Sunday, December 14, 2014

Conversations With Your Kids ...

The heraldic ravens here at The Shamblings
Hey Dad!

Yeah, hi.

I'm hungry!

Yeah. You only have about 3kg of Kitty Kibbles there in your feeder, and you got a TV dinner this morning.

OK, true, but you have to watch me!

Yeah. Why? You do tricks?

Nope, not that you'd notice, but if you don't watch me then no-one sees me eat and then who's to say that I've eaten?

Hey, that's pretty existential for a cat. But I would like to point out, if I may, that even without being watched 24/24, 7/7 you have still managed to put on quite a bit of weight. Not to put too fine a point on it, you is one big fat ex-kitten, and keeping that tub of cat-food brim-full is playing merry hell with my mortgage repayments.

Let me out now? Before Indra starts licking me? Please?

Also, you are not as cute as you used to be. You may think that the incident the other day, when I pranced and screamed ever so slightly as your needle-sharp claws sank into the good old gluteus maximus and the left testicle, was amusing: but I beg to differ. Have you considered going out and getting a job? No, I thought not.

Damn. Hey, I'll fuck around with all your piles of paper and put them all over the floor, and then I'll convince dickhead Shaun to come piss on them.


Kids or cats, the results are rarely what you expect. At least with cats you can have them sterilised and no-one will bat an eyelid. Kids are beyond the pail. (No, that is not a typing error. From Whackywheedia: "beyond the pail: an expression dating from C13 (citation needed) when a pail was placed on the floor of the Great Hall on the occasion of a high feast. Those seated above the pail were permitted to enjoy the same privileges as the lord and lady of the démeure, and could crap on the steps leading up to the main entrance: those 'below' (or 'beyond') were obliged to relieve themselves in the pail, often to raillery from their fellow diners but always to the pleasure of the gardener, whose perquisite it was to fertilise the potager with its contents.")

S'on the innernetz - or will be, as soon as I hit "Publish" - so it must be true.

There is a song - sung, if my doddering memory does not mislead me, by Julie Andrews on one of her better days - which goes something along the lines of "Climb every mountain/Ford every stream/Molest each furry bunny/Until you reach your dream" and I can proudly say that, Margo and I together, this morning we attained that. Yes, we have achieved the seemingly impossible: armed only with a screwdriver and a large hammer, we succeeded in putting together a flat-pack cupboard that we had previously taken to bits!

It was left here in The Shamblings when we bought the place, a great thing made in the pre-IKEA Bronze Age of malicious furniture à monter soi-même: back in the days when men were indisputably men, cast-iron was considered a viable alternative to particle board, and such items came with a handy pack of splints and bandages for the inevitable injuries sustained in putting the damn thing together.

We took it down with much cursing, for as I think I've mentioned before the previous owners - or their predecessors, or those before them - seemed to believe that although, in the words of the poet, "the centre cannot hold", it bloody well would if held together by enough three-inch crosshead screws and a couple of bolts, such as you might find protruding from the neck of your poorly stitched-together neighbourhood monster given a semblance of life by the vital electricity from a lightning bolt.

Anyway, now Margo has her office we found a use for it, so we slowly heaved its component pieces back up the stairs to the attic, and put it back together. Much to my surprise we had lost none of those curious little bits that turn and lock other curious bits together into a semi-rigid structure, also Margo had thoughtfully taken photos of it in its tumescent state: still, I had gloomily expected rather more blood. Now it's up, I don't think we'll be taking it down again in a hurry.

As you may have noticed, even down there in Upside-Down Land where you are probably preparing your barbecues, Gristlemuss is impending and the marché at Carcassonne is full of jollity and foie gras and people trying to sell you dodgy pine-trees that are so fresh they only fell off the back of a lorry this very morning.

Or at least I guess it would be, were it not for the fact that an ice-skating rink has been installed slap in the centre of place Carnot, and the actual market itself has apparently been dispersed to the four corners of Carcassonne. Which is a bit of a bitch, because the urge came upon me to make a cassoulet - and even, maybe, to buy a cassole to make it in - and it would have been a fair trot to gather together the necessary piggy products.

Cuisses de canard confites I have, of course, in the freezer, and I have a couple of kilos of haricots Tarbais - the only ones, it seems, which may be used for an authentic dish - in the cupboard, but there's still saucisse de Toulouse and some saucisse à l'ail and a bit of poitrine de porc and maybe some lamb shanks to be obtained by one means or another: a good cassoulet can feed a family of four for some considerable time. (Have I ever remarked on just how fond of meat, in gargantuan quantities, the southern French are? You may have this idea that everything is olive oil and vegetables, and these are indeed important parts of the cuisine, but they are still at heart unreformed carnivores.)

Still, it is also the time of year when the truffle comes into its own, and soon enough at Talairan and Villeneuve-Minervois there will be the truffle fairs. I have no idea what the things will cost (a fib, the going rate is currently anywhere between 600 - 800€/kg depending on where you are and how advanced the season is) but a 10gm truffle will not break the bank and will add its - particular - flavour to any number of meals. So I rather think I shall head off to share the fun.

Our elderly friend Bryan will be down here for Christmas but for some reason he's decided to turn up on the 23rd and head back to Chambéry, god and the SNCF permitting, on the 27th and so will miss all the excitement. Not to mention what I confidently expect to be serious eating and drinking.

Anyways, this has been short and and we are definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel in the photo department: things have been rather busy, and right now I am exhausted by the act of being polite erecting recalcitrant furniture. Things will get better. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Joy Of Boilers ...

One of the things I really like about the marché, place Carnot at Carcassonne, is that there's any number of people selling stuff out of their gardens. For some reason parsnip is popular this year: it, along with a number of other root vegetables, fell out of favour after WW II due to its being ineradicably linked in the collective psyche with war-time privation or whatever, but there's some sort of trend these days for les legumes oubliés and the bloody things are making a come-back.

(Funnily enough, this vegetable amnesia never extended to beetroot, turnips, or celeriac. Why this should be I shall maybe never know: personally I cannot understand the attraction of celery root, and the flaccid over-cooked beetroot that one usually finds is always disappointing, not to mention unfit for pickling. As for the turnip ... less said the better.)

But as I was saying before being so rudely interrupted, these people turn up with a folding table and plonk whatever they have down on it - the very last of the season's tomatoes, bundles of herbs, beautiful yellow courgettes, whatever - and I came across this guy selling kaki (that would be persimmon, to you) and also, to my great delight, feijoa. Which, for some reason, the guy also called "Peruvian guava", which I'm not so sure about.

Whatever, I made it away with a kilo or so - at €4.20/kg it wasn't going to break the bank - to Margo's delight, and as the guy reckoned he'd be selling the stuff for the next month or so we shall be happy persons. Apart from being delicious just like that (you may not think so, but you also may not have spent 27 years deprived of feijoa) it makes an excellent filling for a bretonne (which is very much like a gateau Basque, only with more butter, and a classic French dessert) so maybe I need to preserve some as a compôte. For when it's out of season.

In case any of you have drunk the Mayle Kool-Aid and believe that Provence is a land of perpetually blue and sunny skies, let me help you into this nice padded waistcoat - yes, the one that does up down the back - and get your medication ready. And I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. If you could just be so good as to sign here, and maybe here, before your hands start to shake too much.

Right now, for instance, the street lights are flickering on and off uneasily as the rain pelts down and the lightning flares spectacularly up north on the montagne Noire. Luckily the worst of the storm is headed off towards Narbonne. Well, the worst of this storm anyway: more are forecast, with up to 70mm of rain on Saturday night.

Also and exceptionally, along with the torrential rain came a strong easterly, which of course meant that we had rain coming horizontally onto the eastern façade of the house. Which is where the verandah is. And that, possums, is how we learnt that where those typically Provençal terracotta tiles that roof the verandah join onto the house wall is not, by any stretch of the imagination, weatherproof. Oh, I suppose it must have been at one time, but that was a while back in the day and the cement has weathered ...

Happily, one of the first investments we made when we moved in was a Karcher (you know, one of those sort of reverse hoovers that spit out a jet of water at some unimaginable pressure) and they threw in a cheap industrial vacuum cleaner, which is quite happy vacuuming up water. To say that it has seen some use in recent days would be an understatement.

We probably got off lightly. I am willing to admit that at midnight water was rushing in great sheets down the streets, and by the looks of the little road that leads down to the départmentale this morning when I took the retards off for their trot ... let's just say that last night would not have been a good time to choose to go anywhere.

Our central heating has been an on-again off-again affair for some time now. It was working when Margo went off to NooZild in early October and then it stopped, for reasons best known to itself, a few weeks later. A new fuel pump got installed (because here at The Shamblings™ we do not like things to be too simple, so the cuve is in the cave and the pompe pimps the fuel up to the burner, about 8 metres higher up, in its own little room up in the attic) and that worked happily for a bit until I noticed that it was pissing diesel down in the garage.

So André eventually consented to turn up, and attacked the recalcitrant thing with spanners and such until it leaked no more: then two days later it stopped working, hardly surprising as it had decided to commit suicide by blowing its own guts out through the wall of the unit.

Once again I had to resort to cargo cultism to get André to appear again: pictures of wrenches and cisterns and U-bends torn from the pages of glossy magazines such as House & Garden, and left lying around the place. Maybe I should just have bought a copy of "Gay Polish Plumbers French-Polish London", but I'd have had some explaining to do in the tabac.

But it worked, for only a week later he came back again with a new pump, one that sucks rather than blows, which is apparently better. I do not really care about its technique, I just want the thing to do its job. And right now it has been hung on the wall next to the burner and both are purring contentedly, and all the radiators in the house are glowing white-hot as we rush about turning them down.

Also, now that that is done and we actually have hot water upstairs and flooring and skirting boards and all the other appurtenances of a civilised life, we have actually moved up into our apartment. It is the case that my office and adjoining bathroom remain to be finished, that Margo's office must be emptied of cardboard boxes and suitcases of clothes, that there are a few planks of parquet that I cannot put down until Cédric finishes with an upright and that the hall has yet to be floored, but I could care more.

It is also admittedly true - for a given value of "true", one involving the words "brutal honesty" - that although the walk-in wardrobe exists, is painted and floored, and has a good percentage of the skirting-boards actually in place and held up by more than faith (personally I put my faith in heavy-duty glue) I must admit that it is noticeably lacking in such amenities as shelves, and drawers, and rails such as one might use for casually slipping a few coat-hangars on.

But these are not nice thoughts, and to talk of these things is impolite and leads to bad feelings, and is most certainly not conducive to such happiness as we could hope for, so let us turn our minds to other things, and gaze steadfastly at the bright new future that awaits us (preferably to the stirring accompaniment of the Third Concerto For Tuba And N° 37 Tractor Factory Joyous Worker's Collective, composed and directed by Kim Jong-Il).

And now for something completely different: totally gratuitous photos of our bedroom. In its new, improved, and more or less livable state.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

And Not A Drop To Drink ...

Not too far north-east from here, on the banks of the canal du Midi, is the little hamlet of Somail (not inhabited by Somalis,that I noticed anyway) which has one major claim to fame, this being its second-hand bookshop. As you can see it's a huge barn of a place: quite literally, I think it was in fact a barn in its youth. A couple of walls are given over to old editions of the classic Frog authors - Balzac, Hugo, all that - and of course there's fine arts, philosophy, ésoterisme (we are in France, you know) ...

Sadly, the two subjects that really interest me - gastronomie and eroticisme - were kind of under-represented, to my mind. Not that I really needed a copy of Pellaprat, in French (they did actually have one, but I just happen to have the exact same edition, dating back to 1960-mumble, only in a proper language). Nor do I really wish to pay some 700€, which I understand to be the going rate, for a copy of Suzon en Vacances, so I guess it's just as well they didn't have a copy of that.

Had friends of ours - Alain and Mijo - turn up from the Ariège the other day, in their enormous camper van. In thir honour, I dragged out the big Weber barbecue, and promptly butterflied a leg of lamb. Doubtless the last barbecue of the year, unless it turns out fine on Christmas Day (the Christmas barbecue is a tradition over here you know, at least in this family). Sadly there were but six of us sitting down to table, and so we failed to make much of a dent in the thing: bloody leftovers again, I fear.

Otherwise, Cedric and his apprentice are making regular appearances and although I know I keep saying "it'll be next weekend that we move in" and it just doesn't happen, things are still getting done. The terrace is more or less completed - my turn now, have to put some planks down on the top of the little wall to finish it off - and if only André le plombier would honour us with his presence, we might be able to turn on the central heating and have hot water upstairs. Which would be rather nice.

There's also the toilet on the ground floor to be replaced, and the pellet burner to replace the hopelessly inefficient (but still quite cheerful and cosy) fire that we have, but I am not going to hold my breath whilst waiting.

Ohs noes, and waily waily woe is us: we live in the biggest win-producing area of France and we have no wine! How can this be? Well, to be absolutely honest, when I say "no wine" I'm not counting the 90 or so bottles tucked away against a rainy day ... but we do not, every single day, down a bottle of '95 Chambertin such as is lurking on the dustiest bottom shelf of the wine rack.

Although maybe we should start tucking into it before they become faded bottles of little taste and purely historical interest. I think there's some '97 Côtes des Nuits in there still, if anyone's interested. No, I is referring to what we drink on a daily basis, which is Chateau Carton.

And finding myself fresh out of white, I headed off to the cave cooperative to get another five litres, only to find the shelves bare and no prospect of more until December, when they'll be bottling plasticking the 2014 vintage. How did this happen? A victim of its own success, they have sold all their stock. Woe, again! They do have a few ten litre boxes of rosé, but I'm kind of embarrassed about buying those because it does make one come across as a bit of non-discerning wino, and in any case they're a bitch to fit into the fridge.

It would appear that M. le maire has no problems with his prostate. Or so I must assume from the fact that he ordained - and various municipal workers have strived mightily, if somewhat inefficiently, to make it so - that the various drinking fountains, points d'eau and, in particular, the lavoir/horse trough just outside our front door in place St-Régis be put back in service.

This was done, and now the nights (and, incidentally, the days) are filled with the cool tinkling of water from an unspecified source into the great basins. Personally, I quite like it: got used to the stream between the house and the garden in St-Pierre, and the silence was getting to me ... on the other hand, there's a practical joker somewhere about in the village.

For after a long day sticking down parquet flottant in what will very soon be our bedroom, I came down for a well-earned dose of nicotine and alcohol on the terrace, and could not but notice, swimming mono-maniacally up and down the horse trough, three juvenile trout and a small carp. (Okay, how would I know? I can only recognise the fillets.) They seemed rather confused, and who could blame them? It'll all end in tears, when the neighbourhood cats discover their presence.

The festive season approaches and all sorts of delicacies are starting to make their appearance on the etals du marché: great heaps of juicy clementines, chayotte - for some strange reason - and the omnipresent foie gras maison hand-knitted by little old ladies, and on the bio-dynamic organic stands there are piles of string sacks full of fat snails waiting to be taken home and turned into tasteless knobs of rubber in garlic butter. Sadly I did not have my camera, or I would have posted a photo for your gustatory appreciation.

Instead, you get a totally gratuitous photo depicting the consequences when Margo tries to make industrial quantities of strawberry marshmallow in our washing machine. There may have been some slight confusion with the recipe for hokey-pokey, for she admitted to having perhaps put a bit much baking soda in.

Anyways, some have asked, and to satisfy your curiousity you will find some pics of just where we are in the renovation stakes. Mind how you go, now.

Eventually, my bathroom
And my office-in-waiting ...
... and Margo's office
Our eventual bedroom
What will be a guest bedroom ...
... and what happens to bathrooms
Our bedroom now.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fancy a Vibrator ...

So I was flicking idly - as one will - through Ars Technica the other night and came across this article on how the sex of ferns is determined. Oddly enough it's very democratic, the plants vote by emitting a chemical signal - a "hormone called gibberellin" - which will, depending on the concentration, cause male or female development. I am not a biologist: it's all gibberish to me, I'm afraid.

Winter is icumen in these here furrin parts, and so the chaudière - the central heating boiler, to those of you who are, being blessed with a climate where such things are unnecessary, unfamiliar with the term - decided to have a hissy-fit, and stopped working. Which is a bit of a bitch, for it is she which supplies the top floor in hot water, and I was actually rather enjoying having a shower up there. (It also, being a central heating system, is supposed to heat the place as and when necessary. That would be good.)

Especially as the shower on the first floor is kind of - idiosyncratic, shall we say - and can go from boiling-hot to tinkling ice cubes just by turning the handle by a millimetre in any of its two degrees of freedom. I will be glad when it's gone.

Whatever, we have had a series of people through to take a look at her. First André, then young M. Jullien the chauffagiste turned up the other night but had to confess himself baffled, and this moaning Robert and Réné appeared, to the great displeasure of M. le Maire, who was waxing apoplectic in the middle of the square because they double-parked - with the engine still running - alongside his car for a couple of minutes whilst they checked the address.

So Réné came striding up the steps fulminating "Mais bordel, c'est qui ce petit con?" "Je vous rappelle que je suis le maire et je mérite un peu de respect ..." - I fear that we may not hear the end of this for some time.

He went upstairs to beat the recalcitrant beast with a spanner whilst Robert and I smoked outside: the general consensus appears to be that the pump in the garage that pokes the fuel up eight metres to the boiler in the top floor has failed. Although replacing it will cost an arm and a leg I'd still rather that it does in fact turn out to be that, for the alternative is that there's a teeny leak in the pipe letting air in and if that should turn out to be the case then Cédric will just have to rip out some of the gib-board he's just put up so we have access, and that will not please anyone.

Margo's friend and our occasional dog-sitter Mimi had some shopping to do, so we headed off to Spain. Down to Perpignan, stay on the autoroute for Barcelona, and get off at the second exit for La Jonquera. Which is, like a lot of border towns I guess, an enormous strip mall.

Did you know, incidentally, that on returning to France from Spain you may, if you are in a car, have a total of 2kg of tobacco, 90 litres of wine - which would make a bloody enormous raffia-wrapped bottle - and no more than 30 litres of spirits? Pitiful, a mere week's-worth. The allowance is much more generous if you're on a bus, do take note.

I like a bargain as much as the next man, but I was not willing to buy a shrink-wrapped package of 20 Spanish cigars for the admittedly bargain price of 8€: OK, I smoke, it's not good for me but still I have my pride and smoking donkey dung that is actively trying to rip my lungs out is not for me. But I did pick up a couple of bottles of Tanqueray - the first true decadence in decades - and some proper Martini sec, which you can't find for love nor money in France. Noilly Prat just doesn't cut it, I'm afraid.

This is a good thing, as our lemon tree has five lemons on it, all of them rather bigger than walnuts which makes a nice change, which means I shall soon be able to have at least five dry martinis, each with a slice of lemon. And I may even have some left over to make some sort of dessert!

Who knows, maybe I shall be able to make goat's cheese and lemon soufflés this time without having half of them wind up on the floor, that would be rather nice. And certainly less messy.
Mimi has her comfort zone so we went a few km further south and wound up at le Mirador, just above the sex supermarket (which I suspect is there to cater for the French market), promising an all-you-can-stuff-in-your-face buffet for 16€.

(By the way, I cannot see how it is that Apple has not sued them for "look and feel", or something. Just saying.)

But we went into le Mirador instead, although I do now know where to get dubiously humouristic birthday presents. (If anyone wants a fetching number in black latex, drop me a line with the measurements and I'll see what I can do.)

Drinks are included, so along with the usual culprits of Coke, fruit juice and whatever, you have red, white and rosé on tap. Just grab a plastic jug, fill it up, add ice cubes to taste and bring it back to the table. Rinse, and repeat as many times as you feel necessary. Sadly, I was driving.

For canteen food it wasn't actually that bad, and my eyes being bigger than my stomach I couldn't actually finish everything that I'd heaped onto my plate. Apart from the desserts, all of which involved chocolate and are thus, as Frog-persons say, incontournable.

It's not a place I'd go to for touristy reasons: given that most of the cars around the place had French plates from 11 (that's us, the Aude) or 66 (Perpignan) I guess a lot of people feel the same way, and just head down once a month to do some cheap shopping, and stock up on duty-free pastis. And maybe batteries, for the marital aids.

On the way back, if you don't take the autoroute, you're more or less obliged to go through Perthus, which is so much on the frontier that the eastern side of the main street is Spanish and the western side French. God alone knows how they elect the city council, let alone a mayor, without some major diplomatic incident. Or maybe Paris and Madrid actually learnt a lesson from the Hundred Year's War and just let them get on with it without too much interference, so long as there's not too much naked dancing in the streets.

If you're looking for a bargain there are really cheap leather jackets on sale, which are probably worth just what you pay for them, but I think the best deal to be found is on Rolex watches. You can pick one up from any vendor every three metres or so, and they're guaranteed original and everything! What could go wrong?

Sadly, Margo convinced me that a Rolex would be vulgar so I rather churlishly declined their blandishments - also I had better things to do, such as replying to some of those nice Wells Fargo bank directors with aol email addresses who are offering me zillions.

For those that care, most of the photos come from Minerve. This is a small town, set above a spectacular canyon carved in the limestone by the river Brian (no, I am not joking, that's its name) and is classed amongst les plus beaux villages de France. I don't know about that, it appears to be a pretty indiscriminate accolade. Given some of the villages that get stuck with it. But it is pretty, and you can't walk more than ten metres, even out of the tourist season, without tripping over a shop selling impractical lumpenpottery or amusing cast-iron ornaments.
On the brighter side, the viaduct would be absolutely ideal in the dead of night for disposing of surplus-to-requirements corpses, should you happen to have any to hand, and there is a municipal mangonel, which could make the job rather more fun that is usually the case. A few ranging shots may be required, to avoid unnecessary distress to the riverains, so I would recommend having a few extras about.
Just saying.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shut The Bloody Door ...

So first of all, prepare your salad. Get some of the tender leaves from the heart of a feuille de chêne or a rougette, tear them into bite-sized pieces (for I personally cannot abide, and it is considered the height of rudeness - if not actually a capital crime - over here in Ole Yurrup, to cut your salad on the plate, and I have seen people perform marvels of origami folding an entire lettuce leaf into a neatish package that will fit into their mouth) and put them on a plate.

On top of those, a handful of the very last of the small sweet tomatoes that you won't be seeing again for six months, cut into quarters, and you could usefully prepare a decent vinaigrette, with honey and cider vinegar. And as you have nothing else to do, go make some bastard béarnaise, with vast quantities of chopped chives, and fry a couple of slices of good not-watery bacon until crispy.

Whilst your halved muffin is toasting (I'm assuming I don't have to tell you in which direction you should halve a muffin, trying to fit it into the toaster if you get it wrong should be a giveaway) poach two eggs and, when done, assemble everything: the halved muffins go on the plate next to the salad (do remember to put the dressing on that) and then on each bit of bread you put a thick slice of foie gras, a bit of bacon, top that with a poached egg and pour béarnaise over the top.

Eggs Benedict, my way. A simple meal for one: goes down well with coleslaw too, but that requires rather more organisation than I'm capable of, not to mention some forward planning.

Nothing from Health & Safety this week - I guess no-one's living dangerously - just an informative and educational Household Hint from The Shamblings. It is short and simple - much like me, really - and just says "always close your office door".

You might recall that my (temporary) office is located on the ground floor of what we now call home, in what will at some point become the dining room, also that due to the hopefully imminent destruction of the first floor, my bathroom is on the second floor and I am kipping down on a mattress in the office. So far, so good.

However, I have a rubbish bin in my office, in which can be found the usual detritus of a middle-aged smoker: empty envelopes, cigar packets, and used tissues. There would be no point putting unused tissues in there, and it would be a waste of money. And effort. Be that as it may, for reasons as yet unclear and possibly destined never to be known, Shaun has A Thing about used tissues. So when I went out - for five minutes, no more, I swear - leaving the office/dining room door open, the carpet was covered with shredded paper and he was frothing at the mouth. Not a pretty sight, and I don't know about you but personally I don't appreciate picking up papier-maché with extra snot.

So, when out of the office, close the door. Rule number 1. Also, when in the office, close the door. A simple precaution which I neglected, the other night. There are few things, in my experience, more horrific than half-opening a bleary eye in the morning and finding your entire field of vision - such as it is - filled with a dog's nose and a broad slobbery pink tongue, which is headed for your mouth. And that's just Shaun. Indra has already curled up on my feet, which is probably why I sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable.

And another hint: French "customer service" has not really improved - or what improvements there have been in the past thirty years are a case of lipstick onna pig. The other day, being at the market, I thought I'd get some bread from one of the best boulangeries in Carcassonne: at least, I assumed it was one of the best because every time I go past there are long lines of people snaking out the doors.

Their bread is indeed excellent, but the real reason that there are queues (and who but the French would queue so patiently?) is that it takes about ten minutes to serve one person with a single baguette. Nominally there are two people serving at the counter but one apparently has to do other things at the same time and so when one discovers that there are no more linseed and pumpkin loaves on display the baker stands there scratching his balls with a cigarette drooping out of his mouth as both of them go rushing off in search of the elusive loaf, which eventually turns up on a shelf behind the ovens.

Then someone else comes in to start their shift, which means a bise all round and an in-depth discussion of how the new baby's doing ... about that point I really did think of walking out and getting bread somewhere else, but I didn't want to be thought rude. And when I eventually got it, the ciabatta was really very good.

Oh noes! We has no Internet!
It doesn't take much to please me, so as you can imagine I was really happy the other day after heading off to Narbonne and picking up a radial saw. (You know, circular saw mounted on rails ...) Given the amount of parquet flottant and skirting-boards I am going to have to cut it's worth it just for the speed (no more bending down to pick up the circular saw, slicing, putting it back down ...) and let's not bother going into the fact that it does a very neat cut. Also, it is shiny. So NOT a gadget!

Can't help myself, like the traditional dog + vomit pair I keep going back to for "news". Wherein I note that the nice young Mr. Keys who looks after you would like to authorise previously unauthorised stuff (because of REASONS, goddammit, and it never happened anyway cross fingers and hope to die) and no-fly lists and things like that, so that you will be protected and up-to-date and some people won't be able to fly on aeroplanes (or whatever the new-fangled word is) because it's not good for them and also you will become a modern democracy to rival that of your neighbours because Australia's concern for its citizen's privacy is well-documented.

A very long time ago now, I went off one evening to the cinema (note to self: must explain that for the yoof) to see "Sleeping Dogs". Anyone remember that? A bit rough around the edges, but still an entertaining film. The plot was a bit far-fetched, I must admit: these days I don't think you actually need American military advisors or political consultants, you're grown up now and doing a pretty good job all by yourselves.

Sometimes people ask me why I don't go back to NooZild. Mostly, because I kind of like it here: partly, because I think I don't know you lot anymore, and I'm not entirely sure I really want to.

Still, I suppose that if you look at France from the outside it's no prettier, or maybe I'm just having a bad hair day. Sorry about that.

So I took the hairy retards off for their afternoon trot, up into the stands of scrubby pine in the garrigues, where the air is still hot (yes Virginia, it is still getting up to 25° in the afternoon over here) and heavy with bees, and no matter where you step it's going to be onto thyme so it also smells like essence de Provence. And as we were wandering through the knee-high grass looking for a water-hole that I was sure I'd seen around there a while back, we came across some mushrooms.

As one will in such circumstances - if you're French, anyway - I phoned Jacques, my go-to guy on all matters mycological, and we spent a good ten minutes nattering as I described the beasts and he asked for further details ... yes I know, were I less of a Luddite I could probably have taken a grainy out-of-focus shot with my phone and sent it to him, and if Jacques had a phone with a screen he could have looked at it: don't go there.

"The cap" I said, "is kind of old bronze in colour, the stem is green-yellow, and the underside of the cap is spongy rather than having gills ..." So once I'd made it clear that the cap was in fact bombé like a normal mushroom Jacques confirmed my first thought: I was looking at cèpes. Not, I'm afraid, cèpes de Bordeaux which are a) delicious and b) bloody expensive (mind you, at only 20€/kg still cheaper than decent steak), but still one or other of the many varieties of boletus.

"People down your way" he said dismissively, being originally from Toulouse himself, "say that they're excellent. It's true that they're better than the alternatives ... " (although there I think he's being a bit harsh, for there are truffles to be found to the west, and excellent cèpes in the montagne Noire, off to the north). Even if the things are not a gustatorial delight they are at least comestible: maybe I shall go back without dogs but with a plastic bag and my Opinel and as Jacques suggested I shall cut into one, and smell it. And if it smells strongly of cèpe, I shall harvest it and its little friends and arrange a meeting for them, in a frying pan, with some bacon. I have been missing mushrooms.

(That did not happen. They smelled good, they felt good, but sad to say as I was slicing them for the pan I couldn't help but notice that various worms, maggots and godnose what else had used them for high-density housing. Also, probably covered in squirrel-piss. I'm all for extra protein, but you have to draw the line somewhere. And as far as I'm concerned, things that wiggle are way over the other side of it.)

Friday moaning I dragged myself out of bed, aided and abetted by Shaun (only went and forgot Rule n° 2, didn't I?), rapidly made myself at least presentable, if not exactly human, and headed off to Montpellier to pick Margo up from the airport. I can only assume that Air France are trying to redeem themselves for her flight actually arrived on time, which is more than you can say for me because of road works. Also, access to the dropoff/pickup area is NOT clearly indicated. Never mind, we made it back home to ecstatic dogs, and thanks to those of you who helped make her stay so enjoyable.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Facteur Factor ...

What is it with dogs and posties? Why is it that our two normally placid dogs (OK, I will admit that Shaun becomes hyper when he hears the squeak of the gate up the street opening, thinking that just maybe the rottweiler he'd like to become friends with will come out and ask to play, and Indra yips whenever she startles herself, like when she discovers that she has a tail which is apparently capable of autonomous motion, and both of them are right royal pains when it's windy because it goes up their bums and the air gets into their heads - their ears blow up like rubber gloves and stick out alarmingly) will start barking like mad things when the postie calls?

I means, accountants I could understand: it's fairly well-known that their genome is not entirely human - sometime back in the day they split off from our branch of the evolutionary tree - and so I guess they secrete hormones or something that dogs can smell (and a good thing too, or otherwise they'd be walking amongst us undetected), but a postman?

As far as I can tell they're every bit as human as you and I, apart perhaps from being rather fitter due to all that going around on pushbikes

So I was chatting with old Charles the other day - he who's sold a house and 8 hectares of vines to an English couple who want to live the Mayleish dream of owning a vineyard in the south of France (or who can't afford a place in Tuscany, I guess) - and even before we could get on to the vexèd subject of the weather he said gloomily that pretty soon Moux would have to put up signs around the village saying "Twinned with Gibraltar", such is the number of English ex-pats around here.

What with the lot that's already settled here (I guess we count, the French don't seem inclined to make a distinction), these would-be vignerons, another couple who've bought a place belonging to a mate of old Charles, just up behind the post office ... the place is getting overrun.

Leafing idly through the Health & Safety advisory pamphlets that, for some reason, litter the coffee tables here at The Shamblings, I came upon one that seemed particularly apposite at this time of year (at least, over here, where we live right-side up): n° 247, "Triage of grapes, the importance of". This is indeed important because when you are planning a flan aux raisins et crème frangipane, one of the last things you want to find in it is an Earwig Surprise. So just remember, when you're going through the vines appropriating some of the bunches that got missed during the harvest, don't pick the ones too low down unless you're an amateur of dog-slobber, and check the others for signs of life.

Whatever, cooking for one is a bitch. Re-reading My Paris Kitchen the other night (David Lebovitz, shameless plug for an excellent book) I was taken with an Urge for a salade lyonnaise, and so this morning at the market I took care to pick up some frisée (explaining to the stall-holder that there was just one of me and could I have but a few leaves rather than a kilo of salad) and of course I have potatoes and lardons and eggs and bread for croutons and garlic, and this evening I went into the kitchen to put it all together.

Fried the bacon and fished it out, added oil and slowly fried a clove of garlic in that until golden and then fried the bread cubes in the garlic-infused oil, made the dressing, steamed the potatoes, poached a couple of eggs ... now I remember why I always seem to roll away from the table after a lunch at Lyon. That, and belch garlic. And I still have a fair bit of a grape flan for dessert, waily waily. Just saying, I don't always seem to get a lot of sympathy.

Then I picked up a couple of round baby courgettes as well, thinking that they'd go down rather nicely stuffed with meat and stuff: of course it seemed evident that leftover boeuf bourguignon would be good for the stuffing, which meant heading off to les Halles to get the meat for that. As the guy behind the counter said, you just can't make it with a pitiful amount of meat so I didn't escape from there without 600gm of beef nestling in the basket - which at least means I'm assured of having some actual leftovers, which was more or less the point - and then I made the mistake of going past the pork butcher's.

He does a lovely shoulder roast, and although I was sorely tempted just to get him to cut off a 1" thick chop I finished by going for the roast - of course that was 1.2 kg, which is kind of a bit much for little me in one sitting ... Still, that's probably my protein needs satisfied for the week. And let it be admitted, cold roast pork does make wonderful sandwiches.

Also, slow-roasting is wonderful. Bugger your paleo diet (which does not, incidentally, seem to have made any headway over here in Furrin Parts, in fact I can't find anyone who will even confess to having heard of it), what's wrong with a rolled shoulder of pork browned all over, slathered with white wine and then roasted under tinfoil for three hours on a bed of garlic? (A word of warning though: don't salt the meat. After all that time the juices are thick and concentrated and caramelized, and to my taste at least salt is superfluous.)

And taking advantage of the fact that the oven was on I quartered some of the garden tomatoes I also managed to acquire (sadly, I don't think there'll be more for a while, maybe I'll be lucky next weekend) and stuck them in to roast liberally coated with olive oil, pepper and basil (you know, I really love baking paper - cuts down on the cleaning-up something wonderful) and of course some spuds: but with an eye on my health I put those in to cook with duck fat, which is better for you.

This is a good thing, because for some strange reason my supply of duck fat seems to be inexhaustible. I have at least four jars of the stuff in the fridge, one of the unavoidable by-products of cooking duck breasts, and no matter how much I use they all seem to be full. Maybe I should just stop eating duck breast for a year, see whether that changes things.

In other news, I have been contacted by a nice man at the Union Bank of Nigeria to let me know that my pre-paid debit card, loaded up with USD 750,000, will be mine within 72 hours of sending them my personal details and a wire transfer for $140 to cover postage & packaging. And all this thanks to the fact that I apparently inherited the sum, fulfilled a contract, or won a lottery. Great stuff, maybe I should buy Nigerian lotto tickets more often.

I did think that the last sentence was a nice touch: "Please help us to serve you better". Not something you hear every day, and it fair warms the cockles of my miserable wizened heart.

Other than heading off to the market I managed to spend a large amount of the weekend in displacement activity, avoiding doing stuff that I really do have to do. So that rather than look into the slimy details of programming the flash memory of a Texas 470M, I took the bikes we'd borrowed when Alex and Bridget were here the other month back to Peter - at least he welcomed them like long-lost friends.

Then I managed to get myself distracted again, and shifted all the clothes out of our bedroom on the first floor into temporary accommodation elsewhere - wherever I could find room, basically - and then dismantled our bed (for the Nth time, I can't for the life of me remember exactly when we bought it but it's followed us about like a bad smell ever since) and took what I could of the bits up to the top floor, in a little alcove in what will eventually become my office, in the hope that this will encourage Cédric to come back and start demolishing everything on the first floor.

I know, I know, it's sympathetic magic but the good thing about it is that sometimes it works! God only knows how many lost Papuan tribes have built airports out of grass and sticks and have had a Cessna loaded with Coke come and land there (the statistics are sometimes contradictory, but the general consensus is that the answer is a number less than one) - come to that, how many IT startups have lost a small large fortune by having a business model of "build it, and they will come"?

Rather a lot, actually, which I think proves my point - whatever that was. Oh yeah, getting builders to come back. In this day and age, maybe a phone call would be more effective. Certainly worth a try, I guess. Can always put off sacrificing the goat until after. (Good news, I suppose, as far as the goat's concerned.)

Anyway, I seem to have exhausted my excuses for not doing something useful/profitable, so maybe I should go try to wrap my head around the TI libraries, in between loading up the dishwasher and building a release version of the latest PC software.

Oh hang on! Now I have no bed upstairs I shall have to sleep on the spare bed in my office, must go get that ready! Shiny! Sparkly!

On that note I shall leave you to your own devices. Mind how you go, now.