We’re doing OK

Everything is fine here – we are both working, and so our weeks are busy. Mr FD holes himself up in his study, I hole myself up in mine, and we meet briefly when one or the other makes a hot drink for us both, or over lunch. I’m busy because I’ve actually got a couple of new students, and also because working from distance means I need to write a follow up email to the students – which I wouldn’t do if we were meeting face to face.

On Monday morning I plan my lessons, and prepare the lesson summaries as much as I can; then from Monday afternoon onwards I’m teaching, or doing admin work. Although I’m finding it tiring I am very grateful to have work, as I know that so many self employed people are facing financial problems. We also are saving money as I’m not travelling to Clermont every day. In fact, Soozy (which we collected the Saturday before the lockdown) has hardly moved since she came home!!

Our treats involve going next door, to the restaurant-turned-takeaway to buy something. The people only opened the restaurant a couple of weeks before the lockdown meant restaurants had to close, so we’re supporting them as much as we can. We’ve had pizzas, burger-and-chips, and the most delicious chocolate/apricot gateau. That was so rich I had to eat my slice over two days! Today they’re cooking Cantonese rice and Spring rols, but we forgot to order, so we’ll probably just have a pizza.

As we’re out in the country confinement isn’t affecting us too much. We get out most days for a walk, but we have to remember to take our Attestation. You aresupposed to print out a new one every time you go out, but so far I’ve been tippexing out the date and writing today’s date. It seems remarkably wasteful of paper and ink to keep reprinting, and tippex shows that one is not trying to cheat in anyway. I’ve not been stopped any way, so I’ll plead ignorance if I have to.

Shopping is reasonable, with most things available. We are definitely using local businesses now, and trying to spread ourselves around.

But confinement has been extended to mid-April, with most people expecting it to continue to the beginning of May. One of my students, who is the director of a small company, has said the Government is warning businesses to prepare to be closed until the end of May, or even the end of June!

However, we know it’s the right thing to do – unlike many people in the UK, it seems! Our local GP, and the head of the school have both succumbed, with the GP being in hospital for several days. I’ve not heard how he’s doing. Tonight I’m meeting Friend Alison for a virtual apero – FriendCathy, in the UK at present, was invited but she thinks it’s possible she has the virus too.

The cats know what to do!!

Actually our cats love having us round, especially Jasper and Millie, who follow the sun around Mr FD’s study. I get Bib coming to meeow at some of my late afternoon students!

 

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!!

A Zoom Church Service

Christ Church, Clermont Ferrand, are holding a Zoom Meeting Church Service at 9.30 GMT, 10.30 CET (European time) tomorrow.

If you’d like to join in, send me an email, to alison(dot)wale(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk and I will send you the link, the instructions on how to log in, and an order of service.

It’s the first time we’ve done this, so who knows what will happen!!

I’m leading the service, and giving a short homily. If you can’t join us, I’ll post the text on the CCCF sermon site later.

ETA: The sermon is now posted at the site. If you joined us, then thank you. We had a couple of unrecognised phone numbers joining in. If that was you, I hope you felt welcome and blessed.

I plan to blog later about my 40 Acts so far (or rather, my lack-of-40-Acts….), but I wanted to put this up, in case others wanted to join in with Church.

 

Keep safe, and keep washing your hands!!

(This little fella is how I’m finishing all my emails!!)

 

Complaining about plastic…

I didn’t hear back from M&S, after their anodyne answer (and my response to it!) Can anyone in the UK tell me if they know whether this promotion from M&S has been stopped/ has been successful? I would be interested to know.

On the subject of useless plastic, I bought a jar of instant coffee recently.

I took it off the shelf not really looking at it very closely. Until I got home: note the way the label goes right up to the top of the jar: it’s a plastic covering, which encases the entire jar in plastic. Encouraged by Kezzie, who is trying to persuade us all to think about our plastic use,  and taking on board her encouragement to think about the eight Rs for the environnment (one of her additions was: Research:  Not happy with something to do with waste?  Research a way to solve it! )

Well, I wrote to Carte Noir with the following:

Je m’excuse mon français, mais j’ai une question: en ces jours où nous essayons de réduire l’utilisation inutile de plastique POURQUOI Carte Noir Bio est-elle enveloppée dans une seule couche de plastique, qui ne peut pas être recyclée et est immédiatement jetée? C’est ironique que c’est bio café – essayer de consommer des choses qui sont bonnes pour notre santé tout en ajoutant à la montagne de plastique. Je suis desolé, mais je vais arreter d’acheter Carte Noir, jusqu’au vous arrêtez d’envelopper vos pots de café dans cet emballage en plastique inutile.

TR: I apologize for my French, but I have a question: in these days when we are trying to reduce the unnecessary use of plastic WHY is Carte Noir Bio  wrapped in a single layer of plastic, which cannot be recycled and is immediately discarded? It’s ironic that it’s organic coffee – trying to consume things that are good for our health while adding to the plastic mountain. I’m sorry, but I’m going to stop buying Carte Noir, until you stop wrapping your coffee pots in this useless plastic packaging.

I quickly received the stock answer:
C’est avec attention que nous prenons connaissance de votre message et nous vous remercions de votre intérêt pour la marque Carte Noire.
Nous prenons compte de votre insatisfaction et la  faisons  remontée auprès des services concernés.

TR: We have carefully read your message and we thank you for your interest in the Carte Noire brand. We will take your complaint to the relevant department.

Who knows what will happen. But at least I made a noise about it.

Is Carte Noir coffee in the UK wrapped in this single use plastic too? If so, could you write to the Customer Services dept to complain? It certainly doesn’t need to be wrapped up like this – it’s still got its foil seal at the top of the jar, so it isn’t to keep the coffee fresh!

This is not just tat…

…it’s M&S tat.

I’m not joining in with no-plastic July, although I am starting to try to introduce small changes into our shopping habits, such as reusing plastic bags for fruit & veg, or using other plastic bags (like bread bags) or – when I remember them! – using muslin bags. But when I do have plastic I try to

1) recognise that it’s necessary

2) try to reuse in some way. (Though it was depressing when I asked the café to remove the straw from my drink – and they did. And put it straight in the bin! I hadn’t realised they would give me a straw (in a glass of iced water) so I didn’t think to say “No straw, thank you”)

When I read Ang’s blog post about Marks & Spencer introducing a promotion called “Little Shop”, I was more than a bit ticked off. Ang’s post explains it better than I can.

So I went onto their website, and after trying to find a comment form (they don’t make it very easy!) I finally found where I could email them. So I did:

Dear M&S
I would like to join in the chorus of voices that condemn your promotion “Little Shop…” In the midst of No-plastic July (when it is proving difficult to find things that don’t involve plastic in its packaging!) you start a promotion that introduces yet more unwanted and unnecessary plastic into the environment!

It doesn’t matter if this is proving to be a popular poromotion in-store – at some point, these plastic items will be thrown away. You say that they can be returned to be recycled – that’s something, but, realistically, how many people will bother to do this? When children have finished playing with these bits of plastic, they will – for the most part – just get dumped into landfill.

It doesn’t matter that those toys that are returned will get recycled into benches – it’s still plastic. Plastic that doesn’t decompose for hundreds of years. The plastic bench will, eventually, get thrown away, and won’t decompose…Just because it’s recycled plastic doesn’t mean that it magically decomposes when finished with!
This is an UNNECESSARY promotion – it does nothing (despite your claims) that those parents who care about such things can’t do already. It won’t encourage other parents to teach their children about sustainibility; it will just teach children to want more unnecessary tat.

I fear that, despite your claims about sustainibility and care for the environment, you are just doing your bit to add to the problem of the human race using and discarding our natural resources as if they were never-ending. I, for one, will not be buying from M&S until this horrid, unnecessary promotion is finished. And even then, I will be reconsidering whether M&S values are my values, and whether I wish to continue supporting your company.

They needn’t know that, as I live in France, I don’t shop in M&S very often anyway, and won’t be buying anything there before the promotion is finished! But even oif I did live in the UK, I would be thinking hard about supporting them.

How do you feel about this promotion? If you think it’s a poor idea I encourage you to contact M&S head office. When I get a reply I’ll update this post.

 

UPDATE: I received an email from M&S yesterday (Tuesday). Disappointingly bland, it must be said:

Hi Alison

I’m sorry to hear you are disappointed with the way we are branching the Little Shop Promotion. I appreciate you bringing this to our attention, thank you for letting us know.

We want as many of our customers as possible to collect all 25 Little Shop collectables and we’ll be running additional promotions and events to help them along the way. For example, we’re hosting over 70 swap events at our M&S Cafés across the country for customers who have duplicates or certain collectables missing.

At M&S, we’re committed to reducing our use of plastic packaging and reusing or recycling any we do use. Our Little Shop collectables have all been designed to last and we’ve worked hard to ensure around a quarter of them are made from FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified card where possible. We’ve also ensured all single-use packaging is made from paper instead of plastic.

Little Shop is a free promotion for every £20 spent on food and drink in our stores. It’s designed to create excitement for families during the summer and helps children to learn a little bit more about food and where it comes from. However, there is no obligation for customers to collect Little Shop or take their redeemed collectable if they don’t wish to do so.

We really do monitor any feedback we receive very closely with the aim of improving, so thank you for sharing this with us.

Kind Regards

A. C.

Retail Customer Services

Quite frankly this response does not answer my questions, but what I dislike more is that it was so obviously a cut-and-paste job, with the first part (shown in italics) in a completely different font to the rest of the email! I don’t want to have more promotional bumpf thrown at me about swaps and so on. I don’t believe their promise that they moniotor all feedback, and I don’t like the construction of the first sentence. “to branch” is not a verb, and so M&S can’t be branching the promotion. Grrr.

 

Telling the Bees

Recently I have been listening a lot to the band Big Big Train – Mr FD introduced me to them – in fact I have their music on continual loop in both cars! Lots of their songs are lovely, but I’m particularly taken with the one called “Telling the Bees”.

It reminds me of the production of “Lark Rise to Candleford” that I was involved in when we lived in Milton Keynes. A wonderful ensemble piece, which included some very talented young actors. Of course, you may also remember the TV series, but our live production was infinitely better!

In the play/book the character Queenie talks to her bees, following the ancient tradition of telling the bees of momentous events in the life of the family. This is especially true of the death of the “master” of the bees, as if they are not told, the bees may go away to find a new home, or alternatively the hive will not thrive. Wikipedia tells the story  of a family who bought a hive of bees at auction from a farmer who had recently died and, because the bees had not been “put into mourning for their late master” they were “sickly, and not likely to thrive.” However, when the new owners tied a “piece of crepe” to a stick and attached it to the hive, the bees soon recovered, an outcome that was “unhesitatingly attributed to their having been put into mourning.”

Charles Napier Hemy’s painting “Telling the Bees”

John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Home Ballads” recounts this custom:

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back
Went, drearily singing, the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened; the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”

The Big Big Train song is a happier song, telling of the passing of responsibility from father to son, and how the bees were told of family events. The connection between nature and humankind…”the joy is in the telling the sorrow in the soul”…It is a lovely song, and I urge you to listen (video below) You too may find a new band to play on continuous loop!

My mother said ‘Listen, son…
Your father’s gone
Now the time has come
You must tell the bees he gave his life
Drape black cloth over the hives.
‘Now I am the keeper
And the years passed by
Until the day that Jenny caught my eye
I walked over and I asked her for a kiss
Sweet taste of honey on her lips
Telling the bees, telling the bees
As old as these hills and old as the stones
I feel it down to my soul
And the bees were told
On the day we wed
Wild flower garlands
Draped our marriage bed
Now two years on, we have our son
The bees were told and we carry onTelling the bees, telling the beesAs old as these hills and old as the stones
I feel it down to my soul

The joy is in the telling
The sorrow in the soul
Tears of happiness and sadness
Let them flow…

Telling the bees, telling the bees

I have just read this on  the blog The Pool, written by Emily Baker, regarding the attack in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert on Monday:

There’s nothing more Mancunian than a resilient spirit. Today, our northern souls are aching for those lost, but we will think too of Manchester’s symbol of a bee – a hardworking, community-driven insect with a sting in its tail. It’s no coincidence that bees communicate through dance.

Learning that the bee is the symbol of Manchester, it seems kid of fitting (but also kind of pretentious!) to dedicate this to those who lost their lives and who are injured, or who have lost loved ones.

See the bees onthe globe up at the top!

Rather belatedly, I remember another Bee song by the Manchester band, Elbow – another favourite band. Here it is: Lost Worker Bee, it is called.

I love Elbow. We are sad that we won’t get to see them this year.

“Come be the Queen to my lost worker bee”