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)

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


One evening some weeks ago we met some Italians on the number 1 bus. They were examining a map of Bordeaux and the route displayed on the wall of the bus and discussing options. They seemed to be heading in completely the wrong direction. They spoke no French. We speak no Italian. We asked where they were heading and gave them a much shorter route. We asked where they were from. "Bari", they said.

I looked up Bari. Pat had a decimal birthday approaching. I had a weekend off. Ryanair flies at convenient times and their lowest prices. Reasonably-priced accommodation was available. When someone told us Bari had nothing to commend it we were convinced.

Ryanair. Well we'd bought cheap tickets but when it came to add any kind of bag whatsoever we could either choose to pay individually for each bag we took or to add priority boarding with two bags each included. It doubled the price of our tickets but was still next to nothing.

Then came time to check-in. You could pay to choose your seat or be assigned seats at random free of charge. Humph. I was assigned a seat near the front of the plane and Pat was placed by the emergency exit over the wings. To choose either seat cost more than the flight. So we flew like that. Others did, too.

We flew in on Friday evening and caught the train to the centre of the town. Bari has an old town set on a promontory with a warren of alleys, a castle, myriad churches and lots of little shrines on the walls. To reach it you had to cross the grid system of the new town with its chain-stores galore.

We found our accommodation. The owners were delightful. We went to explore and forgot to take our cash. On the walls of Bari we found a bar that accepted cards and planned our weekend. Saturday would be bright and sunny. We'd do the seafront. Sunday would be wet and blustery. We'd do churches and maybe museums. (We'd looked fruitlessly for a church to attend.) Monday we'd do whatever we wanted before flying home.

Nobody spoke French. Everyone spoke a little English. By the time we left people had taught us some Italian, as well as the basics of Italian etiquette. They'd also plied us with all sorts of food and drink "To try, to try!" In a cafe the waiter brought us some little panzerotti "for you, from us".  "It's local?" "No, it's cheese and tomato". At a restaurant two little glasses of limoncello. In a bar, a little disappointed that we were drinking a light fruity wine called Anarkos, "to try, some primitivo". We felt so welcome we actually tried to go back and say goodbye before we left, but places close on Monday. 

Bari cooking is probably best described as hearty. We ate some of the local specialities. The lady in the tourist office said, "don't eat lasagne or spaghettis here. It's not good. Don't use that bakery, it's too greasy, go to the other one. Here are the dishes to try".

So I had orechiette con cime di rapa, which is local pasta with turnip greens. Elderly ladies sit around their tables making the orechiette while listening to music on their TVs. We know, we saw them. Pat had patate, riso e cozze - potatoes, rice and mussels - served in a casserole. I felt too sorry for the octopuses to try the sandwiches, but we had three different kinds of panzerotti, which is a local variant of a calzone, sometimes baked, sometimes friend, sometimes enormous, sometimes bite-sized, but always a gorgeous cheese-bomb waiting to dump gloopy goo on the unwary.

Two cappucinos and four small biscuits cost under 5 euros. One gut-busting meal for the two of us cost 9€. By Monday we could eat no more, but we had one last thing to try, a focaccia di Bari. It's a round bread covered with tomatoes, olives and herbs. 2,40€ and it fed us both for lunch.

We visited the best-rated coffee shop. It was a traditional Italian one. You stand in designated areas along the counter. The waiters scuttle back and forth taking orders. Under the counter are pastries, cakes and biscuits. While waiting for your coffee you drink your free still or fizzy water. When your coffee comes you down it quick. You leave and pay by the door. Due cappucini. Tre euro. One café on the walls charged 1,50€ for a panzerotto. They were about the size of a cornish pasty. We had one each and wondered if we'd ever move again. Someone had complained that the panzerotti were too filling - they'd wanted to try them all.

On Saturday we walked miles along the beautiful seafront, constructed in the 1930s, watching the sailors, the wind-surfers, the snorkelers and the octopus-whackers. (You have to wallop them on the rocks to tenderise them.) In the evening we wandered out to the main shopping street and found it crowded with all ages yelling happily at each other. French football supporters make less noise.

Sunday found us visiting churches, including the church where Saint Nicolas' relics are housed. Some Bari fishermen went and got them in 1087 and he became the patron saint. We enjoyed getting hopelessly lost in the old town.

We didn't do the museums. Maybe next time.

Monday we mopped up what we felt we hadn't seen before flying home in a plane filled with Italian families. Boy, are they going to have a shock the first time they try to buy a meal in Bordeaux! Still, they didn't pay much for their flights.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

We've had some visitors these past few days

but it did mean we went wandering round the city a little.

When I can work out how to add some photos I will.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

More than a ton

of cocaine in separate packets has washed up on the shores of Aquitaine around Arcachon. The beaches have been closed. One likely lad was arrested having gathered five packets while beachcombing.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Most of my childhood world is found on this satellite photograph

Of course, it's all changed dramatically. The entire road system has been reworked with the loss of Porth Square and the monument (the public toilets in the centre of the square) and the building of the splendid Golden Gate Bridge of Porth. Morrisons has replaced the old Cymmer Colliery, already out of action when I was a child, and my old school has been repurposed several times. But the essential shape of things is still there.

My paternal grandparents lived in a small house built up on the hillside on the left of the photo. If you follow the line that leads left from Morrisons, then at the end of it stood an engine house with a steam engine that pulled trucks of waste rock up the hillside. A little below this engine house stood my grandparents' home. My grandfather's job was to attend to this steam engine.

I don't remember the house at all, it was bulldozed when I was very small, but my cousin has written about it and described the dampness of the downstairs room, the two bedrooms upstairs where seven people slept, the springwater and the plentiful supply of coal, the garden with its vegetables, flowers, rabbits and chickens. There was no electricity or gas. No flush toilets or plumbing. Lighting was by oil lamp. The house was known as Tip Cottage? We were the Daveys, Tip Cottage. Not that there were any other Daveys in the valley.

You couldn't drive up to Tip Cottage. There was a track, but that's all. I suppose you could get a cart up there but otherwise you walked up and down.

Though by my childhood the house had been bulldozed I knew the hillside very well. That line where the rails had been was called the incline. We pronounced it "ink line" and it took me a very long time indeed to connect this sound with a slope. There were streams where we'd hunt for newts, and woods where we'd root around, and heaps of clinker where we'd burrow caves, and cliffs where we'd find caves the rain had burrowed for us, and bracken where we'd play British and Germans and shoot each other and die theatrically. We'd gather whinberries and blackberries and the occasional deadly nightshade and fly kites and run with the dog and run amok. In later years I'd sit on the hillside and watch the world scuttle about below.

My father was living there when he was called up to fight in World War Two in his early twenties. He never talked to me about his wartime experiences. Never. But the photos he took speak of his travels to Egypt and to Palestine. It would be years before he returned to the valley. He came back an experienced driver of heavy vehicles and became a bus driver.

I grew up in one of the first streets as you came down the hill. We moved there when I was about four and I seem to recall going to the house pulling a big old toy circus lorry behind me. When we moved in you had to go into the yard to get to the toilet. One of dad's first projects was to knock together several storerooms to make an indoor toilet and bathroom. The water was heated by the kitchen fireplace and you could really get it hot. We'd feel the tank to see whether there was a good bathful or not.

Later on two reception rooms were knocked into one. The stone-flagged kitchen floor was replaced with concrete, then the wooden living room floor got the same treatment. Central heating replaced the coal fires with first a Parkray coal burner, then a gas fire and backboiler. We had radiators in the kitchen and hallway! By then the kitchen cooking range and belfast sink had given way to fitted kitchen units.

The house had four bedrooms. There was never any heating upstairs, except that one bedroom which had the airing cupboard in it. That room was always too warm.

That's the house where I roasted conkers to make them harder, where my dog slept under the kitchen table, where we'd boil sheep's innards to make her food - the smell was dreadful, where I'd practice the tenor horn in the bathroom to avoid disturbing the neighbours, where my dad grew his chrysanthemums, dahlias, fuchsias and runner beans, where we got ready for my sisters' weddings, my graduation and my parents' funerals. That's the house where my parents lived and died. It's not been bulldozed but I doubt if anyone ever looks at it and remembers that the Daveys used to live there.

I live in a fourth floor apartment near the centre of Bordeaux. It's heated by hot water that comes in dirty great pipes from the recycling plant at Bègles. Not that I've ever noticed the radiators warming up. There's a heat exchanger, too, that gives us instant hot water. We have nuclear energy from the reactor in Blaye and fibre optic internet. We travel everywhere by electric tram or by bus, or we can walk and cycle in the city. We carry our food home from the shops and supermarkets, but otherwise it's hard to imagine how our lives could be more different from those previous generations. And, of course, over 70 years of peace between the nations of Western Europe.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

I try to keep off politics for various reasons

not least is the danger of ranting. But one day into the election campaign I am already fed up of it.


We returned to rain. Torrential rain.

We exchanged the gentle static drizzle of Cardiff for the fierce downpours of Bordeaux.

In Cardiff you looked out of the window and were not sure whether it was raining or not. Everything was wet but nothing was falling. Instead everything seemed enveloped in cloud.

Bordeaux gets hosed down vigorously.

Apparently we've had a month's rain in three days.

Oh, and I have a sore throat...

Sunday, November 03, 2019

A quick trip to Cardiff

We took a quick and unplanned trip to Cardiff to see my sisters, flying out on Monday to Gatwick to take the train via Reading to Cardiff, then returning on Friday afternoon to Bordeaux.

The plane left early so we packed our bags and stayed overnight in a hotel near the airport so we could get to the airport on time. The flight was calm and we dozed. At Gatwick we needed to listen carefully to the announcements because points failures near Redhill had caused widespread disruption. So instead of our Reading train we were sent to Victoria, then by tube to Paddington to take the train to Cardiff. Friendly staff helped and we eventually arrived just 30 minutes later than planned.

We'd arranged to stay with friends in the area where Alan used to live and they kindly picked us up from the station, then fed us before sending us off to Kath's house, a ten minute walk away.

We were thankful to spend a good quantity of quality time with the two sisters before returning, this time via National Express from Cardiff to Bristol Airport, then another calm plane to Bordeaux.

The weather was foul, but we spent a morning mooching round the Cardiff arcades and the old library building with its amazing tiled corridor.