It would be fair to say that my memories of a summer holiday in Hyeres in the south of France 25 years ago may be somewhat sketchy. But, I shall endeavour to recount the fun and hilarity of what remains one of my favourite summers ever.
Around this time, 25 years ago, I was returning home from the South of France an exhausted wreck of a teenage boy. Not least the effects of a 24+ hour coach trip home to West Yorkshire had worn me out, but the prior 9 days of sea, sun and fun had done me in. Stick a fork in me…I’m done.
The tales from older kids about the school summer watersports holidays to the South of France were the stuff of legends. A few mates and I were in and off we went along with about 40 or so other kids aged 14-16 on a bus.
A hazy journey
My recollections of the journey are, at best, hazy. I know it was long. I do recall playing arcade games on the ferry crossing to France and feeling a little unwell after devouring copious quantities of chocolate, crisps and sweets. The journey down the spine of France took all night and sleeping on a coach was not easy. Some people were literally sleeping in the aisles until teachers told them to move. They would return to the aisles as soon as said teacher was back in their seat.
It was a long old drive down to Hyeres from West Yorkshire taking about 24 hours. The highlight for me was our first taste of a French service station – or to be more accurate their toilets. Two footplates and a hole in the floor is not a toilet!
PGL – parents get lost
The holiday was with PGL and we stayed at their campsite in Hyeres. They no longer have this site and my brief web research tells me this is now a static caravan park. I actually went on another trip to the South of France in the following year to Mimosa and PGL still have that site.
The campsite was predominantly tented with metal camp beds to sleep on. I don’t remember being inside my tent much, to be honest, but it must have been comfortable. I do remember it was on a hill, but we weren’t at the top so no bother.
Our days were filled with windsurfing, sailing, banana boats, snorkelling and lazing around on the beach. I really don’t think I appreciated back then just how lucky I was to be there nor how simple life really was.
Of course, in the summer of 1995 nobody had a mobile phone (well certainly not me, my school mates or teachers) or digital cameras so these are proper photos from film (kids, ask you parents or grandparents). There’s a certain authenticity to these old, grainy scanned photos.
I guess now I look back and wish I’d taken more photos. But were this today we’d be snapping away, uploading to Instagram or Snapchat and not really in the moment. We enjoyed every single second we were there and lived in the moment, not staring at our phones.
We weren’t the only school group there. There was a girls school from Kent there too (Sevenoaks if memory serves) plus some others and although we didn’t mix during the daytime activities, we did on the beach and at the bar in the evenings.
Yes, I said bar. This site didn’t have its own clubhouse so a local beachfront bar was our go-to place of a night time. The PGL staff would drink beer (and goodness knows what else) and we were on Coke (unless you managed to bribe a staffer to get the beers in which of course we didn’t do because we were good kids!).
A couple of my mates and I became mates with a few of the girls from the other school. Not that the girls from our school were not worth spending time with, but they knew how boringly average we really were. To these southern gals we were rough northerners with a dangerous edge*.
* please tell me you are laughing!
The photo below is me (yes, I was 15) with one of the PGL staffers. Now, being my mother’s son I have actually written “Sally – the nurse” on the back of this photo, so I guess she was the camps nurse. In reality, she was likely a 19-year-old Aussie lifeguard with a first aid badge but don’t let that spoil my 15-year-old selfs illusion. Yes, I really was that skinny! I mean, look at me! I look emaciated – maybe that’s why I was with the nurse or I needed clothes that fitted for crying out loud!
Looking back, I was a pretty naive 15-year-old. I wasn’t part of the “cool gang”, I was just an average Joe (my name isn’t Joe). But I do think this summer trip changed me in some ways and gave me more confidence. I definitely came out of my shell.
My first kiss was on this trip – yes, very much the late developer in that area. But that milestone unlocked something in me, a confidence I had not had before – certainly around girls. The girl I am with in the photo below, let’s call her Emma (because I have no idea what her name was but Emma seems about right), was the girl who took my first kiss. She pursued me! I know, I can’t believe it either. She was from the Kent school with whom we’d become good mates with.
Things got a bit complicated. You see, while I was “with” this girl I wasn’t overly bothered. This makes me sound like a right git, but in truth, it was still my naivety. Vague memories again, but I was more interested in another girl. I told you that first kiss unlocked confidence!
But, this is not a tale of holiday romance but a recollection of an overwhelmingly great summer and a watershed moment in life. That’s not to say that the story ends here.
I mentioned the bar earlier and again I have very few (read: one) photos of the place – camera film wasn’t cheap you know.
My, once again, vague memories of this place are likely to be far better than the reality. I want to use the words “hedonistic nights” but feel that might be stretching it a little. Fun is my overwhelming memory and as I mentioned before, if you were friendly with the right staffer then stubby beers could be procured on the quiet. Of course, if (or when) discovered by the teachers you were in a whole world of trouble. (Note: I was never caught!)
The Great Escape
On one particular night, we returned to our tents full of energy. Of course, we weren’t ready to go to sleep and had absolutely no intention of doing so. It was then that my tent-mate hatched a plan.
I mentioned that the campsite was on a hill. We were about midway up said hill and there was a rough road that straight up it. The Kent school girls were camped at the top and he wanted to pay them a visit. Obviously we couldn’t just stroll up the road and walk in given the presence of teachers and PGL staffers. So, Shaun, Jamie, myself and (I think) a couple of others had to go through the bushes.
We were all members of the ATC (Air Training Corps) and felt that our superior knowledge of camouflage and moving around in bushes at night undetected would mean a successful mission. The mission: to get into the girls’ tents. It was my assumption they didn’t know we were coming – I later discovered they did.
The journey to the top of the hill went smoothly enough and we evaded capture. But, once in the camp, we had no clue whatsoever which tent housed the girl Shaun was trying to see. It was also pitch black so that just added to the comedy. We stumbled around the tents whispering names (or in reality speaking way too loudly) and it wasn’t long before we’d alerted the occupants to our presence.
Now, it’s at this point in proceedings something happened to me. Passing a tent I was grabbed from behind and dragged inside, thus separating me from my mates. But who’s tent was it? It was not the girls Shaun was trying to visit and it was not Kate’s who I was technical “with”. Thankfully it also wasn’t a teachers tent!
By torchlight, I could now see I was in the tent seemingly led by a girl I’d seen around the site but not really spoken to much. She wasn’t in the same friendship groups and the girls we’d become friends with. It turned out that we got on.
It wasn’t long before one of us was detected by the guards (teachers) from the Kent girls’ school. But, my sudden and unexpected detention in a tent on my own was to become my saviour. I slipped out under the canvas at the back and beat a hasty retreat down to my own site and tent.
I think we all made it back without being discovered, but I have a niggling thread of a memory of a teacher with a rye smile on there face associated with this, but I certainly don’t remember being in bother.
An empty diary
We sailed, we snorkelled, we banana-boated and we wind-surfed. Oh, the windsurfing – what a feeling that is. Yes, I managed to stand up and stay up and I glided over the shimmering surface of the Mediterranean Sea. And I kept on gliding. I was going in one direction and that was south and away from the beach. I hadn’t really appreciated just how far out I had gone until one of the rescue boats came out to get me. I may have mastered standing up but turning the damned thing was a different matter altogether!
I paid for this trip myself from my savings and I was determined to enjoy every penny (ever the Yorkshireman). And I did. I just wish I’d been the kind of kid that keep a journal or a diary to save me from scratching my head for memories!
Having read countless travelogues I know that the only way those authors could have described such detail was if they were avid journalers. I’d love to have some hand-written notes from these trips to go back over but alas not. My advice to our younger generation is not to rely on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok for the recording of memories but to actually take the time to write them down. You never know, you might have the makings of a best seller!
So, as I’m not a journal keeper or diary writer this little corner of the internet is effectively my life record in a way. So, below I’ve uploaded all my photos of this trip as a kind of web archive that is happened. I’ll come back in 40 years and tell my grandchildren about it.
If by some random chance someone recognises themselves in these photos then do say hello!
Thanks for reading.