We have now been in France for 6 months and bits of it are beginning to make some sort of sense. I am getting to grips with the language thanks to the weekly classes with Jacqui our French teacher (an English woman who teaches French for the avoidance of doubt). When we came to France I could manage a few essential French words, enough to buy a baguette or order a meal and bottle of wine. However if then asked a question, panic would set in. Constructing a sentence was a real challenge. At our last lesson we had a discussion on where we used to live and I was confident enough to fully participate. I even managed a conversation on my own with Emile when he called in for coffee. Mind you it’s quite difficult as people tend to speak very quickly but I’m making good progress.

The French have some great words and ways of describing things. Doing the housework is “faire le ménage”. We discussed this at our French classes and why housework should be masculine (all French nouns are either masculine or feminine and there doesn’t seem to be any way of deciding which). We had to describe how we shared out the tasks at home. I was pleased to be able to say I did a share at faire le cuisine (cooking); faire le repassage (ironing, but only straight things). I also explained that the new washing machine was so complicated it needed a specialist to work it. Fortunately Mrs Parish is a very special person. The best though is vacuuming which is French is “passer l’aspirator”. Literally passing the vacuum cleaner across the floor but of course you can also pass by the vacuum without noticing it (I am quite good at not noticing things) so this has now become a great source of humour for me and Mrs Parish. We also looked at the French pronunciation of the letter “r” which is made at the back of the throat. To my delight this introduced all sorts of Inspector Clouseau accent opportunities. Mrs Parish sighed audibly!!

The last week has been yet again full of excitement and drama. On Monday we went down to Mayenne (in French quite logically there is no equivalent phrase, you go to somewhere and not some arbitrary go down to which is often flat or even up!!). We went to a car accessory shop called Feu Vert which is a bit like Halfords to get our number plates. Based on our experience of waiting 5 months for the paperwork to be sorted we were not optimistic and took with us all sorts of identification and had plans for filling the day while we waited. We were therefore amazed when the man in the shop said it would take a few minutes and he could do it immediately. Less than 10 minutes later we had our new French number plates fitted on the car. They look really cool and we now feel very French. The number is CQ-909-CA which also has the advantage of being easy to remember. We of course took off the magnetic GB disc on the back of the car which then revealed a very clean bit of car and emphasised how dirty our car is!! Next on our bureaucracy adventure is a “carte vitale” which registers us for ongoing health care in France. This is the one that requires us to translate our birth certificates into French! We have stocked the new wine store ready to help us through the process.

To the cake incidents. Mrs Parish decided to make a Dorset Apple Cake to take round to Emile and Yvette as a thank you for the bottles of cider. She duly spent an afternoon baking and produced a rather nice looking cake which she left on the worktop to cool. Unfortunately Archie was not considered as part of the arrangements and he decided to do some quality control work on the cake by eating across the top of the cake. Mrs Parish was not at all pleased and Archie was in big trouble. When we relayed this to Emile, he roared with laughter and suggested that if Archie ate his cake again we should bring Archie round and he would eat him. (No idle threat from a Frenchman!!) Mrs Parish is not without persistence so she decided on a second Dorset Apple Cake which she baked along with a request from me for a jam sponge cake. This time with all precautions the cakes were made and immediately placed in cat proof containers. All was well for a day or two and Archie, now with a distinct taste for Mrs Parish’s cakes (they are lovely cakes) bided his time waiting for our guard to drop. With an afternoon cup of tea we decided to have a “wee slice of cake”, for some bizarre reason this is always pronounced by me with a Scottish accent. We duly sat down to eat our cake and in the excitement of the moment forgot to replace the lid. It was only for a few seconds but Archie had taken the top off half the cake! At least Emile’s cake was safe.

We also decided this week that Archie was looking a bit overweight. He has been taking advantage of being the only adult cat and getting more than his share of cat food as well as helping the kittens if they leave anything in their bowls. Added to this of course is too much cake. Mrs Parish decided that Archie needed a fitness regime and thus we agreed to take him around the orchard for a long walk each day. The kittens thought this a great idea so they came as well. It gives them a chance to explore. Archie was a bit reluctant to start with but I think has been embarrassed into it by the kittens and has a certain amount of male pride to maintain. Of course the kittens run wild. Moggie is a great tree climber and runs up our fruit trees right to the top and out onto thin branches. He is not so good at getting down. Minou also likes to try trees and there are one or two that she can climb. On Thursday we were down at the bottom corner of the orchard with Moggie running up quite a tall tree. Minou climbed up another quite large tree in the corner. Archie seeing this decided that the pressure was on to show his tree climbing skills. He looked around weighing up the prospects and in dramatic fashion ran up a tree stump about 3 feet tall. He did look very pleased with himself and couldn’t understand why Mrs Parish and I were in fits of laughter.

One of the effects of this is to reinforce the view of our neighbours of those strange eccentric English people who now take their cats for a walk. I discovered that there is a good French word for this. We became “Hurluberlus”, translated as “oddballs”!! It’s a great word and funnily enough I discovered this on my email link to the birdwatchers of Mayenne and Sarthe (known as obsmaine). They regularly circulate details of birds seen in the area. This is a good source for me for finding out what birds are around and where to watch them. One of the posters recently put on his email that he had been accosted by a local farmer who demanded to know what he was doing skulking about and what he was using the binoculars for. The farmer would not believe that he was bird watching and described him as “hurluberlu”. The French are not into bird watching in quite the same way as in Britain. Anyway the weather this week has been sunny and cold. Early in the week it was warm enough to sit outside but towards the end of the week the wind has got up and it is bitingly cold. It has brought lots of birds into the garden and we get large flocks of finches at our bird feeders including Bramblings with their lovely colours and Cirl buntings as well as flocks of lapwings in the neighbouring fields. At least the rain has gone away and it’s great to be in France. Today we have had flurries of snow and cold wind, nothing to do but throw another log on the fire and open a rather nice bottle of wine.

A prochaine