This was definitely not how 2020 was supposed to be. Back in 2019, we had reckoned that Brexit would be OK for UK visitors to France, despite some new red tape at borders and perhaps some airline disruption.
But then came Covid19 and a succession of French and UK restrictions with overlapping requirements. Result – chaos. Nobody knew whether or when they would be able to come to France, or what would happen when they returned.
It soon become clear that it would be impossible to go ahead with the Sculling-with-Yoga courses we had been arranging, several of which had been fully booked. The courses were therefore cancelled, and deposits refunded. (Sorry folks – it would have been great if it had happened! How many holiday providers have had to say that?)
The family-group approach
What to do next? instead of offering individual course places, we started to develop the idea of single-family or small-group house tenancies with equipment hire, catering and tuition included, as this would be possible under the rules then in force.
We found a lot of interest in this approach, and soon had three firm bookings and several provisional ones set up on this basis. It seemed that this would be a good way to go for the future. Tenants from the UK could drive down via Dover without leaving their family bubble – and with small groups everyone could get the personal tuition appropriate to their skill and energy level.We ran two family weeks like this in August – and they went extremely well. Everyone who came made great progress in their personal performance, both on the water and on dry land – and even more important, they all had a good time.
But then, in mid-August, a new bombshell landed in the form of the 48 hours’ notice of compulsory 2 week quarantine for arrivals to the UK from France. With school and university terms approaching, this was clearly unacceptable, so our third small-group party was cancelled at the last minute, and we decided to wrap up the 2020 season altogether and put the whole operation into standby mode.
On the bright side
A bad situation, certainly, but it could have been worse. Financially, we’ve suffered less than some other activity-based holiday organisers, because our fixed overheads are comparatively modest. Our coaching and housekeeping teams are part-time and have been able to find other things to do instead. Most of the specialist equipment we needed for the season had already been paid for and much of the house-improvement work completed.
This makes it comparatively easy to pull down the hatches and wait for the storm to blow over, with only the unavoidable expenses of rates, insurance, and maintenance to worry about.
The season was, in any case, not a total write-off, because we did manage to run three full weeks of family-group activity, and these were encouragingly successful. So once the Authorities have calmed down, and something resembling normal life returns, we’ll still be here, and can get back to doing what we know how to do, and what so many people have said they want to do with us.
Back to school
My own response to the prospect of prolonged inactivity in Bergerac was to head back to London and the familiar world of Secondary State Education. Consequently, I’m now teaching Geography and Business Studies, as well as being a 6th Form Tutor, at the Turing House School in Teddington.
This is a very unusual school. Under an energetic new headmaster, it’s embarking on a root & branch re-invention of itself with a new purpose-designed campus under construction, an influx of new teachers, a new sixth-form stream and plans for new offerings in both curricular and extra-curricular activities. In effect, an entirely new institution is being created from scratch. It’s a privilege to be involved in such an ambitious project, and I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity to be part of it.
The school is conveniently close to the other great river in my life (La Tamise as the French call it), and to the Twickenham RC, which by a happy coincidence is the club of my regular pairs and doubles partner, the much-in-demand sports-therapist and osteopath Kosta Kolimechkov, He is a regular visitor to Bergerac, and it was with him that I managed to win two consecutive Masters Head race categories in 2017 and 2018. Early-morning training sessions can now be included in the week’s schedule.
The French connection
Twickenham RC has a fascinating history. Founded in 1860, its first president was Henri, Duc D’Aumale, a son of Louis-Phillippe, the last king of France. D’Aumale was a generous patron, and his family donated the freehold land on which the clubhouse now stands.
Despite his privileged background, D’Aumale had plenty of chaos to deal with in his life. What with the invasion and occupation of Algeria, his arranged marriage to Princess Maria Carolina of the Two Sicilies, his entanglement with the 1848 Revolution which deposed his father, the tragic loss of his children, his enforced exile in England, and his decision at the end of his life to donate his art collection and properties to the French state – his real-life CV reads like the synopsis of a Verdi opera.
As it happens, 1860 was also the year in which the rowing club in Bergerac was set up by Charles, Marquis de La Valette, a distinguished diplomat who spent two years in London as French ambassador. When in London, he would certainly have met D’Aumale. Whether the two rowed together at Twickenham we will never know, but when Kosta and I set off for a training session, we like to imagine that they did, and that this beautiful stretch of river helped them come to terms with the chaos in their daily lives.
Anglo-French rowing has, in any case, a long history, and as a humble Huguenot proprietor of a short stretch of Dordogne riverbank, it is clearly my duty to keep the tradition going!
My timetable commitment at Turing House is a 4-day one, which should allow me to remain involved in the 2021 Bergerac season even during the school term, albeit with more management delegation at the French end. Looking ahead through the fog of uncertainty, a bright future for Chez Boileau can be discerned, although its details remain unclear.
How best to deal with Chaos? As a trained yogi I can tell you that a useful general rule is to be calm and super-flexible. So if warned that Hammersmith Bridge is at imminent risk of collapse and that we must not pass beneath it, we don’t complain: we just breathe deeply, turn around and head back towards Richmond, reflecting that one of these days the Council will get round to repairing its beautiful bridge, and that anyway it’s the poor commuters who are really suffering.
In fact getting from London to Bergerac these days is in some respects less problematic than getting from Barnes to Chiswick. So if you like the idea of a trip to Chez Boileau during 2021, and a week or so of sculling, cycling, and yoga in whatever combination and at whatever level suits you best, please get in touch and we’ll discuss the options.