Spring seems to be arriving nice and early. Yesterday was a lovely warm and sunny day and could have been in early summer. As part of my recuperation I went for a walk in the sun around the lanes and fields close to us. Walking up the lane I heard the wonderful sound of skylarks singing all around me as they ascended into the sky. There was also the amazing sight of five buzzards soaring in the sky over the house. Using the warmth to glide effortlessly together.

About halfway up the lane I spotted a bird taking off from the field next to the road and watched as it flew distinctively across the field. I knew immediately that it was a male hen harrier, beautiful in its grey and black plumage and the way it floats over the field quartering the ground looking for prey. They are magnificent birds of prey and quite common in France. Sadly, in Britain they are persecuted by gamekeepers unnecessarily and illegally. This one was probably on its way to a heathland area about an hour’s drive at the Corniche du Pail where hen harriers breed in the summer.

There are lots of birds on migration now and we have noticed the arrival in our trees of the chiffchaff one of the first to arrive to set up a territory for nesting. The winter birds like lapwing and fieldfare have now gone. It is good time to watch birds and recently I was asked to write an article for an English language magazine published in France called Minimag . The theme of the article was that the joy of watching birds in France is that you can sit in your garden with a glass of wine and watch birds. The trick in the migration periods is to look up to the sky and you might be surprised at what you can see. Unfortunately, I was asked to write the article on a voluntary basis so there was no fee!

From our garden, I have seen cranes in formation fly over and a rare Montagu’s harrier last year. It is also a chance to look out to see when the first swallows arrive and to check out if there are hoopoes about.

It is also a time for the garden to start growing again and we have loads of daffodils and primroses growing in the banks of our garden. Unfortunately, it also means that the grass has started to grow and while I have manged to cut it a couple of times it is still growing fast and a bit too wet to cut at the moment.

Daffodils on the bank in our orchard

There are compensations as we have seen the arrival of some young calves into the field next to the gite, who have come to join Ernie the bull and his heifers, Last year we had problems with the calves getting through the fence into the garden and in to the big field. So far there have been no incursions partly as we reinforced the fence in the garden to keep the hens in and this will stop the calves.

The calves next door

The hens by the way are still pretty fed up at their continued incarceration and let us know it by complaining bitterly when they see us. I have to walk by the hen house to get to the wild bird feeders and they see me passing with a scoop full of seed and let out a barrage of squawking and clucking. Leaving me in no doubt how annoyed they are. The cats on the other hand are much happier with some warm weather so they can sleep on the car or in warm sheltered places around the garden.

On my regular recuperation walks I from time to time meet up with our neighbour Daniel and share a walk around the lanes and with his little dog Pepito. While walking last weekend, it came home to me a significant difference between the French and English and that is in relation to the act of weeing. For the English, this is a difficult subject even to discuss as it is one of those embarrassing body functions that are best not even mentioned.

Not so the French and when Daniel on the walk wanted a wee he announced loudly that fact and then proceeded to undo his zip and wee on the side of the lane. He continued his conversation with. I sort of walked on a bit further and looked away. A bit later when I needed a wee I had to look for a suitable bush or tree to go off the lane and to go behind. It is a feature of France that the toilet arrangements are a bit bizarre and alien to the English. I go to French lessons at the old town hall in Mayenne and there they have newly installed toilet. I went in to go to the loo and noticed that on one side was a urinal and three cubicles. What I did not immediately realise is that this was a shared toilet.

So, using the urinal was difficult for an Englishman as at any moment women could enter the toilet and be walking immediately behind you! This happened to me some years ago, at a Chateau when I went to use a urinal and then realised this was next to the queue for the women’s toilet and there was a queue forming. So, there I was trying to have a wee with a whole load of women right behind me chatting away. Very off putting. 

French men often go outside from their homes to wee in the courtyard. Daniel does this and Mrs. Parish has almost stumbled across him on one or two occasions. She manged to realize what was happening before getting around the corner and so she could wait for a more diplomatic opportunity.

So, yesterday was my birthday and so Mrs. Parish took me to our favourite restaurant in Mayenne, La Marjolaine. We have been there often enough for the waiters to know us and we now get a hand shake and a welcome back. The food is lovely and high end cuisine and of course proper waiting at table. It was a great evening. To continue the festivities, we went to a village repas today in Brece which is about half an hour away. This time we had “Poule au pot” a traditional chicken casserole. Poule au pot has been around since the time of Henri IV, King of France in the late 16th Century who decreed that all French families should have poule au pot once a week!

Today’s repas had an “apres midi recreative” attached which means an afternoon of music. This time by a man and his accordion who played music for the locals to dance to. This is always an interesting experience as there are lots of older folk who get up to dance but in a whole load of different styles from a sort of ballroom dancing meets country dancing with a bit of line dancing mixed in. The problem is that most seem to have to concentrate on the steps and either look like zombies with no expression or they are always looking down at their feet. It is great fun though and good wholesome food with some nice wine and today a glass of homemade calva with the coffee.

Zombie dancing at Brece

Yesterday Moggie brought us his first mouse of the season. He had been out hunting in the fine weather and came bounding back to the house with the mouse in his mouth wanting to come indoors to show us properly what he had caught. We did not let him in and encouraged him to go away and eat it somewhere else. The first mouse – and so it begins for the spring and summer!

This week we hope to finish off the new internal stairs by doing a repainting job and then the builders will take away the outside steps. So, look out for a full report with photos in next week’s blog.

I think I have eaten and drunk enough for one weekend and should let my tender digestive system sort out the various concoctions of the weekend.

Bon weekend