Over the past two weeks it has been immensely hot, to the extent that in the middle of the day it has been too hot to be outdoors. This has resulted in a number of thunder storms and heavy rain. The heat wave has been called La Grande Chaleur in the French media, meaning the great heat and warnings have been issued about the dangers of excessive temperatures. On Monday evening the skies darkened as storm clouds gathered and we heard the rumble of thunder coming our way. One of the things we have learned about thunder storms is that because the ground is so hot the hot air rising meets cold air above the clouds and this somehow causes a severe wind in front of the storm. So typically there is a quiet period and then the wind arrives and then violent rain storm and thunder and lightning. On Monday evening the centre of the storm must have come right over us because we had a violent gale blow across our grounds. We had windows open up stairs and so I ran up to shut them before too much rain got in. It was incredibly difficult to open the bedroom door due to the force of the wind. Eventually we battened down the hatches and sat out the storm.

When the rain subsided Mrs. Parish and I went out to see what damage had been done and at first we only noticed that everything had been blown to the back of the lean to shed and one or two plants in the allotment had been blown over. We then noticed that our big cherry tree which is on the edge of our orchard next to the cow’s field had been blown down across our lawn. It made a right mess with several holes in the ground and branches and leaves everywhere. I had a momentary wish that maybe the tree had fallen on a mole which would have been poetic justice, in my eyes anyway! No such luck.

So the rest of the week we have been on clean up duty. First trying to pick up all the leaves and branches that broke off. Of course they are all on the ground meaning, back breaking picking them up. Our builder Mark who came to do some work on the gite steps loaned us his chain saw. Now I have never used a chain saw before so Mark gave me some basic lessons in use. Mrs. Parish kitted me out in her hard hat, face guard and ear defenders (she use these for strimming). So there I am looking like an orange version of Darth Vader attacking the tree and trying: 1. to not cut any limbs off me, Mrs Parish or any of the cats; 2. Trying not to break Mark’s chain saw; 3. Trying to cut off bits that will not cause the tree to roll over on to me and 4. Trying not to get the cutting blade stuck in the tree. I managed somehow to avoid any of items 1.2 and 3. But did manage to get the blade stuck in the tree as I miscalculated the weight and how the tree branch would move. The saw was stuck fast and my only solution was to call for King Arthur as I thought this would be up his street. Chain saws in trees seemed the same principle as a sword in the stone. Mrs. Parish had a more practical solution that required the involvement of no mythical figures. She explained the principles of using levers to shift the weight of the branch and in no time it was free.

It is amazing how heavy a chainsaw is and how heavy great big logs from a tree can be. Well for 3 days we laboured and now we have a cut up tree and a huge pile of logs drying out so eventually we can put them into our wood burning stove. We also have a load of small twigs and branches to be used as kindling and for starting up the fire. On the negative side I am now knackered and even Mrs. Parish is a bit tired.

All this work has put back the rehabilitation of the right Mr. Parish forearm. I have been feeling some pain in my arm for some time and a couple of weeks ago went to the Doctor to have a tetanus booster but also mentioned to him about my arm. Dr. Viennot has this tiny surgery in a small bungalow in the village next to us. Just a waiting room and a surgery. He is a nice man and has the advantage of being able to speak English. Just as well as I am not sure my French is yet up to describing the subtleties of pain in various parts of my arm. He had a look and advised that it was clearly tendonitis caused by all the work I had done in the stable over the winter. He gave me a prescription for some cream and said rub it in and wait for it to get better. How long I ask. Could be a year, he says and then says you must rest your arm, no work!! I was not quite sure how Mrs. Parish would take this. Then I have to write out a cheque for the consultation fee – 23 Euros! This was a complete culture shock for someone coming from the NHS, to have to pay the doctor. Because I have coverage through the French system (and through top up health insurance as the state does not cover the full cost) I will get this money back and it does work quite efficiently as the Doctor notifies the system online that I have paid and the money is transferred to my bank account. So it’s good to know that the bankers get a cut out of all this. When I go to the chemist my details are all put on line and they send the bill to the health insurance company. But it all feels very sordid. So a political message to all readers in Britain, value the NHS and don’t let the bastards in the Tory and Lib Dem parties do away with the free service. OK rant over.

Mrs. Parish is as always extremely practical. OK, fine she says, use your left arm!!

So on to Jam and Jerusalem. As I mentioned last week we have been helping our neighbour Giselle with her cherry harvest. I was rather hoping that her cherry tree would also have fallen down so that picking the cherries could be done at ground level rather than me risking life and limb, again at the top of a ladder. So on Tuesday before setting to on our tree we fulfilled our promise to Giselle and helped her with more picking. This time her other cherry tree was in the same field as her sheep. I discovered that sheep are extremely fond of cherries and all the ones that I dropped trying to get them into a basket fell to the floor to be gobbled up by the sheep. They have a rather distressing habit of crunching up the cherry stone, which sound terrible. The other problem of course is that I am up a ladder and the sheep are all down below milling around the ladder waiting for manna from heaven and they are not very Health and Safety aware and bump into the ladder rather than skirting around it. This is very disconcerting especially as I am trying to keep one eye on the cherries, one in case of any marauding wasps who fancy a bit of cherry and one on the sheep below. You will notice that there is a problem here with the number of eyes. Mrs. Parish once again offers practical advice and tells be to pick quicker!

Giselle has given us a huge basket of cherries for helping her. Mrs. Parish has been turning this into cherry jam and bottling some of them for use later in the year, in pies, tarts etc. I manage to set aside a bowlful of cherries and decide to make some Kirsch. The French don’t make vodka which means that in supermarkets you can buy cheap imported vodka. When making apricot brandy last week we had to use Armagnac as that is the cheapest! Form of French brandy. As the French make brandy, you can’t find cheap imported brandy in France at the supermarket! Anyway we now have a whole shelf in the wine cave full of bottles of apricot and cherry jam and apricot brandy and kirsch. I am still operating my daily round to shake up the bottles. So roll on the winter when we can try out these new additions to La Godefrere. It seems that life is just a bowl of cherries after all!!

As it has been so hot we have been plagued with insects of various kinds. The large Asiatic hornets seem to have got the message thanks to Mrs. Parish’s stout anti aircraft defence. However it is the smaller ones that create the biggest problems. There are some that bite but don’t seem to want to bite me, not sure why, but on the whole this is a good thing. They do seem to like to bite Mrs. Parish so we now have citronella candles burning all over the place outside so we can sit out to eat or drink, usually both. In Britain usually flies make a noise so at least you know they are there and can direct fly spray in the right direction. French flies are mostly silent and this causes a problem as usually the first you know they are there is when they land on your head or leg, or especially on the toes where they are very tickly. This is very annoying. Mrs. Parish is being driven to distraction and now constantly walks about the house carrying the fly swatter. One advantage with these French flies is that they are not very bright and are very slow to fly off making them a fairly easy target with the fly swatter. But it seems that no matter how many you swat, there is always another one which 2 minutes later lands on you.

So on the home front we have flies to contend with. Mole patrol this week has revealed that the moles are still around and I found the most enormous mole hill. Fortunately this was quite useful as I was able to use the soil to fill in all the holes created by the fallen tree! It has been so hot that the grass has gone brown and is not growing so I haven’t had the tractor out this week. I need to get out there with engine noise and more Dylan songs.

Because we have had such a tiring week Mrs. Parish and I decided we would have a day off and go out today. We went to Sainte Suzanne which claims to be the third most favourite village in France! It has a medieval centre and a castle and we found it to be a delightful place with medieval streets, and interesting castle and a good museum. We arrived about 10-30 this morning and on leaving the carpark we heard the sound of bagpipes. Strange we thought and when we got to a small park close to the village centre we discovered that there were some folk dancers from Brittany and the pipes were not Scottish but Breton. To our amazement and shock there was also a load of English Morris dancers. One of the advantages of being in France we had always promised ourselves was we could avoid Morris dancing but no, here in an obscure part of rural France we found Morris dancers. We moved away from the park before they started up and had a great day wandering around the village.

A brief update on the animal front. All the cats are fine although Moggie and Minou were very confused when the tree fell down as this was one of the trees they regularly climbed up so they sat looking at the wreckage for some time. The sheep have been a bit confused by the weather and seem to spend a lot of time trying to hide in their little shed. On the bird front we have seen a hoopoe return and this morning one was sat right outside our front glass door on the concrete front path. We have also got the barn owls back, although they have been turning up at three in the morning and making a right racket sat up on top of the gite roof. We need to persuade them to come at dusk when we can watch properly. Leaning out of our velux window in pyjamas at that time of the morning is not good!

It is now raining again and the thunder is starting to rumble around outside. I think I need to go and shut some windows and then it will be time for a little aperitif I think!

A prochaine