Never say never

After losing Dobby nearly five months ago, we decided not to take on any more pets. Losing them is so traumatic, and we felt we couldn’t face any more. That left us with Tally, now twelve years old and as calm and well-behaved dog as you could wish for. However, he has become increasingly needy since Dobby’s death, and last week the first stirrings of new dog syndrome appeared, when TOH suggested that we should find a companion for him.

He wanted another Hungarian Vizsla – a breed we’ve had for over 30 years – that was a few years old and in need of a new home. None of the rescues anywhere near us had any, but an Internet search brought up a “4-year-old Braque Hongrois croisé” – a Vizsla cross. The dog had been removed from the previous owners because of ill-treatment:  it was attached to a radiator by a 50 cm. (20 inch) chain, without food or water. It was emaciated, suffering from muscle wastage, starvation, dehydration, skin complaints and numerous injuries.

A particular characteristic of the Vizsla is its unconditional worship of its owner. They’re known as “Velcro dogs” because of the way they stick to you, and they are highly sensitive, easily broken by harsh treatment. They ask you to love them, and to let them love you. If you can add to the mixture fun and food, they’re satisfied. The thought of such a gentle-natured dog being so badly abused decided us – we were going to get him.

There was a drawback – he was in the SPA kennels in Dunkirk, over 400 miles away, with horrors of the Parisian périphérique on a Saturday during the holiday season unavoidably bang in the middle of the journey.

We left home yesterday at 9.00 am, finally reaching Dunkirk at 4.15, fuelled by three chocolate chip cookies each. Tally slept all the way in the back of the car.

From the photograph of the dog – ironically named “Lucky,” I knew that he wasn’t going to be strikingly beautiful. Apart from most of the bones in his body showing through his coat, he had a rather flat head, and very flat feet, and he seemed to have lost the lid of his lipstick. :)  Still, looks aren’t everything.

Lucky

 

The SPA kennels in Dunkirk are tucked away in a peaceful cul-de-sac on the outskirts of the town. Thanks to the generosity of a retired couple, the entire place is being rebuilt into a beautiful modern facility. http://www.spadunkerque.fr/72641953 Work was well underway when we arrived, though not yet completed. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly, and I noticed that they also have boarding facilities for dogs and cats, which seems a sensible idea to help with the funding of the rescues.

We were led through the buildings to one of the new sections, where a dozen large dogs shouted from their spacious individual enclosures.

Lucky was easy to spot, the only russet-red among the blacks.

Forewarned by the photo and the knowledge of what he had endured, we were prepared for this less-than beautiful dog, cowed by his ill-treatment. What we hadn’t expected was a tornado of wiggling, wriggling, writhing, squirming, widdling, tail-wagging joyous missile, shouting “Hey – you’re here! I’ve been waiting for you. Let’s go.” Lucky bounced and jumped and spun in circles and nearly fell over his own feet in his excitement. He’s on the small side, with a large white splash on his chest, and a very male jaw, but looks like a pure Vizsla. Even after more than three months of care by the SPA, he is still underweight, with his ribs and backbone clearly visible. However, since the photo was taken, he has put on weight and his head shows the classic Vizsla “apple” shape. He’s now “up on his feet” and stands proudly.

With the paperwork done, the adoption fee paid, and Tally and Lucky introduced to each other, we set off for home. Lucky immediately burst past the dog guard and established himself on the back seat, and for the 8 hour journey home tried to force himself into the front against our raised elbows. He was bright and alert, needing to watch the road and take note of every péage or interesting noise within the car.

It was a little before 1.00 am when we arrived home, three of us ready for a good night’s sleep, and our new family member needing to gallop around the house and garden, inspecting every corner, every kitchen surface, behind every chair, round and round and up and down, with the combined energy of a bus-load of school-children arriving at the beach. He couldn’t keep still long enough for a close examination, but there are old scabs on his paws; the tip of his tail has been bleeding from wagging it against the concrete walls of his kennel; there is a small bald patch on the top side of his tail, and a sac of inflamed skin on his stomach from where the harness to which he was attached had rubbed him raw. However, he had been with the SPA for over three months being cared for and nursed by them until he was well enough to be rehomed. What condition he must have been in when he was rescued, I can’t imagine.

In the few hours we’ve had him (during which I managed two hours of sleep before he was wide awake and ready to eat/play at 5.18 am), we’ve found that he’s house-trained, and plainly used to being spoiled. He seems younger than 4; his teeth are tiny and he is puppy-playful.

Someone, somewhere, must have loved him once. So how did he end up near death through deliberate ill-treatment? We’ll never know, but we do know that there’s work ahead – he’s very wilful, but he’s never going to be chained to a radiator again.

Should he remain Lucky, or shall we change his name? My choice is Tommy – as he comes from Dunkirk, in memory of all the “Tommies” who didn’t make it back during the evacuation. However, being as we are fairly democratic in our family :D, and after TOH’s heroic drive yesterday, we need to agree. So I’ll try twisting his arm again today, unless he can come up with a better idea.

Photos will follow shortly. :)

You were wrong today, Mr Wrong

“A rainy day is like a lovely gift — you can sleep late and not feel guilty.”
― Elizabeth Jane HowardMr. Wrong

Unfortunately that is not always the case. Today was the date for TOH’s eye operation in Montmorillon. It was an early-morning appointment and is quite a way from us, so we had to be up at Horrid O’Clock. As is always the case when we have to be awake particularly early, neither of us slept well. I woke at 5.00 am, while TOH was awake on and off most of the night. Although we both set alarms, neither of us fully trust them, consequently we sleep badly, if at all.

Never mind. He would have a few hours to doze in the hospital, while Tally and I enjoyed another day of exploring the town. The morning started dull and grey, but as we neared Montmorillon the sun was making a timid appearance. Once TOH was dressed in a fetching, if somewhat sloppily fitted pink gown and he was installed in bed to await the operation, I skipped out of the door looking forward to taking some photos and walking Tally by the river.

Alas and alack, it was hammering down with rain and continued to do so for the five hours that we had to spare. Tally had a brief walk and wee on a small patch of very wet grass beside the river, then I parked the car in town and went to a café, where Tally behaved impeccably and was a subject of  great interest.

Back we walked to the car, in the rain, and sat there for some time, while I read my Kindle in between bouts of nodding off, and Tally dozed in the back. We drove around again in search of something that was worth photographing, but even the cherry blossom is at its resplendent best failed to lift the relentless grimness of the weather.

 

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Having had to abandon the idea of a riverside picnic, I settled for a pizza, freshly baked in a wood oven while I waited beneath a dripping awning, and eaten in the car.

To compensate for the miserable weather, however, I treated us to some of the famed Montmorillon macarons, pistachio flavour. Here they are, traditionally served by the dozen, glued to a sheet of paper.

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TOH reports no ill effects from his operation, other than feeling tired after a sleepless night. He is tucked up in bed. If we didn’t have chickens, I probably would be too, but they are a wilfull trio and refuse to go to bed until the last glimmer of light has left the sky, so I’ll be up for a few hours yet.

Tomorrow we have to back to the hospital for a check-up. Another early morning, another long drive, but there is only one word for the standard of cleanliness, friendliness and professionalism at Montmorillon hospital: Impeccable.

 

How to turn a Gallic shrug into a charm offensive

There are many joys to living in France, but until recently dealing with customer service has not been one of them. ‘French customer service’ was in fact something of an oxymoron. Our first unpleasant experience, 16 years ago, came courtesy of a major supermarket chain from which we bought a computer one Friday evening. After plugging in our new acquisition, a message popped up on the monitor: ‘No hard drive.’ We unplugged, replugged, rebooted, switched on and off several times. ‘No hard drive’ insisted the monitor.

On Saturday we returned the computer to the supermarket, and told Service Après Vente there was no hard drive. Impossible, they said, all computers have a hard drive. Not this one, we said. After switching it on and twiddling, they reluctantly agreed there was no hard drive, looking at us suspiciously as if suspecting we might have whipped it out for fun. Begrudgingly, they gave us a replacement.

We plugged it in and it whirred into life! Four hours later, it was stubbornly refusing to connect to the Internet, and it was too late to make another 50 mile round-trip to the supermarket, so I phoned the helpline, which was premium rate. Put on hold for an hour, I finally gave up. Same result on the Sunday.

On Monday I took the machine back and said it would not connect to the Internet. After leaving it with Service Après Vente for an hour, they assured me the problem was fixed. They had connected to the Internet and tested the machine fully. It was in perfect working order. Back home, another 50 miles and 4 hours later, it was still not connecting to the Internet. An engineer was despatched to fix it. After taking it to bits and scratching his head, he announced that there was no modem in the machine. But surely there must be, I said, if Service Après Vente had connected to the Internet? They could not possibly have done so, he replied. There is no modem in this machine.

Disheartened with the machine and with Service Après Vente, on Wednesday I took the machine back and asked for a refund. That was not company policy. I could only have another replacement machine. I didn’t want one of these machines, I wanted a different make, one that worked. That was not possible. It wasn’t company policy. I drove home with a third machine.

14 frustrating months later the computer still didn’t work properly. If the modem worked, the monitor didn’t. It constantly crashed, froze, switched itself off. I can’t recall how many trips I made to the supermarket, where I was asked if I had owned a computer before, knew that there was an on/off switch at the back, had plugged it into a power source and was generally treated as a trouble-maker and object of ridicule. I am fairly patient and never resort to rudeness, but my patience and politeness were making no inroads into the intransigence of the supermarket.

A French friend gave me a telephone number for our local AFOC – Association Force Ouvrière Consommateurs – a consumer rights organisation. I phoned for an appointment, and the next day, armed with three A4 sheets detailing the whole saga, sat in a small office facing a man with a bristly beard and brusque manner.

‘Tell me what has happened’ he said, ignoring the papers. After two sentences he raised a hand, snatched up the phone, dialled the supermarket and proceeded to shout and roar. Three minutes later he replaced the phone, tore up the papers, and told me to go immediately to the supermarket and collect my money.

With trepidation born of months of abuse and disdain, I announced myself at the reception desk. The previously scornful salesman appeared at a sprint, wiping sweat from his brow and waving a fistful of bank notes and apologising excessively. Quelle satisfying volte-face!

A couple of years later we had ordered a supply of crushed limestone. The man who delivered it tipped three cubic metres of sharp stone chippings onto our drive. We had a mighty argument when I said it was not what we had ordered and that he would have to take it away and replace it. He shook his fist and called me an English whore, furiously shovelled the stuff back into his truck, failed to deliver our order, and sent an invoice laced with threats. After two months of invoices and threats, I telephoned the shouting man at AFOC, who shouted at the rude man while I listened on the other line, and that was the end of the invoices and threats.

Two years ago we bought a coffee machine from another supermarket. It failed after two months, so we took it back and asked for a refund or replacement. It was not company policy, explained the man at the counter. It would have to be sent for repair. How long would that take, I asked. No idea, he replied with a Gallic shrug. It was August, the factory would be closed, there was a backlog ……

Four months later, he was still shrugging, so I mentioned that I would pass the file to AFOC as the machine had been in repair twice as long as we had owned it. Within an hour, we’d received a full cash refund, warm handshakes and profuse apologies.

A friend who bought a new professional coffee machine for her café asked for a refund or replacement when the expensive machine failed after two days. She was told she would have to be patient until it was repaired, which could take several weeks. The fact that the machine was crucial to her business was of no concern to the supplier. When she pointed out that under European Law the supplier was obliged to give her a new machine, or a refund, she was told: “Madame, you are not in Europe. You are in France.”

When discussing customer service, lack of, with a French friend, they explained it thus: After the Revolution, all French people became equal, so being a customer does not make you superior to a waiter or salesman. Therefore, do not expect deference, and be thankful if you are treated courteously. The customer was not always right in France. In fact, he very seldom was.

Happily we have seen a radical change in this attitude over the last few years, both in the private sector and among the ‘fonctionnaires‘ who are generally unfailingly polite and helpful. We are all still equal, of course, but customers are treated with respect.

However, if you are unfortunate to find yourself with defective goods and faced by indifference and insolence, it’s comforting to know that help is available. Keep Calm and Mention AFOC. You can find your nearest branch on the Internet from their site: http://www.afoc.net/rubrique.php?id_rubrique=10

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Vive l’entente cordiale. :)