After all the visitors of the past few weeks Mrs. Parish and I looked forward to a quieter time and a chance to have the place to ourselves again. There were lots of jobs to do and of course a chance to get back to a routine. The weather promised to stay clear and hot and so things were set for an easy week but of course life here is not that simple and just as we relaxed new and dreadful foes were arising!

Firstly a walk around our hay field revealed that a new threat had literally grown up in the past couple of weeks. We discovered a Stinking Willy!! This is a plant more commonly known as Ragwort and is a major problem to people with hay.  Ragwort is poisonous to many animals and particularly to horses. It is therefore essential to keep it out of our hay field. We have been told that our hay is top quality and therefore we get a better price. The people who cut our hay keep it in small bales and sell it to local farmers and to stables so it is imperative that we get rid of any ragwort. Fortunately it flowers after the first crop of hay but we need to get rid of it so we can have a second cut. The ragwort is not actually in the field but on the edges. So I have now added the ragwort patrol onto my mole patrols in both cases keeping them under control

Stinking Willy or ragwort on the edge of our field.

Pulling the ragwort plants is fairly easy but spotting them can be tricky as they are yellow plants at a time when the fields are full of yellow plants. So there I am carefully ragwort spotting and ignoring other yellow plants They are quite nice looking plants and have even had a poem written about them! "Ragwort thou humble flower with tattered leaves, I love to see thee come and litter gold." (John Clare) Mind you reaching them can be problematic as they are often surrounded by stinging nettles and brambles. Nothing is ever easy is it! Anyway at the moment we seem to be ragwort free. And touch wood (touché bois in French) we also seem to be free of moles, thanks to the diligent mole patrol and of course to Archie Moleslayer.

The French countryside produces its fair share of foes and all the time new challenges arise. Biting insects are a problem is most places and we have a number here. I don’t usually get bitten. Clearly I have either very tough skin or I don’t taste very nice. Mrs.Parish on the other hand is always getting bitten and has bumps and lumps. I have however noticed that if I go down to the bottom of the big field on my own I get an occasional bite but than if I am accompanied by Mrs. Parish, I get no bites at all. So I conclude I need Mrs.Parish as a decoy!

We now have a wasp nest situation. To add insult they are using a mouse hole in the orchard which they have made a nest. So at the moment we have put a stick to warn off gite guests and we will need to send in the extermination squad to get rid of them once the weather conditions are suitable. We need to spray the nest late in the evening when all the wasps will be there and when there is no wind or rain. Hopefully the wasps will all be asleep and won’t feel disposed to launch a counter attack.

Talking of squads, we also have a corpse disposal squad which is called into use to rid us of dead bodies left about the place by the cats. If it is a mouse it gets eaten and the same is true of birds although they don’t usually eat the wings. If they bring back a vole or a mole, these are inedible and so the corpse is left, usually outside the front door. Although last week Moggie turned up on the window sill with a vole and wanted to come in and present us directly with the corpse. Of course the term squad is a bit misleading as it is a task that falls to me, involving a shovel and a stick to flick the corpse onto the shovel. It is then put into a body bag and deposited in the dustbin.

You would think that with all these problems with flora and fauna that at least our machines would be reliable. Some hope. The tractor mower has not been cutting very evenly for a while and this week I noticed that the cutting blades were not working properly. An initial investigation showed that of the three cutting blades only the middle one was working. This required removing the whole cutting deck from beneath the tractor to see what was wrong. This is not the easiest task as it is very heavy and awkward to undo. Once removed I needed to remove the cover and found that it was completely blocked with grass and as a consequence the cutting belt had broken.

We had a spare but it was impossible to undo some of the bolts so we had to visit the farm machinery workshop in Gorron which meant lifting and manoeuvring the deck into the back of our car. Fortunately Mrs. Parish is made of tough stuff and between us we managed to load it up. We had to find out the technical terms in French but that was OK and the mechanics soon sorted it out and within 24 hours the tractor returned to the task and the grass is once again under control.

On a more positive and corpse free note I have been practising my French with our neighbour Daniel. We quite often encounter Daniel and Giselle  out in the lane as they take Pepito for a walk or do some work on the hedge next their property. This week I met Daniel out in the lane and we had quite a chat, starting out with a discussion about the Tour de France and the day’s race which finished up a mountain in the Pyrenees. Our conversation then turned to wine. I was explaining that my sister in law Ann had filled up with loads of wine before returning to Britain. I had been advising her on what wine to buy and she had ended up with a trolley full at the supermarket. Although I promised not to dwell on this in the blog!!  (In particular the amount she was taking for the local priest) Anyway Daniel and I got into a quite intense discussion of wines and the differing wine regions and what we liked and disliked. I got some useful ideas on wines to try and was quite pleased to have had a fairly fluent discussion in French.

Ann trying to avoid responsibility for all that wine!!

So an interesting week comes to an end with some excellent news as we now have new neighbours in the field next to the gite. Xavier has now returned with a load of cattle including a socking great bull, and a load of cows some of whom have calves. It looks as if they will be with us for some little while which is good news. As is often the case with new arrivals they are a bit nervous and stand offish at the moment but I am sure we will get to know each other in the coming weeks.

Our new neighbours

So it has been a good day today. After the morning patrols, I managed to finish off the ironing (with another episode of Twin Peaks completed – only 5 to go). This afternoon Mrs. Parish and I had our own version of the Tour de France with a 12 kilometre cycle ride around the local lanes. A couple of little hills to overcome but we made it and Mrs. Parish took the final sprint on the line as we returned. Since then we have seen the real thing with some spectacular French scenery. Mrs. Parish has been making apricot jam and we now have a good supply of jars in the cave. I helped by laying down some apricot brandy and using up the cherries to make some Kirsch.

All this writing about alcohol has reminded me that it is time for a little aperitif. I must then go and use my growing wine knowledge to select a little something to drink with dinner this evening. Mrs. Parish is promising some lovely pork followed by a rather special apricot crumble. After all the cycling it may just require a little sleep in front of the TV this evening.

Bonne soiree