Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Adventures in Northumberland

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). During 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.


Blogger David said...

And thus you get to parts of the UK we haven't even glimpsed. It's not just chance: your curiosity and gift for friendship forge the links.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

What a beautiful collection of stories!

- Norman

7:03 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Puts me in mind of the Six Degrees (or is it five?) theory.

- Norman (di nuovo)

7:03 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Thank you Michael, I believe is six . And David you would love Northumberland!

11:37 AM  
Blogger David said...

I love what I've seen of it from the London-Edinburgh train, and always want to get out when we pass Alnmouth (assuming that's the right county...)

1:45 PM  
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