They are a knowledgeable lot, and I could only assume that Genostine was a mediaeval saint or similar of whom I was ignorant. The stress was on the last long syllable, rather as Dylan pronounces St Augusteen in the song wherein he says he dreamed he saw him (alive as you or me).
But my evident perplexity did not satisfy them.
''Yes! It was in the text you gave us about her...''
The penny dropped, ''Oh! Jane Austen.''
Call it a story against myself, as it doesn't say much about my drilling of their pronunciation, I suppose.
Jane Austen's relics were one of the expressly desired objects of this journey, which surprised and pleased me, as I didn't know she'd been taken up with such enthusiasm hereabouts. She is indeed buried in Winchester Cathedral. Which was another object of my appreciation.
I contacted their 'groups manager', who's called Michael. Yes, they could do a French guided tour, no, no deposit needed, just turn up... The guides and admissions staff at the Cathedral appear to be retired angels, some with northern accents, silver-haired and clad in very smart raiment, and they seem to radiate modest and gracious joy in their task, whether showing around a group of French people of a certain age, or excitable schoolchildren, or anyone else. Our French speaker, whose name unfortunately has eluded me, gently marshalled my lot together and took charge, here they are being good as gold for him,
and here they are doing homage at the tomb of Genostine herself, as I'm afraid she will henceforward often be known.
His French was very good, they said, and he really knew his stuff,and had the right terms for everything. I assumed he must be a retired professor of French, but no, he said, his wife's mother was French so they had travelled there quite a lot, and he had delivered quite some papers in French, at conferences and so on...
Seeing them in such good hands, Helli and I were able to loiter behind and do our own thing, sometimes being engaged and told about and shown interesting things by other free floating angelic guides. I took more photos in fact in Winchester probably than anywhere, so I'll probably put a few more of them up here as and when. The only problem was both guide and group were so absorbed that they probably could have gone on more than twice the allotted time for the tour, and I had to be the tiresome person who kept calling time because of a waiting minibus.
While on the matter of things Austen, even more delighted appreciation and a big treat and special thing for me was meeting wonderful Bee Drunken! Bee's been a blogging friend for a few years now, and I've always been in awe of her well-read-ness, and the lucid, intelligent and inviting reviews she writes about what she reads, as well as her baking and gorgeous house and garden and all kinds of other life skills she seems to have at her elegant fingertips! She's been working as a volunteer at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton , for a couple of years now, and I was very pleased when she agreed to meet us there.
(This, from Hervé, is the only picture I have with Bee in it at all, and she has her back to the camera! She's second on the left.)
Isn't it funny how people are so often even more like they are on their blogs than they are on their blogs, when you meet them in real life? I suppose it's the pleasant surprise of the living breathing reality, combined with the back-story and insights we already have about the inner person. It seems to permit us to look at each other with a more direct and open curiosity. Bee really is every bit as lovely as anyone who knows her only from her blog might imagine she is. We didn't get as much time to relax and talk together as would have been nice, as I was a bit preoccupied and as always having to keep looking at my watch (as well as carefully relaying orders for cream, custard or ice-cream on apple crumbles from English to French then back again then finding myself delivering them in French to the baffled waitress, this happened quite a lot...), but she very kindly stayed on for the afternoon after her morning shift at the Museum, and watching her in action, talking about the house and Jane and sharing her amazing knowledge and even more delicious enthusiasm was a joy in itself. Despite the language barrier, she had my lot hanging on her every word and very impressed, and I was able to bask in plenty of reflected glory and unearned pride at being able to brag 'This is my friend...'
Hooray for blogging, that brings such people with it!
(Inside Jane Austen's house at Chawton, photo by Bernard.)