At the start of last year, so just under a year ago now, we gathered some sloe berries (Prunus spinosa) in the hedgerows. We pierced the skins and put them into kilner jars with gin and sugar to make some sloe gin to give away as gifts at Christmas. We turned them daily for three months and then left them to mature. In due course we strained them and put them into bottles. Yesterday on Christmas eve came the day to take them to our friends. We took a bottle to our nearest neighbour and great friend Claude first.

Claude is always happy to see us and we gave him the bottle, another small gift and a Christmas card. He was in the process of preparing lunch and had some meat in a pan ready to put in the oven. We chatted for a little while and he said “oh but I haven’t given you anything to drink” and started towards the fridge. We protested we didn’t need a drink, which is usually ineffective, but he stopped and said, “Oh you must stop for lunch”. How nice to be invited and we thought a few moments and accepted thanking him very much. We said we had to deliver another gift to some friends nearer the village but would be back in 30 to 40 minutes. We departed.

We drove on to see our friends Richard and Roger who are staying in their country home for Christmas entertaining as usual. They were in the process of preparing lunch too. We were welcomed and met another person we had not seen for months. We delivered our gifts and explained how the sloe gin was made and chatted about this and that. Richard said we should stay to meet another friend who was coming for lunch and who we haven’t seen for over a year. But when he telephoned he couldn’t get through and then Richard said “but you must stay for lunch” our second invitation of the day. He then went to the door to lock it so we couldn’t escape. We have some lovely friends. We explained we had just been invited and reluctantly they let us leave eventually.

At Claude’s the table was laid for five. Monique, Claude’s wife, is unwell but would lunch with us, the fifth seat was a puzzle for a while but we soon worked out their son Sebastian was there too. He emerged and lunch began. We started with some aperitif biscuits, then paté and bread with onion preserve and fig preserve. Then we had coquilles st Jacques (scallops) prepared and served in a half shell in a bechamel sauce. And so on to the main course of roast beef, roasted vegetables and chestnuts. The chestnuts had been donated by some friends of Claude some time ago. We had met them in Claude’s kitchen by coincidence when they were delivered. They were big chestnuts from a grafted tree in their garden. Claude had frozen them and today we ate them. Tasty they were too. We had cheeses, bread and salad next and for dessert we had a patisserie Christmas log, lastly we had coffee and chocolates. We were replete.

For an impromptu lunch it was amazing and we felt so welcomed by all our friends. To be invited twice in one day was so nice and showed the real Christmas spirit in our friends. We felt lucky.

Returning home Julie checked in the letter box and found a large envelope addressed to her. A few weeks ago she had posted some frosty photographs on Facebook. A French artist with whom she had exchanged some art work previously saw the post and liked it. So much so that he had said he would paint a water colour inspired by it and let Julie see the results. Better than his word he had posted the original to Julie. More Christmas spirit on display and it set us up in the best frame of mind for the season. Best wishes to all.