Menagerie [ muh-naj-uh-ree] noun
- a collection of wild or unusual animals, especially for exhibition.
- an unusual and varied group of people.
Pumpjack & Piddlewick non-Victorian variation on the definition:
3. an unusual and varied group of animals defining interspecies possibilities.
I grew up travelling a lot so there was very little opportunity to have pets. We did have parakeets and there was a short time with a guinea pig, but having a pet (let’s be specific here, a ginger or grey tiger cat really) was another item on my bucket list.
It wasn’t until moving to France with Pumpjack that opportunity finally presented itself. It may not have even originally crossed our minds if hadn’t been for a little mouse. But let me digress a little here.
We started our life in France as guardians for a small Chateau, a chance to improve our French and decide if we actually liked living here before the ultimate commitment. As part of taking care of the estate, we lived in a small cottage. Not ours, so pets were never planned.
However, part of our job was to look after the animals of the estate. These were rabbits, chickens and ducks. And from this group came Maggie*, an abandoned duck egg that we somehow managed to hatch and keep alive.
And here is where the story of our menagerie begins. Or actually a few months before Maggie hatched. Mr P and I were sitting at the table in our cottage’s garden, when we looked up, or rather down, to spot a mouse holding a piece of corn in his hands, happily munching. We watched him munch. He watched us watching him munch. There was no fear (on either side) and no action. He finished his corn and sauntered on his way.
You see this petite Chateau was in the countryside, with farm land surrounding its enclosure walls. Cows could be heard in the distance. Tractors sowed and harvested food. And wild life, including mice, were a plenty. But the sheer cheekiness of this mouse prompted us in to action.
We had vaguely discussed my desire to have a cat (female ginger ideally) but it was one of those things for the future. Until that mouse. In realisation that a lack of fear could actually cause trouble for the estate, we requested to get a cat to make sure the cheekiness did not get out of hand.
Duly granted, Gigi, our female ginger enters the scene. I found her advertised online, through Le Bon Coin. France’s equivalent to Gumtree/Craigs List/Trade Me. She was only 4 weeks old at the time, so per rightly so regulations in France, we waited until she was 8 weeks old to collect her.
And in the meantime, unexpectedly, Maggie hatched. Life with our Gigi began consequently as life with a kitten and duckling. Maggie actually went with us the day we collected Gigi. Of a similar size, they have been like two typical sisters every since. Mostly they get on, have a fierce loyalty and love for each other and sometimes have spats. It was our first real introduction to interspecies relations. And, little did we know it, the beginning of our menagerie.
Getting a dog was always on the agenda. Again, a some day thing. Three factors came together to make it happen sooner rather than later. Mr P felt ready to have another dog, having grieved deeply for his previous one. The owners of the Chateau suggested it. And, call it serendipity, a young standard sized dachshund puppy was found in need of a home on Le Bon Coin. Enter Chewie.
Timing is everything, so it is said. So as Chewie joined our household, Gigi got herself knocked up. As she wasn’t even a year old, it was rather a surprise. But also it had been planned that she would have one litter of kittens, hence not sterilised. It just wasn’t expected so soon.
Kittens are not readily available in France, unless you wish to buy a breed. We had had great difficulty in finding Gigi, and in fact had had to travel quite far to do so. When Gigi’s kittens were advertised, they were all reserved within the hour.
Except, we fell for a little grey tiger with a peach coloured toe. Lapsong Suchong* decided Chewie was her best buddy ever (and still is today), following him wherever he went. The two of them were constantly tearing around the cottage together. If it wasn’t Chewie it was Mr P or I she followed every where. How could we let her go? So she stayed.
And when the kittens were 7 weeks old, Gigi due for her sterilisation operation the following week, got knocked up again. This time was a very different pregnancy. Height of the summer heat, and now competing for space in our little cottage with a larger menagerie. Gigi decided she would take herself off to have her kittens. What ensued was a proper mission impossible scenario* to find her kittens when she returned one day, very obviously thinner.
Duly found, we brought the kittens into the cottage to add to the growing chaos. We whisked Gigi off for her sterilisation as soon as they were weaned. And, as before, the kittens were reserved within an hour of being advertised.
There was this tortoiseshell kitten who was very obviously different from the others. She alone discovered she could escape the cottage for some alone time through our up on high cat window. It took leaping up on to a little ledge, up on to the window sill and then down on to our bin top and then to a chair on the other side. At 5 weeks old, she did just that.
Enter Noisette*. Her independent little exploring soul appealed to our senses and she joined our menagerie. Done and dusted. Finally. Right? Hmmm, what about Maggie and the ducks whilst all this was going on?
Maggie, being a duck, laid eggs of course. She was rather prolific actually. We took her eggs to eat initially, but then she got smart and started laying two a day. And as soon as we forgot once, she had 4 eggs and decided that was enough to sit on. And add to. So that in the end she was on a nest of 19 eggs! (Although at the time we didn’t know it as we were not allowed near them.)
13 of those eggs hatched. Suddenly our garden and cottage was awash in ducklings. (Of note, this was very obviously (maybe) timed between the births of Lapsong and Noisette, when luckily we were sans additional kittens.)
Most of Maggie’s ducklings were sold on at adulthood as pet or ‘ornamental’ ducks, as in not for eating. We did ultimately keep 2 males and 2 females as part of Maggie’s flock: Sir Studly, BeepBeep and Sunny (RIP) were joined later by George, simply because from the moment of his hatching he refused to leave Maggie’s side. He’s still there today.
And finally there was Louis, our white call duck. He came about through instagram. We were messaged by another pet duck owner here in France asking if we would like a call duck to add to our flock. Since interbreeding is an issue in a duck flock, we said yes. Not to mention, Louis is absolutely adorable! Who wouldn’t want to have a cute white duck? He duly arrived and decided Maggie was the Bridget Bardot of the duck world and has been competing with George ever since.
So with this lot in tow, we moved from the Chateau to our own home* (a very real necessity given the numbers and the size of the cottage we had been living in).
They all moved much better than anticipated. The duck enclosure was much bigger than their previous one. Maggie quickly figured out how to climb the stairs in our new home without issue. The cats could claim a room each as their bedroom, though they still share sometimes in the colder months. And Chewie, well he is over the moon that there are now other dogs to play with in the village, rather than just cats and ducks. (It’s not quite the same thing, is it?)
But wait. For those who read my blog posts regularly you will realise I have left of Gabby*. Now two years into our new home, we have another addition to the menagerie. A duckling of Maggie’s rescued from death. In consequence he has imprinted on me. A piebald mixture of Louis and Maggie he lives happily in the house with his non-feathered flock.
Oh, and have I mentioned the hedgehog…?
For pictures of our menagerie – we have a ‘Our Pets’ Album on Flickr
Or you can follow their, and our, antics on Instagram
* Maggie’s full story is told in Life, Death and the Birth of Margaret Thatcher
*Lapsong Suchong’s story is told in Living with Lappy
* Gigi’s Mission Impossible Story is told in Animal Antics (Part 2) Game of Spies
* The story of our move with our menagerie is told in Buying a new Home in France
* Noisette has her say in Meet Noisette
And * Gabby’s story begins in Bad Duck Mom