Saturday 28 September 2013

New shoes and projects

Ah, back again.
Just been to the UK for my regular Mum visit - or, my other life. After a few hours re-adjustment, I was back into the over there routines: seeing Mum, sewing on clothes labels, working out why her TV had a blank blue screen, seeing family and walking around the Dorset lanes - dog-less.

I've been passing a riding stables there for three years now; each time I pass, I think, 'I'd really like to do that.' This time I did: mainly as I'm writing a story about a woman who lives in a church with a horse and I felt the need to at least sit on a horse in order to feel qualified to write about it - the horse bit anyway.
I did 'go riding' a couple of times when I was about seven; I can't remember anything about it other than the horse wedging itself between a gate and a hedge and me not being able to work out where reverse was.

So, I found some vaguely appropriate boots in Oxfam and turned up at the appointed hour. Molly the horse was gentle and greying around the ears, and I was assured she wouldn't throw me off.
It was great! I don't suppose I'll ever get to jumping over a stripy pole or galloping around a meadow in the manner of a Jane Austen character, but I'm happy to say that I can trot (or the horse can at least, with me on it) stop, start, turn and not fall off. I have also discovered some new muscles which we humans are obviously supposed to use, and perhaps need at some point in the future when we stop washing the car on Sunday and wash down the horse instead.
The next day, when I wheeled Mum down the road to look at the fields we were lucky enough to meet a 'mobile farrier'. I thought horses had to be taken to a blacksmiths for new shoes, but apparently not.
He had his van, a little fire-box, tools, portable anvil - the lot. He had been a farrier for more than forty years. The speed at which he worked was impressive, grabbing the horse's foot, yanking off the old shoe, cutting away dead hoof while he talked to me, his mouth full of nails.
The shoes last for about six weeks on grass, add this cost to the vet bills, the hay in winter, the rental of a field etc, etc . . . my daft day-dream of adding a horse to our menagerie faded as quickly as steam from a pile of fresh horse dung.

Might see if I can rent one though.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Building No 26

I would really like to live in this. Well, perhaps with a bit of the other building attached to it, to have a bit more space. How did they get planning permission for it? We had months of paper-shoving just to get a window the size of a baking tray approved. Or perhaps it was always there? a sort of medieval super-shed.
The views across to Mont St Victoire (Provence) are stunning from this hill, (we got lost trying to find the motorway to La Ciotat) and this elevated stone shed must have the best views of all. If Ezra hadn't stopped me, I would have knocked on their very picturesque door and asked what they do in it. I would have it as a thinking room, possibly with a small kitchen in one corner for tea-making and perhaps a micro-woodburner for when the Mistral blows.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Wake up call

Yes. You learn something every day. I am in a constant state of learning things - little things like: if you pour milk into a cup with a spoon in it and the milk hits the spoon, it will curve into a concave shape, reemerge and soak what ever you happen to be wearing. Best to move the spoon out, or at least away from the jet of milk. I think I have learned that one now - took a few reminders though.
One thing we learned today, is not to become complacent.
Ed had just popped round for lunch and to kindly start making a dog bed for the new dog.
"I think she must be getting used to us," said Mark, leaning on the doorpost of the lounge and looking fondly at the innocent, placid dog on its furry blanket, "I opened the door and she just stayed there."
Lunch was on the table, Ed went out to get a chair from the terrace and there was a honey-coloured blur as the dog headed for the outside world.
The gate was open and she was off up the road displaying the reason why the breed is used for hare hunting.
Mark got the car out and we revved up the road, praying Mr Malras wouldn't be trundling along at four km an hour after visiting his veg patch, or worse, the prat who drives the Ferrari in a cloud of dust as if our little road is Brands Hatch.
The dog is incredible. It did a stretch of about a 3/4 mile in about one and a half minutes, a steep hill too.
We drove Starsky and Hutch style, me shouting, 'Gala' from the window, as if advertising some exciting festival/happening in the afternoon.
She doesn't know her name yet, that's obvious, either that, or she doesn't like it.
She ran and ran, then turned sharp right; Mark skidded on the road's newly- laid gravel and turned hard into René's drive.
The dog reached a low wall and jumped. A splash of water rose into the grey sky, rather like Hockney's 'A Bigger Splash, (without the Californian blue sky) I remember thinking distractedly as I ran to see what was behind the wall - René's new pool, now with a large, floundering dog in it. Gala had nearly climbed out: an extraordinary feat of strength and determination to flee from what? A comfy bed, food, love. Of course we can't understand why she feels the need to run, and God knows what she has witnessed, and what she might imagine could be about to happen. It's only been two days; there is bonding to be done . . .
René came out smiling, happy that the dog was okay; no mention of pool filters, dog hair, gravel etc, his wife relieved that she could resume the lunch. We returned, wrapped the dog in its blanket and ate lunch in silence for a while, contemplating how far she might have got and whether we would ever have found her.

Monday 9 September 2013

New dog

I've been researching greyhound-type dogs over the past few months since dear old Una passed on. Second hand whippets and Italian greyhounds don't seem to be available in France, and adopting in the UK to bring back didn't seem to be an option either.
The answer, if you want a greyhound-model type dog here, is the Spanish variety: the Galgos, or Galgas if female.
As runty dog is king ( if only a pathetically small one) of the house, it had to be a woman dog. I contacted a 'Galgos rescue' association place and went though the very stringent adoption process. A lady came all the way from Toulouse to check our garden's fences, accompanied by two Galgos so we could have a look at the scale of dog we were contemplating. After some fence work (thanks, Ed) we were deemed to be satisfactory and Christine started to match us with a dog.
Yesterday, Ezra and I went to meet the new family member.
She arrived in a truck along with about twenty other rescue dogs from somewhere in central Spain: a long journey from which all the dogs looked remarkably relaxed. A credit to the drivers love and care (she had driven the Luton truck to Spain and back in two days).

The crowd of waiting adopters moved forward keenly with cameras to catch the first glimpse of their chosen dog - Melia (now Gala) second cage down on the left.
Each dog was lifted carefully down and the name called. It's an odd thing to be introduced to a prospective pet in this way; normally we would have visited a house, or a dogs' home, browsed, met, gone through the shall we - shan't we, thing. Homing through an internet picture or youtube film is something else. However, Christine had done her job perfectly: Gala is perfect. Docile, cat-ignoring, keen to walk and very beautiful; we couldn't have found better. I'm sure Una would have agreed.
On arrival, chez nous, the cat bristled briefly then asked for food, and Runty dog showed his terrible fangs and growled a lot. A day on, he seems to have forgotten that he was ever alone and walks (hops) happily alongside her.
Today is a day of adjustment: how many walks? What does that squeaky noise mean? - not a bark yet,  is she happy? Does she miss the other dogs in the refuge?
All will be revealed, but at the moment she looks very contented lying on the old tiger rug outside, listening to all the new sounds in this different land.
I try not to look up too much information on these magnificent, gentle dogs as there are images on the net that haunt the mind. I saw a photo once of what a mindless hunter had done when he deemed the dog to be no use to him anymore. I hope something worse might befall him.

If anyone would like to adopt a dog - here is a link:

Wednesday 4 September 2013

postcards from Cerbère

I don't know quite why this tiny town fascinates us so much, but at least it does - all of us I mean. It would be awkward if two of us wanted to go and the other remained disinterested: 'Oh no, not that windswept end of the planet again.' Or suchlike.
Happily, it's become a place of family pilgrimage, at least twice a year: in the howling winds of March, when the railings sing and everything is pretty much shut except the 'Cafe de la plage', and usually at the end of summer; a last chance to bathe in the Med, eat a special meal on the seafront and wander at night in the soft breezes, listening to the squeaking train wheels.

Even the journey there has become sacred: the stop at Marie's dodgy-looking truck café after the spectacular drive through the valley; the first glimpse of the sea as the car reaches the hill top coming past Port Vendres; and the ritual stopping and letting runty dog out before he throws up on the winding bends of the coast road.
This time I got a room at the wonderful 'Dorade' hotel on the seafront. Friendly and with (by my reckoning) an excellent restaurant. We were given room number nine on the top floor. The patron smiled, handed us a chunky key fob and informed us that we would be staying in the room he was born in.
One and a half days passed in tracing our previous steps, swimming, walking and idly looking in the estate agent's window to see what has sold.

Not much has changed: A few more boats bob in the newly salvaged marina (ripped up in a major storm three years ago) the 1920s concrete hotel has lost a few more bits of its structure, and someone has taken over the wasteland near the railway signal box and made a garden.
See you again in the winter, Cerbère.