It now feels like late summer at La Godefrere and the weather this week has turned cold as the wind changes and comes from the North. There is quite a chilly breeze today and no sign of the sun. So, unusually for an afternoon we are indoors. I face the challenge of the Blog and what to report. Mrs. Parish faces the challenge of a thousand courgettes. Well that may be a slight exaggeration but there are an awful lot. This year Mrs. Parish decided that she would reduce the numbers of courgettes as we always end up with a massive surplus which results in crazy things like courgette cakes, courgette pies etc. Sod’s law of course applies and the fewer plants have just increased their yield and we end up with just as many courgettes as ever. So Mrs. Parish is making ratatouille to lay down in the freezer. By the way have you ever noticed that thing with courgettes when one day they are too small to pick and then the next day they are marrow size!

Last week we were left worrying about an invasion by a race of super moles who poised to take over the world. Mrs. Parish was sharpening up her weapons of mole destruction ready to do battle. It seems that I was a little over excited by the site of a couple of mole hills in our lane. This week the moles have disappeared and there have been no further signs. It may have been that the sight of a raging Mrs. Parish was too much for them and they have retreated. However invasions of super moles intent on world domination are not so easily defeated and they may be back!

I mentioned that I have bought myself a new bike and have been regularly riding it much to the amusement of my French neighbours. This week my daughter Jo and her partner Nicky came to visit. These are two serious cyclists and were keen to see the new bike and immediately recommended a number of bike accessories. So we went off to Intersport in Mayenne and with my expert advisers invested in the essentials. This included a water bottle to fix on the bike and in addition a spare inner tube in case of punctures, tools to make adjustments and wheel levers. I also got a really natty air pump which is tiny compared with the ones I had 40 years ago! I don’t really know what to do with half of this stuff but the bike looks really professional now. Pity about the rider! I did draw the line at lycra which would have been a step too far. I feel a bit French now when out cycling and I’m sure it has improved my ability to speak French. The other night I was pushing the bike up a particularly steep hill (despite the fact that this area is supposed to be flat, hills keep appearing). I’m not that great yet on use of the gears and was about to shoot up the hill by dropping down to a low gear when I twisted the grip the wrong way! This was like hitting a wall and had to get off. A French woman came out of her house and said hello. I explained that I was not King of the Mountains (one of the titles in the Tour de France although awarded for cycling up the Alps and Pyrenees!!!!). She understood the reference and we had quite a chat for about half an hour. I was struck as I cycled away that after 2 years I was beginning to get to grips with the language. I think she was impressed with my accessories!

This week we have had our La Godefrere air display. Firstly we had a fly past by the French Army of the air with two jet fighters flying at low level over the house. This is quite a regular affair in the summer and usually results in us ducking as it seems that they are just above head height. More gentle and easier on the eye are the swallows that have been nesting in our neighbour’s garage. They have had a couple of broods and so at the moment there are around 50 swallows that hunt and feed over our house and orchard. They put on a great display catching insects in mid air and twisting and turning with amazing deftness. Then as we are watching this display there is all of a sudden a lot of noise from the swallows and we soon see why as a hobby enters the arena. 

A hobby is a bird of prey about the size of a kestrel but with an incredible ability to twist and turn in flight. It is so good a flyer that it can catch dragonflies in flight and eat them on the wing. On this occasion the hobby was after swallows and it is so fast and agile that swallows are a key part of its diet. In fact the hobby follows swallows on migration so that it has its own fast food outlet while flying to Africa. In our garden the hobby was chasing and trying to catch a swallow but the swallows have their own tactics and by sticking together and flying at the hobby they can frighten it away. But it was a fantastic flying display. Later we watched the hobby and a kestrel catching insects flying above the oak trees in the neighbouring fields.

Hobby in flight

The air day carried on at dusk with the arrival of the bats which hunt in and around the orchard. With their echolocation they are brilliant fliers and turn on a sixpence as they catch moths. If you stand in the lane the bats seem to be flying at your head and then veer off at the last minute. A really amazing experience.

Once it got dark the conclusion of our air day was completed by a display from the owls. We have little owls calling and hunting around the house and in the fields nearby. They rest on telegraph pole or fence posts and then drop into the fields catching mice. They also fly up and sit on the roof of the gite. I was also lucky enough to watch a Tawny Owl fly across the orchard with a mouse in its beak. A fantastic air day at La Godefrere.

Little Owl

On a slower theme this week Mrs. Parish encountered a snake in her compost bin. When she opened the bin to through some waste there was a brown snake coiled up at the top of the bin. It soon disappeared down through the bin. I have seen a couple of similar snakes when down at the bottom of the big field. They are a sort of grass snake called a coulevre in France. Snakes are not our favourite animals but have their place and grass snakes don’t cause much bother other than the surprise of finding them when not expected. I mentioned this to Patrick (our sheep man who promptly advised making lots of noise. One thing I am quite good at. Maybe I will sing to the snake!

It has been a taxing time as this is the time of year when we get the details of how much tax we have to pay. We have opted to be taxed in France. As we live here we should contribute by paying tax. Last year as we came part way through the year we had no tax to pay. This year we registered on line and submitted our tax return at the beginning of June. France does not have a Pay as you earn system so everyone has to submit a tax return. It is a bit of a challenge filling in a tax return in a foreign language but we had some guidance produced for English tax payers. One other advantage of the French system is that we are taxed as a family so that our combined income is taxed but we also have the full allowances for both of us. The end result came through this week and showed that we will be paying a lot less in tax than we would have in Britain. Of course the problem is that we now have to pay the tax bill and of course we can pay on line. The French tax system does seem to be very efficient.

This weekend has also seen the end of the European Athletics championships and Great Britain are doing very well and it seems when we don’t win the French do so lots of celebrating here. It means a bit of stop and start for the blog as I have to disappear to watch the next race. Just breaking off to watch Mo Farah in the 5000k race. Back now and Mo has won the race and we also had someone in third place for a bronze medal. It also seems that we top the medal table. We are also winning the final cricket test match against India and tonight England’s women are playing Canada in the Women’s Rugby World Cup final. So all going well at the moment and it seem that once again I have cause to celebrate with a glass of something. Maybe a drop of Emile’s cider, we have just had a new crate delivered so it should be just right for drinking.

Next week we complete two years of our experiment in living in France, so look out next week for a whole gamut of celebratory drinks!!

Bon Dimanche

PS. We have just won the 4x100 metres relay!