For all you followers of French culture, you will recognise the line in the title as being from the song Sur la pont D’Avignon and it can be translated as “we all dance there in a ring”. This is rather an obscure way of introducing this week’s blog as we have not been to Avignon but we have been dancing, almost in a ring. We have discovered so far that the French are great people to live amongst and in rural France at least, the most friendly and generous people. Yesterday evening Mrs. Parish and I were sat outside having our evening meal when we heard the sound of an accordion coming from our neighbours Giselle and Daniel’s house. How nice we thought, the sound of authentic France to accompany our meal. After a while the sound seemed to get louder so we went to our gate to see what was going on.

Giselle and Daniel had some friends for the evening including an accordion player. Immediately we were invited to join them for some impromptu singing and dancing in the street. I got to dance with Giselle and sent Mrs. Parish off to get some wine and glasses and we had quite a street party for about an hour. You can see some pictures on our Facebook page – La Godefrere. We discovered that the accordion player was called Jean and was 84 years old and was amazingly fit and kept up playing the accordion continuously.  Chatting to Jean revealed he lived in the Paris banlieue. This is a great French word for suburbs but makes it sound much more exciting. Anyway after an hour of music Giselle insisted we spend the rest of the evening with them. We didn’t realise at the time but this meant sitting down to a meal with them. As well as Jean and his wife Solange there were 3 others Gerrard and his wife Carmen and a man called Alain. We were made to feel welcome by all and had another great meal. (Fortunately, Mrs Parish and I had had a light meal and not got on to our cheese so we could do justice to Giselle’s cooking). We had a great evening although I have to say that trying to follow jokes in French is a little tricky. They all seem to refer some bloke called Toto, who is clearly a bit dim and to involve reference to inappropriate parts of the body, bum and willy seem to feature quite a bit. We just took our cue from them and laughed at relevant moments.  

We even learned some patois which is quite interesting. Patois is like a local dialect spoken in rural France. According to a book on French culture I have been reading, up until 1832 less than 20% of the population of France spoke French. It was the language of Government and of Paris. The rest of the country spoke a local patois, which could be very local so that people in the next village spoke a different form of patois. After the French revolution the government tried to do away with patois by providing education for all and teaching French to all the country’s children. In rural France patois is still spoken by a lot of people. Giselle was telling us that when she was little her parents only spoke patois. At school she learned French and was not allowed to speak patois (if she did she was given 100 lines, an interestingly global punishment) but at home if she spoke French her mother told her off and said she would have to get off to Paris if she wanted to speak French. The local man who cleans out the septic tanks in Couesmes only speaks patois and his wife has to translate. He is known as Monsieur Poopy by everyone locally!

In any event we had a great evening, had rather a lot to drink and staggered home to bed in the early hours of the morning. We were up early only to discover that somehow or other the previous night we had agreed to help Giselle with her cherry picking. This first of all involved a rather tricky navigation through her garden, which is sectioned off into a weird maze of small enclosures containing chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits as well as numerous fruit trees. I was volunteered, by Mrs. Parish to be the one who climbs the ladder to get the cherries at the top of the tree. This involved setting up a rather ancient looking ladder up into the tree and resting it against some branches. I was given a small basket and sent on my way to the top of the tree to get to the cherries before the birds did. So there I am, perched rather uncertainly at the top of the cherry tree, with a wobbly ladder under my feet and one arm tightly gripped around the largest branch I could find while using my spare arm to pick off the cherries. I was thinking that this was not what I had planned for a blisteringly hot Sunday morning. We were rewarded by bringing home a very large basket of cherries which Mrs. Parish, as we speak, is turning into some sort of confection. I of course have plans to make cherry brandy. Which reminds me that I need to go to the wine cave to shake up the apricot brandy we made last week. Shaking helps the sugar dissolve and has been added to my daily schedule of tasks. The other include checking the sheep, who have been far too hot this week to play games of hide and seek, and to fill up the bird feeders as well as doing the morning mole patrol.

The moles are keeping a low profile and there have been no sightings all week. Mind you it has been so hot and the ground baked so hard that they would have trouble breaking through the ground. It has been absolutely scorchio for the past two weeks. It is actually too hot even for mad dogs and Englishmen. Of course the games room and wine cave are in the stone built stable which is amazingly cool even on the hottest of days so I have had to withdraw either to re-categorise my wine collection or to have a game of darts. The cats have also been wilting and have mostly been found lying out on our bed which is at least a bit cool. They look like three dead cats who have been thrown on to the bed. It doesn’t get cool till about 10 pm when all of a sudden the cats appear and start chasing around and leaping up trees as entertainment for Mrs. Parish and I who are sitting on the patio watching the sun go down and the bats come out. There are now loads of bats and I can also be seen wandering about the orchard with my trusty bat detector. It has meant a lot of watering in Mrs. Parish’s allotment and the grass has gone brown. However last night we had a tremendous “orage” a thunder storm with lightning and very heavy rain. Already the grass is looking better.

Hurricane Harry has departed with his family after spending two weeks in our gite. Harry is 3 years old and has all the expected endearing and annoying features of a 3 year old. But he is a lively and bright lad and we have enjoyed his company (his parents were OK too). It certainly kept us amused. On one day they went to visit a nearby garden and museum and managed to get locked in as they hadn’t noticed the closing time. The French are quite fussy about their eating habits so at lunchtime and in the evenings, they close sharp on time. They were eventually let out. On another occasion as one of the treats of the holiday they took Harry to the zoo. Harry loves animals and has made friends with Mutt and Geoff our two friendly sheep. They were at the zoo all day (for clarity, Harry and family, not the sheep) and saw loads of exciting and sometimes large animals. On their way back to the gite, Harry’s mum, Jenny asked him which animal was the best he had seen, expecting, monkey or lion or maybe elephant. Oh no, Harry says “Kate and Graham’s salamander that lives in a pit”. We have a yellow and black salamander that lives in our water meter pit and we had shown this to Harry earlier in the holiday. So we like Harry and I let him ride on the tractor as a special treat on his last day here. We now have a few days to recover before some friends from Weymouth with their children and 2 grandchildren aged 4 and 6 arrive for a fortnight. Having a gite is just what we wanted as it creates activity and fun and we get to meet some really nice people.

I mentioned earlier about French culture which has its extremes. This week we needed to find a Laundromat to wash and dry a double duvet. There is one outside of Ambrieres which has two washing machines and a dryer all outside. There is also a carwash which kind of makes sense but in addition there is a pizza making machine. This promises to make your selected pizza in three minutes from a range of ingredients. I have not seen anyone actually buying a pizza from this machine. The other discovery I have made this week concerns magazines. When you go into a French paper shop there are literally 100s of magazines for sale covering an incredible range of subjects. Fashion, fishing and hunting seem to feature heavily. In the shop in Ambrieres I noticed there was a “Sapeur Pompiers” magazine. Or a magazine dedicated to the Fire and Rescue service. It is not lots of semi clad men hanging around machines with hose pipes but a serious magazine about the fire service and on sale to the public. Finding a more obscure interest magazine is now a challenge for me!

The cats have now arrived and are beginning the harassment process to get their tea. So time to finish and sort the cats out. Then after we have finished off the Aussies at cricket I can settle down to watch the final stage of the Tour de France and see Chris Froome win the tour down the Champs Elysees. I think that will require a glass or two of something.

Bon weekend