As I reported last week my good friend Alan and his son Dan duly arrived for the weekend and as well as intense battles on the backgammon board there has been rather a lot of drinking and talking. One result is that the blog has had to be delayed until Monday morning. This has the advantage of coming at it with a clear head and being able to give a full report as the Anglo French rivalry reaches fever pitch. So far in the first two legs of the Backgammon Trophy games honours are even. The first best of three games took place on Saturday and La Godefrere took the match 2-1. The return on Sunday was a tense affair with the match first going one way and then the other. In the end Anglo Al just managed to win and so we are now set for the decisive playoff match this evening to decide whether the trophy returns to England or is captured for France. I am not sure how you will cope with the tension of waiting until next week for the result.

However I can report that the La Godefrere Petanque team beat the English Martins in the inaugural petanque match played on our orchard field. The La Godefere team comprising myself and the redoubtable Mrs Parish gained a stunning victory at 10 points to 4. This was the first time our new petanque set has been used. Mrs Parish proved to be very adept at judging the distance to pitch the jack and her backspin, looping attack ball is something to behold. I am now working out how we can incorporate a proper petanque playing area with proper French gritty sand so that we can have the full game experience. I have downloaded the full rules and playing area instructions from the English Petanque Association (complying with the International Federation). So we ensure we do things properly!!

Alan kindly took us out for a meal on Saturday at a Mayenne restaurant that has a Michelin star. It was a fantastic eating experience and the food was amazing to look at as well as to eat. We all chose the lamb dish as the main course which was fantastic and which Mrs Parish has promised to aspire to when we get round to our next lamb feast.

The sheep duly arrived with us last Monday and we had two ewes and four lambs delivered by Patrick and Katherine. They have settled in well and particularly like the little sheep house where the ewes put the lambs at night and lay across the entrance for protection. I of course have now resumed my duties as resident shepherd and make the lonely journey down to the sheepfold every morning to count them, which of course is made more difficult by the lambs still being inside the house! Shepherding can be really tough. On Thursday we arrived home after our French lessons to find out that a third ewe had been delivered to our paddock. Luckily we had someone on site building us a patio who passed on the news. Otherwise it could have been a real comic event with me discovering we had not 6 but 7 sheep and wondering how on earth it could possibly have got there. Later in the day Patrick rang to explain that this was a ewe that had not had lambs this year and was left in his small garden field but had become lonely and was pining (I am not sure if sheep pine , but their equivalent). Anyway he brought it round and I have to say she looks very happy in our field. So we now have seven sheep and the possibility of a couple more if our English friend brings hers to us.

So far these sheep have not taken to hiding in various parts of the paddock to try to confuse me as did last year’s sheep. I am not sure what sort of breed these are but at the moment they appear quite docile although the ewes do make aggressive gestures to the kittens who of course have come to see what all the fuss is about. At the moment I have just done introductions with the sheep and I am sure that over the next few weeks we will a more intellectual relationship as we have our daily discussions and staring sessions.

The moles are still quiet and worryingly so. However there may be an explanation. A friend Janet has come up with a theory which deserves consideration. She has a garden in Dorset which has seen a rapid increase in mole activity. Could it be that the moles faced with the hostility of Archie’s wee have now taken advantage of free movement of labour within the European Union and become economic migrants!? I must suggest to Janet that she tries swearing at the moles in French to see if this has any impact. If all else fails she could get a cat to wee on their molehills. It would be interesting to see whether it is just Archie who is effective or whether it could apply to all cats regardless of nationality. I could of course offer to hire out Archie as an International Mole deterrent.

The moles seem to have been replaced by an increase in the number of field mice judging by the number of holes in the orchard. It is beginning to look like a piece of Swiss cheese. The cats don’t seem to quite have the technique to catch them. Yesterday we were sat in the Orchard field and Archie made a tour of the some of the mouse holes and looked down them and even poked a paw down one or two but he lacks persistence, got bored and wandered off for a sleep until tea time. Moggie lacks finesse but is an enthusiastic hunter. He races up to a hole and sticks his paw all the way up to his shoulder into the hole and then runs away. Sadly he has not yet caught anything. Minou seems to be above all this paws down holes nonsense and keeps her distance. Our cat Trigger, who went wandering was a great mouser and regularly sat for hours by a hole and nearly always brought back a mouse. It seems like we will have to rely on the owls to catch some mice. The two Little owls have been about for the past couple of weeks but I have not yet seen the barn owls.

On Saturday we finally had a letter from Nantes. It confirmed our acceptance for services from the French Health service although bizarrely it told us this was a temporary authorisation and that we would get the full authorisation in a few days. Not quite sure why they couldn’t have waited a couple of days and sent the full thing. But hey, this is Nantes and they must know what they are doing!! Next on my list of encounters with French bureaucracy is the Taxman!! May is the month to file tax returns and as well as submitting a French tax form which looks complicated I have to submit a form for last year to the British tax office and to apply to be only taxed in France. There is a double taxation agreement between England and France which means in theory you can opt to pay tax only in one Country and not pay twice. This looks like a fun challenge but I think at least this does not involve sending the forms to Nantes, but who knows there may be a bureaucratically worse place than Nantes. Scary thought but I will report back on progress.

Our first paying guests left on Monday after a week with us. The two couples from Peterborough were very nice and brought us teabags which was very kind. The French tea bags are very weak and while supermarkets sell English tea it tends to be very expensive so tea bags are valuable property and probably acts as a black-market currency amongst the English in France. The guest said they enjoyed themselves and liked the gite although on one very cold night there was a power cut which meant no heating. With true British grit they survived. They did also come in 2 very smart BMW sports cars, which looked really good in our car park. The problem was that they had soft tops and our cats do like to sit on cars. Archie is no problem as he just gets on and goes to sleep. Our guests were very laid back about the cats but I had to make sure the kittens stayed off the cars. They have a tendency to rake their claws across soft things like carpets and soft tops on cars. They also have a tendency to fall off cars and to try to use their claws to hang on. So several times I had to rush across the car park to retrieve the kittens and avoid embarrassing damage!!

All this week I have been trying to identify a mystery bird. It is about the same size as a buzzard but looks slightly different. Unfortunately it sits in a tree right at the other side of the big field with the cows in next to our gite. It is impossible to make out key identifiers with just binoculars. So I have had to rush indoors to get my spotting scope. Of course the first couple of times the bird had disappeared by the time I got back. Eventually I managed to get it in the scope and make out that it seemed lighter than a buzzard and with a darker tail but I couldn’t be sure if it was a buzzard or not. I thought, get a picture and then try to identify it. So I rush indoors to get my camera, which has a built in zoom. So I rush back and yew the bird is still there. So I then have to take off the scope from the tripod and put the camera onto the tripod. At full zoom there is too much shake and the picture is blurred unless you use a tripod. So I manage after a few attempts to get the camera on and then the next problem is to get the camera lined up and zoomed in on the bird. This is not that easy as when using the zoom, the slightest movement and you lose where you are trying to focus. But struggle on, it will be worth it in the end I say to myself. Eventually I get the zoom sorted and focussed in – on the branch where the bird was sat. So I am still not sure what it was. Buzzards come in various shades but it could have been a Honey Buzzard. I keep a lonely vigil hoping it will return and come a bit closer. All through this Mrs. Parish looks on with one of those perplexed but affectionate looks of hers and then goes back to being a Potagiste. The veg garden is looking good and promises well for later in the year.

The Martins have gone off to do some shopping and to look around Mayenne. They will be back later and then there will be the Backgammon showdown. Will they return to Britain tomorrow with the Trophy or will France be triumphant? There will be no let up at La Godefrere though as our northern friends arrive in the afternoon. The Siddall-Clarks from Pontefract in Yorkshire arrive for a week. Sandy Clark is a friend I met while doing my MA at Keele University about 18 years ago. Sandy is a large and bearded Glaswegian who has the responsibility for introducing me to Malt Whisky. I think he will like Emile’s Calvados. Kathy comes from Yorkshire and shares the same star sign as Mrs Parish. They are both Librans so we should expect indecision over the next few days. Still we are looking forward to their visit.

We also had good news this week from our youngest daughter Amy, regarding her graduation from Norwich University, College of Art in July. We are looking forward to coming over for the ceremony but at the moment are trying to sort out someone to feed the cats, lock up the chicken and count the sheep for a few days around the 2nd July. We have offered a free holiday if we can find someone. So if you fancy a trip to La Godefrere let us know.

Now time for lunch and maybe a little nap!

Bon courage