Sunday, October 31, 2010

Summer within.

Our first difficult night. It's now four thirty and he's finally fallen asleep .

The look on his face seems to say " In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer ".

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An ecstatic place.

Wilfs dinner kibbles were supplemented with ginger infused pork tenderloin, rice and broccoli. This was followed by a small portion of crumbly tarte tatin with home made ice cream. He thoroughly enjoyed the pork and rice but the ice cream somehow transported him to some ecstatic place. ' The font ' and I looked at each other as he did a soft shoe shuffle of delight across the floor and wondered why we'd never fed him ice cream before. Dogs are the ultimate conduits for transmitting pure, unsophisticated happiness.

Later that night he sat in the kitchen, joy etched on his face, listening attentively, as the font told him that Saturdays dinner will be Roti de Macreuse braisee aux jeunes carottes. The three lady professors from Ohio will be joining us. Wilf is hoping they will be messy eaters.

Out in the afternoon sunshine for a walk through the walnut groves. The Autan wind had reappeared and was blowing down from the Hautes Pyrenees in sixty mile an hour fury. Perfect PON weather that tousled Wilfs fur and caused his ears to trail in a streamlined path behind him. He's getting tired more easily now. Much more easily. A definite change. At the top of the hill he stopped, sat, and turned his nose into the wind. For ten minutes he was lost in a mystery of wind bourne promise. Only a few brief weeks ago I would have hurried him along but now the rhythm and structure of the day rightly belongs to him. On this final part of the journey time becomes a privilege too precious to be squandered in pointless hurrying.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ohio delicacies ?

By the time we returned from our croissant buying expedition Madame Bay had arrived. She was standing, arms folded , in the courtyard shouting up to the builders, the gutterer, and the plumber who were all on the roof. It seems that the bee man ( remember him ?) managed to cut through the plastic lining membrane that keeps the rain out. A full council of war was underway to see what could be done to repair it. The repeated use of the word 'expensive' caused me to leave them all alone.

Inside the house Wilf and yours truly came face to face with three American ladies hooked up to our WiFi network and working away feverishly on their laptops. It seems these three American college professors are taking a sabbatical and have rented a house in the village for two months. Quite how anyone manages to come from Ohio to rent in a village with a church, a village hall, eight houses and ten street lights is a mystery. The shock of the transition from Cincinnati to a Starbucks free France Profonde is already evident on their faces.

Wilf immediately became the centre of attention. A state of affairs that he considers to be entirely natural. The three lady professors thought he was being charming. Those of us who know him better recognized that hopeful ' and what is it exactly that you eat in Ohio ? Perhaps you could show me ? ' look on his face.

With his dinner kibbles last night our family gourmand had an amuse bouche of seared scallops on a bed of mint peas followed by a taste of sea bass and new potatoes. Why not ? He gets ever lighter by the day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


To Zurich and back with Air France via Paris. Breakfast a cup of instant coffee and a small bag of savoury biscuits shaped, for some completely inexplicable reason, like little fish. The horrors of the La Guardia shuttle comes to France. The only difference is that here they call it the 'navette' but the BosWash corridor service, or lack of it, is identical.

An all time low at Charles de Gaulle airport security. A random body search. The staff insisted that I send the six Swiss Franc bank notes in the back pocket of my trousers through the scanner for a second time. Six banknotes! Never underestimate the pure lunatic power these people have.The suspicion in the back of the mind that this sort of treatment is reserved for anglo-saxons with tight flight connections.

More gentle changes in Wilf. At the airport he simply refused to get down from his comfy spot in the back of the car. Not even the opportunities presented by a car park full of unchristened tyres would get him to budge. Faced with this intransigence 'the font' texted me to come and find them in the short term parking lot. There they were, the tailgate up, basking in the warm sunshine , looking at the passers by and chatting happily away. Comfort now taking precedence over adventure.

The small growth on the back of his head that developed a couple of months ago has suddenly doubled in size. Coincidence , or a sign of the metastasizing maelstrom that goes on within ? On our evening walk we decide, for the time being, to ignore it. Not much that can be done at this stage. A healthy appetite and the tiles in the kitchen by the stove now his favoured spot. The dinner time chicken and rice despatched with lip smacking gusto. Smiles and laughter all round.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wilf PONders Plato.

" Always be kind , for everyone is fighting a hard battle ".

Lamb Biryani.

15 days since we had the results of the scan and the old fellow is still happily playing away, eating voraciously and barking heartily at the post lady. Perhaps his movements are a little slower each day but he's pain free and enjoying life. Digby, Wilfs little brother, passed away so quickly with piroplasmosis that we never had a chance to spoil him. We wanted to give him special meals and treats but his appetite just disappeared overnight. With Wilf its different. He now gets a small taster of whatever it is we're having to eat mixed in with his kibbles. This meets with an inordinately high degree of canine approval. Last night it was Lamb Biryani and a post dinner look from Wilf that said 'this is what lifes all about ! '.

In the window of an art store a nineteenth century etching of a puppy. The title roughly translated - ' Don't bother me '. Somehow the artist has managed to get the puppy look of defiance just right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The most intelligent dog in the world ?

Off bright and early to the local supermarket with Wilf. It had rained heavily overnight and he was decidedly reluctant to set foot outside the house. His nose poked enquiringly out of the front door but the rest of him remained firmly rooted in the warmth inside. Our boy is clearly not a believer in the old school view that exposure to fresh air is good for you. He patently did not have a Scottish mother.

Use of the magic word 'croissant' and he was scampering across the courtyard and into the back of the car. Forget those stories about dogs that know two hundred different words. When it comes to food this boy is a world beater in the intelligence stakes . French, Italian, English, German , Swedish - the language doesn't matter. If its edible he knows the word.

Overnight the local supermarket has been attacked by Santas little helpers. The shelves have become piled high with garishly coloured soft toys, a carpet with the word 'Noel' in large woven letters has appeared, and chocolate Father Christmases have seized control of the confectionery counter. If you missed all of these pointers to the imminence of the festive season then the rendition of 'I'm dreaming of a White Christmas ' over the tannoy would surely do the trick. Despite it all this is still France. A large delivery of chrysanthemum plants had just been received ahead of All Saints Day. The staff were busily setting them out alongside the fruit counter. In a weeks time the cemeteries will be a solid carpet of colour.

Back home via the cafe to read the paper, have an early morning coffee, and maintain that daily routine that enables us to pretend that nothing is changing. Wilf still peers out from under the table cloth , his face still beams when the absinthe drinkers greet him with a unisoned ' Bonjour Wilfeee ' but the walk from table to car is now , noticeably, slower.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

When you have an old dog.

2.14 in the morning and I'm woken by the gentlest of pressure on my arm. Not so much a scratch as a tentative dab. There in the darkness, sitting by the side of the bed staring, just staring, is Wilf. A quick rush downstairs to open the door to let him out into the garden. He looks first at the open door, then he looks at me, then he sighs. " All I wanted was a chat and some reassurance ". At the foot of the stairs we reminisced and laughed - reassurance aplenty. He quickly dozes off to dream of walks on the beach and mountains to be reclimbed. For me another reminder that the routines of the last nine and a half years are becoming less set.

Things we're learning. When you have an older dog time has its own rhythm , trust is everywhere and shared, and at the start of each day the morning stars really do sing out a special welcome. When you have an older dog contentment is woven into the folds of the day.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


The vet has reduced the Cortisone dosage to one tablet every other day from one tablet daily. A shrug of the shoulders and the sage diagnosis " he'll know when it's time ". No arguing with that. Back home from the surgery via the cafe. A coffee with the peroxide waitress and the beer and absinthe crowd - Wilfs Cortisone driven thirst making quick work of his bowl of water. Home in time to bark at the builders and carefully christen the tyres on each of the five white vans lined up in the courtyard. Job done, a definite bounce in his step that said ' that took real skill '.

In the afternoon another long walk, off the lead, through the walnut groves. Irrepressible boyish delight in the sound the crinkly leaves make underfoot. The afternoon sun warm but not hot. Perfect PON weather for leisurely exploration . A little roast salmon with his kibbles at lunchtime and chicken and rice for dinner. The lip smacking contentment obvious. The way to this boyz heart clearly through his stomach. Time for twenty minutes rug surfing and hunt the meerkat before falling asleep, enthralled with life, in the middle of the hallway. Another very good day. PON's and laughter go naturally together.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Idiots !

Wilf sat in the hallway and watched in delight as Madame Bay had a rip roaring set too with the builders. Sleeves were rolled up, words were had and stormy glances cast. The workmen had hung plastic dust sheets to protect the library from the debris thrown up by the work on the adjacent wine cellar. The dust sheets were not 100% efficient and our saintly septaguenarian was not happy to find a layer of powdered concrete coating everything. " You idiots may think it's funny but I'm the one who has to clear it up ". With that she picked up a book , took a deep breath, and in a triumph of gallic theatricality blew the offending material in the direction of the gathered workmen. A triumphant ' what dolts ! ' and our chiffoned cleaning lady turned, amid a cloud of settling white dust, and stormed upstairs - all the while muttering the sort of approbations that would make even a seasoned foreign legionnaire blush.

In the afternoon 'the font' went off to find petrol for the cars. Until recently we've had no trouble finding diesel for the SUV or 'regular' for the little Volkswagen but the blockades of the refineries now seem to be having an impact. Our local garage has cut its opening hours and the 24/7 supermarket is only open from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.

Wilf continues to surprise and delight. His Cortisone fuelled appetite is voracious and his enthusiasm for life boundless. These days might be tinged with foreknowledge but that doesn't stop them being a laughter woven tapestry of walks, exploration, swing biffing, mischief and fun. Madame Bay of course adds a powerful stimulus to the overall experience. Wonderful autumn days. The best part ? Wilfs delight at being allowed a small taste of the almond and pear tart at dinner last night. Off to bed, tongue licking his muzzle, to dream of life as the patiserrie dog.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unrecorded treasures.

In the small hours I find him pacing round and round and round the circular table in the dressing room. As soon as he sees me he trots over for a tickle and a chat and is soon sound and contentedly asleep in his bed. Confusion or a side effect of the Cortisone ?

One of those timelessly quiet days that wouldn't usually deserve a footnote in a diary. Sleeping longer than usual and wanting to walk and play less. Quickly and uncharacteristically ignoring the hoardes of workmen who have suddenly descended on the house to repair the hole in the roof and the larger of the myriad cracks in the walls. In the late afternoon an hours walk, off his lead, across the fields and through the walnut groves. A red and gold carpet of leaves to be rolled in, pounced on and shuffled through. Completely lost to us in a world of simple enjoyment. Scents, perfumes, sights and memories ; stumpy tail wagging twenty to the dozen.

That tender, priceless joy all dog owners share when he would look up, find we'd gone on ahead, and then come charging after us with a ' Hold on a minute - Where do you think you're going ?' look - canine forbearance. A bark at the post lady in her little yellow van . In the evening pure delight when he gets a little pork with his rice and kibbles. Finally asleep, across my feet, while I read in the drawing room. Transferred warmth .

A happy, happy day full of laughter and love. When you know the destination such simple moments become treasures.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The cloned men of Koln.

A new Cortisone side effect. Sleep walking. 1.30 in the morning and Wilf has wandered into the bathroom - a strict 'no go' area. He's found sitting in the middle of the floor looking mightily confused. " Blimey ! How did I get here ? " Taken downstairs to get some fresh air he stares at the open door in amazement . " Me ? - Outside ? - In the dark ? - You must be mad " . Another subtle hint that our old family fellow is changing by the day.

Yours truly was in Koln talking to the directors of a large American company. 23 of them. All square jawed, identical and for all I know interchangeable. The sort of wild night where my grey suit marked me out as a rebel amidst the corporate American blue. In pre-dinner small talk I looked out of the window across the Rhine to the cathedral. The Chairman seemed less than interested when I pointed out that the hotel, and the ugly Lufthansa data processing centre next door, were built on the site of a Roman fortress. Davitia - the home of the XXII legion and at one time civilisations farthest outpost. From the monosylabic response I gathered this was not my best conversational gambit. Perhaps we were still deep in barbarian territory.

Wilf was waiting in the arrivals hall at the airport . The French are on strike again . As a result the terminal was unusually quiet. Only foreign carriers who had taken off with enough fuel for the return journey were operating. A military honour guard was standing waiting for some dignitary from the near east who had drawn up in his personal 747. Our family fellow soon spied 30 pairs of freshly polished French Army boots standing, tree like, in a row. He set off towards them with a determined , tyre christening, gait . One Polish Lowland Sheepdog hastily apprehended before he could demonstrate the precision of his aim. Diplomatic incident averted.

Day ten. This gentle, shared journey can still generate gales of laughter. He's sleeping longer in the mornings now and do we detect the first hints of confusion ?