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.