Suddenly it is September! How did we arrive at September? Where did the summer go? Complicated and philosophical questions that demand analysis, a developing theory and definitive answers. But this is France and so we shrug our shoulders and sigh in that “Je ne sais quoi” manner. The analysis leads to the fact that I am thirsty and I develop my theory that all questions involve thinking, which is hard and therefore must ultimately lead to the consumption of wine in France. The definitive answer is that I must open a bottle of wine and give slow and lengthy consideration while savouring the wine. After a few glasses the question will fade from one’s consciousness and all will be well.

While on the subject of alcohol, which does seem to feature quite regularly in the blog, it does seem that you can substitute Scottish malt whisky for the wine in the above scenario. We have one set of English neighbours, John and Lis, who have a holiday home right next to us. Fate has determined that they also love a drink or two and John has a taste for malt whisky. So, whenever they visit we share supper and a few drinks. At one of our suppers John and I were comparing notes and discovered that between us we had quite a few different bottles of whisky from the Bowmore distillery on the Scottish island of Islay.

The Bowmore experience

Quite naturally we decided that we should organise a Bowmore whisky tasting evening and sample all our varieties. The soiree occurred last week when between us we found that we had 5 different Bowmores. They ranged from the very light coloured Bowmore Small Batch to a much darker coloured Bowmore Black Rock. The colour comes from the type of barrel that was used to store the whisky. The lighter coloured whiskies came from bourbon barrels and the darker from oak casks.

We lined up the 5 whiskies and started by pouring a small tasting measure into a glass. We then read the tasting notes on the bottle. Now these are often quite lyrical and somewhat imaginative! The Black Rock for example reads as “on the eye – dark amber; breathe in classic Bowmore smokiness infused with raisins, peppers, warm cocoa beans and burnt orange! Sip rich sherry and peat smoke followed by blackcurrant, treacle toffee and cinnamon spice. Savour beautifully balanced peat smoke and sea salt”.

More like a full-on meal than just a sip of whisky. It took us quite a while to work our way through all five. Helped by Lis who thought she could get the sense of leather sandals in one of the whiskies. We had to go back and retaste several so that we could be sure in our appreciation and understanding. We came to several conclusions. Firstly, that the writers of the notes on the bottle had clearly had too many glasses before compiling the notes. Secondly, that all the whiskies were good but our favourites were the Black Rock and the Legend a lighter but very full flavoured drink.

Our main conclusion was that there should have been six bottles to complete a full experience and that there must be a missing Bowmore. There several very expensive Bowmores that are twenty years old. We decided that these did not count and there must be another variety out there and we now have to find it and taste it. Our collective task is to solve the mystery of the sixth Bowmore.

We are now very definitely into the apple season and the apples are falling from all the trees in the orchard. Fortunately, this year we have discovered a means of relieving my back pain by following a suitably well worked solution and we have brought in itinerant labour to do the picking for us. We have two visitors from the United States who have been engaged on the basis that we provide a bed and they pick up apples. This is my brother Mike and his partner Shuriu who have flown across from Los Angeles just to help with the harvest. Although they also want to indulge in lots of eating and drinking so they have come to the right place.

The itinerant labour with overseer Archie

It has been a bit like the arrival at the last minute of the US cavalry in all those old western movies! This has freed up Mrs. Parish to start to pick the eating/cooking apples from the trees and to put them into store for the winter. So far four large boxes have disappeared into the cave. With a bit of luck, they may soon reappear as apple crumble or apple and blackberry pies!

Apple picking

Today is the day that all French children go back to school after the long summer break. In France it is a big thing and is referred to as “La rentrée scolaire” (return to school). French families are allocated a sum of money to buy books, pens, notebooks, sports kit etc ready to start school. This means that all the shops have been advertising like mad over the past few weeks with every possible thing that a school pupil could possibly need.

This being France there are even special offers for the rentrée scolaire in the wine and beer section of our local supermarket. I am not sure if these wine offers were aimed at teachers who also have to return to school or for parents to celebrate that their kids will be back at school and not lounging about the house all day.

It is also my rentrée scolaire as my weekly French lessons have started again. There are four of us who have lessons with our friend Sarah and we restarted last Saturday with a fiendish test to see how much we have learned so far. Fortunately, we were warned of the test and so I had a chance to revise. The test was hard but I think I did OK. I will find out next Friday at our next lesson.

French lessons once a week and I also go to a weekly café and conversation morning at a local bar in Ambrieres. There are English and French people who attend and it is a chance to practice speaking French and of course we finish the morning by having lunch at the bar. My French is improving and I can even understand and converse with my neighbour Daniel.

While we are on the subject of returns the hunting season starts again next week and we will once again see the hunt surround a field, with guns poised and the dogs sent in. Only for nothing to happen except for the dogs chasing the wrong animals and the huntsmen making a lot of noise. The whole summer has been the hunting season for the cats and Moggie in particular has been very successful. On some days he comes back and can’t even manage any tea as he has eaten too many mice. He just collapses and then sleeps it off. Petit often follows Moggie to learn the trade by watching. He is quite independent and sometimes disappears for most of the day and misses tea time. He usually wanders up to the house when he fancies a bite to eat! Archie is feeling his age and can’t be bothered with all this hunting lark. He prefers to try to steal extra food if he can get away with it.

I may have to defend the honour of France and compete with my brother in some games while he is here for the next three weeks. In fact, I probably need a drink to relax me ready for a game of backgammon or maybe pool. Maybe a little bit of cheese first, this is France after all.

Bon courage