Ann Allan: Memories No.5 From Ballycastle to France

Nineteen sixty-five wasn’t a great year. I got awful results in my Senior Certificate. The equivalent of GCE. It was decided I would repeat some of the subjects and try to improve my marks. So it was with a heavy heart I returned to school to have another go. The summer had been great. We spent our holidays in Ballycastle and at 15 years of age there was only one thing on our minds. Yes, you guessed it, boys. My friend whom I’ll call M, so as not to embarrass her, came with the family and we stayed in a house belonging to my aunt. Donovan was popular at the time and we had bought ourselves a denim cap each similar to the one that he wore at the time.image Flavoured lipstick was also en vogue, caramel, peppermint and strawberry. We must have looked like two prats as we paraded along the streets of Ballycastle but we thought we were gorgeous and it wasn’t long before we attracted attention from a couple of local youths. As my parents did not approve of boyfriends there was a lot of skullduggery and subterfuge going on so that we could meet our new beaus. Luckily there was a carnival that summer and a large tent was set up for dancing in the evening. We were permitted to go but had to be home by 10 p.m. Sonny and Cher were in the hit parade with “ I Got You Babe” and I have bitter-sweet memories of the song.

A week or so into our holiday we arranged to meet the boys and decided to go for a walk to Bonamargy Friary. Well you can imagine there was a wee bit of courting in the friary so we ended up being late returning home. Imagine our horror as we walked hand in hand back to Ballycastle to see my father’s car driving towards us. It stopped and we were told to get in. There was little chance to say goodbye. A decision was made to take us two delinquents home. The holiday was over. I never saw him again, but apparently he saw me in the back of our car as we drove through the town on our way back home. We continued to exchange letters until someone else caught my eye. I later found out that he died running a marathon in Manchester.

Back at school things were boring. The only excitement was when one of the girls in the class revealed she had lost her virginity. Not so clever when she found out a few months later she was pregnant. A warning to us all. December came and it was time to organise our annual party. M was lucky enough to have a huge room in the loft of her house and we had been allowed to have a party there at New Year. Most were honoured to be on the invitation list and with that in mind I approached a handsome young man who went to the local protestant grammar school. He was standing at the bus stop wearing his school cap and scarf and after a lot of giggling with M, I went over to extend the invite. He looked at me and bluntly said ‘ no’. Taken aback and feeling embarrassed I muttered under my breath ” ‘ignorant sod’   His name was …..Gordon Allan.

The party was a huge success. We danced to the Beatles. Two albums, A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles for Sale were most popular. In the dark candle lit room ( the lights went up when a parent was on the prowl ) couples smooched to ‘If I Fell’ and ‘I call your name’. Ah the innocence!

The year dragged on and I couldn’t wait for the summer to come again. I was back redoing some of my subjects and I hated studying and I hated school. In April of 1966 I was giving the opportunity  to go to France for a month in July. I begged the parents to let me go and they relented.  An organisation run by Pére Du Roquais was organising an exchange trip for students from UK and Ireland with students from France. The excitement was tremendous. A month away from home, flying for the first time and the warm weather. I was picked to go to a family in St. Marcellin, a small town in the Rhône-Alpes. I would spend two weeks there and then two weeks in St-Bonnet-en-Champsaur in the Haute-Alpes. The daughter in the family would return home with me for a month. Clothes were bought without Amy concept of how warm it would be. I was nervous and excited at the same time.  I remember vaguely that I wasn’t in a great mood. The usual stroppy  teenager who didn’t want to listen to all the instructions that were coming my way. I was 16 and I knew it all. I couldn’t wait to get on the plane and be on my own, away from parental control.  That was soon to change.

I set off from Dublin airport, my head reeling from all the things I wasn’t to do. Not sure why but it was thought appropriate in 1966 to travel in a grey wool suit and black gloves even though it was the beginning of July. Although I had never flown before I wasn’t afraid and I loved every minute of it. Goodness, how things change! I was new fangled with all the little bits and pieces served with lunch and didn’t want to waste the little packs of butter so I shoved them in my handbag. We flew over the Alps and the pilot told us we were at 32000 feet. I vowed to come home and apply to be an air hostess.

France St Bonnet-en Champsur

When we landed and I stepped out of the plane the heat hit me. It was 30 degrees and it was like walking out into a sauna. I was matched with my family and we headed off for our first destination. As we drove along in the car from the airport in Lyon I put my hand into my handbag to be met with a sticky, gooey mess. The butter packs had melted in the heat and everything was covered in runny butter including the gloves which had been earlier discarded. A great start to my first holiday abroad.

Homesick, boy was I homesick.  I would have given anything to hear my dad  shouting at me to listen to what he was saying. A few phrases in hesitant French did not constitute a conversation and nobody in the family spoke English.  The French family comprised of a mum and dad , two girls and two boys. Even from the first hour or two I knew I weren’t going to gel with my exchangee.  I didn’t recognise the food and when I tasted it I was not impressed. There was a strong smell of garlic and extremely mature cheese  everywhere and I wondered if it would be possible to fly home the next day.

My bedroom was beside a railway line and trains ran to the south of France during the day and night. It was a large room with shutters, wooden floors and it smelt old. As it was dark I couldn’t see much outside so that would have to be left until the next morning. I couldn’t sleep and at one stage began to imagine that time was moving backwards. That could probably be explained by the fact that my watch was on upside down. The excitement had worn off. I drifted off into an uneasy sleep and wondered why I had ever thought this would be a good idea.


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