After three years of learning how to survive in the sprawling jungle called Bangor Boys High School I was expected to buckle down for the last two years and actually start studying for our ‘O’ Levels in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, English, Technical Drawing and Wood/Metal Work. You will note there’s no foreign languages there and there’s a reason for that, you see, in Fourth Form Miss Wylie started at the school to teach French and her classes were immediately over-subscribed. It’s not an understatement to say she was the French version of Marilyn Monroe, she had big hair, the most perfect nichons imaginable and butt cheeks that adhered to her skirt like two water melons covered in cling-film. When she reached down to pick something up 32 pubescent boys swooned in unison. She would come over to us and breathing heavily in zee French axe-scent would talk us through our pronunciation.. at this point the recipient of her attention would just melt into a puddle onto the floor. We had pupils, obviously sick and on their death beds happily drag themselves in for just French and then plead illness and crawl home.
One day she caught two of the guys cheating in a test and for punishment she kept them in for detention after class for an hour to practice French with her. Jammy buggers. They came to school next day with huge grins on their faces, a one-to-one with Miss Wylie wasn’t punishment, it was the stuff of dreams. Next day everyone cheated.
We had Miss Wylie for a whole month of heaven until suddenly and unexplained she left and we got Mr Murrey instead. You can’t imagine our disappointment. He was as different from Miss Wylie as chalk is from cheese, not only that but he had a moustache, a cane, a leather strap and a nasty habit of throwing zee wooden blackboard cleaner at you if your attention wandered for more than a millisecond.
He spent the first lesson talking to us in complete gibberish, a language one would think the London Leprechaun would be fluent in but sadly not when he was fourteen. He was actually talking to us in French at the level he expected us to be at but it turned out that during the past month we had absorbed not one iota of French from Miss Wylie apart from useful phrases like ‘tas de merde’, ‘c’est un vrai con’ and ‘bite, couilles’ and obviously ‘nichons’. Mr Murrey wasn’t impressed at all at how little French we had actually absorbed, ‘you pile of shit’ and ‘he’s a real arsehole’ wasn’t ever going to feature in an ‘O’ Level exam paper, though to be honest if it did then the entire class would have achieved 100% pass rate. Perhaps the examination board should review the syllabus and include a few more dubious phrases, that way we’d enjoy it and the pass rate would soar.
I went to Paris in the autumn and missed the last train back home so I found a hotel for the evening and wanted to use their computers to book another train home in the morning. Their computers were absolutely merde so I complained to the sneary concierge who simply shrugged his shoulders and said ‘Je n’aime pas, monsieur’, it’s a shame that neither Miss Wylie nor Mr Murrey taught us proper French sign language because I know just from his shrug that this translated into “I don’t care, life is indeed a pile of shit but tonight it’s not my pile of shit, it’s your pile of shit..” and with that he went back to inspecting his fingernails, you see, it’s all in the shrug.. I, of course, replied with ‘Tá tú chomh tiubh is leath aoileach ach amháin mar atá úsáideach’ which roughly translates from Irish as ‘you are as thick as manure but only half as useful’ and shrugged my shoulders too.. who says entente cordiale is dead?