Saturday, 17 August 2013


The hunting season is now upon us, although not yet in full swing. I don’t really understand the technicalities, but it seems that you’re limited to who or what you can kill at present; it gets apocalyptic sometime in September, when every year, among the game bagged, there are normally two or three people, who had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’ve never been fond of guns. I once went clay pigeon shooting and found it a very uncomfortable experience, like being punched in the shoulder repeatedly. Why you have to fire at a disc flying through the air is a mystery. I agree with Eddie Izzard; you let the thing land first, walk up to it and blam. Much easier.

At the height of the season, there are some days, particularly at weekends, when the sound of gunfire makes you feel like you are in a war-zone. Here the weapon of choice is normally an over and under shotgun, which the owners almost invariably carry, loaded and ready for action on their shoulder, military style. Even I know that you always ‘break’ a shotgun when carrying it, so it comes as a bit of a shock, when you’re driving along, to pass a hunter who has his gun positioned towards your head, if only momentarily. Standing loaded guns against fences and walls is an equally popular activity.

Being in France, a silly outfit is almost compulsory; many people going for a sort of Rimbaud, Rambo getup. Fluorescent orange clothing, for maximum visibility, is also popular, normally worn with matching baseball hat, for the psychedelic Elmer Fudd look. 

During the season, parties of hunters set off with their dogs, with the intention of flushing out some boar. In preparation for this, they normally go through lakes of Pastis first, just to get in a suitably murderous mood. The problem is of course, that by doing so, they run the risk of blowing their own feet off or someone else’s head. Statistics show that this happens with monotonous regularity.

Not that such behaviour is unique here. On a visit to friends in Greece,they told us that the hunting season started the following day. We were pretty blasé, ‘yeah, we know all about that sort of thing.’ At about six the next morning we heard passing vehicules and machine gun fire. There was lead falling on the roof. Considering that Kefalonia has lots of places featuring the name, Captain Corelli, but hardly any boar, automatic weapons seemed a bit excessive for shooting at small birds. 

I have a couple of friends here who hunt, but who only ever go out alone.They too don’t have much time for groups of heavily armed drunks stumbling around the countryside.

Fox-hunters and hare-coursers apart, I can’t really see the problem of killing something if you intend to eat it. Every year, we are given several large cuts of boar and sometimes a haunch of venison. A couple of times, we have been given Woodcock. They are absolutely delicious, but are also beautiful creatures, so I think I’ll stop at two. 

The most coveted creature for the table is not hunted in the traditional way, but caught with nets: the Ortolan or Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana). This tiny bird, when it has the misfortune to be captured, firstly has its eyes poked out, before being force-fed and finally drowned in Cognac. It is eaten whole with a napkin over the head, some say to hide one’s shame from God, who, apparently, is unable to see through a napkin. Others say that this keeps in the aroma. The tiny bones lacerate the gums, thus adding to the saltiness with the taste of one’s own blood mixed with the bitterness of the guts.

The capture and preparation of these birds is strictly illegal in France, but Mitterand right at the end of his life and with characteristic contempt for the law, invited some old friends to dinner and managed to eat two of them. The ritual is such, that even for a small bird, you need about 15 minutes to eat it. 


  1. Thanks for sharing the ortolan thing... I had no idea quite how beastly these damned foreigners can be. Does the napkin go over the eater's head or the bird's head?

    The toll on migrating song-birds by gun-toting Mediterranean dickheads is a serious problem. As a member of the RSPB, I think we need to whip up a rival hunting party... "Exterminate all the brutes", camo underwear and all.


  2. The whole Ortolan thing is described by Maupassant in 'Boule de suif,' (I think). The edition I read had a line drawing of a group of people sitting round a table draped in cloths. Not a particularly attractive sight.

  3. It's finally tipped me over into membership of Real RSPB, the underground military wing of bird conservation...


  4. BTW, I suspect you're running your blog on USA time -- unless that's the way you like it, go to Settings / Language and Formatting / Time Zone and ask for "Red Eagle".


  5. Thanks Mike, I really am not that great at that sort of thing, having an attention span of mere seconds. Finally got to GMT+1.

  6. Although I'm no believer in God, had I known that covering my head with a napkin - I'm hedging my bets here - I'd have carried one around with me for years. It's too late now, of course.

    I was in Argostoli on Kefalonia for a few hours last Wednesday. It all seemed very quiet and, typically Greek, untouched by Captain Corelli. Interestingly, Louis de Bernières used to teach in Ipswich before fame caught up with him. He wasn't that well thought of, evidently.

    Obviously the Ortolon thing is disgusting but having grown up in Stevenage in the 1960s, I don't need to eat little birds and have their bones lacerating my gums. The dentists were so bad anything can make my gums bleed at any given moment. That's probably why I never add salt to my food - I obviously don't need to.

    1. Pity you didn't say. Richard Goddard lives there - that's who we were visiting. I'm sure he would have been pleased to see you. He lives just outside Argostoli. Admittedly, we were there in 2002, so perhaps the Cpt Corelli thing has calmed down a bit since then. Just got back ourselves from a few days in the mountains. I thought I knew France pretty well, but we went to some amazing places which I never knew existed, particularly a place called Conques. Will be posting a report of the trip in the next day or so.

  7. Ah! I wondered if it was Richard that you were visiting. He wrote to me for the first time a day or so before we left for our holiday. He didn't say where he was living but did say that he was spending most of his time sailing now as there's not much call for Architects in Greece at the moment!

    By the way, our friends who are buying a house in France are buying it not too far away from yourselves so perhaps a trip to France will be called for next year. Mind you, the results are so crap (GCSE NOT A level)that I may be unemployed before too long! Or is that "retired"?