Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hello, Kitty ...

Moux needs moah pussy
Actually, this turns out not to be the case. It's summer, and the ladies of negociable virtue are working the départementale between Narbonne and Carcassonne, so if you're a truckie or the sort of person that drives a flash white Audi you're spoilt for choice.

One of the roads that leads from the main strip up to Moux is a small affair that goes under an old rail bridge, last relic of the spur line that used to go from here up into the montagne Noire, and just off that little road, on a track that leads up into the pinède and the vines (and the blackberries), there is - I am told, for I cannot swear to it of my own knowledge - a place of business.

Margo took the dogs up there the other day, for their midday trot and also to pick up some blackberries, and came upon it: a bit of beaten grass under a tree with a Bambi blanket, a porn magazine open to page 57 (the Bob Guccione-style soft-focus feature with lotsa close-ups 'cos "Hey! I've got a bigger zoom than yours"), and a dildo. Walt Disney is no doubt spinning in his grave.

Also, why is it that I have 260 page views in the last week from Russia? It's not as though I'm advertising mail-order Chechen brides ("have Bambi blanket and sex toys, will travel"), and the Great Google shows me none of the usual suspects in the "referring sites" list.

Oh, and there's always that lone sad tosser who, every week, looks up "titsup holiday" on Bing! I mean, why? There are much more rewarding search terms.

In unrelated news, I see that malachite is, in some circles, considered effective as an anti-virus for your computer. As this man quickly pointed out. I remember having a pet rock once, but that was back in the days before computer viruses, seeing as how we didn't have computers back then that would fit into any space less than about 50m². So I can't really say if it works, but apparently it absorbs negative emanations - here at The Shamblings™ anythings negative is more likely to be coming from me.

We had a collective brainfart yesterday: nothing would do but we should head off to Montredon and get the tiles so that I can finish off the bathroom in bedroom #3 before André turns up again in September, and pick up some other bits and pieces at Lézignan on the way back. This just goes to show that if you have the urge to fart you really should just let it out (discreetly, if possible, and do try to ensure that you're either on your own or in a crowd, so you can blame the smell on someone else) because otherwise it bubbles up to your brain and you have really shitty ideas.

Whatever, being the end of the first week of August an awful lot of people were on the road, heading back home to calm down for a week before heading back to work (traditionally, around August 15). Enough that even on the D6113 the trip, which normally takes about 20 minutes, took us more like an hour. And on the occasions that we caught a glimpse of the autoroute that looked even worse ...

We made it - eventually - and to my surprise and pleasure they even had what I wanted in stock, so the nice man helped me load 160kg of tiles into the boot and we headed back home - taking the tight twisty back roads this time. Better for my health.

Page 37, paragraph 6 of our mission statement reads "We shall sensually excite and lustily inform with vigour and forbidden knowledge our eager readers": it was perhaps, with hindsight, a mistake to run the Japanese version of the Microsoft EULA through Google Translate. Especially as it goes on to mention something about the "posture of the dog". Be that as it may that's what it says; so, giving you facts that you may not really want to know, may I just say that blackberries go more or less straight through a dog's digestive system?

I have a KitchenAid stand mixer - a big black thing that lurks on the kitchen bench - and let it be said that I'm very happy with it. A while back I got the hachoir attachment for it: it very conveniently reduces dried bread into breadcrumbs, and minces meat, and when I get around to it it will not only mince some lamb shoulder with salt, herbs and spices, but will also stuff the resulting mess into sausage casings, which I shall then hang up in decorative festoons to dry. (Maybe I should do that around Christmas, would save on decorations.)

That's not the point. The point is, having used it today I was idly cleaning it - as one will, for food hygiene is important around here - and I could not help but notice something that kind of left me looking like a stunned mullet. There is what I shall call - for want of a better word - a sort of plastic piston or plunger, with a great big handle at one end and and a small disc at the other, which it is recommended one use - rather than one's fingers - to push stuff into the maw of the grinder.

This is not, in itself, surprising: what was is that they apparently thought it necessary to include instructions with it, in the form of a little arrow moulded into the body of the piston - I assume to indicate the direction - and the words "PUSH FOOD". Either I'm missing something here, or people are a lot thicker than I thought. Next thing you know they'll be sticking warning labels on coffee cups - "Warning! May be ouch-burny!" and they'll come with an instruction manual on a CD.

What do you mean, "it's already been done"?

I've a confession to make: generally speaking, fruit does little for me. Oh, I can guzzle cherries by the bucket-load, and a Black Doris or Omega plum (such as you can't find in these parts for love nor money) is a wonderful thing. A good crisp apple is always good, and grapes of course disappear just like that: a peche blanche is good. But nectarines I can pass on, the apricot finds no favour with me, and pears ...

Great in a pastis, I have used them to some acclaim in a cheesecake, even in a tart with an almond custard, but as such - but on the other hand, a ripe pear smells like sex. Or at least, very erotic. Just peeling a perfectly ripe Guyot the other night, with the juice running down my wrists ...

Maybe I should calm down and stop cooking for a bit.

A bit to the north of us is, as you may recall, la montagne Noire. It's basically the southernmost outcropping of the massif central, and there's a valley that runs west-east between the two, from Mazamet to Beziers. There's a river that runs along it and so, as usual, where there's water, there's industry: mostly dead now, but as you go through the towns it's easy enough to spot the abandoned dark satanic mills. Which were pretty much all for textiles, because there were also sheep.

At one of those towns, Labastide-Rouairoux, they have an annual salon for textile artists and quilters and what-have-you, and having better things to do - like changing the spark plugs on the septic tank - I headed off there with Margo.

It's a very pretty drive on the back roads climbing up into the mountains: stark and desolate on the southern side, then suddenly getting green and forested on the north. It also involves a number of rather rapid gear changes, until you realise that the "curve ahead" road-sign really means "hairpin bend RIGHT NOW" and that trying to go around at 80 is not perhaps the best of ideas. Fortunately, Sarah's permanent four-wheel drive and complete lack of body roll make it rather fun. If you're not too worried about passengers, anyway.

Also, I couldn't help but notice that it's rather cooler up there. I say this because I got bored witless after half an hour and went off wandering around the place, and so had ample opportunity to enjoy the bracing breeze. Places like that always strike me as rather sad: a couple of hundred years ago they were bustling hives of industry and now the factories are shut and the huge old houses standing in the gardens are dilapidated, all the shutters closed and peeling.

On the brighter side, the English seem to be buying them: I guess they're cheap, and maybe the climate reminds them of the Welsh valleys.

And by the time I'd finished with that Margo had just about done with meeting up with old friends and acquaintances, and they did have a stand selling artisanal honey: so I came away with a couple of pots for my private stash, some chestnut honey (my god that's good) and some bruyère honey (which is to die for, and if anyone tries to get at it, they will die).

(Incidentally, bruyère covers a multitude of gins and mostly, in French, refers to what you'd call heather: but my honey comes from bruyère ereca which is, oddly enough, a small tree from the roots of which are made briar pipes. Now you know.)

Finally, life is not fair. Why do bloody engineers get all the fun jobs, like building a simulated vomiting machine? And I bet that if you got to do that at high school there's be no shortage of candidates for the STEM courses.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mostly Dead Sheep ...

So, let me tell you about lamb ham. It's not something that seems to happen in France, poor benighted folk that they are, so effectively one is obliged to make one's own. Fortunately, the procedure is remarkably simple.

Some would start with a leg of lamb but unfortunately I have nowhere suitable to put one whilst it's curing: a cool airy cellar would be ideal, but I don't have one. Not, at anyrate, one that is inaccessible to cats. So I started out with a shoulder of lamb and boned it: removed the shoulder-blade and the top leg bone, leaving only the shank in. (If you've not done it before, boning can be a tedious and occasionally bloody process but persevere, it's not really that difficult. And think of the anatomy lesson you're getting.)

This will leave you with a shank, attached to a large square of flesh and skin. Stick it into a large ziplock bag (because believe me, it's a damn sight less messy that way) and get the cure ready: mix three tbsp of kosher salt, three tbsp of brown sugar, a quarter tsp of saltpetre and herbs or spices of your choice in a bowl. (I like to use crushed and chopped juniper berries at least, and the saltpetre is optional. Yeah, it's toxic in large doses, but it does help give a nice pink colour to the meat.)

Then add three tbsp or more of molasses or treacle, mix well, and rub well into the meat, paying special attention to the ends of the shank bone because we wouldn't want it to go all mouldy and gross, now would we? Close the ziplock bag, put it onto a tray (because the little buggers always develop a leak somewhere), stick it into the fridge for ten days or so and forget about it. (Well, flip it over once every couple of days, but that's hardly onerous.)

At the end of that time take it out, wash it well and dry it, roll and tie it ... you now have two options. You could wrap it in muslin to keep the flies off and hang it for a couple of weeks in that cool airy cellar of which I spoke, or you could do what I do, which is stick it into an oven at 90° for an hour or so, until the internal temperature gets up to about 58°. Or, if you have one, use a smoker. (Do you have any idea, by the way, just how difficult it is to find an oven that gives you the option of 90°? Mine certainly doesn't.)

The advantage of the second method is, of course, that you get to eat the stuff much sooner: always a bonus for those of us with zero patience. (Also, as good manners demand that one presents only perfect thin round slices to one's guests, one is obliged to trim off the scrappy caramelised bits immediately after baking, and eat them hot and crispy.)

I have recently spent more time than I care to think about delving into the Bluetooth layers of Linux. Think of it as a learning experience: like most such it is not necessarily pleasant. I have learnt about the driver layer which manages the hardware (and good luck with that if your chipset is not supported), and the userspace hcid layer which goes on top, and the bnep layer which goes on top of that ... there are so many layers to this damn thing that it looks as though a demented patissier started work on a fôret noire and found himself unable to stop.

And then, of course, all this is wrapped up in a package called BlueZ, which was started off by a couple of hobbyists in a basement and supported ever since in a sporadic manner, with occasional bursts of enthusiasm, by a small team of two men and a cat who get together twice a year for a beer. The package is more or less essential, because no-one in their right mind would start again from scratch (possibly adding comments to the code) so basically you live with what you get.

And I can indeed live with that, it's just that when the cat decided to move to version 4 they had possibly had a few too many beers and decided to completely change the API and - here's the cunning bit - not document the new one. Or if they did, grudgingly, put up a single web page, they took care to ensure that it is misleading at best, wildly inaccurate at worst. On the grounds, I guess, that anyone who really wants to know what's going on will just read the bloody source.

So you start on your quest for knowledge thinking "Hey! This is going to be easy! Look at all those examples on the innertubes ..." and it is not until things stubbornly refuse to work as they are supposed to and clients start getting itchy that you begin to realise that the examples out there are all for version 3, and you are on your own, boyo.

This is the dark side of Linux, the foetid underbelly of open source software. Take my advice, do not go there.

Whatever, twenty km or so south of Perpignan there is a little village, Palau del Vidre, which has the distinction of harbouring a couple of dozen artisans verriers - glass-blowers, stained-glass makers, people that make pretty glass dolphins ... it also has a rather interesting church, if you happen to be into that sort of thing. Would have been nice to go in and take a look around 'cos I guess the stained glass would've been fantastic, but being a Sunday the place was closed.

As it happens, it's the 22nd Foire International de Verre down there, and despite it's being another bloody black weekend on the roads due to the juilletists heading home and the aoutards leaving (and why can't the buggers just stay put in Paris for the duration, where god put them, and evidently intended them to be) we headed off down to take a look. So that you don't have to.

Start with the bad news: there was folk dancing. On the brighter side, that was towards the middle of the afternoon, we'd been around most of the place and we were sitting at a bar nursing cold (and bloody expensive) drinks and were feeling tolerant. So you'll be pleased to know that no-one got hurt, not even the little children.

Although it did remind me a lot of that scene from Spinal Tap, you know, the one where they've got this song about ancient mystic powers and so they have dwarves dressed as leprechauns dancing around the great monoliths of Stonehenge only it's a two-foot tall scale model in polystyrene, and the dwarves keep tripping over it? Yep.

And there was sort-of Morris dancing, with people hitting other people on the head with sticks whilst wearing stockings and bells, and inexplicably missing ... a lot of the glass was extremely beautiful.

But I checked down the sides of the sofa before we left, and did not find three or four thousand euros sitting there forgotten, so we came home empty-handed, without so much as a glass harp to our names. Maybe next year, if I work a bit harder, and manage to hide some of it from the taxman ... mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Il Pleut, Il Pleut, Bergère ...

We should be so bloody lucky. Méteo France has been promising us rain for the past week, a promise that has been religiously postponed every day. The daily routine involves getting out of bed where - all unbeknownst - you've been sweating all night (not surprising, because the temperature does not get below 28°), then starting to sweat some more. Out onto the terrace for the morning coffee and cigar, and the cloudless sky is that particular provençal shade of blue, and there is no breeze. At 8:30, it is already in the thirties, and it's not going to get any cooler.

There are conflicting views about having a swimming pool down here. Not that we have one, nor could we for we have no land, but on the plus side, if you have a swimming pool you can at least swim in it and cool down: or so you might think.

On the minus side, it's a lot of maintenance and should you ever, in an unguarded moment, let it be known that not only do you live in the south of France but also that you are the proud owners of a pool, you will discover that you suddenly have a lot of friends, or friends of friends, or distant relatives, that you thought had maybe died, or that you never actually knew, or of whose existence you were blissfully unaware.

And your phone will start bleeping permanently with people calling or leaving messages to the effect that they'll probably be turning up next morning, hope you don't mind, we'll not be a problem, and the concept of swimming yourself will go by the board as reluctant hospitality and the dregs of good manners oblige you to drag out the barbecue for a midday meal, and buy in another 20 litres of rosé.

So, at least, it is said by Wossname Mayle in his marshmallow opus, and also (more reliably) by those of our friends and neighbours who do have pools, and they have learnt to harden their hearts and not pick up the phone should it ring (thank god for caller ID display), or if - by inadvertence - they do so, to invent a casual lie about how the septic tank has overflown and the pool is full of jolly turds bobbing around, would you like to come around anyway for a game of  Poohsticks? (In my experience, it does.)

Anyways, this moaning it finally did rain, after six weeks or so with nary a drop. We got maybe a drop every 10 cm² for half an hour, and then the clouds buggered off eastward, looking kind of embarrassed.

All it's done is make things worse: instead of just being stinking hot the little rain there was evaporated in about ten seconds flat on the hot tiles, and so it is now more like a sauna out there. Apparently this is supposed to continue for the next few weeks, so I guess it's time to stock up on more beer and white wine, just to make sure that we don't run out.

Fortunately the canal du Midi is just ten minutes drive north of here, so in the evening we can bundle the dogs into the boot and head off to one of the locks for a quiet walk along the towpath, with the cool green water moving lazily under the shade of the trees. Very pleasant, but I'm still waiting to get my autonomous self-driving car so that it can come pick us up at the next lock.

As a general rule I dislike being around dead people, but this time it was a neighbour and ex-maire, and we know his daughter Caroline quite well so noblesse oblige and all that. Funerals in France are always a very social affair. I guess most of the village turned out, hubbubbing under the sun, waiting around for something to happen. (Odd thing I'd not thought of before but I can see the necessity: hearses in these parts have a refrigerated compartment.)

Of course things were running late - they always do - but we finally got to queue up and pay our respects. Truth to tell, that's the bit I really hate about funerals: one never knows just what to say. But Margo persuaded me that I just had to mumble, and as M. le maire just ahead of me in line had burst into tears it seemed to pass muster.

Only the third I've been to in France: with any luck the next one will be mine and I won't have to hang around through speechifying. Especially as my plans rather involve an edifying piss-up with a small cardboard box containing the ashes, a timer, and a small(ish) explosive charge in the centre of the buffet table.
The 13th of July went well - without a sudden storm this time, obliging us to take refuge under the tables as the rain pelts down - and Margo picked up the yoof at Narbonne and got them back in time for the festivities. I guess I shouldn't have worried: I know the meal was supposed to start at 20:00 but honestly, down here, do you really think that's going to happen? (Hint: the answer is "no".)

When they turned up the assembled masses had hardly made a dent in the heaped platters of pizza and other nibbles laid out on the groaning trestle tables, and there was a constant procession of chilled bottles of white and rosé and pastis (and Label 5 paintstripper whisky) coming out.

All good things come to an end and eventually when the plates were looking kind of empty everyone drifted off to the tables for the real exercise of the day: usual five course meal, with at least three bottles per couple.

At least the caterers didn't seem to feel that they were feeding a ward-full of patients from a secure psychiatric facility and so we actually got real cutlery instead of bendy plastic stuff, which made eating the rare beef a damn sight easier.

We hung around for the fireworks display and then, as the mobile disco that is an inevitable part of a small-town fête around here (truth to tell, probably everywhere in France) started tuning up (metaphorically speaking), rolled bloatedly home. Luckily the 14th is in fact a public holiday, because I don't think anyone felt like actually doing anything the next day. Know I didn't.

We actually had plans for decorating the bedrooms, which involved a lightly-structured wallpaper and, preferably, not too many arguments (heated discussions, if you prefer) as we put it up - for let's face it, wallpapering is a job that really needs two and we do not always work well together on such things due to REASONS, and having different ideas as to how things should be done. But last night Old Hélène turned up to let us know that she's sold her house and would we be at the little celebratory piss-up apéro, and one thing led to another ...

What it actually led to was here saying "Oh! But the walls are très charmants and the room full of caractère, you must not put on le papier peint!". And the more we thought about it, the more the idea of whitewashing the walls started to appeal: partly, let it be admitted, on the grounds of price, but mainly because it would be very much in keeping with the style of the place. At least we hadn't gone out and bought forty rolls of wallpaper at €15 a pop ...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Speling Is Opshunal ...

"Armchair" is a simple concept, "easychair" might be American but is understandable, and "dining-room chair" is fine, but quite frankly, a "pus chair"? There are some concepts with which my poor brain would rather not grapple, and this is one. Mind you, I can see why they might be forbidden. For godssake people, even if you have unalloyed confidence in the literary abilities of your five year-old child, you could still run it through a spell/grammar checker. Hell, even the dire attempt provided with OpenOffice would probably have picked that example up.

As will happen, once arrived at a certain age one's obsessions tend to change a bit. It's not that I am in fact obsessed by the question, but I do have to wonder - is there a "right side" and a "wrong side" for toilet paper? It's the sort of thing that I think we have a right to know. Christ, what if, all unwittingly, I've been doing it wrong all my life? That could explain a lot. I wish the stuff would come with a user's guide.

Be that as it may, over here we is suffering - in agony, I tell you - from yet another canicule. The sky is that particular shade of provençal blue, and cloudless: downstairs it's a relatively acceptable 27°, but venture out into the verandah and it's up to 32°, and I don't even think about on the terrace, shade or not. The dogs spend their time seeking out the coolest tiles they can find on the living-room floor and then just lie still: maybe I should put ice cubes into their water bowl.

We is made of sterner stuff, and yesterday being a Sunday decided that nothing would do but we have a barbecue. I had gone off and bought a big bag of vine clippings - sarments de vigne - and I have to admit that they're perfect for something quick like lamb chops, or sausages. None of this faffing about and endless waiting with charcoal, they're up to operating temperature in ten minutes and stay just as hot as you want for half an hour, which is wonderful.

C&T brought round some asparagus and there was a perfectly-ripe melon just waiting, so we ate and drank and occasionally shifted the table around so that we were still in the shade (and maybe we shall have to look at getting one of those sail things to go over the terrace, for 35m² of shade is a lot to ask from one mingy parasol) and then, I'm afraid, we slept, down in the cool.

Not for long enough, because we had an appointment at 18:00 with Richard and Mary, to pick up the last bits of the beds they're lending us, learn about swimming holes and - of course - drink some more in a shady corner of their garden, with the cicadas making a godawful racket up in the trees. We had not planned on it going on quite so long, for Rick tends to fade early in the evening, but around 20:00 we decided that a fourth bottle was not strictly speaking necessary and staggered back home, bed-bases and mattresses on our backs.

Our piratical neighbour Philippe has finally gone over to the dark side. It's a slippery slope, you start off buying one 1950's vintage Peugeot pickup truck to restore, make a mould in Fimo to recast a left front indicator (yes Virginia, they had them even back in the day), then you pick up the estate model just for spares and before you know it the courtyard is full of the damn things, up on blocks and slowly leaking oil.

The canicule came early this year, it is lasting, and even though it's supposed to cool down again for a bit we'll get another one - so they're direly predicting. It is a good thing that rosé is just a drink, not actually wine, and that if you keep white wine in the fridge the alcohol precipitates to the bottom so you just don't drain your glass to avoid intoxication.

Or so I tell myself.

Also, I don't know if we're eating more healthily, but we're certainly eating differently. The humble spud has been more or less banished from the table, the salad is held in high honour, and our olive oil consumption has gone up by leaps and bounds. (OK, only a litre per month or so, but given that I long ago swore loyalty to butter that's still quite a bit.)

Still carnivores, mind you - can't escape that in these parts - and to remind me of that fact there are not one but two shoulders of lamb defrosting on the bench, awaiting the tender ministrations of the boning knife.

One is destined to be rolled with a bit of garlic and maybe rosemary inside, then roasted and basted with a mixture of honey and ground ginger as it cooks, and the other will meet its maker in a treacle cure to become a lamb ham, cooking very slowly in the oven (for I do not yet have a smoker) after a week or so in the fridge, salting.

Whatever, André did in fact turn up - whilst I was up in Chambéry for work, which meant that he only got a tongue-lashing from Margo - and so we now have two rooms on the first floor with fully functional bathrooms. And in one of those the floor is all done, and it needs only wallpaper and skirting-boards to be put up to be complete: happily A & B do not mind the absence of these little niceties (or so they said) so we were able to put them up in relative comfort for the five days of their stay with us.

(Which occasioned yet another trip to the cave coopérative for emergency supplies, but that's beside the point.)

They've not been down in these here parts before, so one of the first things we did was put on good walking shoes and head south through tiny twisty roads (thank you once again, bloody GPS of Doom) to Peyrepertuse, one of the Cathar castles.

Perched on a knife-edged crag at about 800m altitude and accessible only by a track that even a mountain goat would be ashamed to call its own, even a trip off to the local shop for a packet of fags would take on something of the air of a major expedition: on the bright side, it would have to be a bloody determined Jehovah's Witness that made it up there to knock at the postern gate whilst you're enjoying a quiet drink on a Sunday morning.

If anything, Quéribus - just 5km away as the crow flies - is even more forbidding. I still can't think how we managed to get the kids up there when we went, some eighteen years or so ago.

And of course we made it off to Carcassonne, because if you're here you just can't not go, and that's the first time I've ever seen a selfie stick. Do people not realise what prats they look like, holding up a golf club with a phone on the end? (Mind you, the woman was one of the loud variety of American tourists, and probably thought she was still in Kansas.)

Anyway, gotta go: the hairy retards are getting impatient, and the canal is calling.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Talk In The Movies, I'll Kill You Right There ...

"Word of the Week" proudly brings you the very latest in neologisms for your reading pleasure ... a bit of background here, not so long ago our failed presidential candidate Segolène Royal called on people to save the planet by banning Nutella, because of PALM OIL, and turning people with no self-respect into lard-buckets. Of course the Italians, whose national treasure it is, complained loud and long, and she back-pedaled. Or, as the headlines put it, "Madame le ministre fait du retro-pedalage".

Nice one, Le Monde.

Also, please note that even though the ministre in question is a woman of the female sex, she is always le ministre. It is the title that is gendered. Praise be for the glories of the French language. (Although, to be fair, I was idly considering the other day how to explain to a Frog-person the use - or misuse - of the apostrophe to indicate the number in a possessive clause. As in, "the husbands' children", wherein we are talking about the - obviously plural - children of any number of husbands. Then it came to me that I might as well not bother, because you can't actually say that in French. You have to say "les enfants du/des mari(s)", which translates to the rather awkward "the children of the husband(s)". That clear?)

In three weeks or so, we'll have been living in Moux for two years. And it's a sad commentary - on what, I'm not exactly sure, but that's beside the point - that the people at the cave coopérative know my name, which is more than I can say for some of our neighbours. Hell, I went off the other day to get some tickets for the fête this Saturday, paid upfront for them and, let it be said, 10l of Chateau Carton, and as I was leaving said "Oh. No tickets?" "Nah." came the reply. "We know you, it's good."

We are definitely stuck in some sort of time warp here - sometimes, when the loudspeakers fart, it feels like a bastard unholy cross between "'Allo 'Allo" and "The Prisoner". But no, it's just a public service announcement, to let the village know that old Réné is selling cherries from the back of his van. (And very nice they were, too.)

Another thing: I had occasion to give Cash a hand transferring their account from one autoroute company to another, as they have merged. You can do it all online - of course she's never done anything online with them and so has no password to access the account, but that, I thought, should be no problem - just stick in the account number and then click on the button that says "I am but a simple-minded cretin and I have forgotten my password" and lo! it will be emailed to you.

Not in fact that simple, because when you do that the site asks you for your account number and email address and if the email address does not match the one they have it gives a rude message suggesting you go perform auto-erotic stimulation: of course they had entered the email address incorrectly so I wound up ringing them anyway but that is not the point.

The point is that there are two data entry fields, one for the account number and the second for your email address: the funny thing is that the second will not allow you to type the '@' character, which seems odd to me because that's more or less required. Go figure.

Later ... I was wrong misinformed. Windows appears to have downloaded and installed an update somewhere along the line that completely borks keyboard access to diacriticals: not being Polish I can actually live with that but I am a programmer and so need constant access to curly brackets like this {} and square brackets such as these []. Guess what: I don't have these anymore.

Microsoft updates are beginning to remind me of those mad dwarves from Oglaf - "Hey, you want shit? We got shit! Hell, we can fuck you over right now!" Wibbles on the interwebs hint to me that the problem is perhaps linked to some crap Synaptics driver that got downloaded with the latest Windoze update: sure enough one such was installed. It is in the Windows update history: I must surely be able to uninstall the sucker?

Click on "Installed updates" to find out that
  • they are listed in a completely different order, which is always alphabetical no matter what sort order you select, and also
  • no Synaptics updates appear in this list, which in any case bears no apparent relationship to the update history list. 

In passing, I note that I have some Microsoft updates that were apparently installed on January 1st, 1601. This fails to inspire me with confidence.

On top of it the same update sneakily reenabled the indexing service, which I had carefully disabled 'cos the sucker was eating 80% of the CPU from time to time, apparently because the Windows Media Player required it in order to index all my music to play over the network. Which I do not do. I swear to god that were it not for the fact that I actually need Windows for development I would, at this moment, nuke the sucker from orbit - with extreme prejudice - and install Linux. It is also true that Linux is just as crappy: the little Samsung that we use as a media streamer downstairs occasionally decides that it no longer wishes to know about Wifi.

Whatever, now that I've nuked the Synaptics driver, recovered my keyboard and calmed down a bit I shall treat it as a learning experience, and I have indeed learnt my lesson: automatic updates are now banned, and I shall vet them all before applying any of them. I know, I know, I've no excuse for not having done that earlier - what can I say?

Also, upon reflection, perhaps it was just a teeny bit anal-compulsive of me to spend four hours in the evening obsessing over a few keys. I mean, workarounds exist - did you know that Ctrl+Alt = AltGr? (I must admit, I didn't. Or possibly I did, at one point, but had retired the rather obscure fact to the hind-brain.) OK, guilty as charged, I am obsessive about these little things that drive me wild.

The cave coopérative can indeed organise a piss-up in a brewery although, as is usual in these parts, there is no point in hoping it will actually start on time. I suspect they'd been busy having the apéro in the offices from about 17:00 on, and had perhaps forgotten that people were supposed to be turning up from 19:00.

Whatever, the problem was quickly rectified and there were soon serried ranks of bottles glistening with condensation lined up on the barrels that did duty as bar tables, and mounds of olives and masses of sliced saucisson rapidly going greasy in the heat.

A village fête is always fun - at least until the ambulatory disco starts belching out the rather dire music - if only for the wide range of sartorial elegance on display. Some in Prada, and the more thoughtful in loose-waisted Adidas running shorts and sandals. Tastefully accessorised with a Gucci manbag.

Still, next time I think we'll do as John and Anne did, and bring our own plates and cutlery. The flimsy plastic picnic jobs provided were definitely not up to the task of slicing a huge hunk of mostly uncooked beef, and were it not that sunglasses are pretty much an essential dress item around here you'd be in constant danger of losing an eye as an errant tine flew off your neighbour's fork.

Anyways, right now it is too damn hot and we have retreated to the cool of the house - which means I have no excuse for not sticking some silicone joints around the tiling in the two bathrooms that, if our prayers and sacrifices are answered, André will come and finish off next week before our first guests arrive.

Mind how you go, now.