I was researching the most popular tourist sites in France for the Things to do Section and of course Notre Dame de Paris came up. The architecturally stunning church apparently gets around 13 million visits a year so it ranked high in the Top Ten Visitor attractions in Paris list.
That wasn’t what I was thinking though. It took me back many years to my school days when as a teenager I won a prize which was to be presented before the whole school by the School Governors (one of whom was Princess Margaret though thankfully she wasn’t there that day). I was allowed to choose my prize – it had to be a book but the choice was mine.
I had recently visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris – I’d won a weekend to the City of Lights for taking the most money on my till one horrendous Saturday in the McDonalds where I worked whilst at school. The book I chose was The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo – the haunting story of a deformed bell ringer at the Cathédral Notre Dame who fell in love with a beautiful gypsy.
The day of the prize-giving arrived, parents of prize winners were invited, school Governors were sat on the rostrum in front of the huge stained glass windows, the entire school was assembled to witness the event.
Prizes were given in alphabetical order and I was number 4 in the queue. The three girls before me were lined up and the first name read out followed by the name of the book they’d chosen:
“Leah A…., Advanced Chess Strategies”
Deborah B …, New York Fashion Design
Amanda C…., Economic policies for the Third World Countries
And then it suddenly dawned on me … what was going to happen when I mounted those stairs in front of hundreds of people… but it was too late:
Janine D…, Hunchback of Notre Dame
I stumbled off the other side of the stage, clutching the book, to accompanying applause, laughter and some very bad Quasimodo impressions.
I have forgiven Victor Hugo now but I still can’t hear the words Notre Dame without being whizzed right back to that day all those years ago.