Catching Up

As I said, 40 Acts has been a disaster for me. I started off less enthusiastically than in other years, and quickly lost motivation, as the news of the pandemic became more serious and I started feeling anxious.

So, what did I do, if anything…You can click on the title of each section if you want to read the meditation from 40 Acts

ACT 7: You first

After you.’ It’s not something you hear very often in our preoccupied, me-first society. Yet, how easy it is to offer a higher place in the queue, your seat on the bus, the chance to go through a road junction first. And what a blessing to receive it!

Green: Everywhere you go today, hold the door open for anyone who’s following you.

Amber: Allow another shopper to go ahead of you at the checkout or let another driver out of a junction.

Red: Continue into the week, looking for opportunities to practice ‘preferring others’. Determine to make this a constant habit.

I do try to be considerate, to hold doors open, to let lesser loaded shoppers go first and so on…So today I continued to do this. I also tried very hard not to make sarcastic comments (only to myself) about drivers who I considered to be driving slower than they should be! Nothing world shattering, I’m afraid!

It did make me smile though, as I remebered last year…One 40 Acts day I was feeling right mardy, as I wandered the aisles of Lidl with my trolley filling up. I felt a prompt from somewhere, pointing out my less than charitable efforts.

“Oh alright then,” I grumped, “I’ll let anyone with a basket go first.” SIGH

I got to the checkout. Shortly after, a guy holding a couple of baguettes arrived behind me.

Allez-y” I said, and he thanked me, and went next. As I prepared to unload my shopping onto the conveyor belt someone else arrived with a basket. Hah, God, I thought. Very funny.

Allez-y” I said, and as she slipped by me (yes, you’ve guessed it) two more people with baskets arrived. By now God and I were in on the joke, so I was happy to let them past too…but it did make me wonder about God’s sense of humour!!

ACT 8: UNDER THE WEATHER

Coughs, sneezes or assigned to bed… if you live alone, it can be difficult to manage cooking or even making a drink; and if others depend on you, there’s the pressure to carry on, regardless of how ill you feel. Someone you know is going through a hard time with their health, so put aside time to help them in a practical way.

Green: Text or call someone you know who is unwell to see how they are doing.

Amber: Create a care package or ask someone if they’d like you to prepare a meal for them.

Red: Set aside some time for a hospital or care home visit, or relieve someone who cares for a relative full-time for a couple of hours.

This seemed a bit ironic, as the pandemic crept closer to us… But Mr FD wasn’t feeling 100% as he was nursing a cold. I felt that looking after him, and keeping my patience (he’s not the best of patients!) was a good effort.

I did also text a friend who wasn’t feeling well, with some Get Well Soon thoughts.

ACT 9 PREPAID

Imagine turning up to buy something, only to find you haven’t brought enough money. You apologise and start to move away, but the assistant says you can take it because someone else has already paid. The stuff of fantasy? Not if you become part of a growing momentum of pre-paying on behalf of the needy.

Green: Leave coins taped to a car-park ticket machine.

Amber: Check out websites like www.suspendedcoffee.com or search on Facebook for ‘suspended coffee’ to find an outlet near you where you can buy drinks for the homeless to collect later.

Red: Contact a Christian holiday centre and ask if they have a bursary scheme whereby you can offer to pay towards a guest’s stay.

I intended to do the green act, but never quite got round to it. The best I could do was leave a spare plastic jeton in the supermarket shopping trolley. Not even a 1€ coin, but a plastic jeton!! Still, I guess it would still be useful if you didn’t have your coins with you.

ACT 10 LITTERBUG

Every cigarette butt casually discarded, every sweet wrapper or takeaway container soon adds up to a big problem on our streets. Let’s care for the planet God gave us. Find a bin. It’s a win-win.

Green: Pick up five pieces of litter today.

Amber: Keep a pair of protective gloves in your pocket or bag, ready to remove debris wherever you go. You could even separate out the litter to recycle at home.

Red: Plan a community clean-up day. Advertise it as widely as you can and gather a team to systematically work through specific areas. Spread the word on social media with the hashtag #40acts.

Sorry. Did nothing…

ACT 11: FRIEND INDEED

We’re thinking of friendship in its thick-and-thin sense, today. Among our circle will be friends who are going through tough times and need someone near them. Sometimes, fear of saying the wrong thing makes us stay away, but so often all that’s needed is some company and a listening ear.

Green: Call a friend who you know is struggling and ask them how they are.

Amber: Give a small thing like a card or their favourite food to let a friend who is sad know that you are thinking of them.

Red: When you speak to someone, listen carefully to what they tell you and, if anything rings alarm bells, ask them if they’d like you to go with them to get extra support elsewhere.

We have friends in Rome – as the pandemic in Italy gets worse, and the restrictions more severe, I sent them a message assuring them of love and prayers. They joined in our Zoom church service today – it was lovely to see them!

Also, later on, after France was put under lockdown (allowed out only for a few reasons) I posted some Ninja notes into people’s post boxes – hopefully to cheer them up.

ACT 12: CHOCOLATE TUESDAY

It’s a rare person who doesn’t like chocolate, so this one is for lots of people around you. Wherever you go today, spread the love, chocolate style! You’re obviously going to need to work within your budget, but push the boat out and buy Fairtrade if you can.

Green: Buy a box or tub and leave it by the coffee machine at work, or at the school reception. Add a cheerful ‘help yourself’ note, with the hashtag #40acts (and your name if you want to encourage a response).

Amber: Arm yourself with chocolate and hand it out to those you meet as you go through the day.

Red: Keep an eye out and an ear open for God to prompt you about who to approach. As you offer them the chocolate, add an explanation about 40acts and see what conversations open up about Jesus.

I knew this was coming, as Chocolate Tuesday is a recurring Act, so I was already prepared! Chocolate bars for the students I was teaching, a box of chocolate for the staff at the Language Centre, and another left out for the students. A card and a 40 Acts sticker. While my students were surprised, they were happy to accept. And one bar left over for Mr FD!

I’m pausing in the mammoth catch up now, as I’m going to have a Mothering Sunday Skype (or equivalent) call to my mum.

More at a later date!!

Cats on the Underground

What a splendid idea!

An inspirational group of cat lovers have replaced every advertising hoarding in Clapham (Cat-ham?!) Common tube station with cat pictures! d The Citizens Advertising Takeover Service (CATS, if you didn’t get that) started a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough money to replace the standard adverts  with pictures of, well, cats, with more than 60 adverts displaying cute kittens and cats from every angle.

At first, the plan was just to put up pretty pictures of cats. But after thinking things through, CATS decided to display photos of animals in need of loving homes – so many of the pictures  are cats from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home or Cats Protection, the UK’s largest feline welfare charity.

CATS said that their reasons for doing this were…
  • It would be amazing
  • It’s exhausting being asked to buy stuff all the time. “Wouldn’t it be great not to worry about the holiday we can’t afford, the car we don’t need, or the body we don’t have? Imagine a world where public spaces made you feel good.”
This blog post gives more information….
I have since read the article more carefully, and found that this happened in 2016 – still…it’s still a lot of fun!!

 

Woop-woop!

My friend arrives today! We’ve been friends since primary school, but she’s not been out here to see us before now. She’s coming to stay for a few days!

Jane is the friend that I’ve been to the Christmas Markets with the past couple of years. Let’s hope that we have a good time together!!

Jane enjoying some mulled wine at the Strasbourg Christmas market last year.

Here she is in the indoor market in Budapest

Day 7: The Last Goodbye

We’d come to the last day of our holiday: Mr FD had wanted to hire an electric bike, but events had conspired against us, in that the local bike hire shop had hired all their bikes to a group, and the other one was slapbang in the middle of a town which was going to have market day today, making it too difficult to manouvre through narrow streets and park the car. As it was, he wasn’t feeling 100% again, so we thought it best to have a quiet day.

We called in at Ganges to buy a couple of bottles of wine as gifts for friends, and then had a simple lunch of quiche and salad back at the room. In the afternoon we read and I painted a bit. It’s a picture that needs more work doing on it sometime when I feel inspired.

I’d seen a sign for an Artisan of cashmere very close by, so I decided to call in – maybe buy a Christmas present for one of the mums, I thought. So I drove up, and parked at the foot of the drive. When I went in the shop, there was the Artisan plus two customers. They all stopped and looked at me. In silence.

“I’m – um – just here to – er – look” I said

“I have a rendezvous, madame”, said the man.

“Can’t I just – um – look?”

“No madame. Au revoir madame.” Silence.

“Oh. Er – au revoir.”

And that was it.

So I went back home!

We’d already booked to go back to the restaurant at Saint Martial, Lou Regalouand thankfully Mr FD was feeling better so having packed ready for the morning (it took all of about 10 minutes) we set off for the restaurant.

This time we had the 27€ menu:

Starter: Aubergines en caviar, soupe glacée de tomates et panisses ( caviar of aubergines – basically a type of aubergine paté – with iced tomato soup and panisses. Which are untranslatable. We didn’t know what they were, (although they were yummy!) but I have subsequently discovered that panisses are a type of giant-chip-shaped chickpea purée, breadcrumbed and fried) I’ve always avoided cold soup, thinking that “cold” and “soup” are two words that shouldsn’t go together. This was much more enjoyable than I imagined.

Main course: Brochettes d’agneu de pays façon kofta, salade de pois chiches ( local lamb skewers, kofta style, with a chickpea salad) I forgot to take a photo! It was very good. Possibly not as good as the steak from Thursday, but still very enjoyable.

Dessert looked almost exactly the same as Thursday’s, differing only in that the centre was raspberry purée, and it was served with a raspberry coulis. This one was not as frozen as the one on Thursday, and I think suffered a little from that, but again, it was very good.

And home we rolled, for our last night in the room.

Here are a couple of views from the area around where we were staying:

This shows the main house. We were just down the path and turn left

Typical Cervenolles countryside

We set off the next day, bright and early, for home – it was a 4 hour drive – stopping only for a coffee at an Aire (rest stop) near this viaduct.

Can you guess who designed it?

We were home in time for a late lunch!

It was a truly delightful holiday. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it!

Day 5: Moods and Misadventures

The first mood was the weather – we had planned to drive to the top of Mount Aigouil, which is the highest point in the area, but the weather wasn’t playing ball. It was grey and rather murky, and as we drove towards the mountain it became clear that we’d see nothing from the top: it was covered in cloud!

We drove a bit aimlessly, trying to decide what to do, but finally settling on visiting Nimes-les-Vieux. This isn’t, as you might imagine, a town, but rather what is sometimes known as a “chaos”; an area where the outcrops of limestone rock have been worn into fantastical shapes by wind and water. The Yorkshire Dales has Malham pavement and Malham Cove; we had the chaos of Nimes-les-Vieux.

On the way we stopped in a small town for lunch. Which is where Misadventure 1 took place: I was walking along the edge of the road, in the gutter, as a pavement café was taking up the pavement, when I took a sidestep to avoid an advancing waiter; my foot found a hole. Twisting and turning, trying to avoid falling onto my knees, I staggered forward, clutching at a planter full of bamboo, and finally plonked myself down on a convenient bench. Unfortunately, as I was wearing my arm brace that day as my arthritis in my wrist was bad, I couldn’t manipulate my hand very well, and so my thumb took the force of my hand grabbing at the bench. I half-ripped my nail off. Concerned people from the café came over and gave me a plaster, as my nail was bleeding quite copiously. I had twisted my foot too, which was beginning to throb.

We quickly found a place to have lunch – I had a slightly disappointing salad, while Mr FD had a delicious pizza – and we discussed what to do. We knew there was a place where you could view vultures nearby, and thought that would be better if I was still in pain. The GPS was programmed and off we went. The GPS told us which way to go and Mr FD ignored it, because “it was wrong.” Of course, it wasn’t wrong, but by the time he admitted this we had gone too far to turn back.

So we reverted to the original plan of Nimes-les-Vieux.

But I wasn’t really in a Very Good Place. Grumpy, ticked off because I’d had a disappointing lunch, in a bit of pain from my foot and sciatica, and unimpressed by the weather, I stumped off along the pathway (4.5 km around the site.) After about 5 minutes Mr FD said “You’re not enjoying this are you?”

“No.”

“Well, go back to the car and wait for me.”

Hmmm. Not much sympathy there then! I didn’t want to just sit in the car for an hour, so I continued. Grumpily. Mr FD strode on ahead. Grumpily.

After another 5 minutes or so, I thought I had to take myself in hand, so I paused, and gave myself a good talking to. And I prayed a bit too. Thinking about the beauty of the place I was in, my health (OK, so I’m not in the best of condition, but I can walk – albeit slowly ), the fact I was with my Dear One…

And then we continued, with my mood a brighter one.

Here are some photos I took – Kezzie sometimes takes photos of clouds and asks her readers to say what they think they look like. So here are two of the rock formations; what do you think they look like?

  

As we walked round the trail, we went through several different landscapes, from rocky, like this

to more grassland, with flowers. We passed lots of these, most with their resident bee/butterfly/both!

At about the 3.5 km mark I was getting tired, and thinking that I wished we’d brought more water with us…when much to my surprise we saw a sign pointing to a Buvette (snack bar) We followed it, and there in a farmyard was a little room selling drinks and local produce! The drinks we had were very welcome!

Soon after we set off again came Misadventure 2. As you’ll have gathered some of the path involved clambering over rocks and finding footholds in places. Well, as I was traversing a fairly narrow gap between two huge boulders, my foot slipped and I got my leg stuck between two rocks. I couldn’t move! With my arm brace on as well, I couldn’t use one arm very successfully either, so for a couple of seconds there was panic and weeping (from me) and exasperated sighs and eye rolling (from Mr FD) With his direction, and help, I finally managed to get out and get to my feet, but not before a French family had come upon us, and had to be persuaded not to call the Pompiers! I was fine – a bit shaken, and only slightly bruised – but felt a bit stupid. Mr FD claims it was through lack of fitness that I couldn’t extricate myself, but it was more arm braces, and back pain through sciatica (and, although exercise could improve the latter, I don’t think the former is anything to do with fitrness levels!)

During our walk we’d experienced all kinds of weather – bright sunshine, driving rain, grey skies and wind. By the time we got back to the car it was fairly clear, with blue skies and sunshine, so we decided to go to the top of Mount Aigouil after all. When we got there (you can drive!) it was blowing a hoolie, and I was feeling tired, so I stayed in the car. Mr FD braved the gales and took some photos of the view

  

We got back to Chez Nous at about 5.00 so had time for a cuppa and a snooze before we went out to dinner. The nearest village, Saint Martial, was tiny: no shops, a church, a blink-and-you’d-miss-it kind of place. But it also has a good restaurant, recommended by several people. So we went there for dinner…It was a delight!

It wasn’t cheap – we had the 30€ menu, with a half bottle of wine – but not too extravagant, we felt, for what we got.

Starter: Tartare de thon, et sablé nois, glace saumon fumé (Tuna tartare, with a hazelnut biscuit and smoked salmon ice cream) Which sounds weird – but it was delicious! There was more to it – with a wasabi cream and wasabi peanuts, plus something else crispy that I don’t know what it was, and little preserved peppers which were sweet…We kept making “yummy noises” as we were eating it!

Main: Coeur de rumsteck, croute d’olives noirs, polenta crémeuse. (heart of a rump steak with a black olive crust, served with creamy polenta) If you don’t like your meat rare then don’t order this! We weren’t asked how we wanted the steak: it came as the Chef thought it should be! Happily for us, rare is not a problem, and it was lovely!

Dessert: This wasn’t written down, so I can’t tell you it in French, but it was basically white chocolate with a frozen cheesecake-y filling and a centre of apricot purée, served on a crunchy biscuit crumb with plum compote. Gorgeous!!!!!

We went to bed feeling very replete!!

Day 4: Bamboozled!

Today we had already decided was to be the day we visited La Bambouseraie going from Saint Jean du Garde by steam train, so we awoke bright and early to catch the 10.30 train. It was a tortuous route that the GPS took us, down roads that were distinctly “intestinal” – steep and tightly hairpin-bended. We arrived in plenty of time, and were able to watch the steam locomotive fill up with water

Of course, this was a popular tourist attraction, but we managed to find a seat in a carriage, with open windows and the opportunity to take lots of photos as the train travelled through the beautiful countryside

 

 

When we arrived at the Bambouseraie the queue of people waiting to pay was huge – the train had, after all, just disgorged most of its passengers – so we paused for a drink and a muffin before jopining the end of the queue. It took about 20 minutes but finally we were in! And it was lovely! Well worth the entrance fee, and the wait! Yes, it was mostly bamboo, ion its different forms, but well presented, beautifully shady and – even though there were lots of visitors – it didn’t feel crowded.

Here are some of my pictures – I’ve left them in “thumbnail format” but click on any to biggify them.

 

And who’s this strange beast, found lurking in the shadows?

It was a wonderful day. Unfortunately the train back was delayed, which made for a long wait, but it couldn’t dampen our enjoyment of the day.

After a couple of false starts, we found a restaurant in Ganges that was just right – it was in an open courtyard, shaded by a huge lime tree, serving food cooked on an open fire. Mr FD chose a huge magret de canard, and I had a gammon steak with honey and gaots’ cheese. It came with baked potatoes and lovely honey glazed green beans. We finished off with Tarte – mine was tarte aux noix (walnuts) and Mr FD had Tarte aux myrtilles (blueberries) Perfick!

We were back to “Chez Nous” by about 9.30. Time for a night cap (I’d taken a little jar of whisky with us!) and a sit, looking up at the stars wheeling above us… A really lovely day!

Day 3: Tourist traps and Prehistoric Villages

We awoke with Mr FD feeling back to normal, so we decided to visit St Guilhem le Désert (St William of the Puddings?), designated one of the most beautiful villages in France. Its abbey is registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in conjuncton with the french section of St James’ Way to Santiago de Compostela in western Spain.

However, as is often the way, it had become a victim of its own success – a tiny Medieval village with narrow streets wasn’t designed to be innundated with thousands of tourists… The roads were jampacked with cars, all parked in precarious places on the side of the road leading into the village. A large car park on the outskirts of the village provided more secure parking and a shuttlebus taking us into the village.

While it was an attractive place, it was full of shops hoping to lure tourists in to spend money – not exactly tourist-tat, as it was mostly quite tasteful, but definitely over priced. It was difficult to take any photos to show the village itself, because of the people (and yes, I know we were “people” too!)

(not my picture!)

So I tried to take photos that aren’t exactly “of” the village, but that give a flavour of what we saw…

 We’d brought a picnic with us, so managed to find a reasonably quiet and shady place to eat, and then continued to explore the village a little more.

Mr FD also took some (better) photos:

 

We then decided to take the shuttle bus out to view the Pont du Diable (Devil’s Bridge) It was constructedby Benedictine monks in the first half of the 11th century, it provided a link between the abbey at Aniane and the Gellone Abbey at Saint Guilhem. Of course stories and legends grew up –

Every night, the Devil destroyed the work carried out by the two abbeys of Aniane and Gellone as the bridge over the Hérault river was being built

Guilhem decided that he must come to an agreement with the Devil. He promised him the soul of the first creature to cross the bridge if the Devil would help him to build an indestructible bridge in that place. The Devil agreed. When the bridge was built, they rewarded him by sending a poor dog with a cooking-pot attached to its tail. Maddened with rage, the Devil tried to destroy the bridge … in vain, of course!

Out of spite, he threw himself into the river at a place known as ‘The Black Abyss’.

The Devil’s Bridge
Looking up the Gorges of the Herault River
We set off for home, but it was still quite early, so when we saw a sign for a “Prehistoric Village” we decided to explore a little. I’m very glad we did. Despite it being a bit of a hike down an uncomfortably stony path, we considered it worth the effort!
The Cambous archeological site is a Bronze Age village about 5000 years old, one of the oldest prehistoric sites in France. In addition to the shape and layout of the houses in two groups (hamlet-A and hamlet-B), the site provided many artefacts, from arrow heads to pottery.It really was fascinating!

This replica Bronze Age house with thatched roof was built from scratch in 1983 to demonstrate the houses that existed on the two parts of the site, with the long ovals of low stone walls. Most of the roof structure was built from local trees, and the pole sizes were based on the hole sizes in the stones of the excavated houses.

The pottery objects inside the reconstructed prehistoric house are copies of artefacts discovered at the site.

A fine example of pre-historic man…

We were very glad we’d come across this site as it was very interesting. Nothing fancy, just us and the remains and a few information plaques in French.

We got home about 6.00 and sat outside with a lemonade, to rehydrate from the day. We then had the meal we’d originally planned for last night: salad, chorizo sausages and aligot, and a chocolate mousse to finish. The room had a little kitchenette corner – just enough to prepare simple meals, with two rings and a microwave. We were worried about cooking smells lingering until bedtime but it was fine!

 

Again, we sat outside in the twilight, reading and listening to music, until the mozzies drove us indoors. Another fairly early night ensued…