Back In The UK And The Confusion This Caused My Brain

The vote on my Facebook page to see if people wanted me to carry on writing on my blog or not was inconclusive because I couldn’t tell if the likes were votes or not. I will add this incident to my list of ‘reasons why Facebook should be burned in the deepest pits of Hell’. I’m still undecided about what to do, despite assurances that ‘nothing happens in Bath’. I’m considering setting up a sister blog because writing about Bath in my ‘Amy Abroad’ blog might just seem slightly Birmingham-centric. Even if I do set up said blog, it may just end up being horribly neglected (see all Germany posts). Whatever I decide to do, this blog won’t die because I have an imperial tonne of photo posts to make. Incidentally, an imperial tonne is larger than a metric tonne by two stone or something along those lines. I promised photo posts and I will make them happen. Eventually.


I failed to write (I think) at Christmas and in June about my experiences after arriving back in the UK after a long period abroad. I do feel that my time with the Cite St Pierre was slightly more intense in terms of language immersion, so my experiences once back in the UK were more noticeable when I got back last week than when I got back from Germany previously. Some of them are silly and some are bizarre, but, to be honest, you shouldn’t expect anything else when reading my blog really.


The British Are Polite

No seriously we are. The plane I was on from Toulouse to Bristol was almost entirely carrying Brits and we are mercilessly polite. As soon as the gate was announced, there were people queuing. (After a flying a few times, you come to the sudden realisation that you have a seat and it makes absolutely no difference how quickly or slowly you get on that plane, that seat is still yours and so queuing is entirely pointless.) Then on the plane! Thank yous, sorrys and excuse mes left, right and centre. It’s only after spending a few months in France that I realised that we are exceedingly polite: excessively so. I know I say sorry a lot, but that plane took the biscuit. Then, when we arrived in Bristol, it took about twenty minutes for our baggage to come through and did anyone complain? Yes, but quietly to their friends or family. Everyone just waited politely, muttering exasperatedly under their breaths and sighing. In Germany, someone would have gone to ask what was taking so long or someone would have arrived to explain why it was taking so long whilst apologising profusely for the inconvenience. In France, there would be aggressive sighing, probably arms being thrown up into the air and the baggage handlers would probably have been on strike. The worst we’ll likely do is hold an inexplicable grudge for Bristol Airport and its baggage handlers or maybe write an angry letter that’ll never see more than the interior of the bin.


Number Plates

They just don’t look European at all. It’s like we purposely designed them to be as un-European as we possibly could. Most of them don’t have the EU sticker and they just look different. Most European plates are long, consisting of two or three groups of numbers and/or letters. Even Irish plates have three distinct parts. What do we have? Two parts and more letters than you see on the majority of European plates. The downside is that this means I spent a good three hours marvelling at how odd British number plates are. The upside of which is that in France, I could spot a British car approaching from the bottom of the road. I may be incredibly sad for even mentioning this, but our number plates are different and I think it’s kind of groovy, once I had ceased being baffled by it.


Driving on the Left

You are all doubtlessly aware that I can’t drive and that I have no real intention of learning. Those of you unfortunate enough to have seen my amazing driving skills on GTA V will be incredibly grateful for this. Regardless of whether I can drive or not, I was very grateful to be sitting in the back of the car because a year minus four weeks abroad in countries that drive on the right was apparently enough to confuse me. In comparison to the other things that baffled me, this only lasted about five minutes, as opposed to several hours/a few days. Though, I still look left before right if there aren’t any cars on the road and when I’m getting out of the car into the road, I’m occasionally baffled by a car coming down the road on the opposite side to the one I’m expecting them to be on. I think I must be quite simple to be confused by roads and cars.



They’re heavier. Apparently twelve months is long enough to get used to the euro and see it as a completely normal form of currency, as opposed to ‘monopoly money’ (which it resembles far better than pounds). Obviously the notes are almost identical in weight. When I talk about pounds being heavier, I mean the coins. Our coins are noticeably heavier than their European cousins. The weight of a €2 coin vs a £2 coin is not hugely significant, but I notice when I have lots of pounds in my wallet: the damned thing will weigh half a tonne (metric tonne). I got used to using pounds again quite quickly, but I imagine it’ll take slightly longer for me to not notice the weight. Seriously, our coins are obese.


Hearing English

It isn’t so much hearing other people’s English that was weird, so much as hearing my own voice speaking English was. I didn’t have this after I came back from Germany, but I think that might be because I had a lot more contact with English speakers and a lot more free time. In the three months (minus three days) that I spent in France, the only native English speakers I had contact with were my Mom, Alex, Hazel, one person in the Sanctuaries, Wendy, Theo and Daniel. There were several people who had an incredibly high level of English, but we tended to communicate in French. I was apparently a lot more immersed in the language, the bizarre side-effect of which was that when I came back to the UK, hearing myself speak English sounded strange. In the last few weeks at the Cite, the only English I spoke was inside my head or on Skype for two hours at the most. I guess I just got too used to hearing my voice in French. I continued to find my own voice in English strange for about six hours. My brain is stupid.


Speaking English

Even whilst skyping people from France, it was fairly obvious that my English was having some minor issues. I think it was obvious on my blog too, for example with my difficulties remembering words like ‘sauna’ and the English for funiculaire, which is funicular. I distinctly remember having several moments in France, where I’d stare at an object, or be asked what it’s called in English and be utterly, utterly stumped. ‘Broom’ escaped me for five minutes once. You’d think being back in the UK for a few hours would reboot my English speaking, but apparently not. My English is better now but it was shaky for the first few days, leading me to create wonderful new words such as ‘terocious’. Terocious as in, ‘That driving was terocious!’ (Terrible + atrocious = terocious). Having said all this, I may very well have come out with the word terocious even if I had been in the UK for the entirety of the summer holidays.


The Milkman

I’m not sure if milkmen are still widely used, but we have a milkman for our milk. He delivers milk and Dad’ll leave said milk in the hallway for me to put in the fridge (I’ve been hibernating in the house for the writing of my special study and the procrastinating of said study). For two days, I walked into the hallways, saw the post, picked up the post, sorted out the post and then wrote my special study, completely missing the two pints of milk sitting right next to the post. I like to justify this blindness with the fact that I forgot we had a milkman, but I’m not sure that actually makes it any better. I don’t think it does.


There’s other stuff too. There are adverts I’ve never seen, television programmes I’ve never heard of, new shops in Birmingham I don’t remember seeing before, shops closing down, things moving in the house etc. It was all a bit odd. Even seeing a police car was slightly odd because our emergency service vehicles just look so different and the road signs (indicating cities) are much larger and the houses are all different… well, actually, they’re all the same, which is what makes them different.


Despite everything being weird and odd, it still felt like coming home. If I’ve learnt one thing from my year abroad, it’s that I could live in a foreign country (if I speak the language spoken there) quite happily, but that I would likely be visiting the UK at every available holiday if only to see my family and friends, stock up on tea and eat fish and chips and curry. If you’ve learnt one thing reading this post, it’s that my brain is easily confused by many, many things, including my own voice.


My English Is Getting Progressively Worse

I’m covering a permanence in another pavillon and I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how good I have it at mine. You see, we have wifi in our pavillon, well, we don’t, but we can access a wifi network from the front of the pavillon. This means I can access the wifi whilst on duty in the office (not l’office which is where we stick all the cleaning stuff as I’ve said before). The second advantage is that in our tiny office, we have windows. I never realised how very useful having windows was. The office I’m currently in has no windows and has a machine that makes the most annoying ceaseless noise I’ve come across in a while. Seriously, I have to put headphones in just to stop the headache. Daniel wasn’t kidding when he said the permanences here sucked. I’m hot, have a headache and bored off my head. I could edit more of my special study and be productive, but I have like three and a half hours here and I’ve discovered that I can completely concentrate on my special study for the duration of the new Linkin Park album before losing focus and getting fidgety, I’m sure I can fit forty minutes of constructiveness in my three hours and a half here. Also, I know I’m moaning like there’s no tomorrow, but it is hot in here and that bloody machine is persistently noisy and hell, I’m British, I love me some moaning.


There was some minor pavillon drama in the time between my last entry and this one, but given I can’t remember when I wrote the last one, I can’t be sure I haven’t already written about them. There was my adventure into the Pavillon of Incompetence. That’s probably a bit mean, but when you arrive to help at a pavillon, you expect the buckets and sheets to be prepared, the bins to have been collected and the doors to have been unlocked. So when you turn up and they aren’t even expecting you, you just know you’re going to have a fun old time. I ended up working about half an hour later than normal, because it had apparently taken that long to work out which rooms which team should should clean. The funniest part was that our team was then given two rooms that had already given to another group. I was impressed, can you tell? We got all our rooms down just fine, but I was told later that they’d managed to miss a room. Oh, and though totally unrelated to the organisational prowess of said pavillon, one of the rooms we cleaned had been used by a smoker. How did we know? There was ash on the floor and the whole room positively spewed cigarette smoke at you upon entrance. It’s not allowed of course, but when have rules ever stopped rulebreakers?


What else? Well, because my pavillon is actually pilgrimless this week (it will still have volunters in them), me and Annick, who also works in my pavillon have been drafted to help a neighbouring pavillon. We’ll be there for  cleaning and permanences, but we’ll still be living in our pavillon, which is good because I would be all types of unimpressed if they asked me to move two weeks before I was set to leave. Having said that though, I might be the only person in my pavillon if the planning doesn’t change anytime soon. Basically, everyone, and I mean everyone (except me obviously), is leaving the pavillon this week. If no one is moved in on Saturday, I’ll be on my tod in the pavillon. I’m still not sure if I’d find this very cool and skip all around the place, or if I’d find it terrifying and lock myself in a cupboard. Not that there are any cupboards mind you. To be honest, they’ll likely move me into another pavillon rather than leave me in one on my own. That would annoy me though, as they’d be asking me to move less than a week before leaving. I’ll just be annoyed if they move me. I’d be losing wifi access and the clothes horse. I have another two thousand to three thousand words to write for my essay and I’m worried about losing a clothes horse. My priorities are in all the right places.


I think, unless my memory is as bad as I think it is, that I’ve had three days off since my last entry. This would mean that you haven’t heard the adventure of my day off that ended up being more taxing than what I do on a day on. (Seriously English, why is it okay to say ‘day off’ but not ‘day on’. Stupid collocations.) Basically, as usual, all attempts at a lie in failed. If your fellow pavillon workers arent vacuuming outside your room at half eight, then the gardners are terrorising the grass (I say terrorising because those machines are so loud that I could be convinced the grass is actually screaming). So I got up and then I pissed about pretty much all morning until Annick asked me if I’d fancy doing some interpreting. As I’ve mentioned before, there is a special ice-breakery day for all the young volunteers. Part of this consists of a tour where you go around Lourdes and follow the route Bernadette would have taken to go to the Grotto, stopping along the way for historical information. As there were four or five people going on the tour who weren’t French (two were Irish, two were Indian), though they could speak it, I was invited to interpret into English. I leapt at the oppurtunity, more or less, there wasn’t actually any jumping involved.


So I went and interpreted and the tour lasted about two and a half hours and it’s bloody hard. It was conscutive translating, so the tour guide, Father Eric, would occasionally leave me gaps to interpret (he was excellent at this), but it was still really challenging. You have to listen to every single word and you can’t be distracted for a second, or you’ve lost a bit of information to transmit. Occasionally there was a completely familiar word and I just had to flat out ask what it was, which is why Curé still confuses me, because I have an inkling that it doesn’t mean parish priest though that’s the impression they were giving me. There was also the problem of forgetting what the first thing he said was, and needing to ask again so you don’t neglect it and only translate the end of what he was saying. There was also the small matter of my face. I had to really concentrate, like all the time, so I’m ninety percent sure that I spent most of my time frowning. Understandably, I don’t know what I look like when I concentrate, but I imagine that there is some frowning involved, so I probably looked a bit odd. Occasionally, you have to just get the message across and abandon all sense of an accurate translation, because you can’t remember the exact words.


Oh and at the end? I was knackered. Beyond knackered. My brain hurt and I had to go and have a nap just to release myself from what was probably a zombie-like level of consciousness. I should point out that these are the observations of an amateur with no interpreting experience or training. I imagine a properly trained interpreter would read that and have a hissy fit of some description, but as a language student with no training, that’s what I noticed. I imagine if I do go and do this Masters I’m considering, they’ll tell me I was completely wrong and what the hell did I think I was doing. It was a great experience though, even if it did knacker me rather thoroughly. So that day off was, yeah, well, not the best day off as it turns out. I’m not sure working on your day off and doing something as mentally taxing as cleaning is tiring strictly classifies as a ‘jour de repos’ (day of rest).


My second day off, a week later and last Thursday, consisted of sitting on a bus and visiting Pau and the sitting on a bus some more. Whilst the buses from Pau to Lourdes are perfect for day trips, Lourdes to Pau leads a lot to be desired. There is a bus at 0600 and one at 0715, which would get you in for 0725 and 0840 respectively. I am not a morning person, unless there be something on the telly I want to watch that’s on at stupid ‘o’ clock, so those two were out of the question. I get up at half seven most days, why would I get up earlier on my day off? I wouldn’t. So I had to catch the next bus to Pau, which leaves at 1305 and gets in at 1430. The bus I had to catch back (because I’m convinced last buses will do everything in their power to ruin my day) was at 1715. I had threeish hours in Pau because the 805 can’t seem to get its head around the idea that maybe people in Lourdes want to visit Pau. There are trains, but the bus costs €2, which is just liquid happiness, so bus it was and threeish hours it was.


It was enough time to visit the castle for free (being under 26 in France is a gift that you simply cannot sniff at) and admire its tortoise shell that King Henry IV of France supposedly but actually had nothing to do with and see some of the city, but I’d have liked to have stayed for longer. The ciy centre is up a hill, so there’s a free funiculaire (still can’t remember the English word) you can take to get up and down, which is just all kinds of impressive. The city centre of Pau itself is so French it’s almost ridiculous. I’d see something quintessentially French, turn a corner and there’s the Frenchest street you’ve ever seen with one of those Renaults and a scooter. You know the Renault I mean, the really French one. Pau is very very pretty and, if you’re in the area, it’s worth the time. It’s just so well maintained and pretty and French.


As for the castle, if you’re lucky enough to be under 26 entry (+ tour, the two being entirely inseparable) is free. It is very nice, and apparently a lot of the interior was actually bits Henry nabbed after they weren’t used in Versailles. The tortoise shell is actually a thing. It’ s a bit odd. Apparently the revolutionaries wanted and tried to burn it when they arrived in Pau, but they were given a decoy of some sort? I’ve never associated royalty with tortoise shells, but whatever floats your boat, I suppose. Pau is lovely. I shall maybe upload some photos once back in the UK, but we all know how well that tends to go, so I wouldn’t hold your breaths.


And today (which isn’t the same today as it was when I started writing) I had my third day off since my last blog post. I spent the morning sleeping, well, mostlyish (there being cleaning noises once again), and then I did my washing (the last one, and hey this sounds like a great day so far doesn’t it?) and then I caught a bus at 1517 to Argelès-Gazost to visit Les Jardins des Bains which is a spa. I went to a spa. There were so many different kinds if pools (if those tiny basins technically  class as pools in any way). So many. Well four, but one of them was scented and changed scents every thirty seconds, which I thought was quite cool. The scented one made up for the ‘musical’ one where the concept appears to have slipped by them.


The idea of a musical one would be that you would have music playing through underwater speakers, where it would be loud and clear because of particles being closer together and science, but where you would hear no music above water. This concept seems to have snuck through the windows they left open because their speakers were above water and although I could hear it under the water, I had a hard time hearing it over my heart beating. The other problem I had is that the moment I put my head back to stick my ears in the water, I would float all over the place. I don’t think floating too much is considered a problem, but it is when you’re trying to listen to music that you can’t hear anyway because they’re not playing it under the water like they’re supposed to.


I also went into one of those spa rooms. What’re they called? Steam rooms? If they’re not, that’s what they should be called. I went into a hammam scented one and whilst I don’t know what hammam is or if it’s the same word in English, I do know that it smells nice even at 42ºC in a room with 65% humidity. The French are kind enough to put a water fountain (read water gun) in there for you to hydrate yourself with so you don’t die, but I ended up using it to cool myself off. The heat may have been getting to my head. I was in there fifteen minutes, which I consider an achievement, which I suppose only indicates that I am a very sad person with a handful of achievements, likely as pathetic. Having said that though, I took one look at the statistics for the other steam room before running off to sit in the jacuzzi. The ‘Arab’ steam room was something unholy like 45ºC and 95% humidity. 95% humidity is basically just being underwater as far as I’m concerned, so I avoided it like the plague.


So, other than more cleaning, discovering I’m basically a fish (I can sit in water for nearly two hours, thinking and be as happy and chilled out as a lark (are larks chilled out? are they even happy?)), making two Irish friends, discovering that drinking with Irish friends is not a good idea for sobriety, actually making progress with the special study, discovering that bus times in France are stupid and still failing to have a successful lie in, I don’t think much else has happened. Or at least, if anything else has happened, it’ll have to go in another post because this is three pages long, it’s ten past midnight and I have rooms to clean tomorrow (yay for toilet cleaning!) I feel I’m neglecting the story about Daniel and Theo and the difficulty I experience when going up and downstairs drunk with someone giving a comedic running commentary on my progress in the background. Giggling is not conducive to walking.


Anyway, there we go. Another disjointed blog entry for you. At least my essays aren’t disjointed. At least, I think they’re not disjointed..


. P.S. Apparently, it’s called a sauna and not a steam room. I am clever. Also, this was written on Friday. I apparently forgot to upload it. Again, I am clever. Oh and I have moved pavillions and the architect put the toilet behind the door. The architect is also clever.

Losing Wifi On A Weekend Is Not A Good Idea In France

I’ve only just become aware of the fact that tanning doesn’t just affect your skin. I mean, I knew, academically speaking, that your hair goes lighter when exposed to sunlight, in a sort of bleaching effect. When Alex worked as a lifeguard in France one summer, he essentially came back with a halo instead of hair. Now, when Mom visited, she told me my hair had gotten lighter, but it didn’t really sink in until I spent five minutes admiring the hair on my arm this morning. The hairs on my arm were brown. Now they are blonde. As far as I’m concerned, this is utter madness. The fact that I think this is utter madness is nothing but testament to my ability to locate shade and hide in it for extended periods of time. The only reason I’m tanned at all is probably because I spent three weeks working in the Sanctuaries, and there are some posts there that are entirely without shade. On a vaguely related note, as far as I’m aware, English is the only language (out of a list composed of itself French and German) that distinguishes between shade  and shadow. I find the difference a bit ambiguous as well, because you can stand in shade, but it’s normally something’s shadow, so why is it shade and not shadow?


Anyway, I got burnt a few days ago. This seems to contradict my previous paragraph and my incredible shade finding abilities, but there was a pool involved and if I have any glowing green radioactive kryptonite in my life, it might just be swimming pools. It was 30ºC, there was nothing but sunlight and I’m pasty white Englishwoman, what madness would possess me to leave the safety of my shade? A swimming pool. A nice lovely chlorinated swimming pool. I think I might be one of the few people in the world who likes the smell of chlorine. I also think that it’s not a very useful trait to have. Being, you know, as chlorine is in fact highly toxic in anything larger than tiny amounts. I’m also sure that allowing twenty children to jump, dive and backflip into a pool without looking before jumping is definitely bad lifeguarding.


I understand children like jumping into pools and showing off in front of their friends and pushing in all the girls they find attractive (which is just sort of sad), but part of me can’t help but think you’re a pretty awful lifeguard if you see someone doing front crawl (not the best stroke for seeing where you’re going), a child diving in and landing literally less than a foot away and still don’t feel it necessary to intervene. I

t could be that I grew up with the invention of the Nanny State and Health and Safety or maybe it’s just succeeded in brainwashing me, but for however much it’s hated, when I land in Europe, I can’t help but feel that Health and Safety is amazing and how is everyone in Europe not dead yet? Because seriously, I’ve seen people repairing television aerials with nothing but rope to secure them to the roof, people drive in cars that look like they should be illegal in every country ever, farmers giving up on chasing their cows on a busy road and the part of me that I think might be a closeted Health and Safety Coordinator screams. However, quickly going back to the pool, three lengths of butterfly (not consecutive, are you insane?) is actually quite effective at reserving a small section for swimmers and discouraging children from leaping in head first.

I went to Tarbes on my day out last week. It was where I went to see the horses some time before then. Like the genius I am, I arrived at one ‘o’ clock. Many of you will have begun laughing, the rest of you will be blissfully clueless. Most of France shuts down between midday and two thirty (two if you’re lucky). Why? Because what do you mean you don’t take two hours to eat lunch? Are you barbarians? Worse? English? Even I wasn’t aware of how widespread the two hour lunch break was until arriving in Lourdes. And I have to agree, a two hour lunch break is great, if, and only if, you are working. If you are a tourist or customer or visitor, it is one of the most annoying things that has ever happened to you. So, I arrive in Tarbes, I walk to the Tourist Information Office (cursing the sunshine all the way because I hate heat and sun and how dare it make me happy) and it’s closed for lunch. I ended up mapping out all the bits of the city that aren’t useful or interesting before finally being allowed in to ask for a proper map and general information.

As it turns out, there’s not a lot to do in Tarbes. There’s the Harras National, which I still feel may be significant in some way, the house Marshall Foch was born in, a small maybe military base thing, shops and a museum about deportation and resistance. Because I’m a happy person, I went to the museum. No, I went because it is all very interesting, even if you come out all jaded and confused and sad. So I had a fun day out. I did go shopping before upsetting myself with a WWII museum, so I didn’t completely distress myself on my day out, even if the tourist office’s evil opening hours did force me to resort to eating a sandwich in a park like the greatest loner in the world before, as I said, mapping out everywhere that isn’t vaguely useful. So Tarbes. It rather has me hoping that Pau might be more exciting. Pau has a castle. Castles are exciting, right?

Oh and in Pavilion Drama (I did promise some last time), the fire alarm went off last week at about two in the morning, ten minutes after I was awoken by a drunk text. I have never been more grateful for a drunk text in my life. Fire alarms aren’t great, but being woken up by a fire alarm is infinitely worse. So, it goes off, me and my roommate leap ten feet into the air, I grab some stuff (tablet and phone because and all of my essay notes because they’re just on paper and I’ll be damned if I let fire anywhere near them) and we’re out; down the fire escape and coordinating the fire alarm procedures. At this point, I can see the bloke on duty at the Pre-Accueil approaching and he’s asking me if there’s a fire. To those of you not up on Pavilion Procedure, he’s the one who’s supposed to make that judgement call. I am literally there to open doors and make sure no one has caught on fire. Then there are people appearing on the balconies. The first thing that crosses my mind is, what on Earth are they still doing in the building that may actually potentially be ON FIRE. My question is answered when they ask me what the noise is.

  Now. I might be wrong, but if a really really loud, repetitive, looping and unceasing alarm sounds at an ungodly hour in the morning, I tend to make the assumption that it might just be a fire alarm. I also always thought that this was self-evident and that maybe the next step would be leaving said building. But no, not only were people confused by the mysterious noise that suspiciously resembles a fire alarm, they were also asking me if said fire alarm was a false alarm. In my experience, you don’t sit and wait in a building to find out if it’s a false alarm or not. You know, because if it isn’t there’s a fire and those things spread fast, hence the expression ‘getting along like a house on fire’. What amazed me even more is that there was a Slovak group staying with us and they seemed about as concerned by the fire alarm as the prime minister is in that ant he just trod on. Maybe fire alarms sound different in Slovakia. Forgive me if I’m sceptical. I know it was two in the morning and just waking up makes you a bit sluggish, but surely you’d at least leave? I was awake, full of adrenaline and running downstairs within a minute of the damn thing starting. So full of adrenaline, I might add, that getting back to sleep was genuinely quite difficult.

It was a anti-mosquito candle, by the way. Yeah. Well, at least it wasn’t a hot shower, apparently steam can set off the smoke alarm. I think the smoke alarm may need to go back to smoke alarm school if it can be set off steam. Smoke indicates fire, steam, less so.

  In other pavilion drama, a small bird, that I still haven’t been able to identify as anything but sparrowy, managed to fly into one of the pavilion windows and get trapped inside. Obviously, it was quite distressed, and it was in fact so distressed that even when I was holding it in front of an open window, it still decided the best means of escape would be to fly back into the staircase. It’s roughly the same amount of logic and common sense that a fly would be expected to show. We got it out eventually, but it did manage to make a mess all over the chairs before then. Incidentally, having carried a crow before, I’d just like to say that it’s much easier to carry a crow. Those tiny little sparrow-like birds are faaar to small. It’s like trying to pick up a pen with a tractor: you can but it’s not bloody easy and that pen will only try to make life harder for you. In any case, if it happens again, a bigger bird would be logistically easier. Having said that, that’s not an invitation. A vulture is the last thing we need inside the pavilion.   There was something else. Someone came up and tried to buy books off me one time. That was weird. To be honest, a lot of odd stuff seems to happen. Oh there were huge storms one evening.

We got an orange weather warning and when France issues an orange weather warning, they bloody well mean business. I had to go and tell everyone to shut their windows (with a picture of a thunderstorm for the Slovaks who didn’t appear to get the thunderstorm until someone who spoke English could translate my instructions… I wonder if storms look different in Slovakia…) or invading their rooms and shutting their windows if I feel they won’t come back to do it themselves. I got caught up in the storm. I was like a drowned rat that survived a tsunami only to be put into a washing machine once rescued. It took two days of sunlight and heat to dry my shoes which still smell of rainwater, which, I’ve discovered, does indeed smell. A bit. Or maybe just on my shoes. I suppose it’s better than them smelling of feet right?

So yeah, we have pavilion drama. I do wonder if the other pavilions get this sort of weirdness. It might be a particularity of the one I’m in. Oh and there’s a mysterious noise at night that sounds like a mobile phone but isn’t because everyone can hear it and no one’s mobile is going off. It’s a bit odd. I like to think it might be a forgetful ghost. I’m sure there’s a more scientific explanation but meh, forgetful ghost would be funnier.

As for developing my cultural understanding of France, or my “Frankreich-Kompetenz” as Saarland’s government would have you say, I have made a discovery. The French have about as much respect for my personal space as the Germans did. Along with the Japanese, the British have some of the largest personal space bubbles in the world. I suppose there’s just something about living on a small overcrowded industrialised island with an almost anal concept of manners and a surprisingly violent national history that means you need a disproportionately large amount of personal space and that you get incredibly uncomfortable when said space is unexpectedly invaded by a stranger. Germans will stand very close to you in queues, even if you’re typing in your pin number, and so do the French. Friday, for example, I was writing the week’s arrivals and departures in the book and a colleague came up behind me, leaned over my chair and read over my shoulder. My personal space was not only invaded, but it was also occupied and the discomfort was immediate and, I thought, very evident. (I immediately moved the document they were trying to look at just to remove them from my personal space). I don’t know if maybe I’m more precious about my personal space because I was born and raised in a large city, but personal space does strike me as a concept largely unknown to mainland Europeans, much to my distress. I ought to point out that the French are a lot friendlier and nicer than our stereotypes make them out to be, but they do lack, like the Germans, an understanding of how sacred personal space is considered to be. I spoke to a lovely Swede who has said the same thing, so I’m not paranoid, which is good.

I wrote this on Friday, if you can believe me, but the wifi successfully went down for four days. It went down Friday evening, was down the whole weekend, resurrected briefly on Monday for two hours, died and then came back yesterday full force, as long as it doesn’t crash again. It’s been irritating to say the least. Still, however late, this is one blog post more regular than normal

I Actually Managed To Write This In Two Days Without My Tablet Exploding

Sometimes I wonder if I might be cold-blooded, ‘cuz it’s either that or my roommate opening the window to the freezing cold French morning at ten to six (an entire hour before I roll out of bed). I know normal humans get up earlier than me, but is it necessary to inflict your wakefulness on your neighbour via cold air? It just makes it harder for me to get up in the morning. I know I’m moaning, and my roommate’s lovely, but when I’m still enjoying the bliss of early morning warm bed, the last thing I want is a blast of cold air. If you’re wondering why this is the first time I’ve mentioned it, that’ll be because before this weekend, it wasn’t much of a problem; it was always warm enough outside to leave the window open all day and all night without it being too much of a problem (tiny spider buggers aside). It’s only been since Friday that it’s been chillier, though it is very sunny this morning so maybe that’ll change rendering this entire moany rant thing pointless. Wouldn’t surprise me.


Since the last time I wrote, Vicky (from my university who’s a fantastic advisor for students trying to find placements, or just hope, I suppose) asked for Year Abroad blogs to help the first and second years get ideas and a feel for what it’s like. I gave her mine and now I feel like I should try to post more regularly, but we all know how well that will turn out. To be honest, I don’t think anyone will actually read it because I seem to spend most of my time moaning about keyboards, or I do a disproportionate amount in France (German keyboards be weird too, but I had my nice English keyboard in Germany). Seriously though, if anyone is reading this who will be doing a Year Abroad, do not be put off by my moaning, that is just me and I moan when I’m awoken by cold air, so I’m not exactly not petty. Maybe I should just stick a thing in the About section for students. It would be the first time I’d have touched the About section since setting this thing up…


What else? Well, my parents were here and they got bored faster than a cat looks at you disdainfully. Lourdes is small. Really small. At least, the city centre is. How large the suburbs are (and where exactly they’re being hidden) remains a mystery. Unless they’re all over by the lake, which they might have been: it did look a bit suburby. Anyway, you can walk from Pic du Jer (I can’t work out of it’s a mountain or a really big hill, though I think it might be a mountain, if a small one) to the train station in forty minutes and the bus from the train station to the lake takes ten minutes. Lourdes is small. It has three supermarket chains (that I’m aware of) and a cinema that’s a cinema in roughly the same sense that a going for a run is a gym, in that, whilst it sort of does the same job, they’re fundamentally different in many important ways. For one, the cinema is only open when there is a film. There is not a film every day and if there is a film, it might only have one showing, two if you’re lucky. As for the cinema itself, it’s like watching a film at the Mac. To those of you who don’t live in Birmingham, or do, and have never heard of the Mac, think of a small, not brilliantly well kept theatre, stick a largeish projection screen and voilà, Cinéma du Palais right on your doorstep. You know a town’s small when they ask you if you can see the screen in the cinema. Not the screen itself, the image: they never seem sure that the 3D is actually going to work. So Lourdes is small and easy to get bored of. Once you’ve done the grotto, sanctuaries, Bernadette’s life, the castle fort and Pic du Jer, there’s pretty much just the lake and tat shopping.


I did actually go swim in the lake and I think it was the first time I’d intentionally swam in freshwater (falling in from a sailing boat probably doesn’t count as intention). It’s a bit different. I can finally understand what the RLSS, RNLI and DLRG are talking about when they say ‘sudden temperature changes’. There are patches of warm water. You’ll be happily swimming around thinking, ‘This is so cold, this was a terrible idea, I hate cold water and are those dead insects floating towards me?’ when all of a sudden, you swim into a patch of intensely warm water and wonder if you might not be accidentally swimming over a shark or something. It’s quite bizarre. Odder still, no matter how much I swam, it stayed cold. Normally, you get warmer, so you notice the cold water less. This time however, it stayed cold. Every stroke I was noticing how cold the water was. Oh and mud. In my costume. Thank you, Nature. Not lots of mud, mind you, but little specks of it which is far more than I’m used to (that being none ‘cuz I normally swim in swimming pools thank you very much).


Oh and before I forget, my parents were mortified when they arrived back in the UK. Why? They had forgotten to pay. You know how, when you book hotel rooms, most of them now expect you to pay in advance, well this is what Mom and Dad thought they’d done. When the hotel realised their mistake and rang them, the three of us assumed that the hotel had it wrong. The hotel was right as it turned out. It was quite handy that I was still in France actually because it meant I could just pop back to the hotel, pay with my card and get them to pay me back. Unsurprisingly, Mom and Dad were horrified. I was amused, knowing that it likely wouldn’t be an issue if I could pop into town and pay the next day. As for the hotel, once they’d got their money, they really didn’t seem all that fussed. I was expecting maybe an additional fee of some sort, but they were totally cool about it. They didn’t seem all that bothered that I’d come in to pay for it, they just said (kind of terrifyingly) that they’d have found a way to get the money regardless. I couldn’t ignore how very Terminatory they sounded. I totally got Mom’s permission to blog this. Apparently, I’m too nice to take advantage of the situation and tease my parents relentlessly about it. I’m not sure my parents would be as nice as me were our situations reversed…


On an entirely unrelated note, there’s something bothering me ever so slightly, and for a change, it’s not my complete inability to go from French to German or German to French without speaking some sort of Freutsch for thirty seconds. (I really want Freutsch to catch on. It’s like Denglisch and Franglais, but much cooler.) No, what’s bothering me at the moment is the divide between bonjour and bonsoir, as in when you start using one or the other. I know, from what I’ve been told that bonsoir is typically after six ‘o’ clock, which isn’t all that disimilar to the UK, where it’s ‘good evening’ after six instead of ‘good afternoon’. So I’ve been making a concerted effort to say bonsoir after six. It’s just that sometimes, French people will reply bonjour to me even as late as eight. I can’t work out if they’re trying to correct me, or if they just don’t know the time or if they just hold some sort of inexplicable grudge against the word. Occasionally, the French will greet you with bonsoir at five and I don’t know what to do with that. Do I bonsoir back, or do I correct them and say bonjour? Is that rude? Why should bonjour (literally ‘good day’) become invalid as a greeting after six? It’s still day, especially in summer when the sun hangs around like a bad smell. I know this is perhaps the pettiest rant on my blog to date, but seriously, how can you trust a country that can’t decide when the evening starts and the afternoon finishes?


Another thing I find ridiculous is the French habit of naming several different objects with exactly the same word. Gâteau for example. Many of you will know this word to mean cake, though I think it might also be the Spanish word for cat. What you won’t know, is that it can also mean biscuit and cookie, even though the French do indeed have different words for these foodstuffs, but I’ve noticed that they don’t actually tend to use them, or at least they don’t until I point out how stupid it is to have the same word for three distinctly different types of snack. Mind you, it does completely solve the age old argument of whether or not a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit. What’s a Jaffa Cake? A gâteau. Mystery solved. Gâteau isn’t the only word the French overuse. Meet the word bouton. It means button. And spot. Can you see why it might be useful to have lots of different words for different things? I’m sure English does it and I know German does (hence my confusion upon seeing ‘Nothahn’ (‘Hahn’ meaning both cockerel and valve, therefore meaning I read it as ‘Emergency Chicken’) on the side of a bus), but it is silly. Especially because if you ask for a gâteau, you might get biscuits instead of cake, which is just some form of unusual and cruel punishment.


I went to see horses the day before yesterday (why doesn’t English have a word for this? French and German do), which made me as happy as a pig in mud. The Cité does day trips, usually on Saturdays and Sundays when I’m working (I think they check I’m working sometimes to make sure I can’t go…). The Saturday just gone was a trip to Harras National (which I think is significant in some way) in Tarbes to visit the Equestria Festival. There were so many horses. I like horses. I don’t know why I like horses, but there we go. It was quite an impressive festival actually. We watched a ‘danse voltige’. This confused me. Not the thing itself, more the word. You see, when we went to the festival, they used the word ‘danse voltige’ to describe people dancing on horses, or, I suppose, performing stunts on horses, and yet, earlier the same week, I’d heard the same word used to describe people dancing in the air (attached to a tree by wires). Having spoken to some French people, the word is apparently used to describe dances that take place off the ground. In any case, it was very impressive. Almost as impressive as watching four women successfully riding horses bareback with no reins and the horses weren’t walking either, they were trotting, so you know, fairly impressed, can’t imagine it’s particularly easy to do. The only downside of the whole thing was that we only stayed three hours and now I want a house with a big garden so I can have two little Shetland ponies that I definitely wouldn’t name Ant and Dec. I mentioned it to Alex. He didn’t seem impressed.


Also, the nature of the Cité means that the volunteers tend to come from all over the place. This obviously means that there are a lot of languages hanging around and, statistically, there will be some people who can only speak their mother tongue, or who can speak their mother tongue and another language, but not French. So occasionally, you’ll be sitting in an office and your colleagues will be speaking to each other in their native tongue, one you don’t speak and, whilst you can understand how unnatural it is to speak to a fellow native in a foreign language, you just have to hope they’re not talking about anything you should know about too.


There was one time actually when I was sitting at a table with a Frenchman and two Slovaks. We had decided to speak in English, because one of the Slovaks didn’t speak French and everyone had a high enough level of English to understand the others (except me, apparently my accent (English) is tricky, because I get funny looks every time I speak it : as if I’m saying everything wrong). So we speak in English, until the Slovak (who berated us for speaking in French, asking us to speak English so she could understand) turns to the other Slovak and speaks in Slovak, which, obviously, neither I nor the Frenchman can understand. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to assume that’s rude. Translating is fair enough, but if I have to speak in a foreign language in front of someone who can’t understand it, I tend to explain why and apologise, because, you know, it’s a bit rude not to. So yeah, there’s that.


So yes, another blog post. That’s almost one every fortnight! I think. I don’t pay enough attention to know. I haven’t really got much else to write about beside Pavillion Drama, but that’s mostly small stuff like finding out that people have been cooking in their rooms, or that there’s a group arriving that’ll be taking an extra room that’s not been done properly by the volunteer who was supposed to clean it before they left etc. I might write about it next time, if I remember. So yes, uhm, blog entry number thirty something. After nearly twelve months abroad, I feel I should have more to show for it… Oh well.

Lourdes Has Insects With Terrifying Stingers

Okay. I hate my tablet. Would you believe me if I told you that this is the third time I’ve tried to write this entry? The first time, I forgot to save, my tablet doesn’t autosave, voilà. Second time, I started a new document, opened up the web, tried to go back in, my tablet reloads ‘Polaris Office’, my one paragraph gone. Both occasions, I’d been explaining about how I’d been trying to write about the Sanctuaries before moving to la Cité St Pierre (which I did in torrential rain for your general information, felt like a drowned rat when I arrived). Rather than attempting, for the third time, to write down some of my experiences, I’ll just talk very briefly about the experience as a whole. On a related note, I don’t think I like the word experience. I can’t quite say why, but using it makes me feel like a bit of a pretentious idiot. Unless I’m talking about experience (EXP) with regards to video games. Then it feels completely natural. One day, my blog won’t be a rambly mess. That day is not today.


So, my time at the Sanctuaries was great. I met a load of very kind and very nice people, who I plan on staying in contact with. It was a very odd sort of work, because it wasn’t really work. Your feet take an awful beating because you’re essentially standing around for six hours a day offering advice and giving information when asked, but otherwise, it is just standing around smiling and trying to look as friendly as you can without scaring people… You end up picking up some Italian just out of necessity, but just basic directions, which I didn’t use a lot anyway. Telling people they weren’t allowed to do something was definitely the hardest part, because they would either respond well, apologise and stop or carry on and ignore me. I know I look young and that might be one reason why they feel they can ignore me, but it really did grate on my nerves. If you’re doing something wrong and it’s not allowed, you stop, surely? Mind you, perhaps not. There wouldn’t be car chases if people just stopped and admitted they’d done something wrong. Though I’m sure doing so would go some way to stopping all those nasty carbon emissions. Not a long way, of course, but, you know, less car chases would be good for everyone but the film industry and criminals.


I did leave a bit of a gap between starting this and continuing this, but we’ve had a relatively busy week. In the pavillion I work in, the first constructed and now partly dedicated to housing all of the young volunteers, we don’t get big groups like the other pavillons because we’re smaller. It’s just occured to me that I haven’t explained what I’m doing or where I am apart from the Cité St Pierre. Whoops. Okay, basically, I’m working in a pavillion. There are seven or so (unless I’ve forgotten one) pavillions at the Cité. One houses volunteers exclusively, but most house some volunteers and mostly pilgrims. My pavillion is mostly young volunteers, but we get our fair share of pilgrims too. Our job is to clean and maintain the pavillion (cleaning the rooms when people leave, keeping the corridors clean etc.) and to welcome pilgrims and new volunteers. We also have ‘permanences’, which are specific periods of time when someone has to be present in the office (though not ‘l’office’ because that’s the cupboard where we keep thr cleaning equipment, though if it’s hot, it is very cold in there…) to either welcome new arrivals, prepare equipment for cleaning the next day, help pilgrims when there’s a problem (usually running out of toilet paper), answer the phone and sit around reading and avoiding my special study.


So, I’m a cleaner/receptionisty person and I want that to be my actual title. It’s more interesting than saying I work in the pavillion. I should point out that the work is interesting enough. Cleaning toilets isn’t intellectually challenging, but trying to work out how many sheets we need is. (After nearly six years without maths lessons I find mental maths far more challenging than I probably ought to). It’s good. The work’s alright, but the people I work with and have worked with are fantastic. I say have worked with because, whilst I may become a permanent fixture for the next two months, the other volunteers in the team don’t seem to stay much longer than about three weeks. It means I’ll regularly be making friends and then saying goodbye, but it’ll keep the work from getting old. So yeah, I’m working and it’s okay except…


When it’s hot. It was in the mid to high thirties over the last few days and those of you who know me well will know that me and hot weather are not friends. We do, in fact, actively dislike each other. Cleaning works up a sweat, it’s a fact of life, but the pavillons do heat up slightly in hot weather (minus l’office, which I think must just be a miniature version of what hell would feel like if it froze over) and that just makes you sweat faster, which is as lovely as it sounds. Even today, when it’s supposed to be stormy and cold, it’s still managing a pleasant 15ºC or maybe even 20ºC . (I don’t have a thermometer so I don’t know. Could be minus pink unicorn for all I know.) The only advantage is that the hot weather meant that my washing dried within four hours of being put on the horse (clothes horse, in case I confused you) which I appreciated twice as much because I’d had to wash the clothes twice (machine had no soap the first time). Also, though I’m aware that ‘soap’ isn’t the correct term, the only word I can think of is ‘lessive’. Hell, I can’t even think of the German.


I suppose that must mean my French is getting better. The accent isn’t. In fact, Jean Charles, a volunteer who I worked with for just over a week, introduced me to a phrase he designed just to really show off the English accent in French. It’s “un très grand rat dans un très grand trou”. It’s the ‘r’. In English, we don’t roll our ‘r’, so it’s a sound that makes us quite easy to identify. So, other than being asked on a near daily basis to say it and then being told how very adorable my accent (and, unfortunately, me by extension) is, I’ve actually been getting a lot of compliments. I’ve been told several times that my French is very good and it instills a joy that’s quite hard to explain. It made my day when a woman in the Sanctuary Bookshop told me my French was very good (especially because I heard her repeat this information to her colleague). Although my accent’s still quite strong, the actual quality of the language is apparently improving (though I won’t deny the possibility that the French are just complimenting me because there’re a lot of tourists in Lourdes who are not entirely unlikely to butcher the language). Either way, I’m speaking a lot of French, much more than when I was in Rouen and I’m picking up lots of very odd words. I question the usefulness of the word ‘mop’ in my oral exams next year…


I was pretty chuffed when Germany won the World Cup, but my chuffedness was amplified by the frankly outrageous amount of support Argentina was getting. We were watching it up here, at the Cité, and due to the very international nature of the Cité, there are a lot of Spanish-speaking peoples, who, rather unsurprisingly, chose to support Argentina. Languagism is that. I wouldn’t support Canada because they speak English. (I’d support them because Canada’s lovely). I do tend to find that the more vocal the support for the other team, the more obnoxious I find them, the louder I support the team I like. Hence, when the people supporting Argentina cheered obnoxiously loudly when they got the ball into the German half, I became slightly more vocal in my support of Neuer, the German keeper. I’m trying to work out whether this is just me and a newly discovered personality flaw/quirk, or if this is everyone’s reaction to apparently obnoxious levels of support… And no, I never supported Germany in the match against France. Nope, that’s not a thing that ever happened. At all…


Ooh, I went to see ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’ or ‘Dragons 2’. Just to clarify, it was dubbed in French and there were no subtitles. It’s starting to irritate me when people warn me that there’ll be no subtitles. Firstly, we don’t really subtitle films in the UK when they’re in English, so why would the French do it? Logic would suggest they wouldn’t. Secondly, why do you assume I need subtitles? I won’t lie, I don’t understand all of the dialogue all of the time, but I understand a good 90 to 95%, which is more than enough to enjoy the film. I understand that other people don’t necessarily know what my level of French is and are just trying to be helpful, but this is the second film I’ve been to see in France and everytime they ask me, it feels (to me at least) like they think I’m some sort of idiot. Anyway, rant over, it’s a fantastic film. It’s brilliant and made me cry three times (didn’t succeed in beating ‘War Horse’s’ record of six times), though I do have to point out that the dubbing was, in places, painful. Example: character’s laughing, but I hear no noise coming out of their mouth… In all fairness, the German dubbing of ‘The Lego Movie’ and ’12 Years A Slave’ was hardly perfect. It is an incredibly difficult task though, dubbing. Translating’s hard enough without trying to fit your translation to the movements of a mouth.


What else? Uhm. Parents are visiting next week, the wifi’s only marginally better (more coverage, weaker signal), weather hates me, other volunteers are great, work’s good, though we did have a very patronising induction talk. Our ages range from seventeen to twenty-five, which, sadly, places me in the older section, but the talk was patronising like you wouldn’t believe. I like to think I’m mature (and that being mature doesn’t have to mean the absence of childishness), though I’m sure some people would disagree with this assertion upon discovering I’m remarkably childish, so I felt a lot of the information was self-evident. Things like ‘some people get up early for work or pilgrimmaging (not a real word, I know), so please be quiet after such and such a time’ or ‘if there’s a romance and you want to spend some time in someone else’s room, you can, but out of respect for other people’s beliefs, don’t stay the entire night’. You know, bits and bobs I’d expect as rules in a religious site like Lourdes. Being told this information wasn’t necessarily the problem. What was a problem was that I could have sworn we’d have been given the same speech if we were a class of ten year olds. I hate being patronised. Unless you’re explaining rocket science or experimental physics or brain surgery to me, you probably won’t need to patronise me. Probably.


So there we go. My third blog entry in a month. I think. Ish. Maybe. I’d write more but at this very moment I can’t think of much else to talk about besides eating an outrageously large ice cream and Bastille Day… Bugger. I probably ought to write about that…


It may be sacriligeous of me, but I’ll summarise it briefly. (Having tried to write this entry three times, my patience has well and truly worn thin. As I imagine yours has with false promises of entries for interrailing and Paris.) It was a working day like any other for us in the pavillion, so there wasn’t anything happening until the evening. In the evening, there was a BBQ, a kareoke like thing (each pilgimage staying in the Cité performed a song of some sort), a disco and fireworks. We had an excellent view of the fireworks. The Château Fort can be seen from my pavillion (not my room, bloody inconsiderate tree) and that’s where the firework displsay was taking place. We all had a grand time, though the Russians didn’t take me up on my offer. (If the four of them went up and sang the Russian National Anthem, I’d go up, alone, and sing the British National Anthem.) Whilst I will admit I was slightly tipsy when I made the offer, I had every intention of doing it. They pulled out and I won’t say I wasn’t glad. Oh and the fireworks were amazing. I was quite impressed. I was not expecting something that long or pretty for a town as small as Lourdes.

So there we go. Another completed blog entry. Just another of the many miracles of Lourdes…

Oh, regarding the insects: I don’t know what they are, but they have huge-looking stingers and they keep coming in my room and my current defense strategy is to squeak at it and run to the other side of the room. It’s no wasp or bee I’ve ever seen and I have no intention of getting close enough to it to work out what it is. Oh, and WordPress’s spellchecker has given up on life so spelling errors and typos were totally not completely my fault.

I Meant To Post This On Sunday

I’ve found a word processor on my tablet that can handle more than 1500 characters at a time, the only trouble now is writing on the blasted thing. You’d think it’d be easy, but no. For example, before correcting myself, easy read as “essy” and example as “examble” and “exampled” respectively. It’s a bit frustrating, especially for someone like me who can be a bit anal about spelling and typos. Anyway, that’s enough of my moaning about keyboards and France. Those of you with a good memory will remember that that was a theme last summer as well. Maybe I should put the tablet’s keyboard into an Azerty keyboard just to really wind myself up.


The weather in Lourdes at the moment is what some people would  call terrible. It’s rainy, cloudy and sometimes, it gets a bit chilly too, though never anything below 15ºC. I’m loving it. It’s very comfortable weather to work in, even if you do constantly need an umbrella just in case. The reason I’m loving it is because last week was what the same people who’d call this weather terrible, glorious. It was 30ºC if not slightly more, the only clouds were hanging in the distance over the mountain and they’re were white as the Hospitaliers’ uniform (which is white, just in case you hadn’t guessed) and the sun was bright and determined to let every bugger in Lourdes know just how very bright it is. To me, of course, this is the sort of weather that makes me want to find an air-conditioned room and hide there until the sun goes away. There was very little shade and the sun was very intense. Sometime last week, I was working on the boulevard just in front of the grotto (walking up and down with a sign, shushing people when they can’t understand the very self-explanatory images, telling people to use their phones elsewhere, telling people they can’t smoke in the Sanctuaries etc.) and there was no shade there. Ever. The floor had soaked up so much heat throughout the day, that you could feel the heat through your shoes, not to mention that your shoes would leave imprints in the bits of tarmac that had decided unanimously to melt. So yeah, it was hot and I didn’t like it. I should have studied science and gone to Antarctica.


In case you don’t know what I’m doing in Lourdes, I’m volunteering for the Service Pilotes at the Sanctuaries for three weeks (the first week of which will finish on Monday) and then I’m working, again as a volunteer, for la Cité St Pierre for two months and some weeks. Why? I like helping people. I think it might be an incurable condition, though it might not be contagious, so you should be alright. So yeah, that’s what I’m doing. To explain what a pilote does, I should first explain that we don’t fly planes, we’re guides. In fact, we’re essentially walking information points and, on the odd occasions when it’s necessary, we ‘faire la police’ and ruin people’s fun by telling them they’re not allowed to smoke. As for the Cité, well, they gave me a list of jobs I could do, I ticked the ones I wanted to do and I’ve since forgotten what I ticked because I’m a genius like that. To think that some people think I’m intelligent…   As pilotes, we mostly get asked about Mass times, or where {insert name of something in the Sanctuaries} is, or if there’s anything on at that particular moment they’re asking us, which are all quite easy to answer, because after a few days, you know your way around and we’re also given a list of things and what time they’re on. I say ‘things’ because sometimes it’s a mass, sometimes it’s a group doing The Way of the Cross etc. Sometimes, however, you get the weird questions like ‘what time do the buses from Lourdes go to the airport?’ There’s nothing wrong with asking of course, but it might be nice if they looked a little less horrified and put out when I tell them I don’t know.


Occasionally, we have to tell people off. Usually for smoking in the Sanctuaries. There are signs saying you can’t but I heard the best excuse ever yesterday and I feel it’s logic is worth us all pausing to marvel at. Oh, and keep in mind this was a thirty to forty-year old, okay? Oh and it was all in French, I’ve just translated it.

Me: “I think you know what I’m going to say.”

Smoker: “No, what?”

Me: “You can’t smoke in the Sanctuaries, it’s not allowed.”

Smoker: “But I’ve been doing it for the last three days and no one stopped me.”

Me: “That’s because no one saw you doing it.”


There are signs at every entrance saying that smoking is forbidden, they’d been doing it the last three days, no one had seen them or told them they couldn’t do it, despite it being explicitly stated that you can’t. Let’s apply this logic to everyday life shall we? Stealing is against the law, it’s written on a piece of paper that your Monarch or President signed. You steal, but no one sees you doing it so you assume it’s fine and allowed. No, my friend. It’s still against the law, you doing it without someone seeing doesn’t mean it’s okay, it just means you didn’t get caught. The logic is stunning. It’s about as watertight as a child’s theory of ‘if I can’t see them, they can’t see me’.


On a relatedish note, you know that question, ‘if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it still make a sound’? That question always annoyed me. Does it still make a sound? Of course it does. I don’t know much science, but I do know that sound is created by sound waves, which a tree would make regardless if there were a set of ears there to hear it. Having said that though, I suppose the question depends a lot on your definition of sound. Is sound a noise or is it a noise you hear? Besides, the question is moot because, even if there were no humans, there’d be some animal life that would hear the tree falling. How did I even get onto this topic? Welcome to Amy’s stream of consciousness, good luck following or making any sense of it.


So yeah, aside from the heat, intermittent internet access and the rare smoker who tries to argue the rules with you (most apologise because they didn’t realise or they’d forgotten), I’m having a grand old time. I haven’t even really burnt all that badly, though I may have just jinxed myself… despite the current weather too, knowing my luck

The Fun of Travelling to Lourdes During a SNCF Strike

The majority of this blog was written whilst I was sitting in Toulouse bus station. You’ll have to read it to find out why. All you need to know, though telling you here may well confuse you… sorry, is that I got into Lourdes two hours earlier than expected, helped some Hawaiians who I then got into a taxi with and who then wouldn’t let me pay for myself (because I helped with some French and they’re lovely people), got up in time to pick up my key, got into my room and went off to volunteer the next day. It all worked out a million times better than expected, as you shall read shortly.


Well, do you all remember how bad Germany started off? With no accommodation and only twenty four hours to find some? France has obviously taken that as some sort of challenge. I flew into Toulouse from Bristol, as planned, despite the sat nav trying to send us down some roads that looked like they led to the end of days. I got the shuttle bus service from the airport to the train station, as planned. Then there was a strike. All the trains from Toulouse to Lourdes were cancelled and guess where I wanted to go? Lourdes. So, after speaking to the very helpful SNCF staff who weren’t on strike ( I can’t judge what the ones on strike were like because, you know, I didn’t meet them), I was told that there was a bus at 1945 that would get me in at 0025. Now, whilst the travel problem was sorted out, another problem decided to raise it’s ugly head. Namely, accommodation. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I was cursed. Everywhere I go, accommodation seeks to cause me headaches and stress.


Anyway, the reason accommodation was a problem was because you have to arrive before midnight to pick up the key for the room. Arriving after midnight means no accommodation for you! I rang up and the man who picked up was also supposed to give me my key. Sadly, he couldn’t hang around to give me the key, but he did pass me, rather suddenly, onto somewhere that could help. Despite some communication problems, I managed to get a room for the night, warn them I wouldn’t get in until like oneish and get the address off them so that when I get a taxi, I actually know where I ‘m going. So, provided the bus isn’t stupidly late getting into Lourdes and that the temporary accommodation is as I described, then all is relatively well. It could certainly have been worse : there might not have been a bus at all! And Lourdes is a hell of a lot cheaper than Toulouse… in my head anyway.


So yeah. I have a back up plan should the accommodation demon with a vendetta against me strike again and that is the Ibis Hotel. Whose address and phone number, Mom has kindly text me. So that’s some drama for you right there!


On an unrelated note, I walked past a bunch of men whilst on the phone to Mom and they were shouting “pika, pika” at me in a French accent. It took me a minute to work out that this was because I was wearing a pikachu t-shirt. I suppose that’s a positive thing, right?


And in the end it all worked out fine. I’ll hopefully be writing about what’s happened since the disaster that was Sunday, but that’ll be later because writing on a tablet is much more time consuming than a computer and I can only access the wifi from one room. That room isn’t the room I sleep in either. In case you hadn’t guessed, this paragraph is happy Tuesday Amy, not stressy Sunday Amy. Just thought I ought to point that out, in case it isn’t strikingly obvious.