Day 1 – Monday 3rd August
After a sleepless overnight ferry crossing and a largely uneventful drive down from Le Havre, Doug, Liz and I arrived for our first visit in Parcé-sur-Sarthe. We had set out from Raglan in Doug’s van on the previous evening catching the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre followed by a two and a half hour drive from the ferry port. As our jazz and blues quartet ‘Lounging About’ had been invited to play at the Parcé Music Festival that evening we had brought the PA and our instruments in addition to our baggage and assorted gifts for our hosts. Even squeezing a couple of baguettes in the back of the van would have been a challenge.
In total thirteen of us (eleven from Raglan) were visiting Parcé and each group had selected different ways to travel including the Ferry to Cherbourg and driving via Dover. On our way to the village we had picked up Andrew and Anne Morton from Le Mans train station; they had caught the Eurostar via Paris.
As we drove into Parcé our first impressions were extremely favourable – honey coloured medieval stone buildings on the side of a hill sloping down to a wide gently flowing river; glorious weather truly an idyllic setting.
Our first destination was that of Stève Brissault, Parcé’s deputy mayor in charge of twinning. Stève had visited us in Raglan back in May and was the main co-ordinator for the trip. His farm was a mile or so outside Parcé on the road to Sable and housed some 17,000 chickens and ducks. As the poultry were all being shipped off the week of our visit it was busy time for Stève.
After a restorative orange juice we all drove back into Parcé to meet up with Chris, Kathleen and Laura Butler-Donnelly who had arrived in Parcé earlier than day. Stève then distributed us to our various hosts who would be accommodating us during our stay.
Doug, Liz and I were to be guests of Jacques and Anne-Marie Estival. Jacques has been the mayor of Parcé for the past couple of years. The couple own two fifteenth century properties on either side of the Rue Basse. Jacques kindly explained that one house would be ours for the duration of our stay - a 15th century four bedroom house by the side of the river with a garden full of fruit trees and a fridge stocked with beer.
Andrew (AJ) and Joanne Johnson who had arrived the day before were housed with a family a couple of doors down the same street. Chris, Kathleen and Laura stayed with a local potter in the centre of the village and Anne and Andrew with a couple on the edge of the village. Our remaining Raglan visitors Tony, Ros and Elenid Rowlands had booked a gîtes just outside the village.
As our immediate priority was the concert that evening we only retired to the bar for one drink before checking out the venue.
A wonderful canopied stage had been set up in the town square with a backdrop of the 11th century Bell tower. Chairs were neatly laid out with lights both for the stage and to illuminate the tower. We discovered that there were two groups performing ourselves and a Jazz quartet from Paris. We were scheduled to finish the evening playing from 11pm – a scary thought as we had had virtually no sleep and been travelling for the previous 12 hours. We unloaded the PA and set up our equipment.
Before the concert commenced all the Raglan visitors, their hosts and various members of the council gathered for light meal at one of village bars. As we all tucked into our Croque’s Monsieur the bar’s outdoor tables resounded to a combination of French, English, Franglais and camera shutters as we all got to know each other.
We learned that the other band performing were from Paris and were students at the world famous Didier Lockwood School of Jazz which scared the living daylights out of us rank amateurs.
It also suddenly dawned on me that as Chairman of the Raglan Twinning Association I may be called upon to say a few words at the concert so I hastily scribbled a few words on a napkin and surreptitiously passed to Andrew for him to translate into French for me.
The mayor introduced the concert, welcomed the visitors from Raglan and called all thirteen of us on to the stage. He presented us with a plate decorated with the Parcé and Raglan logos and a decorative medal of the village. I said a few words of thanks in appalling French – whether anyone understood I know not but they seemed to go down well.
The jazz band were all superb musicians and performed a selection of contemporary jazz and originals. We came on at about eleven and played for about forty five minutes before inviting the other band to join us on stage and end the evening with a jam session (or Boeuf as they call it in France). Everybody thoroughly enjoyed the event and after packing away the equipment we all retired to bed exhausted but elated.