This week winter arrived at La Godefrere, along with my son Ian, his fiancée Emma and two friends Sarah and Dave. They came and stayed in the gite along with Tommo, the three legged bundle of furry dog. They arrived on Monday and this time my son managed to get into France without bother from the customs. The last time they were convinced he was a drug smuggler! We had all the heaters we have on full blast to warm up the gite and to keep them warm while they were here.

We gave them our little red folder of useful and exciting leaflets about local visitor attractions. They had lined up to go and visit the roman town at Jublains and the castle at Ste. Suzanne but unfortunately when they got there they found out they were closed during January!! On re-reading the useful and exciting leaflets they discovered that this was explained in the French bit of the leaflet but not in the English version. The French can be terribly unhelpful at times.

Talking of which the latest chapter in our seemingly never ending quest to register our car in France took its latest turn. You will recall that we left the story after several incidents where we needed to get yet another document, this time from the Department of Public Finance stating that we were not liable to pay VAT in France. The document for some no doubt obscure but good reason is called a Quitus Fiscal. The Department had had our request for some time prior to Christmas so last week Mrs Parish emailed them to find out why we had not received said Quitus Fiscal. Back came the response that we had not sent back the form with the date we moved to France and they enclosed another one. Mrs Parish rather more calmly that she felt explained that we had sent this already but would send another one. We then get two emails apologising and indicating that they have now tracked down our document and that the aforementioned Quitus Fiscal would be despatched forthwith. Mrs Parish has proved to be an effective weapon against French bureaucracy. The form has now duly arrived and we have now sent that form with the large number of other documents they require to the Department which issues car registration. We checked all the documents carefully and unless they invent a new one, we should be OK. We wait with baited breath; Mrs Parish is a bit like a coiled spring ready for action should there be any problems.

One of the really great things about where we live is that we are far enough away from any big towns to avoid light pollution at night. This means that when the sky is clear at night we get fantastic views of the stars. This week apart from when it snowed we have had some very cold but very clear nights and can see the night sky in all its glory. This coincided with watching the BBC programme star gazing so there were lots of things to watch out for including finding where Betelgeuse is and also the Horse head nebula, until now just names from the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and other films. We got a really brilliant view of Orion and his belt, sword and other bits including hunting dogs. Fantastic. I have plans for the summer to get out the reclining chair and lay out watching the stars, no doubt with a wee dram in hand to keep out the cold.

So, we had our first snow at La Godefrere on Friday morning with about 2 or 3 inches. Snow, of course is great, unless you want to go somewhere. On Friday at 9am in the middle of the snow shower we had to get Tommo to the local vet in Ambrieres, about 10 miles away. Dogs have to be wormed by a vet before returning to the UK and the vet has to sign the doggie passport to say that the treatment has been given. So I volunteer to take Ian and Tommo having first dressed in winter gear, starting with thermal vest and double layered trousers. By the time we were ready to go it was a bit like an expedition to the South Pole. In France only the main roads had been gritted which meant getting along the lane from our house and on side roads to Ambrieres. The roads were full of snow and we decided to go the longer route on flat roads rather than the shorter but hillier route.

Of course, for me the driving was easy compared with the prospect of explaining to the vet about “vermifuger” (worm tablets) for the dog. I had the phraseology off to a tee by time we got there only to find that the vet spoke perfect English!

The other good thing about the winter and cold weather is that it is an occasion for porridge; despite the fact that we are in deepest France you can still get Quaker Scots Porridge Oats at the supermarket. Mrs Parish and I agree that there is nothing like a good steaming bowl of porridge on a cold and frosty morning. There are some bits of British culture that are worth keeping!!

This week has also seen the builders finishing work on the games stable and wine store. The walls and ceiling have all been lined, insulated and plastered. The plasterer, Gary has done a really great job and the finish is excellent. We also have put in a toilet to save tramping through the house when we are working outside. It looks great and sets off the pool table very well. There is now a huge amount of decorating to do and I have to finish the wooden surround to the wine store by cleaning up and staining planks of old oak that were part of the partition to the original stable.

The next bit of the blog might be unsuitable for vegetarians. If you are a non meat eater; I suggest you skip the next couple of paragraphs.

To celebrate a late Christmas with Ian and Emma and their friends we decided to cook the great leg of lamb. This was the fee for all my long and lonely hours shepherding the three sheep that were in my paddocks, when we bought the house. This heavy responsibility was undertaken with due care and consideration for three months until the sheep were taken for slaughter before Christmas. The owners of the sheep Alex and John brought us a huge leg of lamb which we put in the freezer. It was so big we had to start the defrosting 48 hours before cooking it. We had to hide the lamb in the cooker to avoid Archie engaging in an incident with the lamb. Mrs Parish did not trust me not to inadvertently turn on the oven so left a very large note attached to the oven!

On Thursday evening six of us sat down to the great lamb feast. Mrs Parish had prepared a roast of lamb cooked in a bottle of Beaujolais and roasted with potatoes and vegetables. We washed it down with several very agreeable and specially purchased bottles of Cotes de Rhone. It was a magnificent feast and a fine and fitting tribute to the magnificent beast that I had nurtured for so long. We finished the meal with glasses of Emile’s Calva and then on to my collection of Scottish malt whiskies and a very nice Armagnac. It is one of the pleasures of senior years to share your whisky with friends and to pass on whisky knowledge. At least after a few whiskies that’s how it feels. Ian and Dave managed to sample most of my collection so I was very impressed when Ian was up early the next day for our trip to the vet!!

The lamb lasted a further two meals for Mrs Parish and I. On Friday we had a very nice lamb tagine and on Saturday I made a curry with the remainder. There was enough for a small packet of lamb for Tommo to take home and for Archie’s supper.

On Saturday morning we bade a sad farewell to our visitors, it was really nice to have some young faces around. The other sad but was doing all the laundry! Our visitors had cleaned up and vacuumed the gite and cleared away all their empty bottles to our recycling box. We were impressed with the vast volume of empty beer, cider and wine bottles. It was of course at this time that Mrs Parish reminded me of the terms of my early retirement apprenticeship scheme, where I signed up for an ironing development course. I am still on level one ironing but this does mean that I can iron straight things like pillow case, sheets and duvet covers. Mrs Parish pointed to a large number of such items coming out of the gite!! Still I spent a happy afternoon ironing and watching Sherlock Holmes.

Maybe a slightly quieter week ahead but I am sure there will be plenty to report next week. Wow must go now as Ski Sunday is on!!

A bientot