Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Nun's Tale ...

So I was sitting happily at my old desk up in Chambéry playing Freecell trying to work out why my RS-485 ports should not be working, when who should tap at the door but the weedy red-headed delivery guy? We greeted one another as long-lost friends, he offered me a coffee from the least disgusting of the vending machines, and talk turned - as it will and in fact invariably does - to cooking.

Somehow, it turned from the delights of cassoulet onto la cuisine moleculaire, and once we'd decided that a) you can't find a decent restaurant around Chambéry and b) all those with pretensions are, at best, merely competent, he went on to regale me with the tale of how once he went off to a restaurant managed by a friend of a friend up in the mountains above Grenoble for a twelve-course meal.

He was positively salivating as he described the sensation of eating the little billes of crystallised foie gras surrounding a heart of liquid foie gras - the crunch of biting down onto the hard shell and then the explosion of taste on the tongue - but he was only warming up for the trou normand, a variety of different lemon-flavoured mousses, essences and gels that came to the table set out as a platter of drug paraphernalia.

Oddly enough I mentioned this to Jeremy the next day, when he consented to have lunch with me, and he told me that he knew of the place: in fact, one of his friends from lycèe had worked there. Maybe I should try to get the name.

Our friend Mad Karen and her present husband Philippe have abandoned Mumblefuck and gone to live in a convent in Seyssel. I hasten to point out that the convent in question is not a going concern, for it would be unusual to have such a place accept Philippe even as a novice (or Mad Karen, come to that): rather, due to an absence of nuns it became surplus to the requirements of the Church, and they bought it. At long last, after a long and tortuous series of meetings and dealings with sordid bottom-feeding bankers, with the details of which I shall not bore you.

Seyssel is actually quite a nice little town on the old road through to Bellegarde and Nantua (you will recall that sauce Nantua, or any garnish with it in the name, refers to the fresh-water crayfish that have since disappeared, victims of over-fishing and pollution) built on both banks of the Rhône. As that used to be the frontier between France and Savoie, it thus has the particularity that the eastern part of the town is in Haute-Savoie, and the western part in the Ain (which is properly French, although the local accent is particularly impenetrable no matter what side of the river you find yourself on).

Anyway, the river runs through it and at one point back in the 1600s the Bernardine Order bought - or were given - some rich guy's place, latched onto most of the surrounding block of houses, and set up a convent. Which, due as I said to a lack of nuns, not to mention the Revolution, fell into desuetude ... whatever, Mad Karen and Philippe bought it.

Not the whole thing of course, that would have been prohibitively expensive, but they are now the proud owners of about 1000 m² on four levels, plus dépendances and maybe 800 m² of garden in the interior courtyard.

The courtyard had of course been left to its own devices over many years but after a bit of dedicated hacking and selective napalming you can see that the wood cyclamens are still there under the trees. I guess the main problem now is going to be getting rid of a couple of cubic metres of wood, given that there's no easy access, and certainly no way to get a rubbish skip in there: maybe they'll just have to befriend someone with a wood-chipper.

Preferably one that doesn't mind a bit of extra splatter when (sh)he's operating the machine, for Floyd The Psychopathic Terrier is unfortunately indiscriminate concerning the placement of bodily wastes. "I wouldn't step there ... " said Karen as I made my way about the cloisters, "oh, too late. Never mind, it'll probably wash out."

Rather to my surprise there's actually about 250 m² inside that are in fact habitable, even if the prior owner's taste in bathroom tiles was more than questionable. And the kitchen definitely needs a bit of work - like plumbing, for one thing - but it has a beautiful wooden floor. Although I can see it going down like a lead balloon with Health & Safety, maybe she should not look at doing table d'hôte.

Have I ever mentioned, by the way, that she's Italian? God, do they eat. When I turned up, about two, no way was I going to be allowed to escape without having a wodge of frittata, bread and cheese at the very least, and of course that needed to be washed down with wine.

Then there were mutual friends turning up for dinner, so around 6 I was banished to the kitchen to start a brace of chickens off slow-roasting (incidentally, one of the better ways of cooking the beast) with cherry tomatoes ... a good thing that Joc and Hervé brought dessert.

So their house is a big project - rather too much for us I'm afraid - but should ever it get finished it will be quite wonderful. And we will know people who actually live in a chateau, of sorts. Should ever they run short of cash I suppose they could always hock off a couple of the marvelous stone fireplaces, godnose they've enough to spare.

I headed back down home on Sunday with an unfortunately smug smile on my face once I'd got past Valence, which came from admiring the three blocked northward lanes for about 100 km. Then I got onto the A9 just before Orange, and my heart was still light for all was going swimmingly ... until I got to Montpellier.

Rather usefully, in these here parts the big overhead signs show an estimated trip time to the next few destinations, and as I got closer to the péage after Montpellier-Ouest I couldn't help but notice that they were advertising 2h30 to get to Narbonne: this is not good. Throwing caution to the winds and demonstrating, once again, the inevitable and tragic triumph of hope over experience, I got off whilst there was still time and headed onto the départementales towards Pézenas and Beziers - reasoning that it could hardly be worse.

Of course I was wrong. It's about 65 km to Beziers, all on narrow roads where there's sod-all chance of overtaking - of course man + dog had all had the same brilliant idea as I, and on top of it I had the good luck to wind up behind a white van man who hadn't read the manual, for his feeling seemed to be that 60 kph had been good enough for Jesus (I'm not sure in which of the Apocrypha this obscure factoid is mentioned, but what the hell), and it was certainly good enough for him.

I toyed with the idea of forcing him off onto the shoulder and eating his liver raw, but it came to me that if I did so I would be held up for another fifteen minutes and that sometimes one just has to ignore the siren call of instant gratification, and luckily a passing lane appeared at that point ... then I arrived at Montagnac. I guess that the traversée of the place is only about 2 km, but the mayor has apparently put his idiot nephew in charge of running the traffic lights - of which there are three, don't ask me why, I didn't do it - and it seems to be done with bits of string and, when all else fails, by the intervention of the Holy Spirit.

It only took about half an hour to get through there, and then I got to Pézenas which was mildly better, and a bit after that I ran out of road signs and everything conspired to push me onto the A75, which was at least heading roughly in the way I wanted to go ... and that was fine, and I got back onto the A9 which was all clear (probably because everyone had, like me, got off and were still desperately roaming the countryside, lost and destined to be eaten by the autochthones) and at Narbonne I got onto the A61 knowing full well that Lézignan is the first exit ...

My last chance to get off having disappeared, of course I came across another of those handy overhead signs that was advertising a ralentissement and about two hours to get to Carcassonne: one of those days when you really shouldn't have bothered getting out of bed.

I finally made it home by 21:00, only seven hours after I'd set out: still, the dogs were glad to see me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Newspapers Do Me 'Ead In ...

 

"What's this?" I thought, blearily glugging down the first coffee-and-cocaine of the moaning*. "Why on Earth has the world's most peaceful, prosperous and technologically advanced nation weaponised the clergy?" In a parallel universe I would probably have slapped the newspaper down onto the breakfast table with a triumphant "harrumph" at Margo at this point, narrowly avoiding a cornflakes-related disaster, but in this Shamblings we don't actually do breakfast, and in any case avoid being together until we've evolved a bit.

(Also, to be totally honest, the actual physical paper newspaper has gone the way of the clepsydra and the button-hook, rendered obsolete by technology. But slapping a tablet down just doesn't have the same ring to it, and could also get quite expensive, what with the little buggers being kind of delicate and all. So we're stuck - metaphorically - with dead trees.)

As it will (must cut down on the medications which are not, strictly speaking, mine anyway - and truth to tell I'm not entirely sure that powdered doggy worm tablets are really that hallucinogenic, although if you cut them with baking powder they are kind of fizzy) this sent the dinosaur hind-brain running off down memory lane looking for something to play with, and all it could find was the old Monty Python sketch "The Bishop", which it dutifully brought back and started to gnaw. Would be nice, if one day it just brought me my slippers ... 

Anyway, visions of booby-trapped baptismal fonts, bishops with bazookas, Kevlar chasubles and exploding aspergillae started weaving in and out of more normal daydreams involving improbably-dimensioned young women, and it wasn't until I clicked on the link and realised that some sub-editor over at stuff.co.nz was probably going to be told he was a very naughty boy that things started to calm down.

At long last EBK is learning the fine art of cohabitation with SOD. He still refuses to find himself in the same room as her, but when both the dogs go out on the late-evening "Avoiding Unpleasant Incidents In The Night-time" walk he prances along with us and dives in to see what's going on. Patting a cat whose head is covered in dog slobber is less than pleasant, but I guess it could be worse.

Our new(ish) maire, M. Mazet, is a small stumpy man with a Panama hat and the harassed air of a self-important minor bureaucrat; walks stiffly and seats himself with an uncomfortable grimace. I would not be surprised to learn that a stick was surgically implanted into his arse at some point. Or perhaps he just has haemorrhoids (as well as an idiot nephew, which as I've said before seems to come with the job). Whatever, he is not winning any prizes in the popularity sweepstakes in our little corner of Moux.

Tuesday, when I was off in Chambéry (decanting Bryan and Beckham and vast quantities of wine back there after their week in the sun, amongst other more serious things) Reets (that's how "Rita" is pronounced in bloody Barnsley) reached the ripe old age of sixty-mumble and had a birthday party.

She and Neville have a house which can only be described as "teeny" and anyway it was hot and sunny, so as will happen it spilled out onto their extremely narrow street, which sort of came into being back in the day when plumbing was invented so they decided that paving over the open sewer might be a good idea. Also, at that time "transportation" meant "donkeys" so I suppose that technically speaking it is in fact a two-way street: personally I am not about to try and take Sarah down there because I would probably get stuck for the rest of my life.

That is not the point: the point is that at some time in the evening M. le maire came out to ostentatiously close his shutters and I guess he must have a photographic memory or maybe he's the French rebuild of the 6-Million Dollar Man because the next day all those present - including, I'm sad to say, Margo - received a Letter.

The very first sentence ended with an exclamation mark: a bad beginning, being almost invariably the sign of a diseased mind. It reminds us that Moux is governed by the laws of the République, that roads may not be closed without permission from the mairie, and - just by the way - that there should be no noise, vulgarity, drunkenness or lascivious behaviour in the streets after 10pm. Sadly, it did not end with a "longue vie à notre Président, vive la république", but the sentiment was there.

He also seems to have a mild obsession with parking spaces in the place - better that than penis size I suppose - and under normal circumstances that would be harmless enough, but it has led him to upbraid Margo on occasion. He seems to feel it very deeply that we have two cars, one of which is bigger than his, and neither of them are in our garage, and this cuts him to the quick. Personally I am impatient to get all the furniture out of the garage and into the house, which would at least leave the possibility of sticking a car in there, but this seems of little consolation to him.

Whatever, I could give a shit.

Pouring fat on the flames, or adding insult to injury, or whatever, old Hélène was also on the receiving end of a Sternly Worded But Uplifting Letter, which did not please her. As a good soixante-huitard she of course did something about it: consisting, quite simply, of asking Mr. Stick-up-bum whether or not she needed an arrêté municipal to park her car in the street outside her house in order to unload it. The splenetic response was apparently quite edifying.

I kind of wish I'd been around to hear it, I'm sure I'd have learnt something. Or if not, I'd probably have laughed myself sick.

As is traditional around these here parts the day arrived with a bright sun in a flawless blue sky and - kind of exceptionally, this one - no wind. Of course I had better things to do, so I resolutely ignored their siren call and headed off to Paraza, a bit north-east of here, instead.

It's a pretty little village, baking under the sun, and the canal du Midi winds slowly around it under the platanes and on a hot Sunday afternoon the only people moving around are the tourists, who hop off the house-boats to see if they can't find some decent wine for the apéro a bit later on.

I know it will be my downfall, but the gates were open and there seemed to be a dégustation going on in there, so I followed my nose through the imposing gates and on into Chateau Paraza. Which I can now heartily recommend. Even if it is Minervois, rather than Corbières. I'm quite broad-minded, in that respect.

Started off with a couple of whites, then the rosé, then onto serious work with the reds. Beginning, as one will, with the youngest and least complicated, and working up from there ... the vin du pays is not to be sniffed at - the 2011 was really rather decent - and the 2010 AOC Minervois (les Baronnies, should you be wondering) was extremely good.

From then we worked our way up to the top level, In Vino Veritas, which is a syrah/grenache blend picked when very ripe so sod-all natural acidity: don't expect it to last too long in your cellar. For a number of reasons. Lovely stuff, I'll take you there. But be warned, it's rather treacherous at 14.5°, going on 15°, so don't plan on doing much after the wine tasting other than lounging on the banks of the canal idly heaving stones - or German tourists - at passing ducks. (I am made of sterner stuff. They had a vinaigrier on the table: I spat. Shame, really.)

It had not in fact been in my plans for the afternoon, but somehow I found myself heading home with a dozen bottles in the boot and a thirteenth - a present - rattling around on the front seat. I really must think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but quite frankly off the top of my head I can't.

And in my spam folder today, a very poetic message which almost moved me to reply:

Good day Upstarting
Now You Can Buy Tabletz :-)
xxxx://expletive-deleted.com.mx/sextuple.php
I slept on leather ate right off the knife a shepherd thou a shepherdess john and georgiana reed

Eat your heart out, ee cummings. Strictly speaking I suppose I really should give the real url as some form of attribution, but
  1. I can't be arsed.
  2. I shall plead "fair use" if sued.
  3. I am guessing that you do not really want a brown-paper wrapped container-load of Viagra and "natural human testosterone" - possibly extracted from Ukrainian war orphans - turning up on your doorsteps, should you by accident or terminal stupidity click on the link, so I'm doing you a favour here by redacting it.
Well, mind how you go now.
*You may say "morning", I say "moaning". I find it a more accurate description. Arthur Dent screamed.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RSI: Really Stupid Idiots ...

I had kind of hoped that Indra (or Spare Other Dog as I suppose we shall have to call her, in the three-letter acronym style favoured around here at The Shamblings) would be slightly less dim than Shaun - not really a high standard to aim for - but sadly her brain too seems to be only running on 6V.

There are balls to play with, what little is left of Rasta Ted (who actually looks more like the Flying Spaghetti Monster after a really bad accident these days), a gross and slimy green rubber bone - so what does she pick? Go out to the terrace, lovingly lick up a microscopic piece of grit and then come over to you to deposit it - after careful mastication - onto the chair if you're lucky, up the inside of your shorts if less so. Then you're expected to throw it.

She does have good eyesight, I must admit: nine times out of ten she manages to catch it on her tongue. Then she swallows it, which at least means a five-minute truce whilst she snuffles around trying to find another microscopic bit of grit so that the game can continue.

And then Shaun has, virtually overnight, become middle-aged: walks that exceed requirements for a good piss and a healthy bowel motion are out of his comfort zone, and when he gets back home you can see him metaphorically putting his slippers on before settling down in a shaggy heap. If he could, he would wear a knitted waistcoat and smoke a pipe. And the nice old lady who does for him (for he is one of nature's bachelors) would complain about the hair clogging up the shower.

At least Indra is still up for a decent trot, which means I get out a bit, which also means that I'm reminded of just how long this area has been inhabited. No matter where you walk around here, in the garrigue or up in the hills with the scrub oak and the scraggy pines and the juniper, you can see the ancient drystone walls.

You may or may not be aware of this, and I suppose that maybe you could care more, but over here in Ole Yurrup if ever you actually manage to make some money the state  - via its incompetent organs - are pretty insistent on wanting some of it. How much? Just let them think of a figure.

Fair enough, I'm an independent and so it seems reasonable enough that I should pay, along with income tax, money for my retirement (they're bound to turn a profit on that one) and health insurance. These last are collected extracted (with a maximum of pain and fuss, they've learnt nothing from Colbert) by one of the afore-mentioned organs, possibly the most incompetent of all: we are talking about the RSI here.

So they sent me a bill a while back for 8000€, which was the sum they'd calculated conjured out of thin air representing what I owed them for 2013. I tried to ring them, I really did, and eventually I did in fact get through to one of their droids rather than an answering machine that just keeps you on line (at 80c/min) before hanging up on you after ten minutes and endeavoured to put across my point of view.

"I have sent you" I said, "my declaration des revenus 2013, and I do feel that asking for 8000€ cash is kind of excessive ..." "La situation semble compliquée, je note votre numéro et quelq'un va vous rappeller ..." Of course, no-one ever rang back, but I did get a letter asking for my declaration des revenus 2013 and on the grounds that it probably couldn't hurt I sent a copy off again.

A week ago I got two letters from these people (I am using the term loosely here): the first was to inform me that they'd recalculated plucked another number out of thin air and that I owed them 360€ and that they'd send me a letter Real Soon Now telling me how much I owed them. I can't complain, because it's quite a mark-down from the initial sum. The second letter was to ask me for my declaration des revenus 2013. Go figure.

Whatever, today dawned bright and sunny and a bit fresh, thanks to last night's thunderstorm I guess, so at least I'll have fine weather when I'm stuck in the bouchons on the autoroute heading up to Chambéry.

As it turns out, that was too gloomy by far. There was indeed a lot of traffic, and in the vallée du Rhône between Orange and Valence - the traditional choke-point for vacationers - it was moving slightly faster than a brisk walk. Going south. Northwards - my way - was fine, so having left early expecting the worst I arrived unseasonably early. OK, I admit to a five minute slowdown at the Valence péage but that's par for the course.

All of which left me at a loose end, so I had no choice but to seek a dissolute drinking companion (hello, Bryan!) to see whether or not the service at O'Cardinals has improved. The answer is "marginally", I still think that it's a shame they tarted up the inside and got rid of the cracked old leather seats so that it looks like any other slightly up-market bar. Personally, I preferred it shabby. The only thing to do is sit outside, where you don't get to see that, and learn to live with the fact that the servers only come out there once every half-hour or so, and then are totally unequipped to give change ...

The other drawback to that is that when the heavens open, as they did halfway through the second glass of vitamins, you tend to get rather quickly soaked through. Which brought our otherwise agreeable evening to a rapid, sodden end.

It is said, somewhere or another, that the Devil makes work for idle hands: in my case he appears to be making me write cheques. Like the other day, when nothing would do but I buy a semi-professional deep-fryer from Matcol, in Lézignan. Margo had been past the place and saw that they had one: eight-litre capacity for only 230€, so I felt it my duty to go take a look at it.

Twas cheap because second-hand: the first owner had bought it, taken it back to his restaurant, tried it out and bought it back the next day, saying something along the lines of "I need a bigger one!" but for my humble purposes I rather think it will suffice. Haven't yet fired it up - for one thing I don't happen to have that amount of oil hanging around in the pantry, and for another it's too damn hot to even think about making chips - but I'm sure I'll get around to that Real Soon Now.

In other news, we are currently enjoying the company of Bryan and Beckham. I drove her down on Monday, pausing but briefly to top up the supplies of beer and wine once we got down to civilised parts, and then Bryan, pleading that he had work to do and that the world may well come to an end if it weren't done, took the train down Friday night.

Luckily I'd planned a cold meal that night, for Margo toddled off - without, of course, her phone - to pick him up from Narbonne and of course it was shortly afterwards that I got a phone call to say that although the train had indeed left Montpellier it was currently stuck in Agde, waiting for the gendarmerie to finish the job of stuffing a rubbish sack with whatever bits they could find of the inconsiderate sod who'd taken it into his head to got for a walk along the railway tracks.

I mean, if people really want to commit suicide then I've nothing against that per se, and I guess that being smeared over the landscape by a train going at 110kph is probably quick, and certainly definitive, but you'd think the buggers could at least have the common decency not to inconvenience honest taxpayers such as myself, who find their dinner plans put on hold indefinitely.

Speaking of which, you can see that there's a glut of tomatoes around here just at the moment, so I suppose I'd better go think of something to do with them. Mind how you go, now.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Foxy Lady ...

Some people seem to take malicious pleasure in pointing out - quite unnecessarily, I might add - that I've been furtling with computers for quite some time. Since before the appearance of the PC in fact: I started out on mainframes and fortunately, but quite accidentally, got a good grounding in operating systems principles and practice which means I get to have a really good giggle when the young and the enthusiastic come up and mention that latest Really Neat Thing in iOS or whatever and I recall reading about an implementation of that back in '82 ...

One thing has changed and that's the relentless drive to specialisation, maybe it's Darwinism at work or - my personal hypothesis - peoples' brains have shrunk and they just can't hold everything in there anymore, but whatever the reason I see it happening. Web developers (who aren't really programmers anyway, not that I have anything against graphics artists if they stay in their place at the bottom of the food chain) cannot seem to grasp the concept of non-deterministic procedures, application developers blithely assume that resources are infinite and that allocating 5Gb of memory to hold a 16x16 bitmap image just in case is a Good Idea (it does, I admit, simplify the error handling - usually to the point where none is done), and when finally you track down an intermittent bug and point out to the developer that perhaps doing floating-point arithmetic in a time-critical interrupt routine is not such a great idea, they will invariably ask "But why ever not? Do it all the time in BASIC."

(Whatever you do, don't get me onto the subject of structured exception handling, I tend to froth at the mouth and get spittle everywhere. It's all crap because almost invariably misunderstood and misused: more harmful than Djikstra's pet peeve if you ask me. And having trapped your error, just what the hell do you do with it? That's useful, I mean. Just popping up a dialog box to say "An error has occurred" does not count. Like back in the days of the original IBM PC, where a memory parity error lead swiftly and inevitably to a reboot, with no chance to save your work.)

Anyway, what I'm leading up to is that this same trend of specialisation applies more and more these days to the user experience - I suppose it's an example of that hoary old "long tail" idea. Case in point: in my spam today, an invitation to join horseandlove.com, which bills itself as "The n° 1 dating site for horse-lovers". I'm going to be charitable here, and assume that it is somewhere for the horsey set to go find other, like-minded souls who get off on leather, sweat, and a touch of the whip, and definitely not a site for people to go hook up with an underage Shetland pony. For that would be - if not actually illegal as such - morally questionable at the very least.

Whatever, I'm headed off to Chambéry for a few days in a couple of hours, and of course I would pick a holiday cross-over weekend. One of those where the juilletists go home, and the aôutards head off. Luckily for me a) Sarah is, exceptionally, in working order so at least I'll have the a/c (and mangled music, but I shall just have to live with that) and b) the SmartBuffalo website assures me that traffic conditions should be "normal".

Do not, by the way, ask me why on earth the French government thought that bison-futé was a suitable name for a website giving you traffic information. It's not as though the beast is renowned for intelligence, and to the best of my knowledge they're not particularly good behind the wheel either. What with having hooves rather than opposable thumbs. And a blind spot straight ahead. (Mind you, at one time that used to be a pretty good description of most French drivers ...) Still, I suppose it's marginally better than www.canard-débile.fr.

I shall see what "normal" means today: probably no more than that traffic is actually moving - although slowly, and with thick lumps in it - and in the right direction. In the Rhône valley speeds will doubtless be limited to 110 kph so that the camper vans don't feel discriminated against, and as usual the Dutch and Belgians will all be sitting in the left lane, gallantly spurring on their three-tonne caravans, drawn by an arthritic 2CV, up a hill. At such times as these, zen can be a difficult state to maintain.

As it happens, I was too gloomy. The trip up was quite pleasant, the speed limits were normal, Sarah did not have an injector hissy-fit and when I arrived it was 25° and not raining. Which must be a first.

I'd organised to stay at the first-born son's place, so of course when I arrived he was off in Grenoble having fun. There's not much of that to be had in Chambéry on a Sunday evening - even the bars are closed - so I took the only reasonable option, and headed off to see Bryan, to see how many bottles he had open. (Bit like Pooh, but with less hunny.)

Eventually Jeremy turned up, and we were both a bit peckish, so we headed off in search of Sustaining Nourishment. Montmelian is even more dead than Chambéry of a Sunday, if such a thing is possible, and so we wound up at the mini-golf at Challes, of which I had not-unfavourable memories. Seems they've changed chefs since last I was there, and our son turns out to be a picky eater ...

First he scanned the menu just to check that the prices weren't too outrageous for what was actually on offer, and then we both ordered the duck breast. (No way am I going to go for an entrée, 300gm of meat followed by a dessert. And they ask why there is a growing obesity problem in France.)

"It's not that it's badly cooked", he said, "mais ce n'est pas du magret du sud-ouest". And the red was tannique - fair enough, he doesn't actually like wine that much and it could have done with breathing for a bit. The he picked up a bit of bread, and sneered at it. "From mid-day, kept under a damp cloth" ... I must admit that I'm not a fan of rubbery bread either. We finished up, I paid, and we headed back to his hovel: he was quite happy in the knowledge that there was no way they were doing anything as well as he can.

Me, I don't think I'll be going back, unless I have no other option. Rather go to l'Arbre à Bières, where I found myself Monday night, where your choices may be limited to bretzels, flammenkuches and whatever they decide on for the plat du jour, but at least it's made there and then with fresh ingredients. And on top of it I ate for free: I bowled up, parked my arse at a table and ordered a glass of red and as I was slowly sipping a santorin turned up on the table in front of me. Seems they felt that they owed me for the case of rosé I brought up a while ago, maybe I should bring up some blanc next time.

I said that when I turned up it wasn't actually raining - not as such - an omission rapidly rectified. When I got up and went off to Miqro on Monday moaning it was about 25° and sunny: when I made it out of le Modesto around 14:00, with a gratin de ravioles au foie gras under my belt, it was 18° and pissing down.

And it didn't get any better. When I left Tuesday morning it was all of 15° and raining sullenly, and I was kind of regretting not having brought any clothes more substantial than a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Luckily, a/c works both ways, and in any case by the time I made it south of Valence the sky was starting to clear and I had to pull out the sunglasses, and I knew I was getting close to home when I found myself under the baking sun in a mile-long traffic jam at the Montpellier péage.

Luckily for me, not many people have worked out that the best thing to do in such circumstances is to follow the heavy lorries and the semis, who barrel down the right-hand lane mowing down cars that get in their way ... five articulated trucks in a row looks like an awfully long line, but they take no longer to get through than five cars (assuming the driver is not a Pole with an expired Russian credit card) and as the cars were about forty-deep it was pretty much a no-brainer ... it was good to get back.

In other news, not content with STD we have acquired another dog. I blame it on eating out: had we not headed off to Lou Griffou in Lézignan just because I couldn't be arsed cooking (and I would go back, with pleasure) we would not have felt the necessity of walking off a few superfluous calories before going home, and so would not have walked past the offices of the SPA and perhaps not seen the photo in the window ...

Her name is Indra, god alone knows why they named her after the Hindu god of thunder but perhaps we'll find out some time, she's mostly either a Spanish podenca or a Portuguese podengo, take your pick. Either way, the word means "hound". Poor Shaun is feeling rather oppressed, but I think he'll survive.

Whatever, I have some vitelotte, haricots beurre and fresh sweetcorn that I suspect are not going to cook themselves just like that, nor are the lamb chops going to jump into the poele for a quick kiss of butter. So I'd better go get that lot ready, before returning to do yet another bloody implementation of Modbus TCP/IP. It's not really what they promised me when I signed up to do Comp. Sci. all those years ago - a far cry from the blondes and the boozing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blink ...

Y'know, sometimes I look back at the sheer technological progress that's been made over the last thirty years in communications, and despair. Way back when, when we were living in NooZild, if I actually felt the urge to let friends and family know how things were - pretty rare, because as a rule we all lived more or less within a radius of a five-minute walk, which might go someway to explaining a lot of things - I would pick up the new-fangled telephone, and call them.

This involved a highly-skilled Telecoms operative actually making a physical connection between the piece of string coming into his or her office from the tin can in our house and the other piece of string connected to the tin can in the other person's house, and then pulling on it to make sure that it was tight. Otherwise call quality was poor, and it sounded loose. This cost money, but it was still easier than engraving stone tablets.

Then when we moved to Ole Yurrup the cost of phone calls rose from merely eye-watering to absolutely astronomical, partly because the pieces of string concerned were so damn long, and all wet because most of them went underwater, and to keep them tight the operator (so we called them) had to have a body like Charles Atlas, and so as I had available the very latest word in technology ie a Compaq "luggable" weighing only thirty kilos, I changed methods.

I started engraving bits onto floppy disks using what we used to call "word-processor technology" (almost as quick as onto stone) wherein I could actually see on the 9" CRT display more or less what might - if I was lucky, and had the right driver - come out on the printer: if you didn't mind, for instance, that the bold display on the screen was only distinguishable from italic text by the fact that it had a big CTRL/B in front. And of course it was displayed in any font you liked, so long as that was Courier.

Then I would print it out - using a daisy-wheel at first and then on a dot-matrix printer - usually in what we called "fantasy" fonts like Unicorn because they were unreadable, but we thought they were cool - and mail off five or six physical copies (paying through the nose for the privilege) to some lucky people who were supposed to read it and send it on. If ever it arrived.

Kind of like a more modern version of an eighteenth century lending library, and if any of you didn't actually send it on you can rest in peace, I've forgiven you.

Then Al Gore invented email, and on his days off the Internet so that it would work, and eventually more and more people got funny addresses like "gf12385.nz@aol.com" and I decided that it was time to take the next step, which was to laboriously type words and stuff into Microsoft Outlook Express, hope it didn't eat them or decide to purge the drafts folder (the database that they used for Outlook back in the day was the precursor of the JET engine that eventually grew into Access - it was shit back then too) and then cc everyone for whom I had what I hoped was a valid email address, hoping that at some point in the next month they'd turn on their 56K modem.

The excitement of that wore off after a while, especially when random mail servers would decide for some reason that wanadoo.fr was a blacklisted spam server, at which point I sold my soul to the great google and decided that I might as well cut out the middle-man. (Anyone remember that TV series, by the way? Great comedy.) So these days I still bash the keys and bits fly to do my bidding, but it's inside a "Rich Text Edit control" inside a "Javascript" which is somewhere inside my machine. (No longer, incidentally, a Compaq.)

Then I hit the "Publish" button, and if blogger is feeling happy my words will spring forth and go look for people with an active internet connection and spray themselves all over their screens like a dictionary with projectile vomiting, which is the only explanation I can come up with off the top of my head as to why, yesterday, 83 Russians apparently saw what I wrote the other day.

Taihape, eat yer heart out
Anyway, my aching head and I rolled out of bed at some ungodly hour this lovely Monday moaning, when all other right-thinking people were still lying in thinking about how much they'd like to go to the Bastille Day parade if only they could be arsed, to drop the yoof off at the péage at Lézignan where they were to be picked up  - they'd organised a car-share, which has become big over here. We were late - but in my defense let it be said that the car took an unreasonably short time arriving from Toulouse, I rather suspect the driver of not having respected the speed limits 100% - but I handed over a bottle of rosé as an apology, and also to ensure that they actually left. Mind you, I quite miss having teenagers around, now that they've gone.

And now the temperatures are crawling back up into the mid-thirties, and I am forced to work - or at least to retreat to the relative cool of the office, where it's only 26° - because out on the terrace it is just too hot. The air is still - which is kind of exceptional - so there's not even a breeze to stir the heavy air under the parasol, and the sun beats down on the tiles.

Some people have cats that do Useful Things. Friends or neighbours of Margo's family, for instance, had a cat that did the rounds at the local race-course picking up unconsidered trifles, and came back most Saturdays with a nice haul of banknotes. EBK, sad to say, is not in that league. Case in point, he went hunting tonight, out in the little square between us and the church. Eventually, he came back, scrambled three metres up the wall onto the roof of the terrace and then plonked down to the ground, proudly bearing in his mouth ... a plastic cup.

Which STD then grabbed, because they are fun to chew on and make a hellish noise when you crunch them between your teeth. Just saying. Also, I wouldn't have minded quite so much if only it had not been empty. Was a bit of red so much to ask for?

Anyway, a double dose of Kulcha today: having better things to do and being, as you probably know, of a religious bent ("Pass another choir-boy, Cuthbert?") we headed off to the abbaye de Fontfroide, east and a tad south of here. Started out as Benedictines, somehow got attached to Clairvaux and thus became Cistercians. I guess it didn't worry the monks too much.

Until of course one of them, who just happened to be a Papal legate, got assassinated and so quite innocently set off the Albigensian Crusade, thus allowing Simon de Montfort to show off the caring side of his psychopathic character. It all ended in tears, of course: good Catholics that they were, God saved them for the Black Death a bit later on.

Then the place got titivated as the kings of France exercised their right to appoint the abbot: these were often second sons or bastards of the nobility who saw no reason to sleep on the floor or do without a tennis court, so they improved the place a bit.

A (rich) local guy - an artist and a patron - bought the place back in 1907 for the princely sum of 50,000 gold francs - I don't know whether it was a replacement for his art collection or not, but it seems he sold most of his Cézannes to pay for the repairs. (Personally, I'd have kept those and hocked off the Gauguins, but that's just me.) It's still in the family, and still being tarted up little by little.

Although I do find all those white marble statues scattered about the place and popping up where you least expect them to be just a little bit creepy, don't these people watch TV?

We got back from that, suitably uplifted, and as Young Hélène had given us freebie tickets to the vernissage we made the 4km trip to Conilhac-Corbières to see an art exposition, "L'art dans le Ruisseau" (lit. "Bacon in the stream*").

I have to admit that the main reason for going was the prospect of drinks and nibbles, thinking to myself that it'd be mostly "art" from the senior citizen's club and let's face it, in a village of maybe 800 people the odds of finding something decent would be pretty dim. Maybe some interesting tatting, a primary school project involving toilet rolls or something along those lines ... But as it turns out, I was surprised.

For one thing, I was surprised to discover the network of alleys and flash-flood drains that run through the place, sometimes connecting streets, sometimes like a separate walled-off maze, sort of a hidden town within a town. Italo Calvino, anyone? Then I was even more surprised to find that they'd used this and some of the private gardens that open onto it, as an open-air exhibition space for what turned out to be a very good show indeed.

Okay, I'd expected daubs, but these were professional artists from all over. Drinkies in paws we went our different ways and met up again in the food scrum (people around here always seem to bring their kids along to things like this, cuts the food bill I guess but you do have to take care to avoid trampling them underfoot - not that I care that much but the parents can, I've found, get irate about it) to compare notes and head back round together.

Fortunately for the bank account, we didn't actually agree on anything - some rather strange photos I liked, but Margo didn't because there were people in them, and personally I can't see the point to rusty chicken-wire on wood.

With the exception of some paintings by a guy of, at a guess, Spanish descent, one Felip Costes, which turned both our heads. But not having a spare 3000€ floating around in my man-bag or down the back of the sofa, I was rather more modest and contented myself with the catalog.

Anyway, after a month's hiatus (or maybe more, I've given up counting because it only raises my blood pressure) Cédric turned up again and upstairs is starting to move ahead once more. Just as well because the parquet flooring stacked in the verandah is rapidly approaching its use-by date, and we are both getting very impatient to stop camping and move up there. Whatever. I have learnt not to hold my breath, and when malicious (ex-)friends ask innocently how it's getting on, I can manage a non-committal answer with a straight face, and hardly the hint of a sigh.

* A bad joke, I admit. "Lard dans le Ruisseau". Sorry.