It has been a busy week with mixed weather. For most of the week we have had rain and more rain, which has dampened my enthusiasm for working outside. We did get the gite spring cleaned, ready for guests who arrived on 1st April and who brought the good weather back. The guests were a family with two young children who had visited last Easter. They arrived and the two children, Cameron and Isla (5 and 3) leapt out of the car and immediately asked “Where is Archie?” Obligingly Archie immediately appeared and came over for a stroke and then rolled onto his back. Archie certainly knows how to make an entrance. 

He of course tried to make the best of this adoration by examining their car for food and then by trying to help them settle into the gite. Archie remains on hand sat outside the gite door in case they need to give him more attention and possibly more food. Archie is now considering getting an agent to capitalise on his fame and is looking at book and film deals. He has said that fame and fortune will not go to his head, but it might to his stomach!

Archie's fan mail photo

Now spring seems to have finally arrived and on 1st April we saw our first two swallows of the summer who arrived and were sat resting on the telephone wires. We made sure that it was after 12 noon as they could have been April Fool imposters. In France it is known as “Poisson d’Avril”. Fish of April after the joke that you pin a fish to someone’s back on April 1st! You can’t be too sure about birds as at the same time the miming starling has also arrived. He does a pretty good impression of a buzzard’s call and also the call of a tawny owl. This can be very confusing and has caused me to rush to get my binoculars to try to see the owl or buzzard. 

This year the starling seems to have added to its repertory by mimicking the sound of a telephone. This has caused Mrs. Parish some considerable annoyance as several times this week she has been working in the vegetable garden and thought the phone was ringing. So she has rushed to get to the phone only to find that it was not the phone but that bloody starling. We do need to introduce the starling to the local sparrow hawk!

At least with the weather improving it has enabled me to do some more work down at the bottom of the big field on our nature trail. We have cut back a whole load of brambles and at one part revealed the stream for about 100 metres. Before the stream could only be seen with some difficulty. It is mainly a drainage stream to take the rain water from the fields but there is water in it for most of the year. At present because we have had so much rain it is racing along. The cutting back of the brambles also reveals more trees and also allows for flowers to grow back. We now have loads of primroses along the bank as well as daffodils that Mrs. Parish has planted. We also had put in a lot of wild flower seeds and we will continue with this.

The aim is to put in plants that encourage insects, butterflies and birds. We have planted one area with trees and shrubs and last year we had a large number of butterflies. This year I have made a path through this area and have now put a new bench in so that we (and guests) can walk through this area and sit and watch the butterflies. In order to put in the bench I had to prepare some wooden platforms for the legs to rest on and some weed suppressant matting to keep the grass from growing underneath the bench. Of course Moggie and Minou had to come and help me do this. Although their idea of helping is not always in line with mine! 

Our new bench on the nature trail

I also took the opportunity of the decent weather to get out on the tractor mower and to cut the path round the big field and along by the stream. This makes using the nature trail a whole lot easier. Today I went for a walk around the area and spotted a whole load more signs of spring. Along the stream where we have a whole load of willow, oak and hawthorn trees there are now a number of spring arrivals including Chiff Chaffs, Whitethroats and Blackcaps. In the nearby fields I spotted a couple of hares playing in the sun. Overhead circled a large family of 7 buzzards. It was a lovely spring morning with no sounds but those of the birds. Truly magical.

The stream with cleared land beside

Magical is not a word that you would use about the French habit of closing shops and offices at random and without warning. The week before last our French mason, Pascal had to go to Laval to visit the office responsible for car registration. According to the web site it was supposed to be open on Wednesday afternoon but when he got there he found it was closed. So an hour’s journey for nothing. On Thursday I went to Lassay, which is about half an hour away to visit the Tourist Information Office to get the up to date brochures to go into the gite for our guests. I duly arrived to find that there was an exceptional closure as all the staff had to go to Laval for training. French public offices have some random and cavalier approaches to opening and you have to try to keep aware that some offices are open every day apart from the third Thursday afternoon when the office is closed. It is very confusing and has to be dealt with by a typically French shrug of the shoulders.

Some good news is that our friendly French farmer Olivier has sent a delivery of beef to go into the freezer. We now have a very nice joint, which Mrs. Parish is going to roast this evening. Luckily I have some very nice red wine to go with it. There are some great steaks in the freezer as well as sausages, beef burgers and cubes ready for a nice boeuf bourguignon. So far we have now a nice collection of pork and beef. We now hear that Olivier can supply veal and lamb. So this is very good news and just as well we bought two freezers so we have space for all this meat and space for all the veg due form Mrs. Parish’s vegetable garden. I think I may have to get the wine cellar well stocked.

Meat brings me round to the exciting news  which is that we plan to get some chickens. Mrs. Parish has already ordered a chicken house which should arrive tomorrow. This will be big enough for 4 chickens which we reckon will be plenty to supply us with eggs. We have no plans to eat the chickens as this would first require killing them and neither of us could cope with that. Of course the next stage is to actually buy some chickens and this requires some thought as we have never bought chickens before. We will probably have a word with Giselle our French neighbour about where she gets her chickens from. There is a market at St. Hilaire (about 30 minutes away) where there are live chickens for sale and the same vendors are there every week. Which suggests they are OK. I have said that we should get pretty chickens which may compensate for the fact that the sheep in the paddocks are so ugly. Mrs. Parish suggests that their ability to lay eggs is the measure but I reminded her that we will have to look at them every day!!

The cats have arrived for their tea and Archie says that now he has a fan club he should get special privileges. Mrs. Parish will soon be arriving for her cup of tea and I will need to go off to the wine cave to prepare for this evening. All of which means that it is time to end this week’s blog.

Bon weekend