Monday, 10 June 2013


The summer of 1980 was one of those golden periods between one school and the next. That year, as usual, we went to France. Early in the holiday, we ended up at a campsite where our tent was pitched next to the caravan of an English couple called Gladys and Alan.

For some reason, my mother took an instant dislike to them. In fairness, it was, initially, nothing that they had done wrong. Her feelings stemmed from a prejudice against the Brits abroad. When in France, save for her own family and friends, she preferred to forget the existence of the Anglais.

And, to my mother's horror, Gladys and Alan were only too delighted to have an English family of four staying next to them. How they first introduced themselves I do not remember. I speculate that they offered us cups of tea on our arrival; my mother couldn't stand tea. Before we had been their neighbours for long, Alan had made a wooden boat with metal fittings for my brother. It was almost as though we were surrogate grandchildren.

One evening, Gladys came over to our tent and told us in a state of high excitement that she and Alan were going to a telephone box for the purposes of finding out their daughter's O-level results. "Have fun!" said my mother briefly. After they had left, my father, presumably thinking her hostility had been ill-concealed, murmured a mild reproach to my mother: "They've been very hospitable." No doubt he was referring to the tea.

Later on, the couple returned, having failed to negotiate the workings of the French telephone system. It turned out that they had been dialling the area code for Brittany rather than the international code for Britain. My father lent a hand and, in the process, discovered that although they had been coming to France for many years, Gladys and Alan had not picked up a word of French. We learnt that when it came to shopping for food, they would simply march into the butcher's and say: "Pork!" which, out loud, has the same meaning in both languages. They ended up eating casseroled pork, pork chops and roast pork. But always pork.

Thus it was that we ended up being invited to a barbecue with them. Gladys returned to the campsite after a morning's quest for food: "Success!" she announced with a beaming face to my underwhelmed mother, who at first indicated puzzlement. The couple had found, it must be admitted, a rather magnificent cut of pork for cooking on the barbecue, cylindrical in shape. That evening, they roasted it for us on a spit and I can remember nothing about what there was to go with it. But the meat was memorable.

We duly moved on from the campsite. Gladys and Alan sent us Christmas cards for a few years and then stopped. Exactly ten years later, my school days had come to an end and I was now in that period between school and university. We no longer went camping; my parents had bought a house in the south of France. One day, my mother decided on a whim that we would have supper in a playing field next to a river where there were some barbecues. There she roasted pork chops. During the meal, we reminisced about Gladys and Alan, that couple we had met at that campsite years ago, who thought Brittany meant Britain and only ever ate pork. The banal can often make the greatest memories of all.

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