jeudi 23 septembre 2010

O is for Oops!

Pour moi c’est du chinois — This is double Dutch to me

When we lived in Ealing, west London, we belonged to the Twin Town Association. Ealing is twinned with Marcq-en-Baroeul, a suburb of Lille in northern France. So, as long as the coach didn’t break down, it was a relatively easy journey.

Our first visit coincided with a grand occasion — the 20th anniversary of the towns becoming twins. The mayor and other dignatories came along to help with the celebrations.

When we arrived at the Town Hall in Marcq, there was a copious champagne reception with lots and lots of fizz. Then we were duly located and spirited away by our hosts. Our host was a delightful lady, Madame P, who spoke not a word of English. Never mind, we could speak French. At home, she plied us with food and wine. It was a very hot day and, to be honest, our minds drifted as she outlined the programme for the afternoon. We suddenly realized we hadn’t a clue what we were doing.

Discussing it afterwards, Gavin was convinced he had heard the French word for ‘hops’; I was sure I had heard ‘beer’. (That shows the difference in the standard of our French.) Easy. We were going to a beer festival — we were near Belgium, after all, and they brew some pretty good beer there. So we dressed accordingly.

Meeting Madame P downstairs, she looked at us, sighed ‘eh bien’ [oh dear], loaded us in her car and set off, playing her favourite game of ‘dodge the trams’ on the way. Having crossed Lille with our eyes shut, we found ourselves outside the prestigious music academy, where everyone was dressed, let’s say more formally. It turned out the Mayor of Ealing was being invested as an honorary hop-picker to commemorate the twinning anniversary.

We spent the afternoon on the balcony.

Luckily — and perhaps surprisingly — we haven’t had too many mishaps. I don’t really count the bag of rubbish we brought on holiday with us one year. Somehow Gavin got confused and put it in the car, rather than the bin. Anyone could make that mistake.

Another year, this time in a gite in the Dordogne, I somehow turned over in bed and dislocated my shoulder. Gavin had to rouse the unfortunate owners, who luckily for us, lived next door. They warned us that as we were in the country and it was gone midnight, it might be an hour before the doctor arrived. (We thought this pretty good.) He came within the hour, manipulated my shoulder back in place, muttered ‘I normally do this to rugby players’, charged us a ridiculously small amount of money and went on his way. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I couldn’t see that happening in the UK.

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