It has been a busy week and for the first part of the week, nice and sunny. Now it is raining and a cold wind is blowing. The cats have all come inside claiming a cold allowance. They are at least at the moment fairly quiet but will soon start the pre dinner intimidation routine. As it is indoor play today, Mrs. Parish has retired to her sewing garret and is making cushion covers for the dining chairs in the gite. I have started the blog early and hope to get a large chunk written before being overwhelmed with cats.

First, a mole update. Our orchard has been mole free after Mrs. Parish’s effective counter offensive last week. Unfortunately our ally Peter has been suffering a few setbacks and has not managed his quota of mole strikes. Last week he was pictured fork in hand poised to strike at a molehill. Sadly he was unsuccessful and has spent the week putting out traps which the moles have managed to set off without being in them! We have decided to send him back to Britain for some well deserved R&R and some additional training. He will be away for 3 weeks and so we have promised to include his grounds in our regular patrols. If Mrs. Parish can be spared from our front line we may be able to deploy her into Peter’s garden if the moles persist. 

Today we have been to vote for the local Commune mayor and councillors. In France non nationals are able to vote in the local elections for the mayor and local commune council. In our commune there are only 220 voters but the election is a serious matter as the local mayor has a lot of powers, including officiating at all weddings. We registered to vote and can vote in the European elections and for the local commune. So we went off to the mairie this morning not knowing quite what to expect. In small communes the mayoral candidate has to put together a list of candidates and you can vote for the whole list or cross off people you don’t like. In our commune there was only one list but there still has to be an election so that the people can endorse the candidates (and even reject them). Up until this election you were allowed to add someone’s name to the list in the polling station even if they were not a declared candidate!  So unlike Britain where there will be no election if there are insufficient candidates, in France there is an election in every commune. A total of 926,000 candidates in 36,700 communes, towns and cities across France. In the towns and cities the lists are organised along political party lines.

When we got to the mairie it seemed a bit chaotic and we entered the voting room and found it full of people. Not all were voters and for a small commune there seemed to be lots of officials! In good French bureaucratic style we had to present our voting form and a piece of identity. We were then given an official envelope to put our votes into. As we are a small commune you can either write the names of the candidates on any old bit of paper or you can use a list provided, which is just put in the envelope. There was no formal ballot paper, and no official mark as there is in Britain. We then had to sign against our name to show we had voted. The best bit is putting the envelope in the ballot box. An old gentleman was sat behind the ballot box which has a lever which opens the slit on top to allow you to put in your envelope. Once the envelope is in he says out loud “A voter” every time! It means “to vote” and this is done at every voting station across the country. We now await the results. If not enough people vote in our commune (candidates must get a majority and at least 25% of the vote). If not there is a second round next week. These are more important in the larger areas where there are more competitive elections. There is no postal voting in France. If you can’t get to the polls for a valid reason you must appoint someone to vote on your behalf. 

The rest of the week and I have been extending my skill set by taking on a variety of tasks. The most important of which has been tractor maintenance. Thanks to the internet I have managed to work out what I need to give the tractor a service. The key need has been to replace the battery. This has proved a bit of a challenge and led us to some interesting places. Apparently Cold Cranking Amps are what is important. The tractor we have is called a Kubota and is made in Japan but most of the websites are American and I managed to find a sort of tractor owner’s club website. The bit on batteries involves a video of an American rambling on and getting quite animated about cold cranking amps. This refers to the power in the battery necessary to start up a tractor engine in cold weather. It needs more than 850 CCAs. 

We couldn’t find one in the local DIY stores so went to specialist agricultural machinery shop in Gorron. The guy there was very helpful but needed to see the old battery to make sure we got one the right size. So we came back a couple of days later with battery in a bag. Batteries are exceptionally heavy things!! Anyway having looked at our battery and after disappearing out back, he decided that he hadn’t got a suitable replacement. However he was able to direct us to another shop in Gorron. This was like going back in time as we arrived at Gorron Auto Electrical. We went in and found the elderly proprietor on the phone with his head in his other hand. Clearly an exasperating call by his look and the sounds he was making. The French are marvellously expressive. His small office was covered in paper. The storeroom next to the office a chaotic mess of parts and boxes. Anyway, once off the phone he looked at our battery and said he could get one and to come back in a couple of days.

Two days later we return and find no battery. Monsieur got on the phone to his supplier and immediately resumed his head in hand pose and proceeded to berate his supplier. My clients are here, what shall I tell them, a day, a week, coupled with loud sighs and a few grunts and Gallic shrugs. At the end he says he will phone us when the battery arrives (if it ever does). But this is France and things happen at their own pace. So we wait for a phone call from Monsieur, no doubt with head in hand and lots of sighs!!

The search for other parts was not much better. I decided from the website that I need to replace the air filter, fuel filter and change the oil.  This time I thought I would outsmart all the small French parts suppliers and go on to the internet. I found an English company that stocks filter sets for the tractor and can deliver at reasonable rate to France. So all smug I duly ordered the parts and they arrived a couple of days later. When I opened the parcel the parts did not look like the ones I had taken out of the tractor, or like the pictures on the website. So I decided to phone the supplier and immediately struck  the pose with my head in hands. I even manage a very good exacerbated sigh when the supplier tells me he has sent the wrong parts and will have to send another parcel with the right bits! A Gallic shrug is needed!

All this trouble and I haven’t even had a go a fitting all these parts and draining the oil etc. I have these adventures ahead of me and I foresee more head in hands scenarios over the next week or two.

Some good news this week as Patrick has said he would like to use our paddocks for grazing his sheep which have just lambed and he has 4 ewes and 5 lambs. He also offered to some round and help repair the sheep shed which lost its roof just before Christmas in the strong winds. On Saturday afternoon Patrick duly arrived with his wife Catherine and his very large drill and his blue French working overalls. I am very jealous. Patrick is never still and always seems to be working. He seems to be full of nervous energy and is thin as a rake. He arrived and immediately got on with the job of fixing the roof back onto the breeze block building and together we soon got the job done. The roof is so well fixed now it would take a typhoon to blow it off. We are now awaiting the arrival of the sheep who should be with us in the next couple of weeks once they have grown a little bit.

The other great news is that it is “Foire aux vins” time at the local supermarket. Twice a year at Easter and in September the supermarkets have wine fairs in which they sell wine cheaply and in vast quantities. It is the ideal time to restock the wine cave which has fallen to dangerously low levels. I was given a book on French wine for my birthday and it has a useful section on setting up a wine cave. It suggests that you need 210 bottles of wine of various sorts for a proper “cave aux vins”. Well this presents an interesting challenge. So I have been pouring over the brochures from the supermarkets and drawing up lists of wine that we desperately need. When we did our shopping on Thursday I started off the process by buying a box of 6 bottles of Cotes du Rhone for less that 1 Euro 50 a bottle and a box of Muscadet at around 3 Euros a bottle. So that is 12 down only 198 to go. My list includes a whole range of more expensive and better quality wine. I have explained to Mrs. Parish that we need all this wine. It seems that she too has mastered the head in hands and exacerbated sigh!!

All this talk of wine. I think I need to organise an immediate wine tasting session. A little aperitif now and then some full bodied red to go with the roast beef Mrs. Parish is cooking tonight.

A la prochaine