31 December 2006

A Guru for Christmas

It’s 5.30 in the morning and Loulou, the Jakarta street dog, is howling – just a gentle howl, but enough to say, ‘Get up, I want breakfast.’ Then they all start. Lola, the Border collie mix, is rattling the wrought iron baby gate to my bedroom. Cosmo, the French bulldog puppy, is making baby noises. Tessa, the golden retriever is jumping up and grabbing my nightdress. Hattie and Jessie are whining as only cocker spaniels can whine. I lie there for about thirty seconds but there’s no point. If I don’t get up now, someone will have puddled. Let’s face it, someone will probably have puddled anyway.

Hardy and Hamish - father and son

I throw a dressing gown over my nightdress, stick my feet in a pair of shoes and make for the door, 16 dogs running along behind me. I feel like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Now they are pushing and shoving, each wanting to be the first one out. I edge my way thru a sea of dogs to get the door open. Cosmo is jumping up and scratching my calves. Her claws are like needles. Lola’s barking. I tell her to stop and she doesn’t. Now all the dogs are barking. This won’t work. I can’t let barking dogs out this early in the morning - it’s simply not fair on my neighbours. I walk back to the kitchen counter to get the citronelle anti-bark collar for Lola. She’s the ringleader. She runs away. I chase her with half the dogs following me, the other half wondering why on earth I don’t open the door and NOW. Eventually I get the collar on her. I see two puddles. I don’t know who the culprits are but it’s not their fault - they’d wanted to go out, after all and anyway, there’s always a bucket of disinfectant at the ready. No big deal.

Cosmo, French bulldog puppy

I open the door and the dogs burst out as if a cannon has gone off. I cling to the door frame to avoid being knocked over in the rush. Most run across the terrace and down the steps to the garden but some wait for me. I think how nice it would be if I could simply open the door, let the dogs out and then go and make myself a cup of tea whilst they get on with their calls of nature. If only it were that simple. But there are always insecure dogs who won’t go down to the garden alone. So I go down – the puppy and Pixie, the little poodle, follow. It’s pitch black and three or four more dogs are waiting at the bottom of the steps for me to click the switch that lights up the trees in the lower garden. This is a five-star dog hotel, after all, and Monte Carlo dogs don’t ‘do’ dark.

Welcome to Pension Milou on Christmas morning.

The lower terrace leading to the garden

I’ve too many dogs. That’s how it is at Christmas. For some reason, throughout the year, it more or less works out that I don’t exceed the number of dogs allowed by my official licence – pretty amazing when you look at how many dogs are featured in the gallery of the Pension Milou website. But at Christmas, I have no choice but to turn several valued clients away. And still there are too many here.

Arthur sleeps

Time for breakfast. Most books on canine behaviour and training tell us that the human must eat first to show the dog who is boss or pack leader. Have you ever tried eating breakfast with 16 pairs of eyes glued to your every move? The dogs eat first. Organising this is no small feat in itself but once the bowls are filled according to each dog’s requirement, medication added where necessary, dogs put in various rooms so there are no arguments, it’s done and dusted in no time. Then I fix breakfast for myself. Perhaps you imagine a gently warmed croissant with confiture d'abricots, served with a steaming cup of fresh espresso and taken, sitting on the terrasse enjoying the sun come up over the Mediterranean below. The truth is I make a bowl of porridge, carry it into the study and eat it as I check my emails. Some dogs lie at my feet, others play. Yet two or three others are having a mother’s meeting, doubtless complaining about the management.

Mother's meeting: Athena and Tessa

Time to shower but first I need to move a few dog beds that pretty much cover the bathroom floor. I clear a space, put down a bathmat and take my douche. Sixteen pairs of eyes stare at me through the clear glass and when I’m done at least six tongues lick my legs, helpers in the drying process.

Cosmo and Happy

Anthony is coming to lunch. I must clean up as he’s allergic to dogs and dust. Anthony is my computer guru so he’s pretty high up on the list of Important People in my Life. He’s seen me through at least three computers and over the years has become a good friend - he even calls me 'Auntie.' Poor guy – he has to take a pile of anti-allergy pills before he so much as sets off on the journey to me and in the spring it’s even worse when the mimosas are in flower.

Today though is a treat. It’s usual for me to spend Christmas alone. Well, as alone as one can be with 16 dogs. Normally Anthony, who is Canadian, flies home to spend Christmas with his parents and takes his dog with him. He’s always had bichons, who, like poodles, don’t cause allergy problems. This year he has a new puppy called Baka. (Anthony writes Haiku and Baka means ‘clown’ or ‘fool’ in Japanese.) His parents have moved from the country to an apartment in Toronto where dogs aren’t allowed and so Anthony can't take Baka with him. As he doesn't want to leave such a young puppy behind, his parents’ loss is my gain. He's coming to Pension Milou for Christmas lunch

Anthony is a self-employed computer programmer currently writing and selling his own anti-spam software. He also owns and operates the four computers, as well as the wireless network, at Stars ‘N' Bars, a trendy American-style sports bar on the port of Monaco. Great Eggs Benedict there – I speak from experience.

Over the years, I’ve learned so much from Anthony, not least, to try and write what I mean. I’ve learned, when I ask a computer-related question, to be precise and to think logically and sequentially when I explain the problem. This has helped my writing and I’ll be forever grateful to him for this - she said, wafting off in ten different directions.

Anthony and Baka

Two hours later and the house is as clean as it’s likely to get. The floors are washed and most of the obvious surfaces are dusted. The table is ready. I’m providing the first course, Anthony is bringing the plat principal and later I discover he’s brought enough to last me a couple of meals. How many people can boast a computer guru who cooks for them? The Christmas pudding, grâce à Marks and Spencer, is a gift from BooBoo’s owners. And the wine? Another client, a wine collector (are you beginning to see the advantages of looking after other people’s dogs?) has generously given me a ‘special bottle for Christmas day.’ It’s a Château La Nerthe 2000 whose cork has been pulled to give the wine time to breathe.

We are ready. All seventeen of us await Anthony and Baka’s arrival.

- - - - - - - - -

Next week: read the story of Loulou, who was found on the streets of Jakarta.


Anonymous said...

5.30's downright uncivilised, Jilly, but at least they weren't demanding turkey and all the trimmings followed by pudding.
How many are you for New Year?
Have a good one and all the best for 2007. May it bring you what you'd like.

Jilly said...

Actually they normally get up at 6 a.m. so it's not so different but hey, yes, I didn't register how good they were in not demanding turkey and Christmas pudding! I'll hold the thought...

Only 10 here at the moment - that's 8 en pension and my two. Seems almost empty after Christmas...and I trust yours was good.

Love your new photography blog.

love Jilly xxx

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