Pray for Manchester

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London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Cairo, Istanbul, Nice, New York, Saint Petersburg, to name just a few.

Then there are cities and towns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the list goes on.

Now the city of Manchester is added to that list.

I have no words to add to the thousands already spoken.

Just thoughts and prayers for those who have died.

For those who have suffered bereavement or injury.

For those who are confused or traumatised.

When will it end?

I simply share the words of this prayer that I saw on Facebook this morning.

Lord have mercy,

Lord have mercy on the people of Manchester,

Lord have mercy on all caught up in the bombing,

Lord have mercy on all who are injured and traumatised,

Lord have mercy on all who are bereaved and bereft,

Lord have mercy on all who are providing care and solace,

Lord have mercy on those who must investigate what has happened,

Lord have mercy on us all as we struggle to understand why this can happen,

Lord have mercy. Amen.

Listening to the news reports today, we should also be grateful and proud for that spirit of coming together that the people of Manchester have shown, as well as the spirit of defiance in the face of evil and terrorism. It is the same attitude that has been shown in cities around the world, and is the only thing we can do. We have to continue with our daily lives because we cannot allow evil to win.

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Photo Album from Canet #1

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Before I go back home on Tuesday, I’m going to share some of the photographs that I took yesterday in the historic quarter of Canet-en-Roussillon. There will be more to follow when I come back in a few weeks time. For those who might be interested, all the photos were taken with the camera on my iPhone SE.

(Photo above: Plant pots outside a house on the Rue du Presbytère)

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(Left: Coloured shutters on houses in the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville. Right: The sun shines through the arch on La Placette René Marty)

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(Above: A classic Peugeot outside the Restaurant Vigatane on the Rue des Remparts)

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(Left: An old town house on the Rue du Château. Right: The sun shines on the tower of the Parish Church of Saint Jacques, built between the 14th and 16th centuries)

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(Above: Dappled sunlight shining through a palm tree leaving shadows on the old brick wall in La Placette René Marty)

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(Above: The fountain by the Church in La Place Saint Jacques)

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(Above: Le Château Vicomtal, originally built in the 11th century, is gradually being restored to its original splendour by local stonemasons)

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(Left: An ivy clad house in the Rue de la Bascule. Right: View through an opening in the northern medieval town wall)

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(Above: The local bar, Le Castell, advertises Brochettes, which are served on the terrace in summer, in the shade of the plane trees, yet to come into full leaf)

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.

Liberation

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Today, here in France, it is la fête de la victoire, or le jour de la libération. It is a holiday to celebrate the end of World War ll and the freedom of the French people. It was on this day that Charles de Gaulle announced the end of the war in France on May 8, 1945. Here in our town, Canet-en-Roussillon, there was a commemoration at the War Memorial in the local cemetery this morning, a parade of Second World War military vehicles through the streets, the reconstruction of a United States Army Camp on the beach, and later tonight an open air dance will be held in the main square at Canet Plage. Most villages, towns and cities have some kind of celebration, and even seventy two years on there are those who remember the liberation of this country from Nazi occupation and oppression.

Yesterday the French elected a new president. At thirty nine years old, Emmanuel Macron will be the youngest person to lead this country since Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799. Obviously as a foreigner here in France, I did not have a vote, but like many I was mightily relieved that a person of the far right would not be leading this country. France has many problems, and the path ahead will not be easy for the new president. Just as May 8, 1945 was a day of celebration and a fresh start after six years of war, so it is to be hoped that May 8, 2017 will be a fresh start and a time for the French people to come together to seek solutions to the many issues that face us all in today’s world, and heal the real divisions in French society.

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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La Fête du Muguet

There are many different titles given to the first day of May. May Day is the obvious one, and for well over a century the day has had connections with workers’ rights, indeed it is sometimes known as International Labour Day, or here in France where I am at the moment, La Fête du Travail. Even the Catholic Church has got in on the act, and as a response to the May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists, Pope Pius Xll instituted the Feast Day of Saint Joseph the Worker in 1955. The day has long been a public holiday in many countries, but here in France there is another lovely tradition going back to 1561, when on May 1st King Charles lX was presented with a bunch of lily-of-the-valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. It is said that he then began the tradition of giving little posies of the highly perfumed lily-of-the-valley (Muguet in French) to the ladies of the court on that day each year as tokens of good luck.

All over France in the days leading up to May Day, you can buy these little sprigs of flowers or even potted plants to give to your sweetheart, other family members, or even neighbours, as tokens of luck and prosperity. It has become big business here. We arrived here on Saturday and our friends who met us at the airport presented us with a little pot of these flowers when they deposited us outside our house. The wrapper usually states Je porte bonheur – I bring good luck or happiness.

Big business or not, it is still a charming French custom as the beautiful scent of le muguet fills the air. I cannot give you that scent, but I do send you all “a virtual sprig of lily-of-the-valley” which I hope brings you good luck and happiness too. Bonne Fête du Muguet!

Postcard from Cuba

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After seven months overwintering at home in England we arrived back at our house in the south of France yesterday. We’ll be here for just over two weeks on this first trip of what will be a total of sixteen weeks here this year, and already I can see that we shall have to spend quite some time cleaning both inside and out, and doing a fair bit of gardening. They have obviously had a very wet and windy winter down here in the Roussillon. The Tramontane, that north westerly wind that Joanne Harris described in Chocolat, blows winter and summer alike, and this winter it has covered everything in a layer of fine sandy dust and has piled the leaves up against locked doors. It looks too, like the rain has fallen by the bucket full, as our flowering Oleanders are shooting well, the lemon tree has hundreds of buds on it, the vine already has the tiniest clusters of grapes forming, and even the bird of paradise, sheltered in a protected corner of the garden looks like it will give four huge flowers this year.

Our postbox, in typically French fashion, is set into the front wall of our garden. It has not escaped the ravages of either the Tramontane or the winter rains. Usually all it contains when we empty it on a first visit is a pile of junk mail, and the odd bill thankfully already paid by Direct Debit. Most of the contents had got wet at some point, and that inevitable sandy dust had then stuck to them. It didn’t take long to go through it all, throwing most of it in the bin, but there stuck face down to a flyer from a local estate agent was a dirty, damp postcard from Cuba!

The godson, (you’ll remember him, he was with us on our recent trip to Paris) had gone travelling on his own to Cuba last September. He loved the country and its people, but his experiences there were not all good. One night he woke up in a field miles from Havana, covered in insect bites, no wallet, no passport, no iPhone and his white Converse trainers taken from his feet. His drink had been spiked in a bar! The next few days were a mixture of Cuban hospitality and kindness from the hostel where he was staying, a British Embassy where the telephone lines were constantly down, and a sorry tale of trying to get money to him through the Foreign Office in London. Suffice it to say that all was eventually sorted and he was able to enjoy the next ten days, albeit on a temporary passport, paid for in Cuba, with money sent out by his parents through the British Foreign Office, and immediately removed from him on his arrival in London, and nothing but a pair of flip-flops on his feet!

We were here in France when all this happened, and were in touch with his parents and the British Embassy in Havana, so know how stressful it was for everyone. But like many young people he is quite resilient, and was determined that this unfortunate story would not totally spoil his view of Cuba and its people.

It didn’t! That dirty damp postcard sitting in our postbox for six months, having taken the best part of a month to get from Cuba, and suffering from the effects of the southern French wind and rain, told us he was continuing to enjoy his trip despite the setback. A reminder that all’s well that ends well in Cuba, and hopefully here too in the South of France after the winter winds and rain, we are set for a summer of pink flowering Oleanders, a tree full of lemons, a vine heavy with fruit, and those birds of paradise flowers all resplendent in their sheltered corner of our garden as the Mediterranean sun blazes down on us all. Happy days to come!

P.S. The message on the postcard asked if we knew who the two men were? We knew that one was Fidel Castro. The other we discovered was Ernest Hemingway, but perhaps you already knew that!
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