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French Cricket


French Cricket

( George East )

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The long-awaited fifth book in the Mill of the Flea series, French Cricket finds our heroes returning to La Puce after a two-year absence caused by family bereavements. Arriving to find their home in a sad state of disrepair, Donella sets about mending the broken cement mixer and restoring The Mill of the Flea to its former glory. Meanwhile, George sets about renewing his membership of the Jolly Boys Club, and finding excuses for not writing his new book on the couple's latest adventures in Lower Normandy. Without telling his wife the grim news, the ever-optimistic would-be entrepreneur must also cook up some new money-making schemes to avoid having to sell La Puce. As a long summer comes to bloom, George meets a weird array of new British settlers, and the latest members of the La Puce menagerie include a ballet-dancing goose refugee from the foie gras farm down the road, a duck which is afraid of water... and a giant eel called Elvis. Obviously, nothing changes at the Mill of the Flea!


Last night I dreamed I went to Mandalay again. As I have never visited that place even once, it must have been the goat cheese rarebit we had for supper.

It is a breathless day, with not a whisper of breeze to relieve the relentless heat. Our local immortal Old Pierrot is already predicting the hottest summer since he arranged a series of celebratory barbecues for William the Conqueror, and 1067, if he remembers rightly, was a real scorcher.

Far above the clay tiles baking on the mill cottage roof, a buzzard wheels lazily through the shimmering haze, but even he seems too lethargic to swoop down in search of his midday meal. I have taken refuge in the tree-shrouded water basin we call our grotto, and am sitting cross-legged and palely naked beneath the cascade. The water is deliciously cold, even on such a roasting day. My wife says I will frighten the fish, but I have pointed out that my presence will also scare the poachers away, so she is content to let me while away the day planning the new book and thinking about thinking about finally restoring the Mill of the Flea.

What remains of our tiny 18th-century water mill was built to service the estate of the Chteau du Lude, for which the lively stream running through our land is named. Or perhaps it was the other way round.

For certain, two hundred and more years ago, and perhaps on a golden day like this, the miller would be lowering a great stone slab to divert the Lude into the water meadow and create a lake to power the wheel and bring the Mill of the Flea to life. A procession of creaking carts would be trundling down the track, laden with fat sacks of grain from any one of a thousand tree-lined fields on the Lude estate. By the stone bridge, a horse would have shed a shoe, and the cursing driver could not possibly imagine that a poor English writer digging for the miller's gold would find it centuries later. Over at the stone chute, local women would quite literally be washing their dirty linen in public, and for once the talk would not be of local affairs, but of terror and revolution and death in Paris, and the doomed dreams of liberty, fraternity and equality for all the citizens of France.

Now, the massive oaken wheel, the grinding stones and even the roof and walls of the working end of the Mill of the Flea have gone with the people and their hopes for a better life, and only the ghosts of the past remain. All that is left of the once-thriving mill is what we and our slim resources could make of it.

Downstairs in the cottage, a porch leads to one large and always cool and dark room, which has an old butler's sink, a cooker and some rickety shelving fitted in one corner. At the far end of the room, a pair of mismatching chairs and an old sofa confront the wood-burning stove that my friend the Fox of Cotentin found for us in a carelessly unlocked barn. By the door, a roughly made staircase leads to the attic. Beneath the rafters is a small bedroom, with a bathtub and toilet sitting immodestly in one corner. On the cramped landing is a sofabed for small guests, and behind the bed is a cupboard which is the home of our non-paying guests, the mouse family. Even though they contribute nothing to the household, they have considerably more room than us and like to eat the electricity cables, but my wife will not allow me to lace their regular cheese treats with poison.

Outside, the roughly triangular ten acres of woodland, fields, streams, ponds and scrub of La Puce is bordered on one side with what counts as a main road in rural Normandy, and thousands of hectares of mostly unfarmed land on the other. There is another cottage alongside the noisy road which we try to rent to deaf French tenants, but the home of our hearts has always been the remnants of le Moulin de la Puce.

What is left of the Mill of the Flea and its environs is not most people's idea of a picturesque and ancient water mill. There is no wide river and gently turning wheel, interesting machinery or characterful stone-flagged floor burnished with time. Though the walls and roof keep out most of the winter rain, it can be a dank and gloomy place on the mildest of days. But it is our home, and we like it. Though people today might not think of our accommodations as remotely comfortable, those who lived and worked at the mill all those years ago would have thought of them as almost impossibly luxurious. Our life of comparative ease here would be more than they could dream of, even had the Revolution and all that followed lived up to its promise. In our self-concerning modern world, that is surely a thought worth thinking as I sit in the bubbling cascade on this endlessly glorious day.

Customer Reviews:

Michael Bird  (Wednesday, 11 October 2006)

Rating: 5
French Cricket ` Brilliant`; Having read all georges past books I am a great fan, this newest book is every bit as good as the rest.A good laugh with some great insights into the life of a couple who are living the dream and winning.George and Donnella prove again that they have tender hearts with the people and animals who come into thier life in the mill of the flea. Buy it ! you won`t be sorry.

B J Edwards  (Sunday, 12 June 2005)
Rating: 5
More magic moments from rural France The latest commentary on George and Donella's life in rural France and the way they interact with its people and customs. Sometimes sad, frequently hilarious but always well observed and wittily recorded. Having just finished reading the book I know that by tomorrow I will be forced to start reading it again!


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