Last updated: 2 June 02
Memory is a strange thing. It baffles and infuriates. Trivial matters stay fresh while important facts slither away to the far recesses never to resurface. I was asked to pen a few lines about the School trip to the Spanish Resort of Calafell which took place at Easter 1968. I have wracked the brain, found it to be wanting but will attempt to put forward those memories which survive.
Easter Saturday was April 13th. Was this an omen? One week earlier, parents and pupils thronged around the main gates early in the morning. The staff wielded clip boards and checked off the register of travellers. Harry and Gail Baptist-Smith and Mr Edwards were the lucky devils destined to oversee this Spanish sojourn. Ultimately all were checked in and the coach was loaded. Farewells were shouted through the windows by the more senior pupils while the first year “fags” gave mummy one last hug before mounting the steps and being left in the tender care (it’s all relative at the end of the day) of the seniors. Many a mummy wiped a tear from her eye!
I would like to say what an uneventful journey it was from Wednesbury to Calafell but can’t because it wasn’t. The schedule called for the coach to deliver us to Dover to catch the ferry to Calais. Thence a connecting train would express us to Paris, Gare Du Nord. A short coach journey across the city would see us ensconced in our couchettes for the overnight trip to Barcelona.
The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft algae. (Or some such Burnsian nonsense). Just short of Newport Pagnell services on the M1, the coach decided to shed its prop-shaft. We sat for a while until a tow truck was able to haul us into the service station. After what seemed to be an interminable wait a Mark 2 Jaguar screamed into the services carrying a spare prop-shaft and a mechanic. Repairs were affected and we continued towards Dover. I would imagine that the staff were very busy during the delay trying to reorganise ferries, trains etcetera.
Eventually we got to Dover some two to three hours later than planned. The ferry crossing was not too bad. By the time we got to Calais, the seniors were already plying the younger travellers with alcoholic beverages.
No train presented itself at Calais Maritime. We walked, carrying our suitcases the mile or so across to Calais Ville station. My own immediate impression of Calais and thus France as it was my first time there was that it was awfully smelly. The whiff from the drains was terrible!
The next leg of the journey now took us along the coast to Boulogne in a diesel railcar. Here we changed to a steam hauled semi-fast as far as Amien and finally an electric hauled express to the Gare Du Nord. By now we had lost even more time. Mr Edwards now came to the fore with his linguistic abilities. Transport was hastily arranged and we were rushed across to the Gare D’Auterlitz (please excuse spelling). An express was leaving for Narbonne which helped us somewhat towards our target. Thirty or so boys invaded that train. We had no reservations, and were simply directed to find the best seats we could and not get off until told to do so.
I lead a charge down the platform with a group of first years. Young Cassidy acquitted himself very well. By ignoring the station staff and removing a few reservation stickers from a compartment we got one entirely to ourselves. Whoever made the reservation never turned up which was a bonus as the train was packed. People were sitting on suitcases in the corridors. We dispatched one of the first year boys to round up some more Wodens to fill the compartment. This was on the basis that it would be more difficult for anyone to eject us if we had a full compliment. Ultimately there were eight of us in the six seats. We enjoyed a relatively uneventful night other than being introduced to the delights of drinking French Wine by yet another senior boy. (No names I’m afraid – the memories are dim).
This train deposited us on Narbonne station where, after a lengthy wait a railcar took us to the Spanish Border. Nothing much else happened between then and our arrival at Calafell and the Hotel Cataluña.
The town of Calafell was actually in two parts. The old town was about a mile inland while the fishing village and the new tourist areas were across the coastal plain aside the clear blue waters of the Med. Our stay was largely uneventful compared to the journey down. Tours had been organised to Barcelona taking in the Peublo de España, and Mount Tibidabo. We also visited a wine manufacturer and the town of Tarragona with its Roman amphitheater and orange tree-lined avenues.
The journey we undertook by coach to Barcelona was quite exciting as it took us along the coast road. This route winds precariously along the cliffs with many a hairpin turn. If you have ever seen the film – The Italian Job – you will have a clue as to the sort of road we were on. We passed the town of Sitges which, rather like Calafell, was at that time relatively untouched by the tourist boom yet to hit the area.The Spanish make a great deal of their religious festivities at Easter and Calafell was no exception. On Good Friday there was a carnival and procession where the local fishermen carried the statue of the Virgin Mary around the town. This, we were told, by the knowledgeable Mr Edwards was in order to claim her protection from perils at sea.
Speaking of perils at sea, brings to mind Mr Edwards who was taken with the notion of having an afternoon swim on most days. He was photographed by yours truly emerging “kracken like” from the Med and the evidence is attached below. I remain convinced that on one occasion he merely waded out to chest depth and smoked a cigar before returning to shore. Many of us would gather on the beach and play football when there were no organised events to distract us. The resort was deserted except for our party.
One final recollection of Calafell was the game of football which had been organised between their local school and our representative eleven. They won but cheated by fielding a team of largely older boys while our team was made up of players from all ages. Their pitch was reminiscent of the awful “Red Gra” back home which served as our “all weather pitch”. I think the score was fairly close at 2-1 but they were a dirty side and deserved at least two sendings off.
Our journey home went to plan, much to everyone’s surprise. Overnight travel from Barcelona to Paris in reserved seats left us with a few hours to explore the French capital. Amazingly by today’s standards, we were simply let off the leash and left to our own devices to explore the area around Gare Du Nord. No one went missing and everyone made the train. Following the ferry crossing, we dined at Folkestone before the long journey back to Staffordshire via central London arriving in the early hours to be met by our parents. One strange recollection of that return journey was listening to the coach’s radio as we passed along the Edgware Road heading north out of London. Of all the songs and all the artistes played, only one can I recall – it was an awful Des O’Connor song!
If Mr Edwards, Harry or Gail ever read this, I would like to express my eternal thanks to them all for providing us with such a great experience, so many laughs and despite the complications of the journey, keeping all of our spirits up. You were wonderful!
Mention too of a few of my fellow Wodens who made the trip: Steve Allen, Nick Gibbs, Nigel Higgs, Steven Foster, Peter Cassidy – thereafter the memory fails.
Some of my photographs of the trip are available below. Sincere apologies for the poor quality of these but I was no David Bailey in those days.
(by Jim Croton [c1966-c1973])
Another Spanish street!