After a quiet week the chaos that seems to surround our lives in France has returned with a vengeance. The sun arrived at long last and we have had a gorgeously sunny week. Now that May has passed I could safely don my shorts again. There was of course a risk that the reflection might cause temporary blindness to the surrounding populace, but it was a risk I was prepared to take.

One thing I have discovered in France is that the French discuss and moan about the weather just as much as in Britain. Giselle, our neighbour has called the weather “bizarre” for the time of year and has been complaining that the weather is too cold for the plants and too wet up until now. I suspect that it’s now too hot and dry for the plants. Just like at home. One result of the improved weather has been that all the baby birds are starting to fledge and leave the nest. It is quite like springwatch here. We have loads of nesting birds around the garden and it seems lots just under our roof and that of the gite. There are families of tree sparrows, house sparrows and starlings flying up to nests under the eaves. In trees we have a family of nuthatches, blue and great tits, chaffinches, some redstarts and blackbirds. Now of course there are little fledglings falling and flying about all over the place with frantic parents trying to organise them and feed them. Throughout all this we are attempting to keep the cats away from them.

We have had some disasters but the cats have not got too many birds. Archie found a blackbird nest and took the chicks before we could stop it. Moggie, in his usual madness went racing up a tree and moments later two chaffinch chicks in a nest came shooting out the other side. To get Moggie out of the tree, I had to throw things at him and then catch him, while Mrs. Parish grabbed the chicks and put them back in the nest. Hopefully all the birds are now able to fly so should be able to get away from the cats. However I have just been watching the tree sparrows and the parents have been neglecting their feeding duties and seem to be bonking everywhere ready to start a second brood. So we will have to do this all over again!!

The spring watch extravaganza has continued all week with the Hoopoe’s return after disappearing in the cold weather. We have heard it most mornings. The morning routine requires me to get up at about 7-15am to feed the cats and to make Mrs. Parish a cup of tea. So I usually go downstairs in my dressing gown to do this. On Monday I got downstairs and heard the hoopoe calling from what seemed like our orchard so I grabbed my binoculars and ran out to the orchard, just in time to see the hoopoe flying up from the orchard and over the house. So I went round the back of the house to follow it still of course in my dressing gown. This can only add to the “hurluburlu” (French for oddball) reputation I seem to be getting as the archetypical English eccentric. Mrs. Parish just sighs.

It has been a bit of a cat problem week. On Thursday Archie went missing. Those close followers of this blog will realise the significance of this as Archie was one of the two cats we inherited when we bought the house. Sadly one of the cats, Trigger, went missing last year (off sowing his wild oats somewhere). On Thursday Archie simply disappeared and missed his dinner. If you have met Archie, you will know that this simply never happens. Archie and food are as one. We tried calling him and rattling his food bowl. Usually he will come quickly when there is a prospect of food. On Thursday, nothing. Now in the words of Lady Bracknell to lose one cat may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. Finally it occurred to us that the removal van next door might be the solution. Our neighbour Peter was moving back to England on Thursday and he had a removal van there all day. This after food is Archie’s great love, getting into or on any car, van or lorry that visits. I rushed round to see Peter and asked if he had seen Archie. Well, Archie had been in the removal van as well as in Peter house during the day but when I got round there the van had gone. Was Archie in the van and on his way to England as an illegal immigrant? Peter phoned the removal man who had parked up the van ready for the next day ferry. He searched the van and even put out food and water in case he had missed him. All we could do now was wait.

At around 8pm I was talking to Peter over the fence when bold as brass who should casually walk up the lane but Archie. God knows where he had been but 4 hours late for dinner he finally turned up. I think it must be attention seeking behaviour. The kittens of course get cosseted but no more. This week it was their turn to become outside cats. The whole point of us having cats here is to keep mice away from the house so the cats should live outside. Archie has never really accepted this idea and tries to convince us he has been mislabelled and really should be an indoor cat, which he says he is very good at. The kittens are now around 9 months old and we decided it was time for them to live outside so as it has been really warm this week we put them out at supper time. Of course this was regarded as very exciting by Moggie and Minou, chasing around in the dark seemed like great fun to them and the chance to sleep out in the lean to shed was great. So we have had no problem getting them to go out. In the mornings they are knackered and come to sleep, flat out on our bed for the whole morning. Today it’s got quite cold again so it will be interesting to see how keen they are to go out tonight!

I reported a couple of weeks ago that we had tried calling in the French army of the air to strategically bomb the moles. Since then there has been some minor incursions but I think the effect of me riding up and down the field on the tractor mower singing Bob Dylan songs is having an effect to deterring the moles. This week with the arrival of hot weather has seen the moles adopting new allies in an airstrike against us. We have noticed some rather large hornets approaching the house looking for nesting sites in the roof. They are great big buzzy things about twice the size and noise of a wasp. We have only had one or two prospecting for nest sites but this does not seem a good idea. Once again Mrs. Parish’s combat experience is standing us in good stead. I have deployed her to air defence duties. She has set up an anti-aircraft battery outside the front door and sends up flack each time they try it on. Her preferred method is to run out the hose that is linked to our outside tap and to use the spray attachment. She then sends up a jet of water which either knocks the hornet out of the sky or at least gets it wet and sends it off away from the house. Of course this is a great opportunity for me to act as the radar screen and to shout “bandits at two o’clock” and to mark kills on the wall by the water tap. I have also been wandering about humming the theme to the dam busters. Not quite the right link but it captures the mood of defiance against all that nature can throw at us!!

On which subject Mrs. Parish comes in to tell me we have blackleg on our potatoes. For a trade union man this is dire news. Strike breakers in our potatoes I start to rush out to set up a picket line when Mrs. Parish calmly explains that this is a bacterial fungus on the potatoes and not some anti union plot. Anyway the good news is that she has to dig up the potatoes on either side to isolate the problem, which means excellent new potatoes for tea. We also this week had the first broad beans from the potager. New broad beans just dug up are perfect and so for dinner tonight we have new potatoes, broad beans with a nice filet mignon of pork from our excellent butcher in Ambrieres. We have also had two strawberries this week. So the garden is starting to produce and a great summer of eating is in prospect. And of course a drop or two of fine wine to go with it.

Life here in France is full of surprises. This week Mrs. Parish needed a passport size photograph for her health card so we went to a large supermarket to find a photo booth. We first of all find out that it doesn’t give change so we have to buy something to get the right money.  The machine has one of those stern French voices that seems to be in all machines. The one in the garage pump is so quick to criticise if you are a bit slow in pressing the button or putting your card in to pay. I usually have a competition now to see if I can do each stage before she starts. I am not doing too well so far. Anyway back to the photo booth. Mrs. Parish does not like bossy French voices so she tries the English alternative. We were expecting the normal posh English voice you tend to get on these machines and were taken completely by surprise by a voice that sounded exactly like Janet Street-Porter (a sort of whiny, lispy cockney) and dissolved into floods of laughter. More “oh, English eccentrics” expressions from passing French people.

Finally in an exciting and action packed week, I have been elected lane monitor by the hamlet. Peter used to cut the verges all the way along our lane to the main road. As he has gone back to England there was a vacancy for this honorary title and so on Friday we met up with Giselle in the lane to discuss this and Giselle approved my application to take on the task. I have established with her exactly how it should be cut leaving sufficient long grass at the edges (as she said this would hide the fact that she uses weed killer to keep the weeds down where it passes her house). So I now have my first honorary title as hamlet verge cutter.


Mrs. Parish is up in the craft workshop making curtains so it would now be good policy to take her up a cup of tea. We are now very big on developing our craft skills. Mrs. Parish in terms of knitting, sewing as well as gardening. My skills are developing on woodworking as well of course as senior tractor mower technician. I will report more on our craft workshops next week and may even put up some photos.

The cats have heard the word tea and are all now looming outside the door looking in mournfully and hungrily.

A prochaine