Time magazine created the term ‘Swinging London’, in April 1966, but I was unaware that I was living in such exciting times.
For me, it was ‘metro, boulot, dodo’, and my life centred around the museum, and the little mews flat. There, I taught myself to cook from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, which I read cover to cover,as one would read a novel. It was part recipe book, part travelogue, sprinkled with neat drawings and French phrases. I was utterly gripped. It was an entree into another completely different way of life.
I had already ‘au paired’ in Brittany – for six weeks – with a delightful family during the vacation at Birmingham. Dr G – a wealthy Parisian gynaecologist/ abortionist – was on his second marriage with his Bardot-look-a- like young wife, with whom he had two children: Eric (6) and Natalie (5).
My job was essentially to keep the children from killing themselves ( jumping out of windows and such like) bathe, breakfast and amuse them until ‘Madame’ rose at 12 noon.
I was then free to do as I please.
A cook would arrive from the village to prepare our lavish midday lunch, at which I was always served first, as an honoured guest.
Monsieur and Madame’s hobby was their little private aeroplane, and they would fly off at the weekends leaving me solely in charge of the kids.
As I had absolutely no experience of caring for children apart from a little adolescent baby-sitting, this was challenging in the extreme. But we survived, even when I had to call the local vet when Eric’s temperature rose sky high.
They rewarded me with great kindness, a good salary,gifts of jewellery, and many years of friendship and correspondence, even when Monsieur landed up in jail for a while.
It was a marvellous introduction to the country and its people.
While the Civil Rights Movement, and Vietnam were raging in the back of our lives, the UK was having a ‘Labour moment’ with the election of Harold Wilson in March 1966 ( the year in which David Cameron was born); and we were weathering our own home-grown dramas: the Aberfan disaster; the imprisonment of the notorious ‘Moors Murderers’ ( Ian Brady and Myra Hindley); and the spy, George Blake’s flight to Moscow.
Many of my generation were concerned with human rights. I’d heard Malcolm X speak at Birmingham University – to a packed audience – days before he was assassinated in February 1965; and went on to read The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, and later Soul On Ice by Eldridge Cleaver published in 1968, which I still have on my book shelves.