Fylde Coast Cloggers’
Little tour of Brittany, France,
Sue Whitaker’s Clog Blog
Just so you know:
· “Fylde Coast Cloggers” is a ladies “North West” traditional morris dance team and we are going to dance in Brittany, France.
· Wakefield Morris Dancers are coming with us as our guests.
· This is the third time I have arranged a trip like this, but it is the first time we have taken another team with us.
· Most of the preparation has already been done for three dance venues, but at the point of leaving England I had still not had confirmation of our hoped-for fourth gig at Concarneau, despite me starting the negotiations in February this year.
Monday 28th July
Who would have believed I could make a mistake like that? Would I ever be able to live it down? I got up this morning, smug in the knowledge that I had already gathered together just about everything I need for this trip, and all I had left to do was pack it all into my car and sort out my tickets etc. ready for leaving tomorrow morning for the drive down to Plymouth for the ferry to Roscoff at 11.00 pm. There I was, sauntering about in my dressing gown, and looking at my ticket as I was putting it into a wallet. Ferry time 23.00hrs 28. 07. 2008. What is that? It is today! My ferry would be leaving today! And here I was, at 10.00 am, not even dressed, all my things on the kitchen floor, and Plymouth to get to PDQ.
An SOS to my daughter found her rushing home to help me with the last minute things; my son calling in by chance as he was working nearby today, and I was on my way. What wasn’t done by now would have to remain undone.
After all the panic, I had a good journey to Plymouth and was the first in the queue at the ferry terminal. I just can’t believe I came so near to coming on the wrong day. Let’s hope this is a good omen for the trip. Being the first in the queue does not mean being the first on the ship by any manner of means, but on this occasion I actually was an early boarder. What is really important is to manoeuvre myself and my car safely on board the ship without hitting any body or anything, secure it so it won’t move, turn off the alarm and remember where I have left it. I am well used to this when I have been with my late husband driving, but now I am on my own and, although I have done it twice before, I was nervous at the prospect. But I did it! I really did it! What a relief! No people or cars were harmed in this operation. There is nothing like satisfaction with yourself to help you sleep, so after a cup of tea, I found my couchette, climbed into it and sank into oblivion. . . . . . . . .
Tuesday 29th July
I woke up to the sound of a small hand bell ringing at 4am our time to awaken the occupants of the couchettes in readiness for docking at Roscoff at 5am - 6am French time.
The couchette turned out to be very clean and comfortable and I was grateful for a decent sleep. I treated myself to the breakfast meal deal on offer for €4 in the café and set off in search of where I had last seen my car – on the front edge of a ramp which had been hoisted aloft in the bowels of the ship and overhanging the way out below. One of the first to board the ship, I was destined to be one of the last off it – sitting there alone in my car, adrenaline flowing and waiting for those below to exit the ship before this ramp I was on could be lowered for me and all those behind me to leave the ship. The smell thorough my open car window was of heavy oil mixed with the exhaust fumes of those cars below, already on the move. The clanking and banging from the manoeuvres of the ramps and vehicles unseen by me, but studiously watched by the grimy matelot at the end of my bonnet, was bewildering at times. Only a string mesh similar, I thought, to the net on a tennis court, seemed to be prepared as a contingency for my potential calamity over the forward edge of this ramp. Suddenly the grimy matelot removed the tennis net and pressed an equally grimy button to his left which I hadn’t noticed until then. This press on the button it was, that started my heart thumping, with more clattering and clanking for sound effects as the ramp shuddered into the present day and was on the way down, carrying me to earth. “Drive on the right, drive on the right”, I told myself repeatedly as the ramp hit the deck and I waited for the signal from the grimy matelot to move off.
I was the first away, dreading stalling my engine and annoying the eager queue behind me. “Drive on the right Susan” and I drove out of the ship into the fine drizzle of an early Roscoff July morning. It wasn’t supposed to be raining but experience reminded me it was likely to be at that hour of the day. This was definitely the wet stuff coming down.
“Drive on the right Susan”, the voice in my head chanted my mantra for this trip. I followed the precisely enunciated directions of my darling Sat Nav Lady, to bring me once again to Bannalec- no problems until I was nearly here, leaving the N165 sliproad, to find myself turning left and about to drive on the left again- a momentary lapse of concentration – and a huge pantecknicon bearing down on me from my left, with his horn blaring. If only the Sat Nav Lady would remind me of that as well – “Drive on the right Susan!”
Arriving at the campsite, after this 2 hour journey, I was greeted like a prodigal daughter by Alan and Judy Thomas, the English owners of “Les Genêts D’Or” Camping. Gleefully, I was immediately shown the brochure for the Bannalec Festival at which we will be dancing on Friday 15th August. The cause of the glee was that Fylde Coast Cloggers and Wakefield Morris are both mentioned by name on the brochure. I couldn’t have been happier in that moment, because the last time we came Fylde Coast Cloggers’ name had been omitted from the programme for some reason, which had disappointed us, and I had had a niggling worry that this could happen again. No need to worry this time, and thank goodness for that – proof that I had done my planning!
By now it had stopped raining and I was able to pitch my tent and unload the car without any panic or rushing. I was keeping my eye on the time so I could get to the supermarket by 12.30 when they close for lunch, so I could buy milk to make a cuppa. I was so thirsty. At 11.30 I stopped what I was doing, got into the car to drive there, and realised I hadn’t changed my watch to French time, so what I thought was 11.30 was actually 12.30, and the shop had closed already. I had to remain thirsty until 2pm. And then I made my second mistake of the day by driving out of the lane on the left hand side, once more challenging a French motorist to manoeuvre round me with a frightened expression on his face and his horn rending the now sunny afternoon.
I realised how tired I was, and after the longed for cup of tea I got in the tent and slept for three hours. Eventually I made myself a meal and went to bed at 9pm (8 pm English time) and slept the clock round.
Wednesday 30th July
I have a lot to do before the teams begin arriving on Saturday August 9th, but today was not to be for that. I spent the day sitting in the shade of the horse chestnut tree above my tent and waiting for Sheila, who is the Squire (i.e. leader) of Fylde Coast Cloggers, and her husband Geoff Mugan to arrive – or at least that was the intention. I really was sitting in the shade with my book when I fell asleep but I was out, exposed in the full sunshine when I woke up – scorched – red – with knees like two flashing Belisha beacons. How embarrassing, and me in my shorts! The words “mad dogs”, “Englishmen” and “noonday sun” come to mind.
Cross with myself for allowing this to happen, I retired to my airbed in the tent to escape the sunshine.
Sheila and Geoff arrived about 4 pm and after they had set up their caravan we enjoyed a meal together and played cards until bedtime.
No need for a torch to light my way to the toilet block - the knees do it for me!
Thursday 31st July
No need to escape the sunshine today. It was raining when the scarlet knees and I emerged from the tent. There was work to be done.
Today was the day I had decided to tackle M. Campion at Concarneau. I have organised three dance venues for the two teams but for the fourth, hopefully at Concarneau, I have not had a reply from M.Campion the civic official responsible for arranging these things in this town, and all this despite letters, e-mail and DVDs forthcoming from me since February. My plan is to arrive at his office in the Hotel de Ville, ask him again in person, and expect an answer. Today was the day. I psyched myself up with a glam hairdo and my new bright red Fylde Coast Cloggers tee shirt, armed myself with the posters I have made and our credentials on the Bannalec poster which the campsite owners gave me, and ventured forth, by myself, to Concarneau in the pouring rain.
I found the Hotel de Ville, presiding as it does, over Charles De Gaulle Square. The front door is suitably huge and made of panelled oak, bearing a sign with an arrow to the right – “TO OPEN, PRESS THE BUTTON AND PUSH THE DOOR”. Somehow I expected a lavish reception area with a smartly uniformed minion dressed like a model from Yves St Laurent. The reality was a dingy hallway with four closed doors and a staircase leading upwards – newly mopped, from the fresh scent of disinfectant arising from the moist and glistening steps up to who knows where? Each of the four doors bore a sign as to what lay within, either in words or by way of a shabby poster. Just wanting to find someone to speak to, I tried each door in turn, only to find it locked. By now it was 2.30 in the afternoon, way past siesta time. There was only one thing for it – up the wooden hill, the wet staircase which did not have a sign for “CAUTION SLIPPERY WHEN WET” (Does the EU have Health and Safety legislation?)
I started to get that “Marie Celeste” feeling when faced with another three doors all similarly locked against my intrusion, and a 4th door wide open into a meeting room with no meeting. The wet staircase beckoned, so up I went again and this time I confronted a charming man seated at a desk facing me. When I asked for M. Campion, he explained he wasn’t here – and as my heart sank he must have heard the thud, for he rose from his seat and escorted me back down the three flights of treacherous stairs and opened the front door. He then explained that M. Campion’s office was in the Pole Culturel over the road, and he gesticulated with his hand to indicate that I had to climb a glorified fire escape to reach it.
The fire escape finally gave entrance to the anticipated smart reception area with the Yves St Laurent model who, on being asked for the elusive M. Campion, also told me he was not here. It was his “day-off”. For the second time the resounding thud of my heart sinking must have tweaked the Gallic generosity, and I was directed to an office behind smoky glass where I could talk to his secretary.
This was marginally better than nothing, though I fail to see how the secretary doesn’t know when her boss will next be in the office. I had to settle for leaving the documents I had taken with her, in exchange for his direct phone number. I had a long conversation with this young lady, who told me she was called Anguele, describing how good our two teams are, how we dance for free, and don’t need a special stage or anything like that. She was mightily impressed with my French language skills, blowing at the fingers of her loosely clenched and waving hand to indicate her regard for my prowess. She said she would cross her fingers for my quest.
Disappointed, I came away, still in the pouring rain, and decided to return to camp via Pont Aven. This is where we will be dancing on the Tuesday morning, so I thought it a good idea to let the Tourist Office know that the advanced guard had arrived and leave a poster. I also wanted to pick up one of their brochures which details all the cultural events happening throughout the summer. I need this, because if M Campion eventually says no to me, I will want to try to find us another venue, and this is a good place to start.
Friday 1st August
The pale red knees announced my presence in the world at about 10 am on this so far fine Friday morning. Friday is market day at Concarneau, and a very splendid market it is, if you are the foraging kind like Sheila and me. So it was decided that a sortie to the market was the order of the day and, being Concarneau, it would give me another opportunity to look for the elusive M. Campion in his Pole Culturel. Once more I mounted the fire escape, this time to find the Yves St Laurent model and the pleasant Anguele speaking together in the reception area. The former looked at me quizzically, but the latter knew me immediately and answered my question before it was asked. Another “day-off”. However he was likely (not definitely) to be in the office on Monday morning if I wanted to try again. I provided the phone number of the camp-site so I could be informed if M.Campion would not be there on Monday, and once more I left empty–handed. Dare I be optimistic?
This evening we had a visit from my French friend Marc Nabat, who, together with his parents André and Renée, has been very helpful in arranging our dance programme. It is they who have given me the contacts. When I relayed to Marc all the rigmarole of trying to get an answer from M Campion after all this time, he was horrified. He told me that his mother, has written yet again to the man, and he should receive her letter by Monday morning. With any luck, her words will be ringing in his ears when (that is if) I get to speak to him on Monday morning.
Monday 4th August
Once more, with the glam hairdo in place and sporting my bright red Fylde Coast Cloggers tee shirt, I sallied forth to Concarneau in the certain knowledge that I would at last come face to face with my Scarlet Pimpernel, otherwise known as M. Campion. Once more I mounted the fire escape, frantically rehearsing my sales pitch in my mind. And once more, yes you guessed it, I was told that he wasn’t there. And that after the promise of the duplicitous Anguele that she would ring me at the campsite if he wasn’t going to be there. I felt betrayed by her flattering remarks and didn’t know what to do, despite her apparent attempt in my hearing to contact him on his mobile phone and leaving him a message to contact her about this matter. She assured me she would do her best to get me an answer one way or another before the day was over, and let me know at the campsite. I was not confident of a positive outcome.
I wondered if they expected me to give up.
I decided to deploy the back-up plan. This evening I went to see André and Renée in Scaer, who were excited to hear of my news this morning, especially in the light of Renée’s letter to M. Campion which he should have received today. “Mon Dieu!” such cries of incredulity when I recounted my tale. “Mon Dieu!” such apologies on behalf of the French nation. Such dire prognostications, likely to result in a demand for a public enquiry from President Sarkozy himself.
I have learned that Renée, normally a mild-mannered lady, can be as tenacious as a terrier when she is sufficiently roused. Her father was in the Resistance and shot dead by French informers when he tried to alert other Resistance men that Allied troops had parachuted into a nearby field. The paratroops and the waiting Resistance were subsequently shot by the Germans and they, along with Renée’s father, were all buried together in the lane at the side that field. Years later, the French Government decreed that the families of Resistance killed by the Germans should receive an annuity, which meant that the families of the other Resistance killed that day got the annuity, but Renée did not, as her father was, in fact, killed by French. With public opinion on her side she embarked on a campaign some years ago to get her father’s death recognised in the same way, and a few weeks ago she finally won the battle and got her annuity, backdated to the original decision.
This, then, was the Renée who decided to take my request to M. Campion to the limit. Small fry! She promised to work on it the next day, and I came away grateful for my ally.
Tuesday 5th August
There was nothing more I could do on the Concarneau front so I went out for the day with Sheila and Geoff. It is his birthday today and a good reason to put my worries in Renée’s hands and enjoy the day visiting Pontivy and Josselin. On our return, I was greeted with a phone message to contact Renée. I had a quick sandwich for my tea and headed out to Scaer, wondering how Renée had fared today. No sooner had I pulled up at their gate, than André and Renée were both tumbling through the door in their excitement to tell me we can dance in Concarneau on the Wednesday afternoon. After much leaping about and hugging and kissing they settled down to tell me the tale.
Renée had started at 9.10 this morning. She actually managed to speak to the man on the phone, and reviewed with him all the history of this simple request. He said there were rules and he hadn’t had enough notice. She reminded him we had started with this in February and he had been sent all the information he had requested in March, so would he check his files please. She went on to say I had been to see him three times, the first two without an appointment, but the third on Monday was by appointment, He said he is never there on Mondays! (Who was telling the truth?) He asked her to call back later when he had had time to consider everything. When she called him back at 11.45am he wasn’t there. (Where have we heard that before?) Finally, at 4.50pm, when Renée called back yet again, he told her he had tried to contact me at the campsite to tell me we can dance in Concarneau market place between 2pm and 5pm on the Wednesday afternoon. We are to arrive there ready to dance, and I have to go up the fire escape, yet again, to find him, then he will show us where to dance. Finally, the result!!
Suddenly, everything seems to falling into place. I checked some details of the Thursday in Le Faouët with Renée and I am happy.
Cathy and Dave and their children, the first from Wakefield Morris, arrived today. I am starting to feel it is all very close now.
If only I could organise the weather too. We have had a lot of rain, so I hope it has all passed over before our first dance out next Tuesday.
Friday August 8th
As I had gone to the market at Concarneau again today, I decided to call in on M. Campion, at least to say thank you for the authorisation to dance. I had been thinking, too, about the civic gifts we have brought and who would be there to receive them from us. The Mayor was the one I wanted so, undaunted, I went into the Pole Culturel to ask him for the Mayor. I may only ever do this once so why not go for it, I thought.
Up the fire escape again and to the receptionist to ask for M Campion. You guessed it, he wasn’t there. I was shown to Anguele, in whose trust I had lost all confidence, and beamed at her, and said how pleased I was that we had been successful with our request to dance. I was quite shocked to find that she didn’t know, the man hadn’t told her. In that moment I felt sorry for the girl and realised how hard a job she must have with a boss who doesn’t communicate. All was forgiven in that moment.
I explained to her again about the civic gifts and asked if the Mayor of Concarneau would be available to accept our gifts, whereupon she rang his secretary to enquire. Guess what, the Mayor wasn’t there, but he would be at 4pm. His secretary would ask him and let me know if he could and at what time, by telephone at the campsite, probably on Monday morning. I bet the civic team in Concarneau will be sick of the sound of Fylde Coast Cloggers’ name before the week is out.
Saturday August 9th
I was up at 6.45am to drive the 100 km to Brest airport to pick up Clive, one of our musicians. More people to pick up tomorrow. I had a lovely day and a lovely tea, with a glass of wine, and no worries, as the teams have begun arriving in bigger numbers now. All was well until Geoff came to tell me that Sheila was in serious pain and needed to go to the hospital. Oh joy! I had had a glass of wine, so had Geoff and so had most of the others who were here. Luckily our MC Mike was alcohol free at that moment, so at 8.30 pm he drove Geoff, Sheila, and me to the hospital at Qimperlé. A full battery of tests was done on Sheila in an empty A& E Department, starting within 2 minutes of our arrival. And 2 hours later we were on our way back with a diagnosis of an infection, a prescription and an appointment to go back on Monday for further tests
Sunday August 10th
It being Sunday today and all the shops being closed, Geoff and I had to find the duty pharmacy to get Sheila’s prescription from the hospital last night. We finally found it at Rosporden, half an hour away in the car.
Geoff and Clive went to Brest airport to pick up three of our girls who were due to land at 2.30 pm. Actually, their plane didn’t land until 4.30pm so it was about 6.30 pm before they got back, but the worst of it was that in addition to these three there were also another six of the team on the same plane, and it being Sunday and it being so late, they had not eaten and the supermarket was closed. Still, we managed. Sheila and I just rustled up the food we had and, just like the loaves and fishes in the Bible, there was enough to go round for those that needed food, and some to spare. Someone up there was looking after us I am certain. Privately, I am praying this someone will also help us out with the weather. Rain has been falling day after day, like a monsoon, and I am panicking. I have seen Bannalec festival washed out in the past and I couldn’t bear the disappointment of two teams if it happened to us.
Because I had expected our team to be landing in the early afternoon, Alan and Judy had said they would like to lay on a welcome drink for the two teams. Rashly, I promised we would all do some dancing, in kit, for the campsite. I also wanted to have a meeting with every one to give them the details of the dance programme. All this was due to start at 7.00pm, and our girls could be nowhere near ready with arriving so late and being starving into the bargain.
Anyway, the meeting was a big success. I gave out photocopied details of everything everyone need to know, so I don’t have 50 people asking me to repeat trivial details all week. Let’s hope it works and the €4 it cost me for the photocopying was worth it. Everyone seems to be pleased with the dance programme and looking forward to it.
We enjoyed the welcome drink and did some dancing and got an enthusiastic audience of campers, though FCC had to be content with dancing in team tee shirts due to late arrivals. Renée turned up unexpectedly and was welcomed by everyone and given a round of applause for her efforts on our behalf.
I am starting to feel that whatever happens now just happens and I could not have done any more planning. I have even scripted what Mike our MC will say about the dances as he is not that confident in French language. I just want a positive response from the Mayor of Concarneau tomorrow, then everything will be as perfect as I can make it.
Monday August 11th
Today is a free day and most people have made plans to make the most of it. Alison, our dance foreman, has called for Fylde Coast Cloggers to have a practice at 8.00 pm tonight when everyone has got back.
No free day for me, though, as Geoff and I had to go back to the hospital with Sheila for a follow-up appointment. Once again, we had almost no waiting as there were hardly any other patients there. An ultra-sound scan and x rays of Sheila were taken, developed, and given to her to keep there and then, and after about an hour and a half we were on our way again. Why can’t hospitals at home be more like this? I hoped there would be a message from the Mayor by the time we got back but I was disappointed. This day was turning out to be rather wet as well. The rain turned to fine drizzle on and off this afternoon, and still there was no message by the end of the afternoon.
Alison was prompt for the promised practice at 8.00pm, and at that time it was fine. Our music brought the campers out once again, but not for long as after about half an hour, the heavens opened and another monsoon came splashing down. The practice had to be called off. Good job I decided to bring the team umbrellas.
Tuesday August 12th
The rain was falling on my tent as I woke up this morning. I really didn’t need this. All my planning could be scuppered by rain.
Today we are dancing in Pont Aven. This is a picturesque little town on the River Aven, where Paul Gauguin and other famous artists lived and worked, and indeed contemporary artists still do. Tuesday is market day and the market is set up for the morning along the quay. Starting at 10.00am we will dance outside the Tourism Office in the town centre for half an hour or so, then the two teams will form a little procession with the bands playing and dancers dancing and we will pick our way through the town traffic and down the quay, to cause havoc in the market, dancing all the way till we come to the clearing at the other end of the quay. Once there we will give a dance display and then process back through the market causing havoc for the second time, and finish by about mid-day.
Although it had stopped raining by the time we were leaving the campsite at 9.15, the team umbrellas went into my car as a precaution. We can actually do some dances with umbrellas if we really need to. By the time we reached Pont Aven, the sun was shining brightly and I decided to leave the umbrellas in the car after all. When you are doing a procession you can’t cope with superfluous equipment. The sun couldn’t have been more brilliant as we walked down the hill from the car park to the town centre, turning all heads as we walked along, Fylde Coast Cloggers in our bright red and green uniforms and flowery hats, and Wakefield in their blue dresses and trousers with gold socks and ribbons, the bells on our clogs announcing our arrival with every step. Even now, before we had started, the townspeople and tourists alike were curious as to what was about to happen and by the time our music struck up outside the tourist office we had a considerable audience. The more we danced the bigger the audience became. The word “pont” in French means “bridge” and Pont Aven’s bridge is an old fashioned and narrow junction with all the traffic converging on it. Our little procession picked its way through this traffic, over the bridge and headed for the market. All the way the onlookers were standing back in amazement and applauding us. The sun was fantastic (why had I worried?) The surprised shoppers in the market stood back too, making just enough room to let us pass. More applause, and by now a trail of people following us.
After a short break for a drink at the café-bar in the hotel at the end of the market, we struck up the music again and a big audience gathered round as the two teams took turns at dancing. The audience was very varied: I spoke to local people from Pont Aven, French tourists, British ex-pats, British tourists and a man from Belgium. All were fulsome in their appreciation for what we were doing, and seemed delighted to see us although, as ever, some thought that Fylde Coast Cloggers were Dutch on account of the windmill motif on our aprons and the clogs.
The return trip through the market was fun, again with people standing back in appreciation of the dancing and the music. By the time we had processed back to the Tourist Office and lapped up the praise and the applause, everyone in both teams seemed delighted with the gig and I was a happy bunny. I would be an even happier bunny if the Mayor has been in touch by the time we get back. Buoyed up by the success of the morning, Fylde Coast Cloggers decided to all go out for a meal together in Bannalec tonight. Volunteers would book for 22 people.
Back up the hill to the car park, again our clogs turning people’s heads as we walked, we glanced skyward and a huge black cloud was threatening. Just as we were taking the clogs off at the car, the heavens opened again and yet another monsoon poured on us. Luckily for the four of us who had travelled together, we were able to escape into the car, but others were not near their cars and were soaked to the skin in seconds.
At least the dancing today had been spared. There is a God! It was worth bringing those umbrellas just for the perverse sort of reverse logic, if you see what I mean.
Back at the campsite still no word from the Mayor.
The 22 of us just about filled the restaurant tonight, and a good time was had by all. Alison still wanted to convene that rained-off practice from last night though, and so we agreed to be on parade for practice at 8.45 am tomorrow morning. We had to be at our best for Concarneau, with or without the Mayor.
Wednesday August 13th
I had set my mobile phone to wake me up to be in time for this early morning practice, and I half expected some reluctant late-comers, but not so. We all turned up on time and went through the dances we haven’t done for some time. So far the day was dry, but there was a chill in the air which threatened rain again. Those umbrellas were still in the car!
Concarneau is no place to make sloppy mistakes. Today’s gig starts at 2.00pm. Part of Concarneau is a mediaeval, walled town with ramparts, sitting on a once fortified tiny island just off shore of the main town and attached to it by a now permanent drawbridge. The landward side of Concarneau fronts the waterside with a huge wide open square, re-paved in pale granite for the millennium, and which is occupied by the market on Monday and Friday mornings. Overlooking this beautiful square is the covered market, known as Les Halles, open every morning but closed in the afternoons. In the summer, Concarneau hosts all kinds of artistic events in this square, often top-notch national dancers from around the world and the town is crowded with tourists in August. Fylde Coast Cloggers and Wakefield Morris need to put on a very good show indeed to make an impression here. Fylde Coast Cloggers all know we needed this practice today.
The members of the two teams arrived in Concarneau in penny numbers today, most taking advantage of the free morning to soak up the atmosphere and the now brilliant sunshine. Those umbrellas in my car must be magic. My passengers and I were the first to arrive on the square today, but like bees round a honey-pot, all the others began to emerge from the crowds, and soon we were all assembled, two distinct groups one in red and green, the other in blue and gold.
All the while I was watching the hands on the clock face, high on the front of Les Halles, creep round to the appointed hour. I have been asked to go up the fire escape to find M Campion at 2.00pm, so he can come down with me and show us where to dance. For what I hoped would be the last time, I was on my way up the “stairway to heaven” again, in the full knowledge I had to find out if the Mayor would be able to come to receive our gifts. I would put my best foot forward and grit my teeth through a pleasant smile and be sympathetic with the answer, either way.
The lady at the reception desk looked at me as though she had never seen me before, so once again I introduced myself to her, half expecting her to say M. Campion was on his “day-off”. Perhaps her vacant look had more to do with the kit I was wearing, for recognition then sparked in her smile and she led me to the smoky glass office where M. Campion came away from the window in his ivory tower, from where he had been watching us assemble on the square below. I was finally meeting the illusive pimpernel, and here I was with the cheek to be asking for the Mayor as well. We shook hands cordially and smiled at each other (how can you not smile at a French man wearing red trousers?) As we descended, M. Campion said he couldn’t promise the Mayor, he was a very busy man you see, but he would do his best. My hopes were not riding very high by now, but when the red trousers saw us all on the square, looking so compelling in our uniforms, and the music striking up and attracting the crowds already, before a clog had even been danced, I rather think he must have got on his mobile phone and asked the mayor to come asap. No sooner had Fylde Coast Cloggers danced the first dance of the day, I was being told that the Mayor was here, and here he was, a brief case for a badge of office, looking for me. As well as the brief case the Mayor was carrying a plastic carrier bag containing some items, which he thrust into my hands, with a quick explanation that they were a gift from him to us. Oh! No! I couldn’t let it go at that, I wanted the formal exchange of gifts to be a choreographed photo opportunity with him, André, Renée and Marc in the middle and the dancers and musicians from both teams gathered all around. André, Renée and Marc weren’t even there yet! I needed him to come back later. “Sacré Bleu! Is there no end to it? Whatever next?” I imagined him saying to me. Undaunted, he said he would come later in the afternoon, and I hid his plastic bag of gifts among our belongings, just for the time being.
By now the afternoon was hot and sunny. Our dancing arena was huge, and the crowds were five deep in places, arrested in their afternoon sauntering by our spectacle of colour, (to them) extraordinary music and intriguing dancing, so unlike the native Breton style. This afternoon was turning out to be a success in every way, and as I stood there, drinking it all in and savouring the occasion, the pinnacle of all my efforts, there came a tap on my shoulder. I turned, amazed, to see the hand belonged to a small, elderly, almost toothless, French lady, reaching up to give me a kiss like a long lost daughter! In the interests of “entente cordiale” I allowed the kiss and recoiled one step. But her arms were reaching for me again, what could I do? The Mayor might arrive any time and I didn’t want to be seen rejecting her! Thinking on my feet, I avoided the inevitable next kiss by asking her name and offering mine. The kiss was frozen in mid-air as she told me her name was Marie-Paul and she made a mental note of mine. Then it was her turn again. Arms still outstretched and her face (and gums) still within inches of mine, and her eyes twinkling with delight, she asked if she could give me some money so the team could buy drinks and drink her health. Instinctively, I declined the money and said we would drink her health anyway. She had obviously been ensuring her own good health copiously already this afternoon and would have none of my refusal. My new friend, Marie-Paul, thrust a €20 note into my hand and demanded I put it in a safe place. The left cup of my 36B was decided on, though she instructed me to fold the note small and be sure to place it well down under my bust so it would not fall out. I duly complied and looked around, desperately searching for another distraction as the kiss was still perilously close. Geoff and his camera were close by, in readiness for the Mayor and Marie-Paul spotted him and demanded a photograph with me. I was relieved to comply as for me to stand up straight would remove my face from the danger zone, and Geoff did the honours. I posed for the picture, gave her a team badge from off my apron and made a quick exit. Little did I realise that she insisted on giving Geoff her address so we could send her the picture, or at any rate inform her if the picture did not come out, so that he could come and have another one next time we come to Concarneau.
The dancing carried on this sunny afternoon, with the two teams taking turn about to dance for the crowds. In between, our stepdancers Anne and Wendy showed off their step-clog solos, and Derek performed a morris jig. André, Renée and Marc turned up as promised, and the Mayor came back to receive the civic gifts. In his speech, he told the crowd how pleased he was that we had come to Concarneau, congratulated us on the energetic and enthusiastic dancing, and that if we ever wanted to come again there would be no hesitation in welcoming us. Renée asked to say her piece and told of her friendship with my late husband and me over the last 30 years. Sheila, our Squire, presented a Fylde Borough plaque, on behalf of Fylde Coast Cloggers; and Ruth, the Squire of Wakefield Morris, presented a framed civic picture. I scrabbled to retrieve the secreted plastic carrier bag from under our things, and clandestinely returned it to His Worship so he could make his return presentation on camera. Both teams received a book and, in addition, Fylde Coast Cloggers were also given a presentation pack of sardines in four decorative tins! Joy was unbounded! Actually, for me, it was. For now was the moment for the hoped-for photo with everyone on it. Perfect.
I couldn’t have wished for a better result for all the effort. Both teams have greatly enjoyed the dance-out today.
Tonight, Wakefield Morris invited us all to a “red, white and blue party” at the campsite. Alan and Judy allowed us to use their bar, everyone brought food and drink and wore the colours of the evening. The musical instruments came out, and so did the singing voices, led in no small part by Renée. We found a surprising number of tunes we all know and it didn’t seem to matter whether the words were sung in English or French. The singing turned to dancing on the car park, and in the middle of all this we sang happy birthday to Geoff and helped him blow the candles out on a birthday cake and wished Judy a happy 60th birthday for tomorrow. Sheila then unexpectedly stepped forward and said how pleased everyone is with everything so far, and that they wanted to give me a present. With that, on behalf of both teams, she presented me with a beautiful pair of hand crotched gloves, made by the lady on Pont Aven market. They are lovely and will be very treasured. Thank you to everyone, and I hope the rest of the week goes as well as yesterday and today. I fall into my tent very happy indeed.
Thursday August 14th
A very grey morning. Would the perverse reverse logic of the umbrellas work for us again today? There is time for anything to happen, as we don’t have to be at Le Faouët until 2.00pm.
The day begins to brighten and I feel optimistic as we leave the campsite at 1.00pm. Everything should go like clockwork today. I have already been to Le Faouët to check parking facilities and we danced here last time so we know what to expect. As I said, I was cautiously optimistic. The programme was going well so far. Our meeting place is the Salle des Fêtes and this is where today’s events will begin. The first part is a procession round the town. Wakefield Morris were there before us today and I could see they were already being spoken to by a man in a traditional costume, who then came over to me. I asked him if he was M Le Dour, the person who coordinates today’s event. He said he was, but my memory of him last time was not serving me so well and I didn’t recognise him. Anyway, he told me that after the procession there would be a spectacle in Les Halles and we had a 5 minute spot. This turned out to be the first in a series of contradictory messages which punctuated today’s dancing. It turned out the man was not M. Le Dour, because the real one then came along and I recognised him straight away, and he wanted a 10 minute dance spot. I asked if the Mayor would be able to come to receive Wakefield’s gift. (Fylde Coast Cloggers gave theirs last time) We would just have to play it by ear.
In the middle of Le Faouët there is what is, effectively, a very large roundabout, and in the middle of this is the famous Les Halles. This is an amazing 16th century market hall, constructed with massive wooden beams (someone said it is green oak), with brick walls up to about 4ft high, and then open to the elements. The roof is made of slate tiles and the floor is just bare earth. The building is still in use as a market hall but today it will become the focal point of Le Faouët’s festival day. The open sides will have been boarded up, a makeshift wooden floor will have been laid, a stage erected at one end and around the outside there will be marquees and barbecues, stalls selling crêpes, chips, sandwiches, Breton cakes and drinks. There will be someone on the door taking an admission charge from everyone going in.
We were now lining up for the procession from the Salle des Fêtes to Les Halles. As well as us, there were several teams of dancers in various Breton costumes. It was probably wise to place our two teams at the back because our music and dancing is so different from theirs, but different as we were, we were certainly appreciated. The crowds were applauding us and dodging into the road to take photos as we danced along. The Bretons were doing their gracious, dainty dances gently arm in arm, some pinky in pinky, dressed in their dark velvet costumes and extraordinary stiff white lace head dresses and to the music of little bagpipes and chanters, and we were doing ours with huge, clattering movements, exuberant shrieking, brightly coloured outfits, shaking bells and melodeons. Sometimes the procession would come to a halt because teams ahead were performing their dances, so when this happened we did our dances too, again all to applause from the crowds.
The procession wound along the road all round Les Halles, sometimes the traffic in our way, and finally into the building. It’s dark in there and your eyes have to adjust to the makeshift lighting. Already there was a Breton team performing on the wooden floor, with the musicians on the stage. Next, there was a team of Breton children performing. We would be on next. No, said the man, not next after all, another Breton team was going before us as they couldn’t stay long. By the time we finally get our turn, the audience was well ready for the contrast, and the applause we got was wonderful, and Wakefield brought the house down too. When the exhibition dancing was over, the community dancing started. So many people got up to dance, seemingly all in a single line, snaking its way in the throng, everyone knowing exactly what to without being told. We are all encouraged to join in and many of us did, just doing our best to grasp the intricate little steps and join little fingers along the line to make the restless wave motion that just seems to happen in time to the music.
Outside, we did a bit more dancing for the people gathered round, and we were treated to a drink and snack from the choice on offer. By about 5pm we were on our way back to Bannalec for the evening’s events, and once more I was well satisfied with the afternoon.
Bannalec’s main festival day is always on August 15th, whatever day of the week that happens to be. The night before is an event in itself as well. All the streets are closed to traffic and the bars all have tables and chairs outside on the pavements or even the roads and there is a band of some sort performing by each one. The stalls with drinks, chips, sandwiches, saucisses, merguez, crêpes are everywhere in the street and the whole population is out, eating and drinking and wandering about enjoying the music. This is where we were going tonight.
By the time we were ready to go, the sunny weather had become less certain, and the umbrellas looked increasingly like a good idea. Nevertheless, we did decide to leave them behind and walk into Bannalec to eat and enjoy the atmosphere.
We were not disappointed. Just as I expected, the place was crowded and people were sitting about enjoying the music and drinking and eating. Fylde Coast Cloggers and Wakefield Morris both all turned out in their red and blue (respectively) team tee shirts, and we were certainly very noticeable in the crowds, joining in with everything going on. In one place there was a traditional Breton bagpipe band playing, somewhere else there was a celtic rock band, somewhere else another band with a singer was performing on a trailer for a stage. Everywhere there was evidence of the planning for tomorrow, the marquees where everyone would eat, the huge stage where the exhibition dancing would take place, the apparatus for the huge cooking pots at the side of the church. As the sun set and darkness set in, everyone seemed to be happy and looking forward to the big day tomorrow. I left them all to it and walked back to the campsite with a couple of the others, like a mother hen, content to go to bed happy that tomorrow would live up to its promise. Still the rain had refrained. Magic umbrellas?
Friday August 15th
This is it, the big day! I was out of bed and into my kit very early so I would have plenty of time to worry about nothing.
The festival is called La Noce Bretonne (The Breton Wedding) and the day revolves round this wedding. It starts at the Mairie (Town Hall) where the marriage takes place, then the newly-weds ride in their carrige at the head of a solemn procession of guests (including us and the other Breton dancers) to the church for Mass. After Mass, the newly-weds and guests process round the town, dancing all the way, until they arrive back at the church. Then it is the wedding feast, with the townspeople joining in, followed by the entertainment and the party. This is a big day in prospect and it is so vital that the weather holds out. In other years I have seen the rain completely wash this event out and I couldn’t bear that after the trouble we have gone to. I have to have faith in the umbrellas, today of all days.
By about 9.15 am we were all gathered to walk together into Bannalec and gather outside the Mairie. We were in good time, but by no means the first here. The Breton costumes and high starched hats and collars gradually increase in number and again were in stark contrast to our colourful uniforms. I was talking to a costumed lady about the same age as me, she said she was the bride and remembered me from when we have been before. A farm cart decorated with enormous blue and pink hydrangeas arrived as a bridal carriage. It was drawn by a carthorse with her foal tethered to her side. When the cart stopped we were enchanted to see the foal eating its way through the hydrangeas on the mother’s collar. I was anxiously looking round for anyone to tell us what to do but there was no one. I was flying by the seat of my pants now. More and more people were gathering, some were going inside. Quickly I followed them in to find someone to ask, and met M. Jaouen, the festival director coming out towards me. He promised to get someone to look after us, and said we should get inside NOW!
Quickly I rounded up everyone and we went inside into this tastefully decorated room with dark furniture and a big desk at the front and three rows of chairs. Three older couples came to occupy the front row of chairs. The Mayor, M. Jaouen and another man who was a translator, all in traditional dress stood at the front. The other chairs became occupied by guests of the couples and the rest of us all stood round the sides and the back. This year, the “wedding” turned out to be a celebration of the long term marriages of these three couples, first of all in Breton and then translated into French. At the end, after the applause I went out to the front and asked for a few moments to thank Bannalec for having us again, and for Ruth to present the civic gift from Wakefield. (We gave ours last time.)
After our applause everyone came out of the Mairie and into the sunshine. Two more decorated carts had turned up to take the couples to church and in due course the procession of dancers set off behind them, all the way avoiding the piles of manure left behind on the road by the horses at the front. At this point there is not really any dancing, we are just walking, but I can hardly contain myself and have to behave. Once at the other end of town by the church we can see the crowds had really started to gather and they were already applauding us for just walking!
Most of us went into the church and tried to follow the service, I couldn’t wait for it to end because then the fun would really start. As the service came to an end the doors opened and the congregation emerged into the street. There was music playing already outside, some of it from our own musicians, some of it the bagpipes of the “Bannalec Cercle Celtique”, and other music, it seemed from all directions.
We jumped into the procession as it was forming and let rip with our exuberant processional dance, with Wakefield behind us doing theirs. By now the crowd was huge and the applause was loud, and we were only just getting going! The crowds were there all the way as we danced round the town and they gathered to watch us as we two English teams did a display near the church, as other teams were doing theirs nearby as well. There is nothing like the attention of an appreciative crowd to get our adrenaline flowing and lift the quality of the dancing. I think we have danced for all we are worth just now, and just to be part of all this is so thrilling to me.
The wedding feast is the next big thing. This feast is being cooked right here on the town square. In the past when I have been here, you would see a JCB digger arrive the day before and dig a trench in the road next to the church. On the day, fires were lit in this trench and huge cooking pots were suspended over the top on chains, and the soup, vegetables and casseroles were cooked right there before your eyes, with very hot men stirring them up and manoeuvring the pots about on the coals. The town square was re-paved for the millennium, so the JCB hasn’t been since, and huge iron trailers are brought in to hold the fires instead. This cooking is well underway now today and lunch is starting to be served. The trestle tables and wooden benches for dining are set out in marquees on the square, the townspeople are queuing for their tickets to share the meal. Everywhere, men in pairs are rushing from the cooking station across the square to the marquees, each pair carrying between them a huge tray with handles, rather like an ambulance stretcher, loaded with big bowls of soup, casseroles, vegetables, boiled potatoes, pigs trotters and so on.
All the dancers are shown to a separate marquee and we are spared the joy of the pigs’ trotters this year. Instead a lighter meal is provided for us, still accompanied by all the wine and local cider. Everyone seems to have something they like and we joining in with uniformed dancers from other areas of Brittany and France. We know there is a team of children from Georgia, we saw them briefly earlier on, but they are not at the meal and we don’t know why. We have a leisurely couple of hours in which to enjoy it, sitting in the shady marquee. I am glad of this because I know what is coming next.
Someone came to tell us that we would be first on in the show, and then later the first on after the interval. This is the show which starts at 3.00pm on the massive stage in the town square. We have to share the spots with Wakefield and the two dance foremen decide what we will do. Naturally, we are keen to do our showiest dances. Just as well we have time to think about it. As people finish their meal, there is quite a bustle of folk walking about once again, with music of various sorts starting up all around as we contemplate what is to come. There are stalls selling beer and cider, chips and sandwiches, the bars are all open, the sun is shining, everyone seems very happy and friendly. Those umbrellas are still working for us!
We approach the stage just before the start time. This stage is about 5 feet off the ground with very steep steps to climb up the side. The dance arena is about 50 feet by 40 feet and comprises some very rough rectangular wooden sections, barely held down with nails in some parts. Not ideal, but we have to manage and make the best of it. By now the audience has gravitated from the food to the front of the stage. Many people are just sitting on the ground, some have brought chairs, others are sitting on anything to hand, such as shop doorsteps and litterbins. The MC comes out and spends ages talking into his microphone. I’m not really sure what he was saying but it was obvious when the time came for us to go on. Once more the adrenaline was kicking in and we stamped out our dances on that hollow wooden floor, the resounding noise almost drowning the music in our ears. After 2 dances we left the stage to rapturous applause, then Wakefield had their turn. Our dancing is so exuberant and energetic, such a contrast to the Breton dancing, no wonder Wakefield also had fantastic applause.
We were followed in the dance programme by several French and Breton dance teams, each with their unique traditional music and dress, but the highlight had to be the little Georgian dancers. They were just amazing in their energy, enthusiasm, precision leaps and gaudy, swirling costumes. It was actually quite hard to see them because everyone was holding up their cameras above their heads hoping to catch a snap shot, and obliterating the view of those behind. They are so young, I expect they have been learning these dance routines since before they could walk, but all credit to them. I wonder what they were making of the Russian invasion of their country which has happened while they have been on tour in France? I wonder what they will go home to? There doesn’t seem to be any English speakers among their chaperones for me to ask.
When everyone had had their turn, it was the interval. This seemed to last for ages, and again the MC seemed to gabble on for ages. At last it was our turn again, and Wakefield went first this time. They richly deserved their loud applause, and we stepped up next, for our last dance of this tour. As we finished it, Wakefield joined us on the stage once more as I stepped forward to a microphone. As I began a few short words of thanks in French, I could hear my breathless voice ringing out. It seemed as though everyone had stopped clapping and talking just to listen to me, and when they realised I was speaking to them in their own language, the applause started and got louder and louder until I finally said “Merci Bannalec, et au revoir”.
I couldn’t have been happier at that moment. The whole day, the whole tour even, had passed off just as I had hoped it would. My job was done now. Time for me to relax at last.
In fact, that’s just what we all did. Now it was our turn to join the crowd and just be tourists and enjoy the remainder of the show and the rest of the day in the sunshine, just like everyone else. Our last chance to soak up the atmosphere, marvel at the little Georgian dancers, watch with fascination the Breton dancers, and enjoy the kudos of a job well done.
It could rain now if it wanted to. I was past caring any more.
In fact it didn’t rain today until much later in the evening, after it was all over and people were back in camp thinking about getting away tomorrow.
Sunday 17th August
I am starting to wind down now, very happy at what we have achieved. I didn’t have to take Clive back to Brest airport yesterday because two of the Wakefield dancers were on the same flight, so they took him with them. Geoff took the other girls to the airport as he had brought them, and others have made their own arrangements. Sheila and Geoff are still here with their caravan, as are Anne and Alan, but they are all going tomorrow. The Wakefield crowd have all gone as well.
Monday 18th August
There’s just me left now. I have looked forward to it all being over and being able to sit on a beach in the sunshine somewhere with my knitting, but this will probably not happen as this weather is so unpredictable. Still, I can’t complain. Torrents of rain have fallen some days, but not one drop has fallen on the dancing. It came very close some times, but we have escaped completely. It was worth bringing those umbrellas.
Sunday 24th August
I have really enjoyed my week by myself. The “sitting on the beach in the sunshine with my knitting” did not happen because of the dull weather and the rain. I was driven to retail therapy on some days! I have my car, my sat-nav and my camera at my disposal, so I decided to make use of these and do something I have never done before in all the 30 or so years I have been coming here, and track down the calvaries in Brittany. A calvary is a carving in stone which depicts the Crucifixion. They are very old, some dating from the 1400’s, and I have seen one or two small ones here and there. What I have discovered this week is that some are massive and with such fantastic detail that my breath was quite taken away. I have travelled hundreds of kilometres, sometimes down the narrowest lanes to find them, but I have enjoyed it so much that I can’t wait to come back to find the few that I haven’t managed to see this time.
I have been to say my goodbyes to André, Renée and Marc. They have been such good friends to us all. They have made this whole thing possible.
Tomorrow, I will start to pack up the things in my tent. I leave on Tuesday and have to be at Roscoff for 11.30am.to catch my ferry.
I am so looking forward to my own bed.
Monday 25th August
It’s bed time. Luckily the rain has held off today and I have had one last run round all my favourite places, like Raguenés Beach, Trevignon and Pont Aven. These are the places that my late husband and I loved so much, and they are the places which always come into my mind when I think of coming here. I always want to come again and this time is no different.
I have been able to pack away most of my things and load them into the car ready for taking the tent down after breakfast tomorrow. I said goodbye to my French friends last Friday, so I was very pleased to see Marc turn up to say one more goodbye this evening.
Wednesday August 27th
I must have done something very right because for once I woke up to a dry tent. It’s so much easier to pack it when the tent is dry. Needless to say, it still took me longer to get the tent down and pack the final things into my car than I had bargained for, as did the “good byes” to Alan and Judy and all the others here who know me. I had a real race on to get to Roscoff in time; in fact I was late. They let me on, but I think I was the last to arrive. No matter; the crossing was uneventful and I was clear of the docks in Plymouth by 7.30 pm. The trip held one more last shock for me. After a month of the mantra “Drive on the right Susan”, I now found myself with another: ”Drive on the left Susan”. It was as if the ship had quietly digested me for six hours or so, and spit me out on to a main road in Plymouth and I hadn’t prepared myself for the change back. This challenge was just what I needed to kick- start the adrenaline. Thankfully, the Sat Nav lady took charge once again. I pointed my car north and put my foot down, stopping only once on the way to Lytham St Annes. My strategy was to get home as soon as possible before my body would start fighting sleep, so there was no time for unnecessary stopping. I was back home by 1.30am with the adrenaline fuelled road still moving under me. After a longed-for cuppa, I fell into bed. My own bed. Twenty eight nights in a little tent, with the rain for a lullaby, have made me very grateful for it.