Monday, 25 June 2018


Nimes arena
Library and Museum by Richard Rodgers
I was invited to go to Nimes as a 14-year-old schoolboy. We were twinned with Nimes and each summer our school had pupil exchanges. At the time the limit of my travels was Ambleside to Llandudno and Wales was about as foreign as you could get. We were limited by bedroom space at home so an exchange visit was a non-starter. I presume that the link between Nimes and Preston was based on cotton. King cotton was prevalent in Preston with forty or so cotton mills producing quality products and Nimes gave the world denim.

The nearest I came to the Nimes pupils was when a dance was held for the visiting teenagers and I helped my father run an outdoor disco for them. He had been a DJ from the 1950's but was struggling to keep abreast of the new music of the 1960's. I used to help him set up equipment and demonstrate new fads like the hula hoop or twist. On this night I was told to play the records as his selections were not to the taste of the young French pupils. I enjoyed the chance to play Little Eva, the Crystals, Beatles, Drifters and Stones and by the end of the night I wished that I could go to Nimes to learn to jive with the energy and enthisiasm of the French.

Yesterday we finally made it to Nimes, a 90-kilometre journey from our summer hideaway in the Ardeche. What a revelation, after negotiating the usual ring of ugly and busy commercial developments that envelope all French towns, we entered the historic centre. From its magnificent amphitheatre or arena, as it is now termed, to the white limestone streets it is a treat. Pedestrianised with squares to relax, modern shops, spotlessly clean and exhibiting a municipal pride that includes its gendarmes on bikes and a wide range of museums. Preston, it ain't. We spent a couple of hours in the arena, had a lazy lunch in a square, saw films of the Roman capture of Gaul and just pottered about as you do in wonderful urban environments.

I just wish that I had discovered this place fifty odd years ago, I might even have been inspired to speak French, something I regret every time we indulge ourselves in this most hospitable and glorious country.

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