It’s been an exciting and interesting week. Our first paying guests duly arrived on Monday to be greeted with a cold and wet day and a power cut which meant we had no heating! Not good and the weather did not really get any better until today when we finally could announce the arrival of Spring with a full on sunny day. The temperature reached 20 this afternoon and we could finally decant some of the several layers of clothes we have been wearing. We even sat out until 9pm in the sun drinking coffee and calvados. This is much better.

We also welcomed the legendary Map master Jim to prepare for the visit of the Red Ramblers later in May. Together with Jim and Liz we had the almost superhuman task of checking out walks and more importantly restaurants for the visit. If that were not a hard enough task we also had to factor in that some of the Red ramblers are vegetarians. Vegetarian is not a concept that many French restaurants understand. When faced with such a challenge some restaurants simply remove the meat and serve the vegetables!! We decided to find a walk in the Alpes Mancelles. This is an area of Sarthe that is a bit hilly. Given that almost everywhere around is flat it warrants the title of Alpes. We found a walk and so we decided to try it out and sample the restaurant at a pretty little village called St Ceneri le Gerei. We duly arrived and discovered that the two restaurants seemed to be based upon grilled meats of the Normandy region. There did not appear to be any vegetarian option. The restaurant we chose had some very nice grilled meat and grilled fish but not much else. The restaurant was so committed to the meat option that they even provided a mouse under the table. I pointed this out to the waiter who without batting an eyelid stunned the mouse with his foot, picked up by the tail and disappeared to the kitchen. It probably was grilled later!

So, despite a lovely walk and a very nice meal we were left with a problem of no veggie option. The next day we planned a walk along the Mayenne river bank and lunch at a restaurant that Jim had found online. It was part of a Chateau and we were a bit concerned that having walked along the towpath in our rambling gear we might not be welcomed at what seemed a very posh restaurant. We need not have worried, it was no problem and we discovered that the head waiter was a rambler and we were welcomed. The restaurant was very posh, but we had a very nice meal and having discussed our needs with the waiter found that they would have no problem in providing a vegetarian option as part of their menu. The French know how to ramble with style and to provide for culinary excellence. A walk for an hour followed by a two hour lunch followed by another 1 hour walk provides a very well balanced day!!

After two days of extreme sacrifice and much eating and drinking we came to a well judged programme for the Red Ramblers which provides for some good walking and some good eating even for the veggies!! Map Master Jim and Liz have now returned to report back.

While looking for the start of the walk today we tried to find a circular walk entitled the “Circuit of Moulay”. So logically we headed for a place on the map called Moulay which is just outside Mayenne. Moulay turned out to be a suburb of nothing but houses that all looked the same. A bit like in the Stepford Wives. We drove around in circles, getting lost in a housing estate looking for an access to the river towpath. After a short while we realised that this was a hopeless task and so went back to the main road and found another way down to the river. We eventually found the towpath and walked along, eventually finding a side track that led up to the lost estate of Moulay which we reckoned must be the “Circuit of Moulay”. Despite the circuit being identified on the map there was no sign anywhere to indicate that we had found it!

Still no word from Nantes.

On Wednesday we had the inaugural meeting of the Mayenne Revolutionary Front with Citizens Keith and June, our fellow left wingers. We met up at a very nice cafe in Lassay Les Chateaux and had a couple of hours of interesting political discussion, including a philosophical debate about whether it would have been justified to have assassinated Mrs Thatcher. We all agreed that the world would have been better off without her but could not agree on the morality of murdering state leaders. Through intense discussion we will I am sure eventually come up with the basis for establishing a fair and equal society.

While we have that debate a more pressing problem arises. What has happened to the moles. Still no sightings although today we found a small molehill on the edge of the orchard. We think the moles have entered into a secret alliance with other pest species. Last week in the midst of a very heavy rainstorm we noticed a strange animal climbing in one of our trees. Some research revealed this to be a Stone (or beech) Marten. It is very like a Pine marten but a more sort of vegetarian option. The stone marten likes eating fruit and vegetables and is identified in France as a pest species. In the week we also had an incursion from two rabbits. We think the moles have formed an evil alliance and are looking to find a way of circumventing the effects of Archie’s wee. This is a complex and developing situation. We are consulting with our allies to consider how to respond. Some form of retaliation seems to be required.

We may require Mrs Parish to be strategically deployed to defend the vegetable garden which may be the object of these new threats. The veg garden is known as a “Potager” in France and the French know how to be dramatic about these things. We discovered a great new word to describe gardeners in French. This is a “Potagiste” which has the ring of a more aggressive and revolutionary form of gardening. Mrs Parish quite likes the idea of being a Potagiste.

More excitement tomorrow as our new sheep are due to arrive. We have negotiated a deal with Patrick a Frenchman who is a friend of Emile. He has two ewes each with a lamb and he wants to use our paddocks for them to graze. We have agreed a price of a nice leg of lamb as the fee and Patrick will be bringing the sheep tomorrow. I will once again resume my lonely role as the shepherd, watching over this new flock, with the onerous task of counting them each day (some of you will recall that last year I had three sheep to count. This will therefore be a significant increase in responsibility). But I feel more experienced with shepherding and I am sure I will cope. We may of course have another two lambs to add to the fold if our English friend Alex wants to use the paddocks as well. This could therefore mean a total of 6 sheep. This may require a Senior Shepherd status!

The cats are all better now although Archie still has the occasional sneeze for effect. It is not really working as he has now resumed his status as an outdoor cat. He tried resistance and used a lot of hissing and growling when he was being moved from the middle of our bed to the outside. He now seems resigned to his fate although he does take every opportunity to sneak back inside. Minou and Moggie seem back to full fitness and have resumed their mad cavorting around the house and the garden. Now it is a bit sunnier they are encouraged to practice being outside cats. This seems to involve a lot of climbing either in the trees or in the lean to or chicken sheds. They don’t always factor in getting down and so far this week I have had to rescue Minou from the top of the hedge and get the ladder out so Moggie can climb down from both sheds. The cats have been outside all day and are now flat out and fast asleep.

Well the week ahead promises to be exciting as my mate Alan and his son Dan arrive on Friday for a long weekend. This means a resumption of the intense Anglo-French backgammon competition and a fierce struggle to see who will win possession of the trophy. This currently resides in England so I will be seeking to return it to French soil. We are also going for a meal to a Michelin star restaurant in Mayenne which promises to be a great culinary experience, this time without having to do all the walking first!

All this sun today has caused a delay in writing the blog. I have been sat outside all evening and so am now writing this at 11pm which may have blunted my usual acerbic wit and sparkling prose. I think it is time to finish and go to bed.

A prochaine semaine