After a two year hiatus, we were very happy on 5th November 2022 to be able to welcome our friends from Vannes on their twice-postponed twinning visit to the UK. We were especially happy to have three new families participate in the event – one French and two English. 5 French families came over, totalling 17 people. The weekend began on Friday evening with a Mexican meal at Bill and Sophie Cutter’s house, with over 40 attendees. We had a slide show running on the TV of photos from previous twinnings dating back 15 years (Fiona McCrae and Chris Gorham kindly provided photos to supplement Bill’s collection), which provided a talking point throughout the evening. The children naturally peeled off and amused themselves and one of the children from the new French family, Henri, aged 9, proved to be a natural entertainer, and kept all the other children in stitches all weekend long. The adults had a lot to catch up on and the atmosphere was one of high spirits and conviviality. The meal was a joint effort; all the English hosting families provided a dish and drinks. During the evening, Bill Cutter gave a small presentation, reflecting on past twinnings and noting that this was the 31st year of the medical twinning which has continuously been held since, apart from the two COVID years. He outlined the programme for the weekend. Then, given that the following night’s events would involve a fireworks display, he gave a potted history of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. This had been written by his daughter, Eliza, and translated by Bill with the help of a native French local Frenchwoman, Helene Wyatt. You can find it on the FVTA website here. The Friday night gathering worked well, and especially meant that the children got to know one another before the Saturday activities, so there was no awkwardness to overcome on the day.
Saturday began with a visit to Milestones Museum in Basingstoke. This had been chosen as it is an indoor venue, and as it turned out this was fortuitous, as it was pouring all afternoon. We were fortunate to be joined by Nigel Sharpe, Secretary for the FVTA, and Sue Gorham. Sue was representing Chris Gorham, who much to everyone’s disappointment was unable to attend due to ill health – everyone wished Chris well and wanted him to know how much he was missed. We were also joined by a new family of three – the Carrolls – who were attending for the first time. Everyone was able to get something out of the museum visit – the adults were able to learn a lot about the recent history of Hampshire. The children were able to visit the old-fashioned sweet shop with the “ration cards” that entitle them to a portion of sweets which they loved. They then spent a long time playing on the penny slot machines in the “Milestones Pier” themed corridor. The visit was rounded off with an afternoon tea in the “Vintage Tea Tent”. There was an enormous amount of excellent cakes and sandwiches provided and a lot of debate went on about the relative merits of the Devon vs Cornwall method of scone preparation.
All then trooped off to Winchester for the evening’s events. Firstly we all met in the Wykeham Arms, which turned out to be a poor choice as they don’t allow under 18s in the pub! We were also running late due to the challenge of parking in Winchester on Bonfire Night. We welcomed a member of the FVTA who had kindly decided to join us for this part of the evening – Ian Corran – who turned out to have acquaintances and a profession (dentistry) in common with one of the existing members. Nonetheless we managed to all meet up successfully and head to the Torchlight Parade. This proved an eye-opener. It was impossible to stay together as it was so incredibly busy (someone said that there were 23,000 people there), so we were pulled into several groups. Many people bought torches (effectively giant candles on a stick) and we were all a little nervous of the presence of so many naked flames around. Happily no accidents occurred and we all arrived at the North Walls venue for the Bonfire and Fireworks. The sight of the High Street filled with torches was spectacular. The bonfire was lit by the mayor of Winchester and the heat coming from it was incredible. This was followed by a spectacular fireworks display, and many people commented that they had never seen such a long display. We walked back to Winchester, where, before we had dinner, unfortunately one of the French Jumelles was hit by a car outside the Guildhall. Thankfully she wasn’t seriously injured and was able to carry on with the evening, however understandably she was shaken up. We had dinner at Inn the Park which was excellent. The restaurant manager was also French and she had lived for 10 years in Vannes in the past! So she had some interesting chats with our visitors. We all had a fantastic evening, not least the children, who had a long table to themselves and amused themselves by painting moustaches and beards on each other with mascara! We all parted exhausted but very happy at a brilliant weekend together, with a firm commitment to next year’s trip to Vannes.
On 6th November, the usual Sunday morning activity of a medical talk did not go ahead – the French participants mostly left on an early ferry. The closure of FlyBe since the last visit means that there are far fewer options for travel and so they had to fit in with Brittany Ferries’ timetable. One person tried to get a flight from Nantes to Southampton and was told it would take 20 hours!
We would all like to thank the FVTA very much for their generous support to this year’s twinning – I genuinely don’t think it could have gone ahead without your support.