So far I have not been overwhelmed by sponsorship offers. It may be that the major French Companies are too busy with Christmas and that they are waiting for the New Year to beat a path to my door. We shall see. Winter draws near and it has become decidedly colder here in Mayenne and we have had our first frosts. So now Mrs. Parish is lighting up the fire at lunch time which of course mean I can write up the blog without wearing my fingerless gloves and wearing an overcoat. Mrs. Parish likes to be active so she has left me to my literary muse and has gone, as she puts it “to do something useful”, out in the garden.

The wood burner in its full glory!

For those of you waiting on tenterhooks for a full report on the Pot au Feu evening, which should have been last night, there is a big disappointment. We were visited on Monday by Yvette who informed us that all the tickets had been sold for the evening at Brece. Clearly the Pot au Feu is exceptional or Laurent and his Orchestra are more famous than I thought. The tickets went on sale last weekend and were sold out within 24 hours. So whatever goes on at the Brece evening must be pretty amazing but we may have to wait until next year to find out. It is clearly a step up in class from the Choucroute evenings.

So this week we entered into another brave new world as we considered what to do with our paddocks over the winter. Patrique had just moved his sheep out of the paddock and he wanted them left empty to allow the grass to recover over winter ready for his lambs in the spring. Our friend Alex wanted to put a couple of sheep in the paddock over winter. Our first thought was about grass management. Now if you had told me before I came to France that grass management would feature among my topics of conversation I would have laughed. Mind you if my maths teacher had told me that one day I would need maths to work out how much grass an adult sheep could eat over a three month period in winter, I might just have paid more attention! In a dilemma we took advice from a friend Julie, who cuts our hay and who also keeps sheep, so an expert in this field! She introduced the matter of sheep diseases and said that keeping the paddocks free of sheep would not only be good for the grass but the winter would get rid of any residual sheep diseases. So now we can add shepherding to our skill set. 

Eating sheep is also part of our skill set and we are still working our way through the leg of lamb we received last year. We had the lamb feast with Alan and his friends and put the rest in the freezer. Last week I made a lamb curry and a lamb stew and we still have enough for two more meals. Bartering is such a fixture here is France and a great part of the rural lifestyle. This week our neighbour Giselle came knocking at our door early in the morning and proceeded to pass over the rabbit that she had promised us for helping to cut her hedge. The rabbit was one of her caged ones which she had killed and thankfully skinned and boned. So we now have two rabbits in the freezer and Mrs. Parish has now found a traditional recipe for rabbit with prunes. One problem is that the French do justice to the animals they kill by eating the entire animal. The rabbits still have their heads on! This may be where we draw the line at trying to be French!!!!

While living in rural France is great I do seem to spend a lot of my time battling with nature which seems to have singled me out for special treatment. The same can be said of machines and I have written in the blog before about my fridge which has an unbelievable range of different noises and introduces them at random. This can be a bit disconcerting if you are in the house on your own. The toaster does vary the noises it makes but does vary the way in which it treats each piece of bread. We buy some of our bread cut in slices ready for toasting. So bread which is exactly the same thickness and size sometimes comes out as warm bread and on the same setting then comes out as burnt bread. It often seems to depend on what mood the toaster is in that morning as it can vary from day to day. Of course even a little bit of burnt toast can set off our smoke alarm. 

The smoke alarm has now joined forces with the other machines to test my patience. The usual method of stopping the smoke alarm is to wave the tea towel at it. In recent weeks the alarm has gone off and so I get up and try to find where I put the tea towel and then go to the alarm. Just as I get there it stops. Yesterday I stayed sat in my seat when it went off convinced it would stop in the same way. No it didn’t until I had got up to get the towel. 

The cats of course continue to join in this conspiracy and have now taken to tapping on the window when they think they should be let in. They all sit on the window sill trying to look cold and miserable and pleading to be let in. If you don’t respond immediately they start tapping on the window. I usually show them my watch and explain that it is still an hour and a half until their meal time. Usually after an hour of this harassment you begin to feel sorry for them and let them in. Usually a big mistake as they immediately begin the search for anything edible until they get their cat food. 

On Thursday Mrs. Parish made an apple and blackcurrant crumble for lunch on Friday with some friends. It was on the work top cooling when the cats came in. It had the cake cover on top to either prevent the cat’s access or at least to warn us if they moved it. So Mrs. Parish and I were sat having a cup of tea when we noticed that Archie was missing and I could hear a licking sound. I discovered that Archie had leapt silently up onto the work top and had without a sound pushed the cover off and was licking the crumble! The moral is never feel sorry for cats; they are always one step ahead of you!!!

Archie hiding on the cupboard shelf, waiting for a chance to get at the crumble!

You would think that kissing is simple and an area where one could relax. Not in France. The French have a custom of kissing on the cheek when you meet them (men usually shake hands with other men). So this should be easy but there are unwritten rules to be learned. In this part of France it is normal to kiss on both cheeks unless you meet a child when it is one cheek only. Sometimes it is two kisses on both cheeks (four in all). There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for this (maybe it is just to keep us English on edge). 

Then there is the dilemma as to whether there is a greeting kiss to someone you are introduced to for the first time or whether you should shake hands. It is easy with children as you always have to kiss them.  Although this can be troublesome when you have a whole troop of children you don’t know all lining up to kiss you. And then which side do kiss first and should you take off your glasses to avoid poking the other person in the eye. You have to do all this and remember to ask how are you? This is also complicated as the French have two words for you. The common “vous” and the more personal “tu”. There seem to be no rules as to when you move from saying vous to tu.

All this leads to a sense of panic whenever you meet anyone and a fear of committing some awful social gaff. It may well explain why some English people here never go near the French! Of course the other problem is that when lots of people who know each other get together there is a lengthy delay while everyone goes round and kisses everyone else and then you have to make sure that you don’t miss anyone out or that could cause embarrassment. I think this is why the French invented the aperitif so that you have something to relax you when facing all these challenges and also so you have something to do while waiting to be kissed. 

All this talk of aperitif has made me thirsty and I think I need to relax after facing all these challenges in one week. Who knew that retiring to rural France could be so complicated!