It is a wet Sunday in rural France. All the shops are shut, all our visitors have gone home. So a return to domestic duties for Mrs. Parish and me. After cleaning the house this morning we decide that we should get on with some more rustic pursuits and so we turn to our fruit supplies for inspiration.

Mrs. Parish decides to make blackcurrant jam with the blackcurrants she recently harvested from the allotment. This requires picking the fruit from a bush which seems a particularly backbreaking task and so I decide to leave this to Mrs. Parish and her mother while she was with us. They find chairs and sit down to the task. Apparently once picked they require nibbing. This is a mystical process which involves cutting pointy bits off each end of the blackcurrant. This is far too fiddly for me and far too mystical. Anyway Mrs. Parish has been boiling blackcurrants and sterilising jam jars and now we have about 10 jars of blackcurrant jam. I feel I should play my part in these rustic pursuits and so I decide that it is about time to decant my Apricot Brandy and Cherry Kirsch. This has been slowly infusing in large kilner jars in the cave for about 9 months and I have been putting the decanting off for some time. I now have several bottles of Brandy and Kirsch which need a further month before they are right for drinking. I now feel I have done my bit in the preserved fruit department.

The cherries are ripening on our trees and soon will need to be picked. I suspect Giselle will also want some help as it seems that I am expendable and can be sent up the ladder to pick them. Cherries seem determined to grow right at the top of trees and it is then a race with the birds to harvest the cherries.

We got Granny and Granddad safely to Rennes Airport yesterday for their flight back to Exeter. It has been a long week. Granddad is 88 and a not very mobile and because of this seems to spend a lot of time sat in a chair and asleep. We have been moving him around the garden to find sunny and then shady spots for him. In between times we have kept him supplied with sherry and wine. So he has not caused much trouble, apart from getting a bit confused and ending up in the wrong room at the wrong time. Occasionally in the middle of the night. However he is still up for a chat and I spent a couple of hours talking to him one afternoon when the others were out shopping. It turned out to be a whistle stop tour of the world, starting with his father who was in the navy and all the places he visited from China to Malta to the North Sea during World War 1. His uncle who also served in the navy and went to the Caribbean and North America before being recalled to serve in WW1 and sadly was killed at Gallipoli. We moved onto Granddad’s military service from training at Aldershot to service in India in the run up to independence in 1947. And he didn’t fall asleep once!

Granny does tend to talk quite a lot. I think that as Granddad sleeps a lot so she saves up all her conversations for those times she has a captive audience! So it proved to be a long week. At one point we became very concerned as the French Air Traffic Controllers called a 6 day strike and we faced the possibility of their flight home being cancelled and having to stay for another week!! Fortunately the strike was settled and we saw them off after an eventful week during which my appreciation of stoicism as a philosophy was considerably enhanced.

All seems quiet with our down the lane neighbours. There have been no further Anglo French skirmishes. We have been helping by negotiating an arrangement so when they are here they can access our wifi signal. This proved a more complicated process than expected. I went down with my blackberry and details of the access password which is about 30 characters long. Our neighbour got his laptop out and we went into the garden to see where access could be obtained. We had to line up with the wifi booster in our gite and avoiding stone walls which tend to restrict the signal. The finger pad on his laptop refused to work so a mouse was sent for. We found a spot where I could get a signal and input the password with difficulty as we could not see the laptop screen as it was so sunny. This failed and we went into the field in the shade of our gite to try to put the password in again. I came to the view that two adult men sat in a nettle patch with a laptop might be misunderstood and so we moved into our games room. His mouse then refused to work and I had to replace it with one of ours. Finally we got the signal set up after a couple of beers. It may be that with our neighbours down the lane nothing will be simple or straightforward!!

We have had to count cats this week as we seem to have too many. We should have three cats and now that the hay fields have been cut they have been having a whale of a time as they can now get easy access to the mouse holes. There are lots of mice about and so the cats have been bringing them back with great regularity. On one afternoon Moggie brought in three, Archie two and even Minou brought in one. She usually considers that catching mice is beneath her and that she might get dirty paws. It is obviously so easy that she wanted a go. There are also kestrels, buzzards and owls hunting and it is a wonder there are any mice left. Even Pepito, next door’s dog has had a go. We have even had visits by a couple of new cats. We have seen a white cat and a dark grey cat in our grounds over the past week. No idea where they have come from as none of our neighbours have cats. They could be from the cattle farm which is about 1 mile away across the fields. They seem to have lots of cats to keep down vermin. Mrs. Parish has been very clear that there should be no fraternisation with these intruders as we don’t want any more cats. I have to agree as coping with the three cats we have is a constant battle of wits, which I seem to lose more often than not. Minou has already managed to trick me into letting her in early this afternoon.

Well what about Le Grand Hamster d’ Alsace. I was bored the other afternoon and trying to find something to read to avoid a verbal assault from Granny and stuck my head into Mrs. Parish’s French gardening magazine. This often has articles on wildlife and I came across this piece on the Great Hamster of Alsace and at first read the heading that it was “menace” and was intrigued to find out about this fierce and dangerous hamster. On reading the article I realised that “menace” meant that the hamster was an endangered species and not in fact a man eating hamster. I was surprised to read that the Great Hamster can grow to be 20cm in length and up to 460 grammes in weight. So quite a whopper in hamster terms. Usually a species is endangered in France because the French want to hunt the animal and eat it, probably in a white wine sauce. You will see from the picture that these hamsters are seriously cute and therefore I was relieved to find that they are not hunted or eaten but their habitat is under threat and so the Alsace regional council have a plan to breed and release around 500 hamsters to the wild. Next time you are in a pet shop and watching a cute little hamster in his wheel just think about Le Grand Hamster d’Alsace as the measure of a real French Hamster. When we had a hamster he liked hard cheese. I must find out whether the Alsace hamster east French soft cheeses like brie and camembert, you would think that a French hamster would like French cheese. An area for research and perhaps I will contact the Alsace Council to see if this is part of their research.

Anyway, all this talk of cheese has reminded me that it is time for an aperitif. Mrs. Parish is making faces at me so I think it would be in my interests to get a bottle from the cave and pour her a drink. We may even toast the health of the Great Hamster of Alsace (do I have any Alsace wine left? Damn, that Granny drank it all, but I’m sure the hamsters won’t mind and I think I can cope with some muscadet). Will also drink a toast to France who are still in the world cup.

A bientot