We were ushered into the Mayor of Neuilly’s office, little did I know 20 years later he would become a star of The Simpsons and the 23rd President of France…

President Sarkozy invited us in for coffee and biscuits when he was Mayor of Neuilly

Speaking about French ‘A’ Levels, one of those things you never realise is who people are before they become famous.  This is true of people you went to school with but is equally true about people you meet as you go through life.

My school arranged an exchange trip for those studying French, in my case for ‘A’ Level.  The school we were twinned with was in the leafy suburbs of Paris.  It was a nice school, with lots of very keen students who were really enthusiastic about having English students in their midst.

As part of our fortnight with them we were lodged with students’ families and went on a number of trips as part of our tuition, including to the Champagne Caves of Epernay, though I personally think this was more for the benefit of the teachers, rather than the students.

Knowing my interest in politics the teachers at the school arranged for a few of the English students to go as a delegation to meet the Mayor of Neuilly, the suburb in which the school was based.

We were ushered into an office where a diminutive man, with moderate English, invited us to sit down. We discussed politics, he was a conservative, at the time I was a Social Democrat. I don’t know how well that translated in the French context, but nonetheless the busy mayor was interested to know about British politics and was a very warm and hospitable host. He made sure that we felt very welcome and thanked us for fostering good relations between our nations.

These are the sorts of events that happen to everyone really, but when reading  about Nicolas Sarkozy appearing on the Simpsons I looked up his Wikipedia biography and I noticed that in the 1980s and 1990s he had been a Mayor in a suburb of Paris. 

My curiosity was instantly sparked, surely it couldn’t be the same guy who had once welcomed us into his office for coffee and a chat?! Nicolas Sarkozy was Mayor of Neuilly between 1983 and 2002. Our exchange trip was in the Spring of 1987.

Chalk up the President of France as one of the most famous people I have met!

Agent’s Training 10 – ‘Seeing Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams lose made me drink lots at the party – it improved my performance the next day!’

Seeing Roy Jenkins losing Glasgow Hillhead and Shirley Williams failing to win Cambridge turned me to drink, with interesting consequences...

The 1987 General Election was unquestionably a very poor one for the SDP/Liberal Alliance.  The ‘Two Davids’ appeared to be not singing from the same song sheet and the parties did poorly.

SDP luminaries Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins both went down to defeat in Cambridge and Glasgow Hillhead and moves began to merge the two parties in preparation for fighting the election afterwards.

But, before any of this could happen the local Alliance members in my constituency had a party that evening to see the election results come in. 

Being only 16 I was not used to drinking lots but as the results came in with Shirley Williams failing to gain Cambridge and Roy Jenkins losing to George Galloway in Glasgow I sank into the malaise that only Lib Dems can feel following an election – ‘another false dawn’.

So, when I was taken home at an unearthly time in the morning I was fully aware that the Alliance had been crushed, as were my hopes, but only slightly aware of my French literature mock ‘A’ Level later that morning.

Going to bed drunk at 5am, followed by an exam at 9am, and really being drunk until the following afternoon was no preparation for a 3 hour exam in a foreign language, as to be honest, I was struggling quite hard with English, let alone French.

Nonetheless I dutifully took the exam, in French, and left the exam room in only a slightly better state than when I went in.  I could not really discuss the questions with my school colleagues because I literally had no memory of anything that went on.

A few weeks later our French teacher, Mrs Percy, announced, ‘who thinks they have done badly in this exam?’ Unsurprisingly I raised my hand as to be fair I would have been surprised if I had even hit the paper with my writing. She looked at me rather severely and said, ‘No John, this is your best piece of work ever!’

I am sure there is a moral to this tale, but over the past 20 years I have still not been able to work it out!