Not far from here there are many caves once inhabited by early man and his ancestors.  You can go to a park where you suddenly come across a model of a sabre toothed tiger or a bear hunt. Deep in the caves stalagmites stand and stalactites drip slowly.  There are some 50 such sites in France and others in Spain and elsewhere.  Someone is making a lot of money with exorbitantly high entry fees. I prefer to stand on a hillside or by a lake and view  a landscape hardly different from those times.

We took a track though the woods yesterday and saw hazelnuts and sloes, brambles and hips, growing just as they did all those years ago.  You could not hear any traffic or see any buildings, but you could imagine people of long ago using the same track, perhaps with a dog at their heel and a spear to hand.  We have a freezer packed and lots of jars full of goodies, from pickled mushrooms to my favourite rhubarb and peach conserve, but they had to know a lot more than we know about survival.

Old instincts die hard. On the way back I collected wood for the fire and dared my way through nettles to pick a few blackberries, for I am basically a hunter gatherer, even if occasionally that means hunting the aisles of my supermarket, or looking underneath the stalls at a vide grenier  (A car boot sale.)

There is another kind of grotto at this time of year - Santa's grotto.  They are big business, and can be a great place to visit.  The Winter Wonderland held in Hyde Park, London since 2007, attracts around 2.5 million visitors. Entry is free but an ice rink, Ferris wheel, rides and mulled wine stalls have brought in millions for organisers, sponsors, and the Royal Parks, but these Christmas themed grottoes can be pretty grotty too.  Every year some poor unfortunates pay their entry fee, only to find the promised winter wonderland is in fact a muddy field with a few dogs dressed up as reindeer, and a man in a Santa costume, to whom you really wouldn't want to entrust your child.  

This has been going on for years. Here are some of the stories:-

2014 - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2850568/Lawrence-Llewelyn-Bowen-s-winter-blunderland-reopens-improvements-disappointed-parents-say-s-grotty-grotto.html

2013 - http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/15/milton-keynes-winter-wonderland-complaints

2012 - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2250994/Bad-Santa-Father-Christmas-sacked-garden-centre-grotto-telling-children-wasnt-real.html

2011 - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1358322/Lapland-theme-park-Brothers-convicted-1m-New-Forest-christmas-scam.html

 Can you use these hunting idioms in sentences? No right or wrong answers.

  1. To hunt high and low…. To look everywhere.
  2. To run with the hare and hunt with the hounds …. To support both sides in a dispute
  3. A witch hunt…. An attempt to find those whose ideas may be dangerous or different.
  4. He was barking up the wrong tree…. When someone is looking in the wrong place.
  5. Call off the dogs …. To stop pursuing something.
  6. To fall into a trap …. To get caught out expectantly.
  7. Give it your best shot…. To try your hardest.
  8. Like a sitting duck…. To be an easy target.
  9. Open season …. Originally this referred to the time of year when hunting was allowed, but also means to have the freedom to criticize someone or something.
  10. To lower one’s sights…. To accept less than you once wanted.