Christmas week has been and gone. We ate too much and drank too much (well at least I did). A time which should have meant peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind turned out to be a bit more incident packed than we would have wanted. Mind you that could be the case most weeks at La Godefrere. My retirement retreat to the quiet and solitude of rural France has not quite lived up to expectations.

This last week started badly with a cake crisis (une crise de gateau). Sounds even more dramatic in French. Mrs Parish was in the process of making a Christmas fruit cake, which is a good thing! However for the first time in 40 years of cake baking there was a failure. The cake instead of rising in the oven collapsed and then when attempting to make some small chocolate cakes the same thing happened. A look of horror appeared on my face. Was the oven packing up, just before Christmas. If so it would not just be cakes but all meals including Christmas dinner.  An even worse scenario presented itself. What if Mrs. Parish had suddenly lost the ability to make cakes? Over the past 40 years there has been a constant stream of cakes of all sizes and descriptions from Mrs. Parish. Could it be the end of cakes as we know it? This would be a disaster of monumental proportions. What could be done to save the day? Should we call in Mary Berry? Just when all hope seemed to be slipping away, Mrs Parish tried again with a new bag of flour and as if by magic we were back to perfect cakes. It was clearly a dodgy batch of flour. Great relieved sighs emanated from me for the rest of the day, interspersed with sighs of pleasure as I once again resumed my key position as official taster and quality control.

Crisis number one had been averted. No sooner had we solved this problem when we moved onto crisis number two. Our daughter, Jo who had joined us for Christmas had had tooth problems before coming over to France and had suffered an abscess which she was taking antibiotics for. On Christmas Eve she woke up with a swelling in her gum as the abscess had flared up again (une crise de dents – tooth crisis). So the hunt was on for a dentist open on Christmas Eve. Mrs. Parish once again put her French language skills to the test and went with Jo to our local town only to find the dentist was on holiday. A trip to the pharmacy produced a dentist in the next town and he was phoned. While he was on holiday he would come in for emergencies and so off they went to see the dentist. Mrs. Parish had added various dental words to her vocabulary and the dentist was able to quickly treat Jo so that she could enjoy her Christmas.

Now that Mrs.Parish had the all clear on the bakery front, the production line was over flowing with cheese straws, sausage rolls and mince pies. Mince pies are not really found in France. Fortunately on her last visit to England Mrs. Parish had the foresight to buy in some jars on mince meat and thus the mince pie production. It meant we could bribe our builders and plumber to come and do jobs before Christmas and take a plate around to Emile and Yvette on Boxing Day. (The French don’t do Boxing Day and it is a normal working day. French people tend to celebrate more on Christmas Eve with their families as well as Christmas day). On Christmas Eve in the evening we were all sat down watching TV when we heard some scrabbling on the worktop and turned around to see Moggie grabbing a polythene bag of mince pies and then disappearing down to go under the table. Fortunately we were able to rescue the bag before he had broken into it. So we had averted three disasters before Christmas! It almost became the three visitations received by Scrooge!

The weather up to and over Christmas has been pretty awful, which has meant that the cats have spent a lot of time indoors or even if outside they have disappeared to their beds in the lean to shed. So they have not had much exercise. This has meant that we have suffered from bored cats. This has manifested bored cat behaviour which ranges from Minou playing with the kitten toys and racing around the living room and up and down the stairs. Moggie has been wandering around the house looking for mischief. He has been poking things with his paw, bothering Minou and Archie while they are sleeping. It is like having children again who have been cooped up inside for days. Only with cats you can’t get out the jigsaws! So as soon as it is dry, the cats have been told it’s time to go out and play and they have been thrown out of the house. Archie tends to be a bit more phlegmatic and just takes himself off to a nice comfy place to go to sleep. He doesn’t seem to get bored with sleeping!

The bad weather culminated with the arrival of the Tempest called Dirk which has caused major problems in England. We got the tail end of it but we had the most violent storm with really heavy rain and very high winds all night on the Monday before Christmas. On Christmas Eve morning it was still raining very heavily and while Mrs. Parish and Jo went off to find the dentist I got togged up in my full wet weather gear with waterproof leggings and boots to go out and inspect our rounds for damage. Fortunately we have had a lot of tree work done so apart from a few small branches there was not much damage done to the trees. The fence round the veg garden was blown over and a number of tiles had been blown off the lean to shed. The cloche had been completely destroyed and the compost bin blown over. By this time I was somewhat drenched and retreated indoors. It was only in the afternoon we discovered that the roof of our little sheep shelter had completely blown off and was in the next field, so we had to get dressed again to go out and retrieve it.

On Christmas Day we got out the football and went down into the orchard for a game. The moles never turned up. They have not been seen although there are some very big mole hills down in our big field. Hopefully they will stay there!

Today Mrs.Parish and I have been fencing. We have spent the day wielding sledge hammers and special fencing tools repairing the veg garden fence and also repairing the fence down in the big field. Going down to the end of the big field we were accompanied by Moggie who decided that he should see what was going on. This of course meant getting in the way, running in front of the wheel barrow and generally being a nuisance. When we got to the fence all the cows decided to come over and see what we were up to and there were 25 cows all standing the other side of the fence watching our fencing exploits. They seemed to be assessing our efforts and looked to me that they we unimpressed. Moggie decided to go under the fence to wind up the cattle who at various times were chasing Moggie around the field. Having walked all that way Moggie has since crashed out and been fast asleep all evening. Any way the fences have been fixed and Mrs. Parish and I are now worn out and looking forward to a little sleep in front of the Tele.

Now to look forward to New Year’s Eve and the rather strange collection of French TV programmes that are likely to be on. In France New year’s Eve is better known as St. Sylvestre’s Eve and as with most things in France this is an event to celebrate French food and wine. Now there’s a shame, I suppose we shall have to adopt the “when in France, do as the French”, approach.

Bonne fetes