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France has many things going for it, but one of its huge disadvantages is that it has never had a Beatrix Potter nor a David Attenborough. The consequence of this is that there is a different perception, particularly among the older French with regard to animals compared to the "English” attitude.

France has many things going for it, but one of its huge disadvantages is that it has never had a Beatrix Potter nor a David Attenborough.

The consequence of this is that there is a different perception, particularly among the older French people, with regard to animals compared to the “English” attitude. It is incomprehensible to many a French person that an animal such as a hedgehog could have feelings, that a frog could fall in love and play a guitar or that a family of rabbits could have names and be perceptive of a human gardener, even if his name is McGregor, which, in French, would be pronounced something like “Mek-Jee-Ree-Jore”. Most French people regard animals as being desirable only when boiled, baked, braised, BBQ’d or basted with a suitable sauce.

Combining this attitude with a sense of unity among the older generation who like to believe their participation in the Resistance during the Second World War was key to success and survival, they gather in groups to reminisce. These groups often become hunting syndicates. They escape from domesticity and gather in old German concrete bunkers or rickety sheds to drink wine and pastis and regale each other with stories of prowess with shotguns and the like.

There is a certain amount of regulation attached to these groups, but as with all human endeavours, a certain small percentage bring derision on the entire hunting fraternity. I have French friends who, when driving past a group of hunters will roll down the window and shout “Assassins”. A practice in which I have copied, with gusto.

Drunken hunters are known to shoot up road signs; one even shot a horse while it was being ridden; another killed a mother while she was driving down a highway with her baby in the back; another shot insulators on electrical pylons thereby causing local backouts.

I am happy to say that the hunting fraternity is decreasing by some 3 per cent per year, as the older ones find that standing in a line in the snow, waiting for dogs to flush game out from the forest, is getting too onerous for them. One nearby ‘hunt’ specialises in feeding sangliers in the forest until the hunting season starts, whereupon they drive to the site, shoot the animal, use a hydraulic grappling crane to lift the carcase into the back of their 4X4 so that they don’t even have to get mud on their boots. I have been told that there is an aerosol mud spay available to give their 4x4’s that real authentic “I’ve been bundu bashing” look. Resistance to the hunters is growing. Recently, in the Camargue, demonstrators mobbed hunters intent on shooting migratory birds.

The right to hunt was bestowed on people following the French Revolution, before which it was reserved for the nobility.

The “English” are ridiculed for their love of animals in France, but we have had that love of Nature and Wildlife instilled in us by David Attenborough, who I believe is far more deserving of a knighthood for his services than any pop star or footballer.
I can count on one hand the number of wild pheasant I have seen in France over the last twenty years. However there is one that lives across the other side of the river that passes in front of our house. When the hunters come he flies across the river and takes refuge in our garden.

I wonder how he knows.

French Hunters

He climbs out of bed at a quarter to Dawn
With an ache in his head and a smelly breath yawn
He stumbles about finding boots, coat and hat
Cursing awake the dog on the mat
He picks up his gun and drops rounds on the floor
Finds his car keys and weaves to the door
He represents freedom that the guillotine gained
Having cut off the heads of the royalty that reigned
He can hunt now and kill, without question or pause
To shatter wild lives and not break any laws
To maim and kill game is the right of these people
More right than the ones who pray under the steeple
The gendarmes and others wave hands in dismay
What can they do? And what can they say?
The cliques that are backing these killers of deer
Are the ones that in war keep the public in fear
They intimidate all who object to their lust
Make sure they are bullied, make sure they are cussed
So off in the morning they go on their rounds
Blowing their horns and standing on mounds
Brave as can be with their armour of steel
Vandals in vans with its knobbly wheel
But how would it be if the buck could shoot back?
Blow its horn, stamp its hoof, and ricochet flak?
The hunter would find that the crap in his boot
Came from himself as the goal of the shoot
How would that change his attitude then
To know what it’s like to be shot like a wren?
What would it change if he knew close up how
A bullet can feel as through guts it does plough?
A creature that just in the morning had played
With its fawn in the field and then it is slayed
To bring joy to the joyless that slavering male
Worse than the Orca, who slaps seals with its tail
Nature has killers that like what they do
Like a cat with a rat or a mouse or a shrew
But we are supposed to be better than that
Have a higher IQ than just a mere cat
Perhaps that’s the problem right out on the table
The hunter is stupid so of thought he’s not able
To consider the point of view of his prey
And so we are cursed ‘cause the hunter will stay
Charging about in an alcohol haze
Shooting a target that gambols or plays
He’s not now adverse to killing a horse
Even while ridden. He’ll show no remorse.
Another one killed a mother with child
As she drove down the highway, isn’t that wild?
They somehow believe that they all have the right
To determine who’ll live and what’s next in their sight
So how can we get all these heroes in place
In a field or a forest so they come face to face
To shoot at each other ‘till death do them part
This is a wish that is close to my heart.

Chris Higginson
Extract from Perverse Verse

ISBN 987-0-9805083-1-4