Our carers were sitting at a different table
In this blogposting…* AGM XXXI
* La vie en France
* Hildie’s One-Liners
Proceed at your own risk…
Sometimes, things go wrong. There’s no power on Earth that seems able to prevent this phenomenon; nether you nor anyone else can stop it. You may lock your keys inside the house or not remember the name of your closest friend or run over the cat. Things like this happen - they just do.
And they did last Thursday. Having carefully selected an exciting new venue for our 31st AGM - artistic, aesthetic, cultural, uplifting and amusing - we arrived to find it shut.
At least, the ‘business-end’ of it was. Although its craft- and card-shop was open, the Newcastle Art Centre had decided - entirely without consulting us - to close its cafe for ‘essential renovation’. You may be assured that I have written to the highest authority in the land about this and am expecting the appropriate reply at any time.
This did not, of course, help us as we stood shivering in the street so we decided, in typically assertive, truckshunter, style to adopt a hastily concocted Plan B - namely, to repair to the nearby Milecastle pub, there to drown our sorrow and disappointment in inexpensive but delicious coffee.
The four horsepeople of the apocalypse
‘We’, on this occasion, was Hildie, Vivienne (whose birthday it is on February 22), Neville, Ellie (who, incredibly, has just turned 69) and me.
I have to say that the last-minute change of venue did not succeed in dampening our spirits one iota - not one jot or tittle. For over two hours we were engaged in catch-up chat, anecdote and conversation which meandered through a worryingly large - and occasionally almost surreal - range of topics.
Ripe for a saucy caption, methinks...
As usual, the photos are courtesy of the wonderful Vivienne, who thinks that we should hold a future AGM at Gibside. And I agree; we should.
LA VIE EN FRANCE / LIFE IN FRANCE
L’AGE DE GLACE / ICE AGE
I’ve just come back from a few days in Beaujolais. While I was there, I took genuine delight in shivering theatrically and saying how much colder it was there than it was in England. After two years, the habitual French smugness about how cold and wet England is begins to grate a little, which is why I smiled broadly as I watched them not coping very well with frost as deep as snow and Siberian winds icy-cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey ( - a phrase which I attempted to translate without any success at all - Le vent Siberien est souvent froid pour gele les boules d’un sange de cuivres).
As a matter of fact, by that time the month-long freeze was getting beyond mere inconvenience in Beaujolais. It hadn’t got above zero for almost four weeks and Pépère told me how desperately worried the local wine-growers were. The usual limit for vine survival is about ten days of freezing weather, so this year’s vintage may well be a poor one.
If this happens, the local economy will suffer very badly indeed; most of the vignobles are co-operatives so everyone sinks in the same boat, which is enough to wipe the grin off any gloating Englishmen’s face.
I was grinning very widely indeed, though, as we made a winter trip west into the sparkling, ice-clear hills. I know I’ve mentioned the comfortable beauty of the local countryside several times before; I never tire of it. The low foothills, draped with vines and orchards, fold and heave and encourage the road to venture ever higher to the west and north - to the highest point in Beaujolais: Mont St Rigaud, a pyramid peak which, at more than 1,010 m (3,300ft), is slightly higher than England’s highest mountain.
Our attempt to reach the summit was ‘hampered’ - to say the least - by snow-drifts. At one point, our normally trusty Renault 407 threw all caution to the icy winds and performed a balletic skid 50ft down an ice- and snow-covered farm track and ended up facing in entirely the wrong direction. We took this as a hint and continued our descent. The peak will have to wait for finer, and less alarming, weather.
Beyond Mont St Rigaud - to the west - Beaujolais changes dramatically.
Beaujolais Vert from Mont St Rigaud - in better weather
This was my first trip through these remoter parts of the region and it was magical. Tiny villages that almost didn’t exist and with mellifluous names that rolled off the tongue like snowflakes. Pépère took pictures of some of them for me….
And closer to home there’s Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne (where we often visit the mediaeval market), Romanèche-Thorins (which has one of the finest wine museums in all of France) and - my all-time favourite - St Symphorien d’Ancelles, which has nothing but its name. St Symphorien d’Ancelles. Lovely.
The more observant - and perhaps better-read - amongst you may have noticed, amongst the jumble of names in the collage above, the name of Clochemerle. A couple of weeks ago, I accidentally discovered that the lovely hillside village of Vaux-en-Beaujolais was used as the setting for one of France's best-known and internationally most poplular comic stories.
Clochemerle was written in 1934 by Gabriel Chevallier and deals with the farcical consequences of the pompous mayor's plans to install a new urinal in the village square.
All I know about the story is its name - I can recall it's being a BBC tv serial many decades ago. Well, I've now visited the village that inspired it and I've bought the book itself (in English) so that I can immerse myself in one man's crazy view of Beaujolais village life.
If you've read it - or can recall the tv series - please get in touch.
Unimaginable cold notwithstanding, I felt compelled to make my annual pilgrimage to Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris on the way home in order to pay my respects to Saint-Saëns. So who am I to be sarky about French weirdness when there is something vaguely but unmistakably insane about an ageing Englishman listening to The Carnival of the Animals on his headphones in a deserted and freezing inner-city cemetery?
Things are improving in Beaujolais now, at last. I’ll be returning next week for a few days and - fingers crossed - I won’t need to take my fingerless mitts, my longjohns or my Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady hot-water bottle.
Hildie recently emailed these one-liners to me. Prepare yourselves…
A book just fell on my head.
I've only got my shelf to blame.
A man hit me with a pint of milk and a block of cheese.
I'm giving up my job as a deep-sea diver.
Too much pressure.
I found a load of plasticine on my driveway.
I don't know what to make of it.
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