I am sure no one has really heard of Beaune. I only heard about it because I got to go there in a very unexpected way. It is an ancient historical town in the French province called Burgundy, in the heart of a famous wine-growing district.
After I left school, I decided to opt out of my place at university, as my parents were heavily in debt and I really didn’t know if I really wanted to study French and Drama at university, as my dreams of being an actress had sadly been dashed when I failed my audition at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (incredibly fortunate, in the long run!). So I decided the best thing to do was a secretarial course in London as secretaries could always get jobs and my parents wouldn’t have to keep supporting me financially and I could be independent of my very demanding mother.
Let me point out that the last job on earth I wanted was to be a secretary and work in an office all day long. The course I chose was a Secretary-Linguist course with French and German (I did well at languages and thought I might as well put them to good use). This meant I had to learn shorthand in French as well as English and how to type at fifty words per minute (on a manual typewriter).
Every day I travelled up to London from home and climbed the stairs of this old and unattractive building along with a group of other young women and learnt shorthand and how to touch type (for which I’m also incredibly thankful). I was bored out of my mind, but the goal of getting a job kept me going.
Towards the end of the course, we had to do a six week stint in either France or Germany (just across the channel from where I lived in England). As French was my main language, I opted for a job at a winery in Beaune (pronounced ‘Bon’ with a short ‘o’ by the French and ‘bone’ by the English). I travelled most of the way by train and was picked up by someone from the Maison Jousset-Drouhin on arrival.
It turned out to be one of the most exciting and unexpectedly fun-filled adventures of my life. The Jousset-Drouhin family is an old established wine making family that are still going strong. Beaune turned out to be this gorgeous old town filled with stone buildings with pointy turrets, cobbled streets and many historic sites, surrounded by oceans of green vines. Robert Jousset was my boss and would dictate letters to me occasionally (his English was a lot better than my French). He was absolutely charming and so easy to deal with. I had a few other jobs to do in the office, but nothing was too arduous. He usually left me in the care of his secretary who became my mentor and showed me around town, whenever I wasn’t working.
He told me the history of how his family had bought the winery here early in the 20th century. Part of the buildings had belonged to the Ducs de Bourgogne and some of the Kings of France in the 15th century. The architecture was stunning, as were the rows of barrels down in the underground cellars.
I stayed in a room in this vast house. They gave me a little gas stove and a saucepan and I went to the market and cooked my own meals, I can’t remember where I prepared food, but maybe there was a little kitchen. Three times a day the French bakers produce their baguettes, those unbelievable crusty fresh bread sticks that every household buys. It was heavenly, just fresh or with butter.
I was a little lonely in the evenings, but I soon became aware that children were coming in and out of the bathroom across the passageway, so I plucked up courage one day and opened the door and lo and behold there was the sweetest little blonde girl smiling at me. This was Veronique (she and her brothers now run the winery!) Their nanny brought them every evening to have a bath, so I soon became friends with all of them, the youngest being about two years at the time and Veronique about eight.
This led to some invitations to dinner with the whole family and many times when I played with the children and my French improved enormously. This would have been sufficient to have made the whole trip worthwhile but there was one more wonderful treat in store.
Robert could fly a plane and he owned or had a lease on a small Cessna plane and he took me and his wife up in it one fine sunny day and flew us down over the Alps and Mont Blanc, the highest peak in France. Back then not many people flew light aircraft, so I knew I was really privileged and the views were spectacular. We landed somewhere where there was natural spring water to drink (before it became something you find in every single supermarket). My memory has totally failed me as to the name of the town. Unfortunately during my move to Australia I lost all my photos.
I was truly overwhelmed by the warmth and kindness of this very gracious family and of everyone I met in the office and elsewhere. Sometimes people say the French can be a little proud and haughty in their attitude and I have experienced this, but I found on this trip that everyone was just the opposite. On my last day, Robert also gave me money in payment for my time there, which of course he wasn’t obliged to do at all. It was like the icing on the cake! By the time I left, I was even thinking in French and my accent was pretty good after tuning in to so many French speakers.
It was of course the highlight of my secretarial course and more than compensated for those days of banging away at a typewriter and scribbling down shorthand and then trying to decipher it, all the while trying to concentrate very hard on the task in front of me, while my mind was longing to escape into fields of imagination.
The letter ‘b’ has a harder sound than ‘p’ but they can sometimes be confused. Students can also confuse ‘b’s with ‘d’ when written,. You can use the thumb and forefinger of each hand to show that ‘b’ faces towards the right and ‘d’ towards the left.