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.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

D Day all over again

On the beaches of Normandy, brave men are reliving the moment when they fought their way ashore to liberate the continent of Europe on the 6th of June 1944. They were soldiers.

Across the river from my house, lily livered bullies are busy trying to destroy the rookery that lines the waterside by shooting at the nests. They are louts....otherwise known as 'la chasse'.

In the autumn, the peace of rural France is broken by volleys of gunfire and tooting of, Chancellor Merkel has not decided to conform with German tradition by invading France....the hunting season has started. Men in camouflage clothing with vast amounts of ammunition tramp through the vines, and mushroom picking becomes dangerous as they don't seem able to differentiate between a human backside and a deer. No wonder their insurance policies cost so much. By twilight, the shooting stops, but the tooting carries on late into the night as the hunters try to recover their dogs, who, having been liberated from the pens full of excrement where they spend most of their lives, underfed to keep them 'keen', have understandably disappeared into the countryside.

La chasse is supposed to be one of the triumphant results of the 1789 Revolution. Before, only the nobility could hunt and the peasants had to watch deer scoffing the crops they needed to sell to pay the rent to the nobility....well, that's roughly the idea. After the Revolution, anyone could hunt anywhere, except that the new masters, usually notaires, enclosed vast stretches to prevent anyone hunting anywhere they liked. This is one reason why la chasse is to be found in your back garden stealing your chickens.

Sport it is not. Pheasant farms abound, and the local chasse buy a batch of birds and release them the day before a hunting day...usually Thursdays and Sundays. The birds associate people with being fed and so advance towards the hunters offering an easy target. They still manage to miss, though. Wives tend to kick up if husbands return empty handed...bredouille...given the price of cartridges and this is the second reason that la chasse is to be found in your back garden stealing your chickens.

Having caught one bright spark who sent his dogs in to retrieve my birds, I telephoned the, not that one, the President of the local chasse, to complain.

'Not a problem' he replied sunnily. 'We'll pay you the cost of replacement.'

It has never crossed what he is pleased to call his mind that my chickens are not just a feathered version of the euro to me. I like my birds, they supply eggs while they are able and live out their lives scratching up the flower borders when they're past it. I hope my old age will be as pleasant, but I doubt it.

It has never crossed his mind either that his members have no business to be stealing poultry in the first place. La chasse regards itself as privileged, a law unto itself, and most rural French go along with that...after all, la chasse is armed, and can make life unpleasant.

Originally, the only limit on their activities was a requirement not to shoot towards your house if less than 100 metres away from it, but latterly, the European Union has promulgated a law which allows you to keep the chasse out of your property completely. I can only assume that some Eurocrat had had his chickens stolen too. They don't like it and will defy it if they can, but it is the law. Mark you, getting a gendarme interested in upholding the law is an uphill struggle, especially against armed men.

Some years ago, a young woman was house sitting in what later became my house. At five o'clock on the morning of the first of May the telephone rang. A man's voice told her that she would hear shooting, but that she was perfectly safe if she stayed indoors. She did indeed hear shooting.....a large group of men were advancing through the garden, shooting the rooks from their nests. She ran out, asking them to stop, but they laughed at her and continued. She went out to the road and took the numbers of the cars parked there, then returned and telephoned the gendarmerie. Nobody came, and the shooting continued. She telephoned the maire. His wife said he was out shooting rooks. They eventually left, leaving carcasses everywhere. She telephoned the gendarmerie again and was told to get a bailiff to estimate the value of the birds.

She had been mocked and terrified and no one gave a damn. It was a local tradition, the gendarmerie told her, to shoot at the rooks' nests, as the birds are supposed to pick holes in the plastic covers of silage dumps and ruin the contents.

Now, as far as I am aware, people were not making silage and covering it with plastic in the French Revolution, so this was a pretty recent tradition....just another manifestation of la chasse making itself unpleasant. The owner was based in Paris, and was resented locally, so this was a means of putting her in her place by the local bully boys.

Since I have lived there, the neighbour who steals ducks asked if I would mind if they shot rooks on May Day, and, to be fair, my refusal has been respected. Of course, my fences have been repeatedly broken to allow my dog to escape onto the road, but this must just be coincidence. They stand on the other side of the river and shoot the nests, ostensibly on their side, but on mine too if I do not stand out there and watch them.
I have, however, discovered the existence of the garde chasse, an employee of the body regulating hunting activities, and have also discovered that the local representative has a vendetta against the particular group annoying me. I don't know why and he won't tell me. It is apparently illegal to shoot out the nests because protected species of bird may use them and this was enough to have him setting up an ambush and catching them in the act, for which they all got a 200 Euro fine.
Some days later, the wife of one of them rang me up.
'You owe us 200 Euros. If you hadn't reported it we wouldn't have to pay the fine.'
My French has matured to a level where I could give the appropriate response and be understood. The 'phone was banged down at the other end.
For the rest of the season and well out of it, they then made a point of gathering opposite my terrace on a Sunday morning, blasting off with their shotguns. As intimidation it didn't work.....and if they want to waste their money on cartridges that's their worry, but it is symptomatic of what is wrong with our European society generally. No one will control the lawless louts and bullies who make normal life unpleasant.

I would like to see la chasse up against what faced those men landing on D Day.....perhaps I could persuade the Bundeswehr to have a summer camp in my garden. They wouldn't have any problems getting to us.......all French roads are lined with trees so that the German army can march in the shade.


  1. How dare you not go along with such lunacy!

  2. Lunacy? I'll have you know that this is French tradition and culture I'm blinding and stiffing here.....