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?

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