Just one day in and I'm a wreck
IT'S 4.30am and our house is a chaos of last-minute packing, lost earphones and arguments over whether or not to pack bathing shorts.
Fifteen minutes past the time we should have left for the airport, only two of our four are sitting in the car, ears wired to iPhones. The younger middle teen is still wandering around in boxer shorts, picking things up and putting them down again. The eldest appears to be frying food.
"Shouldn't you be in the car?" I tell him. He just looks at me coldly and chews. "Okay," I say.
Ten minutes later we're hurtling towards the motorway and my wife is issuing agitated instructions. "Remember," she says, "you're getting Pepper chipped and pinned today. The vet opens at 2.30pm."
"It's just 'chipped'," I correct.
"No," she says, "she gets her booster shot today too."
"I mean 'PIN' refers to bank debit cards. You don't get a pass-code for your dog." One of the kids snorts from the back seat. "Our puppy only makes deposits," I add.
"I don't know," pipes up the younger middle teen. "She's done a pretty good job withdrawing just about everything in reach from the house to the back garden."
"Urgh," I groan.
"Look on the bright side," says my wife as we pull up to departures' "It's the only morning you'll be stuck in with her. After that booster, you can walk her. That'll help tire her out."
I wave them off and set course for home, four days of dog-minding ahead while they visit relatives abroad.
I'm greeted at the house by the sight of older dog Molly staring out the front window with a beleaguered look - odd, since we closed off all the rooms before we left. Turns out Pepper has learned a new trick. I find all the downstairs doors open and the back yard littered with debris.
"Smart dog," I mutter. This can mean only one thing. If she's intelligent enough to learn how to use door handles, she must be peeing all over the floor every day for the sheer hell of it.
At 2pm, I begin the deceptively difficult task of trying to deposit puppy into car for our trip to the vet, in that this should be as easy as popping her in, turning the key and taking off, but, in fact involves a complex sequence of trying to get Molly, already going mad at the sound of jangling keys, into the kitchen while trying to keep Pepper from slipping away and demonstrating her new door-handle trick.
It's 2.30pm and I'm drenched in perspiration by the time we're in the sweltering car and shuddering to the end of the road where I have to stop and dislodge Pepper from where she's already wedged around the gear stick.
I drive another hundred yards down the road before I have to put on my hazard lights and go around to the side door to lever her out from where she's now lodged between seat and door. When I finally go back around to the driver's seat, she's flopped behind the steering wheel.
"You realise this is the last time we're doing this," I huff, melted hair-gel stinging my eyes. "After today, we walk. Everywhere." She slips out of the seatbelt and drapes herself awkwardly over the handbrake.
It's just before closing time when we finally get to the vet, who quickly dissuades me of any idea about leaving the house with Pepper for another week. "A week at the least," he says.
"You're kidding, right?" I say. By the time the family returns I'll look like Tom Hanks in Castaway.
"You're going to need to worm her as well," he says.
"The fun never stops," I mutter.
He hands me something the size of a horse pill. "What am I supposed to do with this?" I say.
"It's disguised as a treat," he promises. "Don't worry, she'll just gobble it up." This, of course, proves to be anything but the case.
The bizarre menu of items Pepper is happy to consume includes shoes, duct-tape, tea-towels, the side of the leather couch, all the bristles off the broom, the binding of a rather rare encyclopaedia of wine, every last bit of parsley from the herb garden and the head of a glow-in-the-dark dinosaur. Not on that menu, it seems, is a worming tablet disguised as a dog treat.
I try wrapping it in cheese, then chicken, then chopping it up small into her food, but it's always left, licked clean.
I eventually jam it onto the neck of the plastic dinosaur. This works.
I collapse onto the sofa. Pepper hops into my lap. Molly looks on disapprovingly.
"Honestly?" I tell her, "I'm done arguing."
When I wake up at 4.30am, my lap is empty, every door downstairs is open and the back yard is full of half-chewed household items again.
"It's going to be a long week," I sigh.