It is cider making time and as you might assume this is of great importance to the French. Emile and Yvette came round last week for the final lot of our cider apples. We had some late fruiting trees and so collected them up. Mrs. Parish also went round to help Emile pick up his apples and spent a happy afternoon on her knees! I was unable to help as I was allocated to important Assistant Tree Surgeon duties. More of which later.

Once the apples had been collected we were invited round to watch Emile and his neighbour Patrick (the same Patrick whose sheep we look after) make the cider. You may remember last year I reported in the blog about our first visit to Emile’s barn. It is a bit like the land that time forgot. It is over 100 years old and looks it! I’m sure it has many things in there that have been there for all that time. There are old barrels, bits of wood and shelves that are now kept up using bits of string. There are also any number of tools and bits of farm equipment that are piled up and of course lots of dark cobwebbed corners where there lurk great big spiders. The cider press is at one end and while it is over 60 years old it has been well looked after although over time it has had many home made adjustments and repairs. The engine that runs the apple cruncher would never survive a Health and safety Inspection with its open belt and its strange collection of breeze blocks and weights keeping it level. There are some pictures on my La Godefrere Facebook page and also in the download section of the website. While making the cider Emile was looking for a way of filtering out the straw and other bits that were going into the cider collecting barrel. Patrick was sent off to get a sieve from Yvette in the kitchen and they proceeded with bits of wire and string to attach it to the machinery. We are now waiting for Patrick to pop round with a few bottles of cidre doux, which is the first pressings of the cider before it has had time to ferment. This can be lively stuff and needs the cap opened to relieve the pressure.

The cider making was important enough for me to be temporarily spared from Assistant Tree Surgeon duties. Paul, our tree surgeon, was with us for 3 days last week and continued around the orchard thinning out trees and lightening the load by taking down branches on our oak trees. The end result is that we have a fantastic looking orchard with a number of well coiffured trees and in addition we have piles and piles of logs many of which need splitting. We have invested in a new tool which looks like a cross between a sledge hammer and an axe. It has a special head for splitting logs and the head weighs 2.5 kg so while it is difficult to lift it doesn’t half come down on the logs and splits them very effectively. I think I have got quite a few days worth of log cleaving still to go. The good side is that we end up with loads more logs which will be used on the wood burner in due course. The other thing we have loads of is brush wood from all the small branches and leaves. There are piles all over the garden and we are hoping to start to sort this out tomorrow. We have been saving some of the small branches for kindling but most of the brush wood will need to be burnt. Mrs. Parish is the official arsonist and is in charge of fires. Not my strong point. I was always in trouble as a boy scout as I could never manage to start a fire with one match and half a dozen sticks. So lots more forestry work next week.

Now that the chain saw work has stopped the cats have been out to examine what we have been doing. This seems to involve Moggie in a lot of climbing all over the logs piles and into the newly pruned trees. He of course managed to get himself stuck between two branches requiring me to climb up to release him. Archie just seems to have the need to pee on the new log piles to make it clear who they belong to. Minou is a bit more circumspect and having had a quick look she then disappears off to find somewhere cosy to sleep. Because it is a lot colder the cats are more reluctant than ever to be outside cats and usually as soon as they have had dinner they try to find places to hide all round the house. Archie is a great complainer and hisses and growls when you find him. To try to avoid some of the stress we have taken to bribery by offering the cats some cat treats if they go outside. This has led to some interesting responses from the cats. Moggie is led by his stomach and after a few days started to ask to be thrown out with a treat. As soon as one of us put on a coat Moggie would appear at the cat food cupboard ready to be thrown out. Minou on the other hand appears like lightening as soon as the box of treats is shaken. Archie has an altogether more measured approach. He has worked out that being thrown out into the cold from a warm bed is not really worth the bother and so he stays put in his warm place until we have to go and fetch him. At least he realises that he is going to get a treat for going outside and so is a bit more philosophical about this and doesn’t hiss or growl, so it is some progress.

A bit of sadness this week as we learned that our favourite crossword compiler, the Guardian’s Araucaria had died. He was in his 90’s and suffering from cancer but we will miss his fiendish brand of cryptic crosswords. We do the guardian crossword most days and also the hard Sudoku. It helps keep our brains active. We have enough logs to keep our bodies going!

And so to the Soiree Dansante which literally means an evening of dancing! However in France you must expect the unexpected. We were invited to the Soiree Dansante at a nearby village called St.Simione by Emile and Yvette to make up a party with several other of their English friends. The evening was organised by the Fete Committee of the village and was to celebrate their “Choucroute” which is basically a plate of ham hock, sausage and cabbage. At first hearing, sausage was attractive as I am a great one for sausage but in France the word sausage can cover a multitude of offerings, not all of which look that great. So Mrs. Parish and I went for the soft option of beef steak! The tickets said be there at 8pm. There being the village hall in St. Simione. French villages have an amazing variety and size of village hall. St.Simione is quite a small village with a great big hall and we duly arrived as a party of 10, at 8pm. Of course this is rural France and things operate to their own time scale. We were a bit concerned as at 8 when we arrived so did a butchers van with all the meat. When we got to the hall there were a few people already there but over the next two hours people continued to arrive and eventually ay 10pm things got underway with first an aperitif of Kir, the several old men from the fete committee came around with the starter (a plate of ham and salamis, then they came round with a glass of light beer, apparently traditional as choucroute is from the Alsace region. Then we had our main course and for us a rather nice (considering the number of people by now more than 150) steak. With crisps and green beans, which was an odd combination. We finished with cheese and an apple tart and then they brought round coffee and calvados of course. The ticket price was 14 Euros for the lot and the only thing we had to buy was wine.

It turned out to be a charming evening and after the food at around midnight the music and dancing began. The disco was a strange mix of French accordion music, YMCA and some modern French stuff but it seemed to meet all tastes. The whole evening resembled a wedding party. The village was well represented and there was the whole age range from very young children, teens, parents, grandparents. What is also amazing is watching young French children demolishing plates of choucroute (ham hocks and all, even the cabbage).  We left around 1pm and it looked like the party was going on until the wee small hours. There is also a tradition in France that local village parties end up at breakfast time in the local cafe, which serves tripe for breakfast. A totally insane idea but the French love tripe.

By the way we avoided the “dansante” bit. Mrs. Parish explained to our friends that I have “deux pieds gauche” when it comes to dancing!!

There was a bit of a delay in finishing the blog this week as Patrick and Katrin arrived with three bottles of cidre doux and of course we had to offer our hospitality which meant getting out some wine and snacks so we could properly toast this year’s cidre. That is cidre not cider.

As it is now getting very late I think I must bring the blog to a close. There is loads more to report including the return of our neighbour Peter but this must wait until next week. A small glass of calva and then to bed as we have loads of forest clearance work to do in the morning.