les Davey de France

Alan and Pat live and work in Bordeaux. Alan is a pastor and Pat was a nurse. Now we work with UFM worldwide. Read on! (If you'd like to know what took us to Bordeaux, then start with the archives from September 2004)

Friday, March 31, 2006

Of course, the REALLY interesting thing is

the effect all this will have on the Presidential elections in 2007.

The three front runners seem to be:

Dominic de Villepin : old guard, Chirac's most natural successor, diplomatic and guarded BUT has never ever been elected in France to any public office AND tainted by the CPE conflict?

Nicolas Sarkozy : breath of fresh air, volatile, interesting, speaks strongly and forcefully BUT tainted by his handling of the banlieu riots last year?

Ségolène Royale : left wing, lady, could she be in with a chance of being France's first Madame le Président?

(apologies if I have spelt anyone's name wrong)

STOP PRESS - Chirac's decision

Jacques Chirac, speaking from the Elysée Palace this evening, has decided to give presidential assent to the equal opportunities law which sets up the CPE, but has asked the government for two changes : the reduction of the trial period to one year and for employers to have to give a reason in case of dismissal. He asks also that no CPE be signed before these changes are carried out, and has asked unions, student organisations and high school pupils to take their full part in the working out of these new arrangements. (French texte from Le Monde)

Jacques Chirac, qui s'exprimait à l'Elysée, vendredi 31 mars, a décidé de promulguer la loi sur l'égalité des chances qui instaure le CPE mais a demandé au gouvernement deux modifications : la réduction à un an de la période d'essai et la motivation des ruptures de contrat. Il demande aussi qu'aucun CPE ne soit signé avant que ces modifications soient apportées, et a appelé syndicats et organisations étudiantes et lycéennes "à prendre toute leur part dans l'élaboration" de ces nouvelles dispositions. (texte français du Monde)

More good news

Pat has just told me that she doesn't like Olive flavour crisps. (Yippeee! Those ones are mine!)

Also I have started thinking to myself in French. Not all the time. I flip back and fore. And it seems comfortable.

Of course, when I am in class or in conversation I have been thinking in French since arriving here. You can't take notes on 2 hours of history lecture and translate on the fly. Well - maybe you can, but I can't! However, I had been ... reluctant to switch from thinking to myself in English, but now it has just started happening spontaneously.

The strikes etc.

The DEFLE is still under guard. But really that is the only evidence we have seen of the strikes etc. The demonstrations all take place in the city centre, far away from anywhere we ever go, though they do prevent the trams running and our student centre is right in the heart of the city.

There is another general strike scheduled for this coming Tuesday. Last Tuesday everything happened as normal. Bins emptied. Kids in school. Us in DEFLE.

BUT, the situation is somewhat explosive.

M. Chirac is due to address the nation on TV tonight. He will talk about the CPE. If he gets it wrong there may well be riots. Again it is highly unlikely that this would affect us directly, though do pray for the folks getting to and fro from the student centre.

Quick update

Sorry I am not posting much at present. Here's a quick update:

1) The best news. Everything is quiet and apparently happy on the school front. Gwilym and Catrin both seem happy and relaxed and they seem to be making progress. He (and I!) didn't do terribly well with some of his grammar homework, apparently, but then I haven't yet covered in my grammar classes what he is doing in his! (It's fun this, isn't it!) Catrin is going great guns at present. Gwilym is hoping he can go up to the college in September, though he knows now that this does not always happen, and to be honest - another year of taking them both to the same school at the same time would be quite nice!)

2) Us. Pat is doing fine. Alan is doing fine, though he is tired. The lecturers are tired. Everybody is tired except the people who have dropped out! Still, one more week and then we have a fortnight's holidays, which are earmarked for certain admin tasks which remain to be done.

3) Bordeaux suddenly discovered spring! One week we were scraping ice off the car. The next week the heating was turned off, we were eating outside and casting clouts left, right and centre. Apparently one day soon it will become unbearably hot.

4) Tomorrow the kids are at scouts (I'll believe it when I see it - they have been ONCE this year) and we are going to the Salon de l'Immobilier - a show where estate agents, loan sharks and house builders display. I want to talk to Bouygues Immobilier, who are building in Floirac. Their houses seem pretty reasonably priced by Bordeaux standards, they are the first wave of an urban regeneration programme which is due to completely renew Floirac, they'll be built by spring 2008 and they seem to be going to have flat roofs.... Anyway, there's a house with three bedrooms and a small office, which seems a possible goer, so I'd like to talk to them.

Oh - and a major rebellion is underway

Well - this morning our résumé of texts class was cancelled (even though I had got up at 5h30 to rewrite my résumé because it didn't have enough words. 75 when the target was 93.) I have to do résumé of texts because I have chosen two "human science" options (civilisation and histoire). The people who do two "littérature" options get to go to something called "dissertation, commentaire de textes".

So we were sat round drinking coffee when the other class was herded together by the lecturer in charge. I wanted to ask her if she was a soixante-huitard anyway, because we have to give our history talk on "May '68" soon. (She was, sort of, but she was in the States at the time. I was SO tactful when I asked her - you would have been proud of me!)

But she invited us to join her class for the morning. Well it was FAR more interesting than our résumé class. We talked about autobiography and the unwritten rules that autobiographists must respect with illustrations from people like Chateaubriand etc..

So I am switching class. No. I know it's not what the rules say, but I am switching.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

You see lots of OLD French cars around

I had one of these - about 20 years ago! Posted by Picasa

A Bordeaux square

on a rainy day Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Word processing will soon change - lots

Pretty soon after I got my first computer at home I bought a copy of Samna Ami. It was great - a word processor that showed you straighforwardly on the screen what your printed page would look like. I have used it ever since - through Lotus Ami Pro, then into IBM WordPro. It is still very easy to use and still shows you very reliably what your printed page will look like. It's not free, but my last upgrade cost my £5 from the bargain corner of PCWorld.

To make PDF files I have used OpenOffice, which has the great benefit of being free. It's OK, but not as easy for me as WordPro.

Of course, everyone else in the whole wide world uses Microsoft Word, and somehow they manage to pay big money for it.

But this is changing. Already there are word processors that simply work on websites, editing Word files and saving them on your computer for you (e.g. Google Writely, Ajaxwrite).

It's a logical change. Why should there be millions of identical copies of a program stored on computers all over the world when it could be stored in just a few places centrally and used over the internet?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sartre finished off

I confess that I was wary of doing Sartre in the literature seminar class. After all France is deeply committed to literature. Someone has said that in France literature is a religion, and nowhere is that more true than in Sartre. He said that literature was his religion.

Also France is deeply committed to philosophy, the home of existentialism (and lots more isms) so I could well imagine Sartre being a kind of hero.

I couldn't have been more wrong! Since about 1980 there has been a deep reappraisal of Sartre. Some defend him. Others expose him for the self-confessed opportunist hypocrite who wrote in bad faith that he was. Among them is our lecturer. At one point, after a string of words like those above I asked her "Are those simply your opinions or are they shared generally?" She said that opinion was somewhat divided but he was self-confessed in les Mots, and she'd like to know what I thought about what he says.

So there we are! Sartre the hero has become Sartre the villain, or at least Sartre the bloke. Coupled with the examination of the facts of Sartre's supposed resistance activities during the war (he seems to have assumed that role after the war - a little late for action, but just in time to benefit from the myth) it has led to nothing less than exposure.

The general strike

Well, the trams were running, the schools were open, the DEFLE was open (of course), but most of the student cafes were closed. And this evening there were 4 (FOUR) security guards hanging around. I don't know what they thought might happen!

Students were thin on the ground at DEFLE. Possibly some of them thought the trams were out and decided not to bother. Maybe some of them are simply somewhat badoulet (given to skipping class).

Apparently sometimes a general strike is announced in the knowledge that most won't strike, but the announcement is headline news and there will be enough disruption caused anyway to make a point.

They're falling away, one by one

Several friends left the DEFLE at the end of last semester, mostly for financial reasons like paying for next year's University course, impending parenthood, etc.

Another friend has vanished. Rumours are that the timetable and his part-time job were deeply incompatible.

Also there's an exam in French for overseas students to gain admission to the University and once people have passed that there seems little point in slogging through your complex sentences and reported speech and all.

Yesterday another friend decided that they would become "autideur libre", that is, to attend the classes they want to attend and drop the ones that don't suit them.

Soon it'll just be a handful of us. Perhaps at that point they'll cancel the exams and hand out diplomas to the survivors.

Well it's an idea.

Today there is a widespread strike


Saturday, March 25, 2006

I've been reading David Field's blog again

It's been a long time. Lots on. No time to lose.

But today has been more relaxed, so I've looked again. And lo and behold! A poem which was one of the set pieces at the eisteddfod at my school.


I think we have a special calling


It's a blow, isn't it.

One of our neighbours

 Posted by Picasa

The lecturer does it again

Another corking book.

We have to do two dossiers for "contemporary literature".

One should be on a grim, introspective, modern novel of our choice. Actually, my partner and I are planning a revolt by choosing a rather jolly book written by a young teacher about a year in his life in the Paris banlieus.

The second can be on anything from this list:

Perec: Les choses, Un homme qui dort, Je me souviens

Le Clezio: Le proces-verbal, L'extase materielle, La ronde

Benoziglio: Cabinet-portrait, Tableau d'une ex., Quelqu'un bis est mort.

Well I went to the bookshop for the "literary encounter" armed with my list, and found a few of the books dotted about - but Cabinet-portrait was in a pile of staff recommendations. "Buy this if you want to laugh out loud", it said.

I didn't need to be told twice. And it is funny. It reminds me of Three men in a boat.

Trouble is I have to do some kind of po-faced lit-crit thing on it now!

We also have to do a dossier for seminaire de littérature. At the lecturer's suggestion, I have chosen to do Oulipo. If you want to find out about it do a Google search. (Well I'm fed up with books on grief and stuff, frankly!)

"From our own correspondent" on the student protests in France


The BBC correspondents don't ALWAYS get it right, of course, but I doubt if there's anyone better.

Some carnival revellers and a living doll

Today was the school carnival.
It seems to me that almost every time they have school on a Saturday morning they have some kind of fun activity. Anyway, this year the Carnival was arranged around the school's theme of eco-citizenship. So the kids went to school in fancy dress, then paraded round the roundabout outside the school flinging confetti hither and yon and shooting silly string at their parents. Then an effigy was tried for destroying the environment and executed by burning.
Personally I thought the child who spoke for the defence did a good job and would have got his client off, but there we are..
It was a useful time for us to chat with parents and get to know some of the parents of Gwilym and Catrin's friends. Posted by Picasa

A scary fellow

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Some fine revellers

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As the children went by they plastered us with confetti and silly string

Posted by Picasa

More children on parade

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A batch of crusaders and damsels in distress

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Two girls on parade

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The municipal police ensured no problems arose

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The hapless M. Carnival is put to the flame

 Posted by Picasa

M. Carnival before his trial and execution

with some well-wishers Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A quiet day, followed by a literary encounter

Civilisation (the organisation structure of French Universities - amazing! I don't know that about BRITISH universities), followed by history and student presentations on the war in Indo-china (i.e. when the French lost Vietnam) and on General deGaulle.

Did you know that apparently in the 1960s a survey of British people voted deGaulle the most evil man of the 20th century? That is, worse than Hitler and Stalin!

Then into the student centre to get a bit of help setting up Microsoft Money. I think I can carry on and do it all now. It'll give me useful pie-charts showing what proportion of our money goes on rent (30%, that bit's easy) and on other stuff, and it will generate my tax declaration for me at the end of the year.

Then to a literary encounter at Mollat bookshop. A new author was presenting her book called "The inconsolable". Books on bereavement and mourning seem to be very much the order of the day at the moment. One of our lecturers won an Aquitaine prize for her novel about mourning, and the Olympic Poetry Prize for her book of poems that is sister to the novel. A DEFLE student is reading the novel at the moment and says it is the most beautiful writing she's ever read.

I didn't buy the book. Well, it was 13 euros (8 pounds).

Still under siege, still no phonétique

Two security guards sometimes!

Wisdom needed - decisions ahead - please pray

Especially regarding housing. Here's the background:

1) We have a deposit from the sale of our house in North Wales. It's currently sitting in a "high interest" account, gaining a small amount of interest! It would be better off being in bricks and mortar.

2) Our bank would entertain a mortgage application from us. We wouldn't have to wait two years or anything like that.

3) "We" currently pay 1020 euros rent a month (600 pounds) for a super house that is just big enough. This rent will increase by about 30% (in line with housing market) every three years, of course.

4) Housing in Bordeaux is expensive. With a mortgage we MAY JUST be able to afford a house big enough to live in nearer the kids' schools, perhaps in Pessac or in Merignac, or somewhere else if we can't find anything there.

5) Alternatively, if we can't afford something with three bedrooms we'll look for something small in the centre of Bordeaux to buy and rent out.

More excitement in Grammar!

This time it was the concordance of tenses (la concordance des temps) in direct and indirect speech. Here's how it works (in English):

"He hates me." He said that he hated me.

"He will come on Thursday". He said that he would come on Thursday.

"He waited three hours for you". He said that he had waited three hours for you.

"He would come if you were to ask him". He said that he would come if you were to ask him".

"He was waiting by the bus stop". He said that he was waiting by the bus stop.

See how some change and some don't?

We have all slipped into the bad habit of dropping our "ne" in the negation - that is, instead of saying "Je n'arrive pas à trouver une phrase", we say "J'arrive pas à trouver une phrase".

While we all got stopped and told to say it properly, this is actually a good thing. It shows that our French is becoming more colloquial, because that's how people speak on the streets.

Fraction and elevation

I have been inundated with an e-mail asking for an explanation of fraction and elevation. As any member of parliament will tell you, this means 10 puzzled people. So here we go:

Essentially fraction and elevation means that at the Lord's supper the presiding pastor holds the bread up as high as he can, says something like "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?", then breaks it by moving his arms outwards in a wide and demonstrative arc. He then uses a similar statement while lifting up the cup.

Many moons ago, when I was a child (yes, that far back!), I was a communicant member of the Church in Wales - low church, but the bread used to be elevated, and we used to do a curt nod, feeling that we ought to do something but that to genuflect or to cross oneself was not protestant. You can understand my surprise, then, to see the bread elevated at the weekend.

Especially since in Edward's prayer book of 1549, strongly influenced by the continental reformers, you have this instruction:

These wordes before rehersed are to be saied, turning still to the Altar, without any elevacion, or shewing the Sacrament to the people.

Here's a lovely pdf of the page in the prayer book:

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

What's the chances of that, then?

We parked outside this house opposite the park in Gradignan. It may have been the day we celebrated our exam results. And I nearly fell over in shock. The name on the mailbox said "Davey"! Amazing.

They run a B&B. Now obviously we have never stayed there, but it's certainly in a nice spot.


Monday, March 20, 2006

EREI national general Synod at Branoux, Cévennes

Every three years the National Union of Independant Evangelical Reformed Churches (EREI) holds its national general synod. The churches send delegates (the pastor plus others). I am not a church member, but the church kindly sent me with two purposes: to find out about EREI so as to know how closely I could work with them and to meet people to build up contacts and links. I hoped to meet Paul Wells, but he wasn't there.

The synod meets over two long days and a half. As well as LOTS of business there are devotional sessions, reports from church commissions on ethics, theology, youth, etc. and lots of elections. Oh - and a concert given by an American choir.

The EREI elects all the members of its committees by the deux tours method. That is, you have a paper with a gap for each committee place that needs filling. You also have a list of people who have been nominated by their regions. You then write a name in each gap. When the scrutineers do their count, anyone who has been chosen by a straight majority is on the committee.

But there may be places still free on the committee. That's where the second round comes in. Then you write names again, and the places are filled in top down order - front runner, then second etc. till all the places are filled. I was sat with a church delegate from one of our churches who teaches accountancy, and I had to explain the system to them. It all takes a lot of time.


1) It was amazingly like one of our assemblies back home. Same spirit. Same happy humour. Same joy at being together. Same respect for one another. Same restraint and desire for wisdom. Perhaps a slightly smaller number of people, but then they have fewer churches than the AECW has.

2) The EREI has a generation of good young chaps in ministry, who have been trained by the faculty at Aix. Real "young Turks". There was no sign of the "this younger generation aren't as good as we were" stuff. Everyone was genuinely valued.

3) I can't imagine living with the liturgy, frankly. However, our local EREI doesn't follow the liturgy and certainly doesn't do the bit that I found very surprising indeed: fraction et élévation - officially banned in the Anglican church in 1549.

4) I took a lot of ragging after the French beat the Welsh at rugby. But I explained that we can't beat everyone two years on the trot and told them to look out next year.

5) The language generally worked OK, except for one terrible morning when I couldn't hear or understand the guy opposite me. Poor chap! It was good to hear the Americans, Chileans, Madagascar-ans (?), Dutch, English, etc all happily chuntering away - sometimes in French no better than mine, really. And there is a vast range of acceptable accents in native French people anyway. The mayor of Branoux proved that when he talked about toléransa en Fransa. So on that level the weekend was very encouraging and reassuring! As one chap said "everyone has an accent here - even the French"

One interesting thing - my companion, who spoke no English, didn't notice the Mayor's accent till I pointed it out to them, when it became as clear as daylight. But if one of my e's was slightly wrong they noticed straight away. I think what it shows is that if you are a frenchman you can get away with almost anything, but if you are a french learner then you just have to get it right. That's fine by me!

One last thing. Why no big hymns? Even when we sang a toi la gloire (Thine be the glory) it was just one stanza. Almost everything is short ... well, ditties really.

Anyway.... It was an encouraging time and basically fulfilled its goals.

On the way to Branoux we travelled through glorious sunshine

and stopped for a coffee near Carcassonne Posted by Picasa

The temple at Branoux

It belongs to the municipality, who have to maintain it. It's attached to the Post Office, right in the centre of the village. Posted by Picasa

The pulpit at the temple at Branoux

I think this is a pretty typical French pulpit. Posted by Picasa

Another view of Branoux

with strange tree Posted by Picasa

In some ways the Cévennes are like the South Wales valleys

ex-mining, high unemployment, similar people really.

In other ways they are totally different. For example, for some reason the French didn't cut down all the trees and use them for pit-props... Posted by Picasa

A delegate's eye view of the synod

We started off in the Branoux temple, then moved to the larger municipal multipurpose room.

Here a report on marriage is being presented. Posted by Picasa

The local paper reported on the synod

The photo shows the pastor at Branoux, the mayor, the synod moderator and the incoling and outgoing president of the permanent commission.

The photo below shows the break when the mayor treated everyone to an aperitif.

If you click on the newspaper it gets bigger. If you click on it again it should get big enough for you to read the text. Posted by Picasa

Outside the temple at Branoux

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The kitchen staff thanked

All are volunteers. And we ate very well, in French fashion - course after course.

They do this round of applause thing where you start with one finger, then two, and so on until you're clapping properly. The sound grows gradually. Posted by Picasa

The final lunch after the Synod closed

Lunch was eggs stuffed with tuna, followed by wild boar and pasta, then cheese (of course) and ice cream for dessert.

This is the conference centre dining room. Posted by Picasa

DEFLE under siege!

OK - a bit of an exaggeration. But on Thursday we were greeted by a security guard at the door who demanded proof that we were DEFLE students.


Because of the students' strike. There is the possibility that the students might occupy the building and close it down until the strike is over. It is unlikely, but possible.

During our 9h30 - 10h30 lecture (Civilisation) there was a kerfuffle outside the lecture room door, it opened and the director went quickly to the door to talk to the person there, who we couldn't see. We all thought "this is it! cameras ready!" but it was about something else.

Today the language labs are still blocked off and we still have a small but burly security guard on the door.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lieu de prière - place of prayer

I know France is highly secularised, but there is still a "place of prayer" at the supermarket in Pessac, between the cashpoint machines and the cafe. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Here are some students working at the picnic tables outside the DEFLE

I must remember to ask them if the wifi connection worked out there. Posted by Picasa