Thursday, 17 July 2008

My Inner Beast

Fat Rascal blogs from France

I suppose I'd still call myself a townie. Born in London, lived in Bath, Manchester, Leeds, Worthing, Winchester, Paris and Amiens - some bigger than others, but all towns.

Now I live in the back-of-beyond, middle-of-nowhere rural France. I love it. I'm still a bit naive, thought we had just one mouse in the house which I called John but then realised that John was ubiquitous and really putting himself about.

Last week I saw my first snake. Correction - first live snake, I've seen roadkill before. One of my plant pots was lurching so I lifted it and coiled underneath was a baby adder. I didn't scream, I didn't run away, I just looked. The snake slithered off behind the cold frame and I suppose we both felt lucky to have survived the encounter. I can't quote the source but a friend found this on the net:

"When you do see snakes in France be very careful who you tell. In my experience the best way to turn a friendly French neighbour into a killer is to mention the word "serpent". He or she (probably he) will immediately grab something dangerous-looking and insist that you lead the way to the exact spot. Once there all reptiles, most plants, and in severe cases sections of stone wall, will be destroyed and you will undergo a long and very serious lecture about the dangers of the French countryside. You will be watched with suspicion for many days, and locals will queue up to tell you their horror stories. Much better in my opinion to keep quiet!"
I kept quiet.

The most present of animal presences has been the beastie who lives in the attic. The beastie was here before us. The first time we lit the fire in the huge fireplace - called a "Cantou" in this region as inglenook doesn't do it justice - there was a very pervasive pong upstairs. The pong was the first sign, beastie made herself heard very soon. Imagine a small mammal wearing clogs, playing football and assembling Swedish flatpack furniture and dragging it into place and you will have an inkling of the sort of noise that kept us awake on many a night.

What could this beastie be, we asked ourselves. Having not read the above quote we also asked the neighbours. Everyone had an opinion, but they all agreed - it should be trapped and killed! Beastie was far wilier than the locals. Not only did she inhabit the attic, she could also get into spaces between ceiling and floorboards. The access to the attic is too small for a humane trap of the right size, you could get one up by turning it on its side, but you couldn't get one down with a trapped beastie inside. Besides, the qualified beastie trappers said the trap should be baited with raw eggs and who wants those festering away in their roof space?

The more observant will have noticed that I have referred to our beastie as a "she". The evidence of this is, each spring, we have had multiple scamperings and squeakings and have found plum stones and bird bones on the window ledges where baby beasties have dined. Every time we have the roofer come to check the "lauzes" - stone tiles - he has, allegedly, blocked all possible exits and entrances with chicken wire. This leads to a period of very disturbed sleep while beastie removes it and we find chicken wire on the terrace in the morning.

Over the years the evidence has added up and the beastie has been identified. It is a stone marten, or "fouine" in French. This is a good name, because "fouiner" also means to stick your nose in where it's not wanted and to generally snout about, a characteristic beastie and I have in common.

After seven years of "vie commune" I accepted that we were living in beastie's house, possession being 9/10ths of the law, but I had one wish - to see it!

This wish has been granted. I think mum has been ousted and one of this year's offspring has taken up residence in her place. Almost every night when I go into the little washroom which is next to the bedroom and start running the tap there is a scrabbling noise and baby beastie appears on the window ledge. We have looked into each other's eyes and both thought "so that's what you look like!"

(The nights when I don't see it are the ones I take my camera upstairs with me!)


emmat said...

I went on a nature writing course this year and I kept seeing amazing wildlife while driving around the lanes looking for mobile phone signal. I made the "determined to see nature in real life" crowd very jealous when I saw a pine marten. Woo! And from the warmth of a vw golf...

Speaking of mouse-killers, do you know david Sedaris? He has the funniest mouse-France story ever - I can't find the clip but this is another one about living in France...

The Black Finger Nail said...

Living in France with Stonemartins is nowt!

In the late Summer of 1988 I spent 10 days under the same roof as Paul Heaton and Quentin Cook (aka Norman Cook aka Fat Boy Slim) and I can report that living with HOUSEMARTINS was an absolute bloody nightmare.

Me and the farmer....

VP said...

I'm writing an occasional guide to bird spotting from bed.

Red kites - Llan Festiniog
Osprey - just outside Inverness (also a pine martine when we ventured outside to the pub)
Peregrine - Giggleswick

32 species + pipistrelle bats - our house

It's just a matter of picking the right cottages to stay in

emmat said...

Bird Spotting From Bed - surely that would be a Christmas Book chart no 1?

Ah the Housemartins. Those dances! I can't believe the things people will do when they are told by a record company. Speaking from experience.

VP said...

Emma - you're a naughty girl!

VP said...

Of course a book on bird spotting in bed would have stratospheric sales in certain quarters...

Arabella Sock said...

You're on to a winner there with bird-spotting in bed. Unfortunately the only birds I can spot from bed hear are the wretched bloody seagulls!!!

I'm rather jealous of the stone marten at least they have cute little faces and interesting poo!

emmat said...

I WASN'T JOKING VP! honestly last year's Xmas bestseller was called "bad birdwatching" or something, and then Rory Mcgrath's written a similar thing... I think Birdwatching from Bed would sell bucket loads!

Arabella Sock said...

I'm with Emma on this - if a holiday villa/cottage was advertised with "birdwatch from your bed" I'd be booking it. One of life's great joys is to sit up in bed with your quilt all tucked around you, your first coffee of the day, and watch the birdies through your binoculars. Unless of course they are the chav gulls I can see from my windows!