Wednesday, 30 June 2010

England's green and pleasant land

I had one of those semi-weird thought processes yesterday while walking the dog round the Roman Camp. You know the sort of thing I mean, when one thought leads to another seemingly unconnected matter and then on to a third? If I try to tell it in chronological order, I could start at either end since the first thought led me back to something that happened almost 20 years ago and then back still further. But perhaps I'll start at the bottom, or far, end of the thought chain.

Brighton always has a large number of foreign students in the town, partly because of the two universities and partly because of the large number of language schools established to teach foreigners to speak English. This has given rise to what might almost be described as a cottage industry: acting as host families to students in town to improve their English. They might stay just a couple of weeks, or they might be here for a year or more. Either way, people can earn money by providing accommodation - and usually the taxman knows nothing about it. The students are out at their classes all day and the host family provides breakfast and an evening meal during the week, but three meals a day at weekends (assuming the student is not out gallivanting). Anyway, many years ago we were in a less comfortable position financially than we are now and we decided to host foreign students to ease the situation. The first lad, a German aged about 17, was fine: he fitted in with the family, mowing the lawn for me and so on. He stayed for two weeks I think. He was followed by a slightly younger Norwegian who also fitted in well, but the third was a disaster. We had to ask the language school to move him. After that we decided that our financial situation was not quite dire enough to continue as a host family.

Until several years later. Come to think of it, it must have been between 10 and 15 years later. There was no financial motive involved this time, more an emotive one. Our younger son had left home to work at a hotel somewhere 'up north' and our elder son was about to leave for a year swanning around Australia with a couple of friends. The nest would not quite be empty as our mid-teenage daughter would still be at home, but Mrs BP was not looking forward to having such an empty house. The came the letter. It was from the President of the Lions Club of Lyon saying that his son was to attend "university" (language school) in Brighton for nine months and asking if there was a Lion family which would host him. Mrs BP jumped at the chance to extend her mothering beyond her one remaining chick and Philippe duly came to live with us. He must have been 21 or 22 then, good looking and with charming manners. He fairly soon acquired a girl friend, Sandrine, another good-looking French language student, and we were only too pleased to have them both with us for meals at weekends. We had many enjoyable times and laughs with both Philippe and Sandrine and, as a result, had no hesitation a year or so later in hosting the daughter of a friend of Philippe's family and, later still, Philippe's younger brother Charles. They all discovered that some of their preconceived ideas about England were wrong. The cooking (in our house at least) was good and it didn't rain all the time. Indeed, Philippe managed to get sun burnt on the beach.

The only problem we had with any of them was when Philippe bought a car. Not just any car, but a white Rolls-Royce. Second- (or third- or more) hand, of course. This was just a few weeks before he was due to return to France and he arranged for the dealer to store it for him until he could no longer resist bringing it home. The problem was that he had difficulty in insuring the car, but I managed to arrange for my insurance company to provide cover. But only for me to drive it. I ended up having to drive it to Dover for Philippe and leaving him to drive onto the ferry and down through France while I caught the train home.

So what started this trip down memory lane? It was the sight of a fairway on the golf course which had turned brown as a result of the lack of rain over the last few weeks. Philippe, while he was with us, was amazed how the English countryside stayed green even in the height of summer.


Uncle Skip, said...

The fairways on the golf courses here are about the only places where it still is green.

Brighton Pensioner said...

The greens are still green over here, but it really is most unusual to see brown grass so early in the year - or even at any time of the year.