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2012 was special for the choir, we were formed in 1962, so 2012 makes us 50 years old, the longest ever continuously serving choir in Glynneath. We celebrated at various events throughout the year,  starting March 23rd when we spent a weekend in Manchester. We sang at the Arena as part of a combined choir of about 1100 voices. This took place on Saturday March 24th and was organised by The Welsh Association of Male Choirs which incidentally is also 50 years old this year.

Our major event of the year was held on Saturday September 8th at Glynneath Town Hall, Our guest artistes were the Three Welsh Tenors, Aled Hall, Rhys Meirion and Alun Rhys Jenkins, together with our  Master of Ceremonies who is also a star of stage and T.V. a well loved internationally known performer undeniably Welsh and born and bred in Glynneath, I mean, of course, the inimitable Max Boyce. The choir on this special occasion  had the support of our close friends Onllwyn Choir. It was we believe the largest and best choir seen in the valleys for many a year if not ever !

We visited Glynneath's twin town, Pont Eveque, France at the end of October and spent a fabulous week there where we made many new friends. If you would like to read my Journal of the trip Just scroll down a little lower.

 For news of our latest escapades, photos and videos click on  Home in the links above, scroll down below our photo and click on Facebook this will link you directly to our Facebook page. On the left hand side click on Wall and scroll to find photos and hilarious u-tube videos. - Graham.

A Journal  The Trip to Pont Eveque.

Sunday 28th October 2012.  2.30 am. The bus left Glynneath Rugby Club. ( British summertime was by now one hour earlier but because France is one hour in front of Britain, there was no need to adjust our watches,)  After a short stop at the Welcome Break Services on the M4 we arrived at St. Pancras Station London at approximately 6.30 am. Cleared customs and boarded Eurostar at about 9.15 am. We duly arrived at Paris Gare de Nord  Station at 11:56 am French time.

We had three dependable people carrying the Ddraig Goch ( “The Red Dragon”), one in front, one at approximately half way along and one bringing up the rear of our entourage. We also had 4 fairly tall men wearing red baseball caps.  All these people could be seen clearly so what could go wrong? 

What indeed, now the fun began, we crossed Paris by Metro changing lines once, but were delayed several times by the need to get 37 people, many of them at an advanced age, plus a ten month old baby through the various gates and onto to the different stations and trains. We arrived at Paris Gare de Lyon station pretty well intact. We were now faced with an interminable trek across the huge expanse of the railway terminus, with the added hindrance of cases and other luggage, to find the TGV (Train la Grande Vitesse) platform. With a little help from station staff, in a mixture of English and broken French we arrived at the platform only to be told we were on the wrong side. After rushing breathlessly the quarter of a mile or so to get around to the correct side, the guard told us we could only board at our own pre-booked coach, and yes, that was at the other end of the train. Bear in mind that these trains consist of 18 coaches, each over 30 metres long, needless to say, we were not even half way down to our boarding point when the train pulled out leaving us shattered and stranded.

After taking stock we found that one of the ladies was missing. We determined that she had been with us when we got to the platform and after a worrying search we found her sitting forlornly at the entrance to the booking office. A telephone call from Twin Town Councillor Del to his wife, informed us that he and two others had boarded the train at the first open door and although they had to stand in the buffet car for the whole of the journey, they were at least on their way.  In the meantime our Vice Chairman Huw was dispatched to get some information as to what could be done to get us to Lyon, he now faced a long queue waiting to see the officials in charge, but was eventually informed that due to the size of our party there was no room on the next TGV but we could board one about 3 hours later. Panic over, all we had to do now was to sit and wait or so we thought!

Whilst waiting some people wandered off to find a toilet or to get a cup of coffee. In all fairness they were all careful to tell someone of their intentions before leaving the main group, but inevitably one, who will remain nameless, got lost! After about an hour waiting with his luggage, a couple of us got a little worried and formed a search party. We looked everywhere, even at one stage paying to get into the various toilets and even looking under the doors to see if we could recognise his footwear, desperation indeed.

Eventually we were forced to abandon our search because the arrival of our train had been announced. We double checked the arrival and departure boards to find the correct platform and boarded the train still worried about our missing colleague. The journey south was uneventful and as smooth as silk. These French high speed trains do not give the impression of speed, until you notice the way you are overtaking cars travelling on motorways alongside the railway. These cars are all doing 70 or 80 mph and you pass them as though they are standing still.    

                  

Just before our arrival at Lyon Part Dieu station at about 7.15 pm, a telephone call from Del told us that our missing friend had managed to board the earlier train, whilst we were still frantically searching for him, and had now turned up at Lyon station and did we have his luggage? What a relief and yes we did have his luggage. I can also verify the fact that he was to suffer merciless continual ribbing for the rest of the trip.                         

It was by now dark and very cold, the North easterly wind ( The Mistral ) blowing from the snow covered French Alps. Our hosts hired a bus to take us from the Station to our hotel in Pont Eveque the town is twinned with Glynneath, which was why we chose to go there in the first place. We boarded without any further ado and were soon ensconced in a warm comfortable hotel room. No time to rest however, we were all invited to a welcoming party laid on at the “Hotel de Ville” ( Town Hall ), so after a quick freshen up we were out again to spend the next few hours being watered, fed and feted in style by our incredibly generous hosts. At about 1.00 pm after an arduous 41 hours without sleep, I fell into a very welcoming bed and slept like a log.

Monday 29 October8.00 am. A shower and breakfast and we were off again, this time a leisurely stroll to the local brewery “Brasserie des Roches” basically a one man band the brewery had been set up by a young man from the town and was still in its infancy. He was obviously working hard and learning as he went along. We had tasted his beer on Sunday evening and found it to be quite palatable. He gave a very interesting talk about his aims and ideas, how he used wine bottles because they were cheaper and more available than other types. He was also very proud of his labelling machine, bought second hand from the wine trade. We left after tasting and ordering enough beer to share with our hosts at mealtimes throughout the week.

   Another leisurely walk back to the “Mairie” ( The Mayoral and local town council offices ) there we boarded the local bus to Vienne where a Saints Day fair was being held. The pretty little town was buzzing with literally hundreds of stalls and people selling every imaginable item. There was a small five piece band meandering in and out of the stalls and playing a lively medley of songs. They were all dressed in red, now just by chance I was wearing my, by now, well worn red welsh baseball cap and also just by chance, I had been given a handful of fliers to hand out, advertising our forth coming concert. So I nonchalantly joined the band and handed out my fliers to all and sundry. It worked a treat, everyone I passed, obviously assuming I was one of the band, took and read my fliers with noticeable enthusiasm. Within fifteen minutes I had run out, whilst everyone else still held hundreds. Enterprise ? or just bare faced cheek, what do you think?

The day went by very quickly, we had lunch at a very pleasant, and on this day at least, very busy little restaurant on the main street. Some of us ended the afternoon with a delicious crepe suzette flambé and a welcome glass of hot mulled wine, all prepared al fresco there on the pavement while we sat and watched. That evening our hosts provided a delicious evening meal at the “Cantine Cousteau”. This impressive sounding venue was in fact the local school dining hall, but was impeccably presented and  extraordinarily well equipped.

Tuesday 30th October 9.00am. Saw the departure for a trip to Lyon. I personally was suffering from agonising toothache, and so having first numbed my jaws with a cocktail of painkillers, I and our accompanist Angharad her partner Simon and their baby Seren caught a later bus ( the trains had stopped running due to work on the tracks ) We arrived at “Lyon Part Dieu” station an hour or so later and a quick call on the mobile told us that everyone was on or around “Place Bellecour” This is a massive open unpaved square in the centre of Lyon. It has a huge 1825 statue of a mounted Louis X1V at its centre and makes an ideal rendezvous to meet up with friends.( For a Photograph click on Trips then Trips & Excursions). Back to the Metro a quick check on the metro map and off we went.

The Place Bellecour metro station opens up onto the huge concourse which is 212 by 300 metres and one of the largest in France, we met up with a few of the choir and set off to walk through part of the old quarter of the city. A beautiful white marble cathedral the “Notre Dame de la Fourviere Leone” towers over the old town and a number of us took a tour around it. I myself decided not to exert myself to that extent, and settled for a steak and ale pie and a welcome glass of Kronenburg beer in, believe it or not, a Scottish bar and restaurant in the middle of the old quarter, right there on the banks of the Rhone. This was followed by a leisurely stroll back to the Place Bellecour, taking in the sights, and the amazing splendour of this beautiful city. We all met up again at the pre-arranged rendezvous, the statue of course where else?

Some then took the metro back to the station and some walked down a fairly expensive high status shopping area which went by the rather posh name of “Rue de Victor Hugo”. We arrived at the railway station “Lyon Perrache” and were ushered to a waiting room by very courteous and well prepared staff who had obviously been previously briefed on our visit. After a comfortable journey back by train and then bus, we showered and changed and at 7.30 met up again for another evening meal at the Cantine  Cousteau. We had no idea beforehand that all trips whether by bus or train or both, and all meals at the Cantine had been organised and funded by “ Le Comité de Jumelage Ville de Pont Eveque” (The Twinning Committee of Pont Eveque). We were utterly overwhelmed and humbled by their fantastic generosity.

Wednesday 31st October  9.00 am.  A short trip by minibuses to the museum. The museum was of ultra modern design built near the remains of a large Gallo Roman town and docking area on the River Rhone. A guided tour by a well informed young woman proved to be very interesting. Internally were laid out large mosaics and various items found in and around the area, afterwards we were shown around the ruins of the town itself and given a detailed talk on its history and purpose. Then it was back to the Cantine Cousteau for a well earned mid day meal. After lunch we were all taken by mini buses to visit the “Maisson Colombier”distillery which specialised in the distillation of a pear “Poire William” based liquor. It was fascinating, they cultivated a 6 hectare pear orchard and when the fruits were still small enough, bottles were placed over them filled with an alcohol based infusion, sealed then left hanging on the trees until the pears inside grew to their mature size. After quite complicated sequences of production the final product was sealed labelled and sold with the whole pear still inside. Needless to say, after the much anticipated tasting procedure, many people bought a variety of their products. 

We had decided to purchase presents for the ladies of the Comitie de Jumelage who had looked after us so well. After a prolonged argument with Fabrice the organiser, who was vehemently against us buying anything, he eventually consented to drive a few of us into Vienne to purchase some locally made confectionary.                                                  

This proved to be a pilgrimage of discovery. As we walked he would dash into a shop telling me to come meet “mon ami”  ( my friend ) I think I was introduced to almost every other person in Vienne. It seemed he had a friend keeping a shop on just about every street in town. Eventually we managed to purchase some beautiful chocolates freshly made and superbly gift wrapped by yet another mon ami. After that I was taken to meet his wife who worked in one of the clothes shops together with his miniscule dog, a toy Yorkie named Strawberry. By the time we got back to the hotel I was exhausted, but Fabrice still bubbled with enthusiasm. Shattered, I showered and dressed in preparation for tonight’s formal concert.

The concert was to commence at 7.00 pm but although the choir was staged in good time, there was a prolonged delay whilst the local organiser with typical French laissez faire, made his appearance and introduced his opposite number for the twinning towns, our own councillor, Del then introduced the choir to the assembled audience, in both the French and Welsh languages. The event was very well received by the packed audience. In all we sang 18 pieces during the two halves of the concert. Our accompanist Angharad sang a further two solos in each half and received rapturous applause. We finished the evening by singing Hen Wlad fy Nhadau ( Land of my Fathers ) followed by The French national anthem “La Marseillaise”. To our delight the audience enormously appreciated our deference to their anthem, so much so that they continued clapping until the last chorister (yours truly) left the stage. After what seemed hours of congratulations and acclamations from all quarters, we retired to the Cantine Cousteau for yet another feast provided and waited on by our fabulous hosts.

Thursday 1st November 8.30 am.   At last a free morning. Nothing to do, but spend a few hours walking around the little town.  We had all by now, adopted the typical French laissez faire thing. We leisurely strolled around the local shops and the local superstore and made the unhurried and laid back acquisition of a few mementos. Then back to the Cantine Cousteau for what had by now, become a routine gathering for the mid day meal, again provided by our munificent hosts. The afternoon was very quiet, all shops had closed because it was a Saints Day holiday in France. Surprise, surprise, our hosts had arranged for us to be taken in a little open sided road train, on a guided tour of Vienne. First we did a tour of the town taking in all the local sites and places of importance. We were then transported to the summit of the hills overlooking Vienne, directly above a magnificent Roman amphitheatre cut into the side of the mountain. What a sight, overlooking the whole valley and town with the Rhone meandering eternally into the setting sun, truly unforgettable.

We were extremely lucky as far as weather was concerned, it had stayed dry and sunny throughout the week, the wind was still very cold but if you stayed in the sun and out of the wind, you remained reasonably comfortable. However on this occasion I was grateful to the fact that I had brought along a woollen “New Zealand All Blacks” bobble cap which I could pull down over my ears, together with a warm pair of gloves and a thick jacket. Hardly a picture of sartorial elegance I agree, but I couldn’t care less. This warm and practical if not chic attire, augmented at appropriate intervals by surreptitious sips of Scotch, kept me warm, happy and content with my lot.

Back to the hotel, a quick change and off to the Mairie. After a guided tour of the mayoral and council offices we assembled in the public address room and listened as the Mayor made a speech. She then presented the people of Glynneath with a ceramic montage of the ancient and important buildings in the vicinity of Pont Eveque. Del, in his best French, reciprocated on behalf of the choir, presenting her with a Welsh slate plaque etched with the choir’s name and emblem. After best wishes and eulogies had been articulated by both sides, we said our goodbyes and it was off to the Cantine Cousteau for our last meal with our hosts which culminated with very pleasant evening of informal music and song which served to demonstrate our genuine gratitude and conclusively strengthen our mutual friendship.

.Friday 2nd November 8.30 am.  A bus to Lyon,then by train to Paris. Exactly the reverse of the outward journey, but this time we had more time to get across Paris and did not miss our connection with the Eurostar express to St.Pancras. A short delay in London to locate our bus then off again. An unscheduled roundabout route to fill up with fuel, and we arrived at the Rugby Club at about 11.00p.m. To say it was a relaxing break would be to blatantly deny the facts, and to say I was pleased to get home would be to radically understate my emotions, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. 

 Graham Hall – Chairman.