A year ago today…

It’s just popped up on my FB page that a year ago today was my last chemo session.

This was the photo I took before I set off to the hospital. Do you know, I think I quite suit a turban! After this, I still had 6 weeks of radiotherapy to get through, but that wasn’t quite so tiring or debilitating. If you would like to read more about my cancer “journey” just click on the “tag link” below labelled “Bastardcancer” That should take you to most of the posts I made during the treatment..

It was a difficult year, last year, but I can say that I am (almost) grateful I had cancer: I learned a lot about myself, I grew closer to God, I made a new friend, and I learned how valuable my other friends are – as well as how much of a rock Mr FD can be, and how much I love him. Unfortunately for him, he is still having to show rock-like qualities, as I am suffering from mood swings and depression, thanks to the hormone therapy, but he’s managing to do it.

I keep in my prayers Charlotte, Ana, Emma, Ross, Susan, G. – all people I’ve met or become closer to through my encounter with breast cancer. And of course, I remember too those who have lost their lives to this bastard disease.

This wasn’t the post I thopught I’d be writing today, but there you go!

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59 years on…

This is a quick post to say I’m back. I had a great time in Liverpool celebrating my mum’s 90th birthday. I got back yesterday evening, and today I’m back at work!

My brother found this photo of the three of us when we were young:

I was probably between 6 months and a year, making Mike about 3 and a half and Judy about 6.

Mike decided it would be a good idea to try to recreate the picture…So we did.

One of those mad ideas you get…

May pictures

Not sure what to blog about, but feeling I should write something, I delve back into my photo archives to see what I can find!

MAY 2010 – I used to do more walks when I had time between or after lessons. Here’s a little garden I found on a walk above Royat. Obviously a beautiful day! I really enjoyed these walks…I wonder why I don’t do so many now. Perhaps I’m too busy!

May 2010 was when I held George for the first time – our lovely cuddly George cat. He went missing almost three years ago, and although we have Jasper now, George is still very sadly missed. He was the most placid of cats, loving nothing more than a cuddle.

 

MAY 2011 – For a few years we had a Fete de Cheval here – it was, rather sadly, mostly a place where knackers came to buy old horses which were then taken to the abbatoir. It changed for a couple of years when our friends, who keep a livery stables and breeding stables took over the organisation, but that was too much work for them, so it stopped happening a few years ago. Here however is one of the animals that wasn’t a horse – there were some llamas one year!

MAY 2012 – The plant seller is out…I always buy my balcony plants from the same guy: he comes to the market in May/June but his plants are always good value and I’ve never had any complaints. The balcony is looking very sad at the moment, so I need to get out there and tidy it up. Because I’m working on Thursday mornings now I may have to ask Friend Cathy to buy my plants for me this year!

MAY 2013 –Here are Mr FD and our friend Louis, on the top of Mont Ventoux, having cycled up. I was the designated official photographer, but due to becoming too interested in the market in Bedouin, I very nearly missed their triumph! I drove up the mountain rather too hastily (there were hundreds of cyclists!) and caught up with the two of them no more than 3 km from the summit! Luckily I managed to get one action shot of them both, as well as this one.

!

MAY 2014 – A card made for my friend’s “Christian birthday” – I think it may have been one of my first “Celtic style” crosses, which are now one of my favourite things to draw.

MAY 2015 – I’m looking a bit blown about! This was taken when we went out for the day on our 30th wedding anniversary. We had a picnic and visited Mont Dore in the Auvergne. It was a lovely day out. I think this was taklen around Puy Marie, but I may be making that up!

MAY 2016 – an appropriate picture for today. Why, you may ask… Well, another blogger, Elizabeth, who used to live in France wrote:

In France we have a delightful custom of presenting our friends with a bunch, or even just a stem, of Lilies of the Valley.
It’s a custom that dates back to 1561, when the then King, Charles 1 received some lilies as a lucky charm. Each year he offered a bunch to the ladies of his court. So the tradition grew, and by 20th Century it was well established.
The flowers are given as a symbol of Spring. I think it is the one and only time that something is allowed to be sold without tax applying. Scouts and Guides will be in our town today, raising a little money by selling these beautifully perfumed flowers.
and mine are blooming in the garden, so I shall go and pick a few for our neighbour.
The photo was of some lily-of-the-valley that we’d been given by Michel across the road. Unfortunately they didn’t take, so we don’t have them any more.
MAY 2017 – One of my students was getting married, so I made him this card – very simply done with an embosser, and lots of little flowers cut out of scrap paper with my flower punch. The pearls were a bargain from Noz – of course!!
MAY 2018 – By now I was half way through my chemo, and had lost all my hair. Here I am in patriotic mode for the wedding of Harry and Meghan. I wouldn’t have bothered normally, but we’d been invited to Richard’s to watch the wedding on TV and to partake of lunch. I made a delicious but nt very attractive mlemon-and-elderflower cake
And May 2019? Well, it’s only 1st May. I’m sure there’ll be photos to share later on in the month…

Sermon this week: The Freedom Road

The theme for this sermon is a phrase that has been resonating with me for a few weeks, and one which Presiding Bishop Michael Curry used in his sermon last week: “The Freedom Road”; Now, this will, of course, conjure up different pictures  for different people, dependent on points of view, on personal stories, on the individual’s life experiences. I like the title because, for me, it echoes Jesus’ statement at the beginning of his mission, that he was bringing freedom to the oppressed, and it reminds me also that Jesus brings us all liberty from the oppression and the binding of sin’s chains in our lives. It also conjures up an image of a road winding into the distance that we all can travel, as pilgrims together, welcoming others as they join us on our journey, with Jesus leading us all onwards. But it also reminds us that Jesus called himself “The Way”. So, not only is Jesus showing us all the Freedom Road, but also, in a sense, he actually is the Freedom Road.

The God pictured in the Old Testament is a dynamic God, active in his people’s lives, moving in mysterious ways for the good of those he loves. He brought the Israelites out of Egypt in a most dramatic way; he provided food and water when they were desperate; he guided and loved them through the most difficult of times. He was there; he was Jehovah, the God who rescued his people Israel.

Nowadays, I feel that there is a lack of this sense of a dynamic God. Because many Christian doctrines are modelled on Greek philosophical patterns of thought God can sometimes appear to be more passive. To many people today their image of God is an old man in a white nightie who sits in the clouds, surrounded by angels strumming harps. He may send the odd disaster now and again, just to remind us all that he’s up there, but he doesn’t actually DO anything constructive, he doesn’t actually care.

But in Jesus, and in all that he does, we find that this is not the case; in Jesus we see what God is really like ~ he takes risks for the love of human beings. He does get involved. Jesus knew that he was unpopular with the powerful religious leaders of the day, but this didn’t stop him riding publicly into Jerusalem. In fact one could say he drew attention to it, for not only did Jesus process into the city, but then he had the audacity to go to the Temple, and cause a disturbance there as well!

The Temple was being mis-used; moneychangers and sellers of animals and birds had set themselves up in the courtyards. This in itself was no bad thing, as the Jews were only making it easier for people to follow the commands of the Law. People were able to buy their perfect sacrifices in the place where the creatures would be sacrificed. But the costs were becoming extortionate, and the fact that Roman coinage had to be changed to the currency of the Temple, often at falsely high rates of exchange, meant that the whole set-up had become a racket for gaining money through cheating the ordinary person. It was that that Jesus was protesting about when he went into the Temple, and turned over the tables of those who were there.

Jesus knew what this would mean. He understood that his actions ~ his triumphal entrance into the city, his provocative cleansing of the Temple ~ he understood that these would bring his enemies out of their bolt-holes. He knew this, and yet he still went ahead, for God is a God of action, of dynamics, who takes risks for the people he loves.

As Jesus came, on his donkey, the crowds yelled their hosannas and waved their palm branches. In a way, I find it hard to see how a crowd who were so pleased to see Jesus on one day were baying for his blood only five days later; but I suppose it is an example of what is often called “Crowd mentality”. Most of the people there were swept along by the emotion of it all, little realising or caring who or what they were shouting for. I have heard of an ardent anti-monarchist who found himself shouting greetings to the Queen when she visited the area ~ just because everyone else was doing it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It is hard not to be swept along by the rush of adrenaline. Sadly I think this is what happens with football violence: it only takes one or two to start and soon many others have joined in, carried along by the excitement, the rush of blood to the head.

So we have a crowd, some of whom believe Jesus is the Messiah from God, come to rid the country of the occupying Romans, others shouting for the man who healed them, or brought peace to their hearts, and yet more simply having a good day out in the sunshine. They may never have met Jesus face to face, and so may have little or no opinion about him, but others have met him, and meeting Jesus always brings a response.

For some the response would be hatred, for he was upsetting their comfy little lives.

To the Roman occupiers he was another of the tiresome Jews who called themselves Messiah. It may be hard for us to believe, but during Jesus’ time there were many people who thought they were the Messiah; they had followers too, and they were nearly always executed by the Romans. To the occupying forces Jesus was simply another of these. But maybe there was something more to Jesus ~ maybe the others hadn’t had such a great following, maybe the others hadn’t healed. Whatever it was, to the Romans Jesus was a symbol of all they disliked, such as the Jews desire for freedom from oppression, and the Romans wanted to get rid of him.

Jesus was upsetting the lives of the religious leaders of the time. He was reinterpreting the scriptures, and the Law; he was speaking to God with an unsuitably intimate turn of phrase; he referred to the religious leaders as whited sepulchres; but worst of all, he committed blasphemy by calling God “Father”, and by implying, if not actually stating, that he was God also. This man needed to be got rid of… and fast!

But it wasn’t just the high-up people in charge that, when meeting Jesus face-to-face, reacted with hate. Ordinary people too could well have felt this way. Imagine how you would feel if you were there in the Temple courts, going about your daily, legitimate business, when this jumped-up nobody from the country town of Nazareth appears, and calls you a thief and a cheat. Many would be disgruntled, upset, and could have reacted to Jesus with hate.

People were being shaken out of their familiar lives ~ and many didn’t like it.

But coming face-to-face with Jesus could also elicit great love and commitment; people were liberated from the constraints that had held them for so long and reacted with gratitude and love.

There was blind Bartimaus, who Jesus met just previously to his entry into Jerusalem. In healing him, Jesus took away his livelihood; admittedly begging was a precarious way of making a living, but at least it was a familiar thing. When he was healed Bartimaus would have to find a job, would have other responsibilities which his blindness had exempted him from. He too was shaken from his familiar routine, but met Jesus with love, and, when told by Jesus to “Go your way”, Bartimaus went the only way that he could: he followed Jesus, he trod the way of the man who had set him free.

Maybe even in the temple precincts, there were those who faced Jesus with love, who were freed to follow their hearts. I don’t know how many of you know Dennis Potter’s play “Son of Man”, but there was a part in it that I really like. Who knows if it really happened? I like to think that it did. Jesus strides into the Temple, and turns over the table of one of the moneychangers, who reacts with anger and dismay; he then turns towards another moneychanger, who stands behind the table, and, with a small gesture of acceptance, the man takes hold of his own table and throws it to the ground.

“Are you with me?” Jesus asks.

“Yes, I am with you,” comes the reply, “Always I have longed to do what I have just done.”

He had been held fast by his job, knowing it wasn’t right, but unable to break free. Then Jesus enabled him to do what he had always longed to do, to travel the Freedom road.

Jesus offered this road to all. As he rode into Jerusalem he showed himself unafraid of ~ or, at least, willing to face ~ all the hatred that this would stir up. He was willing to take risks for those he loved, even if their response was to turn their backs and to repay him with hatred and death.

And what of today? What does this mean to us, here in Clermont Ferrand? We too have been offered freedom by Jesus, and we have had the choice. Many of us here have made that choice, and our response was that of the moneychanger in Dennis Potter’s play. We turned over our old lives to follow our Lord. He gave us sight to see where we had failed him, and we took the chance to begin our journey on the Freedom Road.

When Bartimaus followed Jesus into Jerusalem he was lining himself up on the side of the unpopular one. But despite this, he was willing to take the chance. He trusted the man who had brought him liberation from the chains of blindness and poverty of life. This is what we must do also.

Jesus asks us to follow him in his Way, and although, as it was to Bartimaus, that way might be strange to us, we must trust in our Lord to lead us in the steps of the dance he wants us to dance. It is scary sometimes, it is joyful, it is sorrowful; at times it is hard, and we stumble over unfamiliar steps, but at other times our feet seem to fly and our spirits are at one with God.  In Jim Cotter’s book “Prayer in the Morning” there is a line which never fails to lift my heart whenever I read it: “Spirit of the Living God, open my whole being that I may dance your life this day”.

When we are open to the Living God, the dynamic God who was embodied in Jesus, then we can only dance our way along the Freedom Road.

Jesus showed us how far God was ready to move for those he loved; he was ready to die for them, for us. In riding into Jerusalem, Jesus came face-to-face with many people who reacted in different ways: some with hatred, and some with love, and others just went along for the fun of it, they were, in a way, indifferent. It is still the same today; there are those violently opposed to Christ’s message, and who hate him, there are those who love him and follow him, and there are those who are indifferent… but as those indifferent people in Jerusalem were influenced to shout Hosanna! by the disciples as they shouted for their Lord and Master, then maybe in the same way, we might also persuade people to join us on the Freedom Road through our liberated and liberating dance, led along the Way by our Lord, the Living God, the Loving God, the Way of Life himself.

 

40ACTS2019::4::CASH STASH

TODAY’s ACT: CASH STASH

PROMPT: Generosity should cost us. Often our imaginations fail us when it comes to finding ways to be generous at a cost to ourselves. So today, we’re getting our resources ready to move into truly sacrificial generosity – that generosity that’s terrifying, wildly fun, and, if we’re ready to let it be, transformative.

LINK: HERE

ACTS:

Green: Make a pot of money – a Giving Account, or a literal pot of cash – for you to use only on generosity.

Amber: Decide to give a weekly chunk of cash into that pot. Even if it’s only a couple of pennies.

Red: Decide to give an amount of money, into that pot. Get specific: redirect money you would spend on every Tuesday’s coffee, for example

***

OK, so things are starting to get a little more uncomfortable now…”Generosity should cost us”… I’m OK with generosity when it’s only a little here or there, but I start getting twitchy when I hear words like that. And yet, and yet…This vulnerability, this “costing” is something I’m struggling to write a sermon about for next Sunday (not tomorrow, I hasten to add!) It requires great courage to make oneself vulnerable, and I’m not sure I have that courage! I’m still guarding what I have, and saying to God “You can have this…and this… but not this…”

It reminds me of when I played Cain in one of the many versions of the Mysteries that we performed over our 18 years in Milton Keynes. There’s always been a question for me as to why God rejected the offering of Cain, yet accepted that of Abel. I suspect it was something to do with the attitude in which the offerings were made. In the play it was rather neatly shown with Abel freely offering up the best of his produce to God, where Cain was divvying his up, giving the thin sheaves to God, and keeping the thick ones for himself. “One for you, and one for me,” he said. Then “One for you and two for me…” (See below…)

I fear I’m a little like Cain: while I’m not quite sorting the good and bad things, and offering the less attractive to God, I do rather tend to hang onto things, rather than freely offering to God. I don’t tend to “give until it hurts”; I don’t even “give until you notice”. I give a bit. Having carefully considered whether I can afford to. (I am generally talking about money here.)

My pledge for Church is one of these: I have considered what I can give without noticing. And I give that.  I do feel though, that as Mr FD isn’t a church goer it is unfair of me to take too much from the monthly incomings to support something he has no interest in. (Two for me…)

So, to today’s Act. How am I going to put it into practice?

One of my students pays me by cash each month. I usually take my monthly pledge for Church out of this before banking the rest. So, what I will do is keep back another 5€ a month. This will then be donated to either Phone Credit for Refugees or to Lend With Care I love Lend with Care, because once you have given £15 to a micro entrepreneur, they pay it back to you. You can, of course, take your money back, but equally you can let it accrue and when £15 has been paid back to you, you can finance another micro-entrepreneur! So, for the initial outlay, you can just continue to help people over and over! And PC4R is just such a wonderful example of how one man was moved by the plight of others to actually get up and do something!

It’s not giving till it hurts. But at least it’s giving…

With a little exploration of t’internet, I come across a site dedicated to that very version of the Mysteries!

Here’s a photo of me  playing one of the gossips in the Noah scene, who mock Noah and his wife, but end up getting washed away by the flood. I’m the big tall one.

And, even better, here I am as Cain, being “marked” by Death.

CAIN: One sheaf, one; and this makes two!

Neither can I spare for you.

Ah, here! Another making three,

Yet also, this shall stay with me.

For I will choose these three to keep,

He shall not have the best I reap.

(Selecting a very poor sheaf)

Ah, take this one, Lord, as your due

For this is all I give to you!

ABEL: Cain, be advised and tithe aright.

Fear you not God in all his might?

CAIN: My tithing need not lose you sleep,

Be off and tend your scabby sheep.

For if you would meddle more with me

Then it will be the worse for ye.

Four, five, six; and seven –

Oh, go not these to God in heaven!

Seven … seven. Now this is eight…

ABEL: Cain, brother, beware God’s hate!

 

UPDATE ON YESTERDAY‘S ACT: I went to Carrefour in our village to buy myself coffee, as I’d forgotten to put it on the shopping list, and there was someone collecting for Restos du Coeur. As I knew I would be unable to help at the collection today (and was feeling a bit guilty about it!) I bought quite a lot of items for his trolley. Sanitary protection wasn’t on the list of products needed that I was given, but I bought some packets to give to Sheryl at church next week. She helps out at the RdC distribution centre, so knows where to put them so they’ll be used. Happy I was able to do my bit!!

Saying “goodbye” to the dragonfly.

You may remember I have written about our friends Monique & Michel.

Sadly Michel died on Wednesday, having had a stroke on Sunday morning. It was his funeral today – nothing religious, just a ceremony at the cemetary when family and friends read poems, and spoke about their beloved Michel. Some of his favourite music was played, including “Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh, and “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. He was in a plain pine coffin, and before it was laid in the family tomb, we were invited to go up and write a message on the coffin.

Quietly people queued; there were many people there, testament to his popularity in the village – kind, gregarious, funny, lively…he was all these things.  People had drawn hearts, or written “Thank You”, “We love you”, “Goodbye”, there was even a “Bon Voyage”! When it was our turn, I drew a dragonfly.

Why a dragonfly?

Well, typical of Michel’s funloving nature, he belonged to a group of “majorettes” called “Les Libellules” (the Dragonflies) – all gentlemen! – who performed (usually slightly inebriated!) at various events.

I found it moving that the rest of the troupe formed a “guard of honour” with their red hats and majorette batons at the entrance to the cemetary, and Michel’s own red hat was placed on the top of the coffin, surrounded by red and white flowers.

He shall be missed.

 

You can shed tears that they’ve gone, or you can smile that they have lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that they’ll come back, or you can open your eyes and see the memories that they have left you.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see them, or your heart can be full with the love  and fun that you’ve shared.

You can turn your back on life yesterday and on life tomorrow, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember them and only that they’ve gone, or you can cherish their memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back, or you can do what they’d want: smile, open your eyes love and go on.

 

Meet the Cats: Senior Director

Our Senior Cat is Pomme.

We got Pomme about a month after our move to France. At the time, Mr FD was working 1 week in London, one week in France, and so he didn’t help to choose Pomme. I chose two cats that day, Pomme (named by the refuge)  and an older cat Biscuit (a tri-colour cat named Arc-en-Ciel – Rainbow – by the refuge, but changed to Biscuit by me)

Sadly, Biscuit didn’t last long. She came to us on 9th October and by 19th October she had died. This, I am still convinced, was partly, at least, due to the incompetence of the vet here in the village. I’m sure he is a good big farm animal vet, but not a small-animal vet. I know two other people who believe he was responsible for the death of their pets too. I think Biscuit had some kind of virus before she came, but still…

I kept a journal through my first months here and the day I got the two cats I wrote: “Went to Roanne on Saturday and got 2 cats. I’m not sure I made the right decision though, as one is completely AWOL – though very sweet – and I’m pretty sure the other is diabetic! She’s drinking a lot and not eating. What a to-do! Biscuit (diabetic?) is very similar to Manda’s colouring (our old cat in the UK) but has a sweeter face than Manda’s. She is 8 & had been in the refuge 3 years. I think her likeness to Manda swayed me. The other, Pomme, is younger and is very lively. She stole my heart by jumping onto my shoulders and draping herself.

It started well, but there are moments of despair in other journal entries: “Her one mission in life is to Get Into The Kitchen because that’s where Food is. It’s a nightmare keeping her out”…”Pomme was mad tonight and broke my Mysteries of MK plate. I yelled and yelled and wept and wept and threw a book at her” …”

After Biscuit died I went back to the Refuge and complained they’d sold me faulty goods (!!) That sounds mean, but it isn’t cheap adopting a cat, and to have it die 10 days after you get it home is a bit much! So they relented (very begrudgingly) and let me choose another. Mr FD was with me, and he chose Pumpkin.

I only have two photos of lovely Pumpkin. She was mad as a box of frogs, and while Pomme and Pumpkin seem to be friends in this photo, that didn’t come easily. As the journal shows: “Pumpkin is 5 months old. Black and white and so sweet & lovely. Pomme doesn’t let her be, so Pumpkin is shut up for most of the day. She also doesn’t use her litter tray, so the dressing room (which is now my study) has a particular odour of its own now – and it isn’t very pleasant!”…”A big fight on Monday which I didn’t know about until I came across gobs of spittle and two wary cats”…”Took Pumpkin to the vets in Noiretable; he diagnosed a digestive disorder. Pumpkin does NOT like the vet. As he injected her she took off like a jet propelled ball of fur, just missing my eye and with the needle from the syringe still stuck in her neck. ‘My, what a little character’ he said, through gritted teeth.”…”Cats managed a peaceful hour before Pomme went for Pumpkin last night”…”When Pomme does attack Pumpkin Pumpkin tends to lose control of her bowels so we have shit sprayed everywhere as well as fur”…

For a couple of months I kept either Pomme or Pumpkin in a big cage while the other cat had free run of the living room during the evening. This helped acclimatise them to eah other, the last entry in the journal (I gave up after 4 months) reads “Cats still not meeting except by accident, when Pomme goes in for the kill, or so it seems. Pumpkin doesn’t seem very fazed by these meetings though…”

They must have become accustomed to each other, however, as the first photo shows. Mr FD has just come & reminded me that they got used to each other when we went to the UK, and put them both in a cattery. They were in adjoining cages/pens, so, one imagines, they made friends through the netting. Unfortunately, Pumpkin wasn’t with us for long. She died in 2009, about 3.5 years after we got her. On one of my first blog posts I wrote:

September 15th 2009 “Goodnight Sweet Cat…”…and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

We’ve said Goodbye to Pumpkin, and she’s set off on her Very Big Adventure. We took her to the NiceVet who said that her temperature wasn’t good, her breathing had worsened, and, to be honest, we could see that she was weary of it all. NiceVet was very gentle, giving her an injection so she went to sleep – the first proper sleep she’d had for days – and we could caress her and love her. Then he stopped her heart. We left her curled on his table – we don’t want to bury her, or have her ashes. We want to remember her as she was. We have a saying in the Dormouse family: “as mad as a box of frogs”. We shall change it in her honour: “As mad as a box of Pumpkins”

For a while Pomme was the one-and-only, but about 6 months later we were ready to have a new cat, and our friends cat was pregnant. I’ll tell you about those cats later – but I can promise you that Pomme did not accept the kittens very well either!

But, look, I can be so appealing!

Food, please. NOW!

Planning a shoulder launch…

Now Pomme is getting on in years, and isn’t in the best of health, but, as I have recently said, the medication is giving her a new lease of life. Here are some of her mischievous moments:

Well, I thought everyone had finished eating the bread! (Yes, this really is our bread basket she’s settled into!)

A box! A box!!

A bag! A bag!!

She is a dear cat, although she does have her little foibles which can be less than appealing. She’s a total diva where Jasper is concerned, and makes a heck of a lot of noise if he comes anywhere near. And giving her her medication is a nightmare – although my journal has offered me a possible solution:”Pomme has some tablets to take, which, when ground down into fish soup, she wolfs down…” (EDITED TO ADD: We tried the tablet in the fish soup trick. She sniffed it distainfully, sneered and got off her perch. That didn’t work then!)

But when she curls up next to you, or on your lap, purring like an engine, it’s hard not to love her!

.

We hope she’ll be with us for many years to come!