I am sitting at a table in the café area at Le Pre Lombard when I am joined by some of my new young friends who seem to have adopted me as their ‘honorary grandfather’. They were very kind to me when we first arrived, helping me to master the intricate ‘signing on system’ necessary to get on to the internet. As the old saying goes, ‘If you don’t know how any of the latest communication devices work … ask a young person … they know everything!’. There is Nicole and her friend, Fleur … and Fleur’s boyfriend, Justin … and Fleur’s younger brother, Gus. Gus has just turned 13 but he is telling everyone that he is 16. Apparently he has met some nice girls who are older than he is and wants to impress them. I ask him if the strategy is working? ‘Not so far!’ he replies. We all laugh! I confess I did much the same when I was his age … and it didn’t work for me either!
They ask me what we have done today, and I tell them that Julia and I have been to Andorra. They have either all been to Andorra already during their stay here in Tarascon, or are planning to go. We talk a bit about the fabulous drive over the Pyrénées, the weird but wonderful forest of tax free retail outlets right at the top of the Pyrénées found as soon as you enter Andorra, the numerous petrol stations selling ridiculously cheap petrol just across the border, and our disappointment with the Andorran capital city that is trying to ape Monaco. Eventually they leave me to go into Tarascon to the Festival that is on there at the moment – much better music than what’s on at our campsite tonight apparently?!
As soon as they have gone I am joined by a man who I have seen around the campsite but not spoken to as yet. ‘My name is Rene’ he tells me, ‘may I join you?’ ‘Allo! Allo!’ I say … but he doesn’t get the joke?! ‘I heard you talking about Andorra’ he tells me, ‘and I wonder if you could give me some tips as I plan to go there myself sometime this week?!’ I try and answer all his questions. I tell him to go over the Pyrénées to Andorra but come back through the tunnel. I tell him the best route to take, tell him about the retail units and the cheap petrol, and warn him to watch out for cattle on the roads and for cyclists. I wish him a happy visit and we go our separate ways.
There are so many lovely people on this campsite. They are so friendly, kind and helpful. I have always naturally got on with people. For some inexplicable reason people of all ages talk to me. It seems to be especially so here at Le Pre Lombard. We are so impressed by the young people we have met. Nicole is studying to become a child psychologist, Fleur is training to be a Primary School teacher, Justin wants to be either a fighter pilot or a doctor (we are praying that the medical profession pull will win). We get on especially well with Nicole’s parents, her mother, Margot and her step-father, Tonie. They are full of fun and laughter … and even laugh at our jokes … and we would really like to get to know them better. We know that we are all sinners by nature and all need a Saviour – ‘estranged [from God] and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds’ the Apostle Paul tells us (Colossians 1:21) – but nevertheless there is also a spark of something better that clearly resides in the human heart. We are all made ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1:26) by which I understand it to mean that deep down inside all of us God has left a spark of the divine. Consequently even the worst of us, deep down, know that we are destined for better things in the plan and purpose of God. Again and again we have seen and sensed this in the various people we have met here at Le Pre Lombard. As Christians our job is to help people see this, and turn to Christ … rather than to be always condemning people in a negative and critical way!
Two years ago (when we were in France for two and half months) we had a bad car accident when someone reversed into our car at the Millau Viaduct. Fortunately we were not hurt, although our car was in a garage for repairs for three weeks as a result. During that time we received a lot of help from a number of people – help that we could not repay at the time. We sensed then, that although we could not repay in person those who were so helpful to us at that time, a time would come when we would be able to show a similar kindness to others in equal need as ourselves. And this is how it turns out for us at Le Pre Lombard.
Bruno and Valerie, in a campervan on the next pitch to ours, reverse into a lamppost and buckle the wheel on their tandem which is strapped to the back of their van. The specialist cycle repair shop is miles away but we are able to drop the wheel off for them on one of our ‘days out’ so that it can be repaired in time for them to pick it up on their way through in a few days time. Bruno and Valerie are so appreciative that they give us a really nice bottle of red wine. Donna (the German lady who put her husband in the ‘dog house’ when we first arrived, you may recall from a previous blog) turns out to be still on our campsite. They left a few days ago but their car broke down and they had to return. She is actually really nice … and clearly has to make all the decisions in the family … and she is really worried about getting the car repaired. We meet up with her ‘by chance’ and are able to reassure her and offer our help. In the end we are not needed, although Donna makes a point of coming to see us to say how important it was for her just to know that we were there with our offer of help. And then there is Leticia, who arrives on the pitch next to ours just a few days before we are due to leave. Her car has also broken down … in Tarascon … and she has to stay on our campsite for a few days until it is mended. She is a single lady, in her 30s, divorced and rather lost, trying to find a new direction in life. She needs to talk … and joins us for breakfast and most evenings … and we hear her whole story.
These are just a few of the lovely people we have met on our two week sojourn here at Le Pre Lombard, Tarascon. People we believe God has put us alongside in order both to help and to learn from. Time does not permit us to say more of so many others … including Kurt and Ellen … the ‘happy Christians’ who we have also got to know so well and who have been nothing but friendly and supportive to us! We will miss them all when we move on at the end of the week.
Later on in the week I am back sitting in the café area trying to ‘log on’ to the internet yet again. Rene comes and joins me at my table. ‘Have you been to Andorra yet?’ I ask him. ‘No’ he replies, but we have been to Carcassonne!’ ‘Oh!’ I reply. ‘We just love Carcassonne! What did you think of it?’ ‘Not much!’ replies Rene. We spent a couple of hours walking around it, and although there were some ‘old bits’ we didn’t see what the hype was all about!?’ It turns out that Rene and his family went to new town … and didn’t see the old cite at all? I am amazed. When I get back to our pitch I tell Julia. She collapses in hysterical laughter! ‘Well, what did you expect … from anyone asking you for directions?’ she says. ‘Someone wants to go to Andorra … and ends up in Carcassonne … and when they get there, they only go to the new town and not to the medieval cite?’ ‘Oh well!’ I respond, ‘I suppose I did preface my directions to Rene by saying, “Listen carefully … I will zay this only once!?”‘