January 19th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Nous Sommes Anglais - Part 8 - in which we discover a possible reason for the title

The room was even paid for. All part of the relocation service. The hotel rooms, the lairage fees - everything except for breakfast on the ferry - which I had still not forgiven Shelagh for. How these companies made any money during the winter I did not know. It must be a nightmare of cancelled ferries, diverted horseboxes, last-minute bookings and alterations. And Sue had been contracted to collect other horses after us for a return journey so presumably someone else would have to be diverted to fulfil that obligation.

All that was left before we said goodbye was one final walk round the interior of the horsebox to check we hadn't left anything behind - the odd horse or two that might have snuck back on. But no horses - just a Hoover.

We were still arguing over who should have left the vacuum cleaner at the stables when the receptionist arrived to book us in. We filled in the usual cards and presented our passports and did our best to make ourselves understood.

Which was difficult as neither of us was fluent. Shelagh had a grade ‘E’ French 'O' level, one step up from the failure grade of ‘F’, and I had a grade ‘X’. Not many people have a grade ‘X’. I'd secured mine by holidaying in the Lake District when I should have been attending the orals. Whether there are different grades for other holiday resorts, I don't know. But I'd like to think there were.

Anyway, most of our efforts were directed to making sure they understood we might not stay the night. But the receptionist didn't seem to mind how long we stayed for. After all, the room had been paid for. She was more interested in whether we'd be staying for dinner. I said yes, Shelagh said no.

Another argument ensued. Shelagh was adamant we couldn't leave Gypsy in the room by herself and equally that we couldn't inflict her on other guests. Why not? You know why not. No, I don't. Yes, you do.

The receptionist left to fetch the keys while Shelagh made up my mind. I looked longingly past the lobby into the dining room. People were eating. Normal people unshackled by animals. I was about to start drooling when our keys arrived. We were on the second floor.

I picked up the Hoover and had just started to mount the stairs when a woman burst out of the dining room and ran up to me.

"Non! Non! Pas nécessaire," cried the landlady, and various other words to the effect that the room was already clean.

I looked at the Hoover in my hand and the dog and the cats and the assorted luggage strewn over the lobby and tried to think of a short and concise way to explain everything. I couldn't. My schoolboy French had deserted me - probably for the Lake District.

"Er," I babbled, "er ... nous sommes Anglais."

"Ah," she replied and I could see a look of comprehension glide across her face. No other words were necessary. We were English. Everything was explained.

We smiled and started for the stairs again but Gypsy took one look at the polished wood and froze. Danger. No carpets. And look at those banisters, gaps where a puppy could be sucked through and eaten.

She looked up at Shelagh, appealing for help. Make the stairs go away.

We remonstrated with her. How could a dog with legs as long as hers have trouble walking up stairs? She whimpered a reply. Something about banisters. She'd never seen them before.

There was nothing else for it. I left the Hoover and the bags at the foot of the stairs and picked her up. She was a big dog. Already the size of a greyhound and growing heavier by the minute. Two flights of stairs later, we staggered into our room.

Thank God! I set Gypsy down on the floor and had a look around. The room was perfect - large and airy with an en suite bathroom. And a real bed - one where humans could lie in comfort. There was even a TV.

But we still had the bulk of our menagerie waiting downstairs in the lobby. So we turned to fetch them. And remembered Gypsy. Could she be trusted to stay by herself in a nice clean room? Shelagh and I exchanged knowing looks. No, she could not.

I grabbed the lead again and off we went. At the top of the stairs, Gypsy dug in her heels and slid to a halt. She was not going down the stairs either.

"Perhaps if we're firmer with her," Shelagh suggested, but with little conviction. I tried pulling on the lead, words of encouragement, scarcely veiled threats.

"Why don't we try picking up her feet and offering her polo mints?" I said, dripping sarcasm, before bending down once more to wrestle Gypsy into my arms and stagger downstairs. Approaching the lobby, I realised how stupid this situation was becoming. Why was I carrying Gypsy down the stairs when once at the bottom I would have to turn and carry her back up again?

A similar thought was obviously passing through the assembled diners, who couldn't help notice a man carrying a very large black dog back down the stairs. Wasn't that the same man who just carried the big doggy up the stairs, mummy? Yes dear, the man with the Hoover.

(next instalment: Animals behaving typically i.e. badly)