As many will already know, I love my summers in Tréguennec. The more obvious pleasures come from the garden, the weather, the culture, the friendships and, of course, the fresh produce – the fish and meat couldn’t be bettered. But there is more; being here gives learning French added poignancy, offers a vantage point from where to ‘see’ the UK and provides opportunities to take on new projects.
Turning first to learning French. Words have always fascinated me and throughout my adult life I have gained great pleasure arranging them when speaking and writing. My mother tongue is English but now, as someone learning French, I get the same pleasures from the intricacies of my second language too. What fun it was to discover, for example that in English the Latin phrase quid pro quo means an exchange of a favour for a favour, while in French quiproquo (now all one word and without a ‘d’) means a mistake. I am still very much a student but, as is well established, learning is easier when living in the country where the language is spoken. Since 1st of July I have been enjoying my annual French linguistic fillip.
Now to reflections. From afar, and with a new awareness of Europe, I often puzzle over how the UK conducts itself and during the last month the focus has been on our handling of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Early in the pandemic, and so before we left London, I didn’t dare face reality – the truth was just too unbearable. Now I realise how catastrophic Johnson’s leadership has been as he has managed to engineer mortality figures higher than in almost every other country in the world. The way Johnson has behaved now makes me feel angry, ashamed and embarrassed. From the perspective of my French friends we have been led by a fool and a knave.
Compared to the gloom of the pandemic, my project this year, which arose by default, has been a delight. My original plan was to build a giant maze at the bottom of our garden but this idea had to be dropped because the weeds that were to be mowed to make the paths were so dense that they were uncuttable. Instead, I have spent much of my first month bringing up Minou, an abandoned, timid and initially emaciated, feral kitten (see my last blog – ‘Freedom and a Kitten Called Minou’)
We discovered Minou soon after we arrived in Tréguennec and his first priority was to eat and drink. Despite doubling in size over the next fortnight, he remained small and frightened; I only had to sneeze for him to rush off and hide. We decided that in the longterm his future could only be assured if he were adopted as a pet, but for this he would first need to be tamed. It was making him house-trained that became my project and on this I worked together with Rohan.
Within days of our decision a problem arose – he vanished. My usual calls brought no response and we soon gave up. He had, we supposed, been eaten by a fox. Not so; two days later Rohan heard a faint miaow coming from behind the washing line and soon she found a skinny, trembling Minou in a flower bed.
We restarted his meals, brought him a tiny rabbit hutch to play on and shelter in, hung a ping-pong ball from some string as a toy and talked to him as he ate. Eventually he allowed himself to be stroked, to be picked up and was even prepared to eat out of our hands – once with a slight hitch as he missed his quarry and, instead nipped one of my fingers! The next stage was to bring him indoors. But how?
It was a heavy storm that helped us decide. We were worried that he would ‘catch his death of cold’ and in a break in the downpour we rushed out, enticed him to eat, picked him using a pair of leather gloves and carried him to our entrance hall.
Everything had been prepared for his arrival and by that evening he had found the bed that we had made for him and had used the litter tray for his ‘business’ – in the wild he had used the recently-turned soft earth of freshly dug mole hills! Next, this once-wild kitten was purring, coming up for cuddles, rubbing himself against our ankles, sitting on my shoes (see illustration) and playing footy with a ping-pong ball. He was now a member of the family.
When word got around that Minou was tame, a close neighbour asked if she could adopt him and I know that when Minou leaves I will feel sad, hardly an emotion I would have if someone were to come and take Boris Johnson away, but I suspect he is untameable!
By the way, the neighbour has renamed Minou – Zoro!
The illustration shows a photo of Minou in our entrance hall staring up with his paws on my shoe.
For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Rohan and Vivien.