MARK SMITH FROM SCOTLAND
Prawns in Provence,
The World Cup always holds a significance for me, especially so this year with Italy and France contesting the final. In 1990 I took up a post as assistant head at a residential school in Penicuik outside Edinburgh. The World Cup that year was in Italy. A couple of younger staff, not long at the school, came up with what seemed like a crazy idea to take a group of boys to watch Scotland in the World Cup. They dressed the idea up a bit to include a visit to LíIsle sur La Sorgue, Penicuikís twin town in Provence in the South of France. The Headmaster to his credit was keen to support the idea but felt that a more experienced and senior member of staff should lead the party. And thatís how I got to go to the World Cup.
We set off early in the morning for the drive to the South of England to catch the overnight ferry. The following day we drove through France, stopping overnight at a youth hostel. We arrived in Provence the following day and pitched tent there for a few nights. The first night we ate out, sitting out on the town square, each ordering the set meal. My stuttering French hadnít alerted me to the fact that the starter was prawns, which arrived neatly arranged with their shells still on. Now in Scotland in 1990 prawns were something that came pre-frozen and served in a pink gloopy sauce. Our idea of seafood required that it be deep fried in a heavy batter. None of us had any idea what to do with the creatures in front of us. Thankfully the waiter noticed out puzzlement and obliged with a demonstration. The set meal also came with a small carafe of wine included, the French having none of our Anglo-American inhibitions about alcohol. In fact after an initial show of bravado, most of the boys realised that they didnít really like red wine so it fell to the staff to make sure that it wasnít wasted. Interestingly though, this early experience took away any of the mystique that accessing drink might have held for a group of lads on tour. We never had any bother with alcohol for the whole trip.
After Provence we set of for Genoa where Scotlandís group was based. The match tickets we had hoped to get didnít materialise so we ended up buying them at an inflated price from a tout. The game itself saw Scotland lose to Costa Rica in one of our not infrequent and not particularly glorious defeats, bringing to a premature end any inclination we might have to extend our trip into the latter stages of the tournament. The experience of just being there, though, was unforgettable. After a couple of weeks in Genoa, including trips to Pisa and the Tuscan Coast we set off through France for home.
Having come across to Europe we wanted to give the boys, many of whom had never been out of their local neighbourhoods the chance to see Paris. The nearest youth hostel that could accommodate a group our size was 60 miles away in Normandy. So next morning we took the train to Paris for the day, or so we thought. We misread the timetable for the return journey and ended up stranded in the Gare de Montparnasse. It just happened that there was a festival on in Montparnasse that night so we spent a few hours wandering the streets listening to music before trying to snatch a few hours sleep along with sundry other dodgy characters hanging around the station waiting room.
The following morning we caught the first train back to our youth hostel, picked up our bags and made our way to the ferry port Ė only to find that the ferries were on strike and there was an overnight backlog. So our next night was spent in a ferry terminal. Overcome with tiredness we eventually made it back to the school.
I sometimes wonder what might happen if some keen young staff members had come up with the idea this year to take a group of kids to Germany for the World Cup. It would become ground down in a morass of forms and risk assessments. In todayís climate I would no doubt have found myself disciplined for allowing kids alcohol, drinking in front of them and misreading train timetables. More than that though the whole idea of giving kids that kind of experience just doesnít fit with todayís misanthropic mindsets. Our interventions with kids seem to need an edge of unpleasantness to them; we need to be challenging some cognitive distortion, addressing some behaviour. Being with kids as they encounter new cultures, new ways of being isnít hard-nosed enough. And of course we need to demonstrate measurable outcomes from our interventions. IĎm not sure how I would measure the outcomes of our trip to the World Cup; it was only a life-changing experience for those of us who took part.