I'm afraid that I have to apologise for misleading readers last week. I wrote about facing the problem of having a bear regularly visit our Canadian lake cottage. After much consternation in the family with children being told to only swim in pairs and my taking to sunbathing with my electric mosquito "executioner" by my side, there have been developments.
My old friend Harry, a man known throughout north Cheltenham for his bravery in matters bear-related, decided to become pro-active. Stripping to the waist and carrying only a cigarette for protection, he headed into the thick undergrowth that surrounds the property to investigate. The womenfolk wailed and begged him to stay home but he was a man on a mission, our very own Bear Grylls, only, unlike Bear, he kept his shorts on.
We heard little from Harry for more than half an hour and tension was mounting until he re-emerged from the scrub uneaten. He had a curious smile on his face and gathered us all around the fire-pit to tell us of his adventures in the Canadian tundra.
He told us that it had been "tough", he had been eaten alive by black flies, and had to clamber up a large rock to avoid the attentions of an amorous raccoon. Finally, he had stumbled into a Deliverance-type compound not too far from our cottage. Making his way past the rusting pick-up trucks and other detritus that littered the yard, he knocked on the door. There was silence for a while before a gap-toothed local opened the door suspiciously. After introducing himself, Harry informed the man that he was living next door and that a bear was harassing us. Had the man seen the bear and did he have any tips on how to deal with the matter? There was, Harry said, a confused moment of silence as the man stared at Harry blankly.
Then he spoke: "Is you French? Cos if youse French then I'm not comfortable with you being on my land." The man started shouting: "Honey we've got a Frenchman here … get Biff …."
Before Harry could explain that he wasn't French (although he has a Belgian wife so the local's antennae were strong) a large woman appeared behind the man and started shouting at him to get off their land. It was then that Harry noticed the bear standing by the woman and eyeing up one of his thighs for dinner.
"The... bear …" said Harry, backing away slowly and pointing at it, lest the agitated locals had not spotted it. The man looked at the woman, who looked at the man before they both looked down at the bear. They both started laughing. "This? This aint a bear, you French moron … this is Billy, he's a dog … don't you have those in France?"
Harry looked more closely at the bear and admitted to us that, although closely resembling a small bear, it did have dog-like qualities. He retreated slowly, making his excuses and trying not to look like a retreating Frenchman. The security level at the cottage has now been appropriately lowered.