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)

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

A night at the opera

 A couple weeks ago we had tickets to go hear a choir sing the Bach B minor mass (it's OK, it's a Lutheran mass). I sang with the choir for a while and contemplated going back for the B minor but it's the weekends...

Anyway we set off in good time for the tram journey to the theatre. It was TAMPING down (that is, it was raining very heavily indeed).

We got to Porte de Bourgogne where you change trams to go to Mérignac and the theatre. "Trams interrupted till 8pm". We had no chance of getting there on time. We returned home, dampened in body and spirits.

Last night the Bordeaux opera chorus were putting on a programme of Arvo Pärt. I'm very pärtial to Pärt, so I asked Pat if she'd like to go. She's never knowingly heard any Pärt so she said yes.

It was in the Grand Théâtre. We could walk there, even through a blizzard, so I was confident that this time we'd be present. But just to make sure I thought we could go for a pre-concert drink in the Bar à Vin of the Maison du Vin just opposite the theatre.

This place is the apotheosis of Bordeaux, a classy room with sofas and small tables, a stained glass window of Dionysus and bas-reliefs of quotations about the civilisation of wine. They don't do meals, but you can get a platter of cheese or of charcuterie with really good bread. And the wine ranges from 2,50€ a glass upwards. It's designed to promote Bordeaux wines to visitors and to help you find out what you like. The waiters refuse to serve anyone who's there to over-indulge or anyone who has already sufficiently indulged. It's a very classy place.

So we spent an hour slowly sipping Bordeaux's best, then sauntered over to the theatre, there to find at least half of the members of Alan's choir attending too. We were sat next to one alto. The choir director was sitting opposite us, on the other side of the hall.

I really like Arvo Pärt's music, but it leaves me emotionally drained and crushed. It's the effort of all that hope in the darkness. But the folk I talked with said "It was beautiful, wasn't it?" 

And indeed it was. I overthink things.


Tuesday, January 25, 2022

All the way up your hooter

 So the drill is that if you are a cas contact, you hie you away to the pharmacy to get yourself tested. If the test is positive, congratulations, you have covid and you must isolate yourself.

If, on the other hand, the test is negative, then you must test yourself two days, and again four days later, with the home test kits which are now on sale in our supermarkets.

Thus it was that yesterday found me wielding a rather long cotton bud. I put off doing the test as long as I felt I could, and set the appointed hour for 3pm. On opening the kit, obtained from a big pharmacy in the middle of the city about a week ago by Patricia, I traced the instructions, printed in  various segments and not in the correct order, but in several languages.

To my great relief the cotton bud does NOT have to reach the innermost parts of your nasal sinuses, like what they do at the pharmacy. It is enough to insert it about 4cm up your nostrils, one after the other.

I did it. I dripped two drops of the gloopy liquid on the test pad. I waited the prescribed ten minutes. The desired result is one stripe by the letter C. Otherwise, two stripes, one by the C, the other by the T, means you're infected. 

As I watched a dark bar spread across the test pad, and no lines appeared. I re-read the instructions. Pat read the instructions. We discussed the instructions. We tried to reinterpret the instructions. We reflected on the instructions. 

I got another test and probed my proboscis once more. This time my poor snitch protested by making me sneeze repeatedly for about 30 minutes. Dip, squeeze, stir, squeeze, drip drip.....

Result ! One bar ! By the C ! A negative result !

Rolls on Wednesday. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

It had to happen

 We've had a covid scare. It was overdue. After all, at least a quarter of our folk work with children. Small children. The type that pick their nose then pat you on the cheek to get your attention. Anyway.

Word reached us yesterday that one of our number has covid. 

I messaged the couple concerned. "We're about to get tested". The chap doesn't have it, but his wife does, with mild symptoms of a runny nose.

Quick time of deliberation. 

1) Inform all the folk who were at the Bible Study on Wednesday that they need to get tested.

2) Move our Bible Studies online until the all-clear is sounded.

3) Go get tested and see what we do from there.

Messages were duly sent, repeated and reinforced. "you should get tested" turned into "you really need to" turned into "you must get tested". English is so subtle and flexible :-(

Then I hied me off to the pharmacy, which was suspiciously empty. Like just three customers and two staff. I got to the counter. It was the pharmacist. He's a good bloke.

Je dois me faire tester.

Vous avez le droit ? 

I laughed, I hadn't considered how to assert my right to have my proboscis probed.

Je suis cas contact et la personne a des symptômes - mais rien de grave.

He gave me the form to fill in and I went to await the exploratory mission.

By the time the second member of staff came down we were three waiting. I wanted to let the women go first but no, it was strict first come first probed.

Voilà. Si c'est positif on vous appelle tout de suite. Sinon vous recevrez le message avant ce soir.

I have my phone set to silence calls from unknown numbers - they go straight to the answerphone - so I unset that and waited for a while. Then about 15 minutes later I got the text message. 


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Plumber extraordinaire

 I don't know what it is about plumbing. I'm not scared of electrics. You turn them off, do what you need and turn them on, and they very seldom do irreparable damage.

But plumbing. It's a NIGHTMARE!

Well a while ago we became aware of a tendency to drip from the out-pipes under the sink. I bought some PTFE tape with the intention of taking it all apart, cleaning all the joints and putting it all back together again with tape to help get a good seal.

But it's plumbing. One false move and there's dirty water down four floors of apartments.

Anyway one day the washing machine emptied all over the floor. I had to strike. We got a drain-cleaning-spring-thing (in French, a ferret (un furet) from a hardware store in the middle of town and I took everything apart before sending the ferret in all directions.

There came out a plug of nasty goo. I was glad. There was doubt that I had found the offending blockage.

Then to vaseline joints and reassemble. In the course of reassembly I noticed that one rubber washer was distorted, so I greased it and put it back in straight.

Hurrah! Plumbing victory!

Then the toilet played up.

We have two toilets. One in the large en-suite bathroom attached to our bedroom and the other in the hallway. Our toilet decided to fill without ceasing, so I took my courage in both hands and disassembled the filling mechanism.

Toilets always seem to have some part of the mechanism that I don't understand. We studied the syphon toilet flush in Physics, but these don't use that. They have some sort of clapper mechanism to flush.

To fill there's a float that slides up and down a filling pipe, but the water seems to magically and invisibly pass over the pipe from one side to the other. I cannot for the life of me see how it gets from the in-pipe to the inlet valve.

Anyway, let us pass on.

The inlet valve had a rubber membrane which seemed to have fissured, squirting water in all directions. I studied it and wondered if by simply turning it I might get it to squirt water downwards thus effecting a bodge.

I tried it. It worked. However the float no longer moved up and down.

The mechanism was encrusted with limescale. I sprayed limescale remover around. I sprayed vinegar around. I tried various manoeuvres. Essentially nothing worked.

Days passed.

Eventually it was a case of either try further drastic action or call a plumber. Calling a plumber means lots of vocabulary work before you can even pick up the phone, so I took my courage in both hands and looked at how to disassemble the filling mechanism. 

There was one screw that held it in. I turned off the water and removed the mechanism. Off to the kitchen sink to take everything apart, wash it in hot soapy water, make sure everything was smooth and slippery and put it all back together again.

"This'll never work", quoth I. 

But it did! And what's more it is now four days later and it's STILL working!

Friday, January 14, 2022

The new flat

 Did I say that we are buying a flat here for "retirement"?

Well it's just up the road, near the tram stop. Just four storeys high, with lift and roof garden and stuff. Our bedroom windows will face south (good for getting the sun in to warm the place in the winter) and the living room window will face west (good for sunsets). We'll be about 50 yards from the tram stop and surrounded by houses and so on. Shops and things a little nearer than now. 


At the end of the month we're due to sign the contract to buy and to make our first and largest payment. So on Wednesday morning we spent a happy hour or so working out how to get the money transferred from a UK account into our French current account so that we could then transfer it to the Notaire's account when we sign the contract. It involved scanning various documents, taking photos of ourselves, phoning offices in the UK, filling in forms, scanning and emailing them. Frankly I was a little alarmed at how smoothly it all seemed to go and I am looking forward to confirmation that all is in order !

Meanwhile Pat noticed action at the place where the flats will be built. Currently occupied by an old warehouse serving a termite eradication company, it seemed as if someone was working up there. I trotted up for a quick glance and, sure enough, "Attila Demolitions" had started work. Two short days later everything was reduced to a pile of rubble, and our friendly local property developer had sent us a photo to show us that things had started.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022


Some of our colleagues live in Paris where until recently Marks and Spencer had a number of food shops selling their prized delicacies. Indeed, last year we made a pre-Christmas trip to Paris to visit the food shops - as well as to see the sights of Paris, of course.

For reasons that escape me just now, Marks and Spencer have since closed almost all these shops, keeping just a few at the major transport hubs. In addition, for some reason or other, the range of products available is greatly reduced. Our colleagues in Paris are sad, and we did not bother to take a trip to Paris this year.

Anyway, I saw a discussion about oatcakes, and how to obtain them. 

Now how hard can it be to make an oatcake? I sensed a challenge.

Some internet searches and a lot of selection resulted in the following - our oatcake recipe.

200g oats, pinch salt, 2 tablespoons melted butter*, 100ml boiling water

Mix till combined. Work into a reasonably cohesive ball of dough. 

Either : Break off tablespoonfuls and form into disks between your fingers

Or : Roll out thinly (for us the thinner the better) and cut out rounds with a suitable cutter

Bake at 170C for 20-30 mins. 

The oatcakes are nutty and crisp and wonderful with strong cheese or whatever.

* we have successfully used some left over duck fat from a breast of duck that we cooked. The oatcakes were wonderful. But butter is OK, and I reckon coconut oil or similar would also work fine.

We have also successfully used coconut oil instead of butter. this makes the oatcakes vegan. 

For a crunchy texture rather than a crisp one, add 1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to the mix. 

For a less granular texture put half or all the oats through a blender or a food processor very briefly.

Covid scares

 From time to time someone in the church becomes a "cas contact". This means that someone they have been in contact with has contracted covid or has tested positive for covid. Omircon being so contagious, this seems to happen every couple of weeks. In fact, if we counted our teachers, then they'd be "cas contact" all the time since there's always some child or other off school.

Anyway, the drill is that if you are fully vaccinated (at present this means the two doses) and a cas contact you get yourself tested by test antigénique as soon as you can. If that test is positive then you are positive and you must isolate. If the test is negative then you must test again in 2 days' time... and so on.

Our excellent pharmacy does testing without a need for an appointment, so for us it would be quite easy to get tested, but so far none of our "cas contacts" has transformed into a "cas". We're very happy about that because informing all the church that they have to get tested is an unenviable proposition.

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Buying a flat.

 So we're buying a flat. We've put down a reservation deposit, but at the end of this month we'll start paying for it in earnest, step by step, as the property developer builds it.

It's a small block of about 20 flats in four storeys, with the ground floor given over to parking. It's being built on the site of a rather dilapidated warehouse and an old house with a yard which used to house a termite company. It's right next to the tram line, about 50 yards from the stop, but facing the other way. We can expect to hear the bells.

We'll be on the second floor. We'll have two bedrooms and a good sized living room. The bedroom windows will face south and the living room faces west, so we'll get the sun all day in the bedrooms and in the afternoon in the living room.

We'll also have a balcony of a useful size, though not quite the enormous thing we have now.

Sadly we'll lose our views of the gardens, but we'll see out over Bègles instead.

We have enough money to buy the place outright thanks to us saving the proceeds of the sale of our house, and thanks to the city of Bordeaux demanding that property developers sell a proportion of their flats at a reduced price to people in certain categories, into one of which we fall. 

We shopped around d a little before deciding on this one. Some other flats had more attractive views, looking out on future parklands. Others had different advantages. The one we're buying has the great advantage that all its surrounding infrastructure - roads, gardens, trams - are already in place, so we won't be picking our way through building sites at all.

Another advantage is that once the flat is ready and we have moved into it and out of this rented accommodation the mission will no longer need to pay our rent. This means that for the last couple of years of our service here our stipend will be greatly, massively reduced, and our support needs along with it.

Now then, this month's task is to assemble from the various accounts that hold our equity the first instalment to be paid. I think I know what needs to be done!

Bordeaux à 30kph

 The city seems to have accepted the classy steel and glass conical sculpture commissioned from a local artist that was erected in place of a Christmas tree, judging by the crowds that always seemed to be present  after dark, taking photos and generally admiring it.

Now the whole city has imposed a 30 kph limit, except for the major roads into the city and the inner ring road, which stay at 50kph. 50 kph is about 30 mph, and 30 kph is about 20 mph.

They want to make the city safer. At 50 kph if you knock down a pedestrian the probability of killing them is at about 80%. At 30 kph this falls to about 10%. Surprising, no?

They also want to make the city more welcoming for pedestrians. Crossing busy streets full of cars doing 50kph is one thing. Crossing busy streets where cars and bikes are doing roughly the same speed is quite another. In addition, of course, more of the city centre is being pedestrianised, too.

They also want to encourage cycling. Bordeaux has already seen a huge increase in the number of people cycling since covid started, and those quiet streets and healthier people speak for themselves.

I'd already been struck by the difference between Bordeaux and some other cities we've visited, where wide roads cut through the centre and cars seem to dominate. Thankfully Bordeaux has largely retained its awkward mediaeval street layout, which makes driving a nightmare but walking a delight.