#6: Separation Anxiety
It was August and I needed a holiday. I mean, I know I’d just had a holiday but a week in July wasn’t enough. Before that I hadn’t had a holiday in two years, gigging and travelling solidly or, for the past year, B&Bing, gigging and travelling solidly. The medication was taking its toll too, physically and mentally, laying me low for at least two days a week and I just needed a break. It’s been said to me of course that I live in rural France and as a comedian/writer/breakfast maker, surely my whole life is a holiday, is it not? To which I say, up yours with bells on and furthermore if I hear you say it in my presence you’ll get what Tony Hancock used to call a swift punch up the bracket. I needed a bloody holiday. What’s worse is that Natalie was on holiday. A week in July wasn’t enough for her and the boys either and they’d gone down South to stay with Joss and Mike, Natalie’s sister and brother-in-law, who run a gîte at the foot of the Pyrenees.
I was alone at home with the ménagerie, now with added nihilist puppy, and our first gîte guests, as opposed to B&B guests, of the summer and I was effectively just living and sleeping in the front room with the dogs like a mental patient, or the kind of shot to bits old bloke who shouts rabid non-sequiturs on London’s night busses. I don’t do laid back and to be honest I don’t really get on with people who are laid back. A few years ago we had to organise house-sitters to take care of the place and the animals while we went away. It was a fraught process which involved joining a professional house-sitters website and interviewing prospective candidates, of which there were many. Arbitrary judgements therefore had to be made about people, not always kind ones, but fortunately if I have a skill in life it’s making arbitrary, shallow and perhaps unkind judgements about people I don’t know, it’s almost a gift. So criteria was set, anyone who eschewed a traditional name in favour of some kind of precious stone/astrological mix was binned immediately which fortunately got rid of about 50%. People who described themselves as ‘Life Coaches’, they were out. People who had ‘never been abroad’, out. And couples who displayed too much affection for each other in their photographs as if they’d mixed up their house-sitters profile with their swingers one. Out.
Eventually we settled on a young family, figuring that our place would be ideal for them and that they’d take care of it and the animals properly.
‘You can trust me, Ian,’ the dad said, ‘I’m a very laid back person.’
‘That’s right,’ said his wife, ‘nothing bothers him.’
My heart sank. I don’t want laid back, laid back never achieved anything, did it? I want intense, organised and fearful of revenge if you screw it up, not bloody laid back. And I realise that because of my recent diagnosis, laid-back, a certain level of blasé indifference, is what I’m supposed to be aiming for, but really, when the Hell did laid back ever get anything done? I tried to test his laid-backery by showing him the insufficient hens graveyard. It had been a brutal early summer and I perhaps hadn’t dug some of the graves deep enough. In fact, there were clawed legs sticking up out of the ground, looking like macabre TV aerials.
‘No worries, Ian,’ he slapped my back, ‘I can sort that out for you.’
We came back two weeks later, the house was filthy, pans and the oven uncleaned, our own kids’ toys had been thrown around, the animals looked like they’d missed a bit of the old rules and regulations and one of their children had broken his leg on the trampoline. That’s laid back for you. Laid back on a bloody hospital bed. We told them we were not impressed and they looked hurt by the revelation. I even got in a little dig about his laid back-ness, which I held solely responsible for the debacle, adding that perhaps he should try throwing a little neurosis and obsessive-compulsive behaviour into the mix in future, it might help.
Following the ‘Kipper eating my new glasses fiasco’, I’d become paranoid about letting him out around paying guests. I didn’t want a lawsuit or the awkward, ‘sorry, he’s just a puppy’ conversation. I even had a dream where he ate a guest’s prosthetic leg, and as a result, while the gîte guests, lovely people one and all, enjoyed the pool and gardens which they’d paid handsomely for, I kept Kipper inside. The aim was to keep him occupied with a mixture of over-feeding, animal-related TV programming and cricket on the radio. I needn’t have bothered. On the last day he was out, unfettered and I feared for the worst, when the youngest child of the family brought him back. Kipper was walking to heel and even sat while the kid explained where he’d found him.
‘Thank you,’ I said to the little boy. ‘Judas,’ I hissed at Kipper.
I was struggling by the end of the week to be honest. I’d saved up all the linen for the 20 to 30 people who would pass through as B&B guests the following seven days. I’d done all the washing as usual but hadn’t taken it to be ironed as yet. Christelle, who does all the linen ironing for the chambres d’hôtes is a 24-carat angel, running a thriving business nearby. ‘
Two huge bags of bedding, you say? You want them finished for tomorrow morning? no problem! In fact pop by this afternoon, they might be done by then.’
As a legitimate business expense, Christelle is about as legitimate as it gets. I can’t even fold a fitted sheet let alone wrestle with one of them and attempt to iron it, same with King size duvet covers, and don’t even get me started on the ‘non-iron’ linen which is one of those modern fallacies we always hear like ‘crispy’ sweet potato fries or ‘economic trickle-down effect.’ It’s no exaggeration to say that Christelle the ironing lady is about as important to my B&B business as the coffee machine, unfortunately as I stood outside her place with three heavy bags of laundry I saw the sign, ‘En Vacances.’
I whimpered again, a now regular state of affairs in my middle-aged, carrying on through the pain and my own inadequacies existence. On holiday! What the hell was I going to do now? Natalie would know, she’d have a solution, we’ve been together 30 years Natalie and I, she always knows how to bail me out, to prop me up. It’s at times like these when you really need the most important woman in your life and I really needed her now.
But, until Christelle came back, I’d just have to rely on Natalie’s suggestions instead.
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. It’s here on itunes if you’d like a listen. they’re only 15 minutes long…
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