#29 Barking Mad Part 2
I approached the gate nervously. I was still in my black tie and suit after hosting the British Casino Awards in London the night before, and was wary of Kipper’s warm welcome which usually involves a certain amount of leaping and slobbering. I’d only just had the suit dry-cleaned, so the last thing it needed was a ‘Kippering’. I opened the gate quietly and, hearing his paws racing towards me across the gravel, held my suitcase in front me as a shield and braced myself. He came tearing towards me, barely stopped in greeting and went haring off into the bushes. I have to admit I was slightly disappointed. I don’t know what I’d expected, I mean I’d only been away one day, and I should have been grateful that he didn’t jump up at me. But after seeing the progress the dog trainer had made with him on the first day of schooling I think I’d half expected him to be sitting by the gate waiting for me, a white butler’s cloth over one paw and murmuring ‘can I take your coat, sir?’ Not to be virtually ignored as he went lolloping by, his tongue hanging out and his ears flapping.
Then Gigi went tearing by as well, yapping after the disappearing Kipper. I hadn’t seen her running around like that in nearly a year, not since Toby had died and she’d begun what we feared was a terminal period of mourning. It’s true she’d lost weight recently, we’d put her on a diet after a B&B guest had likened her to a footstool, and she’d got a bit of her old cheeky sparkle back too. But to see her playing with Kipper was progress beyond expectation.
It looked like enormous strides had been made on the dog behaviour front then, and I was grateful for that. I’d been up since 4am so that I could get the first Eurostar out of London and seeing that the dogs certainly weren’t going to need my attention for the foreseeable, my plans for the day would involve no more than dozing on the sofa while the snooker played out gently on the television. In truth, I was banking on it. I was exhausted, in pain and not up for a training session.
‘Yann! You’re home, that’s good!’ Nathalie the dog trainer was at the door. I hadn’t even had a chance to get changed. ‘I think your wife will be home soon as well, then we can begin!’ I blinked. The dogs went flying past. ‘At two o’clock!’
‘Très bien,’ I croaked, ‘très bloody bien.’
It was a lovely day for it, there’s no denying that. A crisp late winter, early spring afternoon with hazy sunshine. The kind of day that rekindles the optimism fire. Well, it does if you haven’t been up since four a.m. anyway. I wasn’t able to join the start of the afternoon training session, not because I was given time to have a rest – my eyes, even to the briefest glance, were now deep wells of torture and lament, somebody should have noticed that – but because I had to take Thérence to football training. Once I had done that I was then expected to roam the nearby countryside looking for the two Nat(h)alies and take up my position as, laughably, master. I cursed the good weather as I did so. My argument being that if it had been pouring down proceedings might have been cancelled. It took me twenty five minutes to locate them and Gigi was still running around, which was heartening, but Kipper had a horse’s training rope attached to his collar and at the end of the ten metre rope, a big, heavy stick had been tied.
‘It stops him running into bushes and also it feels a bit like there’s someone holding his lead,’ Natalie, my wife, said quietly, and then shouted, ‘AU PIED’ at Kipper. It reminded me of Usain Bolt when he trains with a car tyre attached in a similar way, or a boxer. I started humming ‘Eye of the Tiger’ as Kipper came running past, and then got knocked over as the stick smacked into my shins. ‘What time do you have to pick Thérence up?’ Natalie asked.
It was time to go already, I’d only been there a few minutes and I’d actually changed my mind about the whole thing and wanted to stay. I wanted to see what Kipper would be asked to do next. Running up the steps of the town hall perhaps? Taking a medicine ball hit to the stomach? Sparring with Gigi? But no, the ‘master’ had his chores to do.
And I missed all the fun.
Those who’ve read my second book will know about the history I have with one of the neighbouring farmers. In short, he threatened to shoot my children if they ever step foot on his land, so it’s fair to say relations are somewhat strained between us. He sold his farm recently though, retaining a few acres for hunting, but our house no longer buttresses his fields, and that’s a relief. So what right the toxic old bastard has to drive around like he still owns the place is beyond me. I’d seen him while I was looking for the Nat(h)alies, but thought nothing of it, assuming that he was now a diminished force. I was wrong. I don’t know if he waited for me to disappear, I doubt it would have made any difference to him, but he approached the group on their way back. The warning was a clear one, no threats this time, but a very French ‘Get orf mon land.’ It obviously soured the last afternoon of Kipper’s training and Nathalie couldn’t believe the rudeness of the man, while Natalie and I were unsurprised. Hunters, in France, les chasseurs, behave as if they’re above the law. They trample other people’s land, they disregard the rules involved in hunting near people’s houses and they are also it seems, untouchable. It’s not dogs that need behaviour lessons, it’s people. I’d like to tie a logged up rope around the man myself, then watch him run around for a bit. Kipper didn’t mind though, neither did Gigi and they fell asleep together, and for once on the floor and not a sofa.
Nathalie left the next morning, hugging all the animals, especially Kipper who, despite some firm treatment, was completely smitten by her. He sat by my side as she walked to the gate, ‘pas bouger’, I said, don’t move. And he didn’t. ‘Au pied!’ I commanded, walking back indoors and he did so, trotting at my side. Then he saw a cat on the stairs, and started racing around the room, bouncing from sofa to sofa, barking as he did so. ‘Kipper!’ I shouted, ‘AU PIED! PAS BOUGER!’ He ignored me, ‘Bloody au pied! Stop fucking bougeing!’
He didn’t. I turned on the snooker. Plus ça change.
Monsieur So British is a weekly blog and carries on from my two best-selling books ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique…’, both are available here. It is also a fortnightly podcast, sometimes with extra bits thrown in and all the major podcast platforms.
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