Good times in Strasbourg

I had a lovely few days in Strasbourg, with my friend Jane.

The journey there was a little fraught – although as I didn’t have any connections to make I wasn’t too anxious. We were on the last leg of the journey, about 20 minutes outside Strasbourg, when the train ground to a halt. After about 5 minutes the guard announced that we had hit a deer, and so had to wait for clearance to restart. Also, one assumes, for someone to clear up the debris. We were held up for about 30 minutes, during which time I texted Jane, to keep her up to date with what was happening. Finally we started off again, only to come to another abrupt halt about 10 minutes outside Strasbourg. This time, the guard told us with a weary sigh, there were children playing on the line, and a pram abandoned in our path. I suspect it was more likely to be yoofs dropping things onto the track from a bridge, but I don’t know for sure. That clear up took another 45 minutes or so – we arrived in Strasbourg about 90 minutes late. Jane had come from the flat to meet me, so we were able to have something to eat near the station, before taking a taxi back.

The first (but not the last!) mulled wine!

On Sunday we had planned to go to church, but ended up not going! We woke late and had a leisurely breakfast instead. Then we went to explore the Christmas markets… There were, after all, eleven to explore! Initially we were a little disappointed. They were either a bit too Chinese imported tat, or what was a small number of wooden chalets had been bigged up to be a “Christmas Market” However, as our time went by, we found ourselves being a little more forgiving; some weren’t much to write home about though. The “Off” market was supposed to be edgy and alternative, but was just a bit boring and unfestive. There were four or five containers with a couple of interesting stalls, plus some igloo type structures with some bits and bobs, but nothing terribly out there.

Still, while there were rather too many stalls selling Vin Chaud and baguettes with cheese and ham, we had a lovely time!

By sheer coincidence we were in the Place Kléber when the huge tree lit up – very festive! Especially when watched clutching a Vin Chaud!The market here was a little disappointing too – this was supposed to be the “ethical” market. The description told us that “Some one hundred support, charity and humanitarian associations invite you to come and meet them, discuss what drives them and share their solidarity actions at the Village of Sharing in Place Kléber, from 23 November to 24 December” What it doesn’t say is that these 100 or so associations were sharing approximately 10 chalets on a rolling programme, so there were only 10 different groups at any one time – most of them selling Vin Chaud! We did buy some “Humanitarian soup” (parsnip with ginger and lemongrass) which was good,and Facebook had a stand where they were showing their human face: encouraging us to make a donation to a charitable cause through FB, they were offering a free Christmas sweatshirt for every donation made. Well, as I needed a Christmas jumper for our works Christmas party, but was refusing to buy one, this seemed like an ideal opportunity! I wanted to support Phone Cedit for Refugees, but they don’t have a FB page, so instead I gave a donation to Restos du Coeur, and received a Christmas sweatshirt,a bag, a FB pin, a pair of gloves and a handwarmer!

Some of the decorations were amazing, and the stalls were beautifully decked out too

Our favourite market was in the Place Broglie, which is where we made many of our purchases. It was here we also met Denis, the treasurer of the Convocation of the Episcopal Church in Europe, who lives in Strasbourg. He had offered to take us to taste the “best gluhwein in the markets” so (naturally!) we took him up on the offer. The Vin Chaud was at the stall Chez Mathilde and was, apparently, an old family recipe. It was delicious – the spices used included cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and cardomom. Then Denis took us on a whirlwind tour of the markets (showing us one we’d missed) and ended up buying us a beer in an old fashioned beer kellar/pub type place. We let him go home after thyat (it was raining hard by then) and we wandered around the market a bit longer before heading home ourselves. My back had been playing up both Sunday and Monday,  generally being painful, but also occasionally going into spasm, so I was happy to take the tram home!

Random twinkly lights

We also did some sightseeing, but I’ll tell you aboutthat another time.

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Pages of the Sea 1918-2018

I know I’ve already posted one Remembrance Day post but I thought that there might be overseas readers – and some UK readers too – who might be interested to read more about one particular act of rememebrance taking place today – or rather series of acts of remembrance.

The film director Danny Boyle has created a series of events around Britain called “Pages of the Sea”. On 32 beaches, in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, images of 32 ordinary, and not-so-ordinary, people who were casualties of the First World War will be drawn onto the sand, and then the tide will wash these images away.

Boyle says: “Beaches are truly public spaces, where nobody rules other than the tide. They seem the perfect place to gather and say a final goodbye and thank you to those whose lives were taken or forever changed by the First World War. I’m inviting people to watch as the faces of the fallen are etched in the sand, and for communities to come together to remember the sacrifices that were made.”

This will be a unique moment to say goodbye and thank you, together, to the millions of men and women who left their shores during the war, many never to return.

For example,this is Driver Stephen Hewitt (25 October 1878 – 30 August 1916) to be commemmorated at Brancaster beach, Norfolk.

Stephen Hewitt was born in Halvergate, Norfolk, to Christina Elizabeth Tower Harper and Isaac Christmas Hewitt. In 1899, aged 20, he married Louisa Caroline Catt.By 1916, Hewitt had joined the Royal Field Artillery as a driver, trained in the management and use of horses. He served in the Salonika campaign as part of a multinational force in the Balkans fighting the Bulgarians and their allies. In the spring of that year, British and other troops advanced from the Greek port of the same name, despite facing the region’s harsh climate and being struck down by diseases such as malaria and dysentery. Another hazard in the hills were these men fought were packs of wolves. Stephen was out riding when he was attacked by such beasts, dying from his wounds

Among the other people to be remembered are

John Basil Armitage, Cheshire Regiment, Age: 41 Date of Death: 17/05/1917 (Formby Beach, near Liverpool)

Kulbir Thapa, 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles Date of Death: 03/10/1956 (Lyme Regis beach)

Richard Davies  Date of Death: 25/03/1917) (Ynyslas beach, Ceredigion)

Dorothy Mary Watson Date of Death: 31/07/1917 (Swansea beach)

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, M.c. Manchester Regiment Date of Death: 04/11/1918 (Folkestone beach) – perhaps one of the “less ordinary” people to be commemmorated, Wilfred Owen wrote some of the most powerful, moving and angry poetry of WW1.

You can find out about all the people to be remembered at the website of Pages of the Sea If you click on each beach, you will find out who is being rememberted, and more about their details. I just picked a few at random.

I think this is a beautifully fleeting way to remember these, and all those others, who have given their lives throughout the ages. Whatever one’s view on war, I still think a pause for thought, for remembrance, for a determination that we will do our part to bring peace to our corner of the world, is never a bad thing.

And Carol Anne Duffy, our Poet Laureate has written a poem full of pity, and anger, and compassion, as powerful as those of the war poets:

The Wound in Time

It is the wound in Time. The century’s tides,
chanting their bitter psalms, cannot heal it.
Not the war to end all wars; death’s birthing place;
the earth nursing its ticking metal eggs, hatching
new carnage. But how could you know, brave
as belief as you boarded the boats, singing?
The end of God in the poisonous, shrapneled air.
Poetry gargling its own blood. We sense it was love
you gave your world for; the town squares silent,
awaiting their cenotaphs. What happened next?
War. And after that? War. And now? War. War.
History might as well be water, chastising this shore;
for we learn nothing from your endless sacrifice.
Your faces drowning in the pages of the sea.

Carol Ann Duffy, 2018

 Edited to add a link to a You Tube video about the event:

What I ate in Waterloo

Kezzie said she likes food posts so I thought I’d tell you what I ate in Waterloo. (ETA, it’s turned into What I did in Waterloo, rather than just food. But that’s OK)

Nick & Pippa met me in Ikea car park – I had had lunch with Friends Cathy & Richard, enjoying the infamous Ikea meatballs, followed by their Dime cake

 
Then we drove from Clermont Ferrand to Waterloo – thankfully, all I had to do was sit in the back of the car, as it was a long journey, taking us about 10 hours. We stopped briefly for a coffee, and then for a sandwich, but nothing terribly exciting, food-wise. We finally arrived at the hotel at about 11.15 pm and fell into bed.

It was a great selection at breakfast – different bread and cakes, fruit, fruit salad, hot things (sausages, scrambled egg, baked beans), boiled eggs, meat and cheese, belgian waffles to make, a selection of honey, jam and other spreads. I had an egg, some bread and cheese spread and a bowl of fruit salad. Plus juice and coffee of course!

Nick drove us to All Saints’ Church, where the convention was taking place, and we registered, collecting the goody bags (not terribly goody-filled, but we weren’t there for the booty!) and hung around aimlessly for a while. We also chose the restaurant we wanted to go to that evening – a choice between an Italian, a brasserie, an Indian and a Thai restaurant. Feeling a bit shy, I decided to stick with Nick & Pippa, who chose the Thai.

Then we headed across the road to the big Carrefour for a coffee and a cross between a pain au raisin and a Danish Pastry. Eating healthily, hey, Fat Dormouse? I bought a wrap and a cereal bar, as I wasn’t sure whether I’d get peckish mid afternoon, and we went back to the church.

Convention started with various matters of business. The chicken-and-bacon wrap was consumed at about 16h, during the coffee break. Eucharist followed, and then we went back to the hotel to get changed, and to meet up to go to the restaurant. It was about a 15 minute walk from the hotel.

I can’t remember the name of what I had, but it was very delicious, involving duck and red curry sauce. I was the only person who wrote down what they had ordered, so I got my meal with no confusion at all. Others were unsure what they’d ordered and so who knows if they received the correct meals?! “Was mine with minced chicken?” “I think mine was green curry?” etc etc.  Nick, Pippa & I left quite early as we were still very tired.

Friday was a big day, as this was the day we started the ballots for our new Bishop-in-Charge…I chose the same breakfast (plus a pain au chocolat) and Nick drove us up to the church. We’d decided to miss Morning Prayer, just to give ourselves plenty of recuperation time. Pippa, as a non voting spouse, took the option of going on the Battlefield tour (which she said was interesting but exhausting) but Nick & I were fully involved. The ballots were interspersed with other business, reports and so forth, so it was an interesting and informative morning. About 30 minutes after each vote had been cast, Felicity, one of the tellers (vote counters) from All Saints, would come silently into the room and hand a folded piece of paper to the Bishop, who would then wait for a break in the proceedings to announce the results. My preferred candidate, and another, dropped out after the first two ballots – I think it’s a shame, as I suspect Steven’s votes would have grown during the following “battle”, but there you go…

Lunch was provided by the Church catering team – delicious soups (choice of four – pumpkin, carrot and lentil, tomato with meatballs, tomato. I had the pumpkin and it was yummy.), with various quiches and salads – and deep, intense conversations were carried out as we compared our thoughts on the two remaining candidates. Interestingly, while the votes were close, it was clear that the majority of the clergy preferred one candidate and the majority of the laity preferred the other.

The afternoon session opened with prayer, and then further ballots, and other business. Still neither candidate was receiving a majority in both the clergy and laity vote, so there was some discussion regarding how this might be resolved…The Bishop finally said he would take advice overnight, but not to worry, as these things could go to more than 10 ballots and we had to simply pray,and to be open, and to trust that the Holy Spirit would guide us . The session closed, and we headed back to the hotel to rest, to opnder and to get changed for the Bishop’s Banquet.

This time of rest gave me an occasion to consider. With my preferred candidate out of the running, I’d actually been dithering between the two remaining: which should I choose? I’d heard people’s views, and had been flip-flopping between the two candadates, half thinking I shouldn’t keep changing my mind. But Paul Gordon could offer this….But Mark can help us do that….In my deliberations, one of them was winning on the “Taking the Convocation Forward” front, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that, despite seeming less exciting, one was more “right” than the other. Finally, as I thought about the two of them (both great candidates) I had a sense of peace about the one I’d voted for last. Don’t worry if he doesn’t seem quite “right”, the Spirit seemed to say, “Trust me.” So I did. I voted for this candidate in the rest of the ballots.

Feeling at peace, I had a short snooze and then got changed for the Bishop’s Banquet (Dress: elegant) It was in a rather nice function room/restaurant, about a 20 minutes coach ride away. We had some glasses of fizzies before the meal, and then several little amuses bouches– roast beef on horse radish cream, salmon on avocado, gazpacho etc. – while a talented acapella group sang various folk songs. After there was a choice of seafood, Thai or “Mediterranean” cooking. I’m always slightly dubious about shellfish and so on, and I’d had Thai food the night before,  so I went for the mediterranean – moussaka, and various cold vegetable dishes. Enjoyable, but nothing special.

The Bishop gave his speech, and gave out awards – always a bit emotional – to those who had done particularly good work through the year. Followed by dessert (several delicious cakes to choose from – I went for raspberry) and coffee, we headed home in the coaches at about 23h.

It seemed important to go to Morning Prayer on Saturday, so we had a quicker breakfast than the past couple of days, and headed to church. The service was led by Revd Katie Osweiler, the curate at the church. She had just had some terrible news that a friend and neighbour back in the US had been killed outside his house. She was trying to process the news as well as lead us in worship, so, as you can imagine, it was an emotional service.

The spouses went off for a day in Brussels, while we then headed into the next round of ballots, which was still a stalemate. So Bishop Pierre suggested we took a long coffee break and spoke to as many people as we could, outlining what we saw as the good points of both candidates. We were not trying to convince people of our view, but rather trying to discern which we felt was the right person; I was happy to stick with what I felt I was being led to do. So after coffee break we went in to the next ballot (N° 7) – result: another stale mate, with the laity majority for one, and the clergy majority for another, but with a significant movement in the clergy vote.

Time for lunch – again, prepared by the Church hospitality team, we had tacos and tortillas with all the trimmings. Over lunch much discussion ensued, but also time for some relaxation. Nick went outside “to watch the cars go past”, I hadn’t had much time to eat as I had to help Richard, the secretary, prepare a paper for the afternoon session.I would have liked to have gone back for more lunch, but didn’t have time!!

We had the next ballot, and Denis our Treasurer gave his report…I always find budgets very difficult to get my head round, but other people asked insightful questions and the time passed relatively quickly. When all the tellers trooped back into the room, instead of just Felicity, we knew that a result had been reached. Mark Edington had been elected. The press release read thus:

The Rev. Mark D.W. Edington of the Diocese of Massachusetts has been elected the next Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. He was elected on the eighth ballot on October 20, 2018. The election took place during the annual Convention of the Convocation in All Saints Church in Waterloo Belgium. 

Our Profound Thanks

The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe expresses its profound thanks to The Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, The Rev. Steven Paulikas, and The Very Rev. Dr. Benjamin Shambaugh for offering themselves as nominees in this Bishop election process as we discerned the direction and future of the Convocation. We thank their families, and their parish and ministry families for their support and prayers during this process. We ask God’s richest blessings on their continuing work in the Lord’s vineyard.

It was rather difficult to concentrate after that, especially as the Bishop was the one who phoned Mark – and had him on speakerphone held next to the microphone so we could hear his reaction. Which was measured, and considered, and humble. A murmur of appreciation ran round the room on hearing it. One of the priests who had been voting for Paul Gordon, rather than Mark, gave a brief speech, emphasising that while he, and others who were disappointed, were 100% behind Mark they still needed time to deal with their feelings and please could people be sensitive to the fact that there were people in the room who were not in an ebullient mood. Which, I’d like to think, everyone was.

Business continued, while others more techie than I set up a Skype call with Mark (who, by this time, had been awake over in the US, for more than 36 hours, waiting for the results – as after every ballot the candidates had been phoned with the results) Here he is addressing the Convention

Finally, the end of a long day was reached. Although there was Evening Prayer planned, several of us felt too tired to attend, so we went back to the hotel. I dozed for a while, but then felt really rather hungry (having missed out on seconds at lunch time) So I took my drawing materials, went to the bar and had a beer and a packet of crisps and some complementary peanuts; I sat in a quiet corner for an hour zentangling and thinking and decontracting.

Nick drove us back to All Saints where a caterer and the Hospitality team, had prepared another excellent meal…I ended up sitting on a table with people I didn’t know very well, but by now it was OK. I felt much more at ease than at the beginning of the Convention. We started with “fish three ways” – a mackerel paté, a tomato stuffed with tiny shrimps, and a piece of salmon in sauce – which was lovely. Then there was a choice of pork in a Kriek beer sauce (cherry) or Chicken Waterzooi (a rich stew and soup of chicken or fish, vegetables, cream and eggs). I’m afraid I had a helping of both; I think I preferred the pork, but it was a close run thing. Vegetarian options were available. Dessert was a choice of more delicious cakes – again, I chose a raspberry/vanilla concoction.

Then we were led upstairs, where Felicity had set up a slide show of some of the creative arts that had taken place throughout the Convocation, and announced the creation of the  Whalon Fund for the Creative Arts – our “gift” to Pierre, our outgoing Bishop. Pierre was very touched.

Soon after, Nick, Pippa and I headed back to the hotel, although I believe dancing went on well into the night. I met Caireen, our rector’s wife, at the bar and we decided to have a quiet, relaxing nightcap…Sadly, because of an upset person (I can’t say more) it turned into a less-than-relaxing counselling session, but I hope that we were able to do some good. I got to bed at about half past midnight!

On Sunday it was the closing Eucharist, but before church I wanted to buy some flowers for the person who had been very upset the evening before. I’d already noticed a florists not too far from the hotel, on our travels up and down the road to the church, so I checked what time it opened and scooted out to get them. I was able to buy a sweet little bouquet which could be popped into a little carrier bag that I had, so as not to be obvious. I think the recipient was grateful.

The Eucharist was an emotional, triumphant, delightful affair which touched me a great deal. Lunch was again provided afterwards, and then we dispersed for our various destinations all over Europe.

My journey home was not, however, as relaxing as I had hoped. But, as this has already gone on far too long, I’ll tell you about that another time!

Meeting the Candidates.

What an interesting time I had in Paris on Thursday & Friday!

I went up on the train, and arrived at Paris-Bercy at two o’clock; making my way to the Metro station Alma Marceau I remembered the giggles that Nick and I had when we were in Paris for the Convention a few years back. There is an announcer for all the metro stations for those who have sight problems, and on Line 9 (I think) he has an outrrrrrrrrrrrrrrageous French accent – which one would expect in France, but it is more so! – Nick and I found the pronunciation of the stations on this line incredibly funny, especially when he announced the station “Miromesnil”. The other thing that made us laugh (very childish) was that as we arrived one or t’other of us would say “If I ever have a llama I’m going to call it Marceau”**

When I arrived at the American cathedral, the Junior Guild ladies were setting up for the reception before the “Town Hall” – Q&A session – at 6 pm. So I helped them layout cakes and biscuits, teacups and saucers, until it was time, and people started arriving. I’m not very good in situations like this, but I managed to “work the room” and to give each candidate the card I’d made or them. Last week I had written a verse on each one, that I somehow thought had been “given” specially for each candidate. I might be imagining this, and it was completely random, but I believe God led me to each specific verse for each particular candidate. During this time, each candidate made a personal video – we decided to do it this way, rather than asking them to bring one along, to give a level playing field: each one having someone to film it, each person being in the same room, etc so that the techno-whizzy candidates wouldn’t hold an advantage over those who are less computer savvy. You can view them here if you wish to.

Then there was the Q&A session, which was videoed so that anyone from the parishes who couldn’t make it to the live sessions (or anyone else for that matter!) can view them. This was interesting too, as we saw how each candidate answered each question – they had had the questions in advance and so had been able to prepare an answer, maybe giving the opportunity to get across their “buzz points”. But the “questions from the floor” was even more revealing – these were questions that the candidates had no warning of, and not every one got asked the same question. Here I felt certain people fared better than others, with one candidate giving what I felt was a poor answer to a question about child abuse – although it’s important to take into account this was at the end of a long and exhausting day, with the question being answered on the hoof. After further consideration perhaps a fuller, more rounded answer would have been given. If you go to this link you can see a further link to the videos taken of the sessions.

After 2 hours of questions, there was then the reception in the Deanery of the cathedral. Here it was voting delegates, transition committee, priests of the convocation – and, for the poor candidates, more close up questioning! There was, however, wine and really delicious snacks to help (or hinder!) . I got the chance to speak to the spouses a bit more, although I didn’t speak to all the candidates again.

Then I left to stay at someone’s apartment overnight. The candidates were being whisked off to Munich on Friday, for their Q&A session on Saturday, then on to Rome for Q&A on Sunday! What a whirlwind tour! With each city comes a visit to other work being done in the Convocation, such as the work being done with refugees at the Joel Narfuma Refugee Centre in Rome.

I think that for me, there is one candidate that is standing out, but my “second place” candadate has definitely changed in the light of the walkabout in Paris. I look forward to listening to the videos from Munich and Rome to see if my opinions change, or are reinforced. It’s hard not to be too biased when listening: it’s easy to think “Oh I don’t think he’s right” – so I don’t listen to his answers properly. The elections in October are going to be really interesting…

** I have several of these “If I ever have a …I’m going to call it…” jokes. For example, If I ever have a lizard I’m going to call it Eddie, If I ever have a seagull I’m going to call it George, If I ever have a donkey I’m going to call it Hotie.

EXPLANATION: Eddie Izard is a British comedian, George Segal is an American actor, and Don Quixote is, well, Don Quixote!!

Family time

So we get back from our lovely holiday in Italy on Sunday, round about lunchtime. We had all good intentions to do cleaning and tidying, but actually felt too tired to do anything other than flop during the afternoon. So Monday morning was a whirl of cleaning again (despite our efforts the week before we left on holiday!) and at 1.15 I was ready to leave to pick mum and Judy up at Lyon airport. But Mr FD just checked the site to see if the flight was on time – annd we discovered that there had been an “incident” at the airport. A person with mental health issues, rather than terrorist tendencies, had driven a stolen car through some plate glass windows, and then onto the runway – all flights were being delayed; many were being cancelled. Happily, theirs was only delayed, by 3.5 hours, so instead of arriving at 15h they finally got through at 18h30.

We drove them home, to a wild boar casserole that I’d prepared earlier, and a good bottle of red wine.

On Tuesday we had to go shopping, as otherwise there’d be nothing to eat, so we went to Les Halles Diderot, the market hall in Roanne, where we wandered around, admiring the fresh fruit, fish, meat and charcuterie, before stopping at Mons cheese stall:

Here we went rather b-zongo (a technical term meaning “mad and reckless”) and bought vast quantities of cheese: so much that we are still eating it almost  two weeks after it was bought! I’ve taken the last few crusty bits today and made a leek-potato-and-cheese soup for lunch. We then went to Lidl, and Carrefour, but mum was feeling tired, so she & Judy had a coffee while I did a quick zip round Carrefour for the last few things.

During the afternoon Judy and I did quite a lot of cooking. You see, I have heard tell of Boites Contre la Gaspillage (Boxes against Wastage) at Lidl – boxes full of out of date/ almost out of date food, usually fruit & veg, but not always – but had never actually been at a shop at the right time. Tuesday morning was the right time! For 1€ I bought a box containing:

  • 2 boxes of raspberries, only slightly mushy, which we made raspberry coulis with.
  • 2x500g boxes of grapes – when picked over, we got about 500g of good fruit from them.
  • 2x500g of carrots – these were mouldy, but when Judy peeled them they were fine. I cooked them up and froze them.
  • a wrinkly aubergine – I used it to make ratatouille, with
  • several large, slightly squashy tomatoes.
  • 6 Pink Lady apples – which are fine.
  • 6 Little Gem lettuces – slightly black round the tips of the leaves, but just needing a good trim
  • Half a cucumber

Not bad for 1€!! I was very impressed. That afternoon Mr FD had an interview, which actually turned out not to be an interview but an offer of some short term work. He needs to decide whether to take it on. The problem is that it might preclude him from taking on another job, should he find one…So he’s thinking about it at the moment.

Tuesday evening was Music Night! Cathy had organised another music night up at her place, so we gathered for drinks and food – I made a smoked salmon and broccoli pizza, and a salami and tomato tart to take – and singing and playing into the evening. Judy had brought her penny whistle with her, so she played some folk songs, and we sang to Beatles and Johnny Cash. A great time was had by all!

On Wednesday we went to the Pilat mountains, about an hour’s drive from us. Here we have a lovely walk that we like doing, which is called Le Gouffre d’Enfer – the Jaws of Hell. Which sounds way more difficult and scary than it is!

Mum, Judy & Mr FD ready to enter the Jaws of Hell – dum,dum, DAH!!!!!

It’s actually a gentle meander through a dry river valley, which then reaches a huge wall – which is the barrage, built in the reign of Napolean III, behind which is a large lake.

At the side is a winding flight of steps – no idea how many, but this is the view from the top of the barrage:

 

My 89 year old mum climbed these steps quicker than I did!

A view of the resevoir behind the barrage.

Then we followed the path back down to the car park, pausing to take in the view of the village of Rochetaillé

and to pose for photos

We had lunch in a pizza restaurant in the village – we usually go to the traditional Auberge, but neglected to check if it was open. Not on Wednesday. Never mind – we all enjoyed our meals, and I introduced Judy to the wonder that is a Café Gourmand – basically, coffee with mini tasters of desserts.

After this we drove up to the Cret de Perdrix, a summit with a good view. There’s about a kilometre walk up to it, and mum managed very well. The descent was a bit less easy, being very rocky, and mum being less confident of her balance, but with Mr FD’s hand and guidance she succeeded in getting down without too much difficulty. This photo shows the uneven ground underfoot

A further kilometre or so and we were back at the car…time for a drink! Mr FD also thought it was time for dessert, as he hadn’t indulged in a Café Gourmand at lunchtime. So he had a banana split. I hope he likes chantilly cream!!!

     

The rest of us had a variety of cold drinks and relaxed on the comfortable chairs in the sunshine, or the shade, depending on our preference. Finally we decided it was time to go, and we made our way home, with only a small diversion, as Mr FD took the wrong road.

We had a bottle of Asti, bought in Italy, which was very nice, and then for dinner we had  a chicken-and-vegetable tray bake. Cheese followed – we had a lot of cheese left to eat! But, TBH, we were all still quite full from lunch! Then we watched a DVD of “Brooklyn” which I very much enjoyed.

 

 

Garden Beauty…Holiday Day 3

Tuesday 4th Sept

Mr FD wanted to do some cycling, so he set off on his bike to ride a tour of Lake Orta. I settled down in the garden to do some reading and art work. I was joined by the house dog for a while – a rather friendly golden retriever – until he realised I didn’t have any food!

halfway round…

After Mr FD returned, we went to Omegna for a panini, and then headed to VillaTaranto to tour the gardens there. They are lovely! If you like gardens I’d definitely recommend them for a visit. Although it was quite hot, there were enough shady places to linger, and drink water.

Not my picture – the flowers were starting to fade a little by now.

    

 

After an ice cream (can’t remember the flavour) in the café we drove around the lake to Stresa, where we booked train tickets for a Panoramic train the next day. Heading home, we decided to go back to the restaurant from Sunday night.

This time I chose ravioli with spinach to start, then perch from the lake. I was rather disappointed with this, and had definite food envy, as Mr FD had chosen lamb cutlets which looked lovely. Still, the cheesecake which followed was delicious!

 

Happy Retirement, M. Khodri!

I have worked for ILS for 9 years now. I remember my first meeting with M. Khodri, the director – previously I’d been working in St Etienne, at Wall Street Institute, and although I liked the people, it was a long way to travel (taking about 1.5 hours to get from door to door) and I wasn’t very keen on the method of teaching employed by the company. So one day, I took a few CVs and letters of motivation to Clermont Ferrand and decided to trawl round the language schools there. I called in at WSI, and had a slightly bizarre interview with them (they turned me down) and then I called in at ILS. M.Khodri saw me immediately and sat me down in his office for a chat – my French being even worse than it is now, and his English being practically non-existent, it may have been a little awkward at times, but after about half an hour he offered me a job with the company!

I was very happy teaching there – mostly in-company, but sometimes at the offices of ILS – and the majority of the work done was for Michelin, which is one of the biggest employers in Clermont. It was also the golden goose for ILS, with, I’d say, at least 85% of the English teaching work being done in partnership with Michelin. Unfortunately, with money-saving becoming more important, and technology becoming more prevalent, Michelin decided to move over to e-learning, which meant that ILS, who had put all their eggs into the Michelin basket, was a bit stymied.

For a few months, in 2012, it looked as though ILS might be going down the pan, and sadly this meant that 6 or 7 of the English teachers had to be made redundant. I was one of them. I remember that M. Khodri was so distressed at having to make me redundant, that he said to me that anytime I wanted to come into the office to use the resources, or to use one of the rooms for private telephone lessons, or to make photocopies for my private lessons, then I was welcome to do so!He was always very supportive, and so even when I wasn’t working for them, I still popped into the office from time to time.

Happily, the company survived, and I, plus most of the other teachers, were re-employed, but as “auto entrepreneurs” – that is, we are self employed and on a contract basis. It means ILS do not have to pay any of our social charges etc. Not so good for us (no sick pay etc) but better for them. I’m still happy to work for the company, however, as it is a real family company. We know each other, we support each other; the Head of English is a really lovely woman, the staff are friendly, the resources are plentiful. Even though we are not “salariés” – directly employed – we are considered as part of the team, rather than as sub-contractors, so our relationship with M.Khodri, and the other admin staff, is exactly the same. When I’ve got myself in a mess with French admin papers, M. Khodri has always been willing to spend time with me, helping me to complete the forms and calming me down.  And, most importantly, there is quite a lot of work!

Recently, M. Khodri decided to sell the company and retire, together with his wife, who is the accountant for the company. I have only met the new owners very briefly, but Claire, Head of English, assures us that they are dynamic, and forward thinking, and want to move the company onwards and upwards. As you can see from the photo of the offices above, it is looking a tad tired and old fashioned, and Melissa and Thomas want to modernise. I’m a little concerned, as I have to admit that I don’t take to change very well – especially if that change requires me to learn new technology & new ways of doing things that I’ve been perfectly comfortable doing “my” way for a while – but I’m going to try hard to embrace this. After all, I won’t have a lot of choice in the matter!!

So, on Friday, it was Monsieur and Madame Khodri’s retirement do. It was in the restaurant in Le Jardin Lecoq, in Clermont Ferrand, a lovely public garden not too far from the office.

I booked into the Holiday Inn, just across the road from the park, as I didn’t want to drive afterwards, and I didn’t know how tired I would be. I’m happy I did so, as it meant I could have something to drink, and I didn’t need to leave too early.

We gathered at 7.30, and stood around chatting, and at about 8.00, we were led to our tables, all set up outside. There was a four piece jazz band who entertained us

and it was good to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen since Christmas. We started with a glass of fizzies (I had some sirop in mine to sweeten it, so I could enjoy it) and we gave M & Mme Khodri their gifts: a voucher for a dinner in a very good restaurant, and a cave à vins – a temperature controlled cupboard to keep your wine in – plus some starter bottles. Note we didn’t actiually give them the cave à vins: Yacine, their son, who works for the company as well, had set it up in their house so it would be a surprise for them when they got home.

M. Khodri made a little speech and then we got on with the food!

Unwrapping their presents

We started with an amuse-bouche, (a little something to tickle your taste buds) which was a verrine of something – noone was quite sure what it was, but the general consensus was finally a cold pea-and-mint soup; it was okay, but as I’m not a great fan of peas, or cold soup, I couldn’t get too enthusiastic about it. Here’s the empty verrine, as I forgot to take a photo before I ate it! :

Then the starter arrived – a galette with roast vegetables and mozzarella, and salad in a lovely honey vinaigrette dressing

I remembered to take a photo halfway through!

A pause, while the jazz band played on, and then the main course was brought out:

I remembered to take a photo before I started eating!

This was delicious – white fish, chorizo and a scallop in a buttery sauce, served with polenta, roast tomatoes and a giant crisp thing. I’m not sure why the crispy thing was there, as it didn’t really add much to the meal, but it tasted fine! I’m glad I’m not vegetarian though, as their meal was peas-and-asparagus, roast tomatoes and potatoes. Not very inspired – as vegetarian meals in France so often aren’t!

Dessert was profiteroles – I couldn’t finish mine…which is unlike me. I’m thinking that the intake of my stomach has shrunk a little during chemo, as I’ve not been eating the same amounts. Perhaps I need to encourage this!

Claire, Head of English, clapping along to “Ain’t Misbehavin‘ ” We both started singing the lyrics soon afterwards!

M. Khodri boogeying on down with Alyssia, one of the English teachers.

And still the band played on… as it was getting on to 11 o’clock, and I was flagging, I decided to leave. Also, there were others going at that point, and as I didn’t know where the gate was, and didn’t want to be wandering the park in the dark, I tagged along with them.

It was a really good way to say “Goodbye” to a very kind (sometimes slightly incompetent!) employer. Thank you, M. Khodri, for the opportunity to work with ILS, and here’s wishing you a good and happy retirement.