After a few weeks of excitement with new animals arriving and visitors forcing us to go out for restaurant meals and Emile and Yvette tempting us to village repas we finally get back to what serves as normal here in rural France.

As I finished the blog last week I had just had a visit from Emile and Yvette to sort out arrangements for a meal to celebrate both Yvette’s and my birthday. Yvette’s is on the 10th March and mine on the 11th. We had arranged to go to Brece on 13th but for a variety of reasons this was not possible and the Yvette had come around to let me know the new arrangements for a meal on 21st March. I managed to understand that but said if we had to wait then I should give Yvette her birthday present. Mrs. Parish had left strict instructions as she had bought a plant which might not look so good in a week’s time.

So, I explained about the present and went to give it to Yvette. This however seemed to be a breach in protocol and Yvette insisted that both Mrs. Parish and I should come the next day for coffee so that the present could be given at their house with both Mrs. Parish and I in attendance. This would also allow them to give me a present. Well, Yvette is a stickler for the correct protocols which can be quite complex in France. When we have an aperitif at their house we have to wait for the nod from Yvette before chinking glasses and saying santé. Even the chinking of glasses is an important ritual and there must be no crossing of glasses/arms as everyone has to chink everyone’s glass. A crossing is a sure sign of bad luck and a stern look of disapproval from Yvette.

If you can’t reach someone to chink you have to say “a la votre” or to a friend “a la tiene”. This means to your health. Generally, I find it best to watch what Yvette does and to follow her lead.

Anyway, we went to Emile and Yvette’s house and exchanged presents properly and according to protocol. As usual I received a large bottle of Emile’s home-made calvados and equally as usual in a reused wine bottle with the label still on. This time in a cote du Rhone bottle. Now my cave is brimming over with calvados as we had a bottle for Christmas from them.

While on the subject of the cave, I have been a bit concerned as stocks have become seriously depleted after all the celebrations and visitors. Just in time our local supermarket, Super U had its March special offers on wine with 2016 Bordeaux at half price with a buy one carton (6 bottles) get one carton free offer. The wine is good quality but a little young at the moment and so will need to be kept in the cave for a year or two. Fortunately, I have some I bought last year which could well be sampled.

The special offers included some half price Buzet and some very drinkable whites and pinks so I have got enough wine for the moment and planned ahead for next year. How smart is that?!

After busy couple of weeks and many visits to local restaurants, things at La Godefrere have settled back into a routine with housework and shopping to be done. There is also lots to do to get the gite up and ready for the paying guests. We have now completed some redecoration and a complete spring clean. All that needs to be done is for the handyman, me, (at least right on one count) to fix a new towel rail in the bathroom. Then we are ready to go and we have already had a number of bookings with the first due in the middle of April and we have some in May and June and then July, August and September are pretty much booked. It is true that my brother is coming to the gite for most of September.

We are now concentrating on outside jobs and I am just over half way through re-oiling the patio table and eight chairs. This involves sanding down all the furniture and then applying some teak coloured oil. The chairs are looking good and hopefully the table will be finished by the end of the week. The grass has been cut and is looking good. It was a bit lucky as I chose the only dry day to do it and since then it has been raining and today we had some snow. In fact, the weather has got really cold again to the extent that we have had bramblings in the garden. These birds are winter visitors and only come this far south if it is really cold. This is the first time we have seen them this winter, just as spring approaches! They are very pretty birds with black and orange feathers.

With the cold weather we have had loads of birds coming to our feeding stations with containers of black sunflower seeds, mixed seeds, peanuts and fatballs. We have seen more blue tits and great tits than normal on the feeder near the house. The one in the orchard attract huge flocks of 30 or more greenfinches, plus the bramblings, a goldfinch and the occasional woodpecker. They all scatter very quickly when the sparrowhawk comes flying in.

A busy bird table

Our resident birds, the hens have asked for a slot in the blog as they have been a bit put out by the domination of feline news recently. The hens have been working hard over the winter and have helped Mrs. Parish in the garden. They have been useful in the potager where Mrs. Parish has spread a layer of compost the hens have been in and turned over and worked in the compost. They also like following Mrs. Parish around the garden and being ready to eat a juicy worm that gets dug up. I think they are now second in garden seniority and I have dropped to third place.

Mrs Parish and under gardeners

For some bizarre reason they have taken to laying eggs not in the hen house but in the woodshed. It may be something to do with the cold weather. They have also taken to making dust baths in the lean to shed next to the house. It is nice and sheltered and apart from our other animals wandering by they are undisturbed. Until I chose to use the lean to for sanding down the table and chairs (for the same reasons). I have unfortunately taken up their space and they are not happy. While I was working they were standing around grumbling and now they have formed a deputation and are standing and staring in the door to the house looking very menacing!

A deputation at the door

This week my French lessons resumed at our friend Sarah’s. The lessons are going well and we have a good laugh and lots of tea and cake. A very good learning environment! French is a very odd language and whenever you think you have understood the rules you find that there are always exceptions. One of the problems with French is that nouns are either masculine or feminine. This of course means that whenever you learn a new word, you have also to remember whether it is male or female, in other words twice the work! Who thought that was a good idea and even the French, themselves sometimes get it wrong. To make matters even worse I discover this week that there are three words in French which are masculine in the singular form but feminine when plural!!!! The words are amour (a love), delice (a delight) and orgue (a church organ) for no apparent logical reason.

It’s enough to drive you to drink. Fortunately, after my recent purchase I cam walk to drink and maybe now is a good time for a drink. I have managed a complete episode without mention of the 3 you know whos!!

A la tiene