All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Christmas is coming and the duckstealer is taking orders...

Domestic DuckImage by crookrw via Flickr

Christmas is coming, season of goodwill to all mankind.

The postlady arrives at the door and refuses a coffee. Things must be serious.

'You need to keep an eye out' she says. 'The guy up the road'...jerk of head to indicate the duckstealer, 'is taking orders for poultry.'

Now, I know that the duckstealer has geese, guineafowl, and chickens, but he doesn't have ducks, having been unable to steal any of mine recently.

'Is he taking orders for ducks?'

'And for geese.'

Which is to say that he is taking orders for more geese than he has. Which is to say that I need to get mine up off the islands at night and enclose the ducks as well. And while I'm about it, I'd just better keep an eye on my chickens and the three guineafowl which escaped from his place last year and for which I paid him, to keep him from having an excuse to come round to count up what I had available in the poultry line.

Thank goodness for the postlady.

'Bernard told me to tell you,' she adds, thus confirming my suspicion that all is not well between the duckstealer and his neighbour Bernard.

Bernard, who produces ducks commercially to a contract, will be locking up his sheds as well, then, as the optimistic duckstealer cannot bring himself to believe that anyone who has so many ducks - for 'so many', read more than five, his arithmetical ability being a bit like that of the great apes - would miss a few and is always surprised when outraged owners appear to reclaim their poultry, if he has not been quick enough on the slaughter and pluck operation.

I cannot say that I am particularly keen on Bernard, who has a habit of spreading his duck slurry on his land when I have guests to lunch, but he is preferable to the duckstealer - not, thinking about it, that that hoists him very high in popularity table. He rates a long way behind Gengis Khan, for example. Whatever his manifest failings, Gengis Khan did not live within olfactory range of my terrace and had nothing to do with ducks. As far as I know, anyway.

What puzzles me is why Bernard asked the postlady to warn me.

I get on with his wife, that poor downtrodden woman who thought she was lucky in marrying a guy who would inherit a farm. No one told her she would be doing all the work on it without pay, nomatter what is shown in the books. Bernard doesn't like her coming down for a, she is wasting time that could be spent milking goats and two, she is probably picking up wild ideas of independence, so she only comes down when he is out for the day..which is often...and when his mother goes to the old age pensioners club to play belote and she gets through the mountain of ironing his mother leaves her to keep her occupied while not under direct surveillance. We exchange news otherwise through the postlady, providing Bernard's mother has not contrived to keep her busy and out of the way at letter delivery time.

Her post, such as it is, comes here, to keep it away from the family Gestapo. They would have a collective fit if they knew that she had a little account at the Post Office where she salts away whatever she can skim from the shopping money. Everyone at the Post Office knows,of course, but they don't like Bernard and his mother much either. There's not enough in it to make it necessary for her to file a tax return, that's for sure, so no risk of Bernard finding out that way.
The postlady has been at her for ages to divorce the guy and go onto social security, but she is too frightened to make the leap, having been in the hands of social security when she lost her mother when she was a teenager, so carries on slaving away for the ogres.

So why is Bernard being helpful?
I can't rate above the duckstealer in his table of favourites. I'm foreign, I complain about his duck slurry and I encourage his wife. The duckstealer is French, doesn't complain and won't let his wife complain either, and thinks Bernard is a great guy who knows how to keep women in their place. Furthermore, Bernard does nothing for nothing.
This will worry me until I find out.

Still, first things first. The poultry. I now have to set up the wire netting to make an alleyway between the river and the pens, clean out and restraw same, find all the food and water bowls and clean them out, and then, in the afternoon, coax the birds to come to this bank with food and then drive them up. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? Someone should tell the birds that. I will be shunting them up the hill when one -and I know which one it will be, the old Chinese goose with a notch on her bill - will decide that she doesn't like mountaineering and will turn round. Her group will follow. The others will stop and start honking in alarm. This will rattle the ducks, who are rather more fleet of foot than the geese and will start diving back past me, as fluid as river water. The dog will intervene...from the wrong side. I will rave. The geese will stop honking and watch the spectacle. The ducks will be back on the island. A window will open and someone will ask what all the noise is about. I will reply, succintly. The window will be slammed. The window slammer will descend to the garden and intervene....from the wrong side.

I will start again tomorrow.
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  1. Oh how awful to have to go to all this trouble just because of greed. Surely the people who order the poultry from the duckstealer know that they are stolen? Do they not have a conscience?

    Poor Bernard's wife..don't you wish she could save enough to run away?

    Thank goodness for your postwoman..what a treasure!

    Great post as always from you. Good luck with the ducks xx

  2. Ayak, between your dogs and my ducks there's never a dull moment.
    I don't think people even think about it...he keeps poultry, anyway, so you'd have to live pretty close to know exactly what he has.
    My dream is that someone who buys their christmas bird from him invites an official from the farmers' mutual society who admires the offering, asks where it comes from and discovers that the duckstealer isn't declaring whatever it is on his annual form....
    Well,I can dream.

  3. I have never heard of a duck stealer - I suppose when I lived in Northumberland we used to buy pheasants in the pub that we knew came from 'the estate', but that seemed different somehow.

  4. A sudden change in status in village life is always a concern, made more mysterious, perhaps, by your postlady being ignorant of what might be afoot.

    Depending on time served, I'm not sure that one's being foreigner makes as much difference as might be first supposed. My status as an incomer has mellowed and is eclipsed by the deep, dark fault lines that existed between kith & kin, long before I arrived here.

    And this doesn't apply just to proper foreign foreigners: I note that only six of our current 14 councilers, for example, were born in this village, benefiting from the mutual emnity of six or seven different factions.

    I think I'd start by looking into any old hatreds that might have existed between Mr Duckstealer and Bernard that have been dulled by time but have had some cause to reopen. Recent widowings of old love interests seems to be quite a good source of renewed conflicts around here.

  5. Mark, I think it is only my ducks that really attract anything else remotely moveable on the premises. He'll have Bernard's if they get loose, but Bernard seems pretty wary and is always on to his wife about locking the sheds.

    Jon, to be fair, I haven't asked the postlady..I was too busy thinking about where I'd put the wire netting and if I had enough feed.
    You're right about the age old inter family feuds taking precedence over mere is almost 'excused boots' in that respect as having nothing to contribute to the hatred.
    I am trying to think what it is I have or can do that Bernard wants. Or what it is I haven't found out about that has been said or done by either party.
    I'll ask the oracle tomorrow.

  6. I reckon Bernard's after your ducks, and is laying a false trail. Perhaps you could put up a sign saying, "Ces canards ont des micropuces"?

  7. Brother Tobias, if I were not well known as being absolutely handless and brainless when it comes to high tech, it might have worked....