Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Pigeon Is Almost Done ...

There is a certain sort of hotel, resolutely upper-middle class with delusions of adequacy, where the management is of the firm opinion that to go with the sweeping expanses of exquisitely manicured lawn, the quaint gazebo, the ornamental water feature copied from Versailles (only in miniature, making it look rather like a Spinal Tap megalith), the broad gravelled driveway covered in ducks (some living) and the rather cramped rooms, they need a cuisine that is edgy, and avant-garde, and fusion or whatever happens to be hip these days.

I should have known that, I mean I do know that after all these years, but I was tired and so when they offered me a hunk of salmon caught just that afternoon and killed shortly before plonking it in the pan I accepted. Don't get me wrong, the salmon itself was excellent - what you could discern of it. It just seems a shame that it was accompanied to its grave wrapped in a 5mm coat of Kevlar strands and dill fronds, then surrounded on the plate by an artistic swirl of pureed parsnip, blobs of neon-yellow grapefruit mousse and mounds of mashed beetroot. The fish, I'm afraid, lost. Someone really ought to tell them that one of the major pleasures in eating is actually the taste.

They also need to learn that if you order 25cl of wine to drown the meal, it is considered good practice - at least here in France - to serve it in a carafe and supply a standard-size wine glass, letting the punter serve himself as he wishes, rather than delivering it all in a large glass filled to the brim. Maybe it's an English thing.

For as it happens I was in Bristol for the night, lodged at this hotel not too far from the airport: the sort of place where someone has decided to take their old manor house and grounds and turn it into an up-market hotel/reception centre. And I was treated to a Basil Fawlty moment when I'd checked in, dropped my gear off in the room and went down to the bar for a pint of mine host's finest ale (well, Stella actually, but never let the facts get in the way of a good story is amongst my mottos).

The charming but not perhaps entirely competent receptionist came out from her lair to serve me and as luck would have it the keg ran out at that point leaving a glass of froth and not much else, so she went out back to change the barrel. After a few minutes of silence, punctuated only by the odd clang as of a metal keg being hit with increasing desperation by a rather large spanner, there came a louder and louder hissing noise like a boiling kettle with a whistle, and she bolted from the room with apologetic cries and headed into the kitchens. Three of them rushed forth and into that small back room to subdue the beer, and after a short time the sous-chef came out dripping, followed by the kitchen manager and the receptionist, who went off to get a mop and a large bucket.

But only fifteen minutes later I was ensconced - in the gazebo, because it had turned from a few sullen splatters to a light drizzle - with my beer and a cigar, so I guess all's well that ends well.

I shall save you the bother of asking by telling you that I was not over there purely to sample the exotic delights of the British hospitality industry: rather, I was supposed to swap out a malfunctioning bit of gear living at the bottom of a pit that was supposed to be cheerfully regulating the water supply and calling back the mothership periodically, and find out what was actually going wrong with it.

So Sunday night I packed everything into my backpack (not wishing to have to go through the hassles of baggage claim) - two laptops with their associated dead rats, multimeter, power box, plug adapters, Allen keys, screwdriver set, GSM antenna and the usual rat's nest of cables as carried by the discerning computer programmer - and on Monday drove through to Toulouse to catch a flight at a reasonable hour.

Apart from having to strip off, because just about everything about me seems to go PING! walking through the metal detectors, the plane actually arrived on time at Bristol: luckily Mike was there to greet me and in fact recognised me, for it was on arriving on English soil that I realised that the new SIM card in my phone was not in fact unlocked and would not register with any of the English cell networks, so I was grumpy and incommunicado.

And there's a thing about this sceptred isle and nation of shopkeepers: not only is short-term airport parking eye-wateringly expensive (which it is, I admit, everywhere on the planet), but there's a £2 surcharge if you pay by credit card. I suppose that's to make up for the loss occasioned by those who pay in cash, because the machines do not give change so if you're up for six quid in parking fees and only have a tenner about your person, you're four quid out of pocket.

So Mike navigated us through the Bristol traffic - all of it on roads apparently designed for horse-drawn carriages - and then calmly blocked the entire leafy street ("can do what I like," he said "'cos I've got a flashy light") while he lifted the manhole cover off what looked like a small septic tank and we did the deed. That done, off to the hotel, wherein befell the experiences previously related ...

Of course the devil had not yet finished chucking up on my eiderdown, for I was just getting ready to go in and "enjoy" my meal when Karim phoned reception - being unable to get hold of me by other means - to let me know that my direct return flight at 11am the next moaning had been cancelled due to a wildcat strike by French ATC and that I would have to be up at 4am to catch the redeye flight to Geneva and from thence a mid-afternoon flight back down to Toulouse.

Which meant, amongst other things, teaching the receptionist how to use her computer to print out my boarding passes.

I had to strip off again, of course - maybe next time, if ever there is one, I shall put the hardware (and my boots, and jeans) in the hold and to hell with the wait - and for some strange reason security confiscated my set of Allen keys. Godnose why, I had sharp pointy screwdriver bits as well, and a pair of needle probes for the multimeter: maybe they thought I was going to use them to open the locked door to the pilot's cabin and then club him to death with the biggest of the set. Go figure.

So cue a flight to Geneva populated with a good half-dozen large, cheery and rather pasty English-persons off for a good time and talking very animatedly about it (which does not make it easy when all you really want to do is catch up on a bit of sleep) and a couple of twenty-somethings in the seats behind me talking fondly about their sex life and in particular the previous evening (not that interesting, they were kind of unimaginative and I don't CARE which side she sleeps on), then a four-hour wait in the airport for the flight down south. Which was late anyway. And there was a ten-minute wait on the tarmac whilst they organised a minibus to get everyone to the terminus, but I can live with that. (Also, I got creatively insulted by an exasperated air hostess but that was my fault for pretending to speak French.)

Whatever, now July 13 is staring us in the face like a petrified rabbit in the headlights - and justifiably so, for there will be much eating, rather more drinking, and dancing to the mobile disco will be committed by the elderly, the infirm, and the feeble-minded (the yoof). Also, as temperatures climb up into the mid/high thirties, France is going into summer lockdown which is fair enough because when it gets to the point where you need three showers a day and you know that this is going to go on for the next two months, you really do not want to work too much.

Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Hellfire Burn Their Brains ...

Current dog population here at The Shamblings™
... yea, even until their eyeballs start to boil and explode from out their sockets, and wisps of smoke come up from their ears and from out of their noses, and may the smaller of the spawn of the Pit take up residence in their bowels and gnaw thereon from within and give them diarrhoea so that they may not get a good night's sleep.

You're right, I really do not like scummy scammy fraudsters. Especially when they screw around with fake debits to a dating site which means going off to the gendarmerie to porter plainte contre X and then send a swag of paperwork off to the bank in order to be  - in the fullness of time - reimbursed and then get your credit card cancelled and wait for a new one to arrive ... on the bright side, it wasn't me that had to explain away the charges to Meetic.

Guess it's a good thing I don't get to take psych evals these days. I was out looking at the evening clouds and there was a beautiful one, looked like a huge rat splayed out on the sky, only its head was breaking up into gobbets of flesh that were streaming out and away from it. Sod your Rorschach blots, that's what I say.

Anyways, one moaning this week our esteemed maire awoke with a brilliant idea, and that very same day he sent out his idiot nephew, duly equipped with two pots of paint: one green, the other white. He gaily climbed a ladder, shaved, groped and repainted the statue of St-Regis that stares benevolently down on our little square, and then ...

Difficult to say if he had misunderstood his instructions, or perhaps these were in fact unmistakably explicit: suffice it to say that he painted the stone basins of the horse-trough outside our front door a pure, blazing white. I suppose that I have probably seen a more hideously ugly effect, but I cannot remember exactly when. (Also, when we paint we tend to mask off the bits that aren't supposed to be painted: yes, we buy vast quantities of masking tape but at least the job is neatly done. This elementary precaution was apparently considered superfluous.)

Had it just been us we would have been stiff out of luck, and obliged to live with the blot on the landscape, but soon there gathered a veritable cackle of elderly ladies, muttering at his front door and pursuing him in the streets, crying out with one voice "Réné, Réné, we remember you from when you were in nappies and we ask - what the fuck have you been smoking?"

And so on Friday moaning the idiot nephew was back out in the square, under a blazing sun, busily employed with a sandblaster getting rid of the paint he'd so enthusiastically and inaccurately sloshed on two days earlier.

Of course the mairie wasn't going to pay a cent more than absolutely necessary so I suspect they'd sent him off to the local garden centre to get a couple of sacks of sand for a child's sand-pit, and when the tub of the sandblaster was empty he'd just scoop up a couple of shovels-full from the ground and stick it back in, stirring it well to mix in the gravel and pigeon-shit. By the time he'd done the verandah was full of dust and place St-Régis looked a bit like Paris-plage (only on a somewhat smaller scale), but at least I don't have to put sunglasses on just to check the mail.

We cracked - well, I cracked, if you insist on the truth - and went off to the SPA at Carcassonne on Thursday, and we now have two dogs again, if only for a short while. She's a russet hound, three years old (according to the SPA, but I have my doubts about that) and very sweet-tempered, and now named Jara after one of the multitudinous Hindu pantheon - goddess of domesticity and old age and, incidentally, a corpse-eater after hours.

I say "for a short while" because in about six weeks ie first week of August we are scheduled to take delivery of a six-week-old puppy who is currently small and black with a few white patches and apparently the most adorable little floppy ears that ever there were. I am so looking forward to taking them all out for their walk: Indra trotting brightly alongside, Jara darting off into the undergrowth given half a chance, and as-yet unnamed puppy being towed along on a skateboard.

Margo has been working on Angela for some time, and so when she went off to check out the puppies she took Angela, who dragged Martin along - with a puppy in his arms he found it impossible to say "No!", so they too are getting a small black puppy. Who will, no doubt, be rapidly taught her place by their four Maine Coons.

In late-breaking news, we may actually have a paying guest at the beginning of July. Not sure if we're ready for that. The village historian came past this moaning, to say that he'd heard that we could do chambre d'hote, and he had an archaeologist coming down for two weeks doing some work on the chateau/chapel (no-one seems quite sure entirely which it is) up in the Alaric, and could we put him up?

And as it happens that we have no friends descending upon us at that time (when you live in the south of France, do not have a swimming pool: you may discover friends you've never heard of, or people that you do actually know vaguely but, with the passing of years or the remembrance of long-gone school reunions wish you did not. Just saying.) when the guy called back I gave him the not-exactly eye-watering prices and we shall see. This is so exciting! An actual guest! (Note to self - put clean sheets on bed. Also, remove obnoxiously obvious dog hair.)

More exciting things: I guess that even over there in Upside-Down Land, where people walk on their heads (which sounds like something from Pliny back when he was doing some of the hard stuff), you'll have heard of Brexit. Around these parts there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, in part 'cos there's the pension gone south, but mostly because all those to whom I have spoken are united in considering N. Farage (should be pronounced to rhyme, apparently, with garage) to be the most odious little turd in existence.

We made it off to the Fete de la Cave Coopérative, remembering this time to take our own cutlery and crockery, and a large bag into which to put it, along with all the wine glasses we snaffled before leaving. Which we must have done at some point in the evening, I suppose. Before, I think, the mobile disco started doing its thing.

It's not something I'd recommend you come along to unless you're attracted by the ambiance and the alcohol and the company and all that sort of thing, for the food is definitely somewhere south of mediocre. Copious certainly, but that's about all you can say. But no-one minds, the threatened thunderstorms held off, and we were sober enough to walk home under our own steam, no need for the wheelbarrows for which we had farsightedly made provision.

NOT beer.
And now we still have to face the July 13 celebrations, where the wine will flow even more liberally and the food shall be of a different order, and also there will be sparkly things that go BANG! to round off the evening, and then a few days later we shall head off north to Ian and Marie's country seat in Burgundy with Rick and Mary and Angela and Martin and two dogs, for a week amidst the turnip fields dedicated to lassitude (and eating, and drinking).

Whatever, I better go pack my bag: I is supposed to be flying out from Toulouse to bloody Bristol tomorrow moaning, and I so do not wish to have to pack and run through a checklist as the sun is coming up in glory.

(Note: according the WashPo's crack researchers, a major beneficiary of Tiny-fingered Trump's charitable largesse is a foundation for indigent real estate brokers. Is that even a thing? I mean, WTF?)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Apologies To Bryan Ferry ... *

Over here in Ole Yurrup sumer is icumen and all: you can tell because, as is so often the case at this time of year, the air is heavy with the smell of burning tires and tear gas. Yes, another summer of discontent with more unrest and rioting so the SNCF and RATP are on strike and the CGT are blockading the oil refineries: students, having nothing better to do anyway, are out in the streets protesting. You got it - another law to liberalise ever so slightly the ridiculously rigid French labour laws is supposed to be passed.

I honestly don't know why they don't schedule these things better - push the damn thing through in dead of winter, for instance, when rioting is so much less attractive.

Also, you sometimes have to wonder how it is that in a supposedly civilised state a small handful can try - and have, in the past, succeeded - to hold the entire country to ransom by cutting off fuel supplies. Me, I don't know, but I do recall reading an article a while back which opined that as France has no long tradition of civil society, and change has only ever come through usually-violent upheaval, that is considered to be the "normal" way of getting what you want.

As it turns out our estimable President, François Hollande (current popularity rating about 15% lower than a six-month dead otter) must have called our slightly-less unpopular ex-Pres Nicolas Sarkozy (rating up there with a live skunk) for advice, and subsequently used high-pressure hoses to clean up the blockades. (Sarko is particularly famous for once saying that he would "take a Kärcher to the suburbs" to clean them up of "the rabble". He was not known for his bleeding-heart sensitivity.)

Mind you, the French - although a nation of râleurs - seem willing to put up with all sorts of inconvenience in the name of solidarity with the working class (although to be quite honest, the CGT could give a fuck about the appalling rate of unemployment amongst the yoof and are quite simply, and very cynically, trying to defend the "jobs-for-life" that their membership grew up with) there are some things where they draw the line. And I rather think that the dunnykin/garbage-collectors strike in Paris might cross it.

It must be pretty fragrant down in the Métro by now, just saying.

Still, May 30th is upon us now, and it seems that this is a Bank Holiday in the UK. A festive occasion during which, according to the innatübz, "In Endon ... the villagers dress their well ... and crown a girl as the Well Dressing Queen. In other places ... Morris dancers [are] put on displays." Fascinating stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. Although much and all as I loathe folk dancing in all its splendoured glory, I do feel that stuffing (I assume) Morris dancers and using them as some sort of centrepiece for a cabinet of curiousities is going a bit far.

It came to me, the other day, just how to make my next million.

Simple in the extreme, as such things are, yet brilliant: we shall create a social media site reserved for French men, and the punters will pay to upload selfies or videos of themselves peeing on the side of the road. (Note to self: could we have a free service where people can upload photos of other people peeing? Could work.) Or possibly, they will pay to have them removed. (If uploaded by someone else - see above. YES! Is blackmail legal? Talk to lawyer.) We shall call it - drumroll, please - "YouPee!". (Note to lawyer: possible trademark issues here.)

GPS tagging: spot the piddle point, win a prize. Tourism possibilities - check with Conseil Regional - link with routes vertes jaunes etc. Possible tie-in with Michelin: autoroute rest stops to avoid. Security and privacy issues - check with lawyer (what, again? - this will cost a bloody fortune) but fuck that: hell, you're taking a leak on the side of the road in full view of all passing cars and campervans, and you expect privacy? Anyways, should be no problem if no username and password required for logging on, so long as possibly recognisable penises are pixelised.

We're still a bit in the underpants gnomes phase here, but you know, I really think we're onto a winner. What could possibly go wrong?

Right now in Moux the streets resemble a battlefield after a particularly bad hair day, for we are having gravity installed the ancient cast-iron water pipes replaced throughout the village. Which means that there are trenches everywhere, some roughly filled with gravel and others still gaping, and I am always concerned that one day I shall stumble upon one such brimful of little old ladies, who have fallen in by accident whilst out and about on their blameless little-old-lady activities. (Such as harassment, spitting on yoof, tedious pettiness, boring conversation, writing spiteful letters to the editor and blackmail.) One of the few good things, I suppose, about living opposite M. le maire is that place St-Régis will be the last place to be opened up, and the first to be resealed, so let's hear it for favouritism.

Also, they are promising us fiber-optic in the near future. They'll probably close up all the trenches for the water, then come back a few months later to dig the whole place up again and lay the fiber. I shall have to head up to the mairie to see little Jérome and enquire about the price of connection: I don't mind paying and I would be very happy with thunderingly fast downloads, but if - like getting hooked up to the sewage - there is a €2300 connection fee, I'll stick with POTS thanks very much.

In Paris, as you may have noticed, the Seine has burst its banks. At least like that they no longer have to open the fire hydrants at the top of the streets every morning, to flush the crap down into the sewers. We seem to have escaped that, although I must admit that the Aude is looking very brown and muddy at the moment: thick enough that you could probably plant a small vegetable patch on it. It would slowly drift down to sea, I guess, but by the time it got down to Beziers the strawberries would be ripe.

Whereas here it feels like the first days of summer. Long hot days with a cloudless blue sky, all those things that we came down south for. Right now we leave the doors open, for here at The Shamblings™ the ground floor is cool and dim and it is considerably warmer outside than in, but soon enough we'll get back to the summer routine of closing the place up after 10:30 so that it stays cool inside, because 35° is all very well out on the terrace under a parasol, but a bit too much inside when you're trying to work. It's bad enough as it is, trying to get motivated.

The barbecues have been dusted off, and a few months of l'apéro of an evening out on the terrace beckon.

Adding to this general impression of time dilation at work (because time does indeed slow down in these parts) is the fact that you can still hear the "clonk!" of boules and the gurgle of pastis around 23:00, when it's cooled down enough to play (boules itself is not a particularly strenuous game, but there's a bit of heavy lifting involved with the bottles), and also the vide-greniers. We had ours yesterday, and I trotted up in the moaning and came back with a couple of wonderfully OTT chandeliers fair dripping glittery stuff - all for the princely sum of ten euros. Now I shall just have to work out where to put them, for the ceilings are relatively low and I do not want to have to live walking around a chandelier hanging from its chains and suspended at about waist height. (Alternatively, I guess I could hang it in one of the bedrooms and we could reserve that for dwarfs. Sorry, the vertically impaired. Or "The Pit And The Pendulum" cosplayers.)

Also, hearty nourishing stews have been banished from the kitchen and the table, and the first person who asks for a cassoulet will get what they deserve, which explains perhaps why I made this the other day. I'll save you the bother of flying to Google Translate for the recipe, if you can call it that, is sufficiently simple to be well within my capacities: basically, you take a large slab of fresh meaty pork belly (2kg works for me) and remove the skin. Then you rub salt and pepper into the flesh (you'll need more salt than you think: a good teaspoon of flaky sea salt would be a good start) and smear it with a mixture of chopped garlic, rosemary and thyme - and bay-leaf and sage, if you happen to have that around.

Roll it up tightly using both hands, then with the other hand wrap its skin back around the roll, and then with another hand tie it neatly before sticking it in the fridge overnight. Then roast at 180° for about three hours, basting regularly: you can eat it hot (if you must, we did - at first, but as two people, well-intentioned as they might be, still can't make much of a dent in 2kg of meat, we had it cold later on. And again, the night after.) but it is quite divine cold.

Let it not be said that the Germans have no sense of humour. You are doubtless aware that the name "Bimmler" comes from the German, meaning "the ringing, or a ringer, of small bells" (from which I must deduce that my ancestors were either petty functionaries or people who went about bawling "Bring out yer dead!") and so now, whenever our neighbour Johann comes round, good Saarlander that he is he tinkles the little bell that hangs at our front door and proudly announces "Heh heh heh! I have rung your Bimler!".

May the record show that I never said it was a good sense of humour.

*For those unfamiliar with the canon, that would be the eponymous track off "Let's Stick Together".

Sunday, May 22, 2016

RIP ...

Good old John Donne ("Dunnybrush" to his friends) wrote quite a bit about mortality - part of the job description I guess, what with him being a metaphysical and all - but somehow he never got around to writing about the huge hole it leaves in your life when you see your dog lying dead on the slab, with the last few dribbles of blood coughed up from his lungs in pools on the stainless steel, and there's not a fucking thing you can do about it. Can't think why - never trust a bloody poet, they always take liberties with the truth and put it down to "poetic licence". Whatever, I need to go clean out the car.

Give it time, it'll scab over, but right now it hurts like hell going downstairs in the moaning to take the dogs for their walk and realising in my sleepy mind that there's only one of them now, and that I'm not going to get a friendly leap and a slobber from the big hairy one. Come to that, it also hurts like hell in the evenings, and also at unexpected times during the day: generally speaking, it hurts a lot. Doesn't seem fair, really.

And I'm angry too: angry with him for being so stupid and getting himself killed; angry with the driver that killed him and didn't even have the decency to stop; and angry just on general principles because there was nothing I could do.

Shaun, you great stupid hairy lovable lump, we had hoped to have you around a lot longer, and miss you more than I have words to say. Goodbye, my friend.

Taking my mind off that for a while, we finally got around, a few weeks ago, to buying some halfway decent outside furniture for the terrace here at The Shamblings™, and having better things to do today and no particular inclination to do them I went out and started oiling the wood. I can totally see why people do this once, just to show willing, and then stump off inside muttering something along the lines of "sod it, we'll just buy new stuff next summer". Because quite frankly, it is an insanely boring job.

Still, I live in hope that an iceberg will arrive in Moux, for our wooden deckchairs are all lined up, freshly oiled and waiting on the terrace, ready for just such an eventuality.

It also means that the rather distressed plastic table and chairs that we inherited with the house can be thrown over the balcony, loaded into a car and be driven off to be loosed in the wild - more precisely, to roam the slopes of Old Hélène's bit of pinède over by Ferrals. I think they'll be happy there.

Did I mention that, amongst other things, there are the first blueberries at the market? I am feeble and infirm of purpose when it comes to such things, which means it became a moral imperative to buy some, which means this! I don't think you'll be disappointed, even though with the amount I bought I had to double the recipe and then bake two batches, just to get rid of them.

It's a lesson you'd think I'd've learnt a long while back, but somehow I always wind up forgetting: never, ever, under any circumstances, volunteer the information that you are "in computers". And when asked point-blank exactly what it is you do, far better to say that you're a sex worker specialising in goats or something and look a bit ashamed, and mumble some excuse about the sores.

To date I have located and installed a very light-weight Linux distro for old Nev, who stubbornly refuses to buy a computer worthy of the name and prefers to use a twelve year-old laptop with an 80386 inside on the grounds that like that he is refusing to be oppressed by the system, and is somehow sticking it to The Man: I have been accosted by John, who installed a copy of AVG on an ancient desktop system still running XP for the simple reason that he has an eight year-old copy of Adobe Creative Suite running on it, only to discover that after deinstalling it the mouse no longer worked properly: only yesterday I went past Rick and Mary's to set up the remote control for their automatic garage doors.

Mind you, it's probably even worse if you happen to be a plumber, or an electrician. They're the sullen taciturn ones at parties, drinking a lot and hovering by the door so that they can be off at short notice should someone come up to ask what line of work they're in.

Still, it's usually good for a drink or two of a Friday afternoon, when those who feel like it meet up at the bar. It's getting to be quite lively these days, and we seem to have managed to avoid driving away the natives. For me it's a good way to mark the end of the week: close the office, leave the phone at home (on the grounds that there's no point taking it with me, as there's no signal to speak of in the bar), and wind down a bit.

Anyway, dinner seems unlikely to get itself ready so I suppose I'd better let you resume normal lives and go give it a hand. Normal service will be resumed.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

No Funny Title ...

I don't feel like writing much just at the moment: lovable hairy idiot Shaun ran off and got hit by a car, and his heart gave out ten minutes later, just as we arrived at the emergency vet. He leaves us with a doggy-shaped hole in our hearts rather bigger than he was - because he was rather like the Tardis in that respect - so please excuse me. I have some grieving to do.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Beer ...

Gormenghast Chateau Corbeau
A few months back, M. le maire ordained that mesh grilles should be put up over the various crooks and nannies of the church, so that the pigeons and crows who infest the place should no longer be able to nest there. It therefore seems fittingly ironic that a young breeding pair of crows, evicted from the ancestral trailer camp, should choose to build - loosely speaking - their nest in a little opening in the attic of his house.

For the moment he seems blissfully unaware of this act of lèse majesté but he'll notice eventually, when he starts to stumble over the small piles of sticks on the pavement outside his front door.

Post-note: he noticed. And had the idiot nephew turn up in the mayoral pickup truck to remove the pile of branches - an admitted fire hazard, were crows in the habit of smoking in bed - and stick some chicken-wire over the opening. Could probably do him for abus de pouvoir, if only we could prove that a) he didn't pay and b) he'd refused the same service to others who, like Hélène the Younger across the road from us, are also suffering from an attack of crows.

(Their stupidity obstination tenacity stubbornness is actually quite impressive. In Hélène's place they are building in a tiny slit - almost a meutrière - which must be all of 9cm across on the outside, and despite its apparent insuitability there's a couple there every morning, hanging on to the wall for dear life as they push a couple of branches in there before squeezing in to rearrange them into something more comfortable.)

Goofed off the other day and headed down south: to Figuères, just a shade south of the Spanish border, and then over twisty narrow roads to Port Lligat and casa Dali. Let's face it, why not: s'not as though it's the other side of the world. It's interesting, even if the guy did have a predilection for stuffed animals. Which would, really, rather put me off. Still, I suppose that if you're looking to shock, it does the job ...

And oddly enough, the place seems relatively unspoilt. You'd think the place would be crawling with tourists but no, it's still an isolated bay with a small harbour and a few tiny working fishing boats. (Including one small blunt-ended thing that must have been almost two metres long and called, with an irony which must be particularly Spanish, "Queen Mary".)

Part of that, I guess, is because the place is in fact not that easy to get to. I said that the roads were twisty and narrow: I meant that the roads are almost wide enough for two cars, and sufficiently twisty that the speed limit over the last 30km is 40kph. Which seems a bit optimistic, to be honest.

Still, it leads me to my pet peeve: menu translations. I mean, why would anyone trust their eight year-old with Google Translate and a dictionary? I can see absolutely no reason why the Spanish aperitivo should mutate through French to become "mouth amusement". It's not as though the French translation was even "amuse-bouche", 'cos that I could've understood, sort of. No, that too was an amusement of some sort.

This too, is an amusement. Maybe I spend too much time looking at The Register. I should try to become a better person.

In the "Things You Really, Really Do Not Want Department": as it might be, having guests turn up and then finding the kitchen flooding when they inconsiderately decide to use their toilet. Believe me, you do not want that. Especially when you're busy cooking dinner.

As it turns out, the down waste-pipe from that bathroom goes down through the kitchen, and a T-joint was put in so that if ever it gets blocked (due, say, to someone flushing an entire bogroll in a moment of enthusiasm) it could more easily be unblocked with the aid of one of those handy flexible wire thingies that plumbers always seem to have about their persons: the problem is that although it had, as it should, been capped (I think), the cap had fallen off into caverns measureless to man. Leaving us with a gaping hole in the pipe through which water (I hope) dribbled, and a vaguely unpleasant aroma of Eau de Sewer.

Of course this would happen around 19:00 on a Saturday evening, a time when all self-respecting hardware stores have closed for the weekend, and in any case a fine butter sauce will not wait. So we stuck the ever-handy "Crime scene: do not cross" tape over the toilet, welded the taps shut, and told Beckham and her man to use the bathroom in the other bedroom, whilst waiting for clear heads and wiser counsel to prevail.

Which saw me, at 9am on the Sunday moaning, trotting down the road to see if, by some happy chance, Terry didn't have some 90mm PVC piping, an angle joint and a cap. Much to my pleasure - and considerable surprise - he had not only all that, but also some neoprene adhesive, so about an hour and a few skinned knuckles later I had bodged up a temporary fix, so that to Beckham's delight she could go wallow in the bath that evening.

Waily waily and ohs noes: bird flu has hit the south of France, and as from this very day there will be no more ducks in the abattoirs. Which means that once my meagre supply of confit de canard and foie gras and magret has disappeared, there will be no more! How in hell am I supposed to make a cassoulet, is what I want to know. (On the bright side, I did manage to whip past Carrefour on hearing the news, and picked up the very last shrink-wrapped packet of duck legs to go into the freezer: so we're not completely destitute.)

A few weeks back it was the poor Finns: now, looking at the stats again, I see that it's the Russians that are being scammed. I really do not want to know the business model behind a site called "strapon.xblog.in", nor why they should push punters in my direction. Sometimes, it is a mystery. And it shall remain one - for me at least - for I am so not going there.

A while back, in a fit of feeble-mindedness such as strikes me from time to time (usually in-between a couple of gins), I signed up for LinkedIn, which appears to be some sort of Facebook for professionals. They keep sending me emails, which I generally ignore, but having some time today I thought I might as well actually set up a profile (duly done) and go through the backlog of notifications about people who wish to know me and various job offers that they think might suit me.

It rather amused me to find one for a "Senior Non Functional Engineer", which sounds right up my alley, but sadly it's in the Paris region and if I'm going to be non-functional I'd prefer to do it at home.

In the nearest village to us - St. Couat, just a couple of km to the north, across the nationale (and don't ask why I still call it that: force of habit I suppose, because the state long ago reclassed most of them as départementales to push the maintenance costs onto the départments and so routes like the N6 are now but storied memories) there recently opened a small brasserie. Having no good reason not to I went in there a month ago, and found a young guy who brewed his own beer in a couple of 20l plastic bidons, and had decided to start selling it ...

I duly tasted, and left with a half-dozen bottles, and then what with its being a fine day yesterday and having the yoof with us (also, despite - or perhaps because of - even the blonde being a deceptively treacherous 6.6%, we had finished it all) I thought I'd go back and get some more. Much to my deception, of the thousand or so bottles he'd had, there were but sixteen left, so I did the only reasonable thing under the circumstances, and walked off with all of them. Plus an unmarked bottle: one of a batch he'd set aside to age, and which is now a year old. When - if - the next fine day comes (for at the moment we've a week's worth of grotty weather forecast) I shall take some pleasure in drinking it.

As I left, he returned to his work, installing four 150l stainless-steel cuves, which means that in future his production will be better-suited to our consumption: a Good Thing.

Anyway, we have had an entire week of eating and drinking perhaps rather more than is, strictly speaking, necessary or even healthy, culminating in a meal last night at Martin and Angela's which damn near finished us. Don't get me wrong, it was excellent, but Martin seems to have as many bottles of gin (and whisky) as he does years of age, and takes this as a personal affront. So he is sad if we don't manage to get rid of at least one bottle of each in the evening: before, during, and after the wine.

So I think that I shall now go and whip up a very light stir-fried rice, and get a carafe of tepid water out to accompany it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Taxing Times ...

With what particularly dodgy scam, I wonder, is my hitherto untarnished good name currently being associated? (Or "besmirched"; I like that word.) Second-hand, refurbished saunas? Pickled herrings with natural GcMAF, guaranteed good for your sex life? Must be something along those lines, for it is the only reason I can think of why I should have 167 page views from Finland over the past few days.

They just don't make keyboards like they used to anymore. I gave up spewing on them a while back, as the chunky bits tend to get trapped between the keys, but even so - the decals are wearing away so that R has lost a leg and now looks like a P, and you do not want to know what W suggests to my mind.

Not even those who know and love me (the Venn diagram for that particular subset would make me sad were I not a flinty-hearted person, also I would need a magnifying glass) could honestly say that I have an inviting face. It's not the sort of thing you can spot from across the road and say to yourself "Hey! That person looks really nice and sympathetic, I shall just go over and unburden myself of all my woes (and, incidentally, try to make him/her feel just as bad as I do right now". I am aware of this, and I can live with it.

So why the hell, as I was innocently inhaling some post-market vitamins this moaning and doing my little bit for global warming (cows fart, I smoke - well, I fart too, but rather more discreetly), should someone come up to me, remark "Love the smell of cigars", and then proceed to relate - in tedious detail and with an impenetrable Provençal accent - the minor details of their life? What have I done?

Quite frankly, knowing that he was the fourth of seven children and that one of his daughters was in Australia has made no difference whatsoever to my life, apart from encumbering my poor brain with yet more useless facts. (I guess John Donne got it all wrong.)

But on the brighter side, at that very same market I found not only my usual haul of asparagus, but also some decent strawberries (that would be a glut, or a gloat, of berries) and the first rhubarb of the year, a beautiful red. So guess what we're having for dinner tonight? Yes, desserts. Because a kilo of strawberries is a bit too much for one sitting so strawberry summer cake seems like a good thing, and what I'd personally call a rhubarb crumble just because.

This does mean that there will be quantities left over to distribute to the deserving poor of the village, I guess, but cooking is a moral imperative and I just have to put up with the unfortunate side-effects.

'Tis the mating season, and it is unadvisable - not to say hazardous - to walk past the church because, let's face it, crows are ratshit engineers. Their take on "build it and they will come" seems to be "Hey! let's just drop sticks from some height onto spit and birdshit, and see if they stay there."

Mind you, when you've not yet invented cement mixers - nor mortar either, for that matter - I guess your options are kind of limited. But one of those options is still daylight robbery ...

For slurping down my coffee this moaning I spotted a blackbird (or a jackdaw, whatever, what would I know?) triumphantly fluttering back to the top of M. le maire's house with a stick about twice its own length in its beak: I'm guessing it was for a nest but could just have been to light the barbecue - whatever, a crow had a different idea.

After a full and frank exchange of views concerning property rights the crow flew off with it, leaving the blackbird looking rather disconsolate, and then a short time later I heard a "thunk" as a mound of twigs and bird-shit slid off the church roof and landed on the road.

The corvidae are supposedly rather intelligent - as birds go, although of course nothing to compare with the kea - but it seems odd that none of them seem to seek to take advantage of this pile of sticks under the church eaves.

I mean, you'd think that at least one of them would be bright enough to see this heap of raw building materials, flutter down to grab a beakful and have another go at home improvement but no - they just sit there until the mayor's idiot nephew gets sent out with a broom.

Maybe the birds feel that such sticks, which have not stuck, are inappropriate building materials, and I shall not argue the point, but it is still a puzzlement.

Also at the market - now that I think of it - are radishes, which are a vile insect that I will not eat for I cannot see the point, and there are the first nectarines and apricots coming up from Spain. I have learnt my lesson, and I shall put off buying them until such time as they actually have some flavour - or until Hope triumphs and I buy some anyway, like next weekend.

But it's a promise of things to come - hell, even the tomatoes have some taste now - and it makes a change from ever-lasting bloody apples and pears. (Not that these are actually bad fruit, it's just that at the end of the winter one gets heartily sick of them, along with broccoli and other such earnest vegetables. As summer approaches I crave stone-fruit, and salads.)

Every once in a while I look at the statistics that blogger so conveniently compiles - although for some reason I no longer have any "search keyword" results, which makes the end of the month so much less amusing. But still ...

There's always the traffic sources - that is websites that have directed the innocent over my way - and although it's not quite so hilarious it still sometimes raises a smile. Like with those poor Finns I mentioned earlier - although I still don't know who sent them here.

Now I can see why prominent SEOs such as "buttons-for-website.com" and "keywords-monitoring-your-success.com" might push you here, given my popularity and innatübz reputation as a mover and shaker. But for the life of me, I cannot work out why I should get hits from "sinusitisdr.blogger.com".

I am guessing that it is some sleazeball spammy site that is hoping to get clicks and the associated cash from the Great Google - or maybe it's an energetic housewife who is publishing her natural homeopathic secrets for avoiding sinusitis and it's just an odd coincidence that the "Get Me Out of Here" button that blogger so helpfully puts up lead 23 people in a row on to me.

And there's another thing: the 2015 fiscal year is well and truly over, which means it's soon going to be tax time, which in my case means shovelling every single bit of paper in my possession over to the accountant so that she can deal with it.

This would be easier if I had a filing system which did not consist of large mounds of paperwork and unopened envelopes sitting on the floor or on the bed in my office, the bottom layers of which are already well on their way to becoming coal.

I know, I know: it's my fault, just have to be better organised. Maybe I should just go out and buy a paper shredder.

Still, at least I have discovered that, at the beginning of this year, the URSSAF - an impenetrable organism staffed by a hereditary class of inbred uncivil servants, which is a law unto itself and before which even Ministers of the state quail - has decided that I paid them €5000 too much, all the way back in 2010, and how would I like to be repaid?

I suppose it's a good thing that I am not - technically - dead, for I can see the paperwork required to get this sum transferred to my inheritors dragging on for a century or two. The mills of God, it's said, grind slowly: they are as bloody jet turbines compared to those of the URSSAF, which tarnish ineluctably and grind exceeding small the souls of all those who have the misfortune to enter in.

Whatever, it takes more energy than I can be arsed expending to be miserable when there's light and flowers everywhere - although I do my best - and soon enough I shall be back in lizard mode, as the sun beats down on the burning ground.

But I've given up eating flies, crunchy little bastards.

Take care, and mind how you go.

NB: the URSSAF is the Union de Recouvrement de Securité Sociale et Allocations Familiales - it is a grouping of private organisations tasked by the government with the duty of making sure that you pay your social security contributions (the actual amount of which they alone seem entitled to calculate), but whose secondary objective is to ensure that your life is as miserable as possible. In this, they tend to succeed.