The weather has definitely turned a lot colder and we have had to light up the wood burner after a long run of fine weather. The air is now coming from the North and has brought heavy snow to the mountains of France. We have just got a cold strong wind which makes it very cold outside. With the change in wind and temperature we are also seeing a difference in the birds visiting the garden and the local area.

We have large numbers of greenfinches now coming to the bird feeders as well as sparrows and tits. These birds we would expect to see but this week we have seen a goldfinch and a siskin, which is only an occasional winter visitor to our garden. In the fields around we have spotted several Great White Egrets feeding. It was rare to see these birds when we first came here 6 years ago. Now they have been moving North and certainly using our area for wintering.

I am not sure what migrating birds will do when we get to Brexit. Will they need a visa to get to Britain? There are large numbers of British people who like us live in France permanently and we are becoming increasingly worried about our position if there is no Brexit deal, which is looking more and more likely. Our income originates in the UK and has suffered from the reduced value of the pound in currency exchange. As EU citizens we are entitled, at the moment, to French health care and have a right to reside in France. Our rights post Brexit are far from clear, as effectively we will be foreign nationals in France.

In order to try and secure our position, we are applying to the French Government for a right to stay in France for a 10-year period. This is called a “Carte de Sejours”. Like all aspects of French bureaucracy this is a long and tortuous process and involves lots of paper! There is plenty of advice available and we discovered that the first stage is to compile a dossier of relevant documents. In fact, we are required to produce two separate dossiers, one for me and one for Mrs. Parish although about 90% of the documents will be the same!

Our dossiers in preparation

We have to prove that we have lived in France for at least 5 years and this means producing appropriate bills for every 6-month period to establish this. We have to show evidence of our income and that we have paid tax, both local and national. We also have to show that we have health cover along with a number of other documents. All of these have to be printed off or photocopied twice, one for each file and we have to have another file with the originals in case they want to have a look!

Mrs. Parish volunteered to be our admin clerk and has regularly disappeared up into our office and has been copying like fury and has worn out at least two printer ink cartridges. We have just been out today to get our photos taken as we need to submit a current photo as part of the process. The dossiers are more or less complete and so we move to the next stage. This involves arranging an interview with the local Prefecture (the departmental government office in Laval). The instruction is to go on line to book an appointment as there appears to be no other way. So, we log into the Prefecture website and the computer says no! There are no available interview slots. Just that, no information about what to do next!

We decided to email the Prefecture and to our surprise we had a prompt response. The website was correct, the reply said, but new interview slots would be added and all we had to do was log in regularly to see if we could get one. So, a kind of hit or miss way of doing things. For the past week Mrs. Parish has been logging in to try and catch an interview slot as it drifts across their website. So far, she has had no luck. We have five months until Brexit so we just have to hope we get lucky, a bit like the lottery really!!

While we worry about our status the hens have no such distractions.  They are clearly French hens and can concentrate all their efforts on eating and laying eggs. They seem to be good at both and we are getting an average of three eggs per day. This is good as we can have lots of things with eggs including lots of cake. Our last lot of hens were very militant and regularly looked for ways to escape. Our new hens are not interested in escape, merely in finding food. They have the full run of the orchard and garden but have recognised the role of humans in the provision of food.

As soon as they see Mrs. Parish they all come running up and follow her around the garden. When she is gardening and digging there is a chance of a few worms or turning the soil may disturb some insects. The hens have recognised that each morning I feed the wild birds at a couple of feeding stations. When I close the house door in the morning the hens come quickly and follow me to the bird feeders where they have learned that there will be some spillage and they can have a treat of sunflower seeds.

Hens are smart creatures and the hens spotted a weak point when I opened the dustbin we use to store the seed. They worked out that if they rushed me they could get access to the food right away. All four arrived and one jumped up onto the dustbin to get into the seeds also causing me to be startled and to spill some seed. Now every morning I have to fight off the hen rush but they still stick close to my heels as I go to the bird feeders. 

A hen stealing the wild bird food

On Sunday, Mrs. Parish and I went to Mayenne for the annual Euro Mayenne fair. Euro Mayenne is an organisation set up by the Department to help non-French people who settle in Mayenne. They have an annual fair to raise funds and give people a chance to have a stall to sell craft goods. There are close to 100 stalls and each year the fair has a theme and the hall and individuals dress up in line with the theme. This year the theme was Spain and there was also some Spanish entertainment with flamenco guitar and dancing. There is also a very good refreshment area selling homemade cake!

There is one stall that always fascinates me for its sheer bizarreness. There is every year a Barbie doll stall. The woman who runs it makes clothes for the Barbies and presumably people come and buy them. I presume this, as she is there every year but I have yet to see anyone parting with cash. The woman also makes a Barbie display in tune with the theme and so this year we were treated to El Barbie.

The El Barbie stall

As you can see from the picture there are lots of Flamenco Barbies and a few Flamenco Kens as well. The Kens seem to have the oddest hair styles or maybe it is just me! Somehow, an undersized bull has also appeared. The Barbie stall is the weirdest and all the others offered a range of craft goods. Apart that is for the stall which sold food from the UK. I can understand tea bags as French tea is very weak. I can understand Heinz beans and tomato soup as they can be expensive in French supermarkets.

Why on earth would anyone want to buy tinned frankfurters or a Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie. I did see one English woman walking away from the stall with a box of Walkers crisps. The French do make crisps which are very nice. We do import tea bags when friends or family come over but there is so much good food in France we don’t need to stick to English makes!

Some people also want a supply of English cheese. And while Cheddar cheese is good for cheese scones or cheese on toast the French have such a collection of cheeses that there is no need to pine for English cheese. There are reckoned to be between 350 and 450 different varieties of French cheese. General de Gaulle once asked “How is it possible to govern a country that had 240 makes of cheese.”

We went this week to the street market at Evron and there is a cheese pantechnican which is there every week. It is a huge lorry full of cheese. I don’t know if they had all of the French cheeses but they certainly had a lot and offered to give a taste of any cheese before you buy. We bought some lovely Comte, some Blue Auverne and some Galet de Loire as well as some confit (chutney). Super cheeses and great with a nice glass of red wine.

The giant cheese lorry at Evron

Bon Fromage