This week we have our first paying guests staying in the gite. For the first time, we have a French family here on holiday. They are a lovely family from Rennes with two young children aged 2 and 6. They wanted a nice gite with large grounds for the kids and a chance for some quiet but good family time. They are enjoying themselves and have had a barbecue this lunchtime despite it being a bit chilly, but at least the sun is shining!

The arrival of guests coincided with an interesting report in our local paper about two English tourists who had lost their gite. It seems that two men, Keith and Jason arrived at their holiday gite near Caen and dumped all their gear, including passports at the gite and then went out to explore Caen. They then realised that they had not brought with them the directions to the gite and could not remember how to get back to the gite. They went to the tourist information office to get help. Unfortunately, all they could remember was that the gite was within 20 kilometres of Caen and that it had a blue door!

They had no passports and no money so had to spend the night sleeping in their car, hoping that the owner of the gite would spot the newspaper report!! Now, we have had some problems with our guests including one who took the wrong road out of Caen and ended up on the main auto route to Paris, almost arriving at the capital before realising their mistake. At least they had our number and could phone. When we asked if they had the directions we had sent, they had left them at home. Did they have a map, yes but it was in the boot. They eventually arrived at midnight!

Of course, my good friend Alan miss-set his satnav and ended up nearly in Calais. We have also had people get lost and even someone who got locked in a visitor attraction as they did not read the signs with the closing time.

One of my tasks at this time of year is to visit the local tourist information offices to get brochures and leaflets to keep in the gite. Mrs. Parish and I make a day of it and manage a lunch out as well. Last Tuesday we went off to Domfront, which is a town in Normandy about 20 miles away. This has a good Tourist Information office with lots of info about Normandy. So, we got lots of stuff and had a very nice lunch in a local restaurant. In the afternoon, we headed back to Lassay Les Chateaux, a nearby town. This has a tourist information office with all the Mayenne info and lots of local stuff. 

We walked up to the office to be met by a large sign saying that the office was closed for staff holidays until 18th April! Whoever heard of a tourist information office being closed for holidays over Easter when there will be hundreds of tourists arriving to stay and wanting to know what is going on! It is a very French thing and just one of the delights that take getting used to. So, we will have to wait until after Easter to go back. At least we may get another lunch out!

In a week’s time the first round of the French Presidential elections will take place and as our local newspaper says it is “au coude a coude”. This means elbow to elbow and has the same sense as “neck and neck” in Britain. It is a fascinating election with 11 candidates. Under French election law all candidates must be given equal time on TV.

So far we have had a TV debate with all 11 candidates and then nightly interviews with each candidate on their own. There is quite a range of options with two from the extreme left Workers struggle and an anti-capitalist. On the right, there are those who want to leave Europe. For the Presidential election, there are two rounds of voting. In the first all candidates are up for a vote and unless one candidate gets 50.1% of the vote there will be a second round on 7th May when the top two candidates will fight it out head to head. 

Jean-Luc Melenchon (France Insoumise) Presidential candidate of the left

Unusually there are 4 candidates in with a chance which may reflect the uncertainties and lack of confidence in main stream politics. The Republican (Conservative) Francois Fillon should be well in the lead as we have an unpopular socialist government. But he is dour and under investigation for using public money to employ family members who it seems did very little work! Also on the right is the Front National led by Marine Le Pen (a sort of sanitised British National Party). There is newcomer Emmanuel Macron who is not part of any political party but is sort of centre left. Then there is an old communist, Jean-Luc Melenchon who is standing for a movement “France insoumise” (France unsubmissive). He is standing on a far left position. I have to say that he is very effective and a good communicator. Just shows what can be done with a left-wing agenda. Perhaps what we need to replace Jeremy Corbyn!!

These 4 are very close together Macron on 23%; Le Pen on 22% with Fillon and Melenchon on 20%. So, it is anyone’s race. In all scenarios, it seems that Le Pen cannot win the second round but is likely to get through the first round. The nightmare would be Fillon v Le Pen as both are very right wing. We are hoping that Macron and Melenchon will get through and at least we will have a left of centre President. Unfortunately, the Parti Socialiste (Labour Party) candidate, Benoit Hamon has seen his share of the vote dramatically squeezed down to 7% so he is really out of the race

The TV debate was quite lively with the Anti-Capitalist shouting down Monsieur Fillon with cries that he was a crook and if a worker at his factory did the same thing he would be sacked. With a week to go there will be more fun I’m sure. We even had a mock election in my French class. The tutor had set the room up as a French voting station and we all got to vote, with Macron and Melenchon getting the highest vote. When we return after Easter we will have our own second round.

Away from politics and tourists we have had a very tiring week. On Wednesday, we went around to our friends Ian and Sarah to help them lay a concrete floor next to their lake (Ian is the one with a cormorant problem). The plan is to have a summer house there for sitting out with a glass or two of wine. This involved a day spent filling buckets with sand and gravel to go into a cement mixer. That meant lifting heavy buckets and throwing them into the mixer. Unfortunately, I took this a little too literally and threw the bucket after the contents. As the mixer was full it took some searching to find the bucket and to extract it. After this it was thought safer to send me to do some raking. We did have a very nice lunch prepared by Sarah.

A tired and very mucky chap, ready for lunch!

Thursday and Friday saw the return of Paul, the tree man to do more work on the trees in the garden and on the big oak tree in the hay field. It is quite amazing to watch Paul work as he climbs up into very tall trees and with expert skill cuts off branches and lands them precisely where he wants. Of course, the downside is that we have to clear up afterwards. This has meant collecting logs and making log piles to weather the wood for eventual burning in our wood burner. It also means collecting small branches to take down to the bottom of the field so we can have a bonfire to get rid of it.

The tree man (no sadly not me) I was in charge of untangling ropes

So, after three days of heavy work, Mrs. Parish and I are having a gentler weekend. We have just had some drinks with the French couple and a nice chat. A good chance for me to practice my French. Then we had a traditional English roast pork dinner for the Easter weekend. We followed up by eating a delicious chocolate Easter nest prepared by our baker who is also a chocolatier. An absolute chocolate delight and all washed down by a lovely bottle of Chablis.

Lovely chocolate Easter nests

In other good news, the hens are a lot happier as the bird flu restrictions have been lifted and they can once again be let out to roam around the garden. Mind you this has led them straight into 2 French children who want to chase them. Only for a minute as maman shouts at them to stop (and they do!). The cats are also content with the warmer days but still like to be indoors where the food is!

I think it is time for an after-dinner nap as part of our relaxing weekend, or perhaps another glass of Chablis.

Bon paques