Showing posts from January, 2006

Happy examinations everyone

The lady by the door is the invigilator. She has suddenly stopped failing me on my assignments AND she let me in to do my civilisation exam this morning even though I arrived about 5 minutes late. Thanks so much! 

We're about to begin


Feel that tension!


My new job

I have a new job at church. I am the sound man. ("At last!", they cry. But no, it’s not that kind of sound) Nightmare! Firstly we made a big mistake. We fiddled with the microphone levels before the service to try and optimise the inductive loop for the deaf. Of course, once the pastor started speaking during the service, projecting his voice, it was far too loud. Then we discovered that if he tried walking round anywhere the radio mike produced nasty interference noises - I suspect the loudspeakers which are behind him and about 3 feet away. And if I turned OFF the radio mike it went POP! So I had to try and anticipate his movements and turn the knob down on the mixer quickly. This worked pretty well till we got to the benediction when we discovered that even raising his arms was enough to make the interference noises. After the service the pastor’s wife asked "Was it OK, being the sound man?" "No!", I said, "it was AWFUL, but I’ll carry on doing it.

One down, six to go

Alan arrived at DEFLE on Monday morning and read the e-mail and updated the blog. Yes - the wifi at home is definitely not working. I’ll get on to Wanadoo today, I hope. Then I went home to cram conjugaison, and especially those awkward verbs where you get the same word meaning two different things (e.g. je suis = I am / I follow). Those always come up in Grammar tests. Then after lunch with the kids, back to DEFLE for the Compte rendu exam. The nervous tension was palpable in the atrium where everyone was gathered. As 13h30 approached we swarmed down to the lecture theatre and suddenly it was party time. A lecturer appeared with a camera to take a photo of us all. I took some, too. We took our scrap paper and our answer booklets and sat in alternate places in the theatre. The examiner came in and read the text twice. It dealt with the ineffective French anti-smoking laws. We had to summarise it in 120 words and assign a title. I didn’t produce my best compte rendu ever, but I don’t th

La vie associative

is very important in France. Despite all our preconceptions about the extended family, latin hospitality and café culture, many French people find themselves very isolated. One answer to this is associations. Associations are defined by law and registered with the local authority, and they can be for anything from antiques to rugby, from scrabble to ecology, from choirs to mushroom pickers. Until recently associations were given monetary grants by government, and it has been suggested that this should be started again to reinvigorate the associations in the troubled banlieus. Most French people are members of say three or more associations, and they join them like students join clubs during freshers’ week at university - because they fancy them or have some degree of interest in the activity. Local churches are associations. They begin life as cultural associations (culturelles) under the 1901 law and then, once their doctrinal basis and constitution are defined they register as cultue

FEF 2006

We went to the annual meeting of the Fédération Evangélique de France. The 4 am start was OK, and we walked through the cold, quiet streets to the station where lots of SDFs (sans domicile fixe - homeless) were sheltering from the cold. Gironde is one of the departments that is on orange alert because of the extreme cold weather (le grand froid). The TGV took us to Massey where we had an hour to wait before we got on our local train to Longjumeau where the meeting was to be held. We spent this usefully drinking coffee and chocolate in a café opposite the station! Then a rendezvous with some useful types who were obviously going to the meeting (you know how sometimes you an just tell?) And a short ride on one of those double decker trains to the church. It’s amazing how much at home you can feel in a meeting like this. The business of admitting new churches and missions occupied a lot of the morning, together with a review of last year’s finances. After lunch we were addressed by the ch

Look! A double decker train!


Four hours at Massy on a Saturday evening

It was VERY COLD so we looked forward to another coffee and/or chocolate in the café opposite the RER station at Massey. Maybe even a meal, if the price was right. It was closed. 4 pm and the café was closed! Still, there was the coffee bar at the TGV station. It was not very warm there in the station concourse, but beggars can’t be choosers. It was closed. Carol asked the man in the station newsagent if there was a café in the area that was open. There wasn’t. Not even a hot drinks machine. What misery! Not only that, the station concourse was very cold. Still, the waiting room was heated and there were these rather attractive tall infrared heaters in the concourse - attractive because before the evening was out there was a little crowd of us huddled round them like moths around a lightbulb. But there’s always someone worse off than yourself, isn’t there? We had a four-hour wait for our train to Bordeaux, but at least it was on time. The poor people going to Rennes - well their TGV wa

Discussing the route

The chappie in the "très cool" hat has just folded his map of the Paris train network. They were working out the best route to get to one of the mainline stations. There were lots of options and it was very complicated, but I still missed the shot with everyone huddled over the map! 

Station waiting room at Gravigny-Balizy





This is in the CHURCH garden.  



Grammar at the DEFLE

Lecturer and student celebrate the joys of the agreement of the past participle. 

Internet down at home

Our internet connection is not working at home. I suspect the WIFI is at fault. The PCs say it is not giving them IP addresses on the network. Exams. Are next Monday till Friday - one or two a day, but only 2-hour ones. Pat also has exams. Kids' health. Yesterday afternoon they were both at school, but today Catrin will be going to the doctor again with sore head, ear and throat. She finished one lot of antibiotics yesterday. Tomorrow Carol Liddiard and I travel to Paris for the FEF annual meetings. I have to leave the house at about 4am to catch the 5am train from Bordeaux. Usually when I do that kind of thing I end up with a cold afterwards. Please pray that I won't this time. I don't NEED good exam results, but I don't want to miss any or be ill for them. Obviously, until our internet connection is working again contact by email will be slow! If you need to get hold of us best thing is to use the phone, and best of all our mobile phones. Also the blog will be VERY QU

The day we played conjugation tag - and MEANT it!

During our grammar classes we have to play conjugation tag. The lecturer tagged a friend of mine, chose me to scribe on the board and a girl to set his verb and tense. She chose courir in the passe simple. We all dread the passe simple, and courir is a tricky little verb. Anyway, after a bit of toing and froing the lecturer started him off, "je courai". Now at this point alarm bells rang, so I took a quick look in my Palm verbs program, and I saw another chum looking in his Bescherelle and yes, she had started wrong. These verbs can be tricky little critters and if you start wrong it's not easy to get them to come out right. After a few persons, though, the lecturer realised what had happened and we retraced our footsteps: "je courus, tu courus, il courut, nous courumes, vous courutes, ils coururent" (I, you, etc ran). Now it was my friend's turn to set a verb and tense for the girl. No more Mr Nice Guy! He chose - something like penser (nice, easy verb), bu

Good news, one of Catrin's teachers phoned

She phoned to see how she is, and to check that it isn't unhappiness at school that is keeping Catrin away, so Pat reassured her on that front. Then she said that they feel Catrin is making progress and that she should soon return to her own class, at least for the mornings. She also said that she'd be glad to see us if we want to go and have a chat with her. That may be useful. Catrin herself feels that she is making no progress at all. Now we all feel that from the inside, and we try to explain this to her, but a bit of reassurance and encouragement from the teachers, if they are capable of doing that, would go a long way!

They asked ME?

This morning was really funny. Me and the slavs discussing the nasal vowels and practising distinguishing brin (for this vowel I do my silly grin) from brun (for this I just relax everything and push) The phonétique exam has opened a real can of worms. It turns out that almost everyone has immense hang-ups about the nasal vowels, with the possible exception of the portugese-speakers who have problems with the oral vowels! Added to that we all have our own difficulties with different consonants - for the anglophones it's the r and the t/d (which we make too hard). For the arabophones b/p just doesn't exist! So we were all sat in a joyous circle chanting " un bon vin blanc, un grand pain rond " and observing and discussing the way you hold your mouth and where to poke your tongue and when to grin and when to let your jaw drop and when to do the goldfish with your lips. Then the phonétique lecturer hurried through to use the loo... Poor woman. I bet she cries herself

It's all go, eh?

Last night I had to go and see a film for today's Communication class. The film was called Gentille , and it's a "comedy". This is, of course, bad news. French comedies are usually utterly inscrutable. I mean I understand them, but it's really not easy to find them funny. Anyway, I went. There were one or two humourous moments in the film, but overall it was a big "no". I fell asleep in the middle! And the lecturer agreed. She doesn't like French comedy either. She says it's gone downhill ever since Jacques Tati! Tonight Francois Weyergans is speaking at Mollat's bookshop about his book Three days at Mum's house , where he describes the agony of a writer trying to describe the agony of a writer he is writing about. We've worked on bits of his books, so I'll go along and see what he has to say for himself.

Phonetique - oh yes, and

answer the timeless question: A quoi sert la luette? This could be variously translated as "What good is the uvula?" or "What use is the uvula?" or "What does the uvula do?" and the answer, of course, is that it opens to make a nasal vowel. It probably has a function in snoring, too, but I decided that was probably off the point.

Quick matter for prayer

FEF hold their annual general meeting on Saturday, near Paris. Carol Liddiard and I will travel up for it. It starts at 10h00, so we are due to catch the 5h00 TGV from Bordeaux. When Carol booked the tickets online the system wouldn't accept my birthdate. She reported it to the SNCF, and entered a different birthdate for me to get the tickets booked. SNCF say that they can't now change my birthdate on the ticket, and we will have to speak to the controller before we board the train (at 05h00 on Saturday morning). Please pray that a. we can find him easily b. that he'll be a really happy controller c. that he will happily put me on the train whenever my birthday is.

The old and the odd

One good thing about France is that the cars seem to last very well, so you often see strange old cars. Here is an old Citroën 2CV in very good condition. Next to it is a very cute little Renault Twingo. They have now made these for almost 20 years, and they're still very popular. 

The campus was beautiful today.

See the huge pine cones? 

Inside the Tikitaki

You can see why it is popular. It has lots of little nooks and crannies . The notice says that it will all be non-smoking from 7 March. There'll be ructions. 

The cloisters for failed students just down the street from DEFLE

It's really the building for the Iberian countries. See how beautiful the campus is today. 

Pat and kids' day

Has been OK. Gwilym is lying on the sofa coughing like an artist in his garret. Catrin is cleaning the windows and still complaining of a headache. Both are taking their medicine well, even though Catrin has the biggest pills she has ever had in her life! Pat made them have a French TV day.

What good news!

avoir à = devoir! Just like in English! That's wonderful news! "Have to" comes so much more easily into my mind, and now I can just let it, and use it, and rejoice!

Phonétique exam over

Now it is my weakest point, OK? Anyway I went into the little room with the examiner, who is really very pleasant, and I had to read this text about flying deer returning to Burck-on-Sea. Then I had to read a sheet of words specially designed to trip up the anglophones, like appartement and téléphone . Then I had to think of four ways of spelling the nasal from vin and pain. Well I am NO good at those - just plucking spellings out of the air. I started well with v in and p ain , then struggled to get v ingt , then ground to a halt! Then I had to think of five ways of spelling the nasal that you get in en. So again I started well with vac an ces, then en , then realised that ent isn't the same as en for this exercise, so added v ent , and two more that I can't remember now. Then I had to do some phonetic transcription, which was OK except that I forgot that c is k , thought I remembered that u is y , thankfully ( y being i , and ou being u ). Then I had to describe the sou

No - that's it for phonétique

15 minutes this afternoon and that's it. So I have just eaten at the Rikki-tikki-tavi, a sort of Greek themed student restaurant. I won't go there again. The decor is great, it has lots of nooks and crannies and a no-smoking area, but the only vegetables were salad. Then it was steak and chips or meatballs and tagliatelle. Despite the fact that they had cooked the meatballs I still had them and they were OK. Followed by some clafoutis - I have always wanted to try this. It looks like a kind of low, flat egg custard with cherries or plums embedded in it. It tastes like a kind of low, flat egg ....... And I was SO looking forward to chicken and green beans. Just goes to show, you don't choose a café by its decor. So now I am sat here thinking ee, eh, e, euh, ah, agh, o, oh, oo, uu, etc. etc. My good friend Mohammad has just told me that the film we have to see for communication on Wednesday, Gentille, is a load of rubbish. The sun is shining, it's cold in the shade but ni

Still a house of sickness

Poor Pat is back to nursing this morning - a boy who is coughing and a girl with a sore head. Deciding who comes into DEFLE when the kids are ill is not simple at the moment - it depends on exams, lunchtimes, switchover possibilities and all that. So Pat is at home and I am here. Still, Catrin has her antibiotics, Gwilym has some cough medicine, and we are hopeful for school for tomorrow. The dilemma is that if the kids are ill, the school will telephone, and then whoever is in class has to leave to go get the kids and take them home. Still - we are getting there. Slowly. Probably.

Look at this church's natty tower!

We went to the afternoon service in the Blayais today. It's been a lovely day so we wrapped up warm with lots of layers, I grabbed my camera and we drove the 50 or so kilometres to St Genès de Blaye. It takes about an hour to get there. When we saw something worth showing you we stopped the car to take a picture.

Chateau with vineyard

It is time to prune the vines so that they bear much fruit. I asked Thomas the viticulteur if it is like pruning roses - choosing a bud and so on. He said it isn't really like that. It takes a very keen and experienced eye to prune them properly.

Village with slightly gothic chateau

I think this may be St Martin de Lucozade. OK - it was really St Martin de Lacaussade. 

Another chateau

The chateaux vary hugely. Some are great classic houses, others are gothic monstrosities, others purposeful looking farmhouses, some are little more than sheds. 

There he goes, over the vineyards.

The scenery here isn't usually very nice - it is gently undulating and scrubby, with odd industrial units lining the roads, selling uPVC windows and huge plastic swimming pool liners, with samples standing on end by the road. Or massive plastic wine bottles advertising the chateaux. You have to watch out for the picturesque. So I reckon our view was probably better than the one this motorised hang-glider pilot got - and he MUST have been cold.


Well - he's got an engine strapped to his back. 

Blue shutters

We passed this house with vineyard. The photo looks wonky, I know, but it isn't . 

The water tower at the chateau

I suppose there may have been twenty of us at the service at the chateau in the Blayais - at St Genès de Blaye, of whom six had come from Floirac. Blaye is quite a major town, and surrounded by its satellite villages (the Blayais - the Blaye area). It is hard to imagine the church there supporting its own pastor in the foreseeable future, but we aren't aware of any other protestant witness in the area and there's a lot of people there to reach. At present the believers there maintain services every week. Two Sundays a month the Floirac pastor goes up to conduct the service. For the others two there may be a retired pastor available - otherwise they manage themselves, but I don't think anyone there is a preacher. (This is the water tower. I am sure none of this goes in the wine, but you have to wash everything well.) The service was followed by coffee, tea, orange juice, couronne des rois (brioche flavoured with orange blossom) and galette des rois (a bit like a bakewell pu

Four things

(well it's a nice break from writing out phonetic alphabets) Four jobs I have had Gardener Hospital porter/storesman Database administrator Pastor Four films I could watch over and over A Pink Panther film The Princess Bride An Indiana Jones film La belle Helène (the one with Felicity Lott) Four books I could read over and over Three men in a boat A child's Christmas in Wales My family and other animals Asterix ym Mhrydain/in Britain/chez les Bretons Four Christian books I could read over and over Spurgeon "Lectures to my students" Spurgeon "Treasury of David" - this would be my desert island book Calvin's "Institutes" - helps to balance Spurgeon out a bit! Jerry Bridges and Gresham Machen Four places I have lived Connah's Quay Ewloe Hawarden Shotton For TV programmes I watch (well, sort of) The Good Life ( this was 'Allo 'allo because of the chap with the big nose and all the wrong vowels, but then I chose again because of the cha


I thought I'd post Alan's exam timetable, so you can laugh at his misery. Monday 23 January 15h00 - 15h30 Phonétique (oral) Monday 30 January 13h30 - 15h30 Compte Rendu (over with that one it'll be good to get - sorry about that, but I get complaints about my English deteriorating) Tuesday 31 January 8h30 - 10h30 Civilisation française Wednesday 1 February 8h30 - 10h30 Litterature actuelle Wednesday 1 February 15h45 - 17h45 Grammaire (we hope Pat has no exams that day!) Thursday 2 February 10h45 - 12h45 Histoire contemporaine Thursday 2 February 13h30 - 16h30 Stylistique (that must be wrong, they're all 2 hours) Friday 3 February 10h45 - 12h45 Anglais, traduction de l' I am missing one, too - there should be another Phonétique exam in there somewhere, where we have to answer questions like "describe the e in abattre" and do a dictation and find four different ways of spelling the sound of "e" in "egg" and stuff like that. Then we have

Today's contemporary history lesson

We discussed the essays we did yesterday - What does today's France owe to the Revolution and the Empire (1789 - 1815). It was quite an interesting session because we compared and contrasted politics, social conditions, devolution and centralisation, living standards, corruption and so on in our various countries, which were: Brazil, England (that's me. O the shame of it!), France, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam. It was most interesting to compare the attitudes and aspirations of our Vietnamese friend and our Russian friend. Vietnam is still communist. Russia is no longer communist, of course. Incidentally in grammar we have spent AGES on the passive voice, which we hardly ever use. EXCEPT that this history essay was, of course, full of the passive voice. "The system was replaced", "the language was established", "a constitution was written", etc. AND I saw the grammar lecturer today. On Wednesday I missed a test because of this cold. I explained to h

Dental saga draws peacefully to a close

Pat had her last but one appointment with the dentist today (they know each other quite well now - kiss on the street, meet up for coffee). This was the 10th appointment she's had, because every appointment is for 15 minutes maximum and he only does one task per appointment. So a fortnight ago he did an impression for the first crown. A week ago he fitted the first crown. This week he did the impression for the second crown. Next week he'll fit the second crown. etc. etc. Pros - you never feel you've spent all morning in the dentist's chair the dentist becomes a close friend it spreads the cost Cons - it takes almost two months to get your teeth sorted out

Catrin on antibiotics - what a relief

Since her cold, which she generously shared with me, Catrin has had intermittent headaches and earaches. It has been very debilitating - especially for her parents. So today Pat took her to the doctor, who promptly prescribed antibiotics and a nose-squirter (what are those things really called?). This is really good news - the medication, not the infection! Pat and I had both been ground down by these continual minor illnesses. Now we hope that Catrin can quickly return to her usual rude health. Incidentally the medicine was really quite cheap - about 9€. Meanwhile if anyone knows where you can get Mentholyptus Extra-strong in France please tell me!

History essay

Introduction, 3 points, conclusion. A proper French essay. There's always three points. Thank God every day when you get up that you have something to do that day which must be done whether you like it or not. Being forced to work and forced to do your best will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle will never know. (Basil Carpenter from

Is this what they mean by acculturalisation?

All of a sudden Alan has this urge to wear black. After all, it's really smart, isn't it. And those Renault Clios - they're such smart cars. No, honestly now! People look good driving them. And it's so COLD here just now. Today it only got as high as 13°. Alan had lots of layers on and a big thick scarf and he still had to keep it all on in the lecture theatre. (Back in North Wales 13° in January was a dangerous heatwave) And you know, when beef is kind of red when you eat it, it is really much more tender. I am going to stop now. I'm frightening myself.

Ministry for what?

Crawled into DEFLE today - had to go in because a team assignment was due in. Mustn't let the lads down! I took a loo roll for the nose - we have ones with aloe vera. They're good because they help stop your nose getting sore when you have a cold. I took the cardboard out of the middle so it would fit in my bag. Anyway. 08h30 - Civilisation. Our lecturer was reflecting on the way that French governments can create new ministries. I had been smiling a little because so much of what she said reminded me of things I didn't like about British government. Then she talked about one ministry they had created. She said the name was rather poetic - "Le ministère de la prévention de catastrophes naturelles". Well, we all fell about laughing. She said they had announced that some time during the next century there could be an earthquake in Provence. I had to dry my eyes! It does you good, civilisation! Then in History we got set an essay to do FOR TOMORROW! "What debt

"Pile ou face", they cry!

We have been inundated with an e-mail explaining that the French shout "pile ou face"! It doesn't completely solve the problem because generally there isn't a face on the coins, unless you count Marianne, the personification of freedom, who is not dressed for winter. I guess if she's there she's the face. Otherwise you either agree which is which or argue the toss. Incidentally I don't know what you think about it, but the blog is a real blessing to us. Someone asked recently if we get much feedback, and we do. Lots! It's like having little chats with your friends now and again, even though they are hundreds or even thousands of miles away. The cold? Foul. Last night I was up every hour drinking mugs of water. Thank God for clean drinking water! What a blessing! I must have drunk at least a gallon. This morning I felt fresh as a well-watered daisy to begin with but I've only been up half-an-hour and I am struggling already. I do not think I will be

Heads or tails?

A colleague and I tossed a coin to decide which parts of a team homework we would each do. We looked at the coin. No heads (of course!) What do you shout? I have asked advice, and I will let you know the answer when it comes. Meanwhile just ponder the difficulties of the theory of shouting "necks or tails". For one thing you have to decide which is the neck and which is the tail. The coins don't have a picture of a neck or a tail on them, obviously! For another it would be, presumably, "cous ou queues". I do not find this convincing.

Gwilym's best day ever at school

He had a really good day, putting up his hand, answering questions and getting the (maths) right. It's particularly good that he's settling in well this year because in theory he goes up to collège in August. If they don't think he's ready they may suggest he does the year over again, but while that wouldn't be a disaster we have been advised that it isn't a particularly good idea. Catrin doesn't have quite that same pressure of time, though if she redoubles I don't know if she can leap-frog into the "right" year later.

Civilisation at 8h30

I didn't make it. Pat wouldn't let me go in. Nurses, eh? It may be just as well. I have the shakes a little. I probably caught this cold at Toulouse, la ville enrhumée . Meanwhile I have a boring book to read and another boring book to do a dossier on, so there's plenty to keep my spirits up.

David Field cracking today!

Do yourself a favour and read "raised for our justification". Then give yourself something to ponder by reading "less than half the story".

Lots of tests - then exams

Test in compte rendu today. "Doctors in sport" in 125 words. Not scared of compte rendu any more. (Ha ha ha! It's the compte! Ha ha ha!) I even think it's a useful exercise, in that it forces you to try to reformulate what you've written in other ways to hit your word target. (Do you think they've brainwashed me?) Test in phonétique - comprehension. It was OK. Now I have got a stinking cold, so I am going to bed in the hope of being OK for civilisation at 8h30 tomorrow. Gwilym came home with tummy ache. Catrin home all day with a cold (this cold, probably) Pat fit and well.


Pat dreamt in French last night. She dreamt that she was on her bike and ran over a lady and had a brief exchange with her.

Alliance Evangélique week of prayer

So I have visited four churches and heard four different pastors speak this week. I hesitate to make any kind of analysis based on these few and unusual meetings, really. I found the Israeli flag in one church surprising to say the least, and church leaflets and bookstalls are always revealing, sometimes encouraging and sometimes alarming. I thought Paul Yonggi Cho had changed his name years ago? The strongest church I was at (good bookstall!) has about 70 members, but they come from all over the Gironde. And the pastor is leaving soon. However it confirms: 1) that France is really unreached, even in the big centres of population 2) the need for straightforward Bible preaching.

Extraordinary Regional Synod at Toulouse

OK. It's a war memorial. But we were in Toulouse for an extraordinary regional synod. We had to arrive in time for the 10am committee meeting, but the synod wasn't till 2pm, so we spent a very happy morning getting lost in Toulouse and sightseeing. Then we spent a very happy afternoon in the Regional Synod, which went wery well. I felt much at home because: 1) it was quite like one of our regional councils in Wales 2) The chairman is a Dutchman, the pastor of the Toulouse church is South African and there was also an Englishman and an American there. 

Second-hand bookstalls at Toulouse (with nice shutters behind)

Toulouse is known as the pink town, because of the colour of the bricks.

The somewhat wonky Cathédrale de St Etienne at Toulouse