Social Life and Choirs

Everything’s great here. Things are just starting to fall properly into place.

I’ve (Ange) been doing freelance work for MakeUseOf.com for a few months and slowly but surely have been offered more responsibility (and money), which is pretty awesome. MakeUseOf.com might not be on your radar, but it’s in the top 100 tech blogs and PC magazine recently listed it as number 5 in top tech blogs for the year. So, as far as using my degree for something appropriate goes, this is pretty high on the list. 🙂 Plus, it’s fun! And it means messing about on the internet is officially useful for me professionally. Woo!

Other work things… I’m about to start working as an English teacher for kids (just two short lessons per week on Wednesdays). Basically, this will mean playing games for an hour with about 10 kids. 🙂 I’m also about to start conducting a bilingual kids choir. I’m not getting paid for the conducting. When I agreed to it I wanted an excuse to get out of the house more and I had previously figured that volunteering would be a good way to pick up more French and meet new people.

Socially, we’ve been sort of adopted into a lovely family here. Their kids have decided that we’re like aunt/uncle or cousin to them. I babysit the girls every now and then, plus I go to the park with them sometimes on Wednesday afternoons (kids here get Wednesdays off school). Most weekends there’s a lunch either at their house or our house, plus we go out for dinners/lunches sometimes. We’ve even been to their family farm. 🙂 For the little one’s 4th birthday, we had been invited for lunch on the Sunday when the grandparents would be there, but when the kid woke up on the Saturday (which was her birthday) she demanded that there be a birthday lunch for her ON her birthday and told her parents to invite us around quick smart.

Oh, and another day, I was driving somewhere with the mother and the girls, when one kid suddenly asked if she’d be allowed to spend some time at my house while her mum wasn’t there. ?!?!?!?! The other kid decided that would be a great idea and got in on the begging. So, somehow we wound up agreeing to this and I looked after the girls (ie. let them play computer games and eat lollies) while the mum went home and had a nap. They also choose having me babysit them over the nounou (nanny), which is good(ish) for them since the nounou can’t often take them at short notice.

Both of the adults of this family speak better English than we speak French. The father is determined to get us to teach his whole family decent English, so he prefers it if we speak English (with the girls especially). The girls hate this idea, so we say things in both languages (if we remember). Then, we sneakily set up computer games which will teach them small amounts of English (but not rely on it). I think they learn at least one new English word (in a way they’ll always remember) per day of babysitting.

There’s not much of a work social culture for Bruce, but they’re all lovely and friendly people. Occasionally there’s work lunches or dinners, and if there’s English speaking people that need entertaining I usually get invited out too (perks!). We usually entertain the English-speaking people who are here on business during weekends, too.

In choral stuff, we joined a choir a year ago. This was the start of everything. It’s just a small (5-10 people) unauditioned choir in Agen (choir is called L’Ensemble Vocal Expression d’Agen). Because of the conductor and a few choristers, we’ve then either joined other choirs or at least met people through joint choir concerts.

Alright, I’m going to have to start throwing names in to ensure things make sense (note: Françoise is a woman, François is a man. Different people).

The conductor (Françoise) and a few singers from there (including François and Anne) also sang in another choir once a month on Sundays (called Gaudeamus), which Bruce and I got invited to join. Gaudeamus is basically made of people from Expression d’Agen and another one of Françoise’s choirs, Impulsion de Villeneuve (Villeneuve is a town 30 minutes away). Gaudeamus is held at Anne and François’ house and has a rotating roster for who’s in charge of making lunch, so we’re blissing out on awesome French food when we’re with these guys. They also sing awesome music (Françoise has great taste). Oh, and it’s got lots of Dutch women who speak English and are still learning French (and are lovely and give me lots of mirabelles), so we all help each other out with understanding what’s going on. We like this choir.

Meanwhile, Françoise has convinced me to do some solos and to sing solo/duet stuff at weddings with her as well as the choir stuff. And Bruce and I get to go to French weddings!

Françoise also conducts a choir (well, she conducts lots of choirs) not far from here in Bon-Encontre. This choir is a bunch of oldies and is massively bass/tenor heavy and so she begs me to sing with them sometimes. Thankfully, she doesn’t make me go to all the rehearsals and has allowed me to be the sort of evil ring-in that everyone hates (except they don’t). Bruce is invited to sing as well, even though they really don’t need more guys around. And these guys are great – they invite us to their massive lunches after choir events, so we get to hear old-person jokes, practise our French and eat more awesome food. Expression d’Agen and the Bon-Encontre chorale sing concerts together sometimes too. Oh, and through these concerts in Bon-Encontre we’ve met this awesome Irish priest (who lived in Adelaide).

We’ve sung at community events, fund-raisers, the fête de musique and proper concerts (as well as the weddings). Sometimes we go on short hikes with choir people before or after a concert (and they teach us which wild plants are edible). Some concerts are with more than one of these choirs, and we either sing the same piece together or a few pieces each. It all works out, although sometimes we have no idea what’s going on.

Three of the choirs (Gaudeamus, Expression, Impulsion) went to Auvergne at the end of September for a joint concert and whatnot. It’s a beautiful mountain area.

I think we’ve met about 100 people directly through this small circle of people. Plus, we’re getting to see a lot of local culture and everyone is keen to teach us local history, make us try new foods and notice anything special worth noting. It’s great!

Somehow I wound up being convinced to conduct Gaudeamus after Françoise parted ways. It’s not a paid job and I’ve told them they can only have me temporarily until they find a proper conductor. Mainly, they wanted to get someone who knows last year’s music well (Jenkins – Armed Man), since we learned it especially for a concert in Holland this July.

Oh, and for this year (year being like the European school year: Sept-July) Françoise wanted to get a female choir (made from Expression and Impulsion) to sing one of my favourite pieces ever (Jenkins – Adiemus). I have no idea when we’ll have time to practise this, but I’m damn well doing it.

So, that’s our French choral circle. Then there’s the English choral circle. (Oh, also in name annoyances, in this social circle there’s both a Victoria and a Vicky).

Earlier this year, Victoria decided to start a female choir which was friendly to mums with kids. I figured I’d join so I could meet English-speaking people (especially mums). In this sense it’s GOLD. There’s a few mothers (25-40 years old) with small kids. They babble on about toddler/baby stuff, the French school system and bilingual kid issues constantly. Perfect. Also, they talk about how to get hold of English produce in France (or things that are normal in England but you can’t find here, like CRUMPETS). So, it’s great. I’m learning (about both kids and being an expat in France), networking and speaking to people more my own age – yay! They’re also a fun bunch who are involved in local folky/music stuff. So, there’s a few of us there who keep track of the local folk events and make sure we all know what’s coming up. Plus, those ladies have partners who are all friends too. They run a cricket club for English expats who get together for beer & cricket in Summer. They want Bruce in. 🙂 Oh, and we sort of made friends with the guy who runs the curry cart at the folky events. Mmmmm, curry.

Luckily, it is also a good choir. The conductor, Vicky, has great taste in music. For this choir it’s all show-tunes and boppy stuff. The girls sound good. It’s fun – Yay! But, within seconds of joining this choir Vicky had asked me to join another one of her projects. So, after those rehearsals, Vicky, Victoria and I have a practise together for a trio (which might expand when we find the right people). We sound amazing together. We’re singing pretty, angelic-voiced stuff for one concert theme, and Vicky wants us to do some dixie (and similar) for a concert she’s got planned with her husband’s band. It’s going to be awesome. And busy!

So, I pretty much need to stay inside and hide from the world so I don’t wind up finding out about other cool things I can do. 🙂

In general, we’ve spent lots of time chilling at home, reading, watching movies, playing games and trying to learn French. We’re tourists some of the time, too.

Oh – and we were taken gliding the other day!!! After a lovely lunch our host just said “Hey, the weather’s nice, let’s go gliding!”. It was great!

Sometimes I think we do nothing, other times I think we do too much. 🙂

Most of this post was written in one hit (originally in an email to tanya) and I’ve been slowly adding photos relevant to what’s written here. However, there has been many other events between the last post and this. Plus, there’s other news worth mentioning this week. My grandfather Barry Moore has recently died after slowly watching his body fade away. I will be very sad not to be in Australia for the funeral on Friday.