The past week has been dominated by the Olympic Games and Great Britain has done amazingly well with the largest number of medals won. Even greater than at the London games in 2012. Team GB won over 60 medals and we also got to support the French team which won 40 medals. So there was always someone to support and to watch on TV. What is amazing is how expert we become in sports we previously knew nothing about. I could sit in my chair and judge the gymnasts or divers for style marks as well as technical merit. There is much to be said for armchair experts!

But, that all ends today and we will be left with a large hole in our lives. Mrs. Parish was particularly impressed with our female athletes and in especially the hockey team which won gold. Fortunately we will be having visitors next week with our friends Candy and Brod coming over from Cornwall to stay for a week. Candy is an old mate from our time when we lived in Wiltshire and we met through the Labour Party and had some great campaigns and plans to change the world. Candy did get into Parliament as the MP for Falmouth and Camborne from 1997 to 2005. She went on to achieve even greater fame when at the 2015 Labour Party conference she managed to get her wheelchair stuck when she was on the rostrum giving a speech! She was rescued by Jeremy Corbyn!! So no doubt we will have plenty to discuss over a bottle or two of wine given the problems of the Labour leadership election. 

Anyway last Monday we went to a neighbouring village for their annual Festival. It is called “Les flories d’antan” which means a festival of olden times. The whole village is taken over and the streets are full of craft and produce stalls. They have a parade of vintage cars and vintage tractors which all seem to be driven by vintage Frenchmen. In the main field there is an exhibition of old farming machinery including a steam driven harvesting machine. There are also displays of traditional crafts including wood working and interestingly calvados making with an old alembic (a machine for distilling calvados) which is driven by steam with a wood burning stove to produce the steam. The alembic was working and many of these old machines are still used in local communes as travelling stills for use by single producers or as is often the case local orchard owners who can make calvados for their own use. Our friend Emile books the travelling alembic when he wants to distil his calvados.

Steam driven alembic

The French protect the travelling alembic and their right to produce calvados and the European Union has said these local stills should be phased out when they stop working. The French are great at keeping old machines going and so the alembics will be around for a number of years yet. The alembic at the “flories” was kept together with bits of string or so it seemed.

Most French farmers have a tractor of a suitable ancient variety and they manage to keep them going. Emile has an ancient tractor as does our neighbour Giselle and it must be almost as old her 70 years. But somehow they keep them going. Around us there seem to be more tractors than cars and most days we pass (eventually) an old French tractor driven by an old French farmer!

Old French farmer and tractor, both kept together with string

The Flories also had the local villagers dressed up for the occasion and they even had a demonstration at the “lavoir”. A common feature of most French villages, the lavoir is a place where the villagers went to wash their bedclothes and clothes. They were usually by a stream to get running water and had a boiler to boil the whites before rinsing and drying. The women worked in teams and sang while they worked. In fact for a time many women preferred the lavoir to new fangled washing machines!!

We had a great day and of course had to eat. The French do everything with food so we had “galette saucisse”. This is a French street food made of grilled sausage wrapped in a sort of crepe made with buckwheat and is traditionally served cold so as to protect the customers hand from the hot sausage. It is a speciality of Brittany and Normandy and of course we had to wash it down with some cider.

This weekend it has been the “fete du miel”, the festival of honey at a local garden park. This is another annual festival locally to celebrate the production of honey in the local area. Of course in typical French fashion the festival coincided with a local cycle race which went through the local town and out towards the park. This meant that actually getting to the festival was a challenge as all sorts of restrictions on cars applied round the cycle route and we could only get there with difficulty as the French are not very good a signs. There lots of marshals stopping or directing traffic and all a bit chaotic really. 

We got there at last and it was a festival of crafts stalls and those selling bread and cheese and several selling honey or products made from honey or beeswax. Of course there were stalls selling wine and calvados as well. The park has laid out gardens and a museum of old farm machines. There were also people there showing how bees work and how they make honey with several beehives in action.

All in all a typical French market and festival. It was at this point that I heard someone singing and I mentioned to Mrs. Parish that I could hear someone singing a Leonard Cohen song. Fortunately she could also hear the singing. We went on a bit and found that there was indeed a singer with guitar and microphone that was clearly part of the entertainment. He was French but quite clearly singing a Leonard Cohen song “Dance me to the end of love”. I’m a great Leonard Cohen fan but I must admit that I was most surprised to hear one of his songs in a French garden park. Then it occurred to me that he could be singing not to entertain the public but as a measure of moles control. He could in fact be following my methods of mole deterrence by singing to them songs by Leonard Cohen and also Bob Dylan. Admittedly this guy could sing which might not quite jar with the moles as my dreadful voice does. He didn’t go on to sing any Dylan sings so I guess he was not after the moles.

"Young ladies come and see the beautiful cock!"

My singing does seem to be working and so far we haven’t seen any mole activity in the garden this summer. Of course that may also be due to the hot weather and the fact that the moles can’t dig though. At the bottom of the big field near the stream there are plenty of signs of moles. They can live in peaceful coexistence in the big field which is defined as a neutral zone in our local mole war treaty. Any incursion into our exclusion zone is met with appropriate measures. My singing, while defined as cruel and degrading is not however known to be lethal and therefore allowed under the Geneva Mole Convention. One of the cats did manage to catch one the other day. We think it was Archie who was given extra rations as a reward. Moggie continues to bring back field mice quite regularly and Minou of course doesn’t deign to go hunting, it is a bit beneath her.

So we are now back to Sunday evening and it is a lovely sunny evening. I have a rather large Kir cassis in front of me and this is keeping me company as I write up the blog. France is a lovely country with a rich farming history. French farmers are remarkable for their ingenuity in keeping farm machinery on the go for years after it should have been replaced. They are also remarkable for being able to produce so many different alcoholic drinks of such great quality and don’t even start me on producing great quality food and the recipes to make such wonderful food. We have some very nice French read bought at the fete du miel to go with some rather lovely French cheeses tonight. I will have to go over to the cave to find a fine French wine to go with this (Don’t worry Candy and Brod there will be plenty for you!).

Vive la France