After a great few days friends Alan and Debi departed on Tuesday to return to England. Given last week’s sat nav disaster we worried whether Debi would get back in time to go off to York. So we introduced Alan to the concept of the “map”. I know it is old fashioned but they work and reduce the risk that you will go in entirely the wrong direction. Not only did we provide a map but also directions to follow. I also helpfully, I thought, gave Alan the advice that if the sea appeared on his right hand side he had gone the wrong way. They left in plenty of time to get to Dieppe and I got a text message from Al saying that they had safely arrived (via Amsterdam, which I think was a joke!).

So it is now Sunday afternoon on a very wet day. We had an electric storm last night which the French call an “Orage”. We have been on an orange warning level and have had to disconnect the computer, telephone and TV in case of damage. In the end the storms passed us and we were not right under it. Just as well as other areas had huge amounts of rain and lightning strikes. It has been raining all day so the cats have invoked the bad weather clause and have been in all day. Not that I have seen them as they are upstairs crashed out on the beds. So a chance to write the blog while watching the British Open Golf and then the Tour de France. So inspiring has been the Tour that I have now bought myself a bike!!

I am not sure what madness has overtaken me. It may be that nearly two years in France on a diet of wine and cheese has affected me. There are regular sightings of cyclists wherever I go and now we have the Tour de France which I have been watching avidly every day. I think it may also be the influence of an older boy. My Scottish friend Sandy is a great cyclist and has regaled me with tales of the West Yorkshire Cycling club and their escapades as well as his cycling tours round the Outer Hebrides. I think this has undermined my resolve and I went last week to buy a bike. This will be the first time I have owned a bike since I was 15, 48 years without a bike. This is a proper bike with 21 gears although I am still working out why there are so many and how to use them sensibly. The bike does not have any of this drop handlebar nonsense and has proper mudguards and a very sensible bell.

Note sensible handlebars, mudguards and bell!!

I have been out for a bike ride most days and yesterday even managed to cycle up some hills. They weren’t that big but seemed like the Alps to me. Anyway it has caused much amusement to my French neighbours. It has confirmed Daniel’s view that I am an eccentric Englishman. I am sat typing this blog with aching legs and wondering what on earth was I thinking!

We have been engaged in a further struggle with French bureaucracy. When we came to France we were covered for health under our NI contributions while in England. This only lasted until this year and so we have had to apply for basic cover under the French system. So we went to see the CPAM office in Mayenne about a month ago. Of course there is a great big form to fill out and a succession of documents to collect. A very helpful lady gave us a list of documents showing proof of residence and income etc. So off we went and collected all sorts of information. It was made more complicated as we had to produce information on income from 2012 when we came to France. This has meant that we have to collect information about our income in Britain up to August 2012 and then in France from then on. It is further complicated by the fact that in England the tax year ends on 5th April and in France operates from 1st January. We managed to collect all the information and converted Pounds into Euros and off we went back to Mayenne.  As we might have expected there were some documents that weren’t quite right and did not cover the right period. So we were sent off to find the right information. On Wednesday we went back to Mayenne, sure we had all the information and all the documents.

 We drove into town in confident mood that this time nothing could go wrong. We should have worried when we saw the “route barre” (road closed) sign at the entrance to the town. We hastily recalculated and took a road signed to the town centre. We then found a road which would lead back to the road the other side of the blockage. There was no sign stopping us but when we got to the junction we looked up and down and found that both ways were blocked! So we did a French turn in the middle of the road and then failed several times to get back to a road out of the town centre while at the same time thinking how we could get to the CPAM office. Several further attempts all seemed to lead to blocked road signs. We came to the conclusion that this was a new French bureaucratic ploy to stop us getting our documents in. All of a sudden we turned down a road and found a very narrow street which took us right next to the health office. All the documents were OK and the forms have now been sent to Nantes which we found before is a sort of bureaucratic black hole. We will have to wait..........

Just when you think that sanity has returned rural France has the capacity to surprise you. We met Giselle and Daniel in the lane they were off to take their rubbish to the bins at the end of the lane in a wheel barrow and to take Pepito for a walk. They invited us to walk with them. We walked down a lane near us and I saw along a drive to a cottage a small black and white cat. Using my binoculars I saw that alongside the cat was a white rabbit! When the cat came towards us the white rabbit came too. Now normally I would be a bit sceptical but all my experiences in France led me to not dismiss this rabbit as being the one from Alice in Wonderland. Thankfully there was no sighting of the Mad Hatter. Although when we got back home there was a hare in the field next to the gite. Also I saw again two Little Owls flying around and hunting as we approached sunset. 

And now Mrs. Parish has gone all broody! Thankfully this broodiness applies to chickens. I say thankfully but it seems Mrs. Parish has a hankering to get a few chickens. She has a book about keeping hens and has plans for me to build a chicken house. I remain to be convinced but Mrs. Parish can be quite determined when she has an idea firmly fixed in her mind. I might try hiding the book and changing the subject whenever chickens are mentioned but it is probably a forlorn hope.

Well the rain has eased up and I am left with a dilemma. Should I get the bike out and go for a ride or should I get a drink. After careful consideration I come up with a satisfactory compromise. I will watch the cycling on TV with a glass of wine in hand. And don’t mention chickens!!

A la prochaine