What to get for the person who has everything?

Doesn’t every family have someone who is a nightmare to buy for? They already have everything they need or don’t care much for possessions; they don’t want anything at all and certainly don’t want you spending any money on them. They are usually the kindest, most generous people themselves and they have  a birthday and Christmas Day like everyone else; it’s a problem has to be faced by the rest of us – a couple of times a year at least.

I had an aunt, with a good sized vegetable garden, who fell squarely into that category and one year I was persuaded by recent reading to believe I had found the answer.

This little book (with 56 works cited at the back, ranging from Lucretius and Pliny the Elder to Montesquieu and Voltaire, not to mention  contemporary agricultural scholars) was written by a Dominican friar and is a wonderful treatise on dung – animal droppings, manure, excrement, poo, cow pats and more of the stuff that is left lying around in the countryside to be gathered up for free. It convinced me that I had discovered the perfect present – one that could be repeated after every holiday trip to Dinas.

So, on the last day of our holidays  (a rainy day, unfortunately) we stopped by a field that had contained sheep and zigzagged over the grass, manually scooping up  as many of the had-been-dry-but-now-rained-soaked little turds that we could fit into an old fertiliser bag. We were surprised by how many it took to fill it.

The bag then went into the boot and, given the design of the car we had at the time, we were constantly reminded during the long, slow journey back to London, of how clever we had been.

Sadly, this present (like most of the others that I had ever come up with) was greeted with plenty of gratitude, but also a slight puzzlement that persuaded me that perhaps it wasn’t an experiment to be repeated.

Sheep dung

Surely she can’t have known that our offering was only second best and that the ne plus ultra, according to Maurice Lelong, is chicken or pigeon droppings that could be collected more easily in town:

Si haut que soit le sommet où nous a portés le mouton … le fumier par excellence, le super-fumier, le fumier des fumiers, l’Anapurna …du fumier (c’est) la poulaitte …

About bookvolunteer

I'm passionate about books, about Oxfam and about making the world a better place. When I'm not filling the shelves in Oxfam Wilmslow, I might be found reading the books I've bought in the beautiful surroundings of North Pembrokeshire.
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4 Responses to What to get for the person who has everything?

  1. simon682 says:

    Wonderful post. I’ll have to add fumier to my list of French words that work so well (but slightly differently) in English.

  2. Natasha says:

    Sounds an excellent book! Does it distinguish between different animals’ excrement by name eg. bird mutes (a falconry term), deer fewmets, otter spraint, dogs’ pure ( dog dung used in tanning leather), lesses was a general term for droppings
    (i.e.leavings, from the French).

    • As far as I remember, he doesn’t. ‘Crottin’ seems to do for the excrement of pretty well all the animals. However, had he thought of devoting a chapter to investigating these specialist terms, I think he would have enjoyed the challenge as it would have been quite in the spirit of the book! For my own interest I’ll have to check my English/French dictionary and see if it reaches far enough into this very specialised area.

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