It was a great weekend of celebrations for Wetherby people but what did our French visitors make of all the Diamond Jubilee events? That was the question I posed to Cindy Bentley on her last day in office as Town Mayor and a week after visitors from ouir twin town of Privas had gone home.
“Unforgettable”, the Mayor of Privas had said in an official letter of thanks - and they certainly seemed to have enjoyed all the events of a weekend of celebrations so different to the French style.
Privas is a town with a similar size population to Wetherby but is very different to Wetherby. In comparison to Wetherby, Privas has a very large budget - not surprising since it is a departmental capital with responsibility for roads, education and all the other things which in Wetherby are under the control of Leeds City council.
The Mayor of Privas is Yves Chaston who has been in post for six years and is also a senator in the French parliament. He has huge responsibilities.
He’d particularly wanted to come to Wetherby this year since it was the twentieth year of twinning. The French party would normally have come later in the year but had been invited to come earlier to enjoy the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations with us and most of them were staying with local families and attended all the events and really entered into the spirit of them.
The mayor had been delighted to be presented with a white rose to wear in his buttonhole - although I suspect that Cindy, even though she is a fluent French speaker, might have had some difficulty in explaining the historical significance of it to him.
He and several others attended the beer festival and I’m told became quite addicted to Black Sheep beer. The beer festival was itself an unusual experience for the French contingent - they have wine festivals in France but not beer festivals. They even developed a taste for fish and chips - a shame they couldn’t have been served wrapped in an old newspaper as they used to be served in the local ‘chippy’ in bygone days!
The ‘Last Night of the Proms’ was especially memorable. They’d never experienced anything like that in France and by the end of the programme were waving Union Jacks as enthusiastically as any of the locals.
On the Saturday they’d visited the various exhibitions held in the Jubilee Gardens and had found the exhibition put on by the Young Offenders Institute to be of great interest. There is a small prison in Privas for local offenders to be near their families and the current tendency to close such prisons in favour of larger national ones is proving controversial in France and residents of Privas are campaigning to keep their local prison. It was whilst Cindy was telling me of this that she also mentioned that on a previous twinning visit to Privas they’d seen a rope dangling from a window with a prisoner shinning down it in an attempt to escape. I don’t think that story has been reported in the Wetherby News before although one would have thought that Wetherby citizens alerting their French hosts to the potential escape would have been worthy of including as a news item!
I learned of the John McGill challenge trophy arranged for future twinning visits and donated in memory of one of the members of the Wetherby Twinning committee who died in January. There will be a darts match when the Wetherby contingent visits Privas in two years’ time - and the French are already practicing for it. That gives the Wetherby members four years to practice their boules skills until the next visit of the Privas twinning group. The winning town keeps the trophy until the return match two years later.
It certainly sounds as though the twinning arrangements have helped cement relationships between our twin towns.
I asked Cindy about her plans for the future after retiring as Town Mayor and after the closure of Goggies, the shop she owned for the last twelve years. “Well”, she said, “I’d like to build on the experience and contacts gained through the Jubilee and restart the tourism group, perhaps under the name of Welcome to Wetherby”. I’d thought it wouldn’t be long before she found some activity to benefit her beloved Wetherby.
It isn’t often that I have visitors coming to stay with me, so when my eldest daughter and family arrived for the Jubilee weekend, I hadn’t quite finished the mammoth clearing up operation needed to make the house childproof. I’d done most of the work but hadn’t quite realised that with them now being a bit older they’d have learned a few more tricks. On the last visit they’d been restrained by strategically placed stairgates – but that was six months ago. This time, it wasn’t long before the two-year-old twins had succeeded in opening a cupboard and turning the electric power off. That was easily rectified – or I thought it was but had forgotten that it would reset the alarm which therefore failed to wake me the next morning.
After days of mischief the twins were beginning to become tired and fractious but would sleep on the long journey home. Before they left we put the TV on to keep them amused for a few minutes. It was a children’s TV programme with lots of cartoons. It soon had me dozing and I awoke to hear one of cartoon character say to another “It’s very nice to have visitors but it’s even nicer when they go”.
Then Australian relatives arrived for a few days. They’d been doing some woofing up in Scotland – or that’s what I thought they’d said. It’s nothing to do with barking a WWOOFer translates from Australian into ‘Willing Workers on Organic Farms’. Their last job had been to build a dunny (hut) on a croft in the far North of Scotland.