Where Are They Now?

Last week Clare wrote about the little Easy Rider she bought for Ruby. And almost immediately I got an email from a very welcome reader indeed. Stéphane Vanrecham, the Chain Gang’s very first guide, still the best guide we’ve ever had, and the only person in the world who started the Chain Gang with me.

He now has a little’un of his own and wanted to get hold of an Easy Rider in red. Sadly they don’t don’t do red, so we’ll have to settle for something else, but I wanted to write about Stéphane, not some wooden bike that has no pedals. Sorry Ruby, real bikes have pedals sweetheart.

When I was researching to see if I could set up a bike tour business, I was driving around France exploring various areas when I realised I’d arrived close to Bordeaux. I still had my old phone book with me (this was 1996), and wondered if my old pal Gordon Crichton still lived around Bordeaux. I rang his Mum in Liverpool, and sure enough he lived in a tiny hamlet close to Belin Béliet, 25 Km from Bordeaux. With his wife and 2 children.

I’d lost contact with Gordon, who has lived in Bordeaux since before we met in ‘84, and if the Chain Gang has achieved nothing else, Gordon and his gorgeous wife Muriel (don’t read that bit Mu, or Gordon come to that) are two of my closest, most treasured friends. And that was worth it. And Lydia and Andy are wonderful, beautiful, talented children too. Although it bugs me that a 10-year old can be so much better than me at football.

So, Stéphane. Muriél’s brother Jerome had a friend who lived in the Dordogne valley, aged about 25, at a loose end. We met, in a bar in Ste Foy-la-Grande, a bastide town next to the Dordogne. When I finally took the plunge and started The Chain Gang with our first tours in the Dordogne, Stéphane agreed to be the French arm of the operation. His English wasn’t up to much, my French was worse, and we used to converse in a strange combination of both, but it worked.

He laughed at everything, and has a natural gift of helping people. All the hoteliers loved him, and we worked together for 3 years as we built the Chain Gang. We had a bit of a falling out in the end, but we fairly swiftly had a falling-back-in again. We haven’t worked together since 1999, but he was wonderful, couldn’t have got The Chain Gang started without him.

There’s never quite enough time to go to Montcaret to meet him again, and as each year goes by it gets longer and longer. It’s almost New Year, which means new resolutions. I’m definitely going to see Stéphane again in 2008. I can’t wait.

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