My spouse, who I generally refer to as ‘The Husband with Two Brains’ or HB² lived in Grenoble throughout the 1980s and regularly used to say to himself when he looked out of the window of his house that he must never take the view for granted because one day he wouldn’t be there any more. I feel exactly the same way. I love this place, experience it as the most natural of alignments as though I was born to be here and having the mountains so close by to explore freely and at will has been the greatest of gifts. One day this time will simply be a memory, as indeed will be every moment of this little life I lead, but surely the silver lining is that I had this time, that I was granted the rare delight of living here, and the opportunity to get out whenever I want to and explore the other-worldly delights that such a naturally stunning place affords free of any charge.
The picture was taken in les Alpes Belledonne last summer. It was an eerily beautiful day …. by turn brightest bluest sky with flouncing little fluffs of low cloud and a sudden mantilla of mist lending an ethereal atmosphere to the sturdy peaks and an irridescent sheen to the water. It was unforgettable, I hope … for who knows if I will always have the gift of easily bringing memories forwards. Who knows how motheaten my mind may become and how many moments will simply be lost like so many fragile bubbles too delicate to do anything but pop and fragment into the ether of my psyche, that curious morass of matter weightily wedged in my skull.
PS: The title is from The Cure’s song ‘Out Of This World’ which instantly popped into my still vaguely functioning brain when I saw the challenge. I can only hope that I will always remember how it feels to be this alive because I know that I am prosperous indeed. I chose the clip simply because it was shot in Nyon which is not far from here just over the border in Switzerland on Lac Genève.
My first husband went to see The Cure in Amsterdam in the same era as HB² was living in Grenoble first time round. He secured himself a fine viewpoint in front of everyone but regrettably failed to realise that he was standing precisely on the spot where the safety barriers would rise out of the floor as the show began. As Robert Smith, wax faced and angsty with his extra-long pullover sleeves all ready to flop foppishly at his thighs as he performed, took to the mic, the aforementioned husband that would be for a while, was raised almost messianic in front of him …. I believe the stunned expression on the artist’s face was worthy of one witnessing something quite out of this world …..
When we look back at it all as I know we will You and me, wide eyed I wonder… Will we really remember how it feels to be this alive?
And I know we have to go I realize we only get to stay so long Always have to go back to real lives Where we belong Where we belong Where we belong
When we think back to all this and I’m sure we will Me and you, here and now Will we forget the way it really is Why it feels like this and how?
And we always have to go I realize We always have to say goodbye Always have to go back to real lives
But real lives are the reason why We want to live another life We want to feel another time Another time…
Yeah another time
To feel another time…
When we look back at it all as I know we will You and me, wide eyed I wonder… Will we really remember how it feels to be this alive?
And I know we have to go I realize we always have to turn away Always have to go back to real lives
But real lives are why we stay For another dream Another day For another world Another way For another way…
One last time before it’s over One last time before the end One last time before it’s time to go again…
If you’ve taken even a cursory interest in my drivel over the past however long, you will know that I wander around a lot both actually and metaphorically. A friend from my teeny tiny tot-rearing stage recently commented on FaceBook that she never knows where I am. Tempted though I am to serenely claim that I am being mysterious and elusive, the truth is that I generally have no idea quite where I am, what I am doing nor where I am going.
Appearances are often deceptive and I know that I am a confusing condundrum. I present as ultra-outgoing and sociable but the truth is, that although I find it quite easy to be the happy-go-lucky life and soul of the gathering, I am in fact rather the hermit and I certainly need time to recharge and that time is generally taken alone.
Enter my wanderings. I walk muchly and often as a solitary bee (with the noble and frankly ego-centric exception of The Bean and of course, when available, a goodly dollop of husband) and I find my re-set button pressed gently and effectively when I do.
Friends, true friends, I have few and, in keeping with, I believe, many, Social Media has interfered with this natural equilibrium. I partake less and less in the babbling noise, the king for a day, something to say because I am a self-invented expert-ness of it. I will flatter myself that I was rather good at it but it is akin, I think to rather good at tooting cocaine … it falsely bolsters you up and erodes your olafactory receptors to the detriment of having a decent pair of nostrils with which to twitch and inhale sensitively your surroundings. It has a place, of course it does (Social Media, not cocaine) but I think we really do need to be a little careful of this creeping addiction. And the way in which it induces behaviours that we would not normally indulge in. Think selfies and I will rest my case. For the avoidance of doubt there are those of you here in this blogging place, where we actually give some thought to what we are spewing out, that I do consider friends even though we have never met.
I do have a few lifers. I use the word wisely, for it surely must be some sort of sentence to be embraced wholeheartedly to my bosom and kept there. One such is JimPig. He came to me through a husband who was to prove diabolically damaging but The Pig stayed and I am glad he did. When we met, I already had a daughter and he had a son. I taught his son to skateboard. This made them both happy. My girlie was shy of 18 months old when we met and I made him her honorary Godfather. He bought her a chocolate stegasaurus from Harrods which stood on her special things shelf for years until she took it to a ‘show and tell’ aged 6 and the teacher confiscated it because it was chocolate, stashed it in her cupboard from where it fell on the floor when the door was opened and smashed into irrepairable pieces. The head teacher gave the 6 year old a ruler from Australia as a consolation. It didn’t work. My daughter is still stinging from the loss of her precious dinosaur – the scars will stay for her lifetime, doubtless.
JimPig is probably the greatest waste of academic talent I will ever meet. I hope he is because any greater would be dreadfully sad. Not that he is sad. His grandfather died when he was a Trinity Dublin under graduate and left him a legacy which was just enough to live a simple life on. A selfish life some would say. He is a linguist. He speaks eight languages fluently. Not that he will ever admit he is fluent. Linguists are like that. He looks like ‘Where’s Wally’ (that’s Waldo if you are from the US side of the Atlantic and as I am reminded by the quite marvellous Mel (of France Says) in the comments and one whom I certainly consider a friend ‘Ou est Charlie’ in France). Uncannily like him to the extent that when Wally was at the height of his sneaky powers sometime in the 1990s I walked into a large bookshop in Oxford and asked for the lifesize cardboard marketing Wally which they duly allowed me to bear delightedly away and stash in the boot of my Volvo three weeks later. The Pig feigned delighted when I presented it to him as a gift. I am sure it was feigned because I don’t think he either knew who Wally was or cared to find out.
It was the aforementioned daughter who christened him JimPig and no-one, least of all she, knows why. She was two years old at the time which is forgiveable. The rest of us were clearly not concentrating which may be less forgiveable. On her eighteenth birthday she had an interview for a London college and I suggested that we have grown-up lunch at the place of her choosing and invite The beloved Pig. She chose a very fashionable Italian restaurant for the flimsy and entirely defenceable-at-eighteen reason that it was known as a fertile celebrity hunting ground. We were late. There was a blizzard and we were tottering on foolish heels on frozen Mayfair pavements which I find iron hard and unforgiving at the best of times. When we arrived there was a rather tatty bike chained to the railings outside. We made eye-contact, nodded and mouthed ‘Pig’ in unison. Inside we were relieved of our chic designer tweed coats in which instants before we had been proud to be seen but which all of a sudden made us feel like hulking hicks from sticksville on account of the frankly frightening volume of furs that adorned the unfeasibly high-cheekboned, skinny thighed, sky-scraping legged Slavic ladies being lunched by slavering red-faced pinstripes quietly drooling across tables far too tightly squooshed into the odd interior of this modish canteen which included an incongrous porthole with views of raging seas behind it. It had the effect of inducing a sort of hypnotic nausea which seemed rather inappropriate in an eatery. In the midst of this, entirely oblivious to his contradictory appearance was The Pig. Wearing worn to softly transparent chinos and battered converse high-tops and with his shiny anorak on the back of his stylish but clearly, from his air of sitting on a wasp, wholly uncomfortable chair and his wreck of a rucksack stashed on another he was reading Herman Hesse in Italian. Because he could and because it was an Italian restaurant. The staff were clearly bewildered by this apparition. Was he so rich that he simply didn’t need to care what others thought, or was he truly a tramp? We sashayed over and joined him, landing proper smackers on his waiting cheeks – no air kisses shall pass on my shift absorbing but ignoring the collective startled intake of breath from the other, clearly far more sophisticated than we, diners. As it turned out lunch was mediocre but the company was divine. The Pig is hyper smart and raises you to levels of mental agility that are simultaneously stimulating and exhausting. When the bill came I was rendered white at the gills appalled … I was paying and it was twice plus some what I had expected. Of course I seamlessly effected nonchalence but kept the receipt and on checking at home discovered that each and every one of the small bottles of water we had drunk had cost £10. I counselled the daughter earnestly and urgently that in future it would be far better if she always insisted on the finest vintage champagne … I know for a fact from her friends and her husband that she took this sage advice earnestly to heart.
PS: The quote is from Herman Hesse’s 1920 work Wandering:’Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.’ My picture is of Grenoble which is my home for the moment. I have read Wandering only in English, The Pig has, quite naturally, read it in several languages. It is only when I consider the cover now that I realise The Pig looks rather like Hesse.
The Pig, by the way, like my two brained husband has no Social Media accounts. Interesting. Perhaps. Do we think?
PPS: I couldn’t possibly write a piece in response to a challenge called ‘Wanderlust’ (the full library of noble entries here) without adding this moment from ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ … I quite simply couldn’t – enjoy.
Mr Clarke had the unenviable task of being my ‘Form Tutor’ in my last two years at senior school. Mr Clarke, an undeniably smart man, only taught the top two years. Those that ostensibly really wanted to learn his subject. English Literature. We, being witty as well as bright called him ‘Forsooth Verily’ by dint of his superbly Shakespearian air made more acute by the fashions at the time … softest suede desert boots that made no sound, not even a whisper, as he glid across the high-polished wood floors, velvet jacket fitted to his slender form and what here in France they would call a ‘foulard’ of embroidered cheesecloth casually draped around his neck. His beard was deliberately bard there is no doubt. He had the delight of teaching me and the double wham bam no thank you mammy of being in charge of what would these days be called my ‘Pastoral Care’. It is fair and truthful to own up at this point in my too rapidly ageing life, that I was a handful. Twice a day, at it’s start and finish, the group of us that formed Tutor Group 6SB congregated in the library, for this was his domain. This was his exhalted place. This was his book-lined empire. We did our prep, we swatted for exams, sometimes he led a discussion, sometimes we rehearsed an assembly. I say ‘we’ but I might reasonably admit that I had a habit of being less than engaged with the process. One fine afternoon he asked me to please, for goodness sakes please, concentrate on the work in hand and added that I was ‘vacuous’. This provoked an inevitable barrage of ‘what does that mean, sirs’ from the tiresome object that was me. He suggested, quite reasonably that I might look it up in the dictionary. These vast volumes lined the bottom shelf of his cave and I remember sitting cross legged finding the correct tome. Quite askance I read the all too obvious definition. He of course implied that I was ‘as a vacuum’ …. absolutely bugger all going on in my head. Mr Clarke was a very smart man. So acutely embarrassed and humiliated was I that my reset button was pressed toute de suite. Later that summer I would open the envelope with my all-important A-Level exam results and be really proud of what I had achieved rather than quietly ashamed of wasting what ability I had. Thank you Mr Clarke. You sealed my future with your withering remark. You made me face the fact that given the gift of something of an intellect, it is honestly the height of fatuous rudeness not to at least try to use it wisely.
I give you this little story as my offering for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge ‘Dense’ of which you can find all the suitably solid entries here. My picture, taken on Sunday on la Crête de la Molière, seemed rather apt – the dense cloud trying it’s hardest to mask the snow covered Massif de Belledonne, the tree who has seen it all before, now old and weathered, battered and broken but stripped though it is, it still stands sentinel surveying it’s realm.
PS: I remember in my salvo of protests asking Mr Clarke if he was actually and really telling me I was dense. He replied that he most certainly was not. For density implies that there is a good deal of matter in the cranial caverty and he rather prefered to leave me in no doubt that there was nothing between my ears whatsoever. Stinging. Really it was stinging.
The quote is from Molière’s ‘Les Femmes Savantes’: ‘a learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one.’ I would postulate that this is inarguable and that if we are to be learnèd we would do well to use our learning wisely throughout our days. Even those jolly days of miscreant behavior before we step blinking into the light and have to be vaguely growed-up.
You may recall in a post from a couple of months ago entitled Two Lymes and a Lemon I told our collective tale of woe. To recap The Brains and The Bean were both being treated for Lyme disease and I had taken a fall on little more than a gentle stroll up Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh. The Lymes are doing well, though those familiar with the disease will know that it is the hidden damage that is hard to quantify … there may be none, there may be much but life, in our collective opinion (Two Brains and I have pulled rank on The Bean and made the decision for her) life is too short to worry about mightbees.
But. Big but. It seems little old attention seeking me has been less fortunate. My leg continued to give me grief and it became apparent that I have something called Foot Drop (which sounds like the Dropsy so loved of Shakespeare but is in fact a condition that means I can’t lift my foot. So my left side wafts with my usual elegance and grace (no, really) and my right side has a high step and flop-foot like a bizarre half human-half duck creature). Eventually, having travelled to France for a couple of weeks and back to Britain for a couple more weeks with the Agèd P and returned to Massachusetts, I was able to present myself back with the Doctor who was clearly concerned that I was still having problems and indeed those problems had increased. So I had an MRI. Actually I had two, because I’m greedy …. one for the ankle and one for the calf. That thing when your Doctor rings and opens the conversation with ‘you sure did a number on that leg’, that thing is the unwanted herald that you know the news isn’t going to be an invitation to pop the cork on a good bubbly. And it wasn’t – a fractured tibia at the ankle, a severe tear to a tendon and muscle down thereabouts and a fully snapped ligament. And moving up to the calf a further fracture to the fibular and somewhere in the whole mess a squished perineal nerve which is the thing that sends the messages to your foot to move up and down. Hence the one-sided duck-walk. I’d prefer a cake-walk. For now I have to settle for a comedy walk since it appears the ligament (its the one that joins the tibia to the fibular) may be responsible for the fact that my foot is increasingly insistent that it needs to, really and honestly needs to, veer outwards giving me a gate that amusingly resembles the waddle of a penguin. An odd bird indeed, that 6′ penguin-duck-bird. One specialist has given me a prognosis of running again next summer, tomorrow I see a second. What will be will be but the whole damn sorry scene does bring to mind Dumbledore in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone ‘The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing and should therefore be treated with great caution’. I really, really wanted the truth but it turns out not THIS actual truth. Heyho. So many worse off. Too many. Far too many. And I dedicate this piece to all of you. You know who you are Terry and Clare and Kerry and AJ and Kat and I’m sorry I can’t do links because my Mac has decided I’m moaning too much and has malfunctioned to take the attention away from my whingeathon. Next stop Apple Hospital.
I picked this image for no particular reason except that the tree that has fallen into the water is absolutely perfect and it’s reflection entirely unblemished, the water itself seemingly unpeturbed. Which is probably how I appear. Deceptive these appearances can be, don’t you find?
PS: Since the author of Harry Potter (J K Rowling like you didn’t know) is a resident of Edinburgh and the taxi driver who took me to the A&E there sang her praises loudly as the most remarkable woman who gives so much quietly, it felt appropriate to use a quote from one of her characters in my title.
On a beautiful day nearly two years ago, The Brains, The Bean and I set off for a walk that starts in the wonderfully named St Poncy (if you are English this will make you smile – my American is not good enough to know if Ponce means the same in your vernacular). Along the way three became four and this is the piece I wrote at the time – I hope you will enjoy it.
In the words of Cyril Raymond to Celia Johnson at the end of ‘Brief Encounter’ ‘you’ve been a long, long way away’ – I won’t flatter myself with his next line ‘thank you for coming back to me’ but I have been a long way away and I’m very much afraid that I HAVE come back to you ….
It’s been a bit of a saga so here is a précis before I dive back into stories of house hunts and refurbishments and hikes (though one does figure here) and generally half-baked meanderings.
June 17th The Two Brained one is diagnosed with Lyme Disease after breaking out in purple patches all over his normally unblemished body.
June 19th He whisks me by circuitous route, lest I guess the ultimate destination, to France. Grenoble to be precise. You may remember I have a particular affection for Grenoble
June 21st To the courthouse …. I’m not in the dock and neither is he but I do have another installment for my book ‘The Lying Cheating Lives of Others’ and there will be more of that in later blog posts – a road yet to be trodden but one that I think y’all might enjoy
June 22nd – home to our little nest in Northern Cantal for our Wedding Anniversary. There is nothing nicer than to be in the village we were married in three years ago drinking a toast ‘à la notre’ in jolly nice French champagne
June 23rd – up early and on the road to Marcolès to find out what progress on the house. There is progress but it would be wrong of me to spoil the surprise so I will leave you in suspenders til the next installment
June 25th – back to Lyon to drop off car and take a flight. HB² is confident that a) I love surprises so will not look at my ticket b) I can’t actually see it without my glasses and c) I’m so excited that I will miss the only announcement for our flight. Therefore I board a plane not knowing where I am bound
June 26th – I wake up in Edinburgh, a city I know quite well, where my grandmother was married in 1918 and where I hounded my elder brother when he was doing his PhD because I could and mainly because he had a ready supply of male friends for the 18 year old me to make cow-eyes at.
June 27th – I pick up a call from my vet who is boarding The Bean. The words ‘there is nothing to worry about, but ….’ instantly make me worried. A lot worried. Because it turns out that The Small But Feisty one has also got Lyme. Be still my pounding heart. At least she is in the right place and they say she is responding well to treatment.
June 29th – We decide to walk up Arthur’s Seat. This is an extinct volcano within the city. My aforementioned and extremely long-suffering brother lived in a very pretty district at it’s foot and we walked up often. Actually he used to run it. At his wedding his best man’s speech began ‘I first suspected that my flatmate might be mad when he asked the way to Arthur’s Seat for a run on a bitterly cold, wet and windy day…. I showed him and some time later I realised it wasn’t a case of might be mad, he clearly was mad as he set off down the lane in a storm with a rucksack full of boulders on his back’. He is still that same animal. In those days there were a few walkers some with dogs and that was about it. Today it teems with tourists making their way up, taking selfies and mostly wearing entirely unsuitable footwear (flip flops, fashion sandals, even the odd pair of heels) for what is a moderate hike up hill-paths rather than pavements. We took the road less travelled and benefited from stunning views unencumbered by the masses. The German girls hogging the peak did move over when I utilised my famed loud and I don’t care who knows it, voice and we duly stood for a moment or two before setting off down again. All was well and I was lost in thought (mostly quite bitchy thoughts about the unsuitable nature of other people’s footwear) until almost at the bottom, not on a remotely steep bit, I slipped on shail and heard an audible crack. The crack was nothing to my blood-curdling bellows and the air took on a blue hue as I cursed my way thorugh the early moments of what is actually a severe high ankle sprain coupled with 90% tear to the anterior calf muscle. I must thank the lovely man from Canada who stopped to help The Brains wrestle me to my feet, the equally lovely café who served delectable lime and coconut cake (I was in shock – I needed sugar) and the wonderful nurse in Minor Injuries at the Western General Hospital. Later as I limped into a taxi my husband asked how I felt about the last bit of his surprise – did I think I could manage it. Could I? I would walk through the fires of a spewing live volcano to do what he had in mind.
June 30th – Two trains to Liverpool for lunch with youngest daughter and two more to Oxford to stay two nights with my mother who had one last surprise – my younger brother flown in from Bahrain to spend an evening with his big sister. In life, the real luxuries are the little things. The thoughtfulness of my husband, the opportunity to see some of my family. Secrets and lies can be quite beautiful – four of the most precious people in my world kept them and there is no sin in that.
July 2nd – we collect the delighted but subdued tiny dog from her Boarding Vet. She has anti-biotics and is making some progress. Lyme Disease is a nasty nasty thing – sometimes, it isn’t easy being Bean.
So there you have it Two Lymes and a Lemon. Here are some nice pictures from the Scottish leg of my odyssey and afterwards I will treat you to a PS:
The Church where my Granny was married in 1918
The promised and entirely necessary PS: Yesterday, I visited my lovely Cambridge doctor for a formal verdict on my leg. He sympathised with Two Brains having to live with with a caged and beligerent tigress with cabin fever and asked how he is doing (he is a specialist in infectious diseases so had been asked for his opinion when The Brains presented with what appeared to be Lyme). He commented that it was remarkable that HB² had been running the morning of his diagnosis with Lyme. I explained that our daughters and others are convinced he is, in fact, one of The Men in Black. The doctor seemed spookily content to agree ….
And for those unfamiliar with the achingly heartrending last scene of ‘Brief Encounter’ – here it is:
I’ve mentioned before the wise advice of a friend to ‘find the purpose in the way things are’. The last three months have necessitated reaching out to those words and hugging them close and often.
Let me elucidate. When I moved to France. To Cantal. To the pays perdu that I persist in calling home, I cleaved to it. I knew I was home. Clock forward two years, two months and a few days and I was thrust into a New World. The New World. A doddle for a cosmopolitan gal like me.
Or not. The fact is that I struggled to settle and root even a little here. The fact is that my heart and my eyes and ears and all my senses were gazing, reaching and yearning for France. The fact is that I went through the motions every day. I strove to get myself into a groove on my long playing record that would make a melody that I could sing along to. Hallelujah and pass the tambourine, I got there. I AM here. And I now honestly feel that I can love the one I’m with (or more accurately, in). I have retrieved my inner explorer and pressed re-set. I am finding so much to be enraptured by. And why on earth wouldn’t I? What an opportunity I have. To live on another continent, find the beauty and the warts and the eccentricities and get under the skin of a place that is such a collosal collision of cultures that a few meagre months or years can never do it justice. And, I finally get to live with my Two Brained husband – one love. My love.
The picture? Walking up Mount Eisenhower in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was a tough walk up because, apart from being relentlessly uphill and steepish, at the time I had neither crampons nor poles to walk with and above the line it was frozen to the sleekest shiniest glass whenever the canopy of trees gave a skimpy opening for the glacial breath of winter to polish the ground with her frigid glaze. And all of a sudden this …. my Narnia moment. Paradise frozen – water (my enduring love) stopped in it’s tracks until Spring decides to wave her wand, scatter her fairy dust and let it flow once more.
PS: The quote is C.S Lewis from The Problem of Pain … known for the Narnia Chronicles it is worth getting to know Lewis, the Christian writer whether or not you believe in his God. He said ‘love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness’ and though I am a true devotee of kindness I support his assertion unreservedly.
I’m not an ugly bug. I am a really really ridiculously GOOD-looking dog. A dog with a serious message to share. I am The Bean.
I may look like a handbag dweller (I am Metrically less than 4 kilos which makes me Imperially 8 and a half pounds) but I am feisty and fit.
In order to keep my sleek appearance I take a lot of exercise. I walk many miles a week with my humans – mostly my mummy (because he is busy doing something called ‘bringing home the bacon’ although in truth I have not seen any evidence of this bacon, to which I am very partial) but bestly with both of them. We walk and hike on trails here in the USA just like we do in Europe.
The winter here in New England has been unusually mild. I am grateful for this fact. I like snow but I am told that sometimes it falls in metres rather than inches and being quite economic in the leg I would soon be unable to walk at all. We had some of the deep stuff but mostly it was the sort of snow I am used to and I had plenty of fun diggering and snuffling on my walks.
But now it is really quite Springy here and this is the point of me hijacking my mummy’s blog. I got a tick. I didn’t feel it. It just sat on my back which is black. Then it started to grow – at first my mother thought I had some sort of blemish. She can be exceptionally stupid. Obviously a dog as beauteous as I has NO blemishes. These little blighters sit on leaves and blades of grass and wait for a likely victim (they call it a host but surely a host invites people to the party and I did not invite any ticks to mine). They can crawl but they cannot leap or fly.
By the time my retarded people realised what it was, several days had passed and it was Sunday with no vets except emergency ones open. So they did what all humans do and they Googled. I don’t really know what Googling is but it seems to be regarded as a fast track to wisdom. Personally, I prefer to use my nose. I’m a dog – it’s what we do. My daddy was satisfied to discover that his method is the right one. You take tweezers and make sure you pull it hard and straight without pinching the skin. But mummy was insistently maverick. She had found an article written by someone who suggested something unbelievable. My daddy was mistrustful. But he agreed to try it. Probably in the interests of shutting her up. When he was deciding on a career many aeons ago, he considered being a surgeon. He did a very passable impersonation of having trained thus as he got ready for the operation. Sterilised tweezers were laid on the table for the inevitable moment when she was proved wrong and he was proven right and he had to operate with pincers as he had first suggested. He donned blue surgical gloves and I was taken upon mummy’s knee (which I like very much) and stroked tenderly whilst she held my head in a vice like grip lest my teeth got the better of me and decided to nip. Which I have to own up, they occasionally do. Under stress, you understand. Like the time when someone tried to sit on me when I was a puppy – I was under a cushion and they forgot to check – I was extremely small and the posterior bearing down on me was extremely large. I had no choice. Anyway, he started to rotate the critter quite rapidly with his pointy finger. His face had incredulity virtually tatooed on it and he was clearly just going through the motions to keep her quiet, so imagine his amazement when after about a minute the tick leapt off me. Maybe it was dizzy with all the whirling although I don’t think ticks have ears so that can’t be right. Or maybe it just didn’t like the sensation of being whirled but whatever it was, it jumped leaving no bits of itself in me although it had made a crater in my skin to sup my sanguine fluid out. Which is extremely rude for an uninvited guest.
And to prove the point that we weren’t fantasizing, two days later I got another one (purely in the interests of research you will understand) and the people did the same trick again and after about a minute it simply flung itself off me.
Daddy put the tick into a pot full of something called Gin and covered it with clingfilm. Mummy says Gin is also called mothers ruin – well it ruined this mother. After several days it was very definitely a dead tick. I don’t know if it was helplessly drunk before it’s demise – I am not that well acquainted with tick habits and I don’t intend to enlighten myself further.
The day after the first tick was removed my daddy rang my mummy and said he was going to the hospital. He had removed a tick from himself after a run and left it wrapped in paper in a freezer bag in the kitchen. His work people told him not to take any chances. He asked mummy to take a picture and send it to him so the hospital could identify it. I don’t really understand how they do these things – I just know how to pose for pictures and I know it makes them smile so I have become something of an expert at it because it usually generates pats and treats.
Daddy’s tick was a Deer Tick. My tick was a North American Dog Tick. I think this is a bad name because clearly no North American dog actually wants to be associated with these vile beasties. They steal our blood. Deer ticks carry Lyme Disease. This is a very bad disease and it can kill people. It can also affect dogs. My daddy is fine because the hospital gave him antibiotics but he did have the start of a bullseye blemish where it had started to bite him. This is a sign that the tick is infectious.
My people now spray themselves with DEET and their clothes too. They went to the hunting store to get some. The hunting store is full of stuffed animals. I did not go with them. I do not want to be stuffed. They also annointed me with anti-tick drops which last a month. I despise these. I have them inflicted on me in France where my Vet refuses to believe that they hurt me very badly. Because I can’t talk human (though I bark very eloquently if you speak dog) I can’t explain what the problem is and they say that my skin doesn’t have any signs of anything bad. But I really really NO like. I try extremely hard to rub the stuff off. Therefore, they used trickery by getting me in the car (which I love), taking me to the running trail (which I love) and with my guard down they squoze it on me and then took me for a long, reasonably fast, run. Each time I tried to roll they distracted me and by the time I got back I was so tired I had forgotten it. Until next month. Sometimes being a dog is very very hard. This is why I have to have a cupboard full of snacks. Because my life is tough. It’s a dogs life ….
PS: The title is from one of my mummy’s favourite childhood songs – Burl Ives ‘The Ugly Bug Ball’. Interestingly even the bugs seem not to have invited ticks to the party ….
We walk. The Bean and me and HB2, when he is here makes three. There are 340 marked PR (petit randonnees) across le Cantal and I have set myself the ideal of walking all of them. In keeping with the rest of France these are marked walks, mostly circular and varying in length and difficulty. The simple colour coding system tells you if it is easy (blue), longer and more difficult (yellow) or very long and varying in difficulty (green). One weekend recently we decided to drive to the far north east of the departement (a drive of about 1.5 hours) and do a nice long green walk. The duration was estimated as 4.75 hours for the 14.5 km. We packed a picnic of cheese and bread and tomatos and set off. The day was glorious – sunny, hot and with a fair scattering of the fluffiest white clouds dancing across the bluest of blue skies.
The walk was glorious too … and along the way we three became four. About 5 km into the walk having marvelled at a tiny Roman bridge, failed to find a museum founded by two young boys aged 11 and 16 in the 1990’s housed in a pain four they restored themselves, and nattering contentedly whilst watching The Bean foraging and ferreting as she does, we entered a petit hameau.
As we exited the village it could not escape our notice that a young and very boisterous German Shepherd dog, ears yet to stand upright so probably no more than 8 months old, was running along beside us. We stopped and shooed him home. We walked back up the road to encourage him but, oblivious, he continued out of the village. After a kilometre we were concerned – he was haring in and out of fields, he was very very happy, joyous in fact, but he clearly was not clear about where he lived. Let me put this in to context – this is a huge and rural area … houses are scattered and he did not appear to belong in the hamlet we had traversed. The Bean was getting fed up with being carried to prevent canine fisticuffs so we decided to release her and let them bond or not. At this point I named the dog Boomerang for not so subtle reasons. We spoke to him in French – he was quite forgiving of our accents but he obviously had absolutely no notion whatsoever of discipline.
An hour later, so three hours into the walk, we decided it was time for lunch. The puppy sat nicely on the other side of the track on whose grassy verge we had plonked our behinds and watched intently as HB2 wielded the Opinel (as essential a French accessory as a mobile phone to an adolescent, this is a wooden handled foldable knife which comes in a huge variety of sizes … the blade on ours is about 3 inches) to cut cheese and bread. What lovely manners I murmured – he clearly knows not to disturb his humans when they are eating. The words barely vapourised in the air, he leapt up and floored me and I, like a beetle on my back, was helpless to fend off his face-licking. ‘Non’ bellowed Two Brains at which the dog fell back looked around and seized up my spectacle case before bounding up the path and lying down with his trophy triumphantly pinned between his front paws. We hastily finished our peturbed picnic and packed up. The dog surrendered the glasses case and off we set again.
The day was hot and of course got hotter as hot days always will, so when we entered the sweet and tiny hamlet, no more than a farm, a couple of houses and the remains of a church now welded to a barn, we were gently fatigued. Actually we failed to notice the welded church as we searched for the table d’orientation so that we could regally survey the landscape laid out below us. We found, we surveyed and we assumed l’ancien eglise must have succumbed to the elements at some point because it was no-where to be seen. Assume, as our youngest daughter regularly reminds me, makes an ass out of you and me. And as we walked on now following yellow markers (we had been following green and then green and yellow together which is not unusual – the paths often link for a while) and occasionally consulting the book for reference points the terrible truth began to dawn. We, The Bean and the adopted dog which showed absolutely no sign of fatigue were on a different walk. And the walk was taking us in entirely the wrong direction. In this terrain it is not a simple matter of backtracking so we took the decision to continue in a circle back to the village with the viewing point. And from there try to find our own walk. That this meant in total a deviation of 6 km with a stray dog seemed perfectly reasonable to our heat-shrunk minds. And so it was that this raggle taggle foursome made its way back into the village and joy of joys there, beside the welded church which we had failed to notice before which was indeed (as the book told us it was) opposite a table d’orientation (not the one we had found earlier but one looking in the opposite direction – so we have now regally surveyed the entire 360 degrees of landscape laid out before us in this lovely spot), joy of joys in addition there was life – there were people. Real people. A woman coming out of her milking parlour, two little girls of around 6 years old and a smaller little boy and, as it turned out, the most joyous of all – Granny! The imposter dog disgraced himself by hurling upon the children with us shouting – ‘he’s not ours – he’s following us’. But as deranged as this must have sounded these lovely people helped us. Granny really. The younger woman did not understand a map which is entirely reasonable given that she knows perfectly well where she is and doubtless can find her way anywhere necessary with no problem at all. They clearly thought us mad to be wanting to walk but Granny showed us the way, even tipping us off for a shortcut and with much waving, sighing relief and many thanks we continued on what would be the last 5 or 6 km of our epic journey. The dog was still with us – Granny had advised us to find the mayor in the town and pass the problem to him. We felt rather bonded to Boomerang by now and agreed that if we were by now in our own house with a garden (the search is on) we would keep him.
It was on this last part of the journey that I realised that he had clearly been a commando in a previous life. He took to leaping up high banks and running ahead of us only to explode down on us again when we least expected it. This was very funny except when we were walking high above a small river and he decided the best approach was to divebomb The Bean and see how funny she would look bouncing down the sides of what, in my tired, vaguely emotional and borderline delirious state seemed to be a very steep ravine. We put him on her lead (perfectly adaquate for her, this slender piece of leather looked more than faintly ridiculous on the overgrown puppy). It was clearly a new experience and took all of Two Brains strength to keep him vaguely steady. At the end of the path, relieved that we were coming into the last village before our destination, we let him run again. We were just congratulating ourselves at how clever we were to train him a teeny bit in the hours (and by now it had been 5 hours) he had been with us when he bowled us the googly of the day. At the entrance to the village was a huge, very old and very deep water trough – the sort that entire small herds of cattle could take their fill at when moving from field to field or field to barn for milking. The sort that appear in Constable paintings of rural idyll in the 18th Century. Rambiggles the divebombing commando dog went over to look, braced himself and leaped in. Being steep sided he could not get out. That in itself was bad enough but I should tell you that the water was gloriously embellished with hugely swollen cowpats across its entires surface … how, why, I know not. I prefer to keep it that way. Sighing the sigh of the resolute and exasperated, Two Brains walked over, hooked the dogs collar and pulled. I held my breath so hard I think I may have turned blue because Two Brains can’t swim. Images swam infront of my tired eyes of me, anchored by The Bean, having to pull the pair of them out. Or me diving in and shouldering them as The Bean hooked them out. I was well and truly scared. I am happy to report that none of this came to pass and the dog was liberated. And liberally drenched us with stinking water as he shook himself dry.
Onwards to our destination and we sank onto the tailgate of our car, changed our boots, ate biscuits and wondered what on earth to do … Sunday night is not the night to find a mayor and we didn’t feel like ringing 112 and declaring an emergency. Lights from the Auberge called us like moths and we walked in – it was quite a chic establishment and we looked and probably smelt like something you would cross the street to avoid, but thankfully the lady in charge was sweet and accomodating and took control. Dog was fed, shut in and the Mayor informed in the morning. We have since heard that he has been returned to his rightful owners. For how long is a dubious question – this dog is in dire need of a high fence, a strong lead and Barbara Woodhouse (or for those of you not old enough to remember her … Dog Borstal!)
PS: The necessary PS. So touched were we by the lovely attitude of the family high up on the rounded hill who helped us that the following week we returned with a box of sweets to thank them. The look on the face of Granny and the children was enough to warm my heart for the rest of my life. We chatted for a while – she said she was pleased to have helped us, that she could no longer walk where we had walked but she used to and is sad those days are behind her. She told us she had been to our part of Cantal and that she liked Saignes (about 10 km from us) because of its beautiful Roman Chapel. The children, dark limpid eyes fixed earnestly on the tin with its sweet delights to come, listened, smiled and waved us off as we drove away. I am certain that they thought us dotty but they didn’t judge us, had never expected to see us again in their isolated spot where they have lived and will live out their lives, and will live in my memory for the rest of my life as an example of who I would like to be.