How do you eat an elephant?

Do you remember the smell of mimeograph ink? Actually I don’t but I know I would recognise it if I were to smell it ever again. It would bring me back as fast as a DoLorean back to the 1980s in my primary school.

I had the most fantastic school. I mean in terms of architecture. Although it was the local public village school, it was in a manor. Superb ceiling mouldings, solid wood flooring, wrought-iron banisters, an old-school bell, an actual theatre with thick burgundy velvet curtains, a park separated into two sections – the sports field and the so-called playground with a tree-lined walk and two lion statues…

When all the compulsory security measures started to multiplied along with the number of kids in need of a school, the building was turned into a storage versatile space and the mayor left it wear down for many years.

It’s now back to its former glory and cleverly used for cultural events, but still, it’s a shame. What a wonderful site to teach pupils about respect and humility.


Another fond memory from that period was the End of School Year Prize-Giving Ceremony. Every pupils from every schools in our town were presented in front of the Mayor and the municipal team. We were called one by one and received a certain number of books, a gift accompanied with a little hand-written certificate listing the number of prizes you got. I never really knew how it was calculated (I guess it was in relation with your grades?) but we all got one: Reading prize, writing, maths… And there was that extra special one: Le Prix de Camaraderie (The Friendship Award). That one I have really wondered how it was chosen. I don’t recall any kind of voting system or even an explanation of any kind.

To me it was the best one you could get. But I’m not sure I ever got one!


I lived 2 streets away from the school so I didn’t need to take the bus. The chestnut trees followed me all the way. The church bells marked the time I had to go in the morning, and also bedtime in the evening. It hasn’t really changed since this photo was taken (early twentieth century?). It was so sereine.


We had a supermarket just outside of the town center but you could still walk and didn’t necessarily needed a car. My mother still refers to it as Record although it has actually changed name a multiple of times. It still exists. It is a little bit dated on the inside, but you can still do your weekly grocery shopping there as it is big enough. It even has a sushi corner now !


1979

When I was born it was still a village, surrounded by vegetable fields. The end of summer fair was actually called Fête à la Carotte! But new housing developments started to replace the carrot gardens and by the end of the 80s, that wasn’t a village anymore. These new houses all looked the same. At school, most of the kids had lived in the “old” areas for a couple of generations and anyone coming from these ridiculous looking blocks we’re outsiders. But after a while we all got accustomed to these fakes new streets with flower names and something even worse was built: a Kaufman & Broad development of single family homes. Suddenly, our village looked like an American town! Thank God they were on the outskirts of the town.


November 1988.
Lady Di visiting the British School.

While I was in secondary school a huge even rocked the quiet life of our community : Lady Diana came to visit the British School of Paris which is situated by the river Seine – not so far from the Kaufman & Broad American houses! A dozen of French pupils were invited to join the ceremony amongst those following a curriculum with additional English classes – which I didn’t. We were so jealous and envious.


I have been lucky to be able to come back to my hometown several time since I moved away. It hasn’t changed that much even though it is now a fancy and wealthy suburb for people working in Paris.

I was in the neighbourhood a few weeks ago and once again, I realised the magical effect being there had on me. It smells like home. Weirdly, I remain attached to the place in a very instinctive way, sniffing the air like a dog, waggling my tail, happy and reassured to be somewhere I know.

I wish I could be swallowed by these photos and live a static version of existence. Stuck forever in a still piece of perfect nostalgia.

I wish I could delete everything sometimes, overwhelmed by the vast gulf between the sort of life I’m living right now and the easiness of it all when it was in black & white. 

Jessica mentioned that old joke in her previous post: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

How do you digest decades of your own life? One bite at a time too I guess.

22 thoughts on “How do you eat an elephant?

  1. Lovely writing and nostalgia. I love this: ”I wish I could be swallowed by these photos and live a static version of existence. Stuck forever in a still piece of perfect nostalgia.” What an idea – tangible and yet not. Your school years sounded like Marcel Proust!

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    1. Thanks!
      In relation with the vocal message you’ve sent me at lunchtime, I was re-thinking this whole blog post. It was not the happiest childhood of all time and mainly because I dreaded school. But even then, I think I was capable of separating my emotions and feelings into categories. I knew already this building was just fantastic as a school.
      In France we say “small children, small problems / big children, big problems”…. and I guess adults problems, massive problems!!!? When looking back, I know my childhood was not to bad, no matter what!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve heard that saying over here too but I don’t really get it – a problem is a problem. No? 🤪 Maybe I’ll get it when my kids are in the big children phase?!?
        My school in Finland was a big concrete block. I’m not a fan of concrete architecture!

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      2. I remembre when Monsoon was a baby and I would freak out each time she had a problem (cough, rash, anything…) and it seemed like something really serious which needs an urgent solution. Then they grow up and you realise things even more serious need to be sorted out.

        I’m not a big fan of concrete architecture either!!

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  2. An evocative read. It reminds me of my childhood school which was built on the grounds of an old colonial hotel. In its prime it would have been a fancy place for the very rich – with a huge sunken garden, private golf course, swimming pool with fountains & lions spouting water. Well before my time, it’d be donated to a Franciscan order and converted into a convent and school for girls. I know what you mean when the history of a place surpasses its modern day use. I used to make up stories about the hotel & can still imagine scenes from The Great Gatsby or Budapest Hotel playing out on the grounds 🙂 Unlike you, I’ve never gone back. It’s in a different country, from a different time. I know that it’s not the same and I think it better to remember it as was, than what it’s come to be.

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    1. How fantastic Sandy!
      I’ve read an article recently which dealt with schools architecture as a means of inspiring and teaching respect to children. Can a luxurious setting push kids to behave in a better way than if their schools was in a sad looking shape?
      Do you have any photos from yours?

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      1. I don’t have any photos from my school days but this link has old postcards of what the hotel used to look like. The last two postcards are images I recognize the most … but to be clear, these are photos from the 1930’s – I went to school in the late 1970’s! 😉
        http://jamaicahotelhistory.com/postcards/constantspring.htm

        In terms of school architecture inspiring children to learn, I’d agree that unsafe and dirty buildings and environments have to affect the ability to learn. But I wouldn’t say that luxurious setting push children to learn any better. In my opinion, the expectations and discipline set by teachers & school administration make the difference. The Sisters were very strict!

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      2. Wow quite a building!
        What I meant about the setting of the school having a positive impact on the pupils was more in terms of teaching them respect. I shouldn’t have said luxurious… What I meant was, studying in a clean, lovely school will help the kids to be considerate and feel honoured. A good self-esteem boost to study in a positive environment. They might show more respect and feel they have to protect the environment and look up to their teachers for example…
        Whereas if they spend their days in a block of cold concrete, they might behave in a more neglecting way and feel neglected themselves…?

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  3. Yes! Wasn’t it so easy to live life when we were children? No worries, no responsibilities…just fun and shared happiness with friends at school. Now, school is far from being fun or enriching, as it seems that many of them have turned to elitism/getting into good universities for the sake of prestige and merit. It’s great you can pause and look back on the simplicity from decades ago, as means of keeping a happy and healthy mind…especially during these tumultuous times!

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    1. I’m glad you managed to see the “feel good” vibes entangled with nostalgia in this post.
      Yes life was definitely easier back then and I’m glad I were a 80s child! Being brought then was certainly funnier and more exciting than nowadays!

      Liked by 1 person

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