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…


Anonymous said...

Hi Jilly,
I was wondering how you get time off from the dogs. It really is 24/6..Do you ever go on holiday?
Those photos of Menton are lovely, so tempting to drive over. I'm looking out at a bank of cloud though it's stopped raining.
Sheba: what an awful thing to happen but such quick healing..
Enjoy your day off,

Anonymous said...

Just tagged you, Jilly.
Ten things You'd Never Do..

Anonymous said...

It must be nice to have a Saturday off to write about anything and meander lazily over stories and thoughts, without a bark to interrupt you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind words, Jilly. At the time I was practically gnashing my teeth in frustration.
What's that line of Blake's? "the tigers of wrath" because I think that's where the energy came from...
Every time I look at your template I feel nostalgic. Just wish I could return to classic blogger..
Have a good weekend,

blueVicar said...

So many dogs, so much to do! Your post offers informative views your life...glad that you got a few hours off and out. But that story about Sheba...not a very relaxing time when considering the implications of that...

Love the search for the word definition...getting lost in the dictionary can be lots of fun. Sorry, though, that pain put you onto the search.

I feel a great yearning for a dog when I read your stories...

Meilleurs voeux!

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