A cold morning in Queaux. I rise early and listen to the dogs yelping from over the hill at Le Crochet. It’s the big hunt before Christmas and I tell you this. I wouldn’t want to be a member of the pheasant, deer or boar family today.
I’m not against hunting. I just don’t like it. I enjoy seeing wild animals roaming the countryside. It stirs something primitive inside of me when I see a deer on a frozen field at dawn. Like I was here 20,000 years ago, armed with a spear, dressed in furs, grunting and hungry. The deer looking up at me and saying, ‘No chance, matey. Not in a million years!’ As it bounds away leaving me thinking that there is nothing as graceful as a deer.
So I make coffee and walk out into the garden to notice that one of the tree saplings has been chewed clean through. Felled no doubt by the chomping cakehole of a deer. ‘You good for nothing, four-legged, hooven, doe-eyed bastard,’ I scream, all sentiment gone as I hope to attract the hunting dogs over yonder with my rant.
I run inside and phone the huntmaster and tell him that my land is open all weekend if he wants it. ‘Fire at will.’
He thanks me graciously and says he’ll bring up a bottle of scotch later for a toast. Within half an hour there’s a war going on outside my house. Cavalry and infantry sweeping across the fields as I watch on like a spineless general sipping sweet Sancerre from the safety of his linen white tent.
The hapless deer felled by the dozen.The black boars rounded upon and ruthlessly shot. The rabbits and hares bagged in their hundreds ready for the pot. The pheasant and partridge blown apart like balloons in a fairground shooting gallery. The Christmas platter complete.
My vision of an avian and mammalian armageddon passes and I go back inside to wonder what to do. Cleaning, I suppose, especially as half an autumn’s worth of leaves blew into the hallway yesterday evening. I also have to clear out the dung pile that the barn owls, who live in the chimneys, kindly delivery onto the kitchen fireplace at precisely two-thirty every afternoon. You can set your watch by, I swear.
More chores rack up in my head. The fireplace in the lounge, the floors that need mopping, bathrooms cleaning, shopping bought, presents wrapped, Christmas cake made, clothes washed, wood collected, leaves in the pond skimmed off…
By the time I’ve finished writing the list, it’s longer than my book, and I feel the need to suddenly move and live in one of those pods in Tokyo that are the size of yoghurt cartons. Until I see a giant egret land in the pond and realise Tokyo is not for me.
I smile and burn the list in the dusty fireplace and go for a walk in the woods to look for the boar that have eluded me for the past four months.
I know they’re here because I can see their fresh prints in the mud, smell their behinds and hear the echo of their grunts. Their presence is palpable as they watch me through thickets of bramble and fallen ash. Their lonely prehistoric eyes glaring at me. Waiting until I’m gone, so they can step out from their lair to dance and drink and sing goodwill to all men and beast. And why not? Because even if they do make it through the carnage of today. There’s always next Saturday. And the next.
I leave the dark forest and walk back to the house to charge a toast to you all. ‘Good tidings for the year ahead. Look after yourselves, stay alive and be good. Merry Christmas.’