(James writes a monthly column for The Gudgeon. Each month, the previous month’s article is archived.)
As usual, we’ve left it late to book our summer holiday. Every year Sally and I promise ourselves that next year we’ll be more organised; that in February we’ll do some research, make decisions and get everything booked in plenty of time. In my mind’s eye I’ll be like Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne – travelling light with a backpack and a good book.
But that never happens. Every year spring arrives and we’ve not even begun to think about summer and in the end we book something last minute in late autumn. And I look like Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army, not Jason Bourne.
When I was young we holidayed in Cornwall every year in August. That was before there were fast roads or direct routes; when travelling from London to Penzance took us two days. Mum, Dad, my sister, my Nan and I would squeeze into the family Fiat 125 which was essentially a small and unreliable oven, and amuse ourselves with travel games and summer specials and packets of Spangles while Dad shouted at all the other cars. I still feign sleep whenever I hear the phrase, ‘Exeter bypass’.
For me ‘Summer holiday’ conjures up images of sunny skies and balmy breezes and being away and carefree, and waiting for the AA on a grassy verge next to an overheating Fiat.
I was musing on this as I cut through from Westbury Gardens into St Margaret’s Hall car park and I saw the Octagonal Twinning Garden. I’d not noticed it before but there it was (and still is): a beautiful stone mosaic; a piece of public art celebrating Bradford on Avon’s twinning with Sully sur Loire (another town with an ambivalent approach to hyphens) and Norden, and West Wiltshire’s twin, Elblag.
Perhaps it was because I was thinking about summer holidays but the colours in the mosaic reminded me of warm seas and Cornish rock pools; and the images of butterflies, birds and fish made me want to go on a picnic and fall asleep by a river.
Were the Fates intervening, I wondered? Should we go on holiday to Sully sur Loire or Norden or Elblag – or all three? I rushed to the library to check them out but it was Tuesday and the doors were locked, so I rushed to Uncle Google instead.
I discovered that Elblag is in northern Poland and has a canal that was named one of the Seven Wonders of Poland – that must be the over-achieving twin. Sully sur Loire is in north-central France, sits sur Loire and dates back to medieval times just like Bradford on Avon. We’ve been its twin for over 25 years. Norden is in Lower Saxony in Northern Germany, on the shores of the North Sea. We twinned with it in 1969 – which was the same year that our Fiat blew up on the Exeter bypass.
Friendship and understanding between the municipal siblings is promoted by local twinning associations that also facilitate visits, arrange social events, publish newsletters and generally keep the connections alive. And in a world of shifting politics I think that is a very important function.
All this talk of twinning has got me thinking. What if, in each of these other towns, there is an author who looks like Captain Mainwaring, and one writes for a magazine called Le Gudgeon, one for Der Gudgeon and one for Ryba. Wouldn’t that be great?
Only one way to find out. Time to book a holiday.
(Apologies to all if my translations fall short of accurate.)