Monday, October 14, 2019

Packaging, Puppies ...

One of the many pet peeves I seem to have acquired as I get older and grumpier is - TADA! - packaging. I mean, I got a couple of parcels today full of picture frames, and each was fuller of crumpled kraft paper than it was of actual merchandise - but that's alright, after smoothing it out a bit we'll supply a few sheets at a time to Moses so that he can piss on it (and then he will try to turn it into papier maché, but that's another problem) ... no, what gets to me is things like coffee, where a 250gm foil packet is, for some strange reason, wrapped and glued into something that resembles Kevlar rather more than paper, and then two of these packets are wrapped and glued together in even more Kevlar. I spend more time trying to get to the actual coffee without getting half of it over the floor, and not too many knife wounds to my thighs, than I do waiting for it to brew.

But my most recent favourite has to be Petit Brun biscuits. (Which are kind of like a rectangular tea biscuit, if you really want to know - anyways, I like them.) Back in the day, these used to come as a packet of 48 in a filmed corrugated cardboard sleeve for protection (for nothing is worse than trying to pull one out of the packet and finding it to be broken into minuscule shards) and that was fine by me. Open the packet, pull out a few to nibble on, and by the end of the week they're all gone.

But this is no longer sufficient - maybe there really are people who just can't manage 48 smallish biscuits in a week - and now the packaging contains eight cellophaned packs, each containing six biscuits. So while you've not opened a pack, it's going to stay fresh and not go all soggy, isn't it?

Apparently, some marketing 'droid thinks not, because the external packing is now proudly marked "Emballage refermable pour garder le fraicheur" (aka "New! Improved! Resealable packaging for more freshness and no damp bikkies!") which seems a) pointless and b) totally sodding pointless, because the thing is, you can't actually open the bloody package. Not without resorting to scissors at least, at which point you've cut the sticky resealable bit of packaging away ...

The next phase, I imagine, will be to have each individual biscuit machine-wrapped and heat-sealed in 0.25mm non-recyclable stainless steel: much like airplane "meals", really. (Anyone else old enough to remember the precious little snacks they used to dish out on ANZ internal flights? No, I thought not, and I've tried hard to scrub it from my memory too.) Rather like that passage from Pynchon, by the time you eventually get to the contents you've lost all interest.

Come to that, at long last I got around to ordering a nice bit of wood to stick up on trestles in my office, replacing the serviceable but sagging folding plastic workbench that I've been using as a temporary measure for the last seven years. So a week back a random delivery guy turned up at the gate with a slab of beech, 180 x 80 x 4 and weighing about 50kg - and guess what, that was heavily packaged too! Polystyrene foam around all the edges, bubble-wrap all over, corrugated cardboard around that, and then the whole lot had been filmed onto a palette for transport.

OK, there I can sort of see the point, having actually paid for something nice (to be kept out of the reach of puppies, so that it stays nice) you really don't want to have it dinged up by the tender ministrations of the transporter ... and the foam did come in useful as Rick and I manhandled the unwieldy thing up the two flights of narrow, twisty stairs to the top floor.

And I have discovered another thing that you should take care to keep out of the reach of puppies - I mean, apart from sandals, sneakers, and other items of clothing that you'd rather stayed in a semi-presentable state - and that's credit cards. I suppose it gives Mo something to chew on, but by the time I discovered the wreckage there was no way I was going to be able to slide it into an ATM. Not without seriously jamming it, anyway. (Luckily it was the old one, which is why it wasn't in my wallet but awaiting its rendezvous with a pair of scissors - and there's another thing, would you believe it took me three phone calls explaining that Chambéry was not on my travel plans any time soon and could they please, please, just send it to me in the post?)

Speaking of puppies, Margo thought it would be a Good Idea if at least one of our pack was properly trained, so starting in October I, Moses, and a large bag of doggy treats head off on Widdlesdays to Puppy School, at Azille. I shall be interested to see how that works out: shan't get my hopes up too high for, as the suspiciously cheerful woman said on the phone, "He is a hunting dog after all, and sometimes you will just have to accept that he's going to follow his nose regardless ...". We shall see, at least it'll get me out of the house.

Which in turn reminds me that a lot of our French friends and acquaintances are in fact chasseurs, and each has taken great pleasure in informing me that Moses was going to be a great hunter. In fact one of them - Gilles, the ex-motorcycle cop from the Ariège - invited Moses and I off with them the next time the go out after wild boar. I have no objection whatsoever to eating côtelettes de marcassin, and said so, but I can do without spending a couple of uncomfortable hours up in the pinède, getting pissed on cheap rouge out of a plastic cubie and trying to avoid getting shot myself.

Been a while hasn't it ... sorry about that. I am now certifiably 61, have discovered a number of decent little restaurants around the area, and am learning how to become a puppy., Also, as if anyone actually cared, Brexit is going to happen in about three weeks time and that will be fun, now won't it?

And thanks to having had a bththda, I also have a new camera. Well, when I say "new" I actually mean "old", for it is an Agfa Optima-Parat dating back to 1963. A lovely piece of work, all stainless steel and aluminium: 35mm but half-frame, and automatic exposure/shutter speed, thanks to a handy little selenium cell. (Yep, no batteries!) I shall have to get used to the rather odd format, and the fact that it's a viewfinder model as opposed to the SLRs I've been using pretty much all my life: 200 ISO film is still easily available (if you do Amazon, that is - your mileage may vary with the local photo shop) but to actually get prints done is going to require a chat with a photo lab, and the nearest is in Toulouse ...

It may be a hand-me-down, for Birgit had it given to her by a great-aunt or something, hoping that she would take up photography, back in 1968 or thereabouts: but I think that I shall have fun with it.

Did a fair bit of touring around with Sarah in the Herault over the summer, what with it actually being summer and having Cla-Val take their staggered holidays and not decided what exactly they wanted done before heading off to wherever it is that the Swiss go on holiday: so I felt no guilt about heading off with the trusty old Olympus to places like Azillanet, La Livinière, Siran, Agel, Aigne, St-Chinian ... and it is not really a coincidence that there is good wine around these places.

And as these things do rather tend to go together, there is also good food ... having been there once with B., looking at this place in Azillanet, took Margo off one very fine day to lunch at la Table d'Azillanet, which is, should ever you happen to be in the area, a very pleasant little restaurant which sources pretty much everything locally (insofar as possible), and the menu changes daily: Mme cooks in the spanking-new kitchen, and Mossieu handles the service. (But avoid the beef until they've got the hang of it: the meat is of excellent quality but the steaks are cut too thin and grilled over too low a heat. Just saying. They'll learn.)

Sadly, they were closed for some reason or another, so instead we took the back roads and wound up eating at one of the two restaurants in La Livinière (both are, incidentally, excellent): rather copious but that's just me, in any case they know how to cook lamb chops correctly, and very pleasant it was out on the terrace under the shade of the platanes. Such moments as these remind us why we now live here ... but I had slight sads to find out that there were no more lobsters in the tank inside. Not that the lobsters were complaining.

I can also whole-heartedly recommend La Luciole, at Luc-sur-Orbieu: a family affair, where the daughter - who I'm told trained in one of the rather better restaurant schools in France - cooks, mother does service, and father does unspecified but doubtless necessary things out back. Once again, locally sourced, and the food is imaginative without being pretentious: it being lunch, when I don't really eat that much, I settled for the foie gras poelé avec réduction de griottine (this latter being a rather old-fashioned cherry apéro) and was extremely glad that I did. Quite delicious, but any more would have been too much.

Also, Luc-sur-Orbieu is in the Boutenac region, which just happens to be where some of the outstanding Languedoc wines are made. Odd, that.

You can also eat quite acceptably at Bize-Minervois, especially now that most of the tourists have disappeared, or - closer to home - at Puicheric and even Lézignan, if you know where to go.

Somewhat to my surprise, the puppy training is getting on very well. Young Moses is intelligent and extremely eager to please, and bribery does - as it will - work wonders, so "come", "sit", "coucher" are more or less done and dusted already: where I can see that I may have to be somewhat more patient is in the walkies department, and this concept of "heel". Whatever, I shall buy a 20kg sack of doggy treats, and we shall get there.

And in a last bit of puppy-related news, we managed to avoid getting two new dogs the other day. We'd loaded up little Suzy with junk from the garage (yes! After six years or more, we're finally clearing it out) and headed off to the tip to see two dogs erring along the roadside, and coming back they were all over the place, so to avoid road-kill we stopped to see if we could pick them up.

Which we quite literally did: the poor buggers were exhausted, filthily matted and very happy to see someone, so we in fact picked them up, put them in the boot, and made an unscheduled trip to the vet. And I hardened my heart, because four is enough, and we left them there in good hands.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Estate Agents And Other Pond Scum ...

Contrary to what one might think, buying or selling a house in France is in fact a simple matter. It takes a minimum of three people to tango: a seller, who has a house and wants money for it, a buyer who has money but no house, and finally, a notaire. Who usually has both, but would like to have more. (It also takes a fair amount of time and patience, but that's another matter.)

As a general rule the notaire enjoys about the same popularity as a six-months dead otter: this is not entirely fair because although it is true that their fees are eye-watering, what is called "les frais du notaire" - which come to about 8% of the purchase price - is a sum which is in fact handed over to the state, as the equivalent of stamp duty. Apart from the fees, the bloke (for most are, in fact, blokes) makes his money from parking this cash in a well-remunerated bank account for six months or so before handing it over to the Tresor Public.

Back in the day, should you be interested, unkinder tongues than mine were wont to comment on the notoriously weak bladders of provincial notaires, for the simple reason that when the deal was signed for a given - admittedly extremely low, but never outrageously so - amount, the notaire in question would feel obliged, by professional ethics (or déontologie, should you be French) to leave the room and go to the toilet whilst an undeclared wad of greasy banknotes changed hands, with a few possibly falling onto his desk.

Whatever, in principle the notaire is a totally impartial person, working only to facilitate or grease the transaction and to pocket any extra cash that might happen to come his way: in practice, this is may turn out to not be the case. Which is why my good friend and ex-spook Philippe recommends having one's own notaire in such affairs: as he said, "if they're working for the seller, they're not working for you ..." - very true, sad to say.

Take a case in point, a good friend who was taken by a house in Azillanet, put in an offer for it, and had it accepted - at 1K less than she'd she'd offered, which I suppose should really have started warning bells ringing straight away ...

Be that as it may, the procedure in France is that you first sign a "déclaration d'intention d'acheter", then - at some specified date - the "compromis de vente" (which stops people from gazumping, and is thus a Good Thing) and finally, after the statutory 10 days to repent and rethink, at some point the actual "acte de vente" is signed, at which time the place is legally yours. The exact state it is in when you get it depends on what is specified in the compromis, which is where I'm going ...

So B. put in an offer, at which point things went slowly titsup. Of course, not living here, the signature would have to be done by proxy ... no great problem. But being nobody's fool she asked to see the compromis before authorising anyone to sign, which is where things started to go bad. For starters, the signature was fixed for Widdlesday: and this on Friday. Which makes it a bit of a rush job ...

Then she read the compromis, and there were a few things therein which gave her pause. Such as, there is this thing in France whereby companies in the building trade are supposed to subscribe to a special insurance policy which guarantees their work for ten years, whether they still exist at that point or not. As it happens, any and all renovation work in this place had been done either by the owner or by a company which had not taken out this insurance, so tough titty if problems crop up.

On the other hand, despite the fact that you'd buy "as is, where is" and any hidden defects are strictly the buyer's problem, there was an out - in that the seller, having admitted to having done some of the renovation work himself, could be held, as a "vendeur professionel", personally liable. But it would be pretty cold comfort spending ten years in the French legal system, should things go titsup and if you chose to go that way. (An alternative, I suppose, would be to firebomb his house, which although satisfying is frowned upon.)

Whatever, it was at just that point that Philippe gave me the name of a friend of his who just happens to be a notaire at Gruissan, and then things started to get interesting.

For on the Monday the seller's notaire, at the request of B's notaire, sent off copies of the bills for all the work done on the place. All in all, they added up to a rather fascinating fictional oeuvre totally new to me, innocent that I am ...

They had all been established one fine day in 2016 (truth to tell I cannot speak to its actually having been a fine day as such, but it's one of them literary conventions or some-such) and paid on the nail: although surprising this is not in itself illegal.

Somewhat more surprising was the fact that a goodly amount of the work billed - and paid for - had not, to my certain knowledge, been done. This too is not illegal as such, and may indicate no more than that the buyer was a very patient person, willing to pay for work and then wait three or more years for it to be completed. I can only applaud this sort of behaviour, and wish that there were more such as he, they would make my life so much easier ...

But what was in fact illegal was that the company that had made out these bills in 2016 and, to all appearances, accepted payment, had ceased to exist in 2012. The existence of zombie companies is considered unusual, even in France - all the more so as the company, not existing, could hardly have paid the state the 10% VAT indicated.

You'd think that the seller's notaire might have done a little bit of due diligence but apparently not, it was left up to the real-estate agent to confess, when prodded with a sharp and pointy stick. These bills were totally fake, and existed purely so that when the house - a résidence sécondaire - was sold, they could be presented to the taxman to justify a mammoth reduction in the capital gains tax.

The tax department considers this to be a Bad Thing, and fiscal fraud is definitely not something I would wish to try on, for it is frowned upon. The odds of there being a contrôle may be small but the risk is there, and I personally would not care to be made an example of.

The final straw in the coffin, or nail on the camel, came with the results of the valuer's report. (I did not know this before, but there do in fact exist in France such things as chartered surveyors and property valuers. Many of them seem to be English: I assume that they cater to a small but select English clientèle who want a place in France but have no particular wish to be ripped off. Something which is difficult for the average French seller to understand.)

It was kind of damning, noting that most of the work had been done by amateurs using the cheapest possible materials and without any consideration for building standards ie "don't jump on the dining room floor, you may find yourself in the cellar". Concluding that without some major investment the place would be unsaleable.

So she walked away from it. Still looking, I hope she finds something a bit more honest.

(In an amusing twist, I heard the other day that the estate agent who tried to foist this place off is still sending her proposals. Quite shamelessly saying "I rather think that you might find this place rather interesting. Properly done up, nothing at all like that cowboy job - which I so didn't know about until you paid 1400€ to have it surveyed - in Azillanet".

And this despite having earlier said that the first seller was a personal friend and un homme très serieux ... maybe this is why estate agents are generally regarded as mouth-breathing bottom-feeders, more or less on a par with used-car salesmen and those people who ring at random hours trying to persuade you to buy double-glazing.)

In other news, I read in El Reg of a speech by "Huawei's rotating chairman Xu Zhijun". I'm pretty sure I know what they meant to say, but I'm not sure that they went about it in quite the right manner. I still have the occasional vision of an impeccably-dressed and doubtless inscrutable Chinese gentleman revolving slowly about his vertical axis, getting perhaps slightly dizzy in the process: somewhat as a sugarplum might, when dancing. (The possibility of his spinning about a horizontal axis is an amusing one to contemplate, and it would do much to enliven babyfoot games, but that way lies madness and I'll have no part of it.)
Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Worse ...

... some pitiful excuse for a human being restores your faith in the sheer depravity of humanity by dumping a litter of six-week old puppies on the side of the road, on the way from old Henri Bataille's mausoleum up to the autoroute, to die in the heat. Nice one, that guy.

Luckily for the pups old Nev had headed off on his daily jog oop't Alaric (yes, in 35° heat, go figure) and spotted some of them, and as I was going blamelessly about my own business - heading up to the bar for some vitamins at midday - he burst all a-quiver out of his front door to tell me all about it ... so little Suzy took us off to the spot and we spent a good (but sadly, extremely sweaty) while thrashing about in the undergrowth without finding anything.

Then Margo took our three off for their walk at 14h and came across old Alain, who has a remise up that way, he had found one and had planned on dropping it off at the mairie, and she offered to take it home instead and organise things with the SPA and such. So after giving the poor little sod some water, off to the vet's he went for a quick check-up ...

And about the time when the thermometer's heading up his bum who should walk in but Mme Lignères, wife of the local doctor vigneron (Chateau la Baronne, worth checking out), to announce that her husband had found five puppies at the spot when returning from the vines, and brought them back to the cave after ringing ahead to make sure there'd be food and water awaiting them: at which point the vet grabbed ours and held it out to her, saying "Do they look like this? Want a sixth?".

Sadly(?) the answer was a firm "No", although I gather all his siblings have found homes: as has our one, because we now has four dogs, the youngest being called Moses because of being found under the rushes. After a couple of years of relative peace, we're starting to get used to cleaning up random piddle again. Also, not much sleep for me: the vet diagnosed him with an intestinal parasite infestation and said to keep him inside at night - so the other dogs don't go and have a nice midnight snack of diarrhoea - for the next week, and to avoid much wailing and gnashing of teeth he's caged in the dining room, and I sleep on the sofa close by ...

Doesn't stop the little bugger from waking up at 6am, mind you.

Let it be admitted that I've not watched TV for maybe a couple of years now, neither on the honest-to-go idiot box nor via streaming or Youtube: just somehow got out of the habit of doing so, I suppose. Still, I look through the odd review just so that I know what I'm missing/can avoid appearing a complete idiot on social occasions - and let it be said that, having rather enjoyed the book, on a number of occasions (as well as rescuing it from Emma) - "Good Omens" does rather tempt me.

But that is neither here nor there: the thing is that as I was looking through a (p)review in Ars of "Black Mirror" I couldn't help but notice what I can only hope was a typo that went unspotted by the proof-readers: "Ashley O., who isn't nearly as upbeat as her pubic image would suggest" ...

May/June turned out to be busy months for us, socially: had Dijaan staying for a while, then Vic and George - old friends of Margo's - came to stay overnight on their way back to Germany. It was a memorable enough evening - or at least it would be, if I could actually remember that much of it, because to be quite honest all that sticks in my excuse for a memory is that I actually cooked a relatively decent meal for once, that there were three empty bottles on the table the next moaning, and that we hit the whisky sometime around midnight ...

I've said it before, I know, but I shall say it again: I is definitely getting too old to do this sort of thing on a regular basis.

Then Janet and Kevin turned up in their hi-tech camper-van (Kevin is actually rather proud of the swing-out gas barbecue he's built on at the back) for a few days on their way down to see the Spanish cuzzies, and Malyon arrived to a) get some of her favourite food and b) use us as a convenient base to head off to a wedding in Aberdeen and then Space Camp in the Auvergne.

Also, her friends Greg and Yumi turned up, from Lyon and Toulouse respectively, and stayed the night: more cooking, and many thanks to Greg for the excellent bottle of whisky ... you can see where this is heading, can't you?

Let it be admitted it was all very pleasant, but when the last lot had left we sort of looked at one another and sighed in relief. As the old saying has it - "family, friends and fish: chuck them all out after three days".

Fortunately July is, to the best of my admittedly sketchy knowledge and ability, untainted by visitors - with the sole exception of the Pope, who supposedly turns up at Carcassonne on the 23rd and then leaves again at some coyly unspecified date (which I can only assume to be after that, although I'm never too sure with him and he might well decide to leave before he arrives, just to piss me off).

Then we've a wedding at Montbrun on the 27th, and on the 28th, heads permitting, we shall confide all the dogs to Angela and Martin's tender ministrations for a couple of days and head off to Pesselière to catch the tail-end of a large party and, incidentally, pick up Howard and bring him down to these benighted parts for a few days.

Margo just bought herself a new laptop, on the entirely reasonable grounds that her old one predates the Flood, and I do not think that my poor delicate ears have ever been treated to such invective and vituperation as thay have today, when she decided to set it up.

I will admit that only a few days ago I was heaping abuse upon the sadly far-off heads of the "developers" of Wrike (this being, should it interest you, a web-based project management platform whose user interface can be - to my taste at least - somewhat problematic) and some of the words I used, as I got more and more frustrated with the bloody thing, were - I will agree - bordering on the obscene: nonetheless they were as light-hearted banter compared to what I heard coming from Margo's lips.

First of all, of course, you must decide whether or not to log on using a Microsoft account: in my experience this does actually work provided that you always have internet access which for us is not always the case: so "set it up to log on using a local account" I cheerily said, and went back to considering my glass of rosé.

Sadly that was interrupted, because the bloody setup procedure forces you to set up an account, even if you don't use it: once you get onto that screen you can't go back, you can't go forward, and you definitely can't get out of the game unless you do so.

Then there were even more fulminations, because you must supply a phone number or an email address, your date of birth, any identifying marks ... and then it gets worse, because the damn thing tries to persuade you to sign up for OneDrive and Office (secure in the knowledge that most people will forget to cancel the subscription before it becomes paying) and then ... and then ...

I'm well out of it.

On a cheerier subject, and just whilst I think of it, we have been goofling relentlessly and looking at photos and everything, and it would appear that our little Moses is what passes around here for a more or less pure breed griffon bleu de Gascogne. Which is good to know, at least he has his lettre de noblesse ... if I can trust various doggy blogs, the breed is "extremely affectionate and loyal" but also, somewhat more disturbingly, "adventurous and highly excitable".

Also, "requires exercise", which is typical enough for a hunting dog ... whatever, we're used to that, keeps us active too.

Friday, May 31, 2019

In Which I Is Pissed Off ...

See what happens when bar-owners find out about flowcharting, and decide to incorporate this new-found knowledge into their signage? Nothing good will come of this ... mind you, it just goes to show that not so much has changed since the days, many years back, when I was working for the PNCC: this pretty much encapsulates the decision tree we used to have to work through at 11:30 on a Friday morning.

Of course things were more difficult back in our day - you younglings just don't know how easy it is now - for we had an extra question, this being "can we be arsed driving somewhere, and does anyone have a car in working order?" and if the answer was "yes" then we might head off to The Homestead at Fielding: if not, then it would be off to The Stable. Which had the advantages of being a) just around the corner and b) the best French restaurant in Palmerston North. (Proper foie gras was of course unheard-of, but I still remember fondly their chicken-liver pâté.)

And it was, incidentally, immediately below what was once my very first office: if you can dignify a walk-in closet with a single grimy window and an attached toilet full of bound lineflow program listings (66 lines of 132 columns per pale-green and white fanfold page) with that name. I was but a lowly intern: I took what I could get, and anyway it was still rather more spacious than a lot of student accommodation.

Ineluctably the hours would pass, and then we'd note that we'd finished the post-dessert cognac and it was about 16:00 and thus past time to head back to the office so that we could officially leave at 17:00 and head across the road to the upstairs bar at The Commercial Hotel, where Maggie presided behind the bar covered with plates of buttered extruded white "bread" slices, and steaming bowls of saveloys and tomato sauce.

Tell that to the young folk today, and they just won't believe you ... and fair enough too, for truth to tell we were in fact great liars back in those days. It all ended in tears of course, one day when the then Town Clerk remarked gently that, given the amount he was shelling out on the EDP budget, he would rather appreciate having at least a skeleton staff available in the EDP Department of a Friday afternoon ... sic transit gloria mundi, and all that.

Back in the beginning of 1987, when we split our time between Vitré and Paris, we'd stay in Alain Porcher's fuck-hutch, conveniently situated just off the Allflex offices, under the mansard roof of one of those Haussmannian buildings a stone's-throw from Opéra. From there it was about a 3km walk to Ile de la Cité ... done that a number of times, and walked around outside Notre Dame, but never once set foot inside the place. I suppose that now I never shall.

Like I've said before, the only problem is that sooner or later you will find yourself in bad company - I must admit that for some reason this seems to happen to me rather more often than the laws of probability would normally indicate, but that is so not my fault ... as usual it was Philippe, and as we inhaled some vitamin supplements out under the sun we fell, for some reason, to exchanging stories (possibly somewhat embroidered, or enhanced, or Photoshopped) of Hotels from Hell.

So after Vitry, and Yaoundé, St-Dénis and that place in the backblocks of Cameroon whose name I cannot for the life of me remember it was his turn, and he told me the woeful tale of his experience in Libourne a while back when, having occasion to pass that way, he took a hotel room for the night. Seemed a reasonable place, took a single room, single bed, and then the woman at the desk asked "avec ou sans couverture?". "What", he asked himself, "is this? Of course I want a blanket on my bed ..."

And was then - he says - somewhat surprised to open the door to a knock at 9pm and find a young lady of negotiable affection waiting there: she was the couverture, turning up as ordered.

For some reason, mostly having to do with someone giving me a hat-tip about a chateau which had some rather good wine, I headed off the other day to do a bit of exploring: Azille, to take a look around the market, then to La Lavinière to see if I could find the wine, and then - because I could - off to Caunes-Minervois to have a poke around the old town and the abbey. All very well, and the first leg took me to Olonzac, just a bit north of here ... and that, of course, was when it started to go all titsup. As things will.
Now things are getting better than was once the case - I can still remember arriving at Tours way back when and encountering exactly two road signs coming into the place: one pointed left, and said "All directions" and the other pointed right, and upon it was written "Other directions". (If memory serves I barreled straight ahead and we found ourselves in the centre of town, which was - luckily - where we actually wanted to be.)

But I digress. There are a number of road signs in Olonzac, some of which are in fact not entirely works of fiction and one of which will direct you to Azillanet, which you might reasonably think was not too far from Azille: you would, of course, be wrong. At which point I thought "OK, let's get the phone out and ask the great Goofle ..."

Of course, the previous night I'd let the phone do its update thingy, and it had updated Google Maps but failed to update Google, and as it turned out Google Maps wouldn't even start: cue a furious search in Sarah's pocketses and finally find an honest-to-god paper map (remember those?) and fortunately I'd thought to take my reading glasses. This has happened before: I am getting used to it.

Whatever, I made my trip, no thanks to modern technology, and got home with three cases of wine (six bottles of a rather tasty Grenache gris, six of a respectable Cabernet Sauvignon, and a last lot of an excellent 2015 Syrah which should last for another few years yet), but the GPS business still rankled ... so I did what any other fearless IT guy would do under these circumstances, and fired up Google Play to see if I couldn't force an update for Maps.

Somewhat to my surprise, Google Play wouldn't start either: nor, come to that, would Gmail, or anything other googly - which started to get me seriously pissed. So I uninstalled the updates and lo! the apps were there and would start, but were completely non-functional, which is of very little use to me.

I fairly quickly guessed that either some failed update had totally borked the phone, or that - it being a Huawei - updates and functionality had been blocked thanks to the orange turd, so "what the hell, head off to the Bouygues shop at Carcassonne and pick up a Samsung, or something" which kind of annoyed me because I actually rather like the Huawei gear, and I hate having to shift my life from one phone to another, and I had better things to do than make a trip to Carcassonne.

 But then again, it must be admitted that the poor thing was three years old and the screen had developed an unsightly yellow stain in one corner that looked for all the world as though the cat had pissed on it, so gritted teeth and off I headed.

And after half an hour or so following camper vans and old farts who seem to think that the speed limit is in fact 70 kph I made it to the big commercial centre on the western side of Carcassonne (because of course it would be on the wrong side from us) and found the boutique and went in and looked at the phones on offer, and an obsequious flunky came over and asked if he could service me.

Not being a complete fool I said yes, and asked what he had that was about the same size as my little P8 but which was not a Huawei: and he showed me a couple of Sonys, and a few Samsungs - and that is when things really went bad, or at least morphed into the old Python cheese shop sketch.

For every time I said "OK, I'll take that one, my good man", he would pop out the back and check and then come back and say, with a perfectly straight face, "Sorry squire, could've sworn I had one but the bloody cat's got it ..."

I swear to god, this is a perfectly notional phone shop with no actual phones in stock ... by the time I made it back home, with no new phone, after a good fifty minute round trip under a baking sun and fifteen minutes wasted in this apology for a "shop" that doesn't seem capable of actually selling anything (which I'd always thought was their raison d'être), I was marginally furax. So I had a gin. Things always seem better after that.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Kamikazi Lemmings ...

Over here in Ole Yurrup we is all watching, in some sort of ghastly obsession, the on-going suicidal cluster-fuck that is Brexit. Or perhaps "train-wreck" would be a better word to describe it ... it's an unedifying spectacle, and everyone wishes that they'd just get it over with and put us out of our misery (cries of "Jump! Jump!" come up from the crowds below) but for some reason they seem incapable - or maybe just incompetent - of doing even that.

Don't know exactly why the sorry saga should be quite so gripping - it's not as though there's an actual story-line or anything, things just seem to lurch from one non-event to the next - and it's not even as though I had skin in the game, I mean, what's it to me, really?

Come to that, I'm not even sure exactly why Theresa May should be quite so reviled: certainly, her husband used to watch porn on the taxpayer's dime, and she is possibly not the most empathetic of people, but to be fair she did inherit the whole bloody mess from her pink-cheeked pig-kissing predecessor (last heard of swanning off to a rich mate's Tuscan villa or something) but no-one seems to blame him. At least, not these days.

Whatever, I guess that's one of the mysteries of British politics - along with the thorny question of exactly why it is that Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg weren't strangled at birth. Then cut into small pieces, burnt, and the ashes scattered to the winds ... these are topics that we choose to avoid of a Friday night, mostly because although it would be easy enough to wind people up, these are my friends, and I'd rather not be responsible for anything bad happening to them. Like, biliousness, or dyspepsia, or an actual heart attack.

A more kindly eye than mine might look on the whole sorry mess as a fine example of the good old Blitz spirit, the old tradition of having a knees-up and a nice cuppa before muddling through as usual: being less than charitable, I tend to see it as a manifestation of the equally venerable British tradition of total bloody incompetence. Just wish they'd get on with it ...

But on the bright side, Spring has arrived and all the wildflowers are out: maybe a month ahead of time, but I can live with that. The little dwarf irises which somehow manage to thrive in the stones of the pinède, the normal or garden-variety irises which, despite being completely untended, do quite well for themselves on the banks of the road, the poppies, and any number of other flowers which I personally tend to lump together as "plants". Also, the crows have started building their nests: for a given value of "building" which involves making a pile of sticks somewhere and shitting on it in the hope that they'll stay in one place. The corvidae seem not yet to have learnt that crap is not, as a general rule, a good adhesive. As usual, you should avoid walking too close past the church if you happen to have to go that way.

I imagine that this may come as a surprise to those of you who recall my youthful looks and healthy lifestyle, but I really am getting too old for this sort of thing. I had occasion to go past the bar late the other night, not so long ago - bringing the hairy retards back from their evening bowel and bladder exercise - and could not help but notice that it was full of bad company. Which is usually pretty good company, so having dropped the beasts back home (for they are not old enough) I headed back despite myself ... and of course one of those bad companions was Philippe from the château, who welcomed me with open arms and insisted on my accompanying him in a serious effort to empty the one and only bottle of cognac in the place (he'd already managed to polish off the Jack Daniels).

We managed that, completely unaided, and started on the armagnac, but around 2am I came to my senses, reluctantly tore myself away from the den of iniquity, and went back home. Just saying, I can no longer expect to do this sort of thing without there being Consequences later on.

Which, as it happens, there were, for at an absolutely unheard-of hour of the moaning that very day, two extremely youthful young men (well, they seemed that way to me: I'm sure that they were actually of legal drinking age and maybe had to shave once in a while) turned up at the doorstep, having managed to back the front half of a semi-articulated lorry up rue de la Calade to get here. For which, felicitations: I do realise that removal lorry drivers probably get special training in such things but even so ... and then they started unloading the thing.

It was, of course, a swag of stuff from NooZild so we now find ourselves with another dining-room table and chairs, a comfy chair, even more china and silverware (not yet unpacked), and some pictures: so later on I spent some quality time with a laser level and a drill up on a ladder, putting up more picture rails because now that we actually have a bit of room around here and don't have to squirm around boxes just to sit down for a meal, I'd rather like it to stay that way, for a while at least.

Possibly for the first time in my life, I have to admit defeat before a bottle of gin. (Second time if you count the bottle of "Lemon Gin" ie industrial alcohol with artificial lemon oils in it that I once, when a student, consumed more or less in its entirety at a party one night and consequently regretted it bitterly ... staggering bollocks-naked through one of the more elderly halls of residence of Massey University at 5am, in search of a shower, is not a happy memory.) The Lidl budget supermarket chain has all sorts of odds'n'sods that turn up from time to time, and when Martin mentioned the other day that they had some award-winning London gin and some Irish gin with which he was very taken, it became a moral imperative to buy it. That too is something I rather regret doing now.

The London gin is indeed very good, but the Irish stuff should not have been let out of the pages of a Tom Lehrer songbook ... purely in a spirit of scientific enquiry I set out to discover exactly why I find it so disagreeable, and I can only conclude that it's the presence of coriander (which I've never particularly enjoyed, to be honest, and improve those recipes that call for it by omitting it) and pine in the list of botanicals that make it so foul. Gives it - for me, at least - an oily, camphor-like taste that reminds me of extremely bad retsina. Not that there's any other sort ...

Luckily tonight is pool night oop't bar, and I rather think I shall take the bottle with me and hand it discreetly to Lionel with strict instructions that he can serve it to whomsoever he wishes, so long as it's not me.

Later ... it was probably a good thing. I swear that before picking it up and heading off, that bloody bottle had started following me around the house, humping up against my ankles and trying to make friends. Godnose what would have happened had I kept it another night, the damned thing might have forced itself between my lips (and why, Great Google, does auto-complete suggest "legs" at this point?) as I slept and smothered me. I'm well rid of it.

It's rude to stare at bus stops.
A few days before was la fête de la bière organised by the comité des fêtes, and so having memories (admittedly vague, because of reasons) of last year's effort, I decided to head off. Sadly I did not take my phone with me, for otherwise this post would be enjolivated with a (crap) photo of young Jeremy, wearing neon-green socks, kilt, weskit and tam'o'shanter: all, I suspect, liberated from over-enthusiastic St Patrick's Day participants. But after careful consideration, perhaps it's for the best after all.

This being the south of France things were running late: not only that but I got cornered by Ninou and, as soon as it was decently possible to do so, ran off into the night to avoid having my ears reamed and my brains dripping out of my nostrils ... so it was that I missed the "Fucking Vintage" set.

Well, mostly. Standing out on the terrace much later that evening, the sound of some crowd who really didn't like AC-DC that much but were being paid to play it was pretty clear.

It may seem strange, but you can have too much of a good thing. Take asparagus, for instance: every year, as Spring approaches, we look forward with glee to the arrival of the first tender spears, but now? I'm just about overdosed on the stuff. Or scallops, les coquilles St-Jacques. I dragged a packet out of the freezer (they, and popsicle lobsters, are about the only seafood I'll consider sticking in there) and had my usual way with them ie sear them, flambé them in whisky then finish them off in white wine and cream ... very nice they were too but the next day we still needed something for lunch out on the terrace so I headed off into Lézignan looking vaguely for something edible.

And went past the rather excellent poissonerie, where I couldn't help but notice that they had 3kg of scallops for 20€, what's not to like?

Apart from the fact that the plastic bag they were packed in had a small leak somewhere, so Sarah smelled a wee bit fishy for a few days ... I will admit that by the time you've shelled and cleaned the sods you've not much change out of 800gm, but these were extremely fresh and rather big, with loads of coral: even so they are very rich and in any case that is still too much for the two of us at a sitting. Didn't help that, just for a change, I poached them in white wine and stuck them in a gratin dish with a bit of sauce Mornay, breadcrumbs and cheese on top and under the grill.

(Incidentally, my invaluable Nouvelle Larousse Gastronomique, which is only "nouvelle" for a value of the word involving "forty years old", tells me that in the US scallops are only available without coral. Which seems rather peculiar to me, but it does perhaps explain why, a long time back when I was getting dinner ready for twenty, this American house-guest wandered into the kitchen and asked me - in broken French - what that strange orange stuff was. Go figure.)

Whatever, I have some paperwork to put off: mind how you go, now.