Local writer, Peny Pluma, who currently lives in Nerja, has kindly let us publish her recent short comedy story, Duck on the Doyng-Doyng. It’s oodased on a real incident, the hilarious tale of the “Popplewells” while holidaying in the Dordogne. We gurantee a laugh. Please feel free to kindly make a comment for Peny below…
Duck on the Doyng-Doyng
It began Friday afternoon when Harry Popplewell rung the canoe rental chap at La Roque-Gageac and tried to book a table for two, thinking it was the fine dining restaurant in Brantôme he had saved on his phone.
“I’d like to make a reservation for 7:30 this evening please” Harry said.
Puzzled at this unusual booking, the man answered in broken English (and strong French accent) “But we are only open from ten till five, at seven thirty it will be dark!”
Harry’s wife Penelope, who was standing beside him, was hoping they would have availability since it was highly recommended and their confit de canard speciality was supposed to be “out of this world”. She was very keen on sampling it.
“Ah, erm, can we make it lunch tomorrow then? We would like the duck” Harry insisted.
Even more surprised at this seemingly bizarre request the man responded “We cannot guarrantee you will see a duck!”
Harry, in turn, was rather discombobulated at his answer, as the Popplewells often are, wondering how they could eat duck without seeing it? He imagined them being blindfolded at the table by the garçon before le duck made its grand entrance. Perhaps the French had exalted their Nouvelle Cuisine to another level where l’odeur of a dish is much too important to be overshadowed by how it looks.
“Hmm… but my wife was very keen on the duck” he replied.
The chap, with noticeable impatience in his voice which made his French accent more acute, answered “come without your wife. We also have canoes for one people”, probably rolling his eyes while he was thinking about the crazy woman that would not canoe unless she saw the feathered friends.
The penny had just dropped as Harry realised he had rung the canoe rentals at La Roque instead of the Charbonnel in Brantôme. Embarrassed and akward he tried to save face by finishing the phone call as quickly as possible “erm, I will call you tomorrow. I need to consult with my duck…sorry my wife…erm…Merci”.
The Popplewells then had a giggle at the thought of how confused the chap would be by the touristes fous who are crazy enough to want to explore the Dordogne river after dark with an obsession for duck watching. He probably imagined them with maniac faces, torches in hand, blowing a duck-quack like mad men down the river.
The next day they headed to La Roque-Gageac to hire the canoe since that’s the thing to do in the Dordogne, which incidentally, the English often refer to as the “Doyng-Doyng” with a slight nasal hint and emphasis on the last “Doyng”, in their best effort to pronounce French.
The intrepid pair were eagerly looking forward to this new experience on the beautiful French river. They were provided by the owner with a large red two seater canoe, a pair of paddles and blue life vests. Penelope wondered why they would need to wear them, even little kids were canoeing with their parents on this seemingly calm river.
After boarding the craft and paddling a few hundred meters along the river, Harry, who was admiring the peace and tranquility of the stunning setting and sniffing the air as though he was looking for truffles, remarked “Isn’t the Doyng-Doyng wonderful! I feel so relaxed.”
Both kept paddling on and enjoying the spectacular beauty of the Dordogne river, with Penelope taking pictures using her long silver selfie stick which was almost as long as the paddle she was using. Harry seemed rather worried at times seeing her manouver that selfie stick. In Penelope’s hands it could be a deadly weapon. He knew well from previous experience, particularly in small restaurants, where worried looking people on neighbouring tables dodged and swerved her “golf swing” as she tried to get a hole in one. It was best to be as far away as possible at this time. Now the canoe didn’t seem big enough for the two of them and that devilish stick.
On the horizon suddenly a breathtaking view of an ancient arched bridge and a mediaeval chateau appeared. There was Penelope, trying to get the chateau, the bridge, the canoe and Harry and her in line for that perfect shot. Which wasn’t easy because they both had their big hats on, occupying three quarters of the picture. Harry was happy, though, that Penelope was not wearing her XXL orange hat that reminded him of these enormous pumpkins he had seen displayed at the marché in Brantôme.
They had changed the position of the canoe to face upstream in order to get the best posible picture of the bridge and the castle. While Penelope was intensely concentrated on getting that perfect shot, Harry noticed something strange. As he kept paddling forward against the current the canoe seemed to be getting pulled backwards. “Forget the photo and get paddling!” he urged her, “We’re getting pulled into the rapids!”
But she wasn’t paying much attention as she was engrossed in getting that perfect picture. Harry, though, was vigorously trying to steer the canoe into stiller waters, albeit without much success.
When she finally realised their situation, she started paddling with all her might saying “We can do it!” But Harry wasn’t as hopeful, “don’t you see that no matter how hard we are paddling we’re going backwards fast” he answered. Penelope was determined though and kept all the more at it, saying “We can do it!”. In fact, her paddling turned so frantic that it looked more like she was beating an egg for a tortilla.
Suddenly they noticed a large branchy tree, which was growing in the river. “We are getting dragged towards that tree!” Penelope exclaimed “Well let’s just go with the flow.. we’ll be okay” Harry answered, who by now was starting to turn different shades of purple from sheer exhaustion.
Before they knew it they hit the tree and the canoe tilted sideways. The flowing current began to fill the canoe and it started to sink. Both were dipped right into the cold, fast-flowing water but somehow managed to grapple on to the branches of the tree to stop themselves being whisked down the river. The current was strong and they just about managed keeping themselves afloat thanks to the life vests. Within seconds the canoe had been completely swallowed up by the river.
Although Penelope had been “ducked” right under the water, amazingly her inseparable hat remained in position, despite her struggle to keep afloat. This was certainly not the Duck(ing) she had been looking forward to so much.
With her other hand she was holding on with a passion to what she thought was her cherished Selfie stick attached to her iPhone. Which unfortunately turned out to be the canoes paddle, to her dismay. Penelope felt like a piece of the Popplewells had just drowned. A flash thought crossed her mind: perhaps she should dive back under and see if she could find it. But being no channel swimmer, common sense prevailed.
They clambered the side of the steep river bank, like a pair of drowned rats, helping themselves by means of the branches that now had become their friends. As Harry lead the way up, helping his wife to safe ground, he reminded her of a soggy version of Indiana Jones in “Temple of Doom” (emphasis on the “Doom”) amazingly he too was still wearing his hat. He had also managed to save his phone but soon realised that it had “drowned” in his hand.
Once at the top of the bank they looked at each other drenched to their bones and burst into laughter. “Oh I wish I had my camera to immortalise this” Penelope said.
They started to walk through lovely green fields making their way to the main road. As they dragged their heavy water logged feet across the sea of grass and despite what they had just been through and lost, their spirits were high, the only thing that was damp and dripping was their clothes.
When they got to the main road they realised they were still a good few kilometres from the canoe base in La Roque-Gageac. They walked in single file, since after surviving the treachery of the river, it wouldn’t feel appropriate to be mowed down by a French grand-mère in her Citroën 2CV driving at 100 km an hour down that country road, as they notoriously do, with speedy eyes.
As the Popplewells squelched along, they couldn’t help but appreciate the breathtaking scenery. The temperature was perfect and the air was full of the joys of spring …even though it was autumn.
Our sorry pair didn’t quite fit in with that idyllic scenery….dripping wet, life-vests still on and with a paddle in hand waving around like a surrender flag, they were a poor advertisement for the joys of Dordogne canoeing. Passing drivers could have easily visualised their disastrous journey as they muttered Oohlalaa!
After walking several kilometres in that pitiful state, but all the while trying to look dignified, a man in a large white van with a trailer full of canoes pulled up on the opposite side of the road. The driver was staring with his big eyes in disbelief, as though the object of his attention were two creatures from the Black Lagoon.
It was the canoe rental chap. He exclaimed in his strong French accent: “What happened?!“ …although clearly afraid to hear the answer.
They briefly explained their ordeal. But with not much compassion he asked “But where is the canoe??“
When they explained it had sunk and disappeared down the river, he rolled his eyes until only the whites could be seen, which reminded Penelope of two hard boiled eggs, as she was beginning to feel famished.
Harry wondered what this chap would think if he identified him as the crazy Englishman who had rung the afternoon before trying to book a table for two at 7:30. Now here he was bashing the Frenchman’s “canoe for two” into a tree and letting it float off down the river to goodness knows where. Knowing that, he wondered if the chap would be brave enough to give them a lift back to the canoe base at La Roque or would that perhaps be dicing with death? It seemed the latter was possible since he immediately decided to ring his coworker to take them back.
He then set off in search of the lost canoe muttering “Touristes fous!” And who knows what else…
When his colleague arrived he seemed much more concerned about the dripping couple and immediately asked if they had any injuries pointing and gesticulating with his arms, head and other movable parts of his body, at the possible injuries that can happen when a tourist is let loose on the Dordogne.
They climbed into his old van and were glad to rest their “boodles” on a seat. It couldn’t be described as a very comfortable van, it was more like a cattle cart, but it felt like heaven on earth to the tired out couple. After a few minutes of silence enjoying the convenience of a good old motor vehicle, Penelope referring to the abrupt ending of their canoe trip, asked the man ”Does this happen often”? She was trying to find out whether this was a regular occurrence or whether they were completely inept conoe-men. The man answered ”Je ne comprends pas”. In a way Penelope felt relieved not to know the answer as she preferred to believe that the canoe-wreck was all down to being a photography perfectionist than due to being un désastre total as the french would describe her.
After another few minutes of silence enjoying the ride and the beautiful views outside, Penelope turned to Harry as though she had suddenly thought of a great idea and enthusiastically said “Why don’t we try it again tomorrow?”
Harry looked at her in disbelief and amazement that she even suggested the idea and said in his best french accent “Touriste fous!”
They both burst into laughter joined heartily by the driver who seemed to think they were both quackers.
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