One Summer in France
by Bev Spicer
The summer of 1979 was the best summer ever! Pretty, blond and dangerously impetuous, Bev and Carol head for the sun, lucky beneficiaries of a generous university grant.
They are full of enthusiasm and the dazzling spirit of adventure that only seems possible when we are young. Essential swimwear is selected and Lipton’s vegetable oil is perfumed with patchouli for the perfect tan.
They end up in Argelès-sur-Mer, on a campsite close to the coast and not far from the border with Spain. Every day brings new challenges: how to hold a meaningful conversation on a naturist beach, what to do about a precocious teenage stalker, how to transport a gallon of port on a moped … all of which they meet head-on, with dubious philosophy and irrepressible optimism.
One Summer in France is a humorous tale based on a three-month study break the author took as part of her languages degree course at Keele University in 1979.
“Would you do it all again?” asked Carol.
“Like a shot!” I said.
And I would.
Carol woke up with white globules, slimy and sticky, on her forehead and in her hair. I racked my brains, horrified that we may have inadvertently performed a depraved act with our new neighbours. Luckily, the substance revealed itself to be the best part of a tin of French rice pudding in a caramel sauce.
‘You must have been very hungry!’ I laughed, dipping a finger in the remnants of the tin. ‘Quite nice, actually. Bit sweet, but not bad at all.’
‘Where did it come from?’ asked Carol, running a comb through her hair and making it much, much worse.
‘No idea,’ I chomped.
The mystery of the rice pudding was solved upon unzipping our tent and finding, along with the cloudless blue sky, a bag of supplies, including bread, jam, butter, milk and a second can of pudding. We got up and, having cleaned up in the showers, went to say thank you to Antoine for not taking advantage of two innocent English girls.
‘We can take you to see the medieval castle,’ he offered. ‘And tonight we will have an Italian pizza in a restaurant I know very well.’
We didn’t see why not and so we agreed. In the afternoon, we sunbathed and read. I had brought along some Virginia Woolf and a copy of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Carol had an old copy of Cosmopolitan and a book of verse by Spike Milligan. We congratulated ourselves on our luck, as we read, and had a certain degree of smug satisfaction at the French we were learning and the culture we were experiencing, albeit by accident.
‘Can you put some oil on my back?’ I asked Carol. ‘I like the smell of it. Where did you get it?’
‘It’s Lipton’s sunflower cooking oil, with a dash of patchouli,’ replied Carol.
‘Perfect!’ I said, impressed with her powers of money-saving inventions.
In those days, the idea of protection hadn’t been understood. Red, was the colour your skin went before it went brown. Simple. The important thing was that your skin should look shiny and smell nice.
One Summer in France is one of those books of reminiscence that rewards the reader on so many counts. It comes across like a novel but is obviously an accurate first-hand recollection as well. It was written recently as a prequel to the very successful Bunny on a Bike but avoids the mistake of applying mature “wisdom” to the experiences of just post-teen years. It is, as a result, modern, funny, occasionally outrageous, atmospheric, nicely descriptive and very fast-moving. We travel with Bev as she obtains a grant to fund a trip to France as part of her university degree and, accompanied by her friend Carol, takes up residence at a camp site on the French Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border. Bev is undoubtedly very pretty – you don’t graduate and end up working for the Bunny Club otherwise – and in no time she and Carol are having a string of hilarious adventures as they find their feet in the campsites, bars and beaches of southern France, fighting off men, dealing with their jealous partners and struggling with rented mopeds. Their visits to the nudist beach or over the border in pursuit of Salvador Dali are absolutely hilarious. But Bev Spicer is a highly intelligent observer of the human condition who does not exclude herself from her ironic and anatomical eye. The consequence is a story that I simply couldn’t put down – it’s a “laugh-out-loud” book with pure nostalgia lightly laid on the narrative and it is so very well written! I’m glad I read One Summer in France first. It will be a pleasure to take the story further in Bunny on a Bike.
About the Author
Bev Spicer is the author of five ebooks and two paperbacks. She also writes under the pen name B. A. Spicer.
Bev was born in a small market town in the Midlands, daughter to an observer for the Royal Air Force and her mother, a local beauty queen.
She was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge and became a lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University in 1997 moving to live in France with her husband and two of her children ten years later, where she writes full-time.
She is widely read and has travelled extensively, living in Crete, where she taught English and learned to speak Greek, and in the Seychelles, where she worked for the government and co-designed materials which were used to teach at secondary school level.
She is currently working on Stranded in the Seychelles, a humorous memoir and sequel to her best-selling Bunny on a Bike.