Sit down with John House and Jacob Webster and relive the weekend of a lifetime.
JH: When I realised it was time to leave on Thursday morning, thanks to the sensation of Fergus seductively prodding my leg, I could not have anticipated the joy of the adventure upon which I was about to embark. As I grabbed my bag the eerie silence of Bristol at 3am was pierced by one Michael Wilsher who, wearing only a dressing gown, thundered around the house in a sleepy haze having failed to set an alarm or indeed more importantly pack, and was now thus vastly behind. Taking the good old mantra of ‘no man left behind’, Fergus and I promptly left Mike behind and took to the streets to walk down to the coach station. Picking up Messrs Pennifold and Webster on the way, we quickly lost Fergus as he realised he hadn’t brought his passport, largely due to the preoccupation he had taken with trying on a variety of chinos for the bus journey (he eventually settled for a solid beige pair teamed with a green hoodie – a solid middle class choice). Arriving at the bus station we were met with a varied number of attitudes, those who had managed to get a couple of hours sleep were largely looking tired and grumpy, whilst those of us who had not slept were remarkably upbeat, described at the time by yours truly as a feeling of ‘almost homicidal calm’.
JW: Ah yes Fergus – the gift that just kept on giving. Right from the outset, he was something else. First morning, 3am. Bus at 3.50am. You’d think he’d have packed everything the morning before right? Wrong. Having tried to do a last minute wash, he concentrated more on the disaster of having to pack damp clothes than on remembering to grab his passport. Cue a mad dash through the silent streets of Bristol, with me giving him directions over the phone, including “Turn left at the drug dealer and then right at the drug-dealer’s mates”. It’s alright though, he made it. Hurrah.
JH: The bus journey to London was largely uneventful, some people slept, others had people sleep on them, others stayed awake and loudly commented on whether other people were sleeping or not. The stop of at London meanwhile allowed for a quick food break, one which Mr Plinio ‘made the Paris Metro his bitch’ Zanini made full use of, acquiring a weekends supply worth of muffins which he then promptly worked his way through half of in quick time. Having safely loaded on to the next coach many people returned to the land of slumber.
JW: Chris and Cheryl went for the nawwwwwwww factor, sharing pillows, blankets, bodies – everything. Mike went for the head in the air, mouth wide open. Emily folded herself around people. The best sleeping technique, however, was adopted by Oscar, in which he, quite literally, buried his face into the lap of Minodora. I don’t want to use the word ‘nuzzling’, but you get the picture. James Throup , meanwhile, got prime positioning at the back of the bus, next to a couple who he later confirmed were “seriously boring” and “not very bright”.
JH: Special mention must go to Kirsty Maund for wearing her delightful pink pyjamas for the whole trip. The bus journey was long, helped by Webster and Shaw’s patent pending game of ‘guess what number I’m thinking of’, my own invention of ‘how many vowels in this sentence’ and a good old game of consequences.
JH: Having arrived in Paris the hearty team were helped with their navigation of the Paris metro by one of the organisers, a young lady by the name of Laure, whom Big Mike would later claim was one of a number of French girls who ‘had a thing for him’. Unfortunately for Mike and Celestine, getting on a train proved too difficult a task, and there was much amusement to be had as the train pulled away from Big Mike’s traditional confused and scared expression.
JW: Well, ‘Best friends’ Mike and Celly had clearly decided that they were too exclusive for the rest of the club, what with the level of their friendship. No matter, we thought, they’ll be along very soon. 5 minutes later, nothing. 10 minutes, and still no sign of the bezzie twosome. 15 minutes later, and at long last the two of them sheepishly exited a train, back to join their loving comrades, safe and sound in the arms of us all. Celly, obviously not happy with the fact that she was now having to share Mike with the rest of us, promptly tried to cross busy junctions on a red light, with cars not exactly going slowly. Twice. I certainly had my heart in my mouth.
JH: The hotel was a fine establishment, not quite as nice as a premier inn, but certainly better than one hotel we found that was simply labelled ‘cheap beds’ or ‘cea eds’ because of the lack of lighting to a number of letters. The rooms were comically small, with 3 people crammed into a double bed with a bunk above it.
JW: Hotel F1 is not known for being especially salubrious. Draw in your mind an image of somewhere you might go for a dirty rendezvous, when the person you are taking there isn’t someone you’re willing to spend much money on, and you’re more or less looking at a room. Views varied between a building site and the piece de resistance – the Peripherique. Like having the M25 just outside your bedroom window.
JH: It was decreed that the first evening would be a ‘gentle one’, thus we decided to go and find an establishment for some dinner. The restaurant we found was wonderful, the Burger I had was phenomenal, whilst I’m assured the variety of other dishes chosen were also delicious. Unfortunately, the deliciousness of the food was reflected in the price of the establishment. I don’t think anyone on our table will forget the look on James Throup’s face when he was informed the beer he had ordered was going to cost him 8 euros and 60 cents. He consequently decided that dinner for him that evening was going to be a solitary beer with a side of water, the staple of a good diet. Shaw and Webster meanwhile, ever the entertainers, decided that consuming a pot of mustard as a starter was a good idea, much to the disgust of the only lady on our table, Miss Weegenaar.
JH: Having finished our dinner it was decided that a visit to the Sacre Coeur was in order, and what a fantastic decision it was. The building was fantastic and presented everyone with a wonderful view of Paris. This view was perhaps dampened by the industrial strength laser one local Parisian was firing on to buildings, but nonetheless it was truly a breath-taking building and view which everyone appreciated.
JW: Oh yeah, the view out over the city at midnight from the Sacre Coeur was something else, only added to by the sound of ‘Story of My Life’ coming from nearby.
JH: After a healthy night’s sleep it was down to the sports centre for the first day of Volleyball. The Men were playing first against local hosts Les Sciences Po.
JW: Entirely new warm-up routines were dreamt up, the pinnacle of which was the mincing speed walk that the boys performed around the outside of the court, prancing, twirling and spinning like something out of Alan Carr’s wet dream. The only thing camper than the gyratingly jarring men was absolutely nothing. It was the limit of camp, the upper threshold. And it was just fabulous, fabulous darling!
JH: Having discarded the overly inflated volleyball presented that felt like digging a brick, the men were underway opening up a nice lead in the first set thanks to the ever present spiking of Pawel Laskowski. Having won the first set the men then promptly fought hard but lost the second before entering the third. The set was tense with all timeouts used and both teams taking the lead at different points, however with Zanini killing the ball through opposite the men took the victory 2-1. The ladies were up next, coached by two of Snow Whites seven dwarves in the form of Pennifold and Sherfield (cue singing of ‘They’ve got a combined age of 64!’ to the Beatles song, ‘When I’m 64’). They played well against a strong side, with Federica Cimatti proving herself a handful for the other team. Despite their good efforts however the girls were unfortunate to take a 2-0 defeat. Next up were the men again who played LSE, a team with a number of strong hitters. Having taken quite a drubbing in the first set, the men really stepped it up in the second with everyone playing to the best of their ability, taking a 15-3 lead by the second time out. Despite letting LSE back into it slightly the men still comfortably took the second set. The third set was a more tricky affair however and LSE managed to win, however the men had still qualified for the Semi final and thus weren’t particularly bothered to be completely honest.
JH: The Ladies then had two more matches to contend with, during the first the ladies played well with Celestine Weegenaar benefitting from a pre-match empowering speech from House and hitting superbly through the outside. Despite Nordal’s excellent setting however the ladies seemed to have lady luck against them, as time after time the ball rolled off the net onto the Bristol side. With the Gods against them, the ladies took an unfortunate loss. Their final game of the day heralded the return of captain Ellie Harrison, fresh from her flight. Buoyed by her arrival the girls had a great game…I assume…I have no idea because I succumbed to my tiredness and fell asleep courtside and missed the game, sorry ladies.
JW: I can confirm that they did.
JW: Seeing Catherine and Abi running fantastic middle plays, just as were set out in time-outs, was a gratifying experience. Team talks were given in such a stirring way by some of the guys that the girls returned to the court a teary mess, fists clenched and hearts pumping. Everyone contributed to the causes of the two teams – from Minodora coming on to swing through from outside, and Kirsty putting in a couple of mighty blocks, to Emily bouncing around even more than Karoline does in the libero position. Some of the chants emanating from the sidelines were inspired: “Come on Gaby, lets Crop this losing deficit”, “Here we go Plinio, nice clinio hit please” and the ubiquitous “Sweet Karoline, der der der” were just some of my own personal favourites.
JW: One of the sounds that it is simply impossible to forget was the sound of Lara’s body slapping the court every time she went for a dive – be it her arm, her hand, her knee or her face, the noise echoed around the hall like a gunshot (or one of Fede’s massive spikes). Unlike a bullet wound, however, Lara’s repeated impacts did not deter her and she continued to put her body on the line, again and again.
JH: With the days volleyball over the gang of hearty volleyball warriors returned to the hotel to shower and prepare for the first night out. Having moved, because of logistical reasons to a different room with Miss Weeganaar, I was discarded in only my underwear out of the room whilst she got changed and thus found myself wandering the corridors, gaining a number of both admiring and horrified looks from passers-by. It was at this point that I first heard rumours of a mishap that had happened to Mr Fergus Shaw. His towel was by no means one for the entire body, and was also a wonderfully shiny state of white. It was therefore noted by Mr Webster upon his return from the shower that there was an unfortunate looking stain or ‘skid’ to use a more adept word, marking the whiteness of his drying implement. With the chant of ‘he shat on his towel’ echoing through the Parisian night, the teams headed out for the first evening’s entertainment.
JH: With Oscar maintaining he knew the way all 25 of us headed along a street for about 10 minutes, before performing an about turn and walking back the other way for about 11 minutes and finding the club. On the way I personally accepted a lovely offer of some beer from Miss Harrison, a beer, because of my lack of concentration, I then promptly gave to a homeless woman who approached me (soz Ellie). The dynamic duo of Fede and Lara meanwhile had located a plastic vibrantly pink phone which they proceeded to protect for the whole evening, all the while making fake phone calls to goodness knows who whilst sprinting up and down the street. Each to their own I suppose. The club itself was beyond warm, imagine going to Lounge in full ski gear, whilst the prices of Jaegerbombs in comparison to everything else left little else as a drinkable option. With Big Mike bopping away on the dancefloor all seemed to be going well, until Fede loudly exclaimed she had lost her phone. Having opened her bag, the phone was found to be exactly where she had left it (right in the middle) and she returned to the dancefloor. The last train was at 2.30am and thus a number of hearty volleyballers decided to call it an evening, stopping on the way back for Pennifold to consume a sausage (make of this what you will). This however was too early for Sherfield, Nordal and Laskowski who stayed out until the early hours, during which time they arguably saved a man’s life whom they found bleeding on the street – there literally is nothing Bristol Volleyballers can’t do.
JW: Later that night, Celestine, deciding that enough was enough, made it clear that she was going to bed, where she was lovingly tucked in by Messrs House and Webster, who then returned to the task of making sure everyone else was alright and ready for the morning’s volleyball. Upon completion of their duties, they returned to the room, all set for bed. Confusion reigned, however, as the door opened to reveal Celly in the wrong bed, and Mike lying on the top bunk, bathed in a heady combination of anger and righteous indignation, right leg seductively resting on the metal rail. “Don’t be a dick, John”, he drawled, as his friend attempted to come to terms with the remarkable change in circumstances that had brought the big Northerner into such a situation. Celly, meanwhile, cocooned on the double bed, seemed to have developed a new octave for her voice to operate in, which she used repeatedly to implore Jacob and John to leave her and her ‘best friend’ alone, as at least ‘he let her sleep’, which they both had been doing for ‘houuuurs’ (approx. 14 minutes.). Eventually, Mike was removed, but there was no stopping the stubborn Dutchwoman, who, cottoning on to and warming to the idea of her own irrationality, obdurately refused to go anywhere other than the floor, where she decided to enjoy the substantial comfort of Jacob’s feet as a pillow.
JH: I have to say that sharing a bed with Mr Webster was quite an experience. Supposedly at one point Mr Webster awoke to find his and my face uncomfortably close to each other, whilst at another I myself woke to find Jacob backing up along the bed into my warm spooning embrace. Quite the event to wake up to. It was a delight.
JW: Safe to say that the feeling was entirely mutual.
JH: As the sun’s rays pierced the window we woke on Saturday morning to Kirsty and Karoline asking whether anyone knew of Miss Nordal’s whereabouts, unaware that due to the previous evenings events she had chosen to stay with Pennifold, Sherfield and Laskowski. A brave decision. As Nordal was located she proceeded to embark on what can only be described as a ‘sprint of shame’, launching herself down the corridor at significant pace. Danielle Simpson meanwhile was found in Mr Shaw’s room having chosen to sleep in his blue chino shorts and daringly yellow t shirt – quite literally a sight for sore eyes.
JW: Walking around Paris was dreamy, with balmy sunshine and jumpers well and truly off. Photos aplenty were taken, whilst Abi was successfully persuaded that the wreckage of a newly-crashed Smart Car was, in fact, the carefully preserved shell of the car in which Princess Diana was killed, maintained as some kind of a memorial. Hopefully that isn’t offensive to anyone – particularly Daily Mail readers. Ooops.
JH: The Eiffel Tower was particularly delightful, although I wish I wasn’t covered in mud from my salmon-dive, and the members of the club duly recognised the magnificence of said tower with what can only be described as an cacophony of selfie’s.
JW: We can’t go without a mention of Nicole, the widely-acclaimed Queen of the Selfie. Nicole, you fill all of us with so much happiness when you go for one of them, and, to be fair to you, they always look a hell of a lot better than the chinny, slightly sneering, jaws clamped with concentration efforts managed by Michael and I. Another photo highlight was one involving the superb quartet of Wright, Weegenaar, Wooden, Maund demonstrating the rarely-seen ‘4-person backcourt block’, while liberos Drønnen and Daykin stayed firmly in the front-court. Not sure if it will catch on.
JH: The return to the sports centre saw the return to volleyball. Having lost Pawel and Throup somewhere on the Metro the men began their Semi Final against Polytechnique a couple of men down. This however was not to stop them and the first set was a great triumph with Kevin Bonnot hitting nicely and Rob Pennifold performing the unfamiliar role of Libero perfectly. Having won the first set comfortably the men seemed on course for a place in the final. Indeed with Big Mike having an absolute stormer of a game, his shoots with Chris being a particular highlight, the men had good breathing space at 24-17 to take the win. It was at this point however that the ‘Great Choke of 2015’ was to take place. The men could simply not buy a point, with a number of players, including yours truly making mistakes that cost points and gifted Polytechnique the game. After such a hit to morale, the final set saw an inevitable loss, much to everyone’s disappointment.
After the game many reasons were given for such a defeat, including ‘John’s too fat to jump’ ‘Mike hasn’t had gravy all weekend’ and ‘Rob saw some crisps on the sideline and got distracted’, however Miss Weegenaar placed the blame solely at the feet of the line judge. Who rather than line judging, had spent the entire game on her phone in a heinous display of refereeing, a fact she was loudly reminded by the aforementioned Dutchwoman who went all grown up on her ass (clicks fingers sassily).
JH: Having wiped away the metaphorical tears and dusted themselves off the men had their final game, the 3rd place play off against TCD. Looking to enjoy it, every man had a wonderful game with hits and blocks raining down on the TCD side from all players.
JW: There was another moment provided by the one and only Mr Shaw, in which he took it upon himself to retrieve an errant pass as it flew off the court. As he reached it, however, something changed within the man’s head. Rather than simply raising two arms and sending it back onto court where Setter Chris was waiting, he set his legs and swung a vicious spike straight at Sherfield’s ankles. The look of surprise on everyone’s faces was priceless.
JH: The girls meanwhile ended their tournament on a high note with a wonderful victory that left their opponents, some team from Ireland who’s number 9 Jacob was to become particularly familiar with, reeling (JW: I should note here, as insinuating as that looks, that absolutely nothing happened. It was entirely platonic. I only spoke to her for about 3 minutes, all told). A final note on the Volleyball: It is truly wonderful to play in a squad of such talented people. There can be no doubt that we were the loudest, most enthusiastic bunch of people at the tournament and to see everyone playing their heart out, whether it be Lara showing off her incredible lack of balance or poise, or Fergus choosing to spike it at his own team rather than pass, everyone on the sidelines and court, both male and female, poured their heart and soul out and it was amazing. People talk a lot about being proud of who you play for and I can honestly say, hand on heart, I am proudest when we come together as a club as we did this weekend and show everyone else what Bristol Volleyball is really all about.
JH: The end of the volleyball saw the Bristol team free to party the night away. And party away they did. As with any evening the events become hazy, but I’ll do my best. The night began with a pre-drinks inside one of the hotel rooms. You know it’s a good room to pre-drink in when the people by the door have to leave to let other people squeeze in. The original choice of Pawel, Rob and Chris’ room was swiftly abandoned, assumedly to let Chris finish doing his hair (apparently the nonchalant ‘I just let my hair do its own thing’ is a complete fabrication). Pawel’s choice of Christmas clothing for the evening was of further interest: no-one had the heart to tell him that the time difference between Paris and Bristol is just 1 hour and not 3 months. Having arrived at the club/tent I made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting to stop doing my camp American guy impression when being frisked by the bouncer. Asking him if he was searching for my concealed weapon did not go down well at all.
JW: Getting the tram was fun, yes. Getting to an empty circus warehouse was not so fun. The girls finding themselves being forced to pay for their bags to be looked after was even less fun. But inside – my, was that fun. Dancing aplenty. Music aplenty. We were all in love with the CoCo. The end of the night was slightly more eventful than anticipated – poor old Mike wasn’t feeling too healthy, as demonstrated by the sight of him leaning over the side of a concrete verge to be violently ill into the hedges; Cheryl lost her bag, and no amount of my searching could locate it; Kévin disappeared off with his girlfriend, having successfully framed other, innocent young volleyball players for his chants at the cheerleading troupe; and the attempts to get everyone back in taxis were absolutely nightmarish, with no one having a clue where we were and with everyone slowly beginning to freeze in the harsh temperatures that seemed to have come out of nowhere.
JH: The next morning was some of the most fun I’ve had. I awoke in the greatest mood anyone has ever been after a night out, ate some pizza and drank orangina, for me life couldn’t get much better. Then we got to the metro. And suddenly life did not seem so peachy. The jolting carriages and heat did not do me much good whatsoever. It’s always nice however when it that position to be able to look around and see that your fellow volleyballer is in exactly the same state. How Pawel managed to stay on his feet the whole day I don’t think I’ll ever know.
JW: Plinio came into his own as the ‘Master of the Métro’, marching around the rues and boulevards with a steely glint in his eye as he repeatedly led the volleyballing sheep from location to location, following the work of his mentor, Oscar. Perhaps Plinio was fuelled by his newfound love for the muffins which he had bought in great supply at London Victoria on the first morning, which had led Jacob to try to teach him that they should be referred to as ‘great muff’ (it did not catch on). Who knows.
JH: It was at this point that Fergus was to undergo the defining moment of the weekend. Having got off the Paris metro he swung his bag joyfully onto his shoulder. Alas the bag did not make it to the shoulder and descended in front of Mr Shaw with a sickening crash. The bottle of wine he had so happily procured for under 2 euros had disintegrated upon impact, drenching his possessions in some of the worst white wine France has to offer. The explosion of laughter from every single member of the team at the sight of Fergus carrying his leaking sports bag will stay long in the memory.
JW: I nearly got pickpocketed. The decision to wear my England rugby shirt (foolhardy, to say the least) attracted a very aggressive man who promptly attempted to trip me and flip my phone out of my pocket. Luckily, a combination of tight (figure-hugging) chinos and the attentions of Federica prevented him gaining his prize. Fede, thank you.
JH: The afternoon saw the club visit a number of attractions from the Louvre all the way to the Arc De Triomphe which provided a fitting end to the weekend as we watched the sun set over the Parisian skyline.
JW: No one who climbed L’Arc de Triomphe to witness that sun setting over the sprawling Parisian metropolis will forget that stunningly breathtaking sight in a hurry. Perfection does not even come close.
JH: More entertaining was the game of ‘Would you rather’ that Fergus provided. It would seem that we can now solidly conclude, as a human race, that the worst thing in the world is tripping at the top of some stairs and banging your shin in an act that causes a bruise and some mild embarrassment. The evening’s journey to McDonalds for a quick bite to eat provided Paris with an another tourist attraction according to one man. Whilst casually eating a burger, said man glanced at me and did a double take, sauntering over to stare and mutter. I must say it ruined what was a particularly sumptuous cheeseburger, then again, it’s not the first time I’ve been mistaken for Jay-Z.
JW: The coach journey back worked pretty well too. So many more sleeping photos. Only one dribbler though, eh John? The broken heaters weren’t so pleasant, matched only by the heat of the bar-club that we went to on the Friday night. In this case, it led Pawel and Ellie to sleep flat out in the gangway, and everyone else to constantly wake up just to wipe the sweat away from baking brows. I lost my toothpaste, something which, to me at least, assumed much greater significance at 3 in the morning than it otherwise would have done. Repeated calls for people to return it to me were unsuccessful, leaving me bereft of my Colgate, until it later miraculously reappeared at the very bottom of my bag.
JW: This really was some weekend. So good, in fact, that the moment it ended I wanted to go back and do it all again. 43 times. The best kinds of memories are the ones made with people that cherish them just as much as you personally cherish them, and, guess what – we’re all seriously going to cherish a lot of the memories created on this sojourn across the Channel. It was about more than just the sights, however. A more tight-knit group of people, I have yet to meet. So many hugs (dankjewel Celly) and smiles (Emily’s simply lights up a room, every single time) and laughs. So many moments of pure hilarity, of wonderful joy, of sheer happiness. Call me a soppy prick if you like. But I would not have had it any other way. Thank you very, very much everyone – truly, truly magnificent. My face hurts from smiling so much at all the wonderful memories.
JH: Myself and Rob have always spoken about the family mentality that we aim to produce within Bristol University Volleyball club, and it was truly wonderful to see it so brilliantly represented in the 26 of us who went to Paris. I don’t think I will ever forget the 4 days I spent with everyone there, they are memories I will cherish forever. Its amazing to be part of a group that have such a bond. I cannot stress enough how each and every one of you were absolutely fantastic in your own wonderfully unique ways – Mike’s confusing sleeping patterns, Nicole’s selfies, Rob’s consumption of local sausages (again no more needs to be said), Emily’s smile, James’ horror at beer prices, Celly’s hugs, Danielle’s choice of pyjamas, Chris’ strict hair routine, Jacob’s hatred of being a tourist, Fergus getting crap on his towel, Pawel’s Christmas jumper in mid-March, Lara’s thunder-like falls to the ground, Fede’s use of a disconnected plastic pink phone, Oscar’s reassurance he knew where he was going, Ellie’s reassurance Oscar didn’t know where he was going, Abi’s vocal dislike of UCL, Duncan’s perfect first date, Plinio’s mastery of the Metro, Karoline’s decision she was too good for the coach home and would rather jump on a plane, Gaby’s eye-rolling at the different ways to use her surname in chants, Kirsty looking simply adorableee in her own pretty pink sleeping outfit, Catherine’s wonderfully straight hair after houuurs of work by Celly, Cheryl’s remarkable yodelling noise made between points, Minodora’s provision of a superb pillow for Oscar (so he said),
JW: and John’s own delight in introducing the world to his camp American drawl.
JH: Thank you everyone for a stupendous and unforgettable weekend. I will never forget it.
Worcestershire sauce anyone?