If You Knows of a Better ‘Ole….

better 'ole
When we added an extension to this little house it took the form of a wide wooden balcony running the length of the house and more…the further part being divided off to make a large bedroom with more windows than walls: the palms and the guapinol tree with the red orchids in front; the bamboos and wild poinsettias at the side; the bougainvillea and more poinsettias behind, all reflected in the mirrors.
It’s as close as we can get to having the outdoors inside, and to keep the more disobliging insects at bay a mesh screen runs round the room, covering the gap between the top of the wall and the roof supports….breezes can blow through, but the stingers stay outside.

This is all very well, but just lately the breezes have become gusts…and, for Costa Rica, chilly gusts. We are used to the Trade Winds blasting away in December, but they have obviously decided to visit us for rather longer this year and are still happily ripping off roofs in exposed areas, and, more particularly, keeping our bedroom well aired.

Fine for us…but not for the poodle.
The poodle was born and brought up in Costa Rica…in a ‘normal’ house where the walls meet the roof…where breezes do not play upon its sacred person while it is snoozing on the bed.
The poodle is displeased.

Not so displeased that it does not follow my husband to bed at night…it likes to keep a close eye on him and cannot wait for me to clean my teeth and close up the household for the night – a process which involves digging out the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi from his lair behind the sofa and evicting him before something alerts him in the night and he decides to raise the household; removing Black Tot from the laundry basket into which she has plunged as soon as my back is turned; checking that Arthur is on the balcony and not out hunting armadillos and going six rounds with the Alsatian who goes out, forgets why he wanted to go out, returns to base, drinks the water bowl dry, remembers why he wanted to go out, goes out, finds a bone overlooked earlier….by which time the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi has slipped in behind the sofa and the eviction process begins all over again.
I could have had a promising career as a bum bailiff had that animal come into my life earlier….

Finally getting to bed by the light of the bedside lamp I find that there is a well kent face missing.
The poodle.

Did she not come in with you?
Of course she did!
So where is she?
Try calling her!

We call.
Silence, not even a snuffle….Arthur, roused, scratches at the door.
I go out to see if she has been left behind on the balcony, or whether she is lurking, catlike, to trap a lizard.
No sign.
Did she get left behind in the house?
Lights on, evict Black Tot from the laundry basket and lock same in bathroom to prevent recidivism. The Alsatian wakes up, drinks the water bowl dry again and wishes to go out. And in. And out….
While a shadow slips silently behind the sofa….
No sign of the poodle.

Lights are on on the bedroom into which Arthur has insinuated himself.
My husband is lying on the floor looking under the bed….
Arthur is lying on the bed watching him with interest….
Arthur removed with swipe from towel.
Arthur stands, immobile, looking towards the wardrobe…then his periscope ears begin to swivel.
The right hand door of the wardrobe moves slightly; Arthur leaps in – and shoots out backwards bow legged in a flurry of jerseys and tee shirts.

Those of you who know the Moomin books will know of ‘Moominland in Midwinter’ where as part of Moomintroll’s advenntures he encounters the hairy eyebrowed Dweller Under the Sink
dweller under the sink

The Dweller was not pleased to be disturbed from his hibernation….and the poodle was not pleased to be disturbed from its nest in the wardrobe, carefully fashioned from the softer elements of the clothes contained therein.
It had expended thought and energy on building its shelter against the wild elements and did not take kindly to being disturbed.
It had, faced with the Trade Winds, found a better ‘ole and gone to it, only to be rousted out by a hairy brute with no finer feelings.
Low growls punctuated by high pitched snarls rent the air. The boot button eyes flashed like the rising sun on the obsidian of the sacrificial knife.

Chastened, Arthur slunk back to the balcony.
Chastened, we went to bed and turned out the light.
The wardrobe door creaked slightly.
From the house the unchastened Costa Rican King Charles Corgi made the night hideous until a yelp indicated that the Alsatian had had enough.
The poodle growled a last low warning – and the household slept.

The poodle has the right idea….if things don’t suit you as they are, look for a better ‘ole.

But try to reconnoitre the ‘ole first….otherwise you run the risk of finding that you have swapped one pit of evil smelling slime for another. Not so easy under fire, agreed, but when you have the leisure for investigation – do it. It won’t save you from all nasty surprises, but at least you will have avoided the main ones.

I thought of this last night.
I was too tired to read so turned on the box and enjoyed the latest episodes of the French police thriller ‘Engrenages’ which the BBC translates as ‘Spiral’, all bad language, bad behaviour and attitude on the part of all concerned.
Then I flicked through the other offerings and found one of those ‘Escape Anywhere Abroad’ programmes, where smarmy presenters drag starry eyed punters round unsuitable properties in unsuitable places to the sound of unsuitable background music.
If it’s an accordion, it must be France, and France it was.

The punters on this occasion were a retired couple, comfortably off, who had holidayed in France for years and now wished to make a permanent move. They wanted a house – their sanctuary – with room for the family to visit, a swimming pool ditto, and some land – for reasons which would become clear.
They also planned to use it to run therapeutic courses for retired people – keeping the husband’s hand in as a psychotherapist.

Viewing the first house – and all subsequent ones – the wife would exclaim…
‘Oh, so French….shutters…’ and they would move off on a voyage of exploration.

The presenter walked them through the big open plan kitchen..
‘Oh, I can see myself here, cooking and talking …and – maybe – a glass of wine!…’
The sitting room, where the stairs to the top floor made a bad impression…to the main bedroom which he suggested would be ideal for people attending the courses.
‘Oh no!’
‘We’re not having them in the house….they’ll be in tents outside.

Thus the need for land.

They reminded me of an American I met – briefly – here. He was explaining to an admiring group how he had found and purchased a vast tract of land on which to build his dream home – and then came his Damascus moment:

‘It was so beautiful that it wouldn’t have been right to keep it to myself…I just had to share it!’

I took it upon myself to explain to the group that he was selling plots of building land rather than indulging a philanthropic whim and he was not best pleased, thus the brevity of our encounter.

On the box the search continued…all the properties would need revamping – even if the paying visitors were destined to remain under canvas – and at no point did the presenter mention planning permission, let alone costs….and certainly didn’t mention the formidable formalities entailed when setting up a business.

He took them to meet expats who could show them the ropes….put them wise to the pitfalls….
They themselves had lived in France only six months, did not speak French and the only advice on offer was to be aware that draught beer was not available in the locality.
A lot of talk about the French this and the French that….but without French how would they have known?

Cut to the couple making breakfast in the kitchen of the first house, which had been lent them for the duration of their visit.
The wife is breaking eggs into a frying pan….
‘Fresh eggs from the farmer…’
The yolks are pale and the whites spread across the pan in the best traditions of an egg which has seen better days …many better days….

The husband is cutting up a baguette….it is taking him a great deal of effort. He clearly has one of the French rural bakery specialities – brick hard dough surrounded by crust resembling razor wire.
‘That’s the thing about France, the bread is fresh, not like the stuff in England which lasts ten days…’

Clearly the couple weren’t going to buy any of the places they had been shown…they were coming back to explore the area at leisure….but if their knowledge of France was as stereotyped as it appeared to be, and if they were incapable of telling fresh eggs from stale I reckon that they will need all the money they have to cushion themselves from the realities.



60 thoughts on “If You Knows of a Better ‘Ole….”

  1. Oh, dear, sounds only too true about the French people going to France. Perhaps this was an old series – because these days those folks are returning to England and sadly readjusting to life in Basingstoke. Perhaps they should follow your lead and go to Costa Rica!
    As for the poodle … well, sounds suspiciously like a cat to me!

    1. 2013….and now with the collapse of the euro the British buyer is back in force. Though with said collapse of euro those selling will be lucky to be able to afford Basingstoke…
      I’ve seen some of the equivalent stuff about moving to Costa Rica which make it sound like a version of a nature documentary featuring humans..’.come and look at the natives’…

      I have wondered about that poodle…it has distinctly feline characteristics…

  2. Having mopped up the tears of laughter I’m asking myself how you manage to get any sleep at all with that lot keeping you company. 🙂 That is one determined poodle!
    All those buying a house in the sun programmes seem to suffer from the same illusions/delusions about the reality of life as an expat. I sometimes wish we could have a follow-up visit and see how it all pans out for those who do actually make the move. Interestingly this week I caught the tail-end of one about a woman who was looking for a house in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. I don’t know whether she ever bought one, but I could see why she might want to. The landscape was stunningly beautiful.

    1. The poodle was a present from a friend…it is self willed to a degree, will only eat what it chooses and its main aim in life is to kill poultry. Leo adores it. It adores Leo.
      I don’t sleep well at the best of times…but once they are settled all is usually quiet unless they hear coyotes or the CRKC Corgi is on the trail of sorro – things like energetic weasels – at which point it is like Herne the Hunter with sound effects.
      Yes, follow ups would be good – but who would volunteer to take part!
      The Central Valley is beautiful….you are not out in the wilds but the wilds are near enough to enjoy. A nature reserve runs at the bottom of the valleys where we live so we occasionally have howler monkeys passing through – which sets off the Herne the Hunter scenario again…

  3. I think dogs and cats are so much better at choosing the perfect ‘ole than people are.
    At least they don’t kid themselves and their selfish gene protects them from taking too much notice of what other creatures might consider suitable. People’s selfish gene leads them into an ‘ole they’d need a digger to get them out of.

    Thanks for providing me with a good laugh at the end of a dismal English day. (Although the end wasn’t too bad with Last Tango in Halifax providing the usual convoluted and most unlikely family twists and turns, beautifully acted.)

    1. Last Tango in Halifax is super, isn’t it! I’ll try to catch up on it later.
      Animals have their eye on the objective…not on being PC about thingsv- a lesson from which we could all benefit!

  4. After the sun no longer shines in any window my cat commandeers the bathroom register. Perhaps it involves the rug on the floor, too. He has learned artificial heat is sparse in his house, and that place must be second best to sun. But, he cannot bear to share the bathroom with anyone, so waits outside in a miff until it is free again. Tail going thump, thump, thump.

  5. Oh those animals – absolutely hootworthy 🙂 And the wannabee ‘French’ with their wooden baguette … I think they should stick to Cafe Rouge 😉

    1. I bet The Bean has its moments….and I would not wish to criticise the couple on the programme, just marvel at how they have survived so long if they are that naive…or is it that the brains go missing once one crosses the Channel…?

      1. The Bean is one long moment, Helen … She keeps me lively! I think naivety is often the driver which has a certain sweetness but reality sadly has a way of squishing it PDQ in my experience. Humour is the essential tool for me.

        1. You cannot ignore reality…those who do have either so much money that reality never enters their calculations or act like ostriches.
          Laugh or cry…I know which I prefer to do in public whatever I feel behind the scenes.

  6. . . you had me back in the sangers (we seldom dug ‘oles), ‘mouse-holeing’ buildings and other military stuff whilst savouring the memories of youth. As my mind faded into the past my eyes continued on their dutiful journey down the post until ambushed by the culture warriors. Perpetual War for a peaceful night’s sleep. Personally I love bad-mouthed, morally questionable lady cops from Paris but my all time hero is Lt. Ripley – or is it the Alien? Now there is a clash of cultures!

  7. Sounds like your viewing that day was much like mine. I tried to be charitable, but I couldn’t work out where they thought their clientele was going to come from and why. I also could not believe they didn’t go big time for that huge house in the village. They liked the one with tiny stupidly arranged rooms on a gazillion levels (although to be fair it did have a stupendous view). And like you I thought meeting up with other newbies in France was more or less a waste of time. They all seemed to communicate in platitudes and trite observations.

    I think your dogs have you sussed btw 🙂

  8. Hello Helen,

    Well, with all this excitement and animal chess at night there is no wonder that you collapse exhausted into bed. So much better than counting sheep?!

    We laughed at your account of the happy hopefuls moving to France…..but, surely, they will never do it. No, people like us who venture into foreign…..very foreign …….lands do it without any research at all. Did we consider where fresh eggs might come from? Did we sample the local Hungarian bread before signing the contract? Did we for a moment consider how impenetrable the language was going to be? No, no and no. To the last we merely thought that learning this language must surely keep the Alzheimer’s at bay……at least this has worked to date.

    But, how we love the way that you borrow the beautiful landscape into the comfort of your bedroom. No matter the draughts, we should love it exactly as it is. Life is nothing without adventure and you certainly have it!

    1. When we moved to Costa Rica my husband gave his mother the news. Her response?
      Running away again!

      Running to rather than away is how we both saw it…a better ‘ole beckoned..

  9. Oh my goodness Helen, please put up a warning at the start of these posts – I was crying with laughter into my coffee as I read this – just as well I wasn’t wearing any mascara…

    Love those programmes too – but like you, more for the psychological interest than the houses. We used to have bets on how long marriages would survive on Grand Designs – all too many were showing cracks bigger than anything you could repair with cement.

    1. All the way through that programme I was envisaging the reaction of the potential clients to the idea of being dumped into tents having paid for whatever the course offered…and the image of the wife going on about fresh eggs from the farmer while cooking those sorry apologies will remain with me for some time.

  10. What a hilarious account of your night-time duties! There’s never a dull moment with your menagerie!

    I haven’t seen that series about moving abroad but it sounds like a merely cosmetic investigation, and anyone in their right mind would refuse to buy a property after going through such a superficial process. Especially if they want to open a business!

    1. That poodle should be a world leader…sees a problem – deals with it!
      I remember when small being roused in the night by the screeches of a visiting aunt. She had, she said, had a funny feeling that something was watching her undressing for bed, but thought she was being fanciful – atmosphere not assisted at this point by father announcing that anyone mad enough to watch her undressing would risk losing his eyesight – went to sleep, only to wake in the small hours to see two green eyes watching her from near the ceiling.
      It was, of course, Hitler the cat who had taken refuge there as his favourite snoozing spot – the bed – had been made up for the visitor.

  11. Love this post.

    My mother had poodles, they have a mind of their own and they know when to use it!

    As for the programmes of looking for homes abroad they just make me laugh. Few people I am sure, are really serious about the move. Others seem to think that learning the language is not important, or they will learn in a few months!! Thanks goodness N has a natural flair for languages and he did take French at school. It certainly makes life very much easier than when I was here alone before he retired. I only had my first lesson after I had turned 60 and the memory is not so good these days! I generally manage to get by, but when two French people are talking together I haven’t a chance in hell of following them. Then of course most of our neighbours speak Occitan………..

    Keep well you two and watch out for the chilly gusts. Diane

    1. Still very gusty…can’t work out on the balcony as papers fly everywhere!
      When i moved to France it came as quite a shock that all my elderly neighbours conversed in patois….so I sympathise about the Occitan…makes for a decidedly sharp learning curve!
      And as for learning a language in a few months….the mind boggles!

      I’ve been out all morning,but on return started to see what the poodle had been up to in the wardrobe. An insistent tugging on the hem of my shorts indicated that the poodle did not approve……

  12. I’m always amazed at the number of people who decide to move to another country with only the haziest idea of what the reality will involve. When they arrive, they’re shocked by the planning restrictions or the bribery and corruption or the dreadful weather or the crafty locals. And usually they don’t speak the language which makes all the difficulties even harder to deal with.

    Great ingenuity by the poodle, finding a nice comfy spot away from the chilly gusts. But she hadn’t bargained for Arthur’s alertness and curiosity!

  13. Arthur is a survivor…he had been neutered, the site had become infected and his owner dumped him up the road. He waited there three weeks before taking short trips to raid our bins and it took us several more weeks before he would come into the house without being anxious that he had somehow missed his owner’s visit and shooting off up the road again.
    He hunts very successfully….and has acute hearing…sometimes all you can see of him in the grass are the ears, slowly swivelling like periscopes.

    You can do all the homework you want and still things will catch you out…but to go abroad almost totally unprepared strikes me as madness. I suppose one problem is the inability to translate what you need to understand in everyday life in your own country to life in another but whether that is down to naivety of a lack of education is beyond me.

  14. The first half of your post Helen, could be the mirror image of our household as we head for bed at night. We have a half poodle who has all the feistiness of a full poodle and who has perfected the Paddington hard stare, should we linger too long before getting into the bed. His only aim is to jump on and find that super warm spot in the valley between our two bodies. One of our cats in particular makes it her life’s work to get through the open door of the wardrobe. Shit or bust. Unbelievable shenanigans ensue trying to dig her out if she succeeds.
    As for Engrenage, we just love it! Learnt so much excellent slang and swear words. I’m saving them all up for the bank advisor next time I see him as he’s walloped another couple of hundred Euros on to our already creaking overdraft., the ‘fils de putain’.
    Yes, when we announced we were upping sticks and moving to France it was at the height of all those programmes. Can’t say we weren’t swayed by the romance of them a bit but our feet are definitely firmly planted on the earth now and, of course, after watching Engrenage, I’m swearing like a local.
    Hope the wind problem is not too bad!!

    1. I so enjoyed the idea of the Paddington hard stare and the image of you dealing with the jumped up bank clerk with vocabulary learned from the police programme creases me…I can almost hear you telling him to sort himself out, to liven up…’serre les fesses, connasse’….
      You two would soon have worked out how things worked…..in whatever context…it’s the naive ones who worry me.

      As to the strength of the wind, I suspectg that the planet has been overdosing on Jerusalem artichokes…

  15. I haven’t been able to comment on blogs for the past couple of days or I would have sooner. I love this post. The rounding up of dogs at bedtime sounds all too familiar to me. They run rings round us don’t they?

    As for the big dreams of expats, with their hearts ruling their heads, they are doomed to failure unless they come down to earth first. xx

    1. This comment thing has become a real problem..I can’t always comment on yours nor on a few other Blogger sites…infuriating.

      Yes, we certainly know who rules the roost in this house….we know our place!

      You should hear some of the expats here…they expect to come to find cheap labour for their house and garden without taking into account that they have to pay N.I. contributions for their workers – and then kick up about what an awful system it is!

  16. From past experience I know that when there’s an unhappy poodle, everyone’s unhappy.

    I once had a Boston Terrier that would only sleep under the covers next to me. If I went to bed early, I’d be woken up by him pawing at the covers – or my flesh – wanting to be let under. The arrangement didn’t exactly sit well with wife No. 1, but not much did.

    1. Love me, love my dog …..
      I cleared out the poodle’s carefully constructed nest, shut the door of the wardrobe properly and awaited the next night….
      But the poodle didn’t. It constructed a new lair under the bedside chair and pulled a storage box across the front of it to keep out draughts…
      Now I daren’t use the chair…

  17. Thanks, I needed that dog story. For medical reasons my afternoon glass of red has been downgraded to grape juice and my mood has turned foul. The Poodle & Company antics were a welcome pick me up and frankly, I think I can dine out for sometime with your line The boot button eyes flashed like the rising sun on the obsidian of the sacrificial knife.

    But I digress. I envy you the ability to create an indoor-outdoor space. As a condo dweller I’ve tried that, too, but guests kept falling to their deaths through the screened windows 180 feet above sea level. Perhaps some nice photos on the walls would be a better plan.

    1. As to indoors outdoors, I should have been living in a condo 180 foot above sea level when certain members of my husband’s family came to visit…life would have been so much simpler…

      What is it that doctors have against alcohol? It’s like the gendarmes in France…when they had bars in their barracks they were quite pleasant…since their barracks have turned dry they are absolute so and sos…and it seems the same way with doctors…if they’re on the wagon and eating rabbit food they damn well intend that the rest of humanity should share their misery..

      And how are you to dine out if obliged to gargle grape juice…tell me that!

  18. “The poodle is displeased.” But I am not, dear Helen. Cackling like a mad hen all alone in the house except, of course, for Max who looked up with his “Helen, again?” gaze. (I’ve told him about you.) Canine adventures at bedtime are no more, now that Berkley is gone. He was the difficult one. Max just does what he’s told leaving me with very little fodder for superb blog posts like this one. The description of your bedroom area – outside of the current trade winds situation – sounds absolutely heavenly. I must make a visit to Costa Rica one day soon! Question: why is the CRKCC not allowed to stay in the house at night?

    1. You must indeed visit Costa Rica..but try to stay away from some of the tourist haunts!
      When the house up on the hill is finally finished – it is a one man and his dog enterprise undertaking the work – we will have superb views of the valley, but we are busy planning planting on the level below to give us the same effect as we have here, bringing the outside in.

      The CRKCC is thrown out on his silky ear at night because said ear is super sensitive and hears things which the others do not…and when he hears he barks…and barks. Outside he can sprint off and see what is going on, inside he incites all the others…

  19. If I were in your shoes I know that it would be me rounding up the menagerie, but why can’t a man do it? Perhaps you and your husband could take it in turns?

    On the subject of relocating, when we first moved from Surrey to Cheshire there were days when I felt as if I had moved to a foreign country. I do not think that it matters how much home work you do, things are never quite as you expect them to be when you move to somewhere different or dare I say foreign.

    1. We tried the alternative to me rounding up the menagerie…we finally got to bed an hour later….
      I think that you are quite right…you can do all the obvious preparation, but the unexpected always pops out at you.

  20. The reality TV show made in your house will be the only one watched worldwide and actually enjoyed by millions with half a brain!
    Such adventures are unbeatable and many can sympathise with at least one of the escapades. Most however stop at one, they do not continue to have many, many more!
    I feel better now i have read that and somewhat glad I have no animals.

    1. In other words we are a dysfunctional household….but I defy anyone with a pack of dogs, a guard sheep and endlessly reproducing ducks to avoid making a fool of themselves on a daily basis.
      Perhaps you should adopt a parrot….I daren’t for fear of what it might decide to say…

  21. Beautiful writing! I’m tired just reading about your bedtime routine. I often have to fish my cat out of the wardrobe in the entrance hall -where he rips the guts out of the dogfood bag, stuffs himself, throws up on the shoes then curls up on the scarves. Want to swap?
    As for the rose-tinted spectacle brigade, we have a fair number of those around here too. 21st century Peter Mayle believers who will find it hard to discover that life in Provence is nothing like they imagined. At least there’s enough wine for them to drop their sorrows…

      1. From the activities of the local Britpack it wasn’t only the wine that they dropped…

        No, I have regretfully to refuse the kind offer of swapping your cat for any of my menagerie…air fares apart, at least the poodle does not hrow up…too mean.

  22. SO sorry I’m coming to your post so late but so very glad I made it. I loved your description of your nightly rituals and those of your pets. Absolutely brilliant – and as always, a great segue into your second section, told with your usual insight and analysis….Axxx

    1. Thanks for asking…husband has been under the weather and then we have had visitors….but posts will follow!
      I still cannot comment on your blog which is distinctly frustrating!

  23. You and hubby appear to be distinctly outnumbered by your furry friends (masters?)… I’d take that over a houseful of human family members any day 😉

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