“How about some dickheads for breakfast tomorrow?” my wife Jan said last week. I thought this a bit random as a suggestion, not least because Jan is getting more vegetarian with every year that passes. And while I’ve always believed a hearty breakfast is important, a large helping of Comte de Mandelson sur ses blanquettes d’oeufs would be a bit too much for a chap in his seventh decade.
But Mrs W was merely making reference to the system of barter that pertains here in Lot et Garonne. If you have a surfeit of something in this region, the word goes out to one’s neighbours, “Il faut profiter!” and the locals pitch up to take advantage – armed with gifts.
Our surfeit right now is the old wooden roof tiles being stripped from our house by the thousand. And as aged chestnut makes excellent kindling for fires, the world and his trailer has been turning up to take away those wooden blocks for which we have no room – the woodstore being already full to overflowing.
An English neighbour Kevin chose to swap duck eggs for the tiles, and so Jan was really asking if I wanted some for breakfast. I did, and they were wonderful. But the idea of dickheads for breakfast continued to intrigue me for several days.
The global overpopulation problem seems at times to be an intractable one, but if people are too dense and lacking in self-control to stop reproducing, then perhaps they deserve to be eaten. I’ve never sampled human flesh myself, although I was told by a shady character on one occasion that it tastes like a cross between chicken and pork. Personally, on that basis I’m quite attracted to this as a solution.
My wife was less impressed, and gave me one of those looks suggesting uncertainty as to whether I might be joking, or mad. By that stage – having served up scrambled duck eggs – her concerns had anyway moved elsewhere….to the subject of des loirs.
The loir is the common European dormouse, known in the UK (where it is very rare) as the edible dormouse. We’re back to carnivorous matters again – but the English name does suggest why it’s rare. They’re charming little creatures, the size of a large rat but like a cross between the bushbaby and the koala. They also have squirrel-like tales. And most endearing of all, once inside a house they treat humans as if our species might be the telly.
They really will stare for hour on end at everything you do. “‘ere Maisy, you’ll never guess what ‘e’s doin’ now….’e’s only going to the big white box and bringing out a bottle of that brown stuff that smells like pine marten piss”.
Anyway, our roofer M.Ruggeri told us last night – as he departed for the weekend – that he’d found a loir nest in our roof-void. This sent Jan scurrying to her laptop and into Google. Eventually, I was asked to ring Ruggeri and ask him what he’d done with the nest.
He greeted my question with that eerie silence the French always employ when asked something incomprehensible by the English. Then – at last – he spoke.
“It was an old nest” he said, “and so I threw it away”.
My wife burst into tears of joy and relief. I thought she was reassured that there would be no further verminous invasion of our house, but I was wrong: it was merely that Mrs Ward would not have been able to sleep with the death of loir babies on her conscience.
Women are like that. So our blokes, when they think about it.