226 – Why I Can’t Have Dogs

As my ten days as a dogsitter draws to a shaky close, I can categorically say that I will not be having a dog.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

For want of a better phrase. The wisdom they use in advertising campaigns. Free slices of salami or cheese or coffee rationed out in supermarkets by overly eager sales reps dressed in bright aprons. Giving you a taste of Brand X before you become a lifelong follower.

I tried DOG X and said no. Which was a good move because if I had succumbed at some point in my life to buying one, I would have instantly regretted it.

I would have got used to it, but I wouldn’t have particularly enjoyed it. Too much like being a teacher. Making do, but always looking for a way out. Most likely with a loaded rifle, a bottle of whiskey and a long walk. (I’m talking about me, not the dog.)

The worst part of having a dog for me is the forced wake up call EVERY SINGLE morning. Getting woken up by some rat faced mutt breathing offal into my face. I want my weekends back. Which is the shocking truth of having a dog, isn’t it? You don’t get one.

There I was going to bed on my first Friday night here, looking forward to a full twelve hours sleep with a proper lie in. When I suddenly realised that I would have to get up in about seven hours time to walk the stupid dog.

It was at that point that I knew there would never be a dog called Oggers in my house. Not that I would call it Oggers, that would be ridiculous. But if there was an animal called Oggers, it would have to be a cat. Or a fish. Or better still, a wooden horse. Or a duck. Something that doesn’t bark, breathe, shit, smell, wake me up, or steal my sandwiches.

So that’s the dogsit accomplished. Next up is a short trip to Barcelona to visit some friends, then a drive back across the Pyrenees to Bordeaux to pick up some cash, sign on at the job centre, and then hot foot it back to the UK for reasons I can’t even remember now.

no dog

 

225 – Three dogs, a Nervous Breakdown and Two Very Good Cups of Coffee

After driving 480km from Taussat on the Arcachon Basin to Alaigne in the department of Aude, 25 km south west of Carcassonne, which included two rain washed nights camping out in the Ariege-Pyrenees, me and Elizabeth finally met up with the three dogs we were going to be looking after for the next ten days.

Two crazed Parson Russell Terriers (like a Jack Russell but with longer legs) and a Golden Labrador with big dark lonely eyes that made me want to give it a biscuit and say everything is alright.

The fun started yesterday on our first walk with the dogs’ owner, when I was towed up a hill by the male terrier called Idéfix like I was attached to a ski lift. He’s only a foot tall, but has the power of a bull. His little hind legs pumping furiously ten feet in front of me ignoring my cries to slow down as my shoulder slowly came out of its socket.

I asked the owner if I could let him off the lead for a minute, but he advised me not to.

‘Not this one. If you do that, you’ll never see him again,’ he said gazing into the distance.

I believed him as well, looking at the lead stretch out in front of me like a fully extended bungi cord, and imagining the dog being catapulted off towards the horizon the moment I let it go.

The other two dogs, Carla (the other terrier) and Holly (the sad Labrador) seemed to be having a nice gentle walk, and it made me wonder if I’d been specifically hired for the task of walking Idéfix because of my abilities as an athlete. I’m good at running up hills and don’t easily tire. Just like a dog. Perhaps in another life, I was a Parson Russell Terrier.

So that’s the deal for the next ten days, plus seven chickens and a cat to look after. And in truth I’m relishing the idea of being up here in the Aude. Dogs, chickens, loads of eggs, hooded priests, dark shadows, hidden skeletons, holy grail and all that Cathar legend stuff.

It’ll probably be more relaxing than the trip here that resulted in a partial meltdown. Not a physical one like blowing a head gasket, or setting ourselves on fire. But a mental one, caused by the realisation that after this housesit, we actually have nowhere to live and have no jobs.

But in truth that wasn’t the real reason. The meltdown was caused by the fact that we arrived at a campsite with no gas. And no gas means no coffee.

I can handle not having a place to live. Or not having a job. But not having a decent coffee first thing in the morning, especially camping, especially in the rain, especially when you’re wondering why on earth you’ve just driven 500 km with a car full of junk, really takes the biscuit. And we didn’t even have any of those either. Just half a packet of damp peanuts. Nightmare!

There’s no need to go into the precise details, but we had the meltdown on a road somewhere in the Ariege. I can’t remember where. It doesn’t matter. Our lives flashed in front of us in great detail and we both wondered how everything could have gone so wrong. But then we were saved. Not by God, or the Cathars, or hooded monks or priests. But by a nondescript roadside café on the main road to Spain near the town of Foix.

It proved once again that it’s only when you’re feeling really down that the simplest things in life are the best. Just when I was considering jacking the whole thing in and going back home, I was saved by the best coffee I’ve had in France in the four years I’ve been here. I’m not religious. But I now understood why people are.

You might think I’m exaggerating the moment for literary effect. I’m not. When I came out after those two mugs of coffee and four croissants, I was truly re-energised. I was ready for anything. I climbed back into the car, fired up the Honda Civic Extra Turbo Power Mark IV and headed to Aude to meet my destiny. My destiny being a two year old Parson Russell Terrier called Idéfix. The story continues.

ide

 

223 – Mosquitoes and Lemons

I’ve been fighting a war here recently. Each morning waking up a puckered corpse. Ravaged in the night by an elite squadron of mosquitoes whose only objective is to bleed me dry. So much so that I’ve been thinking of sleeping in a bath of bleach with a snorkel to breathe through simply to get a good night’s sleep.

The towns and villages on the Arcachon Basin are built on tidal swamps. A giant game reserve in which pink faced Homo sapiens are the prey and the red-necked harpoon toting mosquitoes, the hunters.

Luckily, help is at hand.

The old Algerian cleaning lady who I work with – and who I incidentally found four crates of out-of-date Heineken in the cellar with yesterday (coincidence? I think not) – told me to cut a lemon in half and rub it on my body as a repellent.

I did and it worked. Not a bite all day. Until I dived in the pool for my evening swim and got ravaged the minute I stepped out. In agony, screaming and stinging like a freshly pickled cat, I ran into my apartment, downed a can of the out of date Heineken and then pelted it to the shop to buy a crate’s worth of lemons. Plus a bottle of gin to make my blood too toxic for the mosquitoes to drink. A trick my father taught me on a camping trip to South Africa in the 1980s. Gin being cheaper than insect repellent. Or so he said.

I’m normally quite resistant to bites – even in the proper tropical countries I’ve visited. This year though in boring temperate France, I’ve been slaughtered by them. Their persistence astonishing. As is their powers of stealth. Appearing from behind cupboards, curtains and cabinets the minute I step in the shower. A blood bath!

I’m a hot and humid weather kind of guy. A result of someone in my ancestral line picking up some tropical blood from somewhere at some point in the dark distant past. I can sit in humid 35 degree heat all day. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But of course with hot humid weather in swamp land, you get mosquitoes. Millions of them.

I now have a solution though. Lemons. Now I can sit outside all day long and not worry. And there’s even the added bonus that I’ll never run out of lemons again for my gin and tonics. Which is proof – if ever I needed it – that there’s always a satisfactory solution to everything if you put your mind to it.

lemons3

222 – A Bottle of Wine, a Piece of Meat, a Knife, and a Stove.

My contract as Pool Boy terminates in 15 days time. My services are redundant and I’m moving on again. Jobless and homeless in two weeks. But not concerned.

It’s my long held belief that there’s always work and a bed to sleep in if you put your mind to it. Ask around, see what’s going on. Chances are there’s always someone who needs something doing that they can’t be bothered doing themselves. That’s how economies work. And if there’s no work, you move on. That’s called migration. And if you can’t find work, you sleep on it and see what comes up the next day. That’s called life.

Elizabeth said to me yesterday, ‘You don’t need much do you, Oggers? A bottle of wine, a piece of meat, a knife, and a stove.’

I’m not very good at being in the same place. Too many reasons to get bored. Looking at the walls for instance, wondering what colour to paint them. Eggshell, Sunflower Yellow, Lilac, Emerald. So many options. So many possibilities.

People say that’s why you go on holiday. To have a break. But surely the walls will still be there when you return. Unless someone’s knocked them down, rebuilt new ones, moved your furniture around and hidden your possessions. All in a charitable attempt to make the next year a little bit different from the last.

I always enjoy reading Bruce Chatwin at times like this.

“Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.”

I’ve moved around a lot in my life. I’m not a Nomad in the traditional sense – I don’t have animals for one.  But I do understand the pull of the road and being on the move.

I was born in Durham in the north of England almost 41 years ago (my birthday is in two days) and even though it’s only 1430kms from where I am now, it feels like a million. I only stayed there until I was two, before moving to Leeds. Now 41 (almost), I’m still moving, and as normal, even with fifteen days to go, my plans are vague. Fifteen days though, in anybody’s life, not just mine, is a long time. Anything could happen.

As long as I have a stove, a good Bordeaux, some sausage and a knife, nothing can go wrong.