Pictures, puddles and putting up with puppies

It’s been a while since I’ve said “Hello” – or “Bonjour” – whichever side of the newly tariffed border you’re reading this from. 

I’m sure you’d agree that it’s all been a bit of a roller-coaster since we last chatted.  I had hoped to be dusting down my penguin suit and rocking up to a wedding or two by now, but sadly that’s not looking too likely any time soon.  Never mind, the penguin says he’s happy to remain in the closet.

Talking of closets, we took on a new recruit this summer at Ollie & Ivy.  Back in July, Alfie joined as our florist-in-training and quite frankly life has never been the same since. Like me, he’s a fully-fledged Yorkshire Terrier, but his Ayrshire origins give him a bit of a Gaelic lilt to his bark.  Sometimes, I struggle to understand his West Coast ways, but he loves a good romp and who am I to complain?  It’s the most fun I’ve had since Ivy made me ‘incomplete’.

I must confess, I turn ten this week and whilst it’s safe to say I’ve retained my youthful looks and boyish charms, as the older statesman, it falls to me to lead the young Alfred and show him the ropes (or in our case, floristry twine). 

Not long after the wee pup arrived, we began his floral training with a photoshoot.  The lovely Hannah from @houston_hello arrived to take charge of proceedings and whilst Ivy faffed around with flowers, Alfie and I prepared ourselves for our publicity shots.  When you’re the face of a nationwide business, it’s always important to look your best, whilst at the same time, trying to make it look effortless.  A bit like Jennifer Anniston.  To be fair, I’m pretty photogenic  - if I do say so myself - and I’ve always been a hit with the ladies – in a sort of George Michael kind of way – so for me – being in front of the lens comes naturally.

Unfortunately, it turns out Alfie is also a bit of a natural when it comes to posing and I am starting to feel the pressure a bit to retain my rightful spot as top dog.  Of course, there’s no doubting I’m the more conventionally handsome one, but there’s no getting away from the fact that his impish, cheeky chappie look is also starting to impress the girls. 

So much so in fact, Hannah chose Alfie to model our first Ollie’s Grand Bouquet! I mean to say I was agog at the sheer gall of the woman to pick Alfie over me, is an understatement.  Not only was it an insult, had she no understanding that this was designed by moi and part of the Simple Ollie’s Flower Collection?  What on earth was the woman thinking?    She tried to placate me by taking some lifestyle shots.  You know the sort - reclining on the sofa or looking wistfully out of the bay window.  But I was not amused and I pretty much showed my distain, as I bore my eyes into her, whilst she directed me to “Look this way!”

Anyway, Alfie turned out not to be quite the auto cutie she’d fallen for, when she stepped back into a puddle he’d lovingly created.  See, that's what you get when you trade us oldies in for a youngster.  “I could take you home, you’re so adorable Alfie!”  she cooed.  Yeah, well, you take him and I hope he has a swell time with your cat!    

Having said that, he’s proved quite useful when it comes to clearing away discarded stems.  You’ll often find him chewing on a bloom, which he’s managed to dissect and rearrange on the floor, channelling his inner Jackson Pollock as he scatters.   I do tell him that flowers aren’t good for his digestion, but he refuses to take any notice and blindly carries on stuffing himself with stems.  He’ll learn.  No doubt the hard way.  You just can’t tell these young’uns sometimes. 

But for now, he’s passed his probation and he’s part of the Ollie & Ivy crew.   He seems to be settling in.  I just hope he’s the only new addition to the team.  If Ivy starts hiring, then I think I’ll have to reconsider this partnership and toddle off back to Paris, where I’m truly admired. 

You see, I’m above all that quarantine nonsense.  I am a canine and I’m not just simply Ollie, I’m simply a cut above.  Not sure my pet passport is valid now though… I’ll have to think about marrying that Irish Setter from the park… hmm…. 

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Hot beds, hostelries and hanging out with Monet

It was rare for Ivy and I to venture beyond the boulevards of Paris, but occasionally we escaped the city in favour of the countryside and sometimes headed north to Normandy. 

At one point in our Parisian adventure, Ivy had grand designs about living in this part of France, but I personally never saw the appeal.  I guess I’m more a French Riviera kind of dandy, at home on a yacht in Monaco, rather than hanging out in the rain by some old castle ruin, in this largely agricultural landscape.    Call me shallow, but I’m always down for a bit of promenading and posing with an apero in paw.  Not up to my knees in grass, sniffing around. 

But Ivy was drawn to this northern terrain, because it was home to some the most beautiful gardens in France.  Perhaps the most famous being that of Claude Monet,  the painter and founder of French Impressionism.  To give him his due, Monet’s work is incredible.  Ivy and I have visited a lot of his exhibitions over the years, and I am always mesmerised by how a series of coloured dots on a canvas can be turned into the most exquisite scenes of French life. 

We visited his home in Giverny to admire the flowers and the waterways a few times.  My favourite time of year is late summer, when you get a lot hot beds.   A hot bed – dear reader – is garden speak for the colours that adorn the flower borders during August and September.  The flame red, dark pinks and orangey rich hues of dahlias, asters and sedums, are normally contained within a hot bed.  Ivy says that she normally considers a hot bed to contain Aidan Turner (that chap who plays Poldark), but that’s another story.  Her bed normally contains me, which I think makes it pretty hot already and there really is no room for anyone else.  But I digress…

A visit to Monet’s garden is always a treat in the horticultural calendar and on a fine day, not only are the flowers exceptional, the peace and tranquillity of the surrounding area is worth the train journey alone.  Don’t get me wrong, the hustle and bustle of Paris is fabulous, but it’s lovely to breathe in the fresh Normandy air and admire the beautifully curated gardens of this truly great artist. 

Us creatives draw inspiration from our surroundings, so it was no wonder that I named one of our floral arrangements after the great Impressionist movement.  Taken from the Bichon Frise Collection, The Impressionist’s Palette, represents all those little glorious markings found on a Monet canvas, capturing the light and beauty of the Normandy fields.

Now under normal circumstances, canine chums aren’t generally allowed into Monet’s pad, but as I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I’m not your average canine and since we all know that I’m destined for floral greatness, the garden team made an exception, recognising my creative genius and inevitable future floral prominence. 

The French generally hold us dogs in high esteem and are far more relaxed about these things than the Brits.  My dear friend Ron, a Labradoodle, was allowed into the internationally acclaimed garden festival at Chaumont, a few years back.  Just goes to show the French are pretty savvy when it comes to understanding canines.

Proceedings at Giverny usually end with a hearty lunch in the sun-drenched garden of a rather chic but shabby hotel and eatery.  The view from the front of the hostelry of gentle green hills and blue skies were particularly magnificent and I usually sat patiently drinking it all in.  Ivy – on the other hand – tended to drink in more of the Chablis than the view – but then she is a borderline alcoholic, as is evidenced by the picture I took below.   

On this particular occasion, we were meant to be decorating Sleeping Beauty’s bed, but Ivy saw fit to crack open a bottle of Côtes du Rhône – claiming some feeble excuse about it being Friday.  Sometimes, I wonder where I found her.  But I guess you can’t have it all. 

I suspect Monet was fond of the odd verre du vin and I like to think he chose to sit by his lily pond and sip a glass or two, admiring his efforts.  After a bottle (or two), I would firmly guide Ivy and her regular drinking companion – Helga – along the walk back to the train station.  Navigating our way with my exceptional nose and avoiding any alcohol infused mishaps on en route.

Recognising my embarrassment at being out with these two drunks, the train conductor ordinarily gave me plenty of attention, which I enthusiastically lapped up.  In my experience the French are partial to bit of Yorkshire and in fairness, you can’t fault them for that!  Viva la France! Viva le chien!

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Early Mornings and Markets - Where Flowers and Flour Both Shine

Early mornings have never really been my thing.  Mind you, I’m not a fan of late nights either, but if I had to choose, I’d opt for an evening soiree as oppose to an early bird worm – or whatever it is they generally catch. 

Ivy – on the other hand – she loves a late night jaunt, but she’s pretty hopeless first thing.  The hours I’ve sat crossed-legged waiting to be let out because she’s not yet raised her head off the pillow are beyond belief.  Thankfully, I have excellent bladder control.  I’m like a camel when it comes to storing water – only more alluring and a tad less smelly.

So I was surprised when Ivy announced we were signing up for flower school.  It struck me as quite an odd career choice when you’re not the sort to jump out of bed and jog down to the flower market at crazy o’clock on a dark, cold winter’s morning.  Or indeed any morning for that matter!  You have to get there so early, it’s dark no matter what the season.

But - choose floristry she did – even though I tried to lecture her on the perils of committing us both to such early weekday starts.  Of course, Ivy’s starts are particularly early because unlike me, whose morning ritual includes giving my mane a shake and a spot of doggy yoga, she takes forever.  And the older she gets the longer it takes!  Over the years, I’ve learned that by the time the whirling noise of that horrendous invention – the hairdryer - goes on, I’m good for another five minutes before I have to think about getting a wriggle on. 

Our first introduction to a flower market was in Paris.  Situated on the outskirts of the city, Marche de Rungis is its name and boy is it big!  They sell pretty much everything there – not just flowers.  All the fresh produce for Parisian fine dining generally arrives into Rungis, before it’s sold on to the rats who run the restaurants.  And when I say rats, I’m not being rude, I’ve seen that film - Ratatouille.  I know how it works.  Another poor breed of creature destined for hard labour.  I never dreamed at the time when I watched that rat cooking in the kitchen, that getting a job would become my destiny too.  How times have changed! 

So, bleary eyed, Ivy would often drag herself out of our apartment to visit le marche.  She often found the only other stark raving loons to be up and out at that time were delivery drivers and boulangers.  All hard at work making pastries and baguettes for the morning influx of hungry workers and tourists.  Do you think the rats make the bread too?  Or do they leave that to the mice?  Not sure.  This clearly isn’t the city to sit around if you’re an animal. 

Sometimes I dodged the early morning bullets and managed to remain curled up in a ball on the bed until the lovely Vianney swung by and joined me on my morning constitutional.  Her arrival at around 10 o’clock marked a far more civilised time to embrace the day and wander the streets of Paris, chatting to my canine chums, accompanied by a pretty fille.

The times I bothered to rise early and visit le marche, I noticed it to be a busy hive of activity with palettes being wheeled in and out and men with half-smoked cigarettes hanging around gossiping. 

Flowers – it seems – is a serious business.  They arrive from all over the world and there’s often a bit of bartering involved when it comes to securing the best stems for the best price.  The array of colours, smells and textures are very impressive.  There’s a flower for every occasion.   The orchid collection alone makes any fur dandy draw in his doggy breath.  Mind, the price makes you howl. 

On site, there’s a grand old brasserie, that looks like it’s been serving café crème and croissants since before flowers were even a thing.   The male server looks like he’s not seen daylight in a long time.  Just a plume of smoke engulfs him and rises like a mist over the brasserie, as workers and customers congregate for this seemingly early morning ritual, sipping caffeine and smoking.  There’s not much on offer for canine creatives.  Living in Paris, I got into the habit of swigging cognac in the morning. 

Despite the lack of alcoholic beverage, stench of tobacco and the sleep deprived faces, there is something quite refined about it all.  As soon as the coffee cups are empty, the  vans are packed up and driven back along the inner ring road into central Paris, before most Parisians have even set foot down their apartment staircase. 

Of course, I still prefer my croissant at more respectable hour of the day.   Here’s a picture with me and my very own delicacy at my usual Paris morning haunt – Au Pied de Cochon.  “The Pig’s Trotter” to the not-so-well-informed. 

A tout à l’heure!

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Posing, Posies and Pyramides in Paris

The reasons for moving to Paris were initially unclear to me.  But then, as is often the way, Ivy comes up with a crazy plan and before I can protest, I’m being picked up and carried off to start a new adventure.
Parisian life was definitely different to anything I had experienced before.  Even a cultured canine like myself could not have predicted the intensity of living in such a magnificent city.  It was a two-year sensory overload! 
 
Ivy and I regularly promenaded along la Seine. She would sashay along in her 1950s apparel and I would strut my stuff,  like I was auditioning for Paris Fashion Week to grand acclaim by the locals.  To be honest, I’ve never fully understood why they’re called catwalks… I mean… what’s so special about cats, uh?  They don’t even leave their apartment in Paris.  Strange creatures. 
But catwalks are where it’s at, certainly in this town and they’re where you’ll find a whole cornucopia of fabulousness.  Including amazing florals.  In fact, our fleuriste extraordinaire, Catherine, who was our floral guiding light whilst living in Paris, was a bit of a fashion week expert, when it came to creating blooms for the rich and famous. 
The notches on her flowerbed post are pretty impressive and it’s certainly true that when it comes to training, Ivy and I were definitely tutored by the best.  Catherine and her team inspired us both to throw away the flower rule book and think outside the floral box.  I mean, I’m not really sure I even know what the rules are that principally govern flower arranging, but whatever they are, I’m told we don’t use them. 
Of course, the combination of Ivy’s mood swings and my creative genius means that together, we’re incapable of following any rules or indeed any book.  We make it up as we go along.  Or as Ivy puts it, “we let the creative spirits in and guide us”.  In reality, the only spirits Ivy lets in are the ones she finds in a bottle, but it’s probably not wise to divulge too much, dear reader, not at this stage. 
 
So, part of the reason we rocked up in Paris was to find ourselves.  A mid-life crisis in my view, when it comes to my assistant, but what can you do?  So I indulged Ivy by joining her in her quest to be ‘rediscovered’.   And in fairness, we did discover a lot of things.  Firstly, I’m a natural when it comes to colour and creativity.  I always knew I had a bit of a flair for design the day I ‘rearranged’ Ivy’s flowers in her precious raised beds back in Blighty, but I was unprepared for the depths of my talents. 
I think Ivy was somewhat taken aback, when she discovered how naturally floristry came to me.  She’d imaged she’d be the better designer, but I surpassed even Catherine’s expectations of any Parisian chien she’d allowed through her Rue des Pyramides school doors.  Our French queen could see I was going places, long before even I recognised my own genius.  But then, being modest has always been my downfall. 
Time to step aside Simon Lycett, there’s a new dog on the floral block and once my paws hit the cobbles of New Covent Garden Flower Market, you’ll be quivering in your DM boots!  So be prepared…   I jest of course.  I’m not really that competitive.  But touch one of my Sweet Avalanche roses and I’ll kill you with a deathly stare.    Ivy and I have perfected the deathly stare for those hard to please customers.  So if you find yourself in possession of one, you know you’ve crossed the line.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Or in my case, four-legged.    
So, there we were – in Paris – learning all about colour, form and texture, gliding down Rue des Pyramides with our bouquets of carefully curated stems each evening after school, pinching ourselves that we were actually here, living the dream!  Stopping en route home for a Kir Royale and an occasional sniff. 
 
But of course it wasn’t all dreamy.  Some days were in fact dreary, but that was largely down to the weather.  I’ve never been a fan of the rain, which is naturally why Ivy chose to relocate us to Scotland!  No method - but plenty of madness – for all to see here!
And that’s how we started.  By dipping our paws into Parisian life and learning new lessons and new ways.
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?  Ivy on the other hand, she’s a tough cookie to teach, but Lord, you can’t say I’ve not tried these past years… 
 
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Welcome!

Hello!  I’m Ollie and I’m a Yorkshire Terrier.  Sometimes I go by my full name – Oliver – but only when I’ve been a little naughty.  I’d tell you my age - but it’s never wise to disclose too much information – so Ivy says anyway.
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