Saturday, January 31, 2009
Yesterday and today in Pessac there's a thing called la grande braderie.
In Bordeaux this is an annual institution where shops put their unsold sale stock on tables outside in the street and hordes surge up and down. In Pessac it's a more sobre affair altogether though madame and Liz Griffin went yesterday and got some trousers and shoes and other essentials.
They also found a stall where you just stand around with lots of other (mostly elderly) people and this guy on the stage brings out various things and gives them away. Yes, gives them away. Madame returned with four tea-towels, about 5 very small hand towels (I adopted a gorgeous orange one as a trombone cloth), a pack of large plastic spoons and a "swiffer" patent dust-mop in a fetching shade of red.
I arrived to pick them up and did a quick tour of the street - mainly stalls selling nice bread, super jams, glorious chocolate and churros (they're called chichis here, but they're churros). Oh, and the traditional matress stall, found in all good French markets. When I found the folks back at the freebie stall the guy saw me and gave me a nice red umbrella.
Madame asked around and apparently it's old promotional material that they get shot of in the street like this...
I suspect that the town of Pessac organised la grande braderie in order to see how it will work when they shut the main street and divert the traffic round the back streets during the impending major alterations.
Oh yes, and France Telecom have been selling off their stocks of MSI Wind. Well, it's the Medion Akoya 1210E, which is an MSI Wind with Medion printed on it and an "Orange" sticker. It's an old model with 80GB hard disk but they've been selling it off for various prices such as 199€ or ... get this ... 99€ ! AZERTY keyboard, too !
Pugwash and company have been busy loading Mac OSX 10 on them to produce the MSI MacBook Nano. Very tempting, but against Apple's very dubious licensing agreement.
This week I got up to find the windows open and madame pegging washing on the line.
We had some friends' children on a sleepover last night (hence Alan's lie-in, he confessed, guiltily) and said friend brought us round fresh croissants from a proper boulangerie. We NEVER go in boulangeries and we buy multi-pack sunflower-oil croissantettes in the supermarket. The kids like them but it's not the same thing... Anyway I just had a sumptuous breakfast of croissant and raspberry jam followed by croissant dunked in a bowl of hot chocolate. I can't believe that once I considered hot chocolate for breakfast as unthinkable. Quick, pass me an oyster, a snail and a whole songthrush...
The quickest way to make a bordelais laugh ?
When he asks "So why did you come to live in Bordeaux?" reply "pour le beau temps" (for the good weather).
It never fails to break the ice, and when you then confess to being a pasteur they think you can't be all bad anyway. Sometimes you can follow it up with "je crois qu'on s'est trompé de ville..." (I think we chose the wrong town).
But today looks set for fair weather.
One couple who live about 40 minutes south had their electricity restored yesterday. I don't know if they have their water back yet.
I declared the damage on the insurer's website and received an automated email saying they'd contact me within 48 hours. I thought it may take longer and on Friday was gearing myself up to ask for a rendez-vous at the office in Pessac (there's always HUGE queues) when yesterday they rang and said "we authorise the repairs but we have no franchised repairer so it's up to you to find a roofer". The neighbours have been using a fim in Mérignac but before I do that there's a serious chap in the church in Blaye who is a roofer, plumber and general everything. I should be seeing him on Sunday so I'll give him first option. He may have all the work he can take on at present, of course.
So there we are. The two worst hit houses in the area now have tarpaulins over their roofs. All the parks are still closed until the trees can be inspected for safety and any dodgy ones felled. We have felled our two most diagonal conifers and knowing that we can burn them mixed with other wood has encouraged me to think of felling the others, too !
This weekend we have the International Home Group here - arrive at 6 to eat, 8 for the Bible Study. Tomorrow I'm helping (not preaching) here in the morning and helping (not preaching) at Blaye in the afternoon.
My favourite was at Ikea where the hazelnut danish pastries were labelled 'May contain nuts'.
Meanwhile Catrin has two new guinea pigs, Rose and Daisy, who have irritated my touchy little bronchioles... After a week of 3am wheezing the piggies are confined to barracks (Catrin's room) and my chest is starting to settle down again.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Of course, we take it all for granted and never stop to look.
Aha ! We take everything for granted and never stop to reflect on things and to simply enjoy them.
At the bus stop I chatted with this lady who said "You don't demonstrate ?"
"No, never ever have."
"So what do you do when you aren't happy with what the government is doing ?"
"Well we grumble about it but nobody listens."
"We demonstrate, but nobody listens. Still, it does you good to demonstrate. Ca fait du bien de se manifester."
I thought of the old lady who said to her pastor, a friend of mine, "It does you good to have a good moan, doesn't it?", and of course, it doesn't ! William Cowper was right, and I am sure was speaking to himself, when he said :
were half the breath thus vainly spent
to Heaven in supplication sent
our cheerful cry would oftener be
"Hear what the Lord has done for me !"
Thursday, January 29, 2009
The second relates to our financial support. We have taken a huge hit from the fall of the pound and the continued strength of the euro. We cannot assume that the pound will bounce back, neither can we assume that the euro will quickly follow the pound down. Meanwhile we are building up a deficit with the mission. So the plan is that I return to Britain for two periods of about a fortnight / three weeks (including at least three sundays each trip) to seek new supporters. Please pray for us as we plan this. It's important to try to avoid impacting on the work here, but also to try to re-establish a firm base for the future.
I took some pictures of the demo. You'll be surprised by the carnival atmosphere. I popped out to Subway for a sandwich for tea (Sub du jour, 2€90 - ham, salami and salad) and the streets were filled with happy smiling people waving their placards and drinking coffee in the street cafés.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
It remains to be seen how the transport system will be affected tomorrow and how paralysed the city will be. However Catrin's Spanish teacher is striking and so she has no school tomorrow afternoon.
Some time ago one of my Youtube subscriptions put up a video of an Italian recorder player performing the Vivaldi concerto 'Il Gardellino'. I loved it and hated it equally - very theatrical. So I didn't pop it on the blog and now this morning I can't find it. If I find it I'll pop it on.
Meanwhile here's some Bolling !
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
"Ah, ça se fête !" said one of the students.
Well, yes, but where, how, with whom and ....
We can do something here for students, church and friends, but if we return to Britain for a birthday bash in the summer where to do it ? Our family is scattered from Sussex to Shropshire and from Cymmer to Watford. Our friends are to be found even further afield !
Hodgsons to the rescue ! They have hatched a master-plan to take a big gîte towards the end of August and drive down in convoy for week of holiday including a centenary barbecue.
We were a pretty good number for the morning service but very thin on the ground for the English service.
Our visiting preacher could not return home as intended because there were still trees on the line to Toulouse so today he will return via Paris instead.
The Foucachons still have no electricity and they have heard that it could take a week for power to be restored. Meanwhile our roof damage was just to the overhang at the front of the house ( we think ) so we had no ingress of water despite the heavy rain. Not like these nieghbours :
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Trombone : It's a method. I started with Lafosse, then Schlossberg, then Pichaureau then there's another waiting in the wings. Pieces are a problem for the trombone. There's LOADS of brilliant pieces for flute in comparison.
I think part of the difference is the amazing level of standardisation that the Associated Boards have produced. Pretty well everyone follows the syllabus, and even if they choose to do Guildhall instead it's not that different. In France it's not standardised and centralised like that. It's pretty rare for Britain to be more organised and more centralised than France, but it is the case with music tuition.
This brief meditation was brought on by the bombshell dropped on Friday that I must sit a trombone exam, so I have to prepare a piece. It'll be something by Naulais, who is a French trombonist composer and some of his stuff is used in Britain.
OK - It's on Wednesday 8 April, there'll be a JURY and all that's involved is to play one piece. The piece in question is "Pièce n° 1" by Jacques Toulon, and it's not bad, though it's not trivial. There's one section in 6 flats ! There'll be a pianist with whom I am allowed two rehearsals.
Last night I was walking back to the car with a friend through the dark, wet streets of Bordeaux.
He said that Bordeaux wasn't always nice. Just a few years ago all the buildings were black, there were cars everywhere and on the quays there were old derelict warehouses everywhere and there were "de mauvaises fréquentations".
He meant dodgy characters used to hang around there.
But de mauvaises fréquentations sounds so much better, doesn't it.
The airport and the suspension bridge are closed. 700 000 homes have no electricity. Our neighbours in front have lost their fences (taking our bamboo and buddleia with them !) Our neighbours behind have some minor roof damage.
We have a drip that MAY be caused by the wind blowing water under flashing. I haven't yet been outside to look !
And the storm is scheduled to last until Sunday evening. It reminds me of the great "Hurricane Fish" when Sevenoaks lost its trees and the end wall of St Mellons Baptist church was moved out of vertical by the wind and had to be rebuilt.
It's changed my schedule, anyway :
The meeting at the church is cancelled.
The Chinese are meeting in someone's flat because the trams are not running.
The kids' club is cancelled for this afternoon.
I think everyone will stay at home and hang on to anything fixed ! And the government says not to climb on the roof.
OK. I won't.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Tomorrow morning he's at the church speaking about the Nicene Creed.
Tomorrow afternoon the Chinese have their service / New Year celebration.
Tomorrow evening I am meeting up with some Anglican friends.
Sunday morning Daniel is preaching on the parable of the unforgiving servant.
Sunday evening I am preaching at the international service on the stilling of the storm.
( They forecast a BIG STORM for this weekend ! )
Monday I am staying in bed all day !
I picked it up, to show willing.
"Oh but look, my Laguna now is only worth 2000 euros. It's 8 years old."
"Oh well, if it goes OK then you should hang on to it."
"Yes it goes fine. Do you have an English sonority to your voice ?"
"Yes, I'm Welsh."
"I lived in Huddersfield for a year. I am a retired English teacher. I've visited Betsie Co-ed and Festy-nog."
We continued our conversation in French though, as we talked about why I am in France, why he doesn't much like France, what is a protestant church and what about the truth of the Bible, and what about prophecy, and what about miracles, and what about other religions and his interest in China and our Chinese friends and Chinese New Year and so on.
I said, "Hey, we don't say that anyone can walk on water if only they get the knack. We say that one man at one time walked on water and his friends saw him do it, and therefore what does that mean about that man."
He said "Give me your card".
I didn't have one with me, or a leaflet for the church or anything ! (Prize clot...)
He said "Oh, but you won't have me as one of your flock..."
"No, no, I understand that." (ho-hum)
So instead of a card I wrote my address and phone number on a piece of paper for him.
I looked at my watch. We'd been talking for well over an hour.
Great ! I must hang around that papershop more often !
It also shows that having a weird accent is not necessarily a problem... Just as long as people can understand you.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Afterwards I explained a bit about how Jews prayed - stood up, looking at the sky, hands in the air ("we still do", said our friend from the Gulf states) and about beating his breast ("we still do that, too").
"What ?", said a caribbean friend, "as a sign of deuil ?"
"Deuil is mourning", quoth I.
"What ? Like in good morning"?
"Not quite. Look - Moaning, mourning, morning..."
"But I can't hear any difference !"
"Yes, listen - morning, mourning, moaning".
"There's no difference !"
"Oh, dont worry too much about it. Work it out from the context. I doubt if the Queen makes much difference between morning and mourning, anyway... "
Strangely this was the friend with whom I had shared recently that when I first arrived in France I could hear no difference at all between the words son saint sang. It took a long time before my poor cloth ear could distinguish those sounds !
But yesterday a couple of things just encouraged me. Firstly I called on this guy, really to encourage him. He asked me all about the church, the International services and everything and I explained how things are. And he was so encouraged and thrilled that I saw it all in a new light !
The second thing was after the English class (which went well with a good group of folk). I was talking with a friend about an ex-pat who lives here.
"And he speaks French ?"
"As well as you ?"
"Oh better than me, he's lived here for years, after all..."
"Well that's pretty good, then, because you're bilingual."
"That's very nce, it's coming ... slowly."
"Oh no, come on, you're bilingual now."
This friend is uncompromising with high standards. If that's what she thinks ... well. It's encouraging.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
The other week I threw caution to the wind and decided to download some music from Classiconline.com. I ought to explain that Bordeaux is dreadful for buying music, be it sheet music or recordings. So online I found a Joe Alessi album I wanted and also some recordings of Gilbert Vinter test pieces for brass band from the 1960s and 1970s.
I have wanted a recording of Spectrum for years. Douglas Yeo had emailed me once to tell me that a recording exists but how to get it ? Anyway, there one was in the catalogue of classicsonline.
Gilbert Vinter was a British light music and brass banding composer whose works I really enjoyed playing with the Lewis Merthyr many moons ago. My favourite was always Spectrum with its colourful harmonies and jerky rhythms. Variations on a Ninth is wonderful, too, as is James Cook. We never played John O'Gaunt but it is good to listen to it. If I could now find a recording of Triumphant Rhapsody and Symphony of Marches my collection would be complete ! ( I know Fairey did one with Peter Parkes... )
ps ... Oh well - the joys of Vinter pass quickly so here I am up and showered and clothed and working on being in my right mind.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
But my poor fingers. The skin is dry and cracked and sometimes alongside my nails my fingers bleed. I leave little bloody trails over the piano and the computer keyboard. ( OK - I made that up, but it COULD happen, it could ! )
I try wearing gloves, but it hurts when you poke your fingers in ( knitted gloves would be a BIG no no ! ) and you have to keep taking them off anyway to find your keys, bus ticket, etc. etc.
I do grease my hands at night with the supermarket own brand hand cream which is really very good. It's made the backs of my hands all smooth and shiny. I can almost comb my hair using the reflection in my knuckles. But my poor fingers still suffer.
Roll on summer !
I have a certain reluctance in using the standard evangelical invitation to have a "personal relationship with God". I suppose it's partly because I wonder what other kind of relationship you can have. An 'impersonal relationship' ?
Also because it sounds like you need to have a scary smile when you say it.
And also because it is so much more tame than the terms the Bible uses : repent, turn to God, be reconciled to God, etc... Anyway I had a "personal relationship" with one history teacher at school. He disliked me and I avoided him. It was all deeply personal, but hardly a good model !
However for the English home group we looked at Psalm 139 on Saturday night to answer the question "What is the God of the Bible like ?"
You can answer that question from the psalm with the abstract terms of systematic theology : omniscient, omnipresent, creator, etc...
However if you do that you miss something vital from the psalm.
The psalm doesn't say "God is omniscient". It says "God, you know all about me".
It doesn't say "God is onmipresent." It says "Wherever I go I find you there, God."
So the psalm is deeply relational.
Now I like systematic theology and I think it is important. Nay, vital. If I have a talent it is for seeing the overall picture - I am good at seeing patterns and systematising.
But you have to avoid the temptation to think about God in the abstract. He's there.
It's a bit like if someone asked me to describe Pat. I could do it pretty well, I suppose, but if she were in the room then I would involve her in the description. It would be rude not to. We don't talk about people in the third person in their presence, do we, children !
So we are obliged to have a "personal relationship" with God. We have no option.
After all, in him we live and move and have our being.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
We had asked some friends who have guinea-pigs if they could produce some offspring for us, but these things don't always happen to order, so Pat made enquiries to find a decent pet-shop last week.
So I wasn't that surprised on Thursday when Pat told me that she and Catrin had been to see the piggies.
I was perhaps a little more surprised when on Friday they scuttled off to get the black piggie they had fallen in love with, plus a companion. So now Rose and Daisy have come to stay in the cochonnerie.
Tomorrow morning preaching in French from Ephesians 2 : 11 - 18 - People from all over the world saved by God through the cross.
Gerald Warner in the Telegraph says : the most interesting part of the slogan is the second half: "Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Since when was the message that there is no one in charge, nobody to protect us or lend succour, thought reassuring?
The notion that an unregulated universe, world and society are enjoyable is intrinsically nihilist. It betrays the fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity that afflicts secularists. They do not see God as comforting, but as threatening. That is because the concept of any curb on human passions, any moral sanction, is now regarded as making it impossible to "enjoy your life". This grey hedonism is contradicted by the visible phenomenon that many of the people who most zestfully enjoy life are Christians.
Ah yes. Do you ever wonder what it is like to live in an empty universe, with no one to hear you when you scream, or when you cry, or when you pray, or when you die. Reassuring ? "Enjoy your life ?" So that's the best we can do and the highest value anyone can have ?
Of course that's the highest value many of us live by. "I just want to be happy", says the cheating marriage partner and parent. Oh, of course ! So obviously the home must be destroyed, the covenant must be broken and the children must be farmed out. You aren't happy and what is stability, honour, faithfulness, truthfulness and responsibility compared to that.
Oops - the rant alert is flashing. I'll shut up.
Friday, January 16, 2009
The morning session was from Professor Paul Wells, who is of course a personal hero. He was of great help to us in 2004 when we were still in the throes of considering coming to France, not yet accepted by the mission etc.. We stayed near Aix where he lives and attended his church and he talked very straight to us about gospel ministry in France. All he said was true but we still came ! He's one of these chaps who, well, when you talk to him, you have to watch his face because his expression says as much as his words.
Anyway he spoke about Calvin's theology. Here in France Calvinists talk a lot about liberty and free will. I am always surprised by how much this is emphasised, especially coming from my Anglo-Saxon cultural background where free-will is pretty discredited as a philosophical position, but here in France la liberté personelle, l'autonomie et le libre arbitre is a big issue. We talked about this in the car afterwards and Samy said "well yeah but you still gotta king".
Paul talked about Calvin's view that even before the fall Christ was the mediator between God and man, which set us all thinking. Paul has recently completed translating L'Institution Chrétienne into modern French and it will be published soon at the bargain price of 35€ ! This is a must-buy for you all.
In the afternoon Eric Denimal spoke. He's the author of "La bible pour les nuls" (The Bible for dummies) which has known an extraordinary success in France. Eric was a journalist and is now pastor of the Eglise Libre in Nimes and he spoke about Calvin the man. His biography "Calvin, hérault français" comes out soon and will be a cracking good read if his talk was anything to go by.
Ben, who's in the throes of learning French, found Paul easy to follow with his Scouser accent, while Eric was more difficult for him.
It was good to see the guys and to meet new people. I guess there were about 70 people there ? And Montauban is just lovely. The riverbank is like Venice, the back streets like Florence. Not that I've ever visited either of those places but I don't need to. I've been to Montauban !
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
This is nice. We heard it on the radio the other day so I looked for it for the kids.
To begin with he stopped to let some people off then took off with his usual brio but to an unusual accompaniment of various shouts, cries and yells. Someone was half-way off the bus when he zoomed away and they fell off. He stopped, they explained to him simply and clearly what had happened ( ! ) and off he zoomed again. Later on he missed some chaps' stop. As he got near my stop he said to me "It's just not working tonight ! I must be tired, it's this rain, it's just all going wrong." I guess their timetable must be tight because certainly they drive with an enthusiasm that I hope never to match on the roads.
This morning in the supermarket at the super-self-scan till I was behind this chap whose stuff had to be re-scanned by the till-lady. He'd bought a case of wine and because he couldn't scan the box he'd scanned six bottles up on the wine aisle. Now, of course, the cashier had to open the box to scan the bottles. He was not pleased.
"That's no good to me. Did you have to do that ? Is there no other way ?" He knew there wasn't. "What can I do with that ?"
"Well you can always get another one."
"Well you'll have to send someone to get it"
So I nipped into the next-door till which by now was vacant. All the cashiers were making faces and so was the chap.
The cashier phoned for someone to get a case of wine. "It's a gentleman who ...". "C'est un emmerdeur (it's a muck-stirrer)" said the man.
What struck me was that everyone was unhappy with the situation and everyone said so. Everyone pulled faces at each other. But in the end I think people feel that we are all victims in this crazy broken system. And that depersonalises it.
It's nobody's FAULT as such. It's just the mess we have to live with.
Now the good side of this is that it means people can express how they feel and nobody really takes offence.
The bad side is that nobody really takes responsability either ! It's the system. This thing is bigger than any of us so it's no good blaming me and there's nothing whatsoever that you or I can do about it.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
Sunday, January 11, 2009
We had every bench full except the one at the front, but no extra seats out. A decent crowd. There are 10 benches and a bench holds from 4 to 6 people depending on how broad and how distant they are (if you get my drift) so I'd estimate our number this morning as mid-40s.
There were one or two families who were not present, too, so an indication that our building is tight !
This evening is the English service, and Ben is preaching, leading and basically doing everything. When he led the carol service it encouraged him (and us) so much that I asked him when he could preach during the language school holidays - the 28th December or the 11th of January, and he chose the 11th.
There we are. Jolly good.
Friday, January 09, 2009
But this year you could.
A good way to start off is to listen to David Calhoun's lectures on the Institutes from Covenant Seminary, available by podcast on iTunes or here.
Come on, pound. Everyone knows you are worth at least 2 euros, so go for it !
Meanwhile my friendly local economics expert ( a.k.a. Ben "les Misérables" Griffin ) tells me that in the great depression of the 1930s the French economy was among the last to plummet because France trades a lot internally. Britain is all about imports and exports ( "a nation of shopkeepers" ) while France quite happily trades with itself, living off the land, as it were...
Think about this - car sales rose for Renault and for Citroën in the last quarter ( yes - they rose ) partly because of a government initiative called prime à la casse. Essentially if you take a car over 10 years old and trade it in against a new car the government will pay you 1000 euros for it, the argument being that the old car is more polluting than the new car so it's a kind of eco-incentive.
Then you have your bonus / malus system for low and high CO2 cars, which means that on a Citroën C1, for example, you can get almost 2000 euros off before you even start negotiating with the dealer.
However France's economy is no longer so independent, is it ? It's now a euro-economy, hence our continuing hopes for a strong rally from the pound. Go on, pound, you know you can do it !
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
Meanwhile today is forecast to the the coldest day - temperatures should rise from tomorrow. Hoorah.
EDF the electricity company have asked people to have a sense of civic responsibility and not to use too much electricity because the demand has broken all records over the past two days and they are not entirely sure of being able to meet the demand. Imagine power cuts !
Many homes here are heated by electricity because although the winter can be cold, it is really quite short - normally people here begin to heat their homes in November and by March it is pretty warm. So lots of homes have panel electric convector heaters or oil filled radiators installed - not even storage heaters. This means lots of demand for electricity to heat homes in the evenings, of course. Currently the fasionable mode of heating is reversible air-conditioning (heat-pumps). This is supposed to be more economical to run but it's still using electricity.
Pity the poor students who have come here from Africa or the Caribbean.
Meanwhile this week is the Alliance Evangélique's week of prayer. Monday I was engaged in solving equations for maths homework for a lesson that eventually did not take place. Yesterday was the English Class. Today the meeting is at our church. I also expect to be able to go on Friday.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Monday, January 05, 2009
Friday, January 02, 2009
Tim helps here.
John Piper helps with prayer here.
Justin Taylor helps with Bible reading plans here.
By the way : I was at a conference with a friend once. He'd brought his One Year Bible and the speaker was going to read from Acts 17. I think it was somewhere around November in the One Year Bible ! The ESV Daily Reading Bible avoids this by just putting notes in the margin for when to start and stop reading rather than rearranging the entire text.
By another way : Why do so many people feel it appropriate to read the Bible in a kind of Shakespearian "Richard III" voice ? I get daily readings sent to me by email and if I click on a certain link I can hear it read in the style of an evil murderous tyrant king. hmmm.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
As 2008 draws to a close everyone's mind seems dominated by the financial crisis. However 2008 has seen much more than that, hasn't it !
For us it's been a good year, a year of consolidation in the work here and with no major crises.
We are still very happy in France. As the years pass and we pay our tax bills and settle in Alan is slowly becoming less convinced of disaster creeping up the driveway. We seem to be basically conforming in the essentials ! Thankfully.
Health has been good in our little family. Pat and I have doctors who supervise our health very actively : blood tests, x-rays, mri scans, ultra-sound. The worst we've had to face was Pat's severe sciatica - painful but thankfully not dangerous. We both need our eyes testing - Alan peers at the videoprojector image on the wall trying to decide whether it is in focus or not ! ( The opthalmologist will probably say there's no problem, everyone does that !)
Gwlym is now a lanky 14 year-old and has good and faithful friends. At church there's a dream trio of Clément, Dylan and Gwilym who get on very well indeed. At school Pierre and from his first day here in France Florian still keeps in contact. Gwilym's a keen footballer and is learning electric guitar at the music school ( Smoke on the water, Satisfaction, he does all the golden oldies ) He's doing OK in school and getting more and more to grips with the advancing levels of French that he needs for his subjects. Gwilym leads the videoprojector team - the dream trio who advance from verse to verse of hymns and songs.
Catrin is a tall 12 year-old and doing well in school. She struggled more in the early days but now it's much easier for her. At the music school she's learning flute and also sings with a chorale d'enfants, which she loves. She has not loved orchestra and we may give this a miss till next year, but she played a flute duet with her dad at the church new year bash. Her special friends are at church, Christina and Colline. They love dancing, pink, sleepovers and High School Musical.
Pat's special friends include Rhian (ex-pat), Leila (from Bahrain), Cecille (at church) and Liz (colleague). Pat's has a love-hate relationship with her French class. It's a great opportunity for getting to know other students (mostly immigrant women) but the teachers' exigency with written work drives her potty. Student outreach and backup work has been great. This year's bout of sciatica was a fairly major incident, brought on by leaning wrongly into the freezer to reach something and keeping her out of the car for about a month. Pat has developed a keen loathing for the freezer but Alan says that if it hadn't been that it could have been the kettle or anything else - Pat's back is a sciatica bout waiting to happen.
Alan enjoys his trombone lessons at the music school and feels he ought to get back into practicing his flute, too. ( The trombone has REALLY helped his flute breathing ! ) He explained to the music school director that he would be unable to play in the orchestra because of work commitments - namely Thursday Bible Study - but then changes at the centre freed him up for the 20h30 half-time, then the 19h30 start. Further changes meant he couldn't attend rehearsals any more but he still played during the Christmas concert and the director has suggested he continue to play and just turn up for rehearsals whenever he can. We'll see. His chums include Ben (colleague), Samy (colleague), Xavier (Rhian's husband and fellow-geek), the dream trombone section - Renaud and Thomas (apologies to the flutistes...) and various guys in the student work and the church ( Manu, Olivier, etc. )
As for the work this year - it is a jigsaw puzzle of interlocking parts that make up the big picture : the French Church, the International work and the Student work.
This year has seen huge changes in the French work, firstly in that we now have our settled home which is working out just fine. It's a trifle on the small side for special occasions but for normal Sundays it's great. It's been super to see how the church has responded to the news of Samy and Carol's departure, to see how God has led to Dik Briennen coming in August and to see how some of the young guys are growing into service. At the same time we face big financial challenges and the issue of encouraging all our folk into a regular commitment and service. We also face a big challenge in knowing how best to help the Blaye churches to be strong and to reach their community.
The International work is a challenge and an encouragement. These first early months have shown the usefulness of English in reaching people from all over the world (China!) and French people too. We have not appealed so far to Anglo-Saxon ex-pats. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a bigger feature of the work. We will need to work on making known the ministry among the ex-pats. Some of this will be quite easy (liaising with embassies, leaflets in bookshops and so on). Some will be less easy (linking in with the ex-pat network via the Bordeaux clubs and societies... time consuming and not naturally our thing...) Bordeaux has a million people. How to find the English speakers ? I may write a simple leaflet to give to people who I hear speaking English on trams etc...
The student work has been encouraging this year. My involvement has mainly been in evangelistic surveys and questionnaires, in the English class, in soirées, in tracting and in background stuff ( leaflets, website, prodding the computers to try to keep them working...) Some more people coming along to the English classes has been encouraging. Fiona has a gang of Chinese beginners. My class is more diverse with two women from the Caribbean, two French guys, and Chinese lad and a Moroccan. Some of the students take responsibility for the work of the centre but it is not easy to encourage them in evangelism. Tracting at the Christmas market, I was really encouraged when the guy I was with said "I couldn't have imagined doing this just a year ago." And he's got such an easy manner with people : happy, chatty yet still wanting to talk about the gospel.
This year in the house we decorated Catrin's and Gwilym's bedrooms. Not bad ! The "garden" is basically a story of slash and burn - well burn is prohibited so we have to chop everything up small and drive it to the dump (strange smoke from neighbours' gardens tempts us to flout the prohibition... Can you burn garden waste on the barbecue instead of charcoal, I wonder...) The car : well it runs very well but so it should after the costly service this year and two more new tyres !
I spent three weeks visiting churches in Britain this March which was hugely enjoyable. I wouldn't be surprised to be back in Britain on another similar visit soon. We'll see ! I brought back an impressive quantity of tea bags. ( We now feel that the pleasure and nutritive-value of Heinz baked beans makes them worth the £1.50 a tin we have to pay for them ! )
Holidays this year - we went to Britain and stayed with friends in Bath, then at some friends' house in Swansea, then up to Shotton. It was great to see everyone. We were struck by the busy roads, the inclement weather and the cheap price of beans in the supermarkets !
And so 2009 begins. It's been interesting to see how the financial crisis has developed - unwise practices but then the whole 'talking up and talking down' phenomenon... It's all built on nothing, isn't it ! For us the weakness of the pound is a big issue because our supporters give in pounds but it is converted into euros to pay our keep. I keep expecting the euro to begin its descent, following the dollar and the pound, but as yet there's not much sign of it. The pound is clearly linked more strongly to the dollar than the euro but what of the future ? Time will tell.
Meanwhile my experience of the 1970s (three-day week, power cuts etc.) and our knowledge of God's supervising and controlling presence makes us confident. We hold on to his hand in the rapids, knowing that he steers the boat with complete skill.
So 2009. For you all we wish God's blessing. For us we long to see people discover peace, joy, forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ and to see our church becoming ever stronger and better established. Glory to Jesus in 2009 !