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 stuff.co.nz 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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Learning To Fly (Aint Got Wings) ...

For those of you blissfully unaware of current events, it can now be revealed that Margo is winging her way across various oceans and the odd continent, destination NooZild for three weeks. Originally she'd planned on going with Malaysian Airlines but had second thoughts after the first little incident, so finally she settled on an Air France flight from Montpellier to Paris at some ungodly hour of the moaning, then from there to somewhere unpronounceable in China, and thence to Orcland.

The timing was kind of tight, as she only had four hours to get across Paris from Orly to Roissy, but it was doable if there were no hiccups ...

Of course it all went titsup, as while she was off swanning around in Alsace the Air France pilots decided to go on strike in order to a) protect their grossly inflated salaries and b) inconvenience as many people as possible, and when I checked on the website I discovered that they couldn't tell you whether or not you were going to be able to fly until 24 hours before the flight, which is kind of short if you have to make alternative arrangements. Given that Paris is not next-door.

Stupid EBK! That is yore dirtbox!
It could have been boiled down to a little statement along the lines of  "Thank you for trying to fly Air France. If you're planning on doing so, please don't count on it for the next few weeks. We appreciate your custom." So I booked her on the TGV from Montpellier direct to Roissy the night before, just in case ...

In the meantime I had to head back up to Chambéry so I dropped the retards off at Margo's friend Mimi at Canet and puttered off in little Suzy. (Mimi has a swimming pool outside, and the garden around it has all been gravelled. Thanks to Indra and her OCD, she is still finding gravel all through the house, sometimes in the most unexpected places.)

When Margo arrived back at the house she finally found an email from Air France (for the internet does not yet extend to the darkest reaches of Alsace) to say that her flight to Paris had indeed been cancelled (godnose what contortions we shall have to go through to get reimbursed for that) and so she was definitely going to have to take the train: of course that meant that I had to be back on the Wednesday, before 15h, to get her off to Narbonne in time to catch the TER that would (hopefully) get her through to Montpellier before her TGV left.

Managed that: sadly the TER ran late so she missed that TGV. By dint of pouting and jumping up and down on a small controlleur she persuaded them to let her on to the next TGV to Paris: that did not - of course - go through to Roissy but stopped at Gare de Lyon, which meant hopping on the RER to get out to Roissy. And when she got there it was around 23:30 so the meal she'd kind of hoped to get was down the tubes ... she spent a sleepless night in the uncomfortable seats in the departure lounge, but finally boarded and as I write I guess she's on her way to China.

Sadly the Brit Food Stop Shop (or whatever) at Narbonne is closing down: it's conveniently located just across from the gare and I went in to see if I couldn't get Margo a proper sticky bun or something for sustenance on the train but the shelves were almost bare and when I indignantly protested the Scots guy who, with his Swiss wife, owns and runs the place gave me the bad news. She's having both hips replaced, which means that she won't be able to work for about a year, and rather than his working 12 hours a day six days a week all that time they decided it was perhaps about time to retire and learn to play golf.

On the bright side what stock there was left was all at half price, so I picked up the last packets of suet and some emergency supplies of golden syrup and a few bags of demerara sugar and more malt vinegar and, because I could, some decent sherry. Also something I hadn't suspected even existed: freezer bags of mushy peas. (I'd always thought that to attain this nadir of gustatory delight required personal attention from an English cook to turn each individual pea into a revolting squishy green bag, but apparently - such is the pace of technological progress - the process is automated these days.) Neville's from Barnsley and has often sung their praises, so I picked up a couple of sacks for him.

In other news, by dint of careful application of all those bushcraft skills I learnt so long ago in Scouts, I hunted down and trapped a plumber in the wild. Yes, André finally turned up on Thursday and started hooking various bits and pieces of pipe and stuff up, and on Saturday I got a text to tell me that the wooden benchtop I'd ordered from Lapeyre had in fact arrived so I went off to Carcassonne and stuck that in the boot, headed home and lugged it up the stairs.

Somewhat to my surprise André was still there so I set that up on its trestles and he set about things with a will, and didn't leave until all was done. So now we have a hot-water cylinder connected to the central-heating boiler up there (the electric cylinder will be disappearing in a few short days), the heaters are connected (as are, no doubt, the hip-bone, the thigh-bone and godnose what else) and - very important - there is a shower, a handbasin and a toilet, all three functional.

To celebrate, I immediately went off and had two showers, just for the fun of it, not because I was particularly filthy.

These little things may not seem very important to you, but as on Thursday Cédric and his little helper come and start demolishing the bathroom on the first floor, and our bedroom, it means quite a bit to me. I'm no stranger to privation, and I can live under rough conditions, taking things as they come with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart, but I do insist on having a toilet, or a reasonable approximation thereof, and a shower handy. If not, I am not a happy camper.

But now, even if I have to sleep on the spare bed in my (temporary, for the past year) office downstairs until such time as Margo returns to paint the bedroom upstairs so that I may lay the flooring in there and we can move in (for I am not going to have time to do the painting myself, have to earn money somehow and I still have my bathroom up there to tile and floor in the near future), I do not care for I will still be able to rush upstairs and have a shower when I feel like it.

Haven't had much time for photos this month: sorry about that. Things will get better, I promise. But right now it's persisting down - not in the brochures - and I think maybe I'll go have another hot shower.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Purple-Rinsed Dinosaurs Roam The Earth ...

Return of the Technically Dead Dead
I know it's kind of masochistic and just a little bit perverted, not to go so far as to say actually disgusting, but given that "Dirty Politics" and various claims and counterclaims of wholesale surveillance in NooZild have managed to make it to the front pages even over here in Ole Yurrup, not to mention a sick secret fascination with Winston Peters, I try to keep up with your imminent erection by following stuff.co.nz.

Which is where I found this photo (original attribution retained, please note), which has to be one of the most frightening I've seen in a while. Who the hell was responsible for the lighting? Reminds me of something out of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, or maybe Bad Taste. The old bastard has obviously been cryogenically preserved and wheeled out of the crypt, you can even see the dry-ice smoke in the background. And I'm guessing they used plaster of Paris as a cheaper alternative to botox. Absolutely terrifying, do NOT let your children watch politics on TV.

Also, this: "According to psychiatrists specialising in sexsomnia, a condition that has not been widely researched yet, it is a sleeping disorder close to sleepwalking that includes sexual behaviour. Those affected by sexsomnia are completely unaware of their acts, specialists say. However, the affliction is very controversial among physicians and lawyers." If you ask me, it needs more study. And a semi-literate sub-editor, for it should read "has not yet been ..." Definitely more university grants. Mostly to statisticians, so that they can work out just how to do the double-blind trials. And I think that lawyers should be paid more.

Come to that, just how do you get to be a "specialist" in this? Do you get to make it up as you go along? Does having an erection at 5am count? Or having sleepy sex? An enquiring mind would like to know. Yeah, I know, they laughed at Freud too. Just saying, they're still laughing at Freud. (A barrel, in fact - of laughs, that is - every Friday on "Interpretation of Dreams" night down at Le Vieux Pissoir in Conilhac. You really don't want to know.)

And he's dead - Freud, that is - last time I checked down in the vaults. (Reminds me, I better go down there again and check that the real Winston is still in his drawer, if not there'll be hell to pay what with the accountants, and the family paying for maintenance and everything.) Which means that the last laugh is not his.

Whatever, at this time of year you're reminded that Moux, like Arbin, is basically a wine village. The tractors rattle incessantly through the streets towing their trailers heaped with grapes and when, as one must, you head off to the cave coopérative to pick up another twenty litres or so of wine (yes, I'm off to Chambéry again on Sunday, and Bryan put in an order) the air's heavy with the sticky, slightly foul smell of fermenting grapes. Could be worse.

Anyway, I need to go: got a long drive ahead of me tomorrow and as Margo's up in Alsace I have to drop our two retards off to be tutored for a couple of days: also, there's still some parquet flottant that isn't going to lay itself. Mind how you go, now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dorian Gray's Shaving Mirror ...

So everyone is now back working on the house, as if to make up for lost time: I've tiled the shower in our bathroom (the one in my office can wait a bit) and the terracotta/raspberry crush lino that's going on the wall arrived today - anyway, we are having to seriously think about décor.

The tiles we chose were huge Italian ones, 30 x 60 in anthracite and pale gray - and may I just say that they're a bitch to work with? OK, we'd already bought the electric saw with a diamond blade to cut them as required (and that has been well amortised already): when it came to cutting out the holes for the taps and suchlike I had planned on using the old tungsten bit and handsaw I still have lying around but soon changed my mind when it became apparent that it would take me about three days doing it that way.

Cue a trip off to Lignières to pick up a hollow diamond-tipped 8mm bit for the big Bosch drill: it did the job. Tedious, but by some miracle I managed to avoid cracking the tile I was working on - always a good thing.

Another reason I hate tiling is that it requires some thought beforehand. One thing that you can be absolutely certain of is that the surfaces you're tiling will not be square, maybe not even flat: neither height nor width will be a multiple of the tile size. So if you start off as a novice is tempted to do, starting from the bottom inside angle and working out and up, you may be sure that you are going to have some very ugly, very fiddly cuts to do.

Also, I am paranoid, and measure things about three times before actually cutting anything on the principle that I may have got it wrong first time, or forgotten 4mm for the grouting, or things have just changed anyway because of quantum, and measurement collapsing the waveform.

Luckily for me, when we had the St-Pierre Shamblings done up Jean took me aside one day and explained how to do it correctly, which involves marking a cross at the centre of the surface to be tiled: that's where the first tile goes, and you work out from there. You will have a bit of waste: never mind, the end result will look a damn sight better.

Of course I still managed to get it wrong because we had Cédric build a seat in there - well, more a ledge really, somewhere to park the shampoo bottles and put your feet up when you're shaving your legs or whatever - and I failed to take that into account so there's a strip only a few cm deep at the back but what the hell.

So anyway, there's the shower in gray and black and the wall next to it, where the handbasin will go, sitting on its slab of wood on trestles, will be mainly red/orange, so we decided that for a mirror we would like a big old one, with an ornate gilt frame with naked ladies, bunches of grapes and cherubs everywhere if possible. Which means op-shops, and various brocantes.

Margo went off all on her lonesome and found one at Emmaus which was not exactly what we wanted, being mahogany and actually relatively restrained, but it was suitably huge, the silvering is going on the actual mirror so it definitely looks ancient, and on top of that it was cheap. So cheap in fact that she also bought an enormous pure wool rug for the dogs to sleep on.

We unloaded all that, brought it inside and settled down to more serious business like dining, and watching Dr Who, and then went to bed ... now it's a funny thing, but you'd think that they'd have little warning signs on articles such as these, along the lines of "May contain maggots".

At least, we strongly suspect that it was in fact the mirror that was harbouring the troop of the white wriggly buggers that we found all over the floor the next morning ...

I headed off to Carcassonne, leaving Margo to deal with the invasion, and after the market headed off to a big brocante of which I know, where I found not one but two mirrors that were just what we were looking for. The guy at the desk sucked his teeth, and opined that the shop was probably, in fact, open, and might actually remain that way until midday, although from the shrug he gave he didn't seem entirely certain about that - so I went back and found the car and navigated the one-way system through Carcassonne, went in, paid, and walked out with them.

In an excess of generosity he chucked in an old blanket (actually, as it turns out, a tablecloth complete with rude cherubs) free, gratis and also for nothing as a bit of padding in the boot, and I happily went back home. I suppose I could have bought a few other bits and pieces - just to encourage his unexpected enthusiasm - but quite honestly we don't actually need, nor do we have room for, a metre-high chicken in cast-iron, nor a marble statue of some Grecian bint discovering auto-eroticism. Nor, for that matter, a C19 bronze reproduction of The Emperor Trajan With Medusa And An Erection.

In other, unrelated, news I headed off on Sunday to see if I could find Bezier aerodrome International Airport, where I was supposed to be picking up my brother. I went prepared, with a large inflatable cushion, because I'm not sure that Ryanair actually bother touching down at such places, and I was half-expecting to see him hurtling from the cargo doors at 100m altitude ... as it turns out I need not have worried, the plane landed - maybe they needed more packets of overpriced peanuts to sell to the punters - and debarkment was sufficiently quick that I didn't even have to pay for the carpark.

Where, to tell the truth, I'd only gone because a short fat stuffy little man blew a whistle at me because I'd had the temerity to park on the place reserved for buses: this may be true but they could at least have had the decency to put up signs saying "Bus Only!" and in any case on a Sunday afternoon the things are pretty few and far between.

Just to complicate matters, later that night a nephew and his partner turned up a few days earlier than expected, fearing that their hire car was marked for instant depredation in Barcelona - who knows, they could well be right. So now the dogs must sleep outside, as the living-room floor has been commandeered as impromptu sleeping quarters, and EBK is pissed because there are New People with whom he will have to put up.

My brother left - I took care that we left the house heading for Narbonne with 20 minutes to spare, because I am wary of traffic in Narbonne, and then we left a second time, 20 minutes later and with no time to spare, because on arriving at Conilhac he remembered that he'd forgotten to pack the dead rat for his laptop. Luckily, although they had closed the TGV doors they were not actually in lock-down so he managed to hop aboard, about two minutes before the thing pulled out of the station.

A snail tree (immature)
It may not even have been the right train, I could care more.

Then we decided to take nephew and partner (N & P?) out to show them what a traditional French lunch is (although you no longer get a litre of really cheap rotgut plonk per person slapped on the table these days, I blame the government myself) and so we headed off to Le Cers at Conilhac. The midday menu goes for 11.50€, can't complain, we were out on the terrace under the sun and although I was wise enough just to go for a salad everyone else opted for the menu and none of them managed to finish it off. Kinda copious.

Of course they get the odd tourist passing through and so the chef speaks English - although oddly enough the waitress didn't - but this still brings me back to a pet peeve which is why, oh why, do people trust the translation of their menus to Google Translate? It's the easy option, I admit, but quite frankly when cuisses de grenouille flambées au cognac turns out as legs of frog (with outbreaks of cognac) I really have to wonder what the value-added proposition is here. Maybe I'm just being picky.

Seriously, how in hell does a flambé turn into an outbreak? Metaphorically, I suppose, if you're talking about genital herpes, that could happen ... I will not go there.

Anyway, I had to head off to Chambéry on Thursday - which goes some way to explaining the hiatus, sorry about that - and once I'd headed back down on Saturday and duly admired the 15km traffic jam in the north-bound direction at the péage at Montpellier Sud and arrived home, it became pretty obvious that work was going ahead and that Things Needed to be Done.

So Margo got into full-on Painting Mode (and let me just say that the little Bosch spray painter really is rather good, at least for putting on the undercoat) and I managed to finish the tiling in our bathroom, did the grouting (gods, I hate that!), stuck silicone around top and bottom, got the lino up on the wall, hung the mirror, cut out the sisal matting and got that down on the floor ... once André gets arse into gear and puts up the glass partition, hooks up the shower and (very important, that) installs the toilet, it will be usable.

Which would be rather convenient, given that they'd like to attack the first floor now - which will involve destroying the bathroom there - and now that they have their élan it would be a pity to slow things down, especially as we can begin to discern some progress. So even if the top floor is not, technically speaking, ready for habitation - missing a few of those optional extras like paint, and flooring - I guess we might just be moving up there next week.