Tuesday, July 26, 2011

1978: Hoping to see her...

The threat of not being able to go on holiday to the south of France had hung over me all term, so it was with great relief that a glowing school report meant I could go.

Not that I'm sure mum and dad would have parked me with a neighbour or worse - my grandma - but it did the trick nonetheless and so we had lift off.

In 1978 the south of France as still rather exotic, but not so much so that it was a closed shop. Some neighbours had been to the place we were going to and came back full of it, so on their recommendation we were heading for the Pam Beach Club just outside glittering St Tropez.

We got the Townsend Thoreson to Le Havre and drove through France just about in a day and a night, with one stop sleeping in the car in a field. I'd never been to France before found it fascinating, if perhaps rather primitive in places. I remember we stopepd in the middle of nowhere in the early evening at this restaurant, that was basically a huge mansion house with a really busy and brightly lit dining room. We had steak and chips. It may well have been horse, but dad wouldn't - and still won't - be much more adventurous than that, so if looked like steak and tasted like steak, it was steak. I remember TV was on, mounted on a wall, and it played the TV channel ident what seemed like every few minutes.

The next day I existed in a kind of half-sleep, waking every few hours and seeing snapshots of France. You know that scene in Midnight Cowboy where Joe Buck is travelling by Greyhound from Texas to New York, and he sleeps fitfully and every time he wakes there's something totally different to see out the window? That was me: Valleys full of statues, autoroute service areas, giant cathedrals, sculpted cliffs, fields of sunflowers and avenues of swaying poplars. It was quite something.

But was more than just quite something was that the place we were staying was a nudist beach. Well, I say nudist. It was optional and mainly topless. I'd just turned 13. It was a mix of mortification and fascination. I'm just glad I wasn't any older.

Our static caravan was just minutes from the beach, surrounded by discreet bamboo and frankly tiny. And hot. No big fat gypsy aircon in those days. It was self-catering too, and despite there being an on-site supermarket selling such exotic delicacies as La Vache Qui Rit and Orangina, we'd brought our own food. As it was a special occasion all the food came from M&S. I can still remember the gingham tin of corned beef hash.

But the real fun was to be had on the beach. It was very French, hardly any Brits. lots of tits and the sun shone for two straight weeks. We bought apple donuts from a tanned leggy lovely. 'Chi-chi! Beignet pommes! Demandez!', she cried twice daily. Then there was the English student who sold sandwiches and didn't little 'one for the money, two for the show' routine to announce his arrival. It was all going on among the silicon breasts - new to me, and obviously an eye-opener - and French bodies beautiful, except for Nob and Bob (see 1979's Isle of Wight entry).

When we weren't bearing all on the beach, we visited St Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo (Princess Grace was still alive), Grasse and a place that was all canals whose name I can't recall, but which provided excellent opportunities for throwing things into people's boats as they passed under the bridges across them.

We also added to our sugar collection. Everywhere we stopped we got sugar packets, collecting the sports ones initially then any, and this carried on for many more years until they all went solid and had to be thrown out. Why did we never snip the corners and tip the sugar out? We were always collecting something.

Anyhoo, this song by South African girl group Clout was blasting out of every beach bar, every car, every restaurant and bar wherever we went. It makes me feel warm inside, and hanker after pineapple ice cream. So many flavours, so little time.


  1. And now I'm shocked that Five-Centres is using phrases like "lots of tits". It's just all wrong.

  2. Just telling it like it is. Or was.

  3. The south of France seemed to be all the rage from 77 - 79. My hairdresser aunt went with her Barbara Streisand perm. I went in 82, just me and two friends camping at Canet Plage next to a flamingo lagoon. The drive took forever, with service stations like departure lounges in the middle of nowhere that sold a chocolate bar called Nuts - how we laughed went they melted and went soggy..

    A few eye openers for us were: waffles with apple sauce (delish), bat-sized moths, Africans selling beads on the beach 'looky-looky', girls with hairy armpits - and mixed showers with saloon doors on the cubicles. Incredible

  4. It's now clear your family holidays were the absolute polar opposite of mine: a fugue of faraway places, each populated by a rich mix of exotic dilettantes, alien foodstuffs and bawdy revels. Such escapades put my childhood trips to the likes of Norfolk and Anglesey to complete shame.

  5. Well, we did our time in Devon, Cornwall, IOW and of course Anglesey, Ian, but then things took a turn for the more adventurous and we never looked back.

  6. I am so envious. I want a time machine to take me back to 1978 and beam me to St Tropez. The fact that I can go now is of no consolation. While you were marinading yourself in Ambre Solaire and squinting at perfect French bodies, I was being dragged across a drizzly field in Ireland on yet another country walk, mutinous and miserable. And you got to eat that M&S beef in the gingham tin! It's not FAIR.