First Impressions

Catrin’s Views

A combination of anticipation and mild trepidation came over us as we covered the last 20 km of our trip form Nantes to St Philbert de Grand Lieu at the end of May. How would we get on with our host family? Had we let ourselves in for a week-end of endless receptions and organised events? From the moment we rang the bell to be greeted by Sylvie, Gilles and family to our farewells on the Monday morning it struck us time and time again that any anxieties had been totally unfounded. Having been dormant members of the Radyr-St Philbert Twinning Fellowship for years, we decided that this year was going to be different, and since this coincided with a visit from Radyr to France we found ourselves part of the gregarious crowd descending on St Philbert over Whitsun. Our brief stay with our French hosts was a wonderful combination of relaxed socialising, discovering the delights of St Philbert, and a trip to the Vendée coast. A lively soirée on the Saturday evening provided the perfect opportunity to meet other members of the Fellowship – and also to get to know a number of Radyr residents! As a ‘new’ family to the twinning, hosted by a French family that was equally new to the whole experience, we feel that we all benefitted from the venture -socially, culturally, and in terms of French language skills. For over twenty years the Fellowship has created and maintained some wonderful friendships, and we were struck by the number of members who have been involved from its very beginnings. As with all other associations, future success can only be guaranteed through new membership and involvement. St Philbert, like Radyr, are keen to recruit new (dare we say ‘younger’?) families. Why not take the plunge and get involved in next year’s French visit to Radyr?

Beth amdani felly? Roedd cymdeithasu a mwynhau bywyd Ffrengig go iawn yng nghmwni ffrindiau newydd yn brofiad dymunol tu hwnt. Digon o gyfle i’r teulu i gyd werthfawrogi diwylliant gwahanol, a rhoi’r sgiliau Ffrangeg ‘na ar waith! Wrth i’r Gymdeithas baratoi i groesawu trigolion St Philbert i Radur y flwyddyn nesaf byddai’n braf iawn gallu sbarduno teuluoedd newydd i ddod yn rhan o’r hwyl.

Impressions of a “first timer” (anon)

Life is a mine-field, choca with pitfalls for even the most cautious, and of all people I am by nature the epitome of all that is cautious, but there comes a time after sufficient anno domini have been accumulated when confirmed habits of a lifetime have to be abandonned if pastures new are to be explored and metaphorical rubicons crossed and conquered. Thus it was that at New Year 2009 I threw natural caution to the wind and applied to join the Radyr Twinning Group to visit St Philbert de Grand Lieu with a view to consolidating my conscientious but rather sad efforts at learning the French language. Almost immediately after I joined the “Jumelage” severe doubts about the wisdom of my decision started to gnaw at me. Whatever was I thinking of ? I knew no one in the Group, knew nothing whatever of St Philbert or of the Normandy region of France, and had no idea what to expect or, more to the point, what would be expected of me. ! HELP ! Panic. How now to extract myself from this self-inflicted mire ? Perhaps, maybe, I could feign illness at the last moment and from the safety of the end of a telephone ? “Sorry but I’m sinking fast. A trip abroad is out of the question. Apologies all round. Just send me the bills and I’ll settle them forthwith …directly and in cash”. Heavens how could I have been so foolish ? Fools rush in et cetera. But I hadn’t taken into account the organisational abilities of the twinning committee and before I had made any decision as to what form of illness I might feign most convincingly, at what would have to be an unfortunately short notice, news arrived by email that travel arrangements had been made already and a meeting convened to discuss the itinerary for the trip ! Any opportunity there may ever have been for “chickening out” had passed and from that moment I was carried along by this happy band of Francophiles at a momentum I could not resist even if I had had the wish or will-power so to do. The two hosts who had so kindly offered me a place with their travel party turned out to be absolutely charming and infinitely kind, and our group was made complete by the addition of two other very jolly and smiling travel companions. Travel arrangements had been expertly and completely researched along with every detail of our itinerary so that my dread and horror turned almost instantly to calm, and all worry replaced by eager anticipation.

On the day appointed for our travel we drove “ensemble” to Portsmouth and from there took a Brittany Ferries night crossing direct to St Malo. Anyone familiar with a Brittany Ferries night crossing knows all too well the shock to the system of being disgorged unceremoniously from the bowels of the ferry at 5.30 a.m. but our hosts, at all times so considerate, planned to softened the blow by arranging that we take a leisurely breakfast in the warmth of the continental morning sunshine whilst sitting at an open café in the centre of the old town of St Malo. We were soon in holiday mood and encouraged in this by the arrival at our café of a cavalcade of motor cyclists on gleaming Harley Davidsons and Honda Goldwings of every colour, the riders adorned with glittering accessories and clad head to toe in fully coordinating leather gear. Fortified with a hearty breakfast we set off for a leisurely amble around the old town walls before reclaiming the car to motor onward to Rennes for a leisurely lunch. At this point each one of our party had fallen well and truly under a spell cast by the continental pace of life and we became reluctant to raise our limbs to continue the journey but our driver and his excellent consort navigator expertly cajoled the party into life and transported us swiftly and comfortably along the remainder of the route to St Philbert.

In splendidly appropriate time we approached the outskirts of the delightful village that is St Philbert de Grand Lieu. We drove in sunshine across the river bridge that leads into the centre of the town, the waters of the river sparkling below, and thence through streets decorated with bunting fluttering brightly in the late afternoon sunshine to the church square where other members of the twinning party were already gathered and flags of both nations dazzled the eye. Other cars arrived simultaneously and almost immediately it was time to set off for the formal meeting of the twinning parties at the Salle des Fetes a short distance away.

Any feelings of nervous anticipation which regenerated were instantly extinguished by the warmth so evident in the greetings between old friends from both sides of La Manche. A welcoming speech was made by Alain, and reciprocated by Maggie our own lovely chairperson, and seemingly within moments a voice above the buzz of the crowd declared that my own hosts had been found and were waiting to be introduced. Formal greetings (en Francais naturellement !) were swiftly replaced by the warmest welcome and within minutes I was being swept by car to the outskirts of the village where we turned into the sweeping driveway of their home. From that moment I was in a place of enchantment and being embraced to the heart of the family. Such extraordinary kindness I will never forget.

Much laughter and mutual interest accompanied dinner on the first evening on what was to be a voyage of discovery about ourselves, and the following day my hosts shared the confidence that they had themselves had huge misgivings about their decision to invite an unknown “Gallois” to stay at their home. I was able reciprocate with a tale of my own apprehensions and my plans at the last minute to pretend a malady of some kind in order to extricate myself from the arrangement. Our mutual conversion had been simultaneous and complete. Who would have guessed ?

During the short weekend that followed my hosts escorted me to see the local abbey, a Romanesque building being restored with enormous sympathy and tender care, and once the home of Welsh monks who had fled to Normandy as a result of Viking pillaging. Also to see the medicinal garden betwixt the river and abbey which is planted with the same species of herbs grown by the monks centuries ago. They drove me along the Cote Sauvage to share their personal haunts, and took me to visit their favourite restaurants. Out of a kaleidoscope of events perhaps the highlight of my weekend was a visit to a neighbour’s home for dinner where we were treated to a meal comprising entirely regional fare and splendid local wines, accompanied by my host on his accordion and with songs we sang together. I can vouch that the “Entente Cordiale” is alive and well and thriving, and in good hands !

The weekend was otherwise filled with interest including a visit to Nantes to an enthralling exhibition of fantasy creatures, hand-crafted on a huge scale, fully articulated and reminiscent (for those old enough to remember) of creatures from the film “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”, and later on the Saturday evening a formal dinner graciously provided at the Salle des Fetes at which events took place that are too hilarious (and possibly libelous !) to print.

For my part I can declare that throughout my time at St Philbert my French hosts displayed an immense generosity, and such genuine bonhomie that when the time came to part on Monday morning the air was charged with emotion comprising a heady mix of extraordinary and dreamlike happiness but also an all too real sadness. In such a short time the bonds between us had grown remarkably strong and I begged my hosts that we bid our adieus swiftly lest tears should flow. I will not confess how successful we were in our efforts.

So you see what extraordinary events take place when the temerity of youth is abandoned and replaced with the wild daring that comes (sometimes) with age !

(Anon)