It was like a scene from Night of the Living Dead. At an unearthly hour, people lurched, zombie-like, in the darkness towards the coach parked outside the King’s Head, dark rings circling their unseeing eyes, bared teeth set in ghastly grimaces. Citizens of East Hoathly and Halland were departing on their biennial visit to our twinning friends in Juziers.
Several zzzzs later, and feeling more human, we arrived at Cheriton for the subterranean crossing of La Manche, only to find an earlier train was stuck in the Chunnel and we would be delayed for two hours. Time to switch to la mode française and breakfast on coffee and croissants. And, before we knew it, we were on our way again.
We arrived in front of Juziers’ Hotel de Ville about 3pm and immediately went in to the welcoming reception hosted by Juziers’ mayor, Philippe Ferrand. 2016 is a special year. It is the 20th anniversary of the first twinning visit between Juziers and East Hoathly and Halland. Following Philippe’s welcome speech and John Graham’s response, Linda Allen, who was on the very first visit to Juziers in 1996, made a short speech thanking the people of Juziers for their welcome and hospitality over the years.
Then came an exchange of gifts to mark the occasion. East Hoathly artist, Keith Pettit, presented a wooden sculpture, a series of overlapping circles which mesh together to form a stronger whole, representing the links between the two communities; Philippe presented a decoratively painted milk churn to John Graham and Pat Duke.
Afterwards, we were whisked off by our host families to settle in, before some of us wandered down to the tennis courts for what has become an annual tournament. Each community put up its star players, from which our own Pat Duke emerged as supreme champion. Hip hip hooray!
The evening was spent with host families, some of which linked up for dinner parties. Gill and I were taken by our host Annelise Martin to dinner with a group of her doctor colleagues, two of whom later performed piano and guitar recitals. We eventually reached our beds at 2am, 21 hours after answering the call of our alarm clock in East Hoathly.
Our Sunday was a time for relaxation before lunch en plein air, when Annelise’s friend, Sylvie, and her East Hoathly guests, Liz and Jonathan Ritchie, joined us in the sunshine for what must have been the warmest day of the year, certainly for us vitamin D-deprived Brits. Several courses and glasses of wine later, we were ready for our tour.
This year, our Sunday tour was a choice of Giverny, some 25km down the Seine, or Chantilly, north of Paris. Annelise and Sylvie had decided on Giverny, and the home of Impressionist artist, Claude Monet. The house is especially known for its gardens which in the warm sunshine were magnificent, with ranks of colourful tulips. Those who went to the beautiful chateau of Chantilly were also treated to a superb demonstration of horse riding skills at the chateau’s renowned stables.
Back in Juziers, we gathered at the Salle de Fêtes beside the Église Saint-Michel for an informal supper with a Caribbean flavour, prepared by Gaeton Binet. We started with a planter, a rum-based aperitif, followed by Assiete Créole (Chiquetaille de morue), Colombo de poulet and Flan coco antilllais. All the men were also presented with the ingredients to make a Créole taster, while all the women received a rose and lily-of-the-valley spray.
Entertainment followed, with older members of our hosts singing songs while younger members did a Créole themed dance routine. It transpired that the two lead dancers were chaps in frocks and sparkly wigs! The East Hoathly and Halland Choir did a rendition of Chanson d’Amour (the Manhattan Transfer version, not the more difficult one by Edith Piaf), which was sung with such gusto that we were required to do an encore. By the end we were so exhausted we headed for our beds.
Monday morning we assembled on the steps of the Hotel de Ville for the group photos and after exchanging farewells boarded the coach for the return to the Channel Tunnel, breaking off en route for a couple of hours to explore Rouen and its ancient sights. These include the magnificent Gros Horloge clocktower, the Place du Vieux Marché, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431, and the cathedral, which Monet painted 30 times from exactly the same viewpoint at different times of the day and year to show the effect changing light has. Or maybe he just couldn’t get it right the first 29 times…
The Channel crossing was hitchless for our return and we arrived outside the King’s Head exactly on time after un Weekend Magnifique.
With thanks to our hosts in Juziers, headed by Philippe Ferrand, and to the organisers at our end, lead by Pat Duke and John Graham.