Well, here I am, standing in a damp ditch at dawn with an obstetrician and a vet. We are on a cliff top on the north coast of Brittany, and I am being initiated into the mysteries of pistage or tracking. Porridge is sulking, locked into the back of the car, while an experienced retriever is tracing out complicated figures, nose down in the misty field.
He returns triumphant with a tiny wooden block and exchanges it for a piece of cheese. I can see the logic in this from the dog’s point of view. If I was a dog, I would rather have a piece of cheese than a piece of wood. For the more advanced discipline of Field Trials, the dog must retrieve a bird, and I have difficulty imagining Porridge handing over a pheasant in return for anything other than a bigger pheasant. Field Trials require training with fresh game, and I am repelled by hunting, but the vet informs me that this need not be a problem. I can use a carabine à la saucisse, or sausage gun. I take a few minutes thinking about what that must look like, and my imagination runs riot. Will the sausages have feathers?
I settle back into the trance-like joy of watching the dog work and wonder why I feel so at home here, what I have in common with these two women, after 15 years of mixing with the culturally great and good, working in music and theatre in Brittany.
A volley of gunfire comes from the nearby thicket, and a group of hunters burst from the undergrowth with an uncontrolled pack of short-legged Breton hounds which race up and try to distract the lone retriever. I exchange annoyed glances with the vet. An uneasy truce exists between hunters and trackers, since we all get in each others way. The men greet us casually and then stroll off in noisy disorder to the adjoining maize field, dogs trailing untidily in the rear.
And three anal-obsessive women stare after them, before continuing the serious business of getting a dog to follow a smell.
4 days ago