Clearing out some cupboards the other day I found a sheet of typed paper (remember typewriters?!) with my first impressions of France three months after we arrived here, a decade ago. So much has changed (not least our wonderful dog Wooster who is sadly no longer with us) but sometimes it’s good to look back so here is an excerpt:
Well we’re here, in France that is and absolutely loving it. We’ve had all sorts of problems to deal with and managed. First of all discovering that “le weekend” is sacred and nothing happens from Saturday lunchtime through to Monday morning – and then all the shops are shut. On our journey down here with with Wooster our black Labrador (who panted his way from Maidenhead to Sonac) we gave ourselves a punishing time schedule in order to cause the least stress to the dog. All went well, apart from the fact that Wooster hates the car – any homeopathy treatments which were meant to calm him I threw out of the window fairly early in the journey.
We made good time to but John was so tired he accidentally put petrol in the diesel car; 70 km later while I was driving, the car got slower and slower and then John realised what he had done. At this point we had stopped and it refused to start again. We had to be towed back to Rouen – we were made to travel in the pick-up truck while Wooster was left in the back of the Escort. At this stage I thought the dog would probably die of terror. He didn’t, but his panting got heavier and heavier and the look on his face expressed his total feelings towards us.
We contemplated hiring a car to continue the journey (another 8 hours) but realised this was just folly and decided to stay in a hotel (which luckily accepted dogs). The next major hurdle was trying the persuade Wooster that the icy appearance of the marble floor in the foyer was not a problem and that the 2′ by 3′ lift was quite friendly. The poor chap looked at us in terror quite often but we paced the streets of Rouen on a lovely sunny afternoon and he realised that French poodles were quite attractive little bitches. We then found a restaurant (we asked if it was ok to take the dog in and they asked if we wanted smoking or non-smoking – we pointed out that Wooster didn’t smoke) and had a pleasant evening with our brave-ish hound at our feet.
The following morning (on the third floor) Wooster absolutely refused to walk down the corridor towards the lift and, after much persuasion and temptation with Asda spicy sausages, we once more launched him onto the streets of Rouen. The weather was beautiful and we managed to relax, except for Wooster who spent the whole time wondering what other torture we were going to inflict on him. On Monday I rang the garage to find out when the car would be ready and they said not until about 4pm that afternoon. With that I became a little persuasive (!) and pointed out that “ma fiancé” had diabetes and had run out of his medication, we had an old and ancient dog about the die of terror and was there any possible chance it would be ready earlier? We picked it up at 11am and then took some time to find our way out of Rouen (lovely city, spotless – would recommend it for a clean weekend).
Once more on the route we knew we both began to calm down and contemplate our new life with great excitement. Wooster continued to pant and panic his way south and at one point we felt he needed a pee so pulled into a layby which are known as “aire”s. They are usually named after something local like “Aire de Rouen” or whatever. As we pulled in we noticed a transit van with a young lady sitting in it heavily studying her mobile phone. As we walked the dog and grabbed a bite to eat I noticed how friendly all the truck drivers were to the young lady as they passed with a cheery wave and toot of the horn. So friendly the French. On further study of the young lady I realised she had rather muscular arms, six o’clock shadow and large Adam’s apple. A couple of trucks and cars had already pulled in and were put off by the presence of “l’estrangers” so I think we somewhat ruined his/her business for half an hour. John renamed it “Aire de Poutain”.
Having had a couple of nights full sleep we did feel a little brighter but it is a long drive and the stretch in the middle is very boring. We got to the motorway at Orleans and felt we were making progress. At Limoges, some four hours further on, we hit driving sleet and snow and by this time it was dark. With dogged (sorry Wooster) determination we just wanted to get to our new home, finally arriving at about 8pm. The next major hurdle was getting Wooster into the house as there are six stone steps up the terrace to the front door. He has no power in his back legs since he had both knees replaced and it was a case of dragging and half choking the poor dog into his new house (I hope nobody from the RSPCA is reading this.) We gave him lots of treats and made such a fuss of him that he became quite overwhelmed and soon realised that there were lots of familiar smells as we had his favourite teddy (this is a big butch gun dog I’m talking about) for him and there was a lovely warm fire. We threw a tin of confit de canard (it’s a tough life here) on the cooker, opened a bottle of red and promptly fell asleep.