It is now a quiet Sunday afternoon in rural Mayenne and we have had a light dusting of snow and it has got very cold. Yet the sun is shining and Mrs. Parish and I have returned from an hour’s bracing walk in a desperate attempt to recover from our first two Christmases and to stop the inexorable increase in stomach size. It is also a chance to reflect on yet another week where we have encountered Christmas French style and yet again had to curse the madness the cats inflict upon us!

Christmas II was a little bit quieter that the first. This time we just had our daughter Jo staying with us. We faced a grand Christmas dinner thanks once again to our wonderful butcher and baker. This time we went for a complete meal deal and ordered a starter of “Coquille de Saumon” a salmon and salad in a shell shaped container. We followed this with “Roti de Pintade au forestier”, which is a roast Guinea Fowl with a mushroom stuffing. The French method for this is for the butcher to take the meat off the bone and then to tie it with the stuffing and a bacon wrapping into a roasting joint. It means we get all the meat and no bones and it is easier to carve. The meat was superb and complimented of course by vegetables (sprouts, carrots, swede, potatoes and parsnips) from Mrs. Parish’s vegetable garden. After this we decided to dispense with the cheese course and go straight onto dessert, which was a “Buche de Noel” made by our baker. This is a chocolate log (like a Yule log) but amazingly decorated and full of chocolate. Our baker is also a chocolatier as are a lot of French bakers. This was disgustingly rich and delicious. We retired to the comfy chairs and fell asleep for the afternoon!!

Our Buche de Noel (Chocolate and more chocolate)

We had our approach to Christmas day well planned and took Jo out to see the Christmas Illuminations in the villages around here. We had told Jo of our previous trip during Christmas I, with Ian and Emma and of course Jo wanted the experience as well. The illuminations at St. Mars D’Egrenne are the highlight and the whole village is covered in lights. We had been slightly surprised the first time at seeing dinosaurs and lions, kangaroos all lit up. On this visit we walked further away from the centre of the village and found more and more displays. This time we found Elephants, Rhinoceros and camels and at the edge of the village discovered a huge lit up illumination of Noah’s Ark which for some reason was the theme for the village. The illuminations are certainly an experience and well worth a second trip.

A feature of this year’s Christmas experience has been my attempt to recreate the Schrödinger’s cat experiment but with deference to Christmas by using mince pies. So far I have been able to establish that the only time when there were no mince pies in the box is if a cat is in the box at the same time. Cats and mince pies it seems cannot both occupy the same state in time and location. I noticed that in the absence of the cat there was a steady deterioration in the numbers of mince pies for which there seemed to be no logical explanation. At the end of two weeks we have now arrived at a negative mince pie situation in which the tin is empty and no matter how many times I open the box no mince pies appear. This is clearly some strange manifestation of quantum physics that I don’t yet understand. Mrs. Parish has introduced an interesting and new theory in which she maintains that there is a direct proportional relationship between the number of mince pies introduced to the experiment and the size of my stomach! This needs more research I think.

Archie did try to sabotage the experiment by attempting to break into the tin. He was able to knock it on to the floor and was in the process of removing the lid when I managed to catch him. This was the first of my curses to the cat people. The cats are very good at intimidation to get what they want which is usually food. The problem is that they have set times when they are fed and this results in them starting to arrive and pressure you to get there dinner about an hour beforehand. Firstly they all sit at the window and plead to be let in. Complaining about the cold and how awful it is outside. So after half an hour of this you weaken and let them in. Then they forensically cover the floor looking for the smallest piece of crumb. Next they try to explore the worktops. This is forbidden and is usually net with water cannon. A water spray bottle that shoots a fine spray which the cats don’t like. After this they find places to sit which threaten something. Archie is the master of this and used to threaten ornaments by pushing them towards the edge. We have had to move all ornaments out of cat reach. Last week Archie sat on a cupboard and one by one pushed a pile of Christmas cards to the floor. He has now taken to sitting on top of the wifi/TV receiver. So it is a range of curses towards the cats that regularly comes from me. Moggie like to sit in front of the TV screen if we are watching that. Although he wasn’t quite so sure when Mama Mia was on as he didn’t seem to like Pierce Brosnan’s singing!

Moggie and mama Mia

During Christmas II we were playing a game of cards and as is traditional I have the score book and write down all the scores. Archie decided that he would intervene and laid down on top of the score book, preventing me from writing the scores. He then decided on more direct intervention and while playing rummy every time I went to pick up a card from the pack Archie would grab my arm in both sets of claws and try to bite my arm. This makes playing cards both difficult and dangerous. So in the end what always happens is that I curse the cats and then feed them after which they are either happy to sleep or they go outside.

Finally this week to our remake of the Daphne Du Maurier classic – Frenchman’s Leak. Any of you who have been to France will know that the toileting arrangements are very basic and often very public. I remember once on holiday with friends in the seaside resort of Dinard going with a female friend to the toilets and there being two entrances. One for men and one for women. We took the respective entrances and ended up in exactly the same place!! There were urinals for the men but right next to the entrance and women had to walk behind men having a wee. There are many examples of the basic nature of French toilets. In addition there is a firm tradition amongst French men of having a wee outside in the open air. In Britain if you are desperate for a wee you normally find a very large bush to hide behind and before you start you look to make sure no one else is around.

Not in France! Men seem to have a wee where they are standing. In an open field, next to their car, on the open side of a bush but not on the hidden side. Our neighbour Daniel is often having a wee in his courtyard and there have been times when Mrs. Parish has had to beat a hasty retreat from going to see Giselle as when she round the fence to approach the front door there is Daniel having a wee. Last week we went round to see our friends Emile and Yvette for a coffee. When we got there Emile was nowhere to be seen and Yvette told us he had developed a chest infection and had taken himself off to bed (so he was not at all well). Later in the week we were told that one evening Yvette had to go out to see her neighbours and so she locked Emile into the house to stop him going outside on a cold night for a wee!! This being his normal habit ignoring the inside loo to wee outside! He was apparently very annoyed at this intrusion on his rights as a Frenchman!!

So it will soon be New Year’s Eve and Mrs. Parish and I have ordered a “roti du canard a l’orange” for our meal. So we are looking forward to that and of course a crazy night of French Television and the “Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde” the best cabaret in the world. An evening of the weird and wonderful and no doubt I shall have to report back on this next week.

Bon fin d’annee
(If you have not yet seen it my 2015 La Godefrere Calendar is now available on the web download page!!)