Oscar the owl was just a tiny bit excited. Here he was, perched on the stern rail of a huge ship. To Oscar it seemed like an enormous ship; he had not seen seen ships before (you don’t, after all, get many of them floating down the tiny river where Oscar lives, the occasional log perhaps but no large shipping). It had all started with a remark from his friend Percy, the erudite pigeon.
“Oscar, my lad, it’s time that you broadened your horizons.” Oh dear, thought Oscar, he didn’t like the sound of this. Was ‘broadening your horizons’ one of those terrible things that people did in gyms?
“I’m all right Percy. I don’t think I fancy that.”
“Oh, come on, young owl. It is nothing painful or unpleasant. All I am talking about is going on holiday. You’ve never been on holiday, have you?
“No” replied Oscar and that was the truth. He had been rather put off holidays after hearing from Buster the dog (formerly known as Yapper) about his trip to somewhere called Bognor.
“There was nothing to do there, Oscar” grumbled Buster when he got back. “Just a lot of old people wandering up and down in front of the sea. Nobody threw me a ball and there were no cats to chase. Bloomin’ boring it was.”
So for Oscar holidays held no enchantment. Not for him, of that he was sure.
But Percy the pigeon was a persistent bird. “Forget about Buster and his tales of Bognor; I have somewhere else in mind, somewhere far more exotic.”
“Oh” said Oscar in a tone which suggested that he didn’t know what was coming next, “where exotic?”
“France!” beamed Percy. “La France, the most wonderful country in the world even though” he added with a slight shudder, “they are rather fond of eating pigeons.
“Do they eat owls too?” shrieked Oscar. “Percy. We can’t go there if I am going to end up on a plate.”
“No, no. Don’t worry, young Oscar. They don’t eat owls. They do like snails, though.” Oscar brightened up at this. Snails, perhaps going to France might not be so bad after all; Oscar loved snails.
And so, two weeks later, there they were, perched on the stern rail of a cross-Channel ferry, watching the enormous White Cliffs of Dover disappearing into the distance. Three seagulls were wheeling around the wake of the ship in an aimless sort of ‘we-don’t-know-where-we’re-going’ way. One of them landed on the rail, very close to Percy and Oscar.
“‘allo,’allo. What ‘ave we ‘ere? You two lost?” The large gull tilted his head on its side in a manner which made Oscar feel a little bit nervous.
“No thank you” he squeaked, trying to sound as polite as possible.
“We are going on holiday, sir” said Percy. He knew how to handle larger, stupid birds. “And you, are you off to France perhaps?”
“You bet. We’re going to France but not for a holiday.”
“Pray tell me” (Percy was laying it on thick now) “what do you do when you get to France?” The seagull looked at him with an expression that suggested that he was dealing with a half-witted pigeon.
“We come back again. Follow another ferry. That’s what we do.” Oscar wondered what the point of it all was but was sensible enough to keep his beak shut. At that moment another seagull landed next to the first.
“Bonjour, mes amis” he croaked. “’Ow are we, today and qu’est-ce que le petit hibou?”
“Percy” Oscar whispered “what’s he saying?”
“Oh, don’t worry Oscar. He’s speaking a special language called Franglais. He can be understood in both England and France. (Not by me he can’t, thought Oscar) but he gave the seagull an owlish smile to pretend that he understood everything that he was saying.
“Don’t mind Alphonse” said the first seagull. “He’s a bit of a one for the cross-cultural exchanges. He’s ‘armless – but he has got legs!” and he nearly fell off the rail for laughing at his own joke. No-one had ever taught him that never laugh at your own jokes.
After a while the seagulls flew off to wheel up and down over the broad wake of the ferry. Oscar shivered for it was getting a little cold. “Where are we going to, Percy? Is it far?”
“Well, Oscar, once we disembark” (again a word that Oscar did not know but which sounded uncomfortable)” we have to hitch a lift. It is perfectly easy, leave it all to me and say nothing yourself.”
The two birds flew from the port (avoiding going through Customs) to the edge of the town. They perched on a large sign beside the road which said ‘Paris 270’. Percy began to lift up one leg and pointed a claw into the air. After a while a lorry drew to a halt.
“Look appealing and keep your mouth shut” whispered Percy in an urgent tone. The driver opened his cab window and stared down at the two birds. “Où?” he grunted.
“Cahors, s’il vous plait” replied Percy. Oscar was impressed.
“‘Op in” said the driver and they did, finding themselves in a warm, comfortable cab. The driver was a man of few words – well none actually – so Oscar and Percy soon dropped off to sleep.
When Oscar woke the lorry was stopping in a park beside the Auto route. “Cahors, près d’ici” said the driver. Percy smiled and said
“Merci, monsieur et au revoir”. They hopped out of the cab to find themselves in a little wood which was full of picnic tables. “Come on, Oscar, plenty of comestibles lying around here.” Oscar looked hard for a comestible but couldn’t see one, mostly because he had no idea what a comestible was. Then he saw Percy tucking into a sandwich crust and realised that comestibles meant food. He scrabbled around and soon found plenty to eat; he was very hungry by then.
Once filled with food they went for a little fly. “Come on, Oscar” called Percy, “my cousin was a homing pigeon so I should be able to find the way to our destination.” They flew off in all directions but kept ending up where they started.
“Are you sure your cousin was a homing pigeon?” ventured Oscar.
“Well he was but he was completely lost to us all when racing from Leeds to Bootle and ending up in Stornoway. He never came back.” (Stornoway, you should know, is a Long Way North, a great long way from either Leeds or Bootle.)
Oscar was not at all encouraged by this news. “Where are we heading for then, Percy?”
“It is a delightful little hamlet called Laval.” (You may have heard of it). “It is but fifteen miles from here but, regrettably, I am not sure in which direction.” He went back to his sandwich crust.
Oscar had an idea. Ideas did not come all that often to our small owl friend but when they did he experienced a kind of excited, whirring feeling inside. By now quite a number of cars had parked under the threes. Now Oscar knew that most cars these days are fitted with something called a SatNav. These were people who lived inside little boxes and told you were to drive (Percy could do with one of these, mused Oscar). The small owl wondered how they found people even smaller than himself who would live in a box. It struck him as a very boring job.
Anyway, all you had to do was tell the SatNav person where it was you wanted to go and she, or he, would tell you how to get there.
Oscar hopped between the cars, looking for a SatNav. Soon he found one that was turned on (the little red light told you that the person inside was awake). The owners of the car were having a picnic nearby and they did not spot a little owl punching the letters L-A-V-A-L into their SatNav. Once done Oscar flew back to his friend. “Come on. Follow that car!” and he pointed to the vehicle whose SatNav he had altered. The people were getting in. Soon they set off.
It was a simple matter to follow the car; within half an hour they were circling above a solidly-built house next to a swimming pool.
“This is it!” shouted Percy, “this is where we are going.”
They circled down to inspect. Here were a family sitting under the shade of some green trees and guess what they were eating – snails! They called Oscar down and invited him to join them. The snails were delicious. Everyone was having such a good time that they did not hear, a short distance down the road, a family argument raging.
“We were meant to arrive in Marseilles and you set the useless machine to Laval – where on earth is this?”
“I didn’t. Have we got a map?
“Of course we haven’t. We’ve got a SatNav.”
“Well, what do we do now?”
The man started punching something into the SatNav, so hard that it must have been very disturbing for the small person inside. “I’ve had enough of this. I’m setting this machine to Bognor. That’s where we’re going!”