I have just returned from a weekend trip to France. I am fortunate that my lovely little town of Buckingham is twinned with the equally lovely Mouvaux in the North of France, right next to the Belgium border. Mayor Howard (or Norbert as Adele seems to mistake him for!) asked me if I would like to go over on the twinning visit with him and the other council members to meet the French council, partake in the usual twinning activities and generally entertain in a foolish way. I jumped at the chance and promptly invited Adele to accompany me (which she was very happy to do so)
We left Buckingham at 9am on Friday morning - the Local press arrived to take a photograph of the 60 strong English contingent as we embarked on the 7th and largest twinning trip to Mouvaux. The Cap'n'bells made an appearance for the photograph before it was carefully backed into my bag with the rest of my costume. I dreaded being pulled up by customers officers at the French border control - not because I was smuggling masses of illegal contraband into Calais but simply because explaining to them what the red and gold silk costume covered in bells actually was. Luckily my bag was not chosen for the random spot check and we were on our way. The ferry crossing was peaceful (although the constant concern of Adele being potentially sea sick was a worry - a worry that managed to break my concentration and not even clear stage one of the Time Crisis shooting game in the arcade!)
We arrived fairly promptly in France and pulled up at Mouvaux town hall (or Hotel De Ville) at a little after 6pm French Time. (By the way, the French do run on a totally different time scale, not just an hour ahead but late for EVERYTHING - more later) We met our host families. It was the first time I had communicated with Famille Toulemonde since the trip was arranged. It seemed a virus stopped our email from reaching the depths of Northern France. However, they were a lovely family. Bruno the father, Fabienne the mother and two sons Gautier and Robin (eight and six) - Then we had the formal welcome from the Mayor of Mouvaux and the deputy mayor acting as translator. Our mayor spoke and announced he had bought the Town Jester with him, however, we found there is no literal French translation for Jester and so I was just known as The Magician (or later as La Foole - pointed out by their Mayor)
We spent the evening with the host family. After dinner (it finished at about 10:30pm French Time) we were taken to Lille. A bar in an old erotic cinema and beer in a local brewery/pub for more drinking. Alcohol, Cheese and Bread played a very big part in all of the weekend activities.
Saturday morning comprised of wine tasting at the local merchant Monsieur Vin. Although I have never been a massive fan of Red or White wine (the latter always tastes like vinegar to my foolish palette) I have to say that the selection we sampled were lovely. Especially with the bread and cheese they provided for us (told you!) Following the wine morning it was back to a local school for a Civic Lunch. Howard put on his full fur robes and regalia, I jingled my way into the room and accompanied him and the Lady Mayor during the talks. I have to say (with some pride) that the robes and garments for our civic party were much nicer and, dare I day, more ostentatious than the French sashes that the Mayor and Deputy wore. It was a lovely moment to be standing before French and English folk in a civic line-up at the time of the presentations and exchanging of gifts. It was my first time abroad as The Fool and Ambassador of Buckingham (that is not an official title by the way!) and it was great to be able to do magic across language barrier.
I wandered the table and presented some tricks to the locals and also the Buckingham team. Despite my inability to patter in French, most of the tricks I do can be done with minimal wordage and lots of mime and action. It seemed to be well received by all. The costume certainly got a lot of attention. Especially from the boys of my host family, who, suffice to say, were rather interested in the Swan Sceptre and it's "ability" to steal cutlery. The Mayor of Mouvaux's table was my last stop before I changed backed to my "civvies" - I presented some card magic to him which he seemed to appreciate. He was complimentary about the skill used and also my costume. They don't have anything like it in their town so to represent Buckingham abroad in my full regalia was a fantastic moment.
The rest of the trip was spend sampling local culture, visiting Ypres and St Omar. More food, more cheese, more wine. It was a lovely weekend and I think Adele and myself have made some good friends in the shape of Famille Toulemonde. They were very welcoming and their hospitality knew no bounds. I will miss them and I do hope that they will be able to visit Buckingham on the next twinning visit in October(ish) time. However, with their young boys and the nature of Bruno's work, they may find it impossibly difficult.
I learned a lot this weekend, I learned about the importance of the moments of magic within my performance. When language is a barrier (as cliche as it may sound) the moment of wonder is far stronger when ample time is given to allow the results to be seen and absorbed. I learnt that the French are normally late for most events. If you want something to start at 9:30am and you start sitting down for breakfast at 9am, chances are you will probably be late! (Although I do think Adele doing her hair was partly to blame!) - I also learned that France is not a good place to go if you don't like cheese - luckily I love it - but they do have it with every meal.