28 December 2007


A word of advice. If you want a dog that will trot obediently behind you - off lead - then whatever you do, don't get a hound. Hounds are born to hunt. Their sense of smell and their need to follow a scent is all-consuming.

One of the many joys of owning Milou, an American cocker spaniel - and the dog of my life - is that once we were away from a main road, he could be let off his lead - he'd explore but he never went far - always keeping an eye out for me. He'd wander about Gorbio village whilst I had a coffee in the bar and he loved walking in the hills above the village, amongst the olive trees and the wild thyme - especially when his best buddy, Candy, was visiting from America. My Milou went to doggy heaven a couple of years ago and I miss him still.

When I adopted Beau from the refuge in April 2006, the furthest thing from my mind was the word 'walkies.' I just got sucked into the look in his eyes and how needy he was. And he was. Once home and following three weeks on antibiotics, he had to have both eardrums removed - 4 and half hours on the operating table. It took a year for him to get reasonably healthy but still - every four months - he got massive abcesses below each ear. Things are better now and since July, he's not had another abscess and that's because they've never quite healed - each day both sides drain just a little. The vet suggests this is a good thing and I agree. It's a simple matter to wash the areas each morning - far better than painful abscesses for the poor dog.

So when it came to walking - and I did take Beau on several walks soon after the swelling had gone down and the stiches were removed - what did he do? As soon as I let him off lead, his long big beautiful nose went down and off he dashed into the undergrowth. Beau is a Bruno de Jura which is a Swiss hunting dog - bred to hunt, bred to follow a scent. Fortunately I was with a friend when he ran off and we managed, between us, to get him back. Since then I tried a couple of walks with him on an extension lead which wasn't much fun cos he'd dive into the undergrowth and the lead would get twisted around twigs and rocks and he'd need to be rescued. Now he walks on a normal lead, albeit quite a long one, with me getting dragged into the woodland everytime he wants to 'follow his nose.'

And then suddenly things changed. Some of you know I have several photo blogs. One of them is Menton Daily Photo and I decided to photograph the Promenade le Corbusier which goes from the point of Cap Martin all the way to Monaco - a walk and takes about 2 and a half hour each way. It has to be one of the most gloriously beautiful walks in the world and you can take the walk with Beau and me on Menton Daily Photo in January. It occurred me to me that perhaps Beau wouldn't run away on this walk because in the first place, it's right by the sea, so hopefully no wild boars about, and secondly, it's fenced on the inland side of the walk - ie all the beautiful houses and gardens protect their wildly expensive properties with wrought iron railings. So off we went. Beau had a breakthrough - and so did I.

We parked by the sea, and I walked Beau, on lead, to the beginning of the 'walk.' There were several other dogs running about and I knew I had to let Beau off as dogs feel vulnerable when meeting new dogs if they are on a lead and the other dogs are running free. He stopped dead, allowed the other dogs to sniff him and then I called him to follow. Beau, whilst he has no eardrums can - amazingly - hear a little. The vet explained there is some mechanism left to allow him to do this. Certainly when the other dogs at Pension Milou bark, he pricks up his ears and follows them - barking along with them. So he followed me for a bit. Great. We continued the walk and soon he was ahead of me, but every so often, he stopped, turned and looked around for me. A miracle. As soon as he saw me, he'd continue. Sometimes he'd take off down one of the little tracks to the rocks and the sea, then he'd stop and look for me again. One time, it was the other way around - I was ahead of him, went around a bend - later I looked back - no Beau. I ran back. No Beau. Ran further. No Beau. I asked people if they'd seen a large black dog with very long ears and they pointed down a track. There he was, on the rocks just waiting and when he saw me, he bounded over - so joyful. And then I knew. Miraculously I have a dog who wants to be with me. He's become 'my' dog. Now I know we can go for walks together - I can trust him off lead so long as there's no traffic and he can trust me to look after him.

I'm looking at him now. He's sitting in MY chair. Yes, I lost my chair soon after he got here. He doesn't move his majestic head but I know, if I were to walk past him, his eyes would follow me around the room. This dog loves me. I look at this beautiful dog and remember that poor old dog I first saw in the refuge. Beau is about ten years of age. I remember how he staggered out to greet one of the volunteers, then slunk back to his corner of a filthy carvan where he lived because he was so sick, the sides of his head massively swollen with infection. The filthy caravan I might tell you was considerably better than the kennels the other dogs had, which were only airline crates giving no protection from the cold and rain. I didn't want to take him. At the time I had two other rescue dogs and they were a handful. I hesitated - twice. Imagine if I'd left him there?

If ever you are given the choice between buying a puppy or giving a home to a refuge dog, don't hesitate, please give an unwanted dog a home. You'll never know the joy you will get when you nurture a dog to full health and then watch him grow into his potential. And then there's the love you get back - and sometimes it's overwhelming - but I'm not complaining. I was told Beau had had four homes before being put in the refuge and he'd been in the refuge a long time. I really don't know if this is true or not but I can't imagine anyone giving up this beautiful dog. Anyway - it's all worked out beautifully. We suit each other, my dog and me.

I must go - from the terrace I see the sun shining over the sea - and Beau wants a walk. So do I.

This is a watercolour of Beau by British artist, Katie Lancaster. Katie is based in the South of France and creates contemporary dog portraits from photographs. Each drawing is an original piece of artwork, drawn with sensitivity and focused attention to detail. Katie also designed the Pension Milou website. To see more of Katie's beautiful dog portraits (in water colours or pastels) please click on Pet Portraits | Katie Lancaster.

16 November 2007

The Caves of Balzi Rossi

Balzi Rossi beach

I blame the bridges. Some of you know I post a photograph every day on Menton Daily Photo and also Monte Carlo Daily Photo. Well, on the first day of each month, the City Daily Photo family run a Theme Day. For instance, in the past, we've had to post photos on such diverse subjects as: a tombstone, street signs, the colour blue, a typical breakfast, a public mail box, men at work - and so on.

The Theme for December is a bridge. I had a few ideas but decided to ask my knowledgeable friend on all-things-Menton, Marie-Hélène. M-H is a talented Dutch painter, who has been living in the south of France for about as long as me - at first in Menton and now in the beautiful medieval village of Roquebrune.

'There's a bridge at Balzi Rossi,' she said. 'Drive to the border, turn right towards the Restaurant Balzi Rossi and park. On the left you'll see the bridge and tucked into some of its arches is a café, now closed. M-H told me that this restaurant had a strange sort of licence where they weren't allowed to serve outside, so they used to call out people's names when the food was ready. Customers then collected the food themselves, sat outside and ate it, and so the licence was adhered to. Sounds very Italian to me.

So I settle the dogs and off I go. I find the bridge, take a few photographs and then wander on, past the Restaurant Balzi Rossi and I see, on the left, the Museo Prehistorico dei Balzi Rossi. I've lived here for 16 years and never knew it existed. I walk past the museum and on to the sea. Rugged, with the sea bashing against the rocks. So unlike the calm coastline in Menton. Every time I cross the border into Italy, it amazes me how different the feel is from one side of the border to the other. Not just rocks and sea, but the whole atmosphere is different, the people are different. A few miles and you are in a different world. I confess I often wish I'd chosen Italy over France but it's a bit late now and anyway it's only a hop, skip and jump across the border, so stop complaining Jilly. And again, what's wrong with France and especially Menton - and of course the answer is nothing. It's all wonderful.

I take a few shots of the rocks and sea and look up at the great red cliff face. Balzi Rossi means Red Rocks. I decide to pop into the museum for a few moments on my way back to the car. I enter. There's a well-padded friendly lady behind the counter. Standing near to her is a rather stern-faced gentleman. I look the length of the museum and realise I'm the only visitor. I get out my purse and ask the lady, 'How much, please.' 'Two euros,' she says. Seems cheap to me and I open my purse. She looks at me and then asks, 'How old are you?' I tell her. 'Oh, then you can go in for nothing,' she says. Well there I was in my Polo jeans, my nifty pale pink t-shirt, my trendy waistcoat from Diesel in New York and she's guessed my age. Dammit. Well of course there are advantages to being older - many - but really I'd rather it wasn't assumed. People, when they see me, are supposed to throw up their hands in surprise and say 'Oh no really, you look so much younger.' Fat chance.

So, I'm two euros richer. The lady gives me a gratuito ticket and I'm free to look around. I notice all the exhibits have explanations in Italian, which I don't speak. I ask if there is a brochure in English or French. The lady points to a revolving stand with A4 sized plasticized explanations and photos in many languages. 'You can borrow one,' she says, 'but you can't take it away with you.' I ask if I might photograph it (I need the information for Menton Daily Photo). At this point, the stern-faced man rushes up, 'No, no, no. No photographs allowed,' he says. I explain I have a blog and would like to mention the museum and so need to have the information. 'No, no photographs allowed.'

I know it's forbidden to take photographs in museums, but a photograph of a brochure - for heaven's sake. So I get out my notebook and pen, but there's nowhere to write. Obviously I can't lean on any of the display cases, some of which I've already noticed contain fossils of dead bodies. Hardly the thing to do even if they are 240,000 years old.

The friendly lady, as opposed to the unfriendly man, tells me there is a table at the far end and I can use that. I walk past wall displays and start to write.

"The Balzi Rossi caves are at the southern limit of the hilly massif of the Alps, which separate Liguria from what is now known at the Côte d'Azur. This particular topography meant that the caves were en route - as well as a convenient stopping point - for those who travelled through or lived in this region over the millennia. The famous 'triple burial' - the skeletons of a Cro-Magnon adult male, girl and young boy, were discovered in the Barma Grande cave."

I continue writing for a while - if you are interested in more information and more photographs, please visit THIS LINK and scroll down to read the various entries.

By now, I'm feeling just a little daunted. Nice Lady and Not so Nice Gentleman are looking at me, talking about me. I need to show some real interest in the displays but I know nothing about palaeontology. They continue to watch me. Do they think I want to steal a fossil? In any case, everything is behind glass. I wander about looking at the various displays; fossils of so many animals - elephant, rhinoceros, reindeer, bear, groundhogs - and flint tools, photographs - all of which are fascinating.

Eventually I'm done and I go to leave. I make a few polite comments, 'How amazing' and 'Incredible to think...' and 'Very interesting museum' - all of which I mean. It is indeed fascinating - I was struck by how small the skulls are of the 'triple burial' mentioned above. The Not S0 Friendly Gentleman seems pleased. Perhaps he isn't so unfriendly, after all, and is just so proud of his museum. Don't always assume people are as you first find them, Jilly. Mind you, he could have let me photograph the brochure.

'Now you go and visit the caves,' says Nice Lady. And I thought I was done for the day and could go home to the dogs... and lunch.

She takes me outside and indicates a car. I'd noticed a lady sitting in this car when I walked past earlier. It turns out she sits in the car all day waiting to take visitors from the museum to the caves. I assume I'm to get in and be driven to wherever the caves are, not realising I'd walked past them earlier and that they are simply just above the museum. Nice Lady puts out her hand and stops me opening the passenger side fo the car. 'You walk,' she says.

A skinny lady, messy blond hair, smoking a cigarette gets out of the car. She's wearing black boots and a black coat. Not your typical museum guide I feel. Unfortunately she doesn't speak one word of French or English and so we converse in sign language and with gestures and, with the little understanding I have of Italian, we somehow manage. Note to self: must learn Italian - it's such a beautiful language.

It occurs to me that three employees to show one visitor around is a mite excessive. Talk about overstaffed. No wonder the Italian economy works as it does.

We walk up the ramp to a bridge, which I discover is over the main railway line that connects the French and Italian Rivieras. At the entrance to the bridge is an iron gate. She takes a large key from her pocket and unlocks the gate. She gestures me to walk thru and she turns around, takes another cigarette from a packet in her pocket and walks towards a white plastic chair where she sits and lights up. She is obviously going to wait for my return. I'm on my own now.

I breathe a sigh of relief. At least I don't have to pretend I'm a visiting academic from America - not that there's any chance of that, I might add. By way of an aside, I've noticed some French people have a problem distinguishing accents and can't tell if we are American or English - or South African or Australian, come to that. I remember when I lived in the Pyrenées I was watching an American film on television. It had subtitles in French and one of the Frenchmen in the room asked me, quite seriously, 'Do you understand that language?' 'Of course I do,' I replied, 'it's in English.' 'But it's an American film,' he said, 'I didn't know you understood American.' It astounded me that he didn't realise American and English are the same language. But hey, come to think of it, perhaps he was right.

I cross the bridge and walk up some fairly steep steps and then up a sandy track. The view is fabulous, the rock face extraordinary. First I come to the Grotta del Caviglioni where elephant and rhinoceros fossils were discovered. I walk further - more steps and a longer sandy path and come to Grotta di Florestano. Florestano, Prince of Monaco, excavated this cave between 1846 and 1857 where the discovery was made of a fragment of thin bone belonging to a pre-Neanderthal woman, who walked erect. Ths is the oldest human fragment ever found in Italy.

Were I braver, I'd probably have entered one of the caves but I would have brought a torch with me and preferably a dog to protect me from the ghosts of the prehistoric creatures. I'd love to do so actually as I understand there are some cave paintings to be seen. But I'm not brave, so I walk back to the lady in black, who is still smoking her cigarettes.

The entrance to Florestano's cave

I'm done. Home to the dogs and lunch But no, my guide now takes me to a second building, also part of the museum, where she indicates there are two floors of exhibits for me to view. I can hardly refuse. She will wait for me, doubtless smoking as she does so.

Here are many photographs and graphs and explanations of the caves and the cave-dwellers. There are some figurines too - miniature sculptures of well-rounded female nudes, fashioned - depending on the region - from ivory, antler, or soft stone. The treatment seems to have followed certain rules, the most obvious being an over-emphasis on the fleshy parts of the body (buttocks, stomach and chest) and at times, an explicit portrayal of various sexual attributes. Plus ça change. The most famous is the Grimaldi Venus, fashioned in serpentine and which depicts a pregnant woman.

I sneak a few photographs when I'm on the upper level of this building and eventually I'm done. I leave. The guide locks up behind me and walks back to her car. I linger, enjoying the view and trying to get my head around prehistoric man who lived here forever ago and how I want to try and write about it on a blog that will somehow be read by you in an instant. I give up trying. Time to go home to the dogs - and a late lunch. I can get my head around that. The dogs need a run in the garden and I'm hungry.

30 July 2007

Losing the plot

Lucky, the American cocker spaniel

‘This is the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel. Am I speaking to Madame Bennett?’ the voice asked - in French.

Oui, c’est moi,’ I replied.
This is not the first time I’ve had a call from the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel, Monaco’s newest resort – very grand, very expensive.

‘Madame, we have a client who has arrived today with a rabbit. Do you take rabbits?’

‘A rabbit?’ I say, stupidly. Perhaps I misheard. I think wildly – lapin? Lapin IS French for rabbit? Yes, I heard right the first time.

Oui, un lapin, Madame.’ I wanted her to laugh, but she didn’t.

‘I don’t look after rabbits,’ I say. ‘I look after dogs. I think the dogs might eat a rabbit.’ Go on, laugh, lady - but of course she can’t. The owner of the rabbit is probably standing by her desk. Maybe the rabbit is listening too. I suggest she calls a veterinarian for the name of someone who might look after Flopsy and we end the call. The mind boggles. Who would take a rabbit to such a grand hotel?

Monte Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort

I used to know an American lady who came to stay in Monaco for months at a time. She stayed at the Hotel de Paris with her little Yorkshire terrier dog. Amongst her luggage she always brought an enormous Louis Vuitton trunk, each shelf laden with tins of his special brand of dog food and at 5 p.m. each day – never a minute later, never a minute earlier - a waiter would appear with a silver tray on which sat a porcelain dish from Limoges. The waiter opened a tin of food, spooned it carefully onto the dish and served it to the little dog, who sat waiting on his chair at a table on the terrace overlooking the Place du Casino. The rich are different. And so are their dogs.

Here, life goes on. Lucky, the American cocker spaniel is on a diet but fat chance, excuse the pun. The 100-year fig in the garden is shedding its fruit about 5 weeks early. So far I’ve collected 4 buckets of hard figs. Doubtless because we almost no rain in spring and none since. Nutcase world. Floods in England, people dying from the heat in Hungary, Greece, Italy. Here’s it’s just plain hot so we are lucky. And the dogs – why, they rush out each time I open the door to be the first to grab a fallen fig. I used to think this would give them diarrhoea but in fact it does the opposite. Figs may be a good source of vitamins but not the ticket for a greedy fat spaniel.

Maybe there's a fig in a flowerpot?

The place is a tip. Piles of books lie about waiting to be sorted. Why? Well, a friend of a certain age has now left the south of France to take up residence in West Virginia with the new 70 year old love of her life. She’s like a kid, madly in love, and it’s good to see, but rather her than me. She came to Pension Milou to collect a travel crate for one of her dogs and asked if I wanted anything in return. Actually it wasn’t mine to give away but happily the owner, now in England, was happy to let it go. Would I like a blender? How about a television? No, no, no, I said. I’ve too much stuff already – but, if you’ve any books… So now, there are books on the terrace table, some on the dining table, a few lie around the bedroom. There are ninety or more to sort and I’ve too many books already. Books are impossible for me to give away so I sure don’t need ninety more.

Lucky munches her fig, whilst Lou looks on

The majority of my books are ones I’ve read, so of course I can’t give them away because I might want to read them again. Or they are books I couldn’t get into but of course I’d better keep them, as one day I might like them better – I’m always sure it’s my fault I can’t get into a book - perhaps my mood, perhaps lack of concentration when of course what I should do is chuck it out. Life is too short to read a book you don’t like. But then, maybe one day…

I exaggerate slightly - some do get given away – to the English church library in Monaco or the one in Menton and there’s a network down here of women (always women it seems) who swap books. I love that. Some have my taste so I know if they like something, probably I will too. And it’s fun meeting for coffee and doing the change over of heavy plastic bags, which give promise of future nights spent getting lost in the wonders of good writing.

I’ve a client who brings me magazines. I never buy magazines. Some I like – Vanity Fair for example – great photography and often good in-depth articles, particularly if you don’t like the Republican party. But I ask myself, do I need Hello magazine to improve my life? How many Voici and OK!s do I need to waste more time?

Frankly, sometimes I think I’m losing the plot. The days whirr by in a blur of dogs and paperwork and emails and cleaning up the place and whilst I don’t seem to stop, I get nothing done. I hurry slowly and then crash out on the sofa, six dogs vying for attention, and fall asleep. It’s a gift from God to know how to do nothing. It’s that work ethic I was brought up with. No matter, the decision has been taken and, drum roll, I’m going into semi retirement mode from next January.

My new friend, Isabella had written me:

…if you still have unfulfilled dreams (places to go, things to do) - don't postpone your retirement. To quote Oscar Wilde: Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.

How right she is and as for Wilde, well I have a ton of stuff to do but perhaps work was my excuse for not getting on with it. Writing a book, for example.

So I’ve bitten the bullet, written all my clients, told them which months I’m working and which I’m not. It wasn’t easy. Clients become friends – the dogs know and trust me and now they will need to find a new carer. But it’s time. I’ve made plans to visit America, Italy, Spain. I’ll buy a laptop so I can write whilst travelling. Perhaps I’ve not lost the plot after all.

Tango - just cos she's cute

07 June 2007

Plus ça change…

Rosie, the bearded collie

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Sell dog food, make lots of lovely money and cut back on caring for dogs. Just take the easy ones. After all, you can go out to dinner and leave a load of dog food in the cupboard but you can’t leave other people’s dogs alone in the house. It was an attempt to get back to a slightly more normal life, perhaps give me the opportunity to socialise more than I have over the last 10 years. Even go away a little more.

I shouldn’t complain. I’m lucky enough to live in a beautiful place and I love dogs but I’m getting older. I’m forever turning down invitations and most importantly, I keep promising myself I’ll find the time to write ‘my book’, so the dog food idea seemed the way to go. Give myself a little freedom.

And it went well. Amazingly well. Orders and re-orders came in – the suppliers were delighted. I even got a gift after I’d sold my first 500 kilos, but it simply wasn’t worth it in terms of the work/money ratio. For every 100 euros worth of dog food I sold, I had to first of all buy it, then pay 24.50 euros in social charges to the French government, which left around 10 – 15 euros profit before petrol, advertising, printing. All that lugging, all that paperwork – and I hate paperwork. It wasn’t worth it. Looking after dogs, even if it was hard to get away from the house, was easier. I was better off to be more selective in the dogs I take, not so many who yap endlessly, preferential treatment to oldies who lie about all day, puppies probably a no-no. Ease up, ease up.

I’m still recommending Arden Grange dog food – I so believe in it. But it wasn’t on to be working so hard for so little and giving myself even less time to do what I wanted to do. Friends say that France’s new President, Monsieur Sarkozy, may try and make life easier for small businesses, micro-enterprises like mine, but hey, I’m not holding my breath and I’m not prepared to wait.

As you may recall, I ordered a new car specifically for this new venture. Couldn’t be making deliveries to Monte Carlo in my battered old car – after all, got to look the part. Well it arrived at the dealership the day before I left for the Euro-OES-Show in the Vosges, northeastern France. I collected it the day after I got back. [I’ll write about the show in the next posting.]
The last car was 16 years old and I loved it. Yes, it looked battered but it was easy to drive and to understand. Frankly you’d need to go back to university to understand all the bells and whistles on this Golf Plus. There are 8 tiny buttons on the steering wheel alone – like you’ve got time to look at them whilst you are driving. One is to turn the volume of the radio higher, another to lower it. I haven’t investigated the other six yet. What’s wrong with reaching across and turning the knob on the radio itself? It took me an hour to find out how to open the cap to fill the car with diesel. Christophe, who sold me the car – a charmer, of course - handed me the 4-inch thick manual and told me to go away and learn it by heart. Huh! It’s in French, natch.

So I drove home and adored the car – responsive, powerful, it felt safe. I loved that I could sit ‘high’ – I’m only a titch for those who don’t know me. I loved it till I got home, that is.
Normally I reverse down my steep track. I’m so used to it now and it’s easier than turning in the small parking area half way down. I live down a dead-end track so can’t drive down and turn around. Often, in my old car, when I reversed down, I’d go wrong and have to drive up a little to correct the descent. Naturally, I went wrong in the new car and so I knew I needed to drive up a bit and get myself in the right position to carry on down. My track is not only steep but slightly windy too. So, as per usual I changed from Reverse to Drive and bugger me, the car continued to roll back down the track and nearly hit a stone wall. I grabbed the handbrake at the same time as I stuck my foot on the footbrake and just saved the situation. This wasn’t supposed to happen! The Rover, if you changed from Reverse to Drive, ‘held’ in Drive on the steep track. The Golf didn’t. Now, you should know that the whole reason I ordered an automatic car is that I have an arthritic neck and shoulder on the right side (caused by a stupid accident yonks ago) and this is the arm/hand that has to grab a handbrake. I can’t do it. Eventually, though, it was parked and next day I had a few more goes with it to be sure I’d not made a mistake. No. Every time I put the car into Drive it wouldn’t hold on the slope – it rolled back. Equally if I was facing downhill and tried Reversing, it continued forward. I needed to use throttle and the handbrake at the same time and I simply wasn’t used to this. I was cross. Very cross.

Back to the Volkswagen Garage and the dishy Christophe. I wanted him to see the problem. He hadn’t told me the Golf wouldn’t hold on a hill, so there had to be something wrong with it. There is a slope – quite a steep slope – down to the VW garage. He drove up the slope in Drive, stopping it with the foot brake and then letting go to see if it would hold, it didn’t. Ha! I thought. Now he sees it and it will get fixed. But he got out of the car and said, ‘ C’est comme ça.’ Very French, Christophe, but that won’t do. He offered to get the technicians to look at it but insisted, ‘that’s how it is.’ The French love saying: c’est comme ça. He then said I could rectify the situation by using the brake with my left foot and accelerating with the right – i.e. just like a manual car. ‘I don’t want a manual car! It’s not what I bloody well ordered.’ So I said ‘Right, take the car back. Give me my money back. I’ll start again elsewhere. I need a car that will hold on hills.’
Christophe looked at me askance. Funny word ‘askance.’ I don’t believe I’ve used it before. Obviously been reading too many bad novels. I digress…. So he said he’d call the manager and out came a nasty piece of work, Monsieur Nasty-I’m- Going-To-Intimidate-You. Aggressive, rude, got into the car, very angry – said of course I must use the handbrake. That’s how you start the car. That’s how you use it. What an idiot I am, except he didn’t say that but obviously implied it. I told him my Rover held in Drive on ANY hill and he said he didn’t know about Rovers but that Golfs are ‘comme ça.’ Since that day, speaking to friends, I know other automatics do indeed hold on hills. So put that in votre pipe and smoke it, Monsieur Manager of Volkswagen Motors, Menton.
At this time I’d got one of the worst sore throats I’ve ever had. The drive back from the Euroshow the day before had been hellish – snow at the entrance to the Gotthard tunnel, rain for 8 hours of the 10-hour journey, I wasn’t at my best. So, anyway, I drove away with the car, not a happy camper but thinking he must be right. After all, I’m a mere woman and women don’t know about cars, do they?
On the way home I had to stop at the pharmacie to get some medication for my throat. The pharmacy on the route de Gorbio is tucked away and it’s always tricky to park. I wasn’t about to try with so little confidence in my ability to drive this car. So I drove up the steep road alongside it, sure I could find somewhere easy to turn around and be facing the right direction to drive away again. I couldn’t. In the end I had to turn in the tiniest space, the car rolled forward – of course. I heard a horrible noise, dammit to hell, I’d bashed the front of it. Damn! Excuse my French. I’d had the car two days and now it’s bashed. Oh grrrrrrrrr. Now I can’t even change it if I wanted to. Oh grrrrrr a thousand times. My new car is dented in front because it doesn't hold on steep hills and why the hell would anyone (thank you, Christophe and Monsieur Nasty) sell such a car to people (little ol’ me) in the Alpes – goddam – Maritimes which, let’s face it, is nothing but steep hills?
Eventually I got home and decided to ring David, who with his wife, Pamela, is the owner of Rosie, the bearded collie, who comes to stay at Pension Milou. David and Pam are fabulous people and always look out for me. He seems to know everything about most things and what luck, he had a good relationship with a VW garage in the UK. And further good luck, David told me when he phoned back, the guy in England had exactly the same model Golf Plus as me. ‘Drive your car up to the top of your track,’ he said – ‘so you’ve room if the car falls back. With the handbrake on and your foot on the brake, put the car into Drive. Let go of the brake and handbrake and the car should fall back just a few inches and then it will lock.’ He told me if it fell back more than that, something was wrong. I did all this. The car rolled back 6 feet before I jammed on the brake and grabbed the handbrake. I called him back. ‘Leave it with me,’ he said. Sometimes I wonder what I’d do without friends like David and Pamela. He called back about 10 minutes later. His contact at VW in the UK had got in touch with the technicians and word came back, the Golf Plus won’t hold on a hill that has a steeper gradient than 5%.
So now we know. I waded thru the manual and there it was on page 149 - …’un déclivité d’au moins 5%.’ That was it. Nothing was wrong with the car at all, but I should have been told. God knows, this part of France is all hills. How stupid. Christophe really should have told me this except I honestly don’t think he’d thought about it or even knew. See how I trust car salesmen. David said he thought I’d get used to the handbrake. He also told me that whilst it was hard on my neck and shoulder at the moment, the hand brake would gradually ‘bed in,’ whatever that meant and that it wouldn’t be as difficult for my bad arm as starting in a car with a manual gear shift.

I persevered. Now I can do a hill start like a pro. The car positively purrs as it gently takes off. I still can’t do a turn on a slope. Bugger that for a lark. I reverse down, not as advised looking in the side mirrors, though. My brain won’t work looking at something that is back to front it seem to me. I lean out of the window, will get wet on rainy days, but tant pis, it’ll be okay.
I reckon this nonsense of the car not 'holding' on more than a minor slope is a major design fault but then I really know about cars, as you’ll gather. It seems it relates to the weight of the car. Of course it’s all those gizmos and gadgets. Keep it simple, stupid. Keep the weight down and the car might work. No matter, I’m stuck with it but I’m getting used to it and the good of the car – and it IS a super car – makes up for these early disadvantages.

So, here I am with a posh new car, a bashed front fender and no dog food to lug about.
Life goes on. Plus ça change…plus c'est la même chose.

12 May 2007


Scupper at Pension Milou

This is the story of Scupper. It’s a story that actually began many years ago when a black Labrador called Bosun used to come and stay here. Bosun had a best friend at Pension Milou – a Jack Russell terrier called Alfie. Bosun and Alfie were inseparable. Alfie was a very special dog with a wonderful temperament and Bosun’s owners often spoke about getting a Jack Russell puppy as a friend for Bosun. Well, that never happened. Alfie went first to Australia and then home to England where he still lives with his family and a new lady friend, another Jack Russell terrier. Bosun sadly died and life, as it does, went on. You can read more here: Bosun - le chien pêcheur de Monaco.

Sometime later, when a group of Brits were trying to help the Refuge de Flassans in the Var, several of us went there and adopted a dog. Bosun’s owners, Nicholas and Victoria went along and adopted THE most beautiful black Labrador - Neptune. You’d not expect that such a good specimen of a breed would be in a refuge, but Neptune was originally from a breeding kennel where he’d been used at stud. He was and is a beautiful Lab. He’d probably been chucked out because he’d got too old to be of further use. Well, he landed on his feet when Nick and Victoria, and daughter, Daisy, gave him a new home.

Not long after Neptune settled into his new family they decided they would finally get the Jack Russell terrier they’d long wanted. They knew exactly where to go in the UK. Bosun had had a great friend in England called Badger - a Jack Russell, of course - and Badger's aunt was expecting puppies.

Travelling from England to France

The family wanted a wire-haired male. Scupper was the only boy and fortunately had the right coat. Unfortunately he was the runt of the litter. When he was born he was a tiny and very weak puppy and not expected to make it. He was hand-fed and being the little fighter he was, he made it with all flags flying. When the family went to see him they went with some trepidation, after all, they were to have no choice as he was the only boy available. They needn’t have worried. One look and they were totally captivated. Scupper had found his family. And when he was old enough and with all the right injections and papers, Nicholas collected him and brought him to France.

Nick and one very small, tired puppy

Soon after this, I got to meet him. Scupper was a puppy so scrumptious and adorable, you felt you could eat him. He was beautiful, he was bright, he was interested in everything going on. He was cute and funny and responsive and loved to be cuddled.

Daisy and Scupper

Scupper and Neptune spent their time either in Monaco or in the house in the country - in the Aveyron.

His first brush with disaster came in February when he ate some slug bait. He was taken immediately to the vet who put him on a drip. His system was flushed out and after a few days, happily, he recovered.

Water is fun!

Scupper came to stay here on two or three occasions. He was a dog that always wanted to please, he gladdened the heart of everyone who met him and everyone who met him fell in love with him. If he had a fault, he barked a lot but then he was a Jack Russell. Here, he’d wear a citronelle collar, which bothered him not one jot and it worked – no barking. Even with his special collar on, he looked adorable because he was.

Christmas 2006 - Victoria & Daisy with Neptune & Scupper + biscuits!

Two weeks ago today – a Saturday – he was at home in the country and, as he always did, followed his friend, Neptune, outside. After so much rain, the grasses had grown and Victoria watched Neptune running along and every now and again, Scupper’s head would appear, bobbing up and down – the grasses pretty much covering such a little dog. But a little later, Victoria was horrified to see him return to the house with an enormous swelling on his neck. She rushed him to the vet who said it wasn’t likely to be a snake bite as he was too lively. The truth is we don’t know what caused the swelling: a snake, an insect, perhaps he ate something – like all Jack Russell terriers and especially puppies, he was into everything. Whatever it was, he was one sick dog, and unfortunately the medication seemed to make him worse. He went back to the vet three times over the next day or so but by the following Thursday, he had deteriorated and first thing on Friday morning, Victoria put the Scupper and Neptune into the car and drove the six hours to their regular vet in Cap d’Ail, where he was immediately put onto a drip, blood taken and the woeful diagnosis given that he had renal failure. But no one was giving up.

Buddies: Scupper & Neptune

He remained on a drip for days, eventually leaving the surgery to go home at night to the Monaco apartment, and then, back next day to be hooked up again. He ate the tiniest amount of food but he was fast losing weight and getting weaker.

Daisy & Scupper - gardening?

Two days ago, he seemed weaker, his legs were wobbly and he had a cloudiness in his eyes. He was a very sick dog and there seemed to be nothing to do but put little Scupper to sleep. On the way to the surgery, though, he suddenly brightened up and started to take interest in what was going on outside the car, even wagging his tail. Nick and Victoria were naturally confused. ‘We can’t put a dog to sleep who is showing such signs of life,’ but sadly it didn’t last long and by the time they got to the surgery, he had weakened considerable – and of course, the fact remained, he had renal failure. He couldn’t survive without a constant drip and even then, probably not for long. He would eventually suffer more. As he lay in Victoria’s arms, and just before the dreaded needle went into his little leg, his cloudy eyes suddenly cleared and he looked at her – right at her - with his beautiful bright eyes and seemed to be saying, ‘thankyou.’ And then he was gone. Nick cried, Victoria cried, Louise, our kind vet, cried. It’s not often a vet cries, you know. Scupper was only 10 months old.

Place du Casino, Monte Carlo

Scupper's ashes will be buried, and a tree planted over him, in his favourite place near to the small lake on the Aveyron property. When Scupper wasn’t following Neptune about, he’d be found here, sitting for hours watching and chasing the frogs.

Why Scupper? God – or whoever is in charge! – why does a gorgeous little puppy like Scupper have to die? Take an old dog, God! Don't take Scupper. Do the good die young? Well Scupper was young – too young – and he was more than a good dog, an exceptional dog who brightened the lives of everyone who met him. The only consolation - hardly that - is that whatever happened to him: a bite or poison or even the wrong medication, he was doing what he loved – running about the countryside following his best friend Neptune.

Aveyron in winter

It’s strange how some dogs have such an effect on you. Scupper, as I said, only stayed here two or three times but I’ll never forget him. That was the effect he had on people. He was a one in a million dog.

Oh Scupper, we miss you. I'm just mad as all hell that you died, that's all. Mad as all hell. If I could write poetry, Scupper, I'd write a poem for you - to you – but I can’t write poetry. You deserve a poem, Scupper - hell, you deserve a life! A life, longer than 10 short months.

I hope little Scupper is playing with Bosun now, in doggy heaven, and introducing him to the delights of chasing frogs. You know, I have a strong feeling he is.

20 April 2007

Circles of Life - 2

Why do we choose the breed of dog we do? – part 2. You can read the first part here.

Poppy and Scruff

About a year after Poppy, the poodle, came into our lives, Peter and I stood entranced outside a pet shop in Ealing. A small white fluffy puppy was doing its best to attract our attention – and succeeding. We’d seen a Sunday Times photograph of a dog we admired in the arms of a well-known actress, an actress whose name I now forget. Was this the same breed? Those were the early days of The Drama Studio in Ealing: a life of students and teachers and the day-to-day running of the school. Naturally we lived and breathed acting and actors so it was natural we’d notice what dogs they owned. [To digress, I was chuffed to see that Forest Whitaker, who’d been a student at The Drama Studio many years after Peter and I split up, won the 2007 Oscar for his amazing portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland.] Peter and I, happily, are still great friends.

Back to the puppy in the pet shop. The owner of the shop told us it was a West Highland white terrier. He agreed to keep it whilst we went home and found the photograph in the newspaper. We always kept back copies of the Sunday papers - doesn’t everyone? Could we find it? Of course we couldn’t. Regardless, we went back, bought the puppy and named her Scruff. A week later we found the newspaper, found the photograph of the famous actress and discovered that the puppy we’d admired was a Maltese terrier. Wrong breed! Duh! No matter, Scruff was adorable and she and Poppy played together. Our doggy family was happy and so were we.

So why did we get those two breeds? Well, Poppy was bought for someone else, Scruff was bought because, I’m ashamed to say, we were influenced by the newspapers. A bit like people now buy a Chihuahua because they’ve seen Paris Hilton holding her dog, Tinkerbelle, as if it were a fashion accessory. Not necessarily a reason to choose a dog.

Time passed and by then Peter and I were, I suppose, what were called Yuppies in those days. Young, Upwardly Mobile …I forget the rest. Habitat furniture, a Volvo, the Good Food Guide and visits to trendy London restaurants. Always though, I noticed dogs. Once we saw a sports car with two people in front and then realised that the passenger wasn’t a person but a large fluffy dog. We were both captivated and recognised it as a dog we’d seen in the Dulux paint advertisement, an Old English Sheepdog. Sometimes I can’t believe that the breed that was to become the ‘breed of my life’ was chosen because of a paint advertisement. Maybe that’s not a bad thing – it certainly wasn’t in my case - but often people do buy a breed because it’s fashionable and then lose interest when they realise it’s all in the too hard basket. I was lucky - I fell in love with this breed and it’s been that way ever since.

Sloopy, the first Old English Sheepdog

The habit of looking at the pet section of the Evening Standard continued from the time we found Poppy and so, one day, what should I see but an advertisement, again way out in the East End of London, for a six month old Old English Sheepdog who’d apparently outgrown her apartment. This time, rather than taking the tube, I drove and some hours later returned with an enormous grey and white dog who’d been sick all over the back of the car. We called her Sloopy. We thought her perfect and it wasn’t until I got to know more about the breed, that I realised she was anything but – she was long in body with cow hocks, she had a narrow head and her coat was thin and tended to brown. To us though she was perfection, she was the first and she had that beautiful Old English temperament.

But it wasn’t to finish there. Suddenly three were a crowd. Two would play and one would be left out. Logical to get a fourth? Of course. But this time we decided we’d give a home to a refuge dog so long as it was female and large and fluffy. We didn’t mind what. The refuge, somewhere north of London, had dogs tied to trees, stuck in pens, not a good situation but the man who ran it wouldn’t let us have a dog. He told us that we had three young well-adjusted females and that he didn’t have another who was suitable for us. He told us they all had histories and problems and needed a one-person home, so we left somewhat dejected but looking back, he was right.

So, sometime later, again via the Evening Standard, I saw an advertisement for 10-month-old female Old English at Chalfont St. Giles, in Buckinghamshire. Off we went - I knew nothing about puppy farms in those days but that’s what it was. There were puppies of every imaginable breed. Most were in large clean dustbins – you peered down and in the gloom at the bottom would be three or four puppies looking up, crying for attention.

We were shown an enormous run containing around 15 or so adult Old English Sheepdogs. We wondered which of these was the 10-month old bitch we’d come to see. The dogs bounded back and forth, throwing themselves against the wire fence. I’d have been happy with any one of them. Then I noticed a shy little bitch in the far corner who didn’t move. Yes, you guessed it - she was the one for sale - Tara. We changed her name to Muffin. As luck would have it, Muffin had been bred by Colonel Bury Perkins, the Chairman of Bath Championship Show. She was a beautifully made bitch with an excellent pedigree who was to pass on her good qualities to her offspring.

Muffin and her daughter, Peggotty, my first showdog

So there we were with our four dogs: a crossbred poodle, a Westie, who should have been a Maltese terrier, and two Old English Sheepdogs. Twice a day, Peter and I (or just me) walked the dogs in the park alongside Ealing Studios until one day something happened that changed my life. I met Maria, who was walking her three Old English in the same park. We became friends and she taught me how to groom and care for an Old English Sheepdog and then, one day told me she was going to a dog show and asked if I’d like to go with her. I told her I thought it was cruel as ‘didn’t they walk the dogs round and round in circles?’ Well I went and the Old English Sheepdogs I saw at the show that day didn’t resemble my two scruffy bundles in the least. These dogs were immaculate, they were stars. You know how a good football match can be a theatrical experience – well so was this dog show. I was stunned by the beautiful bitch who won that day. She stood there, head in the air, saying to the judge, ‘Me, look at me, I’m the best.’ And she was. I went to two more dog shows after that, the last of which was Crufts, the biggest and most prestigious dog show in the world. At this show, that same bitch won and on that day I vowed that one day I’d breed a dog good enough to win at Crufts. And nine learning years later, I did when Champion Pelajilo Milly Mistletoe won Best Bitch at Crufts, 1981.

Champion Pelajilo Milly Mistletoe

I won’t fill this posting with stories of the Old English Sheepdog part of my life as it went on for years and it continues to this day, as I still judge the breed from time to time. Indeed last year it was my tremendous honour to stand in the middle of the ring at Crufts and judge the Old English Sheepdogs. Circles of life.

Judging Crufts 2006

When Peter and I split up, I moved to Wales, where I lived for six years. Slowly my kennel of Old English increased in numbers – and quality. More Westies got added to the mix. My wedding present to Micky (yes, another husband) was an Irish Wolfhound from the Irish Wolfhound Rescue Scheme. Zelda. What did I say in the last posting – that I knew nothing about hounds? I’d forgotten sweet Zelda, a wonderful creature, more a person than a dog.

And later, living alone in Australia, when Mistletoe, the last of my precious Old English Sheepdogs died, I went to a refuge in Cairns and came home with a mutt – probably more hound than anything else – what is it about a hound? She didn’t last long as she continually jumped the fence when I was out attempting to sell Real Estate. The police got fed up with this dog and suggested I find a more secure home for her. Luckily I did and she lived happily for years on Holloway’s Beach with an old lady and behind a higher fence than I had. At least she was out of the refuge.

UK & Australian Champion Bumblebarn Scramble of Pelajilo on Bondi Beach, Sydney, 1985

So many wonderful dogs, so many doggy love stories but the dog of my life wasn’t an Old English Sheepdog at all but an American cocker spaniel called Milou. And I didn’t choose him. The chauffeur of the lady who owned him brought him to Pension Milou (later named for Milou) when he was three years old. She was sick and eventually died and he became my dog and lived with me for 12 wonderful years. I still miss him and I always will. You can read his story here.

Milou, aged 4 when we lived in Roquebrune

Flavia, a Labrador and a retired guide dog for the blind, came to Pension Milou too and never left, but again I didn’t choose her. I’ll write her story another time. She lived with me for about 6 years and when she died, soon after Milou, I vowed no more dogs. Milou’s death in particular had knocked me for six. And then, there I was last year, driving home with a needy hound in the back of the car. So why?

The truth is I don’t know the answer. I can only think it has something to do with the soulful look in a hound’s eye that appeals to something deep within me but then, not all hounds, just particular ones – mine! You see I can’t answer the question I posed. It probably has nothing at all to do with the dog being a hound or any other breed, come to that – more a connection between an individual dog and me. His soul reaches out and I’m there. We fill a need in each other.


Isn’t that why you chose your dog – or he chose you?

06 April 2007

Circles of life

Boots and me (aged 8 or 9)

Have you ever wondered why, of all the dogs in the world – of all the breeds and mongrels available – we choose a particular type of dog? Do we choose? Maybe we are chosen.

Often, of course, once we’ve had a particular breed, we stick with it forever. If you had a dog in childhood, the choice was made for you. Having said that, I’ve heard people say when their much-loved dog has died that they’ll never have another dog of the same breed because it would remind them too much of the one they just lost. I always advise people that if it’s the characteristics of a breed they love so much, then they shouldn’t change. Another dog of the same breed won’t be exactly the same (it will be like having a second child) but having the same breed, at least you know how a little of what to expect. If you knew and loved a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, you might not feel the same about a high-energy terrier and even less if you chose a crazy, albeit beautiful, Weimaraner.

I got to ponder the question of why we choose a breed after I returned from the Refuge de Flassans last year with a hound and a mutt. And the second time, a couple of months later, with another hound. I’ve never had a hound in my life before. I don’t even know much about them except that of all the hounds I’ve cared for at Pension Milou, all had good temperaments. But that’s not why I chose them. There were eighty plus dogs to choose from at the refuge, so why two hounds?

All this got me to thinking about the dogs I’ve owned – or who have owned me.

My mother had no time for dogs – she actively disliked them - which is strange when I think how important they are to my life. There’s a childhood photograph of me, aged 5, with a West Highland white terrier who belonged to an aunt. We seem comfortable with each other although I barely remember the dog.

Then, when I was about 8 or 9 years old my mother allowed us to have a cocker spaniel and Boots, a black puppy with white face and feet arrived. Our mother didn’t look after him though as she was never home – we saw her on weekends. The housekeeper, Elsie, more our mother than our mother, cared for us and our dog. One day, when Boots was about a year old, I came home from school and he’d gone. Elsie told us that our mother had sent him away to the country because he brought too much mud into the house. I try to remember Boots but there’s an image, somewhere out of reach, of a happy, playful dog. Sometimes, in my mind, I see him flying, floating in the air – do I remember him? I don’t know. What I do remember is the total horror and loss when I walked in from school (even young children walked home from school alone in those safer days) to find Boots had gone. I think a brick wall to feeling went up that day and perhaps I blocked out a visual memory of him too.

Just now I found a photograph of Boots and me. I’d completely forgotten this photograph. I must have blocked even the photograph from my memory. Funny to think, all these years later, that a cocker spaniel, Tasha, one of my doggy clients, and looking not so very different to Boots, is featured on the first page of the Pension Milou website. I didn’t think about that till this very moment.

The next dog, some years later, was Nicky, a chocolate coloured miniature poodle. Why a poodle, I don’t know. Perhaps Elsie chose him. Nicky was never well and had to be put to sleep soon after he arrived. After Nicky came Nicky 2 and he was run over and killed by a car. I remember that day. He was not much more than a puppy when he saw a dog on the other side of the road, ran across and that was that. I remember his warm lifeless little body sticking out from under the wheel of the car. From then on I closed my heart to a dog - until much later in life, that is.

There was another childhood dog, again a chocolate poodle but called Brumas this time. Two dogs called Nicky and both dying so young - Nicky 3 would have been tempting fate and anyway, perhaps all children called their dogs Brumas at the time? Brumas was the first polar bear to be born and successfully reared in London zoo and he (although really he was a she) got a lot of publicity at the time. Brumas, the dog, lived till old age but he was far more my sister Sally’s dog than mine as I left home very young and would only see him when I came back to visit.

It wasn’t until years later, when I was married to Peter and living in Ealing that we got to thinking about a dog. But not for us. We used to visit Peter’s godmother on occasion. She lived by the sea in Kent and had recently been widowed.. She’d always had a dog, either a dachshund or a poodle, and Peter thought it might be an idea for her to have a dog to help her get over her husband’s death, get her out of the house, be a companion for her – all the usual things. So I made a habit of looking in the pet section of the London Evening Standard but every time a dachshund or a poodle was advertised, they were always far too expensive for us. We had little money in those days.

The day arrived though, when it all changed. On that day, I found an advert for poodle puppies in Plaistow and the price was only £6. That was more like it! I took the tube all the way to the East End of London. The puppies looked like poodles to me – white – although some seemed to have little brown patches. Of course they weren’t purebred. The breeder offered half a pedigree but I declined as I left with my chosen furry bundle.

That night I discovered in myself unknown maternal instincts – I worried about this little puppy, tried to settle her, cuddled her, endlessly got up to tend her in the night. Next day, off we went to Kent to present our gift to Peter’s godmother. She tooked at the puppy and said, ‘Oh goodness, no. I don’t want a dog. I wouldn’t be able to walk her. At my age I’d be frightened I’d slip and fall on a wet pavement.’ We tried to persuade her, of course, but there was no persuading.

So that was how Poppy arrived in our lives and how I fell in love with a dog again.

I'll post the second part of this next week and tell you how Old English Sheepdogs came into my life and how I met the dog of my life, Milou, an American cocker spaniel. And perhaps I’ll answer the question of why we choose a particular breed and there again, perhaps I won’t.

Why did you choose your breed of dog?

24 March 2007


Beau, the Bruno de Jura

When the phone rings and it’s your ex-husband calling to check if you are okay because you’ve not posted a blog entry for weeks – well, you know it’s time to post – and time to apologise to you, my regular and valued subscribers. I’m back – and I’ll not go away again for so long, I promise.

So what happened? Well, several things happened. The first you know about. His name is BooBoo and he just about drove me insane. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please read the previous entry The Little Dog who thinks he’s a Great Dane. For over two months, BooBoo woke me every morning at 5 a.m. and then spent a large part of his day screaming, yelling and snapping at other dogs so I had to be vigilant every waking minute for fear he’d get his head bitten off. In fact, five or six days before he left, he did get bitten by my dog, Beau. Beau had had enough of being barked at by a dog not much bigger than a grasshopper and he lost patience. I was bending down to pick up something off the floor at the time – a 30-second lapse of vigilance is all it took - and so just before he was due to leave he got bitten. Well he asked for it but that’s not the point. Fortunately it was only a skin wound, nothing deep and soon healed up. What luck – it could have been so much worse. Those two months were stressful and seemed to be never ending. I was so tired I couldn’t think beyond getting through the day, let alone get my brain into gear to write a blog entry. And if you think something is going on forever it seems worse than it is because you see no end to it. You can’t cope. Eventually I said to myself, ‘Enough is enough. No more yappy little dogs, no more difficult dogs, time to ease up a bit on what I do.’ An epiphany moment? Perhaps not, perhaps just a natural progression to the next stage in life.

The second thing that happened occurred about three weeks or so into BooBoo’s stay when I had a call from a very persuasive gentleman, asking if I was interested in selling a particular brand of dog food in Monaco and along the French Riviera. Over the years I’ve been asked many times if I was interested in selling dog food and I’ve always said no. I can’t easily get away from here, can’t leave the dogs, so how could I sell dog food? In this case though, I’d heard of the product, Arden Grange, and knew it was good. Perhaps because I was so tired, perhaps fate took control, but I agreed the caller could send me a box of samples. A day or so later, an enormous box arrived containing samples of Arden Grange and large packets too, which gave me the chance to really test it out. BooBoo’s two friends, the two Jack Russell Terriers had allergy problems and scratched a lot. Beau, my refuge dog, has a greasy skin condition called seborreah.

So I’m in the dog food business! And it’s going very well, thank you, simply because this stuff sells itself. A dog only has to eat it and the owner orders more. I won’t ramble on though – if you want to read about it go to this link. I’ve no idea if this will work out for me financially. French taxation doesn’t make life easy for small businesses and the social charges I will have to pay are high. I won’t really know if it’s worth doing for a year or so. Fingers crossed though and meanwhile I’m having the best fun selling a product that is truly good for dogs.

All this took time to set up, so much so that I didn’t even get to Crufts dog show this year and I never ever miss the Old English Sheepdogs at Crufts. I watched it on the television though and was dead chuffed to see that a son of the dog who won last year (when I had the honour to judge) won this year. Like father, like son.

And the next thing that happened? Well, it was obvious that I couldn’t deliver this high quality dog food in my bashed up 16-year old car. It’s a Rover 216 that I bought years ago from a then-client, retired F1 racing driver, Roy Salvadori, who, incidentally, lives in an apartment that overlooks the start-finish line of the Monaco Grand Prix. I used to look after his dog, Tai, until he died of old age.

It’s a great car and still goes like a bomb. It's never given me one problem in all the years I’ve had it. However, because it’s been sitting out in the hot Mediterranean sun, the bodywork has seen better days. So trying to decide what car to buy took weeks of research. I got square eyes looking at car websites and reading car reviews. A Renault Kangoo would have been ideal but I decided, to hell with it, I want something a little more upmarket and comfortable and so I’ve ordered a Golf Plus which will be ready for collection in a couple of months.

I’ve driven an automatic for years as I have an arthritic neck and shoulder (the result of an untreated whiplash injury a lifetime and a couple of marriages ago). The test drive was in a manual car. Friends said you never forget how to drive with a manual gear shift. It's like riding a bike, they said. Of course, I said and of course, I couldn’t make the damn thing start. I was like a 17-year old learning to drive. Couldn’t get my feet to work the pedals. The salesman said, ‘You’ve got your foot on the brake pedal, Madame,’ when I thought I was on the clutch.’ ‘Oh you drive,’ I said - and we changed places. So he did the test drive for me, which is probably not the way it’s supposed happen.No matter, nice car even though I haven’t a clue what it’s like to drive but I'll find out and yes, I've ordered an automatic.

And I’m a little daunted as it’s far easier to own an old banger. No one wants to steal it and it doesn’t matter if you hit a lamppost. I’ve never really been into the status of cars (I just need them to work and not let me down) but perhaps I’ll get used to it. I’ve ordered leather seats and a tinted rear window and some gizmo that beeps when you are parking and are about to hit something. I need that. Yes, I think I might indeed get used to this new car!

And last week? BooBoo and his two friends went home. I took a week’s holiday and now all is right with the world again. His owners, who are great people, arrived with a calendar featuring a Miniature Pinscher. I told them I’d put it on the wall and throw darts at it. Fortunately they laughed and left with several bags of dog food and have since told me that their dogs are far better behaved than before. That's good to know.

Sorry I've been away. Thank you for waiting. See you again SOON.
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