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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Eddie the Edible Dormouse

Now, serendipity is all well and good, but do you really believe in it? I didn’t, but then it appeared, just like that, as WordPress prompt of the day. Edible. If you’re a food blogger, you might have occasional reason to use this word, but only if you think your recipes are, perhaps, a bit iffy. Iffy is another satisfying  word, the much-used English phrase, a bit iffy, meaning something not entirely wholesome or desirable. What about that one for prompt of the day? But, forgive me, I digress…

The Edible Dormouse, which sounds a viciously cruel title, came to visit us in France last week. His proper name is Glis glis, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is much less exciting then his nickname.  But, look up Edible Dormouse on Wiki and you will find him there. The first time I heard of Eddie was when he was mentioned by a friend who has lived in France for about 20 years. ‘Edible Dormice?’ I said, disbelieving, ‘are you pulling my plonker?’ At this point I should perhaps apologise for using another English colloquialism. Although I’m sure you will get the general gist. Oops! More slang and digression…

This friend explained that GG had been farmed and eaten by the ancient romans, among other early europeans. To add insult to injury, they were mainly consumed as a snack, not even as the entree.  Poor little blighters, I thought, though I must tell you, having now met an Eddie, they are not so little. About the size of a decent hamster, and looking a bit like a small squirrel. Our meeting occurred when he dropped in, literally, I think from the beams in the kitchen, onto the fridge, where SOMEONE had left a couple of dog treats.  Not a bit frightened, and definitely not camera-shy. You can see him for yourself, below. Cute little chuffer, isn’t he? Apparently, they like to settle in and make themselves at home…

 

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Don’t Lose that Holiday Feeling

You know how it is…you go on vacation, have a great time, swear that you’ll change when you come home, talk to your family, drink less, dump the junk food, exercise more, ignore the small stuff that winds you up and makes you a grumpy bear. Then you come home, and reality bites. We’ve all been there, for sure. How is it possible to hold onto that optimistic vacation mood when you’re back in the rat-race, when the morning alarm sets you in motion for the day, when you’re working for the man or, increasingly, you don’t even know who you are working for? What then, Happy-Chops, or should that be, Sad Face?

Well, I’ve been thinking about this: there must be a way to keep smiling, or at least stop living out your days behind a clenched jaw and gritted teeth. No, I don’t mean win the lottery, or inherit a fortune and an island in the Caribbean, though that would be pretty awesome. And this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Stop predicting

No-one does this more than me: I am the original prophet of doom. Even though my predictions are generally way off, I always think I ‘know’ what’s gonna happen. This is so wrong: nobody knows. So don’t do it. Just stop it, okay? Wait and see. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Think new day, every day

Okay, so yesterday was a bummer and gave you a headache. And today you’re not going to take shit from anyone. But, you know what? Today might just be the day someone smiles at you and treats you like you’re a human being. Or you could reverse this and try using the smile technique yourself. It’s amazing the difference a little friendliness and politeness makes. It’s positively contagious, and I mean positively. Try it, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. And it works, too.

Don’t give yesterday’s hurt a free ride

You know how sometimes you are so pissed off about something, you just can’t stop thinking about it? Even though you can’t change it or control it? So, what happens is, you are so intent on replaying your pain that you don’t leave any room for a little joy to sneak into your day. So, thinking that one through, how are you ever going to feel better, to feel happy again? You’re just letting the pain take you over. And that hurts, you know how much. So here’s what to do. Allow yourself one hour a day to obsess on the cause of your unhappiness, no more. Set the alarm if necessary. After 60 minutes switch the thought off. You can go there again tomorrow, and the next day, for as long as you need to. But I think what you will find, if you do this and don’t cheat, is that each time you will need less time to relive your pain. And what does that mean? You will have more time for joy. And that’s a good feeling, right?

I’ll come back to this topic again, so check in from time to time and let’s see if we can keep smiling together.

Happy Holidays!

 

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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.

Hunters’ Feast

We joined the local hunter’s club for their annual feast yesterday. For six hours we dined on fresh produce, venison, local cheese, cakes and wine in company with around 100 local hunters and their families. A delightful, friendly, fun day, with much warm hospitality and good humour.

The meal was conducted at a leisurely pace, with breaks for the odd unexpected fanfare from a little chap with a genuine French hunting horn, a surprisingly competitive tombola – after which widespread swapping of prizes took place – loud snatches of song and lots of franglais with our nearest diners. Spontaneous outbreaks of applause rippled around the large dining area: I have no idea what prompted these but we joined in merrily, clapped and cheered along, presumably to thank the organisers, the chefs, the horn-player, the singers, the waiters-on and the clearers-away. And, of course, the bold hunters for providing the huge amount of game in the first place. I am no gourmet and have not previously eaten much venison, but theirs was succulent and wine-soaked and very delicious. Even the Bambi jokes didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

 

 

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.

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.

Another day, another Bank Holiday…

Early black clouds soon clear and there we are, a patch of blue and only a few drops of rain. Perfect, no snow and hardly even windy. What more could you ask?

Soon, the picnic basket will be packed, the route checked for roadworks, the car filled up with fuel and we’ll GO! Just have a quick look at emails and the news feed… and check what time the snooker final is on to record for himself…

Nothing like a BH for getting us out into the fresh air. Yes, there will be traffic jams and too many people out there, vying for space and queueing up in all the chippies and ice-cream parlours. But that’s okay, that’s what families do on a BH, they take the kids, or the grandkids, out somewhere nice to spend some quality time together. Lovely.

Breakfast pots are done now, and I’ve fed the birds; those two new baby blackbirds are fat as cuckoos. Might just pull up a few dandelions while I’m in the garden, they’re a bugger this year. The garden is greening up nicely. Must remember to take my camera…

Why is it that people always call on a BH? I’ve been on the phone for what seems like hours. Must admit that I did make the call to my friend, to make sure that we’re still on for lunch on Wednesday – we are – and then she had to tell me all about her grandkids, they’re off camping somewhere, with their mum and her new friend. She and Stuart are a bit lost without them, they usually take them to Scarborough or Blackpool on May BH… Than my sister rang, to see if we’re still coming over to visit later this month… of course we are, I told her two weeks ago I’d booked the tickets…

Might as well have a bit of lunch now. We’ll only have a snack. He’s just said the snooker is on in an hour. I forgot to iron a few napkins for the picnic basket, only need the two now, it’ll only take two minutes…

Well, okay, we didn’t go. But we could have gone, if we’d wanted. It’s just that I’d forgotten to cook the chicken portions and the scotch eggs were past their best-before date and I didn’t fancy the cheese. He said he didn’t mind; he’d be quite happy watching the snooker. And we wouldn’t have to fight with all the traffic and the crowds in the shops and all the usual BH stress. And remember, there’s another day off at Spring Bank, if we plan it carefully we can miss that one as well.

So long, Wheels

I gave my car away this weekend. I seldom use it, don’t truly need it, since I got a bus pass, and my nephew in Ireland is caring for his dad, who’s 85 and has just had a pacemaker fitted. Sam had to borrow a wheelchair a couple weeks ago to take his dad to a GP appointment, after his lift didn’t materialise. Stressful for them both and solvable, so, farewell wheels…

Today, on the bus, I sat next to a man in a blue hat. He was counting a stash of crisp Euros and told me he was going on holiday to Cape Verde. He’d already had his shots, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, something else, I forget what. We chatted about holidays and turns out he’s been everywhere, The Middle East, Asia… Travelling keeps me going, he said, don’t drink, don’t smoke, I like to travel. He asked me where I’d been and I couldn’t compete with his list, my frequent visits to Ireland and France seeming small by comparison. But he was keen to know all about Northern Ireland, he’d never been and intended to go ‘someday’. I told him people often said that to me and that they were still worried about their personal safety. He agreed and said he thought France must be a bit scary, too, these days. I said, no, not really, it’s beautiful and the food is out of this world.

Funny what people find scary, don’t you think? And what they talk about to complete strangers on the bus.