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, December 31, 2021

Essential supplies

 Our stocks of tea are running low, so had we gone to England for Christmas our plan was to come back with substantial supplies of tea bags. 

Here in France we pay in excess of 2€ for 20 nasty tea bags, and if we can find good ones generally they're around 8€ for a box of 40. This compares with the typical price we pay in the UK of perhaps £4 for 240. In addition recently it has become very hard to find the good tea bags here in France, probably because of that ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal.

About six months ago I ordered four boxes of 240 tea bags from Amazon for a cost of about 30€; more than twice what we'd pay in England but much less than in France. I found the old order on Amazon and looked at what they could offer now. Our usual brand was not available.

Pat looked at alternative suppliers. I looked at other brands. In the end we ordered this :

Now to find somewhere to store them.

A covid false alarm

 One of the chaps who was at church last Sunday became a "cas contact" - someone he had been near had contracted covid. For UK readers, I think it's a bit like being pinged.

The drill is that if you get covid or test positive you warn the people you've been having out with so they can get themselves tested. 

We faced the possibility of telling the folk who were at church that they all needed to be tested. Our man went to get a test, but was unable to do so. In addition he said that he had some symptoms.

We called at the pharmacy on the way back from our walk. There's no shortage of self-test kits and we could also get a test done by the pharmacy without needing an appointment. We said that if there was still doubt the following day we would call back and get ourselves done to be sure. There was a little queue of people waiting to be swabbed, and I noticed that the main pharmacist was wearing protective goggles as he served. 

Later that day our friend said he'd seen a doctor and been given a test which was negative. 

Jolly good ! As you were !

A spot of nature

 Catrin and Froim came on Wednesday to kidnap us and take us on a walk. There's an app and a website for people who want to go on walks in the countryside surrounding Bordeaux. It had rained heavily for some time, so we avoided anything we thought might be too sticky and headed for Bassens, a suburb on the right bank of the river.

Then Thursday brought the promise of good weather again with temperatures of 18°C, so we headed to our nearest wooded park, Parc Mussonville in Bègles, for a quick scamper through the trees. 


Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Covid - new measures

 Of course, we wondered whether we had been wise to cancel our trip to the UK. One couple travelled by train from Paris to the UK uneventfully. 

But then we heard other reports. One family flew from a south Asian country to the UK. Clear to fly, their day 2 test revealed that all the family were infected. They would spend most of their two-week visit in quarantine. Another family travelled from France and one child tested positive for covid on day 2. Another family has a child stranded in the UK because he tested positive and was not cleared to fly to their home in Southern Europe for Christmas.

Yesterday the government met to discuss the rise of the omicron variant and announced new measures.

A limit of 2000 people meeting indoors and 5000 outdoors.

Masks must now be worn in all city centres. (The local Prefect had already imposed this in Bordeaux)

No eating or drinking stood up - everyone in cafés, bars and restaurants must be seated. (I thought this was already in force!)

No eating or drinking in theatres, cinemas or concert halls. This is to ensure that people stay masked.

No eating or drinking outside in the city centre (see above).

They want to avoid people crowding together unmasked and so transmitting the infection by droplets. French scientists are pretty convinced of aerosol transmission.

This means that people can still gather for New Year, though the government had already asked us to refrain from house-warming parties (crémaillères) and from leaving do's (pots de départ). I would think that it is wise to ensure everyone is seated, not crowded together and most of all, to ensure the room is aired periodically. The government recommends about 10 minutes every hour or so.

An impromptu Christmas

 Having reluctantly decided not to spend Christmas in the UK, we had some work to do. The following morning, Wednesday, I got onto the websites. 

Boots had sent our day two PCR tests out, so we couldn't get that refunded. Trainline made it very easy to cancel our return tickets from Stansted to Norwich. There was a button to click. We had booked return lateral flow tests with a lab at Stansted. They were easily cancelled, too.

Ryanair - I was reconciled to losing the price of our tickets - expensive ones given the hold baggage we added, and sure enough, we were not allowed to cancel our trip. However, we COULD change our flights for a "small fee". We discussed dates with our people in the UK and changed the dates. It meant the tickets now were really very expensive indeed - were we throwing good money after bad? - but it gives us a date to visit the Norwich part of the tribe.

So now we were staying, but how to make it festive? Well on Wednesday we contacted people quickly to find out who was staying in Bordeaux for Christmas and had no plans. We thus collected a couple of folks to add to our merry group. We'd be six for Christmas.

Thursday morning found me meeting up to plan our preaching from January on. We met at our habitual café which is a short walk from the biggest city centre hypermarket, so once we had plumped for the plan I hoofed it off to Auchan.

We had discussed the possibility of buying a rotisserie chicken - wee can do these in our oven, but we'd need all the space we could for roasting vegetables of every description. I found a nice one that would do six people, but then thought it would be worth seeing what fresh birds there were. A handsome free-range bird (raised respectfully)caught my attention and made it into the basket. It was 10 euros, but it's worth paying extra for a happy bird for Christmas. Nevertheless I scanned the ducklings, guinea-fowl and other fowl, too. 

Wow! Look at those turkeys! About 2 to 3 kg and very reasonably priced. For 7 euros I found a much bigger bird, and look! They were still raised respectfully in the rolling hills of the Lot et Garonne. I put back the chickens. The vegetables would just have to fit in somehow.

No Crackers. We still have a pud, but Froim and Catrin undertook to bring a dessert. We had two unopened jars of cranberry sauce in the fried that we cannot account for (spoiler alert - we still do). We were underway.

And all went well. The turkey proved difficult to secure to the spit, so in the end it roasted suspended but not rotating. The vegetables - carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, potato - fitted around easily. Stuffing was pre-prepared. We had no gravy granules, nor could any be found, so a traditional roux with stock had to do. Sprouts steamed for hours on the hob. We moved the table out to improve access. We played a stupid game. We watched the queen. We discussed dispensationalism. The things you do at Christmas.

Christmas Day being Saturday and many people being away visiting family, we moved the service to our home with the intention of consuming leftovers. Of course, there were no leftovers whatsoever, but we did have some pastry, some cheese and some ham, together with lots of onions, so I followed an idea from an Italian woman who demonstrates easy Italian recipes and made two tree-shaped cheese and ham, and cheese and onion pies. It was a simple idea, more origami than cooking, but it all went and people wanted the recipe. 

Meanwhile Sylvain undertook to preach on Boxing Day and lined up Jean-Samuel to do the 2nd of January. I am being given a break. I'm not complaining!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Which voice did we listen to ?

 We've postponed our trip to Norwich until the spring, when we can hope for a dip in the levels of covid infections and a relaxing of restrictions.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Travel to the UK ...

 It's more than two years since we set foot on UK soil. This is actually quite normal for people who work overseas. Very often people spend four years away before coming back for a year's "home assignment". But our pattern has been to spend a couple of weeks each year in Britain. Until covid came.

For reasons I won't go into, Gwilym and Beth are unable to travel to France, so they missed both Catrin and Froim's civil and church weddings. So we plan(ned) to travel to the UK to spend Christmas with them in Norwich. However that was until omicron arrived.

The UK government is under huge pressure firstly to take action to stem the rising tide of omicron infections, but also not to cancel Christmas. So I think it's unlikely that the UK will go under any kind of further restrictions until Boxing Day at least. But we're not due to fly back until New Year's Eve.

Then European countries are shutting their borders and putting in strict controls on who can travel to the UK and for what reason. The guidelines were published and Brits in France started cancelling their trips.

When I read the guidelines they said things like "Foreigners are allowed to travel to their country of origin". and "French residents are allowed to return to France". I fulfil these criteria. I asked in a Facebook forum to check whether my understanding was correct and got shot down in flames for "wanting things both ways". Meanwhile it dawned on me slowly that Froim's country of origin is not in fact the UK, so could he come to England with us anyway? 

On Saturday the French government published the forms to fill in to travel. They say that "Foreigners are allowed to travel to their country of origin, along with thier conjoint (married, civil partnership or concubinage). (In France we call a shovel a shovel.)

However, reports come in of lots of people being refused entry to their UK flights or - even worse - flying from the UK to France, then being sent back on arrival. One family of colleagues who work in Asia arrived in the UK, took their mandatory day two test and found they were all covid positive, so now they are quarantining away from the family they came to see. If we get stuck in the UK this would be disastrous.

The voice of desire and affection tells me that it will all be OK and we should fly.

The voice of reason tells me that now is not the time and Christmas must be postponed till Easter.  

The saga of the Christmas tree continues

 Some subversive Bordelais have put up and decorated a real Christmas tree just about 50 yards from the new glass and steel tree. We haven't yet been able to go wandering around the city, but when we can we'll try and get photos to pop on here. I don't even know if this new little tree is still there.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Bordeaux' Green Mayor and the scandal of the Christmas Tree

 Last year in the surge of the green wave that swept across France the incumbent mayor, and replacement for Alain Juppé, Nicolas Florian, was ousted by a studious looking lawyer from the Green Party.

There resulted a huge controversy last year when he refused to erect the habitual Christmas tree by the cathedral.

"We don't want a dead tree in the middle of Bordeaux", he said.

Meanwhile the arboriculteur who had grown the tree specially had to scout around for another buyer, and one disgruntled Bordeaux resident put a domestic Christmas tree in its empty place.

I confess that I don't get this at all. The trees are grown for the purpose and recycled into mulch after the festivities. Anyway, there are other solutions. The neighbouring town of Talence has a huge conifer planted next to the church on the central square and every year they decorate that. Why not!

Anyway, this year the mayor ordered a construction from a local artist - a huge conical tower in steel and glass, all lit up, faintly resembling a tree. He says it will last five years, though it will have to be put up and taken down and stored somewhere.

Reactions are mixed. I'll pop on a photo when I can.

I feel that once the green wave has subsided Bordeaux will return to right wing mayors.

Covid testing for travel

 Oh boy.

Well, we need pre-departure antigen tests before we fly. Here we can do that at our local pharmacy without rendezvous while you wait.

Then we need Day 2 PCR tests after arrival. Trying to order these was a trial. We chose Boots, because they have a branch in Norwich. The routine is that you order and enter your passport and payment details on the Boots Special Covid Testing Website, then you book your appointment with the branch.

The Norwich branch has no available appointments.

I huffed and puffed. We wanted to avoid having to post off phials of test substrate over the Christmas period, but I don't think there's an alternative.

So in the end we ordered the cheaper "stick it up your own nose" tests, which you have to post off.

Then before we fly back we have to have antigen tests.

Boots do these too. Same routine. Payment details. Book appointment. No appointments available.

OK. At our return airport there are two companies who do on site rapid antigen testing. The most convenient one has a really annoying website. The other has an easier website but you have to hoof it off to a carpark to be tested. Eventually on the third go I booked the tests.


"Le pass sanitaire"

 It's not very French in its spelling but in general people have accepted the idea of the QR code on your phone that shows your covid status and allows you to enter cafés, restaurants, concerts, trains, planes, etc.

For it to be valid you need to have received your second dose of vaccine at least two weeks ago, your booster shot if your second dose was five months ago, or to have had a negative lateral flow or PCR test in the last 24 hours. 

To be honest, it's not always checked in every café - there's been one or two occasions where we haven't been asked for it. When it was introduced there was some protest but it also induced a scramble to get vaccinated.

The other day we went to Ikea for something or other - net curtains for an angel, I think - and went for lunch there. You don't need a pass to shop, but you do to eat. One woman in front of us in the queue had a pass, but it was not valid. Perhaps she had too recently had her second injection. Despite her arguing her case passionately and at length, the security guard did not allow her access to the restaurant and after a moderate delay we were able to get our food. I think I had a fillet of capon with a morel sauce.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

And I'm running again

 So I saw my own doctor on Friday - or at least the colleague who often replaces him - and he said, "yes, why not. It's best to run in the countryside."

"Yes, but this is the city centre."

"So I go to the forests to run, or in the big park beyond the football stadium."

My own doctor, before referring me to the cardiologist, suggested crossing the river to run up the hills of the Entre Deux Mers.

"It's an hour tram-ride away."

"Oh yes, I go on the bike." (It's a half-hour bike ride.)

He's probably about 30, about 6'3" and it's all legs. I suppressed harsh thoughts, but felt much better when later on I caught him outside having a quick cigarette.

So today I started again. I have new socks and I may need to find new shoes, but today was fine. I'm back on the couch to 5K trail for now, but looking at other programmes, too.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

The cardiologist

It all started when I changed doctor. My old doctor in Villenave had dissuaded me from running. "We are not made to run," she said, "but to walk". 

So instead of running for 30 minutes about three times a week I walk most days to either Carrefour or Lidl and come back with a rucksack of shopping. I walk like an old guy who's scared of missing his train. It's not pretty, it's not sporty, but it is somewhat rushed.

It isn't the same, though, and now that the area is starting to take shape, and there are fewer heavy lorries and more places that might be OK for running I'd like to get back to it.

So I asked my new doctor. He was quite positive about it, but he wanted to send me to a cardiologist for a stress test to make sure I'm not going to suffer any ill effects. 

"Who do you want to see?" asked the secretary, as if I knew anything about it. I chose the nearest. Pat had been sent to him so I knew where his surgery is.

Well... I've not named him, have I, but I had an appointment for 9:30am and chatted happily with the woman who was due in before me ... for about an hour. I went in at 11am, and there were four people waiting in his surgery, one with an appointment for 10am. I wasn't impressed. 

"You don't want to go running", he said. "When you go running all your weight falls brutally on your knees! You want to do fast walking (la marche rapide)". 

Nordic walking (la marche nordique) is very popular in Bordeaux just now. You see no end of people in anoraks with poles striding through the streets. No thanks!

For the stress test I needed another appointment, this time at a local hospital.

I went along this morning, arriving to find all the secretaries and receptionists in strike, but I found the waiting room and settled down when a nurse came out and asked me what I was waiting for. "Come with me", she said, leading me to a changing room. "Strip to the waist. The test will take about 10 minutes".

I could hear the guy before me on the bike. They encouraged him to keep going. Eventually he got off, they did the necessary and it was my turn.

Sensors all over my upper torso, I hopped onto the bike. "It might need adjusting", but it didn't. OK. Off you go. Try to keep it to 70 rpm.

It wasn't easy to keep it to 70 rpm. Especially when the nurse and I were having a chat about the area that the church meets in, which just happens to be the street where she grew up.

The resistance increased. Time went on. "So we're cycling to Blaye, are we? You said 10 minutes." "Yes, that's the idea".

Eventually the doctor said, "You can stop when you're tired." Well my thighs were a bit sore from the lactic acid but I could have carried on. "There's someone else waiting," the nurse told the doctor, so I stopped. "Keep pedalling slowly", he said

"Well that's all fine." You get to take home a report of your test, including ecgs and the doctor's summary.

Tomorrow I'll go and see my doctor with the results and see what he says.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Christmas concerts

 I am between choirs, and at an unfortunate moment because this is the year when we can do Christmas concerts again!

The choir I last sang with has a concert next Sunday, I think, in a church in outer Gironde. (I can't continue to sing with them because they've turned into a kind of regional weekend choir.)

Meanwhile the Petits Chanteurs de Bordeaux, a Cathedral-based children's choir has a concert on Friday evening in aid of the Café Joyeux, a café that employs handicapped people.

The Choeur Voyageur is doing the same concert three times on three different dates in three different places in Bordeaux. These are free concerts.

The Choeur Notre-Dame, directed by a friend, also has their Christmas Concert soon. I want to go to support my friend.

And then there are the Christmas concerts of the Opera choir. I haven't even looked at them!

Then in early January another choir I used to sing with (weekends again!) is performing Bach's B-minor. This will be an excellent performance and I'm really looking forward to it!

So we're looking at dates and commitments to see what we can go to and when. 

Why did we come to the South of France? For the weather, of course!

 Yesterday it was freezing. 

Today we're being blown sideways along with the driving, persistent, heavy, horizontal rain.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Carol singing in the Christmas Market

 So we went down to the church for 1:45 to have a quick blast through the carols we'd chosen to sing at the market. We were eventually about 11 people, including two small ones looked after by their father, so 8 singing, and it all went off pretty well.

I have one nagging doubt - we aren't allowed to distribute leaflets, so it means we can't hand out anything at all. It means that people see us and that's that. I wonder whether we'd be better off singing in the street near the entrance to the market where we could then hand out flyers to the Carol Service... To be considered.

Do UK churches still have Carol services ? They used to be quite a big thing.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Booster rappel

 So yesterday I tried to make appointments for our third jab. This time we are to be given either Pfizer or Moderna.

There are two ways of making appointments. The first is on Doctolib, and it's the way you make an appointment with your doctor generally. The system for booking a vaccination was swamped. It said we had a wait time of some ten hours.

The pharmacy uses its own appointment system on its own website. It was also swamped. 

Still, yesterday evening we managed to make appointments with the doctor to be vaccinated on 3 January. I did wonder if we could do better, though, at the pharmacy.

This morning, when I woke up, I went onto the pharmacy website and got an appointment for a Pfizer vaccination on 17 December. Yes! I cancelled the appointment with the doctor.

Then when Pat got us she booked an appointment for an injection of Moderna - TODAY! So she just came back from getting it done.

Voilà ! All done.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Covid update

 It was striking to see the discipline of the folks in Porto. In Portugal at that time it was not obligatory to wear a mask in cafés and restaurants, but everyone did. We never saw anyone without a mask. Not only that, but the masks were worn to cover the mouth and the nose. 

Meanwhile the French health committee met yesterday and decided that from now on :

Masks must be worn in shops, cafés, restaurants, concert halls, cinemas, even where the pass sanitaire is scanned.

All adults in France are strongly encouraged to receive a third dose of vaccine from 5 months after their second dose.

However no confinement or curfew is envisaged.

At present it seems that people are responding to this by booking their appointments for vaccination.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


 I've been neglecting you. I'm sorry.

Part of it is the build-up to Christmas. This year we hope to sing at the Christmas Market as well as to hold a traditional Carol Service and a children's Christmas club.

Then there's the political situation, wherein, according to the French media, the United Kingdom is in chaos, with shortages in the shops, rising cases of covid and a prime minister who becomes unusually incoherent in the face of big business, while in the British media France is in chaos, with riots in the streets, soaring cases of covid and a president like a Greek god who exceeds Napoleon in his ambitions for Europe.

Discussions with family and friends in the UK suggest that both pictures are caricatures at best.

Meanwhile there is the current covid scene in France to deal with. At present cases are rising but hospitalisations are not. Booster jabs are being rolled out and Pat and I will be due for a jab from 1 December, though this may change today as the government committee meets. Otherwise things continue the same. We can meet masked, but cafés and restaurants do not require masks as long as the pass sanitaire is verified. 

We attended a concert of the choir we used to sing with last Friday, and there too the pass sanitaire allowed performers and audience to dispense with the mask, though we kept ours on in the crowded Pessac church.

Meanwhile much of our life is same old same old, and thankfully so.

Monday, November 08, 2021


 Catrin's wedding was timed for the middle weekend of the Toussaint half-term fortnight, so the following Monday we took a flight to Porto. We had EasyJet vouchers from cancelled lights during confinement that needed to be used up before January. In December we plan to visit our son and daughter-in-law in Norwich, but easyJet doesn't fly anywhere convenient from Bordeaux for that. We're itching to return to Italy, but there were no flights. No flights to Bristol or Liverpool, so no visits to the UK. But Porto was possible, so Porto it was.

The city is fascinating, we managed to do most of what we wanted to do and the only hiccough was that after going through security on the way back we found our flight was cancelled. Some moments of headless chicken impressions got us up to the easyJet check-in desk where they sorted us out with accommodation.

Some years ago we were in a similar situation with Swissair, and felt so badly treated that I really don't want to fly with them ever again.

This time we were given a good hotel room, a flight home at a reasonable time the evening of the following day, taken by bus to our hotel and promised that it would pick us up mid-afternoon for the flight, and provided with a very good evening meal and with a super buffet breakfast. For some reason lunch was not included, so we went to a local supermarket and bought a picnic which we ate in the hotel foyer.  Eu rules stipulate a level of compensation for a delayed flight, but a fellow-traveller told us that it is unlikely that we will receive it - EasyJet will argue exclusion clauses. We'll see.

Some highlights of Porto included the river quays, the bridges, the cafés and restaurants, the friendly people, the food which is good and inexpensive, though perhaps a little hearty. One restaurant owner was particularly friendly and had long conversations with us, telling us where to go to eat the local delicacy, the francesinha. 

The francesinha belongs to that family of foods that includes the toasted cheese sandwich, the caws pobi of Wales, the croque monsieur of the whole of France, and the "Welsh" of northern France. The story goes that a man of Porto visited France and enjoyed his croque monsieur, but felt that something more hearty was needed for the people of his home town. So he invented the francesinha. It comprises, from bottom to top :

a thick slice of bread

a slice of mortadella sausage

a Portuguese spiced sausage sliced in two

a slice of brisket

another thick slice of bread - the whole toasted.

Then, atop that, a fried egg, sunny side up

covering the whole edifice, slices of cheese, I forget which kind.

Then slathered over the lot is a hot, cheesy, spicy, boozy sauce. The heat of the sauce melts the cheese.

It is served on a large plate, surrounded by chipped potatoes.

No vegetables were involved in the preparation of this dish.

We were directed to the Café Santiago to sample this delicacy, though Patricia chickened out at last minute and opted for fish and rice.

Catrin's wedding ceremony

 So Phase 2 of Catrin's wedding was the weekend of 30 October. She and Froim masterminded it, finding a chateau with a couple of gîtes and a donkey named Mirabel, arranging friends to do catering and cake, finding a photographer (mother of a colleague) etc. We simply reserved a Citiz car and helped with shuttling things about.

Catrin had said that she'd like autumn colours for the décor and for the guests where possible. Given Autumn's wide palette of yellows, golds, greens, browns and reds, we had plenty of scope. 

Catrin had ordered her dress from an Italian company that sells by internet. Froim found his suit in a store in central Bordeaux. Patricia shopped the stores and the web for a suitable dress and jacket and I was steered towards a shop on one of the smartest streets of the city. I went at sale time. The guys did the hard sell, trying to get me to buy shoes, socks, bow tie, all from their store. I saw a fabric I liked in a colour that would work but they didn't have it in my size and couldn't't get it. So I went home and looked at their online store - there it was, at sale price. I ordered it to be delivered to the store and they did the trouser hems for me. It was red. Deep red. Maroon. Burgundy. Bordeaux. A suitable gold and black paisley tie came from Amazon. As for shoes, I have my special shoes for special occasions : black Clarks moccasins with a medallion of the Welsh flag on the side - a gift from some friends who found them in a shop in Nottingham.

Sylvain was going to "officiate". I put it in quotes because a religious ceremony has no official standing whatsoever in France. So all Patricia had to do was upstage everyone, and all I had to do was walk about 10 yards from the door of the room to he front. I think I pulled it off pretty well.

I have few photographs, and none of me or of Patricia. If I get hold of any I'll pop them on for you.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Fig chutney

 Chutney is not commonly available in France. You can occasionally find something in the foreign foods parts of the supermarket and sometimes Branston pickle pops up on the shelves.

Earlier in the year I passed through Paris, so I hunted down one of the sad little Marks and Spencer Food Stores - sad because many of their fresh staples are no longer available because of brexit and supply issues - but while there I bought some crumpets, some tea-cakes and some chutney. Subsequent examination of the label of the chutney revealed that it’s main ingredient is sugar. I was somewhat disappointed.

Thankfully chutney is not difficult to make, so I have found a couple of recipes that I like - one for an easy tangy Apple chutney. Cooking apples are almost unknown here, so I use Granny Smiths. Also cherry tomatoes were cheap at Lidl, so I made some very gloopy tomato chutney.

Saturday’s wedding was at the Mairie at Messac in the Charente-Maritime. We trundled down the lovely narrow roads to find the village where nobody lives - everyone lives in farms and little houses dotted around - and parked alongside the church. Then we saw that everyone else was parked on the opposite side of the church where the mairie was situated. The Mairie is one medium sized room and one small room with a gravel driveway outside and a big fig tree, laden with figs.

Mrs Davey and I are both very fond of figs, so we began hunting down the riper fruit. « Oh, you want figs? » said one lady, and went to get a carrier bag from her car. So we came home with a couple of pounds of figs.

An internet search found recipes for fig chutney. One recipe was unspiced but rather salty. The other has much less salt but adds some spices. Neither has much sugar.

So with our apple, tomato and fig chutney, we’re probably set up for a couple of months.

Friday, October 22, 2021

The apartment

 Just about 450 metres from our flat is the tram stop Carle Vernet. 100 metres beyond that is an old warehouse that used to be the premises of "Bordeaux Termites". The business has moved to the inner ring road. Alongside it and occupying a corner is a run-down échoppe - the small single-storey railworkers' houses that have become so popular.

On both of these buildings is attached a notice of planning permission. They will soon be replaced by a building housing 25 apartments, with a garage on the ground floor, three storeys of apartments and a roof garden.

On the second floor of this building, with two bedrooms with windows facing south and a living room with its balcony facing the setting sun, is to be found our future home. We signed for it today.



 So tomorrow is the civil wedding of two of our church members. I am the groom's witness, so we'll scuttle off to the Charente, the neighbouring department to the north of us, about an hour's drive to the village of Messac, rendez-vous at the town hall at 4.

Next week is the wedding ceremony for Catrin, our daughter. It's going to be EXHAUSTING! 

It starts with a "hendo" - in French "the burial of the life of the young girl". This means Catrin and her girlie friends rampaging around and having girly fun. All day.

Thursday is the barbers. I am relying on Clement to produce the best possible version of myself.

Friday is when my involvement starts. I have some folk to collect from the airport and then a team goes to decorate the room.

Saturday is THE BIG DAY. I have to walk about 10 yards while looking as elegant as I can without upstaging my daughter. My son-in-law, of course, is fair game.

Sunday is THE BIG SLEEP. Rory is preaching. Thanks, Rory!

Flu jab

 The letter came last week and told me to go and get myself vaccinated against the 'flu from 26th October.

I made a mental note. Yesterday evening I recalled my mental note and decided to call the pharmacy to arrange a vaccination. So this morning at about 9am I took action on my decision.

"Hallo. It's for the anti-'flu vaccinations. It starts next week. Do I need to make an appointment?"

"We've started today. They've brought the date forward and you can just come in with your letter."

So in went I went and in went the needle. No blood, so no sticking plaster. 

Off I went again.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Schèmes; schemes and more schemes

 The area where we live is being radically redeveloped, completely remodeled, with new roads, new gardens and parks; new shopping centres and lots of new apartment blocks. So we have continued looking to see if we can find a suitable apartment for our retirement.

We looked at a complex of buildings being built by a company that is a household name. The salesperson attends a church in the city and knows several of my friends and colleagues. But we don’t like the design of the apartments or of the tower blocks.

We looked at some apartment stuff being built by the wiggly bridge (le pont en u) near the railway station. The apartments are nice but it’s perhaps a little too close to the station and the wiggly bridge will intrude on the privacy of the apartments.

We looked at another block of flats on the corner of the gardens, pretty well opposite where we live now, but again it’s a tower block.

And we also looked at another smaller block of 24 flats just beyond our nearest tram stop. Two flats are available at prix maitrisé. We looked at the plans. One seems more suitable than the other.

So it was time to call the bank to see what money could be available when. We need to talk to the property developer, check what guarantees they have to ensure the building will be completed well and their timetable for construction and for payment. Lots of talking ahead.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Chez le médecin

 So a visit to the doctor was due. For some years I have frequented a doctor in Villenave, the town where we first rented a little house in France. She’s great. She’s also 30 minutes tram ride and 20 minutes walk away. Meanwhile two new young doctors have opened their offices 10 minutes walk from our flat. The one doctor is an hairy doctor, bearded and with a man bun. The other doctor is a smooth doctor, shaven headed. I went to see the hairy doctor with a little list of issues. Among them :

Is my left ear blocked? I have the stuff from the pharmacist but I cannot manage to look down my own ear, no matter how I try. I’d very much like it if you could peer down my ear and relate what you perceive. He looked. It is.

So am I doing the best thing? I have xylene drops and a rubber ear squirting bulb. What about using hydrogen peroxide (eau oxygénée) or bicarbonate of soda ? 

He shuddered at the idea. No, xylene is the good stuff. Carry on.

Another question concerned mosquito bites. Lately I’m a martyr to them, I really am. In the good old days you’d get an itchy little lump that you must not scratch. Now you get a massive inflammation that seems to last for weeks and penetrates into your joints (they especially go for your ankles, wrists and elbows)

It’s these new tiger mosquitos. Not only are they more agressive. Not only do they hunt all day instead of just at sunrise and twilight. They also have a more allergenic saliva, so they provoke a more extreme reaction in people that are sensitive to them.

So am I using the right stuff? I showed him the tube of hydrocortisone cream spiked with painkillers that the pharmacist gave me. I put this on and it’s healed in perhaps three days. 

This stronger steroid cream is the stuff to use. Put this on and it will be healed right away.

That’s a promise? A promise is for those who hear it, he said. 

Friday, October 01, 2021

We went, we saw, we considered

 Well we went along to the office of the property developer that is building the new flats. Two charming women wrestled powerfully with technology before giving up on large-screen projection and augmented reality headsets and showing us the models of the flats on a laptop. It all sounded quite promising. They explained the eligibility criteria for the prix maitrisé - to have not been property owners within two years of the purchase, and to have an income below a certain threshold - we met the criteria. They explained the timetable for payment for the flats. (In France you pay in stages as the place is built. This can be crippling if you are repaying a growing loan as well as your rent, especially when construction is delayed.) 

Then we came away and discussed it all in the tram, over lunch and while walking round the building site where the flats will be in a few short years' time. We came to the conclusion that this isn't the moment for us.

1) Our savings are in schemes that mature in 2026, just a little late for this project.

2) We would be committing ourselves once again to living in an apartment in the middle of a building site as the gardens are laid below and the adjoining roads and buildings are put in place.

3) We discussed, too, whether sinking everything into a flat is the right approach, or whether it is better to rent and to keep our flexibility. The big consideration is the prospect of passing on money to our kids, rather than blowing it all on our characteristic playboy lifestyle.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sunrise over the Jardins de l'Ars


More future planning

 The question of where we go when we leave UFM is an interesting one. We moved here from North Wales where, in our post-industrial and unfashionable town, property prices are reasonable. We could happily return there and assume the life of UK pensioners.

I do have some concerns. The NHS is excellent and the envy of the world, but queues are long and its excellence seems to be subject to geographical variations. Also the life of a UK pensioner is sometimes a life of fuel poverty, especially if we live in an older, poorly insulated house heated by gas for long months of the year.

Modern flats can be found in city centres, and some might be within our reach. We have various little accounts here and there which, when matured and amalgamated might find us an apartment in a small city somewhere. Life in a city centre would mean that we wold not be dependent on running a car, another major expense.

Or we could stay here. Fuel poverty is less of an issue here as we never heat our flat. Anyway, it is connected to the city's heating system, fuelled by the recycling plant some kilometres away. Our energy bills are as low as I ever remember paying. And we haven't run our own car for years now. Our carbon footprint must be minuscule!

That raises another question. If we return to the UK then that almost certainly means buying somewhere. Here in France one can choose, and the choice is not simple.The apartment we currently rent is excellent. We are very happy here and it is convenient for pretty well everything we can want or need. However at present the rent takes a third of our monthly allowance and when we leave the mission and start to draw our pensions the proportion will rise to half.

When you rent you have no property taxes at all to pay. Our council tax equivalent has been abolished and we all recently received our bills for nothing at all. You are also not responsible for the maintenance of the exterior of the property. You pay charges that cover gardening and cleaning but that's all.

When you buy you are subject to a property owner's tax, and you become responsible for the upkeep of the exterior of the building. 

Also you no longer have access to the money you used to buy the place. However you get to keep more of your income

Of course, the biggest difference comes when you leave. In this case, when you shuffle off this mortal coil. If you buy your descendants get an apartment either to sell or to share as a bijou pied-à-terre in a garden suburb near the central station of Bordeaux. If you continue to rent your descendants get to come and clean out your place as quickly as possible so the next occupant can come in.

So today we're going to see a lady about a flat. It's in an area near us that does not yet exist, on the not yet existing Rue du Vip overlooking the future Gardens of Armagnac. Because our income falls below that of a certain threshold established by the French government we may be eligible for un prix aménagé - a discounted price. The difference is considerable. More than 25% cheaper, and with other benefits thrown in to encourage people into owner-occupancy. It is true that the usual targets for this kind of help are young couples and families, but there is no age limit on the scheme as such.

So it's time to do lots of calculations and to make lots of phone calls.

Monday, September 20, 2021

It's a man's life in France

At the pharmacy :

"Do you have anything for when your ear is blocked with cerumen, some drops, perhaps ?" 

The assistant went to a small display of assorted drops for when your ear is blocked with cerumen, including cotton buds and alarming rubber spiral gizmos for drilling into your lughole. 

I gulped.

"This is what you need. These drops. The instructions are on the box."

"And do I need any cotton wool* to block up my ear with the drops in?"

(I said ouâte de cellulose, I hope this is correct, I have a vague memory of this word and I can't be bothered to look it up having spent a week looking up words like Rückfahrkarte and Putenschnitzel - this latter is not rude.)

"You have to rinse it."

"Rinse it?"

"Yes, rinse it" showing me the box which said, "il faut le rincer" = you have to rinse it.

"With what shall I rinse it?" quoth I, "with tepid water?"

"Yes, with tepid water. Do you have one of these at home?"

I stared blankly at the rubber bulb designed for squirting water into your aural orifice.

"No, we don't have one of those at home."

"You suck up the tepid water and, hop, squirt it in your ear."

"Ah good ? In England they say you must never put anything in your ear except your elbow."

"Really?" I could see her thinking, "They're nuts these English".

So I left the pharmacy with a home ear-syringing kit.

Sunday, September 19, 2021


 One afternoon of the conference is given over to a sightseeing trip. On previous occasions we have taken the train to Salzburg and sung our way round the Sound of Music sights. This year we went to Berchtesgaden and to Kehlsteinhaus - the Eagle's nest.

Berchtesgaden is a picturesque Bavarian town - Germany turned up to 11. On a mountaintop high above the area in the 1930s a meeting place was built for the Third Reich, accessed by a vertiginously winding road that leads to a wide car park, then a tunnel you must take by foot to a golden elevator that opens into the Eagle's Nest.

There was a large meeting room, a sun terrace and a kitchen. There were no bedrooms. Nobody stayed overnight.

It was spectacular, fascinating and astonishing. Pictures below.


 This last week I have been in Germany for the International Pastors' Retreat. We stay in a conference and holiday centre in a small town called Teisendorf, very near to the Austrian border and on the Munich to Salzburg railway line.

I took the TGV to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport to catch a flight to Munich and then the train to Teisendorf. I knew that a colleague would be on the same flight as me, but I'd never seen him. By the time the crowded aeroplane took off we'd identified each other and were able to get out ticket to Teisendorf together. He speaks German. I'd done the journey before. We made a good team.

I flew Lufthansa and it was a pleasant experience. I got the cheapest type of ticket. You get to stuff your bag under the seat (mine fitted fine) and you also get a bottle of water and a small piece of chocolate - which I missed on the outward journey because I was asleep. You also get taken to your destination at the same time as everyone else.

Getting the German trains was uneventful and at the station at Teisendorf we met some American colleagues and walked together to the conference centre. In all about 6 to 7 hours on trains and planes and the associated waiting around.

The conference centre is modern, clean and well-designed and I had paid a little extra to have a single room. Pat had been due to accompany me but her back is not yet up to the journey. Apart from the bed being somewhat hard and the duvet really warm, the centre gives you everything you need for a comfortable stay. 

Oh yes, and the food is very German, by which I mean that there's ham, salami, bacon, sausage and pork everywhere. The pig monopoly is occasionally broken by veal or by turkey, which in German is called Pute, much to the horror of the French folk.

The conference is made up of three main threads. Firstly there's a Bible exposition from Jonah given by an American pastor from Landstuhl in Germany. I still find accents and cultural references hard to wrestle with so they do impair my comprehension. Secondly there are reports from the various attendees, followed by prayer. Then there's some practical input, this time on discipleship, given by a retired MAF missionary.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The new choir

I've been out of sorts for a few days, forgetful, bothered and distracted. I leave the house without my tram card or my masks. I can't remember whether I locked the door or not. There's something going on, but I don't think it's anything serious.

Anyway, if Pat had not urged me on I would probably not have gone to the rehearsal of the new choir.

But she did. So I did.

It must be a 40 to 50 person choir. I felt a little uneasy as we sat quite close together in the rehearsal room, but we were all masked and in principle all vaccinated or tested.

The average age was about 10 years more than me. Allmost all the men appeared to be in their seventies or over. I feet pretty young! 

We're singing Brahms, Saint-Saëns and  Franck. It's a huge change from the repertoire in the chamber choir. There it was largely 20th century. This is romantic stuff.

And last night's two songs are in German. German has influenced French, but it remains quite different. French is all about vowels - lots of them - all subtly different. German is all about consonants. Lots of them. And all needing to be pronounced.

One chap, faced with the word schleicht, said "All that to go in just one note!".

Thankfully there is a German among the basses. Questioned again about the initial "s" in German words - pronounced like "z" in English, he said "There are not fifty ways of pronouncing letters in German, not like in French !"

There we are. Back singing again.

The rehearsal room is in a tree-lined garden. Tree-lined gardens in Bordeaux mean mosquitos. So I anointed myself with essential oil of mint in a neutral oil carrier. I ponged of mint briefly, then I either got used to it or the force wore off. Not one bite!

The journey home was an adventure. "Take bus 5, then bus 11" said the app. What it didn't say was that the stops I needed were all out of service because of roadworks, so I spent quite a lot of the night charging up and down roads trying to find a bus stop that was still functional. Still, I'll know for next time.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Cooking. Kind of.

 I thought I would never say this, but to all intents and purposes I have given up chocolate.

I have! Honestly!

I used to buy milk chocolate in 100g bars and put four squares, 1/6 of a bar - about 16g - in my porage daily, along with a mashed banana. But the thing is, if you look at the ingredients in a bar of milk chocolate the principal one is sugar.


I looked at plain chocolate, but in decent French plain chocolate, if 86% is cocoa, then 14% is sugar.


So I did an experiment. Instead of adding chocolate to my porage I added a small quantity of good cocoa powder. 

I ate it with bated breath...

And it's fine! Oatflakes, banana and cocoa powder. Magic! Cook with water. Add a little milk for a splendid start to the day!

That set us thinking. The place which Marmite holds in the British soul, Nutella occupies in the French. Excepting, of course, that EVERYBODY loves it.

However, take one look at the ingredients in Nutella and you'll quickly see that a large proportion is sugar.

Now we have for some time been preparing our own peanut butter by blitzing the living daylights out of roast salted peanuts. Give 'em enough time and violence and the peanut butter is mighty fine. Works for cashews, too, and cashew butter is exquisitely sweet.

I added cocoa powder to the peanuts before marmalising them. 

The result? 

Beautifully chocolatey peanut chocolate spread. 

And not a trace of added sugar. 

Just roast salted peanuts and cocoa. Magic!

Thursday, September 02, 2021

La rentrée scolaire

 It's back to school day today.

This no longer concerns us directly. The days of searching the supermarket for obscurely named essential items that the children will never use are long behind us.

Indirectly, however, it's a huge deal.

1) Foreign students arrive in Bordeaux, hunting for a flat, trying to get the hang of the way things run. The biggest headache is accommodation. The best thing students can do is to come EARLY. The early student catches the nice flat.

2) Church activities start up again after the quiet months of July and August. This means lots of organisation and administration to do.

3) Everything else starts up, too. The Reading Group meets next Wednesday. Pat's craft group starts up next week, too, I think. Choirs restart, too. 

At present I once more find myself between choirs. My awesome chamber choir has changed its way of working. Instead of weekly Monday-evening rehearsals in Bordeaux there'll be a weekend each month in some small country town with a Sunday afternoon concert. This month they're in a small Bastide town in the Lot et Garonne.  I can't do that so I wrote a sad letter of resignation. So there's a Thursday evening bigger choir that meets in Bordeaux. It's not all that easy to find out the information you need, but I have high hopes of being able to keep that going.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

In the United Kingdom shortages multiply, bosses grow impatient

 From supermarkets to restaurants via the factories, shortages are getting worse in the United Kingdom.

It's a phenomenon due to the delivery problems generated by Brexit and the pandemic.

Industrials leaders are urging the government to act, particularly in the light of the coming Christmas festivities.

The Nando's restaurant chain closed some fifty restaurants last week because of a lack of chicken.

In industry car manufacturers have had to pause production because of a shortage of electronic components.

In construction certain medium sized businesses find themselves short of materials and of manpower.

The CBI states that stocks held by distributors are at their lowest level for forty years.

Manpower and logistic problems are threatening the UK's economic recovery.

Friday, August 27, 2021

"You have a little accent"

 "Where are you from?" asked the tiny lady in the colourful head cloth after we discussed the health of the fig tree growing out of the steps up to the Meriadeck centre. 

"So where are you from?"

"I'm Welsh, from Wales", I said. I always put it like this now as it gives people double the chance of homing in. It's pretty emphatic in French because you say "I'm Welsh, from the Land of Wales".

"Oh! Scotland!" she said.

"No, Wales", I insisted.

"Ireland, then?" 

"No, Wales. It's a small country between England and Ireland."

"But I thought that was part of England."

I coughed.

"You also have an accent. Where are you from?"

"South America" (One says America of the South)

"Texas or Florida?" - No, I didn't say this, though I wanted to.

"From which country?"


We talked a bit more about the countries from which people had come to the church - we've had most Latin American countries.

The gardeners

It is seven am and we are sharply wrested from the gentle arms of Morpheus by the sound of a disc cutter attacking yesterday's concrete in the Gardens of the Ars. 
Well, to be clear, Morpheus had loosed his grip on me a while before. I had earplugs in watching a video on how to make videos without spending a fortune on cameras and lights and stuff. 
But Pat was still in his embrace. So she got up and shut the window and silence reigned once more. Except for me. I was hearing how all these microphones and lights could be had for under $150. Yes, and stored where? thought I.
The gardeners are laying concrete paths, good and wide, shiny and smooth, between the dark, dark beds of beautiful black topsoil. Surely they must start planting soon. The ideal time would be October, I suppose.
I am pretty sure that you are not allowed to do noisy construction work until after 8am at least, but we don’t mind. Sooner they start, more they do. More they do, sonner they finish. Sooner they finish, sooner we have our gardens growing below us.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Mission in the world of covid

 We've spent two years adapting to confinement, déconfinement, limits on numbers, spacing out, end of spring out, zoom, post-zoom... 

It's not over yet. At least not for us. 

We're missionaries. That means that although we live and work in France and we are immediately responsible to the church council here in France, we are also responsible to :

our sending church in North Wales who sent us here

our mission, UFM, who helped the church to get us here

individual supporters and supporting churches all over the UK who give to keep us here.

(that sounds a bit odd, but you know what I mean)

So we need to report back regularly.

Our Sending Church

we send a weekly prayer update for their regular prayer meeting

they send out an elder for a pastoral visit once a year. Or at least they did until covid stopped travel! 

we also visit from time to time - generally about once a year

I did a weekly short Bible message on Saturdays during confinement

we do zoom calls amongst the elders

The Mission

the director and deputy director also get our weekly prayer updates

we produce a quarterly prayer letter that gets sent out hither and yon

there are zoom prayer sessions

an annual review procedure comprising a form and interview

a four-yearly "end of term" review

the deputy director also visits perhaps once a year

Supporting churches and individuals

Here's the challenge. Normally each year I would spend two weeks, three weekends, visiting churches in the UK to report back and to continue the close relationships that we have so valued over the years. 

Of course, in 2020 and in 2021 that has been impossible.

Can anything like this happen in 2022? Who can tell!

Meanwhile it seems to me that we need to take action now. 

Churches get our quarterly prayer letters and some also get our weekly prayer update.

Some churches ask for video updates and we gladly cobble something together.

But I'm wondering what action we can take to try to fill the gaps.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Getting round the city

 It's quite a long time now since we owned a car. This was a conscious choice, but kind of forced on us - our car was costing too much to repair and it was not easy to see how we could consider buying something else - but now that we've adjusted to the car-free life we genuinely wouldn't go back.

Of course, living in the centre of the city helps a lot. In fact in our church very few people own cars, and they all live out in the suburbs. In the city parking is an issue and you can't move around very fast anyway - you're better off walking, cycling or using public transport.

We can walk to the doctor, to a physiotherapist, to the pharmacy, to a dentist, to a reasonably-sized supermarket, to restaurants and fast food outlets, all within 1km. So within a 10 to 15 minute walk. A little further and we add three more supermarkets and lots more restaurants, cafes and shops. Say within a 20 minute walk.

Our flat is near two tram-lines, the C and the D. The D takes us directly to where the church meets and both go right through the centre of the city. Bus 11 leaves nearby, too, and will take us to an enormous out of town shopping centre.

Cycling is more difficult here because we live on the wrong side of the railway lines. To cross the lines you have to take one of four routes: 

the Pont de Guit, which is narrow, busy, steep and dangerous

the Pont en U (the wiggly bridge) which currently has major roadworks

the road past the dump, which is busy with construction traffic

the railway underpass, which deposits you on a really confusing major junction

So we tend not to cycle into town much. You can always take your bike on the tram until you get to the beginning of the Quays - which then functions like a cycle super-highway to take you right through the city uninterrupted and pretty safe from any road traffic.

The good news is that work has begun on extending the quays all the way down to the bottom of our gardens, so soon we'll have a cycle superhighway from our flat right into the heart of the city and beyond.

Meanwhile we belong to a car share club which has 60 or so vehicles parked in different places around Bordeaux. So when we need to get to inaccessible places, or to take people to hospital or whatever, we can  use a Polo or a Yaris and pay just a small fee per kilometre and per hour, which covers everything. Last weekend I helped Froim and Catrin move some furniture and we used a Kangoo van. We had it for just under two hours and probably covered about 15 kilometres, so the cost will have been minimal.

Bordeaux is working very hard to change the feel of the city. In the 1960s and 1970s the car ruled the streets. Now it's people. There are people everywhere, and especially café tables. The city feels safer, calmer, cleaner and more human. It's exciting to think of what the future holds as the automobile loosens its grip even further.

Mrs Davey and the kinésithérapeute

Pat made an appointment with our local physiotherapist - the doctor had given her a prescription for however many sessions it takes - for Monday 16 August. We had walked up and found his office on the way to the pizza place, but you make your appointment on Doctolib - the website and app that lots of medical folk work with. However he caught covid, so he phoned her to postpone the appointment by a week.

That meant she went along yesterday. While she was there I scurried off to Lidl to get fruit and vegetables and succeeded in not buying a steam cleaner, a food mixer and a sander - or the tempting ice-creams they had put right by the tills!

By the time I was halfway over the bridge back home Pat was out of the physio so we met up and walked back together. He'll see her twice a week and meanwhile she is to walk for at least 10 minutes a day. That's not so hard for us! We generally walk much more than that!

Meanwhile a newspaper report yesterday said that in France in the 1950s the average person walked about 7km per day - about 4 miles a day. Now we walk on average 300 metres a day.

Makes you think, no?

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Pro-covid demos and the health dictatorship

 From time to time friends in the UK contact me to ask if articles in the Spectator or the Telegraph accurately reflect life in France just now.  Take it from me that they don't, but do still contact me about them. Here's why they are not accurate.

Imagine I assessed the situation in the UK from, say, the articles you can find in the Guardian. Would that accurately reflect life in the UK just now? What about life in Camden? What about in life in Scotland? What about life in Cornwall?

I choose the Guardian because for the moment it is freely accessible. I can't read articles from the Times or the Telegraph without paying a fee. There's a paywall. But I realise that I have to read with care. Free of charge does not mean free of bias.

Newspapers and magazines are not neutral. They have a political viewpoint to convey that is found in every article they publish. Even when they present statistics and undeniable facts, the facts and statistics  will be selected to prove a point. We need to be aware of that. Everything is loaded. Read with care.

Here in France we hear of terrible situations in the UK. There are shortages in your supermarkets. Basic foodstuffs are unobtainable. Fruit rots on the trees for want of people to pick it. Haulage companies cannot get drivers. I ask my friends if this is true where they live. They tell me that they see no more evidence than usual - every so often a supermarket runs out of something or other in normal life.

In the UK you hear of violent protests against Macron and of his deep unpopularity. Hey, I've now lived through four presidencies in France, I think - Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande and Macron and I can tell you, not one of them was popular. You don't elect a president so you can love them. It's not like the Queen.

Countries have a deep-rooted mental image of each other. In the UK we tend to believe that France is a tinder-box of repressed revolutionary emotions that are ready to spill over onto the streets in violent outbursts. In France we tend to believe that the UK is a quaint bucolic theme park run by the aristocrats of the ancient regime, and peopled by villeins and surfs who know their place and obey without question.

I don't think either image is true. But there are big cultural differences between our countries. 

For example, in the UK if you are unhappy about something you write to your MP. You know who your MP is and you expect them to do something about it. In France if you are unhappy about something you might complain to the town hall if it's a local issue, otherwise you'll get a group together, make banners and march round the streets banging drums and setting off smoke flares while people watch peacefully from their cafe tables. Before marching you will inform the town hall so they can send the riot police to show they are taking your protest seriously. I have no idea whatsoever who the MP for this area is, but I know the mayor for Bordeaux and the person who is in charge of the area where we live. It's just different.

Regarding the vaccine. In France now 70% of people over 12 have now received 2 doses of vaccine. Meanwhile there are pro-covid marches each week to protest against the pressure the government has put on people to get vaccinated. (I have started using the term pro-covid - anti-vaccine sounds so negative.) I think there are similar marches in the UK. 

The pressure comes in the form of the pass sanitaire - compared to dictatorships like North Korea or, most notoriously of all, to the yellow star from the 1930s and 1940s. The pass sanitaire is a QR code that shows that you have received two doses of vaccine, or that you have recently tested negative for the virus. You now need to show your pass sanitaire to take long-distance public transport, to eat in a restaurant or to shop in the biggest shopping centres. The law to introduce this requirement was validated by the Constitutional Council which made certain modifications to ensure that people could always get the basic necessities whether vaccinated or not.

As a friend explained to me, she fully intended getting vaccinated at some point, especially since she needs to travel to another European country harder hit by the pandemic, but she was still thinking about it. However, the introduction of the pass sanitaire had made her more reluctant to be vaccinated. We are very sensible people, but we do not like being told what to do, she said.

The news media are not neutral. Always engage your critical faculties.

The lovely black fertile soil

 The lovely black fertile soil is slowly being spread all over the Jardins de l'Ars. It is pre-mixed with manure, so it comes with a slightly sharp, countryside smell, but that won't last long and we hope that soon planting will begin.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Mrs Davey

 On Monday Pat left the flat for the first time and took a ride in the lift then round the yard of the blocks of flats. Tuesday she went a little further. On Wednesday we made it as far as the Station, or at least the the really nice little pizzeria opposite the station. The pizza was excellent. Certainly in my top 5 pizzas ever. After that Thursday was a little calmer. But today we tried for a place we'd never tried before. It was closed. So we ended up going MUCH further, even into Carrefour before coming home.

Next Monday she starts physiotherapy. Meanwhile I am not due to preach for the next two Sundays - we were supposed to visit our son and daughter-in-law in the UK. I told the guys I could preach if they wanted, but they are maintaining their engagements, so we met up to do some prep together on Thursday.

Otherwise we're taking these two weeks as holiday. That means not getting folk round for lunch and discussions and so on. It means I can concentrate on just keeping the flat running OK and Pat can concentrate on getting properly mobile again.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

It's so EXCITING !

 They have started working on linking the nearest end of the quay gardens, opposite the Conservatoire, with our as yet unfinished gardens. The goal is to have uninterrupted gardens from the lifting bridge at the far end of the city right through to the motorway bridge south of us.

For us this means safe cycling right into the city centre, and also pleasant walking. At present to cycle into the city you have to somehow cross the railway lines. This means either a nasty busy bridge where car transporters pull in to discharge their loads of cars right on a narrow bridge opposite a bus stop (I can't believe the city allows them to do this - it's dangerous for walkers, let alone cyclists) or taking what we can the wiggly bridge, which is currently undergoing roadworks.

You can also run the gauntlet of the construction wagons along the bottom road, but that's dirty and hazardous.

Then when you get to the other side of the station you get to the most confusing junction I've ever experienced.

A safe cycle path into the city is a wonderful prospect.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Podcasts and audiobooks

 I don't know. I think it's because I can still read more quickly in my head than people read aloud. So somehow audiobooks have always seemed like a waste of time.

As for podcasts, my problem with them is the matey in-joke self-congratulatory chatfest they seem to have to start with. Man, it's SO BORING to listen to 10 minutes of who ate what when and with whom before getting stuck into the covenant of redemption.

Then came The rest is history. It's still matey, but at least it's brief and self-deprecating. And then you get horrible histories for grown-ups. Riveting. I listen to short bursts while walking to the pharmacy, to the tram stop, to the supermarket, wherever.

Which brings me to audiobooks. I'm ready to have another go, especially for those times when I wake in the wee hours and need to read until I fall asleep again. I can play an audiobooks through earphones until I hear Morpheus' footsteps, then whip 'em out quick and set sail for the land of nod.

Mrs Davey and the doctor

 Pat had an appointment with the doctor, but on reflection we couldn't see how we could get her there. 

It's 10 minutes by foot, all on the level.

We'd thought that by allowing 30 minutes we could probably get her there, but when she got up it was clear that this was not going to happen.

I checked if a car was available. One was, but that involves getting her in and out of a car. It was clear that this was not going to happen either.

So she changed her appointment to a video-consultation. It all went pretty well, except when the doctor decided to try out his English, which I managed to decipher and had to explain to Pat. We switched back to French.

A prescription for appropriate drugs and for physiotherapy later all was sorted and I scuttled off to the pharmacy (just opposite the doctor's) before the Orangeman came. 

The Orangeman cometh

"Remember that the Orangeman is coming between 10 and 12 to fit the alarm."

So read the sundry text messages and emails that I received since last Friday.

We'd invited church people to come round for the afternoon - some work in cafés and stuff, others are students and are at a loose end just now, so they were coming for lunch and discussion and games.

The Orangeman came at about 11, quickly surveyed the flat, concluded that only Batman could gain access via any of the windows. I was wearing my Batman t-shirt, but I told him I always use the door and sometimes even resort to the lift. 

So he installed a movement detector in the hall which takes a flash photograph of any uninvited intruder, then showed us how to dial in our codes and use our red and blue tags and to set and unset the alarm.

Meanwhile church folk started arriving. I'd found hobnobs in the shop and they met with general approval. The café people brought savoury flaky pastry rolls (roulés fueilletés) and cinnamon rolls (roulés à la canelle). I'd made a sort of fake gado gado - an Indonesian egg salad served with a peanut sauce. Mrs Davey was able to make occasional appearances. I'd intended to make ice-cream for affogato but had forgotten, but we had a colossal sweet melon, enough to feed a small village.

One of our number had met some charming Mormon elders so we talked about what are the distinguishing marks of the Christian and how to distinguish those excellent and kindly people who are not in fact Christians in any valid sense of the word. 

Then we played Farkle - a dice-rolling game with complicated scoring where the goal is to be the first to reach 10,000 points. I actually won this, despite the scorer omitting to record half my scores. We spiced up the game by attempting to count in Indonesian. Then folks played Settlers of Catan while I watched.

Then it was off with me to feed Catrin's rats.

Look ! Høbnöbs


Sunday, August 08, 2021

A swift visit to Lourdes

 Lourdes is about 30 minutes by train from Pau, so we went for the day. Two women were sat in our seats. "You can sit in front. We sat in the wrong seats", they said. I don't much care where I sit, but thought it might have been nice to excuse oneself, so I said, "I hope that works out". All the way to Lourdes they were reciting their rosary, so perhaps they did excuse themselves - though not to us. 

As we arrived the train conductor announced "We will shortly witness the apparition of the station of Lourdes." It set the tone for the day.

Lourdes is like a cross between a run-down seedy seaside resort and the Sistine Chapel - or if Father Ted was filmed at Clacton-on-Sea. We goggled at the sacred supermarkets, found somewhere for lunch, visited the shrine and saw the grotto. 

Then it was a toss-up between the castle or the funicular railway up to a mountain peak. The latter won, so we had a 30 minute forced march out to the place, then a quick scamper round the summit before haring off back and missing our train back to Pau. There was a later train.

A brief escapade in Pau

 We scuttled off by train to Pau for a few days away from the big city. Pau is a historic town in the foothills of the Pyrenees, famous for being the seat of Henry IV when he was just King of Navarre, before becoming King of France, and also for being one of the favourite towns of the English looking for clean air and a pleasant climate. Because it's fairly near the Atlantic it doesn't get too cold, and because it's in the hills it doesn't get too hot. We rented an AirBnB right in the middle of the town and ate lunch in various cafés to save cooking and cleaning and so on. Pau has beautiful views over the mountains, lovely parks and the Castle. There was plenty to occupy us.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Being burgled concentrates the mind

 In the majestic story of Albert and the Lion the magistrate hopes that Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom may go on to have further sons to their name which provokes a strong rejection of the idea of "raising children to feed ruddy lions".

The long and short of it is that I'm not going to replace my laptop. I don't think I need one enough to warrant the cost. I can do everything I really need to do with an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard.

The marriage at the town hall


The ceremony is quite simple and is conducted by one of the town council, sometimes by the mayor in person. 

There's a brief introduction where the identities of the couple and their witness are confirmed, along with their addresses. Then some of the acts of law that define marriage are read. Then comes the big moment:

Catrin Alys Davey, do you consent to take as spouse Froim Frieder Teschner ? Yes.

Froim Frieder Teschner , do you consent to take as spouse  Catrin Alys Davey? Yes.

I declare that you are husband and wife.


The Act of Marriage is signed, the Certificate of Marriage is given and then the couple are presented with their "Livret de Famille" and, typically, with the pen they used to sign the act of marriage.

Then it's outside for photos and back to Froim's flat for lunch.

Being burgled - aftermath

 The locksmith who replaced the cylinder in the lock said that what we needed was a barillet anti-arrachage - a reinforced cylinder. So I got to work with google maps and with my phone. One guy was not terribly helpful. The second person was much more ready to advise. She told me there were two locks she would recommend, the best was very expensive indeed, the second-best she should be able to get for that evening. If I would send her a picture of the old broken cylinder with accurate measurements, she would send me a quote for the new one.

I complied, but no return message came. Meanwhile I shopped around for the lock barrels she mentioned. The best one was available on Amazon for next day delivery from the manufacturer and for much less than I had been told. Eventually I ordered it. It came the next day and I fitted it.

Meanwhile something struck me. The new brown shoes I had bought for catrin's wedding were no longer where I left them. And where was my enormous rucksack I use for cabin bag travel? Yup. Stolen, too. Honestly! Who steals a chap's shoes?

Then came the job of filing the police complaint. You can begin the procedure online, then they send you an appointment to go in and sign it all. It was not difficult to do, and while we racked our brains for timings we realised that we'd actually been burgled during an absence of just over two hours. Our immediate neighbours suspect that it's someone in the apartment complex who saw us leave. Maybe.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Being burgled

 I'm 62 and my home has been burgled 4 times, which means a burglary every 15 years. It isn't that much really, though it seems like a lot. Meanwhile I don't think either of my sisters has ever been burgled, though both are considerably older than I. 

Anyway, statistics aside, we've had a friend staying with us over the past few days recovering from surgery on Monday. Yesterday we decided to take a quick trip to the local mega-shopping mall on a quest to find sandals. We didn't find sandals, but when we got home we did find that we had been burgled.

They break the cylinder of the lock by force. Quite clever really, but you do wonder what the point of the lock is. Anyway usual thing, they rummaged well through everywhere - looking for money, I think. There wasn't any. They also took my laptop, the iPads and a bluetooth speaker.

We phoned the police. They arrived about 15 minutes later and told us what we could and could not touch pending arrival of the science team. We gave them the addresses the burglars had taken the computers - Apple's "Find my". One was in Cenon, the other about 15 minutes away by foot.

The science team arrived about 2 hours later and took fingerprints from any promising surface and then took our prints.

Meanwhile we could close the door but not lock it. Phoning the insurers took a LONG TIME on hold, then eventually we got through and they promised to send a locksmith. At 22:15 I worked out the best way to barricade the door so we could go to bed, but I got a call saying the locksmith was downstairs. I brought him up and he put a new cylinder (barrilet) in the lock.

You can get reinforced barrels. They cost a LOT MORE but I am going to find out about it today.

As well as making an incident report to the police and an insurance claim.

And ordering a new iPad.