The week started with great excitement and lots of thrills and spills as the Grand Prix came to Couesmes. When I say Grand Prix that may be a bit of an exaggeration as there was no sign of Lewis Hamilton. This was the annual dirt track Autocross which takes place in a specially designed field just outside the village. The track is carved out of the field and with banked earth making the twisting track. It is an all day event with the morning taken up with heats and then the final races after the required lunch.

We have learned that no village event in France takes place without a “repas” or village meal. The meal is always at least four courses and with an aperitif to start and coffee to finish. At the Autocross the meal was eaten in a large marquee on wooden benches and the production of food on this scale was truly amazing. There was cup for a Kir aperitif, starters of melon or pate and then either lamb slow cooked on the bone or a “grillade” consisting of a pork chop and pork sausage, both served with chips. Then there was the cheese course consisting of one wedge of Camembert and finally dessert which was a very juicy peach. After the meal someone came around serving coffee. The cooking area was full of barbecue equipment with large drums full of oil to cook the chips.

Couesmes Grand Prix

Of course we went with our friends Emile and Yvette along with several English friends and had a great time. The racing was very exciting with an array of different class of vehicles ranging from specially built buggies to small cars. The excitement was made more by the fact that after the straight start the track soon went into a very sharp turn and there was much competition to get to the corner. There were quite a few crashes and lots of vehicles broke down some with a disturbing amount of noise. I suggested that this must be training for learner drivers as the racing seemed to mirror what can be seen on French roads! At the end of each race large tractors came onto the track to pick up or tow away the wreckage. It was a bit like proper racing as there were loads of marshals with lots of different colour flags and of course a proper chequered flag for the winner.

After such weekend excitement Monday seemed a bit more mundane, especially when I remembered that the cupboard was full of ironing that needed doing. The one compensation with ironing is that I get to watch my ironing DVDs. This meant the final two episodes of Twin Peaks which were entitled “beyond life and death”. In the final episode the villain has kidnapped Agent Cooper’s girlfriend and disappeared into the black lodge, a very bad place deep in the woods. Agent Cooper must follow and then arrives bizarrely in a room with red curtains and meets lots of strange people, including the dancing dwarf and the giant. None of it makes any sense at all and the other plot lines in the series are all left wide open obviously for a further series which was never made. So I am left rather confused and frustrated. Also I now have nothing to iron to. I must seek something suitable and may be less complex as Mrs. Parish is complaining that my speed of ironing has reached dead slow while watching this.

Scene from Black lodge in Twin Peaks

You would think that picking fruit would be less complex but not when nature is so set against us. The walk at the bottom of our big field has loads of brambles, despite the fact that we have spent hours clearing them back. We have left a lot so we can pick blackberries. There the problem starts. Firstly amongst the brambles lurk lots of stinging nettles which are just waiting for us to stretch out a hand to some nice juicy berry when there hiding just behind is a stinger. Ouch! OK so mind the stingers and then you find the next problem which is the huge great thorns on the blackberry bushes. The thing about blackberries is also that the new growth shoots out huge great braches full of thorns and you have to try and avoid these to get to pick the berries. The next thing you notice is that all the biggest and juiciest berries are just out of reach. This means you have to stretch and of course not fully balanced you stand more chance of encountering the stingers or thorns. Just when you have got used to these threats the third and deadliest threat is from the wasps that are competing with you for the fruit.  

Mrs. Parish has put out a lot of wasp traps using cider to attract the wasps into a bottle with a narrow exit. So the French wasps who of course love cider (cidre not cider) go in and get drunk and then can’t get out through the narrow exit. Very clever is Mrs.Parish but she did not factor in the number of wasps. So we now have traps were the mountain of dead bodies is so high that the wasps can get in and get drunk and then climb over the dead bodies and get out. This results in drunken wasps marauding around the blackberries and thus increasing the risk of stings.

Of course there are other hazards and Mrs. Parish made the mistake of going blackberry picking in her sandals. One of the best spots to pick blackberries (there are fewer stinging nettles) is down by the ant experience. However not getting stung by nettles doesn’t stop the ants crawling onto your feet and then deciding it would be a good idea to bite. Mrs. Parish was unwise to have sandals as she is a prime target for biting insects and while merrily picking blackberries suddenly found herself being bitten. This resulted in Mrs. Parish inventing a new dance in which she was picking up her feet and jumping around at the same time trying to swat the ants with her hands. I have to say it was very funny. Mrs. Parish was not so amused.

Just when we seemed to be getting to grips with and managing these hazards a new and potentially greater threat was developing at our house. We had noticed that several times when we went to bed we were accompanied by a rather large hornet in the bedroom. These things buzz around and sound like there is a helicopter in the room. They also have very large and threatening stings. So we have to battle the hornet before getting into bed. This usually involves spraying the hornet with special wasp spray and this only serves to annoy the hornet who then flies around somewhat manically and Mrs. Parish and I retreat to the door. However the hornet is weakened and we await an opportunity to swat it. Mrs. Parish has a copy of gardeners’ world magazine ready for such events. The first assault is mistimed as Mrs. Parish jumps onto the bed to swat the hornet buzzing on the wall. The bed is not a stable platform and Mrs. Parish misses the target and manages to fall over. We retreat again and spray some more. This time the hornet falls momentarily to the floor and Mrs. Parish strikes with several blows from Monty Don! The dead body is then dispatched out of the window and we can try to sleep with one ear cocked just in case.

We discover the next day that there is a procession of hornets coming in and out of a hole in the mortar between the bricks at the top of the chimney of the house. Clearly the source of our night time visitors. We decide that it would not be a good idea to climb up the large ladder to the apex of the roof and then to risk a retaliatory attack by a whole nest of hornets! So we make a trip to the local Mayor’s office to find out where we can get someone to destroy the nest. The Mairie is the source of all knowledge in France and can seemingly answer any question. In fact when the local shop temporarily closed for maternity reasons the Mayor made sure the supplies of bread were not disturbed by selling bread from the Mairie!. They quickly fixed us up with a hornet death squad who should be arriving tomorrow.

Talking of hazards my Mother in Law arrived yesterday and has not yet stopped talking. I think it is time to get her a drink (and perhaps one or two for myself). It at least dulls the pain. (Bless her).

Kir Royale, specially for my mother in law!

Bon courage