if they are going to dance naked they should also sunbathe naked, otherwise a rather comic effect is produced. I did enjoy watching them - there were some very attractive girls and of course I can watch them purely from an aesthetic point of view! On the whole the girls seemed to be thinner - to have more narrow, pointed features than English chorus girls. There was another clever piece - a tableau of an inn scene set like this: Gave the effect of a picture set crooked on the wall. How the men managed to sit and drink at that angle I can't imagine. It was more acute than I have drawn it. We came out about 11.30 and had another citronade at a pavement café before returning - Arsène to his room and - strange to say - I to mine! - and to my flea catching.

Next morning Arsène had various visits to make, so I spent the morning shopping and shop-gazing in the district round the hotel, and joined him for lunch. In the afternoon we visited the Louvre, walked through Les Jardins des Tuileries to the Place de la Concorde - with its Egyptian Obelisque, and then up the Champs Elysées to l'Arc de Triomphe. After another Jus de Fruit it was again time to rush back for supper, and rush out to the theatre, this time to the Opera-Comique. We saw Carmen. It was very nice, but this time the heat was sufficient to mar my enjoyment somewhat. Another orangeade and another late night, but this time no fleas.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Letters from France - 17th July 1947

We didn't go to the dance on the evening of the 14th. They were dancing on the dusty ground, and it would have been horrible. We looked round the town, and saw the town hall lit up, and then went to bed, as we had to get up at 6.30 to catch the train to Paris next morning. It was a business visit for Lucette, so we didn't see very much of Paris, leaving early Wednesday morning, but we shall go again before I leave. We spent the morning going to the Swiss Consul and finding a hotel, and during the afternoon I slept while L. went again to the S.C.; then in the early evening we wandered round a Jardin des Plantes, where there is also a zoo, and a zoological museum, near the college of scientific studies of the Paris University.

We then had supper with the cartoonist, who had travelled up with us, and has a room in Paris (I think I mentioned him coming on the picnic), after which we all three went to the theatre. It didn't begin till after 9 p.m. and finished 11.30. It was "Georges et Margaret", a comedy, and has been played in London. What I understood I enjoyed very much. After that, at an hour when most of London is abed - or what life there is, is not on view! - we wandered down les Grands Boulevards, and drank an iced fruit drink at one of the pavement cafés, and criticized the passers by. The cafés begin to pack up about midnight, it seems, but there are still sweet stalls and rifle ranges and on along the streets.

The "Metro" or Tube is much less comfortable than ours. Wooden seats and few of them, catering more for standing. However, there is only one price of ticket and one can go as far as one wishes. The buses also have wooden sets. One gets in from the back, where there is a sort of bay without windows, for standing, and one passes thro' this to the seats.

We stayed in a hotel for the night, where we paid about 8/- for a nice airy room with a double bed, basin, and three big windows. We had to give up food tickets even for bread and sugar for breakfast. The bread in Paris is yellow, being made from maize. One is not allowed to use hot water systems in the summer.

As for Paris the centre of fashion, tho' we weren't in the "West End", it doesn't appear that there are any more fashionable women about than in London, which I rather expected. The shoes are of awfully bad quality - hardly a pair of real leather. But I think the people of a town never reflect to any large extend the fashions of that town's leading creators. One certainly never sees much walking about in London - for which I suppose export is largely responsible.

We had to get up early Wednesday morning to meet Mme Durand returning my a night train from Grenoble. Even by 8 am the cafés are doing business again. We drove back by car which was very pleasant, tho' we were six in all, and it was another scorching day! I've no idea how hot, as the papers don't seem to occupy themselves with quoting temperatures as ours do.

This afternoon I went over the factory with Lucette and her father - it makes artificial leather, and also felt and cardboard. It was very interesting, hot, and rather smelly. I have brought away some souvenirs! I managed to understand some of the process, tho' what with the noise of the machines, and the explanation being in French, it was very difficult.

People keep saying that I haven't "l'air Anglais", but myself I don't see that there is really much difference between French and English - not enough to say that, anyway. I must find out what they understand by "l'air Anglais".

19th July -

Your card came this morning - many thanks. We are scorching here too at the moment - but I daresay it won't last long.

One doesn't use the surname here in direct address - in fact it is considered less than polite. In general most of a greeting is swallowed except "... dame" or "... selle". One never greets anyone, even for the second, 3rd or 4th time in a day, without some enquiry such as "How goes it", and one seldom parts without a wish for a "bon soirée", "bon appetit" or "bon promenade".

I shall see Hazel West, the friend of Lucette's neighbour for about 5 days, which is nice.

I am going to Paris next week to see the sights with the cartoonist, as Lucette is working again in the week now. He should be an amusing and stimulating guide.

I am bringing an amusing mascot back with me, but I shan't tell you what it is - just hope that you will not disapprove. (No, it's not a husband, tho' Arsène - the cartoonist - is threatening to come to England to demand my hand from "Mrs Ride"!) I am afraid my ideas about silk stockings and so on you won't come to much - and I don't know whether I shall have time for buying presents anyway - there being nothing interesting at Pont.

Ah, well, nearly dinner time. Au revoir. Love,


Letters from France - 11th July 1947

chez Mme Durand,
40 rue Pasteur,
Dear Folk,

I expect Mummy will be home when you get this - I hope she has had better weather than we are having.

My offer of something towards housekeeping has been refused.

My first film on the Ful-Vue has come out very well. Two of Angus, one of Daddy, one of Mummy asleep on the lawn, with both her thumbs tucked between her fingers!; a cat on a basket at the New Inn, two of the clubs at St. M's, three of Lucette and one of the house here. L. has also taken some nice ones of me - I seem to be cultivating a camera face a bit more now. The only one of mine that didn't do well was Angus falling off the tree on the picnic we went.

I hope the ration books have arrived safely. My love to Jane. And to you.

14th July -

I held this till I heard from you and then found I had missed the last weekend post. Sorry about that.

By the way, I am cutting my first wisdom tooth!! Top right. I wonder if it will make any difference!

Fortunately when my week in Jacqueline's bed came to an end, another neighbour offered a bed, so I am still on my own, which is a good thing, because it wrecks my sleep to be with someone else. I am sleeping very badly still as it is.

I am certainly not being dreadfully bored - my only difficulty is to keep from getting overtired again. They seem to keep such late hours.

Fay [my aunt] has written saying she hopes I am staying here till August 14th so That I can then join her friend Hoppë, but that is too late I am afraid - Lucette goes on holiday on the 8th. However I think I shall be quite glad to come home then.
It's all very well to keep saying buy clothes, but nearly everything here is rationed. L. says she can give me some points, but I obviously can't take many.

You certainly seem to have had plenty to eat at Portmeirion. Most of the food here I like, except that they eat their meat practically raw, and I just can't cope with it like that. Also they will not believe that I prefer water to wine with my meals. If I ever go to Portmeirion I shall want to choose a season when there are Bohemian people there. I think they're such fun, even if one doesn't want to live with them for ever, and I often think perhaps I would.

We had a very enjoyable picnic yesterday near Chantilly. Eight of us in all: L and her father and me, Jacqueline and her parents, and two boys - one of whom is a cartoonist and quite daft but good amusing company. I am able to join in the conversation much more now, and even contribute a humorous (I hope) remark or two now and again. We saw the Château at Chantilly and the Cathedral at Senlis. The forest of Chantilly is beautiful. Tall slender trees making avenues of all the roads. A lot of it was cut down by the Germans though.

Today is "Le Quatorze Juillet" and there are some "goings on" in Pont, but whether we shall go to the dance or anything I don't know.

Love to all,

Letters from France - 9th July 1947

Yesterday we visited Compiègne. It was only an afternoon's visit, for Lucette to visit the doctor, so we didn't have a great deal of time. However, I managed to look around two of the churches, to glance at the park of the 18th century château, and to wander through the town a bit. The château is huge - we are going to go back when it is open to look round, and there is a huge open drive running from back miles into the distance.

Lucette says Compiègne is very bourgeois. It seems to have some very old buildings in it, besides some very new rows of shops replacing those which were bombed. The town hall (16th century) has a statue of Joan of Arc on the first floor as it were, and right at the top, on the spire, the three musketeers. There is also a large statue of Joan facing the Town Hall, and now rather obscured by the new shops.

There is a fashion for women that I haven't seen in England, and that is long woolly cardigans taking the place of jackets, and shaped at the waist to look like jackets. Some of the men wear a sort of plus-fours, only half-way down their calf, and then ankle socks. I get the impression that the French boys are much less afraid of showing their limbs than the English ones. They seem to wear shorts [very short ones], ankle socks and sandals more than our lads.

In one of the windy - (ie twisty, not blowy!) - streets of Compiègne I came across a barber's shop which announced: "Se habla español" and "English spoken". I thought "what fun", I'll go and give them a "good day" and "buenos dias", but when I got to he top of the stairs I lost courage and came away again!

I was a bit confused at Paris last week to see that the train I awaited from Pont was an "omnibus". I wondered how it would make out on the rails, but was reassured when I saw a perfectly ordinary train arrive. I now understand the system a bit more: an "omnibus" stops at all stations; an "express" is a fast train; and a "rapide" is deisel which goes more than express. And what we call an omnibus is an "autocar" or "autobus". I am not yet very handy at getting in and out of the trains from ground level. We travelled yesterday in a traditional 3rd class continental compartment with wooden seats. But even the 2nd in I travelled from Paris when I arrived was much worse than our 3rd. At Compiègne station I had my first experience of the lavatories over which you stand astride. I am not sure that I don't prefer them for stations etc.

Apparently the people here have retained the "O.K." which they picked up from the Americans (whom they called "Les Ruminants" because of their gum-chewing).

Lucette pointed out a Jewish concentration camp on the way to Compiègne. There was a German aerodrome close by Pont, from which the planes used to bomb England.

The weather here is extraordinarily English, but I gather in the Alps and the South it is more equitable.

The cheeze - all one kind - and the bread are of poor quality and the biscuits too, but the butter is lovely. The milk is poor.

I cashed a travellers' cheque yesterday, and got 48 francs more than last time - that's about 1/9 in the £5. I carry a little guide around with me, so that I do not have to work it out in my head every time. The trouble is I don't know the ratio of 1 lb to 1 kg , so I am stuck on weights. I know I weigh 65 kilogrammes which sounds better than 145 lbs!

Radio Luxembourg seems to be the only transmission there is, and it is mostly in French, tho' a little English and German. It is frightfully dull. There never seems to be anything serious of any sort - only light music and advertisements for brilliantine and a suntan oil.

I am hoping to become immune to mosquitos, but as yet they are having fun and games with my poor blood.

Pont is largely communist I understand, being a working town.

11th July -

Congratulations to both of you on your wedding anniversary. I had meant to write to you, but never got down to it, as I didn't think in time for foreign post times.

I've not much new to say at the moment. We have visited various different people, or they have visited us, and I have found some very nice families among them. I begin to envy these people who, altho' tied to a small town for the best part of their lives probably, do have neighbours on all sides to pop in on, unlike Alfrick, and who know most of the people they meet, unlike London.

The valley here is very flat with rail, road and river all running close together and almost unnoticed. The railway is not embanked and so is not seen from a distance, and the fields of corn and so on come right up to the road's edge. There are hills and woods to be seen on either side of the valley, but we have not been as far as them yet. We cycled down an extraordinarily pretty lane on Wednesday to see some people at a little village. I am hoping to find the chance to do some walking on my own but at the moment don't seem able to. Lucette has got herself a fortnight's holiday for my benefit, on the grounds of needing rest, which is rather good. Her mother comes back next week.

We are going a picnic on Sunday, and to Paris next week, so I should have more to tell you next time.


Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Letters from France - 4th July 1947 - 2

5th July -

Quite a lot of things are on points or tickets. Bread, fats, cheeze, meat, sugar, knitting wool, underclothes.

Last night we went and drank coffee with a friend - they all want to know if I am engaged yet!

This morning we drove to Creil to change my cheques, but alas the banks were closed. However, we wandered through the market - bigger than Pont's - where I could have spent hours. (I cannot feel that it is natural to be on the right side of the road, tho' many other customs seem natural already.) The roads here are very dusty, and tortuous thro' the villages. We passed a horse-drawn funeral - just the one coach and the folks on foot. M. Durand immediately doffed his beret. The policemen on point-duty are like drum-majors with their white truncheons [directing the traffic]. This right side of the road business is really a fallacy. Everyone from dogs to lorries - except of course oneself - goes in the middle of the road, and one must have one's finger on the horn almost without relief on these roads between small towns.

This evening we are going to the local cinema. We had to book seats this morning.

Not being able to speak the language naturally is like being blind or on crutches. You can never act on impulse, and the minute you relax your attention you are completely lost. Thus, a lot goes unsaid and one does not attempt half so many arrangements or adjustments as one might, because of the difficulty of doing so easily. Tact is an art at the best of times, and in an alien language ... ! Not that I require more than average tact here. It already seems natural to hear French spoken all round me - it is only when I have to make the effort to speak that it seems hard.

These folk have nowhere really comfortable to sit down. The kitchen is lived, eaten and cooked in, and only has hard chairs. The dining-room is used as a sort of study, and the two bedrooms are full of beds. I get an impression of not being able to relax - to retire somewhere and stay put for a bit. Even the poorest Bethnal Green families (and the people of Pont that I have met are not really poor) seemed to have a comfortable chair or two.

I am absolutely covered with bites. Partly thro' bathing, and partly, I suspect, thro' sleeping with my shutters open.

Lucette makes a cake by mixing the sugar, salt, melted fat and egg, and then adding the flour etc. It remains to be seen how it will taste - just the same I expect.

I have great difficulty restraining myself from buying everything which seems different from English. However, so far I have only bought writing paper and a purse to cope with coins and notes. The greater part of the currency is in notes - approx. as low as 3d. I find it very difficult to adjust not only to money, but measurements as well.

6th July -

I went to sleep yesterday afternoon, and DREAMED IN FRENCH for the first time! Not as tho' I was speaking naturally however, but with great difficulty.

We went to the pictures. Not a very good film, and I didn't really understand it. The cinema is a little hall transformed somewhat crudely into a cinema. There is a very small balcony of sorts, formed of open boxes with loose chairs. The films are only shown Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon and evening, and don't begin till 8.30 - ending at 11.00. After the news and the supporting film there is an interval of about 20 minutes, and if you want to go out you are handed a 'SORTIE' ticket, to enable you to come in again.

Today we had lunch with friends - and what a meal. By the time we had finished eating, drinking and smoking, we had sat there 2-1/2 hours. To begin with a piece of ham and some russian salad. Then a bit of luncheon sausage, then a bit of tomato in dressing, then a bit of some other sort of meat, then a bit of carrot in dressing. Then some lamb with cauliflour. Then lettuce in dressing. Then bread and cheeze. Then meringue and biscuits, then cake, then fruit. As for drink, we began with an aperitif before lunch, drank wine for the first part, then I was given beer (they think all the English drink beer), then some so-called Burgundy, then some Bordeaux (wine?), then coffee after the meal and then "un tout petit peu d'eau de vie de Mirabelle" [a very small plum brandy] and then a small portion of Chartreuse. And the amazing thing is I didn't appear to be drunk, tho' I must confess to being a little sleepy. I certainly wondered if I was wise to eat and drink so much, but felt I wanted to try the whole "kaboosh". [There was a similar occasion about which I seem not to have written to my parents at all - perhaps understandably. It must be rare for children not to censor letters to their parents to some extent, though there was not much I held back. You can read about it here however.]

They all seem to drink coffee and tea without milk. This family we lunched with are perhaps a little better-class (through lack of a better, I use that not well-liked term) - anyway the meal was presented more gentilely, and they still use one plate for most courses, and a knife only when necessary, (tho' knife rests like we have (or don't!) for carvers were provided, and use bread as a "pusher", so maybe such customs are national. I wouldn't care to make a generalization however.

It is quite true that thee French people talk far more than us with their hands and faces. And they don't hesitate to say if you seem agreeable to them, or are looking attractive.

Lucette and Janine (the girl we lunched with) both have copies of "Forever Amber" translated into French. However, they didn't think much of it. They all seem to have a great many translations of English classics and modern novels. I don't seem to notice the same in England of French books, tho' I may be wrong.

The time has come when I find myself making mistakes in my English (yes, dears, more than usual!) They tell me I speak with the least possible accent, which is cheering.

7th July -

Lucette was at school in Pont till she was 17, then (I suppose at a sort of college) at Compiègne till she was 20, then a year in a chemistry college at Paris. Jaqueline has just taken an exam to try to get into college at Paris to read English, but she hasn't the result yet. Janine is a secretary in a timber firm in Pont.

Well, it is time to end this awful scrawl, so that I can start another one!

A bientôt,