It is officially the first day of spring and here at La Godefrere things are happening. The garden and our nature trail are full of daffodils and primroses. Birds are singing and down at the bottom of the big field we have our first sound and sighting of the Chiff Chaff normally the first bird to arrive back here after migrating back to nest. On my local group there have been sightings of swallows down in the Sarthe Department which is the next Department to Mayenne and just a bit further south. It won’t be long before we see our swallows returning to La Godefrere. Last year they were here the first week in April.

The ants are ever more active and have started to repair their nest. This week the weather has been lovely and sunny and with virtually no wind it has been nice and warm. So much so that I had to get the tractor out. Firstly so we could do some more clearance work down along the nature trail. We managed to cut back a whole load of brambles which were growing alongside the winter stream. Of course this carries with it the usual pain and suffering as the brambles fight back and we end up covered in little scratches. The tractor and trailer were a great help in carrying all the debris along to the burning site and in the next week we will have a very large bonfire. Of course then there was a further hard day in the saddle mowing the grass. This is a 2 hour major operation requiring great skill and dexterity as I mow the grass in the garden and across the orchard and finally around the garden path and along the nature trail and round the big hay field. 

It is also spring in the sheep paddocks with two recent born lambs arriving on Friday afternoon. Patrique arrived with news that the lambs were ready to come into our field. There are two ewes each with one lamb born in the past couple of weeks. There is also a third aunty ewe that has come with them. In typical fashion the lambs are safely here in our paddock when the weather changes and we get cloudy skies and a bitter north wind. So Friday and yesterday we barely saw the lambs who were being kept by their mums safely in the sheep shelter in the paddock. Today the wind has dropped and it has been a little sunnier so we have had a chance to see both the lambs. I did ask Mrs. Parish whether it would be a bit too soon to start selecting “our leg” and was told in no uncertain terms that this was insensitive and inappropriate!

Two lambs with mums

The youngest baby lamb

Well, tomorrow we start work on demolishing the ruin which adjoins our property and which we bought last year. It has been falling down for some years and is in a dangerous state being propped up in various places. We have a French mason, Pascal who is coming to do the job. He arrived yesterday with a large Manitou, which is basically a tractor with an extending arm to which the scoop is attached. He has done some work for our friends Ian and Sarah and comes highly recommended. One interesting and very French aspect of this is the importance that lunch plays in the arrangements. Such is the importance of lunch to the French working man (ouvrier) that the provision of lunch by the commissioners of the work is expected. In Pascal’s case we will either have to cook him lunch or take him to one of the local restaurants that do a fixed price meal.

For Pascal this would be the restaurant in his home village of Oisseau which is about 15 minutes away. The one advantage is we will have to accompany him so we can pay for his lunch. In addition Pascal expects a coffee when he arrives at 8am prompt, another coffee at 11am and one in the afternoon at 4pm. More good news is that Mrs. Parish is making a cake to go with the coffee. But the lunch is the most important feature and the restaurant at Oisseau like many other serves the standard three course meal (although you can opt to also have some cheese. This is served with either red wine or cider and a coffee to finish off. All this for around 12 Euros 50 cents (about £10). The food is really good but limited choice. Here there is a daily menu posted on the door but you can always have steak and chips as an alternative (at the same price). So this is an essential part of the contract and it of course means that the workman has a proper meal and a break. Essential when doing a hard manual job. Pascal’s working hours are from 8am to 6pm.

It is a bit of a difference from when we have used English workmen. Almost inevitably they bring a packed lunch with them and have a very short lunch break so they can finish early. They of course like to be fed tea instead of coffee and are partial to Mrs. Parish’s cakes. The packed lunch idea is a bonus for the cats as they look at this as easy pickings. One of our workmen, Gary went back to his car at lunch time to discover that Archie had got in through an open window and eaten his cheese and tomato baguette!

I will report back next week on how the work goes and how good the lunches were! In fact last week we went out to visit the saw mill in Lassay a nearby town. Our friends Sarah and Ian wanted to purchase some wood for a kitchen work top. This was an interesting experience as we had to negotiate with the owners for which large chunks of wood would be used and how they would be cut up. There was a lot of talking and writing complicated equations on planks of wood before Ian finally got what we were looking for. Apparently wood for this purpose is significantly cheaper in France. Anyway we decided that on our way back we would stop at the ouvrier’s restaurant at Chantrigne. A small village on the main road between us and Lassay. The restaurant at Chantrigne is legendary locally as it serves excellent quality food at the fixed price. We have passed by several times and there are always loads of white vans parked outside. In fact the restaurant is so well know among workers it doesn’t have a name. It is just the restaurant.

They have a very clever business model. There are places for around 90 people and most days it is full. There is no printed menu and there is no choice of food. When we went in and sat down the waitress brought bread (and of course wine and cider). Then immediately arrived with a cold meat salad as a starter. When we had finished that there was another cold meat dish that was served. As is standard in these restaurants you keep the same plate and knife and fork for the starters and main course. The main course arrived and we had to guess what sort of meat it was (we reckoned either veal or possibly turkey) but very nicely cooked with green beans, carrots and pieces of bacon. With plenty of bread. A cheese board then arrived and you could help yourself if you wanted cheese. Finally there was a choice of dessert. And of course this was followed up by coffee. All for the seemingly standard price of 12 Euros 50. Amazing value for money and the quality and quantity are kept high by ensuring a lot of people can be served and by saving on having no menus and no choice. The model works as it is pretty much full every day.

The French do almost everything with one eye on lunch. Yesterday we went out on a trip organised by Euro Mayenne (an organisation that promotes English immigrants and French residents to get together to encourage understanding and friendship). The trip was to an old Cistercian Abbey but of course we all had to go and have lunch first with wine cider and coffee all thrown in.

Lunch is one of the reasons we love France so much. Our cats like eating too and as French cats they eat almost anything. With no gite guests or workmen to steal from they have spent the week finding strange places to sleep!

Minou filed next to knitting patterns

Moggie driven up the wall! at rear of gite.

I on the other hand can usually be found after my evening meal, with wine and coffee of course quietly sleeping on the sofa! This week we had a delivery of beef from our friend Olivier and Mrs. Parish is promising a lovely roast rib of beef. Luckily I have a very nice bottle of St. Emilion waiting in the cave for just such an event!!

Bon appétit