Monday, February 28, 2011


There's nothing like a shapely pair of legs to put a smile on a boys face. In Wilfs case the smile can be traced to the arrival in the village of a seven year old Springer Spaniel called Kelly. This morning as the family fellow and yours truly were walking past the gates of the chateau ' Kelleee ' came bounding out to say 'bonjour' . She's one of those enthusiastic, slightly ungainly, tongue lolling dogs that doesn't so much run as fall over her feet. It transpires that the old lady who lives in the cottage by the windmill has been to the rescue centre and found herself a new companion.

Wilf, who was engrossed with something unspeakable in the hedgerow, took some time to notice Kellys presence. But when he did he was star struck. The family troubador stood , frozen in admiration, as Kelly cartwheeled and piroueted around him. A rerun of the Polish farmboy meets sophisticated French ballerina script.

Sadly for Wilf, Kelly was soon off again . He tried to run after her down the lane but he doesn't have the turn of speed he used to. For a while the old fellow looked crestfallen but was soon heading purposefully home. A definite air of ' just let me take a quick nap and then we'll see who's the fastest ! '. He's now asleep by the door, dreaming of heaven only knows what. We'll wake him up at lunchtime. Perhaps Kelly will be there on his afternoon walk. As Wilf might say, ' It's not by the grey of the hair that one knows the age of the heart '.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sated wolves.

The sun is out and spring is well and truly here. Daffodils exploding in the hedgerows. Despite this change in the seasons a decidedly downbeat , bordering on gloomy, atmosphere in the cafe this morning. Yesterday afternoon England beat France in the Six Nations championship. Nothing short of a national disaster for the rugby loving devotees of France profonde.

Before the match a minutes silence for the dead in the New Zealand earthquake. A surprising display of fellow-feeling amid lifes babbling alchemy. Even more amazing ; not a sound from the huge crowd. The silence observed reverentially by both players and fans. Somehow it's reassuring that heartfelt consolation and compassion still punch above their weight in a corrugated world.

In the evening a phone call from New York. ' Could I go and give a dinner chat next week ? '. The caller, a Croesus rich individual, starts to put the world to rights. In the process disparaging a senior member of the administration. " The problem is she wants the wolves to be sated and the sheep left whole ". What old fashioned language.

I ask him if he was Secretary of State what he would have done differently. There is silence on the other end of the line. Criticism without alternatives. All too easy. Today, does anyone apply the ' could I have done better ' rule before weighing in ?

Wilfs homespun Polish Sheepdog view on life. " Hem your blessings with thankfulness ". He's happy. And no, I shan't be travelling next week.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Still a puppy.

Aude, the chain smoking decaratrice, has finally finished painting the hallway. Her accompanying panoply of scaffolding, ladders and dust sheets all packed up and returned to the womens cooperative . Wilf is now in his element. Before the furniture is moved back he has a twenty metre long, obstacle free , indoor race track for his personal use. He managed ten minutes of somewhat leisurely touch rugby last night before falling into a deep, deep sleep in the middle of the floor. As he settled down a contented sigh that said ' this is how things are supposed to be '.

Madame Bay is here this morning to deal with a months worth of accumulted dust. As she hoovers away Radio Nostalgie blares out songs by long forgotten French crooners . She can only spare two hours this morning . It's market day and she's promised to help her daughter Sandrine at the hair salon. Ladies hair salons are an impenetrable mystery to the male mind. What does our beturbaned septaguenarian actually do in the salon ? Operate the hair dryers ? Make coffee ? Glare from behind the reception desk ? All I can say is thank heavens last years Sinead O'Connor cut has grown out. It couldn't have been good for business.

Wilf seems to be settling back into his routine. Only one pit stop last night. This morning a sense of mischief as he raced after an unsuspecting black cat that was foolishly walking along the lane towards him. A reminder that despite the diabetes he's still a puppy inside.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Political camouflage

Off with Wilf to the vets. Annoyed to find it was the haughty young Parisienne who was on duty. An ' on the spot ' executive decision to return when one of the others is there. Wilf sat happily in the back of the car while the receptionist handed over a new box of syringes. Face saving political camouflage .

We may go back down again today. Maybe not. Wilf simply hates going. It's better to only take him to the surgery when it's really necessary. Over the last 24 hours the drinkings down, we're back to just one early morning pit stop and there have been no more accidents.

It's possible that he became overly stressed when I went away and this has caused the problem with the diabetes. The books all say that as a breed they are ' devoted to their families but wary of strangers '. That ain't the half of it. Being with their families is everything. Herding and guarding is hard wired into their systems. Younger dogs can cope with lost members of their flock and a change in routine .Older ones can't. This may not be diabetes management as much as old age stress treatment.

Four in the afternoon and the peace of the village is interrupted by the honking of horns. In fact it's the honking of a horn. The young replacement postman is driving, noisily, from house to house to alert us to the fact that there's going to be a major power cut . He had official letters but had ' mislaid ' them. " I' ll deliver them tomorrow " he cheerfully says. This morning we're waiting for the power to go off. When the lunchtime post comes we'll know the reason why. Life in a French village.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Four Lufthansa flights in twenty four hours. Despite snow, every single one departs and arrives on time. How do they do it ? Now, if only the cabin crew could learn to smile .

Ninety people on the little jet that brings us across the Alps. Eighty nine of them Airbus employees shuttling from the plant in Munich to the plant in Toulouse. No intermingling. The French talk to the French and the Germans to the Germans.

Wilf is waiting in the huge new marble and glass arrivals hall at the airport. Its deserted apart from him, 'the font', a Morrocan family that's arrived four hours early for the flight from Rabat and a smattering of Airbus shuttle bus drivers. Despite the old chaps failing eye sight he somehow knows the very second that I walk through the sliding doors. Maybe it's time to invest in a new brand of after shave ? There again maybe he knows I've brought a cake back from Zurich .

The family fellow used to be the strong silent type. No longer. In the last two weeks he's started to make the most bizarre noises when he's in a happy mood. Neither bark nor growl. More a mix of half bubbling gurgle, half throaty trill. As I approach he flips onto his back and lets out one of these 'trurgles' of pure, reunited joy. At full volume. Everyone stops what they're doing and looks. That dog owner feeling - ' Why here of all places ? Why now ? '. Wilfs attitude - ' Why not ? '.

He's discovered there's an unspeakable dawn in carefree old age.

To the vets this afternoon. The first time in six weeks. He's maniacally drinking a full bowl of water every hour - day and night. Cortisone, insulin or tumour ?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wilfs Wednesday PONder .

" If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it ".

Neither online nor checking - in.

Up early for the breakfast croissants. I'm off to Munich and Zurich to share some after dinner thoughts with serious men in dark suits. The petty irritations of the Lufthansa online check-in system. This morning it's neither online nor checking in.

Thankfully, there's time enough for a walk down the hill and across the valley with Wilf. Despite the blue skies it's a fierce morning. The unsuspecting birds hurled, shrieking, through the air by the strength of the wind. Down here by the river it's sheltered and calm. Underfoot, the winter leaves smell fresh and nutty in the way of a fruitcake. A solitary, good looking , heffer rests her head on the wooden fence and watches us sidle by. Wilfs quite content. Nose down in the grass verge. A patch of white ploughing through the first of the wild gentians. The overwhelming desire to pick up the phone, cancel everything and stay here.

Another earthquake in New Zealand. 65 dead. If ever your prayers were needed think of the kind folk at .

Monday, February 21, 2011


Out for our morning walk. A herd of seven hesitant deer bound across the lane ahead of us. No more than twenty metres away but as silent as wraiths. Wilf is nose down, savouring something enticing in the long grass, completely oblivious to their presence. By the time he looks up the deer are disappearing into the walnut groves. Seven white tails fading into the shadows.

A thousand posts. Maturity reached , illnesses cured, griefs overcome, unconcious risks taken. Along the way he's been poisoned by Italian hunters, had run ins with processionary caterpillars, lost a brother and fought armed intruders. He's developed a liking for coconut ice cream, drinking from the stream, and sleeping, on his back, in roadside verges. He's met Madame Bay and made new, absinthe imbibing, friends at the cafe. Every day he's been an uncomplaining companion. A thousand days is a fine gift of experiences, memories and laughter.

Our blogging days must inevitably draw to a close but what you start you finish . Whether the cancer grants us ten or a hundred more days our blog will continue to record the last stage of this shared, happy, never dull, journey. I would like to think that if you asked Wilf what he thought was the best time of life he'd reply " Now ! ".

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Serious dereliction of duty.

Saturday lunchtime. Opened the fridge door to get a scoop of the family fellows favourite treat. Shock. Horror. The freezer compartment empty except for an unloved pack of 'Le Mutant' sausages . Wilf looks at me. I look at him. Within a minute we're in the car and en route to the supermarket . The expression on his face making it plain that this is a serious dereliction of duty. An unspoken admonition - ' Wouldn't have happened if 'the font' had been here '.

While Wilf waited patiently in the back of the car yours truly went hunting for coconut ice cream . Easy to find. The third aisle along. Next to the coconut flavour a tub of Tequila, Pineapple and Ginger sorbet. Next to that a luridly coloured tub of Chatreuse sorbet. The Tequila and Pineapple wins the day.

They grow hyacinth bulbs here. Field upon field of blue and red blooms. At this time of the year the stems are harvested and sold as cut flowers. Buckets of them were scattered round the fresh produce counter. A scented obstacle course. 50% off. I pick up four bunches.

Home to watch the rugby. Wilf relishes his coconut ice cream. He continues to lick the bowl long after the last morsel has disappeared. Hope springing eternal. I try the tequila sorbet. It tastes like soap. Not one of the better spur of the moment purchases.

In the evening the old fellow settles down across my feet. A sure sign that he wants a tickle and a mano a mano conversation. Simple reassurance. The eyes cloudy and opaque now - even in the photographs.

Tomorrow our thousandth blog entry . Recording these little invisible routines is what a dog blog is all about. Ice cream, hyacinth fragrance and tickles. Unremarkable steps in a family fellows journey. A lesson learnt today. " Never lose sight of the fact that old age needs so little but needs that little so much ".

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Coy about medical matters.

Eight o'clock in the morning. A sewing machine like thrum and crashing of gears fills the air. Madame Bay has arrived in her gold metallic ' Wild Child ' voiturette . Today, she is wearing a lime green turban , black leggings and what appears to be a kaftan like garment crafted out of orange and red deck chair material. As a crowning touch the turban is fastened at the front by a large black brooch. Having freed himself from one of Madame Bays emotional greetings Wilf scurries out into the courtyard with a look that seems to say : " Blimey ! That turbans straight out of Ali Baba ".

Where Anglo-Saxons are coy about medical matters the French are not. It seems that Monsieur Bays ' trouble ' has returned. " Not a wink of sleep M'Ongoose. Not a wink of sleep ". The concept of too much information clearly alien to a nation that thrives on hypochondria and talks about illness in much the same way as we might talk about the weather. Thankfully, my French is insufficiently advanced to understand the intricacies of what Monsieur Bays ' trouble ' is. I would doubt if even 'the fonts' French course will help us in this regard.

The young postman arrived late in the afternoon. Wilf barks dutifully.He brings with him two issues of the New York Review of Books, the January edition of Rugby World and what appears to be three weeks worth of mislaid post. " I'm getting the hang of it " his pre-emptive greeting. Exactly how much is there to get the hang of in a village of sixty three inhabitants ?

Wilf doesn't even stir during his evening insulin injection. A task 'the font' usually carries out with Swedish efficiency. Only one pit stop at two thirty. He was however drinking a lot through the night. Hope my injection technique got the insulin into the blood stream.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Arm waving gusto.

Strange. When you have to work inside the house the sun shines. When you want to go out in the garden and plant rose bushes it rains.

Aude, the decaratrice, continues to work away on the paint scheme in the hallway. All that's left now is the application of a second coat to the walls and the 'distressing' of the woodwork. Surprisingly, the last minute insertion of a new colour between the dado rail and the skirting board works well. At this rate everything may be finished by Wednesday of next week. Wilf will miss lying in the middle of the hall listening to Aude chat away to herself. He remains entirely convinced that she's talking to him. For some reason Aude will not paint the window frames.

'The font' speaks French with great precision. Yours truly speaks it with arm waving gusto. After a year in which we've had to cope with the eccentricities of the rickety old farmhouse, an errant sewage system, the unexpected discovery of neolithic remains, canine oncology and obdurate bee swarms; it has been decided that our language skills need to go up a notch. This afternoon 'the font' heads off to Paris to attend the first 'residential' weekend of a university language course. For Wilf and his chauffeur there will be steak tonight and chicken casserole tomorrow. Wilf is also hoping there will be pretzels.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Old misery.

For Wilf a day to get acquainted with the new postman. The mail used to arrive around noon but now we're lucky if it gets to us much before three. A cheerful " I'll get the hang of it soon " from the young replacement. A bark from Wilf. In the evening the town council meeting in the village hall. On a podium by the kitchen , the mayor, the deputy mayor and the little lady in the purple hat. Some thirty folk sitting in the body of the hall. The new day-glo orange plastic chairs being used for the first time.

The mayor gives his review of the years events. At least that is what we think he did. The microphone, rigged up by the Chairman of the beautiful byeways committee , had chosen this very moment to start working intermittently. The mayor speaks softly. Very softly. His twenty minute summary of the high spots of 2010 , such as they were, sadly inaudible.

Then the questions. Will the roses by the war memorial be replaced ? What is happening about the dead pigeon in the clock ? Who is going to fill in the pothole by the speed bump ? Finally, a rather dour looking gentleman stands to ask what the mayor intends to do about the influx of foreigners taking over the village. A communal intake of breath. Embarrassed sideways glances at the two of us. It seems that not everyone is happy that non-French are present in the community.

A no-nonsense reply from the deputy mayor. If it wasn't for the foreigners houses would stand empty, there would be fewer jobs, and the tax base would be smaller. Then she turned towards us and said that half of the villages foreigners were present in the hall and were very welcome. Clearly, the old misery had no idea who we were.

Afterwards much apologetic mumbling from our neighbours and the mayor. We find it highly amusing. The two German billionaires in the chateau and now the two of us in the rickety old farmhouse. Watch property values fall if the influx of incomers continues. No two ways about it. The neighbourhoods going to the dogs. The Polish Lowland Sheepdogs.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The part that only a fool leaves behind.

'The font' goes into town for some turkey escalopes and returns instead with half a kilo of " sot-l'y-laisse ". According to the butcher the most delicious meat to be found on the bird. Turkey oysters to you and me. Otherwise known to the French as " the part that only a fool leaves behind ". They make a delicious pie. Would it be possible to buy turkey oysters at a butchers in the UK or the US ? Wilf loves the pies pastry edge . Human food. Incomparable. Right up there with coconut ice cream and cauliflower cheese.

The family PON was not hugely impressed with the regional archaeologists. Two thirty something gentlemen in plaid scarves.The more junior of the two asked me if Wilf was vicious. I looked at the old fellow lying upside down, paws pointing heavenwards and replied ' not usually '. Clearly not natural dog folk.

As feared the archaeologists are likely to become a fixture in our lives. They plan to return with a specialist. The rather dull piece of sandstone with a figure carved on it is thought to be old. Really old. Some sort of pre-Christian fertility symbol. As soon as the archaelogists had gone Wilf sauntered over and christened the ancient stonework . A " what's all the fuss about " look on his face.