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Low life

From Glasgow to Provence: the making of a mongrel

I despaired of our city-slicker dog until she came home covered in boar slime

15 October 2016

9:00 AM

15 October 2016

9:00 AM

Six months ago Sally was living in a third floor flat in Glasgow. Then she was thrown into the back of a car, drugged, and driven down to Provence. Since then I had watched with interest how she has adapted herself from life in a Scottish city to the heat, light and alien smells of deepest Provence.

Sally is a small to medium sized chocolate brown mongrel with the grey hairs of old age showing on her muzzle. Her brown eyes are calm and intelligent. What she is comprised of is hard to say. Her head, jaw and teeth are from some sort of terrier; her deep chest suggests that she has some whippet in her. She is a compact, evenly proportioned dog, and sprightly for her age, which is 11. Her nature is unobtrusive, quiet and polite. Modest, you might say. She never asks for food. She has a self contained air and doesn’t bestow affection easily. You only have to whisper the word ‘off’ and she’ll smartly vacate the chair for you. She never bears a grudge.

If I have a complaint against her soul, it is that it is overly sensitive. She notices rising irritation in a human voice or footstep long before the human does and flags it up with a waving, unhappy tail and a pleading look. Living with Sally is like living with a tender and perceptive Buddhist nun. Her sensitivity to sudden loud noises is also irritating. Any loud noise — an abrupt sneeze, the spit of a burning pine log, a slammed drawer — sends her into an anxious depression. Thunderstorms drive her cowering and shivering under the nearest bit of furniture. And now that the boar hunting season is in full swing, she has gun shots to contend with. Last Saturday morning the rate of gunfire in the surrounding vineyards sounded like the fatal collision, in 1914, between the unsuspecting right wing of the German First Army and the British Expeditionary Force drawn up behind the Mons Conde canal with presented arms. Poor Sally was under the sideboard in a hell of a state.

One couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor boars, too. With no idea that the immunity from persecution they were enjoying through the balmy summer months was state sanctioned and about to cease, they’ve bred like mice. I was driving home pissed a few weeks ago and almost ploughed in to a herd of at least 20 of them — young, old, adolescent — wandering down the lane as if they owned it. In the beams of my headlights they were a magnificent sight. They filed past the car on both sides and paid me as little attention as if I were an olive tree. I’d never seen so many boars in a single group, even when I’ve been hunting them.

I’ve been boar hunting a few times. Once I saw three live ones nipping smartly across the road just ahead of the pursuing dogs; apart from that I only ever saw dead ones. Hunting driven boar is boring. All I did was stand around in my designated corner of field or wood all morning, trying to sober up, and straining my ears for the sound of the dog bells. When I did faintly hear them, they were generally receding. On one occasion the hunter posted 50 yards away came up and indicated I should follow him, and as quietly as possible. I thought he was about to lead me to a spot he knew where the boars were more likely to emerge. Instead we tiptoed to his jeep, he drove us to his home, and he plied me in his kitchen with a clear and intoxicating spirit for an hour. Then we drove back and tried to resume our respective positions in the ambush. I could barely stand up. A boar did eventually come our way, and was shot and killed. I remember going to the scene to view the corpse. It lay on its side. A rifle bullet had made a bloody hole about the size of a 10 pence piece in its flank. And as I stood there looking at it, one of the hunting dogs came up and stuck it’s snout deep into the hole and snuffled, to dispel any lingering doubts, I supposed, about the boar’s condition.

But there must be something about wild boar which excites the ardour of even an elderly mongrel used to living in a third floor Glasgow flat. Because a few days after that deafening Saturday morning fusillade among the vines, there was a terrible smell of decomposition emanating from an overgrown gully not far from the house. And the day after that, Sally returned to the house after a little exploratory expedition covered from nose to tail in the foul slime of a decomposing boar. She’d been rolling in it. ‘Good girl, Sal!’ I said, very, very pleased for her.

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