THE DOG AND WHEELCHAIR.

We’ve had the dog’s view of our holiday in France. Here’s the human’s view.

We were in Brittany staying in a gite (suitable for dogs and wheelchairs) at St Paul de Leon, about 10 km south west of Roscoff. I had imagined this section of France, facing Cornwall but largely unvisited by the British, as being like Cape Wrath in Scotland, – empty wilderness, battered by Atlantic storms, but in fact it was low rolling hills, beautiful beaches with white sand and rocks, and although the weather was cloudy and cool, in fact it was never really cold. It was fine agricultural land, well tended, and here were numerous small and ancient towns, with buildings in grey stone, and churches with weirdly decorated spires.

We drove to Plymouth, had a walk on the Hoe, nodded to the statue of Sir Francis Drake and had a meal. Then the wait to get on the ship which was a bit slow in getting underway but was fine when they checked us in. We got the key to our cabin at check in; they parked us right next to the lift. We found our cabin to be spacious and comfortable.

I however was tired, so we retired to our respective beds. I always sleep well in a boat, Sometime in the night, a drunk couple came back to their cabin beside ours. “Monsieur, Madame.’ A French crew member enquired solicitously, ‘Are you OK? You have pressed the emergency button.” A slurred male voice replied,’ No we haven’t touched it. It was like that when we came.” Muffled giggles came from within the cabin. The French steward dropped his charming manners and snarled, Yes, you did; you pressed it twice. If you press it again, you will be arrested.’ He stomped away and we heard nothing more. But I thought, arrested? Do they have a cabin to detain arrested persons? Who would do the arresting? The remark seemed to give our hiccuping neighbours some pause for thought, for we heard no more of them. Somewhere in the night, I woke and thought Charged. Not arrested. Charged. It’s not quite the same thing.

We left the ship without incident, bought some groceries, and made our way to the gite. It was satisfactory and comfortable. There was a field nearby full of peonies. I was very excited by this – I had never seen a field of peonies in flower -what colour would they be? When later I discovered that they were artichokes, I was very disappointed. (A lot of bother to prepare for Elisabeth and the eating not worth the effort.)

We had some lovely meals though – ranging from simple creperies, to a 2 star Michelin hotel, plus a 2 star Michelin hotel that we abandoned, to a delicious no choice menu in a shack in a wood, served by a waitress who had a swan like neck

This part of France is not much visited by the British – we only saw one other British car. It had lovely sandy beaches, with sand dunes, rocks and rock pools, and many rivers which at low tide were completely empty with just a tiny stream left running in the dark mud. I had never seen this before and at first wondered if it was a tsunami indication, but it happened every tide. There were also islands with causeway walks out to them.

We saw our first swallows in France this year, and heard the cuckoo. Larks rose up beside us on the grass behind the dunes with their heart catching song. We saw avocets and several pairs of shell ducks.

We visited a tropical garden in Roscoff where amazingly exotic things grew right beside the sea on an unpromising piece of rocky land. We visited a market selling livestock, rabbits and quail among the more usual things, in a very beautiful small town with a lovely market square and charming street. We found a lovely campsite in a town called Locquirec to which we think we might go back at some stage with our caravan.

John and I, walking in Morlaix while Elisabeth and Robert took Milo for the obligatory worming session by a Vet, came across one of those shops selling paintings It was our last day, and there was a large painting of avocets in the window. I like that, I said to John, and in one of these decisions where neither of you hesitates that makes for the best purchases, he said, So do I; let’s have it. The shop was shut but we had a coffee and waited. We bumbled round the shop like the tourists we were; the lady was quite surprised when we said, apparently without any discussion, we’d like that painting. So now it hangs on our wall, reminding us of our lovely holiday.

We commend this part of France for anyone wanting a quiet break, near the Channel ports, in a forgotten part of France that’s still France-for-the-French.

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DOG DAYS

I’d better introduce myself. I’m Dog, Golden Retriever. The name’s Milo.

I’ve been away from home with my main man and his lady. They call it holidays, which means you don’t have to work, but I still have to guard my party, see off other dogs, encourage the main man to do more walks for the good of his health, and prevent wastage of food.

We went in the car. It was full up of my lady’s clothes. There was only just enough room for me.

The first night we stayed in a hotel. It was a dangerous place. All through the night thieves and persons up to no good would come right up to our door. I stayed awake so I could do my ‘I am a dog with vicious teeth’ wolf-howl. The main man kept telling me to be quiet and in the morning my lady was cross with me because she said she hadn’t slept. She wasn’t in the least bit grateful that she was saved from nasty intruders.

We then went in a ship which was sitting in a huge puddle, and I wanted to explore it but they locked me in the car and went off and left me! I did my wolf howl several times!

When eventually after a long drive with several stops for me, we got to the house of the holiday, my lady’s parents were already there, cooking food. My lady’s father is good for extra walks when the main man is being lazy, and my lady’s mother is always good for a nice cuddle, and she doesn’t tell on me when I sneak under the table beside her. Sometimes she drops bits of her food too, so I work hard keeping under her chair free from crumbs. The only problem with them is that they keep getting lost. We’ll be having a walk and suddenly they stop and turn back while the main man and his lady stride on. I rush after them and tell them several times they’re going the wrong way but they never listen. I was always amazed how they managed to find their way back to the house without the main man.

There were hens at the house – silly birds that can’t fly. We were supposed to feed them and collect the eggs. I used to sneak off when no-one was looking and approach their hut from the back where they couldn’t see me and creep up and give a quick, quiet, woof. They would be all flutter and flap and squawk as if they thought I was the red fox that eats hens. I am much bigger than fox and I do not eat hens. One of them fell off her perch dead one day, but that was nothing to do with me.

The big puddle was great fun, though it was a bit alarming at first – the water would sneak up behind you and try to grab you. But the main man would stay near, and I knew the big puddle would not dare to snaffle me if he was there. And it was good to swim in. It tasted salty. There were interesting things on the beach – dead birds and fish that had got left behind – they smelled fascinating but my lady would turn her nose up and not allow me to clean up the beach. I would get a bit miffed with the main man when I would come out of the big puddle and he would make me stand under a drip of not salty water to ‘clean me up’. But I could usually find a small muddy puddle and I would wallow in it and then roll in some lovely smelling earth and then my lady would call me disgusting. I’m not sure what disgusting means but I like being disgusting, especially because I get washed when we get back – I don’t like that bit – but then when I am almost dry my lady would brush me, and when my lady brushes me and says I am the best doggy in the world – well, I know that of course, but when my lady whispers it, I feel wonderful.

French dogs aren’t up to much, usually rather small and silly. Mind you, I saw one sitting at a table eating with his people and I hoped my people would see what an excellent idea this was.

So I thought this holiday idea was great fun. I recommend you all go on one with your people.

After all, it was good for Milo, and everybody knows that what’s good for Milo is good for the people.

THE LION ROARS

We woke at 5.30 am on Friday morning after the election, in our gite in Brittany, to hear Peter Hain announce in lugubrious tones, ‘Scotland is lost.’ But we felt – glad, confident morning – Scotland was won.

We appreciated the irony that Scotland’s SNP had swept the board – an extraordinary swing which we did not expect – but had retained one token presence each of Labour, Tory and Liberal. I was delighted that Gordon Brown’s seat (which he had not contested) never the less fell from his previous majority of 23,000 to an SNP candidate with a majority of 10,000. I felt sorry for Danny Alexander who lost his seat – I would have found him acceptable as Chancellor of the Exchequer – but I thought that Douglas Alexander (part of that ignominious and largely despised group of persons who have been Secretaries of State for Scotland on behalf of the English) deserved his fate when he was felled by a 20 year old Glaswegian girl student. Alex Salmond won his seat but then that was no surprise at all. If that lone Tory MP becomes Secretary of State for Scotland he had better enjoy his tenure for he is most unlikely ever to be re-elected to any post in Scotland.

And yet though we rejoice that our countrymen stood up to be counted, when you look at a map of the Disunited Kingdom, its polarisation is rather frightening.

In England, I think the Tories won (and let us not forget it was a most meagre victory) because:

a) the country did not forgive the Lib Dens for throwing their lot in with the Tories and abandoning their principles (though this may have been an unfair judgement)

b) the country, even although times are hard and nobody wants to see people resorting to food banks to feed their family, did not trust Labour with its end-to-austerity slogans, and wishes to               continue the slow haul out of our overspending (and future administrations should remember this.)

c)Ed Miliband did not appear to be sufficiently confident, competent or charismatic to be Prime Minister. An in-coming prime minister, to successfully bring his party into government, has to           appeal personally to voters beyobd his own party, and not only did Miliband fail to do this; he did not even seem to have great appeal for his own party.

d) the country was afraid of an unholy alliance between Labour and the SNP leading to God knows where

e) Cameron had run a steady-as-she-goes ship, managing to put us (he said) on the road to recovery, without mass unemployment, rip-roaring inflation and riots on the streets.

But in Scotland, I think the dynamic was quite different, although I believe they shared the English dissatisfaction with the Lib Dems. But if, in more peaceful times, Scotland and the Lib Dems were friends, Scotland and the Labour party were lovers. Their spectacular parting, more over the Labour party sharing a platform with the hated Tories than their actual support for the No campaign, plus the undeniable realisation that Labour merely regarded Scotland as a bank of in-the-bag votes to bolster their power base in England, will be far more difficult to heal than will its relationship with the Liberals. I heard some female Labour spokesperson, asked what the Scots were saying to Labour, reply: They don’t want us to be more Scottish; they want us to be more Labour. I thought, Madam, you still don’t get it. They just want you to clear off. They’ll carry on without you, and I should think Labour as it is currently constructed will never be welcome in Scotland again. It is not good of course to be a one party state, but when they’re ready they’ll construct another party.

So, as Alex Salmond has put it, the Scottish lion has roared. I believe it’s saying to the English establishment, which has ruled over it for 400 years: We intend to be taken seriously. Deliver as you promised. Do not mess with us.

We need to proceed cautiously here. We should listen to one another. We should aim to consider the desires and wishes of each of the four nations. We should aim for a Federation which would both give each of us more control of our affiliations but preserve our common aims and objectives.

To those of you who still hanker after a United Kingdom as formerly; that is lost. It cannot be recovered. Yet much can still be saved that Is of great benefit to us all.