In the sticks: Stuff this for a dog's life lark

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IF IT wasn't for Stuffit, I would be telling you about the Barcelona taxi drivers who do flamenco clapping while driving with no hands. It's his fault I haven't been further than the Devon coast.

Stuffit is our new relief postman (Louis, our regular, is off at his cousins' in Bideford) and, unlike the usual stand-ins, he succeeded in finding our house on the first day. Stuffit's professional aims centre around getting home as fast as possible, whereas Louis's centre around quality of life. So while Louis spends a large portion of his working life with his feet under his customers' kitchen tables eating home-made cakes, Stuffit barely gets out of his van. He just pulls up close to doors and postboxes, and stuffs the letters in higgledy-piggledy.

This is bad, on two counts: First, there is no opportunity to sit around gassing about our neighbours, and secondly, it means that the post gets here too early. Even on Saturdays.

Last Saturday that was particularly bad news, as I had just put my two children on the luxury coach to London, the new no-effort way to transport them to see their father. "There's a stewardess on duty to supervise them," he'd told me. But when I left them in seats 15A and 15B, the only people in sight were three lads out of Trainspotting, a fat man with tattoos on his belly, and two besuited androids.

The experience was so traumatic that, by the time I got home, I'd determined on a restorative escape to Spain, starting just the moment that ex-hubby rang me to say that my babies were safe. But just as I drew up to our gate, Stuffit drew away - a full three hours before Louis would have appeared. Atop the crumpled pile of papers was a bank statement. I don't know why I opened it (I never normally open bank statements), but once I had, it was obvious that any escaping had to be done within a budget of no more than pounds 18.50. That's barely the price of a place to pitch a tent. Certainly not two flights and a cheap hotel in Barcelona.

"We'll go in the van," Doug said.

"What? To Barcelona? We've only got two days!"

"No, stupid. The seaside. The beach. Chuck the futon and the dogs in the back. Easy."

So we did. For the first few miles, it seemed like a good idea. Perched high above the road, able to peek over hedgerows and see Exmoor turning into the sea, with canines Dog and No clambering waggily over my legs.

And then our pup (and part-time baby substitute), No, began to heat up in the sunlight. Never has so much gas expanded so rapidly from so small a belly. And what gas was it? Not in the whole shameful history of chemical warfare have the bad, mad boffins come up with anything half so potent. We drove with the windows down, holding our breath, and sticking our heads out to gulp air like divers.

When we got to the beach, we lay on the shingle and hyperventilated for a while, while Dog and No explored. Everywhere that No went, there was a reaction - gasps of horror; sunbathers suddenly sitting up and looking pale; readers dropping their books.

But No's beach diet of semi-rotted jellyfish did wonders for his flatulence - too late. His reputation was set as something approaching the ultimate deterrent. It afforded us a much bigger share of beach space than anyone else. So, by evening barbie time, our driftwood fire could smoke without offending anyone.

Blissfully, we watched the moon rise over the sea, then snuck away to sleep in the van. No and Dog flopped like obedient hot-water bottles on our feet, and I blessed Stuffit for his punctuality. But, like the baby he almost is, No woke us at 5am, by weeing copiously on Doug's head. Now I know why they eat dogs in Korea.