So a week on and we try to return to normality. Or what passes for it here at La Godefrere. I should report on Christmas number 3 when we were visited by our daughter Amy and her friend Charlotte. I went to pick them from the ferry port near Caen from the evening ferry which docks at 9-30pm. Unfortunately the weather was awful and we had a 2 hour drive back through thick fog. French roads do not have cats’ eyes (probably because they are a British invention). As a consequence at night or in fog it is quite difficult to see how the road goes. However, as I have reported before, there are few cars on the road and so at least all I had to worry about was where I was going.

On the way I saw for the first time some French drunks staggering about in the road as I drove through Domfront. As a rule you don’t see many drunken French people out in the streets and there is thankfully still not the tradition of binge drinking among young people. When I got to the port and had a coffee while waiting for the ferry I had the disappointing experience of listening to some English ex-pats on their way back to Britain. You cannot generalise we know some really lovely English people who we have met since in France. However there remain many who portray all the worst features of the British abroad. The ones who have to speak loudly and always seem to talk in money. Either how much they have or more likely, as the ones at the ferry port, about the price of things in Britain compared with France and usually complaining about some facet of French life. I think the reality is that these people are just never happy unless they have something to complain about. It also usual for these people to speak no French and complain that the French don’t speak English!! We have come across many who live here and can’t speak the language and heard of one couple who have been in France for 20 years and still don’t speak French.

My French is coming along quite well. Mostly thanks to Jacqui our very patient French teacher, who moved to France with her family about 10 years ago. We still go to French lessons once a week and every month go to a more social cafe and conversation morning at Jacqui’s with both French and English. This is usually great fun as we share the foibles of our language and culture. At the last occasion Mrs. Parish and I had to remove ourselves from the English camp who were suggesting that all English people love the monarchy. We begged to differ and suggested that the French solution was much better! Anyway I can now participate in most conversations and make myself understood. Unlike my friend Ian who only knows a few words. At a dinner party with some French friends he was trying to say somebody was naughty but confused the words he knew. Instead of saying “mechant” which is French for naughty he blurted out “nichon” which is French for Tit! A French woman nearly choked on hearing this!

We went on Friday evening to Giselle and Daniel for the traditional Epiphany evening with a “Galette des Rois”. It is a tart with almond cream and is only served around 6th January apparently to commemorate the three wise men. In each tart there are little figurines and the person who finds one in their piece is King or Queen for the night. They usually get a crown to wear for the evening and of course can make a wish. The supermarkets are full to the ceiling with the galettes and it seems every family buys them. For adults it is an excuse for a few drinks and Daniel brought out his best red wine and of course his left handed corkscrew which he had already tried on me. So this time another neighbour Mick had the pleasure. Daniel once again was in fits of laughter. I’m not sure how typical Daniel is of Frenchmen but his sense of humour and jokes are akin to a pre adolescent teenager. Anyway we had a great evening and as I had more to drink and moved on to the calvados my ability to speak French improved by the minute!

I have got a bit sidetracked and was talking about Christmas 3 and Amy and Charlotte. Amy is now a vegan, which means she doesn’t eat anything that comes from animals. So no butter or cow’s milk or anything that is made using animal products (which is surprisingly an awful lot). Charlotte doesn’t eat dairy products. So in preparation Mrs. Parish and I spent ages going round the supermarkets trying to find vegan products. France has only just begun to accept vegetarians but vegans seem an alien concept. However we found soya milk and spread only made with vegetable oils and generally stocked up on lentils and beans and vegetables. Christmas dinner 3 was a strange affair with no dripping meat dish in the middle of the table but Mrs. Parish is an excellent cook and found lots of vegan recipes and cooked a delicious meal. After a week I was desperate for a bit of meat and a visit to Monsieur Rebuffe our very excellent butcher.

Still we had a good time and played lots of games and had lots to drink. Amy likes whisky s I was happy to have someone to share a whisky with and to get out some old favourites. I was most impressed with Charlotte who liked Emile’s calva as well as some of my French Armagnac. Emile was very pleased when I got to tell him he has a new fan. Unfortunately we couldn’t get round to see Emile and Yvette while we were here as the girls both had very bad colds and we didn’t want to expose Emile who has just recovered from a bad chest. The girls also missed a trip to see the Alpacas as our Alpaca keeper friend was also ill. So far Mrs. Parish and I have avoided any winter ailments. It is clearly the good lifestyle we maintain.

So now the girls have returned and all our Christmases are over and we get back to facing 2015. We have lots to do this year. We have started with repainting the bathroom and kitchen in the gite, after having had a new shower put in. We are waiting for Mark (Jacqui’s husband) to give us a quote for building some steps up into our storage barn. We are in the process of purchasing the old ruined building that adjoins the storage barn and have plans for incorporating that into our garden. I will report more on this once the purchase is complete. We have been working at the bottom of the big hay field on improving our nature walk. Mrs. Parish has been sent into the bramble jungle equipped with her fierce strimmer to clear a path through a large bramble patch. I come behind clearing away the debris. There are some enormous brambles but we have cut through and now need to create a proper path. What we will have is a proper rural avenue with brambles on both sides which should mean lots of blackberries and lots of butterflies.

This week we have had spring and winter all within 24 hours. Yesterday it was a lovely clear and crisp day with the sun shining. We had a chiffchaff flitting about feeding on our window boxes. The chiffchaff is a warbler which is normally a spring and summer visitor who usually spends the winter in Africa. But here was one clearly who had decided to dispense with all that flying and to stop here. Today of course it may well be regretting that decision as it has been snowing for most of the day. Early morning rain has turned to snow and it is still snowing now, four hours later, having started at lunchtime.

Chiffchaff on our window box

The cats led by Archie immediately invoked the winter weather clause in the contract which he maintains entitles them to more indoor time. So they have been in all afternoon. Well apart from Moggie who has a fascination for the snow and has been out for a play in it. The others are firmly curled up on the sofas.

Archie invokes winter clause in contract

As there has been foul weather I have convinced Mrs. Parish that we are entitled to a larger than usual aperitif as part of our winter terms and conditions. So I’m off to open a bottle. We have been out to get in wood for the fire and some extra bottles from the cave. We have plenty of food and a hearty boeuf bourguignon cooking in the oven. So bring on winter!!

Bon semaine