Friday, September 28, 2012


It's tough handling this grief over Sprock's passing. Have to admit I'm devastated that he's gone. Keep going back over his last few months and blaming myself for his decline. The first clue that something was wrong was when he first started poo-ing yellow liquid about three(?) months ago. Checked the internet for further info and discovered it could have been something he'd eaten, like a bit of cow poo that he was quite partial to. No mention of a liver or spleen problem though - that's the last time I consult the internet for veterinary advice. Problem didn't clear up so I took him to the vets'. Can't remember exactly what they did - I think they gave him an injection and issued me with some medication of some sort. It's easy now to blame them for not spotting that he had a serious problem, but I'm trying very hard not to. Spoke to Georgie on the phone this morning and apparently even if they had spotted the cancer or tumour, or both, there was very little they could have done. But what caused it? Maybe it was when I smacked him a bit hard a few months back (yes, I know you shouldn't smack a dog, but Sprock, bless him, was prone to getting a bit carried away occasionally). So I'm thinking that maybe I caused his death, which is a terrible burden that I guess I'll just have to live with. However, tough as it is for me, it's even tougher for Georgie back in London. She, like me, is constantly in tears at his passing. Poor thing has only been able to see the mutts occasionally over the past seven years. And now the joy of being with them both has been taken from her. Easier for me though because I was with wee Sprocky right up to the end.

Anyways..., I've put his dog bowl away, hung his collar on the kitchen fireplace and rolled up his rope on a branch of the apple tree. Haven't yet removed his dog bed because Jock sometimes uses it and I thought he'd like some kind of continuity. Have also spent hours going through my laptop photos. Put most of the doggy ones in a new 'dogs' file and have decided to upload a few more faves of Sprock. Don't really have any from his younger, pre-France days (I think they're all in my old laptop which can't get onto the internet - maybe I can download them onto a disk??? - I'll try later), but I did find an old snap of the mutts when Sprock was just a nipper. I've cried a river going though these old photos, but hopefully they'll remind us of happier times. I like to think we gave him a good life. He certainly added joy to ours.

 (Sprocket on the recently named 'Sprocket Hill' where I intend to spread his ashes.)

P.S. - Georgie's just emailed a few of her Sprock photos...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tears in a whisky glass

Me ol' mate Sprocket passed away this afternoon.
Died on the vets' operating table minutes before an operation to remove a cancerous growth from his spleen or liver (not sure which).
Didn't even realise the poor bugger was ill 'til last night.
Returned from a dogwalk yesterday evening and he didn't eat his grub.
Looked poorly this morning so I booked a slot at the vets'.
Slowly lost his sparkle throughout the day.
Died in my arms as I comforted him before the op.
There's a big hole where he used to be.
It was a huge privilege and one of the greatest pleasures of my life to have been the keeper of this enthusiastic bundle of joy throughout his existence.
Our little gang was gifted from above to have known him.
Lucky me. And Georgie. And wee Jocky.
See y'again chum.

P.S. - Went down to the vets' this afternoon (the day after he died) to pay the bill and sign the incineration(?) certificate because I was in no fit state to do it yesterday. Told them I didn't require his ashes, but went back there about twenty minutes later and said I'd changed my mind. I'm to collect his ashes in a month's time which will apparently be in a box of some kind. Might scatter the ashes at the top of the Lightning Tree hill which was one of his fave walks. Gave Jock a quick walk down in the valley on the way home. Walking without Sprock is going to take ages to get used to. I kept thinking he'll run alongside at any moment. But he didn't. Dammit, I miss him. And I think Jock does too. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Lazy Sunday. Taking things easy after yesterday's exhausting trip to Sepmes, a little village about 30 miles south of Tours. Went there to pick up the car I'd seen last week (see earlier 'Cars' posting). Booked the bus and rail tickets a couple of days earlier and made the difficult decision to leave the dogs on their own for what I hoped would be about 13 hours. Or possibly longer. Or maybe even longer if anything went wrong. All very worrying.

Left home at 6.30am (5.30 UK time) and caught the 6.55 coach to Montlucon. Set the alarm for 5am, but woke up at 3.30. Gave the dogs a quick walk. If I went back to bed, I ran the risk of kipping through the alarm so I stayed up. It's tricky filling in time in the dark hours before dawn. Time just drags. And the dogs knew something was up which made things worse. Leaving them behind and walking out the door was tough, but it had to be done.

Arrived at Montlucon at around 8.20 after a sleepy coach trip as night gave way to a grey dawn. Had a coffee, a croissant and a fag at the caff opposite the railway station. Jumped on the Paris train about half an hour later and grabbed a window seat. Snoozed as the train followed a canal (river?) going north. Rolling hills turned to boring flatlands so I dug my book out of the rucksack and had a read. Then some bottled water and a sarnie (my early rise had led to being properly prepared for a long journey - rarely happens!).

Hopped off the train at Vierzon just before 11. Train to Tours wasn't 'til 12.40ish so I had time to kill. Ambled around the main street. Depressing. Shops closed down and up for rent. Maybe the recession. Or maybe the big supermarchés on the edge of town had put them out of business. Or maybe Vierzon is just one of those nowhere towns that people pass through on their way to somewhere else; a French equivalent of somewhere like Crewe, which Bill Bryson recently described as being the 'armpit of Cheshire'.

Killing time in the armpit of France ain't easy. Had three coffees in three different cafés. The third caff was a belter. Or, to be more precise, a dump. Made me laugh though. The bill for the coffee and citron syrop with water came to 3 euros. Left 4 euros (2x2 euro coins - I didn't have a 1 euro) in the bill saucer on the bar and went outside for a smoke. Brought the empties back in to pick up my 1 euro change and the saw that one of my 2 euro coins had miraculously changed into a single euro. Waitress said "thanks, money is exact" and I walked out giggling. Couldn't be arsed to argue.

With half an hour left, (how can I put this delicately?...) I needed to go to the loo for a spot of rearguard action. Thought the railway station would be as good a place as any. Found the gents, walked past the urinals and opened a door to a sit down. Trouble was, the sit down was a old-style stand up, consisting of a sort of shower tray with a hole in the middle. Being a mere novice in such matters, I didn't really know where to begin. Checked the walls for some diagramatic instruction, but there wasn't any. Determined to succeed in my mission, I took off my jacket and rucksack and prepared for a practice run. Right, logic dictates that you reverse towards the loo, put a foot on the footplate either side of the hole and let nature take its course. However, I assume that with trews and undies wrapped around ankles, one surely runs the risk of depositing into said clothing, rather than the hole. So, shoes, trews and undies would have to come off. Too much trouble, especially in a confined space. Gave it up as a challenge too far. Visited the caff opposite the station instead.

 Caught the train to Tours which turned up late. Killed a bit of time by pacing up and down the Vierzon platform. Thought I'd never get out of that nowhere town. Sun came out as we headed west, following the Cher river and canal across more boring flatlands. Out came the book again. And another sarnie. After a time, the train entered the shade of some trees with loads and loads of parked cars and coaches. We stopped at a little station. Saw the sign 'Chenonceau'. The name rang a bell. Then I remembered it as being a beautiful chateau which bridged the river Cher. Georgie had dragged me there on my first trip to France years back on a motorbike. Unfortunately the chateau wasn't visible from the train so I've nicked a photo from the internet. Well worth a visit if you're up that way.

Arrived at Tours at 1.55. Now I had to get a cab to Sepmes (next train there was at 6.30ish), a journey of about 30 miles. Guessed it would cost about 50 euros. Wrong. Cost 84. Anyway, I arrived at the car dealer's at 2.40. Half an hour later I was on my way in the new dogwagon - a 1.4litre, 12valve, 1985, Honda Civic Shuttle with a low mileage of 73,000 kms (about 44,000 miles?).

Now I started worrying. Had I bought a dud? Would the engine blow up, stranding me in the middle of nowhere? If so, would the dogs survive being left on their own without grub? Needn't have worried though, the car went fine. Arrived home at 6.40. Dogs were fine too. A few puddles but no poo. Whizzed them up the Lightning Tree for a well-earned run. Not sure how they took to the Shuttle's flat rear space instead of their comfy seats in the Merc. Still, they'll have to get used it. The Merc's now a doggy-free zone and long may it stay that way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another trip to Blighty

Just returned from a long week-end in Blighty. Hit hot London on Friday afternoon. Killed a few hours wandering around the Leicester Square and Covent Garden areas in glorious sunshine. Bought a pair of shorts and sandals 'cos I was ill-prepared for the tropical conditions. Met up with Georgie after work. Had a couple of pricey cocktails in my favourite bar at the top of the National Gallery. Then walked over Waterloo Bridge to the South Bank and had a slow beer at one of the outdoor bars in the shadow of the Festival Hall. Lovely evening so the riverside walk was buzzing. Nowt like a Friday evening 'after work' atmosphere, especially at sunset on a late summer's evening. Then train to Putney. Bought fish'n'chips on the way home. Crashed out, travel-weary and fattygayed.

Saturday dawned sunny and hot. Took it easy in the morning. Was tempted to laze around in the afternoon too, but didn't. Joined Georgie and Don for a car trip to a private house somewhere outside Petersfield. Apparently an old chum of Don's (who runs a company that organises marquees'n'stuff for special occasions, like birthdays and weddings) thought we'd like to see his latest creation. Have to admit that I reckoned if you've seen one marquee, you've seen 'em all, but I was wrong, very wrong. When I saw the marquees and the amount of effort he and his team had put into creating the perfect party setting, I was gobsmacked. Truly impressive. Turned out the client (a charming, recently widowed lady) had recently downsized (crikey, how big was her previous place?!) and wanted a house-warming party combined with an 18th birthday party for her daughter. I think about 200 guests were expected that evening. Perfect weather too, so I expect a few teenage revellers ended up in the swimming pool. Hope they didn't end up in the lake 'cos it's full of damned great fish (carp?) and apparently hasn't been fished for over twenty years. The scene looked impressive enough in daylight but really impresses at night (so we were told) when the lighting's switched on. Although I saw trails of little lights along the fencetops and around the garden perimeter, I can only imagine the spectacular effect. Hope the guests appreciated Don's chum's work. Ooh, how the other half live, eh?

After hanging around there for about an hour while the finishing touches were being done, we headed to a country pub for a pint and a bite. Again, gobsmacked. The perfect pub (did an internet search afterwards and it's The Tree Horseshoes in 'Elsted', not 'Elstead' - well worth a visit if you're down that way). Sat at a sunny outside table with a glorious view of the South Downs with chickens running around (not yer ordinary chickens but a rare breed with fluffy legs - comical when running) and the scent of roses in the air. Absolutely fabulous. Pubs like this (not that there are that many) are one of the few things I miss about England. Thoroughly enjoyed a pint of Young's and a ploughman's then headed for the hills opposite. Parked high in the South Downs and had a leisurely stroll. Admired the sunny views then headed back to Putney, stopping off at a huge Sainsbury's on the way. Bought grub, pillows (Georgie's been meaning to do this for ages - apparently our old ones are about twenty to thirty years old!) and a couple of bottles of champagne for tomorrow.


Sunday, once again, dawned sunny and bright (why has all this type suddenly become centred?!). Today's celebrations were my reason for the quick trip to Blighty. Forty years ago I was Best Man to my old mate Howard who married Jill. And yesterday their youngest daughter married Jamie. So, today (Sunday), they were having a joint celebration at their home in Henley. Unfortunately Don couldn't make it due to other commitments (would take too long to explain but involved her mum, mum's helper, credit card and police) so Georgie and I went there by trains and tube. Left around eleven, arrived about two-thirty - late as usual! Had an absolutely splendid time. Marvellous to see my old pals again and their grown-up kids and grandkids. The frightening thing about seeing grown-up kids is that they're living proof of how quickly time flies. Scary. Anyways, all was going swimmingly 'til I switched from Stellas to gin and tonics. Photographic evidence on Facebook indicates that this was not a wise move. Luckily, at around nineish (or was it tennish?) I was rescued by the cavalry - namely Don in her little yellow Peugeot - and driven back to Putney.

Monday was obviously a write-off.

I regained consciousness and a modicum of sobriety early on Tuesday morning at Stansted airport where I found myself in the company of Greece's Paralympians. I looked so bad that one of them offered me his wheelchair but I politely declined and staggered onwards. Miraculously made it back to Limoges, remembered to collect the dogs and drove back to the hills. Isabelle collared me for supper last night. Back in the old routine.             

Friday, September 7, 2012


Had a bit of a car re-think a few months back. Decided to sell the Citroen dogwagon and VW camper, but keep the Merc 190e. The Citroen, amazingly, sailed through its CT test (French equivalent of an MoT) with just a few advisories. Immediately advertised it on the Leboncoin site (much more popular than eBay) and it sold quite quickly despite its cosmetically challenged bodywork. However, I thought the camper would prove to be much more difficult to sell because I was convinced it would fail its CT test due to corrosion on the underside (the top of the petrol tank is notorious for rusting) and I knew the exhaust was way past its best. But (surprise, surprise) it passed. Not exactly with flying colours (there were a few advisories, mostly about corrosion) but at least it got through, thus saving me considerable expense in rectifying any faults that I was convinced would be listed on its 'fail' sheet. So, still reeling from the shock of gaining a 'pass', I immediately ran an ad on Leboncoin. To cut a long story short, it eventually sold to a chap up north who whizzed off with a cheery wave, followed by his lady in their Skoda. Thought that was the end of it but, a couple of weeks later, I received a fine for speeding. Sent the paperwork back with a note of explanation that it weren't me guv, it was the new owner driving home after purchase. Haven't heard a dicky-oiseau since, so I think I'm in the clear.

Having unloaded a couple of jam-jars, I'm left with the Merc. It's a great car and widely regarded as the last of the properly engineered Mercs before the bean counters took over and replaced quality with cheap tacky naffness and bling. It's brilliant for gallops to (e.g.) Limoges airport and long runs, but not exactly parfait for nipping down the supermarché or off to the woods for dogwalks. And besides, a couple of muddy dogs can soon ruin the luxurious back seat of a classic Merc. So, a replacement for the old dogwagon was required. A cheap runaround, preferably an estate or a hatchback with fold-down rear seats to accommodate the mutts.

Gave myself a budget of about 2000 euros (about 1500 squids) and began my search. Seemed there were lots of cars out there that fitted the bill, but most of them had high mileages (kilometreages, rather) of around 100,000. Clearly, any cheap, high mileage car is soon going to need money thrown at it so it's a false economy. Very soon I was looking at cars of around the 4000 euro mark. Daft. Then spotted a local Citroen ZX hatchback that was up for grabs at 3000 euros that had only done 21,000kms (about 15,000 miles). Apparently it was owned from new by the seller's aunt who'd recently passed away. Only negative point was that it was an automatic. Went to see the car and offered 2500 euros. Seller turned me down. Offered 2600. Turned down again. Walked away.

Then, just as I was about to follow up an immaculate 1995 Honda Civic which had done just 110,000kms, I spotted a belter - a 1990 Renault 19 in fab nick with just 29,000kms for 2590 euros at a dealer in Limoges. Spotted it yesterday and was immediately on my bike to take a look. Offered the dealer 2000 euros. Turned me down. Said he might take 2300. Told him my best offer was 2100, take it or leave it. We shook hands on the deal, I left him 120 euros deposit and said I'd collect next week. Really chuffed. Not exactly the most desirable car in the world, but at least it'll do the job. And there's plenty of room for the mutts. Now I can clean up the inside of the Merc and make it a canine no-go area. Excellent.


Was supposed to collect the Renault a couple of days ago..., but didn't. Wasn't entirely convinced about it. Yes, it had a low mileage and looked in good shape, but..., I dunno, maybe it was the fact that it had an 'A' plate stuck on the back (French equivalent of an 'L' plate), or maybe it was the fact that the radio/CD player was missing, or maybe Renault engineering doesn't float my boat, or maybe I reckoned it was just too dull and boring..., anyways, for whatever reason, I changed my mind.

Searched the Lebobcoin site again and spotted a couple of mint, low mileage Renault 5 hatchbacks which would do the job. But, although they're economical and capable of carrying a couple of muddy terriers, they're still boring Renaults. Engineering-wise, that's a no-no.

Ideally, the perfect car would be the old Honda Civic Shuttle. Had one a few years back and it served us well. Trouble is, the few I've spotted for sale recently have been high-mileage rust buckets, so maybe there are no good 'uns left. Searched one last time. Bingeau! A two owner, 1.5 litre, 1985 model with just 73,000 kms (44,000 miles), looking in good nick at a small dealer's up near Tours. Drove up there the next day (yesterday), gave it a good going over and bought it on the spot (100 euros cheaper than the Renault). Hope to collect it next week-end if I can figure out how to get there. And..., it has a radio/iPlayer thingy, so I can plug in this iPoddy thingy that my sister gave me and which I still haven't quite mastered yet.