THE twinning of Hartford and Momant was sealed symbolically, if accidentally, on the first day of the civic celebrations in France when the Mayor, Paul Delorme, and the parish council chairman, Peter Adams, became “blood brothers”.

Both dignitaries gashed their hands on sharp metal when they were erecting the Rue de Hartford sign on the outskirts of the village, and their blood mingled as “frères de sang” before the badly cut chairman was whisked away for first aid at the local pharmacy.

 Both civic leaders gashed their hands while fixing the road sign.

Nineteen Hartford residents, including one in a wheelchair, went to France for the ceremonies which endorsed the twinning agreement signed here in Cheshire the year before. For the whole of their stay in Mornant they met overwhelming hospitality and kindness. Goodwill and genuine friendship were the vital common denominators — so that people communicated at a very deep and basic level. Hugs, jokes, smiles and the willingness to surmount any linguistic obstacles by dint of Franglais, gestures and dictionaries made for a heady atmosphere of camaraderie.

The Hartford contingent stayed with French families for several days, with the “core” three days from Sunday, May 29 to Tuesday, May 31, 1988 being crammed with activities organised by the Mornant twinning committee.

Several members of the party flew from Heathrow to Lyon airport on the Saturday afternoon, and the first drama of the trip occurred when the lead crystal decanter, to be presented to the people of Mornant on behalf of the residents of Hartford, was detected by the security system’s X-ray machine. To prove that it was not a terrorist bomb, Mr. Adams had to remove the gift wrapping and umpteen layers of tissue paper. He then discovered that the plane was overbooked and had to use all his persuasive powers to obtain a seat (the unlucky “extras” found themselves on a smaller plane sent to augment the scheduled flight).

The group were met at Lyon airport by their French hosts, and the whirlwind of hospitality started for them. Others travelled by car, incorporating the civic visit into longer holidays.

That night, by coincidence, an Olympic-type flame on its way through France to Spain to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the French national gymnastic association was being ceremonially passed on, at Mornant, from the Department of Rhône to the next-door Department of Loire. There were brass bands, speeches and gymnastic displays in the little square beside the church in the town’s medieval quarter. It was delightfully homespun, like village events everywhere in the world, and the Hartfordians felt immediately at home.

 To make the Cheshire visitors feel even more at home, every shop window was decorated on an English theme and all bore the simple message “Welcome!”. Most striking was the ironmonger’s store, where a real stuffed deer’s head hung, decorated with flags. It was a truly heart-warming start.

After the ceremony, the English guests present went to a reception at the local sports hall for all the “flame” participants, where the first champagne of the visit was offered. They later estimated that with the magnificent hospitality which they received everywhere they went, each one must have had at least a bottle of wine in the bloodstream at any particular moment, which was just kept topped up.

The hart was decorated with French and British flags

Next morning, the twinning celebrations began in earnest with the erection of a sign on the outskirts of the town bearing the Mornant fifes and the Hartford hart, to mark the twinning. It was pouring with rain — a shock to the English who had left behind blazing sunshine in Cheshire. They then splashed on to watch the two civic heads name the Rue de Hartford and spill blood for their fatherlands, and splashed back through the town to the beautiful medieval Maison de Pays, where they saw an excellent video and exhibition on the Department of Rhône, together with an exhibition about England.

At noon, they went to the elegant Mairie (town hall) for a reception, where Peter Adams and the parish clerk Shirley Harris were made honorary citizens of Mornant and presented with bronze medallions. A third honorary citizenship was bestowed upon Mme Claude Godeau, the school mistress dubbed “mother of the twinning” who had been moved to another post at Lyon. At 4.30 pm, everyone attended a moving and simple wreath-laying ceremony at the village war memorial, then went on to the official twinning ceremony at the town’s function room. Pupils from the state secondary school read incredibly difficult English poems and presented a tableau, speeches were made, official presents exchanged (the decanter had been done up again in its pretty wrapping paper) and all the Hartfordians present signed a twinning agreement on parchment which was then given to them. When the time came to sing the French national anthem, there was many a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat. Then it was off to the beautiful 11th century priory at nearby Taluyers for the official twinning banquet in fairytale surroundings.

At the end of the evening it was clear that the French like to sing after a good meal and that those with good unaccompanied solo voices are in great demand. The reserved English found themselves unable to think of anything to offer except “Old MacDonald had a Farm”, but resolved to do better next time. The convivial atmosphere that the singing produced at the end of a long and emotional day was very moving.

Next morning, the English were split into groups and taken to see schools, the old people’s home, the establishment for handicapped children, or the local fruit co-operative — all the trips were fascinating. The Hartfordians and their hosts had lunch at the old people’s home where the chairman received a number of wonderful gifts made by the old people, including a knitted cushion cover with the Union Jack on one side and the Tricolore on the other. An unexpected treat was an unscheduled song from an old man of about 90, determined to welcome the English in the traditional way.

The delegation was then taken to Lyon by coach where members were told of the city’s three “rivers” (the Rhône, the Saone and the Beaujolais) and were given an unforgettable reception at the equivalent of Cheshire’s County Hall — except that it was more like Buckingham Palace than a seat of local government. They were fortunate that M Jean Palluy, who represents Mornant on the council of the Department, is currently the organisation’s President. He had been present at several of the events in Mornant, and invited the Hartfordians specially to look round the magnificent Hotel du Department. They were treated to champagne and caviar in a room hung with one-ton chandeliers and with walls covered with silk. Mr Adams was given a commemorative medallion and a book about Lyon.

This was followed by a guided tour of Lyon’s ancient town centre, and dinner at a restaurant which the English/French party took over completely. The group was split between two rooms, so the English plans to sing were thwarted, although occasional French songs kept wafting from room to room. Everyone eventually got on the coach to go home at about 1.20am.

On Tuesday, with match-sticks propping their eyes open, the English split into two groups, first-timers staying in Mornant, and “Old-hands” going to Annecy by car with individual Mornantais. The Annecy group met up in the town for a guided tour and reaped the benefit of being in the famous tourist centre during the break between the winter and summer seasons. The old buildings, the chateaux, the canals and the market were all exquisite.

Then they went on to the old Hotel du Lac overlooking the lake, which had been opened specially for the party by the manager, who was once a pupil of the chairman of the Mornant twinning committee. They had a wonderful lunch in a semi-circular dining room with views over the lake, debating whether or not it was the “Hotel du Lac” of novel fame. The Hartfordians fell in love with the place, all vowing to return when they found out from the tariff how reasonable it would be to stay there.

As usual, they were late leaving (they were late leaving everywhere, in the best French tradition, because they were having such a wonderful time) and dashed back to Mornant as only French drivers can dash on a motorway. They arrived somewhat late for an exhibition put on by all the associations and societies in Mornant. Mr Adams received many generous gifts for Hartford from the exhibitors.

The evening, and the official part of the visit, was rounded off with a meal in the same building. By now, the English had lost all their reserve, an impromptu choir sang “Jerusalem” from the stage, the Mayor and past parish council chairman (and honorary citizen of Mornant) Gwen Knight sang “Happy Birthday” to the twinning, and parish councillor Jack Loader told a joke in French which received the equivalent of a standing ovation! There were songs all round, and Mr Adams thanked everyone for an unforgettable experience.

No-one who went on the twinning trip could doubt the value of the “marriage” between the two communities. Both the English and French found the constant round of engagements stimulating and exhausting — everyone, regardless of nationality said they would sleep for a week — but the “buzz” of shared activities welded the people together into a group of real friends. It did not matter that some could not speak French and others had no English, they just enjoyed one another’s company and surmounted the barriers somehow. The Hartford group gained an invaluable insight into the French way of life, and found somewhere where they were not foreigners or tourists, but members of an extended, caring family.

But it is not necessary to be a member of a civic delegation to discover these things. English and French school children feel the same bond when they go on exchange trips, as do individuals when they swop homes, or likeminded organisations when their members organise visits to their “twin” community. The opportunity is there, for everyone to share.

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