It’s been a bit of a strange week here at La Godefrere. All started well with the birthday on Monday and I had a very nice day with lots of cards and presents. The most unusual was the card from Mrs Parish which illustrates very well what an odd bunch the French are. The card had French birthday greetings but also had pictures of a game of Boules (also known as petanque). The game is sort of like bowls in England except the French throw them on to gravel pitch rather that genteelly rolling them along the grass. In England we have golf, football or racing cars on birthday cards. In France they have boules!! If that were not odd enough the main picture was of the distance between a boule and the jack which was being measured using a bit of string. None of your tape measures for cissies for the French, they use string. The best bit was that there was a real bit of string taped onto the card. Now that’s classy!

I keep saying to Mrs Parish that we should get a proper set of French Boules. At the moment we have a plastic set we bought at the seaside for the kids years ago. I have explained that this will do our street credibility no good if we are seen using plastic boules. We already have a reputation for being a bit odd. What with taking the cats for a walk round the orchard every day and bird watching too (remember Hurluberlus meaning oddballs). Talking of which one of my bird watching email group members has posted that he received an aggressive response at one of the lakes where he watches birds and has warned us to keep away. Not sure why as birdwatchers are the most meek and mild of people. They wouldn’t say boo to a goose!!

I probably should have used the oddballs link to update you on poor old Moggie who was due the big snip this week. He had a reprieve on Tuesday as we were snowed in with around 6 inches of snow (I probably should be using metric measures but that seems far too complicated. Anyway we eventually got Moggie to the vet on Friday and he is now safe to be in female company. We had to leave him there for 3 hours while he had the op and came round after the anaesthetic. He was a bit sorry for himself when he got home and slept most of the evening. However he is now back to not quite his old self but a celibate equivalent! We have to take Minou next week to have her done as well. Otherwise we could have half of the tom cats in Mayenne beating a path to our door. We did wonder if that might tempt Trigger our wandering cat to come home, but decided it was not worth the risk. Two kittens are enough to drive us mad, imagine if there were 6-8 kittens. So she is due in on Wednesday.

It started snowing here on Monday evening and did not stop until early Tuesday evening by which time we had around 6 inches of snow and were completely snowed in with the lane from our house to the main road completely impassable. This was fun for a while as we did not need to go out for anything. For a while, but being cooped up indoors does give time for idle thoughts and for the need for a creative outlet. Mrs Parish became rather fed up by me constantly wandering about the house with a mad grin and saying “here comes Johnny” and making mad axe chopping gestures. Eventually I was exiled to the shed to chop firewood.

The cats had different reactions. Moggie loved the snow and kept going outside and raced around digging in the snow and pouncing on imaginary things. Minou hated getting snow on her paws and stayed indoors. Archie of course has seen it all before and curled up on a bed and slept through it. In fact Archie had a bit of a bonus because the snow was so fine it blew in through all the gaps in the lean to shed where he sleeps and the whole area was covered in snow. Looked a bit like Archie’s Christmas grotto. The upshot was that we allowed him to be an indoor cat for a couple of nights. He has for sometime been claiming that he has been mislabelled and that really he should be an indoor cat. He has since tried claiming squatters’ rights but he has been sent back to his rather nice bijoux apartment in the lean to shed. He has a specially made shelf surrounded by insulating polystyrene blocks to keep the wind off. Inside is his basket with a very soft pillow. The kittens like it and try to take over when they are outside. We plan to build an extension so that eventually they also become outside cats. They are supposed to earn their keep by keeping any vermin away from the house!!

Henny Penny did not like the snow at all. The snow got in through the roof of her chicken shed and when I went to let her out on Tuesday morning the place was full of snow and the wind was cutting through the walls. I met a very bedraggled and unhappy chicken and I really thought she was on her last legs. I borrowed some of Archie’s insulating blocks and tried to shield her from the wind and eventually she perked up. At no time was I tempted to make her a temporary inside chicken by bringing her into the house! We patched up the shed and she was OK. She is now back to normal and patrolling the grounds again.

Being trapped indoors has some benefits as Mrs Parish has been baking cakes and I resumed my bread making. I have not made any bread since we came to France. Mainly because French bread is so nice and relatively inexpensive. With us being snowbound I needed to make some bread to keep us going until we could get to the shops. Homemade bread is really nice and I think I will make more from time to time.

At least when we are trapped in the house we have a great view of the garden so I can bird watch from the house. I have set up a number of bird feeders in one of the small trees in the orchard and in the cold weather we have had lots more birds feeding. All week there had been a huge flock of greenfinches, together with some bramblings and cirl buntings feeding at the feeders or on the ground underneath. Occasionally the sparrowhawk swoops in to try to utilise this fast food outlet. I have not yet seen it catch anything but in the week there was a pile of feathers in the orchard where it was obviously successful. I looked out at the tree a couple of days ago and had to do a double take as sat on top of this small orchard tree was a very large buzzard. I am hoping that soon we will be able to see the barn owls that were around most nights in the autumn. With all the bad weather and the fact that in winter they don’t hunt until its dark has meant we have not seen much of them.

I’m pleased to report that the games stable and wine store is almost complete. I have finished restoring the old oak planks to make the side of the wine store. This has involved a lot of work in cleaning and sanding them, followed by restaining and varnishing the wood. It does look very good. I am now looking to find pictures and posters to go on the walls and to add other furnishings. Fortunately Mrs Parish not only makes great cakes but she is also brilliant with a sewing machine and has made some covers for cushions to go on top of the stable troughs where I have built wooden hinged covers to use as seats. I am now trying to fill the wine racks more quickly than I am drinking the contents!! I have to say that this is a great way to spend my retirement with my very own games room and wine store.

Finally there is little to report on the Mole front. With all the snow there have been no sightings of mole hills. Hopefully they are all freezing down their little burrows. However now the snow has gone and the temperature is predicted to get warmer I suspect the moles will launch a new attack and we have to be prepared. So far the cat wee experiment is ongoing and we await evidence regarding its success. I had encouraging news this week from my friend Al who has been conducting his own experiments involving wee and I am hoping that when he visits in April we can use his experiences to try some further mole repulsion activities.

I have avoided all mention of the rugby as it has been a bad weekend for me with England not only losing but losing to Wales and thus transferring all bragging rights to my Welsh friend Steve with whom I have a taunting by text arrangement during the rugby season. It will be different next year. At least the French managed a win at last so was able to sing along with “La Marseillaise” which is a great national anthem with appropriate stirring words about fighting tyranny and raising blood stained standards etc. Great stuff to sing along to particularly after a few glasses of wine.

And talking of wine Mrs Parish has grumbled that it’s about time I opened a bottle and poured her a glass so we can celebrate the French victory properly. That is a great thing about being in France, there is always some success or event that needs a bottle opened to celebrate.

Vive La France