Willkommen Bienvenue Welcome

Welcome, gentle readers.

This is an everyday tale of regular folk, who moved from Sheffield to the deepest Corrèze in France Profonde and thence to the rather more cosmopolitan Lot in search of something… different. We certainly found it.

The Lot is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Reputedly, a famous TV globetrotter was asked where, of all the places in the world he had visited, he might return to. He answered, ‘The Lot’.

Fans of Channel 4’s Grand Designs will know that we built a somewhat quirky straw bale house-with-a-view here in the Lot, not far from the celebrated Dordogne river. You can read all about it in my book,
Bloody Murder On The Dog's Meadow, or watch the re-runs of the programme on More 4, or view it on You Tube.

After a break in the proceedings to write a book or two, this blog now takes the form of an everyday journal. Sometimes things happen, sometimes they don't (but the art school dance goes on forever). I hope it will give you an entertaining insight into what it's like to live in a foreign country; what it's like in the slow lane as an ex-pat Brit in deepest France.

I shall undertake to update this once or twice a week, unless absent on leave. Comments always welcomed, by the way, but I do tend to forget what buttons to click in order to answer them.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

24 – 28th February: New Kid in Town

We watched Paul Thomas Anderson's film The Master recently, with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role as the charismatic leader of a cult bearing some resemblance to Scientology. It featured a fantastic performance by Joaquin Phoenix (who doesn't use his middle name) as a violent drifter traumatised by war.

I was impressed to see that Joaquin, brother of River, has lent his weight to PETA's campaign to highlight the horrors of the latest horror from China, the brutal dog-leather industry. Mr. Phoenix is evidently an animal lover in general and a dog lover in particular. So he'll approve of Daphne (that's Daphné in French), the latest addition to the household.

Butter wouldn't melt...

She came on Tuesday. We drove south in the morning on the A20, down past Cahors and through a lovely old town called Castelnau-Montratier to the extreme south-west of the department. The Daughter had found an animal shelter on the internet run as part of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation by a woman with the memorable name of Danielle Diczi. Her husband, she told us, is of Hungarian origin.

The place is off the beaten track, but her directions were impeccable. It was well signposted and the visible dog shelters suggested we were there. When Madame Diczi emerged from her house to greet us, she was followed by a troupe of very young or very small dogs, including a trio of those rather unappealing furless Chinese dogs with wispy foreheads and tufty tails. Among the boisterous crowd were the two pups that our kid had spotted: a Labrador cross called Jelly and a sheepdog cross called Joxx. Clearly last year, when they were born, was the year of the J. I suppose, at least, such regimentation helps you keep track of your dog's age.

Personally, I had fallen for the photo of Joxx, because there's something about black and white cats and dogs (and films) that I love. We debated the matter long and hard before plumping for Jelly/Daphne. Living near farms, as we do, we are all aware that sheepdogs are often unhinged. The type of dog that attacks your car when you're least expecting it. Fortuitously, Joxx had already been claimed by the time we phoned up to reserve the yellow dog.  

Madame Diczi brought us into her cluttered living room, past a remarkably patient cat determined to sleep and ignore all the canine attention to his or her basket. She sat us down to go through the customary complex paperwork. There were photographs on the wall of Madame Diczi on horseback in full dressage gear, so I imagined her as a renowned equestrian before devoting her life to dogs. I didn't ask for confirmation. She can talk the hind legs off a poodle, so I didn't want to offer her another potential tangent.

Although we weren't looking for an identikit of our beloved Alf, it turns out that Jelly/Daphne was also born in December and also rescued from drowning in a bucket of water. Which suggests that it was an adoption meant to be. Her mother was a Labrador. Judging by her fur, part smooth but part wiry, her father must have been some kind of terrier. We speculated about a Jack Russell, but couldn't comprehend the sexual contortions involved. So Daphne née Jelly Sampson is a Terrierdor.

Our hostess with the canine mostest told us that her best customers are the Dutch and the Brits, because generally they are less concerned by the purity of the race. She brought our new bâtarde out to the car, found an old towel for her in a shed and said her goodbyes. All the way home, Daphne sat on the back seat with her head on our daughter's lap. It felt good to be chauffering her to a new life in a good home, but I kept imagining all those domestic critters out there that aren't so fortunate.

A happy corrective trainer

It was Tilley's job to contact Madame Diczi to inform her that we had changed Jelly's name to Daphne. Being a sensitive soul, she waited 24 hours because she didn't want to appear that we were dissing her chosen name. It was the good wife's self-appointed job to go out after lunch and buy the new resident the smallest collar available and a selection of chews and other toys. Meanwhile, though, Daphne had claimed an old single glove used for transporting hot pre-kettles from the oven of our wood-burning stove to the electric kettle. And she had already discovered the mesmerising new game of chasing the brush. She grabs its bristles and holds on with a terrier's tenacity. Which just goes to show that you can buy all the fancy toys in the world, but there's no beating the simple things in life.

And so the rest of the week became largely a process of Educating Daphne. A matter of rewards and admonishments (Come back here with that onion, you scamp!) and much mopping. We're fortunate to have terracotta tiles, but God knows how people manage with fitted carpets.

She seems to be a fast learner, which suggests a knowing intelligence in that winning expression of hers. On day 1 she learnt to bash her way out of the cat flap. (On hearing of this feat, a friend suggested that she must be a Labrador crossed with a Chihuahua.) Understandably and despite the calming drop of lavender oil on her neck, she whimpered when we attempted to leave her on the first night, so our girl gamely spent the night on the sofa to be with her and to make sure that there was no cat-flapping in the wee small hours.
'Kip of the Serene'

It's the cats that have been the biggest problem so far. Daisy has taken umbrage and gone on one of her safaris. She hasn't been seen since Tuesday evening despite the foul weather, so we're all wishin' and hopin' that she's simply biding her time and that nothing calamitous has befallen her. Myrtle, her outsized sister, has been gradually getting braver, coming down from her sanctuary on the mezzanine, stair by stair, to investigate the feisty upstart. But the disruption suggests that we were right not to adopt the four-year old large Airedale/Otter Hound cross badly in need of a loving home.

Tilley the Kid's learning fast, too. She it was who lobbied longest and strongest for a new puppy and she's discovering how much hard work goes with the pleasure. But the girl's done good. She's done her fair share of cleaning up messes and more than her fair share of occupying Daphne. She's even taught her to walk on a lead. For a dog of two months, that's remarkably impressive. Barbara Woodhouse, the stern TV trainer of errant dogs, would have been proud.

It's a horrible, dreary Sunday and there's still no sign of Little Miss Daisy. Daphne, however, has just got through her first night without accidents. She went out first thing and did her copious business – numbers 1 and 2 – on the grass. It's true that she starts off in Alfie's old basket and ends up on a forbidden sofa, but she looks at you so engagingly that it's hard to be cross in the context of such educational progress. We displayed the same kind of pride in the achievement as our kid did when she slipped the word subsequently into the conversation.

It's hard work and very time-consuming having a puppy dawg. I'm rather looking forward to a time when she can't get out of the cat flap. Before normal service is resumed, however, I'm going to enjoy what is, after all, a very short stage of a dog's life. Right now, our new Terrierdor is showing every sign of being a good 'un.

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