I dozed off early (Neil Gaiman can be as soporific as Mr. MacGregor’s lettuce). Only in the early hours did I hear of the Manchester horror.
So, come this morning, it was good to have some light relief:
Years ago, we were doing the chateaux of the Loire, and stopped off at La Flèche.
Just as we were moving on, a dispute broke out between two authentic French ladies of certain years. Madame A’s lap-dog had taken offence at Madame B’s cat. The cat had taken refuge in the nearby tree, and was spitting down at the dog.
The cat was not coming down. Words were being exchanged.
The aid of les pompiers was called for.
The first stalwart arrived on a bicycle, with what looked like a window-cleaner’s ladder. Too short. An appreciative audience was growing.
The next reinforcement was a small van, with a longer ladder. The boy apprentice was sent up the ladder. The cat headed higher. The quite considerable circle of on-lookers were warmed by such an act of resistance,
Finally, the full panoply of les sapeurs-pompiers de La Flèche showed up with a resplendent red carriage and extendable ladder. Cheers all round.
As the ladder was being raised, the cat came scampering down the tree, and was quickly purring in Madame B’s bosom.
Excitement over, we headed on our way.
Perhaps it was on that summer trip we composed the game to entertain young daughters along the kilometres of routes nationales.
The dog on a string is a frequent feature, wherever one goes.
We established that every French dog had to come in one of three types: rat, rug or demi-cheval. Because the daughters, even at that early age, were perceptive creatures, very quickly those simple definitions were not enough. Depending on size and hairiness, long disputations ensued to determine a ratty-rug from a ruggy-rat.
No: I do not claim ownership of this entertainment. We simplified it from Macbeth:
Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are ‘clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed.
When canine distinctions palled, we reverted to the on-going rat-wagon competition.
Those were the days when progress along any route nationale could regularly be impeded by being stuck for long periods behind a trundling and corrugated Citroën van. There were after all the better part of half-a-million of these.
Doubtless those which are not serving moules avec frites along the Belgian coast, or gussied up as crêperies on London’s South Bank, now serve duty as chicken hutches.
Not only were such automotive slugs obstinately slow, they had an even greater propensity to rust than any Lada or Kawasaki.
A true rat-wagon had to be not just rust-streaked (they all came that way) but pitted and — preferably — see-through.
So we designated local champions, provincial champions, and — at the end of the trip — a national champion.