Showing posts from September, 2005

Catrin and the praying mantis

Catrin spotted this little lady climbing up our wall while she was cycling round the garden. (i.e. Catrin cycling, praying mantis climbing. All clear?) Actually she wasn't too hard to spot because she was about 5 inches long. (OK awkward ones - Catrin about 4 feet tall, praying mantis about 5 inches long)

Pat at the DEFLE

Pat in the porch of our language school, the DEFLE. She's in the porch because it's emptying down with rain, and I am sheltering under a tree while I take the picture. We had no coats (it's too hot and stuffy). We both got wet. Pat said "It's the coolest I've felt since I got here!"

A visit to the college

In the French school system once a child finishes in the primary school they proceed to college (first 4 years of British secondary school). There is a small college linked with Gwilym's school and I had a chance to visit it this evening (after depositing Gwilym, Catrin and Pat at Macdonald's first). The staff were charming and talked about their subjects together for a good while. It had a nice small school feel to it. We are really looking forward to getting past the next few months. Once the kids' French gets going properly things will be so much easier. Meanwhile - we have our exams a week today...
The whumping horse-chestnut tree at Pessac. If you look carefully you can just see a conker-pod ricocheting off the grass beneath.
Picnic at Pessac. We meet the kids for lunch at 11:45 and deliver them back to school by 13:45. Sometimes we eat fastfood. Sometimes we picnic. Here we are eating our picnic at Pessac. (Catrin is very fond of lettuce)

A practical update

1) Language study. We're itching to start! Our evaluations are on Friday 8 October, and we will be assigned to our classes then and begin (I think) on Monday 11th. We are hoping that we'll be able to continue to meet the kids for lunch and that we will have Wednesdays off, because the children do! Otherwise we will have some quick thinking to do. 2) Banking. So far all seems to be working OK. We have a savings account with Firstdirect which will hold the equity from our house till we can buy over here. We have our current account with Credit-Agricole and we can get statements on the internet from both banks. The real test will be whether our support transfer from UFM arrives this week. STOP PRESS - it did arrive OK 3) The work. We had our first talk about the work with Sammy Foucachon, the pastor here, just a week ago. There's lots of work to be done, and we will need to know in some months' time how large a part the student work will play in our role, and what our invo


Conkers? Yes. Here in Gironde the conkers grow big and fat. So it's a pity that: 1. kids here don't seem to collect conkers or to play with them. We could set up a business exporting Gironde conkers to Britain. We could make a small fortune! 2. because conkers are an untapped resource they simply fall from the trees. Hard. Yesterday we had our lunch in Pessac near the green by the big Post Office and there was this conker tree that was simply dropping its conkers (pods intact) with loud thuds onto the grass below. We Daveys, ever intrepid explorers, went over to investigate this strange phenomenon at great personal risk and we managed to dodge all the falling spiny balls and collect just a small fraction of the big brown beauties. Pat had 38 best quality conkers in the pocket of her sweater after just about 10 minutes of selection.

The blessings of technology

Our friends at Deeside set up a webcam last night, and by means of MSN messenger we were able to be "present" at the evening service, all sat on plastic chairs round the big PC screen in the garage. It was great for us, and lovely to see the folk again. I do wonder what the neighbours thought, though, if they heard us all singing "How firm a foundation" in the garage. One little hiccup - The version Deeside use includes the verse "Even down to old age all my people shall prove my sovereign eternal unchangeable love..." but the New Christian Hymns still omits it - so we got to the end of the hymn before our friends at Deeside.

At last - the phone and internet seem to be working OK

Well - basically, anyway. But what a struggle! I tried running Wanadoo's software using their wireless adapter. It failed intermittently - claiming it couldn't link with the wireless router just 2 metres away. I tried running Wanadoo's software using a USB link to the router. That was AWFUL! The modem would freeze up. The PC wouldn't shut down properly. I did more resets than I have ever done before. So I decided that since the router was set up I would uninstall Wanadoo's software and simply connect using the old Belkin wireless adapter I used to use. I did that yesterday afternoon. (It was Sunday, but there was a special reason for wanting a stable internet connection.) And now we seem to be nice and stable. Both PCs have been online all day (we've been in and out of the house, but one PC has had Radio 4 streaming through it.) All seems OK - except that the only telephone socket that works is the one in the garage! (I suspect a dodgy ADSL filter)

The French school system

The children's day is very long! They start at 8h30, have lunch from 11h45 to 13h45, then the school day finishes at 16h45. Then they also have homework to do each night. However at present our kids get almost every Wednesday off school, and almost every Saturday, too. French schoolteachers do not seem to be very pro-active in dealing with bullying. We have to contact the school tomorrow.

It had to come

The roundabout outside the school - you are not supposed to park on it. We had a letter from the school telling us that the police say that anyone who parks on the roundabout from next week risks being verbalised.

Villenave d'Ornon

is twinned with Bridgend! Yes! Penybont-ar-Ogwr Bridgend. Isn't that amazing. To prove it they have a really silly roundabout with this swanky fountain thing that is a sort of aqueduct that suddenly ends and the water all pours off. Bridge-end? Get it? I'll stop the car near that roundabout one day and take a picture of it. You'll like it.

Greeting people

You also greet almost everyone. The person at the till in the supermarket. The person behind the counter at MacDonalds. The lady in the newsagents. Parents outside the school. The security man at the gate of the supermarket. Anyone. Everyone! It's "bonjour monsieur", "bonjour madame" all day long! It's very good, really. The staff in Ikea shake hands or kiss each other when they come on shift. Isn't that NICE?

La bise

Look - if you think about it - well I just can't bring myself to think about it. The fact is that the first time you meet people you shake hands. After that when you meet you kiss. You just do. Very slowly. Air-kissing. Right cheeks, then left. Old bearded chaps. Young chaps. Old ladies. Young women. It's just what you do. OK? And at least I don't have to feel embarrassed any more when I read about greeting one another with a holy kiss.

New babies! Eight of them!

Catrin's rat made a very snug nest on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday she gave birth to 8 little ratelettes. I haven't seen the things, but Pat and the kids are captivated. I suppose I should take a picture of them and post it up.....
We took the children to the Dune du Pylat. It's enormous.
Sunday morning at Floirac.
Our language school (DEFLE) is next door to this building (the library)
Moving in.
Sunday morning at Blaye
Sunday morning at Blaye
Sunday morning at Blaye.
This fellow was running up the wall by our front door. He's only about 5 inches long (12 cm).
The post office at Villenave old town. Yellow is a better colour for postboxes for me because I can't usually see the red ones.
Outside the school at dropping off or picking up time is like Wacky Races. These people have parked on the roundabout (of course). (It does seem to have parking spaces built into it, but I just can't do it!)
Waiting for the children at school
Arrival at Villenave
Fog at Dover. Europe almost cut off.
Moving out
Gwilym and Catrin on their first day at the French school

What a storm!

So far the weather has been hot. Hot in the morning, hot in the afternoon and especially hot at night. The lawn (ha!) is a big brown expanse of crisp dry cinders. It's been HOT. But last night we had a STORM. The thunder bangs were the loudest I ever heard and it EMPTIED down. Today the lawn (ha!) is a big brown expanse of squishy soggy cinders.

The Phonehouse

This morning our fixed phone was still not working and my British mobile was almost out of credit, so we went to The Phonehouse and bought a new mobile for Gwilym and rescucitated Pat's mobile and an old one of mine. The assistant was very helpful and worked very hard to get us all connected. By the time we left the shop we all three had mobiles that worked AND I knew how to pronounce 'The Phonehouse' (ze fonous), the name for a mobile phone case (un housse -uh ooss) and the mobile phone companies - even Bouygues Telecom. I'm a bit sad about that last one because I'd got quite attached to the thought of 'Boogie-woogie Telecom'.

Church at Blaye

Today the Floirac church decamped to Blaye to meet with the Blaye church at Chateau Segonzac (the proprietor belongs to the Blaye church). The service was helpful. We sang 'He is exalted', 'Holy, Holy, Holy', 'Thine be the glory', and some that don't exist in English. (We will have to memorise the Lord's prayer and a song they use for grace). The service was followed by a fellowship lunch with lots of slightly unrecognisable food, plus our sausage rolls. The chateau is beautiful and the proprietor is working on producing a proper Blaye wine with all the normal complexity but only half the alcohol. The law forbids anything that weak from being called wine, so it's known as Lir. Watch out for it in Waitrose if you're into that kind of thing. Two women came to faith at the service - a real cause for rejoicing to Sammy and Carol. You wait a long time for conversions France. The Blaye church has no pastor. Sammy preaches there almost once a fortnight.

Initial observations!

Driving. So far people are generally courteous. They let you into the traffic. They wave thanks when you let them through. When you stop at crossings people smile in thanks. However almost nobody indicates on roundabouts, there's a lot of general horn-honking (quite good fun really!) and people do 'go for it' when they're driving. They shoot onto roundabouts at a rate of knots! Manners. Everyone so far has been amazingly kind and helpful. We always start and finish things in French, even when the assistant speaks English - they generally reckon their English is worse than our French.

Retreat at church

Today there was a church retreat - what we'd call a church family day. We went till mid-afternoon when our heads hurt too much to stay any longer. The subject was apologetics, the speaker was very helpful and he spoke quite slowly and clearly. Great. Most of it you would hear in Britain on that subject, except the brief animated discussion some church folk had about Descartes and Pascal! Afterwards we had lunch round big tables and went for a walk, where we talked to a chap who runs the troup de scouts (sounds like troop de scoot) that G&C will go to. He's an enormous guy, almost 2 metres tall. He's known in the troup as Balou, and he's obviously really gifted with kids.

The school

The kids have been really happy this week at school. Thank you for praying! I have to tell you about two things: 1) Catrin's teacher asked her to take her rat to school today. At least we THINK she did.. Anyway the rat went to school and a fine time was had by all, rat included. 2) A friend of Gwilym's came up to us in the playground so they could cuff each other about a bit. He came out with a long string of quiet fast French. Gwilym looked at me quizzically. I bent down to hear his friend as he repeated it, slower and louder I hoped. And of course, he kissed me on the cheek! I chuckled all the way home. (apparently, so did he.)

Mr Darty cometh

Darty deliver between 13:00 and 17:00, and they came to us bang on 13h00. The two young chaps got out of the lorry and I said 'Bonjour Messieurs' and they said 'Bonjour' and shook my hand warmly. They got the machine onto the lift thing then the bigger guy pressed the wrong button in an ill-concealed attempt to assassinate the other. My presence doubtless saved his life as the lift tilted and the washing machine shot towards him. They plumbed in the machine and gave us each an explication of how to do washing. Then we had a coffee together and parted like old friends. Cracking!

What a full day!

After taking the kids to school we went to the DEFLE to register as students and paid our 1100 euros (a bargain for both of us for a semester of studies!) Then back home for a fortifying cup of tea before tackling the phone and the washing machine. The FranceTelecom man was brilliant. He just would not give up until he had found out the status of our line and ordered our new number. Then he sorted out our internet connection. But we fell at the mobile fence because two of our phones are locked to Orange UK and therefore will not accept a sim card from Orange France. Spit. I will phone Orange to try to get my Treo unlocked. Pat's phone will be OK but we'll probably need to get a new phone for Gwilym. That was all done by 11h30, but I felt like I'd done a full day's work. French is really tiring.

New kids in the yard

I will never forget that moment. We were so proud of them. They marched into the playground together, looking just a little lost, while we watched from behind the fence choking back the tears. It was FAR worse than their first day at school. They both did really well, though the day is l-o-n-g and Gwilym got fed up with doing lots of stuff he didn't understand about Napoleon! But they must be the bravest and most excellent children ever.

The unresponsive Mr Darty

Flushed with our success at France Telecom we decided to buy a washing machine. Darty is the place to go, it appears. Well - the first lady answered our question about 'cold fill' then said 'Call me when you have decided' and promptly ran out of the store like Paula Radcliffe. (a tip - all French washing machines seem to be cold fill only... no wonder she ran, poor girl!) Then a man came up and we told him what machine we wanted. He said lots of things REALLY QUICKLY, and he took us to his computer and then said it wasn't working and could we come back in 3 hours' time. Well we went and had lunch and came back 2 hours later. He saw us and hid behind the TVs but a very brave lady came up and sold us the machine and arranged for it to be delivered on Thursday afternoon. Now it's nearly prayer meeting time and my brain really hurts.

Arrival at Villenave

Carol greeted us with the keys and with a very welcome cauliflower cheese for supper. Waiting for us at the house were two overdue bills, for electricity and for gas. Also waiting for us was the modification France Telecom had done to the phone system. Our neighbours had moved from our house to the one behind, and because that house has no phone connection FT unscrewed the main phone box and ran a wire across the washing line and along the fence to their house. Ingenious. So THAT'S why they cancelled our order for the phone to be transferred!

Boulogne to Villenave

We left the hotel at about 9h00 and set off for Villenave. had produced a route for us that took us via the Paris peripherique. I have been told that the peripherique is one to avoid (worse than India said one chap - who would know!) so I got to do a route to Chartres and then from Chartres to Villenave. The route worked very well. We did a little random driving in Rouen, but apart from that we were on the brilliant French motorways making lots of stops for the loo. It was VERY HOT but the car has aircon. Thanks all those who advised us to get it if we could. When we got near Bordeaux the motorway suddenly became quite busy, but we got to the house at about 19h45.

Journey to Dover

We spent the night at the Jolly's where I had lodged when I first came to Deeside 14 years ago. A little gang of people gathered in the morning to say goodbye to us and we left at about 10h15 and wevhad a steady, uneventful journey to Dover to catch the Speedferries catamaran. £25 single. Single. Buying that ticket felt very strange The catamaran was delayed because of fog, so by the time we arrived in Boulogne it was dark. We drove around at random and eventually found our hotel.

Moving out

Two removal men arrived at about 10h00 and started packing up all the fragile things very carefully. At 14h00 they were still packing things up. Surely we don't have THAT much china? (Oh yes we do....) At about 14h30 the van came to be loaded up and now there were four men piling our stuff carefully into the van. By 16h00 there were eight of them and the house was nearly empty. We were out by 17h00 and Michel started cleaning the house. He finished cleaning at about 22h30. That man works hard.

The last post

from the Meadows, anyway. The sale has gone through. The house is no longer ours. The men are packing us up ready to move us on out. The buyers have been round and brought us some wine gums for the journey, with strict instructions not to overindulge while driving. All is proceeding finely. On a different note - one of our grand old men left us last night. He had been unwell for a long time with various problems. He retired as an elder some years ago, or at least he retired from officers' meetings. I saw him on Wednesday and we all knew he was on the way home. He was really foundational in the work here. Always helpful. Always supportive. Always appreciative. Always a worker. His eyes would twinkle at God's grace. He's beaming now. We can't delay our crossing. The kids have to get to that school. But we hope that Peter Milsom may be able to come up for the funeral service and, of course, Martin is on hand to be in charge.

The eve of Jour-J

Twenty-one months ago we shared with the church officers at Deeside our conviction that we should go and serve God in Bordeaux. The most traumatic 21 months I've ever known! But the most encouraging, too. To see God answering prayer. To see Him open the way for us. It gives a sense of wonder. The most traumatic and the most amazing episode was when we rented the house. It all seemed so impossible. I'm sure Carol was right when she said it was little short of miraculous. Well - God willing that's where we'll be on Sunday night.

It is easier and more fun to destroy than to build

especially when you are thinking of MFI bookcases. They just fall apart. All you have to do is take the shelves off and press firmly on one side. They would NEVER have survived the journey to Bordeaux, and the friends we offered them to wisely rejected them. It is wonderfully satisfying to sling load after load of rubbish into the skips at Queensferry. How long will it be before we accumulate as much again? Next time will we buy a good quality ironing board rather than a dodgy old wonky one?

Legal teamwork pulls it off!

We've exchanged contracts, set to complete tomorrow. Meanwhile the water heater in our shower is faulty. Yesterday morning the circuit breaker went off while someone was in the shower, and we've had tepid showers since. I called our friendly local plumber, who fitted the shower only in July of 2004, but he hasn't rung me back yet. Hmm. I may have to just leave an apologetic note for our buyers.