Brightly shone the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight,
gathering winter fuel.

As we move closer to Christmas we of course have to get out our CD of cheesy Christmas music including lots of Carols. Mrs. Parish has set up her version of Santa’s workshop in her sewing garret and is disappearing for hours at a time “making Christmas”. Actually most of her work has been on designing and making Christmas cards and wrapping presents. A book has just arrived in the post about patchwork so I think Mrs. Parish has plans to start her preparation for Christmas 2014 nice and early.

Fortunately she has also found some spare time to do some more baking and mince pies have been flying out of the oven at a tremendous rate. This is in part to keep me in mince pies but also because we have found that they are good currency to bribe our various builders. We have been waiting for Mark to come and put some slate back on the roof and also to finish our new doors with a stone wall. Of course everyone wants their job finished before Christmas. Our tactic is to invite him round for mince pies. Our builders have been most impressed with the assortment of cakes and biscuits supplied when they have been working here and duly came round for a mince pie of two. We also had our plumber, Larry the Leak, drop by to fix a small leak and of course for a mince pie or two. The French don’t go in for mince pies but Mrs. Parish has taken some round to our neighbour’s Giselle and Daniel. They are now keen converts to mince pies.

While all this excitement has been going on I have been re-enacting several Christmas carols and in particular Good King Wenceslas. While I do a bit of looking out, in this case I seem to be the “poor man gathering winter fuel”. We have also had bright moonlight nights and cruel frosts and there I am out gathering bits of stick and small branches left after the logging work. This is to produce “kindling” which Mrs. Parish tells me is essential in starting fires. So we now have to gather stacks of kindling and bring it into the wood shed to dry. When I mention my hard work to friends and neighbours I am met with an almost universal response. “You can’t have too much kindling”. Oh, I beg to differ! I would prefer to re-enact the carol “While shepherds watch their flocks” but unfortunately all our sheep have gone and “while shepherds watch an empty field” just doesn’t have the same sound. Mrs. Parish offers no sympathy but does warn me not to go near the three wise men.

Anyway we progress towards Christmas and now have the “Sapin de Noel” purchased and put up in the lounge with our other Christmas decorations including the ancient Merry Christmas banner which has 14 Santas spelling out Merry Christmas. Our children expect to be greeted by the banner and so the tradition is maintained. Christmas in France does seem like a slightly more calm festival. While the supermarkets are stacked high with chocolates and toys we have noticed that Christmas Shopping seems slightly less frenetic than in Britain. Mind you there is something Christmassy about having the tree lit up (with lights not kindling) and a roaring log fire, while looking out on a cold frosty afternoon. Especially if the “poor man” is now indoors and not still out gathering winter fuel!!

We are receiving reports from our mole patrol of unusual mole activity in our big field. Mrs. Parish reports a large number of mole hills appearing in recent days. We are naturally concerned that instead of the Christmas Armistice we offered, along of course with a traditional game of football thrown in on Christmas Day, the moles might just be planning a sneaky winter offensive. If there is a thaw in the cruel frost their might be an attempt to breech the La Godefrere exclusion zone and so we must remain vigilant. We have tried lighting a very large bonfire just inside the big field to get rid of the brushwood but also a ring of fire defence seemed a good idea. Mrs. Parish has been sharpening her mole catching equipment in case a decisive counter offense proves necessary.

On a slightly different matter I have noticed that in rural France just about everybody owns a tractor. Our friend Emile has an ancient tractor which he drives all the way here from his small farm about 10 miles away. This has all sorts of adaptations and gadgets that fit on to do all sorts of jobs around the farm. Our neighbour Giselle has quite a big tractor that lives in an old barn and comes out from time to time but only driven by her. I don’t think Daniel is allowed to drive it. This seems a feature of rural France and almost every time that we go out in the car you will see an ancient tractor usually driven by an ancient French farmer at impossibly slow speeds. Of course that means having to find a way of overtaking on narrow bendy roads. I think they do it to annoy the English as it is especially difficult to overtake when in an English car the driver is on the near side. The younger farmers all drive huge great new tractors and are usually pulling sodding great trailers either moving cattle or winter feed. At least then they go at a reasonable speed and actually appear to have some purpose. I think the old guys are just out joy riding. I think I am now developing tractor envy as my poor little tractor is so small it’s not allowed on the road. I keep thinking I should upgrade my tractor so I can ponce about but also find attachments to pick up apples and sticks etc. At least I have now found someone who can give the tractor a service and fit a new battery. I am looking for some go faster stripes to put on the side so at least I can maximise its performance.

Onto cars or at least our car which has been threatening to not start. On occasions it has stuttered and been difficult. I usually dismiss this with a “well it’s a bit cold or damp this morning”. I also have this habit of turning up the volume on the radio when strange noises come from the car. It is the good old habit of ignoring a problem and it will go away. Experience of course tells differently. Mrs. Parish suggested that we should get the car serviced (she doesn’t subscribe to the laissez-faire philosophy). So I found this guy who will also do the tractor and schedule a service. Murphy ’s Law now kicks in and before the service takes place the car refuses to start. Our new mechanic, Rob arrives and advises we need a new battery which Ron says he will get from Super U and fit the next day. When he turns up he advises that the store has sold the battery without charge and it will need a 24 hour charge before he can fit it. So Rob arrives the next day with what appears to be a fully charged battery which he fits into the car and then finds out it does not work. I tend to think that this vindicates my approach as clearly taking action has produced all this chaos. Mrs. Parish who is by now about to burst as she is relying on the car to get our Christmas shopping done, takes charge. “Just get the bloody thing started so I can get to Mayenne and I will get a proper battery from the car specialists there who will also fit it to make sure I can get back” is a polite summary. The car was a bit scared and is now behaving itself and operating properly

The cats on the other hand are not. In the week when we were having the car fixed and feeding the builders, Minou went missing when feeding time arrived at 4pm. This is most unusual as Minou is the least adventurous of the cats and is always first to arrive in plenty of time for food. At 4pm the other two were lined up at the food bank but no Minou. We called and rattled the feeding bowls which normally brings her running but not today. After an hour we were beginning to worry and started calling on the neighbours and then phoning all the people who were at La Godefrere to see if she had snuck off in one the cars or vans. No sign of her. We were beginning to think that we had now lost our second cat which would be classed as careless when at 7pm three hours late Minou arrives tapping at the door. She was quite cold so we reckon she had got shut in somewhere. So she had a late dinner with an armed guard as of course Moggie and Archie also turned up and wanted to share her food. We are now of course trying to keep them away from the Christmas tree. Archie has already hooked off a decoration as well as stopping them from sampling the Christmas baking. We have taken to using the micro wave as a food safe.

And finally, calendars. In France everyone wants to give you a calendar or encourage a donation in exchange for a calendar. The Sapeur Pompiers (firefighters) come around to collect for their charity and give out a very nice calendar with a photo of all the firefighters. Interestingly they also give you a hand written receipt for your donation. The post office also have a calendar and as well lots of shops and supermarkets give them away. So we are now surrounded by calendars. Not to be outdone I have produced the 2014 La Godefrere Calendar which is available free of charge on the La Godefrere website, download page as PDF file for you to have a look at and down load if you wish. The calendar is a bit of a tradition from when I was at work where I produced it for my colleagues. It follows my strange sense of humour and this one reflects my life at La Godefrere. I hope you enjoy it.

I think there may be some more mince pies to sample and then we commence our festive season as our neighbour Peter is coming to dinner. Mrs. Parish has excelled once again with the promise of steak and kidney pie. I have my eye on a nice bottle of Haut-Medoc and no doubt we shall get down to tales of mole hunting and boast of our great victories and acts of daring and courage.

Bon appetit