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News > Alumni > From Silence to Words

From Silence to Words

From the back of the class to front stage in front of 14 000 people in Seoul !
Jim Rowlands 33 years after leaving Calday
Jim Rowlands 33 years after leaving Calday

At the oral exam for the French A Level, which at that time was still recorded on tape loops and posted of to some nebulous other place, the teacher scowled at me, "You haven't said a word in five years and you can do that!?" I was discreet, to say the least. Once the whole class was punished for jumping over the wall and escaping onto the hill on the other side of the road. We all missed the afternoon classes. I escaped punishment. Was I invisible? It sometimes felt like it, but it was by choice.

I chose Ripon College to continue my studies, partly because they only wanted a CDE (I got BCDN) and partly because the prospectus told us there were 800 students and only 50 guys. What it didn't say was that Carrick Army Barracks was about 2 miles up the road. This came as something of a shock.

At the end of year one of the degree, I received a note telling me that in order to pass the term I was obliged to go to at least one careers class. It was May by then and as they were weekly, I had missed about 35. I went to this last chance saloon. The subject was "Teaching English as a Second Language." What struck me the most were the words, "You'll never be rich, but you'll never be out of work." Plus you got to travel and I really just wanted to go as far away as possible at that age.

I got my degree (BA in Teaching Sign Language to Monkeys/Moral Philosophy) and backed it up with the one month TEFLA course at Hull University. Then I left. 1993 - Strasbourg and teaching at the Astronomical Observatory. 1994 - Luxembourg and teaching in German banks. 1995 - Amsterdam. 1996-98 Grenoble in the Alps. At this time I decided to form a band. We called ourselves Mirrorfield and specialized in Welsh Folk Rock... I know, right?! 1998-2007 Paris !

Between its creation and the time I left Paris, the band had gone from being something of an inside joke, or parody of serious folk groups, to having actual success. We started getting some great support gigs with for instance Deep Purple. We released an album. The offers were becoming more and more exciting. We played Montreux Jazz, Stade de France, festivals in France, Poland and finally in South Korea in front of 14 000 people !! I'm the fat bloke on the left in a Welsh kilt:

By 2007 I had 2 daughters and a first divorce. I decided it would be better for them to grow up in a nice, green part of the world and not Paris which for all its museums and Montmartres is also incredibly polluted and frankly dangerous. I ended up in a wooden house on top of a hill in the centre of Brittany.

However, I still had to travel every day to work in Paris. This meant taking a coach at 6am then a TGV high-speed train at 7am before starting at 10am in the capital. It was exhausting and expensive. I started to get to know my fellow travellers. One of them, a late 50s greying man called Alain, became a good friend, although I didn't really know what his job was.

One evening I was singing in a pub in the village and Alain arrived. Then a bunch of shaven-headed blokes arrived. They greeted him with "Bonsoir mon colonel!" I had Ripon College flashbacks. He was an officer of the French Army.

It just so happens that the French army officer academy - their equivalent of Sandhurst - is about 25 miles from my front door. It also turned out that they needed an English teacher after one became ill (not my doing I promise). Fast forward to 2023 and although I have now kind of given up on the rock and roll and travelling, I can report that I am a teacher of English at the prestigious St Cyr Military Academy, and have been for 10 years.

I certainly didn't see that coming. Did you?

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