24 December 2005

Bosun - le chien pêcheur de Monaco

Bosun and Toffee

Bosun was a black Labrador who, over the years, has spent a lot of time at Pension Milou. One shouldn't have favourite dogs but Bosun, despite all his problems, was one of mine.

Bosun ended up at Battersea Dogs' Home, 18 months old, unwanted, chucked out because his owners had split up. Poor Bosun had a damaged soul. Maybe I loved him so much because I identified. Divorce affects dogs as well as children.

But life was to look up for our hero. He was adopted by Nick, Victoria and their little daughter, Daisy. They discovered he was scared of men and terrified of noise. He didn't know how to climb stairs. He didn't understand that the comfortable bed in front of the fire was his: he wanted to sleep outside, which is where he'd slept all his life.

Bosun and Bill

Eventually his new family moved to Monaco. When they went skiing, he loved the snow but more than anything he loved to swim in the sea. He dived for stones and was known by the locals as 'le chien cheur' - the Fishing Dog.

Bosun with his all-time best buddy, Alfie, the Jack Russell

But all his life Bosun had a screw loose. He, like many dogs, was scared of thunder and fireworks, but Bosun was scared of the sounds of the autoroute and later, as he got older, he spent more time being scared than being happy. It got so bad, he'd be afraid to enter a room, even scared of his food bowl yet at no time did his beautiful temperament change. He never ever showed aggression. He still had good moments when he'd play ball, swim, roll on his back, climb all over the people he loved. But the good times got shorter and the bad times got longer. He'd dig into bookshelves, he'd try and hide behind the loo - he wanted to be in the dark, hidden - and of course he did a lot of damage trying to get there.

Quiet times on the terrace with Ziggy

He underwent all sorts of tests which showed he had thyroid problems. Medication helped for a while, as did tranquillizers but not for long and a few days ago it was obvious he was one very scared and depressed doggy who was even refusing his food. Life was in the too hard basket for Bosun. En route to the vet's office, Victoria stopped off at his favourite beach - perhaps the sea would do its magic? - but le chien cheur wasn't interested any more.

And so yesterday, aged eleven years, sweet Bosun was put to sleep.

'Hey Bosun! - here's a ball I'm throwing for you - here it comes............good boy! - I knew you'd catch it.'

19 December 2005

Christmas shopping in Menton

Menton Old Town
December 17

Impossible to park in Menton this morning. I’m aiming for the Christmas fair - between the sea and the old town, in front of the marché. The parking area is full so I drive around a couple of times, give up and decide to try in the port. Even then I don’t find a place till I get almost to the far end – only a few more yards and I’ll be in Italy. I don’t mind as I’ve several hours – Becky has come in to baby-sit the dogs and it’s bliss to walk past the bobbing boats, pretending I’m on holiday. Fat chance! This is my day for Christmas shopping and as usual I’ve left it too late. Every year I say I’ll shop earlier but never do.

I have a lot to do in a few hours so I walk quickly– the sky is the brightest blue, framing the beautiful church behind the old town. Focus! Stay focused. Concentrate, Jilly. Lots of gifts to buy.

The Christmas fair is set up between the sea and the old town. Nothing on sale is mass-produced - every stall is owned by an artisan. There are paintings, jewellery, pewter, carved olive wood from Provence, pots from Tunisia, hand-made wooden toys, soft toys. There are food stalls selling foie gras, wines, cheeses. One stand sells nothing but dates and Turkish delight. Another is offering an aperitif, made from honey and called Hyromel. From a medieval recipe, this was apparently the drink of the ancient Greeks when it was called Ambrosia and was the first fermented drink in the world.

I see a stall selling soap. Ropes of soaps, leaves of soap - mauve, yellow, green –vanille, vervaine, lavande, citron. Olive oil soap, cut with a knife and sold by weight. Special soaps for the complexion, the body, to repel mosquitos. I choose and buy.

An hour later and I'm done. Bags laden with soaps, olive wood carvings, wooden snowmen, aperitifs, dates, Turkish delight.

I cross the street and go into the Salon de Toilettage to say hello to my friend, Carla. She’s got a couple of bichons on the tables, one powder puff perfect, the other looking like a drowned rat whilst he undergoes his transformation. Carla was born in France. Her mother was English, her father German. They met in Toulon during the war. He’d been fighting for the French Foreign Legion and had lost an arm and she was a nurse in the hospital there.

I don’t stay long. I need to get some food supplies for Christmas so I drive to Latte in Italy. Latte is the village between Menton and Ventimiglia and there's a really good supermarket there. I load my trolley with courgettes, roquette, carrots, mandarins, sun dried tomatoes, olives, lots of fresh pasta, buffalo mozzarella – I’m set for Christmas. With so many dogs I won’t be able to get out much before January.

I walk back to the lift where a woman of ‘a certain age’ is standing waiting for it to arrive. She’s wearing tight pants, boots, a fur jacket and looking elegant as French women do. The lift arrives and she doesn’t move. I say ‘The lift has arrived, Madame.’ She’s miles away. She gets in and runs her hand thru her beautiful thick hair. ‘Look at my hair’ she says. She has a deep raspy sexy voice just like Jeanne Moreau. Perhaps she is Jeanne Moreau, but no, she’s not, but the voice is. ‘The coiffeur ruined it, she says. Il faut changer votre coiffeur tous les années,’ she says. ‘Regardez les mèches.’ (You need to change your hairdresser every year. Look at these highlights!)

I sympathise but tell her I think her hair looks just fine. I tell her I’d give anything for such wondrous thick hair. She smiles but she obviously doesn’t agree.

We arrive at the car park level. ‘I wish you a very Happy Christmas’ she says. And I wish you one too, I say.

10 December 2005

Two Old Ladies

Rupert and Rosie

Rosie and Rupert are in love! He's castrated but I think the vet forgot to tell him. He follows her everywhere licking her back, her neck, her rump and she just ignores him - oh it's all too boring - I know I’m beautiful.

The vet came up to visit my old lady, Flavia, the retired Guide Dog. She’s 15 and I wanted a professional opinion as to whether or not it’s time for her to go to Doggy Heaven. Well good news! She is still with us. The vet doesn’t believe she's in pain. There is arthritis but mainly the problem is that the messages are simply not getting from the brain to the back legs, hence her staggering about. She's on cortisone and as the Vet said, she is still interested in what goes on and boy, does she love her food but then I've yet to meet a Labrador who doesn't. So, although conditions here are not ideal for her: tiled floors, steps down to the garden and lots of dogs, none are reasons to put her to sleep.

Talking of old ladies, it looks as if my 100 year old aunt in England is dying. My sister had a phone call from the retirement home to say that she’d deteriorated. Sally couldn’t get down that evening but went the next day to find our aunt in a deep sleep, almost a coma. The doctor had decided she shouldn’t be sent to hospital. Seemingly they don’t put people on drips when they are ancient, after all, this is to be death by old age. Mostly people die of something but in our aunt’s case, presumably she's simply worn out. The nurses moistened her lips and cleaned her eyes, making her as comfortable as possible. Sally went in to visit her twice each day. We discussed the funeral.

On the third morning Sally arrived at the home and there was our aunt, sitting up in bed, eating a bowl of porridge and drinking gallons of orange squash! Hold the funeral!

She will be 101 tomorrow. Happy birthday, Hilda!

04 December 2005


Today is one of those perfect Mediterranean days – the bluest sky, an even bluer sea and a light breeze. After the storms and the incessant heavy rain yesterday, this is good news - how about bliss?

Giovanni and I plant an apricot tree on one of the upper terraces. The soil looks wonderful today but that’s because it’s so wet. When it dries out, which it soon will, it'll be back to its normal stony self. I’ve given up trying to grow vegetables here – they need watering twice a day in summer and even then just don’t get the nutrients they need. I might try growing tomatoes in a Grow-Bag next year except you can’t get Grow-bags in France. Maybe a bag of terreau would do and then use liquid tomato feed. Watch this space.

Sheba, the Flatcoat Retriever, and Mack, the Jack Russell, play non-stop, except when I sit down to read, then Mack has to sit on my lap. Don’t dogs realise you really can’t read with a moveable object on your knees?

Flavia, my old Labrador, is struggling. How hard it is to know if a dog is in pain. She’s over 15, she hobbles along yet she still loves her food. I don’t want her to get to the point where she is suffering - she should go to Doggy Heaven before that, yet she doesn't need to be despatched before her time. When is her time?

01 December 2005

The story of Tess

Henry and Tess

Tess is a pretty 14-month old black cocker spaniel who has had an awful lot of homes in her short life. She came to Pension Milou for the first time a few days before the end of November. She’d lived in Monaco but the boyfriend didn’t like dogs so she ended up in a refuge. I always wonder about people who don’t like dogs? My mother didn’t like dogs so how did I end up running a doggy pension? Come to think of it, my first dog was a cocker spaniel – black with white feet and called Boots. One day my mother said she was ‘sending him away to the country’ because he brought too much mud into the house. Maybe there were other reasons. How would I have known? I was five years old but I’ve never forgotten him.

Anyway, back to Tess, who ended up at the refuge in Vence. Her new owner helps out sometimes, saw her, fell in love and took her home. Hardly surprising as she's the happiest most loving little dog. Tess was actually Bess at the time but Janet changed it. She felt Tess suited her better and so it does. I had a Bess once – a rather portly Old English Sheepdog called Bessie Bunter. That was a happy marriage of dog and name. Tess is lithe and energetic and not a Bess at all. Funny how a name can bring an image instantly to mind, isn’t it?

Janet worked really hard to train Tess – she was a bit scared of men - she still is, but gets over it pretty quickly now. She was spayed and life was good. Then, after a few months, Janet's husband was offered a job in the UK. Realistically they knew it wasn’t practical to keep Tess. They were travelling. And so Tess went to her next home, this time in Mougins. She loved playing with the Boxer who lived there but there was a problem – the property had large automatic double gates and Janet worried herself silly Tess might get thru them, escape, get into traffic, worse - and so she took her back. And then the search began, yet again, for the perfect home.

And they found it, via a recommendation from a friend: a lady in Kent, with two dogs, who is more than happy to welcome Tess into her family, even tho she’s not met her yet. So next January, when all the injections and blood tests are complete, she will go to the UK. Meanwhile, she is here for a week whilst her current owners are away. She settled almost instantly. She's such a well-adjusted cocker spaniel considering her history - no small thanks to Janet’s training and care and she’s epitome of what a cocker spaniel should be – ‘the merry cocker.’

And little Tess is in luck. I have another ‘merry cocker’ here called Henry. That was a coup de foudre - he and Tess are inseparable and then, suddenly, my memory wakes up. I remember that Henry’s owners are thinking of getting a second dog. It is agreed I should speak to Henry’s owners when they collect him, and guess what, Tess has been adopted and is now in her ‘forever home’ with her new friend, Henry.

Now that’s a happy ending, isn’t it?

30 November 2005

Jet set dogs

Caroline and Raphie
4 November

One day in October, I had a call asking if I’d take two Bernese Mountain Dogs. Sisters. That was an easy decision. I love the breed and said yes, even without seeing them. As it happened they couldn’t have come for an ‘interview’ as they were flying in from England on their owner’s private jet and coming straight to me from the airport at Cannes/Mandelieu. That’s the local airport for private planes.

Their owners had bought a house in Antibes and as often happens in France, there was a delay with the notaire. They’d already booked a slot for the plane to fly to France, but had no house for the dogs, so Pip and Tess were coming to stay at Pension Milou.

They arrived in the dark. Beautiful dogs. One shy, one a little dominant. The whole family was here - two excited kids in bathing costumes and no shoes, screaming and yelling when the dogs jumped up at their bare skin. They’d not seen each other for a month as the dogs had been in kennels in the UK. Eventually we installed the children on the kitchen counter where they could get away from their happy hounds’ sharp toenails.

I pointed out Raphie, a golden retriever. She’s going to England in November,’ I said. ‘Her owners won’t put her on a scheduled airline and are trying to work out the best way – train, car? - to get her back to the UK.’ Then I grinned and said, ‘Pity, they don’t have a private jet like you.’ Oh, but we hire out the plane,’ said Paul, and so, emails flew back and forth. ‘Caroline,’ I wrote, ‘you'll probably laugh at this suggestion…’ In fact, the cost is nothing as I imagined. With a family and dogs it doesn’t cost much more than a scheduled flight and goodness, what a great way to fly. No cages for dogs, they loll about in the aisle of the plane and munch on dog biccies, living the high life. Jet set dogs, no less.

And so Raphie, the beautiful golden, goes today. Beautiful to look at and beautiful in temperament, I’m going to miss this lovely creature. The family had decided last Spring that they’d move back to England in July and of course Raphie was to go with them but it didn’t work out like that. Raphie couldn’t leave France when they did. Her papers weren’t ready. She’d had the rabies blood test but there was another three months to go before she could enter the UK under the Passports for Pets scheme. Everyone was upset. Hard to imagine family life without Raphie but she came to Pension Milou and as she was a regular here, that made it easier for the family. They know she’s happy here and I emailed pics of her playing, sleeping on the sofa – all this helped to make her seem less far away.

Caroline, flies in from Biggin Hill this morning, will hire a car when she lands, drive here for lunch and then, off she’ll go with Raphie. They can’t actually fly back to Biggin Hill in Kent, as the private plane isn’t licensed to carry animals into England. Paul plans on getting this licence and I know I’ll have other clients who will be interested in this service.

Caroline arrives, everything took longer than she expected (definitely the way to fly, she said) but she just had time to wolf down some mozzarella and tomato salad, had a quick cappuccino – hugs and kisses and off she went with Raphie. She left behind a beautiful card, signed by each member of the family, along with a big box of Leonides choccies, no less. Scrumptious.

My mozzarella and tomato salad:

Buy buffalo mozzarella from Menton market or cross the border to Italy. Forget the horrible rubber cow milk stuff in plastic packets from the supermarket. If you can’t get buffalo, don’t bother. You need good tomatoes and really this is too late in the year but I found some good ones in Latte the other day. Slice the mozzarella and the tomatoes. Cover with good olive oil. I’ve olive oil from Apricale at the moment. So green and so good. Add salt, pepper and lots of chopped up basil. That’s it. No balsamic vinegar, no nothing else. Perfection with good fresh bread and a glass of wine.

It’s sad to say goodbye to Raphie. Sweet Caroline knew I was a sad hatter and later a text message pinged thru to say they’d landed in Calais, where Mark (Raphie’s Dad) had driven over to meet them. And now, they are on the shuttle en route to England and home. And later still a photo arrived showing a happy Raphie surrounded by her three equally happy girls. She is back home with her family and where she belongs.

Pip and Tess are still here. They are divine dogs. Enormous, but they think they are lapdogs and both try getting on my lap at the same time. Hunt the dog lady - last seen under a pile of Bernese. They don't give kisses but lay their heads on me and lean - very hard. And unlike some of the other dogs en pension, they are so calm – well for most of the time. They don't rush about when the other dogs go crazy with excitement over something/anything/nothing. On the other hand, when they play they've got one hell of a bark and they rather like helping me dig up the garden, even if I don’t want it dug up.

26 November 2005

Flavia and a flu shot

Lily and Raphia

3rd November 2005

Click, click go the dogs’ feet on the terracotta tiles. Be nice if someone told these dogs that the clocks went back several days ago. ‘Dogs, it’s 5 in the morning! – go back to sleep.’ Fat chance. Click, click, click. Now Lily, the Springer Spaniel, has come around to my side of the bed, bouncing with excitement. Get up, feed us. There’s not much hope of getting back to sleep so I get up. Anyway it’s nice to have lighter mornings. I won’t think about the dark evenings for the moment

There’s a November chill in the air. I throw a heavy jacket over my night gear and open the French windows to the terrace which leads to the steps that go down to the garden. Flavia struggles. She’s my 15 year old Labrador. She came to me en pension about 5 years ago and never left. She was a Guide Dog for the Blind until she was six years old. Then her owner died. She went back to the Guide Dog school where she was found a home in Nice with a fireman and his wife – not as a guide dog, just a family home. That worked out beautifully except that Flavia put on an enormous amount of weight and then, when Flavia was 9, the couple divorced. She was sent back to the Guide Dog school to await yet another home and along came an 80 year old lady from Monaco. That was a mistake. Poor Flavia had an eye infection and this lady tried drying out the pus with a hairdryer. Fortunately her sister-in-law saw what was going on, realised she simply wasn't capable of caring for her and set about trying to find her a new home. First tho, she took her to a vet for treatment and he recommended Pension Milou. That was how she came here: the idea being she’d stay for six months and then the lady would look again for a new home. I was asked to get her eye right and to get weight off her. She waddled down the track weighing in at 55 kilos - her normal weight should have been around 30 kilos. She looked like a fat pig.

The eye specialist in Cannes saved her eye. It took weeks for it to open properly but eventually it was fine although she’s needed 3 different drops twice a day ever since. After about a month, the lady brought a couple here to see Flavia but I didn’t warm to them. They talked about where Flavia would live, which was outside, and that they needed to think about it – weren’t sure they wanted her. I didn't feel they had any connection to her or she to them, and hey, Flavia live outside? Guide dogs are such amazing creatures and this one deserved a soft chair to sit on for the rest of her life. I told the lady to stop paying me, that I'd like to adopt her and so she’s been here ever since. The lady very kindly brought me several sacks of Hills r/d croquettes, a good food when trying to get a dog to lose weight. Trouble is, all that excess weight, which she lost after about a year on this special regime, left her with weak joints. Why do people overfeed their dogs? That’s not love. Don’t people realise the pain arthritis brings to an older dog. Us too, eh?

Flu jab today. My neighbour down the track, Madame P, has the doctor making a home visit to give her a flu shot. She can’t get out anymore. Bad knees. We share the same doctor so I asked her if she minded if I had mine done at the same time. ‘Bien sûr,’ she said. I adore Mme P. ‘Ma fille,’ she calls me. She finds such joy in life, giggles at the slightest thing, falls about with laughter when telling one of her silly stories. She was born in Algeria and speaks often of her village by the sea. In France you go to the pharmacy, buy the flu shot, keep it in your refrigerator, of course, and take it with you when you’ve made an appointment with the doctor. I don’t need the colds and flu germs that might be in the surgery, so this seems a good idea and, following a phone call, the doc is happy about it

After lunch, I hear Doctor Lamas’ car coming down the track – or rather the dogs tell me. Woof woof woof. I shut the dogs in the house and walk down. Doctor Lamas says she’ll do me first. I roll up my sleeve. I’m a baby. Madame P is falling about with laughter as I sit there, face screwed up to face the needle. Of course it hardly hurts but I think it might. I pick up my purse to pay her but she doesn’t want any money.

Tonight, I’m going to the opening of a new veterinary surgery in Cap d’Ail. Louise, the vet, is Canadian and used to be with the Fontvielle vet in Monaco but now she’s opened up on her own, just across the border, in France. There’s so much traffic crawling thru Monaco this evening because there’s a rather tacky fair on at the port. Incongruous really. Moored opposite the port is an enormous luxury cruise ship yet at the fair they are selling candy floss and cheap trinkets. Seems too down-market for Monaco but the kids love it.

Louise’s clinic takes up the whole sweep of a corner as you go thru Cap d'Ail. The waiting room is massive, I see the immaculate new surgery and another area with four brand new cages, one of which contains three tiny kittens that Louise is hoping to find homes for. Glass of champers in hand, I look about for someone to talk to. This evening's event is for all the people in the area who breed dogs or run kennels or pensions. I see Valerie. She's the trainer who started a training school at La Turbie and who, years ago, trained dogs at the Guide Dog school. She’d known and trained my Flavia when she was a puppy. We have a brief chat and she tells me she only does home visits now as the school has closed. She’s a good dog trainer, uses positive methods and of course is training the owner as much as the dog. She trained Lily for a while. Pity she didn't teach her not to wake me up at 5 in the morning...

Then I see Jan - she’s the Scottish lady who runs the Monaco SPA, which is actually in Eze, in France. She used to work for Princesse Antoinette, who is the late, lamented Prince Rainier’s sister and thru her, the SPA was set up. The problem is they simply don’t have enough space at the refuge. She has 90 dogs currently looking for homes, all in kennels and no land on which to exercise them. They just don’t ever leave their kennels, day in, day out. The cats are better off. They have two large areas and have lots of space to climb and places to hide. Of course there is no land available in Monaco itself – far too small – and whilst the money is available, they can’t find land in France to build a new refuge. Every time Jan finds some land, that local commune refuses them permission to build. They could go further away from Monaco but then Monaco would probably not be happy to pay the money needed. One commune refused permission for a new refuge saying that the runoff from washing down the kennels – that means urine – could find it’s way into the drinking water. Surely there must be a way of containing this and having it run thru a septic tank? Jan commissioned a study on this and indeed there is, but the commune refused anyway.

Jan said that when the Brits go to her for a dog they’ll often ask to see the most needy dog and will give it a home, regardless of age. She said the French simply won't even consider a middle-aged dog. They look upon it as a sort of investment and why go to all that trouble when you only get a few years with the dog? I can see a family with young children preferring a younger dog but I don't understand this thinking with so many older people living here on the French Riviera. Maybe, when Flavia is no more, I’ll go along and see if there is a dog there that likes the look of me.


My website:
Dog blogs and more:
  • Manhattan Chien - beautiful blog with stunning graphics dedicated to Eti, the French bulldog
French language:
  • French Word a Day - Kristin, an American living in Provence, weaves French words into tales of her family life - excellent blog and a great way to learn a new word each time you read it
French Wine and Food:
Information websites on France:
  • AngloInfo.com - great resource for anyone living, working or thinking of moving to the Côte d'Azur with a fantastic forum that will answer all your questions
Art blogs from France:
Dog refuges in the south of France:
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