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, June 29, 2022

Should of seen that coming

 Some time into the adventure that is the learning of the French language, I became aware of an immense feeling of frustration. Despite the fact that I could hold conversations with lots of different people about lots of different subjects and in various registers : informal, polite, etc, there were things that came naturally to me in English but over which I would labour in French. For example, how does one say the commonplace "If I'd known you were coming I'd have baked a cake". I can render this into French, but it just all sounds wrong: Si j'avais su que tu venait j'aurais préparé un gateau

Why does it sound so wrong? Because nobody talks like that, that's why.

The other day someone in the choir complimented me on my French. "Mais tu parles drîolement bien français, le syntaxe et tout". I replied, "Eh bien, les gens croivent que c'est pas possible quand on est âgé" She laughed, "Ça tu as fait exprès" She was right. A very common error in French is to conjugate croire as if it was devoir, so je crois, tu crois, ils croivent, instead of ils croient...

Spoken French is relatively simple in that it doesn't use all the tenses that we're used to using in English. Of course, it has other complications, like grammatical gender, a complex phonetic system, etc. But in terms of tenses, modern spoken French is comparatively simple. 

People don't use the simple past. I washed the car. I ate my breakfast. I ran the race. I fell downstairs. This tense is replaced in spoken French with the perfect tense. I have washed the car. I have eaten my breakfast. I have run the race. I have fallen downstairs. The simple past does exist in literary French.

People don't tend to use the simple future. They generally replace it either with the present or with the immediate future. Instead of "I will wash the car", they'll say "I wash the car" or "I am going to wash the car".

In literary French there is an elegant and precise way of saying "They wanted me to wash the car". In contemporary spoken French there isn't.

All these verb forms exist in Spanish and are apparently used in common speech, but they have fallen out of use in French.

This has led one academic to suggest that because the language has become so simple grammatically that the French mind is losing its capacity to reason and to make fine distinctions. The simplicity of the language is leading to another kind of simplicity, according to this man.

He might say that. I couldn't possibly comment. In English or in French.

Buying the flat

 So when you buy a new flat there are pros and cons.

The pros are that you're buying something that conforms to the latest standards of safety, insulation, etc. In theory the place will be well built with no great defects. In the event of serious defects there is an insurance backed guarantee for ten years. For less serious issues you have a year to identify them and get the builder to rectify them.

Not only that, but much of the legal shenanigans that are involved in a house purchase are done on applying for planning permission - I mean things like checking for risks of flooding (ha ha) or industrial accidents, for nuclear risks, for polluted soils, for old mineworkings, etc etc. This means that the legal costs involved in buying a new place are much less.

So some people argue that you don't need the services of a Notaire. Notaires cost money, so if you don't need one why have one? I thought about this and decided I wanted someone on our side in scrutinising the flat purchase, so I found one with a good reputation and emailed to ask him to act for us. He phoned me straight away and said that that would be fine, and so it went.

A disadvantage is that you pay for the flat in instalments. A small deposit when you sign to reserve the flat. A percentage when you sign the contract. Another percentage on completion of various stages - the completion of the foundations, the laying of the first floor, the second floor, etc... The scheme's architect certifies that the work has been accomplished and you get sent a bill, called an "Appel de fonds".

We were due to sign the contract at the end of January, but there was some problem with the documentation, so it didn't happen. Meanwhile the building was progressing well. We saw the completion of the foundations and the building start to rise - the ground floor car park, then the first floor apartments, then they started on our floor.

Then we were told that we were ready to sign to buy. We arranged an appointment with our Notaire and contacted the bak to transfer the first instalment - 30% of the price of the flat.

Then covid struck. Our signing got pushed back a week, but the money was in the notaire's client account ready.

Meanwhile we were sent illustrations of the various tiles and floor coverings available for the bathroom and toilet and for the rest of the flat. We pondered the shades of grey, beige and marbled white and the different tones of parquet flooring and made our choice. We selected a vague "Hall of the Mountain King" theme for most of the flat with "Liberace's boudoir" in the toilet and bathroom.

The day came to sign. Our notaire is a young chap, educated at the Sorbonne, and very personable. I remembered to greet him properly: 'Bonjour Maître', "Au revoir Maître", but the tone of the session was informal. We pondered the grave risk of flooding. He observed that we were on the second floor and I informed him that we were both able to swim. 

Since then we have had to notifications that the ground floor and first floor have been completed. I contacted the bank to arrange the transfer of the next amount of money. When that has been transferred we will have paid for half of the flat.

It's due for completion at end of March 2023. I expect to move in some time around Easter.

A bit more about covid

 So I have been out and about and functioning now for over a week, and I'm basically fine. 

There are some continuing struggles. Firstly I have a very sticky cough. We're very thankful that I cough during the day but sleep sweetly, sound and deep all night. I have a steroid inhaler that the doctor gave me some months ago to use morning and night if and when I need it, so I've been using that at night. I noticed that a friend who came to stay last week and who's asthmatic uses the same inhaler.

The second is tiredness. I can't party. Well I can, as long as I do nothing physical all day beforehand. So I've been able to preach and lead on Sunday, but was drained afterwards, was able to go to dinner for someone's birthday but did nothing all day beforehand, and so on and so forth.

I first noticed symptoms just over two weeks ago and tested positive two weeks ago today. I don't want this to drag on, so I'm going to start working on stamina. I'll push myself in the mornings and get to bed as early as I can each night and hopefully I'll get back to normal soon. 

Meanwhile the virus is on the march once more in France. Masks are "recommended" once more in public transport. It's time to be very careful again. Although the virus is weakened, and most of us are vaxed to the max, it still messes you up !

Monday, June 20, 2022

Covid early release

 So the rules are that when you have covid you must self-isolate for seven days from the onset of symptoms. However, after five you may be released if you have been free of symptoms for 48 hours and you test negative.

My symptoms developed on Tuesday. Five days (inclusive) from then is Saturday. I was full of hope until I realised that I was not completely symptom free (I still had sinus pain etc... and, realistically, I will be coughing for some months yet.) I tested anyway and got a thick black positive line.

Oh well, after seven days you can be released anyway, symptoms or no symptoms, no point testing.

That means that today (still counting inclusively) I can once again run amok in the streets of Bordeaux. And it's raining.

Friday, June 17, 2022


In France when it gets to over 30°C in the day, AND it doesn’t get below 20°C at night, for three or more consecutive days, that’s a heatwave.

This was the case last night and will probably be for the next two days. This heatwavy period is due to break on Saturday or Sunday.


On Monday evening I felt the onset of something. Aches. Cough.

So Tuesday morning I tested myself for covid-19, and sure enough, there came a faint line by the T.

Tuesday I spent mainly sitting quietly, drinking water and taking paracetamol.

Wednesday I managed without pills till about 2pm.

Thursday morning at 2am I got up to use the rest room and realised I felt fine. Absolutely fine. It didn’t last.

Today I have a dry cough.

Current rules, I think, are that you have to isolate for seven days from the onset of symptoms.

HOWEVER on the fifth day you can test yourself and if it’s negative you can resume normal life.

So for me that’s probably Saturday morning. I’m hoping for a negative test on Saturday so I can preach Sunday.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The beauty of the city

 We used to meet to do sermon prep together at a café called Gusco, but since we moved our meeting to lunchtime, and since that meant eating at Gusco and not just getting coffee, and since that meant that the preaching group became a rather expensive group to be part of, we now take sandwiches to a local park.

I feel bad about Gusco, though. The waiters and the manager are really nice folk, so I went this morning taking the reading for Sunday, got a splendid iced black tea with orange and clementine (not at all bitter - the secret is a long cold brew) and read and watched the world go by.

And it was so beautiful. Little things like two guys who went running by, one really tall, one really short, but perfectly in step with each other, or the woman in a diaphanous dress who came riding up on her bright red scooter. Or the lupins in the central reservation of the wide road leading out of town, or the fact that now the bike lane is HUGE and the lane for cars is tiny...

Yma o hyd

 I moved back to South Wales from Hemel Hempstead probably in the summer of 1982. I'd been sent for a few months to work in Cardiff anyway, and while I was there I applied for and got a job with HTV. About a year afterwards I moved to British Telecom where I stayed until I entered pastoral ministry in 1991. 

Our office was in the city centre and within a short walk, in a side-room of a concert hall, I discovered that Welsh classes were to be organised - one hour a week on Wednesday lunchtimes. I had long wanted to learn Welsh, so I thought I'd give it a go. It was good, but inadequate so I moved to evening classes with an extraordinary teacher called Ken Kane, then with a man named Chris Rees at the University.

At work some of our colleagues were local people as I was. My team leader at one time travelled down from Merthyr Tydfil each day. The 1980s were turbulent years, especially in some areas of Britain. After the unrest and upheaval of the 1970s Mrs Thatcher had vowed to break the power of the unions and, at the same time, the coal industry was to be closed down. This had a huge impact on us locally. Cardiff had once been the busiest port in the world, exporting coal from South Wales all over the world.

Things were so traumatic that we struggled to discuss it. For example, during the miners' strike of 1984 to 1985 some men dropped a concrete block from a bridge over the A470 onto the car of a strike-breaking colleague. He was killed. We were aghast. We all took this road regularly. And the thought of so brutally murdering a colleague was horrifying.

Nowadays some of my family still live in the Rhondda valley. The area has changed from the post-industrial grey place of my childhood memories to a green country park, with wonderful walks, lakes and streams, trees, birds and fish, and clean air. And, of course, unemployment, though people find work outside the valley in the industrial parks around.

The song "Yma o hyd" was released in 1983, sung by Dafydd Iwan and the group Ar Log.  It expressed a sense of defiance against the forces of globalisation that have, over the centuries, worked to drive the Welsh language and culture into extinction. Not just Welsh, of course. Cornish, Manx, Cumbrian, all became extinct. The regional languages of France : Gascon, Burgundian, etc, have suffered similarly, while others have done a little better, like Catalan, Provençal and Breton. 

By the time I learned the song some lines had been changed to reflect the conflict with the Thatcher government - er gweitha hen Faggie a'i chriw - despite old Maggie and her gang - but personally I don't think of the song as being particularly anti-English or anti-Tory, but rather expressing the struggle so many minority cultures face for survival.

For example, a Norwegian friend here once said to us, "I wish they would just abolish the language and adopt English. After all, who in the world speaks Norwegian?" "What about Ibsen?" "Translate it!" 

Now the song has undergone a huge resurgence of interest. The political climate in 2022 is very different from in 1983. The United Kingdom has other issues to divide over. Welsh language and culture is perhaps stronger now than forty years ago - well, the language anyway. 

Some Welsh people feel that the song is not positive enough. Resistance and dogged perseverance... well everyone knows the Welsh can do that! But hanging in there is not enough to enable you to thrive in the 21st century.

Maybe. But at least it gives you a starting point.

The next step

 One advantage of not being able to fly to London is that I can be a bit more relaxed about signing the various contracts on Friday.

Firstly, on Friday morning, there is the lease on Espace Gallien. The agency has prepared a standard commercial lease, nicknamed a 3-6-9 lease. It protects the tenant from sudden eviction from the landlord, but also holds the tenant to complete 3, 6 or 9 years of renting. 

The committee doesn't want to do this. They want a clause added to allow us to relinquish the lease early if we need to. I need to talk to the agency this week to see if they can and will do this.

Meanwhile the woman who is dealing with our account is ill and signed off until the 24th, so it may be that we just have to hold fire.

Then there's the contract to buy our flat. We sign on Friday afternoon and we've transferred the first part of our payment for the flat - just over a third of the cost.

Meanwhile we can choose the tiles for the bathroom and toilet, the shade for the flooring and the finish of the bathroom sink unit. It's all very exciting.

At our gabfest with the neighbours we were all talking about our future plans. One young couple are buying just up the road in a new building just being constructed. Another older couple is looking around for something. All want to stay in the immediate area. 

Monday, June 13, 2022

On not going to "Catalyst"

"But that's a presbyterian conference!"

"Yes, but it's in London and easy to get to."

Easy, that is, until easyJet cancels your flight the morning you're due to leave.

Oh well - so I miss some of my great heroes talking about the greatest themes possible. And I miss frolicking round the capital city for an afternoon and a couple of evenings. And I miss some gabfests with old friends from auld lang's syne.

But at leats I don't get stranded in Gatwick late on Thursday evening when easyJet cancel my flight home. And I get to preach this coming Sunday instead.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Property !

 I dont know why things always have to be so STRESSFUL !

Renting the Espace Gallien has proved to be one headache after another, including some comical mixups by the bank, ordering cards on the wrong account and sending things hither and yon. The agency demanded an urgent signature of a lease they had not yet fully prepared. The lease was a source of consternation - but will be modified. It’s been one thing after another.

Meanwhile our flat purchase is calmer, and we’re pretty confident that we have all the money we need, except that from time to time it becomes invisible on our internet banking. There’s currently several thousand euros that I just can’t see at all, while our current account yoyos wildly. I’m hoping all settles down this week as we sign on the flat next week!

Once all is done I will move our account to the nearest branch to where we live. It will be so much easier to sit with pen and paper and work things out - even in French - rather than to try and sort things out by telephone and email.

The CNEF day

 Monday was Whitsun Bank Holiday and the weather promised to turn out well, so we were very glad as we left the flat to go to the CNEF33 ‘Day Together’.

Planning for this day began some years ago. We’ve long wanted to organise a day when Christians from different churches could worship together but also spend time getting to now each other. Anyway I think it was in 2020 that we settled on a venue and started to plan the day when covid struck and put all our plans on hold. Meanwhile I left the CNEF33 committee. 

Now with covid on the back foot and much greater freedom it was possible to meet. The day consisted of a time of worship together with one of the local preachers, then lunch - you could either bring your sandwiches or order from a sandwich bar, or order a portion of a giant paella. The afternoon would involve various games, sports and also an open mike, before the day closed with a brief closing message.

It all seemed to be impeccably organized and to go very well indeed. Pat and I were a little tired after a busy weekend, so we sloped off at lunch time.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

The Perfect Saint

 I phoned the bank to ensure that the bank card erroneously ordered for my account had been cancelled. 

‘Oh yes, effectively, there is a card ordered and we can’t cancel it because it is in fabrication.

Oh ! We were born the same day ! You were born on the Saint Parfait’

She launched into an explanation of how in the old days in France when people were born they were often given the name of the saint who is celebrated on their birthday. Mine is the Saint Parfait.

Perfectus lived in Cordoba at the time of the Moorish invasion. He was cornered into declaring whether Christ or Muhammad was the greater prophet, found guilty of blasphemy, imprisoned until the end of Ramadan and then martyred.

‘Phone back next week and we’ll cancel the card’

‘OK, and meanwhile I’ll change my middle name to Parfait.’

‘Good idea’

Why so quiet?

We have this project of a kind of shopfront church centre - A Cœur Ouvert - Espace Gallien. It’s a small shop premises just in front of the church. It’s taken a LONG time for everything to get in place and has known such fun as :

An estate agent who said, in her first call to me, ‘if we don’t sign the lease tomorrow I’ll let the place to someone else’. I duly met her the next day to discover that she didn’t have the lease ready…

The counsellor at the bank, where it takes about a month to open an account, ordering our bank card for the wrong account and also sending the code for internet banking for the wrong account. This is not yet entirely sorted out.

Anyway, I have no idea at all what I’m doing, I don’t understand French leasing law and yet I am the best placed person to navigate our way through this.  Earlier in the week this all became a little stressful, especially as the cursed WhatsApp beeped incessantly on my computer as people let off steam. 

But we’re through that first shock period now to a situation where we just have to decide what to do and do it.