We were warned. The previous family who tried to adopt Bertie kept him for two days. They couldn't cope with his "escaping".
But we, of course, thought we knew better. He loves the garden and he explores the edge of Serge's field, with no inclination to head for the middle, keeping close to us and the house, burying his nose into the long grass in the ditch, snuffling in search of small creatures. So Tod said it was alright to leave him off the lead as we all went down to the cottage to close the shutters and keep in the warmth.
I watched the two of them disappear into the hot border, tails up, noses to the ground. And I briefly turned my back. The next I knew, Bertie was half way across Monsieur F's ploughed field with Vita in his wake. But that was fine. The set-aside strip beyond would keep him distracted, he'd lingered over the enticing smells there this morning. So I called him and quickened my pace as I set out to catch up with them.
By the time I got onto the beginning of the set-aside strip, Bertie was half way along it and now moving at a fast trot down to the stream. I broke into a run, if nothing else I had to keep him in sight. Once at the stream he could cross and I would lose him.
Wriggling with excitement, he bounded into the long grass on the bank followed by Vita. I shouted back to the cottage for Tod and kept running. By the time I was at the stream they were disappearing round the curve that edges Philippe's field. By now I was frantically calling both of them, conscious that yelling "Bertie come" meant nothing to him. He was "Spok" at the rescue and heaven knows what other name a few days ago. And with the echo across the valley, how would he know which way my voice was coming from?
I reached the ditch that runs into the stream on the far side of Philippe's field. Vita was coursing up and down the bank looking for him and I thought I heard him in the gloom of the trees on the other side. I ran on, heading for a grass causeway that crosses the stream and up into the woods, trying to see him on the other bank. By now the light was fading and I dreaded losing him in the dark. And still no sign of Tod.
Then briefly, with the causeway in sight, he reappeared in the other side, tail up, hunting. Vita saw him and dashed forwards and both of them were gone. There were so many ways they could have taken, up through the woods, or across the fields, or back along the stream. My calling became more despairing and frantic. I'd now lost both dogs.
Then suddenly, in my despair, realising there was no point in going on calling him (he couldn't and wouldn't understand) I began to make puppy whimpering noises, hoping they were near enough to hear. It worked like magic! Vita raced towards me from out of the woods and as I made a fuss of her, there he was. I kept whimpering and he came up and sat at my feet. With no lead, I swept him up and puffing and panting we all headed home.
Half way back we met an anxious Tod following our steps on the other side of the stream. Vacuuming up cluster flies in the cottage he'd heard none of my frantic calls and only belatedly realised we were all missing.
As I carried Bertie in my arms he looked so pleased with himself. He'd had a great adventure.
... member of the family - Spok who from now onwards wants to be known as Bertie.
I saw a photo of him on Total France forum - just another of so many abandoned dogs in France - with his nose pressed against the wires of his cage and his bright intelligent eyes.
He came home with us today from Cahors canine rescue, grumbling gently from the back of the car because he was in a cage (just in case) and not on the back seat with Vita.
A feisty terrier with a good bit of wired haired fox and I'm not sure what else, he's completely unfazed by the classic Airedale approach to friendship which involves taking another dog's head in your mouth (which is why his fur is a bit damp in the fourth photo) along with a good bit of body barging. I think Bertie is going to be top dog - he's already appropriated Vita's bed and she's let him. He's marched his way through all the flower beds in search of lizards, shrews and mice. He settled under the table for supper and has made himself thoroughly at home.
Airedales are a deceptive shape. Their supposedly "non-moulting" fur goes Rastafarian if left to grow too long and they finish up looking like a fat fluffy bear. But underneath they are slim - which is why Airedales that have been in the water look awful - fat furry body on top of thin spindly wet legs.
But keeping their fur under control is challenging. There are whole websites and magazine articles dedicated to the art of keeping an Airedale looking beautiful. Vita dislikes the noise of the expensive electric clippers that I bought when I realised that going for grooming was too much for Smudge. He didn't mind, he couldn't hear them, but Vita runs off, tail between legs, because the noise is associated with vets doing nasty things. So I bought a Coat King which shifts great mounds of grey fluff from her coat. She gets bored and wanders off, or resents the tugs from the comb as I pull through her tangles, so we don't get very far.
Dog grooming parlours in town are designed for the small yappy things on strings that the French keep in their apartments and walk in the park. Dogs the size of Vita are meant to be used for the hunt and chained up in a kennel during the week - no grooming for them. So the grooming tables are tiny and one is supposed to lift the dog onto them. Trying to lift an Airedale onto a high wobbly grooming table when she doesn't want to be there at all - legs flying all over the place - is an interesting experience.
So I'd given up on the idea of getting her groomed here in France and thought I'll just struggle on with the Coat King and maybe one day I might get her back to the UK to Liz who did such wonderful things for our other Airedales.
But then I was watching Little England a series of programmes on ITV about the "joys" of being English and living in the Dordogne and there she was - Julia, in Eymet, only half an hour away - with her Shampoochien dog parlour, grooming her Springers who obviously adore her.
So off we went and Vita's come back with a new slimline sleek look. Like our other Airedales after they've been clipped, she's been madly chasing round the house and garden like a six-month puppy, feeling the wind against her skin. Her back is like black velvet.
She sat on the bed last night barking at the new, strange dog reflected in the glass of the French window.
... we set off optimistically for Arcachon and the sea in thick early morning mist. Even at lunchtime, as we wandered in search of a reasonably priced lunch menu, the day stayed stubbornly overcast and the beach towels and swimwear were left unwanted in the car parked in some remote side street.
But gradually, the clouds thinned and the sun broke through and in the early afternoon we strolled to the front and took it in turns to walk barefoot across the soft fine sand and dip our toes in the chilly water while the other kept Vita on the lead on the edge of the promenade.
No dogs allowed on this smart town beach.
She found an oyster shell to play with. Next time we'll take her to Cap Feret and the crashing Atlantic rollers, where we can all enjoy sand and sea together.
... and the temperature in the shade on the veranda is twenty-eight degrees Celsius (over eighty degrees Fahrenheit).
The pool looks inviting.
Yesterday evening we went to our favourite crêperie in Clairac for the last time this year. We sat in the courtyard in the candle light feeling the heat radiating from the high old stone walls and enjoying the banter among the owner's friends. She closes every year on September 30th and opens on April 1st. She told us this was the first time in the sixteen years she's been there that her customers have been able to sit out in the warmth at the end of September.
We wished her Happy Christmas and told her we would be back next year.
In the 1970's I lived in Brazil and I wrote home to my mother in the UK every week. Those letters became the story of my life there. In 2007 I moved to south west France. Not quite sure where "home" is, I have no family left in the UK. If I did, these words would be my letters home, capturing the first impressions of my life here, to share, enjoy and perhaps re-read in years to come.