The Great Scotland Yard Hotel – which is not paying me to plug its attractions – is offering a Jubilee special.
Sunday afternoon tea for your dog.
This building used to be the HQ of the Metropolitan Police, a fine body of mostly men dedicated to the pursuit of vice and crime…the propagation thereof rather than prevention…to the extent that the man appointed to clean up the organisation, Robert Mark, stated that his aim was to ‘arrest more criminals than we employ’. He succeeded in that respect, and also in refusing to accept any part of London as a ‘no go’ area.
But that was back in the seventies…..now the Met Police rejoice in a shiny new HQ, have under cover officers infiltrating protest groups to the extent of impregnating members thereof and uniformed officers who run away from gangs of black men while their colleagues are dancing with environmental activists blocking the main arteries of the capital.
The force has gone to the dogs – indeed is currently in ‘special measures’ after the disastrous reign of the latest Commissioner, Cressida Dick, who clung on to her post until bribed to leave with a spectacular pension pot.
But, as every dog must have his day it is not inappropriate that their old building is offering afternoon tea for pooches.
According to Lara King’s article in ‘The Spectator’ the canine guest will enjoy a bowl of iced water, a ‘dogestive’ biscuit in the shape of a corgi, a fairy cake, a sponge cake with buttercream and added protein in the form of powdered insects, with, to finish, a bowl of organic meat and veg, and all for only twenty five quid.
I can feed my lot for a few weeks for that, thanks to the meat from casualties at the pig farm on the other side of the bridge, delivered by the young man from across the road.
Not surprisingly, you cannot just put your dog in a taxi and send him off for his treat. Each dog needs a human companion and here, courtesy of Lara King, for forty nine quid is what that companion will get.
‘Three tiers of savoury treats include mini quiches of king prawn, courgette, rocket and Montgomery cheddar; smoked salmon, asparagus, horseradish and avruga caviar on pain de mie; coronation chicken finger sandwiches; truffle duck egg mayo on briochette; and garden pea, lemon and mint gougères. Next comes three tiers of the sweet stuff: miniature scones warm from the oven and topped with Cornish clotted cream and a summery rhubarb and elderflower jam; vast globes of blackcurrant and tonka mousse decorated with sugar flowers; oat, honey and apricot primrose ‘hats’; chunks of violet battenberg; and ‘Imperial State Crown lime cookies’, which are like a luxurious lime-flavoured take on Jaffa Cakes. Created in partnership with the Queen’s perfumier, Floris London, the menu has apparently been inspired by the notes of the brand’s Platinum 22 Eau de Parfum, but it’s the presentation that really stands out, with edible masterpieces so intricate they have to be seen to be believed. We wash it all down with glasses of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut and pots of Breakfast Blend and Earl Grey teas.’
And you get a doggy bag for any leftovers.
Would I be tempted were I living in the U.K.? Probably not….I can almost feel the Scots soul slamming the catch on the purse as I write….but would any of my lot enjoy the experience?
They are all hearty eaters, though not averse to filling up the corners with more dainty fare if available, and I suspect they would feel that the meal was lacking in one important aspect.
Bones. They like bones. No meal is complete without a bone.
And being adventurous and confident dogs they would have gone in search of bones….right through the hotel, skirmishers Zuniga, Tinkerbelle and Tigerlily in the lead, the light brigade of Plush, Napoleon and Aunty behind, the heavy division of Einstein and Bunter following, the vertically challenged staff officers, Scruffy, Podge and Mr. Darcy beetling along to snap up any unconsidered trifles and Black Tot bringing up the rear at a pace suitable to her age and condition
Never mind not wishing to meet them on a dark night, I imagine that they would be a far from welcome sight in full cry in a hotel corridor in broad daylight, all lolling tongues, white teeth and scything tails. Pushed to the ground by the skirmishers, any unwary person would then be sniffed by Napoleon, slobbered on by Podge and walked on by Black Tot who has the same temperament as the Peninsular general Robert Crauford who believed in marching forward nomatter what the obstacle.
No….I don’t think it would be a good idea, on the whole. Quite apart from the risk that the hotel management would call the police who, after checking that there were no diversity issues and that the dogs were unarmed, would probably send out a firearms team, a sight of the afternoon tea offerings might give Mr. Darcy ideas.
He is not called Mr. Darcy for nothing. He feels himself to be entitled. He might feel that he is entitled to some of the dainties he had observed and, despite having been issued with a specialist pastry oven by Higher Authority – by which hangs a tale for another time – I am jiggered if I am going to bake ‘Imperial State Crown lime cookies’ for a short arsed French bulldog.
Today is Sunday. In theory we are undisturbed apart from Carlos coming to let out, and later close up, the sheep.
In practice it is nothing of the sort. Leo has resumed buying day old chicks for meat production and as, from a wheelchair, he cannot supervise them out in the poultry house in the rainy season he has had a cage erected on the balcony in order to follow their progress. For cage imagine something the size of a police holding cell, roofed against the rain and surrounded by plastic sheeting to keep the wind from the chicks, who bask under a shaded lamp.
The dogs also follow their progress…noses pressed against the wires of the cage, squeaks and bellows of frustration that they cannot get at them until they forget about it a few minutes later.
At feeding time the dogs have to be shut in the house as otherwise they would be in the cage as fast as you could say ‘Jack Robinson’, demonstrating nature red in tooth and claw.
The chickens, however, remain unmoved, eating, drinking – prodigiously – and sleeping under their lamp, oblivious to the outside world.
Not only chickens inhabit the balcony….he is also supervising the pregnant rabbits whose vast hutches spread across one of the windows, giving us unprecedented access to bunnyvision in the evenings – the munching, hopping and scrabbling considerably better than any local TV offering.
Add to that the potting shed corner. Being the rainy season, all the pots, vast deposits of different soil types, ashes and orchid mixes have been translated to the balcony, on the side protected from the rain, giving great enjoyment to Mr. Darcy – small French bulldog – who burrows into the lot like a demented badger, spreading contents far and wide and treading the lot into the house on his little paws.
Thus on Sundays I have the joy of feeding the chicks and cutting fodder for the rabbits to add to the general round….so after lunch I look forward to a couple of hours of peace.
The rain has started, bucketing down. We are up in the clouds, a white world stretching out from the balcony with the shadows of the canna india and palms wafting in and out of view. I have closed the doors to the balcony and preparing to stretch out with a book when there is a hullabaloo from the dogs, all pawing at the front doors.
Muttering curses I go to investigate, only to find what I first supposed to be the Costa Rican version of Grendel’s mother….a dripping figure, hair plastered to its head, bearing two unpleasant looking knives. An aroma of pig seeps into the house.
It is the young man from across the road….
I open the doors and the aroma of pig intensifies.
He has, it appears, arranged with Leo to kill the cockerels.
Though living in Latin climes for many years, the British restraint inculcated in youth still holds strong. Instead of howling abuse and slamming the door I usher him onto the balcony and summon Leo who can give me his explanations later when I deliver a curtain lecture….for the moment, let him sort it out.
He does so…a killing zone is set up on the outer balcony…in the rain. This does not seem to bother the young man in the slightest. He probably thinks that the rain will wash his clothes thus saving on washing powder. I wonder if the rain will lessen the aroma of pig, but doubt it…..with his unintelligible speech – and the aroma – he reminds me of Edwin Pott, Lord Emsworth’s pigman, but without the latter’s level of sophistication.
Cutting boards and plastic bags set out, I close the doors and leave the two men to it.
The dogs range themselves on the chest in the bedroom for a good look at the unexpected spectacle and I return to the book. Apart from the odd bloodcurdling canine scream of joy as one after another of the cockerels are killed, all is peace.
Until Leo opens the doors to demand smaller freezer bags.
Someone has blundered.
The dogs are off the chest like the Light Brigade, heading for the killing zone.
The young man holds three plucked birds to his bosom as the pack deploy around him while I hope to hell that the rain has washed the aroma of pig from his tee shirt…..
Leo has seized the bowl with the innards….
Napoleon makes a dive for the intestines, dragging them over the tiles to be devoured under the rabbit hutches.The activity makes the rabbits nervous…so hoping for no miscarriages….
Aunty and Scruffy take the wings..the remnants .later to be discovered in the bed…
Mr. Darcy seizes a head, only to be cornered in the shower by Podge…
Black Tot takes another head to her lair under the sink…
Plush has the third which, on reflection, he discards and is later discovered when I tread on it in the loo when going to bed…
Order restored, the chickens luckily having acquired no offensive aromas, freezer topped up, when Leo, beaming, tells me that he has found a Mexican recipe for chicken gizzards with squash…..
At the end of my tether, all I can think to say is ‘Gizzards to the lot of it!’ and go to bed.
Fnd Plush’s discarded head.
In the early hours, nipping out for a pee without putting on the light, discover that Napoleon has disgorged the intestines…..
Clear up and wash feet in the shower…..tread on remnants of yet another head….
The rhyming slang for the telephone has taken on a new guise.
According to ‘The Guardian’ a device has been invented which allows a dog to call its owner. Its current form is a soft ball which when moved sends a signal to your laptop and starts off a video link. The idea is to give ‘choice’ and ‘agency’ to the dog, which will aid its ‘wellbeing’.
As if we are not under the paw enough as it is!
Research has been, to say the least, interesting, and probably suffered for being carried out on a black labrador. Nice though they are, labradors are not the Einsteins of the canine world, so perhaps a collie might have not activated the thing when rooting round in its bed, or while rubbing its backside on it. The optimistic researcher says, however, that while from a human perspective it might be seen as accidental it is possible that from a canine perspective it was determined. The dog has not yet given the answer.
You are out shopping and your mobile rings. You have a video of the dog with its paw on a pack of its favourite biscuits….no excuses for forgetting…..with a background view of the damage it did opening the cupboard door to get at said biscuits.
Or, for the machiavellian dog who feels it has been left to its own devices too long, a carefully staged sceene with one of its friends lying doggo, appearing to be at its last gasp, while the dog manipulating the device stands over it in the manner of a Great White Hunter. That’s guaranteed to get you home breaking the speed limit only to find both at the door wagging their tails.
Or you are the British Prime Minister in a face to face meeting with Monsewer Macron. At a vital moment your dog rings, holding up a placard reading ‘stuff the French poodle!’ That should stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood! You will be hanging the burghers of Calais before you can say Jack Robinson.
This is only the start….there is talk of technological inovation which will allow dogs to contact each other….
But is this not otiose?
Dogs seem to communicate with each other without any hi tech aids.
They have noses.
A bitch on heat will attract suitors from all the country round……a rotting carcass offers rolling opportunities to an infinite number of doggies…..meat cooking will bring an eager audience with noses lifted in the best tradiions of the Bisto kids..
They have ears.
They may not choose to use them, as when ignoring commands, yea pleas even, to do something contrary to their current interests, but they can hear another dog howling far off in the night and join in from a sense of solidarity, thus depriving a whole human community of its sleep, and if you want a re enactment of the charge of the Light Brigade just try opening a packet of crisps when you think they are snoozing at the other end of the garden.
They have eyes.
Like Autolycus they are snappers up of unconsidered trifles….i.e. things you left on the table while doing something else. They see intruders and rush to repel them, encouraging each other with that other capacity…….
From a bark to a whine, from a snort to a growl, they can make their views clearly known to their cohorts.
So, time wasted on inter dog communication then, but they would, I feel, be all in favour of furthering means to assert their domination of humans.
The first step is to encourage the dog to take ownership of its ‘phone…….so can we have a hi tech solution to making it waterproof as its proud owner asserts possession by peeing on it.
Because, as one says in Scotland, ‘Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye’ so you are obliged, in the best Calvinist tradition, to submit to your fate.
Which in my case has meant various health problems which have rendered me less than that which I was…no longer up and about from dawn to dusk, forced to lie down, tired for what would once have seemed nothing.
Clearly, it is nothing in comparison with Leo. He is reliant on a wheelchair, struggles to breathe at times, and is easily exhausted….but he keeps buggering on and so shall I.
I am just not used to it.
We have taken on a part time worker to fill the gaps…and he has been a treasure. He has green fingers, is a skilled painter and decorator and the dogs love him.
Thus, for the first time today, he and Danilo wash the dogs. All ten of them.
I had my own system…shut the bedroom doors, assemble the shampoo on the balcony, get the hose set up, coax the thugs into place with biscuits and shut the doors to the house. Then the fun began. Trap first dog against the balustrade with the knees, soak dog, shampoo dog, rinse dog, release dog…repeat until complete.
Carlos and Danilo have another method.
The hose is set up under the orange tree in front of the house and the dogs are transported, one by one, to meet their fate.My contribution is, once again, to shut the bedroom doors and stand by at the front door to prevent re entry by wet, shocked, traumatised dogs intent on shaking off the whole experience in the house.
The two big boys, Einstein and Bunter, are no problem. They love being washed and once it is clear that no more water is forthcoming leg it down to the sheep shed to roll in the bedding there….
Podge is caught in a moment of distraction….chewing the centre out of a cushion to make a nest under the baleful eye of Black Tot, who had been keeping that cushion for herself….and is whisked off for summary judgement by hosepipe. Black Tot removes the remains of the cushion into a a safer place under my desk and sits on it. I sweep up.
Two black pointy ears and an indignant face appear at the door. Podge is displeased.
The others follow….no problem with most, except for Scruffy, the little mum, who hides under the sink and has to be pushed out with a broom, and Napoleon, who has to be taken in a rugby tackle as he scoots across the room….but the group outside the front door is growing, damp and despairing. What feels like scores of reproachful eyes are fixed upon me.
Traitor…..abandoner of animals…..Cruella Deville…..
I take refuge in the kitchen area…only to find two cold wet noses pressed against my leg and two wet bodies jumping up. Auntie and little Zuniga have made it into the house!
But the front door is still shut…..
They have used their…or Auntie’s…. initiative and have crossed the garden, descended to the pasture, ducked under the wire and emerged by the swimming pool, upon whose narrow wall they have made their way to the small balcony and thus to the large and into the house! Damp tails wagging…very pleased with themselves.
Perusal of the swimming pool reveals that the big boys have followed them…but only as far as the wall of the pool…..they do not trust themselves on the wall itself and sit, mournful, under the jocote tree, well adorned with the straw from the sheep shed.
Eventually I relent and let in the remainder of the tribe……apart from Podge and Napoleon the rest have managed to adorn themselves with mud and other substances obtained while rolling in the garden post wash……so next time, it is back to the balcony…but it will be someone else’s knees trapping each dog against the balustrade.
And I find that very hard to accept.
Still….the brain is still working, the memory too and, according to privileged observers, the voice is far from stilled…..so the lum is reeking yet!
Amidst all the vexed questions of the day – the virus, the collapse of the main road to the coast, the strange case of the hostel for ex criminals which either does – if you have eyes – exist or – if you are on the council payroll – does not, the failure to produce an annual budget …..well, you name it, the local council haven’t done it – our lords and masters have but one thing on what they are pleased to call their minds….
Where is the Christmas tree?
It was there in the park last year….but now that Christmas is upon us yet again it seems to have disappeared, leaving no bauble behind to mark its passage.
The deputy mayor has announced that no stone has been left unturned in order to find it…which might explain the total inaction of said council and staff on other matters, though cynics aver that no one employed by the council would consent to turn over a stone and that their union would have demanded that contractors – related to union officials – be hired to undertake so dangerous an occupation. Other cynics hold to an alternative theory…..that were you to turn over stones in the council building you might find where the bodies are buried and no one involved in local government can contemplate that possibility with equanimity.
Dark suggestions have been made that the disappearance of tree and ornaments coincided with the departure from office of the last mayor, a member of the PUSC party whose name to an anglophone conjures up images of badly wrapped bandages over running sores, which quite accurately describes its general policies. But it seems unlikely…even here, people would notice if he put up a towering, luminous monstrosity in his garden and questions might be posed.
As the suggestions appear to emanate from the incoming party – Liberation – it might be thought that they are disappointed at having been robbed of the chance to liberate the Thing for themselves, but they are really scraping the barrel if they hope to smear the ex mayor with the disappearance of a Christmas tree when there is so much else with which to hope to smear him. The only problem being that to set up a proper smear campaign might remind people of the last time Liberation held the office of mayor.
There could be confusion.
So the tree it is.
There is a Costa Rican tradition of businesses contributing to the public good….in emergencies following earthquakes and floods their local shops take collections and their lorries make deliveries where needed.
They also contribute locally….currently one business is busy transforming a building in the park from what had once been consecutively an aquarium, a police post, a drug dealers’ bunker, boarded up, to a public loo – a much needed facility to those who spend most of the day on the benches in the shade watching the world go by.
Except that the trees offering the most shade to the benches have been cut down and the park has been closed off since the virus struck, leaving the park bench brigade to assemble on the benches on the streets surrounding the park in promiscuous disregard of distancing advice and at grave risk of sunburn now the rainy season is over.
And the work was begun under the aegis of the previous administration and only now is it ‘discovered’ that the appropriate building permits were not in order….and, horror of horrors, the firm concerned had their logo clearly visible on the bandstand, which they had also renovated without the appropriate permits….
I have a theory that they also donated the Christmas tree and have decided not to erect it this year in view of the ingratitude of the current administration, but that is only a guess. I have no inside information as social life has declined thanks to this blasted bug and the telephone and e mail are no substitute for the person leaning forward over the table to say
‘Don Freddy tells me that…’
Mark you, even the telephone, etc., would not have helped as the local development committee decided to sort out the back road into town and managed to take out my telephone lines in the process. Then the telephone repair man could not get through, thanks to said committee’s JCB blocking the road so he reported that he could not gain access to the property and messed off. Only by using my mobile ‘phone to ask when the work was to be done did I discover that officially the ticket had been closed and that I would have to open a new report and wait three more days for someone to show up.
Still, there are ways of passing the time.
A puppy has been inserted into the household….I had forgotten the delights of a puppy’s presence…beating it off with a loo brush while trying to pull up the knickers which it has seized in its razor sharp teeth….hopping on one foot to recover the shoe for the other foot which it has taken to hide under the bed….disengaging it from the curtains….trying to find the loo brush which it has dragged into the garden….
With or without a Christmas tree, but with a puppy, it’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
You know, I know, we all know that we should not make decisions when we are tired.
We are, at this moment, recovering from our folly in not heeding this maxim: our only excuse being that we were too tired to remember it.
Every month or so we take the car into San Jose to stock up with items unobtainable – or more expensive – in our little town.
Earl Grey tea…rice noodles… bones and ox kidneys for the dogs…cheap tomatoes…fencing wire from the Chinese tat emporium… five kilo lumps of fresh cheese from Turrialba and proper wholemeal bread from a baker who seems to be the only one in the area to be able to make a loaf which is neither sweet nor as heavy as lead once ingested.
Buying in bulk as we do, on the return trip the car is loaded with crates and sacks the contents of which have to be sorted, packed and divided between stores, fridge and freezer – after feeding the chickens, the ducks, the lambs and the dogs, not to speak of ourselves.
We have always done this in one form or another, but we are not getting any younger and there are moments when the mounds of kidneys to be diced and packed, peppers to be grilled and skinned and the rest of the gallimaufry awaiting attention can feel daunting.
That was the situation last week when the ‘phone rang.
Leo answered it: I paid no attention, assuming it was the chap who was supposed to come with his bulldozer the next day, checking that all was in order.
Then Leo came round into the kitchen, looking shell shocked.
‘I’ve done something awful.’
‘You haven’t cancelled him?’
‘No! It’s something else entirely….I knew I shouldn’t have done it while I was talking to him…’
It turned out that the man on the ‘phone had been one of the fleurons of Leo’s family tree….his half brother.
The son of his father’s Spanish mistress.
Twenty plus years younger than Leo.
Last sighted over twenty years ago.
Who was not only in Costa Rica but was at that very minute in a taxi bringing him from our little town and should be at our gate shortly.
Well, not shortly.
We were sorting out the sheep for the evening when the taxi drew up at the house gates along the road.
The assembled dogs arrived, giving tongue.
A lugubrious face peered from the rear window. For some time.
Eventually, prompted by the taxi driver requesting payment, the entire person descended and the taxi departed.
The dogs bayed cheerfully.
The person shuffled.
The dogs bayed again….
‘Well, come in’ said Leo.
‘I don’t know how to open the gate’…
He was not, you understand, frightened of dogs..he was allergic. They were filthy things, carriers of disease…
The nine carriers of disease barked and leapt for joy..they don’t often get visitors who behave like the man whose feet are being shot at in the Westerns and intended to make the most of it.
Finally the Will Kemp of Estepona made it to the house and sank into a chair on the balcony.
He had, it appeared, come to Costa Rica to find the only remaining member of his family. Given that he has endless cousins on his mother’s side and Leo’s sister and brother all living this seemed a little thin.
As Leo had carefully never given him his address after the last encounter, he had had, he said, to track us down.
Would the great white hunter like something to drink? Tea, coffee, beer, fruit juice?
He did not like tea, Costa Rican coffee was disgusting, fruit juice – God only knew what fruit was involved out here…and he was allergic to beer as he was gluten intolerant.
Happily involved with a bottle of banana wine he expanded. On his gluten intolerance.
After some ten minutes of a blow by blow description of fifteen years of diarrhea I thought it time to cook supper.
He was at my shoulder in a flash.
No condiments! I will be ill!
So we had plain fried fish, fried potatoes and fried tomatoes…not what we had planned for ourselves.but if he had a diet problem…
I dished up.
Where is the salt…there is no flavour to this food…
He managed to finish half a bottle of banana wine – luckily it had a label indicating that it was a Sauvignon/Semillon from Argentina or no doubt he would not have touched it – discoursing the while on his gluten intolerance and its problems, in the presence of a man who has two major illnesses and had recently spent five days completely paralysed in a major hospital.
Reminded – by me – of Leo’s problems he brushed them aside. Leo should take out private insurance, as he had done. Private medicine showed him that he was gluten intolerant and it changed his life
I left them to it while I washed up.
Leo then enjoyed a session of hearing how dreadful Costa Rica was…no culture, childish television, terrible food….why had we moved there? And to this awful house?
What museums? Oh yes, there was a hole in the ground by the theatre, but it looked dirty…and he might get mugged…
Pity he missed that experience…
Clearly he had thought to stay with us on his jolly to Costa Rica…but the dogs had put paid to that so eventually he departed by taxi, promising to return in a few days’ time.
‘Come early,’ said Leo. ‘I’m better in the mornings. And if you get here in the morning Danilo can pick you up at the bus station which will save you getting another taxi.
Two days later we had a ‘phone call at ten to two. He is in our little town, at the bus station
‘Wait there and we will pick you up in about twenty minutes.’
‘No! I will get a taxi! I cannot stand around in this shithole!’
Some ten minutes later a taxi driver called us.
‘Can you give me directions?’
‘Yes, sure..they are working 0n the bridge so you will have to come by the back road..’
Voice from the back of the taxi…go by the bridge…go by the bridge…
They eventually arrived an hour later having tried the bridge to find that it is impassable during working hours and so have had to retrace their steps via the back road.
Again the lugubrious face waited a long time in the taxi.
It dawned on us that he was waiting for us to pay the driver.
As the driver was of our view that he will wait a long time until hell freezes over the face was obliged to pay.
He entered the house. the dogs, roused from post prandial slumber, eyed him hopefully, but there was no sign of dancing.
Leo, rashly, asked if he had had lunch.
Well, we have something left from our lunch…chille con carne.
By this time I had retired to bed, having broken my big toe the previous day. Leo was in control.
‘What is in the sauce?’
Leo showed him the chili sauce which I use. The ingredients label is in Spanish – the only language which he understands.
‘No! I cannot eat that! I will be ill! It contains gluten!’
Later examination showed that there is no gluten in the listed ingredients.
He decided to make for himself a Spanish tortilla..potatoes, onions and eggs.
Some half an hour later I emerged to find that he had taken off his shirt..revealing a revoltingly hairy back….had half peeled and then discarded slightly blemished potatoes which were now useless…had taken only the hen eggs – as being brown – and had used almost a whole bottle of olive oil – super expensive here.
He beamed at me.
Did I know how to make a Spanish tortilla?
Indeed I did, without need of his tuition. I also, in the words of the old music hall song, knew how to raise a bunion on his Spanish onion should I catch him bending tonight
While I cleared up the carnage he told me at length how awful Costa Rican food was.
How it cost him 12,000 colones to be sure to get a gluten free meal.
Why didn’t he go to the caffs on the market? Rice, beans and protein for about 2,000.
A mou of disgust. He could not possibly enter such a place…
Then he asked why we had no mangoes as they were in season…well, they are at lower altitudes, but ours won’t be ripe for a month yet.
‘But they are in season’….
He wanted us to show him the finca…I could not walk far thanks to the curse of the toe and Leo certainly couldn’t but directed him down the one and only road which runs alongside our land.
The dogs escorted him to the gate, hopeful of dancing….but he disappointed them..
I made us some tea.
He returned ten minutes later saying that he was worried that he might get lost.
Oh, what were we drinking? Tea…no, he would have a coffee. That man must have hearing so acute that he can hear the clink of a tea cup at a mile’s distance.
Leo then suffered a long recital of how none of his mother’s family would have anything to do with him. Hardly surprising since she worked all her life to support him while he lazed about on benefits and her handouts and at her death sold her house to live on the proceeds. Not something to endear himself to people who loved his mother.
Then followed a far from delicate enquiry as to Leo’s testamentary dispositions…..and the strength of family ties.
Supper time eventually came.
Leo had point blank refused to eat another meal like that of the first evening and asked me to make a Balti….absolutely no gluten in the recipe ingredients.
I called them to the table and put the Balti, the rice and his tortilla on the table.
Our guest settled himself.
First, though, he had to wash out the wineglass at his place setting. An insect had settled in it…probably alive with gluten.
Then he complained about the dogs settling in in expectation around us.
I invited him to start, indicating the Balti.
He smirked and said that he could not take gluten…didn’t I remember?
I showed him the herbs and spices I used….all gluten free – including red pepper flakes – ‘gluten free’ on the label.
He licked a finger, pushed it into the flakes and licked it again. No, it had gluten. He could taste it..
I left the table. Before I raised that bunion..
He ate the tortilla he had made, complaining to Leo that I had knowingly made something he could not eat.
Leo told him that while he was quite right not to eat something containing gluten, he had been told – and had been shown – that the meal was gluten free and that once he had finished his meal Leo would call him a taxi.
‘No..later. I can make another tortilla if I’m hungry.’
Why? He had come thousands of miles to visit Leo …how could Leo throw him out?
Quite easily. No effort at all.
I was in the bedroom, seething quietly, when he barged in – knock? Call? Gracious me no! He wished to explain that thanks to me cooking something he could not eat his brother was going to throw him out It was not his fault if he could not eat something full of gluten…
I was not polite in two languages.
Having called a taxi Leo escorted him to the door and went to clear the table.
He then made a reappearance in the bedroom and I was even less polite in two languages.
Leo removed him with an energy unexpected in a man of his age and health and he finally left with the carriers of disease barking in triumph as the taxi pulled away..
With any luck it will take him another twenty years before he tries again.
We had planned a quiet Christmas: Leo was not feeling too good and did not want to go to friends which was just as well as we had an orphan lamb to feed on top of the normal routines.
Jose had come to slaughter some sheep just before Der Tag, so I was fully occupied with butchering and looking forward to the sort of Christmas Day when the feet go up and the gin oges down but one ‘phone call after another announced that – as we could not go to them – friends would come to us on the 26th. Not for long, not to tire Leo, but just to say hello and have a chat.
Knadgers! I had mince pies and sausage rolls made but to cater for all eventualities salvaged the sheep offal to make a pan haggis – too late to rescue the stomach, which had been buried with the intestines – then started on the pastry for the Black Bun and whopped together a cloutie dumpling mix while waiting for fish to defrost to make a ceviche.
Too late to set out for San Jose for reasonably priced whisky, as Leo was not well enough to be left for too long, but with beer, wine and fruit drinks that area was covered.
Luckily I had not left Leo as he became very ill – and at one point it looked as though a trip to hospital would be on the cards – but by the time midnight was upon us he had improved so at 12.30 am I fed the lamb and went to bed.
3.30 am.The lamb woke up again and started bleating for milk. I would swear that it has a loudhailer concealed in its blankets…
With the kitchen light on the dogs woke up and wanted to go out. Front door opened for them and milk heated for the lamb.
Lamb fed and returned to its box in the spare bedroom. Lamb displeased. Lamb turned its box over and skittered round the room until the box was packed with the blanket in the exact way desired by lamb. Lamb settled.
An almighty kerfuffle outside shattered the peace of the early morning hours and set off every dog for miles: the night was hideous with barks and howls from Jose’s spaniels up towards the town to Chancho’s pitbulls across the still unrepaired bridge.
The lamb took up its loudhailer again.
The porch light revealed a view of the agitated hindquarters of five dogs whose forepaws were busy throwing up showers of earth and twigs from the shrubs by the path while the puppies ran round trying to get a better view of proceedings.
Finally The Poodle emerged from the maelstrom bearing a very large dead rat.
Scruff followed with a few baby rats in her mouth, neatly arranged with tails hanging down and led her puppies off for a feast by the hen house.
Such is the prestige of The Poodle that the other dogs made no attempt to claim her rat as she strolled with it to the bench by the front door and settled herself to guard her trophy.
They came inside and resumed the sleep of the just.
The lamb decided that it would be more diplomatic to put down its loudhailer.
The local canine chorus ceased.
Tea for me and for Leo – and off to bed. Again.
Hail shining morn, my backside!
We may be in the tropics and the shortest day may have passed, but it was still not light until after 5.30 am, so we had a leisurely start to the day and after letting out chickens, ducks and sheep took a late breakfast on the balcony.
The Poodle’s balcony.
Luckily she was still guarding her rat at the other side of the house, so we got away with it.
Peace reigned, the sun rose over the mountain behind the house and the view was a symphony of green and gold. Perfect.
Then we heard the sound of a chainsaw.
It is illegal to fell trees within 50 metres of a watercourse but as we watched a large tree went down by a stream leading to the river in the valley, on the property of a retired money launderer.
No chance of being caught as civil servants do not work on public holidays, which accounts for the frenzied activity in builders’ merchants just before Easter, Christmas and August 15th…ideal time to build a house before anyone can interfere with queries as to planning permission.
We retired to the inner balcony and passed the morning with books, coffee and cake – with intermittent feeding of the lamb in its pen once it was warm enough for it to go outside.
Leo had a nap, we had lunch in peace and Leo returned to bed, feeling tired.I was washing up when it started….a cacophony of snarling and yelping on the porch.
Tea towel – terror of the puppy dogs – at the ready I shot out there to find The Poodle ensconced on the bench and beside her the puppy she likes best – Napoleon – who was busy eating the rat’s head while his brother and sisters raged below. The Poodle wore a sort of proprietary beam while the busy Napoleon gave every impression of one very happy with his lot, which was to change as the tea towel was deployed, followed by sharp work with brush and dustpan and the carcass thrown to the chickens.
Disconsolately Napoleon went to sit by their run, watching as they tore into the treat. I made a mental note to avoid being kissed by Napoleon…
The afternoon passed peaceably after that until tea time when with an eldritch screech The Poodle took off for the fields like a dose of salts, followed by the adult dogs.
I think the screech frightened the puppies because they all decided to tuck up on Leo’s foot, so I was able to close the front door on them and go down to investigate.
The screeching and barking grew in volume….Jose’s spaniel and Chancho’s pitbulls took up the theme…
A I can’t limbo dance under the wire I had to go round by the gate so by the time I reached the field the scene was set.
The dogs were encircling the trunk of a tall guarumo tree.
Experience had taught them not to approach it too closely as the tree has a symbiotic relationship with some of the nastiest stinging ants I have yet met, but they were certainly on guard around it, for perched precariously on the upper branches were a number of vultures…
Every flap of a wing produced a screech from The Poodle and a chorus of barks from the rest – evidently the pack, not taking into account the wonders of flight, thought that they had the vultures treed for the duration and were intent on making the most of it.
At that point Julio turned up, bringing a home made tonic for Leo – and to help me close up the sheep for the night. He was, he said, escaping from his house which was hideous with the din of over excited children…..
We counted the sheep and lambs…none missing. So why had the vultures arrived?
Julio looked around.
‘There’s your answer. Jose didn’t bury the guts properly when he did the slaughtering.’
It took some persuasion and the use of leads, but together we managed to return the dogs to the house where they threw themselves on their beds with an air of those who have done their duty.
We chatted over a beer or two, then Julio went on his way and we had supper, followed by an early night. apart from getting up to feed the lamb at 10.00 pm
Later I was awakened by a furious scrabbling from the puppy box and in the darkness a small fat body plopped onto the bed and snuggled up to my ear, taking a comforting nibble of same
Not wanting to waken Leo I switched on the mobile ‘phone on the bedside table and in its dim light found that my affectionate visitor was – you’ve guessed it – Napoleon.
By that time too shattered to care if I picked up the Black Death I turned off the ‘phone and went to sleep until the lamb woke me on the morning of Boxing Day at 2.00 am….
A feature of television in my youth was the scheduling of what were known as ‘nature’ programmes at an hour when a respectable Scots family would be attacking a high tea. You would be contemplating a slice of Lorne sausage when the screen would display an antelope meeting an unfortunate end….hyenas going about their unpleasant business would accompany a helping of salmon….even reaching for a potato scone had its risks…
I am sure that warble flies were featured too – how could the BBC resist? – but I had never in all my puff thought that I would come across the human version, the bot fly.
This delightful character captures a mosquito, lays its eggs on it and messes off. The mozzy then bites a human – or other species – and the bot fly eggs enter the wound thus caused.
The eggs then develop under the skin of the host for eight weeks before emerging to pupate. Sounds innocent doesn’t it and, what is more, the thing exudes a sort of antibiotic which prevents the wound from becoming infected as an infected wound will kill the larva.
I have had one of these delightful visitors myself…and can assure you that it is far from innocent. The damned thing itches like hell and wriggles about like a underclad cabaret dancer seeking a hefty tip.
The local advice is to place a chunk of meat over the wound, stick it on with plaster and wait for the brute to emerge into the meat, but having apocalyptic visions of said meat rotting in situ given tropical conditions, I went to the local clinic instead.
Ah, you need Nurse Evelyn!
Nurse Evelyn seems to be the specialist in everything… Electrocardiograms? Nurse Evelyn. Gangrene? Nurse Evelyn.
Bot fly? Nurse Evelyn.
I was summoned to her office and indicated the affected area which was seized in a grip which would rouse envy in a banker foreclosing on a widow and gave up its larva – an unattractive, bloated sort of thing which met its end in the waters of the loo next door.
Unfortunately I was not the only sufferer.
Poor Bunter acquired a mass of the things in his paw, hind legs and tail which defied all the efforts of Danilo to extract them so we took him to the vet.
No effete European customs like making an appointment here: no, the vet, like other professionals, indicates when he will arrive in his office and you form a queue.
Fine for the lawyer, the accountant and the doctor where those present watch the waiting room television, chat or sing as takes their fancy: not so fine for the vet where wary owners laager up in his car park and keep a close eye on potential queue jumpers.
Leo, forgot this cultural feature when refusing an offer of the morning surgery and plumping for the afternoon instead.
We are in the rainy season. It is fine and sunny until noon at which point the clouds open releasing thunder, lightning and torrential rain: no one in their right mind ventures forth unless compelled by necessity which is why, driving up to town, we gave a lift to Don Jose whose need for illicit liquor – guaro – was imperative, having overslept after his previous night’s lucubrations thus missing the noon deadline.
We were early. The car park was empty. The rain bucketed down.
The Men decided to go in search of materials for the house and I waited in the car with Bunter whose normal genial expression had taken on a wary air as he recognised the area.
Bunter does not like visiting the vet.
Bunter objects strongly to so doing .
Still, The Men would return shortly and we would bundle him in between us…
Except that at that point the vet arrived.
Did I wait for The Men to appear and risk a queue forming or did I take Bunter to his office there and then?
If you think it is easy to remove some forty kilos of recalcitrant dog from a car then I suggest that you go about it yourself.
I felt like a cross between Lacoon wrestling the sea serpents and Alice handling the pig baby as, risking a hernia, I dragged him into my arms and staggered to the office.
Ah, said the vet, I wondered how you would manage him…
A general anaesthetic was decided upon to allow a proper examination and it was only when we had him on the table that The Men appeared.
Where were you? We were looking everywhere! You weren’t in the car so we thought you had gone for a walk…
Luckily the vet prevented murder by suggesting that we let him get rid of the larvae so unpleasantness was avoided and matters took their course.
Larvae removed, wounds treated, antibiotic injection, another to inhibit further bot invasion and we left with a bill of about forty quid.
Danilo carried Bunter to the car…in my view a much cushier number than extracting Bunter from said..but there you are. Such is the gender divide.
We encountered Don Jose on the way back.
He had clearly made a start on the contents of his shopping bag but hoisted himself aboard easily enough, careful not to disturb Bunter and asking how things had gone.
Danilo described the problems of getting Bunter into the vet’s office so accurately that I began to wonder if The Men had been holed up somewhere watching it…