The Twinning Visit from Chassieu - June 2018

In the early 80s our small town in Warwickshire was twinned with a small town in the Rhône-Alpes and a friendship was struck that lives on, 36 years later. The proof: this year’s exchange with Chassieu in early June, when 28 French visitors were hosted here in Coleshill by members of our association.

A welcome was staged in the United Reform Church with Mayor Tony Battle expressing his pleasure that the two towns are so happily linked. He said he had glimpsed the itinerary for the visit and very interesting it looked. As we make our way homeward afterwards, we hope that the promising 5-day weather forecast will hold.

We make an early start on Thursday, a bilingual coach party heading for the Chase Distillery near Ledbury where we hope that the French, who hail from the heart of famous wine growing country, will find our brewing of vodka and gin interesting. The distillery is on Rosamaund Farm, an estate that provides all the main ingredients – potatoes, apples, herbs, buds and berries, spring water – necessary to fill Chase’s award-winning bottles. We are lucky to have with us, Danièle Bowkett, one of our members, to act as interpreter. Danièle has now lived longer here than in her native Paris.

As our guide leads us through the stages of distillation, we are frequently invited to taste the evolving brew. The nip of 5% ABV (Alcohol by Volume) that results from the first mash of potatoes or apples is hardly enticing. And after the liquid has been six times passed through one of tallest stills in the world and reached 96% ABV anyone brave enough to dip a finger in the sample the guide proffers, has a taste of firewater. But when an equal quantity of spring water has been added and the flavours of botanicals infused, the taste puts a smile on the face. The Chase visit concludes with more sampling in the cocktail bar and of course the opportunity to buy a bottle.

After a carvery lunch at The Green Dragon hotel in Hereford, the party has an hour to look around the cathedral with its chained library and Mappa Mundi, before the coach ride home. During the return trip there will be a half-hour of community singing – six French songs and six English. The French, it seems, are quite enthusiastic when it comes to impromptu singing. The English are more reluctant, saying it’ll bring rain. However, the music goes well but after a last chorus of Show Me the Way to Go Home our driver does have to switch on the windscreen wipers.

Friday takes us north, to Denby Pottery and a most entertaining explanation of how the crockery that graces our tables is made. Fortunately, our French visitors are not fazed when, by way of introduction, we are each encouraged to make a small model frog by pressing a lump of clay between the two halves of a mould. These frogs are put into plastic bags to be taken home and decorated when dry. Moving on, the skilful demonstrations of plate decorating and teapot making, draw applause when the article is completed. Applause that turns quickly to gasps of dismay as the artisan destroys the work with a swipe of a sponge or a thump of the fist!

After another convivial meal, today at the Denby Lodge Restaurant, we head homeward, calling in at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas. A cool breeze from the north greets us as we leave the bus and climb the steps of the Armed Forces Memorial, where between high white marble walls engraved with the names of thousands, rises a gold-capped obelisk. One of the French is heard to say that this is the most impressive sight of the whole visit.

Before our guests fly home to Chassieu there is a farewell party on Saturday night at the Town Hall. Before dinner, Aline Duret on behalf of Chassieu congratulates our Chairman, Malcolm Butler, on the imaginative itinerary of the last few days and invites us to France next year. Malcolm responds, saying that organising the outings and the hosting has been a fine team effort. He adds that one of his greatest pleasures is hearing the buzz of conversation whenever our two groups meet… and… by the way… today, Satuday 9th June, is World Gin Day.

A generous meal is followed by country dancing to shake it down. Kim Smith, our caller, has mugged-up his French and meets his challenge bravely (how do you say herding cats in French?). The floor is full and after each dance the applause almost lifts the roof off our dear old hall.

At 11.30 Auld Lang Syne brings this twinning visit to a happy conclusion. A l’année prochaine. See you next year, we say as we warmly embrace and shake hands all round.

If you would like to know more about the twinning please contact Anita Butler on 01675 470443 -and remember you don’t have to be able to speak French.

Brian Nicholson


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