They do say that one of the key signs of a quality friendship is being able to pick up the threads quickly after years out of touch.
The truth of that idea was proved to me in France a couple of weeks ago.
Old friends Derek and Anne Iceton have lived in west central France for nearly ten years now and I was delighted to have the chance to see them during my recent trip to the Limousin region which I was telling you about last week.
I first got to know the unforgettable couple over thirty years ago when they were living in Wheatley Hill and later in Dipton in North West Durham.
I was heavily involved in the splendid Hartlepool Round Table and Derek was a key figure as Chairman of the neighbouring branch in Peterlee.
There’s a good chance that many column readers will remember him in his successful business career including at Cameron’s Brewery in Hartlepool and later as a tutor in business training. A night out with the Icetons was never dull and a host of memories had us dissolving in laughter many times when we caught up at their new home in Bagnol in Lauriere, nearly a thousand miles south of County Durham.
Following their excellent directions, I headed off from my hotel at Domaine la Jarrige and drove through wonderfully quiet French countryside to the lovely village of Le Grand Bourg where they had booked a table for lunch in the splendid Auberge Restaurant.
Allowing extra time for getting lost, which happily I didn’t, I arrived in loads of time and parked up without mishap with hardly a soul in sight. Over a lovely lunch, it was as if the intervening years since our last meeting disappeared as we recalled old friends and adventures.
I also discovered some of the reasons why they had settled so well in their new life, including a real immersion in the local community. As well as joining the “third age” club, they also support and sing in the local choir, and help teach English in the village school.
After lunch, we did a great tour of the area and ended up at their new home, which is gorgeous. Roomy and full of character, it has a garden behind it about the size of Ward Jackson Park with views across the surrounding countryside.
Dotted around the rooms were some cuddly (model) Rottweiler dogs as a reminder of the times when they bred them back home in Durham.
It reminded me of staying at their Dipton home and waking up in the middle of the night with a Rotty sitting on my chest.
All too soon it was time to leave and pack for my trip home the following day.
Parking the hire car up near the railway station, I made my first driving mistake of the week in my trusty Peugeot.
Almost back on my British driving head, I headed for the left hand barrier of the car park and nothing happened. Which was quite right – I had tried to enter through the exit lane, which is why the barrier did not lift! I reversed out and went back by the correct route on the right.
It caused a fair deal of amusement to some spectators, but, happily, it was a public holiday in celebration of Liberation Day so there weren’t too many about.
Then it was on the train to Paris and the flight home for a late night arrival at Newcastle Airport.
The trip ended as it began, with simultaneous closures of the A1M and the A19 and, unlike France, miles of cones with nobody working on the road.
What a trip and what a good crop of memories. The Icetons are due a trip back here a bit later this year and we’ll be sure to get a bunch of old friends together to enjoy the laughter again.