Sunday 31 May 2009

If I hadn't fallen off that bicycle in Rotterdam, I'd probably be married to a vicar and living in Toulouse!

So school was a missed opportunity and my first job was a disaster. Where would it lead? I suppose the second big knot was deciding at the age of 21 to apply to go and study at L'Institut Biblique Europeen near Paris and I couldn't even speak French! What can I say about my experience? Errrr well I was supposed to be there for three years but the whole thing lasted just over a year. Can you see a pattern emerging here?

The first term went great. You could choose to study through either the medium of English or French. Sadly, I failed my English exam and had to join a class full of "foreigners" to learn my own language before I could do anything else, much to my disgust. So I had to learn English in order to be good enough to study in English! No wonder I was so rubbish at school! Let's get this straight. This is someone who was born in West London and whose parents were not exactly recent immigrants - being able to trace their collective ancestry back to Charles I. I went around for a few days with my head inside a brown paper bag.

After a week or two of arguing grammar
with my American teacher, however, it was decided that maybe it would be better if I joined the French class and started concentrating on why I was really there - to find a husband. Actually that was the subtext, the supra-text was to do bible and music and to learn how to speak in public! To be honest it's all a bit of a blur, so will just touch on the few things I remember. I was really good at public speaking!!! That was a shock, being quite a shy (oh yes I was) and nervous person! I learnt how to conduct (oh yes I did) and that wasn't buses by the way. It would look great on my CV when I applied to be a lollypop lady some time later.

All was going swimmingly. I even managed to catch the eye of a young would-be Billy Graham from the Pyrenees - I wish!  The only reason I caught his eye was because I kept looming up in front of him; difficult to ignore someone of my height and (then) girth.  We played ping pong.  His loop drive was beautiful to behold.  Very romantic.

Anyway, I was so into it all that when it was announced there were going to be auditions for new members to join the institute's singing group Les Ambassadeurs, I put my name down. I did it for a laugh. After all I wasn't known for my musical prowess, particularly singing. I didn't even know whether I was soprano or alto (or tenor or base for that matter!). The auditions came and went, I croaked my way through a piece of lyrical baroque (or was it rococo?). Anyway it was a bit twiddly and caused my voice to go to places it had never been before. Not so much aria as aaaarrrgggghhhhh! I forgot all about it until a week later when the list was pinned up on a convenient pillar (did I mention I was living in a chateau?).

To my utter amazement my name was there amongst the sopranos! I sought out the musical director to interrogate him closely to try and determine his mental state.

"Ah Carolyn. Yes I know. Look at it this way, you are my wild card. What you lack in vocal ability, you make up for in comedic disposition! It will be no end of a boost for everyone those long hours spent on the road travelling from one draughty church hall to another and where we have to sleep in borrowed smelly sleeping bags on a pile of splinters. So until we can get your voice up to an acceptable standard, please mime the words!!"

To say I was cockahoop would be overstating it a bit, but I acquiesced. So life was sweet and all was going along fairly well, if a tad humdrum, when I accepted an invitation to travel to Rotterdam with a Dutch girl called Ingrid for a week's break at Easter. A big mistake and constitutes a massive knot in my thread of life. I was staying in her home and the second day there she said "Lets go for a ride into the city. You can use my brother's bike!" We fished them out and by the time I'd heaved myself up on top of the huge monstrosity, she was a dot on the distance. I should mention that everyone in Holland is over 6 foot with legs the length of Southend pier. By the time I'd sorted myself out and started pedaling it was too late. There didn't appear to be any brakes! How to stop? As I was approaching a main road I did the only thing I could do in the circumstances. I fell off.

Several hours, and a trip to Rotterdam General, later, I hopped back to Ingrid's with my left leg in plaster up to the knee. A couple of days later I was in Hilversum visiting a TV station (I'm not one to let getting plastered hinder the possibility of international stardom!). It was great, saw myself on TV and everything! A little later, back at another friend's house, I was hopping down some steps ..... ....... and fell! This time it was Veenendaal General that benefitted from my presence. It was a real sense of deja vu, only with a mirror, as I'd broken my other ankle. Feeling that perhaps I was a danger to myself and others, they decided to keep me in. I was there for two weeks and found out later, it was not so much fear of what else I might do to myself, as the fact that I was underinsured!! So until the bill was paid, I was in effect kept hostage. At the end of a fortnight, someone must have coughed up the ransom, as me and my plastered legs (each bearing the legend "Made in Holland") were put on a plane and sent back to Blighty. That, dear reader, was more or less the end of my sojourn in mainland Europe.

PS I haven't even mentioned the time I took a bunch of English rugby players on a whistlestop tour of Paris, only
to be harassed by an Italian street vendor outside the Notre Dame! I guess that'll have to be for another time ;-)


  1. "Deja Vu with a mirror" HAAHAHA!

    You're a genius.. or geniette? Something along those lines.

    This is really interesting. Keep at it, I'm finally getting some of your history you shy person ;-) (G'ma's right when she says you rarely talk about yourself!)



  2. Much more interesting talking TO oneself than ABOUT oneself lol. Blogging is a good way of doing that, but with the odd eavesdropper chipping in :P

  3. Brilliant and amusing Carolyn...really love reading your blog!!

  4. Very good to remember those days, ol sis. Was the Pyreneean to be the vicar to marry like Billy Graham wannabe person?


    Luv Bruv.x

  5. Well, if certain parts of that blog were ever filmed for a TV show I'm sure there would be some fine Frank Spencer-eque physical comedy in there!
    Although it didn't work out I must say you had more guts than I did at 21 to up and move to France in order to study. I can't quite believe you had to learn English though! Having said that, some of today's English youth could really do with a lesson in their own language...

  6. LOL Sarah. Not sure about guts, just naive, maybe. The irony about having to learn English! But agree with you about some of today's "yoof"!

  7. I am SO glad that I found this part of Austin's (your) blog. I am loving every story. MORE!


We LOVE to hear from you! :)