Dateline: Gray (où?) Or possibly Gray (comment?)
Am in small town impossible to pronounce, except in English. As a matter of fact, am on window ledge of small gastronomic château in unpronounceable town.
Also, am about to be eaten alive.
At such times, head fills with random thoughts; rather expected whole life to flash past, cf. drowning, but no luck. Pity, really; was looking forward to remembering name of people who used to live upstairs when we had flat in Well Walk, ought to return his Pakamac, been fourteen years, he must be soaked. But all that comes into teeming head is random speculation, e.g. Why small town 45 km north of Besançon called Gray? Not French name at all, even French can’t pronounce it intelligibly, town occupies phonetic limbo. Named, perhaps, after famous Englishman? Thomas? Earl? Dolly?
Should be directing speculation towards escaping uneaten. Seem to remember reading somewhere that best course is to flash big torch in its eyes, then, when it temporarily blinded, shove torch down throat. Think that handy tip appeared in Eagle, circa 1953, in series of ads entitled something like Ten Million Useful Things To Do With Your Ever Ready Torch. If whole life flashed before me, would know provenance for certain; as it is, would not risk it. Could lose arm.
Do not have torch, anyway.
Could lose more than arm, too. Could catch rabies. No cure for rabies, dog bites man, helicopter flies man all over bloody shop, doctors gaze at man, man writhes, doctors sniff, man pops clogs.
France full of rabies. Well known fact. Signs up everywhere. Called le rage. Don’t mince words, Frogs — English rabies not evocative of true horror, full of innocent assonantal overtones (babies, rubies, rabbis) — but no question of what le rage is: le rage is bloodshot yellow eyes, foaming fangs, uncontrollable canine nastiness.
You don’t take on le rage with a couple of U2 batteries and a rolled-up comic.
Especially when item raging within ten centimetres of naked feet is giant Alsatian. Known locally, of course, as berger allemand.
Shift position on sill. Yellow eyes roll. Tongue slaps flecked chops like wet towel.
Why German shepherd? Alsace been French forever, apart from brief Bismarckian interlude, not like Froggies to cede emotional crux so lightly: why dog not called berger français? Much more reassuring, image of dog snoring in hedge, overfed, half-drunk, while sheep wander at will, compared with image of dog goose-stepping into Poland, cutting off Benghazi, biting through Ardennes.
Dog begins low alien growl, like tractor grinding gears.
Always like this with holiday hazards. Pack Enterovioform, get sunburned. Pack Ambre Solaire, fan-belt breaks. Pack spare fan-belt, cut foot. Pack elastoplast, get dysentery. This time, took everything: can cure epidemic of bubonic plague, can rebuild Volvo from scratch, can give rich, deep, lasting tan to town size of Huddersfield. Can do anything, except deal with mad dog.
Next time, pack a brick.
Why on ledge in first place, five a.m., poised to foam?
Arrived in Gray last night, road-thrashed, found hotel/château in Michelin, book say hotel got everything, entry swarming with little symbols, pink monkey in wheelchair (peace), two worms (swimming pool), iron rat-trap (extensive gardens), crossed banjos (tennis court), sparrow foot (wonderful view), spoons, stars, forks, all that.
Unfortunately, forgot to include yellow eye (rabies).
Spent relaxed evening eating restaurant to standstill, crept up to massive fin-de-siècle bedroom, watched roses walking across wallpaper for a bit, fell over. Woke, inevitably, at four a.m., head going ding-dang-dong like Frère Jacques, all the monkeys must be shoving their wheelchairs about shrieking “what that noise, this supposed to be peaceful spot, call the manager etc. etc.”
Got gingerly up, mustn’t put on light, wake wife — next time, bring torch; if wife wake up, shine torch in wife’s eyes, shove torch down throat — so start groping in invisible suitcases for aspirin. Spend about an hour feeling curious things in dark (can’t remember packing telephone, dead cat, rubber cello, candlestick), finally remember aspirin not in cases at all, aspirin in glove compartment of car.
In car park.
Creep out, hall full of soft snores, creep back in, pull on jeans, pad down stairs, stairs groan, arrive in lower hall, push outer door, door not budge.
Sign on door says “Le relais ouvre sa porte a 7h 30.”
Should be little sign in Michelin: padlock (chokey).
Stare through glass door, dawn just coming up over disabled monkey sanctuary, silver light glinting off car coachwork, absolute silence, can hear dew running down daisies in between bursts of Sousa in skull.
Unsnap catch, push up sash, step out onto ledge, prepare to drop down, pad across to car, grab aspi…
Hear strange, unsettling noise, like slowly draining bath.
See yellow eyes.
But not good dog. Not even ordinary bad dog. Franco-German-Alsatian bad dog, rotten with rage and irredentist aggression; even if dog spoke English, would probably refuse to acknowledge it. In between bouts of fearful bubbling rage, all dog thinks about is getting Sudetenland back.
Worse, do not even know what dog is there for. Is dog there to stop people breaking in, or to stop guests breaking out? Why else should hotel lock doors until 7.30, if not to stop moonlight flits? No wonder hotel got Michelin gongs for peace, all guests terrified of making slightest noise or moving about, in case monkeys whistle up dogs, dogs sink rabid choppers into guests’ legs. But does it matter to dog which direction guest is taking? Look at self, self clad only in old jeans, question entirely academic in mad dog’s view which way guest going, guest clearly disreputable character, do not want bipeds like this within ten miles of hotel, if Michelin find out hotel giving house-room to people like this Michelin setting up drumhead court martial, like Dreyfus case, hôtelier getting publicly stripped of all honours, rip off swimming worms, rip off crippled monkeys, break banjo across knee, next thing hotelier know, hotelier stirring soup on Devil’s Island.
Try French on dog?
But is dog “tu” or “vous”? Incautious informality — know what French are like, let alone Jerries — just as bad as snobbish detachment (perhaps dog expects to be kissed on both jowls?)
Try to remember French textbooks. All French textbooks about little Alphonse going shopping, cleaning teeth, visiting Papa’s bureau, going to beach. Little Alphonse smarmy little bugger, never put foot wrong, no chapters entitled Little Alphonse Caught Half Naked on Window Ledge with Mad Nazi Dog Underneath.
No other course but to retreat in ignominy, creep back to room, endure brain-throbbing until hotel deigns to ouvre sa porte, no-one to see British capitulation in face of overwhelming …
Stairs groan behind me.
Chambermaid looking at me. Retreat now impossible, coming on top of lamb crisis, Golden Delicious victory, Venice summit. Flag must be shown.
Explain, with light boyish rictus, about locked door, aspirins, ledge, proposed exit.
Chambermaid very sympathetic, chambermaid does not have door key, chambermaid says it perfectly all right if I wish to jump out of window.
“Oh, bon,” I say. “Oh, merci.”
Chambermaid wait, watching.