The Day I Lost Gothic.

Somedays, (well actually normally at 3am when I wake in a cold sweat stressing about the impending tour on my calendar) I wonder who on earth set me up for this Tour Guiding malarkey! In the glow of the early dawn, the minutes ticking down to my second ever tour were gathering speed, whilst I lay in bed unable to mentally talk my way through, or indeed remember any detail about one of the principle monuments of the city! With the lightening of the sky came the terrifying realisation that I had only myself to blame for the terror I was inflicting on myself. Why oh why had I signed myself up for a career that involves public speaking in front of 30 strong crowds when I was the kid in class that skulked in the back of the classroom hoping not to be asked the question. For the first two tours I had the overwhelming urge to flee, much as had done the French soldiers on the fortified Pont de l’Arche on te Seine when faced with a fleet of ships containing 1200 marauding Vikings.

Suprisingly, the tours actually went quite well, and though my brain fumbled occasionally on the odd date whist trying to recall them at speed, the general ambiance of the group seemed to erase the fear after the first  ten minutes or so. The few minutes needed to walk from one monument to the next was enough to mentally recompose and  prepare the brain for how to present the next historical story and describe the architecture. Sometimes this was knocked a little off kilter by a ‘out of the box’ question from the group, but generally things had begun to fall into place.

Nothing could have prepared me for last Monday, when just as my general confidence and nonchalance was building, I turned to face the cathedral, and realised, in a moment of utter horror that the most important word in the architectural arsenal had ‘hopped it’, fled, ‘disparued’, leaving me with a vocabulary void in its place.

The first three monuments in the tour of Rouen are Gothic, and Gothic had gone awol. It wasn’t just that having learnt the whole tour at the outset in the French language, I had lost its translation – oh no! Gothic and Gothique are very much the same word. Quite simply, I had fallen victim to a very unwelcome verbal dyslexia.

The tour continued, as it should, and since my brain was no longer capable of annotating the windows, archways or delicate stone tracery with their historical references of primitive gothic or gothic rayonnant and gothic flamboyant, the lucky tourists were assailed with a veritable overload of dates as I struggled to get the details across. Fear was once more edging in around the edges as I wondered what other catastrophes my brain may have in wait for me. Whether the tourists noticed, I will never know.

Look at all those wonderful………..details!

But one thing is for certain, terror may indeed be preferable to nonchalance. Whilst fear may leave you expectant of memory loss, that loss creeps up unannounced to the nonchalant, a devastating blow for the unwary. And what worst place than mid performance with no prompt in the wings. As I went to bed that night, those dates were firmly engraved in my brain and my dreams were peppered with pinacles and gargoyles with imaginary labels, 1147, 1245 and 1477.  But the biggest label of all, in bright red letters, the word


Far too late of course…

but let’s hope it stays there until next time!

C’est Chaud à Rouen – Hotting up for the Armada

The cherry-pickers were out on Monday putting up ‘Armada’ bunting across the main street through Rouen, rue Jean d’Arc. There is a charged atmosphere about the city, expectant, and ready. The first Armada tall ships will hopefully arrive in Rouen next Wednesday evening, passing below the Pont Flaubert, the tallest lifting bridge in the world, which will be raised for the occasion.

But for today I was meeting another boat, and was there on the quayside just as The Viking moored after its gradual journey down the Seine from Paris. Should I have been worried? The last time Vikings were seen on the Seine, the city suffered from total destruction, pillaging, and Normandy was handed over to them. Thankfully for me, this Viking ship contained 120 American tourists who were keener on admiring our treasures, than plundering them. This is after all 2013 and not 841.

I am envious of the Americans, for when they continue their journey towards Le Havre, they will have the pleasure of watching the Armada ships sailing up the Seine from an excellent vantage point, the Seine itself. But for us, we have a week of ceremony, free access to the ships, fireworks and a ‘maritime Sunday mass’ ahead of us.

Tourists and visitors are arriving in their masses to watch the spectacle, the hotels are bursting at their seams, and everywhere you chose to look  there are people carrying poles atopped with a shiny red disc denoting ‘group 2A, 2B, or 2C’. I should know, today I was one of them guiding the many tourists around the great monuments of Rouen, trying not to lose Americans in the general hubub and swirling crowds, and trying to keep count of 30 heads whilst at the same time telling them how the leaders of the Harelle riot lost theirs in 1382, and how we lost Jean of Arc for ever.

My diary is crammed with tour dates, many of the guides are running at three a day,  but for some of us, we have to somehow fit in the picking up and dropping off of our children who are incorporated into choirs for both the rehearsals and the the sunday maritime mass, and find the time to provide them with brightly coloured teeshirts (with no buttons or logo) for their performance in front of the cameras. as the 640 strong choir will be televised.

One place I shall certainly be, with my boys,  will be on one of the many bridges spanning the Seine watching the fireworks display at 11.30 on Friday night, which are rumoured to be outstanding. Having missed the great British Guy Fawkes night for the past two years, and inexplicably been out of France for every 14th July, this is an event we cannot miss.


So if you are at a loose end next week, Rouen is where you need to be, and if you see a numbered ‘lolly stick’ waggling above the heads of the crowds, you never know, it could just be me!

A fortnight from now we may just catch a breath for a brief moment, before the ‘City of Impressionists’ festival begins…

But that’s another story!

All photos thanks to google