Bonne annee, welcome to 2017 here at La Godefrere and to the first page of volume 5 of the blog. Yes, this is the start of our fifth year of living in France and the continuation of my attempt to record the joys of living in rural France. It is somewhat amazing that I can still find stuff to write about but there is always something new happening or as with the cats and hens a new variation on a common theme. With the cats it is usually about food or the constant struggle to maintain them as outdoor cats while they plot to get more inside time. The chickens it is more of a case of will they escape this week.

The French and their customs, history and culture throw up new and amusing incidents and there is always something to report!

Anyway, this week has been marked by a sudden and marked change in temperature. From being mild and rainy we have now had three days of sub zero temperatures. For the first couple of days the skies were clear and everywhere was white with frost. It was amazingly beautiful but very cold. All the plants and trees in our garden, orchard and fields were white. The downside of this has been that the cats have been complaining of the cold and so have the chickens who don’t like having cold feet and so have spent a lot of time up outside the house. Mrs. Parish has taken to cooking rice for them or setting aside mashed potato from our dinner (much to my alarm) to warm up for them.

A wintery view at La Godefrere across the orchard to the fields

Of course the sight of warm food going out to the chickens has caused consternation amongst the cats who have been trying to get in on the act but fended off by the hens. So now I have to keep back some of our dinner as treats for the cats. Yesterday they had some cooked ham that we had for lunch, with a suitable sauce being required as they are French cats. The cats ate their food at twice their normal very fast rate to ensure that no hens got a look in.

Mexican stand off around the mashed potato bowl

Today the weather got colder with the arrival of a breeze so it felt colder. The skies also remained grey, so there was no sun to at least give the impression of warmth. At this point we decide that the hen house is in a position in the orchard where it is very cold and that it would be a good idea to move the house up to the courtyard where it would get some protection from being next to the cats’ palace. So we have to dress up with our warmest clothes and hats and gloves for the operation. It is bitterly cold and we decide to get out the tractor and trailer to move the hen house.

When we got to the hen house of course one of the hens was inside laying an egg. We were now so cold that we had to continue and so hen and all we lifted the hen house up onto the trailer and drove it round to the courtyard. It was just like a mobile home for hens. We managed to get the house sited in the courtyard and the hen (Christabel) was still sat in the nest box busy laying her egg. The funniest thing was when she had finished she shot out of the hen house with a loud squawk and a very shocked and confused look. It was just as if she was thinking when I went into the house I was in the orchard, how on earth did I get here!  

As an interesting aside the French word for hen house is “poulallier”. This is also the word the French use for the upper balcony of a theatre where there was cheap standing room only. It was called the “poulallier” because it was very noisy just like a hen house! Apparently it was also known as paradise as it was up with the gods. Of course the upper balcony in the UK is known as “the gods”. 

The cold weather has also brought into the garden a lot of birds and I am having to fill up the bird feeders on a daily basis. The cold has also brought into the garden a buzzard who sits on our dead tree and surveys the orchard, to the consternation of the hens who make a fuss. Every now and again we also get a visit from the sparrowhawk who makes a flying visit to the bird feeders to feed on the sparrows!

A winter visitor - a buzzard on our dead tree

We also had a very welcome winter visitor yesterday from our friend Emile who has not been too well. He has had a bad chest infection that has kept him at home for a while. He is 84 and so has been a bit poorly so it was good to see him up and about. It was especially good as he brought with him a large bottle of his home made Calvados, which is of course legendary. We now have quite a supply of calvados and need to get drinking it. Anyway Emile stayed for a coffee and a chat before going off for a meal with some friends and a game of belote.

Belote is a card game played by virtually every French person we know and has been shrouded in some mystery regarding the rules. It is not a game that is well known in Britain but seems to be played in most European countries. It is probably provided for under the EU treaties which would explain why it is not much played in Britain. We have for some time said we must learn how to play and over Christmas we had friends around for a day of eating, drinking and playing games. With our friends Ian and Sarah and their dog Oz, we decided that we would try to learn how to play. Mrs. Parish got the rules from the internet and we found there were about 12 pages worth of rules encompassing the many variations of rules in different countries.

It is played with a pack of 32 cards which excludes cards numbered 6 to 2. The game involves 4 players (two sets of partners) and the idea is to win tricks which are then scored depending on the cards. The complication comes with the fact that the 10 card comes in value next to the ace except in trumps where the jack is the highest card, followed by the nine! This takes some getting used to. There is also a bidding process and at the end of each round the cards have scores which are added together and written down over each round and after a number of rounds the team with the highest score win. This is a simple description of the rules, many of which we decided to ignore as too complicated or incomprehensible as we tried to keep it simple! Of course the problem is that there will also be local rules and we are sure that Emile and Yvette have their own variations. At least now we can challenge them to a game!

So it is New Year’s Day and the conclusion to a quiet Christmas for us. Last year we had 4 Christmases over a period of about 4 weeks. This year just the one but we have been trying to make up for the lack of children (who are all coming over in Jan or Feb) by enjoying some good French food and wine. For Christmas Day we ordered some guinea fowl stuffed with a pear stuffing from our local butcher and also had one of his prepared crab salad starters. We had a great chocolate Christmas log from the Boulanger/patissier. For Christmas Eve we had some quail ready prepared from the local charcutier. Yesterday we salmon starter followed by some capon stuffed with foie gras. We also invested in a range of quality wines which were very nice indeed.

Today as it has been so cold Mrs. Parish is preparing one of her sensational boeuf bourguignon dishes. This is made from the beef we got from our farmer friend Olivier and it is top quality. Just the sort of food for a really cold day and as it takes a few hours in the oven the house is full of the lovely smell of it cooking. I have a very nice and expensive bottle of St. Emilion to go with it. It is currently warming next to the roaring log fire. In fact I rather think it is time for a little aperitif as I have not had a drink yet this year.

But before that I am summoned to the courtyard where the three hens are refusing to go in to the new house location. They clearly don’t recognise it. So there are those two eccentric English people running after hens and trying with the use of brooms and mops to herd the chickens into their house and all this in the failing light. There was a lot of swearing but eventually they are in!

Anyway to all those who read my blog a very Happy New Year and if you are coming to France you would be welcome to come and stay. It is very beautiful and very peaceful here!

Bonne annee, bonne santé,