Thursday, September 30, 2021
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
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.
"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."
"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
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
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.
Beautifully chocolatey peanut chocolate spread.
And not a trace of added sugar.
Just roast salted peanuts and cocoa. Magic!
Thursday, September 02, 2021
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.