3rd January 1991 – 5:20pm

This is the date and time my Cathay Pacific flight from London Gatwick touched down at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport Terminal 1.

Yes, I can remember the dates, the times, the airline (OK I don’t have the seat number)., and little did I know that I would stay in France for 22 years.

I was greeted by a friend called Rachel, who I had met via the Kate Bush fan club. We had been penpals for a couple of years, had exchanged lots of letters, cassettes and presents. I had also visited her in Paris the July before and had had a wonderful presentation of the city as Rachel was studying history at the Ecole du Louvre.
To be honest, it was Rachel who had whispered the idea of coming to spend a few months in France to improve my French.

We went and had dinner at her house, a tiny 8m2 room called a ‘Chambre de Bonne’ or ‘Maids room’ that is generally on the 6th or 7th floor up a winding staircase used the past to house servants who could then access the appartments via a “service door”. The toilets and shower are on the floor and shared by all the rooms. The bed is a sofa bed. It is a tight squeeze but when you’re 19 you manage.

After a couple of hours it was time for me to make my way to where I was going to be living for the next 3 months. Rachel took me to the train station – the RER C

I finally arrived at my new station Petit Vaux the smaller of the two stations serving Epinay sur Orge. I remember hauling my suitcase up a small hill, arriving at the square and not finding the entrance. There was no mobile phone, no GPS and I was alone in foreign country. As I went from gate to gate suddenly there was a woman waving her arms.

It turned out to the nightnurse as I’d found a room to rent for 1.500 francs (£150) in a nursing home. The lady who owned it was (wait for it) the friend of the sister of my French teacher in school !
For the price, I had a room, 3 meals a day and all my clothes washed and ironed plus I was the “L’Anglais” for all the pensioners in the home. They would talk to me. Offer me a cup of tea every afternoon and I would try and understand everything they were saying.

Sometimes I would come home at the end of the day, the meals had already been served and I would find a note from the cook saying that my meal was in the fridge waiting for me.

I can honestly look back upon my arrival in France and the welcome from all the people I came across with a big smile and warm feelings.

This was it. I was in France.

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