Once again, welcome to the life of a headless chicken, as I charge around trying to get things done and achieving very little. As I write, I am in limbo in one airport waiting for a delayed flight, en route to another one where the plane will have departed without me, leaving me somewhere in rain-washed southern England without a canoe. Like some game of giant aeronautical dominoes, my late arrival to my next destination will have such a subsequent knock on to my two week schedule that will probably delay my Christmas until sometime in February, as my deadlines shoot by in a wave of nausea. While I inwardly scream at the thought of the month to come, which involves rendezvous with builders, plumbers, sparkies and chippies, who will no doubt collectively take in such a sharp intake of breath it will cause a vacuum around the south Fife coast, I can only take solace in the fact that I actually intend to undertake most of the renovation work on my latest project myself to keep costs down. In fact, I must confess, the only chippy I intend to use will be the one on the seafront which has won numerous awards for its fish suppers! Anyone in the building trade will point out that it is a rather despicable practice that a potential client could pick the brains of half a dozen local tradesmen, gleaning knowledge of materials, suppliers and regulations while having no intention of hiring said professionals to do the work. My counter to this would be quite simple. a:) just about every jobbing builder in Scotland is booked up until autumn 2024, and b) their prices for doing the simplest of jobs are so extortionate that it would be cheaper to hire Heston Bloumenthal to make me a cup of tea than to get local hoods, McKay and McKay, to change a light bulb, let alone fit a kitchen. So, armed with nothing more that basic understanding of French plumbing, for the next couple of weeks I will be holed up in a draughty Scottish seaside house with no heating, in early winter, scratching my head as I try and fathom out imperial measurements and push-fit joints while the wind from the North Sea whips in under the door. That is if I manage to get there at all!
Meanwhile, Wendy is left in sunny France, clearing up after the entourage of guests and friends staying over the last few weeks, until I give her a whistle to come and join me in Scotland for the winter months. After mentioning last month that at last it had started to rain, it immediately stopped again as we suffered an extended drought for another four weeks which left our sheep so thin that the Red Cross have been considering sending in food aid. In an attempt to cut down our numbers, we have given away Rambo - the nomadic ram who mysteriously appeared in our field four years ago - who has now gone to live somewhere in mid France on a smallholding where his predecessor passed away after dining on a glut of acorns! One hopes he has a strong constitution! In his place we have dusted off Pa, now in his ninth year, to take over the nuptial reins. For a few days we did also borrow Rammy from a neighbour, but he and Pa took an instant dislike to each other and resorted to fisticuffs, leaving the poor old boy with a large dent in his head that subsequently filled with maggots. Not a nice vision, I know, but, with the aid of a little Domestos, we did manage to rid him of the wrigglies so he could continue his tupping season with some dignity. Rammy, on the other hoof, was banished back from whence he came, never to darken our door again.
Besides the sun blazing its way through the autumn, the only other interesting thing I have to report from France this month was an afternoon visit, along with one of our guests, to a palombiere. For those of you ill-informed of such an event, as were we, this is a hide-out built 35 feet up in a tree. However, be you human or pigeon, underestimate this splendid abode at your peril. As you approach it through the thick woods, you could be forgiven for not even noticing its entrance, cleverly disguised behind a curtain of camouflage netting. From there an elaborate staircase leads you upwards until you enter a room the size of a small bungalow, with fully fitted kitchen including shiny coffee machine and dishwasher, as well as an immaculately decorated bedroom with en-suite. Once inside, we were presented with a glass of something that would take the enamel off a tiger’s teeth and a welcoming from a number shabbily dressed local French farmers, all rosy-cheeked from their recent two hour lunch. Our host, who also doubles up as the local barman, had also been celebrating his birthday! Each one of them was armed… Doing my best to interpret their local dialect, my guest was quite impressed with the set up, especially when the alarm was sounded and all eyes tuned to the skies. Within seconds the hatches all around the house silently slid closed until the only light came in through a dozen slit holes, each one occupied by a twelve bore barrel. Outside, upwards of 30 tame pigeons in the surrounding trees, each tethered by one leg to a long wire, started to dance as the main man pulled on different ones in sequence like a half-drunken campanologist. The ploy worked as overhead a flock of maybe 250 wood pigeons - or they may have been racers, I am unsure - descended on our locale to visit their hopping tethered feathered friends. By then, the only sound you could hear were a dozen safety catches being quietly flicked, as each gun took a bead followed by a faint count of one, two, three… I am not sure if you have been in an enclosed space when multiple shotguns are fired simultaneously? The deafening sound can only be superseded by the triumphant cheer of a dozen overgrown kids in a tree house, when the scout returned with enough dead pigeons to keep the village in pie for another week.