Due to the absence of Mr and Mrs Parish, who have been taking a well-deserved break on the West coast of Brittany, I have been given the almighty but welcome responsibility of writing this week’s blog. I have been staying in the gîte at La Godefrère for a week – for free! – in exchange for looking after the cats and chickens. 

I have known the Parishes for a number of years, living as we do only 10 km or so away, in rural France. Initially, I met Graham and Kate when they became students of mine in their quest to learn French. My husband, Mark, has also carried out various works on their house and gîte over the years. 

Then, in a ‘facebook challenge’, I won the right, amongst many applicants, to be THE ONE who would stay in this lovely gîte for a week, with Graham referring to me, rather flatteringly, as “a local artist friend of ours”. 

Day one involved lots of unpacking and lugging my stuff upstairs to the main part of the gîte, which was as clean, comfortable and well-equipped as ever. I set up my ‘art corner’, my ‘work space’ and my ‘music and entertainment area’. I also went shopping to buy essential supplies for the week. The stage was set…

My first time feeding the cats was a great success! I gave the right food to the right cats at the right time. Hurrah! 

Then, during the evening, a HUGE storm rolled in. Thunder, lightning, high winds, heavy rain – the works. During a brief lull in the storm, I ushered the chickens into their hen house for the night. They were most indignant as it was earlier than their allotted time, but I managed to herd them in with much waving of arms and encouraging words: “Get in now! You will be blown away! You will be battered by hailstones and/or struck by lightning!!!”. They seemed to get my drift and eventually settled down for the night, so I was able to shut and bolt their door, knowing they were safe. Amazingly, the cats were not fazed by the wild weather and had still insisted on having their supper at 9pm. Gotta admire those cats!

One of the main reasons I snapped up the chance to stay in the gîte at La Godfrère was to have a chance to practise my photography and artwork. I was certainly spoilt for choice for subject matter. I absolutely adore birdlife and there was abundance in the beautiful Parish gardens.

Obviously, part of my role in staying at La Godefrère was to look after the cats and chickens so that Graham and Kate could take a holiday, knowing that all was being taken care of at home. I know from Graham’s previous blogs that the cats play a leading role in many of his writings, and that the chickens have also had their time in the limelight (especially during their ‘Escape from Goderitz phase). So, I thought you might like the view of an outsider on these lovely animals. 

The cats:

Petit – the youngster. A long-legged kitten/ teenager. A lovely, friendly, affectionate boy who spent much time following me around the garden, relaxing with me in the evening sunshine, and sitting on my lap. Trouble is, he’s not content to just sit on your lap. He likes to get as close as possible – this involves snuggling his head into your chest, then using his claws to work his way as far up your body as possible. Now, I like a bit of affection from a cat, but the bloody claw marks are a bit too much! I had been pre-warned by Kate and Graham about this habit, and began to recognise the look in Petit’s eyes when a “body climb” was about to take place, with his claws as grappling hooks!

Moggie – the ‘middle-aged’ cat. Moggie kept himself to himself during much of my stay. He would occasionally come over for a stroke, but mostly just did his own thing. It was lovely to see the bond that he has with Petit, however – their play-fighting/ wrestling (always started by Petit, and always finished by Moggie) was a delight to behold!

Archie – the old fella. Archie lived at La Godefrère before Kate and Graham moved in. Because of his age, he spends much of his time near the house and in the immediate garden. He wanders around, finding the sunniest spot when it is cold, and the best of the shadows when it is hot. He is friendly, and loves a stroke, rolling on his back when feeling particularly enthusiastic. He has a silent meow and a very loud purr! He moves slowly most of the time, but when it is food time, he jogs across the driveway, tail in air, like a young lad! And he LIVES for meal times. Even when the storms hit, and there was thunder, lightning, high winds and hailstones, he still remained at his “it must be time to eat” post. What a guy!

The Suffragette Hens:

The Parish’s three hens were named after the famous Pankhurst mother and daughters – Emmeline, Christabel and Sylvia. (I guess if they had had a fourth hen, she would no doubt have been named Adela!). Unfortunately, Emmeline had passed away the week before I came to stay. Even more unfortunately, Christabel became ill a day after Kate and Graham left for their holiday. Her health deteriorated rapidly and she passed away on the Tuesday. So sad, and so horrid for me to have this happen on my watch.

So, I was left with one chicken still alive and well – Sylvia. But, because of what had happened to her ‘sisters’ I was keeping a VERY close eye on her. If I saw that she had been sitting and not moving for a long period of time, I would go up and prod her (gently) just to see if she was okay. Over the next few days she got very little rest as I was so worried that every time she sat still, she was starting to sicken. 

On the Friday morning, she finally managed to convince me that she was fine. I approached the hen house making chicken-like noises. (Yes, I know that may sound weird, but Sylvia and I had spent a lot of time together by now and we chatted – often. I swear that when I ‘accidentally dropped’ some of the grain meant for the birds, her “Bo-bop” sound actually meant ‘thank you’. I always replied, “You’re welcome”. I didn’t have much human contact while staying at the gîte, as you may have guessed…). 

ANYWAY, on this morning, not only did Sylvia reply to me, she started tapping on the window of the hen house in her enthusiasm to get out. My relief was immense! As soon as I opened the door, she flew out and marched purposefully up the garden, with me hot on her heels. She went straight to the shed and sat in the ‘laying box’ of straw. She didn’t produce an egg, but I was over the moon that not only had she survived long enough to see her owners’ return on the ’morrow, but that she was perky, energetic, and happy! Phew!

Ironically, or maybe not, I had planned as my first art project at the gîte, to do a postcard size portrait of each of the chickens. I decided to go ahead with the paintings:

On my final evening at the gîte, I was treated to a beautiful sunset and was joined by Archie for a while, who lay on the table in the garden, in the exact same spot where Petit had lain on the first evening of my stay. Rather fitting I thought.

So, although my stay was stormy at times, and sad at others, it was a welcome break from my day to day life. I was able to relax and just ‘be’ for a while. Not something everyone has the good fortune to be able to do. 

Thank you Kate and Graham,

Jacqui Jessop
(The temporary blogger)