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We moved out of the worst of the storm and tried a side street. At least, with the buildings shielding us from the wind we could walk in some degree of comfort. Above us, the wind had sculpted an arch of hail and rain which whipped off the roofs to seaward and smashed against the upper storey of the houses across the road. Gypsy looked up in amazement. And then refused to lift her eyes from the pavement for the rest of the walk. There were some things a puppy should never have to see.

At the next road junction we hit the wall of rain and ice and fought our way through it as best we could. Then we staggered another block or two before turning round. We'd had enough.

I checked my watch as we slipped in through the hotel door. Three o'clock. Surely the dining room had to empty soon. I looked in vain for signs of another staircase or at least another passage. But there were none. From the lobby you either went up the stairs or left into the dining room.

I felt so self-conscious. Perhaps if I tried speed? Slipped from behind the reception desk and shot up the stairs before anyone had a chance to look up? Swift and silent. It could work.

We burst out of the lobby, a blur of anorak and black fur. I flew over the first step, the second, where's the third, trip, shit, grrrr, bark, bite.


The rest of the afternoon was taken up with dog-walking and worrying, sometimes both at the same time. Gypsy decided thirty minutes was tops when it came to lying quiet in a hotel room. And after that, the prospect of carrying her downstairs and being blown around Wimereux for twenty minutes became almost appealing.

But not for me. “I'm not taking her downstairs again.”

“Why not?”

“I'm just not, that's all.”

I wasn't going to say any more. I could still hear the waitress's voice. As I lay framed in the banisters, a dog fastened to my right ankle, an open-mouthed dining room silently waiting to see what we'd do next. “Anglais,” she'd said, just the one word, mentioned in passing to one of the guests, as she flitted between the tables, collecting plates. But it was enough. Conversation resumed, glasses clinked and eyes left the stair-well. What kind of reputation do we English have in Europe?

So, Shelagh escorted Gypsy about town, while I phoned my sister to give her the news. She didn't believe it either but knew me better than to ask if I'd fixed the horsebox roof.

But we did have a house. The Acte had been signed, the furniture unloaded and the electric fence erected. I told her not to expect us until Friday or Saturday and to leave the front door key somewhere obvious in the outhouse.

And then I settled down to watch TV. I found all the English channels and was just starting to enjoy myself when Gypsy returned.

Which is when the real worrying started. Neither of us could remember seeing Gypsy relieve herself since we returned from the pub in Dover the night before. All the opportunities we'd given her since she'd spurned.

How long could a puppy remain bottled up? I didn't want to think any further than that. But more dog-walking seemed to be the preferable proposition. Especially now the dining room was empty.

I don't remember how many times we walked around Wimereux. Sometimes there were three of us, sometimes just Shelagh and Gypsy. We saw storms, we saw sunny periods, we saw everything except what we wanted to see.

She just wouldn't relieve herself while on the lead. That had to be it. We'd never had to leash her on the farm before because our fields were well-fenced and we'd never taken her for walks anywhere else. But could we unleash her here?

And expect to see her again?

Which would be worse – to tramp the wet and wind-lashed streets of Wimereux searching for a lost puppy or tied to a constipated one? We voted for the former, narrowly. Consequently, we staggered for interminable hours through the various shades of a force ten gale, humans and puppy eyeing each other in embarrassed silence.

As we approached the hotel for the seventh or eighth time, I looked through the spray and heaving sea towards our old home. To the place where thirty-two hours ago, we'd embarked on a thousand mile journey south. We were now 250 miles due east. At this rate we'd be in Poland by the week-end.

We pushed on towards the promenade, hoping to find a beach where we could let Gypsy off but either there wasn't a beach or the tide was in. And the promenade was covered in spray and breaking waves.