That's my excuse for my dilatoriness around here. When we saw, fell in love with, and took home Elfie, it completely slipped my mind that I had already agreed to look after Bunty and Pepette. I had never been exactly overwhelmed with enthusiasm for the idea, but their owners, neighbours two fields away and nice enough people, whom I've known as nodding and dog-conversational acquaintances for ever, had been offered the gift of a trip to Corsica, and we being dogless thought, 'why not?' when they asked us the favour.
So now we find ourselves stranded in a boarding kennel with the good:
and the ugly:
Pèpette, the miniature Yorkie weighs in at just over a kilo, with an ego the size of a city-state, and never bloody keeps still.
She can't see a human, any human, without jumping up its legs like a demented hairy shrimp on speed. She needs to be combed fairly frequently - her fur reminds me of my grandmother's hair
which rather creeps me out - and her top-knot re-fastened. When she came it had a little pink bow hair-slide in it, but that soon came off. I pretended to put it on Elfie's head and she tried to eat it.
So far she hasn't tried to eat Pèpette.
Indeed, she is patience and saintliness itself with her, rolling over placidly and allowing her to molest her, and generally accepting the invasion of her personal space and appropriation of her own humans with perfect grace, but the little monster really does provoke her sometimes, and I take nothing for granted. Apart from the difference between Elfie's 18 kilos and Pèpette's 1200 grammes, which causes me to fear that a well-meant play-bow or enthusiastic bound might end in injury, Elfie still has her wild-child, once-a-hunting-dog-always-a-hunting-dog tendencies (the vole she pulled out of a tuft of grass, its little pink legs sticking quaintly out of each corner of her mouth, was finished stone dead in an instant, then deposited meekly at my feet), and what I like to think of as her St Julian the Hospitaller moments (never without a twinge of missing Joe for a shared allusion). A little learning of dog behaviourism has made me (perhaps) dangerously fearful of the phenomenon of predatory drift, and Elfie can be a bit mouthy when she's excited.
The ugly one is Bunty. He's a boy. His owner told us he was often surnommé Boubou, but we feel even sillier calling him that, and as he really doesn't seem to respond to any call or command anyway it doesn't much matter, so we just call him Fatty (Pèpette being Ratty), or the Ewok.
((Now don't give me that po-faced, genre-snobbery, 'of course I've never seen it' stuff, I'm a post-modern gal and it's not all about the lesser known fiction of Flaubert you know.)
The good thing about saying horrible things to dogs is as long as you do so nicely they won't grow up psychologically damaged, bitter and twisted by it. Unless that's what's happened to Bunty already; he's about twelve and decidedly eccentric, but in fact he's not really much trouble;
Elfie accepts him with what I anthropomorphically interpret as amused tolerance,
and he is polite enough to her, and apart from sometimes barking at passing cars and other noises and guarding his food (there's quite a bit of disordered controlling behaviour around food that goes on with both of them, and I won't be having it), deformed jaw, bad breath and noisy panting, he's not a bad chap.
The owners are giving us some money for it but however much it is it's not enough, or so we keep saying, firm in our resolve to be clear that we will not do it again other than in the direst of emergencies. In truth though, we are rather enjoying ourselves; it's helped that Jantien, who is endlessly cheerful and energetic and often up for an evening walk or an occasional dog-sit, has been staying again.
It's a bind, it's true, we can't really go out much or think of having people around, Elfie's training is going rather by the board (we were mightily relieved when her trainer cancelled because the training room was flooded after the recent storm, despite being sorry for her misfortune, since we really hadn't done enough homework) and the round of walks, feeds, separating, supervision, socialising and cleaning up seems to take a huge amount of time and leave little for much else, for we are exceptionally conscientious and hard-working dog-minders, I think. It's certainly clarified for us that we only intend to ever be a one-dog household.
However, we really are laughing a lot, at the sheer ridiculousness of the two visitors and at the humour we can find in the situations arising: Tom in a state of hilarity at the window the first time watching me go out with the three of them ('You looked like Ben Hur'),
or the improvised play-pen in the living room which he had quickly and deftly set up with garden fencing to keep the Yorkie out of Elfie's face, and ours.
And while I still think it's very wrong to breed dogs to physical extremes of size, skull deformity etc for human vanity and whimsy, so a dog like Pèpette really can't live safely and comfortably with the doggy impulses and behaviours she retains, and others like Bunty are rendered brain-damaged and breathless, we do, in spite of ourselves, find we're enjoying their characters, admiring her pluck and amused by his quaintness. We end up picking her up and keeping her on her laps to keep tabs on her and settle her down, since it seems hard to pen her up all the time, and I frequently hear indulgent noises and spluttering laughter coming from Tom's end of the room as she makes much of him. She is bright and attentive, and can walk tirelessly, still racing around the place after a long walk which leaves the others stretched-out and panting.
They are also also making us very appreciative of Elfie, of her beauty and naturalness, her good character and quietness, even her moments of wild and dangerous grace, and we very much look forward to being back to just the three of us again and the things we can do together. Although, Jantien having driven off for Cherbourg and England this morning we feel strangely bereft, we've grown very used to having her around, few visitors fit in with so little effort on all sides. She assures us she will be back, which will be nice.
Meanwhile, just ten more days of pack life to go; I think they're having rather a good holiday, at the end of it we'll need one.
This shrew showed itself the first day we arrived, running across the path. Later I saw it trotting sedately down the outside steps towards the door to our room.
It climbed up the wall and pottered along the windowsill, then investigated the groove in the frame where the outside shutter ran,
and began to climb up it - apologies for the out of focus picture, but it was the only one I was able to take before it slipped down again, not being able to get much purchase on the pvc of the frame.
I thought it must be ill to be so slow moving and careless, but I mentioned it to Paul, our host, and he was quite familiar with it, and we saw it several times more, it seemed quite healthy, just tame. Elfie was curious but not especially obsessive or predatory about it. One afternoon, we were sitting with the room door open, and it came wandering down the steps and ran along the terrace. 'Don't go in the bedroom' I said to it, and it went into the bedroom.
Tom followed it in, and I heard various noises and things being moved. I continued to drink my wine, deciding this was a moment when I would abnegate responsibility for a mildly tricky situation, even though I didn't particularly want to find it on my pillow later or have to take its corpse out of Elfie's mouth in the middle of the night. After a few minutes Tom came out with his hand clenched as though holding something.
'Have you got it?'
'I don't know yet.'
In fact he was holding his sleeve end close to his wrist; he carefully peeled off his jacket and turned the sleeve inside out, and the shrew tumbled harmlessly out and pottered off into the grass. It had made the tour of the room then gone into the bathroom, he had tried to catch it in a carrier bag but it had run up his sleeve instead.
When we were kids, we used to take our two cats on family caravan holidays. When we arrived they tended to disappear for a day and then find their way back, even on quite crowded sites, then keep to a very regular schedule of exploring and hunting all day and coming back at night. Once we had to move the 'van because there had been a flood in the site which was some kind of old quarry. Ginger came back at his allotted supper time and sat in the middle of a large puddle mewling pitifully, we were only a few dozen yards away and kept calling him, but he had programmed it into his brain that that was the spot to meet us, and we had to go over and fetch him so he could readjust his settings. They weren't great huntng cats normally, but in holiday mode they would bring back all kinds of small furred game for our inspection; once a vole caught in Herefordshire travelled many miles in the caravan unbeknownst to us and was released in mid-Wales, we wondered if it would encounter linguistic difficulties. Shrews were a favourite to be brought home to us, trembling and traumatised but still alive, since, it seems, they don't taste nice. Which may account for this one being unmolested by Kerbiriou's resident cat.
He's lived there all the time we've been going, six years now. I've photographed him before. Some kind of Russian blue type, friendly enough but always on his terms of course, and very confident and assertive. One night quite late, Elfie was having her last perambulation of the day and we encountered him sauntering very nonchalantly down the middle of the road. Before anyone knew what was happening they were nose to nose, and the cat was totally non-fazed, spending several moments eyeballing her coolly before going on his way without batting an eyelid. Elfie seemed simply astonished and non-plussed, though she did just mutter quick snap-snap with her jaws as he left. Cats are a problem area with her, she tends to freeze and stalk when she sees one, which is the worst reaction a dog can have to a cat, they say. More exposure to the Kerbiriou cat might sort her out a bit. Here he is as Lord of All He Surveys on the barn roof,
which is really very high:
Lastly, another formidable boss creature. The last house in the lane has this fellow as a lawn mower:
He's a Ouessant ram. Ouessant is Ushant in English, as in 'from Ushant to Scillies is thirty-five leagues'. For sheep enthusiasts, this is a most interesting breed, considered probably one of the most direct descendants of the earliest domesticated sheep breeds, kept pure and unmodified over millennia in such a westerly outpost. There are enthusiasts for keeping them and spinning their wool, but those who do so admit their fleeces to be often short, rough and brittle. I seem to remember hearing that some shipwrecked Spanish sheep introduced a better strain for wool, and that one of the clothes labels who make all the cliché stripey Breton sweaters and such like that Parisians and other tourists take home from their holidays had bought up all the viable wool from the island's flock, but I'm not sure if either of these things is true.
When I asked about this one, Paul answered ruefully that he was a very bad character indeed, and we should look out for him. But he was rather handsome, I thought.
... where she had a really rather marvellous time, as did we. We took endless walks, around the Kernéléhen peninsular,
on paths and lanes some of which I'd not discovered before,
and on the rough stony beaches, getting her first taste of the sea, I think,
which often made her rather thirsty:
She lounged in the garden when it was sunny, watched out for the local wildlife and helped Tom out with his sudoku,
and showed herself to be the Angel-Under-the-Table in every restaurant and bar we went to, lying down calmly inside or out, with the minimum of fidgeting or groaking.
As usual she was often admired; Yvette at Kerbiriou asked if we had gone to Callac to get her, which is where all the best épagneuls bretons* come from, it seems, there is even a museum about them there.
We also very much enjoyed being in a place where people walk and socialise their dogs rather more than they do round here - although the day before we left I had met up with Iso and Princeling at the lake in Lamballe, which is quite a busy, sociable place of a Sunday afternoon; the lad, who is now eight, took her lead for long stretches and was very sensible, and it was almost like giving her total freedom, since he was happy to run back and forth and round trees and into long grass after her, which gave his mother and me the opportunity to natter while boy and dog entertained each other. But during our trip away I think we met more dogs and dog owners than in all the time we've had her, all of them friendly and responsible, whether on the long promenade walk at le Dourduff, or the cliff paths round the peninsular, or pavement walking in Morlaix, and it was rather fun.
Then, when we got home, there was a parcel waiting for us. G and A (Sidney, Milly and Peggy's humans), who, we have decided, are now appointed her god-parents, had sent her the most beautiful, elegant and luxurious, hand-made, soft, rolled-leather collar** in a gorgeous shade of tangeriney orange, which tones even more fetchingly with her coat colour than turquoise complements it, and is generally a far classier piece of doggy apparel than her nylon webbing one. They also included two matching ID discs with our name and phone numbers, one of which is on the collar, the other on her harness.
So she is surely the most wondrously caparisoned dog in all of Brittany, and will be even more admired than ever. She certainly seemed to enjoy modelling.
*in fact them more I look at stuff about pure-bred Brittanies, even French ones, the more I'm inclined to think she's not completely typical, may even have a bit of border collie in the mix somewhere, which Emmy the vet was inclined to think possible too.
It's true, the blogging muscles have grown rather flabby.
What has been happening?
We had our sculpting friend Jantien to stay. Here she is sculpting, or her hands anyway:
She came initially because we have a covered space to work in, not very sheltered otherwise, but out of the rain. Then she had to stay in the blue room because her usual billet down the road with her mother-in-law was taken by someone else for a bit, then she kind of decided she might as well stay around as she rather liked it here and it would save upping sticks. We didn't mind a bit, she is the most sensible, sensitive and considerate lodger, helped by the fact she actually has something to be getting on with and so doesn't need entertaining, she frequently cooks us delicious vegetarian meals with her own ingredients and caters for herself in a very tidy and tactful way for much of the rest of the time and she was always eager to stretch her legs at one end of the day or the other and accompany Elfie (with whom she was rather taken, naturally) and her attendant humans on long country walks.
So I can't say she kept us busy with extra work at all, but having someone dynamic working away on site, and just being encouraged to chat and be a bit more outwardly energetic and sociable oneself, means the patterns change a bit, and one's mental space feels somewhat rearranged and fuller than usual. None of which is a bad thing, of course.
Now though, having succeeded in stealing away so early that none of us heard the going of her, she is en route back to the Netherlands for a week or two, whence she'll be travelling to England for this exhibition, and we're all being rather quiet and lazy on this fête de travail.
But I think she'll be back later this month, which should please Elfie, who's been looking around for her rather today. And perhaps it will be a little warmer by then. Elfie's blanket is finished, despite her attempts to commandeer it even before it was:
It's not really her colours, but never mind.
Thus unseasonable cold has made sculpting, gardening and dog walking sometimes something of a struggle, but I suppose the upside of that is a delayed spring; we are only just at the luminous, soft, multi-hued stage which would normally be giving way to a more uniform emerald by now, of which here are some photos from today's walk:
And an early peacock butterfly:
A cold, delayed spring an upside? Indeed, for truly in this life, anything that seems to hold back time is to be welcomed. Also spracht Pollyanna.
That will do for now, we're off to Kerbiriou for the first time this year, and for our first trip away with Elfie, in a week or two, but I'll try to be back here again before then, and to reacquaint myself with blogging friends in the meanwhile.