One sunny day Bruno and his master, or was it the other way round, went for a walk up the stony path around the back of our house to a very quite country lane which runs in front of a large densely-wooded copse. I had been used to taking Bruno off the lead, training him that I always had his favourite bits of cheese in my pocket, which he could have as long as he always returned to me instantly on command.
This particular day was the first time that this manoeuvre would be attempted by Bruno and his master. The lead was duly unfastened and the dog went haring off, as usual, into the wooded copse. In due course, his master called him to heel. No response. After several calls and whistles, his master, not known for his phlegmatic temperament, began to get rather irate.
‘Come here you little bugger.’
Eventually, Bruno was spotted chasing a rabbit or some such and his master edged ever nearer, the trusty Rambo lead in his hands. Just when the task was almost completed, Bruno went haring off again, this time along the shady lane towards the farm fifty yards away. In the fields which border our property, the farmer’s flock of woolly sheep and goats grazed peacefully, contentedly munching on their daily diet of grassy forage and hoary tree branches which were pulled down to their level by several intrepid goats.
‘No, no Bruno. Come here,’ in increasing velocity. In response Bruno, with a wild, wall-eyed Marty Feldman look to his eyes, ducked his head underneath the farmer’s electrified fence wire and galloped towards the grazing herds. In France, farmers are legally entitled to shoot any animal that endangers the lives of their flocks. Back at the house I had heard the commotion. I had been washing up in the kitchen which faces the distant back lane and with mounting alarm took in the scene unfolding directly in front of my horrified gaze. I dashed outside, frantically pulling on my garden shoes and chased up the lane.
By now, the farmer had rushed outside and was running towards Bruno who had by this time managed to do a rugby tackle on an unfortunate sheep, felling him heavily to the ground. By the time both men had arrived breathless on the scene, Bruno was busy biting one of the creature’s back legs. The farmer and the dog’s master between them managed to pull the now salivating dog off the poor sheep and Bruno’s trusty lead was firmly clipped to his collar again.
‘In France your dog must always have his lead on, always,’ said the irate farmer, even though we saw his own dog regularly wandering up and down the lane, clearly having to exercise himself. Anyway, at least that was what we understood of his statement. There seemed to be a few ‘merdes’ and other unfathomable words which our dictionary didn’t for some reason contain.
Sheepish faces all round.
Thank God the farmer had not used his gun, but he looked none too pleased. What a start to my dreams of making friends with our new neighbours. That evening, the offending dog and his master in disgrace in the sous-sol (cellar), I collected our windfall of sweet plums from our garden and took a carrier-bag full around to the farmer’s wife. I had noticed that in this southerly part of the world, the fruit crop is plentiful but ripens much earlier than in the UK. The farmer’s wife was busy in her garden, evidently planting and weeding. I coughed to attract her attention, whilst leaning on her garden wall. She looked up.
‘Je suis desolé pour mon mari et pour mon chien. Les deux sont maintenant dans le sous-sol.’
The farmer’s wife stared at me, incredulous. Surely I hadn’t meant that the dog and his master had been sent in disgrace into the dark dungeon that was the sous-sol? She suddenly started laughing until tears streamed down her face. Her bony, liver-spotted fingers scrabbled in her apron pocket and hastily dabbed at her face with a well-scrubbed handkerchief. Another neighbour came over, an old lady of over eighty years, whose large whitewashed stone house was just discernible from our kitchen window. The farmer’s wife gabbled something pretty incomprehensible to her, and she too laughed hysterically. Oh well. At least they hadn’t shooed me off their land. So what if we have become the amusement spectacle of the region? I handed over my peace offering, and there were smiles all around. I told them as best I could that in future there would be no more running of the dog without a lead.
Quel catastrophe, mais c’est la vie!