Call of France

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‘It was as if that loathsome creature which had left such slimy traces in his past had now crawled into the present’


Disappointing academic results, a disastrous first love and a failed job experience all go to make Michael Morgan deeply disillusioned with himself and others. He decides to train to be a French teacher. But at home the atmosphere is poisoned, school life becomes tedious, misjudged relations with two female colleagues lead to disturbing repercussions … and tragedy strikes. He longs to wipe his life’s slate clean by escaping to a fresh start in France. But is he running away from himself? And then he’s given the chance of sharing in an exciting venture. Should he stay in England or pursue his French dream?

Based on some of the author’s own experiences, Barfield School, the soon-to-be-published, first novel in his trilogy, CALL OF FRANCE, is a psychological drama which explores the thoughts, feelings and motivations of Michael Morgan, a young French teacher whose obsessional dreams of starting a new life in France lead to some regrettable choices. Their unforeseen consequences make him even more determined to escape.

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The Call of France: Book 1 – Barfield School (9)

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Michael decides to leave the brewery and apply for a place on a teacher training course.

It now seemed quite natural that what in his final university year he’d contemptuously dismissed as little more than an extension of the cloistered life he’d been leading until then should present itself in a far more redeeming light: for wasn’t teaching the type of vocational job he’d now grown to realize was more suited to his temperament in so much as it would give him the satisfaction of being able to help and contribute towards the personal fulfilment of others? What’s more, wouldn’t being in possession of a teaching diploma increase his chances of discovering new horizons by providing him with the means of earning a living in many distant countries? So why didn’t he apply for a place on a teacher training course? And why not at the university where he’d studied for his first degree? The prospect of escaping from the confinement of his present job and renewing contact with the insouciance of student life filled him with all the anticipatory joy of a prisoner contemplating his impending release.

It must not be imagined, however, that Michael belonged to that category of devil-may-care young men who took radical decisions concerning their future life-orientations without giving careful consideration to the detrimental effects these might have on their present circumstances. So before handing in his official resignation he’d taken the decision to cover himself by first obtaining a place on a one year teacher training his former university. And in reply to his application he’d received a letter inviting him to present himself at the University School of Education where its head, Professor Ibbotson, would be happy to interview him. A date and time were, of course, indicated. His reaction had been mixed: he’d been delighted at having been granted an interview, but apprehensive as to its contents and, above all, fearful of the results.

It was now with a certain shame (though he’d scarcely felt it at the time) that he had not only taken the day off work without asking for leave, but actually used the company car he was now in possession of to drive there. And was it some strange imminent justice which, in punishment of this blatant abuse of company time and money caused things to get off to the worst possible start? Being a scrupulously punctual person he set off from his lodgings at a time he’d estimated as being early enough for him to arrive at his destination well before the appointed time. But as he neared the end of his journey he became more and more anxiously aware that he hadn’t taken into account the immobilizing effects of heavy lunchtime traffic. The result was that he arrived a quarter of an hour late. So when he finally knocked on the door of Professor Ibbotson’s study he seriously thought his chances had been irreversibly compromised.

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The Call of France: Book 1 – Barfield School (8)

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Michael dreams of escaping from his present environment to more exotic climes.

Côte d'AzurBut now, in retrospect, he couldn’t really say he regretted those two years spent with the brewery. Perhaps it was his positive, philosophically-inclined nature which even convinced him that the experience had done him good: for this raw confrontation with down-to-earth, often unsavoury reality had shaken him, occasionally shocked him out of much of the naïve ideality which had been so much a part of his sheltered student life. He’d concluded that it had all been part and parcel of of that sometimes unavoidably painful process of adapting to the ways of our world. And not only had it broadened his experience of our planet as it is, but it had also taught him things unknown, or which he’d only been vaguely aware of in himself: for he could console himself with the thought that he now knew what he didn’t want and what he was not suited for. And though the financial rewards were not negligible and he’d been granted the luxury of a small company car this was not enough: he was ensnared in a system which inflicted more pain than pleasure. As we have seen, some of the pain came from the growing awareness that he would never be able to come to terms with the fact that the next few years – perhaps the whole of his working life – could be spent in much the same narrow, dingy urbane environment in which conflict with others was a daily reality, and where his constant objective was the banal and frequently ignoble pursuit of financial gain; and some of it arose from the growing, guilty awareness that he enjoyed having agreeable relations with others too much for this type of job, and that the time he was devoting to pleasant, homely chats with his managers and manageresses over morning coffee or afternoon tea should have been spent confronting them with the deficiencies of their shop management and their lack of satisfactory results. In short, not only did he feel more suited to a job which might allow him to make a significant contribution to the personal development of others, but he could never quite rid himself of the thought that the material rewards he was enjoying were being obtained fraudulently. In addition, he was becoming more and more frustratingly aware that somewhere he was wasting precious time: for he throbbed with excitement at dreams of a fresh start to life in a land of sunny beaches, warm blue seas, dazzling white buildings, shaded avenues and orange trees gently swaying in a deliciously-scented evening breeze.

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The Call of France: Book 1- Barfield School (7)

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Off-licenceAnd he was still liable, more than two years later, to mull over in some detail what he’d considered as the straw that broke the camel’s back. The event dated back to the beginning of his second working year and had acted as the irrevocable confirmation that it was as inconceivable for him to adapt to this type of job as it is to defy that law of geometry which states that a square peg can never be made to fit snugly into a round hole. He’d interviewed a young woman with a baby to manage a small off-licence in one of the city’s more popular suburbs. During the interview she’d informed him that she was the sister of a well-known pop-singer of that time. It had served to reassure him. Though he’d expressed some reserve regarding her ability to manage the shop while at the same time having to look after a six-month-old baby she’d assured him there would be no problem: she had plenty of relatives in the neighbourhood who would take care of it during the day, and her husband would be there to help in the evenings. Her spouse, she added, was ‘Jewish’. He remembered thinking this odd as her baby had frizzy black hair and a dark complexion. But he’d thought no more about it and, since she seemed keen on the job he decided to give her a chance. It was a horrible mistake. Almost immediately the takings began to drop and though he’d visited every day, this quickly assumed dramatic proportions. Now each off-licence was fitted with a small safe in which takings were placed at the end of each day, and, for obvious reasons of security, managers were instructed to bank the accrued amount once it had reached a pre-determined figure. To this effect the brewery provided dedicated paying-in slips on which the manager indicated the relevant amount and the date on which it had been paid in. The bank itself, of course, stamped the slip as proof that the money had actually been deposited with them on this specific date. So Michael decided to count the money in the safe. It amounted to only the previous evening’s takings. She assured him that she’d paid all prior takings into the bank the afternoon before. On asking her for proof in the form of the paying-in slip she told him she’d lost it. He’d immediately gone to the bank – only to be informed they had no record of the transaction. It was now becoming horrifyingly clear that she was both a thief  and a pathological liar.

So he went back to the brewery in order to consult a list of temporary replacement managers before giving her notice of her dismissal and organizing a lock-out. But when he went back in the early evening not only was she looking extremely sorry for herself but she had multiple bruises on her arms and face along with a spectacular black eye. It was obvious she’d been on the receiving end of a thorough beating. And he could only surmise that the culprit was the man standing next to her: for her ‘Jewish’ husband was, in fact, a beefy, furious-looking  West Indian (the city had a large Jamaican population). For a moment he feared he was going to suffer a similar fate but the husband’s wrath seemed directed solely at his wife. It crossed his mind that, even if the punishment was brutally expeditious, it at least suggested that the husband was far more honest than his spouse. After doing his best to placate him Michael had decided that discretion was the better part of valour and had beaten a hasty retreat. He’d come back just before the evening opening time with a replacement manageress, had taken the young lady to one side and quietly informed her of her dismissal. Perhaps she had some remorse as tears began rolling down her cheeks. Fortunately her husband was absent. It was from this moment onwards that he became obsessed by the desire to get out.

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