So it has been an interesting week during which we seem to have consumed quite a lot of wine and whisky and entered into great political and philosophical debates. The weather has been decidedly unseasonal and we have had rain all week and it has been cold and windy. In many ways it was useful to have visitors as Mrs. Parish would have had a week of not being able to get out into the garden. Instead we entertained our guests. Sandy Clark a scot who I first met doing an MA at Keele University along with wife Kathy. It was Sandy, an older boy, who first led me into the drinking of malt whisky and whenever Sandy comes to stay we feel the need to tidy up any bottles that are close to running out. We seemed to do quite well this week.

Naturally we needed to drink a fair amount of French wine and luckily this week our local supermarket had a special offer on a selection of wines. The offer was based on buying two 6 bottle cases of wine and then getting another three cases for free. The equivalent of saving 100 Euros. So we both had to take advantage of this amazing offer and purchased some other good wines on special offer. Now our wine cave is pretty full and Sandy and Kathy have a car boot full of wine.

They live in Yorkshire and so of course bought some good Yorkshire cheese with them. Some cracking Wensleydale blue cheese and some Harrogate blue among about half a dozen varieties. Sandy reckoned they would go well with French wine. There is also a theory that all French wine is good with cheese and so of course we had to try this experiment and here we followed the principles of Rene Descartes (a famous French philosopher in the 17th Century) who was the subject of a rather surreal discussion while sat in a French cafe drinking coffee.

The subject arose as Sandy had brought with him a book called “Descartes Bones” which revealed the fact that when Descartes died his head was taken to Paris but not the rest of his body. This led onto a discussion while we were in a tiny French cafe in a little village run by two old French ladies. So we went through the basis of Descartes’ philosophical ideas. 

In his Discourse on the Method, he attempts to arrive at a fundamental set of principles that one can know as true without any doubt. To achieve this, he employs a method called hyperbolical/metaphysical doubt, also sometimes referred to as methodological scepticism: he rejects any ideas that can be doubted, and then re-establishes them in order to acquire a firm foundation for genuine knowledge. Initially, Descartes arrives at only a single principle: thought exists. Thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist. Most famously, this is known as cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). Therefore, Descartes concluded, if he doubted, then something or someone must be doing the doubting; therefore the very fact that he doubted proved his existence. "The simple meaning of the phrase is that if one is sceptical of existence, that is in and of itself proof that he does exist. 

Descartes concludes that he can be certain that he exists because he thinks. But in what form? He perceives his body through the use of the senses; however, these have previously been unreliable. So Descartes determines that the only indubitable knowledge is that he is a thinking thing. Thinking is what he does, and his power must come from his essence. Descartes defines "thought" as "what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it". 

To further demonstrate the limitations of these senses, Descartes considers a piece of wax; his senses inform him that it has certain characteristics, such as shape, texture, size, colour, smell, and so forth. When he brings the wax towards a flame, these characteristics change completely. However, it seems that it is still the same thing: it is still the same piece of wax, even though the data of the senses inform him that all of its characteristics are different. Therefore, in order to properly grasp the nature of the wax, he should put aside the senses. He must use his mind. Descartes concludes: “And so something that I thought I was seeing with my eyes is in fact grasped solely by the faculty of judgement which is in my mind. In this manner, Descartes proceeds to construct a system of knowledge, discarding perception as unreliable and instead admitting only deduction as a method.

We applied these principles to enjoying wine with cheese and did not rely on our perceptions but utilised the faculty of judgement and discovered that we could prove that cheese goes very well with wine! We spent the week applying these Cartesian principles to whether we enjoyed French food and Scottish whisky. In both cases the evidence was overwhelming.

This week we have also seen on a daily basis a little owl that was sat on the aerial of the gite and sometimes on the roof. We have watched the owl and listened to him in the early hours of the morning all week. On Thursday I saw two little owls and noticed that from the aerial they were flying in towards the roof. There is a hole right at the apex of the roof and it is possible that they are nesting in there. So we shall see in the next few weeks whether we have a little owl nest!

Little Owl on our gite aerial

While the owl has been making quite a noise the cats have been trying to get used to the idea that they have to share with three chickens. Moggie has been creeping up on the chickens but isn’t sure what to do. The hens make a lot of fuss and noise and occasionally peck at him to keep him in his place. The chickens have settled in really well and are laying eggs regularly. Using Descartes method we have tried boiled, scrambled, fried and hard boiled eggs and in all cases the eggs have tasted great.

Moggie stalking the hens

I’m sure that the hens are enjoying themselves and I have used my carpentry skills to construct a chicken run which we can fix to the front of the chicken house. When we are out in the garden we let them have the run of the garden having put up some gates and fences to keep them in the orchard or at least try to keep them in but I fear they are rebellious chickens and will not play by the rules. Mrs. Parish believes in nominative determinism and therefore by giving them names of bolshie women they will become bolshie. I on the other hand am of the view that all the animals domestic and wild that frequent La Godefrere have it firmly in mind to make my life as difficult as possible even those without names. I by experience assume that the hens will be difficult and therefore give them suffragette names!

The new extension to the chicken house

Of course Descartes would advise me to prove this by judgement and not by my senses. I would suggest to Rene that the evidence is overwhelming and point to the cats as clear evidence and also to the moles who have no name but continue to be difficult, not to mention the mimicking starling who has now been named as that b**tard starling. He can do a little owl so hopefully that will upset the owl who will sort the starling out!!

Well, having bought in a whole load of bargain wine Mrs. Parish reminds me we should start drinking some of it. So aperitif time.

Bonne weekend,