Pretty (and safe) in pink.

It says a lot about life at the moment that I’m aware of exactly how long it is until my next holiday – our 5th trip to Chateau Duffy. It’s 2 months and ten days, which is a long time, especially when I think of the deadlines that have to be passed in order to get there.

However, it’s never too soon to plan and this morning’s sermon from the vicar got me thinking about something I’ve been meaning to do for ages. He used a hard-hat as a visual aid, which reminded me that I’ve been meaning to buy my own for ages, but hadn’t quite got round to it before last year’s trip.

When one is working with a tumble-down house, one does not want bits of it tumbling down upon an unprotected head, so hard-hats are essential Chateau Duffy work gear. We have many (though never quite enough) and I get particularly particular about which ones I want to wear – usually because once you’ve got one that you’ve fitted to your head (and hairstyle of the day) it’s annoying to lose it to someone else. So, what I need is my own, personalised in some way to make it clear that it’s mine – I’m thinking stickers, or a particular colour, or both…

Girls in pink hatsPretty in pink, Chateau Duffy 2011.

On our very first foray into French house building, we had temporary possession of a bright pink hard-hat that became very popular amongst certain circles. Pink may be a bit of a gender stereotyped colour, but I figure that if you’re already breaking stereotypes by building scaffolding, scaling the scaffolding and pointing walls, you’re probably ok. Thus, this evening I’ve done a brief search of such hats and have found the following attractive item:


Available from here for quite a reasonable price.

I’m genuinely intending to purchase this item – I figure that a baby pink number should be fairly safe from several members of the team. But in my searching I also discovered two things that intrigued me:

1. You can also buy novelty pink hard-hats and hi-ves jackets for hen nights. I honestly didn’t know this was a thing. I’ve been to plenty of hen days/nights/weekends with pink sashes; fairy wings; and general humiliation – but never builder themed. Weird.

2. There is a whole range of pink-themed safety equipment out there. On the page for the above hard-hat, there were a series of links to other pink objects including (but not exclusive to): hi-vis vests; safety shoes & boots; safety gloves; ear plugs; and rose-tinted safety specs. We’ve joked in the past about ‘Chateau Duffy style’ but I think if a few of the women turned up in an entirely pink ensemble, we’d get laughed off the site!

The world is a strange place sometimes. Still, I’ll place an order for a hard-hat and source some normal, dull as dishwater gloves from elsewhere. And then I can proceed to decorate them as I see fit ready for April. Who says safe needs to be boring?

Merville Reflections

Merville, reflected Merville, reflected. (It rained, nearly perpetually.) 

Ah Merville. I had mixed feelings as our coach departed. On the one hand, I was keen to return to normal life (with freely-chosen food, more friends, and consistent internet); but on the other, I was sad to leave a place that I’ve now spent 3 weeks of my life in. It seems St Mellitus will return to Merville next year (despite much room-sharing), but as a soon to be ordained ordinand, I will not be among them.

St Mellitus is virtually the only theological college in the Church of England to provide full-time ordination training in a non-residential context. It’s therefore slightly ironic that the highlight of the year for many students is the week we spend in a monastery, being as much like a residential college as is possible in rural France. Chapel every morning before breakfast and every evening before dinner; eating meals together; eating one meal in silence (while the sermons of St Augustine were read aloud); living alongside one another on corridors with fire doors that bang really loudly; awakening each morning to the sound of your neighbour’s footsteps echoing really loudly; and having the kind of fun in the evenings that only trainee vicars letting their hair down can have…

DeanoThis screen-grab is from the only video of my only appearance at St Mellitus open-mic night. It’s a private video so I can’t share it, plus it didn’t manage to capture the whole song. (I’m hoping we might repeat it at some point, so we can get the whole thing.) The above crew worked together to produce a parody of The Lumineers ‘Ho Hey’, that became a ballad of how our Assistant Dean was plotting to overthrow the Dean – who we affectionally call ‘Deano’, which would be the word we’re all singing at this particular moment. (Assistant Dean is now known as Ass. Dean, which is unfortunate.) 

In actual fact, our residential week is probably a lot more intense than a typical week in a residential college. For a start, there is next to no free time (apart from after dinner and one free afternoon), whereas you’d usually have time to do things like write essays, prepare sermons and visit churches. Secondly, even the married students are onsite. (This is a good thing, as otherwise all but two of my friends wouldn’t be around.) Thirdly, so are the tutors. (This is an especially good thing when one of your tutors brings with them an excellent card game that you become practically undefeated in.)

It’s a good job it only lasts a week! I wouldn’t miss it for the world, but it has got to be said that the level of exhaustion after 7 days of continuous vicar school is on another level. Not to mention just how peopled-out this introvert gets when the amount of time she can spend by herself is strictly limited. Although, one element of the exhaustion would be my own fault – given my commitment to rising at 6.30am (an hour before non-compulsory pre-morning prayer eucharist) in order to run; have early breakfast so that work could be completed; or walk to the boulangerie for croissants. I saw a lot of Merville in the dark and as dawn broke…

Before and during the dawn, Merville The church and civic hall before dawn (which finally broke at 7.30); the cemetery and canal as light began to appear.

Talking of the boulangerie, my reconnaissance mission to check its opening times and quality led me to have possibly the most appropriate pastry treat anyone at vicar school in a monastery could have:

Une Religiose GBBO fans will obviously recognise this as une religieuse – the pastry shaped like a nun. (Coffee flavour.) Recipe here.

Finally, I inadvertently began a Merville tradition in my first year. While out on a reflective prayer walk, I took a seat on a peculiar concrete manhole and started taking photos. Inevitably, I wound up doing a Liz. The next year, I found myself in the same spot wearing the same jumper and so took another. This year, I took the same jumper with me for the sole purpose of completing the trio. And thus, I now have proof of how much two years of vicar school has aged me:

Merville self-portraits 2011-13(2012 was clearly a little windy.) I think the answer is, I’ve not aged that much & I’ve certainly got happier! 

Une semaine à l’école vicaire en France

Apologies for the light posting of late – there have been deadlines for other writing projects, sermons, exciting weddings and general life-admin. [Tickets for Christmas have been purchased, the dentist has been visited, various cards have been renewed, grandparents have had a visitation – I’ve been on fire!] Now, I’ll be in an internet black hole for a week as vicar school decamps to an old monastery in France.


This is my third and final trip (in fact, the college has grown so much that it’s the final trip for everyone) and I’d like to think I know exactly what to expect. Thanks to my grandparents, I have a travel kettle with which to boil water for tea (3 varieties) or hot chocolate (myriad sachets) and my hot water bottle. I’m sure that I will be able to provide comfort for many! [My response, on receiving the kettle yesterday, was: “Yay! Now my room will be party central!” With one accord my mother and sister rolled their eyes and despaired.]

Party central will probably be the poker players (yes, that’s what trainee vicars do for fun). On previous trips it was the Spoons collective, but so many of our number got ordained last year that it seems an insult to their memory to play it again (plus, there are pregnant people who can’t risk getting injured). So I may simply channel my inner Victoria Coren, forget my Methodist roots and put my efforts into finally understanding poker! I’m sure that’s a more worthwhile goal than understanding the books of Hosea & Amos?

It’s not all fun, the final year students will (in addition to studying the prophets) get some practical lessons in baptism, marriage, funerals, burn-out (well, not burning-out), preaching and the joys of the Anglican Communion. Personally, I’m hoping they need volunteers to wear a wedding dress.

I’ll be back in a week, no doubt with plenty of blog fodder. Until then, adieu!


More French vicar week posts here.

Par Avion

Did I tell you I was going to California for 2 weeks? No? Well, I’m here – in San Francisco to be precise. (Or, to be precise-r, San Rafael – a town across the Golden Gate bridge.)  There will be more than enough opportunities to share the joys of this trip later, this is simply an introduction as to why I’m writing a post about the French national air carrier…

One of the things I love about flying is the ways in which the personalities of countries or regions are expressed on board planes. Last year’s trip to Texas saw my first experience of Delta’s southern charm; Aer Lingus is my airline of choice to Belfast (it has excellent music choices and inoffensive uniforms); and flying BA to Uganda was surreal and hilarious – our return flight included the poshest stewardess in the world.

Somehow, en route to San Francisco, I found myself on board Air France. [I booked through Delta – MH’s airline of choice – and they’re a partner.] Overall this was a good thing. It’s the first flight I’ve been on where I’ve been handed a menu of the flight’s food programme, complete with wine list and vintages (including champagne); it’s certainly the first time I’ve had my choice of French films to watch on board; and the flight attendants are certainly very well dressed.

However, there were disadvantages…

A major one was the fact that, 7 hours after I’d arrived at Heathrow, I found myself flying back over it – having spent the previous hours flying to Paris and then boarding a flight to SF. Slightly frustrating, especially at the point when I realised it would have been quicker to take the train from St Pancras to Paris, and then the Metro to Charles de Gaulle. Ho hum. [There was method to this madness. If you’re doing a long-haul flight that requires a change, do the shortest leg first. I’d have hated to do the 11hr flight to LA and then board another plane to SF.]

On the plus side, this did mean that I found myself with just over an hour to kill in Charles de Gaulle airport. If ever you should find yourself there, note that there are more places at which to buy macarons than there are to buy a nutritious lunch. (Although, who says macarons aren’t a nutritious lunch?) My gate was adjacent to a Laudurée wagon, which says it all really.

7 days of NutellaCDG – where you can also buy ‘weekly’ packs of Nutella. You know, for when a single jar isn’t handy enough…

This adventure also provided me with an excellent opportunity to practice my French. Aboard the flight to Paris, there was a drinks service (the flight was under an hour!) and I asked – in English – for a Diet Coke. The steward did not understand me, so I tried again with “Je voudrais un coke light s’il vous plait” – he obliged and apologised for not speaking good English. I began to wonder how a flight attendant on a route operating out of London could get a job without good English, but then I remembered the French attitude towards their own language and their general belief that it is wonderful – and I vowed to try not to speak English for the rest of the journey.

Initially, this went very well. An “au revoir” to the cabin crew upon landing and a tour-de-force of conversation skills with security while having my hand luggage checked again.
Security: “iPhone?”
Me: “ici” [Pointing to handbag]
Security: [Beckons me through security gate]
Me: “D’accord”
I was impressed with myself…

Things started well aboard the long flight. I understood most of the French announcements – enough to know that the French speakers were getting more information than the English. I ordered my meal in French, chose vin rouge to accompany it and made polite small talk with my French neighbours. Things only began to unravel when I wanted a gin tonic. No one had taught us this at school. Tricolore did not have a spirits section! So I gave up and asked in English. (The bonus was that because the tonic came in 330ml cans, I got two gins…) As my tiredness progressed, the ability to speak even basic French evaded me. The final straw was my US customs form – which proved to be a French translation. If there’s ever a form in which you don’t want to misunderstand the questions, it’s a document issued by US immigration. With zero help from another flight attendant who claimed not to know much English, my neighbour successfully helped me deduce the correct responses.

All in all, I’m pretty relieved that my flight home is via Virgin Atlantic. They may not have menus and champagne, but at least there will be a plentiful supply of films in English and my poor, jet-lagged brain will not be over worked.

St Denis des Murs

Chateau Duffy is located in the centre of a small village – St Denis des Murs – which can be found around half an hour’s drive east of Limoges. Wikipedia lists it as having a population of just over 500, meaning that when the Chateua Duffy crew descends, we increase the local population by nearly 5%. For some reason, I’d never thought to work out the origin of the village’s name – until last week.

Gare. St Denis des Murs.La Gare. It’s actually a good 20mins walk from the main village, thanks to the hills… 

Towards the end of the trip, I had a sudden epiphany. ‘Murs’ meant ‘walls’ – how had I forgotten that?! After all, one of my GCSE French oral speeches was a description of my 15 year old self’s bedroom, which obviously included: “Mes murs des affiches de Blur et Keanu Reeves sur eux.” [“My walls have posters of Blur and Keanu Reeves on them.”] Why was the village named for St Denis and some walls? Wikipedia again came to my rescue. Turns out the Gauls built a large fortification in the region, and remains of the walls are thought to be near the village. And St Denis? He’s the patron saint of Paris, was beheaded on the hill that’s now Montmartre, and walked 10km holding his head in his hands…

Once all this had been figured out, it made perfect sense and became incredibly apt. What had I spent a considerable amount of time staring at last week? Walls. One wall – on the back of the house – specifically. In fact, even more specifically, the uppermost point of that wall. It was the seemingly never-ending mission to point it. We’re still not finished in fact.

The wallMy view for a considerable length of time. Words can barely describe the ache in my arms after a day of chipping mortar out from between those bricks.

I’d like to think that St Denis and his cut-off head was watching over us, ensuring that none of us lost our heads, or any other part of our anatomy for that matter. With every trip that passes, I’m growing more accustomed to scaling the heights of the scaffold, and this trip saw me spend the best part of three days atop of a 20 foot rig. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel safe enough to dance up there (unlike my scaffold building team-mate), but I was fairly happy once I’d donned a harness and tied myself on to a metal pole.

I'm on top of the world...On top of the world, safely attached to the scaffold. Incidentally, there’s no ladder to get up there. I’ve developed a incredible (given past life experiences) knack of scampering up the scaffold poles.

I think the locals are finally coming to terms with our sporadic visits. The next door neighbour is happier with our antics. The Mayor is very glad the historic house and barn are being repaired. We’ve even discovered a couple of ex-pat Brits. It’s a good job they like us, as I’m very much looking forward to the holidays I can have there once the building’s finally, finally finished. [In case you’re wondering, we reckon it’s only another 2 trips till the barn’s habitable. Then there’s just the house…]