So it has been back to what approaches normal here at La Godefrere this week. With the weather turning autumnal the trees have started to lose their leaves. I was out walking around the grounds this morning on a lovely crisp day. The fieldfares and redwings have arrived and are feeding on the berries in the hedges and on some of the fallen fruit from our pear and apple trees. Then the birds go quiet as we have a daily visit from the sparrowhawk which flies across the orchard scanning for prey. Earlier in the week we found a pile of feathers in one corner, classic evidence of a sparrowhawk hit. After the sparrowhawk has gone the birds get back to their morning ritual of feeding. It is just stunningly beautiful to walk around on an autumn day.

Autumn view from the top of our garden

Of course it is not so good to discover on my walk that we have been raided by moles. There in the middle of the orchard is a row of molehills. They have obviously taken advantage of our visit back to England and in our absence have used the lack of border controls to run riot. I immediately called up reinforcements and the Mrs. Parish rapid response task force arrived to organise reprisals. Unfortunately we loaned our mole traps to some friends and so had to revert to alternative measures. This involved going over the molehills with a lawn mower and making as much noise as possible. This as usual included some examples of my singing. So far the moles have retreated and there have been no further signs during the week. My regular morning patrols are obviously a deterrent.

More exciting and more welcome have been the arrival of new sets of cows and the return of 4 of Patrique’s sheep. There are around 20 cows including a number of calves. The next day Xavier, the farmer, brought a rather large bull to join the family group. He is not as big as Felix who was there with the last lot of cows about a month ago. He looks a bit younger and not quite so slow as Felix. I have been to have a chat with them and he looks a bit mean and gave me a long hard stare. The cows are not quite so friendly and didn’t want to stop for a chat. Maybe they will be a bit friendlier once they have settled in. It is nice to see the field with animals in it. The sheep have come back after their visit to the ram and all seem to be smiling! They are pregnant ewes and will be with us for a while until they are ready to drop their lambs when Patrique will take them back to his place to keep a close eye on them.

So with cows and sheep I have two more things to visit on my morning rounds. While I am surveying the estate, Mrs. Parish takes charge of the morning ritual of clearing out the woodburner and then laying in the fire ready for lighting up in the afternoon. Mrs. Parish reckons there is an art to fire laying so I keep out of the way and leave it to the expert. Part of the task is to get kindling and logs from the woodshed which is just the other side of our lean to shed and about 10 yards from the house. Mrs. Parish selects the right sized logs with great care for their size and for how long they will burn. This is to ensure that the fire will start well with small logs and then be built up to the full longer lasting fire. Unfortunately Mrs. Parish was concentrating on size. 

I have often mentioned that size is not everything! On Wednesday she was obviously not listening to my advice and did not notice the wasp that was trying to hibernate in a log until it stung her.  Expletives filled the air and I was dispatched to find our trusty wasp ease spray which has proved its value on many occasions. (Including once with the after effects of a large and particularly vicious Spanish Wasp when I was walking in the Pyrenees). Fortunately this stopped it swelling up and although very painful Mrs. Parish was able to resume fire laying duties. Logs are now subject to better scrutiny!

I also discovered this week that the French have a website which tells you who is on strike at the moment. Of course I think this is wonderful that workers can and do stand up for their rights in France. On Thursday this week there were no national strikes but around the country, refuse workers were on strike in Le Havre, postal workers in Florac (Lozère) and Chelles (Seine-et-Marne), hospital staff in Château-Chinon (Nièvre), lawyers in Nantes and Vannes and firefighters in Caen. 

One of the next big strikes on the horizon will affect doctor’s surgeries over the Christmas and New Year period. The website is . I hope you will be inspired by this in Britain!! Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains!

Talking of inspiration we started today on the Choucroute circuit. We were invited by our friends Emile and Yvette to join them and some other English friends at the local village of Brece for their Choucroute lunch. Choucroute is a sauerkraut dish which originates on Alsace and is a great favourite with the French. The meal is basically sauerkraut with various forms of pork. At Brece it was with two forms of sausage (kind of frankfurter style) with a pork knuckle bone, a slice of pork and a pork salami with a couple of boiled potatoes. It is a huge plate of food and you probably need to be prepared for it and fast for several days before and after. We played safe and had the alternative which was slices of gammon in a sauce with some potato thing and a slice of pear. With this was naturally a kir to start and then some very reasonably priced red wine. Of course to finish with the coffee they came round with a bottle of homemade calvados to liven up things.

The Choucoute extravaganza!

Most of the larger villages around here have a choucrote celebration either at lunchtime or in the evening. It is a village social event as well as a way of making money for the village social committee. In Brece there were around 200 local people in the village hall. It was great to see such a well supported event. The tickets promised an “Apres-midi recreative”. (Afternoon entertainment). We waited with baited breath for what was to come! We started off with a screen on which was displayed the words to various French songs so we commenced a merry sing along. Some of the songs seemed to have quite weird lyrics. We had one about a happy singing plumber and then one seemed to be about goat’s cheese and a sheep as well as eating chicken with hormones. At least that was how I translated it! This was followed by an instrumental kind of heavy rock music to which lots of people were standing up and playing air violins!!!

As a matter of course we then all sang along to “Viva Espana” god knows why as the French hate going abroad for holidays. If that wasn’t exciting enough we then had the waving of napkins to music. It seemed a bit like Morris men on speed without the bells. To calm us all down the guy on stage (who it must be said had a range of talents, violin and accordion) played a tune with a violin bow and a large saw!!

Emile and Yvette watch the zombie line dancers

After all this craziness, we needed more wine and so yet another bottle of wine was purchased. Our English reserve was beginning to melt and some of us even took our jumpers off! We then had some line dancing which seems to be very popular in France. However everyone dancing seemed to be so intent on concentrating on the moves that none of them was smiling. In fact they looked a bit like a scene out of Day of the Dead, a load of dancing zombies. After all this things turned back to normal with some seemingly ordinary dancing. By this time with a few more glasses of wine and calva and some champagne which appeared as if by magic we were all starting to become very French and stormed the dance floor.  I joined Mrs. Parish in an attempt at dancing. It seemed to work OK, my legs and arms appeared to have some relationship to each other. At 5pm after 4 hours of intense weirdness, drink and dancing we went home.

So now we look forward to the 29th November and the next choucroute evening at St. Simeon. An evening event described as a “soiree dansant”. So more dancing required. This time we have the option of steak instead of choucroute. I think I will take that option! Back at home and grateful for not having the sauerkraut extravaganza as we can now manage a little cheese and bread and a drop more wine. It has been a good day today. I am now feeling a bit tired and emotional so will head for bed and post this in the morning

Bon choucroute