Unlike Algiers, much of which looked astonishingly like Marseille, Tlemcen had a distinguished past as a flourishing Arab city.  Before the likes of us came along and imposed borders, Tlemcen really belonged to that group of Moroccan cities with imperial pretensions: Meknes, Fez, Rabat, Marrakesh.     It has a Great Mosque (see above) worthy of any of these cities, and, in similar style a magnificent mosque and tomb commemorating Sidi Bou Mediene.


The central part of town has French-style cafes where, in those days, it was still possible to sip a glass of Pernod. And our house, on Boulevard Lt Khatir, was in a area of separate villas, previously occupied by well-off French settlers, our neighbours now being solid middle-class Arabs.

I had actually applied for one of four posts in Morocco, worried that - so soon after the end of a bloody war - my wife, being French, might find things difficult in Algeria. The members of the British council panel were intrigued by this and finally asked me if I would accept a post in Algeria were one to be offered to me.  I explained my reasons, but asked if Christou and I could confer. (Yes, in those days, they wanted to see if one’s wife would fit in, so there she was, in a Chanel-style dark pink suit and a little black hat).  Five minutes later we were back, having agreed to take a chance, and the job was mine.

As it turned out, the main attitude towards France in the Algeria of 1965-67   was one of nostalgia, as things and systems started running down.  We were actively welcomed into the area, and the local girls vied with each other to look after little Celine and, later, her sister Sabine.

In November 1965 Christou went back to her home-town of Cannes to give birth, while a married colleague in Algiers offered to look after Celine. Meanwhile, my immediate neighbours absolutely insisted that I should just come along to dine with them on any evening I wasn’t invited elsewhere. (Their youngest daughter is in the middle of the photo above, while their eldest was a final year pupil of mine).

We were far from being the only Europeans in Tlemcen; the ‘cooperation technique’ system had been set up by the French, a hundred or so of whom were working in everything from education to road works. But in June 1967 nobody was saying that France was helping Israel, so it was me and my family who were likely to be targets. (Protestors had already attacked the British Council premises in Algiers, overturning Bill Fyfield’s new car. They had also removed some lettering from the facade of the American Cultural Centre, which now read ‘Centre Cul     Americain’, or ‘American Arse Centre’).

The evening after I heard the loudspeaker van blasting out its message a group of youths came to our house and started hurling stones.  Within seconds, however, neighbours came flooding out of their houses, hurling abuse at the kids who scuttled away and were never seen again. But it was time to get my family out.  A neighbour gave me the phone number of a friend of his who ran a travel agency, and within minutes the agent promised he would get the three of them on a flight from Oran the next day. His only answer to my saying that I wouldn’t be able to pay him for a week or so was ‘C’est pas l’argent qui compte, c’est la famille’.  (Family’s important, not money).

A week later, four days after the war ended, one of my Palestinian colleagues came up to me, somewhat shamefacedly, and said ‘Mr Michael, please, what is the BBC saying about the war?’

By then it was coming up to the end of term. I had two years of my British Council contract to go, but was not certain if the Algerians would allow Brits back into the country.  A neighbour had offered me a fair price for my Renault Dauphine, and had arranged to put my stuff in storage. Another neighbour would get them sent off to wherever I would be the next year.

For, come what may, I would not be returning to Tlemcen.  A couple of weeks earlier I had been sitting in a cafe when some students of mine, having just sat the English part of their ‘bac,’ came up to me with smiling faces asking ‘Comment vous avez su?’  ‘How did I know what?’ I asked. ‘What was to be in the exam!’ they replied.

‘Oh my God!’ I thought.  For what had happened was this: months earlier I, like every teacher of English as far as I knew, had received a letter from the Ministry of Education asking for suggestions for what should be in the English Language part of the equivalent of A level.  Unwilling to follow the traditional syllabus, I had been using my own material, samples of which I sent off. It seems that, instead of using these as models (which in itself would have given my pupils an advantage), they had simply had my own stuff printed and distributed as it stood.

That part of the Ministry, it seems, had no contact with the part which compared results from all over the country. So, seeing that one particular class in one particular school had quite staggeringly good results, they concluded that the teacher in question (Micha el Huch Janghan Res) was wasted in the secondary system. I should be a university teacher.  Which is how I found myself, the next September, teaching partly at the British Council centre, partly at the University of Algiers Interpreters’ School. But that’s another story.