Happy Birthday Wife!

Today is the 13th of May 2022 and is my wife’s birthday. It is also Friday the 13th, so I don’t know how I should be feeling, happy for my wife but slightly preoccupied by lady luck deciding to have fun at my expense. Strangely, in France, Friday the 13th is considered lucky. What a peculiar country!

But what a strange coincidence though? But little did I know that 30 years ago, almost to the day that we first met how many coincidences there actually were…

She is born on the 13th, and me on the 26th. 26 being the double of 13. As a Catholic, yes, it happens, I have have always felt close to the Virgin Mary. My mother is Anne, the mother of Mary, and my beloved Grandma was called Mary. My wife is called Virginie… But you could argue that a lot of Catholic women were called Mary or Anne. We also live in the Vendée which has the number 85 – 8+5=13.

Today is also the feast of Our Lady of Fatima who appeared to three children in Fatima in Portugal in 1917.

Can you see a pattern developing here?

Anyway, it doesn’t, in any form, detract from the fact that it is my wife’s birthday today. I used to be great at thinking of presents for everyone, be it Christmas or birthdays. I just knew exactly what to look for and where to find it. Now, as in a lot of things, I now know nothing. What do you get for the person who has everything, including Yours Truly? My dream solution, my daughter seems to have stolen my talent and also seems to be very good at spending my money, but this time it is for a good cause.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate in a dignified manner with friends and have a barbecue, with salads, meats, and sausagy things that have been drawn up on the famous shopping list. It is a long shopping list and in a sudden and surprisingly rare instant of genius, I dared to add, don’t forget the charcoal Darling. The charcoal had been forgotten? I had’t saved the day, but I think I scored at least one brownie point.

So now you know what awaits le this weekend. Last weekend was a little more musical. When I first arrived in Vendée just over 20 years ago I played the horn for the local wind band in Montaigu. It was local and it got me out of the house and introduced me to local people who would eventually become friends. After a certain amount of time I got bored and didn’t feel challenged which is not a good thing to happen. You find that resentment can build and boredom never helps. I eventually stopped playing the horn and felt I had had enough, and then in 2009 a friend from the band said that’s had started playing with the windband in Cholet and I played with them from then on, even getting to the point of trying to get my French teaching diploma, but with burnout, and a change of horn teachers, that idea fell by the wayside. I cut music right back to the basics.

Durning Covid, the old conductor from Montaigu died, and within the year his wife died too. At least they’re together now. The band in MOntaigu had wanted to have a concert to remember them by, and last Satudray, after a lot of work by the band committee, they managed it. As an old player, I was invited to join in, and it was a lovely experience.

During the rehearsals, I received news that my boss in Cholet was resigning at the end of the year. Certainly unexpected, but I think I know some of the reasons why. All of a sudden, choices opened up to me. The band in Montaigu found out, and I was told that if I wanted, they would be happy to have an extra horn player. Not an easy decision to make, and I will certainly think about it. It would certainly mean less driving, and with the price of petrol, that is one huge argument. I feel a certain loylaty for the boss at Cholet even more so than for the band itself. not only is he my musical director but has over the years, become a friend. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday was going to be about rest and relaxation. I felt I couldn’t face Nantes, and would be going to mass there anyway later on. So I went to Clisson instead. We all have those pretty towns just near us. In Hull, it was Beverley, in Noisy le Sec, it was Paris, and in Saint Hilaire it’s Clisson. I’m not denigrating the places that I have lived, but they were also slightly cheaper places to live, but that’s by the by…

I seem to be getting back into using my Canon DSLR and loving it too. It’s the 16-35mm lens that does it. And as you can see in the photographs from that day, Clisson is very photogenic, almost more than Nantes, but let’s not tell everyone, or they’ll all want to go there…

The night of Easter

This might be a bit of a strange post and is more a reflection of how my spiritual life seems to be going and might be a little Catholic. You have been warned.

Do people ever regret Lent? Not the spiritual aspect of it, but the structure and discipline of it. Although I didn’t eat meat or drink alcohol this Friday, it was as if something was missing. I have stopped the daily Rosary but am thinking about going back to it as a daily thing, or at least trying to.

I went to the Easter vigil last Saturday night. The church is in darkness as Jesus hasn’t yet risen, but you know the outcome… There were children giving out candles and the mass sheets. Those of you who know, know, but for those of you that don’t know, let me tell you a bit about how the service goes. The priest and altar boys, there were about 5 priests for this special mass, congregate at the entrance of the church and light a fire. This fire is blessed and represents our Lord’s rising from the dead, and God’s light illuming the world. The Paschal candle is lit from this fire and blessed and will be lit at each Mass during the Year. All our candles given to us by the children are lit from this Easter candle and gradually the church has God’s light lighting up the whole church. This bit always gets me every time.

We hear the creation story. God said there be light, and there was light. God saw the light and said that it was good. It’s not something we hear every day, but there you actually see God’s light lighting up the faithful listening to his word.

The next reading tells us about Abraham and how God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son. Abraham, out of fear and out of love, does this. The altar is made and Isaac realises what is about to happen. Thankfully, God that Abraham wants to do the will of God and passes the test. He sends an Angel to tell Abraham not to do it and sends a lamb to be sacrificed.

These Old Testament images of the Lamb of God have so many parallels with sending his only Son, Jesus, as a sacrifice to save us. Jesus knows about the sacrifice even when He is a child with His mother Mary and stepfather Joseph. He knows about the Passion that He will have to endure and accepts it fully. It was one of my many meditations that entered my mind whilst praying the Rosary. Another was, I can’t be the only person making the parallel between the Lamb of God, given to Abraham and Jesus, giving Himself to us?

The next reading is from Exodus and recounts the Children of Israel being led by Moses across the Red Sea when escaping slavery in Egypt. The Angel of the Lord passes over each house, killing the firstborn of each family except in the houses where the blood of a lamb has been smeared on the door. Again. I can’t be the only one that sees the link to the sacrificed Lamb of God saving us? Also, when Jesus left Bethlehem to escape the killing of the innocents by Herod, he escaped into Egypt? Again, one of the ideas that pop into my head when praying the Rosary.

Next is a reading from Isaiah. It talks about how the people of Israel are akin to God’s wife and how he calls her to Him, and how He will treat her, i.e. not like the people of the time of Noah. He tells us how God will have mercy on His people, remain true to them, will teach and love them, and never again abandon them again. I might come back to this paragraph later and edit it. I have just realised that I should study the prophets more. The realisation that we know nothing is the beginning of wisdom.

The fifth reading is again from Isaiah and encourages us to trust in the Lord our God. God calls us to Him and reassures us. We have to trust in His mercy as a child would his father. His thoughts are above our thoughts. His way is not our way. But we must listen to His word, which is not sent in vain.

For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Isaiah

The sixth reading comes from the book of Baruch. The people of Israel are rebuked for not having listened to God. We are taught that wisdom is listening to the Word of God and prudence and through this, we will find peace, unlike some. Let us listen to God’s word, find the great wisdom in it, and remain true.

 Blessed are we, O Israel; for what pleases God is known to us!

Baruch 4:4

The seventh reading is from the book of Ezekiel. Through their love of idols and worshipping falsehoods, God says how He will reign down with fury, and at the same time, cleanse them with clean water. We will have a new body and a new spirit. Just as at our baptism. Through baptism, we are reborn into our life with God as one of His children.

At this moment the church bells ring out to announce that He is risen. We the recite the Gloria.

Follows an excerpt from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, and then the responsorial psalm as in any mass.

We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

St Paul’s Letter to the Romans

We then turn to Luke’s Gospel to hear what happened on the morning of Easter, just after the Shabbat. To those who criticise the Church about the role of women, just remember that it was the women who went to look after Jesus’ body. Not the men. The angels appeared to the women first asking them why they were looking for the living one amongst the dead. They were the ones who received the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Not the men. When they returned to the apostles, nobody wanted to believe them. St Peter, who was the rock, and first Pope had so little faith that he had to check for himself, reached the tomb, saw the folded shroud, and then ran home amazed. It comforts me in my own fragile humanity. During the next week, when Jesus appeared to the Apostles to show them all that He had vanquished death, Thomas had gone out to do the food shopping. He comes back and sees the rest of the Apostles happy, and doesn’t believe them either. And yet the women believed with unquestioning faith. Thomas says he will only believe when he puts his fingers in the holes left on Jesus’ body by the wounds received on the cross. When Jesus reappears, Thomas is told to put his fingers into the wounds of Christ. He does and falls down, saying, “My Lord and My God!” Jesus replies, “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen.” These words bring me so much comfort. I don’t feel blessed every day, but it is nice to know those words. During the consecration, I say those words when the offerings become the body and blood of Jesus.

Now that we have been comforted in our faith, we have the “fun” part of the Easter vigil. Catechumens will be baptised. For the Catechumens, they will be free from sin and their old lives. They will become part of the Communion of the Saints, part of the body of the Church. During the Litany of the Saints, we ask the Saints to pray for us, and the Church. Their intercession is so important to us. The font and water are blessed. We join with them our baptismal promises, reject Satan, all his works, all his empty promises, renounce sin, desire to live in the freedom of the children of God, renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over us, and renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin. These are powerful words and I know they certainly help me reflect on my interactions with others in their world.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows and we take Holy Communion, where we become one with Christ in His sacrifice, and partake in communion with Him. He feeds our souls with his body and blood. He is indeed the Lamb of God, which saves us.

The communion is over; we give thanks to God. The priest blesses us. Ite missa est. Deo gratias. We then go back into the world, but reinforced in our faith through the sacrifice of God and the sacraments.

I went to the pub to enjoy my first Guinness after forty days of Lenten abstinence. I was OK, but not quite what I was expecting. Did I miss it? Yes and no, but more no. Maybe this Lent has seen a change in me that I wasn’t expecting. I miss the daily Rosary or at least trying to recite my daily Rosary. I don’t seek happiness here on earth, but I have had profound moments of peace of mind spiritually, and joy in succeeding in my Lenten observances. It has been an entire week since Easter and tomorrow is Divine Mercy Sunday. It feels almost an anticlimax, even if nothing could be further from the truth. Thank you for getting this far in a very Catholic article. I appreciate your efforts. May your God bless you in the same way as mine does me.

Palm Sunday Photography

Last week I wrote about Palm Sunday and the importance that it has in the liturgical calendar.  Today I would like to talk more about photography.  In my article about the Canon 6D Mark II and the 16-35mm lens, I talked about how it seemed to be a less productive day, and it was indeed, and that next time would be possibly different.  New day, and different light, by definition.  Well, it was.

Spring has sprung, we have changed hours on the clock, and the weather seems to be a little less despicable with some nice sunlight, whilst still having some lovely light fluffy clouds to be amazed by.  Whenever that happens, I know how I want my camera.  I want it, firstly, with me, otherwise, photography becomes a more laborious pursuit.  Secondly, when doing my editing, I want to reproduce the effect of putting a red filter on my lens as if I were doing black and white film photography.  The blue skies become darker and the fluffiness of the clouds just seems to pop out.  Add a little contrast, and bob’s your Aunty, or Uncle depending on his or her pronouns…

It might seem slightly old fashioned to you, but I find very this type of image very pleasing, and it gives off a certain old-timer vibe, and as an old-timer, at least compared to the young timers, I’m more than happy.  Everything is relative anyway.  Maybe I am of the age where I no longer care about impressing people and just want to do things my way.  I’m not saying I don’t love a compliment either.  All men do.  Ladies, never underestimate the power of a compliment to a gentleman.  We may seem cool on the outside, but on the inside, this compliment will boost us for ages.  Try it.  I dare you!

I parked the car at the Feydeau underground car park, and just walked along towards the castle, and for me as an introvert, actually dared to ask somebody if I could take their picture, at least a picture of their shoes.  The young lady was most obliging and said yes.  Thank you.  One of my favourite photos of the day and in “colour!”  Then the famous Miroir d’eau, which is more subtle than Bordeaux’s water mirror, but in Nantes, you get the reflection of an enormous castle, which is where I went next.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to follow each and every pace.  You can do that by looking at the photos at the end of the article.

I parked the car at the Feydeau underground car park, and just walked along towards the castle, and surprisingly for me as an introvert, actually dared to ask somebody if I could take their picture, at least a picture of their shoes.  The young lady was most obliging and said yes.  Thank you.  One of my favourite photos of the day and in “colour!”  Then the famous Miroir d’eau, which is more subtle than Bordeaux’s water mirror, but in Nantes, you get the reflection of a huge castle, which is where I went next.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to follow each and every pace.  You can do that by looking at the photos at the end of the article.

To sum up, a very fruitful outing, with a break at the pub, so, even more reason to describe the day so worthwhile.  Thank you for following and feel free to share your impressions.  I promise not to bite!

Palm Sunday

As a Catholic I celebrate the beginning of Holy Week, culminating on Easter Sunday when we will declare once again, that “He is risen!” We will celebrate the fight of God sending His only Son here on earth as the Saviour of all mankind to vanquish darkness. We will celebrate life over death, the sacrifice of our Lord, and the hope that this gives all of us.

In the Gospel in mass this morning, or last night for me at the vigil mass, we reminded ourselves of the palms laid on the roads by the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, where less than a week later, He would be crucified and sacrificed to save us from our sins. From treating Him like a king, even though he humbly rode in on a donkey, to mocking Him as King of the Jews during His execution. So during the mass, we hear the Gospel of Luke, which told us of His Passion from the entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, His betrayal by Judas, His trials, His crucifixion and death.

This belief in His sacrifice, the power of life over death, is really the crux of our beliefs. *

We prepare ourselves mentally and, of course, spiritually, for this during the forty days of Lent, which reminds us of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and praying just before taking up His public ministry. It also harkens back to the forty years of Exodus that Jews had whilst fleeing Egypt, (where Jesus grew up, following His birth in Bethlehem, and where Herod ordered all the male children under the age of two to be killed during the massacre of the Innocents). Everything just seems to link back. And not just Egypt but the number forty too. There are so many more that I don’t have the space to write them all here.

So, traditionally we are bound by rules of fast and abstinence. Traditionally, we would give up something to try to add to His sacrifice and our “little sacrifices” as Ste Theresa of Lisieux said, would bring us closer to God. As children, we were told to give up sweets, and I remember being told not to just give something up to do something else by our local bishop. I took this on board when at high school and once went to daily mass for the whole of Lent. This year I was influenced by some of the older men in my village who were known for giving up the demon drink for Lent, and us weaklings would look at them with great admiration. This year, I tried the same thing, and, thank God, I have kept it up. There were a few times at the pub when ordering a coke, I received blank stares, like what the f is wrong with you man???? But as Lent drew on, people got used to it and I could just have to say Carême so that people would get it. All this is on top of the no meat Wednesdays and Fridays, with a little extra fasting just to remind you of the seriousness of Lent. That was slightly harder. We also try to get at least once to confession before the end of Lent to prepare our souls for the feast of Easter.

The extra thing I tried to do, was to say a daily Rosary, which our Protestant friends told me is just idolatry, and worshipping Mary, instead of going directly to Jesus. Unfortunately for them, they don’t seem to have grasped what is so important about the Rosary of Our Lady and her role in Jesus’ life.

The Rosary is above all a contemplative prayer, asking Our Lady to intercede for us to Jesus, whilst meditating on fifteen mysteries or events in the life of Jesus. These mysteries fall into three groups, the Joyous mysteries, the Sorrowful mysteries, and the Glorious mysteries. You have ten Hail Marys per decade (or event in the life of Jesus) which gives you something akin to a metre or acts as a pacemaker. I would urge you to click on the Rosary link to find out more and it’s a website that I use regularly to help me get through it.

When I started doing it every day for Lent, it was slightly arduous to begin with, like taking up a new sport. Easy to be distracted during the meditation, and some days I just couldn’t do it. I would actually fall asleep on occasions! I would even go as far as saying that it was a grind, but as the days went on, I started seeing the benefits of this spiritual exercise. It really is an exercise but becomes easier. I certainly feel better thanks to the daily recital. Maybe I should do the same for this body of mine.

I wish you all a very Happy Holy Week and Easter. And as Padre Pio once told us, pray, hope, and don’t worry!

How was your weekend?

Well, on Friday night we had the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  As a Catholic, and, as somebody who has actually been to Fatima, and knows what a big thing this is, it was a very moving and special moment.  The majority of us wish peace for Ukraine and wish for an end to Putin’s invasion, and anyone who says it’s just a special military operation is in serious error!  Since the beginning of the invasion, this is a start of hope in this grizzly war.  Let’s keep praying for them!  What else was Pope Francis supposed to do?

I’m sorry if Catholicism isn’t your thing, but it is mine, and I wanted to get that out there.  You can hate me later.

On Saturday, I felt slightly out of it, especially after the emotion of the previous evening.  I felt tired and just wanted to sleep and rest.  During the week, I had started reading up on using an ultra-wide lens as a portrait lens.  As it happens, I have one for my Canon 6D Mark II.  The infamous 16-35mm.  If you look at previous articles and on my Instagram feed, you can see the results that I have managed to get from this setup.  I love the distortion that this lens gives me.  It allows me to create images that although taken in real life seem to have an otherworldly feel to them.  “They” say it’s all about creating images that “stand out” and I’m all for that! 

So instead of just reading up on it and wishing, the best thing to do is to pull the proverbial finger out, get the kit out of the camera cupboard and use it!  I’ve been using my Fuji camera systems lately and I thought it would be good to have a change.  I’ve been so happy with the Canon and the 16-35mm lens in the past, and have had such great results with it, so I was feeling really geared up and positive. 

Then I got out and for some reason, I just couldn’t get into the zone.  I was fortunate enough to get a couple of half-decent photos, but I certainly wasn’t feeling it.  I kept at it with my legendary stubbornness, but I knew it wasn’t a good day.  I know you can’t have a good day every day, but I usually do better than that.  Let me assure you, however, that this is only temporary, and that next Friday afternoon I will have another go. Not every photo was useless as you can see in the gallery, but you do feel a certain frustration.  You’re all geared up to create and then you get performance issues. Still no idea why, but it could always be worse. I could have given the booze up for Lent and therefore not be able to have a pint of Guinness to console me. Oh, wait…

There’s a difference between knowing the theory, having practised, and being able to reproduce great results every time.  That is probably the reason that I am still an amateur and not a pro.

I will not let this discourage me and next time is next time.  If this ever happens to you then please don’t fret about it.  Sometimes it’s just not your day.  It doesn’t mean that you are a bad photographer, it just means that it’s not a good day on a given day.  Be stubborn.  Keep going.  Don’t give up.  Show the buggers what you can do!

Here are the photos.  Not all of them were horrible, and one or two shine out, which is actually quite good. Tell me what you think.  How should I change my approach for the next time?

COVID

COVID-19: I tried it so that you don’t have to!  As with most things, I always seem to be late getting “on trend” and with Covid, I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I had got through it without catching it.  Little did I know that the next day, Covid would come along a smack me about the face!

It was a Tuesday.  A rough day at work.  The sort of day where you feel shitty all day, but are still vertical and not horizontal, and therefore not ill.  Serves you right for only 4 hours of sleep last night…  Wednesday.  A really rough day at work.  You slept a little better but are still tired.  Coughing a bit.  Must be just the sleep thing.  Exhausted and not hugely productive in the afternoon.  I’ll just check my temperature, you never know…  35.4°C.  Could be worse, I suppose, but wow, not felt this bad for a while.  Vive la “going home time.”  Yay; I got home in one piece, and let’s just go to bed.  An early night won’t do me any harm.  It’s freezing in bed and I can’t get warm.  I have the covers on, and my dog is next to me, but I’m absolutely freezing.  This is not good.

Day 1.  Thursday morning.  I get up at the usual time.  Not one for pulling a sickie, I seem to have the do I, or don’t I debate in my head.  Well, I didn’t.  My wife said to do a Covid test last night.  Didn’t feel up to it.  But this morning I plucked up the courage to stick something uncomfortably far up my nose.  Had great difficulty reading the tiny printing, but worked out how to do everything, and how to do the test. Two lines appeared and usually mean pregnancy, but it can’t be that. I’m just fat.  No, I was Covid positive and positive that I had Covid.   Out came my phone, first, to write the mail to my bosses informing them I will not be there today, and second, with blind optimism, phone the local nurse to get something else poked up my nose, but officially this time.  Could I come straight away?  She didn’t have any patients that morning.  Yes, I could.  Told my son where I was going and was asked if he could come too.  We were both in the car with our masks on, drove to the nurse’s office, and got poked right up the nose.  I was now officially positive, and my son was officially negative.  Did he realise how many points he had just lost in the favourite child competition?  No masculine solidarity at all.  He was actually looking quite smug!  The cheek of the boy!

Back home to work out how you do everything for the Social Security, and how you get your sick note.  It would appear that you have to grass up anyone with whom you were in contact for over 15 minutes without wearing a mask.  The only people were my daughter and wife.  And of course the dog.  A miracle happened.  To finish on a high note, I got all the French Covid admin done from my phone and could enjoy being ill at last.  I was still chilling and felt cold, and coughing, and put on Netflix and get back into bed.  It would appear that I have drifted off… Again…

My daughter was tested later that day and became my Covid Buddy.  She also gained points and won the coveted favourite child position.  The day was spent sleeping, and feeling awful.

Day 2.  Friday.  Much the same as Day 1, still with the coughing and feeling cold.  That beautiful doggy dog didn’t move one inch from my side. I tried taking paracetamol to see if it would do any good.  Who was I trying to kid?  It was about as useful as a bicycle for a non-cycling fish! Kept trying to drink lots of fluids.  I had a goodies parcel from the UK and was gradually working my way through glasses of orange and lemon barley water.  I still had good taste.  Which is something just not worth contemplating losing. If it were to make me pee during the night, then I could just sleep the next morning.

Day 3.  My wife became a Covid Buddy too.  She had vainly tried sleeping on the sofa downstairs last night, thinking that this would protect her.  Well, it didn’t.  She was quite worried about phoning her boss, but I reassured her saying that Covid is Covid and so is the week off you get as a consolation prize.  Full pay too!  Less coughing.

Day 4 and 5.  Much the same.  Bed.  Snoozing.  Feeling pretty crappy.  During the night, suffered from horrible muscular pains in my thighs of all places!  Stopped me from sleeping, but I knew I could snooze later.

Day 5.  If I were Covid negative, then I could go back to work.  But despite the mail from my boss asking how I was and possibly hoping that I would be back, it wasn’t going to happen.  Back to bed, and snoozing.

Day 6 and 7.  Much the same, but by the end of Day 7, I was starting to feel nearly human again!

Day 8.  Back to work, but not necessarily bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but definitely vertical again.  During the whole Covid experience, that dog never left my side for over 10 minutes at a time!  She got loads of brownie points.

Rating.  2 stars.  Nice to have a fully paid week off work, but not nice being too ill to get the most out of it.  Wouldn’t recommend it to a friend.