It was a mission of mercy.
“Have you bought your quad yet?” Tomasz asked as he and his young family ambled past us on the zig zag path, near the Oagre Chapel. Lean and tanned from growing up with healthy mountain sports, we had first met Tomasz a few days previously, on our morning dog walk. Rosie had bowled up to him in his shed behind Rezidenza Le Marmotte, where he was exchanging the snow tracks for wheels on his quad bike. We called Rosie back, apologised and explained that she was just being friendly. Tomasz smiled and summed up Lockdown Life,
“Don’t worry. It’s a relief just to talk to someone!”
We are in the market for an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) as a runaround to go with The Beast, our new overland truck. Just before we met Tomasz, we had passed one in the car park and happened to be debating the merits of the cheaper Honda versus the top-of-the-range Can Am.
The ‘King of the Quads’ debate goes back to the time B.C. (Before Caravan), when we were definitely buying a motorhome. A vehicle large enough to live in full-time would be impractical for sightseeing, shopping and most importantly, getting windsurfers to beaches, so we came up with the solution of towing a quad on a trailer. As part of that investigation, we had posed the question, “What quad?” to The Shipp Twins. Fastidious researchers and the wellspring of all knowledege on matters camping, caravanning, engineering and generally practical, they did not hesitate,
“Can Am,” they expounded in unison.
When you live on a budget, saving a few grand is a big deal, although in the wilds of Mongolia, the value of a bulletproof, working ATV could be way beyond Pounds Sterling.
“Honda is a watchword for reliability.” I opined. “I don’t think you can go far wrong with Japanese engineering – and there’s no point spending more than we have to.”
Never in the field of human transport have so many words been eaten so quickly by so few. The statement had barely left my lips when we ran into Tomasz. When we asked his opinion on quads, unprompted, he confirmed what we should all have learned by now – you get what you pay for.
“We have every make of quad in the resort, but the mechanics in Monte Rosa now only buy Can Am. The Honda had its engine changed twice in the first year! Are you on WhatsApp? There’s a Can Am dealer in Aosta. I’ll send you the details.”
Tomasz and his family continued up the zig zag but halted their procession of mini-bikes and pushchairs part way to stand and watch. With four dogs gambolling around their feet, the English couple were acting very strangely. They collected water from the stream in a 40L Aquaroll barrel, which they rolled uphill. Then, they emptied its contents into the middle of the deserted hotel car park.
The tadpole puddle was drying up!
Perhaps Italian childhoods are different, but we had been excited when we saw the frog spawn. Early on, Mark had set up some shade, because we worried the occupants might overheat in a shallow puddle in a car park. On our daily walks, we had watched the tadpoles hatch and grow. We had bonded!
As children, like blackberrying or collecting conkers, the miracle of metamorphosis was one of the important annual events that punctuated each season. The fascination never diminished; jam jars of jelly collected from local ponds would transform via wriggling, black commas into perfect, miniature frogs, to be released back into the ponds. After two days of hot sun, we couldn’t bear to see our special, little family of taddys writhing in the mud and asphyxiating as their home-puddle evaporated.
Tomasz had moved on by the time we got around to lifting and relocating those muddy handfuls of tadpoles that the replenished puddle waters didn’t reach. Then we dammed off the shallow bits with stones to prevent the more adventurous tadpoles from inadvertently putting themselves in danger of stranding.
“Thunderbirds Are Go!” I said to Mark. “We’re like International Rescue!”
It was a grimy, soggy yet worthwhile couple of hours!
Ruby is a fan of the tadpole puddle; she makes a bee line for it whenever we take the pups out for their necessaries. She would paddle there for hours if we let her. So, it was the first place we looked for her when she went missing.
“È una nave – It’s a ship!” I explained to Luisa, the housekeeper, indicating the sizeable, square, cardboard box that had been delivered. She looked confused.
“Un bâteau!” Mark clarified.
“That’s French for boat,” I whispered. “I think the Italian might be ‘barca’ – where ’embark’ and ‘disembark’ come from.”
Luisa wandered off looking slightly less confused, until she saw us sitting in an inflatable raft on the grass outside the apartment. The boat is a purchase made in anticipation of exploring the water castles in Lithuania, if we ever get there. Deliveries up a mountain in Italy are always hit and miss, but even with an €18 delivery surcharge to compensate for the altitude, the courier couldn’t be bothered to locate our apartment.
Luisa had been heavily involved in the search for the large and weighty box abandoned somewhere in the catacombes that form the underground parking for three apartment blocks and the hotel. Even if the packaging had not been damaged, we would have inflated the boat anyway, to ensure that it was not punctured.
Satisfied that all was in order with the boat, Mark decided to wash Big Blue.
In Italy, Big Blue turns heads. A large, blue van with English plates, now randomly adorned with pink, flowery stickers to stabilise the areas where her paint is peeling, it is perhaps the paddle boards on the roof that are most incongruous in the Alps. Crusted with a full winter’s-worth of salt, Big Blue was not a pretty sight. The dogs followed Mark to the caravan, now parked nearby on a piece of waste ground/car park following the pointless ministrations of The Italian Jobsworth. There, he retrieved a bucket and rag to do the deed.
I did the only decent thing and established myself on a bean bag with my Kindle and a cup of tea to enjoy the sunshine.
A little while later, a sixth sense provoked me to ask, “Where’s Ruby?”
“Oh, she’ll be around,” Mark replied.
“Did she come back from the caravan?”
Mark didn’t know.
Ruby does like a mooch and a wander, but always checks back regularly to make sure that Mum and Dad are still within an acceptable distance. On walks, with one paw raised, her head pops up like a meerkat every so often and she has the best recall of all The Fab Four. I called her, but she didn’t come.
“I haven’t seen her for a while. I’ll go and look.”
I checked all her favourite haunts; the tadpole puddle in the car park; the stream near the chapel; the stagnant ditch by the caravan – she was nowhere to be seen. I called her again and again, but there was no sign of her. I began to worry. She loves water, so my innate panic overdrive kicked into gear. It started to pose questions such as random worry #27,
“What if she’s gone down to the main river Lys? It’s a torrent of melt-water. The rapids would wash her away in a moment!”
Of course, when I checked, there was no sign of her there.
The snow bridge had already collapsed, so worry #32; a dog being swept underneath to be trapped and drowned and #33; the bridge disintegrating with someone on it had recently been downgraded.
I walked around the apartment block, calling for Ruby. Almost fifty percent of our neighbours, a Milanese couple, were sunbathing on the terrace.
“Ha visto il cane marrone? – Have you seen the brown dog?” I asked. They hadn’t.
By now, even Mr You-Worry-Too-Much-Everything-Will-Be-Alright was becoming less blasé. He abandoned Big Blue’s ablutions and we both orbited the apartment and gardens in opposite directions, calling for her. Because of her beautiful, foxy-red colour, Ruby always attracts the most attention of any of The Fab Four. One of my Top Ten worries surfaced; had she been kidnapped?
I tried to assure myself that the village is deserted. There is no-one around. I pushed away scary thought #19 relating to the wolf population that is reputedly well established in Monte Rosa. A man in St Jean told us he had seen wolves stalking around a restaurant, right in the centre. And wolves were the reason cited for Pepé, the English Setter, being relocated by his owner Stefano from the mountain hut Der Shopf.
“I’ll drive into the village and see if I can see her,” Mark said.
As he pulled open Big Blue’s door, a familiar, red, teddy-bear face greeted him.
Ruby had climbed unseen into the huge, comfy dog bed behind Big Blue’s seats for a quiet snooze and had got shut in. Unaware of the commotion she had caused, Ruby looked slightly shocked as Mark and I squeezed her tightly between us in a group hug and jointly kissed her all over. I could have cried with relief at getting my beautiful Ruby Booby back. Even though strictly, she hadn’t actually gone anywhere…
So, between rescuing Ruby, thousands of tadpoles, turning the lawn into a shipping lane then driving a van with an eclectic paint job and surf boards on the roof around the mountains, we have upheld the stereotype of English eccentricity. Not only that, we declared Can Am The King of the Quads.
It’s been a busy week!
Join us next time to see how a summer holiday in the mountains will improve your skiing – and we’re not just talking fitness!