My French Angel

Me (far left) on my first exchange to France in 1983 with Angeline (far right) and her little sister Magali in the middle.
We kept in touch all those years and met up again in 2007
The Garrault family were lovely, and meals times were often spent in fits of giggles
By the time we met up again in 2007, Angeline and I were both married with children.

When I was a teenager, I was offered the chance to welcome a French student into my home and Angeline Garrault came to stay with us for two weeks during the Easter holidays of 1982, with a view to me doing a return visit the following year.

These ‘exchanges’ were quite common, and always a risk, as there was no guarantee that the youngsters would get along. I’d heard plenty of stories of fallings-out and homesickness that had ruined the experience for all involved.

Thankfully, Angeline and I hit of off immediately. My French and her English weren’t up to much, but we muddled along thanks to the fact that we both seemed to have a similar sense of humour. We spent a lot of the time laughing.

What I didn’t realise at the time (and what my dad failed to mention) was that he had written about this visit in his column from 24th April 1982, and so it was a pleasant surprise when I came across it this week.

‘We have been honoured by the presence of a guest from France. She is a 14-year-old schoolgirl called Angeline from Sancerre, some 100 miles south of Paris,’ he wrote, ‘Much of the work of talking to Angeline and of showing her something of English life, has fallen onto the shoulders of my own 14-year-old daughter (me!), but the outcome is that they have become the firmest of friends, and each has learned a little more of the language of the other, something of a different way of life. For young ladies embarking on a busy life, that is a very good thing to do.’

What’s wonderful about reading this column now is that Dad reminds me of the things we did together, things I had completely forgotten. Angeline had brought with her some of the delicacies from her region, such as small rounds of goats cheese known as Crottin de Chavignol, after the tiny village from which they came. She also brought my parents several bottles of Sancerre wine (At the time I knew nothing about wine, and didn’t appreciate just how fine it was).

We took her to York and Harrogate, and she was delighted to see the newly opened International Conference Centre, which that year was to host the Eurovision Song Contest (on 24th April) after Buck’s Fizz had won the previous year with ‘Making Your Mind Up’ (Ah, the glory days! Now, we just wonder if we’ll be bottom or not!). We also took her to Kilburn to see the White Horse and the Mouseman furniture workshop, and, Dad adds: ‘It was interesting showing Angeline…the way we organise our lives so that the milk, the papers, the meat, the bread and other household necessities are delivered to the door and the way that rural folk in Yorkshire go about their daily lives’ (How things have changed!).

Angeline came from a rural part of France, and her parents were farmers. I remember more about my return trip the following year than I do about her visit here. It was the first time I’d been abroad without my family, so I was very worried about homesickness. But the Garraults were so warm and welcoming that I immediately felt at home. My most enduring memory is how much we all laughed. Every evening, the family would gather for the main meal of the day (Angeline had two sisters) and we never failed to end it in fits of giggles.

I recall one conversation around snoring, and her mum asked me if I snored. I replied, in French, that I didn’t know because I was asleep when I snored. The whole family exploded into hysterics, and soon there were tears streaming down our faces. I don’t know why it was so funny, or whether I’d unknowingly made a boob in French, but it was an absolutely joyous occasion.

We kept in touch for many years, and in 2007, I was able to go back to visit Angeline. By now, we were both married with children, and Angeline was a district nurse while her husband was a farmer. We returned to the house in which her parents still lived, and it was such a pleasure to see them once again.

I came away with several bottles of the finest Sancerre, but this time, I appreciated every single drop.

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 22nd April and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 20th April 2022.

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