#2: Puppy Pappy
‘I think it will do you good.’ Natalie said, a hint of nervousness in her voice, ‘It might be just what you need.’
‘I think it will do you good’ is such a loaded sentence. The basic insinuation is that you need to shape up frankly; that the way things are, aren’t working. It’s not necessarily a criticism, but the message is clear: You’ve lost your way love, here’s a helping hand. Or of course, it’s none of those things and just that your maniac of a wife has run out of excuses for introducing a new animal to the household and brazenly using your current mental fragility as a devious excuse to add to the numbers. Either way, we were getting a new puppy and whether it was my mental state or hers that was the catalyst was now utterly irrelevant, the decision (apparently ‘our’ decision) had been made.
I put up the usual token objections which were swatted away with the usual token ‘I’ll-take-that-on-boards’, but there was a sub-text. I’ve read about dogs being taken into old people’s homes to cheer up the residents and this felt a bit like that. The difference being of course, that the lonely old folk don’t have to pick up any dog poo and seeing as I, for the most part, was having trouble bending down to tie my own shoelaces it all seemed fraught with disaster and indignity.
I’d been ill for some time. Obviously being a bloke I’d whined about it constantly but not actually done much about it. On the face of it it was the return of the spinal hernia with the odd bout of sciatica thrown in, like a lightening bolt to ward off complacency. At times I felt like I was the victim of a voodoo doll, a sudden spasm of pain arriving out of the blue and knocking me down. The cortisone injections I had a couple of years ago had finally worn off, not that I was keen to go through that horror show again. So I just put it all down to wear and tear and kept popping the Nurofen Plus as part of a three meal a day routine. Fifteen years of commuting weekly between France and wherever I was gigging, usually the UK, had taken its toll and it was all to be expected, I reasoned. So just get on with it, obviously let people know you’re suffering just don’t do anything about it. Head down, carry on. Idiot.
The exasperated Rheumatologist prodded another part of my broken body, ‘And it hurts there too?!’ she asked, her Romanian accent combined with the frightening speed of her French making it difficult to understand.
‘Yes,’ I whined, adding ‘sorry,’ just to prove that a, I know I’d let this go on for far too long, and b, Yes, I’m English.
‘Why did you not come to me sooner? How long have you been living with all this pain?’ She sounded a little angry, and I couldn’t really answer the question. She took this as a sign that I hadn’t understood the question, so she repeated the question to Natalie who also couldn’t answer the question, which meant they both took a moment to look at me, a look that was 10% sympathy and 90% ‘this bloke’s a thundering moron.’ I’m used to getting that look, for some reason it seems to be the one that most people, however brief the interaction, seem to settle on with me. But for the second time that week I was standing in the briefest of underwear, feeling badly exposed while women were rolling their eyes and tutting at me and making me feel like I’d let everybody down.
In order to combat whatever it was that was happening to my body, all my joints, knees, elbows, knuckles, ankles, everywhere basically, felt like they were on fire, I’d taken up AquaBiking. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Movement had become restricted and I couldn’t sit down for more than 20 minutes without my body locking up, like a living, creeping Rigor Mortis. I’d only finally arranged the appointment with the Rheumatologist, I’d had the doctor’s prescription for 18 months (I know, I know), after I got up one morning, tried to walk and collapsed in a physically impossible heap, all arms and legs going the wrong way, I looked like Woody in Toy Story when he’s dropped on the floor. The AquaBiking wasn’t making much difference to my physical state, but it was certainly giving my mental state a good kicking.
AquaBiking is literally an exercise bike with the bike underwater and I dare say, in more metropolitan areas, it’s probably very popular with men and women alike. In rural France though, at my local swimming pool, there were eight of us and we split into two groups, one was elderly rotund women who wore the kind of swimming costume that acts more like a fruit bag, just about keeping things together. The other group was a middle aged man, me, hugely embarrassed to be there, wearing ill-fitting speedos and wondering what the Hell had happened in life that he was sharing a swimming pool with seven elderly French women splashing around on a bike while Cotton Eyed Joe played on a loop and echoed, almost threateningly, off the swimming hall ceiling. I went half a dozen times, though the writing was on the wall from the start. The last time, I arrived late, holding up the group and as I emerged apologetically from the changing rooms they were all sitting there on their bikes already, like a squadron of fighter aquabikers, astride their submerged machines and each and every one of them regarding me with utter, Medusa-like contempt. I blushed everywhere, even under my Speedos.
It was obvious to all then that there was no way I should be self-diagnosing or trying to arrange my own treatment, so while we waited for the results of all my tests, MRIs, x-rays, blood tests, ultrasound and so on, Natalie had her own solution. A puppy. It’s fair to say that Natalie’s solution to most things would be an animal of some kind, I daresay she’d sort Brexit with a kitten, but in the time we’ve lived in France we’ve had, or still have, six dogs, three horses, four goats, at least a dozen hens, briefly a wild baby rabbit, six cats, four goldfish, one donkey, two mice and a live, thrashing lizard tail. All of them are or were rescue animals in some way or another. For example our fourth goat, Bambi, arrived because Natalie was flagged down by a man in the street who promised to eat the thing if she didn’t immediately put it in her car boot and remove the temptation. Kipper the puppy arrived, this May, as a 7-week old English Setter, abandoned by his mum, hand reared and not yet in control of any of his limbs or his curiosity. Natalie had adored him online, and adored him in person. Which meant naturally, I was dreading the first time I would be left in sole charge of him and he did not disappoint.
I really thought I’d lost him. For twenty frantic minutes I scoured the place, inside and out, calling his name which of course he didn’t yet respond to. I was desperate, partly for fear of losing him and partly for fear of what Natalie would say if I had. My body screamed in pain as my search became more and more feverish, and this was supposed to be for my benefit. If I had lost him I had two options, leave home immediately and never come back or fake my own attempted suicide and hope to get some sympathy that way. I was close to tears from the pain and frustration and then I found him. He came lolloping to the top of the stairs, flailing like a baby giraffe or a young Peter Crouch, there was a look of hurt embarrassment on his face that was to some extent obscured by a mousetrap hanging off the end of his nose. He whimpered, not out of any specific suffering really, but sort of a canine ‘WTF man!’ and he just sat at my feet looking up at me as if to say, ‘Is life always like this?’
‘I know how you feel mate,’ I said, picking him up and gently removing the trap, ‘I know just how you feel.’ He’s going to fit in very nicely around here, I think.
The ‘Monsieur So British…’ blog carries on from my two best-selling books, ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique!’ both published by Summersdale and available here. This blog will also appear as a podcast every fortnight and will be available next week. If I can work out the software. Big if, that.
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