As I start this week’s blog, sat at the kitchen table, there are three cats arranged sharing the table. However they are not at the moment bothering me but all three of them are staring fixedly at the kitchen worktop where Mrs. Parish is preparing tonight’s Beef Bourguignon. She is cutting up bits of beef and the cats are watching every move, waiting for a moment’s inattention in which they could strike. The price of dinner is eternal vigilance in this house.

Mind you the cats are even worse when we get to the cheese board. Of course you would expect French cats to like cheese but we have made a mistake by giving them their late supper garnished with cheese rinds and bits of parmesan cheese. We usually give the cats a few crunchy biscuits at around 9pm as we put the cats out for the night. It is all part of the complicated and hard negotiated contract which designates the cats as outside cats. Anyway, the cats get supper and from time to time we add a few bits of cheese as a garnish. Well we should have learned that the cats are very clever at pushing the boundaries of the contract. Getting more indoor duvet time, bringing the time of dinner forward slightly. And of course they then insist that these have become custom and practice arrangements and they now have rights to these improvements. Thus it is with the cheese!

During the week, after a very nice meal, I decided to have some cheese to help finish off the red wine I was drinking. All of a sudden I was surrounded by three cats all sat on the table right next to me, demanding cheese and begrudging me every mouthful. They would have helped themselves given half a chance. So I had to pause my cheese course and remove the cats and in the end gave them an early supper, garnished of course with some cheese!

The cats are now all fast asleep on the sofa, enjoying the benefits of their contracted indoor time between tea and supper.

This week there has been mountains of ironing to do. And most of it is my ironing. That is square things with no awkward arms. So as we had guests last week I have all the sheets, duvets and pillow cases to iron. Fortunately I have the DVD of the first series of Star Trek to watch while I iron. This is a Christmas present from my daughter Amy who knows how my mind works. So I am in my own world with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, boldly ironing where no man has ironed before. I now measure the ironing in episode lengths and this week there was two episodes worth. A good way to fill a very rainy afternoon.

So we also decided that it would be a good idea to draw some to do lists as there are a number of jobs that need doing both inside and outside. So we sat down and started two lists, one inside the house and the gite and one for all the outdoor jobs. I soon realised that this might not be quite the good idea it seemed at first. Mrs. Parish appeared to find an almost unending list of things, including some I didn’t even know we had! Still there are compensations with lists. You can sit and read them through, to ensure proper understanding. You can then draw up further lists of all the things you need to complete the task (the right size screws; additional bits of wood etc). Once this is complete you can then reorder the list and attach a priority status to each task. I even suggest that we put all this information into a spreadsheet so we can produce pie charts and graphs. This may have been a suggestion too far as I get one of Mrs. Parish’s special withering looks. Mrs. Parish is of the JFDI school of philosophy (just f’ing do it).

This weekend I managed to tick off number one on the list. Completion of my guttering project. I had managed to fit the guttering last week but we also wanted to fit some water storage barrels to store water for the garden so in the week they arrived and we have spent the weekend fitting them and adjusting the guttering and pipes so that rainwater will be collected in the barrels. It is all working fine now. So of course I will have to record this on the lists and then recalculate the remaining priorities. But before that it is time to pour Mrs. Parish an aperitif. I was explaining to Emile in the week that I was adjusting well to life in France. Ensuring that I had a good breakfast and a mid morning cup of coffee. A proper “L’heur de dejeuner” at lunch time of around a couple of hours followed by a “sieste”. I might then manage a bit of work in the afternoon before aperitifs and then of course a meal washed down with some wine or may be some of Emile’s lovely cider. Emile was impressed both with my improving French speaking and my life arrangements.

Mrs. Parish tells me it is Lent next week and that I must give up something for Lent. I tell her that I will give up my alcohol free day for the period. Mrs. Parish tells me that I have not quite grasped the idea of Lent.

It has been a bit better week from the weather point of view and this has meant days on which it hasn’t rained and even some days when it has been sunny! Mrs. Parish has been much happier as she has been able to get out and do some gardening and most importantly light her bonfires. In our big field we had a series of piles of garden waste cut from our labours a few weeks ago. Since then it has been far too wet to get them alight and finally this week Mrs. Parish set off with her firelighters and matches and the next thing was smoke billowing up from the big field. It is amazing how quickly the fire burned great big heaps of weeds, brambles and bits of tree to the extent that we only have piles of ash now. We are waiting for the ground to dry out a bit so we can get the tractor mower and the old hand mower down to cut the grass and to start to make our path through the bottom of the field. We also have a brand new mower. Mrs. Parish went off to Mayenne on Friday to buy a new mower from Monsieur Bricolage (a DIY and garden centre in Mayenne). She has now put it together and cut the grass around the courtyard. So it has been a big week, bonfires and a new mower. Mrs. Parish is very happy. Of course I am waiting to start the grass cutting season and on my to do list is getting the tractor ready for its first outing. I may need to get some suitably stirring music to launch the tractor and its highly trained operative.

This morning when we got up we noticed two Roe Deer at the bottom of the garden. We have seen deer in the surrounding fields on a few occasions but today they were in the orchard . I managed to get a photograph which was taken from indoors through the glass window in the front door. We watched them for about 10 minutes before they ran off back through the big field and across the winter stream. It has got a bit colder in the past few days and they were obviously prospecting for food. We have also seen a few more birds at the bird feeders including woodpeckers and goldfinches. Not sure this is quite the “Grand Froid” may be it is on its way.

A pleasant little interlude. We have just had a knock at the door and it was Jean-Pierre who is our neighbour Giselle’s son. In the autumn we gave him some of our apples as he needed some extra to make his cider. We would not accept any money and he promised us a bottle of Pommeau, an aperitif made with cider. Well Jean-Pierre has just delivered a bottle and it looks great stuff. It is one of the great things about rural life in France, that things don’t always have to have a price. If you do your neighbours a kind turn then they will do the same for you. And if it means we get lovely Cider, Pommeau and Calvados from our French friends and neighbours then I say “Vive la France”. Actually I said “santé” which is a French drinking toast meaning good health.

Finally we move to the tale of Moggie Big Tail. Moggie is by far the daftest of our three cats but he is a character and is always making us laugh. He is a bit cross eyed and Mrs. Parish says he is a bit “special”. He likes to run every where and when we are out in the garden he sort of explodes onto the scene and usually rushes up the nearest tree. He is always first up when we go for a walk around the garden and has the habit when we are out in the grounds of fluffing up his tail and making it look as big as possible. This is obviously his way of saying look out here comes a really big and tough cat, that no one in their right mind would mess with. This afternoon he had been off on an adventure somewhere as we saw him come running down the lane from some way off, of course with his big tail fluffed up behind him. It was clearly an exciting adventure as he is now totally whacked out and twitching as he sleeps, dreaming of catching mice no doubt. Another hour and he will, with the other two be wide awake and starting to wear us down for an early supper!

Time to sample this new Pommeau methinks. The spell check for some bizarre reason thinks that Pommeau should be Pompeii!