After the excitement of the Choucroute experience last weekend we had a momentary bit of peace and quiet at the beginning of the week. This gave us a chance to draw breath before the arrival on Thursday of my good friend Alan and a car load of visitors including Debi who I knew when I was working for the union and Alan’s father in law, Mike and one of Alan’s friends, Steve also known as Champ.

We had some worries as the last time Alan came for a visit he managed to set his sat nav incorrectly and drove from Dieppe back towards the channel tunnel at Calais. So for this visit I kept sending him messages about keeping the sea on his right hand side once in France and of course extolling the virtues of maps over sat navs. I think he brought the 3 other people to make sure he was on the right road. In any event they arrived safely late on Thursday morning.

Having visitors is a great event here at La Godefrere. The cats especially like to meet new people. Firstly they have to help them unpack. This usually involves getting into the open car and looking for any food scraps that might have been left in the car. A good sniff around the suitcases is also required. Of course once unpacking has finished they have a car to sit on and all three of our cats were sat on top of Alan’s car within moments of the unpacking being finished. There is also the possibility that new people will not fully understand the rules and either (a) allow them into the gite or (b) give them food or (c) leave their food unguarded allowing the cats to make off with bits of cheese or meat. We take great care to warn all guests about the cats and their intentions to minimise food theft. However guests are always more likely to leave a door open and at the very least these new people offer additional laps to sit on and beds to curl up on.

The arrival of guests also opened up an opportunity for Mrs. Parish and myself as we have waiting for a chance to use the great leg of lamb given to us by Alex for looking after Mutt & Geoff the two lambs we had in our paddocks last winter. We have had this huge great leg of lamb in the freezer for some months and have been waiting for enough people to visit so we could do justice to it. The leg is in fact not strictly lamb as the animal was over 12 months old when slaughtered. Mrs. Parish reckoned the correct term is a Hogget and immediately regretted it as I started to make references to the Lord of the Rings and Bilbo and Frodo Baggins being hogget instead of hobbits and whether we would need to have the fires of Mordor to cook the leg!! Mrs. Parish just sighed.

Now with 6 people for dinner we got out the leg and encountered our first logistic problem, the defrosting of the leg. Where could we safely leave the hogget leg to defrost without it being at risk from the cats or other possible predators? We got the leg out on Tuesday as we reckoned on 48 hours defrosting time and left the leg locked in the gite with hourly patrols to ensure its safety.  By Wednesday evening we were able to move it into the fridge in the house but again under constant vigilance as the door to the fridge has a tendency to bounce open if not shut correctly. A hogget leg with the marks of cat teeth in it would not go down well, we thought. So a nervous wait until cooking time started on Thursday at lunchtime. Mrs. Parish reckoned that it would take 5 hours to cook properly, so in the oven it went at 1-30pm. I had the important job of pouring on the Beaujolais wine it would cook in. This of course is a skilled task and I carefully poured a whole bottle of Beaujolais all over the leg.

The Hogget feast, with Debi, Mrs Parish on left and Al, Champ and Mike on right

That evening we all sat down to the Hogget Feast which was served with celeriac mashed potatoes and leeks and brussels sprouts. Washed down with a fine Beaumes de Venise red wine. It was indeed a fine feast and all our guests were very happy and very full of food and wine. I like to think that the way I poured the wine on the meat was the key to its fine flavour as well of course as the excellent care the sheep had while in our paddocks and our fine grass. Everyone else congratulated Mrs. Parish as the chef!

A huge chunk eaten, but still at least 2 meals left!

We were a bit concerned for Debi who is on a diet. This seems mostly a sensible diet as she is allowed to eat meat, balanced with fruit and vegetables and nothing that has been fried. It also involves the self infliction of a form of torture. Every day she has to walk for 10,000 steps in order to ensure a proper level of exercise. While here Debi took to walking up and down the lane to our house about 10 times. I wondered how you manage to keep count of the steps as it could lead to disaster if you got confused and had to start over from the beginning. Of course technology solves all things and Debi had a little device which you wear on your person which records every step and keeps an accurate account. It works out at around 5 miles a day. There was obviously some imbalance over the 4 days when was here as she reckoned she had put on around 6 pounds. The alcohol may have had something to do with this as well as the fact that on Friday we went to the La Marjolaine restaurant for lunch and on Saturday Alan and Mike cooked another lovely meal.

Debi might have gained a few pounds but the result was a very content and relaxed Debi when they set off for home this morning. (Sea on left this time, Al).

The boys confined their exercise to walking around the pool table and we had some momentous games, some brilliant shots and of course our fair share of flukes, which Alan seemed to have more than his fair share. We also played games in the evenings. A mixture of Articulate which involves teams who try to describe words on a card for the others to guess at. This time the boys managed somehow to beat the girls, although it is difficult to see how. Alan’s classic description of Edward the Confessor as some bloke called Ted who lived a long time ago failed to gain us any points, unsurprisingly. We went on to play a game called Linkee, where you have to answer general knowledge questions and guess the links between the answers. The girls seemed better at this game.

We also played cribbage and here we encountered the variety of rules that apply to this old card game. The game played in Somerset seemed to have many different variations to the rules Mrs. Parish and I experienced in Devon. As they were guests on this occasion Somerset rules applied although we did appear to spend more time arguing over the rules than actually playing. Finally we came to Backgammon and the struggle for the Anglo-French trophy which was brought by Alan from England where it has been for about 12 months. We decided to let Champ and Debi compete (although we didn’t tell them they would have to take the trophy home). After two nights of a complex round robin event we finally ran out of time to complete all the games. I explained that in Backgammon we were playing to Mayenne Rules and this involved classing the games as home and away ties with double away points and bonus points for playing in French. This all meant that with games unfinished, the computer modelling had calculated all the likely outcomes and points and therefore decided that the Trophy must now stay in France.

Today all our guests returned to England with their various purchases. Yesterday they had all gone to Fougeres for the Saturday Street market and had come home with various purchases. Debi had bought some pate as well as a nice new scarf. The others had bought rillette ( a pork paste) and champagne and wine.  The boys who were staying in the gite had also bought some fish to have for their breakfast which they had put, with all the purchases in the fridge. When I say “had put all the purchases”, I mean this literally as they had somehow managed to put Debi’s new scarf in the fridge with the meat but more problematically, with the fish. Debi now had a lovely new French, chic scarf which smells of mackerel. The cats liked this and became even more friendlier towards Debi!

Before they left the boys were lined up so that there was a final check on whether the sat nav was programmed, tickets available and whether they all had passports. At least one was in a suitcase in the boot!! Mrs. Parish compared it to a school trip!

A la prochaine visite