It has been a very rainy day here in France. The rain started over night and has been steadily raining all day with not much sign of respite. So an indoor day for Mrs. Parish and me. On a positive note we have had the chance to book up an overnight visit to Le Mans. In the summer they light up many of the public buildings including the very big cathedral. So in two weeks time we will be off to Le Mans to see the light show and to explore a beautiful and historic city. The rainy day has also resulted in a whole lot of ratatouille being made and put in the freezer and for me a chance to catch up on the ironing. This time accompanied by watching the Tour de France highlights and getting ready for the final stage.

The Tour de France is clear part of French life and for the three weeks of the tour all is focussed on the cycle race. It occupies the media and of course every Frenchman has an opinion. I have had quite a few discussions with my neighbour Daniel about this year’s race and we have both been impressed with the English rider, Chris Froome. It has also been amazing to watch the riders, speeding up very steep hills in the Pyrenees and the Alps. It has also been quite close this year and went down to the final race. Of course it has also brought out all the budding French cyclists and there have been many more cycle riders out and about, me included. Mind you for me a slight incline in the road is as bad as the Alps and I struggle to get to the top, rapidly going through the gears to find a low enough gear to struggle through. The problem really arises when I forget which way to turn the gear twist and put the bike into a higher gear. This is the equivalent of hitting a wall and the bike comes to a very rapid stop.

In total contrast to the speeds of the Tour, the roads around our area have been at gridlock this week as the farmers have been protesting about prices paid to farmers. Of course in France the protests are full on and the roads have been blocked by “operation escargot” or operation snail. This comes from French farmers going round motorways and ring roads filling the road and going at a snail’s pace. The ring road around Caen was totally blocked. In other protests the farmers like to dump stuff on the roads or outside public buildings. This can range from heaps of manure to one report from visitors of a mass pile of pork sausages near Le Havre; apparently pork farmers have been especially affected. 

The farmers have many grievances about farm prices and pressurising the government to come up with a deal. Somewhat bizarrely the tobacconists decided to join in the process and they dumped a whole lorry full of carrots outside the offices of the ruling Socialist Party. Quite why carrots is not clear but they are complaining about having to sell cigarettes in plain packaging and the threat of illegal imports. There is always someone protesting in France, a great example of democracy at work.

The highlight of the week has to be the visit to La Godefrere by the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons and a Dame to boot. Practically royalty. Dame Dawn Primarolo was the MP for Bristol South and a Minister in both Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s Governments. In the last Parliament she was chosen to be the Deputy Speaker in the House of Commons. She retired from Parliament before the General Election in May. Dawn is a good friend and came to visit with her partner Ian who was the Regional Secretary of UNISON and therefore my former boss as well as a good friend. So two celebrities. It was good to catch up and to get their views on the Labour Party leadership election. Dawn was keen to get Mrs. Parish’s advice on gardens and in particular on hydrangeas. Such are the priorities of retired people.

I did of course take the opportunity to persuade Dawn to undertake an official engagement while she was with us and got her to formally open the new “Palais des Chats” and she was gracious enough to do so. The cats enjoyed the ceremony as it involved them getting treats to encourage them to sit with Dawn on the steps to the new cat apartment while she did the official opening. In the end the cats were very well behaved but they did have Madam Speaker to keep them under control. Dawn thought that they were better behaved than most MPs. As befits proper celebrities they then had to leave us to go on to Nice in the south of France.

Dame Dawn Primarolo and Palais des chats 

So we are now back to what passes for normal at La Godefrere and have spent some time getting the grass cut and the garden tidied. Mrs. Parish is a great one for a potter in her garden the potager is looking really good as is the produce that is coming out! Tomatoes, French beans, and loads of fruit. This has resulted in lots of jam being made and we have jars filled with blackcurrant, apricot and gooseberry jam. Of course with that much fruit there is always the scope to make some liqueur and so far I have put apricots with brandy and some cherries with vodka. In three months time hopefully we will have apricot brandy and some kirsch. Should keep us warm for the winter!!

Wednesday was good for hoopoes (spectacular birds with lovely colour and a great big crest. In past years we have seen hoopoes but often it was a fleeting glimpse. It seemed that once a hoopoe arose the weather would get cold and they would disappear. This year the weather was warmer and I have spotted the hoopoes on a regular basis. It also seemed to me that they may be nesting in some trees across one of the fields next to the gite. This week was great as on Wednesday I saw three hoopoes in our garden and it was clear that this included a juvenile hoopoe. They stayed feeding in the garden and sat on our dead tree for some minutes and this enabled me to get some good photographs including all three together on the tree.

Hoopoes in our garden

I have also managed to get to chat to the new neighbours as the cattle in the next field have settled in and have come up to the fence for a chat. Admittedly the bull has not shown too many signs of being friendly. He tends to look down his rather large snout, with a big nose ring and frown at me. At one point we were just a few feet apart and I was thinking that there is just a small electrified wire and a bit of rusty barbed wire fence between us and he weighs between 1000 and 2000 lbs. This is not the time to upset him. So I was very polite and complimentary. I have to say he was not very friendly, maybe it was my French accent but he managed a look of severe disapproval mixed with disdain. The cows and their calves have been much friendlier and we have passed the time of day a few times now. It is good to have animals back in the field.

Rather large bull, not wanting to talk to me!

The cats have just been fed and have invoked the bad weather clause in the contract. This says that in the event of heavy rain they are allowed to stay indoors after tea for a short while, usually until we start cooking. I try to argue that we should amend the contract as they now have a Dame opened cat palace. They respond that they use the palace on a without prejudice basis and immediately threaten a demonstration and an operation escargot, with them moving very slowly around the sofa and across the computer keyboard. I concede defeat. This means I now have to share the sofa with three cats who have draped themselves all around me. Giving me just about enough room to type. Archie has now decided to give Moggie a good clean up starting with his ears. I think it will end badly.

Mrs. Parish has decided that we should have roast pork this evening as an act of solidarity with French pork farmers. I agree and decide that I will open a bottle of wine in solidarity with the wine growers. But they are not protesting, says Mrs. Parish. It is only a matter of time I reply and I want to get my solidarity in first.

En solidarite