Thanks to Brian and Liz Berks for their organisation, we were able once again to make the AGM an event worth attending.
At the Priory of Mesnil St. Martin at Montaut de Villeréal (47), members and guests were able to enjoy a fine catered lunch and then hear a Chopin concert by the owner of the Priory and concert pianist and teacher, Emmanuel Laloë-Ferrer.
This was followed by the lighter touch of Stanley Hanks with songs about London and from his native Costa Rica.
It’s a long time since I (or any of us) were addressed as “élèves”; it brought me a smile and fleeting feeling of youth when our host M. Lafargue at his Ferme Auberge welcomed the “élèves d’Oxford” to his unpretentious salle à manger for a high quality lunch created from his own produce.
Before this long and sociable repast, 20 OUS members, partners and guests assembled in the bijou village of Lagraulet du Gers, admired the rather bizarre water-tower-cum work-of-art (now a gîte) and shivered in the unseasonal cold, before the main event.
Mme. Martine welcomed us to the chai of Domaine le Grand Chemin and explained patiently the processes involved in creating vintages of Vieil Armagnac (no blended versions here) before warming us up with a tasting session. Apéros made from eau de vie and Schweppes, a 2002 and a 1985 Armagnac, and canapés of rilletes, were all plentiful and well received.
The restoration of a ruined chateau in the heart of the village is nearing completion and is soon to open as a four-star hotel “Castel Pierre”; we were invited inside to admire the quality of materials and workmanship by the enthusiastic (if naïve?) young couple who had put two years labour and a princely sum into the project.
Our thanks are offered to Kathy Jarman, who has had her holiday home nearby for 25 years, for organising the visit and making it a success.
Our group of 30 visited Josephine Baker’s Chateau des Milandes on 26th June, courtesy of Tony Tucker. A fascinating tour of this 15th century Chateau, restored in the 20th century after centuries of disuse, and home of the American-born entertainer Josephine Baker from 1937 to 1968 was followed by lunch and a well-presented display of predatory birds. Josephine Baker’s story is well documented, but still remarkable as a major stage star in revues of the 20s and 30s, who then used her wealth extravagantly and immensely generously at Milandes, modernising the village and adopting eleven children. Then as a member of the French Secret Service in World War II she earned the Legion d’Honneur, and became a major participant in Civil Rights demonstrations in the 1960s. The I-Spy prize goes to Richard O’Neill for spotting the pocket-free ‘Irish’ billiard table’ and the raptor photography prize goes to Pip Kirby.
The chilly, overcast day did nothing to dampen the spirits of those members who went to Le Temple-sur-Lot recently to meet and encourage the OUBC oarsmen and coxes training for the 2014 race. The crews, excellent ambassadors of the University, cheerfully gave up some of their free time to talk to us. The lunch which followed, and which was attended by the two coaches (Sean Bowden and Andy Nelder), the President (Malcolm Howard) and the Club Administrator (Barbara Wilson), was a lively and convivial affair ; after watching the crews warm up and set off for their afternoon’s training, the OUS SW France members present (some of whom had travelled a long distance for the occasion) agreed unanimously that the event should be repeated next year !
After their AGM, members were taken on a tour of the Château de Sainte-Mère by its owner, Piers Killeen (centre stage above). Already widely known by music lovers for the quality of the concerts he arranges every year on the site, Piers is working hard at the restoration of the 13th century building, discouraged less by bad weather than by the seemingly endless and often contradictory hurdles put in his path by bureaucrats. A paradox, when you think of all the fine buildings we admire today and which, over the centuries, have been restored, added to or even completely rebuilt on the foundations of previous ones.
After lunch, a smaller group visited the Bleu de Lectoure, a revival of the medieval technique of producing blue dye from a plant known in the south of France as “pastel”,and in northern climes (including Great Britain) as woad. As a surprise bonus, Chris Boddington gave us a rousing version of The Ancient Britons’ Woad Song.
On a hot 21st July, a group of over twenty members and friends assembled to visit Mike and Sue Spring’s vineyard at Domaine du Garinet in the north-west Lot. This is a 2.5Ha vineyard with distinct parcels of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the classic Cahors Malbec. Walking through the tall vines, Mike and Sue explained how they had carefully researched their project before acquiring the vineyard and the challenges they face to produce wines. These obviously met with the group’s approval (without any pressure on their part). This year’s vendange will be late, but we were tasting still the 2003-5 reds, so it will be some time before the 2013 Malbecs (100%) come on stream.
No OUS event is complete without a lunch, this time a convivial, inexpensive and filling five courses in St. Matré. Thanks our due to Sue and John Baylis (our chairman) for organising the visit.
A number of members and guests recently visited the Lavender Farm at Lherm. After a warm welcome and presentations in front of the lavender from both Suzie and Ian, we sat down to a fine tea whilst watching Ian complete the distillation process. Recommended – do call in advance, though. You might also consider a visit to the nearby restaurant, La Recréation, at Les Arques, if the weather is good enough to sit outside.
Richard O’Neill (Treasurer) kindly organised our visit to Albi on 17th May. Given the dismal May weather, our group of 16 were blessed by a sunny, rain-free day, starting inside, of course, with a fine lunch at La Temporalité, itself sandwiched in between the Cathedral and the newly-extended Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. We were detained longer than perhaps expected by this artist’s extraordinary draughtsmanship. The massive exterior of the Cathedral (supposedly the largest brick building in the world) didn’t seem particularly beckoning, but the interior is as rich as the exterior is austere. It has a particularly compelling representation of hell (and above) and amazingly well-preserved 16th-century painted vaulting and chapels. The boat-trip on the Tarn would have been positively dangerous given the state of the river after our May rains, but it didn’t really matter. A splendid day out: see our snapshots below.
Our Chairman, John Baylis, and Treasurer, Richard O’Neill attended the European Reunion for alumni in Madrid. Photo courtesy of Jo Whiting. John is also seen at the Trinity College dinner. This was hosted by Greg Timofiejew (Oxford and Cambridge Society of Poland and Oxford and Cambridge Dining Club of Geneva), seen to the right of John and left of Jackie Hruby, the Alumni Office organiser.
Friday 19th April saw 18 OUS members and guests assembling at Château Pierrail, near 33220 Margueron, for a tour of the well-designed gardens, the winery and tastings of the fine Bordeaux Superior wines produced here. Alice and Jacques Demonchaux took on this beautiful once-baronial 17 C residence with 70 hectares of vines in 1970 and today it is a magnificent private estate producing first-class wines sold to restaurants throughout Europe.
Among the party was OUS Branch Secretary from Perth, Australia, Roger Winwood, seen here with our Chairman John Baylis and Secretary Marion Tempé.
Lunch was enjoyed at the Relais de Monestier before most of us drove to Allemans du Dropt, there to be suitably impressed by the 15 C frescoes in the church of Saint Eutrope, then relax with a cup of tea chez Pip & Sue Kirby, whose house is but a stone’s throw away in the village.