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Protecting one's assets!
I dropped both my hands out of an instinctive attempt at modesty. Upon reflection it might have been from an instinct of fear. I’d risen early to make Memsahib a cup of tea and I was standing at the sink. The fact that I'd dropped both hands to below my waist whilst wearing nothing but my night attire, being the suit I was born in, and holding a kettle of freshly boiled water at the time might be considered by some to be a mistake. I considered it to be eye watering. The reason for such involuntary yet clearly perilous behaviour? The sudden appearance of the man on the other side of my kitchen window bearing a cheerful grin on his face and a shotgun on his shoulder.
Here in France the hunting season is in full swing. Generally it runs from September to the end of February but there are regional differences. To the casual observer le chasseur (hunter), apparently blowing anything away that moves wearing either a fur coat or plumage may seem a bit of an haphazard affair. On the contrary it is very strictly controlled* and hunters must pass both written and practical examinations to ensure they know which end to point and what to point it at before being allowed to take part.
*By L’Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage.
Nonetheless traditions and practices are quite different in France to those in say Britain. I have no strong opinions about shooting wild animals although I do expect the killing of any creature to be conducted as humanely as possible. Normally, and as indeed provided for under European legislation animals that are slaughtered for human consumption are first stunned to render them unconscious before despatch. Blowing a wing off a pheasant only to have it found ten minutes later by a dog and brought to heel still helplessly flapping only for its neck to be wrung does not qualify as humane in my view.
“Ah but it’s tradition and enshrined in civil rights.” Some might argue.
Emperor Nero mentioned something similar about Christians and Lions but I digress.
Even if it does fill the coffers of workshy Bagthorpe landed gentry.
Anyway, back to my story. Imagine my surprise when first one man walks through my property bearing a gun on his shoulder and uttering a cheerful ”Bonjour.” followed by another, then another and so on until a total of eight had passed by my kitchen window. In Britain one needs permission to enter a piece of land to shoot and on formal 'shoots' must do so only at a prior organised event. Usually paying the organiser or land owner dearly for the privilege. Here in France hunters are permitted to enter any private land during season to hunt unless the land owner has previously erected clear notices that they cannot.
There are other differences too. Whilst le permis de chasser dictates that only a certain few species of birds and animals may be shot all the rest of nature's broad spectrum of 'fur and feather' are notable by their absence. Probably shot to extinction sometime in the past then! It does seem like anything that moves and often even when it doesn’t it is considered to be ‘fair game’.
A good days shooting anywhere and either side of le Manche is generally finished off with a little celebratory tipple or six. Here in France it starts with a few stiff ones too. To keep out the cold.
Proceedings thus start with the arrival at some field headland or other of half a dozen cars full of semi-inebriated, gun toting chasseurs. Each sporting a loaded ‘over and under’ shotgun. The traditional English ‘side by side’ considered something of a quaint curiosity here. Each hunter wears customary camouflage apparel. So as to make him less visible to the prey. Curiously this object is then totally defeated by the garments then being adorned with bright 'DayGlo' pink, green or orange hats, arm bands, waistcoats and leggings. So as to make each hunter highly visible to his partner chasseurs who would otherwise almost certainly mistake him for a rabbit. I am not making this up!
Next a few small vans arrive at the scene and throw open rear doors to reveal cages full of enthusiastically yapping hunting dogs such as Braque du Bourbonnais (French Pointing Dog) or Epagneul Breton (Brittany Spaniel). The dog handlers or others begin the hunt by blowing horns. This is to warn all local inhabitants to scoop up their pet cats, dogs, children, tortoises, et cetera, along with domesticated chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, goats, donkeys and so on and get them indoors to safety with all due haste. Relative safety that is unless first thing on a Sunday morning one happens to be standing stark naked at the kitchen sink trying to make a cup of tea!
At around mid-day the hunt generally ends. Winners are the survivors and walking wounded. I kiddeth thee not. At a recent hearing of our local Tribunal de Grande Instance the Judge asked the defendant how he had managed to shoot dead his neighbour as he walked through a field of maize.
“J'ai pensé qu'il était un lapin” (“I thought he was rabbit.”) Came the reply.
“Mais vous avez soufflé sa tête au loin!” (“But you blew his head off!”) The Judge remonstrated.
“Un haut lapin” (“A tall rabbit.”) The defendant whimpered.
I’ve finished taking cover now
For the day anyway.