The weather has been colder again this week and we have been forced indoors although earlier in the week, Mrs. Parish and I were out replacing fence posts around the allotment. This is a very much brains and brawn team effort. Mrs. Parish is in charge of the intricate task of removing staples which hold the fence against the posts. I then remove the old posts and replace them with new fence posts which are then hammered into the ground with a large and heavy sledgehammer. Mrs. Parish then replaces the staples. We have become a quite skilled and efficient team. After this we spent a happy hour chopping up wood that we had cleared from the garden and storing so that eventually we can burn it in the wood burner.

Of course now that it is becoming colder the wood burner is coming into its own and lighting up time is getting earlier and earlier. Yesterday, I braved a cold wind to do a patrol round the garden and big field to see if there were any more signs of mole or boar activity. The moles seem to have made a strategic withdrawal from the exclusion zone as there is no sign of further molehills. A combined effect of my singing and the threat of reprisals from Mrs. Parish’s death squad. There is still signs of the boars but mostly in our neighbours field. We had a visit from Patrique yesterday who brought round our leg of lamb as payment for letting his sheep graze in our paddock. This is now safely in the freezer waiting for our son to arrive after Christmas for a lamb feast.

Patrique is a member of his commune hunt and knows about boars. He reckons that boars are roving animals and may be holed up in a neighbouring plantation and then go out rooting at nights. They may well go further afield and it is quite likely that they will move on. Hopefully quite soon!!

Anyway, I was walking around the big field when I noticed that the cows had crept up on me and were just the other side of the fence. There is a barbed wire fence and an electric fence which surrounds our field and keeps the cattle contained. Well I know this but sometimes I am not quite sure the cattle know this. On this occasion Eric, the rather large bull was among the cattle who had crept up. Eric is very big and has a very disconcerting way of looking with some disdain at you. He was looking at me a giving out a rather low sounding but rather menacing, bellow. I was looking at the bull and then at the rather weak and feeble fence. I thought to myself. “If he decides to come my way there is no way that fence will hold him back “.  I also thought that this would not be the time to annoy him with a quick burst of Bob Dylan. So I edged my way backwards and away from the fence. Eric just tossed his head, sneered and went back to munching the grass.

Eric the bull, looking mean

We are now at the end of November and Christmas approaches. Mrs. Parish has been a whirlwind of action making things. Knitting and sewing and crafting Christmas cards. She disappears up to the sewing room and a couple of hours later emerges with some new gift or decoration. I get quite tired just watching her wiz by. I prefer to do my Christmas shopping online. It also means I can sit in front of the fire and keep nice and warm. In the spirit of the film Nightmare before Christmas, Mrs. Parish is “making Christmas, making Christmas!!”

Mrs. Parish making Christmas in the sewing room

Last night was the latest in a series of evening village repas at the nearby commune of St Simeon. As usual our attendance was organised by Emile and Yvette and we went with a number of our English friends. The “soiree dansante” (evening with dancing) was organised by the local fete committee and was due to start at 8pm. We knew from previous years that no one gets there until 9pm and that the meal doesn’t get served until well after 10pm. Part of the problem is that before we can eat there has to be greeting, handshakes and of course lots of kissing. There is a mass of people all standing in the middle of the room all kissing each other. Then another lot come in and join them so the kissing goes round again.

All this time we have sat down and are ravenously hungry. So we are willing them to sit down. Yet another group comes in and of course as most of them are from the commune they all know each other, so another round of kissing. About 10-15 and we eventually get a kir and people start to sit down and once the kissing stops the food begins to arrive. There are around 200 people in the village hall. Most of the French go for the “Choucroute”. This is a huge collection of cabbage with a knuckle of pig and with some sausage things. It’s a bit like sauerkraut. This is traditional at this time of year. We all have the alternative which is steak. Once we get started the food comes out quite quickly and given the number of people the steaks are well cooked in the French style and nice and bloody and hot. We also get a wedge of brie and an apple tart. This is followed up by coffee with of course some homemade calvados.

We are sat on a large bench table and I am sat with our friends on one side and next to me another group of French people. The lady next to me asks if we are English and where we live. When we explain she immediately knows La Godefrere and our neighbours Giselle and Daniel. So Mrs. Parish and I have quite a chat with the French group. The lady next to me is called Monique and is very bossy but keen to look after me and instructs the waiters to make sure I get my food and bread. When the calva comes around she is keen to get her cup filled as well!

Around about midnight all the eating is complete and we get on with the “dansante” part of the evening with grooving disco music. We English are keen to make a good show on the dance floor and in some cases (me) enthusiasm makes up for a lack of skill. At about 1-00 Ian who has just become a granddad decides we need champagne to wet the baby’s head and after a round of toast we decide to request the song YMCA by the Village People. A classic 70’s disco favourite! The French were fascinated to watch our efforts to sing the words and do the actions. At this point our only refuge is more champagne to maintain our dance madness which now involves the French in a kind of mass hysteria.

Interestingly this leads to finding out that in the Middle Ages “dancing plague” was a fairly common thing. Dance mania, otherwise known as the Dancing Plague, St. John’s Dance, or the Dance of St. Vitus, gripped mainland Europe between the 13th and 17th centuries. One of the most well-known major outbreaks took place in Aachen, Germany, on June 24, 1374. During this occurrence, afflicted individuals would dance hysterically through the streets for hours, days, and apparently even months, until they collapsed due to exhaustion or died from heart attack or stroke. The number of participants at any one outbreak could reach into the thousands.

Medieval print of the dancing plague

Clearly we had been infected by a kind of dancing plague and I think it was only the champagne which saved us. Mass hysteria also leads to the strange case of the French meowing nuns also in the Middle Ages. At a convent somewhere in France one nun started meowing like a cat and was soon joined by all the other nuns in the convent. Soon they were all making a fearful meowing noise and it is said that it only stopped when the local villagers complained and the army was called in to threaten the nuns. Fortunately we were only affected by the dancing plague otherwise it could have been difficult. Thankfully our cats have not yet heard of this.

So today Mrs. Parish and I are a bit tired after all the dancing madness and are trying to recuperate as we are due at another meal and dance next week at Brece. We will see whether the dancing plague returns but maybe next week we can just do with wine and calvados and leave off the champagne. That might just avoid the madness. All this talk of exercise has made me thirsty so perhaps it is aperitif time. Mrs. Parish seem to think so.

Bon Dimanche