Up until 1982, school trips were pretty crap!
Normally, towards the end of the academic term, we would be dragged off to either Nottingham Castle or Sudbury Museum
of Childhood - it was pretty poor, grim, repetitive stuff.
A Tri-central coach would roll up and like convicts, we would be rounded up and taken off on a typically overcast, dull
morning. Usually by the time we reached Burton on Trent, someone had threw-up! I remember Kingy, the Headmaster at St Botolph's
urging one girl to "smell the aroma" of the yeast seeping out of one of the many breweries that used to be at Burton
and she did so then duly obliged by puking into a carrier bag.
However in my final year at St Botolph's, our teacher (who's name still escapes me) looked up an old contact from her
days in Sheffield who had made the short hope south from the Steel City to Chesterfield. We were all "paired up" with a pen-pal
at the start of term and I was matched with a lad called Jamie.
For several months, we wrote or rather we were forced to write letters about what we were doing, what football team we
supported, typical stuff! However this forged a passion from my point of view for writing.
Then our teacher had a surprise for us, we were going to actually meet our penpals! She had it all arranged where they
would come down from Chesterfield on Friday, then a few-weeks later we would venture north.
I think we took them to Bradgate Park and it rained. I met Jamie and we did not have much to say to each other, we had
probably exhausted conversation being forced to write to each other on a weekly basis!
Then came the journey north, a Tri-central coach of course and avoiding Burton on Trent, we made our way up to the town
which is famous for its Crooked Spire and Tony Benn - even as a ten-year old, I knew who Tony Benn was, a reformed Toff turned
left-wing agitator with a penchant for pipes.
I think we ended up in this musuem in the town centre then marvelled to look at the spire, then some girls started crying
because someone sadistically said that one-day the spire will come tumbling to the ground and would systematically wipe out
the entire population of Chesterfield!
Even then, I found this a bit far-fetched that some lead and mortar could do more damage than an atomic bomb. I reasoned
that any fatalities from the falling spire would be limited to those unfortunate to be in the vicinity at the time.
Me and Jamie never stayed in touch, we said we would but we didn't. I had plenty more to worry about being whisked off
to Shepshed High School the following Autumn to write to some kid who probably supported Liverpool and liked Duran Duran.
By the end of the day in Chesterfield, I was anxious to return south. It was after all England's opening game in the
1982 World Cup and they were playing France (they won 3-2 and I missed Bryan Robson's opening goal).
I think I abstained from any trips at Shepshed High and do not recall actually bothering to sign-up for any. In year
two there, I recall a little quirk of school life which is commonly known as "The French Exchange Trip".
It seemed quite quaint, a teacher brave enough to take a motley-crew of hormonal, moody teenagers would commandeer
a coach (Tri-central of course!) and head for Dover. Having crossed to Calais, it would reach some obscure French Ville by
ark and the pupils would be dispersed to some French family. It sounded too good to be true, a week of Crossaints, Pan,
Fromage, Orangina and that sickly Pomegranate Syrup our French tutor was always eulogising about!
However, having struggled through my Eclair books 1-5, what fun would that have been? Within hours I would have been
pining for the delights of Shepshed! Even a portion of chips from the Hastie Tastie would be Cordon Blu in comparison with
some of the things those Froggies put in their mouths, like Frogs Legs and Snails. Id also be sat in the classroom
not having the foggiest what was going on, being said and straining for possible anti-English insults like "Roast
Bifs" and "Le Fuc Offs!"
My late Grandmother Kay, bless her (27/11/1922-10/05/2009) told me during the '82 World Cup semi-final between West
Germany in France that she wanted the German's to win. I found this very odd. The French were our close neighbours who we
had liberated from the Germans. She had lived through the Second World War. Her father had fought in the Great War. "Never
trust a froggy!" she declared as heroics from Littbarski, Rummenigge and Schumacher edged out Platini and co.
However I got a taster of the French experience by proxy. If I thought my escapade to Chesterfield was bad, my mate Dave
ended up with a lad called Omar. By day two, Dave was fed-up with him. "Can't speak a bloody word of English" he moaned. Despite
playing Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" to Omar constantly, he was not learning any English. Not a solitary "Turn
around bright-eyes" or even a "...living in a powder keg and giving off sparks" (which has never really
made that much sense to me never mind a 12 year old French Schoolboy!).
The only time Omar came to life was during breaks, when we played football (he was miles better than any of us) and in
French Lessons ("Au contraire!").
Sod that! So I thought. Being marooned in some remote part of Normandy for a week and then having to have some French
kid invade my house, turn his gallic nose up at my humble toys and the frozen Pizza's my mum would be doing for tea just did