Tough French lessons

14th January 2000 at 00:00
When Fay Minto took a school trip across the Channel, she expected culture... not chaos.

It was the middle of my first year as a French teacher, and, keen to impress, I volunteered to lead a trip to France with one other adult and 10 sensible sixth-formers. Everything was organised by experienced people who had done it all before. What could possible go wrong?

Day One 07.00h. Where's the minibus to take us the 30 miles to the station? We make it with 10 minutes to spare, but a broken gas main at Peterborough means we miss our Eurostar connection. 20.00h at the Gare du Nord. A previous occupant has been sick in the coach hired to take us to our French host families. It's raining.

Day Two 00.30h. One girl is rushed to hospital with a severe asthmatic attack and has to have a tracheotomy. She spends the next week 28km away in a nearby hospital.

Day Three Visit a water treatment works - and retch. Still raining.

Day Four Our asthma patient starts to smile a bit. Days five and six pass normally. Some clearer spells.

Day Seven Visit a superb chateau, but can't go in because the wner died the night before and is inside. It is snowing.

Day Eight Arrive "home" to find my host's father has died. The English patient comes out of hospital and confesses she has been seeing her doctor for weekly asthma check-ups.

Day Nine Get drenched during a park walk, then the owner of the nearest cafe won't let the students eat their sandwiches inside.

Day Ten End-of-stay party. One of our girls has an allergic reaction to the food, turns purple and swells up like a balloon. In hospital, they put her on a drip. Eventually the purple turns blotchy and she is allowed to go home.

Day Eleven I'm pleased to get wet in some English rain.

Tips for organising a trip....

* Go over students' medical history with a fine tooth comb. Take traveller's cheques for medicines and other emergencies.

* Read and reread your travel insurance. Take originals and copies of all the E111s and complete comprehensive medical forms so you know exactly who has what.

* Take an umbrella.

Fay Minto is French co-ordinator at the Duke's Middle School, Alnwick, Northumberland

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