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“Er,” I babbled. “Er ... nous sommes Anglais.”

“Ah,” she replied and I could see a look of comprehension glide across her face. No other words were necessary. We were English. Everything was explained.

We smiled and started for the stairs again but Gypsy took one look at the polished wood and froze. Danger. No carpets. And look at those banisters, gaps where a puppy could be sucked through and eaten.

She looked up at Shelagh, appealing for help. Make the stairs go away.

We remonstrated with her. How could a dog with legs as long as hers have trouble walking up stairs? She whimpered a reply. Something about banisters. She'd never seen them before.

There was nothing else for it. I left the Hoover and the bags at the foot of the stairs and picked her up. She was a big dog. Already the size of an adult greyhound and growing heavier by the minute. Two flights of stairs later, we staggered into our room.

Thank God! I set Gypsy down on the floor and had a look around. The room was perfect – large and airy with an en suite bathroom. And a real bed – one where humans could lie in comfort. There was even a TV.

But we still had the bulk of our menagerie waiting downstairs in the lobby. So we turned to fetch them. And remembered Gypsy. Could she be trusted to stay by herself in a nice clean room? Shelagh and I exchanged knowing looks. No, she could not.

I grabbed the lead again and off we went. At the top of the stairs, Gypsy dug in her heels and slid to a halt. She was not going down the stairs either.

“Perhaps if we're firmer with her,” Shelagh suggested, but with little conviction. I tried pulling on the lead, words of encouragement, scarcely veiled threats.

“Why don't we try picking up her feet and offering her polo mints?” I said, dripping sarcasm, before bending down once more to wrestle Gypsy into my arms and stagger downstairs. Approaching the lobby, I realised how stupid this situation was becoming. Why was I carrying Gypsy down the stairs when once at the bottom I would have to turn round and carry her back up again?

A similar thought was obviously passing through the assembled diners, who couldn't help notice a man carrying a very large black dog back down the stairs. Wasn't that the same man who just carried the big doggy up the stairs, mummy? Yes dear, the man with the Hoover.

oOo

Once installed in the room, it wasn't much better. Minnie, the kitten, started yowling and Guinny took exception. Even though we'd separated them from line of sight, Guinny could hear Minnie and that was more than enough provocation. She started making spitting noises. Which was viewed by Gypsy as an invitation to play. And bark. And worry my leg.

And they’d been so well-behaved in the horsebox! It was as though they'd waited until they'd got us alone.

I tried to quieten Gypsy, while Shelagh took Guinny off into the bathroom. Perhaps if we separated the cats for a while it might help. And besides, the cats' crates could do with a thorough clean and the bathroom was the only place we could safely let a cat out.

Quietening Gypsy was never easy. The easiest way was to let her do whatever she wanted. Which usually meant allowing myself to be chewed or dragged across the floor. Neither game was among my favourites.

I tried interesting her in some of her toys – her Womble, her chews and various rubber animals. She preferred my leg.

“Why don't you take Gypsy for a walk,” a disembodied voice called out from the bathroom.

I could think of many reasons. But my ankles outvoted me. It might be safer outside.

I walked nonchalantly past the dining room carrying my dog. Trying to blend in with the background as much as possible and present Gypsy as more fashion accessory than pet.

I don't think it worked. I could still feel a large number of eyes lift from their dinner plates and bore into the back of my neck.

Outside, the wind had found an occasional shower and was in the process of throwing it against the Wimereux coastline. I turned to walk Gypsy towards the promenade and was immediately peppered with hail stones. I turned and looked longingly at the hotel door. Could I go back in? Which was worse – to be battered and soaked for twenty minutes or walk back past the dining room carrying a dog?

It was a close call.

But not that close.