Christopher Cape: The French connection

It was the fall of 1962. We had toured the British Isles and had been living in London since September 20th. We had traveled, seen and noticed a myriad of sights on and off the beaten track. My father had, for the past five weeks, been attached to the BBC to monitor aspects of outdoor broadcasting and religious programming. With about three weeks to go to New Zealand, we crossed the Channel for a 10 day sprint through France, West Germany and Belgium. We had to leave our traveling companions, our pet mice, in England. We sold 23 of them to the Shepherds Bush Market street vendor from whom we bought a pair in May. At one shilling each he was really not amused, but he paid 23 shillings. Our car, too, had found a taker with a deposit of £ 10. We drove it to Europe and put it back for the rest when we left for New Zealand. The space left for the rear window of the car by the loss of the mouse cage was filled with long French buns which fitted perfectly to the rim. In Dover on October 30th we had missed the ferry by five minutes due to a traffic jam and my father forgot my sister’s and my raincoats so we got back to London and started again the next morning – at 4.30am. My father’s diary picks up the story.

31 October 1962, Wednesday
Get up at 4.30 p.m. and leave at 5.30 p.m. London is quite busy even now. Cold with a slight frost in Kent, but I have ph [photograph] othouses, windmill etc. Arr. (Arrival) Dover 1 hour 15 minutes early. B (Barbara) purchased shirt and pajamas. I filled up with gas and took the boat. Very smooth processing – everything is streamlined. The crossing lasts 1h30 to Boulogne. The other side just as slippery, then the wrong side of the road! First French purchase: 4 lollipops – find the right French – weak vocabulary, no knowledge of nuances. I spent the day loving the tree-lined roads, then through groves of golden trees. France more beautiful than England. Bought wine (a new franc), 1/6 incredibly expensive cornflakes. Towards nightfall, I ask the mechanic where “the campsite” is. He tells us – laughing happily because we are not English. Set up the tent in the pitch drizzle and find that the stove will not work. Have a wonderful steak at the village restaurant – expensive, then coldly in bed.

1 November 1962, Thursday
It froze as well as it rained last night. Packed up and gone – the car starts pretty well (I let the hurricane lantern burn under the hood overnight!). Glorious day – stop in Beauvais for lunch to see the tallest Gothic cathedral in the world. On (right hand drive becomes more natural now) through unfenced hilly country to St Denis, then Paris. Heavy traffic and a bit terrifying. Found the campsite in the Bois de Boulogne. We also found help from a few Canadians, who took us in their trailer, cooked us dinner, and kept us entertained for the evening. A cold and humid night.
[Saint-Denis is a commune, an area in the northern suburbs of Paris.]

2 November 1962, Friday
Early, Clive Canadian went to Suresnes to buy a gas (butane) camping stove. Fairly inexpensive, 17 NF (new francs). Return, breakfast and drive to Paris. Fortunately, traffic is light on Place d’Etoile [Arc de Triomphe]. At the Palais de Chaillot, up to the Eiffel Tower. Continue through heavy traffic to Notre Dame – beautifully dark and in the evening rush along Rue de Rivoli and the Champs d’Elysées. Crazy roundabout at the Arc, but negotiated safely. I spent the evening with John Reed from AU (University of Auckland), who wants “Down the Hall” for an anthology of New Zealand verse, with Taumata (the longest place name in New Zealand, located at South Hawkes Bay). French public toilets are ambiguous, and most places just make porcelain holes in the floor with a squatting room. Cost 22c. [centimes].

3 November 1962, Saturday

Packed up and gone to browse the stores. Found in avenue Victor Hugo, small side street wine. Shortly afterwards starved for croissants and coffee, bought early at the street market. Nice smells – and bad ones – in Paris. Around the Seine to rue de Rivoli – doll bought, 10 NF, 15% reduction for traveller’s checks [purchase tax on something taken off]. Lunch among the dry leaves, then drive to a car park at the other end of the street. Ph. Notre-Dame. Stéphanie broke the little Eiffel Tower in the store. Chestnut roasters by ND (Notre Dame) – we bought some and then we bought postcards from the trunk stalls along the Seine, were looking at Rivoli downstairs [Shepherds Bush] end, and out of Paris. Different country now: plains, no fences, and rows of golden birch trees – also multicolored groves. Camp in the dark in Sézanne.

Trunk stalls on the banks of the Seine in Paris, 1962. Photo / Peter Cape
Trunk stalls on the banks of the Seine in Paris, 1962. Photo / Peter Cape

4 November 1962, Sunday

A humid camp. Get up early to stop at Sezanne (hot bread and croissants) and descend on a hard drive through the land of golden autumn. France is beautiful. A long run, and I have a hard time finding a hostel (hostel) in the dark. The Hunters seems OK acc. (according to) the guide we have, but finding it involves exiting the main road at Maimoutier and driving blind through misty countryside. Ask two villages before you find it. A long ‘Deviation’ returns us later and the gendarmes with guns don’t make us happy to camp. I spent the night at La Chasseurs – hostel where no one spoke English. Finished discussing the common market in French with Peter with a dictionary between us. The beds have small but very thick comforters.

[The use of the word commune is distracting. In France a geographical area that we would call a suburb is named as a commune. Possibly because it is a community centred around a church or place of worship, much as English shires were centred on castles and manors owned by wealthy landowners and aristocracy.
Britain’s involvement with the common market was in its infancy and New Zealand’s trading position was being scrutinised. The frozen/chilled meat export trade with England, initiated in North Otago at the Totara Estate near Oamaru in the 1880s, had been a mainstay for both countries. In 2021, Britain is pulling out of the European Union (the Common Market) and new trade agreements have been struck with New Zealand on meat and dairy exports with tariffs being lifted. How strangely the world turns. It seems that nothing is new under the sun.
We did finally get some rest and set off the next day, crossing the border into Germany.]

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