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Showing posts from 2024

The election

As the UK swings to the left, many countries in Europe have swung to the right. In the recent European Parliament Elections in France the far-right Rassemblement National (erstwhile Front National)did exceptionally well. Following that M Macron dissolved the National Assembly and called elections for the National Assembly on 30 June and 7 July. France has several levels of election. 1) Presidential elections. The President is directly elected and it is he who puts forward a programme of legislation. He has immense power and prestige. 2) Legislative elections. Députés are elected to the Assemblée Nationale. These represent their constituencies or circonscriptions. I have no idea who our député is, and I can't imagine a situation where I might write to them. French friends don't know, either. The National Assemblée is a control on the president's power. The French Parliament has a second chamber, the Sénat. Senators are elected by an electoral college made up of députés, memb

Perhaps the last time

I got back Monday from one of our two-week three-weekend visits to the UK to report to churches on the work here in Bordeaux. I didn't hire a car, but I travelled everywhere by train and, once, by bus. My travels began with a flight to Bristol Airport, where our friends from Bath were waiting to meet me and take me to their home for the weekend. I flew on the Saturday - there was no direct flight that day - via Marseille.  Flying via Marseille was a pain in the neck. It meant a LONG journey, a LONG wait in Marseille AND getting the nice bottle of wine confiscated because I bought it in Bordeaux, to in Marseille. I could have had it sealed in a duty-free bag had I realised that at Marseille you have to pass through security again.  Oh well. Honestly, that was the worst snag I experienced. Otherwise trains were on time, acceptably clean, reasonably priced (£14 for Newtown Powys to Leicester) and comfortable. I do these visits alone. Pat used to accompany me but they got too gruelling

The Olympic flame

 The Olympic flame has arrived in Bordeaux. It came here from Saint Emilion, visited the Cité du Vin briefly, then went in a boat to Lormont whence it was carried to cross over again to outer Pessac, Merignac, then it will be brought back into the town centre to finish at the Place des Quinconces this evening. Meanwhile Bordeaux' current episode of constant, torrential rain is making a good attempt at dousing the flame so it can't go to Paris. Our aquifers are well-filled, and the vine growers are complaining of mildew. And we have a workshop on the roof this evening at 6 to plant up our courgettes, tomatoes and peppers. Meanwhile on the Davey balcony we have some little green tomatoes, some small strawberry plants, some peppers and chillies sown and we've started eating our cut-and-come-again lettuce.

Nothing to see here

Almost all my tests are now done. I've had an MRI of my pituitary gland and environs, an ultra-sound scan with doppler imagery of my carotid arteries an another MRI of my brain and eye-sockets. This morning I had a video consultation with my family doctor so he could interpret the various results for me - some is in French medical vocabulary that it might be wiser not to Google! All that remains is a sleep study to ensure that I breathe all night. He said, "This is all good news. There is no evidence of anything ever having happened in your brain." He probably meant anything untoward..  Yes, surely, anything untoward.

UFM European Conference

Every two years, where possible, UFM aims to gather as many as possible of its European workers together for a brief conference somewhere in Europe. This happened in 2019, when we were able to go, in 2022 when some illness or other prevented us from going, and this year. The conference is held in a centre called Poggio Ubertini, in the Tuscan hills outside Florence. The centre was bequeathed to the elders of the local brethren assembly in the early part of the 20th century by a rich Christian woman of Scottish descent. The bequest included agricultural land as well as her hilltop home, and during times of persecution the centre was a lifeline for believers. Over the years generations of young people have come to faith there, and/or have found their life partners. One friend in Bordeaux went to camps there as a girl and sent her daughters there in their turn. The centre is breathtakingly beautiful, set amongst rolling vineyards and olive groves. The birds there sing long and loud. Some

Retirement, checking off the tasks one by one

The retirement age in France is 62, so in theory I'm in extra time. You have to balance this against the fact that I arrived in France fewer than 20 years ago, and that we are in one of the less advantageous pension schemes - the official scheme for people who work in religion is, understandably, tailored mostly for priests, monks, nuns, and others who have a certain course of life and so on. No dependants. In theory. Anyway, I looked at our retirement scheme information and it said that retirement takes about six months to process, and you have to ask to retire online. This all looked very simple. 5 easy steps, said the website. I started them. They always ask you if you have things you've never heard of and can't understand. "Are you in receipt of anti-ancillary-refundable-post-traumatic scholarships, or whatever". I suppose if I don't know what it is I can safely say no. Anyway at present we're not receiving anything we don't know about, so ... And

Buying a flat

We bumped into an old neighbour as he came out of the doctors'. He's a nice guy, a bit older than us, perhaps, and we got chatting about his bicycle. He has a fine old bicycle that he loads up with all his shopping and rides and tortoise speed round the streets. He got it from the association up the road that collects old, abandoned, unloved bicycles and gives them a new life in their forever home - a kind of bicycle refuge. He asked about our move and we told him how content we are in our little flat with its little balcony. You bought? Yes we bought. That was when he shared how stressed out he is because he too is buying. "Other people have bought and sold several times, but for me it's the first time." He's buying what sounds like a super place over the river with a massive terrace - his terrace is bigger than our entire flat! You've done the right thing! we told him, and gave him the name of the removal firm we used.  

La Fête du Travail

Today is the Fête du Travail, when we celebrate work by not doing a stroke all day. The buses are not running. The trams are not running. The supermarkets are closed. The Pharmacies are closed. The cafés and restaurants are closed.  Sorry for this odd style, I've been listening to stories in Italian for beginners. And it's cloudy and cold.  Yesterday there were absolute scenes in our little neighbourhood supermarket as people queued up and down the aisles to buy enough food to get them through till Thursday. More pasta? Yes, much more pasta. We had planned to go for a nice walk to the Parc des Angéliques to see the Wisteria Arch. We still might, but if we do we'll need to wrap up warm. Alternatively it might be the perfect opportunity for a duvet day!

A quick trip to the UK

We've never really been present at the heart of the life of our wider family. When we married I was already in pastoral ministry (= no weekends) and living a long way from our folk, so when we came to France the situation didn't change all that much. Now we feel fine about leaving things at the weekend and we have more freedom than I think we've ever had, so it was a special joy to spend time with my folks in South Wales. The occasions were firstly the appointment of my nephew, David, as bishop designate for the see of Bardsey in the diocese of Bangor in North Wales, and my 65th birthday.  We flew to Manchester because flights to Bristol either left too early or arrived too late to be practical. The journeys were eventful - flights were delayed and trains cancelled, but we got where we needed to be and all was well eventually. David made history by being the youngest ever bishop in the history of the Church in Wales. I'm never sure whether the history of the Church in W

Le potager partagé

Our apartment block has a roof-garden, laid mostly to lawn by surrounded by fruiting shrubs, a couple of hazel trees and with four raised beds. This is overseen by a company which put shared vegetable gardens in various office buildings and apartment blocks. We'd wondered whether we could actually use the raised beds or whether the produce would be taken and distributed to the poor of the parish. It transpires that we plant and look after the beds, with plants supplied by the company, grown in their nursery in nearby Bègles. We are also supposed to cut the grass. So yesterday two chaps from the company came and supervised our planting of herbs in two of the raised beds, including mint, thyme, rosemary, chives, hyssop, sariette , lavender and strawberries.  In May we'll be planting up tomatoes, courgettes etc... Meanwhile on ou balcony we've sown some cut and come again lettuce (laitue à couper), some tomatoes ("it's a bit early!" said the chaps) African marigo

A blanc

 I have a milestone birthday coming up - at least it USED to be a milestone. Now I suppose only the decades are really milestones because the others keep being moved. Anyway... For the occasion, and another family event, we're going to see the folks in Cardiff so I decided to get a special haircut. My favourite barbers had no slots, so I went to another well-ranked barber near the Musée d'Aquitaine, where I learned some new things. 1) Skin fade = à blanc Thankfully I am quite good at guessing what people are saying from the context so I didn't get a skin fade. 2) The haircut I do at home is not that much worse than the one you pay an arm and a leg for

To assemble the Ikea chair

15 minutes of light work, including turning it upside down to tighten the bolts. To break up the cardboard boxes to go for recycling - 30 minutes of hard labour! But I got them all in the recycling bins!

Retirement - the plan

Patricia and I are approaching our expiry date, and we plan to hand over our work here while we can. This involves our retirement. We hope it will happen in stages : 1) French pension I believe and trust that I have just requested my retirement from the French pension system. From request to retirement is forecast to take 6 months, so assuming all is well then we will start drawing our pension in October 2024. When this happens we will reduce our living allowance from UFM accordingly. This will reduce our support needs greatly - firstly because of the smaller living allowance we'll receive, but also because we will stop contributing to the pension and sickness scheme. 2) Computing pension From my decade in computing I have a stakeholder pension plan from which I will request my retirement once I have spoken to Pensionwise. I have a telephone appointment for the 2nd of May, so depending on what they say I could conceivably retire in June or July. When this happens we will reduce our

The best music for Easter Sunday morning, and why it's Christ lag in Todesbanden.

 It's easy to find good music for Good Friday. There's a wealth of things from the Italian baroque all the way through to contemporary composers. Hymns and worship songs abound, too. But Easter Sunday is a bit harder. There's lots of drums and trumpets, and rowdy rumpty-tump. You can have introspective things about facing the morrow, you can have simulated garden encounters.  But for me nothing touches the spot like Christ lag in Todesbanden. It's just a setting of Luther's hymn, that goes like this : Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands, For our offenses given; But now at God’s right hand He stands And brings us life from heaven. Therefore let us joyful be And sing to God right thankfully Loud songs of alleluia! Alleluia!  No son of man could conquer Death, Such ruin sin had wrought us. No innocence was found on earth, And therefore Death had brought us Into bondage from of old And ever grew more strong and bold And held us as his captive. Allelui

A weekend jaunt to Norwich

For over thirty years I have worked weekends, so quick visits to family or simply getting away happened Monday to Friday. Then the café opened, and we are generally needed in Bordeaux from Wednesday to Friday. Now I'm handing over pastoral responsibility to Sylvain, so weekends are back in our life again. This is why we went on a quick visit to see Gwilym and Beth in Norwich. We flew on Saturday evening and returned on Tuesday. It was great to see them, to meet their excellent and allergenic cat, Beryl, and to explore the city a little again.  Travel was uneventful and timely.

Retirement

Retirement age in France is 62 for people of my vintage. Up until I retire we pay something in the order of 700€ per month for retirement and health care. If I retire in four months' time (it takes four months to do) then I would be paid about 450€ per month. That means our support budget would be reduced by over 1000€ a month. Makes sense, huh? I also have a UK pension from computing that will pay something in the order of 400€ per month. Our UK state pensions can be claimed from April and from November 2025. One of the ICC pastors is currently going through the process, so he sent me the forms you have to fill in. The form mentioned the possibility of doing it all online, and I got as far as the final page which told me to upload my "Livret de famille". I know what this is, but not being of French nationality I don't have one. Banjaxed. I am waiting for the retirement people to phone me back within 48 hours.  

The Garden Centre

Garden Centres need cars, so I booked one of the nearby Citiz cars. I chose a Yaris Hybrid. I could have had a Suzuki Swift, a Citroën C3 or C4 or a tiny Fiat 500. The Fiat 500s are great fun, but they're a tad small for garden centres, so the Yaris it was. The Yaris in question has, as we say, "lived". In 53000km (about 30000 miles) it has had several close encounters of a damaging kind. Citiz puts little stickers on them to mark old war-wounds and enable them to identify any new ones you add! The reason I choose the Yaris, if I can, is because it is a dream to drive. It's quiet, smooth and very easy. It glides around town but keeps up on the ring road. Also it's easy to fold the back seat down. The garden centre is just off junction 18 of the rocade. We live near junction 21, so it was just a 15 minute trip including the jiggery pokery of getting the car and so on. Garden Centres also need trolleys, and trolleys need a 1 euro piece to liberate them. Like the lat

Feels like spring

The magnolias are flowering, the weather is mild, the rain is gentle and fine and I'm going to a garden centre! I'm after troughs to put on the balcony, compost, seeds for lettuce and tomatoes and also perhaps some trailing petunias and African marigolds (if I can remember the French name for them!)  

Living in terror

On Wednesday evening we took our stagiaire, Hannah, who has been camping in my office since January, to her forever home not far from the boulevards. It's a journey by car of about 12 minutes, but we needed to do it at rush hour so it took about 30 minutes to get there and about 45 coming back.  On the way we were overtaken on an uphill stretch by a pastor friend on his one-speed bike.  Going was easy but slow and good for learning patience. Basically we spent the majority of the journey in a traffic jam, and the rest looking out for bicycles. Coming back was a NIGHTMARE. We let the Citiz car's GPS guide us, but the GPS in the car had not been updated to reflect Bordeaux' ever more complex of one way streets and bus lanes. Such it was that we were rarely able to follow the GPS directions without deviating wildly, and at one point we found ourselves heading down a bus lane for about 250 meters with no obvious way of escape. Vigilance is always essential as bicycles come from

First MRI scan done

 The ophthalmologist noting an "anomaly" on my optic nerves, he ordered a series of tests which will happen on a month from February to May. February was a Doppler Ultrasound scan of my carotid arteries and of those which feed the eyes. The doctor turned out to be a long-lost cousin from Brittany, he found nothing untoward and we parted vowing to search each other out next time there's a family reunion. (It's a celt thing). March was today, and an MRI of my pituitary gland to look for any inflammation that might have affected my optic nerves. The scan found quite the contrary, a pituitary on the small side. Next, in April, I see a psychiatrist for a sleep study. I have six questionnaires to fill out first.  Then in May another MRI of another part of my head. I'm half-way through, and that's very encouraging because these tests tend to set off attacks of hypochondria.

Flooding in Bordeaux

The Spring tides are very high just now, with a coefficient of 117. 99 is considered exceptionally high.  So much for that.  The upshot is that several streets on the right bank around the Bastide area flooded yesterday and are flooded again this morning, and the fancy shops, restaurants and cafés down by the waterfront are faced with a walkway under about 6 inches of water. This is because of the coincidence of very high tides linked with the recent persistent, constant, incessant, torrential rain. Meanwhile in the Gard several people are missing following the downpours in that area.

Saint David's Day

When I was a child this was the happiest day in the school calendar, except, of course, for the end of term... We prepared for weeks beforehand.  The school was divided into four houses - Dyfed, Gwent, Gwynedd (my house) and Powys. The houses were named after the old kingdoms of Wales. Dyfed's colour was red, Gwent's was blue, Gwynedd's was green and Powys' was yellow.  Some time before in February the competitions were announced. Each subject would set a competition, and there were additional competitions for music and for choral recitation. Each competition could win points to your house's score for first, second or third place, and there would be bonus points for especially good additional entries. I remember the following :  For Maths : Make an icosahedron. Make a dodecahedron. We had to find out what it was and construct one. For Religious Education : Make a model of a first century Palestinian house. For History and Geography it might be essays. For English yo

Montpellier

ICC-Eurasia is the network of International Churches to which we belong. Last week they held their annual Prayer Retreat in the city of Montpellier, somewhere I've never been before. It takes five hours to get there by train. The deal was to stay in a hotel together for which a group price had been negotiated. It was quite a pleasant little hotel in a residential part of the city, but close to where the Montpellier church meets and not far from the edge of the city centre. Montpellier seems to exist mainly because of being a staging post on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. It's right on the Mediterranean, so it's sunny and bright most of the year though it doesn't have beaches itself. We spent the bulk of our time sharing news of the churches and of the ICC, and praying for the various issues raised. Pat didn't come with me, though some wives came. She was kept pretty busy at home.

Remodelling the city

The southern approach to Bordeaux is changing beyond all recognition. When we first moved here the main access road passed disused abattoirs, demolished warehouses, a municipal dump and dingy hotels. It was dead, dirty and unattractive. This didn't matter too much because you passed it on an urban freeway with a 70kph limit. But our area of the city is part of all that and the plan is only partially accomplished. They aim to take away the urban freeway and replace it with a city boulevard, limited to 50kph, or maybe even 30kph. This will be punctuated by crossings to allow people access to the river from the offices and apartments of the newly redeveloped southern part of the city. The quays of the Garonne, transformed from a disused dockland into a wide and airy garden promenade, will be extended down to this southern part of the city. A new bridge, the Pont Simone-Veil, will open this year, linking the southern banks of the city. It will have wide cycle paths, dedicated bus lanes

A sad week in Bordeaux

Three people have been fished out of the Garonne this week, maybe four. The first is a young man from Montpellier who was last seen in the wee hours mid January near a night club in the old dry docks area of the city. One of the dangers of Bordeaux is that young people, coming out of the night clubs, fall into the Garonne. The currents are strong and if the alarm is not swiftly sounded, there is little hope of survival. Often the currents and tides take the bodies up the Dordogne even as fas a Bergerac.  The second was a young woman who fell to her death from the Pont d'Aquitaine - the suspension bridge that closes the northern loop of the motorway that rings the city.  The third was a man in his forties who fell into the river and was quickly rescued by the firemen who have rescue boats in the city. The fourth was a man of 86 years old. As Pat and I cycled home from the café on Friday we took the new express cycleway from the quays to our area of the city. As we turned the corner

Echographie-Doppler

Four rendez-vous had to be made. Two seemed relatively straightforward. Firstly an ultrasound scan of my carotid arteries and the arteries supplying my eyes. Secondly a sleep consultant to explore possible apnoea. Thirdly an MRI of parts of my head to explore possible inflammation. The first two were quickly made via our website doctolib. The third was far more complicated. Different MRI machines do different things. I found a clinic, who said to contact them in two weeks' time. Meanwhile my own doctor suggested that his secretary could find me an appointment. I asked her - she found me two - on in March, one in May. The issue is an anomaly on both optic nerves which does not affect my vision. This was first noticed a year ago my the ophthalmologist and has not changed since that time. Well on Monday I rolled up at the clinic at 9:00 for my ultrasound.  "Sorry, we can't do this. You've booked an ultrasound and you need an ultrasound-doppler. We do that here bit it'

La vie associative

In France it's really important to join groups to do things. They're called "associations", registered with the government, some which are of public utility qualify for tax relief on gifts, and they fulfil lots of different functions. Local churches are associations, as are the denominations to which they belong. Some associations are there to play games or do sport. Others run cafés or cultural activities. Some support humanitarian projects in the majority world. Others help immigrants and asylum seekers to navigate the winding paths of settling in France. One we saw in Strasbourg runs a cooperative restaurant, where people sign up to cook and eat lunch together. This is a great idea for students living on knackipâtes (hot dog sausages cut up into pasta shapes - it's a thing...) Others are concerned with recycling and the "circular economy" - that is repairing, reusing and reselling things as well as producing things locally. Just up the road from us we

Surprising things in France

 One reason that the blog is so much more infrequently updated is that France doesn't really surprise us much any more. I was thinking about this this morning as I wondered whether Pat and I should get a picture taken of us on our bikes, buying baguettes etc... (we draw the line at the stripes jumpers, gauloises and berets...) But France can still surprise us. For example, our towns have now imposed a 30kph limit. Bègles was the first. Bordeaux soon followed suit. So in town, unless indicated otherwise (on particularly wide roads, or urban expressways etc.) the speed limit is 30kph. This is about 18 mph. And there was no outcry, no petitions, no scoffing, no real comment at all. Contrast this with the reaction to the Welsh Government's recent decision to do the same. This morning we read that the Parisians have voted to multiply parking fees threefold for large SUVs. I knew they were voting on it, and I know that almost everyone I know thinks that the proliferation of Chelsea T

Manifs

The political process in France includes marching in the street. It's what you do. Nobody writes to their MP. Everyone marches in the street.  In the past few days there's been a pro-palestinian march, and one to protest at the new immigration law. At the moment it's the farmers. The current economic model puts huge pressure on farmers - supermarkets demand uniform produce of high quality for low prices and with minimal use of chemical products. It makes it very hard for farmers to stay in business. So they've taken to the streets and, this morning, to the motorway ring-road around Bordeaux. The government meanwhile is proposing talks and promising to take any reasonable measures.

What Bordeaux lacks

 Flocks of feral parrots.

Macron speaks to the nation

M. Macron spoke to all the French yesterday evening. Last week he reshuffled the government, appointing Gabriel Attal as Prime Minister. Attal is the youngest person to hold the role, at 34, and he appointed his cabinet of ministers gradually over the course of the week. In France the government is presidential, that is the people elect deputies to the National Assembly, Senators to the Senate*, and the President. So the President is not guaranteed a majority in the National Assembly.  The President then appoints a Prime Minister and the Prime Minister appoints his government ministers. They can choose anyone. They don't have to be from the same political party or even from the National Assembly. However the Prime Minister is expected to do all he can to enact the promises that the President made during his election campaign. Yesterday evening M. Macron made a direct broadcast to the nation. One newspaper said "to counter the rise of the far right". Another said "to

Snow in Bordeaux

 We're in a period of "grand froid" - when temperatures plummet and emergency accommodation is organised for the folks who live on the street. It won't last. Next Wednesday we expect 18°C.  Meanwhile today it snowed. Pretty much all day.

The rotters!

 Mrs Davey and I have both been battling with plantar fasciitis for a while.  I talked to the doctor about it. He sent me for x-rays and for ultrasound examinations of my feet, which confirmed my self-diagnosis. The doctor said that I must wear good shoes and massage my feet hard. Patricia talked to him about it and after her ultrasound examinations he prescribed unlimited physiotherapy until she's better. I rooted around for ideas and tried various measures : stretches for the achilles tendon, massage with bottles and balls for the foot, a sock to keep my ankle flexed at night. What REALLY helped was a brand of shoe that has arch support built in. I'm really thankful that after some long months my foot is pretty-well pain free and I can walk as far as I want, as long as I wear the right shoes! Patricia went to see her physio and a podologue, who ordered insoles for her feet. Her case is worse than mine, and has not yielded to treatment. She has the arch-support shoes. She'

Thinking about daily Bible reading

It's a good time to think about how to give to the Bible the place it deserves in your life. I'll begin by trying to suggest we still engage our common sense as we think it through. Make reading the Bible the first thing you do every day : Yeah. Right. That will be great for some people, but for others it's a disaster. Some of us provide the best supportive evidence for the theory of human evolution every morning as we slowly pass through various stages - emerging from the depths, discovering the ability to stand erect, communication by grunts, then the first words emerge... it takes quite a lot of coffee to push-start our one remaining synapse and get it to fire. Hey - find the time that works best for you. Read 30 minutes a day. OK... But might it not be better to have a more constructive goal? Imagine if we advised people to cook their main meal for 1/2 hour a day. "Cook 30 minutes then eat whatever you got." That's nuts! Or "let's drive 1/2 hour