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The French Lesson, Part 5

by The Scholar

"I can't remember it all."

"That doesn't matter, just write what you can."

"I have, but it sounds really dull."

I was doing my homework - my diary entry about our trip to Rouen and I couldn't remember a lot of what had been said to us. We had guidebooks, we had postcards, we had a lot of information, but my brain just didn't want to work and Simon was being of no help whatsoever.

"This is really boring!" I announced.

"I found it all quite fascinating." Kevin Bradshaw. He would! Not exactly the class swot, but he liked history and I didn't, so I didn't really care.

Yeah, so did I." Mike McKenzie. Mike preferred to play sport than do anything academically, but he tried hard, I had heard people say that about him. "Mike McKenzie tries hard," like no one else did. I did. I tried very hard. It wasn't my fault that I had no interest in history, or geography, or maths, or sport, or English, or - well, any subject, really. I didn't like school and school didn't like me.

I looked at the entry in my diary and read it through:

Founded by the Gaul tribe of Veliocassi who called it Ratumacos, by 912 AD the Normans had arrived and today Rouen is the capital city of Normandy. In the Middle Ages it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy and one of the most prosperous of cities in medieval Europe. ...

I couldn't remember what happened between the Gaul's and the Normans and, to be honest, didn't much care.

It was in Rouen that Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake on 30thMay 1431, but lots of famous people have been born in Rouen, including Edward IV a King of England, Philippe Étancelin who had something to do with Grand Prix motor racing - Rouen hosted the French Grand Prix at the Rouen-Les-Essarts track on and off between 1952 and 1968. Charles Nicolle, the bacteriologist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1928, the same year that film director Jacques Rivette was born in Rouen and the author of Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert. ...

That should be impressive, shows I paid attention to something. Okay, so some of the names I got from a book, but at least I had to look at a book to find them and chucking in a few of the more interesting people should please the teachers.

As Rouen continued to grow it was annexed to the French kingdom by Philippe Auguste in 1204. He demolished the Norman castle and built one of his own, the Château Bouvreuil, built on the site of the Gallo-Roman amphitheatre. Rouen had a thriving textile industry and relied on the River Seine for much business. In 1419, Rouen surrendered to Henry V of England, who annexed Rouen to the House of Plantagenet and in 1431 Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake and by 1449 the French King Charles VII had recaptured the town. During World War II, the German navy was based in a chateau on the École Supérieure de Commerce de Rouen campus and on D-day Rouen was very heavily bombed and the cities cathedral was almost destroyed. ...

I guess other stuff happened between 1449 and D-day, but it was a long time ago, I didn't care and just wanted this torturous assignment to end.

Visitors to Rouen should take a trip to the Notre Dame Cathedral. It has a butter tower, which in French is the Tour de Beurre. Monet did a lot of paintings of the cathedral and some of them are in an art gallery in Paris and some of his others can be seen in Rouen's Musée des beaux-arts de Rouen. There is a 16thcentury astronomical clock in the Gros Horloge street and Church of Saint Maclou with its Tour Jeanne d'Arc and in the centre of the Place du Vieux Marché is the modern church of Saint Joan of Arc and the building represents the pyre on which she was burnt....

God! Now I sound like a tour guide. Oh, what the hell. A lot of mentions of Joan of Arc were in there, but she seemed to me the most interesting person to write about, as far as Rouen was concerned, but I had run out of patience. Rouen had been a nice place to go to, it had been interesting, too, but having to write about it when there were perfectly good guidebooks to read seemed a pointless waste of time. At least I had heard of Joan of Arc. I remembered the bit about burning her at the stake from a film I'd seen on television, but what film that was, I couldn't remember. I hadn't been interested in he rest of it, but burning at the stake sounded pretty exciting.

I put down my pen, stood up and stretched and announced that I had finished and was hungry.

"Again?" Simon Taylor, my best friend, who occupied the bunk below mine, who snored very softly when he slept, but looked so fantastically gorgeous it was forgivable.

"What do you mean, 'again'?"

"You ate a big breakfast, you devoured three apples and two yoghurts that no one else wanted from their lunch boxes, as well as your own and a pile of sandwiches, you had two chocolate ice creams and a whole packet of mint imperials, so how the hell can you still be hungry?"

It was true. I won't deny it. I had eaten a lot that day already, but it was an exciting adventure to visit a foreign city like Rouen, soak up the cultural atmosphere and listen to the locals chattering away in their native tongue. All that had made me hungry. I couldn't say that to Simon, of course, because he'd see straight through me, he always did. Simon would know that I ate a lot because I just ate - I was always hungry and Simon would know that the rest of it was a load of rubbish. I was here because my parents thought it would be a good experience for me, but they thought joining the Scouts would be a good experience, too, so what did they know? I was here because Simon was here and for no other reason.

Simon had taken on board a lot of what had been said throughout the day, he'd even made notes and taken photographs and collected some of the things on the list we had prepared as a plan of action to make our diaries more interesting. He'd even asked questions, discussed things with Mike McKenzie, Kevin Bradshaw and Alex Matthews. I'd even seen him in conversation with Suzie Miller. Dark-haired, beautiful Susie Miller.

I disliked Susie Miller and for no other reason than she could wrap Simon around her little finger just by smiling at him. He seemed to go pathetically soft and silly around Susie Miller, lose his concentration and act like there was no other person in the universe worthy of a glance, she was able to gain his full attention and keep it and he, with his hypnotic blue eyes, his silly grin, his cute button nose, his blonde hair that fell fashionably over his face was captivated by her beauty. I couldn't deny she was beautiful, because she was, but why did she have to single out Simon?

I wasn't the only one who had noticed. Kevin Bradshaw had indicated that they looked "very close" and I heard him say that Susie Miller had calmly told Melanie Atkinson that she had every intention of "making him her boyfriend by the end of the week."

What? No way! Simon wouldn't be seen dead on the arm of Susie Miller!

Susie Miller was calm.

She was always calm.

Even as she was tied to a tall pillar in the Vieux-Marche in Rouen, she remained calm. Asking our French teachers, Mrs Pearce and Mr Hamilton, to hold a crucifix before her, Susie Miller gave the outward appearance of serenity. Melanie Atkinson had also constructed a small cross, which she placed in the front of Susie's dress and then the flames began to engulf her. I was not convinced. I ordered Mike McKenzie, Kevin Bradshaw and Alex Matthews to rake back the coals to expose her charred body so that I could see that she had not escaped alive and then I ordered that they burned the body twice more to reduce it to ashes and prevent any collection of relics and when all this was done, I had her remains cast into the Seine. I looked up into the face of the executioner, Simon Taylor, as the church bells began to ring.

"I thougt you were hungry."

"I am."

"Well, come on then, they've just rung the dinner bell."

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