January 9th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Nous Sommes Anglais - part 2 - The Horse from Hell

The day of our move dawned to find us lying under a horse rug on our lounge floor. A gale was rattling our windows and Gypsy's feet were digging into my back.

"Do you think Rhiannon will load OK?" asked Shelagh.

I'd almost forgotten about that. Rhiannon, our six-year-old Arab mare, had a thing about horseboxes. Once in the box, she was fine. Coming out of the box, she was fine. But going in? She just didn't want to know. We'd hired a box a month earlier to wean her of her phobia and I'd almost been killed. Well, not exactly killed, but if you've ever been behind a horse when it suddenly leaps backwards and kicks out at you with both hooves whistling past your ears you get a distinct foretaste of the afterlife.

And we were going to have to try again in about an hour.

"At least we only have to do it once."

But how long would that take? Even with practice it still took anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to load her. We'd warned the transporters but what if they didn't believe us? And if the box was late or she took more than an hour to load we'd miss the ferry.

I went through our itinerary again. The horsebox was due to arrive at eight. By which time we had to be packed and waiting with all our animals fed, watered, relieved, and begged for their best behaviour – always a tricky negotiation.

And I had to ring Jan, my sister, to make sure she was still available to sign the Acte for us and collect the keys to the new house. And remind her that the furniture would be arriving about nine o'clock, Thursday, not to forget to unload the electric fencing first and we'd ring again when we had a firm time for our own arrival.

It was fortuitous that my sister and brother-in-law had moved to France a month earlier. It meant they could sign the house purchase agreement for us and we could transport their animals - one of the horses and one of the cats were theirs.

Eight o'clock arrived with every animal present, correct and stuffed full of bribes.

But no horsebox.

By 8:25 we were in danger of wearing out the extraordinarily clean carpet between the window and the telephone. Is that a lorry? No it isn't. Was that the phone? No it's not.

Then we heard it.

A rumble down the drive. At last! The ferries must be running or else they wouldn't have sent the horsebox, would they? Light was beginning to appear in our long dark windswept tunnel.

But not for long.

There might be problems at Portsmouth; Sue, our driver, was waiting for a phone call. In the meantime we'd have to wait.

We used the time to inspect the horsebox, which was much bigger than we'd expected - more like a removal lorry with extra doors. There was room for six horses and even a groom’s compartment with a bed and a stove. Luxury.

There was a pony already on board - a part-load on its way to Gaillac, two or three hours northeast of our destination. Which left plenty of room for us, the cats and our own luggage. Which was another big advantage of travelling in the horsebox - plenty of space for forgotten extras which had evaded the removal men - or had had to be rescued, like the Hoover for last-minute carpet cleaning.

Then came the bad news. Portsmouth and all the western Channel ports were closing because of the storm. Only Dover was open but that raised another problem - the new guidelines for transportation of animals.

It would take six hours to drive to Dover and that would put the new journey time over the limit. Which meant putting the horses into lairage at Dover. Which meant a statutory eight hours rest before they could be loaded again.

Which meant we'd have to load Rhiannon twice.

"Oh,” said Sue, “and maybe we'll have to stop off at Bordeaux as well."

Three times.


It started well. Jan's horse, Rain, went up the ramp at the second attempt and Sue closed the stall behind her. One horse loaded, one to go.

Shelagh clipped the lead rein onto Rhiannon's head-collar and walked her towards the ramp. Rhiannon put on her stubborn face and dug in every hoof.

We tried picking up her front feet and slowly walking her forwards. That worked for a while. We actually got one hoof onto the ramp. But then Rhiannon lowered her head, sniffed the ramp suspiciously and started snorting.

We tried apples, we tried polo mints. We planted trails of food all the way into the box. We pushed, we pulled...

Nothing worked.

The wind continued to blow, rattling the corrugated metal cladding on our big barn, sending leaves spiralling and pirouetting across the yard. Rhiannon didn't like the wind either. It dragged noises out of places where noises shouldn't come from, it made hedges come alive and trees dance.

We walked her around for a while trying to steady her. We used lunge ropes, threats, encouragement, more bribes.

At one stage we had all her feet on the ramp, but just when it looked like she was going in, she bounced back out. Apparently, the tread boards on the ramp were now the problem. Instead of picking her feet up and stepping over them - they were only half an inch proud of the ramp - she decided she had to drag her feet through them. And if they didn't move then neither was she.

More foot-lifting, horse-shuffling minutes ticked by. I'd given up worrying about ferries. I'd even started to look upon Gypsy in a more favourable light - puppies weren't that bad really. Not compared to some animals.

And then it happened. Rhiannon trotted up the ramp, a couple of bounces, a toss of the head ... and disappeared inside. No backbreaking foot-lifting required. No pushing, shoving or mints with a hole. It was almost as though she'd said to herself - I'll give those humans forty minutes of hell first, they need to know their place.

(Next instalment: Rhiannon meets a stallion, and the curious incident of the dog in the fight)
International Kittens of Mystery

Explosion rips through bathroom

APP (Agence Provocateur Press) news wire reports concerning the explosion yesterday in our bathroom were sadly correct. Our 20 year-old tumble drier bowed out with a bang - promptly exploding and taking our electricity supply with it. No one, besides the tumble drier, was killed.

However, there has been a surprising development. In today's post came news of the January sales - prominent in which was an ultra cheap tumble drier (our favourite kind) on sale at Leclerc. The fact that a tumble drier appears in a sale less than 12 hours after our previous one explodes can only mean one of two things. One, fate has forgiven me and an abundance of good fortune is filling the horizon. Or, two, Leclerc sabotaged our old drier.

Knowing my luck, I know which one I believe.

So other householders beware: retailers are taking these January sales more seriously than usual. Guard your appliances. You never know when one might explode.