After discussing the ever changing world of computers last week we return to the quiet certainty of French rural life and consider a subject that changes very little – wood. They say that wood warms you three times. Once when cutting it from a tree, once when moving it and finally when it is burned on your log fire. This is a gross under estimate based upon my experience, reinforced this week as our tree surgeon arrived to carry out various tree works in the orchard.

Paul, the tree man, is quite amazing. He arrives in his old white van and immediately disappears into the back to get changed into his woodman clothes. It turns out he has a clothes rail in the van which he uses as a changing room. Next he gets out an astonishing array of chain saws, ranging from a small one right up to a full blooded three foot job which weighs a ton. All of which then have to be sharpened and filled with oil and fuel. His first job last week was to cut down several trees for us. We had decided to cut down two large pear trees near the bank at the side of the orchard. This would open up the bank for planting and let in much more light. It would also have the advantage of removing two fruit trees whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to drop pears on the ground for me to pick up at the same time fighting off wasps and hornets! These two trees were dropped in quick order and then cut up into 2 metre widths which will eventually go into our wood burner.

This was all very exciting as I was appointed official tree surgeon’s assistant although at this stage all I was required to do was clean up and move lots of branches and twigs. So this was the first warming from the wood! The next tree was a massive chestnut tree around 40ft high which had to come down as it was rotting away on the inside and was at risk of falling at some stage. This monster tree was a different prospect and required Paul to climb the tree, cutting off branches so that the tree was safe to fell. Now I had an important job to do as I was required to look after the rope. Watching Paul climb the tree was amazing as he climbed up using ropes and spiky things attached to his legs. At the same time he was hauling up the small chain saw to cut off the branches. My job was to make sure the ropes did not get tangled or fouled by the falling branches. So there I am in hard hat and wearing my checked lumberjack shirt, looking quite the part, until I managed to trip over a tree stump and end up rolling round on the floor not able to see anything as the hard hat had slipped over my face. Not so cool now!!

Once the branches had been cut off and safely dropped to the floor avoiding the nearby paddock fence with consummate skill we came to the cutting down of the tree. First the ropes were attached to the top of the tree and I was given the task of holding the end of the rope and at the appropriate time to pull hard to bring the tree down in the right direction. Paul with his giant chain saw made all the cuts front and back of the tree. While he is doing this I am stood at the end of the rope and thinking to myself: “how high is that tree?” and “when it falls down, am I far enough away.” If only I had paid attention during maths when we did trigonometry! When the time came to pull, I yanked hard on the rope and............ nothing happened, until Paul came back and grabbed hold of the rope and it came down perfectly and this left Paul to cut through the tree into 2 metre chunks.

At this point you realise the second opportunity to be warmed by the wood as we need now to split the wood into sizes that can be moved to the wood store. This is done with a large sledge hammer and a metal “coin” which is like a wedge which is hammered into the wood to cause it to split (in theory at least). It is at this point that I realise how tough Mrs. Parish can be and to see her swinging the sledge hammer reminds me once again that now is not a good time to upset her. I have my go with the hammer and manage to get the wedge stuck in the log! The wood must now be put into a wheel barrow and taken to the wood store. The third time it has warmed us up. As this wood is freshly cut it will need at least 12 to 18 months before it can be used to burn. Our experience so far is that we will need to move the wood again within that time period. When it is time to burn it of course we will need to split some of the logs still further (another warming) and the next warming is when we will have to move the wood into the house so it is ready to go on the fire before we finally get to reap the benefit of a wood burning fire.

It is at this point that I begin to miss gas central heating which only required moving one small switch! Mrs. Parish reminds me that we came to France to enjoy all the benefits of a French rural life. Mmmm I think I should have read the small print more carefully. I probably need to increase my calva consumption to compensate.

One of the interesting things about rural life in France is the delivery of the post. In France of course “La Poste” is still a nationalised industry and no bad thing for that. Even in rural France we get a daily delivery and even small towns all have a post office. I note in Britain the Government have sold off the Postal Service and ensured some rich people made a lot of money and I suspect the rest of the country will end up with a poorer service. Anyway, this could decline into a rant, so better get back to the point. Firstly the French have this very clever arrangement for standard mail boxes which are a standard size and have to be put outside at a specified height. This allows the postie to drive up to the mail box and without the need to move from the van put the mail into the box. The postie also has a special key that fits all boxes so they can put parcels and large letters into the box. Very effective and efficient, and shows the benefit of a Government service! Mind you the British post office has its charms. We had a letter this week sent from England. On the back was a sticker from the Post Office which said that as the sender had put a stamp of insufficient value it could not be sent airmail but would be sent via an alternative means. Now this letter was birthday card for Mrs. Parish and was franked on the 9th October. It reached us on the 19th November, 6 weeks later. This begs the question about just what the alternative delivery method was. Mrs. Parish and I concluded that it must have been a mule walking from Britain and which was sent via several European countries before arriving in France!

On Tuesday I was doing some DIY. We have a space next to the fridge which needed some shelves and some form of worktop. So I designed this structure with two shelves and a worktop to fit between the fridge and the wall. I was sat at the kitchen table working out how big this should be and what the measurements were and how much wood etc. I pronounced to Mrs. Parish “Hooray for Maths” which I think caused some ruffling of her usual calm demeanour. “That is not something I thought I would ever hear”, she muttered. The shelving is now complete and amazingly fits perfectly and is looking very smart.

Tuesday also saw the big football match in France and created great excitement. The French are great patriots and want their national teams to do well. They of course moan a lot when things don’t go according to plan. The French football team has had a difficult time recently and has not been playing well and it has been the subject of much discussion in the French press and in my weekly magazine “France Football”. They failed to qualify for the World Cup automatically as they did not win their group. This meant that in order to get to Brazil next year they needed to go through a two leg playoff against the Ukraine. In the first leg the French played badly and lost 2-0. There was a great wailing and weeping at this and speculation that France could not win the return leg in Paris on Tuesday. All national team matches are on free TV in France. So on Tuesday Mrs. Parish and I settled down to watch the game which France proceeded to win 3-0. And of course France went wild with delight and the TV companies and pizza deliverers breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently, the sales of new TVs is expected to rise dramatically in the weeks leading up to the World Cup, pizza deliverers will be working flat out and TV channels can expect massive advertising revenue now that France have qualified!!

As I have spent all day up till now in the garden either splitting logs or barrowing logs I am now feeling a wee bit tired. I think it’s time for an aperitif before sitting down to a full on Mrs. Parish roast beef washed down with a nice Cahors red wine and then I think probably falling asleep in front of the very nice log fire. It’s at times like this that I don’t miss gas central heating!

No animals were mentioned in the making of this week’s blog

A prochaine, les chats retour!!