Typical French day

We've had a bit of a French time of it recently, lots of Peter Mayle moments, which is always good. Yesterday we went to a French neighbours house for a grand outdoor buffet with lots of good people, food and wine; today the local hunt boss came round with a man with a gun to help sort out our rabbit problem; and on Sunday I'll be perhaps the first ever English person to ride in one of the local cycling club 'events'. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The lunch at the neighbours was very nice, a traditional Alsace meal (although we live a 12 hour drive from Alsace, the daughter of the host now lives near Strasbourg) - a couple of enormous roast gammons in pastry, lots of potatoes and stuff, real country food. Went down a treat. Especially with my daughter when the home made eclairs turned up.

The aperitif - try this at home if you are courageous - was lager with a dash of a bitter-orange Alsacien liqueur. Starter was half a melon filled with port where the seeds had been removed (second time in a month I've had this so it must be acceptable). And the finale was home-dried pruneau d'Agen (prunes) which had spent a few months sitting in Eau de Vie.

I should explain that this was the first time we had been to this neighbours house. They have a big and viscious Alsation dog that prevents any kind of casual social visit - our other neighbours made the 400m journey to lunch in their car to avoid the risk of an encounter. Five years ago I met their dog in our woods when I was hunting for firewood and even now I still tremble at the memory.

Happily they had tied it up when we arrived. More curiously, they released it half way through the meal, and it wandered around the table being patted by everyone, me included. I hope it remembers me next time we have an encounter.

Meanwhile, we were a bit of a disappointment to the rabbit hunters - I think all our rabbits have been stricken with myxamatosis (sorry about the spelling) so instead of the hundreds we had a couple of months ago, now we just get the occasional sickly specimen stumbling blindly across the field. They did set off enthusiastically in search of an alternative prey but nothing seemed to turn up so they had to leave disappointed, after telling us how crows (there are too many at the moment) were more or less impossible to shoot, because they fly off at the slightest noise, so they would set up a big cage to trap them in alive, and then deal with them later. Hmmm, nice work.

Funnily enough one of them rides a bike and suggested we go out together sometime - I'll spend my whole life cycling if i'm not careful. For the moment however my concern is next Sunday, when I am going with the local 'big-shot' cycling group (usually a small group of us go together, reasonably non-competitively).

I was told it will be an 'experience a vivre' - I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing - and when I looked hesitant one of my cycling colleagues said 'I'll pick you up at 8.15 then'. Usually I can pretend not to understand his heavy local French accent, but on this occasion his accent suddenly and mysteriously disappeared, so there was no chance of a misunderstanding arising.

Don't worry, one of the others said cheerily, I always come last. Apparently all is calm for the first 60 km and then the racing starts in earnest for the last 15 km. I can hardly wait.

My last shred of hope to escape probable humiliation is that my bike has three loose spokes (how did I manage that?) and a couple of other little problems and I have today taken it to the repair shop.

They have promised it will be ready by Saturday, meaning any hope of a final practice run is out of the question, but I live in hope that something more serious turns up - a crack in the frame would be suitable - and they need to keep it until next week. I'll keep you informed.