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Friday, April 15, 2011

Exiled in Exmoor

Okay, hardly exiled but I'm still feeling little Tilly's absence acutely. What fun she and her brother would have had at this beautiful thatched cottage among the other residents—ducks, pigeons, rabbits and countless other wildlife and surrounding farm animals.

This being my first trip to southern England, I can now see why it's considered to be such a garden spot. The rolling green hills, so like Ireland's, are arresting, and the Exmoor ponies roam freely here, something I've never seen before.

Spring and ducks means lots of duck eggs and Maggie, the owner, handed over half a dozen when we first arrived. They're easily twice the size of the normal chicken eggs we typically soft-boil for breakfast so we've taken to frying them just to be sure. Delicious!

The country roads here are incredibly narrow, only fit for a single vehicle although spaces are carved into the flanking hedgerows to permit one car to scrunch in so another can pass. I've had a few close calls, partly because the locals drive these roads so fast, overconfident in the infrequent traffic, and partly because I keep forgetting to drive on the left side of the road. (Not that these tiny lanes actually have a left side, mind you.)

One afternoon, I hit a log jam inside a tiny village. I approached a very tight right turn I needed to make, angled at no more than 45 degrees. Up ahead was a woman in another car who looked as if she was trying to make the same right turn but was positioned at an awkward angle as her way was blocked by this enormous truck. I sat for several moments waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, I jumped out of my car and approached the truck.

"Uh, what's happening here?" The driver pointed to where I was parked and said he wanted to make a left turn. I looked at the size of his truck and the tight 45-degree turn and blurted out, "Are you kidding me?" He shrugged.

"Okay, what is she doing?" I asked, pointing to the car ahead of me, as I'd seen him chatting to her through the vehicle windows.

"She wants to go that way," he said, pointing down past where he was emerging. I looked around. A number of cars had accumulated behind me.

"Wait here," I said, as if there was any chance he could actually go anywhere. I proceeded to walk back about six cars (there was actually a horse in the queue), asking each driver where they were headed. In about 10 minutes, I'd rerouted one car and had the other five back up sufficiently. Then I pulled forward, slightly beyond the turn I wanted to make so the truck could angle around me. I watched as he see-sawed back and forth trying to make the impossibly tight turn.

Crunch! The truck was so big I couldn't see what he'd actually hit. Neither could he. Backing up, it became apparent—a wooden post about three feet high that had clearly been installed on the corner in front of this village home for just this purpose, to save the home from being clipped by oversized vehicles. The post was badly splintered but the truck took one more shot and was on its way. Hesitantly, cars began to inch forward and jockey for position. We still had a bit of a gridlock, with more cars that had appeared but eventually we all maneuvered successfully around each other.

I was struck by the patience for this situation that had easily taken more than 15 minutes to resolve. Not a single horn beeped, not a single driver gestured in frustration (well, aside from me, that is) and, as Innis later wryly observed when I told her what had occurred, they'd probably still be sitting there patiently waiting had I not gotten out of my car to direct traffic.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Best Friends

Although spring and warm weather had deliciously descended on France come March, my friend and I found ourselves hurriedly preparing for a trip to the decidedly colder and wetter UK, taking my larger car so she could return with a few final treasures from her mother’s estate, now that the house had been sold.

 Innis turned cartwheels to find us dog-friendly accommodation in places where we knew we could take them for long walks through Exmoor, a particularly beautiful area in southwest England near her mother’s former home. Too late we discovered that we’d missed the dogs’ rabies shot renewal by a few weeks.

Here in France, rabies vaccinations aren’t even legally required but we’d naturally had them inoculated for everything after their microchipping as puppies and had everything documented on their puppy passports. England, however, is, well, rather rabid about rabies vaccines. And we’d blown it. Missing the annual deadline meant having to have them inoculated, then wait four months to have them get a blood test to prove sufficient antibodies and only then would they be permitted across the border.  I suggested we have their antibody levels tested immediately to illustrate they were still protected. Nope. Unacceptable. There was no way to get around the bureaucracy.

Only an animal lover would understand how devastated we were. And we couldn’t cancel the trip because it wasn’t pure vacation and the cottages had been prepaid, to boot, and were non-refundable. And the few individuals we would trust to look after not one but both little dogs (they can be a lively handful) were unavailable. We looked at each other in dread when we realized there was only one solution—we had to find a kennel.

The vet in Ligueil recommended one in Charnizay, about halfway between my home and Innis’s, so off we went, fully expecting to be riddled with guilt when we saw it. What we saw was a huge farm run by a man who breeds border collies and West Highland terriers, and trains the collies in sheep herding. The kennel cages were spacious with a covered run area and the owner, clearly a dog lover, assured us they could stay together, he didn’t mind the extra work involved in preparing their food (versus feeding them kibble as is the norm) and said they’d get three periods every day where they'd be free to roam unmolested by other dogs inside the massively fenced in area surrounding the kennel cages. We convinced ourselves they were going to camp and would have a great time while we would be the ones languishing, missing them terribly.

So, for the first time on one of our joint holidays the days have been dragging, we’ve each been a bit stressed and we can’t wait to see them again come Easter weekend. We’ve only had these dogs for 18 months and yet we can’t seem to remember how to truly enjoy ourselves without their company. It seems that man’s best friend is woman’s best friend, too!