Sport? Not by any definition.

Today I am making Paella. I’ve got chicken pieces, prawns and Chorizo sausage. It should be easy – how hard can it be? It’s only a sort of risotto with protein in, instead of my usual mushrooms. I’ll tell you how it turns out.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with my liking for flesh. I won’t lie, I love nothing more than a crispy bacon butty, a nice thick rare steak or a succulent piece of salmon with pasta. But something on Twitter recently stopped me in my tracks. It was a whale hunt, taking place in the ocean around the Faroe Islands. The first post I read, last week, was about a mother and baby pilot whale, a type of dolphin, who’d become separated from their pod and, seemingly, escaped the hunters’ nets. But not for long, as a photo showed all too graphically. Mother and baby, dead, laid out side by side on a blood-soaked beach. That day, the Twitter post informed me, 193 animals had been slaughtered. For sport. I moved on quickly to the next post and put the image out of my mind. It was nothing to do with me, after all.

But a day or two later, there it was again, further news of how the hunt was progressing and the shocking information that nearly 1000 Pilot Whales had been killed by this hunt in just two months. Nearly one thousand dolphins. I had a mental picture of them, rounded up, trailed to shore in the nets thrashing and trying to escape, to save themselves and their young. Then suffocating on the beach, before the ‘sportsmen’ – read ‘killers’ – arrived with their clubs and their lances, the surf turning red. I couldn’t ignore a thousand dead dolphins: I opened the attachment and read further details. It appears that the whale carcasses are used to provide food for farmed salmon, you know, the type I buy, once a week, in the supermarket. I don’t know why this should have affected me so much, killing whales on an industrial scale, for sport and to fatten captive salmon, to feed me and other people like me, just ordinary people, who enjoy a bit of fish once or twice a week. I didn’t know about this annual slaughter: did you?

Why did it trouble me? I thought of the dolphins I’ve seen, off the west coast of Ireland, surfacing, splashing their tails, swimming alongside the tourist boats with their calves. Maybe they were Pilot Whales, dolphins, maybe not, does it matter? They were just alive, happy, splashing along, going somewhere, wherever it is that dolphins go, but not expecting anything like a boatload of hunters – ‘sportsmen’ – to be waiting, planning their deaths on an industrial scale.

I think I’ll cook the mushrooms.

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Is it a viper..?

The saga of our visiting snake continues. This holiday we have been providing visiting opportunities for some of La France Profunde’s native wild creatures. Some wilder than others.
My innocent – bless – relatives were so fascinated with the snake referred to in an earlier post, Wimps Abroad, that they spent some considerable time – when they could have been lazing about, drinking beer and sunbathing, or even playing boules with the locals or doing a spot of gardening – crouched by a hole in our stone garden wall, poking each other and exclaiming ‘It’s moving!’ ‘I can see its head!’ ‘Watch it! It’s coming out!’ and suchlike excited commentary. It was like listening to giddy children watching a live birth.

Instead of rushing to boil water and warm towels, I poured myself a generous gin-and-tonic and left them to it. It was only later, when the photographs were pored over by us and our neighbours, that the question arose: was it, as we’d anticipated, a harmless grass-snake type of serpent, or was it a venomous viper? Apparently it’s all in the eyes, harmless snakes have harmless-looking round eyes: venomous vipers have snake-eyes vertical slits. But the photographs do not prove anything one way or another. The snake did not come out of its hidey-hole and bat its eyelashes, like Kaa in Disney’s Jungle Book. It stayed put and thereby set us all a-tremble. Would it return later and bite one of us when we weren’t looking where we put our big clumsy feet? Would it shimmy up the back wall and slide into the bedrooms at night where we lay asleep and vulnerable? Probably not. We wittered on about these issues at length. It hadn’t been all that threatening, just lurked in its hiding place, keeping its head down. So we drank some more beer and eventually forgot all about it.

Duck Weather

Today the wood is calm. We awakened to rolls of mist filling the valley, dark skies and not a hint of sun. It’s now noon and I can make out the foot of our garden and tall trees on the valley’s far side. The sun is making brave attempts to break through, though I think it may be closer to evening before the day brightens, if it does. We must watch and wait.

The canicule has departed, leaving us with torrential rain, thunder and lightning. Yesterday we drove to the airport and the journey home was similar to driving in a fishbowl: rivers of water on the autoroute and visibility no more than two metres. Luckily no one was driving in the typical French manner: right up your rear bumper. And today there is no signal to be had on any of our 5 cellphones or the laptop. Such are the joys of summer in South-West France: a feast of delights when the sun shines, dark ages gloom when the storms come. But do we care? Do we ‘eck as like! We can take whatever the weather throws at us, we’re from strong northern stock and used to the unpredictability of UK weather. Just like these two.

Wimps Abroad

Sitting out on the garden swing seat with partner, something rustled nearby. Partner exclaimed, Holy Shit! and gasped that it was a massive snake and that he had just startled it enough that it fled into our cellar. Spent next several hours trying to (a) ignore it and hope that it would go outside again, (b) make noise to scare it to go outside again, (c) with Aussie neighbour, who ‘knows about snakes‘, try to locate it where it was hiding under the staircase to see if it had buggered off. It hadn’t: its black and white zig-zag scales were clearly visible behind some breeze blocks. We gave up, left the cellar door open and went out for the evening. Much mickey-taking from friends about snakes and wimps. Typical, no respect, these Aussies.

Next morning, strong smell of fox in cellar, no sign of snake. Hmmm. Glad we don’t keep hens.

Back in the Old Country

Here we are, back home for a week. Too much traffic, too many noisy kids, too many people in the supermarket checkout queue. But still… people say ‘How’re ye?’ They talk to you, in proper sentences, they put you right if you take the wrong road, they’re not too busy to spend five minutes explaining where your old bank has relocated to.
For sure, all the millennials are glued to their mobiles, pavement cyclists still try to kill you, but they apologise, with charm, at the same time. It’s a dangerous world, the Old Country, but friendly: know what I mean?
And did I mention how feckin’ stunning the Old Place is? Just so’s you’ll know you can believe me, I’ll post a photo.

Green Shoots

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Could it be? Is Spring really on the way? The snowdrops have been decapitated in the recent winds, the daffs are nestling in their fat, papery cocoons, waiting for the whistle, and the begonia my sister sent me for Christmas is displaying new leaves. It’s quite an event when I don’t, by default, kill off a plant. I was sure it wouldn’t last, but here it is, Lent’s begun, and it’s still alive, shooting up, as they say of adolescent boys and drug addicts, though not with the same optics.

I love Spring. You can see where you are, for one thing. I could never live in Sweden, even though I worship Agnetha and Anni-Frid. And Bjorn Borg. Can you imagine anything worse, six months of near-total darkness? Or am I thinking of the Arctic circle? Could be, though the thought of cold and ice would probably drum out any worries re darkness. Never mind, here in jolly old Albion we have the proper four seasons, lucky us. Each has its own joys and wonders. Spring can be truly delightful, with crocus fields, bluebell woods and an end to your drippy nose.

Summer often results in the odd sunny day, the occasional butterfly, ladybird and even a bee or two. Not so hot that you have to leave your vest off, or anything, but pleasant, good for attempting a little weeding and washing winter’s smears off the windows. Don’t make the mistake of doing that in Spring, as it’s only too likely that winter hasn’t really gone away.

Autumn is lovely, with chestnuts and mushrooms and crunchy leaves to stamp on and the magnificent colours of tree foliage. That’s if the trees haven’t all been removed from the local avenues by the council, as ours recently were, to keep down the cost of renovating the roads. Such nonsense. Use my council tax to maintain the trees and start subsidising public transport again, you cretins. I will not start a rant about trees combatting air pollution, but I expect you know where I’m coming from.

Winter, I’m afraid, isn’t much fun. We don’t often get ‘proper’ snow, the kind you can build snowmen from, the kind that allows you to stay off school or work because all the roads are blocked by mountainous drifts. We get cold, wet weather in winter these days, with icy roads and pavements in the mornings, just to upset people who are already upset because they have to go to school and work, instead of tobogganing and throwing snowballs at the neighbours.

Still, at least they’re not in Malmo.

 

Never too late to save the planet

Okay, so he could have done it earlier. But that’s history, so let’s not revisit it. I’m just delighted, in this most awful of awful years, that Barack Obama has called a ban on further oil exploration in the Arctic. Perhaps now the polar bear will have a fighting chance, the northern ocean will not suffer devastating pollution from oil leaks and spills. Perhaps the native american people who live in the cold zone will not be harried and persecuted by Big Oil’s relentless march for ever more profit. Perhaps, I hope so.

Yes, of course I know that America is not the only nation that pursues oil, non-stop and without care for the consequences. And of course I know that there will be attempts to overturn any banning legislation, and soon, far too soon. But it’s Christmas, a difficult time of year, any year, and I’m trying to look for reasons to be positive about the future.

Thanks, Barack. May you, Michelle and the girls enjoy the holidays and move on to even greater things. Some might say you could have done more: I say, you tried, and none of us has walked in your shoes.