Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas !

For my Christmas Day blog what else could I write about other than Christmas cribs. I did the constantly changing Taizé Nativity Scene pretty much to death last year, so I thought I would give that one a miss this year.

Where I used to live in The Netherlands, in the Protestant north, Nativity scenes are not at all popular, but where we stayed at the beginning of December, in the Catholic south, they are Big Business. At the beginning of December, we stumbled across this amazing shop, completely dedicated to Nativity scenes. Now isn’t that worthy of a photo?

But the biggest and best was not to be seen by us this year, we were a week too early. The Saint Jan church in Den Bosch has reputedly the biggest Nativity scene in The Netherlands. My photo shows a tantalising glimpse of a star above the stable, but the other two (stolen from the internet) show it in all its full glory.

I must say though that I fail to understand why there is need for a lioness and a Chinese lady, but I am obviously missing the greater meaning behind it all.

That’s it for today it just rests for me to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and enjoy your turkey, I’ll certainly be tucking into mine pretty soon.

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Run-Up to Christmas

Always a busy time of year, but this year seems to be more hectic than most. I don’t understand it, I have bought all my pressies and sent all my cards, so why, oh why is there so much to do?

Well the truth is that I didn’t realise that being the treasurer of the village committee was going to generate so much work, especially at this time of year. Whilst the village events usually last a day or part of a day, my work before and after each event comprises of ordering, buying and collecting items from local and some not so local suppliers, chasing up invoices, paying invoices, finding stock (where has the president put those 500 plastic cups I gave him for the last event?), counting stock (did we really drink that much wine??) and generally pulling my hair out (why won’t the figures balance?) and that all adds up to several days per event.

December is a heavy month for our little club, there was the Téléthon on 3rd December, the Christmas drinks and dinner for the volunteers on the 16th and the kids Christmas party on the 17th and I now have to get all the bingo cards distributed to the sales people before Tuesday. Making it almost a full-time occupation these last few weeks – good job we don’t have the gîtes up and running at this time of year.

All that doesn’t include the AGM of the Rendez-vous de Cormatin, the AGM for Guitares en Cormatinois and an insy-winsy bit of socialising that we have managed to fit in these last few days - where incidently I met up with someone who follows my blog which was a big wow for me, so here is a special hello to Ann(e) - sorry don't know your spelling.

Anyway, no wonder it feels so hectic !

Fortunately, most people will disappear out of sight by mid-next week, off to their little Christmassy nest to spend time at home with their families and I will sit back with my turkey and enjoy the peace and quiet !

La Tuilerie Website

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Light of Bethlehem

We heard last week that on Sunday afternoon the “Light of Bethlehem” would be arriving in Taizé. On further investigation it appeared that the Scouts and Guides of France, in cooperation with the Austrian Scouting movement, were bringing a flame from Bethlehem to France. This is the first time the flame has been brought to Taizé and the first time the flame has been in Saône-et-Loire. The flame was flown from Bethlehem to Vienna where it was distributed amongst various Scout and Guide movements in Europe. The French flame then went on to Paris and travelled by TGV to Le Creusot on Sunday afternoon and on by car to Taizé.

It was a chilly afternoon, but at least it didn’t rain while we waited, outside the church, for about an hour for the flame to arrive. While we were waiting we were able to look at the Nativity scene which has appeared again this year. It is a little less “flat” than last year and the wise men have moved out into the area in front of the church with their own little bit of desert,
just next to the live donkeys. Even the shepherds have their own space, appropriately near the live sheep pen.

Quite a crowd had turned up from all over the Département including as far afield as Autun and Paray le Monial, there were also some scouts from Nevers, but the scouts who had come all the way from Lebanon definitely had the longest journey. Before the flame finally arrived there was a little ceremony outside the church, then we followed the brothers in silence into the church itself to await the flame. A small group of young scouts came into the church with the flame and lit a lamp and two large candles at the front.

The little service that followed was a bit chaotic and lacked the slick organisation of the brothers, who I felt were left a little confused as to what was going on at times, but the scouts were very enthusiastic, which made up for it.

The young scouts with the flame then proceeded through the church lighting candles and lamps of the onlookers. Normally when candles are lit in the church, the congregation are given special Taizé self- extinguishing candles, but this time the vast majority of the candles were brought from home and quite frankly they were a bit dangerous to say the least. Can anyone explain to me why someone would get their baby, who can’t even sit up on its own yet, to hold a lit candle? Not to mention the father who had to hit the side of his toddler’s hair when the toddler set light to it with the candle he was wafting about? And why would you put a lit tea-light on the carpet in the church then walk away, leaving your crawling baby within inches of it? Good job someone else was on the ball to take the tea light away as the baby grabbed the side of the container. Do people lose their common sense on this type of occasion?

That aside, it was a nice idea, a sweet little ceremony and it was a different sort of afternoon out, but I don’t think I’ll risk it next time.

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A New Career?

There is so much to tell about our week in The Netherlands I don’t know where to begin, so I will stick to the highlights. We stayed with Cees’ daughter on her ship in one of the old harbours in Den Bosch, we saw friends and family and we finally visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, something I have been meaning to do for years but never got around to and I must say it was well worth the visit; we did shopping to stock up on essential items impossible to find round here (chillies, sambal, brown beans) and we ate foods we crave when in France (kroketten, Surinaamse broodjes just to name two things); we tried to visit the Nativity Scene in the Saint Jan Church and failed but the highlight, the absolute highlight was something we had not planned at all.

Back in the summer Cluny had an exhibition of pottery in honour of Frère Daniel of Taizé who is 90 this year and those who read my blog will remember the afternoon we made a bowl. Well Cees’ daughter read the blog and she, being a very accomplished, amateur potter herself, decided that we should be shown how to really make a bowl. Saturday morning we were bundled into her car complete with overalls and a huge box of amazing looking tools and off we went through the rain to the pottery studio she goes to, where she had managed to convince them that we should be allowed to use their equipment, even though we were a pair of clay nincompoops.

First of all squeeze all the air out of your lump of clay, ummmm, not so easy as you would think and we haven’t got anywhere near the wheel yet.. I kept kneading it a bit like bread which seemed to be pumping more air in than out. Cees managed quite well but I was a lost cause, so Cees’ daughter did it for me, after all if she had had to wait for me, we would still be there.

Then on to the wheel. Throw your lovely ball of clay into the centre, splat! Wow, mine hit the centre, which anyone who has ever seen me try to throw anything will be amazed at. Then switch the thing on, fortunately it was an electric wheel so no confusion with the feet as well. Try and poke your thumb in the middle, NO, NOT THE SIDE - THE MIDDLE. OK I’ m doing my best, but it keeps wobbling all over the place, it's like trying to get a wiggling cat to swallow a tablet, it kept moving at random and it spat bits out of the side.

Finally I got the hang of it and I must say I am rather proud of my effort (pictured left). Not everyone’s creation was as successful though (someone else's attempt pictured right). I don’t think we will be trying to do this for a living so the local potters can rest easy, but we both had a great time, I can really recommend having a go.

Thanks Ljalja!

La Tuilerie Website

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Keep the Home-fires Burning

Chimneys and wood-burning stoves have been the bane of our lives since we first arrived here in France. Our first chimney needed to be lined prior to use, so we were told - I am not so convinced about that now, but that's a separate issue. Anyway we had it lined and that nearly caused our house to be burned down. The builders at the time who were doing the renovations in the stables laughed and said “Well if you must employ cowboys…” OK so it was done by a friend that was not a builder and didn’t know any better and neither did we, but of course the builders knew how it should be done didn't they.

So when it came to installing chimneys for the stoves we were going to buy for the gîtes and the stove we had bought for our new living room, we asked the builders to install proper chimneys and we would have no worries. The stove installers arrived with the stove and they refused to connect it up. They condemned the whole installation. Not only
was it not conform to standards but incorrect materials (designed for low temperature gas flues not wood burning stoves) had been used, insufficient distances between the chimneys and the woodwork in the roof, lack of or insufficient insulation in the chimneys, horizontal chimney sections that could block and well - it was just pain dangerous. Who’s the cowboy now?

The incorrect materials were exchanged and installed at the builder’s expense, but we have had endless leaks in the roof where the flashing was never quite right around those chimneys and even after that we had a chimney fire which made me always very cautious of using the stove in the living room not helped by the fact that the stove made the room and chimney wall so hot we had to open the windows even in the coldest months.

Last year we got someone to remove the two gite chimney tops on the roof – leaks solved and this year we have bitten the bullet and bought a smaller, less powerful stove and had the remaining problems with the chimney sorted out. We are now nice and snug and safe. So a big thank you to our lovely stove installer and his friend, pictured carrying our old stove out of the house for ever.

Moral of this story although a chimney looks like a simple thing, you have to know what you are doing, as they say: “if you play with fire….”
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