mercredi 29 septembre 2010

U is for Ulysse and other animals

Ne réveillez pas le chat qui dort – let sleeping dogs lie

Ulysse is a pretty little white dog that lives in the house opposite us. The only problem is, he hates us; every time we venture out of our front gate he erupts in a frenzy of barking. To be fair, it’s not only us. He’s not too keen on the postman either, or, let’s be honest, anyone who passes within a couple of metres of his front garden.

Our cats, and the ducks that wander up and down the road, know to steer well clear of Ulysse.

Ulysse had better mind his manners now, though. We received a letter from the EDF electricity company saying that someone was coming to read the meters and all animals had to be kept under strict control for the duration of the visit. The cats were duly warned. The company that looks after our water softener, however, merely asked for a nice welcome. No sooner said than done.

Whoever said Britain was a nation of dog lovers has obviously never been to France. Dogs are everywhere and so too, sadly, are the deposits they leave behind. Our town has installed several jaunty wooden dogs that have plastic bags attached to them so that people can clean up after their mutts. The initiative has had limited success. (But, amazingly the plastic bags are never vandalized.)

I have tried to establish what the most popular names for dogs are in France without success. However, we have recently been introduced to one called Tarquin and a puppy called Popsie. For pedigree dogs, though, names have to begin with a different letter each year. In 2009 it was E. So if you hear anyone shouting ‘Edelweiss’, ‘Edna’ or ‘Eicko Eico’, you know when their furry friend was acquired.

Go to any brasserie and you will probably have to step over the owner’s dog to get to your table. Customers come in with large dogs on leads or tiny, pampered pooches toted around in designer bags. They’re not turned away; the waiter merely asks if the dog would like a bowl of water.

You can buy a jazzy yellow sou’wester and four matching boots for your dog from one of my favourite catalogues. On a far posher scale, I’ve seen poodles wearing diamante collars being led round Galeries Lafayette by elegantly-clad ladies. And if you’ve ever wondered what the sign at the entrance to a building that shows a dog with a red line through it means, it’s ‘dogs welcome’, of course.

We have two cats: Angus [or An-goose as he is known among his French friends] and Kandy. They have come a long way since they were abandoned as kittens on a building site in Theydon Bois, Essex and rescued by Cats Protection. Duly equipped with their pet passports, they flew to France courtesy of British Airways cat class, in huge crates marked ‘Live cat Angus’ and ‘Live cat Kandy’. We had to collect them from the Freight Depot at Toulouse airport, which was a slight affront to their dignity. They’ve settled in well, are fascinated by the local lizards, and were only slightly disconcerted to find that their Whiskas comes flavoured with petit pois.

The first time we took them to the vet for their annual inoculations, we swotted up on the appropriate feline vocabulary beforehand. The vet turned out to be British.

Finally on the subject of animals, in all the time we’ve been in France I haven’t seen a single ferret. That may seem an odd thing to say, but when we booked a journey with Eurotunnel recently, we were asked whether we would be accompanied on our journey by any cats, dogs — or ferrets. There must be a lot of them crossing the Channel.

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