It has been a bit of a quiet week with intermittent weather, which has gone from cold and rainy to warm and sunny, with blustery conditions as we catch the end of storm Brian. It is difficult to take seriously a storm called Brian. Monty Python might say: “It’s not a storm, it is just a naughty wind!” It is clearly a very British storm and therefore we continentals can safely ignore it and by the time it reaches us, it will in the spirit of Brexit have faded away.

The cats, however, take these things seriously and have started to use the cat palace more frequently. Now that it is nice and tidy, it has many sleeping opportunities for a tired cat. There is a large duvet and several large baskets so they can stretch themselves out in some style. Our cats seem to make up the rules as they go along and so instead of having a nice warm bed each, they chose to occupy the smallest basket and huddle in together. It may of course be an attempt to make us feel guilty and to play a role in the upcoming contract negotiations around the amount of inside time they are entitled to this winter and how weather conditions may affect this.

It is so cold we have to huddle!

They are already deploying the crouched-up shivering on the window sill ploy and we haven’t even had a frost! We may well face strike action in the usual French style. Although the cats prefer the sit-in action as long as they can sit inside. It could be along winter.

The cats’ mood has not been helped by the fact that Mrs. Parish and I have been late home today and yesterday. We are now starting the autumn repas season and Emile and Yvette have been round with tickets for the Oisseau village repas yesterday and today the Repas for the Sapeur Pompiers (firefighters) at Gorron. 

The whole repas thing is a bit of a ritual as we have to go around to Emile’s for an aperitif before we go to the lunch. We always have Emile’s home-made pommeau. Pommeau is an alcoholic drink made with apple juice and calvados and is served as an aperitif. The repas usually start at around 12-30. However, this is France and the meals can take a long time to complete. Yesterday at the Oisseau village repas, we arrived at 12-30 and were packed into the village hall along with 250 other people. There only appeared to be about 6 elderly village committee men and women serving and they were carrying two plates at a time (Julie Walters and Victoria Wood’s “two soups” sketch came to mind). The food when it arrived was both well cooked and mountainous. The main course was chicken (about a quarter of a chicken each) with a pile of rice, mushrooms and a variety of veg.

By the time they served the customary calva with the coffee it was almost 5pm. The problem is we then have to go back to Emile’s for more coffee and calva. We arrived home about 6-30pm and the cats were distinctly miffed as their contractual feed time is 4pm!

Today was the repas in support of the Sapeur Pompiers in Gorron which is always well attended as it raises money for their welfare fund. After aperitifs (there were 24 of us all crammed into Yvette’s living room). We went to the large concert hall in Gorron where the organisation is amazing by contrast. There were around 40 or so servers who took orders and got food to the table very quickly. These were all firefighters’ families from very young upwards and they served throughout the day 780 meals of either tripe or porkchops with chips. Mrs. Parish and I politely declined the tripe! Again, after the meal we went back to Emile’s for coffee and calva.

Sapeur Pompier repas at Gorron (note mobile wine bar!)

We managed to get home at the more reasonable time of 4-45 so the cats were ready and waiting for their tea, but this time with only murmurs of disapproval. Mrs. Parish and I are now stuffed, after two huge meals and the accompanying wine and calva. Sleeping in front of the TV seems appropriate.

I am now into my second year of my French course as I make valiant attempts to learn the language. Mrs. Parish speaks French almost like a native. I am getting better but it is still a struggle. Once a week, on a Thursday afternoon, I spend a couple of hours in an advanced French course run by the Euro Mayenne organisation. The problem is that French is a bizarre language and seems to have no discernible rules.

Verbs seem to have a whole load of different tenses with odd names like the future perfect and the past subjunctive. Some of these tenses are rarely used by ordinary French people but are there lurking. Just when you have got the idea of how verbs work you find that there are a whole load of irregular verbs which work differently. OK, so what is the rule that makes some irregular. There is no rule, they are just irregular for no reason and you have to learn which is which!

When you get onto nouns you find that some are masculine and some are feminine and have le or la in front. But it almost seems a whim as to which are which.

Then you have numbers which start out quite sensibly until you get to sixty. The French seem to have lost interest at this point and so seventy becomes sixty-ten and eighty is four-twenties. So, ninety-nine becomes quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (4 twenties ten nine!!). After 5 years here, I am just about confident to follow a shop assistant as he/she tells me the price of something.

In our lessons over the past 2 weeks we have looked at words beginning with H. You then find that the French don’t pronounce an H. So, the Hopital is pronounced L’Opital. (I am always known as Gram as they can’t say Graham!) However, there are some words where which also begin with H where the H is counted but not said and so you have La Haie (the hedge). But there is apparently no difference in the words and no rule to help you decide which is which!

Still, I am making progress and I have to thank Herge’s Adventures of Tintin for helping me. The cartoons are an excellent way to read a story in French as the drawings help you understand the text and it is not necessary to keep stopping and looking up words in the dictionary. You can go back later to words you did not understand.

It is also interesting to see that in the original French the dog we know as snowy is called Milou and the Thompson twins are Dupont and Dupond. But Captain Haddock is Capitaine Haddock and not Eglefin, which is French for Haddock!! Anyway, it is quite fun reading the adventures of Tintin once again but this time in French.

Tintin books

There was just after the French Revolution, a committee established to regularise the French language and to make it sensible and simple. No-one knows what happened to the committee. Either it is still meeting somewhere in Paris in the depths of some ancient government building or they were all guillotined just as they were about to solve all the problems of French grammar! Either way my life is being made much more difficult as a result!

Time for an evening glass of wine I think. We have no room for any food but a small glass of wine will help with the digestion. Peut-etre?

Bon fin de weekend