Thursday Thanks #6

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At the end of this week I shall be going back to France, a country whose language, culture, food, wine and climate I love. As a welcoming liberal modern democracy, it is a far cry from the country it was when my father made that journey seventy-seven years ago. He went along with hundreds of thousands of others as part of the British Expeditionary Force to help defend France. At that time Nazi Germany had invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, and Panzer divisions were attacking France through the Ardennes, driving the British troops back towards the northern coast around Dunkirk. There they were trapped with no means of escape until Churchill and his war cabinet drew up a plan, which was codenamed Operation Dynamo, to evacuate all the allied soldiers  from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk at the end of May 1940. Churchill, in a speech to the British Parliament had described the events in France as “a colossal military disaster” and that “the whole root and core and brain of the British army had been stranded in Dunkirk” and were about to perish there. What happened there seventy-seven years ago, he also later described as “a miracle of deliverance”.

Because between 26th May and 4th June 1940, thousands of soldiers were rescued by a hastily assembled  flotilla of over eight hundred boats of varying shapes and sizes, fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats, and merchant marine sent from the south coast of England. On the first day of the evacuation only seven and a half thousand were rescued; but by the end of the evacuation three hundred and thirty-eight thousand, two hundred and twenty-six soldiers had been saved from certain death or capture. As it was, over sixty-eight thousand soldiers lost their lives, and almost all of the tanks, vehicles and other equipment were abandoned  in northern France.

I am proud to say my father was there and certainly saved in that evacuation. He never spoke to me of those events in Dunkirk or of eventually being rescued; I am sure that something like that left deep scars on the psyche of a twenty-two year old. And so in this Thursday Thanks, I want to thank my father (who died sixteen years ago in 2001) and pay tribute to all those others who have allowed my generation to have the freedom that we enjoy today, and in particular for me, being able to make those regular journeys to France which I so enjoy.

Photo on 28 May 2017, 16_16_18

My father is pictured just to the left of the striped post in the centre of the photograph, on his return to England after the evacuation of Dunkirk.

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Thursday Thanks #5

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There are a few more days left of this holiday, staying at our house in Canet-en-Roussillon. Just a few hundred metres away, the town’s new Medical Centre is nearing completion. Health-wise we are well served in this area, with a world renowned clinic just a few miles away, a large brand new hospital in Perpignan and two private clinics in the city. The new centre, due to open later this summer will be an important addition to the town’s health facilities for both locals and tourists.

I often pass the building site (photo above) where the centre is taking shape, and that has led me to think about healthcare this week, and for it to be the subject of my Thursday Thanks blog post. It’s not just the new building  which has prompted this, but also a number of friends who have recently undergone medical treatment. Healthcare here in France is supposedly amongst the best in the world, and one of my friends, an eighty six year old ex-pat is recovering well from recent major surgery, and what she describes as excellent treatment, to replace a ball and socket joint in the shoulder.

The National Health Service in the United Kingdom comes in for a lot of criticism, but it is also something that the British are usually very proud of. I certainly am, and with respect to any American friends reading this, I don’t really understand your country’s opposition to a National Health Care system like ours in the U.K. As I get older, like most people, I find I’m needing healthcare more and more, and I know it will always be there when I need it, and it will be free of charge. Another friend has recently had day surgery, and if she is reading this we wish her well.

Most doctors, nurses, and others in the healthcare system do a wonderful job, and we can all be grateful for their expertise and care, but many of them on the front line suffer abuse, and of course, we know that there is severe understaffing in the British system. Today, in my Thursday Thanks, I am expressing my gratitude for healthcare in general and for the healthcare that I have received over the years, and those dedicated people who have cared for me and enabled me to be as healthy as I am today! I look forward to the new Medical Centre here, Medi-Canet, being opened and improving the health of the people of this town for many years to come.

Thursday Thanks #4

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In the past week we have travelled to our home in the south of France, to the town of Canet-en-Roussillon to be precise. This town is a seaside resort on the Mediterranean coast in the department of the Eastern Pyrenees, or PyrénéesOrientales to give it its correct French name. The department, similar to an English county, is the southernmost department in France, and has a border with Spain along the Pyrenees. It also has a strong affinity with its Spanish neighbour across the border as the locals here, as there, consider themselves Catalans. French may be the language of this nation, but Catalan is widely spoken here as it is in north eastern Spain down to Barcelona and beyond.

We first came on holiday here nearly twenty five years ago, and have seen the town grow and its amenities improve. Its near neighbour, the city of Perpignan, is only about six miles away, and thankfully for us has an airport with flights to both London and Birmingham, bringing sun seekers in the summer, and skiers to the nearby slopes in the winter.

This fourth Thursday Thanks allows me to express my gratitude for this place and all that it means to me. I’m a sun seeker rather than a skier, but I love the view that greeted me when I opened the bathroom shutters the other morning. The sky was a beautiful blue, but there in the distance to the south west were the snow capped Pyrenees, and as someone who doesn’t like snow, and is not that keen on being in the mountains, I do have to say that I never fail to appreciate that sight.

This is a home from home for me, but it’s not somewhere that I take for granted. I realise that I am very fortunate to be able to come here as often as I do, to enjoy everything that this region has to offer, beautiful scenery, good food, wonderful wine, and (despite my gripe about the wet and windy winter just past in my recent blog post entitled Postcard from Cuba), the climate too!

So today, it’s a thank you for this lovely corner of France, the mountains to the south west, and the sea to the east. Summer is not quite here yet, but it’s not far away!

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Thursday Thanks #3

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(Image taken from the internet)

Following the shooting last week on the Champs Elysées of the Paris policeman, Xavier Jugelé, a national ceremony to honour him was held on Tuesday of this week. President Hollande was there, as were the two leading candidates in the current French Presidential Election. Apparently, the murdered policeman had been one of the first to respond after the attack at the Bataclan Theatre in November 2015 when ninety people were killed as they attended a music concert, on that dreadful night that Paris will never forget.

One of the addresses given at that ceremony on Tuesday was from the husband of the murdered policeman. Etienne Cardiles described his husband as “a lover of music and theatre” and “a man full of culture and joy”, and he used the phrase first coined by Antoine Leiris, whose wife was murdered at the Bataclan, “You will not have my hate.” He told the assembled gathering that he was suffering, but without hate.

I was very moved to hear what he said, and I would like to include the English translation, in this post where I express my gratitude for things that I am particularly grateful for in the past week.

“When I first got messages saying something had happened on the Champs Elysées, and that a policeman had died, a small voice told me it was you, and brought back to me that generous and healing phrase: You will not have my hate.”

“I don’t feel hatred, Xavier, because it is not like you – because it does not correspond to anything that made your heart beat, nor why you entered the police force. Because public service, helping others and protecting everyone was part of your education and your convictions – and tolerance, dialogue and patience.”

He went on to speak of his husband’s love of music, films and theatre, saying:

“Theatre transported you to another world, where you lived fully…You would shy away from no cultural activity.”

“A life of joy and laughter, in which love and tolerance were your strongest weapons…You lived like a star , and leave like a star.”

A wonderful tribute to a man, from the man who loved him. After the Paris shootings of November 2015, I read Antoine Leiris’ book in its English translation You will not have my Hate. I intend to re-read it in the next week or so in the light of this latest atrocity.

Of all the good things that have happened in my life this week, and there are quite a few, and I have lots to be grateful for this week, it is these moving words, and the sentiments that Etienne Cardiles expressed that make everything else pale into insignificance, and it is those words for which I am most grateful this week. “You will not have my hate.”

Scannable Document on 25 Oct 2016, 14_19_11

Thursday Thanks #2

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I suppose that I should start by apologising! I know some of my followers have been wondering what has happened to Thursday Thanks, when it is now Saturday. The only excuse I can offer is that it has been a very busy week since my first Thursday Thanks. Not only did Easter weekend fall in that period, and for most practising Christians that is an incredibly busy few days, and my weekend was no exception; but I have been busy preparing for two dinner parties here, I have enjoyed dinner with other friends, and I have been to the theatre with supper at a local restaurant beforehand, and there has been a little bit of tutoring in the French language for some youngsters, which has also passed the odd hour or two. I could apologise for the delay, but no – I’m not going to, I’m thankful that I’ve been so busy and wouldn’t want it any other way!

Last week I wrote that friends are so important, and that I’m really fortunate to have such a lovely group of friends. This week I can only say the same again. They are different friends, in different circumstances, but sharing meals again, and feeling truly blessed in the people that I know. No doubt many of you can say the same, and I hope that like me you want those friends to know that they are not taken for granted.

That’s it for this posting this week; next week looks interesting, busy and a bit different!

Thursday Thanks #1

Blogging is fairly new to me, I’ve only been doing it for just over a week, and thankfully I’m enjoying both the writing and the responses that I’ve had. Today I want to start what I hope will become a regular feature every Thursday. Like all of us, I have so much in my life for which I am thankful, and quite simply this is going to be my way of putting my words of gratitude in the public domain.

  1. Friends are so important to us all, and I know that I’m really blessed in having many good ones. Last Friday evening, my partner and I, (just so that you know when I use the word “we” in the future) had supper with friends who live in a village on the border of Warwickshire and Leicestershire. They had prepared us a lovely meal, which included paella and a good bottle of Rioja, for which I’m always grateful, but it was the time just sitting and talking and catching up on news, sharing thoughts, and reminiscing which was priceless.
  2. Food will be a common theme through a lot of what I write, and we enjoyed a lovely lunch on Sunday when another friend celebrated her seventieth birthday. Another good meal, and more good friends, but on Sunday it was the stunning view that I was really thankful for. We had travelled into the Cotswolds from our home in Coventry, not far, just about forty minutes away; but we could have been a world away from this city. The lunch was at Charingworth Manor near Chipping Campden, and with glorious weather we enjoyed on Sunday, which was the hottest day of the year so far in these parts, we could see for miles over the rolling hills of South Warwickshire and Gloucestershire. I remember saying to someone how many shades of green there were in that view. I know its a simple thing, but very often those simple things leave a lasting impression.
  3. Those signs of Spring are all around us now. This year the Magnolia tree in our front garden has been absolutely full of beautiful blooms, and the blossom on the pear tree at the back survived longer than usual because there was hardly any wind, and certainly no rain to ruin it, and this morning I had to do a double take at the vast amount of pink blossom on a flowering cherry tree that I passed in the park on my way to the shops. Signs of Spring and signs of rebirth after the winter.
  4. Of course, this coming weekend we celebrate that greatest of all Christian Festivals, Easter, which is all about new life, the new life of Jesus Christ after his resurrection. As a Christian, this Holy Week is very important to me, and I have been sharing in the worship of the church as we remember the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, and like many Christians we were able to witness to our faith with an outdoor procession. We have that freedom to do that in this country as in many countries, and we feel safe doing it, but at the same moment that we were witnessing to our Christian faith in the streets of Coventry, two suicide bombings killed at least forty Coptic Christians, and injured many more, in churches in Egypt. I am thankful for the freedom we have in this country, and as I remember those who died in Egypt, and other Christians who have given their lives for their faith throughout the Middle East, I am thankful for their witness in such difficult and dangerous circumstances.
  5. Yesterday was a family day. My brother and sister-in-law visited us, and brought with them two American students from the University of Evansville in Indiana. That university has a British campus in the unlikely setting of a Victorian stately home in the village of Harlaxton just outside Grantham. The students come for a semester to do British Studies and experience something of the life and culture of the United Kingdom, with opportunities to travel around the country and neighbouring European states. They came yesterday to see Coventry, its cathedrals, all three of them – the medieval foundations of the first cathedral destroyed by Henry Vlll, the ruins of the second cathedral destroyed by German bombers in November 1941, and the third modern cathedral consecrated and opened in 1962, which stands as a sign of peace and reconciliation. Living here it is easy to take these things for granted, but yesterday was a reminder to try and see them through the eyes of visitors. They were impressed with our city and our cathedral, and that IS something to be grateful for!IMG_1322