PAST EVENTS 2010
Sunday 19 December 2010 - The Cosener's House
The Society’s Christmas Lunch was held at The Cosener's House on Sunday 19th December. It was fully booked, with sixty members braving the snowy weather to attend. An innovation was a free draw afterwards to conclude a well organised and enjoyable highlight of the year.
This is the first time I have taken part in such an occasion, having joined the ADTTS only in September 2010. I was so impressed by the welcome, the friendship, the chat beforehand, with the non alcoholic drink, and the jollity of the day. The table decorations and the meal were excellent, the staff who attended us so caring and helpful. It seemed nothing was too much trouble, especially as we all arrived clad in wellies or walking boots and thick coats to guard against the extreme cold and the deep snow. Cosenor's House is a lovely setting and the trees outside the window looked beautiful, hanging with snow in the winter sunshine. Thank you to all those who organised the Lunch and to those who work throughout the year to keep such an active programme of events going.
Twin Towns Conference - Sint-Niklaas
10 - 13 December 2010
This year Sint-Niklaas in Belgium hosted the annual twin towns conference. This is an opportunity for the twinning societies to strengthen personal contacts with the local organisers in each of our partners and to share plans for the coming year. In addition, official (Mayoral) delegations from all of the twin towns were invited, the focus being a conference on Child Poverty in which each town gave a presentation.
ADTTS was represented by committee members Ian Jardine, Michael Matthews and Brian Read. The town council sent our deputy mayor, Alastair Fear, and councillor Angela Lawrence, who addressed the conference with a well received paper (PDF) on Access to Culture and Leisure - Helping Children to Realise their Potential. This presentation had been prepared by Abingdon's twinning officer, Marianne Milburn, who unfortunately at the last minute had been unable to travel due to illness.
The conference was opened with a keynote speaker, Gaëlle Buysschaert, from UNICEF Belgium presenting a research project ("What Do You Think?") into child social exclusion. This was thought provoking with universal conclusions on addressing the issue, especially by offering kids unstructured participation within their environment. A video featured individual young people who experienced poverty talking about their lives.
From the other twin towns, we listened to a discourse from Lucca on nutrition for the health of children, gamely read in English by Barbara Molinari. The author was Donatella Buonriposi, who also presented a video Cibo e Dintorni that documented a healthy eating event at the Villa Bottini for school children in Lucca. After lunch, the Colmar delegation, led by deputy mayor Delphine Mann, addressed the protection of children in society and the rights of the child, including health policies in their Départment for the under sixes. Schongau concentrated on its own housing problems for poor families. Evelyn Schmidbauer described the town's promotion of affordable social housing. To end a thought provoking day, we heard from Sint-Niklaas (Helga Collyn) about its "coloured poverty", that to say the impact of poverty among immigrants and ethnic minorities, and about the town's welfare initiatives, including a social integration programme.
The day concluded by visits to a large government supported Red Cross refugee centre and to VLOS, a neighbouring charity that helps rejected asylum seekers and undocumented persons. The latter visit was recorded by Belgian regional television. The broadcast also included interviews with a representative of each participating twin town.
Churches visit to Schongau
2 - 6 December 2010 - cancelled
After a successful visit by an ecumenical group from Schongau, those involved returned to Germany and set up a group similar to the Church in Abingdon (CiA). This newly formed group invited eleven members of the CiA Twinning Group to visit in December at the time of the Christmas markets. Unfortunately, heavy snow closed Gatwick Airport and the party was unable to travel. It is hoped to rearrange the trip for next year.
Evening Meeting: Alsace and the Christmas Tree
Wednesday 17 November 2010 - Preston Road Community Centre
We are all familiar with the elaborately decorated Christmas tree, but where did it all start? Is it Scandinavia, Germany, or could it have been in Alsace, the region of our twin town, Colmar? At the Society's November regular monthly gathering, Angela Waterhouse told the fascinating story of how, in Alsace, trees have been decorated since the 16th century, originally with apples and communion wafers, evolving into glass baubles and sweetmeats. We also learnt of other traditional Advent & Christmas customs from this region.
Festive refreshments included vin chaud (mulled wine), cheeses characteristic of Alsace and Christmas biscuits.
Argentan Churches Visit for Remembrance Weekend
11 - 14 November 2010
Evening Meeting: LITERARY ABINGDON in conjunction with Mostly Books
Wednesday 20 October 2010 - Preston Road Community Centre
We held this evening in conjunction with members of the local "Mostly Book Lovers". The meeting was introduced by Mark Thornton of the Stert Street bookshop Mostly Books. Passionate about books and bookselling, he emphasised just how many authors and publishers are living and working in and around Abingdon, before introducing our guest speaker, local GP Dr Prit Buttar. In a fascinating, illustrated talk, Dr Buttar took us on a literary journey, starting with the day he had a chance conversation with one of his elderly patients. She started to tell him about her life as a nurse in East Prussia near the end of the Second World War and her escape from the advancing Russian Army. This developed into extensive research into the harrowing events in the east during the last year of the war, documented in his just published, well reviewed, book, Battleground Prussia. Afterwards, many listeners queued to buy a copy, which the author was pleased to sign.
In tune with the local theme, members enjoyed sampling a selection of bread, cheese and sausage together with wine, beer and apple juice, all from local farm shops and markets.
Evening Meeting - AGM
Wednesday 22 September 2010 - Preston Road Community Centre
The AGM was followed by four short talks on the recent visit to Lucca: Ian Jardine presented the town's historic buildings, Harry Simpson recounted his own encounter with Napolean's hair, Howard Carter enthused over taking part in the Luminara procession, while Michael Matthews concluded by describing Lucca's ancient aqueduct.
The refreshments served had a Tuscan theme - frittata and bruschetta with Chianti and Vin Santo dessert wine.
Visit to Lucca Luminara
9 - 14 September 2010
The Luminara on 13th September each year is our twin town of Lucca's big annual religious festival with the streets lit by thousands of candles for the procession. This year ADTTS arranged a group visit of over forty members. Besides taking part in the procession, the programme included a visit to the Villa Torrigiani, Pisa, the seaside, wine tasting, a wonderful concert, a day trip to the Island of Elba and a dinner with the Friends of Lucca.
Our wonderful trip to Lucca
Well the majority of the group started their holiday on the coach from Winterbourne Road. From Luton we had a very good EasyJet flight to Pisa where we were met by wonderful Maria who then took us all under her wings! In the evening dinner had been arranged with the Friends of Lucca at the restaurant Orti di Elisa. The whole group were there - caravaners, youth hostellers and Stan with bike! A great meal - the food and the wine just kept coming!
Friday - A wonderful tour of one of the lovely Lucchesi Villas and then Maria had arranged for us to have what one calls a very liquid lunch = perhaps a tasting of 5 or 6 different wines with many lovely Italian “nibbles” in between to keep everyone standing straight! Thank goodness for Stan who agreed to take many bottles home after the tasting! The Balsamic Vinegar and the wonderful dried tomatoes were “perfecto” also!
Lunch was followed by a quick dash back to Lucca for our Official Welcome by the Deputy Mayor and an exchange of gifts between the twin towns! We were very honoured to be welcomed in their room of mirrors. The Deputy Mayor welcomed us. And there was an exchange of gifts between the Mayor and Stella on behalf of the Twin Towns. The welcome was followed by an really excellent tour of Lucca by Wanda Martinelli. It was interesting to learn the history of the “cross” and how it is supposed to have been sailed from the Holy Land to Italy in a nutshell - which could have been a coracle - which looks like a nutshell!
Saturday morning an early start for a great outing to Elba. Everyone was at the coach on time complete with a packed breakfast! This morning as well as Maria we had little Cristiana Pelletti with us who is also learning to be an Official Guide. So with Maria and Cristiana to watch over us there was no chance of any of us getting lost. The trip over to the Island on the Ferry was lovely and what a beautiful island! We visited the house where Napoleon stayed while he was helping to govern the Island. He obviously had a lot of time to work out his future campaigns while he was there - he must have spent many happy hours looking at the beautiful view from his bath tub!
Maria had arranged another wonderful lunch for us today - more wine tasting and what a view when you finally found the toilets! A wonderful English waitress waited on us and was able to give us all the news of the Island. A really great choice Maria!
In the afternoon our very accommodating coach driver took us on a small tour of the Island and on the way back we acted as good Samaritans and picked up a group of Swiss Travellers whose coach had broken down and without us they might have missed the Ferry!
Sunday = a Free Day. Some of us took a most interesting ride on the bus to Viareggio where some of our most intrepid ladies went swimming, just soaking up the ambiance of the Italian “seaside”. In the evening we were fortunate to hear a recital from the wonderful Silvana Froli with her husband Marco Tomei on the piano.
Monday our last day. Cristiana had arranged a wonderful tour around Pietrasanta her own village of which she is very proud and justly so. She had arranged visits to a Church now turned into a museum with some very modernistic paintings by a well known Columbian Painter whose name I have forgotten. We had a private tour round a museum of sculptures and finished up with a coach ride to Forte dei Marmi to her family’s restaurant where her mother had laid on an absolutely top class lunch for us - Mrs. Pelletti was so proud of her daughter - and it was a pleasure for us all to meet the family. The afternoon was finished off by a walk down to the sea and another exhibition of swimming by our bathing beauties - Norma and Elizabeth.
The holiday was topped off by the Luminara Processsion in the evening. The whole of Lucca was just lit by the little candles all around the shops and main buildings - a real fairyland. The rain came down as the procession started but the procession went on and the ADTTS delegation was ably cheered on by the intrepid people who braved the rain. It certainly rained for the WHOLE EVENING! Well done to Stella and her delegation for taking on the Lucca weather! However at the end of the evening the moon was out, it was dry and we all watched the fireworks from our vantage points on the Wall! A great end to a superb holiday.
A big thank you must go to the Friends of Lucca, Maria, Cristiana and Stella for a Super Trip.
An "American Party"
Friday 30 July 2010 - 37 Ock Street, Abingdon
Norma Steer very kindly offered to host a party for the visitors in the company of all those who went on the trip to Abingdon, Virginia. The party took place in Norma’s garden where around forty guests enjoyed an excellent buffet. After, everyone packed into Norma's hair salon for a lively musical evening - dancing continued to midnight!
Visit from Argentan Scouts
13 - 24 July 2010
Abingdon and Argentan scouts (17 Explorers, 3 Leaders and a Priest) held a very successful joint camp at Youlbury.
From Tuesday 13th July – Saturday 24th July 2010, a group of friendly, loud and alive French Explorers from Argentan, in Normandy, let us join in their Scout-like activities in England. The trip was eye opening, as the French Explorers - although under the same name and with similar activities – did things slightly differently from our self conscious English Scouts. We learned more about their culture – such as their friendliness, their willingness to sing duets and rounds whilst walking, with little embarrassment; their seemingly dangerous yet masterly games; and the true sense of laughter, fun, and their willingness to join in, which they brought.
Surprisingly, the French were a lot like the English in their conversation topics, although they were perhaps more comfortable with each other than some of our English explorers. They taught us several games, including a dancing one about a donkey, which Mike Suggate subsequently taught to his Centurion, London Explorers on a Cornwall camp - with great success; and a neck-breakingly terrifying gymnastics act of jumping over a scrum of Explorers, and landing with your head just off the ground, arms latched around someone’s legs!
The French gave us a real insight into their more relaxed way of life: their social freedom, and sense of community. Their Scouting activities such as expeditions lasting for a fortnight. They’d even eat mussels from the sea and cook them!
My pen friend was called Anaïs, and when she first wrote to me via email, I was amazed at how colourful, bright and friendly the email was! She is a wonderful pen friend and I would very much love to keep in touch with her – (which reminds me that I’d better write her an email…) she was a really smiley, friendly and talented individual. The French boys seemed lovely as well, being practical and likable, one is actually related to William the Conqueror!
The French did not seem to worry about looks as much as the English (though of course they looked lovely,) and seemed to enjoy the person’s personality as well. The language thing was a little tricky, but generally, we managed to communicate well, even if the person spoke hardly any English.
I think that it was a shame that there were not more English Explorers and a testimony to the French spirit that it went so well with so few English. However, I feel sure that if we could go on a trip to France, that more would go, and the general impression I have (though I cannot speak for others,) is that the English teenagers taking part were greatly in favour of a future trip to France! It would be a great experience for us. I know that many Explorers have had experiences of going abroad and experiencing other cultures, and it would be great to add to that and experience the culture of other Explorers, as well as bonding better, meeting others, improving or learning French and gaining badges!
Sunday 18 July 2010
Following her fascinating talk at the March meeting, Sheila Hills took a small party of ADTTS members on a private tour of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which was most interesting and much appreciated.
Abingdon Language Course
11 - 18 July 2010
Report of the language course week in Abingdon
My name is Christel Van Marcke and from the 11th of July until the 18th of July 2010 I went to Abingdon to take a language course, with 4 others of Sint-Niklaas (Mia, Christine, Ivonne and Patric).
On Sunday the 11th of July we all left Sint-Niklaas at 07.35 to take the train to Brussels.
From there we took the Eurostar. After we arrived in London St Pancras we had to take the bus to Victoria Station where we had to take the bus to Oxford.
In Oxford we took the bus to Abingdon and at 15.00 we arrived at the Parish Centre.
Peter and Anne were already there to welcome us with tea and cake.
Already a warm welcome!
In the evening we had dinner with them, so we had the chance to learn to know each other a little bit better.
In the evening we took a walk along the Thames and we visited the Pub.
On Monday we had our first language course and we met all the teachers.
On Monday we visited the town of Abingdon: we saw a lot of interesting historical buildings.
In the evening we went to listen to a choir of Colmar.
I was mostly amazed by the Chapel of the College.
I never saw something so beautiful.
This week in Abingdon was a very short week. Before we realized it, it was Sunday so that meant that we had to leave to go to Sint-Niklaas again.
I’m going to remember a lot of things from my visit to Abingdon:
I would like to thank all the ADTTS members and my host family and I hope to see you all again in the near future!
Christel Van Marcke
Visit from Colmar Choir
Monday 12 July 2010
On July 12th, Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Andre de Colmar, a fine choir of boys and young men from the church school of St Andre in Colmar, came to Oxford as part of their annual summer concert tour. They had been interested in performing in Abingdon, but as their proposed date coincided with the final of the football World Cup, we persuaded them that there was unlikely to be much of an audience, and that we would support their Oxford concert instead!
The concert (see poster) also coincided with our Twin Towns’ Language week, so we were able to take our twinning visitors to hear them in the splendid setting of New College Chapel, and entering the college from Holywell St and seeing the town walls was an added treat for us all. The singers and our three Language Week visitors from Colmar doubtless found it a bit bizarre to be coming across each other in Oxford!
The choir performed – beautifully - a varied programme of sacred music by Durufle, Mendelssohn, Faure and Mozart, both a capella and with organ accompaniment. A guest female soloist, Nathalie Schneider, joined them for part of the programme. This was followed in the second half of the concert by African music and American spirituals, with lively clapping and swaying. Some of us found the unwritten, unspoken rule of no applause in the chapel somewhat constraining – how can you NOT respond to joyous African chants and Gospel music hallelujahs? – and the choir must have wondered what they had to do to make us more appreciative! But others found contemplative silence the right response in the awe-inspiring surroundings of a candle-lit university church.
Les Petits Chanteurs came to us from Ealing Abbey and Sittingbourne, where they gave concerts, by way of Stonehenge and the White Horse, and then went north to Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales and over to Conwy to complete their 2010 British tour.
Concert by Sint-Niklaas Choir
Sunday 4 July 2010 - St Helen's Church, Abingdon
We were delighted to welcome GYNAIKA Girls Choir back to Abingdon on Sunday 4th July when they gave us a delightful concert to a very appreciative audience in St. Helen's Church. Under their conductor Gotfried Van de Vyvere we were treated to wide range of songs - English, Flemish and worldwide - all of which made a great showcase for their versatility. Longer standing members of the Society will remember the last time Gotfried brought over his choir - then known as De Wase Lijsters or The Wassland Larks - in 2003 when they stayed with us for several days and made a great impression, and even further back when the choir was led by Veerle Spiloes during the 1990s. Although the members of the choir are regularly changing the high standard demanded by their conductor maintains them at prize winning standards and we much look forward to another visit in years to come.
The following article appeared in the October 2010 issue of the Window, the monthly newsletter of St Helen's church:
‘A cup of tea and a delicious piece of cake does make you feel like you are in heaven!’
On Sunday, 4 July 2010, the Gynaika girls’ choir, from our twin city of Sint-Niklaas, visited Abingdon and sang a concert in St Helen’s Church. Gynaika is a choir for secondary-school girls, ages 12 to 18. Founded more than forty years ago by Sister Mary Rita, who died only recently, its current conductor is Godfried Van de Vyvere. The choir has received many prizes in national and international competitions and choir festivals, appeared on television, premiered new choral works, and made several recordings on CD and DVD. They have toured all over Europe, and came this past summer to England. The Window asked one of choir’s organisers, Mrs Manu Cardon, and also the girls in the choir, to tell us how they found their trip.
Mrs Cardon writes:
Last April, around Easter, my husband and I visited Oxford to prepare the yearly trip abroad for Gynaika, a girls’ choir from Sint-Niklaas. As Sint-Niklaas is twinned with Abingdon, it seemed a good idea to seek some help to organise a concert there. Everything went very smoothly; the response was overwhelming, with e-mails going back and forth constantly! We agreed on July 4th as the date for the concert. The day arrived of our visit. I had put together an activity sheet with photos and some questions on Abingdon’s history and most important buildings for the girls to do. We were received at St Helen’s Church as real VIPs, which stimulated the girls to perform at their best. The ‘tea and cake’ afterwards were much appreciated! The near-professional accompaniment on the piano by Arne Muus, an Oxford DPhil student, surely added a lot to the quality of this concert.
And from the girls:
I thought our visit to Abingdon was one of the most interesting visits of this year’s trip. The city is very old and fascinating which I liked very much. But the concert was amazing; it was really really nice to see a lot of people who were enthusiastic and pleased with our concert. But at the end, we got tea and cake, something we are not used to in Belgium. I especially liked the chocolate cake, it was really good! - Caroline (16)
I have good memories of our day in Abingdon. In the morning we had a quiz with pictures to get an idea of the culture, nature and the way of life in the picturesque town. The people were very kind. I do even remember a lady who invited our little group to enter her house. In the afternoon we sang a good concert. The audience was very enthusiastic. Finally I really enjoyed the tea and cake. Talking to the local people was a nice experience. I hope they loved our concert like we loved our day in Abingdon. - Heleen (17)
All my memories of our trip to England are really fun and pleasant ones, but I consider our journey and concert in Abingdon as first-class! While we were doing an expedition in Abingdon to get to know the city and we got lost or didn’t know an answer, the locals were always ready to answer all of our questions. Then, the big moment had come, the second concert in a row… The atmosphere was not at all severe, everyone was enthusiastic! And of course I will never forget the afternoon tea and cake, I have never experienced something like that before. A nice talk with the locals with a cup of tea and a delicious piece of cake does make you feel like you are in heaven! - Isabelle (17)
Abingdon is a super-cool and nice city. Hospitality is great and all the people are very friendly. Also the concert was very good and one that I will never forget. The atmosphere was fantastic. - Tessaï (13)
Pavlova Visit to Colmar
18 - 20 June 2010
With the Pavlova Wind Quintet at Alsace festival, 18 - 21 June 2010
Recently nine of us from Abingdon, who had previously hosted members of the De Si De La choir from Wintzenheim, spent a few days as guests of members of the choir in and around their home town. We were invited alongside the Pavlova Wind Quintet, who had partnered the choir at an Abingdon concert, and were performing at the local solstice festival. Our host Marc Lischer had arranged a programme for us while the musicians were rehearsing.
Wintzenheim, one of the myriad of –heims in this area, with its population of about 8000, is almost a suburb of Colmar, population about 80,000. But as the choir is of a high standard and attracts singers from further a field than Wintzenheim, we had different experiences according to where we were accommodated – the Greaneys got to know Rouffach way south of Colmar, the Brydens stayed in a village in the Munster valley where Albert Schweitzer lived and worked, and had the opportunity to listen to their host playing Schweitzer’s organ. But all of us had a very wine-filled weekend. An experience common to many of us was a tour of our hosts’ cellar area, rather greater than the floor area of our own houses back home, with special temperature-controlled rooms containing several hundred bottles of wine!
On Friday the centre of Wintzenheim was decorated with model trains, cars and cuddly toys, as the theme of the festival this year was Les Jouets. After lunch we went to Lapoutroie, NW of Colmar, (not a –heim because it’s in the French speaking district of le Pays Welche) to the private Eaux de Vie museum, which is devoted to wine and spirits. We had an interesting tour and heard all about absinthe, a bitter green drink, allegedly responsible for much of the artistic brilliance in late 19th century France. Since those who got drunk on it could become extremely violent it has been banned in France since 1915, though we were told that the same drink can be sold in the EU provided it is given a different name!
After a visit to the Lac Noir, which together with the Lac Blanc, form a pumped water storage scheme (a bit like a giant battery) we returned to Lapoutroie village hall where the Pavlova Quintet gave their first concert, with buffet supper beforehand and vin d’honneur & kougelhof cake afterwards!
On Saturday the weather had turned unseasonably cold and wet – temperatures in Colmar in June are usually in the 30s. We were taken to Colmar, where Marc Lischer showed us round the Unterlinden art museum. He explained the significance of the symbolism in some medieval paintings and we saw the famous 15th century Issenheim altarpiece triptych. Afterwards we walked to the bandstand in the Place Rapp for the proposed open-air Pavlova concert, but as the bandstand itself was swept by rain and there were no spectators, the concert was abandoned and we headed for the nearest café to warm up. After our tarte flambé lunch, the weather had improved and we returned to Wintzenheim for the festival programme of music and singing, an art exhibition, marquetry, and theatre of the absurd. This latter consisted of four visual/musical sketches by Roland Dubillard and a piece by Ionesco. The latter involved a lot of word play which we found very difficult to follow.
Meanwhile the Waterhouses, who knew Colmar well, were keeping in touch with the Colmar Twinning Association by joining them for their summer outing across the Rhine – a train journey from Breisach and a wet walk in the Black Forest to lake Titisee. Regenschirm de rigueur!
Sunday - mass in the local church, St Laurent, where some of our hosts sang in the choir. Spiritually refreshed we made for Krick’s winery in the village itself for a tour, tasting (degustation) and lunch, where the 16 year old son of the family made a good attempt in English at introducing us to 6 of the 8 grape varieties grown in Alsace. After a necessary period of rest and recuperation we walked down to hear the Pavlova Quintet and the Wintzenheim choir performing in the modern church St Odile. The concert was excellent, with pieces mainly linked to the theme of toys, and included one piece where choir and quintet performed together. The performers deservedly got a standing ovation. (See reports from the local papers.) Then a reception in yet another of Wintzenheim’s many community halls.
Monday: time for some individual sightseeing or visiting of friends before making our various ways home after another memorable twinning experience.
Neil Hancox et al
Blewbury Manor Open Day Teas
Sunday 13 June 2010 - Blewbury Manor Garden
The Blewbury Manor had another garden open day as part of the National Gardens Scheme and we were again asked to do the Teas and Cakes. Ably organised by Stella and Nikki with plenty of willing helpers, this was not only a very pleasant afternoon but a useful opportunity to raise some funds for the Society.
Visit from Sint-Niklaas Women
8 - 12 June 2010
About 20 women from the Sint-Niklaas Women's Centre came to meet the Kingston Bagpuize with Southmoor Women's Institute.
On the Wednesday of their visit, after a reception by the Mayor in the museum, ADTTS members took them on a guided tour of Abingdon and also in Oxford the following day.
School Visit from Argentan
5 - 12 June 2010
Twenty-two students and two teachers from Jeanne d'Arc school in Argentan came for a visit. ADTTS assisted with a guided tour of Abingdon on the Monday morning and a tour of Oxford on the Wednesday.
Schongau Twinning Weekend
2 - 6 June 2010
Schongau held a twinning weekend (with a theme of Customs in Schongau) from 2nd until 6th June (Wednesday until Sunday). Frank Allen went from Abingdon, joining guests from Schongau's other twin towns of Colmar, Lucca, Sint-Niklaas and Gogolin in Poland. They enjoyed a full social programme - see Frank's report.
Church Choirs Visit to Argentan
28 - 31 May 2010
A group of twenty-five from several Abingdon church choirs enjoyed a most hospitable long weekend in Argentan, our twin town in Normandy:
Singing in Argentan
We hadn’t even got as far as Folkestone when the panic set in. I hated coach travel, and here I was, with at least another four hours to go. I knew hardly anyone – the few hurried rehearsals had been held in St Helen’s very linear choir stalls, restricting communications to a few polite “hellos” and anxious mutterings between me & the other two non-conformists next to me, none of us “au fait” with the musical pieces like the Anglican regulars. Would we manage the performances? Would we get on with the hosts? Was my French up to this? – the whole trip seemed like madness.
Arriving in Argentan, I found I’d been paired off with Anne, who had been the first person to speak to me in the evening rehearsals. Our fears were immediately dispelled by the warm smile and firm handshakes of our host, Joel. We were whisked off to his lovely farmhouse in a nearby village, where we met his wife, Maria. Maria spoke no English at all, but as she proudly showed us her garden, we quickly realised that you don’t always need words to communicate. Joel’s English was quite good, but his patience was even better. Asked to summarise the level of my French, I’d said I could carry out a reasonable conversation with someone who could speak slowly & listen carefully, and that’s just what Joel did, all weekend. I think Anne would be the first to admit that my French was better than hers, and I quickly found myself taking on the role of interpreter. Anne’s speciality was to start a very complicated idea off in French & quickly resort to English, with the odd French word popped in. Joel would look at me, I’d try to put it into simple French, then dash upstairs for “Le Dictionnaire”. Each evening was spent in deep conversation over Joel’s precious Calvados, put to bottle to celebrate the end of WW2. Having to talk slowly made it all the more relaxing, and thinking and selecting phrases meant every word was important. By the end of the weekend, we’d discussed Afghanistan, the recession, Ecumenism, binge-drinking, the lot – I felt amazed & very proud!
Oh yes – the singing! We had been told that we were giving two performances – one in an old peoples’ home and the other in the main church, as well as singing in the morning service. Even as we arrived in Argentan, we were aware that we had never sung some pieces all the way through – so confidence levels were pretty low. This wasn’t helped when we found that we were actually having lunch in an old peoples’ centre and our first performance was to guests in a nearby church. The lunch provided was great, but many of us would have preferred to be rehearsing! However, our minds were taken off the problem by the lovely indoor picnic and really interesting tour of a local chateau.
The first performance had some pretty ropey moments, not least of all because no-one had realised that the start of an unaccompanied piece needs a conductor! However, the multi-talented Thorn family saved the day with some really professional solos and the small audience didn’t seem to mind being used as an additional rehearsal opportunity – even when we subjected them to Rule Britannia! We came away mildly relieved, knowing we’d be OK with a bit more practice. (I think all the wine drunk at lunch might have helped, too!)
After the long journeys and even longer evening conversations, it was a huge effort to get up and out in time for a quick rehearsal before church on Sunday morning, but we knew we needed it. As Renee drove us into town, we saw the Church of St Germain rising above the countryside like a proud ship. My nerves got worse when I arrived and found it was more like a cathedral! We were still practising when the congregation started arriving for mass – their encouraging welcome was a much-needed morale-boost. I’d never shared a catholic mass in English, let alone French, so following along in the right books and knowing when we “were on” was something of a struggle. However, I picked up the odd familiar phrase from the liturgy and was delighted to be able to share mass alongside the French congregation. Our choral contributions were warmly received and it was unfortunate that we were there on Mothers’ Day, in that many of the congregation had to dash off for family commitments. It would have been good to talk to more of them.
Sunday afternoon was “the performance proper” and we arrived in our concert best. By now, our confidence and camaraderie had developed enough for us to outvote our musical director, Chris, when he suggested we “ad lib” new pieces and it was with a feeling of real comradeship that we walked on, in a church packed with people. The beautiful building, with its great acoustics, were a big help and they really seemed to be enjoying the varied programme of songs. At the end, polite applause turned to loud hand-claps, then a standing ovation. We had made all the effort worthwhile!
I went on the trip as a newcomer to town-twinning, but now I would really love to do more. Yes, it was enjoyable, but more than that, I was bowled over by the warmth and hospitality of our hosts. I feel more confident in my French and my singing and have shared real Christian fellowship with people from another culture and Christian background. Our choir was (just about) ecumenical and I now know people from St Helens who I wouldn’t otherwise have met. Yes, we should definitely do it again – but next time, with representatives from all of our Churches in Abingdon!
Europe Day Dinner
Sunday 9 May 2010 - Pizza Express
Twelve ADTTS members met at a local Italian restaurant for our annual informal evening meal to mark Europe Day.
Blewbury Manor Open Day Teas
Sunday 2 May 2010 - Blewbury Manor Garden
Despite the unpromising weather, ADTTS had a successful fund raising afternoon at Blewbury Manor. Nikki and her large team of enthusiastic helpers served tea and cakes to two hundred visitors to the lovely gardens.
Thursday 22 April 2010 - Abingdon College, Northcourt Road
We joined the local film society for a showing of Cantet's film The Class (Entre les murs). This offered a thoroughly modern and thoughtful portrait of a rowdy and adorable class of multi-ethnic Parisian teenagers over one school year. Cheese and wine concluded an enjoyable evening.
Evening Meeting - Art Deco
Wednesday 21 April 2010 - Preston Road Community Centre
Following on from our visit to Sint-Niklaas last September, we invited the expert guide we met there, Christine de Brabandere, to come and visit us. She entertained members with an interesting talk on Art Deco architecture.
The evening's refreshments included fancy cakes to reflect the Art Deco period.
Visit to Eltham Palace
Tuesday 20 April 2010
A large party of members went for the day by coach for a guided tour of Eltham Palace, a stunning Art Deco showpiece in south London. "This unique house combines the finest Art Deco home in England with the remains of a mediaeval and Tudor royal palace, the boyhood home of Henry VIII. Built for millionaires, the Palace reflects the glamour and allure of the 1930’s." On the way home we enjoyed a meal in Henley.
Tour of Blewbury Manor Gardens
Thursday 15 April 2010 - Blewbury Manor
Afterwards, most adjourned to the Red Lion in Blewbury for dinner together.
French Language School
10 - 17 April 2010 - Colmar
The Colmar Twinning Association (Les Amis du Jumelage de Colmar) hosted a week of language and culture for people from its twin towns. (Colmar is twinned with the Vale of White Horse.) It was an opportunity to visit this lovely part of France, to develop French oral language skills and to learn something about La gastronomie francaise. The course consisted of language lessons in the mornings and visits during the afternoons. Six members (Ruth Sillitoe, Christine Ewing, Brian Moylan, Frank Allen, Susan & Brian Read) travelled from Abingdon, joining guests from Schongau and Sint-Niklaas.
Arriving late Saturday, the next morning our hosts who took us out to see a nearby pretty village among the vineyards. There are lots of half-timbered houses, beautifully painted in a variety of pretty shades. With the frequent addition of a stork’s nest, complete with storks, it was like something from a fairy-tale.
We joined the rest of the group of thirteen students for lunch with all the hosts in one of the week's succession of lovely restaurants, this time in the Vosges mountains at the village of Trois Epis. We had been warned that it might be cold up there, and true to form, it snowed gently whilst we ate our lunch. Luckily the sun came out when we had finished and we were taken for a gentle walk for an hour or two in the attractive wooded slopes nearby.
The focus of the week was five half-days at a language school where the excellent and enthusiastic teachers helped us to improve our oral French whilst discussing topics relevant to the theme of the week, the gastronomy of France. We learned lots about the Alsace and France: Etiquette, the foods and cuisine, the wines, the cheeses and the breads. The programme was carefully chosen to prepare us for the afternoon activity each day, so we discussed breads before we visited the bread museum and wines before we attended the lecture and wine tasting.
One day the programme was the other way round and we spent a morning working with chef Francis making our lunch and having to use a lot of vocabulary (some German!) before returning to the language school for the afternoon.
One evening we were treated to a concert in Colmar where the soprano Silvana Froli from Lucca sang several well-known arias from operas, accompanied by her husband. We were amazed by their ability to produce such wonderful music without the use of a microphone.
The week concluded by treating all the hosts to a convivial evening meal prepared by the students. For the return home the following morning, airport closures meant that two of the Abingdon party who had flown to Alsace had to hitch a lift by car, while the three us who had fortuitously chosen the train had a trouble free journey.
I’d like to congratulate the Colmar twinning group and their President Christiane Wagner on an excellent week with an imaginative programme. Our hosts were very kind and generous and made us extremely welcome. I hope there will be an opportunity for us to visit them in Colmar again.
The language students from Sint-Niklaas and Schongau
Clubs & Societies Day
Saturday 10 April 2010 - Guildhall, Abingdon
For the biennial societies fair, ADTTS had a stand to publicise twinning in a hall packed with representatives from local organisations.
Argentan Quasimodo Fair
9 - 12 April 2010
Peter Dodd reports: Every year our twin town of Argentan in Normandy holds its Quasimodo Fair on the weekend after Easter. This is essentially an agricultural trade fair to which they invite representatives from Abingdon and their other twin towns in Hungary and Germany. Unfortunately the Hungarians couldn’t attend this year but there was good German representation from Rotenburg and one of the Marquees was themed like a German village with stalls full of German crafts and other produce.
This year two representatives from ADTTS (Angela Waterhouse and Peter Dodd) went to Argentan, along with our Deputy Mayor elect (Alastair Fear) representing our Mayor, his wife (Judith) and our Town Clerk (Nigel Warner).
On the Sunday morning there was a special Mass at the main church with readings in German & English and much was said about the long standing and active links between Argentan and Abingdon – first twinned in 1956. Apart from a short walk in the beautiful Suisse Normande, the rest of the weekend was taken up sampling the local cuisine as well as enjoying some German meals in the temporary German restaurant at the fair.
An excellent weekend which helped to strengthen the links between our two towns.
See also the report and pictures on the Abingdon Blog.
Evening Meeting - Ashmolean
17 March 2010 - Preston Road Community Centre
Our guest speaker for the evening, Sheila Hills, spoke about the recently extended Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. She also talked about the history of the person who collected all the artefacts and then described a selection of items that are in the Museum. We are looking forward to the private tour on Sunday 18th July.
Then the refreshments arrived, based on an Irish theme for St Patrick's Day, which everyone enjoyed, especially the Guinness cake. Thanks to Barbara Earl.
Morris Men Visit Sint-Niklaas
12 - 14 March 2010
We in Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancers organised the trip, supported by a grant from Abingdon Town Council, to reinvigorate the Abingdon - Boerke Naas dancing links which had fallen into disrepair somewhat over recent years. We were very well looked after by Boerke Naas, staying in host family homes, and it is very probable that we'll invite them to Abingdon for the election of the Mayor of Ock Street in 2011.
12 - 13 March 2010 - Market Place
ADTTS had a publicity stand when the French market stalls visited Abingdon. We thank Anne & Peter Dodd and all their helpers who represented the Society to local shoppers.
Evening Meeting - Lucca & Tuscany
17 February 2010 - Preston Road Community Centre
The evening featured talks and a film about our twin town Lucca and surrounding area, with Italian refreshments. We thank our guest speaker, Martin Gray, who runs a small local travel company for study holidays in Italy. He described the fascination of Tuscan towns and his passion for the Italian way of life. Michael Matthews introduced an atmospheric slide show of Lucca. A delicious antipasto dish was served by Nikki Henton and Susan Read and complemented by a selection of Italian wines chosen by John Smith. Stella Carter concluded the evening to tell us about the proposed ADTTS trip to Lucca in September. (See future events.)
Evening Meeting - German Beer and Snacks
20 January 2010 - Preston Road Community Centre
On Wednesday January 20th the monthly meeting was on the theme of German beer and wine. In the first part of the evening Peter Dodd talked about German beer and particularly the Reinheitsgebot or beer quality law that restricts the contents of all German beers to just a few natural ingredients. Members then tried three German beers – a traditional malt beer, a wheat beer and a dunkel or dark beer.
During the break, German rye bread was served with a selection of Bavarian hams and sausages and Fran Pike from the Friendship Force spoke about her international organisation that arranges reciprocal groups visits to other groups all over the world – something rather like worldwide twinning. A number of members were very interested in finding out more.
In the second half of the evening we learnt about German wine industry and how it is much more than Liebfraumilch and Blue Nun, and that about a quarter of German wine is red wine these days. We tried a Riesling wine, a Pinot Gris, a German rosé and a Pinot Noir.
THE FRIENDSHIP FORCE
Fran Pike spoke briefly about this international friendship organisation at the January meeting. For those members who would like further information, Fran’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and her telephone number is 01865 881382. The website address of the friendship force is www.thefriendshipforce.org. The Oxfordshire branch has an Information Sheet (Word document).