Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Low-Life Bottom-Feeding Pond Scum ...

I mean, how many people do they catch out? I was out on the terrace enjoying the mild weather and doing my little bit for air pollution and global warning when my phone rang and lo! it was a recording to tell me that my order was waiting in an entrepot somewhere and could I please call back to arrange for delivery?

Doubtless to a premium-rate number where I'd spend ten minutes on hold, having my brain - such as there is left of it - melted with second-rate muzak ... Still, today I am wearing my smily face and so - albeit reluctantly - I shall not send out my crack team of black-ops assassins to terminate the lot of them with extreme prejudice. More reasonably, I shall not wander off to their offices - wherever they may be - and stick pencils into their eardrums, with a hammer. "And why", you may ask, "is this? Please explain, uncle T, because it is most unlike you."

Simply enough, it is because our poele is working. The nice man came around this morning with a new sonde for the exhaust, and so not too optimistically I wired it up and we pushed on the go-tit and it lit up a happy green and lurched into motion. So now it is about 23° in the Great Hall here at The Shamblings™, and we are happy campers. Also, someone is supposed to be turning up this afternoon with about 500kg of wood pellets in buckets, and I shall have to pay him (which makes me a little less happy, but that's life) and on top of it we shall have to find somewhere to store them all.

(As it happens, there is enough room in the garage - without moving the furniture that's been lurking there for more than two years now - to stick 50 10-kg tubs in there. So that's all right then.)

So someone from Zaire is looking up "download swagg notes saying busy bitches" on the great Google, and for some reason that gets them here? My flabber is well and truly ghasted.

Great news: Margo has painted the stairwell walls up at the top of The Shamblings™ and so maybe this weekend we will be able to wallpaper up on the top landing (assuming we don't manage to kill one another whilst we do it, wall-papering is such a stressful activity in my admittedly limited experience) and then move at least one of the great dressers out of the garage - working around the 50 tubs of wood pellets that are now sitting in there - and up there. Which will mean that we can then unpack a couple more boxes, some of those that are right now sitting in our future dining room ... of such little delights is pleasure made.

It turned out that having the poele working at this time was damned good timing - I will not say "planning" - for today it has been snowing. You go halfway across France to find somewhere it doesn't snow, and then what happens?

Any of you lot watching "Out Of The Badlands"? I would recommend it, except that would doubtless turn most of you off immediately - still, manga samurai meets psychotic civil-war plantation owner in a world with more than a hint of Mad Max to it, what's not to like? Also, the costumes are to die for. I want a red leather coat like that. (Mind you, I'd look pretty bloody silly wandering around Moux in it, with a katana slung over my back ... also, to get the full effect I'd have to buy a Harley.)

Watching porn leaves you feeling relieved, but somewhat soiled. Or so I'm told. Me, I look at packaging - when I have my glasses on, anyway - and it has the same effect. I came across this whilst I was getting my solitary chicken curry ready (for Margo has absconded to Montpellier for a few days) and I must admit I'm impressed. Two reasons: a) the people responsible for this miracle probably deserve a Nobel for creating the world's first 100% vegetable chicken (although I'm willing to admit that the only thing that distinguishes a standard chicken from, say, a potato is the feathers, in my opinion) and b) thanks to the draconian truth-in-advertising laws over here in Ole Yurrup, the consumer cannot complain that he/she does not know what's going down their gullets.

That chicken was not fed on scrapies-ridden sheep brains with a side helping of dried shit (only joking, that's what we feed to pigs over here) and prions - nossir! It was sliced off - a turnip! (Well, truth to tell, it doesn't actually say which vegetable on the label. But given the taste, I'd definitely opt for a member of the brassicae.) Incidentally, the invaluable - aka valueless - Whackywedia tells me that the turnip features in the coat of arms of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. Who'd have thought it? So why does no-one have a lettuce on their armorial bearings? It seems rather unfair.

Whatever, after the vague du froid which dumped all of a centimetre of snow on Moux we seem to be rapidly approaching spring. Again. All the almond trees are in blossom, as are most of the savage plums, and the daffodils in various gardens, and today - having better things to do, as usual - I looked out at the sky and thought it was far too good a day to spend inside, and took Indra off for a good long walk (Shaun was dreaming doggy dreams, and fairly obviously had no intention of moving).

I really regretted wearing my jacket. In my defense, I can say that it was "only" 16° out on the terrace (not so bad for what is - technically speaking - the middle of winter), but once you start climbing up into the pinède with the trees around you to block any slight trace of a breeze and the sun beating down, it gets kind of hotter. At least, it certainly feels that way.

Goofed off from work to go off to Montpellier with Bob! the other day to check out the Salon International des Vins Bio. Entrance reserved for professionals, and over 900 exhibitors - including the French business who owns and markets Marlborough Wairau Valley. (I did not know that, did you? But the guy seemed pleased to meet me.)

As each stand had at least ten different wines on offer that makes at least 9000 to taste, which is a hell of a lot to do in an afternoon, even for me. I know, I know - spit, don't swallow - but somewhere in my raddled miserly heart it just doesn't feel right to spit out a sip of perfectly good (in some cases absolutely excellent) wine. And they all fill your glasses with an extremely hearty French-sized mouthful, and it fair makes me cry to have to pour that - less a sip - into a bucket. But drink/drive laws being kind of draconian in Ole Yurrup I did.

As did the serious-looking people in suits - or skirts, for wine-tasting is definitely an equal-opportunity job - wandering around with their notebook or iThingy full of tasting notes, and pockets/manbags bulging with visiting cards.

We did not manage to get round them all - about 40 was our limit. But I must be getting better at this tasting business, or maybe just more confident. We found the Uby (if ever you come across that, get some) and the smell of passion-fruit almost had me on the floor, and there was one 2013 Grenache/Syrah that had me sticking my nose in the glass as far as it would go, so much it smelt of fresh Madras curry powder. Think "spicy" here. (Mind you, still can't tell a chardonnay from a sauvignon. Must practice more.)

And we came across a charming English couple making excellent wine from 7ha of vines up in the Larzac, and I managed a lengthy chat with the charming young woman from the chateau of the book (that would be "Virgile's Vineyard" by Patrick Moon, and a damn sight better than anything by Peter Mayle if you ask me) because they are not in fact fictional, for Virgile Joly is a real vigneron, and they make damn good wine.

As do, oddly enough, the English winemakers, represented by someone from around Hastings (as in the Battle Of). The white was very good, and you have to admire someone who's been making wine in England since 1969.

I did not have my camera, or I would have added a photo of the label of one lot of wine just so that you'd believe me when I say it is actually called "No Sex For Butterflies". I'm still puzzled about that one. Also, the one with the poster reading "Organic Orgasmic Wine". (Did not have time to taste that one.)

In other news, I see that Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, is off to the Vatican. The sub-editors at The Register did their usual twisted hatchet job on that item, and the headline read "Leader of world's biggest religion to meet with Pope".

Mind how you go, now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Welcome To 2016 ...

So once again the bells stuttered into tone-deaf life at some ungodly hour this moaning, welcoming the peripatetic curé back to the church. Don't know why they don't just nail him to the pulpit to stop him escaping, would save a good deal of bother all round.

For the entire month of January, the French will rush around wishing everyone they meet good health - quite literally, "Bonne année, meilleurs voeux, à la santé". After the thirty-seventh time this gets a bit tiring. The Swiss do the same, but cruel tongues tell me that they change the words somewhat: "Bonne année, à l'intelligence - la santé, on l'a déjà". (Lit. "Happy New Year, wish you we were smarter - we're already healthy enough.") I am not entirely sure that this is in fact true.

As is the tradition, January 1st did not so much dawn as sidle: grey, damp and chilly. Well, "chilly" is a relative term: it was still about 13° even with the clammy fog, which is not too bad. It will still be extremely pleasant when the nice man comes past to finally fire up the poele à granulés, because then we will basically be able to turn off the central heating except for the top floor, but even so ... one of the psychotic fruit trees down the road is already in blossom, and even the tiny potted lemon tree that we've dragged around with us for years has flower buds just waiting to pop out.

It'll all end in tears, I know, when we get a cold snap in the next month or two - but just maybe if I shift the tree into the verandah I shall be having slices of lemon in my gin and tonic this summer. Mind you, that does rather depend on the bees doing their part, and at the moment they are rather few and far between. And I cannot be arsed going out there with a fine camelhair paintbrush and indulging in some plant pimping activity - especially as I'd be doing it with flowers on the same plant, which probably counts as some sort of vegetal masturbation.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Microsoft is indulging in a little discreet product placement these days? And no, I'm not talking about their ham-fisted efforts to get all and sundry to "upgrade" to Windows 10 - as far as I can see they're doing everything short of coming round to your house and threatening to eat and kill your adorable puppies if you don't do it. But I will have to buy another couple of laptops this year, for all three of them are on their third year, and I can see that at least one of them (for the other will get Linux on it - must see if I can buy a system without an OS as I do not wish to pay for something I am going to get rid of straight away) will be coming with Windows 10 and I shall just have to deal with that. Unless Dell are still offering systems with Win7 pre-loaded ...

No, I am talking about the segment in one of the latest Hawaii 5-0 episodes where Chin Ho (whoever) is asked for some information and he casually replies "I binged it, and ..." - that has to be one of the most self-effacing, and possibly one of the least effective, attempts I've come across to shoehorn a new verb into the language. I mean, "to google" got in there because it was spontaneously used by just about everyone to describe what they were actually doing. So sorry lads, but I rather doubt that you'll get anyone to use "to bing" instead. The horse has bolted, the chickens flown, and the ship has sunk in the coop: might as well try to get people to say "I'm just going to dyson" instead of "I'll go hoover the carpet". Not going to happen.

(Incidentally, he "binged" it on his internets using a Mac. It's hard not to notice, 'cos just about everyone using a laptop on a TV series these days has a smug expression and a big glowing apple on the lid of the damn thing. Not to mention a turd-spurt about hacking around the firewall, going in through the perimeter defences with an MITM attack and then decrypting the entire SSD using only unicorn farts and a homebrew decryption suite written in BASIC. But I digress.)

One of the more convenient aspects to being down here in the south is that, thanks to the rather large foreign population, English delicacies (don't laugh, that's not actually an oxymoron) are relatively easy to come by. OK, I can quite happily live without Marmite or Bovril or Horlicks (or wobbly jelly, come to that), but I have to admit that when I come upon grated suet I tend to buy as much as I can carry. For with suet you can make proper suet pastry which is - as well as being one of the two pastries we can both agree on, the other being filo - the only right and proper container for a decent meat pie. Bugger yore soggy-bottomed flaky pastry enclosing sad grey mince that's 90% carrots in watery gravy, and accept no substitutes.

No, just use suet instead of butter and make the pastry as you would a bastard puff (go bing it, I'll wait) and roll two thirds out to line your pie dish (me, I use a 9" cake mould with a removable bottom: makes a high pie, and so much easier to get the damn thing out) and then line that with thin slices of smoked jambon cru. (Try to make sure that it's got a decent amount of fat in it, it's better that way.) Fill with the chopped leftover meat from last night's roast chicken mixed with sliced fried mushrooms and onions, all bound with a decent thick bechamel (with cream) flavoured with some decent chicken stock (add the congealed juices from the roast while you're at it, it gets rid of them and it'll taste better for it).

Then just roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid, pop that on top and brush with more cream before sticking it in the oven for a bit. (An alternative would be to use raw chicken meat - a mix of leg and breast - and some minced pork: mix it all up with some thyme, white wine and a shot of cognac and let it sit in the fridge for twelve hours before proceeding. I am rarely sufficiently organised for that, but I almost always have leftover roast chicken.) The only problem with the whole procedure is that the leftovers, which would comfortably have fed two, will now feed four with some left over. It will get to the point where I never have to buy meat again.

And whilst I'm on the subject, can I just say that one thing that really gets up my nose, or on my wick, or whatever, is the French habit of salting. I agree, when I cook I tend to put a minimum of salt in on the grounds that you can always add more later but once it's in you can't get it out - but still, I swear that you could stir half a cup in so that your stew has morsels of meat bobbing around as though they were swimming in the Dead Sea, and once your French-person has been served their first action will be to reach for the salt.

Without tasting. Then they'll go for the pepper, and gods help you if you've put mustard on the table because that'll get slathered on as well. It's completely automatic and stronger than they are, some sort of conditioned reflex ("See food! Bell rings in head! Must put salt on!") but hell it can be annoying. Jeremy - oddly enough, for a chef - does exactly the same. Must be something in the water.

I has sads. Not because the skies cleared and went all bright and blue this afternoon, with the temperature hovering around 16° - which is pretty impressive, for the middle of winter. Nor is it because I have all the ingredients for a decent choucroute for tomorrow night, for I have not yet come across a choucroute I did not like. (Except once, in Annecy of all places, where they had a seafood version on the menu. This strikes me as a crime against nature.) And it is not because tonight I am preparing a couple of decent burgers, using very finely-minced wild Spanish pig patties from - who else? - the Frozen Butcher.

Incidentally, "The Frozen Butcher" turns out not to be some horny-handed son of the soil, tilling his pigs (or whatever it is you do, I'm hazy on the details) and hand-feeding them plump Spanish acorns up in Iberia before slaughtering them in the sub-zero winter temperatures whilst his wife (not necessarily horny-handed) grinds the meat in the ancient meat-grinder bolted onto the wooden table in the freezing kitchen and his numerous children form them into patties (mousie-poo looks just like caraway seeds. Or vice-versa) and put them into cute boxes which then get stuck out into the snow until the spring thaws allow the delivery truck to pass, at which point a vanishingly small amount of money changes hands and everyone is happy, as the peasant thinks he has royally screwed the truck driver and the truckie, in turn, is convinced that he has once again put one over on the peasant.

If you read the label, under the legalese about EU-permitted additives and colorants you will find out that he is in fact a Dutch multi-national with a dotcom domain operating out of an under-construction carpark in an industrial zone on the outskirts of Rotterdam. Romance is so sadly lacking in my life.

No, the sads is because our poele does not work. The guy duly turned up - upon the appointed hour, which is kind of rare in these parts - and amused himself for an hour forcing tubes down the chimney (which gave me an opportunity to look at Moux from another angle, ie our rooftop, and I shall take some photos of that) and then we went down and personhandled the poele into place and hooked it up, and pushed on the button that says "GO!" and it did not. Given the symptoms I am inclined to believe that it thinks that the exhaust temperature is about 900° (which would not be good) and I am trying to work out with the manufacturer (who is of course in Alsace) just what I can do about it. Whatever.

My dotage is upon me, and I am losing it. But this very afternoon the telephone rang, and the butler here at The Shamblings™ brought it to me (carefully wiped clean, with a soft lint-free cloth, of fingerprints, blood, and other bodily fluids) upon a silver tray, and I unhooked the earpiece and listened. In my experience most people hang up after about five minutes of silence, and as I am not paying for it I do not mind, but the robo-droid on the other end obviously wasn't paying for it either for after an uncomfortable pause it spoke.

I couldn't understand a word, and said as much, and much the same incomprehensible buzz came out in answer, and then it came to me that if perhaps I removed the cotton-wool from my ears some sort of mutual understanding could be reached: at which point I realised that the robo-droid had the voice of a woman, and it was asking me what my mutuelle was. "Since you wish to know", I answered, "it is the MAAF, and much good may it do you."

"Thank you sir, and what is your age?" An apparently innocent question, but still having a bit of cynicism about my person (I buy in bulk: ordered online, it comes in small handy boxes about the size of a packet of tissues, and I always have one in my jacket pocket and a couple in the car, for those occasions when I am obliged to deal with a garagiste) I answered "May I ask just why you wish to know?" At which point the line went dead, and I had to summon the butler, to remove the telephone, and to wipe it clean - with the soft, lint-free cloth, which I hope he eventually washes - of fingerprints, blood, and spittle.

There goes another promising long-distance relationship.

In other news, next Sunday at Ferrals we are promised a foire mediaeval, one of the highlights of which is to be "a flaming spectacle, with musicians". It seems rather unkind to set the poor things alight, although if they were mime artists I could understand the urge.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Misty Streets of Blue ...

Yeah, you got it. When we get fog in these here parts, we get the proper stuff: like a Palmerston North pea-souper, but redoubled in spades. You can wander around all day in a little bubble about 10m in diameter, anything further away fading into gray - or then again, maybe around 9:30 it will just clear up, for no apparent reason, and the sky's bright around us. Never can tell, bloody weather.

As the New Year threatens us with its imminent appearance (and being a year older but, like, maybe not actually a year wiser, just a few more memories you've had to chuck out to make room for fresh ones) I have made a Resolution to start seriously thinking about resolutions, maybe even making a list which is destined to disappear down the back of the sofa but hey! it's a start. So far, I need to dust the camera off, get out more often, throw a ball for the dogs and maybe update this blog in a more regular fashion. Like bowel motions - not necessarily at a fixed hour, but at least once a day. (In case of constipation you may be excused, with a note from the doctor.)

Of course, for this to come about requires that interesting things happen - for very few wish to read a blog the entire contents of which are simply time-stamped notes as to bowel motions (you know, comfort, consistency, crap like that ... "soft but cohesive let my offerings flow/not roughly swift, nor impudently slow") - and such things don't just pop up like that, you know. There are a couple of ways of dealing with this problem and the first - the most direct - ensures that interesting things happen by going out and damn well kicking reality until it kicks back.

Say, take the TGV up to Paris and then the RER-C out to Seine St-Denis, strip stark naked in the courtyard of a high-rise immeuble, indecently assault a pig and start eulogising the Front National and the le Pen family. I am pretty sure that fairly shortly afterwards things that could be considered interesting, from a certain point of view, would indeed happen.

The other way is, in some respects, rather more difficult: you just have to make it all up. You can't go overboard on this one, and so - unless it's a really really quiet week - you will never read in these here august pages something along the lines of "Mayor of Moux Abducted, Anally Probed by Aliens" because let's face it, even if at least part of that is actually true (and I have that on good authority, thanks to a couple of the neighbours who met some cute little green guys from some place called Roswell), who's going to believe it? Apart from Pox News viewers, or the couch-dwelling retards that listen to Rush Limburger. (Is that actually a name, by the way? Sounds more like a kind of cheese to me, one of the smelly runny ones that everyone says are really authentique, très typé but somehow never seem to actually buy.)

But still, just saying: be aware that on rare occasions during a dull week you may, from now on, find reported here certain facts that although true in a metaphysical sense, such as "would be true, were it not for inconvenient facts", may not be entirely congruent with reality such as we know it.

In the "entirely true, even if I wish it weren't" department: LibreOffice, the "open" fork of OpenOffice, is still crap. I mean, apart from the rendering problems, and the tendency of embedded images to migrate to godnose where in the document, and the all-too common habit of crashing and losing your work when you ask it to do something complicated, like copy the contents of one spreadsheet cell into another ... I would like to love open-source software, and I do not wish to denigrate the efforts of tens of pimply-faced programmers, but I ask you - who in their right mind would organise things so that a) it doesn't use the "default printer" setting that has been available since Windows 3.1 and b) setting the default printer within LibreOffice does that only for the current document? (And is, incidentally, considered to be a change to the actual document. WTF?)

(And don't try to tell me that it's all about preserving your precious bloody purity of essence, "it's a cross-platform thing and we can't favour Windows over anything else" - I think the last operating system I used that did not have a printer preference setting was VRX, on an NCR mainframe, and that was only because you could only afford one printer and that was a 132-column 66 lines-per-page monster of a line printer that made the whole damn building, all five floors of it, shudder when it was spitting out the general ledger printouts.)

I mean honestly guys, I know you don't mind being laughing-stocks, what with living in the family basement and not seeing the sun a great deal and all that, but really? Has the concept of "usability" totally passed you by? Yeah, yeah, you doubtless just have to go and edit some obscure XML file somewhere, using the editor that you have to download from some git repository that is probably offline and build, and all will be peachy. You go tell that to Auntie Gladys, because I'm not going to.

I guess that for the Nth year in a row, this will be one where I am not going to be recommending FOSS or Linux to anyone that needs more hand-holding than just helping keep their index finger steady as it moves along the lines of words in the manual. Hell, I might even go and pay money for a copy of Microsoft Office, which actually works, or at least does what it says on the tin. Sorry, but I have a job, not a religion.

The thing about cargo cultism is that it does, in fact, work. It was but last Friday that Cédric and I personhandled the poele up into the living room, and lo! this being Monday, what should happen but a nice chauffagiste turned up at the door. He did not do the sucking of the teeth, nor the slow indrawn sigh, nor did he do the tugging of the nose and the rolling of the eyes to heaven. No, he simply said "Ok squire, I'll order in ten metres of tubing for the cheminée, should be able to get it up and running next week". Or something to that effect, anyway. (Happily, the guy is lyonnais by origin, and consequently more or less comprehensible.)

So it's Christmas tomorrow and I'm kind of goofing off because quite frankly Ole Yurrup is now more or less closed until January 4th, and I'm looking through the site of CuisinStore, who sell decent pots and pans and useful stuff. They also have some articles that are rather less useful, in my opinion - I mean, does the world really need a special, specific tool, that looks suspiciously like one of those things for getting rid of nose hair, just to remove the stem and leaves from strawberries? Or, come to that, an ingenious implement allowing you to cut a banana into regular disks? Provided you only want five of them, cut I assume from the middle of the banana in question. Godnose what you do with the other bits.

Well, I hope you'll be pleased to learn that the fine old tradition of the Christmas Eve Barbecue has once again been upheld. It was sufficiently warm and pleasant last night, and I found myself - through no fault of my own - with a defrosted filet mignon de porc, so it seemed like a Good Idea at the time to set it to marinating in honey, red wine and soy sauce whilst I dragged the smaller of the Webers out on to the terrace. It went down quite nicely with the very last of the yams, thanks very much.

And then, if I can shake off the lassitude that usually sneaks up on me around this time of year and avoid dozing off in the armchair, I suppose I'd better go get that bit of venison ready for roasting. Which will involve nowt more complicated than untrussing it, getting rid of the sinews and sheathing (honestly, you'd really think that if you lot are going to export venison to Ole Yurrup at eye-watering prices, you could at least prepare it correctly), and then wrapping in smoked raw ham before retrussing and bunging it in the oven for 45 minutes or so. And then hope that it doesn't turn out dry and dreadful, or raw and wobbly. If the latter then at least the leftovers - and there will be leftovers, for 1.4kg is too much for two - will eventually meet their maker in a Thai-style salad on Monday night, when we're planning on hosting a little apéro dinatoire for such friends and acquaintances as have not fled elsewhere.

 As it happens I find myself with rather fewer leftovers than I'd feared, for Bob! came round and there were three of us tucking into the meat, which oddly enough I managed to get just right. Neither gray, nor bloody. Never mind, there is still an adequate deficiency for tonight. All is ready: the meat is thinly sliced and has been marinating overnight in soy sauce, nuoc mam, lime juice and sambal oelek - the cheesy rolls with vieille mimolette are in logs in the freezer, ready to be sliced and baked - the puff pastry needs but to be rolled out and prepared for the flammenkuches - and last but not least, the KitchenAid made short work of mincing and then kneading pork, veal, and a couple of packets of spices that came back with us from Croatia a good number of years ago, in order to turn the whole mess into cevapcici to be cooked on the barbecue.

(OK, so the spices were use-by 2007, sue me. Under other circumstances I would have chucked them, on the grounds that they would be dry and dusty and no longer have any flavour, but when I opened the packets my nose told me otherwise and I feel no guilt.)

Either someone is trying to mess with my brain or else something really odd goes on in Russia over the Christmas period, for in the past three days I have received 643 page views from that country. WTF? Does yandex.ru have it in for me? Or am I just an innocent bystander, caught up in the spam wars? (Now up to 733. Do these people have nothing better to do?)

Anyways, Happy New Year to all of you - especially the Russians - and we'll catch up in 2016, I guess. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Pissups, Brewery - Not Happening ...

I have got into the habit of going off to the cave coopérative every couple of days to get another 10l of Chateau Carton, so imagine my disgust when I went there today and found that there was none left! A pub with no beer is possible - a cockup on the logistics front, perhaps - but a winery with no wine? WAILIES! I suppose I shouldn't complain: it's probably good for me; they actually gave me free, gratis, and for nothing the last 5l box they had; and the new lot should be coming down the pipeline for next week.

And everyone is saying how 2015 will be a great year. I am willing to believe that this could be the case, but it will take a fair amount of tasting for me to form a definitive opinion.

For some reason there is a tradition - or perhaps (although I have my doubts) an old charter or something - in France whereby every Gristlemouse shopkeepers pay someone with less artistic talent than the average cockroach - someone in fact whose removal from this vale of tears would result in a slight but nonetheless measurable improvement in aesthetic sensibility the world over - to paint their shop windows with humouristic and educative scenes. The local bar is, sadly, no exception.

There is a reindeer that looks more like Odie the dog, from Garfield, who is apparently enjoying a bit of erotic strangulation at the hands of a large rat dressed as Santa Claus, whilst what I can only describe as a hedgehog onna stick looks on approvingly. There is also some sort of Grinch on skis getting ready to drop its trousers.

In other news, I see that thanks to the usual lack of effort put into security, thousands of you could have your Christmas barbie incinerated remotely due to gaping security holes in internet-connected barbecues. But seriously, who in hell uses their barbecue to browse porn or watch cute kitty videos? Who, you? Sorry. Honestly, sticking the damn thing on the innatübz just so as you can fire it up from your iThing seems to me to be a half-assed solution looking for a problem.

Also, have none of the half-witted arts-school dropouts who dream these crappy IoT things up ever seen "Terminator"? You'd have thought that SkyNet would've given them pause.

I always knew that healthy living would kill me, which is why I avoid it like the plague. Now I have evidence to back up my stance. (For a given value of "evidence", anyway - and probably not one that means what it says on the tin.)

Persons of a technical nature - looking at you, Tom - and those of a non-technical nature - looking at everyone else - may skip the next few paragraphs, because you either know it already or, alternatively, would rather slit your own throats and gargle with fresh arterial blood than know it. Be that as it may, I am reminded - once again - that the ARM architecture very rigorously enforces object alignment. To the point where if you ask it to fetch a 32-bit object from memory and supply an address which is not 32-bit aligned, it will blithely go off and fetch data from an address which suits it.

Old Motorola processors (remember those guys? Used to make chips, not just phones) at least raised an address exception and - usually - what passed for the operating system back in those days would trap it and work around it: Intel x86 processors could not give a shit. You pay a performance hit - an extra bus cycle - but that's a price I don't mind paying if the alternative is having things go randomly titsup.

Whatever, I am reminded of this because I had the occasion to share some memory between two entirely different processes. With the requirement that whilst one process was accessing that memory, the other had to wait. Computing 101 stuff. Now under Windows it would be easy-peasy: all synchronisation objects live in the kernel, may be named, and are global - so I would just create a mutex called "Bob!" in each process and use that.

Sadly, under UNIX - and by bastard descent, Linux - life is not so simple. Just take my word for it, I am the Doctor and I am not going to delve into the grubby details. So I thought to myself "Aha! I shall make one process the custodian of the data, and the other process - or processes - shall call upon it by invoking socket juju to perform data manipulation!" OK, so that's just reinventing RPC without paying €5000 to get the tool that converts yer formalized RPC schema into actual code that you can compile, so sue me.

Maybe a false economy, because had I paid for the tool in question it would have generated clunky, unreadable code that took care of byte order and data alignment. I choose to look upon it as a learning experience, for from now on I will never - until the next time - forget to pass data structures on 32-bit boundaries.

I've finished now, you can come back ...

On Friday Cédric turned up for more or less the last time, just to finish sanding the plaster on the ceiling downstairs, and I asked if he could give me a hand to shift the poele à granules out of the garage where it's been lurking for the last two years and get it up into its destined place where the old Kent-style insert used to be. (This is science-based sympathetic magic: by all rights the fact that it is there but not installed will cause the apparition of a chauffagiste, who will suck his teeth noisily and make an appointment to do the job sometime in June, 2017.)

"It can't" we said "be that heavy, after all ..." - let me tell you that heaving 250kg of cast-iron stove one metre up the steps to the verandah, through a door with about 1cm to spare on each side, and from thence to the front door and inside, is not something you really want to do. My back is still reminding me of this. Also, you'd think that just maybe they'd have fitted handles or something somewhere on the damn thing, to make it just that little bit easier to manoeuvre: you would be wrong.

But now I've taped up the gash in my wrist and wiped most of the blood off the floor, and we is waiting for Santa to send us an installation-type person. With any luck we shall be able to give it a test-drive before summer, although I'm not overly optimistic.

Be that as it may, Christmas is icumen and all that, and in a few days Rick will take a couple of jerrycans of elderly diesel out back and light up the solstice balefire and there will be much feasting and eating of odd apéritif biscuits and savoury cake with olives and bacon in there and soggy-bottomed greasy quiche, and hopefully a fair bit of drinking as well, and then the days will start getting longer and before you know it it'll be Spring again and the mangel-wurzels will be nodding their tousled heads or whatever.

But right now, because Provence and the Languedoc are not all cloudless bright blue skies and the smell of thyme and rosemary baking in the summer heat, it is gray and there's a spiteful little rain that reminds me of nothing more than the crachin Breton that we used to get in Britanny: the sort of light drizzle that would like to grow up into a proper drenching downpour but just can't get up the energy so it hangs around like a sullen adolescent playing with his pimples, making you damp rather than actually wet as such.

And as the weather is not forecast to improve over the coming week I can see that my plans for a Christmas Day barbecue might have to be put on hold: we shall just have to eat our foie gras and roast venison and whatever (Yams! I found real yams at the market! And bought all that the guy had left, despite the eye-watering price. Man the mighty hunter is pleased, goes "Ugh"!) on the table inside, wearing paper hats for a jollier atmosphere.

A very Hairy Gristlemouse and a Furry New Bear to all of you: see you in 2016.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Meals And Retribution ...

The Parkinsons-afflicted bells on the church stumbled into spasmodic, but enthusiastic, life at some ungodly hour of the moaning, letting all and sundry know that the itinerant vicar was in town, should anyone have a pressing need for a baptism or possibly the last rites. Now it's all over and place St-Régis is empty of cars and people, everyone having - I assume - buggered off to inflict themselves on somebody else for the traditional Sunday lunch.

Not that I care, for I was up early: having previously removed the wall in cellular concrete which went around the little landing at the very top of the stairwell I thought that, having finished tiling, perhaps I'd better stick something in its place; so I finished off installing the aluminium posts and the stainless steel rods and stuck up the handrail. Like that, should ever I be found huddled and broken at the foot of the stairs, Margo will not be able to fob off any curious members of the gendarmerie with "Oh! What a dreadful accident! I've been at him for months to put something up there, told him someone would be bound to fall over and hurt themselves one day." I look on it not so much as DIY but as an insurance policy.

Had I realised, back when we were young and enthusiastic and started on The Shamblings™, just what was entailed by the undertaking to tile five bathrooms, four bathroom floors and 8m² of landing, I would probably have gone out and bought an electric grouting gun. Let's face it, grouting's a tedious and messy job when you're using nowt but a palette knife, a rubber squeegee, a wetted finger and a damp sponge. Just saying.

But finding myself in Brico-Depot this moaning after the market, looking out for a few bits of wood to edge around the wooden panel that is destined to go into the hole left in the tiles from when the fireplace came out, I could not help but notice that they had Bosch electric sabre saws at a knockdown price, so it wasn't really my fault that I bought one. I do actually have a use for it, which is not always the case, and I'm sure it can be pressed into service if need be for carving meat or a recalcitrant chicken.

It is getting on for that time of year around these here parts when spare bits - such as hypertrophied livers - whose absence will no longer be noticed by the duck, due to its being dead, are available at an entirely reasonable price. And as I am a sucker for such things, and just possibly a little bit unreasonable, I wound up with about 800 gm of foie gras cru which, after soaking overnight in ground Panja pepper and bourbon, is now cooked and sitting in a terrine in the fridge. (Why do not more people make their own? It is every bit as good, and about a quarter of the price, as something posh from the supermarket - or from your local eleveur de canards, should you be lucky enough to have one such in the neighbourhood.)

Luckily, it needs to mature for a couple of days, which will bring us up to Friday night, which means heading off to the bar for a drink with Rick and Mary before coming home for a bit of post-pub neckfiller nosh: I suppose that we could do worse than a surfeit of foie gras, maybe followed by a chicken cooked in bread.

Put like that, I admit it doesn't seem particularly appetising, but it is a lot better than it sounds. Also, very simple: stick some parsley 'twixt skin and flesh, then roast the poor beast for an hour at 180° atop however many garlic cloves you happen to feel up to before setting it aside to cool. Whilst that's going on, make some proper yeast bread (handy hint - your Kitchenaid stand mixer is your friend here) with three or four cups of flour, a good glop of sour cream and a teaspoon each of thyme and rosemary.

Roll it out, smear with the soft sweet roasted garlic, wrap the chook in it to make a relatively neat parcel, and sling it into the oven for another 45 minutes or so, until the bread is nicely browned but definitely not burnt. Then tuck into your poulet en croute, wherein the bread has soaked up all the cooking juices, and enjoy. Potatoes would be superfluous.

(It is somewhat less spectacular, but a lot less messy, to slice the top of the bread off in the kitchen, remove and carve the bird, and stick the bits back into the crust - salting as you go if you so desire - before replacing the lid and serving. Take it from me, I know of what I speak.)

I should perhaps get out more often, and go look at letterboxes. Not that they're particularly interesting in themselves, especially as these days they're all standard-sized and painted a standard cack beige, but sometimes ... CASANOVA HICK. I mean, what kind of a name is that? And I put it to you, if you were actually called that, would you put it up on your letterbox?

André the plombier seems to have disappeared from circulation, which is a bit of a b'stard. He called about ten days ago to say he'd be round on the Wednesday so Cédric the maçon turned up too in case his help was needed: he got a text saying that André would be a bit late, there around 10am and then - nowt.

Cédric has now officially had a gutsful, but luckily has been able to lay his paws on another plombier-chauffagiste who is young and apparently competent - bad news for us because if this is the case he'll be mostly unavailable - so maybe, with a bit of luck, that poele à granulés that has been lurking sadly in the garage for the last two years will come out and take up its place in the living room Real Soon Now. Hope springs eternal, and all that.

Margo arrived back home the other night after ten days or so in furrin parts, with only five cases of wine in the car. It seems that if you take the car ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull it actually goes out into international waters, so they open the duty-free and you can pick up Villa Maria for an eminently reasonable price. And as people are always asking us "Just what are New Zealand wines like anyway?", we can now satisfy their curiosity.

Which was convenient, as the next evening we and a swag of others were invited round to Peter and Joanne's huge old house for a bit of festive cheer. The place must be impossible to heat, what with all the glass and the ridiculous height of the ceilings, but there was a fire burning in the Great Hall (well, alright, the summer living-room, which has a 4m stud and was built back in the days when they wanted no truck with insulation) which helped.

Peter had obviously spent the preceding days cooking, and the long table was, quite honestly, groaning under the weight: it was kind of excessive for twelve, so I guess they'll be eating leftovers for a couple of days. Personally I managed a slab of cold pork pie with Cumberland sauce, a bit of coleslaw and a few decent pork sausage rolls before going on to trifle with a trifle and seriously injure the blobby chocolate cake/pudding drowning under whipped cream, but the paté de foie, the stuffed jacket potatoes, the deep-fried spinach and chèvre packets and even the mincemeat strudel - all these, and more, went untouched. Shame really, but I have my limits.

It's good training mind you, for Gristlemouse is approaching fast and Margo brought back mince pies from the UK and I have a cuissot de chevreuil sitting in the freezer which I am going to have to take out and marinate and then roast at some point, and Rick is planning a balefire for the solstice which will involve even more food and wine: gods help me. I guess that, as usual, I'll be living on stale bread and tepid water for most of January.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Les Talents qui Travaillent le Tubercule ...

As was so often the case, Pooh had a pained
expression when listening to Eeyore
Yes, it is indeed la semaine internationale de l'alliteration.

Let's get it over with straight away: then you may read on and enjoy yourselves. It has been drawn to my notice that some of you may not follow The Register. So under the circumstances, I feel myself obliged to draw your attention to this article, announcing the annual clitoris festival in some small Spanish town.

Whatever the procedure and criteria might be for selecting the festival Queen, and what the parade afterwards would be like, I do not know: nor do I wish to, for I fear the worst.

We have new neighbours: the house they rent has a sort of roof terrace - a very Provençal concept, that - and I guess they were trying it out a few weeks back for there was an enormous fuss and then Blofeld sauntered over the roofline and came to lick his paws on the tiles above the verandah. He was followed by the neighbour's head, which didn't rise higher than the roofline: making for an amusing spectacle when this sort of disembodied football spoke.

"Excuse me, but do you have a cat?" it asked. "Mouais", I replied, "but to which of our disreputable fleabags do you refer?"

"The big white hairy bastard that just nicked two merguez off the barbecue!"

"Sorry squire, ah cannot help you there. Although ah admit that it has a suspicious hair that he should now be innocently sunning himself on our tiles, he is not ours, nor have ah evah seen him befoah."

Not entirely true, for Blofeld is in fact known to the services of law and order around these parts, but it seemed to satisfy the football, which retreated grumpily and - to judge by the noises - gave diverse brats a good clip around the earhole to remind them of the seriousness of barbecue-guardian duty. Just as well really, for the ancient and estimable firm of Delacrotte & Morveux, Solicitors at Arms, charge a small fortune for the privilege of offering up a defense in such cases.

Ohs noes! Catastrophe! (We are in France, so that would be pronounced "katastroff", in case you were wondering.) The coffee machine has died with a fatal case of kidney stones! Woe is us, the sky is falling, how shall we live? Fortunately, being the forward-planning persons that we are, we have three others. Acquired in all legality, I hasten to point out. Although I did like that Bosch: enough for two-and-a-half huge mugs in the morning, and sufficient left over for Margo's midday dose. The Moulinex that Jeremy so kindly donated to his aging parents before leaving for furrin parts is insufficient.

(And do not try to criticise our coffee intake. It is an admittedly feeble flap in the direction of healthy living, totally not an ad-hoc post-facto justification, having read somewhere that coffee helps repair liver damage due to excessive alcohol consumption.)

Anyways, what follows is what happens when you try to multi-task and are, through no fault of your own, chromosomally-inadequate. Not to say "deficient".

Margo having headed off to Pau for her birthday, I thought I'd at least have a stab at fending for myself and making dinner for one, and settled on a salade Lyonnaise as being not insurmountably difficult and also, although there are certain elements that cannot be omitted unless you want a surprise visit from the Spanish Inquisition or the Commission Française de Défense des Traditions Alimentaires, is limited only by your imagination and the contents of your fridge.

Can't go too wrong with a lettuce - unless of course you're English, and take some sad watery flavourless piece of shit and then boil it to within an inch of its life, or French, in which case you might braise it in veal stock and butter. But at least then it would go to meet its maker knowing that it was destined to be served up alongside a Chateaubriand, which has to be some sort of consolation. Ditto the plump ripe garden tomatoes.

The potato slices, fried in duck fat, were as golden as one could wish, and the lardons of bacon (yeah, home-made - so sue me) as crispy and carcinogenic as I could get them. The rounds of chèvre, breaded and fried in the rest of the fat, were quite acceptable. But my poached egg was NOT RUNNY ENOUGH!

It should have wobbled atop the mountain of ingredients on my plate, and when I stabbed it with my knife there should have been a bright golden lava flow of yolk splooping out over everything, making a dressing totally redundant: did NOT happen. I has sads.

(If you're trying this at home, do remember to fry up some garlicky croutons in the bacon fat, as well as the chèvre. It doesn't actually reduce the amount of cholesterol in there, but it lets you feel a lot better about it.)

We is working on this "local bar support group" thing. I don't know whether or not they make enough money from us, but we are trying to do our bit. Last Friday, Margo being absent - again - I went off to inhale a few vitamins and then Cash & Terry turned up with the same idea, then a bit later up came Johann and Sylvia ... so we all decided to stick around and eat.

It was not bad, although personally I find that they could have cut back on the size of the pizzas without anyone reproaching them (but then, looking at they way some people around these parts eat, I could be wrong): the problem was that there were quite a few clients and I suspect that the kitchen just is not kitted out to handle it. Just saying, the service is slow in such circumstances, and if you're at a big table you might find some people tucking into the main course whilst others are sipping their coffee.

So do what we did a few nights later, just go for a table for two. At least like that you're pretty sure to be served more or less at the same time. And let it be said that the hamburger was quite honorable, even if I did - to the disguised disgust of everyone else - eat it with my fingers. And next time, I shall ask for a fried egg in it, and maybe take up a jar of pickled beetroot. To make it proper.

And then the other night I dined with Bob! - a lengthy affair involving pâté, a stuffed râble de lapin, a bit of foie gras, the liver of the rabbit in question (which was evidently surplus to requirements, under the circumstances, and some of which, I'm ashamed to say, Indra managed to nick before it went into the dish) and a couple of bottles which we thought we'd better walk off, with the dogs - and coming back into the village around 00:30 noticed that the lights were still on in the bar, and Robert pointed out that it would be a good thing just to check that they weren't being burgled and if not, they might have some whisky.

As it happens, they did.

Also, none of this new-fangled nonsense about dogs not being allowed in bars. But they are under-age, so no alcohol for them.

Then we both managed to head off last Friday evening for a drink with Rick and Mary before heading home for roast lamb with brussels sprouts and chips - hardly traditional, I know, but Rick is a great fan of chips ... so we made it back here and those of us who like our nicotine dose were out on the terrace doing our bit for air pollution and talking smugly about how balmy it was: for it is true that up til now we have been enjoying - if that's the word - temperatures up in the admittedly low 20s, which is still acceptable.

In the classical Greek manner hubris is, of course, punished - often rather disproportionately if you ask me, but that's neither here nor there - and so of course on Saturday we got up to about 10° and things stubbornly refused to go any higher. Could've been worse: it snowed in Savoie.

This can mean only one thing: time to drag out the Yog-Sothoth disguises from Halloween and go do the Ceremony of Appeasement of The Boiler. (I know, I know. The robes and mystical chanting are not actually required and, whilst personally satisfying, the sacrifices are a purely optional extra: be that as it may, we do feel that just going off to the boiler cupboard and pushing a switch is rather lacking something. Letting the side down. It's supposed to be a complicated, obscure ritual, for godssake.)

And the steam hissed around the joints, the water gurgled through the pipes (I suppose I shall have to go bleed off the surplus air) and now we is toasty-hot. Which is a Good Thing.

This also means we're getting into the truffle season, and maybe this year I shall actually take the time to head off to Moussoulens or Talairan, or Villeneuve Minervois, to one or t'other of the various truffle markets. And maybe even buy a black, warty testicle, having worked out in advance just what I want to do with it this time round. I mean, a poularde demi-deuil is a lot of work for sod-all in my opinion and in any case it's a cold dish, which is not what I want at this time of year: maybe, if I speak nicely to Jacques, I can has some decent mushrooms and then I could just roast a chicken with slivers of truffe under the skin and make up a sauce with vin jaune, cream and morilles.

Alternatively, my elderly copy of Pellaprat has a number of dishes involving beef fillet and truffles: maybe I should be looking into those. And if anyone wants to pop over for a truffle omelette, January or February would probably be about the right time.

In late-breaking news, we seem to be still alive. I would have been blissfully unaware of this fact, as I do not read the papers, nor listen to the radio, and we do not actually have a TV, had it not been that, taking our two hairy retards for a bladder-emptying exercise that Saturday afternoon, I came across old Neville.

He's a Fabian conspiracy-theorist of the old school so it took a bit of time to get any sense out of him, what with muttering about it all being a capitalist plot to oppress the workers, but I finally worked out that perhaps I really ought to go home at some point and check up on the news and my email.

As it turned out Ian and Marie were in Britanny, niece #1 in Jordan, and niece #2 spent the night in lockdown behind the steel security shutters in a bar off les Halles. Which had not, I think, been in her plans for the evening.
 
Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Piece of Cod (That Passeth Understanding) ...

S'a funny thing, but for about 25 years I called Savoie "home". And the other day, driving back from Chambéry where I happened to be for reasons into which I will not go - sunglasses on, because south of Valence, and "White Wedding" full tit on the stereo because hey, it's Billy Idol and deserves to be played with the volume turned up to 11, right? - and with the windows down around Montpellier there was that clean smell of juniper and thyme and heather and I thought "Hey! I'm almost home." Back in the south, under the wide blue sky, where the air smells of gin. I can go for that.

(On the other hand, and as a cautionary tale, Sarah does not have an ignition key: just a stop/start button. Which is just a few centimetres away from the stereo on/off button ... you can see where this is going. I can report that if, through no fault of your own, you happen to push and hold that button, trying to turn off the stereo, the motor will in fact turn off - despite the fact that you're driving along at about 140 kph. I did not wish to find out what happens if you try engaging the starter motor at that sort of speed so I drifted over to the side - not easy, 'cos there's no power steering with the motor off - came to a halt, and restarted. Just saying, do not try this at home.)

To no pomp, and with very little circumstance, the village bar has finally reopened. Not that you'd have known, from the befuddled looks adorning the faces of some of the locals - mind you, some of them always look like that, case of rather too much inbreeding than is good for them would be my guess.

But whatever, they advertised themselves as doing "depôt de pain" along with drinks, and although it turned out to be industrial fluffy-centered baguette it's still better than the day-old burnt dog-turd facsimiles you can get from the surly lady at the local Vival store - always assuming that she deigns to actually sell you one, maybe most of them are reserved for poo fanciers - so it saves me going through to Lézignan for bread should I want some for lunch, which has to be good. (Sadly, the boulangerie at Conilhac, only a few km away, seems to have closed down. Shame, 'cos their bread was good and on top of it they stocked the cigars I like to smoke. Bitch.)

Did not, however, go off to the inauguration ceremony a week after. There was, it seems, a concert - followed by a meal: folk songs have never appealed, so we passed. Apparently we did not miss much: the organisation of the affair (so not their fault, the mairie was involved) was up to the usual pissup+brewery standards, standing room only, and when Terry discovered that he would have to help drag a table outside to sit in purdah with the other English-persons he gave up in disgust and headed back home. Which earned him a righteous and doubtless well-deserved bollocking from Cash.

We have, however, decided that although we're not going to create a formal support group, the least we can do is organise something amongst those we know along the lines of "we'll be there Friday night around 18h for a beer, weather permitting, see you there". A case of use it or lose it: three years without a local bar is quite enough thanks very much, we'd rather use it.

A couple of Sundays back the church bells starting clanging in their very annoying out-of-tune and subtly off-pitch way, and from about 11am on (could've been earlier, maybe was, but I was not actually out of bed and in any state to check) people started turning up in their glad-rags, with small children and an accordion.

Some of the local yoof, in ill-fitting (or maybe just uncomfortable, because not used to such things) suits had apparently been deputised to look after parking, and as most French drivers will greet advice on that subject with the same sort of response I'd give if someone inadvisedly suggested I have a vegetable soup enema, things got a little bordelique ...

After the service everyone hung around in the little square, all apparently having a good time, and there was what I will charitably call "music". Still trying to work out just what it was. Could have been a baptism, maybe a first communion - or given the date, maybe they'd come to commemorate the death of French rugby?

We've had a little more work done on the house, rather sooner, than we'd reckoned on. Those of you who've been here before may recall that the ceiling in the downstairs living-room had been tastefully paneled in pine and varnished shit-brown, which made it pleasantly dim in summer but downright gloomy at other times. Well, this is no longer the case.

Cédric having ripped out the fireplace to make room for the pellet burner (and also, incidentally, exposing some asbestos piping that was apparently part of some rustic system for piping tepid air into a bathroom or two on the first floor - less said about that the better) also did some collateral damage to the ceiling, so having better things to do one Saturday I got up on the stepladder with a crowbar and had some fun.

Once I'd recovered, and Cédric came back a few days later, we discussed our options. The false ceiling had hidden the original wooden beams and the old plaster ceiling, which was in pretty bad nick, so we came to an arrangement whereby he would charge us a reasonable amount of money and in return stick up plasterboard about 10cm higher, so that some of the beams are still exposed, and plaster over all the rather shitty bits that were revealed.

But he did not wish to sign his name on the old ceiling before covering it up again - unlike Réné and Alain, cowboy builders, who did the first job on March 12, 1975. Do you know, when I was removing the pine planks, I came across a piece of wood, serving absolutely no useful purpose, that had been attached to one of the beams? A piece of wood maybe 15cm long, 5cm x 3cm. Very, very firmly attached with three 8 x 100 screws. I mean, three? Nuclear armageddon could come and go, and that bit of wood would still be there.

Whatever, unplanned or not it's done now, and the old room will be that little bit airier, and probably a whole lot lighter. Especially as part of my demolition work involved removing the old lampshade, which had apparently been designed to WW II specs to block out 95% of all visible light. What were they all on, back in the 70s?

(Anyone saying "You should know, you were there" is banned. With extreme prejudice.)
 
Is a bepuzzlement. We has been living in this little corner of southern France for what, about two and a half years now, and during that time the bank has been sending out statements and begging letters and godnose what else to this address, but still it does not seem to have penetrated whatever it is that passes for their collective hive-mind that this means that I am actually here, and not there. For once again I just got a phone call asking if it would be convenient for my banker to call upon me next Tuesday, in the moaning.

"But certainly, dear secretary. Ah will be pleased to see her."

"Verrah well, ah shall note you for dix hours?"

"But with pleasure. You do, of course, realise that this entails a 923 km round trip? But if she wishes, she will be more than welcome."

Somehow, I don't think so. 

I also gather that as part of the international conspiracy led by Hollywood, Wall Street bankers, Jews and the Illuminati, both processed and raw meats have been classified by WHO as being carcinogenic. I could care more. Shall just have to wear a tin-foil hat when eating my crispy fried bacon down in the cellar, so that UN death squads do not detect my brainwaves and cart me off in a black helicopter.

Other things are doubtless bad for you too: fish'n'chips, for one. (Truth to tell yer usual home-made variety is generally both unhealthy and pretty gross, as most domestic deep-fryers aren't worth crap. Which is why I have an industrial deep-fryer.) Who cares, we organised drinks at the bar with Richard and Mary, to be followed by a bit of greasy delight here - and a big "Thank you!" to Margo, by the way, for suggesting that just perhaps turning eight huge spuds into chips for four people would be a good idea, rather than going with my miserly five. It's amazing how the damn things just disappear.

Unfortunately I do not actually have eight litres of duck fat (although I am working on this problem) so I had to fry everything in oil: never mind, we managed to force it down anyway. And as we munched our way through the crispy beer-battered fish, and the frites, the wind came up and howled and the rain started to pelt fretfully down, but we nicotine addicts are made of hard stuff for we found ourselves on the terrace under the downpour - me with a cigar, Rick with his usual weedy roll-yer-own and Mary with a camel (don't say anything, thank you) - and I thought that perhaps I'd better do my hostly duty and offer something post-prandial.

"Our son" I said "left us some rather ghastly pastis, but if you'd rather not - and personally I wouldn't - there's some gin, or some decent whisky ..."

"Any port", said Rick, "in a storm?"