Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Where's Bloody Hemingway When You Need Him ...

It's in Pamplona, if memory serves, where they run the bulls through the streets and the bloated old hack duly described the action in screeds of turgid prose. In Moux they seem to run sheep, which does have the advantage of pretty much ensuring that no-one gets gored to death during the spectacle. Also, after they've passed the more enterprising of the neighbourhood brats can always collect the detritus and hock it off as prime olives to unwary tourists.

A fact of interest which inexplicably failed to make it into "The Sun Also Rises". Or, "The Boat Also Sinks", whatever, who cares? Not one of my all-time favourite authors, I must admit.

About a year back now we found ourselves at Montpellier where there was a big patchwork salon - need you ask - and to my pleasure they had a small section devoted to food and therein a stand with all sorts of herbs and spices, to which I naturally gravitated. I don't recall doing it but I apparently filled out my name and address on an envelope after I'd bought a tube of powdered vanilla and various curries, for a couple of weeks ago it arrived in the mail, containing an invitation to this year's event.

I will do a lot of things to avoid working, so off we headed. And I picked up some green curry, some Madras and Bombay, some white pepper from Cameroon, five-spice powder ('cos I chucked the jar I'd had, on the grounds that it was way too old), more smoked paprika, sumac, curcuma and tandoori, and a few other bits and pieces. And I filled out another envelope, so I guess that in a year's time we'll be going back ...

If your GPS is not, like ours, totally dysfunctional and psychopathic to boot, it's an easy job to get from there to IKEA which is, let's face it, just across the autoroute: it took us a bit longer. But we made it there, and exited eventually with only a few things - a lamp and a rug for my office, some baking tins - for they carry ring and pie moulds with removeable bases - and of course some pepparkaka which is not peppery poo but gingerbread biscuits. In case you were wondering.

Also some small jars for spices 'cos I've had it up to here with a plastic tub full of small tie-closed bags that I never seem to bother looking in or I'd have seen that I already have a ginormous stash of juniper berries (and some rather inferior curry, which might be heading for the rubbish bin or if I really fancy a joke I suppose I could leave it on the edge of the dining-room table with Indra alone in there and see what happens).

Truth to tell I still have the plastic tub because there are things in there like poppy seeds and sesame seeds and the packet of badiane that I really don't have anywhere else to put, but at least it's out of the way and I know where they are. And damn!, I forgot to get another pepper grinder for that white pepper.

In the same shopping centre there is "Du Bruit Dans La Cuisine", which sells stuff - such as my big KitchenAid stand mixer - and I could hardly leave there without the pasta-making attachment, now could I? So I guess that we'll be eating a bit of fresh home-made pasta for a while, until the novelty wears off and we are totally sated with tagliatelle and lasagna.

Oh, I also - finally - got one of those handy little lighters for gas stoves, something that has become necessary these days if you do not have the good luck to own an oven with an electric ignition system. I used to use matches, but these days they've carried the "safe" in "safety matches" to ridiculous extremes. Matches are now inherently safe by design: the only way you can get one to light is by soaking it in petrol and setting fire to it with a cigarette lighter. Which kind of obviates the point.

Now might be the time to tell you about the Rossini-burger, which is both delicious and relatively simple. (Also, only slightly adapted and improved from the admittedly inferior version they serve at Le Bureau, in Chambéry.) You start off by making paillassons - so-called because they look like a straw mat - which, when cooked, you will stick in the oven to keep warm and crispy. (Because you have the oven on to cook dessert anyway, and also microwaving them would be a crime.)

Personally I grate the potatoes onto a (cleanish) tea-towel, which makes it much easier to squeeze all the water you can out of them, and I like to add salt, chives and a few spoons of corn flour (which is flour made out of corn, much finer than polenta, and not corn-starch, please). Some people like to stir in an egg at this point, arguing that this makes the things stay together better when you fry them: others remark disdainfully that if they don't stay together anyway you're not doing it right probably because the fat's not hot enough, and in any case if you want a soggy potato omelette just say so.

Whatever, stick mounds of the mix into a frying pan with hot duck fat and spread out with a fork into rounds about 1cm thick and 8cm in diameter: fry until crispy and cooked through before putting into the oven.

At this point get a green salad ready and make some sauce Aurore, which is nowt more than a Béarnaise with a college education and a bit of tomato concentrate whisked in, so that's all ready for the next step ... which is to fry some onion rings and as many 1cm-thick slices of fillet of beef as you happen to have people to eat them. In duck fat, again, and on high, if you please.

When the steak's cooked to your liking - which should not involve turning it into shoe leather - assemble everything: a slice of fillet atop each paillasson, each topped with a slice of foie gras, and a good glop of the sauce on top of that. Serve them up with the fried onions, which should be soft and golden if you got it right, heaped around, and enjoy.

More on search terms: if you look for "titsup + holidays" on Microsoft Bing! you will find this site in the results. Sadly, sandwiched between "holiday porn" and "amateur big-titted wife on holiday". I find this rather sad.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Something Wicked This Way Comes ...

Stupid EBK is NOT a sewing machine
... which can only mean it's time to look at the Great Google's stats again.

"but there is smell on it". What the hell kind of search request is that, and why, why oh Lord, should it end up here? From Ukraine? Don't they have better things to do, like a war going on? It's all going titsup, I tell you. Used to get all sorts of things arriving here - mostly, I admit, concerning sex or thread-worms - and now we've come to this: my audience is a war zone that's obsessed by nasal hygiene.

I sincerely hope you all spent a pleasant New Year's day: personally, I shifted my office. I swear that this is the last time evah that I knock down my workstation desk and re-erect the damn thing: it weighs half a tonne and is actively hostile to having screws stuck into its various holes. Whatever, it is done, and what is supposed to be the dinning room on the ground floor here at The Shamblings™ is all of a sudden much emptier than it was.

Before anyone complains, a "dinning room" is one in which much noise is made, such as a child's bedroom when it is being whipped to sleep (that would be the child, not the room, that was being whipped) or - for instance - a dining room in which the quantities served are of a perceived insufficience.

Or, for another instance, one in which dessert has been accompanied by an excess of alcohol such as it might be armagnac or maybe whisky, just saying, and under these circumstances Certain Persons - looking at you, Richard - might raise their voices and maybe even beat the table with their palms to emphasize the elocutionary point they have just so triumphantly and so decisively made, if only it could be remembered just what the point was.

Whatever, there are many ways I like to spend my time. In a hammock, on the terrace, under the sun with a never-empty glass of white wine, would have to be a favourite. I do not even require grapes, nor someone to peel them and feed them to me: I am a simple man, with simple tastes. Although more lurid, not to say lubricious, fantasies may be recounted on request, at an entirely reasonable cost.

But one way I really do not want to spend my day (or more likely days, by the time this is done) is recovering two machines from catastrophic failure.

A while back, in 2013, I bought two identical Samsung laptops, one of which I cruelly left under Windoze 8, and the other got Linux installed on it. So far so good, until just before Christmas the Linux system started warning me of drive failure ...

At which point I made a fresh copy of all my data thereon and stuck that onto the other Linux machine (a beastly-big Asus which is more of a transportable than anything else, given its weight, although back in the day we'd have sneered at anything that weighed less than 15 kg and looked smaller than a sewing machine) and then it came to me that I'd perhaps better occupy myself with the Windows machine.

Parenthetical aside: another thing that pisses me off is that I am wearing jeans that I bought a while back, when I was depressed and put on weight. They are now way too big (as in, an inch or so) and I have no hips to speak of, nor am I the happy owner of a belt. I cannot walk too far without having my jeans hanging at half-mast somewhere in the general vicinity of my knees. NOT GOOD!

And any smartarse who says "just go buy new jeans that fit" is banned. You try buying jeans with an honest 28" waist. Go on, I'll wait. Got some? Post them over, I'll owe you.

(Having said that, 'tis la saison des soldes right now, the after-Christmas sales where the shops try to flog off all the stuff left over from 2014 - and although the French say that they're cutting back on the spending you'd be amazed at the number of huge flat-screen TVs flying off the shelves in the supermarkets - and in the shopping mall on the northern side of Carcassonne we stumbled upon a Celio which had vast numbers of size 36 jeans with a 30 leg ie a 72cm waist and just my size. True, the waist-band is only a shade north of my crotch, but I can live with that. I'm told it's fashionable. I'll just try not to go to discos too often.)

End of aside: at this point I discover that the hard drives installed in both machines are, it seems, prone to failure. I mean, I have hard drives that are ten years old and still running happily: what kind of crap manufacturers produce drives that last 18 months and then drop dead? (Answer: Seagate/Samsung. From the time when Samsung sold their hard drive fabs to Seagate. That's another brand I won't be buying in a hurry.)

The data is all backed up on the cloudy thing, and much of it on various hard disks: it now comes to mind that data on the cloud is fuck-all use if you don't have a functioning machine with the appropriate programs installed to retrieve it. Also, I have a metric fuck-tonne of programs installed, which I really do not want to have to go through and install again.

Without speaking of bloody Windows itself because, as is standard these days, you no longer get a physical installation DVD with your machine - "oh no that's alright, it's all on a protected recovery partition on your machine, it's OK". My arse, when your recovery partition goes titsup too.

Yeah I know, long ago I should have used the unreachable and sadly indescribably vile Windows tools to create a system backup: had I actually tried that under Windows 8.0 it might well have been possible but, sadly, unusable under Windows 8.1 - and now I find that I can't do it anyway because of REASONS and right now, with a failing hard drive, is not really the time to be playing around with your partition tables. Believe me. Take a break now.

Also, I got some kumquats at the market this morning. They looked so pretty. I rather think that they will soon end up as this - especially as I still have lemons on my lemon tree. (Note: kumquats are mostly seeds. Lots of pectin no doubt, but it takes a while to slice and seed the little buggers.)

Another recipe from Mr Lebovitz which I personally loved but which Margo found way too chocolatey for her taste involved a very short sweet pastry (like, forget about rolling it, press it into the dish with your hands) made by creaming butter and sugar, adding an egg, and then beating in half and half flour and cocoa powder: I do love my stand mixer.

Stick the crust in the freezer for an hour or so to firm it up before baking blind, then spread it with most of a pot of dulce de leche (aka confiture de lait, or milk jam), cover that with a chocolate custard and bake. A pie dish with a removable base comes in very handy here: I really must buy some more, all mine are about thirty years old. And what little confiture de lait is left over will, in my experience, disappear rather rapidly, with some help from a teaspoon to get into the awkward corners of the jar. (If you're polite.)

Break over. Do you know, much to my surprise recovering the Windows machine was no trouble at all? With the Linux system I had to chant and dance a bit, and boot from the installation CD to set up the grub parameters so that it actually saw everything, but with the Windows one I just restored the cloned image and rebooted (OK, I did have to refiddle with the BIOS parameters to make that work) and found myself with my familiar desktop.

That struck me as kind of odd, given that CloneZilla is a Linux tool, and I would've expected it to have handled Linux systems better than Windows ones ... this turns out to be not necessarily the case.

Whatever, thank you, CloneZilla: you have made me a happy man. And, incidentally, saved me one hell of a lot of time. It is not the sort of tool you ever really want to use, because if you need it you are in the shit, but if you have to use it you are very glad it works.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ask Not At Whom The Finger Points ...

... it points at that other bugger, hiding over there behind the aspidistra.

As you may have heard there was - as there is wont to be, in the Alps, in the winter - a rather massive snow dump in Savoie just after Christmas, which royally screwed up traffic and left 15,000 people trapped in their cars en route to the ski stations. This is obviously unacceptable, and so now the Snarky Finger of Blame is being pointed in all directions.

One ex-minister seems to have pointed it in the right direction, saying, more or less, "if the French, being warned that heavy snow is likely in the Alps, choose to head off to ski with neither snow tires nor chains and totally unequipped for the conditions, just what the fuck can you do?" Fair point.

Down here we is not worried by such things as the sky is bright and blue: true, the thermometer is down to about 5° and the wind-chill factor takes that down to -10°, and 100+ kph winds are expected soon enough, but do we care? Yes, actually, because it means muffling yourself up like Peary just to take the retards out for a piddle.

Here is our Gristlemouse tree. It is not happy, what with being from mother's womb untimely rip't etcetera. As you can see we still have not found all the decorations, which are in a box somewhere, also they were fresh out of sapins de Noel so we had to take what we could get.

I tried sticking the fairy on top but her feet touched the ground and she wandered off whilst I was looking for the sticky tape. Also, Bad Santa did not leave us any presents.

Furry New Bear, anyway.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Very Shambling Christmas ...

Something a bit more comfortable ...
 ... with NO ZOMBIES. Honestly, I am sick up to here with zombies. Shambling around, no skin tone - not that I have anything against the grey-coloured, on some things it looks good - no dress sense and limbs dropping off randomly: honestly, you'd think they just didn't care. Just let everything go, that's what it is: a complete abdication of personal responsibility.

Also, just between us, they smell. Fair enough, it's not always easy to mask the aroma of decaying flesh, but still - could make a bloody effort just once in a while. Like when you have to go off to the Post Office, f'r'instance.

That'll be a kilo of snails to go ...
As one will from time to time, to complain about the tardy delivery of mail down here, and the fact that you have to go pick up that palette of depleted uranium in the back of the car because for some pettifogging bureaucratic reason they won't deliver to the doorstep - some nonsense about Health & Safety - or just to check that the pension payments for Auntie Mabel (deceased) and the rest of the cousins on that side of the family (also deceased, sad to say; an unusual accident - the coroner actually used the word "incredible", which is kind of flattering -but then god apparently moves in mysterious ways) have indeed come through.

But do they? Bloody bogroll they do. As a general rule the undead vital-sign deficient and I get on well enough - each to his own, I say, and if someone has to change into a bat each evening and suck a virgin (for preference) then I'm not one to judge - but you have to draw a line somewhere. And I'm sorry, but eating brains is right out. They can't even be arsed frying the damn things in beurre noir, just goes to show how much they care.

Actually, what I had the intention of writing about was how much I know you've been waiting eagerly for the seasonal State of the Nation report charmingly illustrated by the amusing antics of our friendly woodland folk and the Playmobil Racist Front.

I have a confession to make: when we left St Pierre it was in kind of a rush and we didn't actually have that much room, I know we said something about coming back up in a few weeks but you know how it is, time just flies by and I'm sure they're happier up somewhere they know ... To be quite honest, we don't have them around any more.

Not that we abandoned them, that would not be good: let's just say that we thought it was a good idea to let them find their own personal space, develop fully and find themselves, you know. I think we even sent them a letter to that effect at one point: at least I'm pretty sure I can remember us writing a letter, although I cannot swear that we put a stamp on it. Not that that should make any difference, the Post Office is a bloody public service or supposed to be, not that you'd know it from the lip they give you if you so much as mention the fact that the alligator was poorly when you got it and it clearly said on the packaging not to hand-feed. Or not to feed it hands, can't recall, it was a while back.

Anyway, it was unsolicited junk-mail from Nigeria and I can hardly be held personally responsible for their approximative grasp of written English, now can I? Hardly my fault if the postmistress invited the kiddies from the primary school in that day for "work experience", or whatever they call it these days. And I can't see what that has to do with them signally failing in their obligation to deliver a letter entrusted to their care.

A word to the wise, if you know what I mean: should ever you come visit us, there are tables, for godssake: put your glass on one of them and do NOT stick the damn thing on the floor. Unless, of course, you like to share. But even were that to be the case I suspect you'd rather not share with Shaun the Dog, who seems to have developed a taste for red wine.

As Bryan found out last night. Sad to say, Margo does not believe in milking a situation for all it's worth and felt obliged to let him know before he took another swig, which I personally find a shame.

It seems we have been nice rather than naughty, for only yesterday we received not one but two visitations: Cédric The Destroyer and his little helper Gordi turned up to finish demolishing the first floor bathroom, and André appeared to finish off the bathroom in my office!

And as I'd put in a herculean effort over the weekend, tiling the floor and the shower, sticking in the grouting and the silicone, Bryan gets his own bathroom which at least means that we will not be martyrised at midnight by his prostate.

Sadly the huge old radiator in the office does not in fact work: André got it hooked up and it started to dribble persistently. At some point in its voyaging it must have been scraped on a rough surface, which was just enough to damage the brazing ... who'd have though that fonte d'acier would be so delicate?

We also got spoilt as both Cédric and André bore gifts - partly, I suspect, to apologise for the slow advancement of the work - and we got wine and pâté and goat's cheese in olive oil and cassoulet and some decent foie gras. As if we didn't have enough of the stuff: I'd already made one lot and had just finished cooking another which is even now maturing in the fridge.

Not so sure about the jar of cassoulet either, although I have to admit that it's at least a more manageable quantity than I made, which involved 500gm (dry weight) of dried haricots Tarbais and about one and a half kilos of diverse meat.

Or maybe I have been naughty, or at least not as nice as I thought, for my little Linux laptop chose today to go titsup on me, with bad disk sectors and, when I look at the logs, the CPU temperature getting up into the 80s. I get the funny feeling that the fan is not working. Bitch.

Yes, I have backups of course, for the source code anyway - which reminds me that one of the external hard drives also seems to be failing, so I must copy all that onto another two - but if it does crash and die in a spectacular fashion I shall be really, really pissed off because then I shall have to get another machine, reinstall everything, cross my fingers and hope for the best. And all this in only 24 hours, for of course all the clients have buggered off on holiday and are expecting to find a delivery on their desktops at the start of January ...

Still, I've been through worse - like the time I wiped out the general ledger run back in the days when I was technically engaged as an operator at the PNCC. That really screwed up my weekend.

Mind you, that was back in the days when I was a DINKie (that's Disposable Income, No Kids, to you) and still had weekends, and interesting things to do with them. Nowadays I do have disposable income, and The Shamblings is a kid-free zone, but the notion of spare time is one that I find an interesting concept. Heard of it, but not often come across it.

Except for right now, when we are all profiting from Saturnalia to indulge in traditional excess, bloat, and general doziness. After the cassoulet and then last night's little effort with coquilles St-Jacques à la nage, a light salad and a steamed lemon pudding to follow we tried to be more restrained today.

Which means that when Neville and Reets turned up bearing gifts around 11am this moaning I was only onto the first glass of white for the day.

Thankfully Margo, Bryan and the retards turned up not too long afterwards so we were not obliged to drink alone, and I retreated into the kitchen to look after the roast leg of lamb, the potatoes and kumara, and the brussells sprouts: good thing Margo got the pavlova ready ahead of time.

And on the brighter side, we're managing to get through a lot of the more elderly bottles in the collection. I must admit that the '95 Cotes de Nuits was definitely drinkable, and the '98 Maltoff from Coulanges-la-Vineuse was still alive. Another three bottles to go, and I'll have nothing left from the last century.

Whatever, a Hairy Gristlemouse and a very Furry New Bear to you all: mind how you go, now.

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.

Bastard.

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.