One of the reasons for the visit this year was to provide a British presence at an International Air Display at Roanne, to the north west of Lyon, which was celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

The visit was supposed to start on the Friday evening but travel was complicated by a severe fuel crisis in France which meant that some people were late arriving and others had to drop out at the last moment as they couldn't be certain of obtaining sufficient fuel to be sure of getting to Mornant.

Below is an extract from the Loaders' diary covering the days around the visit. First a bit of background.

The Loaders were already in France with their dog, Sally, now a practical possibility since the Passports for Pets scheme had been introduced a few months earlier. They delayed going until Saturday morning as although they had enough diesel to get to Mornant they hadn't enough to get back. They wanted to go via the Museum of the Resistance and Deportation to drop off information they had found about Jean Dutheil, the son of the former owner of their house. He was arrested by the Nazis in Clement Ferrand, deported into forced labour and died 2 days before the end of the war outside the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia after a forced march. The information had been obtained with the aid of Petr Narwa from Rychnov nad Kneznou in the Czech Republic, which is twinned with Vale Royal Borough, after a conversation during the Twinning Festival in 1997.

Saturday, 9th September 2000

Another beautiful morning with a completely blue sky, 14°C outside at 07:30am.

It was also very clear and from in front of the house it was possible to see the hills to the north east. There had been some reduction in the fuel crisis but it was difficult to find out exactly what was happening. It sounded as if some of the blockades had been removed, particularly in the Department of the Rhone, but are still in place elsewhere. The Tourist Organisations in the Var were saying it was causing them considerable problems and they were calling for an end to the blockades.

As the morning wore on it looked as if the situation was resolving itself and although it would take some time to reverse the current position it ought to get more or less back to normal by the middle of next week.

I rang up Alain Meyer and Monique said that he had gone out to get some petrol ready for his trip for "the cure" on Monday. In the light of that we decided that we would go and finally left the house just before 12 noon. We went via Aubusson to Clermont-Ferrand. The road seemed to be much better this time than when we went that way about three years ago and I drove so as to conserve fuel as much as possible.

Whilst wondering exactly where the Musée de la Resistance was - it had taken us some considerable time to find it before - we drove past a sign to it. There was also a parking space, unfortunately not in the shade as it was hot by now. It was just before 2pm, when the Musée re-opened so we took Sally and waited under the shade of the trees in the little grassed area. Being France, re-opening at 2pm meant no one appeared until after 10 past, by which time there was also a young couple waiting. Whilst waiting I noticed that the Ville de Clermont-Ferrand wasn't amongst the long list of sponsors of the Musée, which might explain why it is not mentioned on their website.

We all went in and Anne gave the woman the dossier about Jean and explained the background. Then we shot off towards Mornant and in search of something quick to eat. No McDonalds or similar presented itself as we went out of the city so we stopped at the first convenient motorway services which was out of most fuels. We parked in the shade and Anne went to buy some sandwiches - which intrigued me as they had a 'best before' date of the 15th, which seemed an awfully long time. The aire was extremely quiet with very few vehicle movements. There was a P&O lorry parked up so I walked over with Sally and asked if the driver was resting or stuck. He said he was waiting for a colleague and they would be going to make a delivery together. Interestingly he said he had filled up in England and had comfortably enough fuel to get down to St Etienne and back to England.

We left the motorway at Feurs and then went across country with 5pm, the time for the viewing of the art exhibition in the Maison de Pays, looming. We rang Chantal Vallet, whom we were staying with, from St Martin en Haut to say it was going to be very tight and she said she would wait for us so that we could leave Sally in the cool. Anne thought we should go via Mornant as the road to Rontalon was a white and wiggly one. Unfortunately at Chaussan we got behind a Fiat Uno which was going very slowly and the road was too windy to pass it.

We arrived at the Vallets' at exactly 5pm. Anne quickly changed into a dress whilst I unloaded Sally and we put her in the garage.

We finally arrived at the Maison de Pays about 5.15pm just in time to be welcomed by everyone and then join in the formalities. Alain Meyer welcomed everyone and reported the apologies from the Harrises and Pounders. Iris Isserlis translated the speech into English and then read the letter from Rita Hollins, chairman of Hartford Parish Council. Then Guy Palluy, Maire of Mornant, and Paul Delorme, the previous Maire and current Conseiller Général said a few words and we gave Guy the wooden sign, which I had made. This was to go with the tree which Hartford had given Mornant to help replace the trees lost in tremendous storms which had occurred around Christmas. It had been estimated that France had lost about 10 million trees and Mornant had lost many mature trees.


The exhibition included paintings by Pat Kelsall and Beryl Farr. After the viewing there was a reception which gave us a chance to chat to various people, particularly those that weren't attending the air display tomorrow. Paul Delorme is now professionally retired but busier than ever with the Departement and the Community des Communes. He especially sent Gwen Knight, a previous chairman of Hartford Parish Council and a founder member of the Twinning Committee, his best wishes.

Jean-Marc Besson kept telling everyone that Mornant was very nice at Christmas and we were all now stuck. I told him we couldn't stay as we hadn't turned our water off and everything would freeze...

Marie-Noelle Xavier said that Gaston, her husband, had gone to the meal with her the previous night especially to see us. It was a shame we missed him. The noise level had been incredible with everyone talking at once, she said. This was an opinion reflected by several other people of both nationalities. It sounded as if a good time was had by all.

Anne suddenly noticed that there was an ancient stove like ours in the Maison de Pays just where we were standing and Marie-Therese Bonnet said that it was called a potager. She said that all old country houses used to have them. Presumably people took them out because they were regarded as hopelessly old-fashioned when they bought "modern" cookers.

Claude Imbert came back with us for supper. Georges Vallet had been to a chasse in the Ardeche and arrived home whilst we were at the viewing. We had a very nice meal of duck.

Mr Magoo, their house dog, is now very old and they have got a female pup, Roxanne, very like him as a future replacement house dog. She is very sweet and came for a cuddle. Our old lady dog was a bit jealous so I had to play with them both.

There was mutual viewing of photos. Some of Chantal's original childminding children are now getting quite grown up. We joked that in a few years she would have a lot of weddings to attend. Apparently one child whose family had moved to Paris said after about 3 months "I've had enough of this holiday, I want to go back to Chantal!"

Sunday, 10th September 2000

We got up at about 6.50am, got washed, had breakfast and actually managed to arrive at the Centre Culturel on time at 8am to find that there were actually two different trips - just as well as there was a group of people we didn't recognise at all. Extremely unusually everyone arrived within a couple of minutes and the bus must have left within 10 minutes of the appointed time.

The coach went to Roanne via St. Etienne and the motorway past Junction 6 where we had left it yesterday. We appeared to deliberately ignore the sign to the "Meeting Aerien International" and went through the back streets - which seemed too small for the coach - and got lost and had to turn round a couple of times but eventually went down a very small lane and ended up immediately opposite the entrance to the airfield and at the front of the queue - much to the surprise of the gendarmes who were controlling the traffic. We were given a VIP reception and conducted by red scarved hostesses to a reserved enclosure - which was empty as we were actually on time and no one else had arrived - where we were able to select the best seats at the front.


 The VIP admission ticket to the air display.

It was obviously going to be very hot and I was very pleased that I had my straw hat and sorry that I hadn't remembered at the last moment to bring the big umbrella for shade. Anne had decided not to bring her straw hat because the brim at the back would prevent her putting her head up to look at the planes, but she decided afterwards that the white baseball cap was great for watching planes but not very good for preventing a sunburned neck.

There were quite a lot of aircraft lined up in front of the spectators and several more inside the spectator area which people were being allowed to get into in a controlled manner. The first major display was the Red Arrows who were outstanding and a very hard act for others to follow. It was not surprising that there are many more pilots wanting to serve in the team than there are places for.


 The Red Arrows

As with all French events there was a pause for lunch and we were conducted to a hanger where we had a pre-lunch drink. They had misjudged this a bit; because of the heat very few people had an alcoholic drink and opted for Perrier and Shandy - which soon ran out.

We were then conducted to the upper level of the main clubhouse where we were seated on the veranda more or less under the shade of parasols. I sat next to Mike Isserlis with a French military wife on the other side. Anne sat with Chantal.

The meal was nice considering the number of people they were dealing with. The first course was trout, which Mike and I declined. The wine was a local red which had won a prize in Paris and had been specially labelled for the occasion - we thought it was nice and when we found it on sale later we bought three bottles. The fish was followed by duck and three very nice cheeses. The sweet was a fruit gateau - it was a bit difficult to tell whether it was an ice cream one or hadn't been thawed out fully. Anyway in the heat anything cold was very welcome. Finally there was coffee. I was pleased that as bottled water was consumed it was immediately replaced and I was able to drink enough to prevent dehydration.

After the coffee we watched the proceedings from the balcony until the VIP VIPs, who had been dining inside, came out to reclaim their vantage points for the afternoon's proceedings. We went back to our original seats to watch the WWII aircraft . Amongst them was a French fighter, the Caudron 760, which had some success against the advancing Germans. The German Storch, a most remarkable aircraft which was able to take off and land in a very small space and fly very slowly, about 30mph, which made it ideal as a artillery spotter and also as a means of getting advance troops to take over an unsuspecting airfield and prepare it for mass landings. This was apparently particularly successful in the invasion of Norway. It seemed to have the ability to turn at right angle almost on the spot. The three engined Junkers JU52 (as used in the film "Where Eagles Dare" ) also seemed very slow but is still in use in by a small airline in Switzerland. The De Haviland DH89, as sent by Churchill to pick up De Gaulle, proved to be a bit difficult to get going - it was directly in front of us and required a poke in the starboard engine before it would run up. The final performer was the Spitfire. It was a shame that the PA system was so loud that you couldn't really hear the very characteristic noise of the Merlin engine.

There followed all sorts of modern planes and aerobatics by world champions which brought forth cries of "Oh" and "Aah" from the spectators as engines were stopped and all sorts of impossible death-defying manoeuvres were successfully completed.


 Parachutists of the French Special Forces

There were several parachute jumps by an army special forces unit. They jump from about 12,000 feet with 100 Kg of kit and use modern controllable parachutes. This means that they can leave the plane several kilometres from the actual landing point so that the people on the ground aren't alerted by the noise of the aircraft. Interestingly they use personal GPS to ensure that they all land within the space of a tennis court.

The most moving display was M. Moullec with his wild geese. He has been using them to help similar geese migrate over more than a 1000 km to Poland. It was absolute magic and one of the most moving sights I have seen in a long time. The take off was hilarious with the geese running along the runaway whilst the micolight accelerated to take off speed.


 M. Moullec with his wild geese

The finale was the Royale Marocaine airforce aerobatic display team who did most of their display with the seven aircraft tied together with rope. Whoever thought of doing something like that?


 Royale Marocaine airforce aerobatic display team

It was interesting that their ground crew contained two women - who were dressed in boiler suits the same as the men. When they finished the display - which was actually when they got back to their parking places perfectly lined up and all the engines were stopped together - they got a standing ovation from everyone nearby.

We bought some of the special wine on the way to the bus and finally arrived back in Mornant at about 9pm, where we said "Goodbye, see you in Hartford next year" to everyone. Georges had had a successful meeting of the chasseurs and was watching the football on the TV. We transferred all the photos onto the PC and looked at some of them.

We then had a nice "family" supper of several of the products of recently butchered pig - very good indeed and went to bed early as they had to start work early tomorrow.

Whilst being out chass-ing Georges had lost Tosca, who I think is his best/favourite hunting dog. Apparently this happens fairly regularly and Georges told us how he had lost him one time and had a phone call from Marseilles, 300 km away. A family had found him and as they were going to Marseilles took him with them. He spent two weeks with them "on his holidays" and then when they returned they brought him back and George met them and retrieved him. This time he wasn't missing so long; we had just finished the meal when there was a phone call to say he had been found. As it was only about 6 km away Georges went to get him immediately.

Monday, 11th September 2000

I got up at 7.45am when Georges had gone off to work and Chantal had got herself organised for the children, as it was a normal working day for them. Anne washed her hair and got water into her ears which resulted in them becoming blocked with wax. She couldn't hear a thing.

When I got downstairs Sally was still on her duvet in the kitchen so I got her out for a little walk as Chantal arrived back with Pablo (14 months), who had spent the weekend with her sister-in-law. Shortly afterwards her other Monday client's mother arrived with her. Jessica has all sorts of problems and although she was born within days of Pablo she is very much less well developed and poses Chantal quite a challenge.

Georges came back as there was still a problem about getting gazoil and they were filling the van from a can. He stayed whilst the workers went off and we all had breakfast together outside on the terrace. The house is beautiful and view from the terrace on a clear day is spectacular - something Hartford can't match!


I took some video of their hunting dogs and the house and noticed that one of them wasn't very happy. I told Georges who went to look and discovered that it was Tosca and found he had a louse almost in his eye. He pulled it off and stamped on it then gave him a good check for further unwanted companions.

I loaded the car whilst Anne talked to Chantal and played with the babies and we left at about 9.55am and for the first time ever turned left and went up to Rontalon. It was a narrow windy road but not too bad and obviously much shorter than the route via Chaussan. The views were lovely.


We got to the motorway in just over an hour which was just about the same time as it had taken the bus to go round the long way via the motorway at high speed yesterday. There was advance warning of an accident 21 km later but when we got there there was no sign of it except a battered section of crash barrier.

We got to Clermont-Ferrand almost on the dot of 12 but didn't have too much trouble with the lunchtime traffic. It was noticeably hotter, about 32°C, and the long steep climb up into the mountains soon brought in the engine cooling fans which couldn't manage to maintain the usual just under 90°C and the temperature crept up to about 92°C under my watchful gaze. It is a good thing I fixed the fault in the control circuit for the fans!

The traffic soon thinned and we made steady progress whilst the rest of the world ate and arrived at Aubusson at about 1.40pm. Anne went to do some shopping in case my cousin John and his wife Annette came to visit us, the last time we had spoken they hadn't been able to get any fuel and were stuck in Toulouse. I took Sally for a walk in any shade I could find. As we came back to the car I saw there were a couple of cars at the petrol pumps so I wandered across for a look and discovered that the 24/24hr credit card pump was dispensing gazoil. So I went back to the car and joined the queue. The chap in front was having problems getting it to accept his credit card - it only seemed to want to take the first 3 digits of the pin. In the end it invalidated his card much to his disgust. I decided to give it a go anyway and put in the four digits of the pin. Although it didn't seem to take the fourth digit as it hadn't with him I pressed "valider" anyway and it accepted it. As there wasn't anyone else queuing I more or less filled it up. Anne came out of the shop whilst I was doing this and loaded the food into the car.

We drove home and Anne re-heated the remains of Thursday's curry for a quick lunch as we were both starving. As she took the bowl out of the microwave the turntable came too and smashed on the floor. Oh dear!

About 4.30 pm there was a call from Annette to say they had found some petrol and were coming. Anne started to cook the supper and we had a quick tidy up. Anne thought that I had made some bread as soon as we got back but I hadn't so I popped down to Prudhomme's to get a "pain". It was interesting that Sally wanted to come, in spite of already spending four hours in a hot car earlier in the day. It is nice she is enjoying herself so much on her first trip to France. John and Annette arrived at about 6pm just as we were standing in the road talking to our neighbour Maurice. He was highly amused that the fuel problems and blockades had spread to the UK. Sainsbury's said their sales had gone up by 30% as people filled up to make sure they didn't run out and by doing so helped to cause a crisis. We sat and talked to John and Annette in the cool of the house and then we went for a walk with Sally when it had cooled down outside.

A restful end to an interesting and enjoyable weekend.

Jack Loader

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