We woke this morning to a heavy frost and temperatures of -3. I ventured out of bed and discovered that our cunning plan to keep the wood burner going overnight had failed. The large log had not kept burning. So with dressing gown wrapped around me I went to let the cats in and make Mrs. Parish a cup of tea. The cats were full of complaints about the weather and grumbled about the operation of the adverse weather clause in their contract and as soon as they had eaten their breakfasts they made a dash for the sofa with a clear message that they were not moving!

Accompanying the frost has been a heavy mist which is still here in the afternoon, giving a strange and eerie atmosphere. Having bribed the cats with treats (with our cats food wins out every time over warm sofa) to come out with me I went to look at the frosty grounds. The cows all appeared out of the mist as they came up to greet me. Their coats have become quite woolly and despite having frosty bits they did not seem to be complaining. I mentioned to the cats that there was no such thing as bad weather just inappropriate clothing and that maybe they should grow woolly coats like the cows. They did not look impressed and Moggie just ran madly round the orchard and finished off sat on a tree stump.

Just as well we are in the winter as the tractor mower has a major problem. The problem is with the steering which makes it very difficult to drive, even for an experienced tractor driver such as myself!!. I discovered the problem while cutting the grass in the paddocks a couple of months ago. I was happily driving and singing away going downhill when I turned the steering wheel nothing happened and I continued straight on heading for the fence at the bottom. A variety of emotions passed through my brain, mostly panic and managed to put on the brakes before hitting the fence. A series of complicated manoeuvres later I managed to get the tractor to turn around and limped home to the shed with it. Of course now we were firmly in man territory. A mechanical problem to solve.

I went and got our neighbour Peter and together we took off the grass cutting deck and the jacked up the tractor so we could see underneath. I say we as it was Peter who laid on his back and went under using a collection of rather large logs to ensure the jack could not collapse. We did a lot of prodding and poking followed by walking around the machine making tut tutting noises accompanied by the shaking of heads and eventually came to the conclusion that it was broken and needed a proper mechanic to fix it! Finding such a mechanic has proved difficult until we mentioned the problem to our friend Emile who knows everyone around her and he suggested an agricultural machinery shop in Gorron. As we had no way of getting the tractor there Emile brought his trailer around. This fits on the back of his car and has two bits of wood which attach and drop down to allow you to drive up onto the trailer.

Now the problem facing me was how to drive a tractor with virtually no steering up two narrow bits of wood without falling off! Very slowly was the answer but eventually we managed to get it on and off at the other end. We arrived at a very French workshop with spare bits of machinery and half fixed tractors all over the place. It looked like a scene from Dante’s Inferno! Emile assured us that they were very efficient. So now we wait for the garage to let us know if it can be mended and how much! The cats who have been sleeping on the problem are now quite confused as there is a big gap where the tractor was.

So now we look forward to Christmas and this is good news as Mrs. Parish has been baking, mince pies, sausage rolls and cheese straws. We have to allot a certain time for baking to ensure that the cats are outside as it would not be safe with three cats marauding around ready to leap up onto the worktop and steal anything they can get their teeth into. Just a couple of nights ago we had another Archie incident. Mrs. Parish was cooking dinner and the table had been laid. I noticed Archie had gone under the table and looked down to see why. Archie growled very loudly at me and I realised he had a piece of bread firmly in his jaws. He must have jumped up on the table to grab a bit of bread out of the bread basket. He moves with absolute silence for such a big cat.

This got me thinking about Schrödinger’s cat. Regular readers of the blog will know of my fascination with quantum physics (and my total failure to understand it). Anyway Schrödinger’s cat is a theoretical experiment which is supposed to prove that a cat in a closed box could be either dead or alive at the same time. (Terry Pratchett the author introduced a third state for the cat as one in which the cat may be extremely annoyed!). I decided to conduct my own experiment but not with cats. While our cats quite like boxes they would point out that their contract does not provide for being sealed in a box alive or dead! So I decide to use mince pies and placing them in a box I surmised that when I open the box they will either still be there or alternatively they could all be eaten and theoretically in both states at the same time.

Interestingly my experiments found that each time I opened the box there were fewer mince pies compared to the last time I opened the box. This went on until I noticed a state when there were no mince pies when I opened the box. I have continued the experiment with regular opening of the box working to Schrödinger’s theory that the box may once again be in a state where it is full of mince pies. I haven’t been able to get to the box today as Mrs. Parish has been baking but I am optimistic that later this afternoon there will be clear proof that Schrödinger’s theory is correct.

One of my exciting moments of the week is when the “publicite” arrives. These are advertising leaflets and magazines which the post delivers once a week. It tells you all the bargains and special offers at stores and supermarkets in the area. Christmas is a special time as you might expect but there are some real French gems. Last week we had one from the Mayenne orthopaedic shop with lots of special orthopaedic appliance gifts for Christmas. Our local cheap stores also have whole sections devoted to the tackiest Christmas crib scenes and the opportunity to build your own Bethlehem village as well as the stables with an exciting range of villagers. The best are always the “deguisements” or dressing up clothes. You can get Father Christmas (Pere Noel) outfits with special beard attachments. In order to achieve equality there are also Mother Christmas (Mere Noel) outfits. It has to be said that there is much less material in the Mere Noel outfits which could be described as a little racy!! You can even get a deguisement for your dog. The outfits for New Year’s Eve are quite amazing a run from pirate outfits to cowboy dress and very dodgy 60’s style disco clothes.

We are having three Christmases this year and this week my son Ian and his fiancée Emma are coming for three days. Followed by eldest daughter Jo for Christmas and then Amy in the New Year. Hopefully this won’t bring forth the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. One excellent feature of France at Christmas is the array of food you can get from the local butcher. Our local one is a Monsieur Rebuffe and we got his menu this week. You can of course order his Plat du Jour which is cooked on the premises for you to take straight home to eat (or reheat later). There is a fantastic range of meat that you can cook yourself and this week for Christmas no1 we have ordered wild boar (sanglier). Next week for Christmas no2 we have ordered Guinea Fowl (pintade). The other good thing is that the prices are not expensive and they are even open on Christmas Day so you if you choose go and get your Christmas dinner all ready to cook. The bakers are also open for fresh bread. The French make sure you eat well!!

So I have been doing my bit ready for the festivities by sorting my collection of whisky. Both seeing what I have and making sure it is all in one place and ready to be sampled. I was quite surprised by how many bottles I managed to find in various places around the house and in the cave. I have rediscovered some of my favourites so no doubt will have to sample some this evening.