French connection: All quiet… other than the police

This part of France really is idyllic and is particularly beautiful at this time of year.

First-time visitors from the UK are delighted by the lush greenery, small fields and shady lanes that spread out for miles in every direction and are amazed by the lack of traffic. It is not uncommon to drive for miles without seeing another car.

Our visitors delight in the variety of wildlife – butterflies which most people only see in books are common garden visitors here, along with huge stag beetles, natterjack toads (which Tom insists on calling jackernuts) and green tree frogs. Wild boar, deer and hares race into the hedgerow before passing cars and, a few weeks back, nightingales sang their hearts out after night had fallen.

Visitors love the fact that the weather is kind and it is great fun to sit out with a few beers on a balmy evening without getting chilly. And then stay out even later watching the stars and spotting satellites moving overhead. Without any light pollution, the night sky is truly spectacular, with the Milky Way easily visible by eye.

They also take a while to get used to the idea that we don’t have to lock the doors (not that we have had any on one side of the house for a while) and the keys are kept in the cars, quad and tractors.

As I’ve said it really is idyllic and consequently the murder of the next-door neighbour really was a huge shock.

The gendarmes came around asking if we had seen anything suspicious late one night, but did not mention the reason for their enquiry. The following morning three of our heifers had gone walkabout and had been found at Gabriel’s farm around the corner. I went to collect them and, as we loaded them, I asked if the gendarmes had been around.

Gabriel told me that they had and the reason was that the neighbour on the other side had died under suspicious circumstances. My first thought was that he had fallen – he was practically a hermit, elderly, living alone, very uncommunicative and fiercely independent. However Gabriel went onto say that the police thought that it was so suspicious that a murder enquiry was under way.

This week blue police cars have been everywhere and a police chopper has been hovering overhead on a daily basis. The farm drive leading to the victim’s house has been strung with yellow scene-of-crime tape and police have stood guard outside.

After living in Leicester, Birmingham and London, as well as the US for a couple of years, it is ironic that my first experience of homicide should be in a rural backwater of France.

Of course, it is very sad and also very disturbing that something like this has happened. I am glad to say that our French doors are now hung and can be locked if necessary. The enquiry continues and the police presence remains.

We now also have to temper the good news that we give our guests – it’s beautiful, quiet, warm and sunny. We have little traffic, lots of wildlife and, apart from the odd murder here and there, no crime.

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