The Weaving of the French Circle Tapestry – Part 2

By Elizabeth Woodman

By 2003 I had been running the French Circle for four years and was now thinking of widening its scope with some innovations and surprises. As I contemplated the warp and weft of the “tapestry”, I thought it would be fun to weave a bright thread into our Christmas party. After fruitless searches outside the club, I found Jonathan Whittley, a French Circle member with great wit and aplomb, who agreed to strut his stuff for us. (And who else but Jonathan could have played Napoleon so arrogantly on our 25th anniversary?) Thus another sparkling thread goes into our tapestry. I busied myself making him a cloak, hat and crozier, and a rather fetching beard and – voilà! – our beloved St Nic was born.

Another new Christmas party attraction was Ruth Hazeldine’s delicious “Bûche de Noël”. She tells me that sometimes the bûche (which is really a glorified Swiss roll) just will not “roll up” so she has to jettison the “pâte” and start again – sometimes several times. Around this time (ca. 2004) Ruth also began making the rich and succulent galettes for the January “Fête des Rois”. Ruth is another golden thread that is deeply woven into the fabric of our club.

All these activities have built a characterful Circle and a little community where members feel they are valued and where they belong. Last year I suddenly realised that the Circle could now “stand on its own feet” and didn’t need me. Just as well, as increasing deafness has made things more and more difficult for me (e.g. hearing Thérèse tell me that cockroaches built some magnificent castles in the South of France. Oops! Sorry, Thérèse, I thought you said “cafards” not “Cathars”!) In addition my energy (though not my enthusiasm) was dangerously on the wane – especially when I put up those vicious collapsible tables for each meeting – “pesky” contraptions according to Ruth. It is surprising that French Circle “animateurs” are not instantly recognisable by their missing fingers.

Mat Schwitzer always attended our meetings regularly right from their very beginning. He livened up our annual “dîner” answering my formal speech with his traditional witty reply and naughty jokes. Only in the last year or so did his health and energy begin to wane and, sadly, this November, the golden Schwitzer thread has snapped and we have lost him for ever.

Happily our other bright thread is still with us sparkling with energy and enthusiasm. Ruth Hazeldine has coped magnificently with the handover of the club, together with Daphne Forrest, the co-ordinator, and a very able team. There are quite a few welcome changes but basically the Circle has the same strong structure. “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. I am proud to have been associated with the Highgate French Circle and – abandoning my tapestry metaphor completely – to see it striding so confidently and fluently into the future.