We went. We dug. We moved some earth. We moved some rocks. We raked earth. We dug again. We played with string. We dug. We moved more earth. We raked earth. We installed pipes. We moved earth. We raked earth. We poured in wet concrete and waited for it to dry…

Measuring More rubble Wheelbarrows of earth Digger Digging trenches Pouring cement

…and now Chateau Duffy has a floor.

Chateau Duffy crew, April 2013

There is plenty more to say, but I’ll drag it out a bit. [I had a presentation deadline today, so the mass photo editing/uploading has had to wait.] The rather massive Flickr set is now uploaded, and I’m pleased to say that it features fewer backsides than in previous years. It was an interesting week in many ways…

Nous sommes de retour. Encore.

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when my drawer full of ‘clothes not suitable for general public consumption’ gets opened and emptied; when I start keenly watching the weather forecast for Limoges; and begin to fantasise about baguettes and cheese. Yep, it’s Chateau Duffy time again.

Currently, my major issue involves tea. Yes, tea.
It’s a very important commodity en France. I don’t function without it, neither do many of my companions. It’s essential on a building site and during the cooler, wetter spring season it’s a lifeline. For some unknown reason I’ve become chief supplier of tea bags to the Chateau Duffy crew and this time last year, I didn’t quite bring enough. It’s difficult to know exactly how much tea might be needed…

Builders' TeaBuilders’ Tea

This time, there are 21 individuals. Of these, 4 are children and 5 are Americans. I am making the following assumptions:
1. The children generally won’t drink tea (particularly the 2 American ones).
2. The Americans will generally drink coffee rather than tea in the mornings.
3. We will be using a tea pot.

Would the 320 tea bags I bought yesterday be enough? Twitter, resoundingly, said no. [It seems they’re far more mathematically inclined than I am and quickly worked out the average number of bags available to each person each day.] I resolved to buy another 80 and ensure I had a stash of Earl Grey for my own purposes.

Then I realised, while in Sainsbury’s this afternoon buying additional tea, that I’d only bought 160 bags yesterday. That would have been an unpleasant discovery come Saturday morning. So, now I have 400 bags and an assurance that we have tea left over from the last trip that’s been safely stored in the Chateau’s caravan. We should be ok. I’m sure you’re relieved.

Work-wise, I only have a vague idea of what we’ll be doing. More pointing, no doubt, plus some scaffolding. A floor will be poured in (I’ll have very little to do with that) and we’ll attempt to stay dry. Oh, and there’s a plumber coming with us. I’m sure it’ll be great. Here’s hoping it’ll be relatively angst-free…

Chateau Duffy, August 2012It looked like this the day we left last August. Here’s hoping it still looks the same now.
(The blue skies and sun would be especially appreciated.)

Fractionally Festive Friday Fun

As it’s December, I will finally allow myself to share some of the festive fun that’s accumulated over the last few weeks. (Don’t think I take this blogging business seriously, there are rules people!! Yes, they’re entirely of my own making, but it’s always nice to have structure…)

Firstly, Advent season means that it’s absolutely ok to be listening to Mariah Carey on a regular basis. There are many interpretations of her Christmas classic, but the version below is beautiful in many, many ways:
1. She’s singing live and virtually a cappella, which is an impressive feat and just goes to show that whatever else Mariah may bring to the table, she has a pretty amazing voice.
2. There are children’s instruments providing much of the accompaniment.
3. There are children singing. (And one of them is wearing cute headgear.)

Before you accuse me of being rather secular in my Christmas fun, to counterbalance Mariah, here’s the ever-lovely Swingle Singers singing O Holy Night. Regular and truly devoted readers might recall that two years ago I posted a video of this arrangement performed by the Swingles at my old church. As carol service Sunday approaches, I am grieving the absence of the St Mary’s carol service spectacular in my life, and watching this enables me to imagine for just a few moments that I’m sat on a stage, the smell of evergreen and candles all around, and that lovely singing men in lovely jumpers are right in front of me. (Plus, the video’s filmed on Hampstead Heath which was the destination of choice for family Christmas walks when I was a child. The whole thing is Christmas in a nutshell.)

Finally on the Christmas front, it would be wrong not to point you towards the 42 worst nativity sets – particularly as countless people have sent the link my way, given the family’s obsession with nativities. I did mention it last year, but this year there are a few new ones, the most notable of which has to be the Tampon Nativity…

Tampon Nativity

Fear not! You can make one yourself – full instructions can be found on the Tampon Crafts website (tagline: “for any time of the month”, the hilarity). There, you can also learn how to create a whole lot of Christmas crafts (snowflakes, bells, lights…) plus a few less Christmassy creations, like a tampon blowgun; iTampon; and truly disturbing heart earrings. Personally, feminine hygiene products are pricey enough without buying additional ones for craft purposes, but maybe if you’ve got a stash that need using (e.g. you’ve recently entered the menopause or acquired a MoonCup), perhaps it’s worth exploring?

This leads us nicely into the realm of non-Christmassy fun (after all, there are still 3 Sundays left in Advent). This morning, I’ve discovered possibly the most British corner of the internet – a combination of the tube map, the shipping forecast and a cup of tea:

Finally, some fun that is slightly more niche than usual. Many, many months ago, I had my first experience of eating snails – in fact, it will probably be my only experience of eating snails. It was at the start of our Easter trip to Chateau Duffy and four of us had a somewhat epic night out on the cobbles of Montmartre. At around bottle of wine three or possibly four, I was persuaded to sample escargot – an achievement given that I’ve always had fussy eater tendencies (though these have diminished considerably over the last three years). A friend filmed it, and I finally got my hands on a copy of the video last night, when their presence in my flat enabled us to AirDrop the rather large file. It’s a little long, because snails are tricky creatures to release from their shells, so if you just want the image of my face while I’m chewing it, go to around the 2.50 mark…

I feel I should apologise for some of the language used by my fellow diners. It’s also worth looking out for the hot beardy French man sat at the next table…

I suspect that as we draw nearer to Christmas, Friday Fun will increase in its festiveness, but for now, I think it’s good to remember that there’s more to life than Christmas insanity.

For the love of coffee stirrers

Over the weekend, I posted an album of photos on Facebook of our week in Merville. This turned out to be something of an error, as it resulted in several comments at church yesterday along the lines of:
“I saw your photos on Facebook – looks like you had a lot of fun!”
“I thought you’d gone away for a week’s intensive teaching? Looked like a great holiday”

Oops. Vicar School en France is intense to say the least. The day begins in chapel at 8am, there’s sessions all day till 6pm, stopping only for coffee, lunch, tea and a short post-lunch break. After dinner, we’re free – save for worship team planning sessions, or last minute sermon prep, or tutorials, or intense theological discussions… It was not a holiday.

But it was a lot of fun – especially in the evenings. As was the case last year, mature ordinands regressed to teenage-like behaviour. I’ve returned from France with knowledge of two more youth group games, and the discovery that a trumpet mouthpiece can turn a hosepipe & funnel into an instrument upon which Mozart’s trumpet concerto can be played. Plus, I now know that trainee vicars are very adept at lying, when the need arises. Around the ‘bar’ [meeting room atmospherically lit by tea lights], on any one evening, you could find ordinands playing Cheat, Mafia, or Poker – all of which require stealth and resolute poker faces. Oh, and most importantly, my fellowship group won the annual college pub quiz.

Most fun of all, our final night saw a return of the Merville Spoons Championship. This stupidly childish game was a highlight of last year, and Merville wasn’t quite Merville until the coffee stirrers came out; the circular table occupied; glasses of wine were moved to safety; and spectacles removed from faces. Spoons is violent, loud and totally pointless. We love it.

Some of us take it a little too seriously. Take my friend Alex, for example. Always an excitable person, he exists in a frenzied state of anticipation throughout Spoons. Here he is explaining the rules:

And this is what ensued in his efforts to ensure he had a ‘spoon’:

Extreme, no? It got worse. This round was so hotly disputed that the two men fighting over the last spoon (it wasn’t the last round, everyone else had already secured a spoon) ended up having a one on one spoons fight – usually how the overall winner is decided. Partly so I could stay safely out of the way, and partly so I could record it for posterity, I have both this and the final on video:

Check out my particularly deep voiced/croaky commentary on the final. There’s a BBC sports job out there for me somewhere…

The sad thing about all this fun was the realisation that most of the people around the Spoons table won’t be there next year. Lots of people in my year are on the two year stream, meaning that they’ll be getting ordained this summer – all the girls & one of the guys will be around and that’s it. It may only be just over a year since my vicar school career began, but already some of us are on the final strait.

Returning to Merville

Today, passengers on the mid-morning Eurostar service from London to Brussels via Lille will be sharing their journey with 100 trainee vicars. Yes, it’s time for vicar school’s annual week in a French monastery.

Last year was fun, but at times traumatic. This year, I’m travelling with people who in the last 12 months have become great friends – even more potential for fun. I know the pitfalls of the monastery (bad tea & plastic cups mean that I have my own tea & a decent mug), and its eccentricities. I’ve located the local supermarket for French provisions, and I know people who know where an excellent patisserie is…

Plus, I have gin. Yesterday, while contemplating my packing, I asked Twitter & Facebook what they would pack for a week in a French monastery with 100 trainee vicars. Overwhelmingly, the responses were alcohol related – which is quite logical, thinking about it. (Though actually unnecessary  as beer & wine are served at both lunch and dinner.) But it’s good to know that the vicar stereotypes persist! [Also, hipflasks were mentioned several times – I don’t have one, but perhaps this would be a useful ordination gift come 2014?] In fact, the bottle in my bag isn’t just gin, it’s M&S sloe gin – escapes the need for lugging tonic water around.

The other essentials? Slippers, dried fruit, granola bars, Percy Pigs, satsumas and chocolate. After all, this is the place who greeted us with Shark Curry on our first night last year. (Please note, the slippers will not be munched upon unless there is a dire food-related emergency.)

Some of the delights of Merville in 2011
This post is more a means of explaining my imminent blog silence, more than anything. If you’re a praying type, do think of us all. The 2nd years are doing leadership training, which can be a bit of a struggle. Plus, I get to do my first ever college sermon on Tuesday morning – an 8am service before breakfast to be precise. If that’s not a tough crowd, I don’t what is. The biggest challenge will be keeping it to 5mins (given that I usually have to preach for 25mins), but go on longer and I’m likely to be lynched by starving ordinands… 
I’ll be back in a week. Stay safe people, and Americans, don’t go and elect a moron while I’m away!