‘Oui, c’est moi,’ I replied. This is not the first time I’ve had a call from the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel, Monaco’s newest resort – very grand, very expensive.
‘Madame, we have a client who has arrived today with a rabbit. Do you take rabbits?’
‘A rabbit?’ I say, stupidly. Perhaps I misheard. I think wildly – lapin? Lapin IS French for rabbit? Yes, I heard right the first time.
‘Oui, un lapin, Madame.’ I wanted her to laugh, but she didn’t.
‘I don’t look after rabbits,’ I say. ‘I look after dogs. I think the dogs might eat a rabbit.’ Go on, laugh, lady - but of course she can’t. The owner of the rabbit is probably standing by her desk. Maybe the rabbit is listening too. I suggest she calls a veterinarian for the name of someone who might look after Flopsy and we end the call. The mind boggles. Who would take a rabbit to such a grand hotel?
I used to know an American lady who came to stay in Monaco for months at a time. She stayed at the Hotel de Paris with her little Yorkshire terrier dog. Amongst her luggage she always brought an enormous Louis Vuitton trunk, each shelf laden with tins of his special brand of dog food and at 5 p.m. each day – never a minute later, never a minute earlier - a waiter would appear with a silver tray on which sat a porcelain dish from Limoges. The waiter opened a tin of food, spooned it carefully onto the dish and served it to the little dog, who sat waiting on his chair at a table on the terrace overlooking the Place du Casino. The rich are different. And so are their dogs.
Here, life goes on. Lucky, the American cocker spaniel is on a diet but fat chance, excuse the pun. The 100-year fig in the garden is shedding its fruit about 5 weeks early. So far I’ve collected 4 buckets of hard figs. Doubtless because we almost no rain in spring and none since. Nutcase world. Floods in England, people dying from the heat in Hungary, Greece, Italy. Here’s it’s just plain hot so we are lucky. And the dogs – why, they rush out each time I open the door to be the first to grab a fallen fig. I used to think this would give them diarrhoea but in fact it does the opposite. Figs may be a good source of vitamins but not the ticket for a greedy fat spaniel.
The place is a tip. Piles of books lie about waiting to be sorted. Why? Well, a friend of a certain age has now left the south of France to take up residence in West Virginia with the new 70 year old love of her life. She’s like a kid, madly in love, and it’s good to see, but rather her than me. She came to Pension Milou to collect a travel crate for one of her dogs and asked if I wanted anything in return. Actually it wasn’t mine to give away but happily the owner, now in England, was happy to let it go. Would I like a blender? How about a television? No, no, no, I said. I’ve too much stuff already – but, if you’ve any books… So now, there are books on the terrace table, some on the dining table, a few lie around the bedroom. There are ninety or more to sort and I’ve too many books already. Books are impossible for me to give away so I sure don’t need ninety more.
The majority of my books are ones I’ve read, so of course I can’t give them away because I might want to read them again. Or they are books I couldn’t get into but of course I’d better keep them, as one day I might like them better – I’m always sure it’s my fault I can’t get into a book - perhaps my mood, perhaps lack of concentration when of course what I should do is chuck it out. Life is too short to read a book you don’t like. But then, maybe one day…
I exaggerate slightly - some do get given away – to the English church library in Monaco or the one in Menton and there’s a network down here of women (always women it seems) who swap books. I love that. Some have my taste so I know if they like something, probably I will too. And it’s fun meeting for coffee and doing the change over of heavy plastic bags, which give promise of future nights spent getting lost in the wonders of good writing.
I’ve a client who brings me magazines. I never buy magazines. Some I like – Vanity Fair for example – great photography and often good in-depth articles, particularly if you don’t like the Republican party. But I ask myself, do I need Hello magazine to improve my life? How many Voici and OK!s do I need to waste more time?
Frankly, sometimes I think I’m losing the plot. The days whirr by in a blur of dogs and paperwork and emails and cleaning up the place and whilst I don’t seem to stop, I get nothing done. I hurry slowly and then crash out on the sofa, six dogs vying for attention, and fall asleep. It’s a gift from God to know how to do nothing. It’s that work ethic I was brought up with. No matter, the decision has been taken and, drum roll, I’m going into semi retirement mode from next January.
My new friend, Isabella had written me:
…if you still have unfulfilled dreams (places to go, things to do) - don't postpone your retirement. To quote Oscar Wilde: Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.How right she is and as for Wilde, well I have a ton of stuff to do but perhaps work was my excuse for not getting on with it. Writing a book, for example.
So I’ve bitten the bullet, written all my clients, told them which months I’m working and which I’m not. It wasn’t easy. Clients become friends – the dogs know and trust me and now they will need to find a new carer. But it’s time. I’ve made plans to visit America, Italy, Spain. I’ll buy a laptop so I can write whilst travelling. Perhaps I’ve not lost the plot after all.