Mon Coq est mort and other interesting songs
"Raise your tankards for the Barley Mow"
For 40 years Basingstoke has been twinned with Alencon and Overton Choral Society was invited in October 2008 to join in the celebrations. I visited Alencon many times before the by pass was built, mostly around midnight. But it turned out that even these twilight flits through the town was more than anyone else in our party had experienced.
Basingstoke and Alencon are, as some journalist commented on in an article, stranger bedfellows than Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau. Alencon has a “splendide” town hall, verily a building to be proud of, sitting snugly against its equally impressive prison. These beautiful buildings sit in a large square with fantastic floral gardens, which were still in full bloom in October (which is more than could be said about the many roundabouts in Basingstoke). It also has a market square about ¼ mile away, which is surrounded by beautiful timber framed buildings. The market, of course, outstrips Basingstoke’s for variety, quality and quantity. Theirs has the biggest fresh fish stall I have ever seen with myriads of vegetables on other stalls. In Basingstoke we have one miserable s*d that sells veg and fruit twice the price of Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s and an Asian who sells watches. The whole town has been carefully preserved whereas if it is of interest in Basingstoke, it is flattened and a new shopping area or gunky block of flats is built where once mediaeval houses stood.
However, even Alencon has its cross to bear. Just as Basingstoke has its Mother and Child statue, known universally as Wote Street Willy (an apt description) Alencon has a garish grotesque paper machier life size figure that is so out of proportion that to call her The Mamzelle with the Fat Legs does not do justice to those massive appendages.
Overton Choral Society were there as the guests of St Leonard Chante. It was pretty obvious from a squint at their web site they didn’t do Chorale, more comedie de musicale. It was also pretty obvious that having us plonked on them by the Alencon Twinnng Committee did not over please them. However, our social and singing skills won them over. The fact we loved their food and appreciated their wine and town and that we were prepared to sing Mon Coq est mort won us several brownie points. Having met Babette , their conductor, and passed the critical test (singing silly songs) we really enjoyed ourselves and formed new friendships.
Probably the highlight of the weekend was handing out the music and words for The Barley Mow and watching the French, from our imposing place in the Alemcon Auditorium, trying to get their mouths around gallons, half gallons, quart pots , pint pots, gills etc
"Interminable Mayoral speeches & frog leg pate"
Considering we were there for less than 48 hours we certainly saw life if not the town (we were too busy listening to mayoral speeches, eating, drinking and singing). Unfortunately, the mayoral speeches (not ours) went on for hours. A diminutive man who is also gay (nothing wrong with that) who is hated by his town and they are stuck with him for 6 years. This led to a lot of anti feeling within the town hall and all those who were arranging the twinning celebrations. However, we made great inroads with t twinning association and when we left things were really good.
Ferme en Fete. On the Sunday we were taken to the Ferme en Fete. A paper machier cow built in the same proportions as the Mamzelle with the Fat Legs and in similar lurid primary colours had prime position on both posters and in the main hall. Smaller than Alresford County Show but inside it was similar with the hall divided in two sections, one housing percherons, chickens, guinea pigs, chicken runs, sheep, a cattle show etc and another part dealing with local produce.
Having stood for over an hour through the gay mayors speech we had sampled at the following reception Pommeau and Cidre de Normandy (although strictly Alencon is not in Normandy but in L’Orne) and we were converts to Pommeau, the local version of Calvados. Luckily loads of this was for sale in the Ferme en Fete plus snail pate, black pudding, honey and many other local delicacies such as cheese.
Most of our party were hosted with families. I stayed in a hotel. Please read my hotel tips, it was about the worst hotel I have stayed in for years!