Spring continues to arrive with some pace now. The days are getting longer and we are seeing the sun more often, in between the rain and some violent thunder storms. But the weather is improving. This has meant that I have had the chance to get out on the tractor to get the grass cut. The swallows continue to arrive and we have some returning pairs beginning to restore their nests in the garage of our next door neighbours. I have also heard the hoopoe. This is a colourful bird with a large crest of feathers on its head. They nested last year in the field at the bottom of the lane. I heard their distinctive call, hoopoopooing several mornings and then saw one fly across the field and into a tree in Giselle’s next door. Then yesterday saw three of them flying over Xavier’s field. Hopefully they are here to nest again.

Also in the week in the same field I have seen a couple of hares out playing and feeding in the same field. A sure sign that better weather is on its way. Yesterday and today have been lovely sunny days and at 9-15 the sun is just setting. This is a magical place at this time of year and everywhere looks very green as the grass is growing and the trees are starting to green up and produce flowers.

Of course there is a down side as with most things and the spring is starting to bring more signs of mole activities and one or two incursions into the La Godefrere exclusion zone. A robust approach using the noise of the tractor and of course my song repertoire of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen songs are so far keeping them at bay. Having been pressurised by the Mole Liberation Front I have been trying to avoid letting loose the lethal rapid response seek and destroy unit. I am not entirely sure that my singing constitutes non-lethal force and probably represents cruel and inhumane treatment. So far we have managed to keep the moles on the back foot without serious casualties. 

Mole juror considers whether Britain has got talent!!

The other notable signs of spring are the huge piles of cow dung which have been piled up in all the fields around us ready to be spread and dug in by the local farmers. The dung spreading will be a prelude to the planting of maize in many fields which will cause a great deal of the countryside to simply disappear for the summer. Of course this also results in much greater tractor activity along all the roads and lanes around us. In turn this means that the roads and lanes are covered in mud and cow dung. This then is transferred to my car which is now covered in dust, mud and dung. The state of the car is not helped by three cats who proceed to walk all over the car, having first walked in wet grass and then walked across the earth in the veg garden. By the time they get to the car their feet are filthy and the car gets a pattern of tiny cat paw prints all over it!

So last week I am detailed to clean the car and decide that it needs to be cleaned inside and outside. The inside has suffered a combined assault by crumbs from French bread and by regular visit to the local rubbish tip with the back full of dustbins of garden rubbish. So I gather together welly boots, a vacuum cleaner, cloths and soapy water and set to on what is now a mammoth task. After about half an hour the inside is looking reasonably clean and tidy when up comes Moggie and sees the car door open. The cats associate cars with food and therefore any open door is an invitation to conduct a search. So Moggie (via wet grass and earth) jumps into the car.

Of course he can’t simply sit on a seat and look around the car. No, he has to rush madly around all of the seats and the luggage shelf just in case there is a microscopic piece of food. The result in a few seconds is that a clean inside is transformed by a pattern of muddy paw prints. Of course I try to get Moggie out, but chasing a small and very quick cat around the car only makes matters worse as there are even more paw prints. Shouting and swearing and throwing damp cloths at Moggie seem to have little effect. Eventually he gets the message and wanders off.

With improved security measures I manage to get the inside clean again and this time I shut all the doors. So now to clean the outside. This is more like hard work as there is a serious layer of mud but hard work and lots of sponges and cloths later the mud has gone and the car is covered in soapy water. Mrs. Parish arrives to assist and helpfully points out how lucky I am as our French neighbour Daniel has to clean his car with water from barrels collecting rain water, which makes the water icily cold. I am suitably cheered and go to get the hose to rinse off the car. I arrive back to find Moggie has returned and with a new layer of mud has decided to walk all over the outside of the car. He does stop to use the soapy cloth but seems to be not making the car any cleaner. I encourage him to go by clever use of the hose pipe.

Moggie helping to clean the car!!!!!!

Of course all this work is immediately nullified as soon as the car goes out into the lane and encounters the mess that is left by the tractors! The other problem we have now is that the dung is appearing in our field and garden as the calves are finding new places to enter our garden and field. Despite our round the clock surveillance and fence mending team they find new ways to get in or to weaken the fence posts or break the old barbed wire. Moggie decides he will help us here as well by joining the fence mending team. I am afraid to say he was not much better at this than car cleaning!

Moggie on the fencing team

Our friend Ian was asked by Olivier, a French farmer friend if he would bring his mini digger round to dig a trench. As is usual in our rural community we all are keen to help our neighbours. Ian doesn’t speak much French but was keen to help out and arrived at the farm and was shown where the trench was wanted. He assumed that it was for some sort of cable and proceeded to start digging the trench about a metre deep. The farmer and some colleagues were watching and kept giving Ian the thumbs up sign. Ian was pleased with their encouraging signs and smiled broadly and gave the thumbs up sign back. After a few minutes Olivier jumped up on to the digger to explain to Ian that the thumbs up meat that they wanted him to lift the digger and make the trench much less deep. They wanted to plant some roses!!

From thumbs up to bottoms up and the etiquette of drinking aperitifs. When we go to the village repas the arrangements are sorted by our French friends Emile and Yvette. So we are all invited round to their house for an aperitif before going off to the repas. Once we are all sat round Emile’s table he pours us some homemade Pommeau (an alcoholic apple based aperitif).  We then have to wait for a sign from the hostess, Yvette, before we can take a sip. Sometimes this can take a few minutes to sort out and you have to resist the temptation to take a sneaky sip. Once she is ready we all have to chink glasses and say “santé” which means good health or “a la votre” (to yours). You are also supposed to look the other people in the eye and make sure that everyone takes a sip before you out your glass down.

These traditions have a long history and people used to exchange a part of the liquid contained in their glass with the person they were toasting with. That way they could both be sure that none of the glass was poisoned. This is the reason why looking in the eyes was extremely important. This way people could detect stress if someone was trying to poison you! Later, as the world became less violent, exchanging the content of both glasses became a rare practice while it became normal to simply clink glasses. The fear of poison also explains why not drinking after toasting was considered suspicious.

That all explained it is time for a little drink.