Conferences and cats

I think I mentioned that last weekend I was at the Convention of the Convocation of the Epoiscopal Church in Europe – we went to Munich and stayed in a very impressive Schloss that is now a Catholic Retreat & Conference centre.

The Convention was very good. Nick & I missed the first afternoon’s session because our travel time was so long – to keep costs down we travelled the cheapest way. However because the person organising flights from our end hadn’t got their act together (despite the fact we’ve known for a year we were going!!) the cheapest flights involved going Lyon – Paris CdG, hanging around for 2 hours and then flying to Munich. We left here at 7.30 and arrived at the Schloss at 5.15. It was a long day!

There was, of course, business to be done, which can be a bit tedious, but it was interspersed with hearing presentations from other churches in the Convocation (including Rome, Florence, Munich, and others) about their work to support the work with refugees. Also we had small group discussions about how the convocation can support each individual congegation in what they are doing in their local area.

I was asked to go onto the Resolutions Committee. I agreed, having no idea what this meant. In the end, it just meant that I was tasked with reading the “Resolution of Gratitude” at the end of the convention, thanking various people for the part they played – it included some fairly scary German and Roumanian names, but I simply worked on the method I use when reading the OT reading in church: if you come across a name you don’t know how to pronounce, just say it anyway, with confidence and firmness, and people will generally just think “Oh, so that”s how it’s pronounced….” They may not have thought that (especially if it was their name!) but at least I didn’t sound all stumbly and apologetic!!

The first evening the clergy and partners went for a meal, while the other delegates could choose where to go, being led by members of the host church. However, as Nick and I were tired, we decided to go to the pizzaria called “Tutto Bene” at the end of the road, just the two of us, so we didn’t need to socialise, and could go to bed early. Rob, our Rector, came with us for a glass of wine, as he was meeting his wife at the bus stop. We chatted, and ate a good pizza; the waiter and his family (who owned the pizzaria) were lovely, speaking a mixture of Italian, English and German. They even gave us a complementary glass of limoncello at the end of the evening

The following evening was the Bishop’s Dinner – this is always a posh do, and this was no exception. We had to wear our glad rags – but I’m very glad that my glad rags don’t include high heels. To get to the venue we had to do a 5 – 10 minute walk in the dark through the grounds of another Schloss. I was very glad I was in flats withv a warm wrap!

The venue was spectacular though! The Palm House (now cafeteria) of a grand chateau/Schloss:


Here is the Bishop inspecting the high table


Here’s everyone enjoying their dinner.


Here’s Nick & me in our glad rags. My photo of Lee and Nick won’t load. Nick & I are church delegates, while Lee, also from our church, is Chairman of COMB (Committee for the Ministry of the Baptised)

The following evening was a buffet meal in the Schloss where we were staying with a “dance” – slightly surreal…It was held in a room that was almost entirely white, with a photograph of a stern looking cardinal/Pontiff glaring down over us,as vicars, bishops and various lay people boogied to eighties disco classics, such as YMCA and I WIll Survive…


You can just about see the glaring Pontiff in the background!

I do have to say, some of those Vicars are lovely movers. One of them, an American, reminded me very much of the Dominic West character in “Pride” (although Steve didn’t leap onto the table, or thrust his crotch in quite the same way, he was a very  *cough* flamboyant dancer)

I joined in with gusto, and afterwards he said “I didn’t know Brits could be such fun!!”

It was a very good conference, and I made 65€ selling cards (see my last post) to raise money for Phone Credit for Refugees. This translated into 3 x £20 phone top up vouchers that were given to three young lads in the Jungle, to give them contact with workers, friends and family as the camp was being dismantled. That was a good amount to raise…

…but it led to the Bishop of the Convocation asking me to make his Christmas cards for this year to raise money for the same cause. That is, 200 hand made cards by the beginning of December. Gulp.

Luckily, the design he wants is quite simple, similar to this one:


The words are copied – I’ve already copied and cut 100 of these – and the background is a simple rectangle stuck on. I’ve bought some non-shiny, but cheerful paper for that, which needs to be cut to size. The final “bling” is a stuck-on gold band, rather than the jewels shown here. I’m hoping to try to make 50 of them on Tuesday – a bank holiday here in France – which should help me guage how much I need to panic!

  • Just to say, it took me all of one Kermode & Mayo film review podcast to stick on 100 strips of bling. And all of another to cut out and stick down 45 pieces of backing paper with the “Joy to the World” bit on it. I’ve completed 45 cards then. So, I should finish them all in another 4 podcasts. (That’s about 8 hours) However I’ve left myself with nothing to do on Tuesday now, as I’ve used up the 50 pre-made cards that I bought on Friday! I can’t buy any more til next Thursday!

On to the “Cats” part of the title.

Since we lost George – and sadly, Sandra, there has been no sign of him. We are pretty sure he has gone forever. We are imagining it is to another home where he is loved and kept well-fed, rather than (as one helpful lady suggested to me) taken by someone to make “little bags from his fur”. Thank you for that picture (not). – anyway, since we lost him, I’ve been feeding the “poor cats” who live near the HLM housing in the village. There is someone else who looks after them too, as this person had set up a kennel with straw and a kind of rabbit hutch for the cats to sleep in. I always thought this looked rather unplreasant and draughty so I set out to make some cat beds I’d seen on t’internet:


It’s a cardboard box, insulated inside on every side with a double layer of polystyrene tile plus another layer of cardboard. It is then wrapped in a plastric bag, and put on top of 4 cat food pouch boxes (to raise it off the ground). There’s a heavy rock in the boxes, to weigh it down, and then it’s all wrapped in another bin bag, with a hole cut out. Straw is put inside, and it’s ready for cats to creep into a curl up, sheltered from the weather.



I placed three of these out about two weeks ago, behind the kennel, and was pleased to see that they’d been used, although I was a bit sad that the rain had obviously penetrated the binbag (despite them being heavy duty ones) as the boxes felt a bit soggy. I was happy though, when I went back yesterday – the other person had been there and done a lot of housekeeping. The kennel had been moved so the entrance was sheltered, and they had also rejigged the hutch type thing, so that my box-beds were now under a roof, and the biscuit tray (seen above in a makeshift shelter) was also in a covered area. It looked so much cleaner and nicer for the cats.

I’m also pleased that the cats are starting to recognise me: they are still very, very wary, but know that I’m bringing food, so they don’t run away when they see me. I save the leftovers from our fussy cats, plus fat and bits from our meals. So far the pickings and skin from chicken legs has been very popular, and the biscuits soaked in duck grease then covered in thick gravy were extremely popular too!  The other person who feeds them is obviously not rolling in money, as quite often they seem to put down a lot of stuff like mashed potato with a bit of meat in it, so the biscuits in duck grease were mixed in with the potato to make it more palatable for cats. But, TBH, these lovely Poor Cats are grateful (in their Kitty way) for anything.


More crafting…

I mentioned in the last-post-but-one about Clare asking me for some Sorry-You’re-Dead cards.

Here they are:


The square at the top is a hole cut into the front of the card, with a strip of the same paper inside. The papers are from a swap or giveaway some time ago, but being sombre colours, with a bright splash, they are perfect for this type of card.

img_0024Another using the same batch of papers, and a black ribbon.

img_0026This one uses up some scraps in diagonal/ triangular formation.

I have been making LOTS of Thanksgiving and Christmas cards that I hope to sell at the Munich Convocation of the Episcopal Church in Europe – I’m there this weekend. I want to raise money for Phone Credits for Refugees so if I sell them all at 2,50€ (at least!) I should make about 100€.

This charity is a lifeline, especially for the unaccompanied minors living in the refugee camps:

For unaccompanied minors, the group (Phone Credit For Refugees…) is often the only safety net they have. During the demolition of half of Calais refugee camp in March, volunteers tried to make sure every child on their own had a topped-up phone, with numbers of people they could call. During the chaos, 129 children went missing and volunteers reported that people traffickers were hanging around the edges of the camp for a week afterwards, explains James. ‘It’s really frightening and phone credit is a massively inadequate response, but it is something’.

Ahmed, a 7-year-old boy from Afghanistan, is now famous for texting for help when the lorry he was in with 15 other people ran out of oxygen after it reached the UK. Lesser known is that this Facebook group bought credit for him the week before, enabling him to send his urgent message. ‘For him it was life or death’, says James. ‘I think it is for many actually’. “

Here are some of the cards:


These two use a copied piece of ZIA that I did, and then copied many times. I have used these to make cards, all of which are different, with different “bling” on them, but all featuring “Joy to the World”


These two (and others like them) use a decoupage set I bought in NOZ for about 1,50€. I blinged them up with some sticky gold borders.


Finally, I did a couple of quick bits of calligraphy using these words, to make some other simple cards. I’m pleased with them all. I hope people will buy them. It’s certainly hard to get hold of Thanksgiving cards here in France – and many of the people at Convocation will be American – and also Christmas cards, although becoming more popular, are still not very common,as it is more “Fetes de la Fin d’Année” than Christmas.

Down in the Jungle…

My niece Rose, and her husband Dave, came to stay with us for 5 days. It was lovely to see them, even though they spent quite a long time catching up on their sleep, as they have spent their honeymoon in the Jungle at Calais. After 6 weeks there, they were having a week’s break, before heading back to help some more.

I was leading the service yesterday, and so invited them to church to talk about what they have been doing, and to maybe raise a little money through a collection. Their words touched the wonderful congregation at Christ Church, who responded with an amazing donation of 315€!!!

I wanted to share with you what they said, and maybe convince my readers to find out more about what they can do.

Refugees have been trying to get to the UK from Calais for many years. The Sangatte refugee camp opened in Calais in 1999 and was home to thousands of people fleeing war and persecution. Sangatte was later closed down but an unofficial camp, named the ‘Jungle’ by the residents, has since formed. According to the September census, the camp is now home to 10,188 people which is an increase of 12% from the previous month. Research suggests that the camp is made up of people fleeing corrupt governments and/or war with the majority of refugees from Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea. There are also people from Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, amongst others.

According to the census, there are 1,179 minors currently in the jungle; 1,022 of them are unaccompanied. On average 11 children arrive each day. The youngest unaccompanied minor is only eight years old. Most of them are desperate to get to the UK. You may have heard that in the early hours of the 16th September, a 14 year old boy from Afghanistan died falling out of a lorry. He had the legal right to be reunited with his family in the UK but had lost hope given the length of time the process was taking. He tried to get into a lorry to the UK, slipped, and was killed in a hit and run. This was a 14 year child.

We have been working with Auberge des Migrants since 20 August. We had originally intended to volunteer for two weeks before beginning our honeymoon but the situation is such that, to date, we have felt unable to leave. Auberge des Migrants has been operating since 2009. They assist refugees in Calais and Dunkirk with food, material support, legal advice, and language lessons. They also work in Boulogne and Marquise to help people seeking asylum in France. The charity has a big operation – the warehouse volunteers receive and sort donations and make food ready for the camp teams to take in and distribute. The total number of volunteers at any one time fluctuates but there is a core team of approximately 70 long-term volunteers.

We have been based in the Welcome Caravan in the Jungle. Originally it was formed as the initial point of contact for refugees arriving into camp, providing tents, bedding and hygiene products, and sign-posting people to vital services. It has now evolved to carry out shelter repairs, and identify vulnerable people.

One of the most difficult parts of our job is saying no to people because of the lack of resources. This was particularly difficult after heavy rain a few weeks ago. A large proportion of the camp was flooded, with some parts of the camp knee deep in water. Tents and belongings were submerged. People, who had so little before, had now lost everything. We did what we could to support those who had lost their tents – finding them space with their friends or in the camp’s makeshift mosques and churches – but it did not feel like enough. It rarely does.

It is difficult seeing the conditions that people are living in, even when the weather holds out. One of the many heartbreaking stories I can share with you is of Khalid. He was one of four unaccompanied  children occupying a two man tent, which was torn all over and the zips no longer functioned. Given their age, I was able to replace their tent with a new, larger tent. After pitching the tent, Khalid turned to me, almost in disbelief, as he said ‘now we can all sleep at the same time.’ It turned out that the kids had been forced to sleep in shifts. As he entered his tent for the first time, my heart melted as he said under his breath ‘Hello new home’.

The situation seems to be worsening. Our limited resources are under-strain as we prepare for the threatened eviction. Hollande has suggested that the camp will be dismantled by January 2017 but unofficial reports suggest that it will happen as early as the 17 October. Some refugees will go to the accommodation centres that the government has promised to provide. However experience suggests that many people will not. In the last eviction, 129 children went missing and you can imagine what might have happened to them. Auberge des Migrants is now working hard to ensure that the refugees are prepared for the next eviction, that they know their rights, and that the eviction happens in a safe manner with support for all vulnerable people.

We are returning to the camp this week to support in Auberge’s efforts. A collection will be taken during the final hymn if you would like to donate to Auberge des Migrants. We will ensure that this money is spent on the items that are most urgently needed as people prepare for the eviction such as rucksacks, sleeping bags and tents for those refugees who are being forced to leave their makeshift homes just as winter is approaching. Alternatively, you can donate material goods or volunteer your time – just google Auberge des Migrants. There is a facebook page where you can provide phone credit to refugees – it is important for refugees to be able to keep in contact with their families and it is essential for children to be able to contact service providers. You can also see what is happening in your local area. After the evictions, many refugees will be dispersed across France. Groups are forming now to help welcome them wherever they end up.

Auberge des Migrants  (website in French) has been supporting all migrants, but Rose & David have been particularly concerned with the unaccompanied minors – that is to say youngsters under 16 who are there with no member of their extended family. They may have latched onto someone else, but there is no-one from their family with them. The youngest of these is 8 years old. Can you imagine what that child must be going through?

If you feel you can do anything to help, please do.