Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
so, all of us little teachers were brought in to teach the English
train drivers how to speak French. Over dinner last week, Dounia
Bissar, now a French lecturer at the University of Essex, was telling
us a story. Dounia, a Belgian, resident here for many years, recalls
that it wasn't an easy task, but that the train drivers were nice
and very humorous.
were given the job of bringing big tough English train drivers up to
fluency in French from scratch? I asked. She nodded.
course was planned over 18 months, she recalled and the teachers
were each assigned groups of twelve drivers. It would have been tough
job, I reflected. As George Orwell wrote in his 1940 essay, England
the English are not generally much good at speaking foreign
languages. Many of us still think of it as vaguely suspicious,
almost effete, to do anything other than speak a foreign language as
ineptly as possible.
For the would-be Eurostar
drivers, however, there was no alternative but to learn French. The
imperative here, after all, was one of safety.
Thus, in the early 1990s,
a small battalion of teachers like Dounia and her colleagues were
wheeled in to accomplish this formidable task.
it work? I asked. Oh yes. she replied.
best students took about a year, others took longer, having to repeat
one, it turns out, gave up, but a few failed the course. The
course started with an initial training period of 3 weeks 2 weeks
intensive in London and then a week in Lille, followed by a period
staying with French families.
training courses, for train drivers and managers, started in 1991 and
lasted, Dounia now thinks, for up to a decade. Eventually, Eurostar
developed their own in-house language training programme. This was
cheaper, as there was a continuous need for it: The
training took place at then North London University and at Eurostar
itself, in a simulated driving cabin, where the drivers would listen
to instructions in French, e.g. from signalmen, firefighters, police,
etc. She adds: I learnt a lot about trains. I always loved
trains and I used to know an extensive technical vocabulary, but I've
forgotten most of it. All in all, it was a great experience!
listened, semi-awed to Dounia's account. Dark and gamine, now of a
certain age, I tried to imagine her nearly a quarter-century
earlier, in her less-certain twenties, perhaps with a slightly
stronger French accent, having to tame a gang of our cheeky railway
was also very interested in Dounia's account, however, because I was
one of the first-ever Eurostar passengers. The service opened on
Monday 14th November 1994 and only three days later, I was on a
morning train out of Waterloo. It was pure luck, really. I'd been
booked to play Paris that week and Louis, a French singer and friend
of mine, who'd been involved with an Anglo-French BBC broadcast for
the launch day, was given some discounted tickets.
it was announced that the musicians would be travelling by Eurostar,
you may imagine how excited your train-loving correspondent, Mr
Slightly Special here, felt. On the actual day of the trip, I
couldn't stay in my place and kept walking up and down the train,
which wasn't even particularly full.
whole concept, in fact, of being able to get on a train at Waterloo
and then, a mere three hours later, disembark at Gard du Nord, seemed
the Eighth Wonder of the World. I could now see no reason ever to
have to take an aeroplane again.
this year it was announced that we'd sold off the U.K.'s forty
percent share of Eurostar to a consortium. Why? Who knows? At
£757.1million, it made the government a rather bigger profit than
had been expected. For me, it still wasn't enough. Perhaps, back in
1994, I was so impressed by Eurostar because, it had been the
breeziest trip of that year. By November 1994, I'd had quite enough
of foreign travel. I'd flown to France in January. Then, in June
there'd been a long haul to Tokyo. In July and August I schlepped
over to Iceland and back. Then, in early September I returned to
Japan again for a few concerts. Does it sound like fun? It wasn't. I
don't like air travel. It makes me ill and it scrambles me. I try to
avoid it altogether nowadays.
do not know exactly when it was that the famously-insular British
became so accustomed to overseas travel. Maybe it was during the
1980s. Once upon a time, most of us simply took a fortnight's holiday
in Blackpool or Colwyn Bay, remaining resolutely ignorant of our
own country, let alone the rest of of the world. Nowadays, my
countrymen routinely go snowboarding in Bulgaria, or buy time-share
apartments in Phuket, Thailand. And yet we still cannot say which
city the River Wensum runs through, or in certain cases, even where
East Anglia is. The accessibility of foreigh travel seems more to
have increased our ignorance of the world, rather than decreased it.
Two decades after Eurostar first ran, almost a quarter of a century
after Dounia Bissar and her colleagues began teaching our train
drivers to speak French, are we British really any more cosmopolitan
than we ever were? Rιponses
sur une carte postale s'il vous plaξt.
The media have eaten Glastonbury. They've swallowed it
whole, in much the same way that a giant anaconda swallows a small
donkey. They've taken their time, mind you. You can still see the
festival-shaped lump in its bloated torso, but they've managed it. If
you listened to BBC Radio 2 last week, almost every five minutes it
seemed, the Ginger One was practically bouncing up and down with the
excitement of it all. Auntie Beeb was taking him to Glasto, he
bellowed each morning. Yaay! How mad is that?
But how mad was it, exactly? Mad as browsing the local
Co-op for a tin of apricot segments in their own juice? Maybe in a
light syrup? You decide. For those of you who will hold your lives
cheap because you were not there, never fear. There will follow
shortly, myriad repeats in the form of Glastonbury Nights and
Glastonbury Highlights. Then, if you're still not paralysed with
rapture, you can enjoy media types interviewing other media types
about their own Best Glasto Moments.
Over on catch-up TV, meanwhile, I watched the final
episode of a very good three-part documentary about the nature of
Bohemianism. The subject was presented by the scalpel-sharp Victoria
Coren Mitchell. It wasn't perfect but it was as good a job as
anyone's ever done on the subject. The documentary won my heart when
it pointed out that the ghastly Bloomsbury Set weren't Bohemian at
all. They were actually just rich a notion which I've harboured
But what, or where is Bohemia? We asked the East
Anglian's resident man in a brocade smoking jacket, listening to
vintage French chanson, whilst pretending to understand Japanese
poetry. This is what he told us:
who are often unconventionally-dressed and impoverished arty types,
have little to do with the occupants of the Czech region from which
they borrow their name. The description of such people as Bohemians
arrived in England via France at some point during the 19th century.
Snobby Parisians who'd witnessed the aforementioned arty types,
painting, busking and behaving in a licentious fashion called them
Bohemian because they considered them gypsy-like. This assumption was
possibly based on the idea that gypsies of that time living in Paris
came from Eastern Europe, especially Bohemia. Colourful arty types,
therefore, were ever after referred to as Bohemians.
The idea of a Bohemian lifestyle, has always held a
certain romance, especially for the young, the idealistic and the
artistically-inclined. Many are attracted to the Bohemian world. Few
stay the course. You cannot just don the clothes, take up the arts
and live forever in penury. Penury, incidentally, although it may
sound like the name of a Cornish village, actually means sitting on a
milk crate which has been disguised by a paisley scarf, while smoking
a roll-up made of dog-ends and wishing that you had more food.
Bohemia can sometimes be an uncomfortable place. Nor can you afford
to remain idle there, although, as my colleague Dr Cooper Clarke has
remarked, Long periods of idleness are essential to creativity.
I demur. In my own case, long periods of hard work have been
essential to creativity. Clarke, to his credit has also concluded
that The road of excess leads to the Palace of Excess. Here I
In the end, it is not up to the individual to confer
Bohemian status upon themselves. Bohemianism is something which
accrues, rather like air-miles. You must put in the time to earn the
points. The true Bohemian, anyway, will often be the last person to
consider themselves Bohemian and will usually only be described
retrospectively as such by a biographer.
the end, if you truly love your art and your freedom, then you'll
also value time over money and be prepared to live in the inevitable
poverty which results. This will hone your inventiveness, as you are
forced to wear interesting old clothes stylishly. Finally, rather
like someone who runs away to join the circus, you'll become
multi-skilled. For instance, you may learn how to sing, play
instruments, act, perform stand-up comedy or paint. More importantly
you may also learn about gardening, managing a kitchen or tending
animals. At some point, those in conventional society will briefly
wonder at your skills and ask, But how do you know these
They may even envy you. Yet, they will remain wary. Because
somewhere along the way, you did what so many of them once yearned
for, yet feared to do. You ran away with the raggle-taggle gypsies.
You sold your soul at the crossroads. Even worse, you had fun.
is possibly one reason why many of the fashion pages at this time of
year declare:The Boho Look Is Back. The accompanying pictures
always show a doe-eyed skinny girl, in flowing dress and crimped
hair, topped with a flower garland. She'll be holding a tambourine or
a guitar and standing next to a rustic haywagon. It happens every
summer. You can set your watch by it. The outcome? Everyone coughs up
a few hundred quid, puts the wellies and umbrellies in the car and
drives to Glasto. Festivals have become Away-breaks in Bohemia for
the City's electronically-tagged. For it's here that they can smell
the woodsmoke, hear the jingle of harnesses and glimpse the distant
painted caravans of their youthful dreams. Personally, I'd rather go
to a village fκte.
The shame is that hardly anyone's having them anymore.
South Woodham Ferrers / Young Jobless story...
When Max Volume, Stix, Lee and myself played the song
contest,obviously we didn't win it. You couldn't really have called
us professionals but at the same time, we had a good song and we
could all do our jobs.
The band that did win the competition I have rather hazy
memories of, but they were extremely tight and professional. There
were five or six of them, there was a woman singer, and they had
tight harmonies. They were the type of band that you would expect to
see doing covers in a residency for a top club, say. They looked very
conventional. They were showbizzy in their way but nothing to
indicate any kind of counter-cultural leanings. The drummer had a
tight curly bubble-cut perm look and a beard. He might have fitted in
ELO at the time.
I do now recall talking to one of them briefly. They
didn't give much away, but I gleaned the idea that they were pros,
essentially. This was mid-late July of 1980.
Fast forward to mid winter of 1980/81 and Max, Tony and
I got into Tony's car to go and do the Young Jobless recording
session at Fair Deal Studios, a 16-track in Hayes
Middlesex. Stix couldn't make this session, possibly
because he was studying at college 300 miles away in Plymouth at that
Our genial producer Kris Staines warranted that he would
get us a drummer. And...
you guessed it. Same guy. Don't get me wrong, he was a
good drummer. I'd rather have had Stix, mind.After the two-song
session, which began with Sylvie in Toytown
I asked the drummer his name might have been Pete, I
can't be sure whether we'd met before. This time I was about 99%
certain that it was the same guy. He denied it vigorously, though.
Finally, I mentioned 'a song contest in Essex'. His next denial
didn't seem quite as convincing. He left, shortly afterwards. I
never met him again I asked Max of course. But Max, you see, like
Stix had been busy drinking on that particular day, and had no memory
of events. So that was the end of that. The thing is, there do exist
such bands of session hacks who go round winning competitions and
grabbing all the work. Most commonly, they appear on talent shows,
posing as amateurs. That's the way the biscuit bisects, I guess.