It has been a relatively quiet week as we recover from the double repas weekend. I say relatively as nothing seems quiet or normal here in rural France. But today has been gorgeous and we have had a totally blue sky and warm autumn sunshine. I have spent most of the afternoon strolling round our grounds and doing very little except to enjoy the sunshine and watch butterflies out flying at the end of October. And birds making the most of clearing up where the fields have been harvested. I saw a deer running across the ploughed field on the other side of our little stream. It really is idyllic here.

Selfie on nature trail

Of course not all is calm and peaceful. I have started a new course of French lessons to try to improve my ability to speak and understand French. When we first came to France Mrs. Parish and I both went to French lessons for a couple of years. Mrs.Parish speaks French very well but while I have established a base knowledge I wanted to do more. We are part of an organisation called Euromayenne which supports migrants into the area and helps to integrate. As part of this they run French lessons at three levels. So I decided to sign up for the advanced lessons and have now been going for a two hour lesson once a week which combined with a set of homework has been good for me and my French has improved considerably already.

It is tough going as the lessons are taught by a French teacher who conducts the lesson in French so I have to concentrate all the time.  The homework is quite hard and mostly to do with French grammar. This week we have homework about relative pronouns: qui, que, dont and ou. The problem is that in French grammar there are clear sets of rules which apply until you come to some places where they don’t apply. You have regular and irregular verbs which have strange rules and then all nouns are either feminine or masculine which you have to try to remember. It is bad enough trying to understand all this grammar in your own language let alone doing it in a foreign language. Then of course you come to a bit where you are asked to conjugate the verb!!! At this point I am eternally grateful to Jacqui my previous teacher when we first arrived in France who with great patience and only a bit of swearing took us through the joys of “passé compose”; imperfect and future tenses.

Just after the French revolution they set up a committee to look at and standardise the French language and remove the male/female requirement for nouns and then to update all the irregular verbs so that French would be easier to learn. At that time the French language was spoken by only a very small part of the population with the rest speaking many different forms of patois. While the revolutionary government dictated that all people in France should be taught to speak French the plan to simplify the language got a bit bogged down and probably the committee responsible are still meeting to discuss this!!
So we are stuck with the bits that don’t conform to the rules and have to try to remember whether things are male or female. Still, learning a new language is supposed to be good for the brain and to fend off senility. For me it just makes my head hurt but at least I am making progress and get lots of practice talking to Giselle and Daniel and Emile and Yvette. I even managed to follow one of Daniel’s jokes this week!

It is a bit like Animal Farm here sometimes although it is a case that all animals including humans are equal but some animals (cats and hens) are more equal than others! During the week Mrs. Parish has been tidying the garden and as part of this has been weeding the flower beds. No sooner is she down on her knees, trowel in hand than three hens turn up and start to help. Although their idea of helping is to scrape the earth with their claws and turf this out onto the lawn. They also have to peck around to find any worms or insects disturbed. They also seem to be tuned into my feeding the wild birds and when I go to fill up the bird feeders they follow me hoping I will spill some (I generally do).

Mrs Parish being "helped" by the hens

The cats have not featured much in the blog in recent weeks but they were back on form this week and decided that they should help me with my work in the garden and elsewhere. I had some clearance work to do down at the bottom of the big field along the nature trail so I got out the tractor and fitted on the trailer. I went off to collect some tools and when I came back the tractor had been taken over by two cats. Minou has been keeping a low profile after getting stuck inside one of Giselle’s storage barns and having a close encounter with a rat trap! Fortunately she was OK and just bruised her paw. After 24 hours in intensive care (a night next the fire on the sofa) she was fine and back outside although she has kept close to the house.

Archie and Moggie requisition the tractor

In the week we met a friend of Giselle’s called Monique who is an old school friend. She came round with Giselle and another friend to see if we had some walnuts. Monique was a bit like a whirlwind and talked incessantly giving orders to everyone about collecting up our walnuts and chestnuts. She was lovely but a bit full on and wanted our life histories and a tour of the premises. Of course we then had to go back to Giselle’s for a coffee with them and the required calvados. This took up most of the afternoon while we were supposed to be decorating the kitchen. But this is France and you just have to go with the flow and a general Gallic shrug!

And so on to the Trou Normand (or Norman hole). Of course we are in France and so this refers to something to aid a meal and involves calvados!! This is a small drink of calvados taken between courses in a very long meal, usually with apple or pear sorbet supposedly to reawaken the appetite! We were at a local restaurant in nearby St. Mars sur Colmont just recently. This is a small village restaurant serving the usual “ouvriers” (workers) lunch. Four courses including cheese and with a bottle of wine or cider, on the table and coffee afterwards/ All for 12 Euros. There is a good choice of dishes and so we go there quite often. On this occasion a group of 4 couples came in for lunch. It was clear that it was a birthday celebration for one of the local villagers and they had the meal but half way through the waiter brought out a glass with an apple sorbet for each of them. One of the diners then brought out his home made calvados and proceeded to add some calvados in generous amounts. One woman poured hers into her husband’s glass. It was great to watch and the restaurant owner was quite happy to see them use their own calva. They looked as if they were there for the afternoon when we left.

So, while I am on the subject of food and drink we are now preparing for a visit from our friends Alan and Debi who arrive on Friday for the weekend. Note to self “make sure we buy a new bottle of cassis for the Kir Royale. Luckily the wine cave is full and we have several bottles of sparkling vouvray! As they are with us for the weekend the blog will be delayed until Monday, but no doubt my good friends will have cause to feature in the blog.

The cats have been early for their tea and the clocks have gone back. This also means I am late with the blog and late with sorting the wine. Mrs. Parish is preparing Lapin aux pruneaux (rabbit cooked with prunes. So to the bat cave in the dark. Perhaps an aperitif before I make the dangerous journey!

Bon santé