Why they'll never forget Paris

28th October 1994 at 00:00
As school trips go, Boothville Middle's excursion to Paris turned into something of an epic. Billed as the first school trip through the Chunnel, it was never going to be an ordinary day. In the event, it was the stuff of which staffroom myths are made.

For a start, there can be few school trips involving 50 pupils - two of whom are making video diaries for Channel 4 - plus a team from BBCTV's Newsround (complete with boy reporter from another school), as well as assorted other television, radio and newspaper hacks.

It was also a first to win a day trip to Paris on the 300kph Eurostar service by putting together an imaginative version of the journey through the Northampton school's building - including a son et lumi re performance about the tunnel, an authentic train (complete with strobe lights) and, with the aid of circuitry lessons and hulking Year 8 boys, some even more authentic security measures, .

Completed with the aid of the School Curriculum Industry Partnership, the project, dreamed up by teacher Mary Clark, covered themes from 11 subjects and was probably rather more ambitious than Mrs Clark's last spectacular on the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which pupils were smuggled round the school in euphonium cases.

It was always going to be a day to remember. And it was - but not entirely for the reasons Boothville might have anticipated.

5.30am Coach leaves school.

7.10 Party arrives in London. One girl feels a little queasy. Staff whisk pupils off on a swift walk down the Thames to Parliament before returning to the European Passenger Services terminal at Waterloo.

Talk among the adults is of the previous day's fiasco in which the Eurostar broke down with a full load of journalists. The pupils are more optimistic. "We've done a lot of research and there aren't many things that can go wrong with it," explains Helen Eagleton, 13.

9.23 Eurostar pulls smoothly out of Waterloo. The Boothville party are served breakfast "in boxes", in the approving words of one pupil. The tunnel arrives remarkably quickly and Eurostar plunges in, but then begins to slow down. An annoucement explains that the train is travelling at a lower speed than normal.

"Our train was more exciting than this . . . because of the strobe lights, " opines Matthew Cross, 11. Announcer explains that due to technical problems Eurostar will stop at Calais for examination by engineers. "Just like British Rail," remarks Richard Coombes, 12.

11.10 The first pupil breaks into her packed lunch, savouring a packet of Hedgehog flavoured crisps. A school trip tradition at last! Have any pupils been sick yet? "Mrs Clark said being sick was forbidden," explains Richard.

The train slides to a halt in featureless, flat French countryside. Eurostar staff scurry through the carriage with puzzle books and other goodies. The Boothville pupils add them to their cards, personal stereos and diaries and carry on quietly entertaining themselves.

12.50pm Passengers decant from the failed Eurostar to a replacement.

1.20 Train moves, to loud cheers and the promise that it will probably arrive in Paris at around 2.45. Mary Clark is calculating how much of the planned coach and boat trip round Paris will have to be jettisoned as a result of the two-and-a-half-hour delay. "As long as they get up the Eiffel Tower," she says.

As Eurostar II hits 300kph, director of engineering Mike Etwell - who happens to be on board with his family - holds a news conference explaining the "major mechanical defect" before being interviewed by Marcus Dubois, 13, for Newsround. Eurostar staff say Boothville will be offered another trip.

2.43 Eurostar glides into the Gare du Nord. Boothville pupils bounce off the train, determined to make the most of their two hours in Paris.

Fresh disaster strikes. When the coach company was told how late the train would be, it was decided to cancel the trip, because a strike was affecting traffic. Frantic attempts are made to find an alternative.

3.00 The Newsround team arranges to take six pupils to the Eiffel Tower to film. A visibly upset Mrs Clark explains the situation to the rest, promising that they will still see something. They get a swift trot up to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur cathedral, which offers both a view of the tower and a chance to buy souvenirs: just what they wanted.

"It's a shame because we worked so hard to get here, but we can go to the Eiffel Tower any time. It's good just being here," says Helen,pointing to the view.

5.09 Eurostar pulls away again and the pupils, this time travelling first class, examine their booty. Train staff, determined to make it up to them, offer model Eiffel Towers and lurid blue perfume. The promised four-course meal completes their joy. It has, they say, been a brilliant day.

Headteacher Neil Underwood concurs that it has not been a wasted trip. "It's been history in the making," he says, adding that Boothville will do its best to take up Eurostar on the promise of a second journey if the Pounds 2, 500 the exercise would cost the school can be found.

Was it the school trip from Hell? Emphatically not, Mrs Clark says. "The Eurostar staff were brilliant, and the whole thing went better than I was expecting."

"It was worth going all that way for the view of Paris," adds Michelle Wainwright, 13.

8.10 Eurostar pulls into Waterloo. The Boothville mob, still bright as buttons and still behaving impeccably, carefully pack their souvenirs. Back to Northampton? Mary Clark beams. "Not just yet. They've arranged for us to have a look in the backroom parts of the Customs . . . and in the cells."

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