Friday, April 14, 2017

There Must Be Worse Ways To Die ...

... or so I guess, I'm not actually about to do that. No, I just say that because I'm reading a book on the Cathars at this moment and - being a French book - it is rather didactic and starts from the very beginning, on the grounds that to understand the Albigensians you must understand the very origins of heresy ... be that as it may, one of the chapters on early Christianity contains the following, absolutely unforgettable line: "Saint Augustine died in 430, in a Hippo besieged by Vandals".

As epitaphs go, that's pretty damn good, I think. Although you should probably know that "Hippo" was in fact the name of a city.

(Incidentally, the invaluable/infallible Whackyweedia informs me that a group of hippos may be referred to as a "bloat". I hope you wanted to know that.)

On the other hand, there are not really worse ways to die than trying to restore a Linux development system onto a new machine. Those who are better-funded and more trusting than I would just giggle and say "Hey! Why don't you just spin up a new VM instance on AWS? No problem!" and to them I say ... no, on second thought I'm not going to say that. For The Shamblings™ is - relatively - family-friendly (for a given value of "friendly" that does not include Hellfire missiles).

Be that as it may, I spent an extremely dull Sunday (good thing the weather wasn't bright enough to draw me out) disinterring an ancient tower system that was still running Windows 2000 on a 1.6GHz dual-core Pentium with all of 1GB of RAM, determining that it was fit for purpose (or at least, would probably, albeit grudgingly, do the job), installing the latest build of Fedora, restoring my backups, checking out exactly what extra packages I needed to install because somewhere between going from V17 to V25 the RedHat guys seem to have stripped out a lot of convenient stuff ...

That, and then redoing the networking around The Shamblings™ just because: the new CPL adapters (that's Ethernet over powerline, to you) and the spare switch turned up and of course I'd ordered six extra 1m Ethernet cables to go with them and - of course - each adapter arrived with its own 1m Ethernet cable ... What I should have done, when we got the place rewired, was have CAT-5 pulled from the utility cupboard on the first floor into every room in the house. Then I'd have stuck the Livebox in there too along with a 16-port switch, and we wouldn't have to live with CPL and crappy WiFi. Sometimes, just don't think clearly.

Getting back to Linux, must now get used to the latest version of the GUI and try to find out exactly where the firewall settings are right now, and how the hell do you get RDP to work, also I would like to change the size of the icons on the desktop from "grotesquely bloated" to "merely obese" and how do I do that ... you can see why I don't often change systems. (You can also see why I would never recommend Linux to an elderly aunt - nor, in fact, to anyone less stubborn than Death.)

But at least it suffices for my vile porpoises, which is to say that I can recompile the software and rebuild the kernel and rootfs without terrifying error messages, even if I do have time for a coffee while it's booting.

(Did I mention that it's so frikkin slow that when running Eclipse - the IDE of choice for the discerning developer, written in Java for reasons that escape me - you can actually see the letters scurrying onto the screen as you type? And I swear you can see a little trail of blurry pixels as they run in, shedding their legwarmers, stage right.)

In other computer-related news, I note (thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the quality journalists of El Reg) that some manufacturer of - um, intimate - devices saw fit not only to equip their dildo with a camera at the business end, but also turn it into a WiFi hotspot and connect it to the innatübz. Security in the marvelous world of Internet Of Shitty Things being what it is - that is to say non-existent - the admin password is empty and it is wide open to being taken, and you could find out that a live feed of your vaginal endoscopy is up on YouTube.

Don't know why they didn't think to stick a mic and speaker into the thing whilst they were about it, although I guess that might have made waterproofing a bit problematic.

Quite frankly, whoever thought of sticking Linux (not to mention a webcam) into a vibrator in the first place needs to be taken around the back of the shed and shot as a mercy killing, and then adding Internet connectivity (and injury to insult) seems to my poor addled brain to be an absolutely ridiculous idea. True, it does mean you can control the object with a smart-phone app, but I'd have thought it so much more convenient just to stick a hand down there. Especially as your hands are probably down there anyway. Or get a friend to help.

Just as an aside, the researchers who turned that one up also discovered that the smart-phone app in question - yes of course there's one - shared a whack of code with apps developed to pilot drones. Why not? Seems reasonable.

And while we're on the subject, this one turned up this very moaning. I must admit that the concept of a system that will happily tell you its password if you just ask it nicely enough is rather sweet, but I would have thought somewhat outdated. Maybe no-one's thought to tell the guys at Schneider just which century we're living in these days.

Just in case you'd forgotten, we celebrated thirty years of life in France last Friday. Gifts of appreciable sums of money are always welcome, just saying, and don't feel obliged to limit your largesse to special occasions such as that. It finally gave me the opportunity to open the cupboard reserved for such things and drag out a couple of the bottles of champagne that have been following us around like a bad smell for at least a decade, and get other people to drink the stuff.

Whatever, first barbecue of the year on Sunday. Bob! came past sometime around midday, I had the smaller of the two beasts fired up, and with potatoes en papillotte with vast quantities of olive oil, cremated rib of beef, a simple salad, good bread and some aged chevre and - of course - some chilled red wine, the whole afternoon just disappeared like that.

Of course we were under a generous sun and let's face it, it's a moral imperative for the French to refaire le monde, to set everything to rights. And even if Bob! is not exactly your typical Frog-person we all play the game and I must admit, there are much worse things to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, out on the terrace.

And a thing that is not worse than that might be, for example, heading off to La Perle Gruissanaise for an idle Monday seafood lunch, because why not? I've talked about the place before, you've seen the photos, I do not particularly wish to make you jealous ... eating prawns and bread and salad with a carafe of the la Clape white wine and the salt air in your nostrils is a very pleasant thing to do. Especially when you've turned off the phone.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Plot Thickens ...

... in which we learn that the imminent closure of our beloved bar is likely to be a messy, not to say depressingly sordid, affair. For claims and counter-claims are flying thick and fast, and the mysterious Me Ferrand, notaire of Capendu, refuses all requests for enlightenment.

According to the rather breathlessly excited minutes of the last council meeting, letters are being fired off in all directions: the authors are noted, but not the contents, nor the recipient, which makes it a bit tricky to work out what's actually going on. Two things seem relatively clear, the first being that Yvan believes himself to be owner of the bar's fittings and wants 55 000€ to go away: the mairie is not of this opinion. The second is that Yvan has been able to convince a lawyer that he has a sporting chance, whereas the mairie seems to have not even the vaguest idea of what contract they actually signed.

Not, maybe, so surprising, given that going over the council minutes for the last two years I am unable to find any record of the deliberations concerning the form of the contract, let alone the choice of the successful candidate.

This seems a curious omission, but it may explain why everyone is so keen to get in touch with the elusive Me Ferrand.

Actually, "imminent closure" is not really the right phrase, because I don't think there's any way of saying that in the past tense. For yesterday being Friday, virtually the entire anglophone contingent of Moux turned up, along with a number of French-persons who were willing to run the risk of incurring our Dear Leader's displeasure, and we all set about an honourable wake.

Sadly we missed out on dinner, for we more or less set ourselves the task of emptying the shelves of whatever bottles were still there - even the dusty cobwebbed ones at the very back of the top shelf with names like "Summer Peach Cobbler" and "Crème de Morve" - so after we'd done the wine Margo got onto the Baileys, I hit the cognac, and John was nursing something that looked rather like eau de Cologne involving curaçao, vodka, and - I'm just guessing here - turpentine.

The place will be missed, because it gave us all a place to meet and chat and - in my case - unwind at the end of the week, but we've decided to keep this freshly-minted tradition going by hosting a mobile happy hour every Friday. Bring bottle, and bird. Oh, and whatever glasses you like drinking from. Next Friday it'll be chez Martin and Angela, and then I guess we'll just work it out as we go along ...

Poor Sarah had a hissy-fit the other day as we were coming back from Carcassonne, telling me that she had no more ABS, nor ASR, and that if I wanted to do a hill start I was on my own, also that the engine really really needed to be checked out and on top of that the fuel gauge kept jumping to "Absolutely Empty" from time to time: so I resigned myself to dropping her off at the Alfa garage, losing her for a week whilst they rummaged under her skirts, and paying eye-watering sums for spare parts.

Given that the last time that happened, not long after I'd bought her (so luckily enough it was under guarantee) they had to replace all the injectors, it was with considerable surprise and no small amount of pleasure that I got a call yesterday to tell me that she was good to go, just an intermittent short in one of the wiring boxes and that would be 120€ thank you very much squire. So Margo dropped me off, I paid, discovered that - as usual - she'd been steam-cleaned inside and out (it's almost worthwhile just for that, truth to tell), and being just down the road from But (think low-rent IKEA), went in there.

Because in about ten days we will have been living in France for thirty years, and to celebrate the occasion the Kenwood Gourmet food processor that we bought in the first month or so of our time in Vitré decided to expire. Well, I exaggerate a bit: she still worked perfectly: it's just that the locking lugs on the plastic bowl finally broke off, and as replacements start off at about 60€ I thought that just maybe, after all those years of good and loyal service, a new one was in order. (Also, I just got paid, and reckoned that the bank didn't need all that money.)

It is not easy to find a simple food processor these days - at least, not if you want one with a decently-powered motor, more than two speeds, and a metal body. So now, apart from the cubic metre or so of eco-friendly biodegradable packaging (not including the myriad plastic bags that wrapped absolutely everything, including the power cord) I have a plastic tub full of mysterious accessories, none of which - I think - will ever see the light of day again.

There's a rather fiddly looking planetary eggbeater thingie which must be a bitch to clean and anyway I have a perfectly good hand beater for that sort of thing, and for larger quantities Yog-Sothoth the big KitchenAid is sitting out on the bench just begging to be used (yeah, I know, the food processor should be out on the bench too but Need Moah Bench Space); there is a dough blade, as if I'm not going to knead bread dough by hand; there is the usual assortment of grater/slicer disks which, if the past thirty years experience are anything to go by, I will never use.

There is also a vitamizer jug, but we already have a vitamizer, and to be quite honest it's rare that Margo needs to make up two litres of Margarita slushies. (That would be one hell of a Ladies' Afternoon.)

Is this a thing? From the Daily Fail, excusing themselves for focusing on legs, comes an apologia: it's all OK because there are 83 pages crammed with interesting news including "a health supplement devoted to women's death issues". Personally I would not find that helpful, but then what would I know?

In other news, I has sads: the huge Asus laptop that serves as my Linux development system has decided to die. Well, more a case of death and resurrection, for she will run happily enough for ten, maybe fifteen minutes before shutting down with a slight case of heatstroke: after which I must wait half an hour or so before turning her on again.

This is rather annoying, for now I must go and buy another large high-powered laptop and re-install everything on that: OK, it was on my list of Things To Do Real Soon Now anyway, but right now is not really that convenient.

Still, all the backups were up to date so it's not as though I've actually lost anything: it's just that I'll probably spend a day or so getting a new system running and transferring files and checking that everything works as I want.

Maybe it would be easier just to buy a small fridge, stick her in there and run the network cable and power cord out through the door seals. We had been thinking of getting one such for up here anyway, to hold milk and white wine: this would be a way to claim it as a totally legitimate business expense.

Whatever, it is time to go drown my sorrows: first edition of our pop-up bar Chez Réné tonight, so we'll see how that works out. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Everything Looks Like A Dildo When You're Desperate ...

Or so Beckham said, last time I attended a meeting of the Chambery Anglophone Club And Drinking School (Friday nights, 1st floor of the Café du Théatre, Happy Hour from 18:15), and I rather think I shall just have to trust her on that one.

Incidentally, and just saying, the French still have not managed to really get the concept of Happy Hour. For one thing, sometimes it only lasts 30 minutes - which is understandable enough, given that a full hour of French-persons happily guzzling at half-price would put a serious dent in your profits.

Also, it's kind of random whether you're going to get half-price drinks, or two for the price of one, or - as at the above-mentioned establishment - you can order a standard 25cl beer if you like, but it'll cost you the same as a half-litre. Or vice versa.

From this you may deduce that I've been back up to Chambéry recently and you would in fact be quite right: I have been going up for the past five Fridays to impart of my knowledge to a select group of the yoof. I do this mostly by just sitting down and hoping they'll pick up something useful by osmosis: guess we'll find out if that works in a few weeks, when they will have to sit the exam that I have yet to write.

So anyway, what do you do on a Sunday when you've been off to IKEA on the Saturday? No prizes for guessing, of course you spend it trying to erect flatpack furniture. The handy guides show two smiling asexual figures apparently having a good time doing this, this is not my experience. Especially as the stuff we bought involved vast sheets of glass and handling that does tend to make me nervous.

But at least it's done, with very little blood, and I got around to ripping up the few bits of parquet flottant that the cat had pissed on and ruined, so I guess that's something. Also, it's meant that we've been able - after only three years - to get some of the more delicate ceramics and suchlike out of storage (which is a pretty posh name for a cardboard box, I must admit) and on display, which is an achievement.

Also, I have another four little Allen keys to add to the collection I've built up over the years.

As you've no doubt worked out by now, over the past few years I've been working pretty much full-time for Cla-Val, and recently they decided that it would be nice to have a "Setup Wizard" to guide the brain-dead and the merely incompetent through the process of setting up each bit of gear. I duly did that and sent it off, and the other day I got back a list of feature requests for the next big software package release.

Prominently featured was a request from the big cheese and CEO that all texts containing "Wizard" should be replaced by "Wizzard". I guess the guy must be a secret Terry Pratchett fan, and this would be his little joke. Just because he can. I suppose I should count my blessings that I have not yet been asked to implement a Rincewind function, whereby the gear sidles around a corner before running like hell.

On the other hand, maybe the guy just can't spell. Which would have to be a UU in-joke.

Anyways, over here in our benighted corner of Ole Yurrup Spring has sprung and the omnipresent almond trees are in flower. Soon to be followed by the dreaded savage prunes. We have also had torrential rain - enough to make some roads impassable for a couple of days - and there are still some gardens that are pissing about 10 l/m into the drains.

(For your information and edification, there are a number of big old houses around here that have been built behind thick, three-metre high solid stone walls. Or so you might think, until you realise that the walls are not normal walls - a more solid version of a fence - but retaining walls, filled with soil, and that their lawn is a metre or so above you, as you walk merrily along the road. This is why the runoff comes pouring down from above.)

What does a smart-phone look like when you attack it with an angle grinder? I do this sort of thing so that you don't have to, so here's the answer.

Now it was perhaps foolish of me, but the other day I decided that a couple of my 35 year-old knives needed replacing, having been sharpened often enough that the cutting edge was a full couple of millimetres above the base of the bolster, which makes them pretty useless for chopping. So I ordered another couteau économe and a 20cm chef's knife from the online store where I buy such things, and when they actually arrived it filled me with such elation that I wandered off to Matcol to look at saucepans. Because it's difficult to have too many.

I was innocently poking around the shelves where they have such things and spotted a nice set of three solid copper saucepans with hot-pressed stainless-steel inserts (which in principle means they never need re-tinning), took a guess at the price and dismissed them from consideration because, even if you can't have too many, there are limits ...

And then the Igor guy - who knows me - shuffled out of his cubbyhole readjusting the bolts in his neck and asked something like "What might thir'th fanthy be today?". So I told him, honestly enough, that all I really wanted was another decent-sized pan for making caramel, and he thaid said "It'th difficult to beat copper, they thay". "Quite true, my good man", I replied, "but I have no wish to take out a second mortgage at thith time".

That was my mistake, because he then launched into an explanation as to how they'd been placed there for sale by an itinerant vendor of solid copper saucepans, such as one will encounter in these parts, and how as they had not sold he had reduced the price on his next trip past, and then as they had still not sold the price had been knocked down yet again: outcome was that, once I'd wiped a fine mist of spittle off my lapels I walked out of there with a 700€ set of pans for the princely sum of 95€.

So at least I'm ahead of the game there.

There is, I admit, something that's been puzzling me for some time now, and luckily I have come across the answer: on - where else - the innatübz. Thanks to someone posting up a handy guide for the clueless, I now know that the acronym LGBTQIA stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual". In the interests of inclusivity I would suggest that we add a "H" for "hetero" to the end of that, and then I think we'll have everyone covered. (But still, what the fuck is "intersex"? And what's the difference between "gay" and "queer"? Answers on a postcard, please.)

Which for some strange reason brings to mind the committee of twats that wrote the MISRA standard. I have just had occasion to fiddle about with some embedded software I originally wrote for Schneider getting on four years or so ago (seven days pay for two day's work was just too attractive a proposition for me to turn down) and have spent half an afternoon trying to puzzle out why their fecking validator flags what is - according to their rules - perfectly valid code as non-conforming. I guess because their validator is shit.

Got up at dawn's crack this moaning only to be confronted with yet another beautiful day, and as the dogs and I returned from the evacuation exercise we met M. Martinez. He is a short stocky man with a browned face covered in wrinkles and a grin, and some kind of saprophyte that he has trained to imitate a moustache; he has two enormous (but very polite) dogs and an absolutely impenetrable accent. He is also a forager.

We meet often enough, and it's rare that he's not got a bag of something that he's picked up: a string bag of plump snails, or a mass of lactaire delicieux, or - like today - a good kilo or so of wild asparagus. I don't think the man spends that much at the supermarket. Come to that, I don't know if he even has a car: certainly I can't recall having seen him anywhere near one, and he seems to walk everywhere.

But waily waily!! and ohs noes!! for news has reached us that the bar is to close next week. One final Friday evening of drunken debauch, and that's it. Yes, our Dear Leader finally got his way and Ivan and Nadège have been driven out, their places to be taken - eventually - by cronies. We has sads.

Also, we is going to have to organise some sort of replacement facility, because quite frankly these Friday night meetings have become an integral part of our lives. Maybe a popup bar, "Chez Réné" in honour of our glorious mayor, which will - like some sort of moveable feast - appear at one house or the other. Whatever it is, we shall have to do it quickly.

Whatever, I should go start working on my tan.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I Get Mail ...

And not just any old mail, but a letter from the URSSAF, that dread organisation charged by the French state with making a wild guess at how much I should be paying to support the widows and orphans of France, multiplying that by the amount of the gross national debt and adding the annual NASA budget, and then dividing that by the population of Iceland (excluding walruses). And then making me pay this ridiculous sum, with way too many zeros at the arse end, even if I happen to be clinically dead.

(Note, incidentally, that the URSSAF is not a government department. It - or rather they, for they are grouped by region - are private companies to whom the state has farmed out the job of estimating and then collecting social security taxes. Their methods are - to say the least - opaque, there is no recourse, and they are answerable to no-one. Do not ask me why this peculiar situation exists: tax farming goes back at least to the Roman Empire and doubtless before, so it is a time-honored tradition. Also, asking me about it causes anxiety and I tend to froth at the mouth, which is both unhygienic and unsightly.)

Anyway, I got a letter. A gentle reminder asking me for details of my income for 2015 (which, I admit, I had not supplied, despite their pleas and entreaties). You'd think that they could just go ask the tax department for these sordid details, but it appears that to do so would be wrong, and possibly illegal.

But I shall have the envelope framed, and hang it in my office. It is rare that one sees such careful attention paid to hand-writing these days, and it's nice to know that their employees are considered harmless enough to be able to use sharp objects like biros, rather than coloured crayons. It will be even better when their motor skills develop to the point where they don't have to use both hands to hold a pen, but I think we're taking baby steps here. (Margo suggests that just maybe it was one of those "bring your kids to work" days. I think that's so sweet.)

Anyways, Gristlemouse and the New Year went off with no particular problems. We ate - not to excess - and drank moderately (for a value of "moderately" that includes "vastly") and enjoyed the bright sunny weather, and occasionally moaned about how damn hot it was out in the sun ... also, I got an unexpected Christmas present, in the form of getting into the car to go shopping and finding that all the warning lights were flashing at me and she would not start.

So I dragged out the multimeter and checked the battery, and lo! it was all of 11.2 volts and as John remarked, in that lugubrious tone of his, "That's not so good, is it?". (Mind you, the battery was stamped with its date of manufacture as "2003", so I suppose I can't complain too much. Although I do, anyway.)

Rather more usefully, he gave me the URL of an apparently reputable company that supplies car batteries, and after typing in Sarah's make and model it suggested a Varta battery which I duly ordered. Two days later it arrived at the doorstep, so for the price of 94€ and a few self-inflicted stab wounds from a small screwdriver trying to get the transport plugs out, I have a brand-new battery. Also, as I was running through the menus to reset the date and time, I discovered that I can stick the lights onto "automatic", and have her turn them on when she thinks it's too dark. Only took me three years to discover that. Maybe I should just read the manual?

I could have jump-started her, driven off to a garage and got them to do the deed after a three-hour wait, but they'd have charged me 160€ for the battery plus time and labour, so even with the blood I think I came out ahead of the game.

Luckily my other Christmas present arrived in the post at about that time, for I had at long-last found - and ordered online - an egg-poacher! Which is nothing more than a pretty decent stainless steel sauteuse - of which I already have five or six, but no matter, an extra one can always come in handy - with a little stainless steel stand that sits in it and six silicon cups that sit in the stand, each ready to receive an egg.

The last time I saw one of those was when I was a kid, and it must have dated back to the 40's for it was made of pitted, oxidized aluminium and, of course, no silicone. But the principle's the same. Whatever, I can now make luxurious eggs Benedict for six with a damn sight less hassle. (You try poaching six eggs, one after the other, by slipping each one into a whirlpool of simmering water, fishing them out, sticking them into iced water to stop them cooking whilst the next one cooks, and then reheating them very gently when needed. Go on, I'll wait.)

So anyway, Margo arrived safely back from NooZild and promptly went to bed to try and get over jet-lag at about the same time as the cold front from Siberia arrived down here.

The sky is blue and bright, the sun is shining valiantly, but the high is supposed to be about 3° today and when you factor in the wind-chill that would probably be about -5° (for the Cers is only blowing lightly). Still, it's better than the high of -8° that they were "enjoying" in Chambéry a week or so back.

And in totally unrelated news, unexpected things to do on a Saturday. First, and probably the most stupid, would have to be going off to IKEA at Toulouse - along with, to all evidence, absolutely everyone else who happens to own a car. Going up and down the inside of a four-floor carpark looking for a park for what seemed like hours did nothing for my good humour.

Whatever, after much mumble-fucking we managed to get the assorted bookcases that we'd actually gone there to get in the first place, loaded them into the surprisingly small boot (I mean, she's a bloody wagon) and headed back home, and I was pottering about in the kitchen when Martin called.

To say that he and Angela had taken delivery of half a wild boar, in one frozen chunk that was slowly defrosting in their inadequately-sized fridge, and did I have any suggestions?

So I wound up going round with the sabre saw (and a clean blade) and we sliced the poor beast into rather more manageable chunks, and I came home with a 4.5kg leg of marcassin which will come in handy the next time we have about 16 guests, although I rather suspect that when the time comes I shall have to marinate it in a rubbish bag because I do not have a container big enough to hold it.

Still, if ever you find that you need someone with body-disposal skills over in these here parts, you know to whom you may turn.

Mind how you go, now.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sunlight, and a pale blue sky ...

So the phone rang today and, as one will - on occasion - I answered it, and some young woman marketing droid claiming to be from a travel agency congratulated me on having won a free, gratis, and totally for-nothing holiday!
Sadly, I am old enough to no longer believe in these things, and for a short while I toyed with the idea of disappearing down the phone line at the speed of a wave-form in copper, only to emerge in some call centre where I'd gift everyone present a virulent case of hookworm maggots ... but the prospect of seeing them reduced to bones within minutes was not enough to compensate for the realisation that I'd surely bump my head going through the copper/fibre-optic couplers, so I contented myself with wishing the AI a good day, and hanging up.

And then I had occasion to order a book for Rick from the Grauniad - as they're English liberals I hardly expected efficiency or competence, but even so - I guess the library pixies despatched to get a copy got lost in the stacks, or maybe the scribe that is preparing my hand-written copy is drunk ... despite the assurance on the site that I would receive an email when the order was stuck in the post that never actually happened, and it was only when I rang (and was put on hold for ten minutes) that I learnt that my order had been sent out on the 12th. With alarmingly good timing, it arrived on the 23rd. Brexit, I guess.

In other news, I seem to recall (admittedly rather vaguely) talking about the project to install some wind turbines at Moux. There was a public meeting (in the disused toilet that now holds the filing cabinets from 1947) and public opinion having been rightfully disregarded, the process proceeded to the next step, the expertise. This was done and the report handed in, and lo! Moux was an ideal spot for windmills!

But my dumb has never been more founded, and you may colour me speechless, for apparently the mairie has asked for a contre-expertise, to say that Moux is not in fact a good place to install aeoliens, and this despite the fact that the project would have involved them being built on land owned by M. Bollano, ex-maire and greasy eminence of the village.

I is perplex. Maybe the Dear Leader is growing balls - although I rather doubt it - more likely, I suspect, is the possibility that should a wind farm not be built then compensation would be paid ... it's sad how cynical one can become.

Whatever, it's been but a week since Rick set a match to his traditional solstice balefire (paraffin is a great boon to the budding arsonist) and it is already starting to feel like Spring, though the year's not even ended. The days are lengthening perceptibly, the evening light is glorious, and the lazy tramontane wind has been notable by its absence. It'll all end in tears, I know, but I am shamelessly profiting from it whilst I can. And did I say that it's up to 18° in the afternoon some days, hotter if you're in the sun and out of the breeze?

Come to that, having better things to do the other weekend I took the pack out for a decent walk. We is at the eastern extremity of the montagne d'Alaric, a limestone outcropping that stretches some 20km east from Carcassonne, and reaches the dizzy height of 590m. (I know. It's the best we can do around here.)

From that extremity there are two lower ridges that go a few km further east, with a sheltered plain between, and when you leave Moux by the south-west you go through a natural cutting in the northern ridge and from thence east to Fontcouverte (the true birthplace of our famous Saint Régis), follow the GR77 south and west up into the Alaric, or just go straight ahead, crossing the plain and following the rough road up and over the southern ridge.

So that's what we did. Alarmingly beautiful in its savage way, with dew still on the spiderwebs covering the moss on the rocky slopes on the north, sunlight filtering through the pines above, and a bright provençal blue sky and the air was chill. Then we'd get out into a clearing, or a little plateau, and off with the jacket because too hot, past the ripped-up earth where the sangliers had been looking for something to eat, and on and up under the sun.

Anyway, the year is coming to an end so I guess I should just wish you a Furry New Bear, and leave it at that. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dolmas Season ...

Despite appearances, I am a happy man (although I has sads 'cos Martini sec seems to be unavailable in these here southern parts) for I have a good butcher, and there are once more feijoas on sale (admittedly at an eye-watering price - I mean, 10€ the kilo?) at the market. Which means, I guess, that at some point I will dive into the pile of yellowing clippings from The Listener* (ca 1985), and hopefully come back up with that recipe for feijoa and apple bretonne.

(Incidentally, meeting Bob! later that day for a few vitamins, as is our wont on a Saturday moaning, I tried to explain the feijoa, and its flavour, to him. The closest I've come across is the anone - the custard apple, as you'll recall - and so of course the bugger wilfully misheard. "Le gout", he said, "de la nonne? Je vais certainement l'essayer alors.")

A "good butcher" is one who, should his client request 400gm of minced lamb for instance, will take a thick slab of meat from the leg of the beast, remove the bone and any unnecessary skin, then grind it and only then weigh it. And sell it to you at the price of the gigot. Such honest shopkeepers are rare birds indeed, and should ever you come across one I suggest you do as I do, and clasp him firmly to your bosom (firmly enough that he may not escape, but not so firmly that he suffocates).

Having had the occasion to go up to Chambéry for a bit the other week, I thought I might as well profit from the trip by bringing back a few regional specialities. (Also, two bottles of Ancona Jamaican Ouch! Burny Hot Pepper Sauce, due to there being very little left in the cupboard as a person or persons who shall remain nameless were using the stuff like ketchup on their burgers a while back. Because Mad Karen goes through harissa like anything, and Martin felt obliged to emulate her - the look on his face as the afterburners kicked in was ... interesting.)

So there was a kilo of Beaufort d'alpage for Margo, a kilo of vieux Comté for me, and I thought I might as well bring back a bottle of génepi for Martin, whose tastes run to undrinkable alcohols. (Génepi, should you not have had the misfortune to come across the stuff, is one of those "herbal" liqueurs - all of which tend, in my opinion, to resemble Chartreuse in that they smell, and taste, of sticky sweet detergent. The distillers of the up-market varieties tend to stick some sort of stem with a rather sad flower or two on it in the bottles, to add an air of verisimilitude to the story.)

So I took it off to the bar on Friday night and presented him with it, and I'm sad to say that when we left some while later there was precious little left in the bottle. I have since been requested to bring back rather more the next time. I guess I owe him, for the Tanqueray.

It is once again That Time Of Year, and as we are no longer Upside-Down Landers who heat their houses in winter with a single 500W electric radiator in the living room, grudgingly turned on for an hour or so after 19:00, we went into the utility room on the top floor and did the Propitiation of the Beast. Which goes - in our case - something like this:

"Hey, where's the bloody candle?"
"Well, I've got the little tinkly thing from last year's Christmas cracker, and the 1934 Boy's Own Digest, so that's bell and book: you're supposed to have the damn candle!"
"I think the dog ate it."
"Right, well we'll just do our best with a pocket torch shall we, and hope it all works?"

Then we turnèd the knob, and with a rush and a gurgle hot water surged through the pipes and I ran about the house opening the purge valves on the ancient cast-iron radiators and wrapping lagging around the pipes where super-heated steam was venting, and now it is toasty-warm and we is happy, and having a shower is no longer an exercise in Nordic masochism.

(Be under no illusions. The Languedoc is hot and dry in summer - and, in all fairness, mostly so in spring and autumn too - but in winter, especially on a dismal damp grey Sunday with a spiteful crachin Breton, it can get bloody miserable and cold. This is why a number of the British ex-pats go back to England for the winter: not for the weather, but for the central heating. When every room in your three-storey maison de maitre has about 4m² of French doors made with 1mm-thick glass, you rapidly learn that trying to heat it is a losing proposition.)

Other reasons to be happy: M. Bourrel sent one of his doubtless numerous minions around this moaning with a small tanker truck, and there are now 2000l of diesel in the garage along with 300kg or so of wood pellets, so we can now sneer in the face of winter.

(Also, Cash and Terry headed off the other day to the ginormous strip mall that is the frontier town between France and Spain, and very kindly brought back two bottles of Tanqueray and four litres of Martini Extra Dry. So that's me set up for a couple of weeks, anyway.)

Our neighbour Johann, the good Saarlander, would rather like a dog but can't have one; because of cats, and Sylvia. So he has adopted Widdling Emma. Being a keen jogger he trots off on a 6 - 12 km run every other day, and one fine day he shyly asked if she could go for a run with him. We did not pose too many objections.

I'm not sure which of the pair is the keenest to go: at least Johann doesn't jump vertically in the air with his forepaws straight up, which is what Emma does when she spots him coming up the steps to the gate. He seems to think that the exercise does not tire her out enough, because the other night oop't bar he suggested that he could perhaps take her for a walk on those days when he doesn't go for a run - "and I will train her, with the throwing of the ball, or of a wooden branch".

Karma + Blofeld
Something which did not, apparently, go too well when he tried it on Friday - not that Emma ran away or anything, just that she is maybe short-sighted and, as he said, "I took a ball that was green, and a ball that was red, and I threw them in the grass for her, and she could not see them. I could not see the green ball either, in the green grass, and I had forgotten that I am red-green colour-blind, so we went home with no balls, but with a stick of wood."

Let no-one say that a self-deprecating sense of humour is the exclusive preserve of the English.

(In unrelated news, a Kindle Fire can apparently survive a fall from about 80cm onto carpet, and the depredations of sharp puppy teeth: although the cover is looking a little the worse for wear. I do not get paid for these unsolicited testimonials, just saying.)

* Note for younger readers: this was an actual paper magazine which in fact listed the TV programmes for the week. I guess The Watcher or The Couch Potato Tuner Guide were not snappy enough.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Shaken, Not Stirred ...

... with a twist of lemon, leave out the bloody olive.

To all of you in the God Zone, hope you're OK.