Town Twinning became a big thing after the Second World War as people sought to repair relationships with their neighbours and I have often wondered what the process was for getting a twin town.
Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful; or perhaps it was a sort of dating service and introductory agency.
Anyway, the city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins. That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry. Perhaps even more surprising is that Sherborne in Dorset, a town of only ten thousand residents has fifteen twin towns.
From 1975 to 1980 I worked at Rugby Borough Council and there was a strong Town Twinning Association with a regular group of Council bigwigs rotating biannually between visiting the twin town of Evreux in Normandy, France and then entertaining French visitors the following year. In 1977 Rugby twinned with a second town, this time Russelheim in Germany, and this meant new people were required to fill the coaches and provide accommodation for visitors. We expressed an interest in the Gallic option and in 1979 joined the twinners.
In the following year I changed jobs and moved away to Rugby and that put an end to Town Twinning for a while until over twenty years later in 2002.
Now I had moved to Spalding in Lincolnshire whose twin town is Speyer in Germany and responding to a crisis of too few hosts for an imminent visit I decided that it was time to start twinning again. At this time I was sharing a rented house with a friend and work colleague, Barry Bradley, and the organizer thought it would be amusing to allocate a female visitor to stay with us. Her name was Helga and I thought this all sounded rather promising…
The coach arrived at about six o’clock on 7th September and I optimistically looked out for a stunning blonde getting off the coach. Well, the coach emptied and there was no sign of my guest and as people stared to drift away I wondered if she had bothered to come. Finally the coach pulled away and there she was standing on the other side of the bus. Oh My God! My optimistic vision of a Bavarian stunner was cruelly dashed because Helga had more the look of an East German shot putter of dubious gender than a Black Forest beauty queen so I hurried her to the car and if I’d had one I would have put a blanket over her head to get her inside the house in case she scared the neighbours.
We got over the first night but in the morning she didn’t appear for breakfast so I had to leave her and go to work and return at lunch time to deliver her to the coach for an organized trip. At tea time I took her back to the house to get ready for the civic reception but without warning she packed her bags and demanded to be taken into town to be closer to her friends.
It turned out that she was ragingly homophobic and she had jumped to hasty conclusions about the domestic arrangements. There was no convincing her otherwise and unable to dissuade her I had to make alternative arrangements for her, which brought my attempts at improving international relations to a shuddering halt. So traumatic was this experience that I haven’t twinned again since.
A happier Town Twinning experience: