It has been a busy week and started off last Monday with a bank holiday in France. The French very wisely have lots of bank holidays. Last Monday was the 11th November (Armistice Day) and rightly commemorated in France with a public holiday. Bank holidays in France are a bit different from England where public holidays are either a reason for a party or to go shopping. In France all the shops are closed and there don’t seem many parties around here so instead everyone goes visiting. Usually family but anyone will do. So last Monday we had a series of visitors. Firstly Giselle and Daniel came over and so we had to offer the normal French hospitality and offer a coffee. The French have a strange way of dealing with this. We say “Would you like a coffee” and in Britain would expect the answer “Yes please, that would be great”. Or some such response. The French when asked if they would like coffee reply “If you wish”. At first we couldn’t quite get our heads around the response.  We wouldn’t have asked if we didn’t wish and the reply seems somehow off hand as if saying “if you insist; you are forcing us to have your ghastly coffee”. After a while we realised that this was just the French being polite. In effect it means “If you are so gracious as to wish to honour us with your coffee, we can hardly refuse”. French visitors never seem to say, “Sorry we don’t have time”, or “We have just had one thanks”, they always say yes.

And then of course you can’t just offer coffee, you have to get out the cake or posh biscuits (usually after disappearing and returning with a new packet, clearly bought specially for visitors). Once you have had the cake or biscuit, then out comes the Calva and your coffee gets topped up with the special Calva kept just for visitors. So what starts out as just a call out of courtesy becomes a fully fledged royal visit!

So when Giselle and Daniel visited, Mrs. Parish just happened to have made some cake so we were able to do our duty as fledgling French people with offering the right things. 10 minutes after they have gone more visitors arrive. This time it is Patrick and Katrin whose sheep grazed our field. They have arrived with a “Gigot” (a leg of lamb) as the price for letting their sheep graze our field. So of course we offer coffee as we are required by good manners to do. This means more coffee but of course more cake so I am beginning to like this French custom.

A further hour later and Emile and Yvette turn up so we have to go through the coffee and cake ritual again. I have noticed that when Emile comes he always insists on only having a small cup of coffee and that only half filled. Clearly he has many visits planned and is pacing himself to be able to manage several offerings of coffee. Mind you he always has a full slice of cake!! In the afternoon Mrs. Parish and I felt compelled to work in the garden as penance for all the cake.

The gigot arriving is good news and this is now in the freezer until we have enough people staying to justify a Lamb Feast. We had a leg of lamb last year which we devoured with my son Ian and his fiancée Emma and their friends who came to stay. Maybe when they come again in January? Of course by then we should have a second Gigot from Alex and John. This is the couple who have Alpacas and whose lambs we also look after. They have taken the lambs way and will bring us a gigot in December.

I have written previously about the strange noises made by our Fridge. It seems that French machines have their own personality. Like the French they exhibit stubbornness and cultured indifference. Sometimes you can hear the fridge give a real French sigh so much it almost shrugs its shoulders. The toaster is a different kettle of fish (sorry, that’s pretty awful). The toaster clearly enjoys being difficult and is assisted in this by French bread. The toaster can be adjusted to up to 6 numbered settings with infinite permutations in between. Setting it to 3 will produce warm bread on one occasion and if adjusted a micro measure, will burn the bread. Just when you think you have found the right setting to produce perfect toast in steps French bread. We usually have a French “boule”, a round loaf which is cut into slices. Depending on the day we can buy the bread from anyone of three or four local boulangers (Bakers) or from the supermarket. So this means that the bread is all baked differently. Some is much lighter than others and then of course the cutting machines in the bakeries are set at ever so slightly different thicknesses. All of which allows the toaster to run riot and for the kitchen to be full of black smoke. Of course the bread has one final trick to play. Once we have got the right setting for that day’s bread you find that because of the way the bread is made, some have holes in the slice. This means that 95% of the slice will be a perfect brown but the bread around the hole will be black, again causing the fire alarm to be set off. This results in panic and grabbing a tea towel and flapping like mad while Mrs. Parish attempts to get to the bread before it catches fire. Of course at this point the toaster will not allow the bread to pop up and so it must be extracted using the end of a wooden spoon.

It is not just kitchen machines that are the bane of my life. My computer is a constant source of confusion and stress. It is now about 5 years old so it is a relic from the dark ages. This seems to require it to move very slowly when starting up (a bit like me I suppose). The keyboard is also getting a bit gummy and the letter A sometimes doesn’t work unless I bash it quite hard. It is quite frustrating to have typed a paragraph and then to find loads of strange words with no a’s in them. My biggest frustration however is the seemingly constant need that software providers have for giving you “updates” which bizarrely you have to “download”. This seems to take forever and then to require you to restart the computer. Worse is to come as you discover that the new software, offering great improvements has simply changed the format and moved everything to paces that I can’t find. ITunes is driving me mad and after the last update everything changed around so I couldn’t work out where my podcasts were or how to update and transfer stuff to my IPod. Now yahoo has changed the layout on my emails and of course I can’t find anything as they seem to have repositioned all the important buttons in different places. Why do they need to do it! My theory is that computer companies are all staffed by children with ADHD and so they have to be doing something or changing something all the time.

A bit like our cats! They spend most of their time being annoying and trying to convince me that it is time for food. When we have chucked them outside they will often go and visit the cows in the next field, until the cows get fed up and chase them under the fence. Then they wander up the lane to wind up Giselle and Daniel’s dog. It is called Pepito and like French farm dogs lives outside in a little wire enclosure. His job is to bark if anyone comes to their yard. The cats like to wander up the lane and sit just outside the entrance to the yard but in view of Pepito. (They won’t go into the yard as they are scared of Giselle). This of course starts him barking but the cats just sit there and taunt him.

I was talking about computers and this coincides with a telephone call with my good friend Wee Sandy Clark. Sandy has embraced the use of computers as a necessary evil but regards mobile phones as the work of the devil and regards things like facebook and twitter as unnecessary time wasters. Sandy is an old friend from Keele University where we both did a Masters Degree almost 20 years ago!!!! My god where has that gone. Anyway we were discussing the nature of computers and change, as he has a new computer with the latest version of Windows and generally being grumpy old men when Sandy paid me the ultimate compliment. Not only was my blog, Sandy’s favourite blog (alright, it is the only blog he reads) but he had now marked it among his favourites on his computer. So my Blog now sits amongst a select band including BBC radio Scotland; Radio 3; Laithwaites wines; Motherwell FC, Wakefield Jazz; Cycling Wakefield and Pontefract Weather. I just hope that when he next does his software update that my blog does not disappear to some strange other place on his computer.

The cats have somehow invaded and are demanding their tea. Mrs. Parish has appeared from the garden and is demanding a cup of tea. I decide to treat her as a visitor and offer coffee and a piece of cake and of course do the polite thing by having a slice myself. I might even have to offer the Calva, it’s the right thing to do in such circumstances.

Bon soiree