I finished last week’s blog with the prospect of New Year’s Eve approaching and its promise of good food and weird television. Well, we were not disappointed. We visited our local butcher, Monsieur Rebuffe in Ambrieres, our local town. The nice thing about French butchers is that often you can get pre prepared meals just ready for you to cook or reheat at home. However for special nights you do need to order in advance. Judging by the number of packages waiting for collection lots of people had their orders in.

We were not so well organised but bought a very nice piece of beef for roasting. There were however lots of ready prepared starters so we bought two very nice looking coquilles de saumon. Salmon with salad served in a shell shaped container. So we were well prepared for a nice meal. I spent some time in our wine cave and chose a nice Vouvray to have with the salmon and a rather good St. Emilion to have with the beef. So Mrs. Parish and I sat down to a lovely meal having first fed the cats and thrown them out so we could have some peace. We finished off with coffee and of course Emile’s Calvados and settled down to watch French New Year’s Eve television.

French TV is not the greatest (mind you most countries TV is pretty rubbish) but on New Year’s Eve it excels at least for a surreal experience. The main channel has a programme modestly entitled “The best cabaret in the world”. The programme centres around a grey haired presenter who seems to be a sort of French Terry Wogan. For some reason he sits around a table with a changing selection of rather attractive French women who all appear to be “celebrities” of some sort. For reasons never really explained the women are introduced on to stage by a whole group of French cabaret dancers with their breasts bared in the best French style. They never actually dance until the Can Can comes on after midnight.

So in between chatting to the celebrities, Grey hair introduces a series of cabaret acts. The first we saw was a man on a unicycle skipping and bouncing up and down some stairs. This was followed by a trampolining clown and then by some female dancing magicians, who were at least original, although all the magic acts (and there were several) all seemed to involve people disappearing behind curtains or in boxes. I felt that the fact that the female dancing magicians had very little in the way of clothes on only served to enhance the quality of the magic. Mrs. Parish is a bit more of a magical purest and was unmoved by the clothes or lack thereof.

Things were hotting up as we approached midnight and we were then treated to a couple of clowns who were decidedly not funny and then we had a Chinese woman (who was properly attired) who balanced wine glasses on her forehead and then walked up and down some stairs. The final act before midnight featured a number of people who were all dressed in black and who proceeded to bend themselves into all sorts of shapes which showed on stage in silhouette. It was very clever if a bit surreal and frankly a bit boring after the first shape. Mrs. Parish wondered if my view was influenced by the fact that they were totally clothed. Then midnight and the Can Can!!

And so to bed and the prospect of a whole new year ahead. I got up in the morning to feed the cats at my usual time, around 7-30am. When I opened the front door there was just Moggie and Archie there so I called Minou and the response I got was a dog barking. At first I thought it was our neighbours dog Pepito but the noise seemed to be coming from our lean to shed where the cats sleep. Perhaps it was the combined effect of cheese, wine and calvados. So I went to have a look and found a small Jack Russell terrier in the lean to barking at me and hiding if I went toward him. The cats, including Minou, were now demanding breakfast so I went to get their food. I then went back to the front door to see the dog crossing the courtyard and disappearing up the lane. I came up with two theories about this. On the one hand the cats could have invited the dog around for New Year’s Eve revels or the dog could have had too much calva and got lost on his way home from the village cafe and decided to sleep it off in our shed. Mrs. Parish thought it more likely it was frightened by some fireworks. Anyway we have not seen him since. The cats were a bit spooked and gave the shed a wide berth for the next 24 hours.

Well, here we are in 2014 and we are looking forward to the year ahead and in particular to developing our garden and grounds, providing of course that the weather improves sufficiently to allow us to get outside the front door. We have had the edge of the terrible weather in Britain and have had lots of rain and high winds which has meant several days of indoor play.  I have spent some time in decanting Apricot Brandy which has been maturing in the wine cave for the past 4 months. I managed to decant it into smaller bottles and now it needs to remain in the bottle for a further month until we can try it out. This was made with French apricots and of course with French brandy (we actually used Armagnac). More fun than making jam although I am still working my way through the apricot jam Mrs. Parish made earlier in the year.

We did get out for one day and did some further work on fixing the fences around the grounds. This involved the fence at the end of our big field where several of the fence posts needed replacing. This requires driving in a large fence post with a sledge hammer. The problem is getting up high enough to be able to exert a proper swing of the hammer at the right angle. The only effective way was to bring down a step ladder. So there I am, stood on top of a set of steps with a very large sledge hammer trying to knock in posts. Mrs. Parish drew the short straw as she had to hold the posts upright while I hammered. All was going well until we encountered some clandestine undercover work by the moles who in a clear act of sabotage had cleverly dug their holes close to the fence thus undermining the ground and my steps. Instead of standing firm, the steps disappear into the ground  or worse still they gradually and slowly tip to one side and  I end up at a 45 degree angle and in some cases tip over completely. Fortunately I managed to avoid doing any damage to Mrs. Parish. Despite these handicaps we have now finished and have all the fence posts secure and the barbed wire properly nailed up.

This week we are back to normal and have got rid of the decorations. We return to our French classes and hopefully the weather will at least allow us out of the house so I can escape the torture of the book of killer Sudoku that my daughter Jo bought me for Christmas.. Next weekend Ian and Emma arrive for Christmas 2 along with Amy so that should be great. We may have to have a lamb feast with the leg of lamb that we have in the freezer for looking after Patrick’s sheep. Of course also arriving at the weekend will be Tommo the three legged dog and this will test the keenness of the cats to stay indoors. Ian and Emma recently adopted a kitten who has been training Tommo so he might not be quite so barky with our cats. We shall see. By the way the cats have had their tea and are draped across the sofa fast asleep!

Given the arrival of guests next weekend and given that a lot of alcohol is likely to flow the blog may well be delayed until Monday and may therefore be written with a hangover but I am sure there will be lots to report.

Bonne annee, bonne sante