Tuesday 26 December 2017

Joyeux Noël, Wren-girls and Ducklings

Messin' with the guests (1). Left to right here, Liz, Augustin,
Mum/Marion (top) and Clara
Best behaviour for the cameras obviously.
When I left you last time we were on the 'ground-rush' phase of Christmas prep, mixing stuffing, glazing ham, trussing turkey, doing last minute shops and counting down the hours to the arrival of our French guests, only one of whom we had ever met. Augustin, of course, called AB while he was here (September) but whose name I can now confidently pronounce as "August-an". That now seems like a lifetime ago.

We have enjoyed one of our best Christmasses of recent years, we all got on like a house on fire and had the break full of happy, jokey banter and chat, sometimes in full French with Liz working hard to dig up all the old vocab' and grammar of her fluent 'au-pair-in-Toulouse' days and massively impressing the Parisians (I am winging it!), sometimes with me stumbling along in 'schoolboy' mode making them laugh (The English are so charming with their mistakes) and sometimes with the visitors equally keen to practice their English. 'They' were AB, his Mum (Marion) and his younger sister, Clara. 

My most noticeable charming mistake was probably mis-remembering ' (table) knife' as 'canif' This had AB and Clara almost wetting themselves as they dreamed up movie scenes while setting out the 'family silver'. A 'canif' is in fact a gang -criminal weapon - a flick knife or a stiletto. They had visions of no-one having a knife to hand and having to whip deadly daggers out of their socks to stab the turkey.

Oeufs de Noël?
The turned out to be the perfect guests. They were dead easy to keep entertained, they loved the food and were hugely impressed by Liz's cooking and well intrigued by the idea of a Christmas pud and later the cake, neither of which they would have been familiar with. Especially they were entertained by the idea of putting the silver thru'pences in the pud and then having the diners choose left or right at the serving so that they could not cheat, gain a thru'pence and thereby become rich... well OK. Clara found the only coin, so she will be the only rich one.

We know AB, of course, and his dreams of travel. Mum (Marion) turns out to be both a former classical singer, now singing teacher, and to be involved in some way with the medical drug/substance abuse support that was Liz's line in Kent. She was quite taken with my voice and wondered if she could do anything with it as a singing teacher. Everyone is different, she says, and your voice is strong and basso-profundo. Clara has picked up 'Grandma Pierette's' DNA (she of the 'Beouf carrottes' recipe AB fed to us in September - see earlier post).

Cutting the Christmas Cake.
Grandma P worked as a nuclear physics scientist in the Marie Curie Institute (we think) and Clara has a real dream of getting in to astro-physics. It was a clear sky on the night of 25th, so we were able to show her our beautiful, unpolluted sky star-field. the "Night of a Million Stars" as we call it. Being from Paris, hazy skies and light-pollution none of them had ever seen anything like it.

AB is a mad keen Chelsea fan. Liz knitted him this CFC hat. 
Marion also fell in love with the livestock and the idea of 'farming' (she was even, at one stage, talking of selling up in Paris and moving to Ireland) and was particularly taken with the new female Guinea Fowl and their 'Buckwheat buckwheat' repetitive calling. I think that was what woke her up, not the 'Cock-a-doodle-doo' of the roosters. We ended up having quite a laugh combining the language hic-cups, the singing lessons and the 'buckwheat' calls into a tongue-in-cheek song-writing session where we tried to include all the in-jokes in the song lyric. ...there goes Elizabet'.... with a cigarette (buck wheat buck wheat)... and it was very funny (buck wheat)... when Clara found the money (buck wheat etc). Ah well. Maybe you had to be there.

Good French people arrive bearing gifts - this massive array of
good trad, strong cheeses, wine, chocs, tea and coffee
All good things must come to an end, though, and our guests were due to head back to Dublin for an explore of the James Joyce sites this morning, the 26th, a Bank Holiday of course. AB had 'found' a bus from Castlerea leaving at 09:00, the only one of the day, he said. We had a rather early alarm call to get everyone through tea and coffee and into the car by 08:30. Liz had done them a 'picnic' of left overs to save everyone having to cram a breakfast.

Possibly the best 'hang' we have ever done.
Succulent and delicious.
But the bus never arrived; AB had mis-read the Internet and found a train that only runs tomorrow. Liz saved the day, going back in on the end of a phone and found our guests a bus from Balla-D at 10:30, so a quick hurried car-shuttle got them to their transport and we did not have to creep back indoors praying that Liz had not stripped the beds. We have since heard from them that they safely made the bus. 

That ham, sliced. Our own pig, of course
That was us, then, back on our lonesome and it now 'Wren Day' or 'St Stephens's Day'.... Boxing Day in the UK. We were determined to have a relaxing time and not achieve too much. There was a bit of pottering but we were both so full of food, that we have not really looked at any food till now - half past 6 at night! The fridge and many other places are stuffed with food - most of the ham is still with us and over half of that beautiful turkey.

All organised. There are lists on the fridge. 
We did not even broach the gifts of fancy cheese, chocs or wine that the guests arrived with. Neither did we 'open' the 'Parma' style ham. There was a menu list, of course, magnetted to the fridge but we were so well fed by the main meal, that the supper just faded like Scotch mist and never got 'deployed' to the table. We all managed a single slice of cake but then collapsed back into our food coma. There was one more customer - a near neighbour - whom we did a 'Meals on Wheels' dinner for but the 'cupboard' is by no means bare yet.

One job we did have to attend to is to give poor crippled, sick-bay hen 'Doris' a good old clean up round the feet. She was badly beaten up by our November 2016 fox and has not been able to walk well since but we felt sorry for her and did not have the heart to cull her out. She has laid a few eggs and comes out of the 'bedroom' part of her run to talk to her number #1 fan, Herme the rooster or to hoover up proffered food but we daren't let her out as she would not be able for the weighty and enthusiastic attentions of a cockerel.

Duckling visible under our broody on the 26th
The only other story today is a good-news tale of our very late-season broody hen, Connie. Friends of the Blog will know that we slipped 5 duck eggs under her back in late November, 'aiming' to have her hatch them while the French visitors were here. 5 other eggs we set in an incubator scored zero. The broody went all through the 24th and 25th with no action, and off went our visitors this morning, unrewarded. The ducklings (les canetons) were not co-operating. No sooner were the French off the premises though, than Connie ejected 2-3 half shells from the nest, empty, dry and hatched out. We lifted her (grumbling) to check and can see at least one healthy duckling. The guests missed the birth by hours.

Finally a fine Irish tradition of which I have spoken previously - Wren Day, when (on the 26th) gangs of local lads in 'Mummers' costumes would parade a captive wren (or a fake one) around the village, calling at houses and extracting treats or money with 'menaces' or they might kill the wren. This all to pay for their knees-up, of course. It was a tradition which died out in the 50s but which now is being revived like 'Trick or Treat' at Hallowe'en. We were happy to be 'mugged' today by a couple of young lasses leppin' in and out of Dad's VW Golf to go door knocking, armed with penny whistles and quite some skill in playing them.

It has been a cracking Christmas, the guests were superb and would be welcome back at any time.

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