Christmas, despite happening 4 times here is now a distant memory and we seem to have managed to skip January, which is no bad thing. I woke up this morning and realised that it is the Chinese New Year. So bonne fetes to all my Chinese friends. This year it is the year of the Monkey. Looking things up I also discover that the year I was born in 1951 was the year of the Rabbit. On the other hand Mrs. Parish it seems was born in the year of the Dragon. I think maybe I should refrain from further comment on this!!

Anyway there is lots of good advice surrounding Chinese New Year. Apparently for New Year's breakfast: Porridge should not be eaten, because it is considered that only poor people have porridge for breakfast, and people don't want to start the year “poor” as this is a bad omen. A bit of luck then as we narrowly missed having porridge today. A woman may not leave her house; otherwise she will be plagued with bad luck for the entire coming year. A married daughter is not allowed to visit the house of her parents, as this is believed to bring bad luck to the parents, causing economic hardship for the family. The most worrying piece of advice is to not have an empty rice jar: A depleted receptacle may cause grave anxiety, as the cessation of cooking during the New Year period is considered to be an ill omen. I immediately check our rice jar and find it is nicely full. I do tell Mrs. Parish that we must keep cooking food over this period to keep any ill omens away.

It is also bad luck to use a broom and if you sweep, you may sweep away your wealth. Now this is a bit of a worry as this morning I did sweep the lounge and kitchen floors. However it was only a very gentle sweep up of bread crumbs and dust from the fire so maybe it will be all right and anyway I don’t seem to have any wealth. It may be that offering a sacrifice to the ancestors may bring good luck and counteract the sweeping problem. However I have yet to find advice on what to sacrifice. The cats have made themselves scare. It also seems that eating, drinking and making a noise are good things, so we should have no problem with that.

Now it does appear that the absolute worst thing that you can do on Chinese New Year’s eve is to win a backgammon tournament. This will bring incredible bad luck for the rest of the year and all subsequent dice throws will be unlucky. This is really bad news for my good friend Alan who has been here with Debi for the weekend. As usual we play backgammon (known as tric-trac in France) for the Pirate trophy. When Alan retired last year Mrs. Parish insisted we give the trophy to Al, in perpetuity. However the pirate trophy returned this weekend. Alan (who has the luck of the devil with dice throws) did manage to win the trophy last night. Of course the Chinese New Year curse has already started as he now has to take the trophy home with him. His luck with the dice will now cease for the next 12 months. It is interesting to note that his luck at cards also started to run out when in the final game of the evening I beat him at “bastard brag”, a version of the gambling card game brag. Fortunately for Al the game did not involve money!

Alan is known as Uncle Al after a famous weekend at the holiday camp at Croyde Bay where we were all staying for a work training event. Al took it on himself to entertain all the staff children, earning his “Uncle” title. It has stuck with him ever since and to good effect as Al has the ability to keep us all amused. When we went this weekend to a posh Michelin star restaurant Al went to pay and tried to use some notes. The waitress said that the notes were not French. Alan was about to explain about the Euro zone when he realised he was trying to pay with Egyptian currency!

On the other hand Auntie Debi has been so named as she is now officially an auntie to our three cats and took delight in spoiling them rotten over the past few days. Allowing them onto her bed in the morning and when preparing some food managed to let some chicken fall into their bowls. So she is very popular amongst the La Godefrere cats, who are now sad that she has gone home. Next time she comes we may have to censor her reading material. She brought with her a book of stories about police dogs. Some of these had unhappy endings and as a result our box of tissues is much depleted as it happens so is our wine reserve. We now have a very large number of empty wine bottles and may need to visit the recycling centre under cover of darkness.

Just one night's debris

The backgammon curse of Chinese New Year has had a further effect as the weather has drastically deteriorated with the arrival of storm Imogen. This has brought with it 100 mile an hour winds and rain. Al and Debi are returning on the cross channel ferry this afternoon and it is likely to be a rough crossing from Caen (Ouistreham) to Portsmouth. Debi has her magic wrist bands and as she did not win at backgammon on Chinese New Year’s eve she will not notice the bad weather. Alan I think is destined to suffer, particularly as he has the pirate trophy with him. He may need to make some sort of sacrifice to his ancestors. Probably something like fasting and going without alcohol should do the trick.

It is notable that since the naming of storms was introduced last September we have had nothing but storms and are already almost half way through the alphabet at Imogen. This clearly was not a good plan. In the good old days storms were storms and occasionally you would have a big storm and once in a while a great storm. The French just have storms and they have warnings attached to them according to their impact.  So at the moment we are on vigilance yellow here but on the coast they are up to vigilance orange which means you have to be on key alert as there is a risk of damage. This could of course go up to a vigilance red which of course is very bad news with a very high risk of damage. When you just have storm Imogen, you may be lulled into thinking what a nice name for a storm, nothing called Imogen could cause a problem! 

The cats took one look at the weather this morning and disappeared very quickly into the cat palace. I doubt we shall see them until tea time.

"Puss in boots", needed for the bad weather

Nothing of course can fluster French waiters (not even mad Englishmen trying to pay with Egyptian money). One of the joys of going to French restaurants is that the waiting staff are properly trained and the whole experience of dining is enhanced. The way the tables are laid out and the fact that cutlery is brought out for each course in the posher restaurants (some keep to the French tradition of using the same cutlery of starter and main courses). The practice of having an aperitif and being brought some posh snacks to eat while choosing the courses. The waiters bring out food for the entire table at the same time and then tell you exactly what is in each dish. Wine is properly done. The bottle is shown to you, opened at table and then you get to approve by tasting. The waiters then pour almost exactly the same amount into everyone’s glass and return regularly to top up your glass. Bread miraculously appears before the bread basket is empty.

It makes the meal so much more of an experience. We ate on Saturday at L’Eveil des Sens, a one star Michelin restaurant in Mayenne. The food is absolutely superb but the waitress  service was also great and made the meal an excellent experience.

So now we face a post Christmas and post Chinese New year return to the peace and quiet that is La Godefrere. We have paying guests in the gite next week and hopefully Imogen will behave and quieten down so that we can get out and do some work in the garden. Although I have just seen that the Chinese New Year festivities last for 16 days. So we will have to eat and drink for that period and make a lot of noise. We just have to so we avoid any bad luck as we don’t want to end up like Uncle Al, do we!!! 

Bonne Fete