Friday, 21 September 2012

Engines,guns and other French pastimes

French folk “live” for the weekends, they are very family orientated and there is something going on every weekend during the summer/Autumn period. It’s like us with agility,they just do “other stuff”…..who knew !!!

Richard and I took a trip to the lovely location of Vertueil (the Queen often stays at the Chateau there and it’s a truly beautiful town)
We went to see a Motorcross event organised by the local MotorX club. We didn’t know what to expect,but we should have realised that instead of a humble “club” meet, it was a full on Motorbike spectacular with riders from a multitude of clubs and regions competing in several rounds to find the winner of each age group. Girls competed against the boys too,so I was suitably impressed. It started at 8am and ran until 6pm and from what we saw, the riders were as young as 8 and rode like they had been astride a bike since birth. Whole families competed and the atmosphere around the “pits” was electric.

Ok, I have to say right here and now that my son Paul could have probably given the guys in the 18-25 category a run for their money in the 500cc class…..
Paul's CR500
but then he’s wired wrong and has a crazy arsed(his words) Honda CR 500 that has hospitalized all it’s previous owners, so I was sort of glad he didn't “rock up” on the day. He apparently was sticking to the relative safety of a F2 sidecar that day at Castle Combe……………Safe????…….Why didn't he stick to agility ??? !!!

The following weekend hailed the dawn of another French obsession “La Chasse”.

France has a very long and very keenly followed hunting season, the 1st September until the end of March. Much has been written in Ex-Pat papers about the perils and horrors of the brigades of lone hunters and group organised shoots. They go much along the lines of they are all a bunch of gung ho murderous bar-stewards who kill anything and everything at the drop of a hat, and you take your life in your hands to be out and about anywhere in the countryside, coz they shoot 1st and think afterwards!!  I have to admit I have always taken precautions when out and about. It’s no idle co-incidence that my long-distance herding (potentially deer chasing) kelpie-X "Kif" dons a Hi-Vis Florescent jacket when off our property. Similarly  I dress in bright colours take an audible whistle and a non-stop barking spaniel(thanks Phee)when approaching woods.

I can’t say I approve of hunting but I accept that, like in England, it is long standing traditional pastime that once put the meat on the tables of our ancestors. Any form of cruelty disgusts me and baiting,trapping etc is barbaric. But organised shoots where dogs are used to cover beat into the open for the gunmen …. Nope,I hate that too, but I live here at the moment and appreciate, unlike Britain, how much countryside there IS for the wildlife at large to hide in. Yes the hunting/shooting IS keenly followed, but in the 8 years I have been coming here I have not noticed any drop in the numbers of local fauna.

If my opinion as to the average Frenchman’s attitude to “game” was altered,it was when I found an injured deer on a path near the house the other day. I couldn't see whether it had been shot but assumed it had- it couldn’t stand and had a very large swelling under it’s chin. To be honest I could see there was no hope,and it was suffering. In tears I went to my neighbour Rosemary’s house and garbled in Schoolgirl French about what I had found,and how I just needed someone to end it’s distress.

Phone calls were made,and within 10 minutes I went with Rosemary’s husband Jacky,and a member of the local "Chasse" back to where I had found the unfortunate creature. I assumed they could,and would, just “dispatch” it with no care, concern or remorse, but I have to say, considering they were both huntsman, they made several phone calls to try and get someone out quickly with a lethal injection to put it to sleep humanly before finally having to admit that the quickest, and therefore the kindest way, was to do it themselves rather than continue to let it suffer.They handled the whole situation,and the deer itself,with compassion and respect unlike anything I would have ever imagined. The French may have a bad reputation but my first hand experience showed just the contrary.

It turned out that the poor deer hadn't been shot but had been hit by a train which had shattered his jaw.In this long spell of hot weather the deer go to the Charante river to drink, but this means that they have to cross a local rail line. Somehow in coming back it had been struck,this made me reflect that you often dwell on mans inhumanity in shooting wildlife but you often forget how much wildlife is also lost as “roadkill”. Man has a lot to answer for all round I guess.

Anyway on a happier subject altogether, another French passion, preserving, and the use of natures natural abundances.

Every where you seem to go in France it’s foragers heaven countless roadside bounty in the form of Plums,cherries,damsons,apples,chestnuts,walnuts,and……..wait for it……sloes, all free and readily available,growing down every woodland path and backlane. Sign me up for the W.I. folks, let the jam making begin!!

No actually,on this particular occasion I had another thing in mind. -Queue hasty text to Brother Mark,the recipe meister himself. So how DO you make sloe GIN ??. That’s more like it folks. 

Now having MADE the aforementioned Sloe Gin(some of them picked in my garden) I have only to wait until Xmas to test it out. Thanks Bro, I will be raiding your Blackcurrent and Port Jam recipe in the near future… warned.      

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