Fate had other plans.
The first two chapters, aka 'The Move From Hell,' which I wrote in 2001, is available here
The rest of the book and a new condensed 2006 version of 'The Move from Hell' will be serialised here, starting today. I have no timetable but will post when I can - other work and fate permitting.
Nous Sommes Anglais - part 1 - Fate and the Puppy from Hell
On the 14th of February, 1995, I discovered two things: one, fate did not want me to leave England and, two, there was nothing it wouldn't do to stop me.
But we had to move. We'd spent three years with more money going out than was coming in and a move to rural France was our only hope. The properties were cheaper there and we could use the balance from our house sale to live off of. All problems solved and a better climate thrown in for good measure.
Even if it was a nightmare to organise. We lived in Devon; the new house was in the foothills of the Pyrenees - an 800-mile drive and a six-hour ferry trip distant. We had a jeep and a thirty year-old tractor. Neither excelled at long journeys.
And then there were the animals.
Even if we could fit them into the Suzuki - which I doubted - could we all survive an eighteen-hour journey cooped up together and remain sane? This was one of my recurring nightmares - sitting behind the wheel of our jeep with my face being licked by the dog on my lap and a catfight filling the rear-view mirror.
No, we had to find another way. Which led us to the horsebox. It was one of those rare moments in our move when everything suddenly started to come together. We knew we had to hire someone to transport the horses, could they take the dogs and cats as well? They could? Brilliant! Could they take us? Even better. And to prove there really was a God they even reduced the price on the proviso that we doubled as grooms for the journey.
I didn't dream that night. A force field of contentment kept the demons at bay. I didn't have to drive; I didn't have to knock on hotel doors in the middle of the night covered in scratches and dog slobber. Bliss.
Then came February 14th. The St. Valentine's Day weather forecast. A storm was heading for the English Channel - ETA the 15th, the day of our ferry crossing.
Fate 1, human pawn nil.
But everything was fixed! We couldn't delay now. Our furniture had just left for France and the new owner would be moving into our farm tomorrow.
Which brought us to the carpets. We'd thought our house reasonably clean - for a farm - for a farm in a muddy winter overrun by cats and a dog with big feet. But as soon as the furniture left the carpets changed colour - bright islands appeared where our furniture used to be (was it really that colour when we bought it?)
Enter our dog, Gypsy, a four-month-old lurcher.
For anyone unfamiliar with lurchers they are the dog breed that fills the gap between a deerhound, a Great Dane and a crocodile. She was immense. And her favourite game was dragging her favourite toy across the floor. Needless to say, her favourite toy was my leg.
Not the best accompaniment when trying to shampoo a carpet.
So Shelagh tried to swap me for a biscuit - not the first time in our marriage she'd attempted this - and Gypsy took the bait. A trail of biscuits was laid leading to the lounge door, said door was opened, a biscuit thrown through and ... goodbye hellhound. Yay!
It took a lot of cleaning but eventually the bright islands receded and out came a passing example of the carpet we'd bought.
On to the next room.
This time we tricked Gypsy without having to resort to biscuits. We opened the door, let her charge through, then slipped past her in the excitement and slammed the door shut behind us. An hour later, we'd shampooed, scrubbed and vacuumed the living room carpet back to acceptability.
Then I went to fetch Gypsy.
And stepped into an alternative universe - something that rarely happens in Devon. I was in the lounge. But the carpet wasn't the same carpet that I'd left an hour earlier. It was a different carpet. A much darker, dirtier carpet.
Teeth smiled at me from the centre of the room. Teeth pleased with themselves. Teeth wrapped around a small circle of carpet. My first thought was one of complete panic. Our dog had somehow managed to cut out a one-foot diameter circle of carpet. Which she was now devouring. My God, was anything safe?
And then I calmed down. There was no hole in the carpet - one foot or any other diameter. It was a different piece of carpet. And then came the realisation. Our log basket! We'd left it in the inglenook fireplace. Our wicker log basket with the one-foot diameter circle of carpet at the bottom to catch all the mess and bark and dirt and wet leaves and all manner of hideous things that clung to wet logs in the winter. Except now they were all clinging to our freshly cleaned carpet. Spread and ground-in from wall to wall. Gypsy was nothing if not thorough.
Twelve hours to go and I screamed.
(Next instalment. The Horse from Hell)