The procession of floats through Bains les Bains each year was a sort of social high point in the wider area around Fontenoy. As I said above, all the local villages built some sort of a float for this very important and much loved event in the yearly calendar. I took part in this for most of the roughly 10 years I lived in Fontenoy, dressed in a variety of costumes appropriate to that year’s float. One of my favourite ones was when I was pulled behind a tractor in a huge double four poster which I was sharing with a splendid old lady, who was notably short of teeth, called Antoinette. Rural France is remarkably prudish sometimes, and the sight of the two of us happily in that bed pleasantly scandalized the public who stood beside the road as we passed by…. I was teased about my romantic and erotic involvement with Antoinette for many years after that one. Another very happy memory, and Antoinette was a simply delightful woman to talk to, and as I discovered, to share a bed with…. Even if all we did was talk to each other.
Anyway, by means of my very active involvement in the Associations in Fontenoy, and by being prepared to help anyone who needed a bit of help – going up onto the forest to gather their allocation of winter firewood, helping repair a roof, whatever was needed, I rapidly became accepted as one of them, a real honour I felt.
In the course of all of this, I made some extremely good friends, as Fontenoy seemed to have more than its share of good hearted people in it. People such as Gerard, who used to own the one garage in the village, and was a rather rotund and red faced but utterly likable and reliable man, all the various active members of the Associations I belonged to. Also there was Roger (Monk) Llewellyn-Smith and Marion his wife who arrived after us, and who became great and important friends to us, which they still are. And of course, Jean Pierre’s wife, Marianne. The list of friends we made there is simply too long really to put here, but there were many of them, and the friendships we made mattered to us, and still do in many cases. While Fontenoy had its less pleasant inhabitants, as everywhere does, the great majority of the people there were actually remarkably pleasant and friendly to us.
When it came time for us to leave France and go off to work in Angola, I was given a surprise farewell party and honour in the town hall. How they managed to keep that a secret from me was a minor miracle, as in such a village, the saying that “if you dropped your hammer at the eastern end of the village, people were talking about it at the western end before it had even got to the ground” really did apply.
Anyway, I was sort of tricked into going to the town hall that night by Oscar, who told me that there was a special meeting of the town’s folk to discuss something or other of importance, which I should take part in. So as he had grabbed me while I was still working, I was in my dirty work clothes when we arrived at the town hall, and I was surprised to see that just about everyone I knew in the village was there, all dressed in their Sunday best.
On entering the hall I was grabbed, pushed out to the front, and the good lady Mayoress – Francoise – started to make a speech aimed at me…. And to announce that I was to be given the Fontenoy Medal – an honour that Fontenoy had instituted to show appreciation to people who had really contributed in a very notable fashion to the community in some way or other… And that apparently was me!
After which a number of friends made speeches extolling my many virtues (in their eyes at least). I was totally overcome by the entire thing. Never having been at the receiving end of such public acclaim in my entire life. I was also doubly honoured by the fact that I was not a native of the village, and not even French for God’s sake, but of all things, an Englishman….!
I am overwhelmed as The Mayoress tells us all how wonderful I am…
Not sure I believe what they are saying about me
An astonished me, with the Fontenoy medal in my hand. Note that I am leaning on the table. I needed to.
Lotty was working in Geneva at the time, so it was arranged that she would phone during the ceremony to give me her thoughts as well…
That is a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. It had real significance to me, as I truly loved Fontenoy, those people who had befriended and helped me while we were there and I was actually very sad to be leaving a place in which we had invested so much work, thought, dreams and hopes. But, that party at the end was amazing, wonderful and unforgettable.