The idea of not being totally in control and not quite knowing what is
around the corner has always held a certain appeal for
me and I suppose I have chosen to conduct my
life so that there is a good measure of surprise and chance involved. This
applies mainly to my interactions with other people and I think I used to like having
a hotel because there were always interesting unknown people turning up at the
hotel in the good old days.
A very long time ago before I had a hotel in Djenné I went to a party in
London and the conversation turned to motorcycles. The chap on my right said
that he had once won a motorcycle whilst playing poker in Ibiza. ‘And where is
it now?’ I asked. ‘Well; that is the thing’, he replied. ‘I have never seen it.
It is a Moto Guzzi Lemans Mark 11’ he added casually. Now, as everyone who is
at all into motorcycles knows, this is a Prince amongst vintage bikes.
‘It is in Glasgow’ he continued, ‘and I have
never got around to picking it up’. I had just passed my motorcycle driving
test in London so I said: ‘I tell you what: why don’t you buy me an air ticket
to Glasgow and I will pick up your Lemans and drive it to London?’ He agreed
and before I knew it I was on my way, clad in leather and clutching my helmet
on the commuter plane to Glasgow.
But before I left I spoke to my friend the jewellery designer Neville and he
said: ‘If you are in Scotland you must visit my friends ...... and ...... in
Edinburgh. They will be delighted to put you up for the night. Here is their
telephone number, just tell them you are a friend of Neville’s.’So I decided to
go back to London via Edinburgh and I called them up: ‘Hello! My name is Sophie
and I am a friend of Neville’s’. ‘Who is Neville?’ came the reply in a pleasant
Edinburgh brogue. ‘Well, he is a friend of Duncan’s, you know the one with the
red beard, the painter’. ‘Never heard of him' said my potential host. ‘Oh, really?’ I was becoming
rather crestfallen and had started giggling. ‘But never mind about Duncan, what
is it you want?’ continued the Scot.
‘Well, Neville told me
you wouldn’t mind putting me up for the night’.... ‘Oh he did, did he?’ Giggles
on both sides of the phone by this stage. Well I can’t see why not. We have a
dinner party tonight but we can always make another place at the table. ‘And he
gave me the address.
It turned out to be in one of those glorious grey stone Edinburgh Georgian
town houses. The dinner was sumptuous and the company was thrilling and fun. I
was given a lovely room. The following morning I left on the Lemans, my hosts
waving energetically on the doorstep, not knowing who I was and I myself not
having any idea where I had been and very happy to keep it that way.
There were often people at the hotel with whom I had brief but deep
conversations. They sometimes said to me. If you’re ever visiting
Avignon/Vienna/Lyon/Montpellier/Northumberland etc you must pop in and see us.
Sometimes they kept in touch, often via this blog with the occasional
comments etc. Because I saw so many people all the time in the heyday of the
hotel it was sometimes difficult to remember exactly who the people were who
sent me messages. So when I decided to go and visit Monique and Pascal in Lyon
I was not quite certain that I wasn’t mixing them up with Brigitte and
Jean-Paul from Avignon. But as soon as I got off the train and saw them, I
remembered of course and I spent the most wonderful time trabouling
and frequenting the Bouchons
of Lyon with them. . The same thing happened just now. Mary has been a frequent
commentator on this blog since she and her husband John were at the hotel in
2012, when it was already regarded as out of bounds by the foreign office
warning sites. They had been the only ones at the hotel and they had visited
with another couple, having dinner but sitting at another table with their
friends while Keita and I were apparently dining at a table next to them. This
scenario now seems so idyllic to me... We did also manage some Djenne Djenno
cocktails on the roof and some conversation it appears.
And now, four years later, I have visited them on their farm in
Northumberland! I am on my way down to London on a faulty train and will alas
miss the funeral of my dear friend Sara...
But have had a lovely, muddy time on their 500 Acre farm just south of the
Scottish border. John and Mary’s son George, an astonishing six foot seven
handsome giant with a large black beard took me around the estate on a sort of
muddy mini jeep to see all the wonders, which included Limousin bulls that
looked absolutely terrifyingly dangerous, and they were too, as George assured
me. I couldn’t help thinking how some people, like MNH Gillis takes on a
resemblance of the animals with which they have a close affinity: Gillis looks
like the elks he used to hunt and care for all his life. And George? Well...
Mary and John and I went to the island of Lindisfarne in order to count
their cows as soon as I arrived. (John above with me at Lindisfarne).
a couple of months a year they keep about ninety cows and the same amount of
sheep on the island to graze- it is necessary to keep down the vegetation and
prepare the ground for the rare orchids that grow on this island in the spring,
where Henry VIII smashed up the ancient Abbey where the Lindisfarne Gospels had
been written many centuries ago.
At night we had lovely farmhouse fare thrown together by Mary seemingly
effortlessly. I met some of their friends, an accomplished bunch of artists and
writers/ organic millers who were active in the area on the side of the angels,
i/e campaigning for wind power mills etc.
Then the music-loving John played me Karkar on the Spotify (music was
one of the reasons they went to Mali) before we started jumping up and down
frenetically to Morrison Hotel...All in all a Very Fun Time.