24 November 2006


Beau on the coffee table

Saturday, my day off, is when Sylvie works at Pension Milou. The idea of a Saturday off is to ‘do something' – get out and visit friends, have lunch, go to Monaco or a hill village or perhaps take a trip to Nice. But it’s not always possible. When there's a lot of dogs en pension, it difficult to get out to shop during the week and so then Saturday is simply my day to get in the week’s supplies. If they are good dogs, I can leave them because I know I’ll not come back to a wrecked house but when they are difficult, there’s no point in coming home to chaos, chewed this or that, pee everywhere. It’s not as if I go out for long – a couple of hours at most – but sometimes I think the dogs have a ‘mothers’ meeting’ when I’m gone and decide to pee all over the place to show their disapproval at being left. I bet they don’t do that at home.

Regardless of what I do on the day, the luxury of my Saturdays is thanks to Sylvie. She is my veterinarian’s assistant, which is great for starters, but more than that, she is so nice, she absolutely adores dogs, I have complete faith in her ability to look after them and when I come home, I usually find she’s washed the floors for me. Sylvie is a treasure and très sympa. Most Saturdays she bathes Beau for me. Since my fall and the resulting dodgy back, I find bathing dogs very difficult. Beau has a skin condition called seborrhoea. The Merck Veterinary Manual – a great on-line resource, by the way – says there are three types of seborrhoea: dry, oily and inflammatory, with most sufferers showing varying degrees of all three symptoms. Beau has the oily kind and without regular baths his skin and coat gets really greasy and, worse, smelly. The vet thinks this may have been caused by the many months of antibiotics he had to have, following his time in the refuge and the massive ear operation he had when he first came to live here. He seems to have a deep-seated infection, which we get under control but only for a while, and then he’ll need more antibiotics to deal with any abscesses that start up. A vicious circle really as too many antibiotics, as we know, are not good news. I’ve just started him on a new dog food – one with no additives, biologique, hypo-allergenic and hopefully this may help. If not he might do well on a raw diet but that’s tough for the other dogs to watch. I once had a Golden Retriever here whose owner brought along all her food, frozen. Each day I had to defrost half a rabbit and the Golden would eat it, head, eyes, the lot - the legs dangling out of her mouth as she chewed, and with all the other dogs looking at her though the baby gate’s wrought iron bars: tongues hanging out, drooling – it wasn’t fair.

I discovered Beau licking a foot the other day and saw that he’d yanked a toenail, exposing the quick. I hoped the nail would just fall off but it didn’t so he needed to go to the vet and have an anaesthetic to remove it. The day dawned with my having to feed the other dogs and not him. I dread those days – oh, the guilt trip a dog puts us through when we can't feed them! I let them all out into the garden, including Beau, shut the door and quickly filled various food bowls. Then I let the dogs back in, Beau running to ‘my chair’ where he always sits. I shut the others in the bedroom, bathroom, study, wherever and snuck past Beau, putting food down on towels so he wouldn’t hear the bowls rattling on the terracotta floor. Despite having had both eardrums removed, he hears surprising well and never misses hearing me say ‘biscuits’ at bedtime. My ploy seemed to work, he sat in my chair waiting for the breakfast that never came but at least he didn’t know I’d fed the others – or if he did, he kindly didn’t tell me.

Luckily, by the time we got to the vet, and probably because he’d stood all the way, the nail had half broken off and he didn’t need an anaesthetic. The vet just snipped it off without him making a murmur. Mind you, when she tried cutting his other toenails he screamed blue murder. If you’ve ever heard a Bruno de Jura yell, you’d know it. He’s now on the blue cushion on the coffee table. This is intended for the small dogs because the big dogs take up the rest of the furniture, so someone needs to tell this brute of a hound that he’s not a small dog and that he should go back to ‘his chair’ that was once ‘my chair’ and I'd like my coffee table back, please.

Sylvie’s arrived and I’m driving to Italy to collect three wrought iron baby (read doggy) gates that I’d ordered for my neighbour. At Pension Milou, every room has one of these wrought iron waist-high gates. I use them at feeding times (each dog in a different area) and I separate the dogs when a new one arrives – this until they are slowly introduced. The gates have made life much easier around here.

My neighbour’s mother, Madame Pinelli, had a bad fall in the summer and was taken to the hospital emergency department, x-rayed and was told, like me, nothing was broken. Three weeks later, the doc sent her to a clinic by ambulance, as she couldn’t walk with a leg swollen to twice its size. The x-rays showed - you guessed it - she had a fractured knee. That hospital emergency x-ray department needs to get its act together. Following the correct diagnosis she spent a month in hospital and since then has been in a Maison de Réhabilitation. Now, nearly three months after the fall and with her knee healed, she's learning to walk again. Not easy for Madame P who is 82 and overweight. She’ll be home soon and the baby gates are needed to stop Shadow, the golden retriever who belongs to her grandson, and Pepita, her own Berger de Pyrénées, jumping up at her. When I’m not too busy here I pop down to Mme Pinelli’s house and chat with her. She loves to tell tales of her life in Algeria, which she and the family left in the late '50s. Her husband, who had little education, started work at 13, spreading sardines on the beach to dry in the sun. When the family eventually got to the south of France he worked until his retirement at Restaurant La Vigie near the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel, looking after the Riva speed boats that carried the rich and famous from their yachts in the harbour to the restaurant for lunch on the terrace.

How did I get to sardines in Algeria, when I’m telling you about my day off?

The port and old town of Menton

I drive across the border, through Ventimiglia to Bordighera and collect the baby gates. By the time I get back to Menton, it’s noon – not late but my back is giving me gyp. It’s driving that does it. I wear my very un-sexy black support belt but it doesn’t really help in the car.

‘Gyp?’ Do I really mean that word? Let’s digress for a moment - I lug my Shorter Oxford Dictionary off the bookshelf. It was given to me when I left Guys ‘n Dolls in the Kings Road in the 70s. It’s been through a flood in Wales, it got chewed by a puppy when I lived in Kent, and later, it survived a hurricane in Cairns, Far North Queensland.

My Shorter Oxford Dictionary

I open it and read that ‘Gyp’ means either a college servant, or it’s an offensive term for a swindler or a cheat. Nothing about the meaning I intend yet I’m sure I know this word. I look it up on-line. The truth is I don’t use my bashed up dictionary much anymore as it’s so much easier to access words on-line, but wild horses wouldn’t part me from it. I’ve loved dictionaries almost from the time I could read.

On the Internet I read: Gyp means a college servant, whose office is that of a gentleman’s valet, waiting on two or more collegians in the University of Cambridge…and he is called a gyp (vulture, Greek) because he preys upon his employer like a vulture. At Oxford they are called scouts. Gyp, you’ll be dying to know, comes from the species of black vulture (Aegypius monachus).

Elsewhere I learn that where 'Gyp' means swindler it comes from the word for gypsy which I’m told may well come from the obsolete gippo, a menial kitchen servant; which once meant a man’s short tunic, from the obsolete French jupeau. It tells me that Gyppo, as a modern derogatory term, does seem to come from gypsy, or at least, from the same source as to gyp. For instance, ‘He gypped the tax man out of his money.’ Oh really?...

And yet more information: The word gypsy or gipsy itself was given to itinerants in Britain when they arrived from continental Europe in the sixteenth century and is a contracted form of Egyptian.

Okay, okay, we don’t need this information and you don’t need to know that in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, ‘gyp’ meant ‘to take the entrails out of a herring.’

Then I find it: ‘Gyp’ (UK informal) means ‘pain or discomfort.’ ‘My knee has been giving me gyp since I started running.' Bingo! – except it’s my back and I’m not running anywhere. Just what I said in the first place. I knew, I knew that word. Whoopee, I found it!

How did we get to servants and vultures and gypsies when we were talking about my day off?


I park near the marché, cross the road, where I pass a square with a small garden that has rhubarb growing in it. Rhubarb? I didn't know rhubarb was used in decorative gardens. I wonder if anyone cuts it when it's ready to cook. I walk down to the port, find a bench and sit and look at the boats and the facade of Menton’s old town with the church steeple reaching up into an azure blue sky, dotted with clouds. To hell with the shopping - there’s enough food in the house and it won’t hurt me to open a few tins or see what’s been sitting at the back of the freezer for months.

Menton marché and close up of tiles

A car pulls up quite near to me and Ennis and Josephine get out. They used to own Riff, the little Jack Russell who died here and whose body stayed in the freezer for a few weeks before they came back to France to bury her. You can read that story here. We chat and I ask after Sheba - their new dog. Sheba has been to stay a few times – she looks rather like a Groenendael (Belgian shepherd dog) but actually she’s a cross-breed. She a beautiful creature. Josephine starts to talk, ‘It’s alright, Jilly, she’s okay now.’ ‘What?’ I say. ‘Don’t worry, she’s alright now, but we did have a terrible time.’ And then I hear the story.


Sheba was in season (en chaleur) and a local dog got in the gate. Two weeks later they took her to the vet only to learn they should have gone immediately when she could have had an injection to abort the puppies. They didn’t know. He operated, removed the foetuses and sterilized her. All stitched up, she went home, right as ninepence. A week later, Ennis found Sheba in the garden, bent over and eating something. He looked and saw, hanging out of Sheba’s stomach, a mass of intestines, and, horror, she was eating them! God knows why, but at that moment I interrupted and said, ‘Didn’t it hurt her to eat her own intestines?’ Josephine said she’d asked the vet the very same question and was told there are no nerves in intestines and so no, she wouldn’t have felt anything. You learn something useful every day, don’t you? She then said the vet had to cut away a lot of the intestines – by now, much of it had gone black. He put back what was left, stitched her up and said he really didn’t know if she would survive. This time she went home with a Victorian collar on, something she should have had after the first operation. That was all two weeks ago. Happily, Sheba is fit and well now - running around and eating normally.

Time for me to go home. I wonder what next Saturday will bring…

15 November 2006

About faces

Sophie and Dori, who don't need facelifts

A little poodle is leaving today. She's staying at Pension Milou whilst her owner has her face lifted. I think I might end up an expert on facelifts judging by the number of clients who drop their dogs off and then return a few days later with swollen, bruised faces. But yes, once the swelling has gone and the bruising disappears, they all look younger - which of course is the point although sometimes, you can tell - there's a slightly unnatural slant of the eyes, the skin is that little bit too taut, but hey, if it makes a lady feel good and she can afford it - and is brave enough - what the hell. I know I couldn't do it but I'm lucky - the dogs don't care. Dogs don't see wrinkles. If you want unconditional love, you don't need to look younger to get or keep a man - you need to get a dog! Not that I'm knocking love and marriage - when I see a good marriage, I'm all for it. Just that I don't think I was ever too good at it myself.

Madame C. arrives to collect her dog and pops in for a coffee. Covered in thick makeup to disguise the bruises and wearing massive dark glasses to hide the stitches around her eyes, she tells me it has been rather painful. I make the right noises to reassure her that it won't be long before she feels a lot better. Madame C is one nice lady and very pretty too and I can't imagine why she's put herself through all this agony.

Talking of facelifts, or any beauty treatment, reminds me of the time, maybe fifteen years ago, when I first came to live on the French Riviera. Friends, Philippa and Casper, generously gave me a birthday present of three beauty treatments at Margy's which is a well-known beauty salon in the luxurious Galerie du Métropole in Monte Carlo. You'll find top designers in the Galerie, great coffee shops and the FNAC store, which sells music, books, DVDs, telephones, cameras and everything you could want for a computer. I love FNAC - there's always an energetic buzz about the place.

I had an appointment for a facial, parked and walked across the Casino gardens to the Galerie. The waiting room, lined with beautiful old cupboards filled with her beauty products, is just inside the entrance to Margy's Beauty Salon. A couple of expensively dressed ladies were chatting, another was handing over in excess of 3,000 francs for the bag of beauty products she'd just bought. I felt a bit like a country bumpkin - after all I was working as a gardienne at the time, looking after the gardens at Casper and Philippa's Roquebrune villa. I'm sure Margy's didn't have too many gardeners who came in for facials.

I asked to use les toilettes. I suppose I was a little nervous - somehow I'd managed to get to this point in life never having had a facial and didn't know what to expect. When you've been surrounded by a dozen or so Old English Sheepdogs, as I had for much of my adult life, the last thing you are thinking about is the condition of your skin.

The loo was tiny with hardly any room between the toilet bowl and the opposite wall. As I went to sit down I leaned forward and wham! - I bashed my forehead on the edge of the glass shelf in front me. I rubbed my head, pulled myself together, did what I needed to do and wondered how larger ladies managed. They must majestically lower themselves onto the loo without ever bending forward. And if so, how do they use toilet paper? Don't let's go there - but don't you have to bend forward, at least just a little?

I was shown into a narrow, dimly lit cubicle by a striking young girl who introduced herself as Sandrine. She told me to lie down on the raised bed and proceeded to pamper me. If this is what a facial meant, I could stand a lot of it. Whilst applying the creams and potions, she told me that should I ever want a facelift she knew 'just the man in Milan.' She explained that I should go to Milan, stay for a few weeks and then, when I returned to the south of France, no one would know. I told her that if I ever had enough money for a facelift - fat chance - then I'd want the world to know about it. Actually, one of my husbands - the Australian one - offered to buy me a facelift when I got to 'a certain age.' I never took him up on it. It's bad enough having to go into hospital for an emergency. I knew I'd never be brave enough to go through pain by choice.

Sandrine then astounded me by saying she was going to Milan the following spring to 'get her eyes done.' I looked at her fresh, young and beautiful face and asked how old she was. 'I'm 26,' she said.

It was all rather marvellous until the face mask went on and suddenly, within minutes, it had set rock hard. I could hardly breath. Sandrine had left the room, saying she'd be back in twenty minutes. I tried to slow my breathing by relaxing but it wasn't easy. Believe me, I was fast going off facials by this time and when Sandrine re-appeared, I was more than happy to have her pick at a corner of the, by now, solid mask and rip it off me. It crossed my mind that at least when a death mask is made, the person doesn't feel anything. Lucky them.

No matter, I'd loved being cosseted and once it was all over, I was so relaxed I almost floated back to the car park. Opened my bag. No car keys. Panic! I turned out my bag, my pockets - definitely no keys. I must have left them in the beauty salon. I dreaded walking back there. Of course everyone had been so polite but I'd felt intimidated by the slim elegant owner. My problem, not hers. I crossed the Casino gardens and sat for a few minutes on a bench. An English bulldog, with his beautiful ugly face and wearing a rather nifty Scottish outfit, doubtless bought in one of Monaco's upmarket toilettages, waddled onto a grassed area in front of me. Interdit, of course. Dogs are not allowed on the grass. He sniffed the ground, ambled towards a tree, lifted his leg and let out one long satisfying pee. He looked at me with his skew-whiff eyes, his tongue hanging out, one tooth poking up from his undershot jaw. This was a face that needed Margy. I walked back to the salon and was told I'd have to wait as another client was in the cubicle having a massage and couldn't be interrupted. I sat in the waiting area for about 40 minutes, watching Monte Carlo ladies go about the business of paying to look beautiful. Eventually the cubicle was free and I was allowed in to look around. I searched under the table, looked under various pieces of furniture, lifted the cover on the bed - no keys.

Perhaps I'd dropped them near to the car when I first parked? Once again, I walked back to the car and this time, got down on my hands and knees to look underneath. By now, any good the facial had done had long gone. I was fraught. I was aging by the minute. How was I going to get home? How was I going to get my car out of the car park? I couldn't leave it there.

I went to the Caisse on the ground floor and asked if any keys had been handed in. They hadn't. They suggested I go to the nearby police station. I did. No keys had been handed in there either.

I walked back to Margy's. The keys simply had to be there. I wondered if they might have been swept up off the floor and just dumped by an un-thinking cleaning lady. I recalled having seen a young Philippino girl walking about with a cleaning trolley. I asked if they'd turn out the rubbish bin in the cubicle. Once again I had to sit and wait. I felt such a fool. These women surely had chauffeurs to drive them home - lost keys wouldn't enter their beautifully coiffed heads. Time was passing. I had dogs at home that needed feeding and it was getting dark.

Suddenly, Margy herself appeared and said, 'Are these what you are looking for, Madame?' There, before my eyes, was a set of keys dangling from her beautifully manicured out-stretched hand. 'We found them down the toilet bowl,' she said and then, with a look of disdain, 'They have been washed.'

03 November 2006

A school holiday dog


The vacances scolaires (school holidays) are the busiest times at Pension Milou and it’s full house at the moment with two Jack Russell terriers, a bichon, a miniature pinscher, a dachshund, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, several golden retrievers and Hattie and Tessa, who belong to a young family from La Gaude.

Hattie, the cocker spaniel, was their first dog and then, when little Charlotte was about two, along came Tessa the Menace. Tessa is a beautiful golden retriever and in some way, it’s my fault the family ended up with her. Ailsa had asked me where to buy a golden. I suggested a breeder in the mountainous hinterland of Nice who I knew had good ones – in fact I’d been up there to help my neighbour choose a pup for her son. Shadow is now 5 years old and a beautiful dog. I can hear him, right now, barking in Agnès’ driveway.


Ailsa called the man and was told that no puppies were available but that he had an 8- month old bitch for sale. She asked what I thought. ‘Good idea,’ I said, ‘no house training to do.’ And so she went and bought Tessa, who, she soon found out, wasn't house trained. The bigger problem though - and I should have known how it would be - was that Tessa hadn't been socialised. She’d been living an isolated life except for a few other dogs and so she was desperately needy when she landed on Ailsa’s doorstep. She was nervous of noise and traffic. She was destructive – she’d grab anything and tear it to shreds or worse, eat it. She grabbed your clothes when you came in, ‘Don’t leave me, please don’t leave me!’ When she came to stay at Pension Milou, food disappeared, books got chewed, papers eaten. She ate her way through two watchstraps, five dog beds, towels galore, cushions, duvets, chair covers, gardening gloves. Her poop would be multi-coloured with bits of plastic or undigested fabric. And she’d vomit the excess. And don’t even ask how many toilet rolls she got through. I thought the Andrex pup was a Labrador, so someone obviously forgot to tell Tessa she was, in fact, a golden retriever.

Tessa and Joy, the pointer

She barked incessantly and she never stopped moving. She chased around the place as if she were a car at the Monaco Grand Prix on race day. She was exasperating and exhausting but she was funny. And it was hard to tell her off – although believe me I did – because she’d just laugh in my face as if to say, ‘What me?’

Ailsa was fantastic and put in so much time, patience and perseverance with Tessa. She did everything she could, eventually taking her to a professional trainer. I think if almost anyone but Ailsa had given Tessa a home, they’d have given up and she’d be another statistic: yet another dog whose owner couldn't cope – she'd have been sent to a refuge never to be released – or worse.

In the early days, I’d get messages from Ailsa, such as: 'Tessa managed to destroy the mattress from the garden chair and get my mobile out of my bag and break the screen! If I didn't know any better I'd say she was on drugs!'

In fact, sometime later, the vet did put Tessa onto a calming drug for a while but I don't know that it made a lot of difference. I coped with Tessa for a year or so. Each time Ailsa would ‘text’ me from England. ‘Is everything OK?’ ‘What has she eaten today?’ – the phone was busy in those days.

Two-tier dogs: Tessa and Dotty, the pug

Eventually, after one particularly fraught stay, I was exhausted with Tessa and so with a heavy heart, I told Ailsa, ‘Enough is enough.’ During the next school holidays, Ailsa put Tessa and Hattie into kennels but it really didn’t work out and Hattie came out sick. Time passed, I relented, the dogs came back and miraculously since then, Tessa has been an angel.

Oh lordy, what’s that loo roll doing all over the floor? 'Tessa, leave that box of tissues ALONE!' Sorry, gotta go…


If you're interested, you can read a piece I wrote about Ailsa’s move to France at this link:

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