So, why did YOU come to France?

What made you up sticks, leave the comfort zone and head off in search of a better life over the rainbow (well English Channel)? It’s a question I’m asked a lot.

Straight after leaving school, I found a job in Cameron’s, the local brewery, as a drinks tester. Well I say I found. I more found the notice advertising a situation vacant as a drinks tester at the local brewery on the sixth form notice board, took out the drawing pins which held it to the wall and stuck it in my pocket. Cut out the competition, you know. After a couple of interviews and the head of Quality Control scratching his head and muttering something about “Thought we’d have had more applicants from the students”, I walked out with my first job. Shift work, still living at home and earning a good factory wage (I was management don’tcha know), at 18 I had it made, a beer pump in the office, cash on the hip and home just a hundred yards away. Home cooked meals, washing done and free use of the family car (in fact why did I ever leave?)

After a year of the new job the careers teacher from sixth form kept phoning me and telling me I had to go to university. He and my parents eventually persuaded me to at least go and see him. He asked me what I wanted to do at uni. I explained that I had a good job, career prospects, (free beer) and why should I leave? He gave me the careers book (I think it was called UCCA) and told me to pick a course and where I wanted to do it. Picking up the book and flicking the pages from back to front, I stopped. The page was “Q”, the title was Quantity Surveying and the place was Dundee. Full of confidence I said “I want to do Quantity Surveying in Dundee”. A quick phone call to the course head and I was in. This was June, and I was due to start in September.

All that to say, I went up to Dundee in the September of 1990, went home for the Christmas break and my parents announced “Enjoy it, it’s your last here, we’ve bought a house in France, we move in in February.” I thought that was great, a new adventure. They were probably thinking “Is he thick? Can he not get the message? We sent him North and we moved South – Helllooo”. So I promised to visit at the Easter break. Fact was I was really enjoying university life.

All was going quite well, but as the summer of 1991 approached my mum was hitting one of her big depressions. As you all know, France is not easy on the wallet when you live here and to add to that my dad was hitting the bottle heavily. Stints of work but nothing stable. He was a pipeline Radiographer, that is to say took x-rays of deep sea pipelines to check for weakness. The only work was a long way from the new home and he didn’t want to abandon my mum in this new venture.

During this summer, my mum went back to the UK, so let’s say less than 5 months after coming to France. She wanted a break, both from the enforced poverty and I think from my dad’s enslavement to the bottle. Unfortunate really for the both of them, he was an intelligent man. Eventually that patched up and my mum had taken advice about the illness that is alcoholism while she was back in the UK. She came back with gusto to help and encourage my dad back to health while also dealing with her own problems of depression at the same time.

Hold onto your hats: I came home from uni for Christmas 1991. We had planned to go skiing all together. I arrived at home late in the evening of 20th December and basically we had a chat and all went to bed. Next morning, breakfast, I’ll never forget it. Something happens, you say something and you regret it.

Dad was eating a boiled egg, well trying to. He had already started on the whisky, celebrating Christmas early or whatever. His motor skills were going and, as he spooned some egg into his mouth, he missed and most of the yellow went down his chin. Stupid really when you think, but I looked and said “You’re not my dad anymore.” What I meant was you’re not the one who taught me right from wrong, fair from unfair, what to say what not to say, to wait before others eat, make sure everyone else is served first and good table manners. Oh regret!

A bit later on, after he’d had a snooze and stuff, I said “Listen, do you fancy going down to the local bar for a beer and a game of pool? I’ll drive and you can have a drink.” It was sort of re-bonding. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my dad millions, thought so much of him, but couldn’t handle this infernal spiral. We had a really good father and son time together in the bar about five km away.

As promised, I took the wheel to come home and we had Fairytale of New York on the cassette. I’d glanced at the speedo, 80km/h…and that’s the last I remember until a well meaning French man, trying to comfort me as I asked where my father was, said “Don’t worry about your father, your father is dead.” “But my dad??“ “Don’t worry, he is dead”.

In a British right hand drive car, we had hit another car coming in the opposite direction. My dad was gone instantly and I won’t go into the details. My seat belt snapped with the impact, the car bent and I was ejected into the nearby ditch, smacking my jaw on the steering wheel on the way out. This knocked me unconscious. The steering wheel was through the back of the driver’s chair when we went to see the car later, so I’d been spared by the skin of my teeth. I remember being half unconscious in the back of the ambulance with the other driver and his wife. I also remember being breathalysed and being clear at the scene and the same again at the hospital. The other guy driving was also breathalysed and I’ll go into what happened with that in part two next week.

This is meant to be a why did you end up in France question, but it has turned into more of a blog. I will get to the point in a few more installments if anyone is interested in reading further.

Well.. I might be late to discover this, having just joined the forum, but I too would like to hear the rest of the story. I think it is perhaps a more unusual reason for coming here but am curious to hear the rest, and see how you got on after that accident.

Thanks so much for your supportive comments Annie and Nick - at least I've got the chance to spend some time with most of the family - we're all having laughs and my dad is not sad or sorry for himself. I wish that I'd had a better relationship with him (one sister still insists on buying 'the best dad' mugs for him!!!) but I accept that he made mistakes (it could've been so much worse) and has tried to do the best that he could...Nick you came to terms (or are coming to terms?) with such a devastating gives me some hope that I can deal with my own situation. When you are ready, tell us how you put your life back together...

Oh Sharon! A huge hug, the waiting is so bad. My Dad took 12 years to die, We did what youare doing , I dont think there is any more you can do,

Oh Sharon. Big virtual hug and im sure there are many more behind me in sending you that hug.

Yes, thanks Nick, I am doing the only thing I can - spending a few more moments with him - but you spent that time with your father too before the terrible events unfolded and despite what you had said to him earlier, he knew that you loved him. My dad has also had a better relationship with a bottle than his whole family, but none of that matters when you know that you are going to loose the person that gave you the very reason for living your life the best way that you can. Amazing how unconditional love can be, even when you think that you don't really (want to) care!

Sharon, all I can offer is take some courage from it. Love your dad and tell him what he made YOU. And more so talk with him so he knows and you know how much you love him. Mine I said the wrong words on the wrong day and I did not mean what I said.
I simply wanted him to end or get close to ending his own self destruction. He has gone now, we buried him at Christmas 1991, but the regret I feel is only that day of regret and I know that both my dad and I knew so much how we loved each other.

Oh Nick. What a sad story. Poor boy. I am sure that a certain amount of what I call the "dressing up" bits of language was missed at the time of such a terrible thing happening. You know what I mean, the "I'm so sorry to tell you but ......", or just "desolee mais ....................". All you would have heard is "dead". I think the Frenchman was probably very shocked and perhaps wanted to prevent you from trying to move. But nonetheless, you have been through something that would be awful at any age but for a young man, well, I think you must have reams of courage to tell the story here and to be so level headed in the telling of that story.

Thanks Nick for sharing your story with us. I'm looking forward to the next episode. Although the Frenchman sounds brutal in the way he delivered the awful news to you it may well be 'lost in translation'. Noone would want to hear news told that way but it would have been awful whatever the words. The impact on you at that time must have been horrendous and I hope your further episodes will show you having a happier time.

Well Nick I thought that I'd glance at this (forgive me for saying 'lamely' titled) post as a distraction whilst I'm at my parents place back in blighty - and like others, I didn't expect to read this! I'm here because my father is dying a slow death from cancer..and your experience is so shockingly brutal it makes me realise that the human spirit can survive (almost) anything. My dad is not afraid, I am, he has courage, I don't, but you have made me realise that it takes enormous strength to carry on - and perhaps that is the hardest thing of all. Let us know soon how you dealt with your demons....xx

can i have a a badge, i feel so honoured. I am truly the chosen one.....(wipes tear from eye)

Craig Davidson wins the award for most insensitive and pointless comment of the day. Well done.

As someone who has been known to open mouth wide and insert both feet, I'd be inclined to think he meant the best, as in the "don't worry"... It's difficult enough to pass on bad news in your mother tongue - I well remember Mum's consultant calling me and my brother and sister into the "quiet room" and it took him a few minutes to compose himself before telling us she had just a few weeks left. He was an oncologist so had to have done this before.

More very soon please Nick. Happy to proof read if Val is busy.

Thought about it a while and had it been the emergency medic or even ambulance crew member, you might of had all the platitudinous things about how they were attending him and also to your needs and you would be able to see him later, blah blah, blah. That is avoidant but also incredibly dishonest, so an 'ordinary' member of the public took a direct approach which might be a great big mallet to crack a nut, but probably does it better than the soft touch. It is honesty and actually does not change a thing except that had you been filled with medical people's avoidance until you were tucked up in a hospital bed and preferably well drugged, then you would have been told when you had harboured an expectation for several hours that could never have been. Pondering the imponderable took me in that direction and at the end of the day I think I would prefer that to the other way of finding out.

not what i expected,i like to read a good post that i would enjoy whilst undertaking one of my daily activities(number 2's with jeremy vine), but i thought i would read some SFN stuff, catch-up as it were. Thought it would be a "why, who, what and wherefore" type thing, so i was getting ready for the happy banter of those that are here and those that want to join us(or leave) but no, that has not been what i expected and has thus ruined my pre-arranged activity......still upset...can't type a coherant sentence...signed angry of Nantes....(best wishes anyway)

Oh Gawd, Catherine the classic 'me too' - and not just 'say' but 'do' as well. Humans are a mystery to me, Im not so bad with dogs and moles. And Nick, the other thing that occured to me was - he probably thought it was best for you not to see your papa *at all* since it seems your pa was very badly injured and obviously dead.

Yes - hell's bells what to say - in the circs. of a 'dark and traumatic discovery', it probably takes practice. Still, I didnt mean to sound sniffy about Emily's post - Ive heard (& made) my own fair share of totally thick and insensitive responses..... and the worst of them tend to colour ones views of mankind for quite a while.

Good point Jeanette and also, who knows how any of us would react in such a dreadful situation. I would certainly probably say something really insensitive :(

Jeanette. Exactly, very well put. I have often thought about it and always come down to a man with a very dark and traumatic discovery on his hands simply trying to do his best.

Small note ref the 'French man's line'. I did not read it as 'insensitive', as Emily said she has, although I have no idea, of course, what the man really meant to say. - In the context, I read it as "French man was attempting to comfort you, without any great skill in in English, and - that he recognized you must be injured (possibly more seriously than was apparent) - frightened/in pain/confused, while at the same time desperately anxious about your papa". So - I read it as - he wanted you, for your own sake - to recognize there was no point in getting up and searching for your papa, there was nothing that you could do for him, as he was already dead, and therefore the best thing for you to do, was to be as calm as possible, in the circumstances, not move around, and wait for help to arrive. For all he knew, you might have had brain or spinal injuries, and you needed to be still. All very hard to say, with limited English, and 'dont worry, he's dead' - was perhaps as close as he could get.

I’ll need Val to proof part two then if she’s up for it. And when it’s written. It was actually quite difficult getting it out, but I think the rest should go smoothly now.