It has been a cold and misty December Sunday here at la Godefrere. So we have lit up the wood burner and retreated indoors to keep warm. Mrs. Parish has disappeared to her sewing room and is feverishly making things for Christmas presents. I am sat right by the fire and writing up the weekly blog. It has been a bit of a quiet week with no village repas and dances to go to. I have just been over to the wine cave to choose a little something for this evening. Mrs. Parish is roasting a lovely piece of beef from one of our farmer friends, Olivier. So I have brought over a nice bottle of St. Emilion and it is now by the fire so it will be just right at room temperature for this evening.

According to an article in Connexion (which is an English language magazine for people living in France) French residents live longer in retirement than any other OECD country, with women having an average retirement lasting 27.2 years and men 23. 

The main reason seems to be an earlier retirement age with French people on average stopping work or stopping looking for a new job at the age of 59.4. Women can expect to live to 87.1 years and men 82.3 while women stop working at 59.8 and men at 59.4. 

To qualify for a full pension in France people must have worked for a minimum of 41.25 years and reached a minimum pension age of 61 years and two months or reached the retirement age of 66 years and two months. People who started work under 20 years of age can retire from the age of 60 if they have full contributions. 

The retirement age is 65 in Germany, Japan and Spain and the US and Spain are changing to 67 while the UK is moving to 68 – and plans to increase it to 70 along with Denmark, Ireland, Italy, the Czech Republic!

Of course those English people who retire early and go to live in France also gain the benefit of this lengthy retirement. It also seems that people around the Mayenne area live to a ripe old age. We regularly read of people in their 90s passing away. It is clearly a combination of good food, lots of wine and calvados and of course a relaxed life style. I am aspiring to match the French and am expecting to continue to enjoy living in France for many years to come. 

Part and parcel of the relaxed lifestyle is getting to speak the language and to get to know French people. We have regular contact with our French neighbours and with Emile and Yvette. In addition we go to a weekly Cafe and Conversation session. This was originally set up by our former French teacher Jacqui and the aim is to get together a group of English people who want to learn French and a group of French people who want to speak English. Mix them together and supply them with liberal amounts of coffee and let them talk for a couple of hours.

We now meet in a little cafe in Ambrieres. There is a regular attendance of about 8 of us with 3 lovely French women (Christine, Genevieve and Chantal) and 5 English people. The range of conversation is quite wide. The range of topics running from Wills, rural pests, cats, voting in French elections, making fish pie, computers and telephones, I even managed to get in some mention of football and the Euro championship in France this year!! On the subject of football and the Euro’s I am hoping to go to see at least one match. Now that the draw has been made, with a friend Ian, we are assessing which venue to consider.

Cafe and Conversation and eating

Anyway, back to cafe and conversation. The cafe we meet in is called La Cachette and is run by a nice French couple and is a combined antique shop, restaurant and cafe. We had a meal there last week for all the cafe and conversationalists. Veronique who runs the place is an excellent cook and we had a great meal. She also makes the most delicious desserts and Mrs.Parish and I had a most excellent lemon cake. What better way to spend a few hours than eating, drinking and having good conversation in both French and English.

During the week we have tried to get out into the garden as much as we can as there are plenty of tidying jobs and we want to get down to do some more work on the nature trail at the bottom of the big field. Fortunately there has been no further sign of the boars. However on Thursday Mrs. Parish came rushing in to announce that there were two escaping calves in our garden. They had managed to avoid the border guards and sneak under the electric fence and through our barbed wire fence. Typical young boys with a sense of misadventure. So we quickly got on coats and boots and went to chase them back into their field. Fortunately this did not quite descend into the farce it could have and the calves went back quite easily.

The Great Calf escape

We have also been doing some hedging around the orchard and stripping out brambles and clearing some holly and cutting back some of the trees. This has meant I can use the tractor to pull the trailer and take all the wood away to be burnt in due course. The tractor is still fine after our efforts to change the oil and filter last week. I topped up the oil and it seems to be working fine. I was a bit over zealous in my attempts to hack back the brambles and broke Mrs. Parish’s best (and most expensive) loppers. The carbon fibre handle shattered as I was cutting branches. I then managed to break a pair of secateurs. So I was not in favour with Mrs.Parish and was sent indoors to make some tea. I departed to the sounds of “and don’t break the tea pot!”

After the disaster with hedging tools I suggested, yesterday, that we go and get a Christmas tree and some more decorations. We decided to get an artificial tree after last year’s experience when we seemed to have a rather bare tree and lots of pine needles needing to be cleared from the floor. Mrs. Parish saw one lot of Christmas trees being delivered at the beginning of December and clearly they were never going to last till Christmas Day, let alone 12th night.  So we went to a shop called La Foir Fouille. This is a shop that sells all sorts of stuff for the house from ornaments to kitchen ware and lots of crazy French tat as well as some decent stuff. Well we managed to get a really nice artificial tree. We also got some lights and a few other things but were bemused at the range of “Christmas” decorations. The French seem to love “Village de Noel” dioramas and there were hundreds to choose from. These included street scenes, people ice skating, trains in snow etc. I was moved quickly away from these to an aisle full of Christmas polar bears, penguins and Christmas mice! It appears that this shop equates anything to do with winter and the North/South pole as Christmassy. It reminded us of the Noah’s ark Christmas lights we saw last year, which were even further away from Christmas. The French are very strange around Christmas!

Christmas penguins and polar bears!!

Where they are not strange is where food is concerned. Our local butcher Monsieur Rebuffe has his Christmas menu out and we have been in to order some meat for Christmas. Our daughter Jo arrives for Christmas 1 next weekend so we ordered a guinea fowl stuffed with mushrooms. For Christmas day Mrs. Parish and I are having a nice roti de dinde. A turkey roast with chestnuts. There is a range of other choices we could have had from quail stuffed with foie gras, boar, as well as various forms of duck, veal, pork or beef. We are really spoiled for choice. We have also ordered a triple chocolate Yule log from the bakery. You can even go in on Christmas day and get their cooked meal which for Christmas Day is Petit Fours and then Crab as a starter with Guinea Fowl and Gratin potatoes all for only 11 Euros (about £8)!! Lovely food and no cooking.

I have been collecting wine for Christmas as we have been doing our shopping and building up a supply of really nice wines for our meals over Christmas. Now you know why the French live for so long. There are so many food and wines to try, so you have to live a long time to get them all in! 

I realise that I have gone a whole blog without mention of the cats; in fact they are nowhere to be seen. I may regret saying that. I think I now need to sort out some wine for an aperitif. As my daughter is here next Sunday the blog may be a little later next week.

Bonne soiree