Showing posts from October, 2005

Le Pin Galant on Reformation Day


Reformation Sunday worship at Le Pin Galant

  This is the crowd in the foyer of Le Pin Galant, a theatre in Merignac, where the Reformation Day service was held for the French Protestant Federation. We were addressed by the Jean-Arnold de Clermont, the President of the FPF. I suppose there were something like 200 - 300 people there. I may be underestimating - I'll check with Sammy this week. That in a city almost the size of Glasgow. (I am reliably told that there were 600 - 700 there) Next week back at Floirac. 

"so that everyone may see your progress"

I have been thinking about the way that Paul urges Timothy to let people see him making progress. I put it like that because progress is a double edged sword. They sometimes advise people that when they go overseas to serve, not to learn the language in the place where they will settle and minister. That way you can make all your worst mistakes somewhere where you will not be staying anyway! I can see the sense of that. Believe me I can. But I can also see the sense of the wonderful chap we met from central France who went to serve there in his forties and learned his French where he was going to serve. "There I was", he said, "forty years old and with the vocabulary of a two year old. It's wonderful really - everyone who sees me coming smiles." He's the man who asked the lady in the hardware shop for the son of a fusebox. He doesn't do that now, and they can see his progress. We don't like letting people see our progress, because it implies that at

Some pictures to look at on the BBC website I fear you will have to cut and paste the website address to the "Address" line in your browser.

Christmas fayre

Val had come bearing a HUGE Christmas cake, two HUGE Christmas puddings, a HUGE container of mincemeat and some other stuff, like custard powder, gravy granules and thousands of tea bags. She was well within her luggage allowance on the way home, and with fewer bags to carry. The Christmas goodies are especially for church use - at Christmas Eve there is a huge church pie social and we are supposed to bring anglo-saxon cuisine thereto. I am SO thankful that I am aware of no Welsh speciality for Christmas. I think laverbread is out of season then. We may just stick some pastry daffodils on top of the mint spies and let people think that they are a Welsh tradition. (or add leeks...)

Wallace and Gromit (V.O.)

  We went to see "The curse of the were-rabbit" in English in the centre of town. It was pretty wonderful. Here is one of the high-tech loos in Place Gambetta. I reposted this because it got the wrong date and time on it. It should have been posted for 28 Oct, during the kids' half-term. 

Hippopotamus grill

  Pat's sister and brother-in-law came for a brief visit on Tuesday. They fly home today. They wanted to take us out for a meal last night. So far our meals out have been limited to Macdonalds and Quick (and the kids don't like Quick). But we had spotted the Hippopotamus Grill near Carrefour. Well you know us. Always intrigued by the surreal. The Hippopotamus grill was really very nice. Think steakhouse French-style, and you will more or less get it. They had a special promotion on beef from Blondes d'Aquitaine, which reminded me of the Llysfasi Bible study at Rhuthun, where we talked about the blondes last time I was there.  

Another shot of the cathedral

  I don't know if the cathedral is architecturally important or not, but it has lots of these pointy bits. 

After church chatting on Saturday

  As you can probably see, the church meets in the basement of the pastor's house. There he is on the left talking with some of the church folk. This was a Saturday theology school where the EREI animateur biblique was speaking, firstly on an overview of the gospels, and then on the nature of the church. There were 12 people there for a whole morning session. I think that's a really good turnout for a church of about 20 - 40 regulars. 

Quick trip into town

  We have to attend an author's booklaunch, so I went in at lunchtime to get a programme of author visits from the shop. It was a nice day, so I thought I'd take some snaps of the Cathedral Square for you. 

Compte Rendu continued

Hi there! Compte rendu was far less scary this week. We had to learn this strange code for taking notes. You have arrows shooting in all directions. Strange abbreviations like rdg, fxo => -> <- ^ " £ etc. We then had to listen to a reading on TV and whether it makes people cultured or not and take nt/=+ from it. Then we have to work it up into a 40-word compte rendu ready for next week. So far this week we've had to discuss three newspapers together, do a phonetics lab session, talk about the French attitude to nose-blowing in civilisation and do many more strange and useful things. Phonetics - the lacturer is quite a card. She said if she catches anyone speaking their own dear little mother tongue they'll have to buy coffee for everyone. Second offence is a croissante for everyone. She says her class is torture - we have to listen to a reading and transcribe it exactly. We also have to read an article. The transcription might have been a little easier if she had

Official visit

The Mayor of Bridgend visited today. We plied him with P G Tips and we had a grand time talking about his visit here, developments in Bridgend and such like. Our neighbour was surprised to learn that Bridgend has an unemployment rate of something like 3 - 5%. France has 9 - 10% unemployment. I offered to become his "cultural attache" here in Villenave d'Ornon, and he thanked me warmly for the offer and said he would consider it. He only has 6 months left in office, though, so I don't know if it could be established before the next Mayor comes into office. You have read of the Bridgend roundabout in Villenave d'Ornon. Well Bridgend is in the process of naming one of its principal roads "Boulevard de Villenave d'Ornon". There we are!

Me? Learn French? You must be kidding!

It's true! Me, having to learn French! (Pat here!) Well, the first week of University is over, and another one begins tomorrow. By the end of last week we were both shattered! The first day seemed to go well, and I actually managed to understand the majority of what was being said. Replying is another matter. I had the same tutor all day, and she has a good sense of fun. Anything we didn't understand, she tried to draw on the whiteboard, quite an artist! So, the first day and I think the second went quite wee. The next few days I began to get quite lost! Suddenly we were talking about passe compose.. WOT?? When I did French in Wales I learned how to order food from a restaurant, and of course the wine! But I don't think we got as far as past tenses (forgive me Janet if you read this and I'm wrong!) I think the tutor realised that I was struggling (the vacant expression on my face must have given it away) so she asked me at the end of the lesson if I was ok. So, I had to

Status report

We're all a bit fed up today: 1) Pat has been wrestling with the concept of auxiliary verbs. Grim. 2) Gwilym and Catrin have been missing their friends back home. 3) Alan feels that he has been on this stupid course for a whole week and he is still not fluent. Or able to hold a simple conversation without messing things up. (Even in English! I told an American lady that someone had put the cat among the pigeons - total blank look! The same lady who didn't understand me when I told her that we wanted matching stripey jumpers for the whole family - to her a jumper is a pinafore dress!) However - the message at the Floirac church was helpful this morning. It was about Elijah and his flight after Carmel. The chappie said that we have a tendency to slip into a works theology to find our sense of worth. When we can't solve the problems of the world, or when we are useless, we feel worthless. True! Elijah had to go back to first principles, to Horeb, to God's covenant faithfu

One of the best things about France

  Sorry, but it's true. This stuff is WONDERFUL. And it could have been invented just for me, as it combines two of the great loves of my life - chocolate and dietary fibre. Sadly our Carrefour does not stock it, so we have to get it elsewhere. 

Cherry Noble's visit

  Cherry Noble is a long term friend from Mold who spent many years in mission in Peru. She was staying with some of her family who live in Lot & Garonne, a neighbouring departement, so she came to visit one Saturday. Her visit was a delight. I met her at St Jean station and we rode the tram to Quinconces and then to Pessac where we picked up the car. It's slow, but you see the city a bit. Then we talked and talked and talked until it was time for her to go and catch her train back to her family. 

Trafalgar Day

Rather thought we wouldn't hoist the signal flags this year, or light the jolly old bonfire in the garden, what!

A quiet day at DEFLE

for Alan anyway Just single civilisation 9h30 - 10h30 with a male lecturer. He isn't quite as easy to follow because his voice is deeper. Also the lecture room was still half full from the previous session, so I ended up sitting too far from the front. Still - it was OK. Then double contemporary history, where I learned that when the French history books say "Nos ancetres les gaulois" they are really referring to the Welsh. I knew it! So we didn't just own Britain before the Angles and the Saxons came - we had France as well. The lecturer quite enjoyed having a gallois in his class, I think, and kept making wry little remarks about "pockets of resistance" against the germanic invasions of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Goths, Visigoths, etc.. (I know this doesn't sound much like contemporary history, but first he was trying to define what we mean by France.) This class worked better for me because I sat at the front again. I think some people think it's

Wednesdays at DEFLE

Wednesdays are made more complicated for us by the kids being off school, so I was the only one to get up at 6 this morning. It was very foggy and damp, but I got to DEFLE in good time! 8h30 - 9h30 Litterature actuelle. We talked about the working definition of contemporary literature - it will be within the last 30 years. We have to read a book - La Place , by Annie Ernaux, an ex-Bordeaux III student. It is mercifully short, so even if I don't like it I reckon I'll be able to finish it! And we have to go to a bookshop when a modern author is presenting their book, do a COMPTE RENDU of the presentation, see what the critics are saying about the book, photocopy a brief extract from the book and do a bit of lit crit on it ourselves. It will end up as a 5 page folio, we work in pairs and we have till January to do it. Doesn't sound SO bad does it - except the dreaded words COMPTE RENDU . 9h30 - 10h30 This was followed by Litterature actuelle with a different tutor, who strong

Our mates at DEFLE

We have made some friends at DEFLE. Here's the names and nationalities of our chums thus far: Ben is from the USA Daniel is Venezuelan Mohammed is Yemeni Roberto is Brazilian Christine is American Cassandra is American Jessica is American Margaret is British Students have also come from Colombia, China, Czech Republic, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Korea, FYR Macedonia, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam, etc. etc.

Second DEFLE day

Don't worry - I won't do a blow-by-blow account for ever! Pat had more of the same, except for a grammar test. You can imagine her reaction at the words "test" and "grammar". As for me, it was civilisation at 8h30. Yes, I know that's a contradiction in terms. Then phonetique , where we were told how we lost one mark for each error we made in our exams, and we all smelt failure in the air. Then communication , where we had to introduce ourselves and then start discussing the objectivity of the media. For next week we have to trace a theme through two different newspapers and present our findings relating to the attitude and positioning of the papers concerned. Then this afternoon stylistique . One wag (guess the nationality) suggested this meant fashion, but really we worked through the first stanza of a Verlaine poem, working out where he broke the rules of grammar and why. Today was OK for us both. I think that my only total horror story will be co

First day at DEFLE

Pat had the same teacher all afternoon and came out smiling. They had a lot of discussions and conversations and generally I think her first day went really well. I started with a class on the literature of the Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco) which was interesting and pleasant - a good start for 8h30 on a Monday morning. (By the way, remember we are an hour ahead - 8h30 for us is REALLY 7h30! 22h30 for you is 23h30 for us) Then came one and a half hours of "compte rendu". I was a bit unsure what this would be, but it turned out to be a sort of standard French technique. And a bit like one of the French "Extreme Word Games". You know the French have Extreme Word Games, don't you? For example, they have competition dictation for big prizes televised prime-time with a household name quiz-inquisitor, Bernard Pivot. They also play "synchro Scrabble" and they have World Championship Spelling Competitions. Well, "Compte rendu" struck me as be

A happy busy weekend

This weekend there was a lot of coming and going! Firstly two really nice American students came for lunch - Cassandra and Jessica. Cassandra is in my class and Jessica is in the class below. It was good to entertain them because we got a cooked chicken from the supermarket and had Sunday dinner with gravy! Very special, and our gravy days are numbered, I can tell you! Then we travelled into town on the bus together in the late afternoon so I could meet Colin and Ben and take them home for tea. Colin and Ben have come from Scotland, England (*) to work at the FAC (student centre) for a week. It'll be almost all painting, so they'll be pretty bushed after a couple of days of that. Then today we went to church in relays, collecting Colin and Ben and dropping them outside the gate (poor chaps - it was a little chilly, too) then getting Pat and the kids in time for the service. Then in relays home for a barbecue on the baking hot patio. At the moment the weather is a bit like that.

Here we go!

Our courses start tomorrow. Pat starts at 13h30 with a full afternoon of classes until 16h30. She doesn't have any more detail than that on her timetable. I start at 8h30 with "Litteratures francophones". (I want to sit in in this class because it's about the Maghreb - North Africa). then 9h30 - 11h00 "Compte rendu". 13h30 - 14h30 "Traduction de l'anglais" and 14h30 - 15h30 "Phonetique". Then an aspirin and a strong coffee and an early night!

Gwilym's college

Gwilym and Catrin's school belongs to a "Groupe Scolaire Europeenne" and one way that shows itself is in an emphasis on languages. That may be a good thing for them. French is their third language. Anyway this evening we had another marathon parents' evening and the head of the college (the "middle school" Gwilym is due to go to next year) spoke. They teach English to everyone and add either German or Spanish for each child. They have school exchanges set up for Germany, but it has proved difficult for Spain and impossible for England. He asked me if I knew whether there may be any schools they could link up with in Wales (not that England or Scotland is out of the question, you understand!) It would have to be a special sort of school - the college is small (fewer than 200 children) so it wouldn't be all that wise to exchange with a multi-thousand comp. The college is right in the heart of Pessac, a smart suburb of Bordeaux. Flights here are easy and ch

Another helpful chap

Cast your mind back. Remember we bought a left hand drive car, which has a 5 year extended warranty, servicing included, which is transferable if you sell the car? Well I thought I'd better go to a Citroen garage and make sure all was in order. It wasn't. The warranty isn't on the Citroen system. The invoice said we had the warranty. We had the contract for the warranty. We had all sorts of documentation for the warranty. But it isn't on the Citroen database. Oh dear! What do we do now? Well, thankfully I had gone to a very friendly independent Citroen garage at Villenave, down a back street near the rocade. The proprietor telephoned the garage who sold the car. It transpired that at that time they had a problem with a secretary who for some reason did not put the warranties onto the Citroen database. So all we have to do is when we take the car to service, get them to verify with that dealer that the contract is good, and Bob's your uncle. Yippee! And what a nice,

New webcam

Hello there. Like a multimillionaire with a hole in his pocket, I've splashed out on a new webcam. It's so good, I've just ordered another for the other computer! It happened like this: I tend to read two magazines in French (read is a bit strong, obviously - I look at the pictures and gaze wistfully at the words): AutoPlus and Microhebdo. I buy these because they are cheap and will help me find the vocabulary I'm likely to need (though I don't buy AutoPlus if it's just another article telling me a Clio is a better car than a Jazz). Microhebdo is a particularly fine example of the cheap computer magazine. It does laboratory reviews of all sorts of stuff, and recently it reviewed webcams. Well my webcam was an Asda WOW special, and it shows. So I thought I'd splash out 20 euros on Microhebdo's best buy webcam. And it is GREAT compared to the awful rubbish I had been using. It's a Labtec Webcam Pro, 19E99 from, free shipping - what more could

Some of Gwilym's maths homework

He's 10. He has sums like this to do: 5498 x 5327. They do them by "decomposing" the numbers and forming expressions like this: = (5000 + 400 + 90 + 8) x (5000 + 300 + 20 + 7) Then you just multiply everything in the first brackets by everything in the second brackets. Then sort the results into descending order, then add them up. As long as you don't forget any of the numbers it works beautifully. We never did sums like that when I was 10, but I think it is a good idea because it prepares the way for when you multiply expressions in algebra and have to remember to multiply everything in the first brackets by everything in the second. And all this in French!


Pat is in IL5. I am in 3D. We are both relieved and happy. It means that Pat is not with the absolute beginners, but in a group that will suit her, and I can do my options on contemporary French history and contemporary literature that I wanted to do (and thus avoid classical literature, theatre and poetry and all the other weedy and wet stuff). Our timetables look like fun - sometimes I start at 8h30, but that's OK - so do the kids. We think we can wangle it so that Pat is off on Wednesday mornings and I am off on Wednesday afternoons. The only snag is that the kids will have to have school meals on Thursdays, but that may not be such a bad thing either, because they'll learn lots of playground French that day.

Kids in school

1) Much improved. The bad days aren't as bad, and the good days are better, so we are on the up. Things that have helped are: a. the kids' French is improving b. they are getting used to the early start and late finish c. Gwilym forcefully discouraged some stroppy girls from pushing him round. (Well the headmistress did say "Il faut s'armer contre ces filles"!)It seems that they understood his point at last. 2) Tomorrow evening the pastor from the church at Floirac is speaking at the school at a "Soiree Theologique" about "God at school". Questions like "Do children need God?", "Does separation of Church and State mean that God must be banished from school?". We'd appreciate your prayers for this.

Floirac & Anglade

There were two services yesterday - in the morning at Floirac and the afternoon at Anglade, near Blaye. At Floirac we were pretty full. The church is using Powerpoint to project the hymns and songs now. It works quite well, except that the screen needs to be higher. If you sit on the left hand side of the church the pulpit blocks your view. We were sat on the right hand side, but near the back, so we were ducking and diving to see past the people in front. That's great, because it encourages people to sit near the front. In the afternoon we were at Anglade, which is a tiny village outside Blaye, but where there is a protestant church dating back to 1892. The church is in good condition and very pretty (I'll put up some photographs next time I go) but the 20 people there filled it. It's very cute. It has a bell to ring before the service. Takes me back to my childhood when I would hear the vicar ringing the bell at St John's and I would know that I could get up soon beca

What I feared

I need a haircut. This week is the week to do it (before our DEFLE courses begin). I have no idea whatsoever - except that I have seen various unisex salons and they seem to charge anything from 15 euros up. Tomorrow I must remember to ask Sammy where he gets his hair cut and how much one pays - and also for a basic vocabulary! (e.g. usually a number 4 on the back and sides - graduated please, no line - tapered neck please - no, leave me a decent length fringe - no, you can take a bit more off - no, no gel or spray thanks) Actually, typing that I feel more confident about having a go. See how helpful you are to me!

Well would you believe it?

Just behind us one of our neighbours is building a big concrete fence - not adjoining us, but the family behind. She called round this afternoon - she is a local councillor, and next weekend the Mayor and Corporation of Bridgend are coming for their annual visit. I told her about ETCW. She invited us to meet the Mayor and Corporation when they come. What a small world!

The Bridgend roundabout (get it?)

The Bridgend roundabout at Villenave d'Ornon. It is by far the poshest roundabout in Villenave as far as I know.

How far?

Bridgend is 1264 km away. That's not really very far, is it. Not in the grand scheme of things.

Testing time at the DEFLE

We had to report at 9h15 for oral tests, then 13h15 for written tests to establish what level of class to put us in. Well the building was packed with people from all over the world - Turks, Chinese, Koreans, Americans, Ukrainians and at least two Brits. Our names were all listed and we were sent to various doors behind which our tests would take place. Pat was listed as Hodgson (epou Davey). Then we waited. While we waited I chatted to some Turks and a Ukrainian. Pat found some Americans and an Englishwoman. So we waited. And waited. Eventually I went in to be seen by my lady. I had to read a piece which contained some words that were unfamiliar to me, but it was basically about people hanging little bells on themselves at carnival time to ward off evil spirits! She asked me about my work, what kind of church I was in, how long I intended to stay in France and so on. Then it was over. 5 minutes at most. Pat's test was very short, too, about historical antiques. Pat's English f

Lurking by the strand

I spoke too soon (cf. lurking in the undergrowth) The chaps at church are organising a fungus foray on Armistice Day (a national holiday in France) to go to this beach where loads of mushrooms grow. We'll get kilos and kilos. And they can be dried, frozen or whatever. You can eat them fried or put them in a sauce for your cutlets and chicken pieces or in casseroles and stews. Oh well - as long as they do the identifying!

More on the garden

We need to do something with odd bits of garden here and there, but it's difficult to know what to put in. There's a patch under the kids' windows that is full of weeds (largely evening primrose) and cries out for something fragrant like philadelphus. General rule is to look around you and see what grows well for other people. Well everyone has big laurel bushes with red, pink or white flowers. So we could stick some of them in and I'm pretty sure they'd grow enormous! The garden centres are full of hebes, and I imagine they'd do quite well, too. They're generally pretty tough back home. Also bamboos do well here. Our goal is to try and make the garden look cared for while being able to neglect it substantially! Oh, and of course we plan to plant lots of daffodils just inside the fence and outside the vile confer hedge. If they survive they'll look quite good against the dark green wall of yuk.

Coup de grace

Lawns. 1) Last night I cut ours. It's a big area, but thankfully there's not much grass on it! The hot, dry summer killed off most of the grass leaving mainly "des mauvaise herbes". Actually some of the weeds are much more interesting than the boring old grass anyway - so I carefully mowed round the thing with huge white flowers and the patch of chamomile in the front lawn. To be honest, if the whole thing was chamomile it would probably be more robust and more attractive. I don't think the lawn had been mown since July, when I first saw the house. It'll be interesting to see when it needs mowing next. 2) French people seem to love the idea of lawns. Certainly the nearby (expensive) garden centre has lots of big petrol mowers. Perhaps it's a macho thing. I may not have much of a covering, but I have a powerful mower.

Lurking in the undergrowth

I was on the way to "hommes en priere" this morning which starts at 8h00. It seemed very early. For me it was more like "hommes endormis" (sleepy men). Anyway, on the way I saw this man lurking in the bushes near one of the road junctions. Remember, it's about 7h40 and still a bit dark. Whatever was he doing? Was he loitering with intent? No - it's just the mushroom harvest, "la recolte des cepes". The radio told us the other morning that although the summer was very hot and very dry, the mild weather of the past few weeks and the rain from the storms has brought about a good mushroom harvest again. Rather them than me. When we were doing our fungi practicals at Aberystwyth we used to eat the specimens we found - Jews' ears, shaggy ink caps, honey fungus. Most were vaguely unpleasant or just plain tasteless. Probably an acquired taste.