Baptism of Fire!

This year my daughter moved from Collège Privée to Lycée Publique. It has not been uneventful! Last year she was barely a minute’s walk from her school, this year she has to rely on public transport.

We are very fortunate to be at the epicentre of the public transport system- less than a minute from the Central station and its underground metro, and surrounded by various stops for many bus routes. My daughter and her fellow lycéens took a week to determine which was the most efficient route to allow them the most ‘shut-eye’ in the mornings and were particularly enamoured by Thursday EPS skating lessons for which there was a direct bus leaving from outside the door to the ice-rink, and allowed them to remain in bed until 7.30am.

All had fallen into a comfortable routine until, of course, on week three the public transport system decided to go on strike! ‘La Grève’ (strike) is a public pass-time in France. The right to strike is part of the National Constitution and as little negotiation occurs between the governing bodies and the workers until decisions are made, strikes are commonplace as the workers respond to management decisions. In front of the ‘Palais de Justice’, crowds congregate and banners are waved on a regular basis. The crowds generally then disperse into their vehicles and drive around the centre of the city with a fairly alarming din of car-horns and fluttering flags.

The first Thursday of the TCAR (public transport) strike the students caught their regular bus to the Ile Lacroix for their skating only to find that 5 minutes into their journey, and still a good kilometre and a half from their destination, the driver parked up at a bus stop and disappeared off to a local cafe for a coffee. He didn’t return. Somewhat bewildered the students didn’t know whether to descend and complete the journey by foot or remain waiting for the driver. The arrival of the bus inspector determined that they would walk. The students, laden down with their bags of books, bags of sports equipment and ice-skating paraphernalia arrived at the rink only to receive a text from their sports teacher to say that ice-skating had been cancelled. They were then obliged to walk the 4km uphill back to Lycée.

The strike is of course a logistical nightmare for those that work, or have children in various different locations, and that, it goes without saying, is entirely the point. That it is now running into it’s third week, with some drivers choosing to run, and others not, and with the strike times changing on a daily basis only increases it’s inconvenience. This week, my daughter begged me to take her to school, only for us to find ourselves driving along-side her regular bus because the driver had taken it upon himself to work that particular day!

Having now accustomed ourselves to the strike, I was somewhat disconcerted to receive a phone call from my daughter mid-afternoon declaring in a somewhat breathy tone “I’m alright”.

When I got to the bottom of the matter I discovered that she was standing in the school courtyard surrounded by a school-full of students, fire engines and ambulances and that the part of the school that contained her English classroom was now in flames. Some wise-cracks had decided to set off some explosives in the boy’s toilets.

“Well”, I said, when words returned to me…

“This really is a baptism of fire”