All in all, it has been a bit of a strange week. It has been a time of coincidences. Or, to be more precise, chance and serendipitous (my favourite word in the whole world) occurrences.
Firstly, though I do not consider myself to be too distinctive, I have never come across anyone who I would describe as my 'spitting image' (sure my three boys have a wee bit of a look of me and some say the eldest more so). Plus, the older I get, I see more of a likeness with my eldest brother John which is scary, with him being 14 years my senior.
However, I was stopped in my tracks by an image on the BBC News channel last week, when to all intents and purposes I appeared on screen. Well not actually me, but a carbon copy, facsimile, doppelgänger, whatever term you wish. I actually had to check myself in the mirror to make sure I was me and had not been supplanted unknowingly with other features and mine in turn had been passed on to the TV guy. I knew the apparition on the screen was surely not me for I was here viewing it myself, however, the likeness was alarming and I started to wonder if maybe something else had gone amiss and that perhaps I was no longer of body and instead taking part in some transcendence to another plane. That this was the process through which the deceased pass, seeing one-self in the medium of a television screen (although, in this case, it was on the iPlayer viewed through my iPad). But no, this man was talking about Covid and I think through my heightened state of alarm I heard him saying something about care homes.
That appeared to be my safe word, ripping me from my inertia and bringing me back to reality. I grabbed my phone and all fingers and thumbs in excitement attempted to take a series of photographs of the spectre on screen in front of me, which I then excitedly despatched to all and sundry proclaiming that 'this is not me'. Karen, my wife, initially laughed, quickly switching to incredulity at the similarities she was seeing. Exclaiming 'it's you but in a kind of not you way, if you get me?' I didn't but of course did not disclose that at the time. My eldest son initially refused to believe the picture was of someone else. So much so, his assertion was that I had created the image using some kind of face switching app and took some convincing that it really was not me. He even cited some of the wall hangings in the background at this person's home, saying the poor taste on display was similar to mine. Bizarre.
I also had the pleasure of being able to see my eldest son face to face (suitably distanced) when he was up in Edinburgh for a few days on assignment. I chanced upon him whilst out walking Daisy. Right on cue, Daisy peed with excitement as she does every time she sees him. It's almost as if she is making a point.
Finally, I got round to applying for my concessionary bus pass, just to round off the week with some excitement.
For 20 years, my wife and I had the pleasure of living and, occasionally, working in rural France. Our village was in the Perigord Pourpre (purple) and was surrounded by forests and farmland. All our neighbours, who ranged from consulting engineers to electricians to builders, had a strong connection with the land.
When we gathered for an early breakfast before decorating the village for Christmas or preparing the village hall for a communal meal, the chat was often on where the wild mushrooms (ceps) were hiding or how the honeybees were faring against the invading Asian hornets. Sometimes there was discussion about the hunt or chasse. And then I learned a fundamental difference between France and the UK. The rural French hunt to eat.
There are posh hunters in France with tailored black jackets, tight white pants and gleaming boots. In 20 years, I saw them once in our countryside and they came for drinks, chatter, and their horses never left the boxes. The local chasse, however, was an integral part of my male neighbours' lives. All had grown up with shotguns in the house. Many went regularly to clay pigeon shoots and most went out with their local hunt in the winter. No red coats, horses, or port. Rather, forest roads lined by hunters as colleagues beat towards them with dogs. The prey was not foxes (they were shot professionally when required). The French shot rabbits, hares, pheasants, deer, and most importantly wild boar. The boar roamed the forests freely and were not a pleasant beast to meet at night on a lonely road.
Some farmers raised boar on farms and these were quite different. Domesticated and human friendly, they would eat from your hand. Which is why my French Facebook friends have been agitated this week. A video has been trending of a group of Sunday hunters walking a forest track while an obviously domesticated boar gambols around them. It even tries to lick one hunter's face. He responds by shooting it dead.
French Sunday hunters used to have a dodgy reputation. Drink was often consumed too early and rules regarding proximity to buildings ignored. I once drove out of my barn to find a hunter poised outside the door, gun cocked. Friends shot each other as they went round opposite sides of a building. So the Federation de Chasse cracked down. Brightly coloured jackets and strict enforcement of where and when guns could be cocked. The game was cleaned up.
Now it is open season for hunters. Vegans, vegetarians and animal lovers are in full cry. The internet hills are alive with the sound of righteous outrage. Where will it end? Most likely with sadness and not much else. My friends were appalled, often outraged, by the killing. Next Sunday though (Covid permitting), the four-wheel drives and high viz jackets will be out in force. And early on, the huge log burning stove and hot plate will be lit to welcome the lunch time roast, As I found out, the rural French hunt to eat.
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