Burnham on Crouch


Status:Active, full but can join waiting list
Group email: French group
When: Weekly on Thursday mornings
10am - 12 Noon
Venue: Member's Home

We meet on a weekly basis on Thursdays from 10:00am to 12 Noon. Our meetings begin with each member talking about their week's events, which usually leads to discussion. Following this we translate an article from a magazine or newspaper etc.

July 2019

The group continues to meet every Thursday morning, at members’ houses, numbers attending varying according to members other commitments. Owing to illness I have missed a number of meetings, but attended the last before this report.
We read and translated a report in “Sud Ouest”, a French newspaper, about 34 gold ingots with a value of about a million Euros being discovered in a cellar by three workmen renovating a house in Loir-et-Cher in July 2015.
Soon after the discovery the workmen, their employer, and the property owner decided how to divide the value and everyone seemed satisfied, but in 2017 the workman who had been using the pickaxe, went to law and after four years of legal proceedings the Court of Appeal in Orléans decided that he and another using a shovel should share one half of the value with nothing for the third workman. The workman with the shovel was not satisfied with this and appealed further, resulting in him being awarded the whole of one half the value.
We followed this with a printed quiz on our knowledge of common or familiar phrases, many of them colloquial or slang. Some we knew or could guess, others not. They are difficult to remember unless one comes upon them frequently, or gets in the habit of using them. One most of us knew was “j’en ai marre”, meaning “I am fed up with it”, but where the noun “marre” seems to have no literal meaning. Much food for thought.
-Brian Caulkett

November 2018

It is useful to listen to French when we can and some interesting recordings come with the Bien-Dire magazine. At one meeting we listened to an audio recording of an article about the author Maurice Leblanc & his fictional principal character Arsene Lupin, the gentleman burglar. Many of his books are available, so given sufficient time and enthusiasm there is plenty to keep us occupied
We read an article about the real-life origins of various Comptines – French Nursery Rhymes. You can find many of them played and translated on the internet. Interesting because like English nursery rhymes many relate to actual historical events
At a gathering of only three of us we listened to a song “Salade de Fruits” sung by Bourvil, a gentle account of romance on a tropical island.
Taking advantage of our small numbers we listened to a brief account of a young woman’s interview for a journalism training course, the account being in the form of conversations between four people. Having heard it we each took turns to speak the appropriate part of the conversation.
For three successive meetings we continued reading the book I have previously mentioned about the vicissitudes of Ibrahim’s life. The book had a happy ending with him established as the Arab proprietor of the corner shop that he inherited from his friend and mentor, the Sufi Turkish grocer.
-Brian Caulkett

October 2018

At the first meeting since my last report we read and translated an account of the life of Simone Veil, a distinguished French politician, only the fifth woman in history to be accorded the honour of being interred in the Pantheon, the last resting place of especially distinguished Frenchmen since 1791 ( Mirabeau & Voltaire) During the re-interment ceremony this year following originally being buried at Montparnasse last year she was eulogized at by President Macron.
We followed this with an amusing French account of the nuisance of smartphones.
We read and translated an article about the problems faced by French bistros whose number is declining as a result of the difficulty in earning a living from mostly small transactions.
At two consecutive meetings we read and translated from a book by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt entitled  “Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran” dealing with the Interaction between a young Jewish boy and a Sufi Muslim Turkish grocer,  a short book based on an earlier play (also made into a film).
As our meetings are weekly we have covered much more material since I started this report, so I will stop here and continue in my next report.
-Brian Caulkett

August 2018

This report is short as I was on holiday (again), missing several meetings.
As you know our meetings start with an opportunity for those present to practice their spoken French by recounting their personal news. Of course listening to French spoken in France is different from our listening to each other, but we are fortunate in having one member who is a French speaker since infancy and helps us all to raise our standard.
At the last meeting I attended before my holiday we started reading another Maupassant short story “Le Père” about a man taking a bus to work each day attracted by a young woman on the same bus. They eventually have an outing together, the woman getting the man to promise there will be no physical lovemaking. At the point in the story we got to at this meeting it looked as though the man might break his promise. As always Maupassant seems able to produce a wealth of detail and atmosphere with few words.
At another meeting we read and discussed very varied articles from Paris Match one a report of a naked man attacking and biting a policeman and passers-by, a second about recent films and actors in them, and a third about an elderly lady who had lost her memory and whose identity was difficult to establish.
As previously mentioned please notify our leader Pam, if you are interested in joining the group.
-Brian Caulkett

July 2018

There is no great enthusiasm in the group for the study of grammar, but nevertheless on 26th July we tackled the formation and use of the conditional tense (or conditional mood). The formation is straightforward, but use can be difficult, particularly if a subjunctive might be appropriate. More study is needed if we can find the enthusiasm.
At the next meeting we read and translated an interesting article about small areas of Paris that have a rural aspect, such as La Mouzaïa, with roads or lanes bordered by former workers’ houses, now adopted by the middle class like some of the mews in London, and decorated by flowers and small gardens. The word “bobo” describes the residents, short for bourgeois bohème, or middle class bohemian.
At the following meeting re-read and translated an article about French emigration in the 19th century including perhaps surprisingly to Argentine and Uruguay. Apparently nowadays some emigres, or their descendants, are returning to France.
Some while ago I read of an adventurous Frenchman establishing his own kingdom of Patagonia & Araucaria within Argentina. If you would like to know more about this amazing adventurer look in Wikipedia at “Orélie-Antoine de Tounens”.
Next we read French reports of the recent Genoa bridge collapse – much the same news as we had in our UK papers and TV. We followed this with a test on our knowledge of phrases commonly used in French.
As always our meetings are a cheerful and friendly affair, each of us learning a little from the others.
-Brian Caulkett

May 2018

On 17th may we read and translated an article about the present day heritage of the widespread French demonstrations of May 1968 involving many sectors of the economy, with reference to President Macron’s difficult position in deciding how to mark the 50th anniversary bearing in mind the opposition to his own proposed reforms.  To lighten the intellectual load at this session we also had a short story connected with the 1968 uprising and a short humorous comment on the benefits of Champagne.
As I have been away for four weeks there were a number of meetings about which I have no information.
At the next meeting I attended we read and translated an article about the French reaction to the #MeToo movement and its relevance to the reputation or perhaps reality of France as “le Pays de l’amour”. In October 2017 a French journalist living in New York Set up a new hashtag #balancetonporc which produced a strong reaction with many reports of personal experiences of sexual misconduct (800,000 in February 2018).
However the conclusion of the article was that in France little had changed: to please, seduce, flirt are simple and spontaneous pleasures. The content of the article resulted in a lively exchange of views among our group.
At the next meeting we read and translated another of Guy de Maupassant’s short stories – The Child – about a father’s great distress at the death of his beloved wife in childbirth resulting in his treating their newborn child with excessive affection, followed by his emotional turmoil on discovering that his friend was the child’s father.
-Brian Caulkett

January 2018

We started the new year on 11th January with a short story by Guy de Maupasssant “Le Crime au Père Boniface” which we managed, in turn, to read and translate during our Thursday morning meeting. This was considerably extended beyond the usual 1½ hours because of the group’s enthusiasm to reach the outcome at the end of the story. A very neatly constructed story with a brisk action, compact and vivid descriptions and a neat ending.
We read an interesting article about the changing nature of French society and the composition of the new middle class, perhaps replacing the bourgeoisie.
The group read the opening chapter of a French translation of a lurid American thriller by James Patterson  La dernière prophétie. We had time for the first chapter only  – perhaps we will return to it.
Items in French newspapers were briefly read. Two of the more sensational were about Train Surfing on the Paris metro (running along the roofs of moving trains) and about Nutella riots – precipitated by a promotional offer by the supermarket Intermarché. Both of these can be seen on You Tube in English as well as French.
The group continues to meet weekly, with various numbers attending. As a rule the meeting is cancelled if there are less than four, but so far this year only one week has been missed for this reason.
-Brian Caulkett

October 2017

The French group meets weekly, the members taking it in turns to host the group and provide the subject matter for the meeting. As a result there is a wide variety of material studied. We usually start by each of us recounting in our best French (somewhat variable) what of interest (if anything) we have done since the last meeting. Sometimes we listen to a recorded item in French and do our best to translate it.
In recent weeks we have become somewhat highbrow and read and translated extracts from “Becket”, a play by Jean Anouilh, and from “David,” a novelette by J M G le Clézio. (“Challenging” is the word that comes to mind).
We have also read and translated more mundane prose:  recently various newspaper reports about wolves, believed to have come from Italy, attacking sheep in Lozère, a forested area south of the Auvergne, and more recently some useful information about when in France one can use the familiar mode of address “tu” and when one should stick to “vous”, the formal mode.
In the past we have had songs in French, and games, such as a version of “What’s My Line”. No doubt we shall return to these when the host for the week so decides.
-Brian Caulkett

November 2013

Pam Eastham’s French conversation group meets once a week in the homes of its members. Some weeks we are all too busy and our meeting is abandoned, but today (21st November) eight of our nine members gathered chez Mary. The ninth member is currently somewhere in the Australian outback.
Mary had generously provided pints of fresh coffee, piles of chocolate (brain food!) biscuits and lots of interesting material to discuss and translate. She began by asking us to remember (in French, of course!) where we were when President Kennedy was assassinated. The memories came pouring out, not just of the Kennedy assassination, but of the Cuba crisis, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the death of King George VI and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. We have to admit that in our eagerness, we occasionally lapse into English, but when lost for the right French word, help is always at hand from other members or from our dictionaries.
Mary then passed around some pictures of places which have recently been in the news, for us to describe and discuss – the Forth Bridge (est-ce qu’on peut l’ escalader?), the Philippines disaster (quelle tragedie), Colchester’s street lights (allumer ou eteindre?).
We were then presented with a recent article from “Le Figaro” to translate, according to which about twenty sections of the Eiffel Tower’s spiral staircase have been auctioned off and are now sited all over the world.
Finally, a very lively meeting closed with eight sets of little grey cells having been given a comprehensive workout.
Vive la langue Francaise!
-Jill Taylor