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Saturday, 2 December 2017

The French Wild Cat

(NB I have not included any graphic images in this account.)

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m completely crazy about animals. Everyone I know understands this, including my husband, Jack. An engineer by trade, he claims not to understand my passion. He prefers calm, predictable engine parts – but it’s just a claim.

Despite moaning about my constant strivings to save and nurture all manner of creatures, Jack’s always at the front of the queue when there’s any rescuing to be done. That said, our attitudes have recently been sorely challenged.

Last month we were forced to deal with a deeply disturbing situation. It was one which involved our cat, Brutus.

Earlier this year a newcomer arrived on the scene. Spotted by the dogs before me, they galloped off, chasing it up a tree. I rushed up to find a scruffy, muscle-bound cat attached to the trunk. It was mainly white with a tawny brown ear and tail. Understandably, it looked extremely grumpy.

Interlopers such as this aren’t unusual. We live in a very rural part of France, snuggled between sprawling meadows and deciduous woodland. With no neighbours close by, our usual visitors tend to be wayward hunting dogs, feral cats and lost delivery drivers. Assuming it was another feral traveller, I called the dogs off and let it be.

Surprisingly, the cat hung around. We had regular sightings of a small, spectral form, slinking, ghostlike, into the farm buildings shadows at dusk. No doubt hunting for vermin, we felt this was behaviour to encourage.

Predictably, Jack was the first to react.

“I spotted that wild cat again – it’s ever so skinny. I’ve put a bowl of Brutus’ food in the wood store to see if it’ll take any.”

“Great idea,” I replied, always happy to welcome additions to our animal family. “There won’t be any problems with Brutus, he doesn’t go out much during the day, and I’ve never seen him near the outbuildings.”

I confess to being hopelessly soppy about our moggy.  

Brutus came from a litter of six drop-dead gorgeous feral kittens, all of whom were born in the tractor barn. His siblings went to our friends. Each family was given the choice of which to take, and luckily for us, nobody wanted Brutus. He was incredibly timid, and absolutely terrified of humans, except for Jack and me.

Now he is a huge, incredibly handsome tabby. Yet despite his inordinately long legs and oversized body, he has retained his shyness. But that’s fine by us. He sleeps most of the day, ventures out on modest hunting trips, and comes home for mealtimes and cuddles – in that order. Brutus does love his food. 

The daily food offerings Jack left in the wood store were always eaten by the wild cat. Now named Whitey, Jack and the cat were beginning to develop a cautious pact.

“Whitey is letting me get really close now. He’s still hissing, but he’ll allow me in the wood store while he’s eating.”

“That’s great progress. Is it a male or female?”

“Oh come on, how would I know?”

This was a fair point, observation not being a strong point of Jack’s. At least he’d realised he wasn’t feeding Brutus.

“If it’s a male it’s pretty obvious, Jack.”

“I haven’t looked. You’re not going off on one of your animal welfare missions again are you?”

“Nooo, but we’ve got enough feral cats in the area as is it. If it’s going to live here it needs to be neutered. We’ll have to trap it.”

Huh, good luck with that!”

Over the following months Jack and I shared feeding duties. Very quickly I discovered we were dealing with a feisty young man. Whilst Jack was efficient but perfunctory, I spent 20 minutes or so most days trying to gain his confidence, but he was no pushover. It took patience, time, and a lot of hissing from our feline.

Eventually we saw some positive changes. Whitey, overcome by the alluring whiffs of Whiskas, would tolerate my presence so long as I sat perfectly still. One quick movement, though, and he’d be off like a shot. It was then that I realised he had a damaged ear.

Spring morphed into summer, bringing with it our usual high temperatures. Each day I was getting closer, and Jack, on his rounds, was too. Alerted by our, “Supper time!” calls, Whitey would silently appear and approach the bowl cautiously, making sure he had an emergency getaway. Although I couldn’t touch him, I could clearly see his ear. It was horribly burned and scabby.

Closer and closer I got until I could sit right next to his bowl, fingers touching the rim. At first, he stared, hissed, stopped, backed off. Finally, the penny dropped. One day, realising I was simply an inconvenience, he began to eat. I was thrilled.

As the weeks wore on he became more confident. Never tame, never happy with our presence, but his need for food won. With the help of decent nourishment, laced with a regular wormer, his scruffy body gradually transformed. His coat shone lustrously and his tummy filled, but that ear was still poorly.

A few weeks later I decided to try and handle him. I reckoned there could be three outcomes: he’d run a mile, tolerate me, or shred my hand. Those spirited golden eyes suggested the third. I waited until he was tucking into his nosh then, ever so gently, swept my hand across his whiskers.

A fourth outcome – I hadn’t expected this one!

Whitey abruptly sat up. He stared at me, slitty-eyed. Then, with his claws retracted, he quietly raised one paw and smartly cuffed my outstretched hand.


He accompanied this with a gusty spit, and retired sulking to the back of the shed. Well, I thought, at least there hasn’t been any blood loss.

Our progress continued into the autumn. Whitey wouldn’t permit me to stroke him, but I was allowed to help him shovel up errant morsels of food that were stuck to the bowl. A little overfamiliar though, and I was clouted for my impertinence. After his meal he’d stretch luxuriantly and lie on a plank at the back of the store, snoozing gently to the tune of my inane chatter. But he never slept, he was always watchful, ready to flee.

While we were progressing towards our goal of humanely trapping our wild cat, other feline problems began. One evening Brutus came home from an evening jaunt. I noticed his head was slightly on one side and he kept flicking his left ear. He settled down beside us and began purring so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

The next morning there was no improvement so I pinned him down and had a good look. There was a mass of black dots in and around his ear. To me it looked as though he had mites, which was odd as he was up to date with his tick and flea treatment.

By the end of the day, his behaviour had changed. He was restless, constantly shaking his head and swallowing. I looked again and was horrified to find a large swelling had appeared on the left side of his face. I tried to examine it but Brutus wriggled free and darted out of the house.

We called and called, searching high and low, but couldn’t find him anywhere. Brutus had gone to ground.

That night I didn’t sleep a wink. He had never behaved like this before. I couldn’t believe a simple mite could have caused such an ugly swelling. To our relief, mid-afternoon the following day he reappeared. The swelling was bigger and he looked dishevelled, but at least he was home. We blocked the cat flap, called the vet and managed to get an appointment for later that day.

Brutus, being a naturally shy soul, is absolutely terrified of anything to do with the vet. This includes cat carriers. For a start he’s too big for the standard size, and trying to get him into one is like feeding toothpaste back into its tube. It’s a nightmare. For this reason we have started using a dog crate – an Australian Shepherd sized one. It looks eccentric, but does the job nicely.

It’s Jack’s job to do the loading and he’s very good at it. Our howling boy was summarily stuffed in and I whizzed over to the vet.

Our French vet, Dr Bonnet, briefly examined him, peeling back his fur as Brutus tried his best to bury a hole in my tummy.

“These are not mites,” she said. “They are cat bites, he has been in a fight.”

I couldn’t believe our gentle giant would fight. He wasn’t intact and anyway he wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Dr Bonnet explained she’d have to clear the injury site with clippers. I had no idea how Brutus would react, he can’t even bear the sounds of passing cars. A veterinary nurse was brought in to support one end and I had his head.

Guess what? Brutus was a hero. 

He didn’t mew, he didn’t scratch, he didn’t move a muscle. I was so proud of him. The vet’s work revealed a large, weeping abscess on the site of a nasty bite. She also removed several fragments of feline nail sheath embedded in his skin. The black marks were not mite marks at all, they were dried blood. He was battered and bruised but there was no lasting harm done.

Dr Bonnet gave him anti-inflammatory and antibiotic injections and we were sent home with care instructions for cleaning the wounds, and antibiotics for the next 10 days.

Jack and I discussed what might have happened. With no other cats close to the house at that time, there was very little doubt in our minds that Brutus must have fought with Whitey. Our resolve to trap and have Whitey neutered became an urgent mission. If he was the combatant, without testosterone coursing through his body, we assumed he would calm down.

We’d already tried using a humane box cage trap. It was one with a treadle in the middle that activated sliding doors either side when triggered. We’d put food in every day, it was ignored. We even tried with milk, but that was ignored too. Whitey was a canny lad but not for long. Jack had a stroke of genius.

“Why don’t we try with cream? He loves it, I gave him some yesterday.”

“Did you? That’s so bad for cats! Huh, well, okay, anything’s worth a go.”

The trap was set and amazingly it worked. The cream proved too good to resist – Whitey was in. It was 5.50pm on Saturday and the vet was due to close at 6 pm. I telephoned immediately and they agreed to stay open for us.

To his credit, despite it being a dreadful experience, Whitey made the car journey without a sound. The vet was involved on an emergency case so we had to leave him overnight. We felt wretched for him, but there was no choice.

That evening we met up with cat-loving friends at the local auberge. We related our tale and I showed photos of Whitey. One of our pals stared intently.

“That’s Chalky,” she cried.


Jane explained that he was one of a feral litter she and her husband had cared for three years previously. Chalky had been a tough character and disappeared around 12 months ago. We couldn’t believe the coincidence. Delighted that he was still around, they said they’d like to take him back. What a couple of stars!

The next day I collected the patient. The good news was that he had been successfully neutered. The bad news was that skin cancer was confirmed on his ear. There was only so much that could be done for a feral cat, the vet said, but he was optimistic that it wouldn’t cause too many problems.

I drove Whitey to Jane’s house. Still soundless, but scowling, Whitey made it clear what he thought about the treatment he’d received. With no confidence at all that he’d stay put, they left him in the cage to get used to his surroundings.

Sadly, our predictions were correct.

It took less than two days for him to travel the four kilometres back to our home. There he was, waiting for his food, but this time he was even more furtive than usual. Not surprising, given his experience at the hands of us humans, but it was a behaviour that we encouraged. We would no longer tempt fate by trying to handle him.

A couple of weeks later I got up early. I spotted Brutus lying on his bed and did my usual thing of stroking his back. He mewed softly, grunting strangely. Huh, I thought, it must have been raining. I went over to the window to check the weather and glanced down at my hand. To my horror I realised it was covered in blood.

Calling to Jack, I quickly switched on the light and tried to find out where the blood was coming from, but it was impossible to be sure. Brutus has dense fur and every time I tried to touch him he mewed and groaned. We could tell by the matted areas that there were injuries to his neck, but we had to try and see if there was damage in other places.

I gently lifted him and we both had a look. Brutus, eyes half closed, mewed and wheezed, but never scratched. Had he been run over? Had he been in another fight? We had no idea. Cats are extremely good at hiding pain, but it was clear he was suffering.

We left him to settle back down and rest. We closed the cat flap, showered and changed, but by the time we got back he had disappeared. We couldn’t believe it. The only saving grace was that he hadn’t managed to get outside. We looked in his favourite hiding place. Sure enough there he was, hunched up in a ball under our bed.

We agonised over what to do. He was obviously well enough to walk, and he had only just finished his ten day course of antibiotics, so we assumed he would be guarded from infection. We tried coaxing him out but he just ignored us. Getting him out from under our bed would be nigh on impossible anyway, so we decided to leave him to rest.

Jack went off to do his jobs, returning to tell me he had seen Whitey limping. If there had been a cat fight, it was likely that he was the opponent.

That evening, much to our relief, Brutus came downstairs. He was wobbly but seemed much brighter than the morning. We tried him with supper, but he wouldn’t eat, preferring to lie on the sofa between us. No eating in Brutus’ case is bad news. Our minds were made up, he was going back to the vet.

The next morning Brutus had relapsed. He was back on his bed. His eyes were closed, his body was twitching and he was moaning gently. Panic stricken, I called the vet for an emergency appointment. There were nothing available but they kindly told me to bring him in to wait our turn.

This time, putting Brutus into the cage was no problem, he was simply too ill. We covered the cage with a big blanket and I drove over as quickly as I could, tears spilling as I fought dreadful emotions that we had delayed too long.

Luckily, Dr Arnaud, our usual vet, was on duty that day. He knew Brutus well and helped lift him onto the table. I explained what had happened.

His superficial examination showed that Brutus was running a high temperature. Next, he began to examine the wound, which meant the clippers again. Our poor boy, he had already endured one trauma with them, I wasn’t sure how he’d cope a second time. I needn’t have worried.

Brutus lay stoically against my side, eyes still closed, still moaning quietly – rigid with pain.

Dr Arnaud clipped several sections of fur and what was revealed confirmed his theory. I stared in horror. The top of his head had been very badly scraped and lacerated, there was a nasty, raking gash between his shoulder blades and there were deep incisor puncture wounds either side of his jugular.

“Yes, as I thought,” he said. “Brutus has not been run over, he had been attacked. The bad smell from him, it is pus from abscesses. They take a while to develop, you would not have seen them before.”

“But…but, attacked by what?” I asked stupidly, shocked by the injuries.

“A cat.”

I could barely believe it. Some feral cats are truly wild, he said, they will viciously fight to claim territory. He pointed to the position of each injury. It was clear that the cat had jumped on Brutus’s back.

C’est comme la chasse,” he explained.

Brutus had been hunted.

Dr Arnaud spent the next half hour working on Brutus. Five major wounds had abscesses, each needed to be drained, and cleaned. He used forceps where necessary, removing necrotic tissue to accelerate the healing process. There were many other claw wounds, which he told me would respond to a new course of antibiotics. 

Dr Arnaud gave Brutus painkilling and antibiotic injections, and another course of tablets to go home with. We had a new care plan which meant he needed to be housebound for a week so I could deal with his dressings.

Before leaving, I discussed my concerns about Whitey with Dr Arnaud. He told me it was highly probable he was trying to take over Brutus’ territory. He said having him neutered may help a little, but it was unlikely. Injuries like these indicated a highly aggressive nature. Cats are natural predators, many are extremely competitive. His advice was to try and relocate him.

I took our boy home, feeling distraught and racked with guilt. Our wonderfully placid Brutus was in a bad state. Jack was anxiously waiting. 

We talked long and hard about what to do. Our conclusion was simple, neither of us were prepared to risk Brutus being attacked again. That evening I set up the box trap with new bait. Cats are very intelligent animals, I had no confidence at all it would work a second time, but it was worth a try.

As luck would have it, Whitey had been absent for a couple of days. I called a few times and he eventually appeared looking fit and well. Very cautious, but obviously hungry, he sniffed the food inside the cage. He placed one paw in, withdrawing it immediately. I sat down beside the cage, coaxing and pleading. He repeated this twice more before venturing in fully.


The cage doors came down, Whitey was captured. It was time to put our plan into action.

We loaded him into the car and drove into the countryside, over the Garonne River, to a rural area nearly 20 kilometres away. We found a remote expanse of woodland, bordered on one side by a stream and a vineyard on the other. Perfect.

Here it would be teeming with wildlife so he would eat well, and he would be safe to spend as long as he wanted building up a new territory. We opened the trap door to release our French wild cat into the woods. He looked at us balefully, those beautiful golden eyes glinting, then he was off like a ghost into the woods.  

I end this story with a purring Brutus sprawled across my lap. He still has his Mohican cut, but his wounds are almost healed. His confidence has returned and the nightly patrols of his mini kingdom have resumed, fears of being stalked now distant memories.

Has my love for animals been dinted by this experience? Of course not. But I have learned that not every cat can, or wants to be, domesticated. I believe we made the right decision for both animals, and have confidence that Whitey, the French wild cat, will quickly flourish in his new woodland domain.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Runaway Porker

“Interesting, or bad, news depending on how you look at it,” announced Jack, my husband, striding across my clean floor in his forest-dirty boots.

“What’s happened?” I said, automatically reaching for the dustpan and brush.

“Nathan has just informed me we have a freak running around the enclosed section of the forest.”

Nathan, our forester, is very French, a complete treasure, and best left alone to tend to his trees.

“Oh, right, that sounds intriguing. Any clues on what it might be?”

“He reckons it’s some kind of mutant boar.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, of course I’m sure, I might be ancient but I haven’t gone deaf yet.”

Nooo, I mean what’s wrong with it?”

“He says it’s got a white blaze on its nose and white socks.”

“Crikey, if that’s the case it’s definitely different. Odd though, we’re out there so often you’d have thought we’d have seen it.”

The forest is equipped with several wildlife observation hides. We decided to alter our regular nature watching vigils by using those situated in the reported sighting area. I threw together picnics for each session, and on one evening we got lucky, but for different reasons.

Fledgling roe deer with glossy coats broke cover in the early evening sun. We watched as they played tag in the meadow, gamboling on ungainly legs, as yet unused to proper control. When the game was won the game changed.

Meanwhile, a handful of fathers resplendent with magnificent antlers, strolled at a leisurely pace amongst the herd. Their time for battling would come later. The young bucks watched their dads, dead jealous, and decided to start practising with their wannabe antlers. Head-butting clumsily, it came to nothing but the shoving to and fro seemed great fun.

While this was going on others headed for mobile milk-bars, hoping for a refreshing snack. But they were out of luck – it was mealtime for mums too. Leaping and springing came next, followed by the occasional exploratory trek to another part of the field. Judging by the way the young adventurers came bounding back, it had been a pretty scary adventure.

Fatigued, wibbly-wobbly legs won the day, and the young families lay down in cool, lush grass, babies watching parents, learning how to graze. It had become a serene tableau, punctuated only by a lolloping hare going peaceably about its business.

As dusk fell the scene changed.

Feral squeals and banshee cries caught our attention, auguring the arrival of our target species. I glanced back at the deer, but they had all melted into the safety of the forest.

Out came they came, crashing through the undergrowth like a band of unruly Orcs. Eight shaggy wild boar, only two car-lengths from our hide. As usual, we were enthralled.

We watched them barge and charge, then rootle for bugs – making mincemeat of the meadow grass. Finally, darkness got the better of us and we were driven back in. No freaks here, just a mob of fine healthy animals.

A few days later all that changed.

Jack came in chuckling his head off. “Come and have a look at this, I’ve spotted Nathan’s mutant!”

“Great,” I yelled, dashing downstairs. “Have you taken a photo?”

“One better,” he said, grinning from ear to ear, “I have a video.”

He proudly showed me the footage of our forest freak. This was no wild boar it looked very much like a young Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.

 “How funny,” I giggled, “No wonder Nathan thought a terrible accident of nature had occurred.”

“I know, on the whole I’d say he’s better with tree IDs.”

“Make sure you break the news gently, you know how good you are at mortally wounding people,” I warned, picturing Jack’s lamentable interpersonal skills in action. “Anyway, I wonder how it got in?”

“I reckon someone strong chucked it over the fence.”

Jack duly broke the news to Nathan, which generated a new anxiety. Despite Jack’s assurances about it being a very young animal, Nathan remained sceptical. He was convinced it would be interbreeding within moments. It would be the originator of bizarre hybrids, he counselled, and should be exterminated immediately.

A few days later Jean-Luc Bustamente, a local hunter, and his farmer pal were searching for mushrooms in our forest. (Incidentally, this is a strange and passionate pastime for many of the locals, the novelty of which we have yet to fully appreciate.) After showing me their decidedly moth-eaten looking ceps, I asked if they knew of anyone who had lost a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.

The men took some time to establish that I hadn’t gone stark raving mad before exclaiming, “Non!” They assured me they’d ask around, and issued me with another series of dire warnings about the dangers of ‘genetic engineering’. They left shaking their heads in dismay.

We live in a tiny community so it came as no surprise to us when the village jungle drums started beating.

A couple of hours later the phone rang. It was Jerome Dupont, president of the hunt adjacent to our land. He asked to visit. The following morning he turned up, taking half the door frame with him as he entered the house.  Jerome is not small. He slip-slapped in, wearing flip-flops, which looked like pink pancakes, and seated himself on one-and-a-half chairs in the kitchen.

Jack showed him the video, which caused a great furrowing of brows.

Expressing himself in French he said, “No, this is not a boar.”

I ignored Jack’s sotto voce congratulation on his brilliant deduction.

“I know the owner,” Jerome said. “Apparently he was walking it on a lead at the fete. It slipped its collar and escaped.”

This time Jack couldn’t help himself. “Pull the other one!” he guffawed, in English.

Jerome looked completely baffled, and continued to do so despite our phraseology explanations. It seems there wasn’t a sensible translation.

“Anyway, it must be shot immediately,” Jerome concluded.
“You’re the third person to tell us that,” Jack remonstrated, “it’s becoming repetitive. We understand the potential issues, but I assure you there is currently no risk of reproduction. It’s far too immature.”

“Ah, but they grow very quickly you know. “

“Look, it would need a step ladder to mount one of our boar, it’s tiny.”

Jerome shrugged his shoulders in that frightfully French way.

“If you do not shoot it, I am obliged to tell the Federation de Chasse, and they are likely to come onto your land and destroy it.”

Jerome was beginning to sound like the Grim Reaper.

Jack doesn’t like being told what to do, and especially regarding matters that involve – well...anything, really. I cut in before he said something I would later regret.

“We understand completely, Jerome, but we’re going to try to trap it first.”

“Trap it? The pig?”

I nodded encouragingly but Jerome wasn’t remotely convinced. He left with further dismal warnings of failing to act and other generally unsupportive portents of doom.

“Bloody hell, what’s wrong with everyone?” fumed Jack. “What do I have to do to convince them the little bugger’s only knee-high to a grasshopper and utterly harmless.”

Whilst I wasn’t convinced it would be that small, I did want to try everything we could to trap him. If we didn’t do something, at this rate we’d have the Federation charging in with all guns blazing, and there wouldn’t be a thing we could do to prevent it. 

We borrowed a humane, fox-sized box trap and set it in the spot where Jack had last seen it. One week later and still no success, on the other hand, Jack was making progress in his bonding endeavours.

“Speedy little chap, I can get to within about 20 paces then he sprints off like a greyhound.”

Finally we got lucky. Jack called me from the forest. “No need for mass murder, we’ve trapped the perp!”

I called Jerome to tell him our good news. He sounded reluctantly impressed and told me he’d call the owner to come and collect it.

Jack pulled up outside the tractor shed with a sack partially covering the trap. He gently drew it back and inside was a teeny tiny, cute piglet. Black and white with huge eyes and extra-long black lashes, he was terrified.

“Oh, Jack, what a sweetheart! No wonder you said there wouldn’t be a problem with hybrid breeding, this pint-sized guy’s smaller than Brutus.”

“Not difficult. Our cat is the size and weight of a Labrador, Beth.”

Argh, don’t exaggerate, you know what I mean,” I chided, cooing at our miniature visitor.

Jerome phoned to say the owner would be with us in an hour. He added that he didn’t think the man was “sérieux” so would I please take photos of the trap as evidence of what we had done. I wasn’t sure what being ‘serious’ had to do with anything, but went along with his request anyway.

In the meantime Nathan had arrived.

“It has changed colour,” he grunted.

“It’s a couple of weeks since you last saw it, perhaps the colour has developed,” I replied, impressed by his astute powers of wildlife observation.

“Its nose and legs, they are brown now,” he said, pointing at our grubby runaway.

“It’s, mud, Nathan,” chortled Jack, “he’s just been rolling in a puddle.”

Nathan and animals just aren’t on the same wavelength at all.

Nathan looked perplexed, mumbled something unintelligible and returned to his dependable timber. Meanwhile, Jack, confirmed wannabe animal hater, was fast becoming best pals with the piglet.

He decided we must put it somewhere more comfortable while we waited for his un-serious owner to arrive, and went off in search of a dog crate. We set it up, equipped it with food and water, then slid the little lad in to await his master.

Just as we were beginning to think Jerome was right, a car rolled up and out came two men. Cutting a rather alarming figure in a bright orange boiler suit, monsieur said he had come straight from work. Aside from human traffic cone, I couldn’t possibly imagine what he did for a living. Monsieur explained that his friend had come along to help. Jack gave him a despairing look but fortunately chose not to comment.

“Right, so, is this yours, monsieur?” said Jack, back to business.


 This was odd.

“So why are you here?”

“It is was wedding present.”

“A wedding present?” said Jack, totally thrown. “Oh, well – congratulations. But – about the pig…”

“Ah, no, you do not understand, it was not my wedding. It was my niece’s.”

“Oh, I see. Well, congratulations to her. Is it normal practice to give pigs as presents here?”

“No, it is not at all normal.”

I was beginning to lose the plot, Jack was clearly becoming frustrated.

“My niece lost it at the fete – the pig,” he added unhelpfully.

Since this story was getting taller by the minute, we decided to get on with practical matters. Jack asked the man if he had a carrier for the animal. One was duly produced and we stood back to allow monsieur to collect his belonging. 

Monsieur obviously wasn’t a pro at this sort of thing. He knelt down and started gingerly stretching towards the animal. Terrified, it shrank back from his orangeness, just out of reach. Halfway in the cage, monsieur paused then, for some reason unbeknownst to anyone other than himself, lunged aggressively at the piglet. This was a very bad idea. The cage jolted violently and monsieur began howling in dismay.

“Is the animal injured?” I asked anxiously.

No! It has bitten me!”

“Well done,” hissed Jack.

Monsieur steadfastly refused to have another go at catching the captive. Instead, he pouted and sucked his poorly digit while his mate did the job for him. It was stowed away in the car and the two men made a half-hearted attempt at thanking us before speeding away.

“Poor little bugger,” sighed Jack as we watched them disappear. “What a couple of twits. If I’d had an orange blimp coming at me, I’d have bitten it too.”

“I agree. Mind you, I won’t be surprised if the piglet appears in our forest again before too long. That man didn’t seem at all happy to have him back.”

We walked back to the house filled with mixed feelings. Of course we understood the need to keep the indigenous species pure, but there was no immediate risk of any problems. Trapping turned out to be easier than we had anticipated, and in a funny sort of way, the little chap had begun to grow on us.

To-date, there hasn’t been a new sighting. But if our runaway porker does reappear, we’ll trap him somehow and this time he’ll stay. We have a lovely boar-free enclosure that would suit a miniature Vietnamese pot-bellied pig down to the ground. 

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Guest Post - Lucinda E Clarke

Hello, in place of my usual blog I am lucky enough to have the company of a writer many of you already know. This multi-talented, award-winning author has published works in several genres. Her work is gripping, often very funny and always fascinating. 

I am delighted to welcome Lucinda E Clarke, who will tell us more about her books and latest publication - it's sure to be another winner.

Firstly a huge thank you to Beth for suggesting I invade her blog space, I feel very privileged indeed.

I’m always at a bit of a loss when people suggest I talk about my life. Do I mention I was stuck alone in the African bush with a 9 week old baby, or broadcast live with a bayonet at my throat in Libya, or how I stumbled across a public hanging in the streets? Or the time I met Nelson Mandela, chatted with Prince Charles or fell into a rubbish dump? No, I won’t mention any of that because, despite being true, none of it sounds believable. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut at social gatherings as other guests edge away from me, giving me sideways looks before searching for the number of the local asylum in their cell phones.

I’d better stick to telling you about my heroine Amie. I was going to entitle this ‘Who is Amie?’ when my mind wandered – as it so often does totally out of control – to those singing lessons at school. Our music teacher was particularly fond of that awful song ‘Who is Sylvia?’ My thoughts were, ‘well why doesn’t someone ask her instead of warbling on about it?’ Then, I remembered the summer dresses we wore that had two pieces of material at the waist you tied into a bow at the back. I guess it was to help make them ‘one size fits all’. Well of course the boys couldn’t resist pulling the ties apart and fixing them round the back of the chairs. As all the girls stood up to screech about Sylvia, most of us fell flat on our noses.

Anyway back to Amie who gets into many difficult and dangerous situations. After four books she’s become very real and I have to stop myself from laying her a place at the dinner table. I send her out to Africa, reluctantly accompanying her husband whose company has a project in a country she’s never heard of. In fact all she knows about Africa is: there are lots of flies and countless civil wars. So of course she has to get caught up in such a conflict with tribal factions fighting for power, with her in the middle of it.

I got her out of that predicament (whoops a spoiler, but then you will guess that when you realize there are 4 books in the series and I don’t write about ghosts!)
In book 2 she sets out to rescue the child she had fostered in book one but runs up against an ISIS type organization and in book three she loses everything, her home, her identity and her freedom. She is forced to work for an organization that would kill her rather than admit she is still alive. Book four, has just been released and this time we meet her as a fully fledged, but very reluctant spy, caught up in an international child sex trade with a twist.

All my books, my memoirs and the Amie series are set in Africa, not surprising as it was my home for almost 40 years. My work, as a video producer and writer took me to far flung places where I was privileged to meet many people in all walks of life, invited into their homes and shared many hours talking to them. In the west we will never totally understand a different mindset and outlook on life, but I developed a deep love for what is essentially still the Dark Continent, despite the high rise blocks and the paved streets.

Originally I qualified as a teacher, and I’ve taught from pre-school to lecturing college students on scriptwriting and it must be some lurking gene in my make up, but in all my books I try to show people what Africa is really like and attempt to give some insight into a land we are usually shown through ‘fake news’ and carefully selected camera angles. Heavens I did enough of that myself, out on location, filming what the client wanted to show in the finished product.

Occasionally I would mutter about the ‘client from hell’ who was really difficult to work for, but then I had not experienced being my own client – the very worst of all!

We retired to Spain in 2008, I hated leaving filming and Africa but circumstances dictated it, and after a couple of days I got horribly bored and started writing books. 

Eight to date with a free novella as an introduction to my scribbling – you can download it here -  

These are all the usual links to places where I lurk (do you remember the time when we only had one address and that was for the postman? – sigh)
Do please connect with me, as I love to hear from people and another thank you to Beth.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Return of Fat Dogs

It all started so confidently. Our decision to buy a property abroad seemed entirely straightforward. Lots of people do it, so what could possibly go wrong?

Jack, my husband, and I battled through a shortlist of European countries in our price and travel range. Then we remembered another facet – Jack’s temperament. Uh oh! None of us are perfect, and certainly not me. However, I am, on the whole, a deal more patient and far more tolerant than my husband. In fact, just about everyone is. He also has an extremely tedious sense of humour, particularly when it comes to dealing with other nationalities and their unique traits. This, combined with other, more balanced, reasons, ruled out three of the main contenders and we settled on France.

I produced a shortlist of properties to visit, which ended up being quite tricky because of the type we wanted to buy. But, by plugging away for ages, I got there in the end and planned our journey.

This presented another small challenge because I’m hopelessly devoted to our dogs. At the time we had Sam and Biff. Jack tries to create the impression of not sharing my devotion, grumping that he simply tolerates them. But I know differently. He’s the same about all animals, soft as butter and regularly caught with a sheepish expression in mid-cuddle with one of them. That said, when I shared my blindingly obvious logic that Sam and Biff should travel with us, he failed to see my point – initially. Nevertheless, after a slightly longer than usual filibuster, he came to his senses and all was agreed.

The eve of our departure finally came. Gosh, it still seems like yesterday. We had spent much of the day packing the car, unpacking the car, repacking and arguing about it. Bungee elastic cords became Jack’s friends as bags and slippery items were strapped securely, leaving a perfectly safe makeshift kennel for the dogs.

Many of you already know all this but, by way of a tiny outtake, I can tell you that during the night I barely slept a wink. And why? Because I was so excited. The other point I didn’t mention was Jack’s pre-departure-check discovery that one of our tyres was flat. Oh, and then there was Sam. Normally a dog with champion bowels, he chose that very morning to produce a gusty sample of visceral fluid. I suppose this could have been an omen of iffy things to come but, as I used my essential baby wipes to clear up the offending area, I didn’t give it a second thought. Jack thought differently, but Jack always does. After a delayed departure we set off in mizzling weather, which matched his mood to a tee.

It’s no secret that our early adventures didn’t go to plan. At all.  Who would have believed that a three week house-hunting trip could place us in such crazy situations, including at least one that was life threatening? Such a thing had never entered our minds. Nor did the prospect of meeting the many bizarre characters involved in our quest. Then there were the properties themselves – ranging from unacceptable, to appalling, and in one case, very scary indeed. Every day brought a new misadventure, one of which caused Jack to remark, “You could write a book about this.” So I did. There was such a lot to say.

I realise brevity is entirely alien to my writing and, let’s face it, descriptions are my friends. My aim is for you, as closely as possible, to live our experiences as we did, and to create accurate visions of each key scene and main character. 

Unsurprisingly, Fat Dogs and French Estates Part I quickly spilled over into Part II.

More disasters, ever-stranger people, mechanical mishaps and greater sinful canine shenanigans gave me oodles of material to share. Some of it was toe-curlingly awful to recount, but there was a very clear theme cementing itself on our hearts. Despite everything, we were falling ever more in love with France.

Book II came to an unexpected conclusion and Fat Dogs Part III brought with it a project we didn’t anticipate. Was it hard? At times it was dreadfully hard. It formed the third natural piece of our documentary jigsaw, one that many of you kindly asked for. And thank you so much for making this such a success.

But that was by no means the end of the story. Meanwhile, and entirely separate from the various challenges we were battling with, the animal-loving side of me created a further chapter in my life. As an addition to our two dogs, we’d acquired a cat – but more of that later. I began indulging in chats about our cuddly feline with my pal, Zoe Marr. Rather than gossiping idly about our respective moggies’ personalities and mishaps, we decided to channel our energies into helping cats in need. Of course, that didn’t stop the daily cat exchange, but that’s animal lovers for you.

Completely Cats was soon created. With it came the formation of a wonderful relationship with International Cat Care, a worthy charity whose missions on feline care and education are a perfect match for our aspirations.

We decided to publish a book of short stories about cats. This way we could raise direct funds for the charity and spread the word about its work. We appealed to cat-lovers to come forward with their tales, and they did so in droves. Our project very quickly became a perfect example of teamwork.

Our book, Completely Cats – Stories with Cattitude, could not have been created without their contributions, or the support from our Facebook and Twitter friends. Many, many of you have been part of this. You went the extra mile to help get our project going. You shouted about it on your own social media, encouraged us with your comments and alerted your friends.

And they weren’t hollow words.

The book was published on the 21st August and with your help it got off to a racing start with sales results speaking for themselves. It was immediately listed as cat category #1 Hot New Release, and in the same category shot to best seller #3 on behind James Bowen’s, A Street Cat Named Bob. (We can live with that!) Our first 5* review came in three days later. Howzat for an example of teamwork in action?

We are genuinely astonished and humbled by the kindness and support we’ve had, and will never be able to thank people enough. International Cat Care loves the book and is as thrilled by the response as we are. So, whatever else I might find myself involved with, I shall always continue to support and promote this cause. 
But, in the back of my mind, there’s always that feeling. It’s never far away. I’m dying to share that fourth Fat Dogs piece of the jigsaw with you.

Fat Dogs and French Estates Part IV.

Of course Jack hates to admit that he’s become personally absorbed in the process but, every now and again, he’ll say something like, “Have you told them about xxx yet?” or, “Bloody hell, you’d better stick that incident in the next book. They’ll never believe it!” or, “And what about Bussiton? Have you written about him?” Well, actually, I haven’t. But I’m planning to.

You might naturally assume our project concluded with an idyllic retirement vision of beaches, deckchairs and fine French wines. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those things continue to be the stuff of my poor, long-suffering husband’s dreams, but they’re unlikely to arrive anytime soon.

Now our Completely Cats project is padding around the Amazonian vapours, I’m going to quietly sneak off to begin my next episode of our adventures. Things happened that we never ever imagined. I mean, for goodness’ sake, who would have guessed that I would become a wannabe expert chainsaw operator, or a wild rabbit wrangler? Not me! Equally, I had never dreamed of taking national French exams – in French. (Mind you, that did turn out to be rather a nightmare.) And then the super Polish chaps we ended up working with. Smashers, every one, but – really?

In order to start gambolling quickly I won’t be able to bring you my usual yarn next month. Instead, I’m hoping to persuade one of my author pals to share one of their blogs. If they agree I guarantee it’ll be a great read.

Despite having to divert my efforts for a few weeks, I'll still be around, but I do need to focus for a bit. I sincerely hope Fat Dogs IV will justify the support you've already given me. Thank you so much for being part of our French adventures so far. They just wouldn’t be the same without you, and now you’re very much part of them.