Christmas rolled in here on chilly billows of dense fog. A normal late-December day. Not that the animals expect the day to be any different from their usual routine and, with the exception of a heartier-than-usual dinner, neither do we.
Our household now consists of two adults of a certain age, one of each gender; two young cats, ditto, and two horses, one in his teens and one in his thirties. None of us are religious. We believe in doing as you would be done by (old dictum, please don’t write in about the grammar), honesty, kindness and cleanliness (up to a reasonable point). Of course our moral code is probably a lot more complicated than that, but, having suffered a childhood surfeit of Christian catechising, the humans in this family are pretty sceptical of the competing rules dreamed up by all the races of mankind seeking to explain the universe to themselves. Though this doesn’t us prevent us from harbouring a gut feeling there are forces far beyond the power of our puny apprehension – which may or may not care what happens on this benighted earth.
Anyway, enough of all that. I’ve no wish to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, since religious sensitivities are already responsible for enough trouble in this world. And until someone’s religion is definitively proved to be right, I reckon everyone should be allowed to think for themselves, follow their own traditions and respect each others’. Easy, right?
So, where was I? Oh yes, Christmas. Though we were raised to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, and we can still get teary in a knee-jerk, involuntary fashion, when the old hymns are sung and old memories of Christmas past are evoked – we don’t attend services or have religious symbols in the house.
And if, like us, you have no family members living in the same hemisphere to spend the day with you, you too may feel that decorating the house in yards of moulting tinsel and glittery artefacts of dubious creative value, cutting down innocent conifers and spending money you don’t have to enrich corporate conglomerates and so oblige your giftees to do the same is all rather pointless, (and at the very least ecologically dubious). Sometimes we invite unencumbered friends to join us for a celebratory meal, but if we are alone then we are unashamed to shun the commercialised brouhaha of the “festive season”.
We send cards, if only as a good excuse not to lose touch with old friends who need reminding of our existence, but we have long since stopped buying and giving presents. Even to each other. After the incident of the horizontally ribbed heavyweight cream sweater that gave me all the allure of the Michelin Tyre man, (many decades ago when I still had aspirations to some kind of allure) I persuaded my husband that though I really did appreciate the thought, I would prefer that the thought remain in his head.
We have since cleaved to the very practical system of nominating any joint or singular purchase requiring purse-clenchingly large sums as Christmas or birthday presents, whatever time of year they are bought. Thus, one year, a vivid orange tractor skip, which would never have fitted down the chimney, let alone under the tree, was left in the barn by agents of Santa sometime in Summer, likewise a very elaborate saw-bench with intriguing capacities which we are still trying to decipher.
This year we were being very minimal indeed. Apart from hanging Christmas cards from some festive felt ribbon and unearthing a couple of sparkly reindeer and a minuscule gilt tree no more than ten inches high, I was feeling completely Bah Humbug about the whole thing.
Then two unexpected things occurred to stir up our anticipated cosy, low-key Christmas day. Firstly, a friend whose family plans had fallen through cornered us with the plea that we HAD to join them for Christmas lunch as, a) an unfeasibly large turkey had already been bought to cater for large numbers and, b) her son, whose birthday falls on the 25th December was feeling rather flat at the prospect of spending it in a foreign land with only his Mum and Dad. So, along with other random friends, we were required to notch up the Christmas/birthday spirit, in numbers at least.
Since it would have been churlish to refuse and doubly churlish to turn up empty-handed, we accepted gracefully and scrambled to the shops. Luckily, I had already made a large Christmas pudding that I could take, with other stuffings and sauces, to the feast.
So, on Christmas morning we rushed out to the barn to wish the horses “Merry Christmas” – and feed and muck out as usual – before setting off to join our friends, only to find a second surprise in store, lurking in the muck-heap…..
A young wild boar, a “marcassin” as the young “sanglier” are called here, had snuggled down into the warmth of the muck-heap about 10 yards behind the back of the barn. Not more than about 2 feet high, a rich conker brown and very hairy, he must have been from a 2017 litter. We presumed he had been orphaned by the hunters who had been active in our vicinity in previous weeks. They (the wild boar) usually stick together in family groups and our neighbours had seen a band of four or five grubbing up fields and gardens on our lane. We’d even had damage in our garden, though we have finally resorted to what seemed like impregnable fencing close to the house – impossible, however, to prevent damage to the fields!
To get to their fields from the barn, the horses had to pass the intruder – with much snorting and brio – whilst the little chap remained hunkered down, beady-eyed and ears twitching. There was little we could do at this point, other than check that the fencing was secure, the horses were safely away and the barn was well shut up, as we needed to get changed and drive over to spend the rest of the day with our friends.
The next few hours passed enjoyably and we were back home to bring the horses in before dusk, fully expecting the visitor to have scarpered. But no, there he was, burrowed further in and making himself even more comfortable.
And there he still was, the following day. By this time, we began to imagine that he might be injured or ill. A few years ago a smaller marcassin had spent several nights in the horses’ field shelter before finally expiring there. We tiptoed nearer and nearer to him (could have been “her” but we never got close enough to tell) and finally he shrugged off his layer of mucky shavings and straw and trotted off. But he was back by nightfall and in place the next morning, and the next. He wheezed and coughed a bit one day and we wondered about swine flu and if he could pass anything infectious on to the horses, but he was well enough to crash through the garden fence one day – and crash back out again when he saw us. He even took a bath in the horses’ trough one day. He seemed to be making himself thoroughly “at home”.
We worried about what to do. The horses remained on edge. The cats were wearing themselves out in brave attempts, to which the piglet was completely oblivious, to defend their territory. We didn’t want to have serious garden damage to deal with. We wanted him to move on and hopefully team up with his kin. And yet we didn’t want any intervention from the hunters, whose only interest in the animals is if they are of the legal size to shoot.
Also we were in serious danger of getting sentimentally attached to “Stig the Pig”, who seemed endearingly keen to stick around. (The hunters locally crossed wild boar with domestic pigs and so these animals produce several instead of only one litter per year and are not entirely wild – I passed the breeding enclosures on rides in the woods years ago.) However you can’t become attached to a wild animal that will grow to half a ton of aggressive boar and, as we live surrounded by woodland, only a small part of which is ours, aggressive hunters (“chasseurs”) are an equally formidable hazard.
We went to bed early on New Year’s Eve and didn’t sleep well. Options for a happy ending, however far-fetched, seemed few. I sent up a fervent prayer to whatever elemental force, greater than us piffling humans, might pick up one cry among the deafening white noise of universal pleas.
And as we opened the barn doors on January 1st 2018 we found our guest had left.
There hadn’t, and still hasn’t been any “chasse” activity in our area recently, so we don’t know why he moved on, and of course, he was never “our problem” to solve. But I hope he survives. As Christmas visitors go, we have had worse!