Welcome to the last blog of January. Another week has passed and it’s been a wet one. I have put sunshine on my shopping list but it seems to be out of stock, a bit like the empty shelves in the Marks and Spencer store in Paris who are struggling to get British goods through customs. Good old Brexit.
Our grey skies mean I have no pictures for you this week, but I have something better. Michael has started drawing again. A combination of non-stop rain, and the fact that he is putting together a selection of sketches to go in my next book, means he has put pencil to paper once more. Those of you who have been with me since last March will remember his bird drawings, but this time round the repertoire has been extended.
His subject this week has been wild boar, with which his family have a personal connection. I am going to ask you to use your imagination now and imagine younger versions of Michael and myself, sitting in a pub seventeen years ago in Wales, just a few weeks into our relationship. We were in those early, heady days of getting to know each other, tentative conversations where you learnt about each others past, about what you liked and disliked, what scared you and what thrilled you, ambitions achieved and mountains yet to be climbed.
And also about middle names.
This is a tricky areas, in the same category as passport photos. The response needs to be measured and appropriate – laughing out loud is to be avoided at all costs, a snigger can seriously set back a promising relationship. I’m lucky as I don’t have a middle name to cringe about. I hardly need one; I have two first names which have caused me quite enough angst over the years. I don’t know why but my name throws people into deep confusion. A typical response after having been introduced is a furrowed brow and a ‘Sorry, what did you say your name was?’ followed by me repeating it, trying not to look embarrassed, and they’ll nod happily and then call me Mary, or Jane or Mary-Lou or Mary-Ann, and ask if I’m American by birth. And that is why I now just call myself MJ – its easier for all of us.
Michael, on the other hand, has a fascinating middle name. Let’s go back to the pub.
‘So,’ I began, fortified after half a pint of cider. ‘Your middle initials are JW. What do they stand for?’
‘John Wildbore.’ he said, his face devoid of any expression.
‘Wild boar.’ I stared at him. ‘Did you just say wild boar?’
He nodded. ‘Although I imagine you’ve spelled it like the animal. It should be Wildbore.’
‘This isn’t a joke, is it?’
‘Not at all. It’s the surname of a woman who married a Houlton and so lost her maiden name. One of my more recent ancestors liked the name and resurrected it.’
And there you have it, a most unusual middle name.
Regardless of the difference in spelling, every time I see Michael’s initials, MJWH, it always makes me think of the animal and for some reason I feel a sense of connection. Here in the Pyrenées-Atlantique region we are in prime wild boar country. Despite their size they are fast runners, able to reach speeds of just under 30 miles per hour, They can swim and can jump low fences. Apparently the only thing that slows them down is deep snow. They have poor eyesight but more than make up for this with an excellent sense of smell and hearing.
Like our domesticated pig they are also intelligent and will move on if they find themselves being aggressively hunted. Given the rabid enthusiasm of our local hunt I can’t believe there are any left in our valley but Michael has seen three of them on separate occasions to date, trotting along the edge of a field in the opposite direction. His latest sighting was of a prime specimen, absolutely huge even from a distance. It stopped twice to turn around and look at him, at which point he started to assess which of the nearest trees would be easiest to climb, but thankfully it never felt the need to get to know him better. We raised two sets of trios of piglets for food in our small-holding days and are well aware that even the domesticated pig needs to be treated with respect. I can’t imagine how it would feel to come face-to-face with a wild one.
So that’s it for this week folks. Next week’s blog will be in February and that’s a positive thing. It’s always a good thing to get January out of the way. The bulbs I planted when we arrived are coming up, apart from the patch that Maddie now sits on whenever she is waiting to be let back inside. Maybe I’ll soon have a picture of a daffodil to send you. Take care.