Les temps hivernal have arrived according to Evelyne the weather lady on French TV. She was announcing with a sweep of her hand the arrival of winter and snow. Since Christmas we have had almost non-stop rain leading to flooding in Paris. Here we have had to stare gloomily out of the window at rain and more rain.

The snow arrived in most of France but we have had very little here, being right on the edge of the wintry weather. We had a bit of a dusting at the beginning of the week but it turned to rain and then some lovely cold dry days and then this morning we woke up to a bit of snow at least it covered the buildings and the ground but by this afternoon it had all gone.

The gite and courtyard in the snow

At least we have had dry and sunny days and although it has been very cold, particularly when the wind has blown we have at last been able to get out and do some work in the garden and around the grounds. Earlier in the week Mrs. Parish and I were out coppicing around the banks of the garden and orchard. This involves cutting and thinning out the trees. Some of the hawthorn will be used by Mrs. Parish as bean sticks and other jobs in the potager. Some of the branches we can re-use for kindling for our wood fire and the rest I have to take to the bottom of the hay field so that we can eventually have a bonfire to get rid of it. The chance to get out my tractor and trailer!

Moggie likes to help when we are doing this kind of job as he can run around and also race up a tree, often the one we are trying to cut down. The better weather suits the cats who have been out around the garden a lot more this week. Archie is still sulking over the lack of a big part in our movie and has taken to his sulking spot asleep in the flower pot in the courtyard.

Archie sulking

Moggie climbing

Mrs. Parish and I have also been replacing fence posts around the sheep paddock. Many have rotted where they are hammered into the ground and they become very loose and in danger of letting the sheep escape when they return with new lambs sometime in March. The fencing work involves removing the metal grilled fence from the wooden posts and then removing and replacing the posts with new ones. This requires me to hammer in the posts with a very large and heavy sledge hammer. As I am not quite tall enough I have to use a set of steps to stand on so I can bring the full force of the hammer down on the post. Of course, you have to be careful with the fact that the soil is very wet and spongy and several times the steps sank into the earth. At an angle the weight of the sledge hammer resulted in me falling off several times!

Fencing man!

In the end we replaced around 15 posts and can feel safe when the sheep arrive back that they will not be escaping.

When out in the lane leading to our hay field we noticed that the grass in the lane had been dug up in places. We went to investigate and found that we had been visited by one or more wild boars in the night and they had made a right mess of the lane and in several places around the hay field. It looked as if they had come from a plantation of trees the other side of the small stream that runs along the bottom of the hay field. Because of the bad weather we had not set up our trail camera so had no picture evidence but it seems that the turfs that had been dug up were classic evidence of boars using their snouts to dig up the earth to feed on roots.

We put up the camera to see if we could catch them in the act but it seems, thankfully, that they were passing by and we have seen no more damage for the past couple of nights.

We have however seen the evidence of the cold weather by the massive increase in the number of wild birds coming to our bird feeders in the garden. We have two feeding stations and put out peanuts, black sun flower seeds and fat balls as well as some high energy feed for birds that feed on the ground or bird table. We always get lots of greenfinch on the feeder in the orchard and sparrows at the feeding station in the courtyard. What we have seen this year are large numbers of blue and great tits at both feeding stations. The cold weather has also brought lots of fieldfares into the surrounding fields as birds are pushed southward to find food by the snow. At the end of the lane up to the main road we saw a huge flock of golden plovers arrive to feed on the stubble in the field. This is the first time we have seen them.

I have just restarted some French lessons to try to improve my knowledge and communication skills. I was attending classes in Mayenne but found that I was beginning to get ahead of myself as we studied various bits of French grammar and I was struggling a little. Now I have joined a small group of friends and every Sunday we go to a friend, Sarah who is effectively bi-lingual and plans and delivers the lessons. For me it is the chance to reinforce the basics in French and to practice conversations as well as learning the use of verbs etc.

The good thing about these lessons is that we can have a bit of fun and we get to have cups of tea and chocolate biscuits so the whole thing is much more relaxed but at the same time challenging and helping us to speak French more confidently.

On Tuesday mornings Mrs. Parish and I also go to a “café and conversation” get together with some French and English friends. It gives us the chance to speak French with real French people and for them to practice their English. We have recently changed the venue to one of the bars in Ambrieres Les Vallees. It means we can have a coffee while we talk but the really great thing is that the bar does a mean Plat du jour meal so we stay on for lunch. A great way to learn French and at the same time we can support a small local business as there are usually 6 of us who stay for lunch so that is a big boost to the bar.

It is only a small bar with a few tables for lunch but the cooking is excellent and as well as the plat du jour there is always an option of steak frites if you don’t fancy the plat. There is a dessert as well or ice cream and wine or cider with the meal. All for 11 Euros. So, we are off there tomorrow and will see our French friends Christine and Genevieve who join us every week. I had better go and prepare some vocabulary to use tomorrow. We get around quite a few different subjects and no doubt the weekend’s rugby will come up as France sadly lost and also, I expect we have all been watching the Winter Olympics.

I may have to have a glass of wine to help the brain to cope with this test. Mind you after a day of fixing fence posts and swinging that sledge hammer I am worn out and I may need something a little stronger!

Bon courage