So here it is, the first Fat Dogs blog. My aim is to give you a weekly insight into our lives here in France. The people, places, and some of the experiences that have contributed to the Fat Dogs and French Estates series.
We live in a rural spot. Some might even term it as being ‘isolated’, a word that is pure music to my husband, Jack’s, ears. But it’s not really. Our nearest neighbour, Lucia, an Italian lady of indeterminate age, lives a mere half kilometre away. We don’t see much of her, but we certainly hear her. It seems that several years ago Lucia gave over a goodly part of her home to feral cats. Attracting them on an almost daily basis, she treats these animals as her own, feeding and caring for them as any dedicated pet owner might. As part of her cat welfare programme, she runs a pretty tight ship when it comes to punctuality. So when 15:50 comes around, we know exactly what to expect. Without fail we’re treated to a succession of deafening howls as Lucia calls the various moggies to their supper. It’s an extraordinary noise, one that can cut through the fiercest of gale force winds. It’s actually more like a fox call than a human cry, and usually scares the living daylights out of our dogs. It does the trick though. Within minutes of the banshee cries, variously-coloured felines can be seen slinking out of the woods and across the fields on their ways to the house, where they nibble nervously at plates heaped with goodies.
Lucia is equally generous to her human friends. An example of this comes in the form of her annual trek to our house. This usually takes place between the first and second week in January. We’ll know that she’s on the way because of the precautionary four or five telephone calls she makes to us, warning of her imminent arrival. “Well, at least she’s not screaming across the fields at us. I don’t think my nervous system could take that,” says Jack.
This January followed the typical pattern although she arrived the day after the warning calls this time. But we didn’t mind. She staggered in bearing a huge lop-sided Christmas cake that was covered in whitish-grey icing sugar that closely resembled a stubble field. The top had been peppered with a selection of well-used plastic cake ornaments, some of which looked as though they had started life on top of a wedding cake. We knew them well – they had become old friends by now.
“Here you are,” she announced brusquely, “your Christmas cake. I didn’t feel like making it at Christmas but I had nothing to do last week so I did it then.” With that Lucia slapped it down on the table and I knew what was coming next. “Can you transfer it on to one of your plates please? I’m using most of mine for the cats’ food at the moment. And don’t forget to give me back the Christmas decorations, I’ve had them for years you know.”
As usual she brushed off our sincere thanks and offers to stay for coffee, and strode purposefully towards her car, which was parked at a very strange angle outside our wooden gates. I followed her out to say goodbye, and watched nervously as she began to wrestle with the car’s controls. I had seen this before. The driver’s side door was still open; it was plain to see that she was handling the gear stick as though she was stirring a cake mix. It was not a pretty sight and sounded tortuous. Finally, satisfied that she had selected the correct gear, she gave me a curt nod and closed the door. Now, staring fixedly ahead, she slammed on the accelerator and shot backwards directly into our gate, which instantly took on the shape of a boomerang. Fortunately the wood was supple so no harm was done there. Her car was less supple and it now bore a new dent, nicely complementing the others that had accumulated around the rear end. Another scraping of gears and Lucia seemed to have found the correct one.
Completely unperturbed by her gate-ramming, she yodelled out of the window, “If there is anything at ALL that I can do for you, just tell me – right? We are neighbours you know!” And with that she chugged off the half kilometre back to her house.
Smiling to myself I hurried back to the house in eager anticipation of what I was about to do. Jack was already one step ahead of me. “Uh, heaven!” he exclaimed as a shower of crumbs exploded from his mouth. “This is the best one yet!”
Yes, our neighbour’s Christmas cakes may arrive a little late and look very strange, but we love them, and we love her even more!