This week we had a respite from the autumn with the tail of hurricane Ophelia bringing bright sunny days and plenty of warmth. Yesterday Mrs. Parish reverted to her shorts and we were able to sit out in the garden until quite late. A glass of wine tastes so much better sat in a sunny garden and of course we also get a beautiful sunset.

This week, our farmer neighbour, Xavier came to cut his maize field which is at the bottom of our lane and we have a view from behind the gite of the field. He arrived with a specialised cutting machine and an army of about five huge tractors and trailers all of which came down our narrow lane and in between our barn and Giselle’s house next door. There was barely enough room to get the trailer through and as a result there was the inevitable accident.

One of the tractor/trailers hit the guttering on the corner of Giselle’s house and bent it completely out of shape. Unfortunately, the driver did not notice and it was Daniel who spotted the damage after the tractors had all gone. This resulted in a lane meeting of the occupants of the hamlet to inspect the damage and naturally to discuss it at great length. So, there was Giselle and Daniel; myself and Mrs. Parish and our close neighbours Lis and John (we also had some English friends around for the evening and they came to look as well). 

Giselle was very angry at the damage and because no-one had owned up. Xavier had also run over some of Giselle’s plants and so the air was full of loud French and English voices with lots of swearing and shrugging of shoulders and waving of arms. Then we all went and had a drink at our house to make up for the upset. Xavier was informed and duly arrived the next morning to apologise and over coffee agreed to put things right! All is calm once again.

The actual cutting of the maize is an amazing sight with the cutting machine ploughing through the maize and shooting the cut remains into the trailers pulled alongside the machine by the tractor drivers. As soon as one is full the next tractor pulls into receive the maize. And so it goes on continuously until all the maize is cut. It is all for winter cattle feed and the tractors take the maize to a farmyard where there are great mountains of maize covered eventually with black plastic sheeting held down with huge great tractor tyres.

Dance of the maize!

There is a lot of bird activity at the moment as the summer visitors all disappear and the winter stayers are all looking for feeding opportunities and roosting sites. We have quite a few starlings who roost in the gite roof and the roofs of the barns. Just below the starling roost is our dead cherry tree, preserved as a bird perching tree. Used all summer by the little owls and occasionally now by a kestrel. In the week a Great Spotted Woodpecker arrived and decided that there was some food to be had and so started pecking madly at the tree. It is a wonder that they don’t get terrible headaches! They also make a lot of noise and this clearly woke up the starlings who took exception to the woodpecker and about half a dozen starlings arrived at the tree to try to frighten off the woodpecker. However, with a beak that is pointed and tough, woodpeckers don’t scare easily and for a while there was a standoff before the woodpecker moved on.

Woodpecker and starling stand off

The chickens have been given a new job by Mrs. Parish. She has signed them up as apprentices to help with digging over the vegetable garden (potager). Having spent all spring and summer keeping them out she has now let them in to help dig over the soil. The hens are very good at raking the soil with their claws as they look for worms and insects. They seemed to be doing quite a good job. The hens are moulting their feathers at the moment so don’t seem quite so ready to fly over the gate to escape. I am keeping a close eye on them as I don’t fully trust them and this may just be lulling tactics.

Potager poules and Mrs. Parish

The potager has maintained a good level of production this year and we are still eating raspberries. There are plenty of potatoes and other veg. Mrs. Parish has also been growing pumpkins (citrouilles in French). In part this has been to provide pumpkins to an organisation we belong to “Euro Mayenne”. They are responsible for welcoming Europeans who come to settle in Mayenne. They have an annual fair at the end of the month and want loads of pumpkins to decorate the hall. So, Mrs. Parish likes a challenge and has grown half a dozen. The advantage is that we get them back after and can make pumpkin soup. A great favourite in France.

Mrs. Parish's pumpkins

Despite the late summer weather, we have been thinking about the winter which is just around the corner! I may have mentioned the “Foire aux Vins” and the fact that I now have a fully stocked wine cellar. We also have a full wood shed with logs for our wood burner and while we are reluctant to start burning quite yet we do have a good supply to last us through the winter. This week we also managed to fill our freezer with a consignment of beef from our farmer friend Olivier. We already have a supply of pork and the previous week, half a lamb. Now we have the beef, essential for a lovely “Pot au Feu”. A slow cooked beef stew and for boeuf bourguignon as well as a few steaks and joints to roast.

So, we have food, heat and wine so bring on the winter. There seem to be lots of acorns around this year and someone said that this portends a cold winter. We shall see but whatever the weather we will be warm and well provisioned.

Talking of being well provisioned our neighbours Lis and John go back to the UK tomorrow and John has visited the “Foire aux Vins” and has a car full. Luckily, he has too many bottles to take home and so he has invited us round this evening to help him tidy up his wine and whisky shelves. We are always ready to help our neighbours in their hour of need!

Bon Dimanche