In our line of work it helps to be a people-person.
You can become quite blaze in your perceptions of people. Sometimes these perceptions can be challenged and people surprise you, whether or not they are folk known to you all your life or are complete strangers.
You might think that first statement is a foregone conclusion. This isn’t always the case with some bigger organisations, but it definitely helps to have this desire to be around people enjoying themselves, to be right there when something special kicks off!
We’re just home from a very special occasion. A wonderful five days spent among old friends – and new – in the lovely Charente area of France to celebrate a happy achievement.
A very dear friend who has lived in this beautiful part of the world for more than a decade had a milestone birthday to celebrate – and she did it in typical style. While she considers herself a Scot first and foremost, a little bit of France has definitely seeped into her blood (by way of her taste in good French reds, I suspect).
What also happened was that we immersed ourselves in communal activities to an extent that we don’t really get the chance to do while we’re working, providing music for other people’s celebrations.
While we like to think that we make some new friends with many of our clients – some of whom come back to book us for other parties – such friendships are, by their very nature, transient.
Our job can be solitary because, while Andy is up there in full view of every gathering, the people are there to celebrate a family-and-friends occasion.
I’m talking here about friendships that have distilled, like those French reds I spoke of earlier, over the years, to become so comfortable and easy-going it’s like slipping on an old overcoat that has adapted to your shape over the years.
Andy’s cabin bag was filled with laptop, microphones and various cables and connectors he felt might be needed to provide the musical entertainment for the garden party crowd of 100 guests.
As it turned out, the party became the talk of the town. People were either going to it or had heard about all the preparations or had supplied services and food for the night.
All the British guests must have boosted the local ecomony quite a bit over their various-length stays!
Confolens is twinned with Pitlochry in Perthshire. It’s not a big town, but an important gateway to other parts of the region.
So, it’s good to see other small businesses being run smoothly and expertly and our first taste of that was with our hotel hosts. People so busy, they should be rushed off their feet but they managed throughout our stay to stand and chat, be helpful with advice and generally have that comforting aura of folk who know what they’re doing and that they’re doing it well. Cranky guests were treated with the same respect as everyone else. No-one could have blamed them if they’d lost their cool on occasion – after all, they were the ones slogging away in kitchen temperatures that far exceeded the outside 30+ degrees.
Next, we took a walk up a steepish incline to a viewpoint over the town. While we took in the panorama several dog walkers passed with a friendly “Bonjour” which we gladly returned.
Then we heard a commotion coming from an area we couldn’t see – voices over loud-hailers, police sirens, traffic on one of the bridges at a standstill. We, of course, jumped to a conclusion of “accident” or “demonstration”. Turned out, as we discovered later, to be the passing through the town of a stage of the International Cycling Road Race (Tour of Poitou-Charentes stage). Nothing more sinister than that.
On a mini sightseeing tour, courtesy of the birthday girl’s brother and his wife, we were treated to a variety of places of interest, some off the tourist track and some, like the Memorial of Resistance at Chasseneuil-sur-Bonnieure so prominent in the landscape you couldn’t fail to see it.
Its site on the only incline that dominates a lush flat terrain, is so majestic it takes your breath away. Once you get closer and walk round it and see the grave markers – different styles for every denomination – you can’t help but feel humbled.
Carved from white stone, the monument soars about 40 feet in a kind of defiance of the very nature of the people it honours, whose activities had to be kept covert. The whiteness of the stone also seems to emphasise their innocence and humanity during such an atrocious time. That’s a memory that will stay with us of people who led double lives through necessity but were, for all that, not what they seemed on the outside.
A beautiful old church, half hidden in a kind of valley on the outskirts of the town was another stop.
The doors were locked when we arrived – not unusual these days – but, as luck would have it, the caretaker had seen us pull up and came down the track to let us in to look around.
It’s simplicity was belied but the aura of peace and fortitude that pervaded the inside. We wandered around, then sat to take in the ambience. H, a lovely singer, stepped up to the altar and started to sing “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, light-heartedly at first but, seeing we were enthralled, adopted a more chorister- style tone and finished it beautifully, her voice resonating through the vault of the building.
Not known for being a religious person, H’s performance was all the more breathtaking because she realised we were experiencing a moment of, if not faith, then certainly transformance and I was close to tears at that out-of-character solo.
Had I believed in ghosts or spirits, I would like to think some had heard and approved.
I was close to tears again when D accompanied H on his guitar as she sang at the garden party. By then, the wine and beer and spirits had been flowing for some time; the locals had shown much appreciation for the French music we’d got especially for the occasion and the dancers of all ages had thronged the smallish dance area, creating circles for all to take turns – no segregaion of nationalities here!
D started off well then, somewhere between one verse and the level of his liquid intake, he lost his place and H had to nudge him. Now, we know he’s more than capable of accompanying his wife during these accoustic sessions (after all, they and Andy had been a professional trio back in the day), but his boyish giggles at his own error made it all the more amusing for those of us who were aware of this.
His happy, boyish mood continued later as he silently aeroplaned down the quiet narrow streets on our way back to our respective sleeping quarters.
Having said all this about perceptions and reality – or reality as it stands at any given time, because reality is a bit like truth in that our versions of truth can be very different from any one else’s – there was one constant in all of this.
The hostess herself.
She insisted on announcing, each time she introduced a new member of her growing circle of French friends, “This is my oldest friend” (and her a teacher in her former life!). We have, indeed, known each other for many, many years and, though it’s not so easy as a 45 or so minute drive to her home, we keep in touch. Now that we’re getting older (she’s still older than me!), other priorities take over but we pick up exactly where we left off each time.
As she moved among guests in her wonderful garden, she exuded her brand of charm and joie de vivre like the finest Chanel. It’s what attracted me to her all those years ago – as it does to countless other people – she just has that knack. What you see is what you get, even though, sometimes, it may be a bit more than you can handle!
She’s the person you want at your party. She holds court whether she’s reciting Tam o’ Shanter or regaling the company with a funny story.
It’s that old overcoat thing again….. or, maybe, just the help of the French reds that keep her looking and acting the same way she did all the times she took a break from her busy schedule to make me feel that I was the most important thing in her orbit.
Like her father before her, who everyone knew and loved, she’s from the same mould – a true people-person if ever there was. I like to think she’ll continue to be herself forever so I wish you many, many more Bon Anniversaires, Mrs T – and, don’t change a thing!
I was making scones this morning and realised, just as I was rolling out the mix, that I had forgotten to add the sweetener. It wouldn’t have made them inedible as the fruit content would ensure they were sweet, but it wouldn’t have been the same without it.
Long-standing friendships are a bit like that too – they roll along just fine for years and years with the occasional added sweetness of a new shared memory – enhanced by the depths of that friendship – so that it creates a magical moment from ordinary-seeming ingredients.
I’m pretty sure we all were the talk of the town after last weekend and, hopefully, created a few happy memories for the locals to mull over in the colder months to come. Maybe even start an overcoat of their own with their memories of friendships made, or renewed or enhanced.