I am sat outside on the patio in glorious evening sun, sipping a rather large glass of Emile’s calvados. I am in a somewhat reflective mood gazing out over our orchard which is full of apples and pears. I am contemplating a bit of a philosophical contradiction that would have given Marx a testing time for his dialectic approach. The contradiction that I am considering is how can it be that something as delicious as a glass of Calvados requires such a tortuous process to produce it.

Starting at first principles is the management of an orchard. First you have to plant trees and wait for them to grow enough to produce fruit, this can take 2 or 3 years and up to 10 years before they become fully productive. You would think that there would be an easy way to collect the fruit. At the moment the trees I am looking at are laden with apples and pears but some of the fruit falls from the trees and has to be picked up. This involves lots of bending down and has now been added to my morning chores. Make morning cup of tea for Mrs. Parish, feed cats, count sheep, feed birds, do mole patrol and now pick up fall downs. This is a laborious task not in any way helped by the two cats that follow me round and by climbing up the trees I am picking from managed to displace a whole load more fall downs. This not only creates more fall downs to pick up but puts me at risk of them falling on my head!

Once all the fruit has been collected it must be made into cider by a further back breaking process of moving apples and loading them into a crusher, then using a very big spade to chucking the mush into a large apple press. The resulting juice is then put into barrels to ferment eventually into cider. A proportion of this will then go through a distillation process and then you have to wait around 12 years before you can drink it!! (If you take account of growing the trees, then starting from a bare patch of earth it could be around 25 years before you get a drink!!)

I end my philosophical investigation by concluding that I am really lucky to have Emile as a friend so that he can bring me bottles of calvados without the wait. All this thinking leads me to reason that I need a second glass I think. There are positives to be gained from the study of philosophy!

Karl Marx wrote “Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.”

Groucho Marx said “These are my principles, if you don’t like them I have others”.

Well, it will be a year on 21st August since we purchased and moved into La Godefrere and began our great French adventures. We have battled French Bureaucracy; all that nature can throw at us including invading moles; hornet air attacks; hide and seek playing sheep; crazy cats, a cake stealing chicken, tree felling winds and even marauding groups of Morris dancers. The blog has reported all the excitement and drama almost as it happens. We have also raised the intellectual level of the blog by introducing discussion of quantum physics, chaos and string theory as well as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We have found that Calvados reigns supreme and beats Somerset Cider Brandy hands down.

We have had an interesting year in trying to cope with all the animals. We took over Archie and Trigger two cats who lived here as well as an old chicken who we christened Henny Penny. Sadly trigger went missing in November last year and was seen on the other side of the village at Christmas. Sadly he has not been seen since but we are sure he has found a new home with lots of female cats and plenty of food. Henny passed away a while ago after entertaining and intimidating us. She really did rule the roost and no cake or sandwich was safe from her. Archie who came with the house is still with us and still preying on the unwary and will take every chance to steal a sausage or a workers sandwich. He has not quite fulfilled his role as senior boy by setting a good example to Minou and Moggie our two rescued cats. As outside cats their role is to patrol the grounds and to catch any mice who stray too close to the house. Archie seems to prefer waiting for his food to be delivered in a bowl (or clingwrapped in someone’s car). The younger two cats still like to play and chase each other around the courtyard. We recently had a 5 year old, Kristian, staying in the gite and he loved to play with the cats and had all three of them chasing him around following a piece of string. In fact when his parents asked him to rate his holiday out of 5 he gave the gite 200 marks and the cats 500! He was a nice lad and let me have a go with his radio controlled tractor and trailer. He gave me instructions how to use and then said that I was quite good and had achieved level 2! Rather like another young lad who stayed, named Harry who was only 3 but he liked our Salamander (who lives in the water meter) better than all the animals in the zoo. Interestingly our English neighbour Peter came back from England last week and had a problem with his water. When we opened up his water meter we also found that he had a salamander so perhaps they are supplied as guardians of the meter by the water company. The gite has been a great source of entertainment and we have had some really nice people staying there and enjoying the local area. We even had some Australians who were great fun. In all we have let out the gite for most of June through to the end of September. It is actually nice having people around the place and enjoying the gite and our grounds.

We have also made some good friends since we have been here. Emile and Yvette have been really great. Not only do they come and make hay from our big field but they have been extremely welcoming and friendly, inviting us to their house and giving good advice on a number of matters. We have also been given by Emile several bottles of Calvados. As a thank you to them we bought a picture of 19th century hay makers with a man and a woman forking hay. We gave it to them last week and said we thought the two people were Emile and Yvette. They were very pleased and will give it pride of place on their kitchen wall. Giselle and Daniel, our neighbours have also been very welcoming and Giselle is a great source of local information as well as knowing how to quickly dispatch an ailing chicken. Without question all the French people we have met have been extremely friendly and welcoming and we have felt at home since we got here.

Last week I promised free gifts and if you look on my website under downloads you will find some exciting things including a download of pictures showing the house and grounds last year compared with now. If that is not exciting enough for you I have free samples of Emile’s calvados which you can have. Of course you will have to visit us to get your sample.

One piece of good news this week is that there has been a bumper harvest of just about everything. Mrs. Parish has excelled in the vegetable garden and we have a courgette mountain, a surplus of green beans and also tomatoes. Our consumption of salads has increased considerably almost all of which has come from the garden. Jams and preserved vegetables have stored away in the wine cave and we still have loads left. This week we saw a bumper crop of garlic. Of course we can put this around the grounds to ensure that no vampires get through. We have enough trouble with moles. We could try garlic on them but at the moment revving the tractor and singing Bob Dylan songs seems to be keeping them at bay. Will have to wait and see if there is an autumn offensive.

We are now looking forward to a visit from our daughter Jo and her partner Nicky who are coming at the end of the week. They are flying into Rennes and we will pick them up. Then the following week my son Ian and his partner Emma will be coming with a friend Sarah and also Ian and Emma’s three legged dog Tommo. Tommo is another bonkers animal and I am sure he will make my life more complicated as we accommodate them in the gite and warn the cats and a large ball of barking fur will be arriving. They will be coming over on the ferry and will be bringing the tea bag relief column to replenish our dwindling stocks of tea bags. French tea bags are designed for tea without milk and are quite weak. So good old English tea bags are essential.

Well, an interesting year all round. Mrs Parish is now speaking French like a native and my French is beginning to improve but is work in progress. I am becoming fluent in drinking French wine, cider and Calvados, purely as matters of philosophical experiment. The sun is now setting and the bats are coming out so I must go and get my trusty bat detector. My status as eccentric Englishman has been firmly established over the past 12 months. So Mrs. Parish and I are off for a slap up meal at La Marjolane, a posh restaurant on the banks of the Mayenne on Wednesday to celebrate 1 year in France and also the fact that we have been married for 41 years. Mrs. Parish is probably now in line for some sort of sainthood.

Bon annee