Paris Focus: Art and French Lessons

When I saw this painting (well actually NOT the painting as that had been loaned elsewhere) but a copy of it in the Musée de l’Orangerie I was immediately taken back to 1968 when I was a young teenager in a Grammar School near Leeds.

There we had an amazing French teacher who earned himself the nickname of ‘Lurch’ as he was a big, tall chap with short cropped blonde hair and for some reason reminded us of Lurch, the butler,  in the Addams Family programme on TV at the time.

He was a wonderful teacher, making our French lessons fun and interesting, with great humour. One of his comments in my end of year report has stayed with me all my life: “Jude is an excellent conversationalist, just a pity it is not in French“. Saying that I loved languages and especially French, so much so I even went to work as an au pair in Geneva several years later. He unfortunately for us, left to teach in Chad at the end of this school year, leaving us to do our French O level with a rather disappointing replacement.

But back to the painting. One of the ways he taught us the language was by studying scenes or paintings and this was one of them. The teeny  dog, or was it a cat? The family in the cart – where were they going? Who were they? Is that a child or a pet monkey? Such a painting could stimulate many a conversation. In French. Of course 🙂


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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

42 thoughts on “Paris Focus: Art and French Lessons”

  1. I wish my French teacher had his flair. It was all grammar and drudgery, and it took me years to realise language learning can be fun: especially as it enables you to engage with the locals.

    1. I was a bit of a clever clogs for the first three years, always 1st or 2nd in subjects except for needlework where I crashed and burned. By 15 though I became a bit rebellious 🙂

      1. We really are twins!! I was much the same, but my act of rebellion was walking out of school two days into the sixth form and never going back. New school (my eighth — and the largest in the country at that time), new city, missing friends ☹️
        I was rubbish at needlework too – though sewing was such a necessary skill in 1970s-80s NZ that I taught myself post-school, and these days I actually really enjoy it.

        1. I refused to do A levels much to my mother’s disgust. She had pinned her hopes on me going to university! I did, but when I was 35 and then she told me I’d be better off getting a job at the supermarket!

        2. Parents!! Did yours see university as a place for you to meet a better class of husband like mine did? 😂😂😂

          My folks had always assumed I’d go to university and my dad had apoplexy when I said I’d left school. I did get to university only a year or so behind my peers, but then the “problem” was that I did social sciences, not law or medicine. They had no idea what to say to their friends. And I wasn’t meeting any lawyers or doctors to marry.

  2. I had a wonderful French teacher. A heavy-breasted woman of a certain age, who spoke (and looked) a lot like Simone Signoret. She chain-smoked Disque Bleu throughout the lessons, and wore heavy make-up. I had more than a big crush on her, even though she was hard on us. Her name was Miss Diligence, which I thought was wonderfully appropriate.
    Because of her, I became accomplished in French, and was able to easily manage conversations whilst staying with a French family abroad. That lasted until recently, when I went to work for the Diplomatic Police in London, in 2004. I was called upon to speak to diplomats from Senegal, Cameroon, Vietnam, Canada, and France, when they had problems. Just seven years after retiring, and I now struggle with French again, proving that for me, you need to ‘use it or lose it’. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. I can’t imagine teachers smoking during a lesson, though our Latin teacher reeked of cigarettes. He wore the same jacket the entire 5 years. Your French sounds very impressive Pete – you should have retired to the French countryside.

      1. I thought about it, before I met Julie. She has her kids here, so that was never going to happen. My French teacher was the only one who smoked in class, though many other teachers could be seen smoking around the school back then. My Art teacher used to go into the supply cupboard for a cigarette. She later became a great personal friend. I was sad to hear of her death in 2018.

        1. It is interesting how some teachers are remembered. I remember very few and not by name. I wonder if any of the kids I taught remember me! But I probably wouldn’t want to know what for!

        2. I managed to become close friends with some of mine. One is still alive, and is almost 85. But when he visits his daughter in Norfolk, we still meet up.

  3. Of course. The words from your teacher made me laugh. This reminds me of my beloved Drama teacher – 6ft 5, mop of wavy hair, always wore a green, black or purple suit with clogs and left a trail of patchouli – and a comment he wrote on my written work. We’d been asked how long it would have taken Shakespeare to walk to London and my estimate was found lacking : ‘If drunk, bound and blindfolded, a month is about accurate’. This was in the days before Google maps, need I say? 🙂

  4. How great it was that you had a creative and engaging teacher like Lurch, Jude! I like that idea of using art to stimulate conversation. What a great experience. I love his comment about you. 🙂

    1. His lessons were a lot of fun. We would study maps of Paris and write about what we might see along the streets. Talk about the food we would order in a restaurant. I am sure he injected me with a love for travel too. Such a shame my German lessons weren’t as interesting.

  5. Quite a back handed compliment from your French teacher! Our equivalent was the young Maths teacher – tall (I thought), blond and blue-eyed. Object of many a girlish crush. About 10 years ago my school friend and I went to a reunion which he organised and we couldn’t see it at all. And he’d apparently shrunk.

  6. How lovely to have happy memories of your teacher, who sounds like he was a gem. My sister and I decided to learn French a few years ago and continued for three years. It was enough to be able to read French, but as for making conversation – impossible!

  7. “Lurch” OMG, you rang? He sounds like a wonderful teacher. That was a fabulous way to get you thinking and learning the language, and appreciating Art at the same time.

      1. Not at all. When I was child in school, I already translated Jack London’s White Fang from Swedish to Finnish using dictionary. Three first books took time to translate From French to Finnish. I underscored every single word in my dictionary. In two years, I was a “walking dictionary”.

        I learnt Spanish while working Spanish during 4½ months. Few years ago, I went to Brazilian Portuguese course. In two winter courses, I learnt it. In school I learnt Swedish and German. These two languages I have forgotten so much, that I cannot made my posts in them. I understand them spoken, but writing is another thing, as You can imagine. My mother tongue is Finnish and my posts are in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

        Welcome to find hidden gems of Finland.

        Have a wonderful day!

        1. You must be extremely talented with languages. I shall pop over and visit your blog as I know very little about Finland other than it has lots of lakes and is very dark in the winter months!

        2. Hello.

          Dark in winter months, well, but in summer white nights! Can you imagine that sun never sets in the north – awesome experience. Happy weekend!

        3. I lived in Norway one summer so know those light nights to some extent – I found it very difficult to sleep! And used to go for a walk in the mountains after my shift in the hotel finished at 11 pm.

  8. “Jude is an excellent conversationalist, just a pity it is not in French“ hhahhaha love it. What a great way to learn a language – discussing a piece of art or something. I’ve vowed to re-learn French. I did two years at high school, so I should be able to pick it up again, right?

    1. I think French is a lovely language and I’m sure if you have studied it before you can pick it up. Of course the French never talk like the schoolgirl French we learn!

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