With many thanks to David Wellbrook for this “guest piece”, lifted (with David’s permission) from his posting in the Alleyn’s 1970s Facebook Group – worth a visit if you are able for the comments – click here.
THE LONG HOT SUMMER OF ’76 – RECOLLECTIONS OF A 14-YEAR-OLD WITH SPECIAL APPEARANCE BY A LUNATIC FRENCHMAN
It was a stormy Thursday afternoon (are there any others?). Me, myself, and three others who shall remain nameless (Chris Grant, Ben Clayson and Kevin Blythe), were chortling over Paul Hayes’ Freudian slip from earlier. He had inadvertently called Miss Lynch “Mum” and we were marvelling at how well they had kept their relationship secret and for so long. All six of us were amazed at the audacity of the lad and thoughts were now turning to the identity of the father. Bob Skelly, Percy Kingman and Mrs. Barden were put forward for consideration but we were unable to agree. Each candidate received five votes and so we were at stalemate. After much deliberation, we opted for the time-honoured tie-breaker of rock, paper, scissors and as you might have expected, it landed on tails. (Doesn’t it always?) So, decision made, Dave Stretton it was then. Let’s face it, he must have inherited his cool from somewhere.
But I digest. To our gullible Frenchman: It was around this time that Chris used to import young French boys for his amusement and this particular lost soul went by the name of Gotier. He had, I believe, been imported once before, so having met us now on more than one occasion, really ought to have known better. However, we all found ourselves down at the swimming pool. It was a natural hangout for those of us who liked to swim and play water polo and seemed even more appropriate on what was quite possibly a very hot day. Gotier was sweating profusely. I think he knew what Chris had planned for later. He kept muttering strange French words under his breath. “Baguette” was a particular favourite of his I seem to recall. Anyhow, one of us happened upon the anarchic idea of enticing Gotier to jump into the swimming pool fully clothed, and on the strict understanding that he then had to travel home with us to Beckenham et les environs completement mouille.
“How much shall we offer him?” asked Clayson. “How much do we have on us?” asked Blythe. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” enquired Grant, forever and to this day our moral compass. He perhaps felt that if there was any dampness involved it should be of his making and no other. “Yes, it’s a cracking idea,” I chipped in. “And let’s make him cry Vive la France as he goes under.”
We gathered our resources and came up with the tidy sum of £4 and a few pence. We approached the hapless Gotier with our proposal and having explained to him that with exchange rates being as they were at the time, that £4 and a few pence was uncommonly generous, he agreed.
And so the stage was set. I was elected to distract Harry Whale and Alan Berry, who at that precise moment were taking it in turns to slipper a 12-year-old, whilst the others were assigned the arduous task of pacing out Gotier’s run up. And then the moment arrived. With a Gallic scream of “Un, deux, trois, allez…!” Gotier was off, legging it poolwards as if he had not a care in the world. He leapt, he might even have somersaulted I honestly can’t remember, and there was a mighty splash followed by the gurgled incantation of “Vive la France, Vive la France.” Let’s give the boy his due. He did not let us down. Good for him. Only honourable Frenchman I’ve ever met.
Gotier was duly rewarded with his £4 and a few pence which he kindly used to buy us Maynards wine gums and Coca Cola down by Herne Hill station.
To this day, that incident (which is 100% true by the way), is my most vivid recollection of the Summer of ’76. That and being arrested for shoplifting in Millets.
Another day perhaps…