I was thrilled to be invited to the British Ambassador’s residence in Paris as part of the launch of Les Fete des Voisins particularly as it was a short piece of writing which led to my invitation.
“I think one of my fondest memories of France is of tearing around L’etoile in Paris with a group of French people, of a similar age to me, who for some reason adopted me when I moved to Paris for an extended holiday about thirty years ago. There were at least five of us jammed into Christophe's 2CV which was post box red and customised with long black eyelashes. It was rush hour and the traffic was crazy, but somehow Christophe managed to safely co-ordinate the round-about. The moment has stayed fresh in my memory after all these years, somehow summarising the wildness, unpredictability and care freeness of youth, with a quintessentially French twist.
Je pense que l’un de mes meilleurs souvenirs, c’est la descente les Champs Elysées à toute vitesse avec un groupe de jeunes de mon âge qui, pour une raison que j’ignore, m’ont adoptée à mon arrivée en France (au début pour des vacances, qui se sont un peu prolongées) il y a 30 ans. On était au moins cinq entassés comme des sardines dans la 2CV de Christophe, une voiture rouge pétante qu’il avait personnalisée avec de longs cils noirs. C’était l’heure de pointe, il y avait des voitures partout, mais Christophe a réussi à naviguer à travers le rond point sans problème, je ne sais toujours pas comment il a fait. Ce moment est resté gravé dans ma mémoire à jamais, symbolisant l’abandon, l’imprévisible, l’insouciance de la jeunesse, avec une nuance typiquement française.”
The campaign was launched on the 17th March 2017 by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and was seen by many as an opportunity to show that Britain, notwithstanding the ongoing Brexit process, was very much open for business and keen to maintain close links with European neighbours.
14 million Brits visit France each year. 18 000 French students study in the UK. 60 000 passengers use the Channel Tunnel every day. 400 000 British and French people have chosen to live on the other side of the Channel. With stats like these it is easy to see the importance of staying on friendly terms.
The British Ambassador’s residence was sumptuous as one might expect. Entry required production of ID, a bag search and production of a valid invitation. Once through the wrought iron entrance gates, one found the courtyard filled with an impressive display of the Best of British cars. Thereafter sweeping steps gave entry to the residence itself. I was one of the earlier arrivals and had an opportunity to wander through the impressive reception rooms and beautiful gardens of the property before the majority of other guests arrived. The guests comprised other voisins like myself who had submitted stories to the competition run by the British Embassy in Paris and neighbours to the Ambassador’s residence.
The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo made a welcome speech as did the British Ambassador,Edward Llewellyn,OBE.
There was a delicious and impressive buffet including some particularly British specialities, accompanied by a selection of wines, and beers.
The evening passed too quickly and all too soon it was time to leave clasping my goody bag containing my very own kit to have my very own Fete des Voisins chez moi- a banner, stickers, invitations, postcards, pens, the recipe for the trifle which had been served, and a T-shirt.
This was a celebration about individuals, the people who had moved countries and made a new life in their new country. A celebration of friendship. My visit to the embassy was on the 17th May 2017. The recently elected President Macron visited the Ambassador’s residence only weeks after my visit to sign the book of condolences following a terror attack in London. A poignant reminder that neighbours are there for celebrations certainly but the sad times too.