The blog is late this week and it is entirely due to the visit of our good friends from the red ramblers. We have spent the weekend walking and eating and stayed up late chatting and drinking Armagnac, whisky and Emile’s calvados. So I have had no time to write up the blog until after they left this morning. The red ramblers are a walking group set up from friends in the Labour party in Weymouth. When we lived in England we went walking around beautiful Dorset once a month and always had a pub lunch to finish. Great company and good food; a winning combination. We used to have a weekend residential trip each year in May (often as a way of winding down after May elections. So this year as we are now in France and have loads of space we invited them to come chez nous for a long weekend. You may recall that our leader and map reader Jim and his wife Liz came over earlier in the year to recce the walks and restaurants.

All that hard work and self sacrifice paid off this weekend. 8 of the ramblers came over and we had a great meal on Saturday night at the restaurant in St. Fraimbault about 10 miles away. On Sunday we went to the Alpes Mancelle for a 14 kilometre walk. You must understand that in France most of the country is on flat open country. So whenever a few small hills appear on the scene the French tend to over dramatise. So the Suisse Normande in Normandy is not a bit like Switzerland but has larger than normal hills. The Alpes Mancelle is the same, a few hills strung together become the Alpes! Having said that the countryside is rather lovely and the walk comprised walking alongside the river Sarthe and then up onto a high ridge with spectacular views, followed by open countryside and then down for a picnic lunch by the Sarthe at a lovely village called St. Celeri. We decided on a picnic because the restaurant in the village basically had a menu of grilled meat things. Not much choice and nothing for the vegetarians in our group. So we had a picnic and Mrs. Parish excelled herself with a stunning range of vegetarian pasties, frittatas and quiches, together with bread, ham and cheeses. Of course we took wine with us and the weather was really sunny. Another advantage of a pre walk recce was that we could choose a strategic picnic site about half way round the walk and leave 1 of the cars there with the picnic so we did not have to carry it. A great day was finished off by a super barbecue in the evening and we were able to sit out on our new patio until the bats came out and I was able to show off my bat detector!

On Monday we walked along the river Mayenne and had lunch in the very posh La Marjolaine restaurant situated in an old Chateau by the river near the town of Mayenne. Again our recce work had paid off as despite this being a very posh restaurant, it is a French posh restaurant and therefore does not blink an eye when a group of walkers in hiking gear and with rucksacks descends upon them. In fact the head waiter was proud to show us his photographs of his own walking adventure on the pilgrim’s route to St. Jacques de Campostel. He had walked over 200 km along this route. We had a great meal and with 10 of us we did not leave the restaurant until about 4pm. The planned afternoon walk was duly cancelled and we all came back to La Godefere to recover and to have tea and Mrs. Parish’s exceedingly good cake. After which, what else but a game of petanque (boules). We decided to play the house against the gite. 4 out of 5 of us staying is the house(Steve was fast asleep) against 4 of those staying in the gite (Kath as the lawyer in the group agreed to be referee and to keep the bit of measuring string to judge who was closest to the jack). The aim of the game is to throw your boules (heavy small metal balls) and get closest to a small white ball thrown at the beginning. You can either try to get close to the jack or throw to knock your opponent’s boule out of the way. The house team won a comprehensive victory by 13 points to 4.

Of course being La Godefere the game was played under somewhat strange conditions. So that we could all participate we had to also use a set of coloured plastic boules in a set we had bought for playing on the beach some 30 years ago. This meant that the plastic boules bounced off the metal boules leading to the most amazing shot of the night by yours truly. Throwing a red plastic boule last, my terribly misguided throw hit a metal boule and was thrown back into the centre and landed right next to the jack, thus winning the point for the house. Added to this were regular incursions from the cats either trying to pounce on the jack or the boules, or just running across the pitch and causing people to stop mid throw for fear of braining a cat with a heavy boule.

During the weekend there were several chicken incidents. Despite my dire warnings about the threat the chicken posed to outside dining there were rather too many lapses with the chicken seizing a jam covered baguette at breakfast, some chocolate cake during the afternoon and some frittata during the barbecue. Due to the great appetites of the group no food was left after meals so the cats only had minimal opportunities to get in on the act. Of course the kittens had to create some drama and during supper on evening they managed to get stuck up on top of the wall at the side of our courtyard and I had to get out the ladder and demonstrate my fireman rescue technique.

In preparation for the weekend we went out and bought a new barbecue. It came as a flat pack to assemble at home. So on Friday I thought I would put it together. It was only a small barbecue so it would not take long, or so I thought. I had not considered the fact that this was a French barbecue, made in China. When I opened the box, I decided to read the instructions as assembly did not look straight forward. (Usually I dispense with the bother of reading instructions until I am half way through making something and realise I have an extra bit that should have been inserted at an early stage. Anyway, I look at the instructions and find two things. On one side is a kind of exploded diagram showing all the parts. It does not show which bits to do first. It also has various packets of bolts but the diagram only says how many in total there are not which size goes where. The diagram shows about 25 nuts and bolts and appears to show that they all need washers but there are only 4 washers and two of them are plastic!

Okay, I thought I would read the instructions on the other side which were helpfully in French, German and Spanish but not English. So I begin a slow and laborious translation of French written by a Chinese person. After some time and with some strange words included I discover that the written instructions do not help with the construction but tell you how to operate the barbecue. I do the only sensible thing in the circumstances (after several choice expletives) and call in Mrs. Parish as reinforcements and together we slowly unravel the fiendish design of the barbecue and get eventually the pieces in the right place. We discover by trial and error that the only place that needed the washers including the plastic ones is on the wheels. After nearly 2 hours we have a completed barbecue but Mrs. Parish and I are in desperate need of counselling.

The other task that needed sorting before our guests arrived was the mowing of the grass. I had been planning to do it all week but the weather had been poor with enough rain to make the grass too wet to cut properly. I managed to make a start on Friday afternoon and only managed a few lengths before the rain came down again so it was looking like we might have a problem if we had rain on Saturday. Fortunately the rain held off and so I prepared for the task with my trusty tractor. One problem with using the tractor is that it is quite loud and after mowing for a couple of hours your ears feel a bit battered. In the week while looking for something else I rediscovered my iPod and so thought I would listen to some music while mowing and started playing some Bob Dylan songs and discovered a wonderful thing. I could sing along to Bob and the sound of the tractor motor would drown out the terrible sound of me singing out of tune. This was a great discovery and so there I was driving up and down and singing loudly songs such as “Sad eyed lady of the lowlands” and “Desolation Row”. When I had finished and came in doors Mrs. Parish said she had heard this strange wailing noise above the sound of the tractor and was I in pain or just singing! But I don’t care as I have found a whole new world in which I can’t hear myself singing so I must be singing perfectly. This may be just another example of quantum physics of course where in one universe I have a perfect singing voice and this opens up when I am driving the tractor.

I am missing my regular chats with the sheep. Patrick came into to see us last week to let us know that he would be taking the sheep away from our paddock for a few days to have them sheared. They went off on Thursday and should be back sometime this week. Poor sheep as it is still cold when the wind blows and I think they will be a bit chilly without their woolly coats. They will probably be a bit sensitive as well as they will look very odd with no clothes on. I must remember to be kind to them when they return.

So, another great week at La Godefrere and at last the sun has been shining, at least it was great over the weekend but has now reverted to rain and so I have the chance to sit down and write up the blog. On the usual subject of moles, there is little to report after they simply went round all our traps. Over the past week all has been fairly quiet with not much mole activity and we are reconsidering strategy and tactics for the rest of the summer. The sun has just come out so I think I must go outside and play!

A prochaine semaine