Monday, January 29, 2007

Wool Over My Eyes

Diligent students of this column will recall that I’m a collector. Not of objets d’art, old coins, bone china or stamps. I’ve tried collecting money although that that never worked out, but I have succeeded, over the years, in amassing a fine assortment of eccentrics. Not the disagreeable kind, you’ll understand, but the amiably dotty sort that, as far as I’m concerned, make the world spin more smoothly upon its axis – the WD 40 of human life, one might say.

Just think what a miserable and depressing world it would be if we all worked from 9 to 5, slaving away for some government cause, our every movement watched over by an Orwellian state that surrounded us with petty rules and regulations impinging on our every thought and deed and depriving us of every initiative and trace of imagination. Oh, wait a minute, apart from the 9 to 5 bit, I’ve just described Tony Blair’s Britain.

Anyway, there is some magical lodestone in my being that attracts eccentrics toward me as does a moth steer so unerringly toward a candle flame. And my neighbour, Jean-Paul, is one of the many such lepidoptera that brighten my life.

Jean-Paul is an intermittent neighbour. He shows up mainly to look after his animals from time to time. He is working on completing his derelict cottage but putting up houses for his donkeys takes precedence and he’s quite a way to go before he will be in permanent residence. Apart from his herd (I don’t know the collective term) of donkeys, he has branched out into black sheep, goats and geese, but it would be fair to say that he’s a donkey man deep down in his Gallic heart.

So when he arrived on my doorstep on Saturday afternoon, I assumed the subject would be donkeys.

Jean-Paul arrives with several possible expressions on his expressive face. There’s the sad, desolé, look when one of his congregation has kicked the bucket, there’s a slightly different desolé look when his latest girl friend has kicked his bucket and there’s the small boy, wheedling look when he wants to borrow something. Understanding French depends very much on interpreting these sort of expressions correctly, the words being just a handy add-on.

This time he’s exuding an air of joyful bonhomie.

“Come and meet your new neighbours,” he says, beaming.

Now I’m not altogether chuffed at the idea of having new neighbours, I’m very satisfied with the one’s we’ve got and didn’t know there was any prospect of a change in personnel in our tightly closed community.

However, he’s not going to say any more and so I follow him into the paddock adjoining our garden.

And there, standing like a couple of woolly statues on a Peruvian mountainside are my new neighbours, two Llamas. I would hasten to add that these are of the South American alpaca variety, not the sort that Dalai around in Tibet.

We regard each other, me with some interest, them with a rather lofty disdain. I think they’re going to take some time to strike up a genuine rapport with me but it’s going to be a lot better than having to deal with humans.

They make a rather comforting sort of noise, somewhere between a humming sound and that of frying bacon and seem extremely amiable. Jean-Paul tells me only the badly brought up ones spit and that it’s strictly a llama to llama affair so, unless you happen to look like Neville Chamberlain (who always looked like a startled one), you should be OK.

They make an attractive addition to our landscape and there should be a couple of good sweaters in them, I’m sure.

Now my only worry is with Jean-Paul. He has that gleam in his eye one sees in a collector when the bug has got into his underwear.

I just hope he knows that there’s to be no f in elephant – not if he wants to stay on my list of lovable eccentrics – and I thought I heard him mutter something about ‘kangaroo’ as he left.

But he and others like him do make my day.


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