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 "", 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 "" and "" 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 "".

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.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Death Of A Device ...

So my alarm went off an hour too early this morning, too: I had completely forgotten about going back to daylight saving, and two early moanings in a row came as a bit of a shock to the system. Whatever, I'm sure I shall be a better man for it, and it's nice to take advantage of that extra hour of daylight. Although it screws up my timetable something awful, so for a couple of days we'll be eating even later (by the clock) than usual.

Just whilst I think about La Perle Gruissanaise - I forgot to mention that it is not, perhaps, the cheapest place to eat. Mind you, that's partly because we chose oysters and lobster and even then, with a litre of white, it came to but €50 for the two of us, so it could have been worse. And the stuff is as fresh as you can get, and it would be difficult to beat the ambiance.

But if you happen to be in these parts and have a desire for shellfish, I think that I would recommend not going there on a weekend in the summer holidays unless you have a bit of time on your hands - and if you're planning on lobster, think ahead and take a small hammer, or a pair of pliers, to crack the claws. You can do it with your fist at a pinch - and I know of what I speak, for I have done this - but if you miscalculate and hit a spiny bit it hurts like hell. Just saying.

(And although there's a sign up that says "Please do not bring your own wine, nor lemons, nor aioli, because we sell the stuff and would like to turn a profit sometime, also having your head beaten in with an icepick may offend", we found that if you ask nicely and explain that you only drink red wine - which they do not sell - they will give you the nod: but take your own corkscrew.)

Typical bloody Easter Monday: neither flesh, nor fowl, nor good red herring. I had hoped that just maybe it would be fine enough to bring a barbecue out of hibernation, but sadly, no. Which is a shame, as I just happen to have a leg of lamb in the fridge just waiting for an excuse to be butterflied and plopped onto the grill: maybe next weekend? (Don't look so bloody horrified. It's a decent bit of NZ lamb that was chilled and then hermetically sealed under nitrogen, and it's rated as being good until the 16th of April. The only harm that's likely to come to me will be from my attempts to open the damn plastic packaging, when the knife slips and slashes my wrists.)

The time finally came for little Suzy to go off for her road-fitness check, so Margo tearfully left her to the tender ministrations of the serious guys with clipboards and waited, expecting the worst. To general surprise, she passed! Despite the centre rear seatbelt that is held together with spit and chewing gum, the right wing-mirror that falls off if you give it too harsh a look, and the rubber seals that protect the universal joints that are apparently spontaneously disintegrating.

We paid €8000 for her back in 2003 (less €1000 for the trade-in on the old BMW, if I remember correctly), she has notched up some 270K km since then, and we have spent virtually no money on maintenance: and let's face it, nothing major has ever shown any sign of wanting to fall off. OK, the alternator belt squeaks like a rabid mouse when it's damp, and there is a mysterious warning light that is always on - telling us, according to the handbook, that you should take your car to a garage immediately before the catalytic converter starts performing miracles - but the odd thing is that when it turns off, as from time to time it will, the engine starts to hiccup and complain. At which point your best bet is to drive directly through a large puddle, to splash some water up into the engine compartment.

Don't ask me why but it always works: the warning light comes back on, and normal service is resumed. Also, she is perhaps not the most comfortable of conveyances for long trips, and being a tall box on wheels not the best under high cross-winds - excellent on snow, mind you. Point is, she has served us well and faithfully all these years, and so it is with a twinge of guilt that we are sending her off to the garage for "Just the bare minimum, squire. Oil change, and check the brakes".

The first shots have been fired in the vide-grenier season, when the serious weaselly-faced brocanteurs and antiquaires go from village to village buying any decent stuff that might - against all the odds - be on offer, buying and selling between themselves (this is increasing monetary velocity, which may or may not be a Good Thing), and occasionally deigning to let some naive amateur pay over the odds for a very average brass lampstand with a stuffed parrot hanging from it, or a rickety sofa. They're easy enough to spot, for their hip pockets are bulging with rolls of greasy small-denomination banknotes, on the grounds that there is no point bothering the taxman with traceable transactions.

Still, at least you're being fleeced by a professional, and not by some reassuring-looking granny that wants €35 for a lurid purple stuffed donkey with a sombrero and an amusingly-hidden bottle of pastis. Must have been a riot of fun when they stuck that on the table at l'heure de l'apéro, especially if the clockwork-operated olive-ejection mechanism was still working.

I suppose we really ought to go off to some of these affairs, as we are on the lookout for furnishings for the rooms, but you really do have to be up before dawn's crack to stand a chance of finding anything half-way reasonable, and that is emphatically not our thing. Much easier to call up Old Hélène, who seems to have bought up the entire stock from several bankrupt brocanteurs, and go rummage through her remise.

We have already bought an armoire from her, and just the other day had the occasion to get a marble-topped commode (which is going to mean getting out the Xylophène again, to put any tenacious termites to the sword), and as part-payment I helped her load a few bits from the first floor in there into her beaten-up Espace. So I got to check out the stock. A couple of sofas and a few tables that took my eye and my fancy: mounds of books, any number of table lamps that probably needed rewiring but were shiny enough to attract any self-respecting jackdaw, a small pergola (don't ask me), the odd bed or two: I didn't want to explore too much, it was dark up there and I thought I might get lost, for the inside of the place is rather bigger than the outside, not to mention dim and musty, and I feared accidentally going through a wardrobe.

I never thought that it would get to the point where I could not look another asparagus in the eye, and happily it has not yet come to that, but just possibly buying a kilo of the stuff on Saturday moaning was a bit over the top. They went very well with the chicken breasts in marsala, and then with the gambas marinated in olive oil and then stir-fried in the wok, and I'm sure they'll go well with whatever it is I decide to make for dinner tomorrow: just saying, is all. Same with strawberries: a couple of kilos goes quite a long way, once you've had them nature one night, then in a cheesecake the next ...

Next thing you know it'll be cherry season, and I will doubtless start complaining about having too many of them, as well. Some people are never satisfied. But - from the cooking column - comes this particularly insensitive comment: "It's that time of year again, when the neighbours start leaving shopping bags of feijoas on your doorstep". I find that very hurtful. They are NOT that easy to find in these furrin parts.

A couple of days back, my phone gave notice that it was not much longer for this world. It's always been fussy - sometimes have to turn it off and then on again to get a signal, if it decides in its little head that there is none - but this was different, in the sense that the power switch didn't work anymore: the accumulated cruft and pocket dust-bunnies of years had taken their toll, I guess. So I certainly didn't want to turn it off, and hied me to the nearest Bouygues shop, where the charming young woman supplied me with a Huawei - and thanks to four years of good conduct, it cost me all of one euro. (Well, ten more for a new SIM card: the one I had was about the size of a credit card, and apparently they don't make phones that take those anymore.)

She also, much to my surprise, knew all about Bada (Samsung's pile'o'shit phone OS from yonks back) but very cunningly persuaded my phone to send at least the contact list over via Bluetooth - so at least that's useful for something. Just as well really, for although I still have the old Kies software that came with the Samsung, which in theory would have let me painstakingly and one by one transfer my contacts over to the PC (from whence I could probably have got them into the new phone) it is so soul-numbingly dreadful that I would have preferred to scratch my eyes out with a quill pen before writing everything down on paper and then typing them in by hand. I thanked her - warmly - and left, and now my only problem is that I have what I find to be an unconscionably huge phone.

Maybe we need a new scale for these things. Positing that a normal hand size is 1.72 Trumps, using one of these things requires flippers that are are at least 2.17 Trumps in size (although it appears that with an iThing you can get away with 1.9 Trumps, provided you have three hands for all the gestures.) Also, I can't just slip it in my hip pocket anymore.

Margo tells me that I am a Luddite. I am not a techno-illiterate, but it is true that I had a thing that just worked, and now it doesn't, and I am going to have to learn how a new thing works. This pisses me off. Still, I am going to get to fulfill one of my long-held dreams, which is to see what happens if you take an angle grinder to a cell phone. (Kids, if you're going to try this at home, do remember to remove the battery first. OK?)

Years back there used to be a French comic strip - which I vaguely recall migrating to a series of skits on what passed at the time for evening entertainment on the TV - featuring a couple of women of a certain age, wearing printed cotton smocks, cardigans, fluffy slippers and headscarves: sort of the archetypal cleaning lady. (Never actually worked out exactly what was humorous in all that, but then I never got the point of Benny Hill either.)

Whatever, I had thought the species to be extinct: this turns out not to be the case.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Old Man And The C ...

Which is a good way to start off a Hemingway pastiche, which would have to begin with the ungrammatical elderly one saying something along the lines of "A consonant, you say? They are all the same, the letters, you sleep with them and they are all the same. When I was young it was good, you could even sleep with the letter Z after some rum, and it was good. But the letters today, they are shit"

But quite frankly, I can't be arsed.

Well, at least I managed to beat my way through the indignant old hags who try to push their way into the line ahead of me, and get some asparagus before it all disappeared. And having, as one will, a filet mignon de porc in the fridge, I turned that into picatta sauce madère, and with the asparagus boiled up in a syrupy mix of water, butter and sugar, and some steamed baby potatoes, it all went down very nicely.

Especially followed up by something which I shall call tarte girasol, which involves baking a disk of about five layers of buttered filo with sugar and cinnamon between the layers, then arranging neatly-sliced pears, fried in butter and sugar on top to look vaguely like a sunflower, and popping the whole lot back in the oven for ten minutes. At the end of which you have but to dribble a vanilla custard over it and serve.

It has been a busy week, and I have spent more of it than I like to think doing something I intensely dislike, not to say loathe: just Reading The Fscking Manual. It would help if this were not, at least in part, a work of fantasy. (Basically, it is in fact a tissue of truths but some bugger's gone and cut holes in it, and then embroidered it with fibs and whoppers.)

So don't go asking me how to go about programming a PIC18F87K22 microcontroller by bit-banging, for the answer may not be fit for polite society.

Also, we have got ourselves another dog. No, no, don't go calling the ambulance for we have not - yet - taken leave of our collective senses: she is but a house-guest for ten days.

Nestor, a lovely sort-of Dalmatian, and sweet-tempered as they come. Although quite capable of keeping our two firmly in line. The main problem is that she has never been taught how to walk on a leash - which causes some difficulties, and a bit of entanglement (luckily, not quantum) at times. Whatever, we live with it.

As you go through Moux, past the signs that sternly forbid either begging or trotting and then past the pharmacie, you will notice - if you snap your neck round 180°, for it is invisible if you come from the East - a marble plaque up on the wall, in memory of les enfants de Moux, lachement assassinés by the Germans back in 1943. Noble members of the résistance.

Except that I bumped into old Charles the ex-vigneron the other day, and he took some pleasure in recounting what he swears is the true tale that he got from his father, which is that the Mouxois in question had defied the curfew and were up in the bar drinking with their German pals: sadly, when "last orders" was called they stumbled out into the street and then ran like hell at the sight of a couple of troops on motor-bikes, en route from Carcassonne. The rest is now (revised) history.

Whatever, Margo's up around Montpellier with the dogs for a couple of days so I is stuck here on a rainy Sunday with things I really ought to be doing. So far I've been out for a couple of walks, bogged up a few bits of skirting-board with plastic wood before sanding and touching up the paintwork, and vacuumed my office - twice. It is not easy to get motivated and twiddle bits in an FPGA when it is gray and dismal outside. (Mind you, as I write I can see that the base of my desk lamp is a bit dusty: maybe I should vacuum yet again ...)

On the other hand, I could always grit my teeth and get down dirty and just do this stuff for the SNCF, but quite frankly I simply cannot be arsed just at the moment.

For years now I've used a trackball rather than a rodent because I can't be buggered mousing around: what with age and everything, after ten hours of that my shoulder and elbow are giving me merry hell. The only problem with them is that after a while they do tend to get kind of grunged up over the years, with sweat and dead skin cells and breadcrumbs, and eventually you have to replace them, if only for hygiene's sake.

I have evidently arrived at that point, for the left button now generates spurious double-clicks just when you don't need one, so it was obviously time to go look on the rueducommerce website for a replacement: I have a Logitech but Microsoft used to make really nice ones, so I thought I'd check out what they had on offer. Sadly, no trackballs - but plenty of mice, and this one here rather caught my eye. As the blurb said, it's stable and solid, and I doubt I'd have problems with anyone trying to nick it surreptitiously off my desk.

Sadly, I have no need for a user-interface device that requires me to stick a ream of A4 into it before use, so I passed on that and went on to order the Logitech alternative - it is much smaller but might turn out to be noisier because it is only dot-matrix: we'll see how that works out. Well, in fact I am actually seeing how that works out right now, because despite having ordered it late on Thursday and seeing, on the Friday evening, that it was "awaiting collection by la Poste", it got plonked in the letterbox today. (Worked first time, no drivers to install - I am waiting for something Bad to happen.)

By an odd quirk of fate, Rick and Mary had a brilliant idea Friday night, and one of the unfortunate side-effects was that my alarm went off at 7am and I found myself at the market at place Carnot in Carcassonne around ten to eight, which is rather earlier than usual. But it was actually rather pleasant: the sun was slanting down over the roofs, the old hags had only just started to emerge from under the rocks with their bloody trundle-along caddies (and gods help you if ever you get in their way, for they have scimitars mounted on the hubs, and in any case they are capable of giving you such a look if you manage a quick sideways kick ...) and there was, at that hour, an abundance of asparagus available.

And I managed to make it back home before nine, and it was as I was sunning myself like an old lizard out on the terrace with a coffee and a cigar that the letterbox went "clonk" and therein was my parcel, which I wasn't actually expecting because according to the website it was scheduled to arrive on or about April 1st - not really a good date and I was actually resigned to its finally turning up sometime in June.

So much for instant gratification, all I had the time to do was remove the little box from its cubic metre of packaging before heading off to Gruissan, and more specifically "La Perle Gruissanaise", which is - as many of you will recognise from the name - a place where they sell seafood.

For this was the brilliant idea: at this place - which supplies most of the Narbonnais restaurants, I guess - you may turn up with bread, salad, whatever else you like, then go in and order. So long as it's shellfish. They take your money, give you a ticket, and about ten minutes later you go back in and pick up your platter ... so we went there for a lazy lunch in the sun.

Then you go and sit at one of the many picnic tables they've installed outside, at the end of one of the moles at the entrance to the étang de Gruissan, and sit in the sun and eat and drink your litre of fresh white wine and watch the boats go past and the light playing on the waves, and talk about Chaucer and Ogden Nash and whatever else comes to mind because, let's face it, it's a lovely day.

So Margo scarfed her oysters, feebly screaming mussels fresh from the sea, and I munched on my lobster with crusty bread and aioli (not garlicky enough, but never mind, that's just me), and I reckon that there could be worse ways to die.