Monday, September 21, 2015

Where Is My Cow Lunch ...

I'll tell you where: in bloody Indra's stomach, probably mixing with road-kill figs and splattered grapes. My own fault, I guess: having no baguette around and no particular inclination to hop in the car to go get one I hauled some sliced bread out of the freezer (everyone knows that sliced bread is a yardstick, the best thing that ever there was, and this was whole-grain) and put it on the kitchen bench to defrost.

With hindsight, it was perhaps a mistake to not close the kitchen door.

Helping SC: everyone has no doubt seen the article reporting on the homeopathic practitioner's group hug conference in Germany which ended in disorder due to the consumption of pyschotropic drugs. I can only say that it's a good thing they didn't take them in homeopathic doses, or the effects would have been much, much worse.

I guess up in the South you is enjoying the beginnings of spring, with asparagus and everything else that makes life worth living: over in our corner of Ole Yurrup you can tell that summer is drawing to an end. Don't get me wrong, there are still figs on the trees (and the dogs do their best to get the road-kill) and the days are still bright and sunny, but it's pleasantly cool in the moaning when we go off for our trot and in the evenings I tend to put on one of my ancient jackets. And I guess that soon I will be able to consign my single pair of shorts to the tender mercies of the washing machine.

Sometimes I feel like I'm a construction gang, working for a someone with corporate ADD. Thursday you have a conference call with the client, the architect, the CEO and it's all "OK lads, we're going to build the biggest, meanest skyscraper that ever there was, and it will be pink and maybe frilly because that's in our mission statement, and we're going to do it on time and under budget. For once. You hear that? Go, go, go!"

And then, as it might be the next day for instance, you get another call. "Ah, lads. Yerss, that skyscraper. Um, put it on hold. I know you have 5000 cubic metres of cement ready to go, you'll just have to stick it somewhere safe and hope it doesn't go off, and no-one nicks the stuff. The thing is, we have a bijou Stockbroker Tudor residence to do right now, top priority, for Wednesday. Oh, by the way, it's in Aberdeen. Hop to it.".

It is a worriment.

Which is why, right now, I'm faffing about doing some shit that was a few miles up the street on the original development road-map but which has suddenly become urgent, so forget about the leaky sewers. You get my drift.

The other night Julian and his wife came - kinda late- for dinner. They're the ones that bought into the Mayle dream and the bio-dynamic organic vineyard that goes with it ... all 8 hectares of it, scattered about the place. And because it's the first year, and noblesse oblige and all that, they are harvesting by hand - and of course the friends that were going to turn up from England to give a helping hand couldn't ... it's a long, tedious business, let me tell you. Never mind, the end-result could well be worthwhile, let you know in a couple of years.

At some point in the not-too distant future I am going to set off on a mission dear to my heart: I shall load up the tile saw, my trowels, the rubber squeegee and my sponge into the boot of the car, and we shall drive off together into the wilderness, in search of a crevasse. When we have found one that seems sufficiently deep I shall fling the whole damn lot into it, cover it with concrete and then - from a prudent distance - detonate a small-yield tactical nuke just on top.

Yes, you guessed it, I have finished tiling the very last bathroom here in The Shamblings™, and quite frankly if I never see a bloody trowel again it will be too soon. Or if anyone chooses to ask me about such things, they might well find one somewhere unexpected.

I have been having a few problems with email recently: for reasons which escaped me, Thunderbird was refusing to automatically download new messages every however many minutes. It turns out that this is a known bug (No! Really?) which occurs whenever your machine goes into hibernation. Or so it seems, going through the bug lists. The proposed solution, whilst waiting for version 38.3 to come out, is - roll of drums, please - to restart Thunderbird when you wake your machine.

Are they serious? There is another solution, which is to disable automatic upgrades, then download and install version 38.1. It will nag you at least twice a day, saying that there's a newer version available and you really should install that, but I am stubbornly deaf to these siren voices.

Don't think it's just me - there seem to be an awful lot of mobile phone scams going around at the moment. You get a robo-call from an innocuous 09 number which either hangs up as soon as you pick up, or you hear an anodyne recorded message purporting to be from an anonymous Queen/government department of your choice/Donald Trump. So you ring back the 09 number, and you get another message telling you about a knighthood/tax rebate/bridge for sale in Brooklyn, for more information please call 36**.

Which is, of course, a premium-rate number and I'm willing to bet that if you called you'd be invited to push various buttons to get through to the appropriate department and then get stuck on hold with tinny muzak and muffled sniggers in the background until you lost patience. So that'd be €50 down the tubes then.

I ask you, is it wrong of me to want to push the scamming pond-scum responsible into a vat of bubbling tarmac and then poke their eyes out with a blunt instrument, such as a sledgehammer?

Many people have laughed at French "road safety" laws, on the general principle that the French could care more. And let's face it, I myself have overtaken on a solid white line: my excuse being that I was following a tractor doing about 5kph, there was at least 100m of road clear ahead, and quite frankly you have to, don't you? (Back in the days when we got our Frog licences, this was quite acceptable: a case of force majeure. Literally, something more powerful than you made you do it. These days, not so sure if that works. Whatever.)

But nowadays this sort of thing is taken very seriously, to the point where getting behind the wheel with more than two bottles of red under your belt is considered a Bad Thing, and it's getting worse. I guess they're trying to fill the coffers of the state, because not only may you be fined €68 for smoking (as a driver) in a car containing young children - and why the driver puffing away on a weedy roll-yer-own should be fined rather than the child's mother, sitting next to it inhaling a Corona-Corona, is beyond me but never mind that - you may also be fined for listening to music on headphones, looking at a screen (wot, even your bloody GPS of Doom?), eating a sandwich, putting on makeup or looking in the glovebox: even if stationary at a red light or in a traffic jam.

It is still legal to have the car stereo blaring, which is good news.

An interesting food fact if you happen to be into that sort of thing: at Pézenas, a pretty little town a shade south-west of Béziers, you can buy a Pézenas pie. These are, as the name suggests, little pies about the size and shape of an old-style cotton reel, made from a sweet short pastry (in these degenerate times) stuffed with a mixture of minced roast mutton, suet, sugar and lemon peel. So about as close as you'll find to an Olde Englishe mince pie.

The story has it that Clive of India, when he wasn't busy having some of His Majesty's loyal wog subjects slaughtered for failure to pay taxes, introduced them to France (for he stayed at a château not far from the place). Yet another example, were one needed, of the French appropriating English cuisine for their own use.

And there's another thing: I was doing the grouting in the last bathroom the other day - and yes, thanks for asking, the tile saw and the trowels are now interred in the garage. I can't actually chuck them out yet because I still have about six tiles to cut and put down on the top-floor landing, but at least they're out of sight. Anyways, it was a kind of beige, and I couldn't help but think to myself as I squoze it into the gaps "Hey! That is exactly the colour of the inside of a perfectly-cooked foie gras." Maybe I have been here too long.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Nature's Bounty ...

The blackberry season, sad to say, is more or less over - or perhaps it's just that with seven kilos of the things in the freezer we actually have quite enough for our needs - but if we really want figs they'll be available for the picking for the next six weeks or so, and of course there are the almonds ... also, after a hot rainy night there's any number of fat juicy snails.

I know this because a) they tend to go crunch underfoot when taking the retards out for their midnight walk and b) coming back this morning from the bowel-emptying exercise we met a neighbour, returning from the hunt with a sort of chicken-wire handbag full of the bloody molluscs.

Another thing: next summer, we should be open for business. Two chambres d'hôte each of about 30m², hopefully a third, somewhat more cosy, one as well: each with bathroom, hot and cold running electricity, and - if we can persuade the mairie to give us a permis - gravity everywhere.

And for those who don't mind flirting with salmonella, there will also be table d'hôte if anyone asks for it. Which, technically, means that you have to eat whatever I feel like cooking, but there've been few disappointed dinner guests so far.

Also, not only will we be open for business, we are also open for a name. Margo has, quite rightly, pointed out that The Shamblings™ is only marginally more attractive than, say, "Nevada Federal Toxic Waste Facility" or "Love Canal", and has insisted that we find an alternative. I guess we could probably run to a free case of food poisoning meal and a night's accommodation for the lucky winner, so let's see those suggestions rolling in!

Completely off-topic, but something I would really like to have the occasion to say, should ever I be invited to a swish party and be cornered by a bore: "Really? How fascinating! Would you excuse me for a minute, I feel the familiar trickle that tells me my colostomy bag is leaking."

Somewhat imprudently I wandered past Old Hélène's place with the retards in tow the other day and waved cheerily, as one will, and she bustled out for a quick word. The point of which was to say that it would be a wonderful thing, and awfully fun for me, were Neville and I to do a poetry reading, in English, out in her little plot of pinède for the delectation of her artistic friends.

Personally, I beg to differ, and rather than enjoying it I suspect most of the audience would be trying to gnaw their ankles off, so I gave an enthusiastically non-committal answer and strode off. Luckily, shortly after Rick and Mary called to see if we wouldn't care to head off to the Irish bar in Fabrézan for a few drinks (for it was not the monthly soirée fish'n'chips, must try that some time) and after a couple I thought it was as good a time as any, and probably better than most, to pop the question and see if he wouldn't like to perform in my place - seeing as they're Irish and all that, and thus imbibed poetry and the bardic arts with their mother's milk.

To my relief and pleasure he did not run screaming from the bar, and remarked thoughtfully that it really would be a good opportunity to re-read those books of poetry that he's not touched for years, so I'm very hopeful. It's either that, or I feign madness - always an option, of course.

Beware the blandishments of butchers. I do not seem to be able to follow my own advice, for I always end up walking away with far too much meat. The other day it was enough schnitzel for us to be still eating the stuff three days later; then just yesterday, at the market in Narbonne, I was admiring a wonderful bit of aged beef but the bustling fat guy behind the counter rather calmed my ardour when he told me that it was Angus, (the breed, that is, not its actual name) and selling at only €36/kg.

So to compensate I bought far too much of a Limousin beast, and 800gm or so of a good marbled pork roast, which we will not be able to eat by ourselves. And it's not just the butchers, either: one of the fishmongers was hocking off large chunks of wild salmon - the trimmings from prettifying the fillets - at €12/kg instead of double that, so I just had no choice, did I?

The vendanges started unreasonably early this year, and the big signs are up on the roadsides thanking us for being prudent and caring and not running over vignerons as they go about their business (fat chance of that being as they're doddling around in huge, slow tractors but I can understand the urge), also now is not a good time to be buying too much sugar, for at the supermarket they will ask pointed questions as to just what exactly it is you want with so much of the stuff, and how much fucking jam are you making anyway?

Although, to be fair, I rather doubt that doctoring the wine (chaptalisation, if you want to be technical) will be necessary. Long, hot and above all dry summers do tend to mean that the grapes have quite enough natural sugar to get up to 12-13% alcohol, thanks very much.

I had always thought that all this stuff about the sky lighting up as though it were day was one of those poetical metamaphorical things, but this turns out not to be the case. Down here we enjoy a mediterranean climate, which involves lots of long lazy hot weather and occasional thunderstorms. And when the storms arrive, you know about it.

Robert the caviste came round for dinner and we finished up on the terrace as the clouds rolled in and it lit up over Mont Alaric to the south, so we called it a night and I took the dogs out as we headed back to his place: we'd just about got there when the heavens opened, as they sometimes will around here, and the water was gushing off the roofs, out of downpipes, swirling down the gutters and, above all, soaking me to the skin. Also, the dogs. Very wet dogs are not fun to be with.

Discretion being the better part of valour we headed rapidly back home to unsog and watched the rain pelt down and the terrace turn into a swimming pool, and then the storm picked up its skirts and headed north. So the rain stopped, but still the bellies of the clouds were lit up, and the thunder just kept on rolling. No literary license nor exaggeration, the lightning really was continuous.

At some point - when we've finished the work on the interior and are able to move all the furniture and other stuff out of the garage, Margo would like to have it set up as a workshop, and shift the washing machine and stuff like that down there, and be able to do fabric dying and give classes down there.

Now we wished to do things comme il faut, as one should, which explains why I headed off to the mairie to see young Jerome this afternoon. I admit that I did get waylaid by Robert, who had a few bottles of something interesting and would I like to taste them and report back, especially as he has no sense of smell at this moment - must be a right bitch for a chef - but that is neither here nor there. (But if you wish to know, the 2011 was very round, just enough tannin and damn me if I could work out just what the fruity nose was trying to tell me, while the 2014 was rougher but showed great promise. If you ask me. But I'm a professional alcoholic, so what would I know?)

But I eventually got to the my destination and exposed (as one would say in Frog-speak) my problem: our house is connected to the sewers - tout à l'égout, they say - but our garage is not: the washbasin in there goes straight into the stormwater drain.

"Hypothetical question, my little Jérome: should one wish to put a lave-linge in our garage of which you know, and connect it as one should to the lovely sewers, what must one do?"

"Ah, to that there is no problem, you must engage a plombier who will do the work, and if there is to be tearing up of the pavement he must make all good, but that is ok."

"And that is all? There is no more? No bad news, your mother has not died, by any chance?"

"Mais non, elle est toujours vivante, thank you very much. Non, there is nothing, but there is a little taxe de raccordement. It is but 2300€".

Excuse me? It's not as though it's the sort of thing you can do on the sly either - someone would be bound to notice the digger out there cutting a trench in the road.

Mad Karen from Mumblefuck rings occasionally to keep us up to date with the doings of her happily dysfunctional family, so we are au courant with the news of her mother (who adores me), her sister, brother, and two sons. Emmanuelli got accepted - on probation, due to farting around last year - for the Comp. Sci. course he wanted to do, but he has a complaint: there are no young women in the class. What did he expect? The female brain is just not wired-up for tricky science-type thinking1, I could have told him that. Give 'em Advanced Remedial Knitting, course number 72.305 and they'll be happy.

Anyway, I should slither off and make some blinis to go with all that bloody salmon. Mind how you go now.

1 Before you do me irremediable damage with that blunt instrument, that was supposed to be a joke. In the interests of full disclosure, I have gone through life knowing that absolutely everyone else in my family - including my daughter - was smarter than me, and am the only one who took the easy option of an arts degree. So there.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hello, Kitty ...

Moux needs moah pussy
Actually, this turns out not to be the case. It's summer, and the ladies of negociable virtue are working the départementale between Narbonne and Carcassonne, so if you're a truckie or the sort of person that drives a flash white Audi you're spoilt for choice.

One of the roads that leads from the main strip up to Moux is a small affair that goes under an old rail bridge, last relic of the spur line that used to go from here up into the montagne Noire, and just off that little road, on a track that leads up into the pinède and the vines (and the blackberries), there is - I am told, for I cannot swear to it of my own knowledge - a place of business.

Margo took the dogs up there the other day, for their midday trot and also to pick up some blackberries, and came upon it: a bit of beaten grass under a tree with a Bambi blanket, a porn magazine open to page 57 (the Bob Guccione-style soft-focus feature with lotsa close-ups 'cos "Hey! I've got a bigger zoom than yours"), and a dildo. Walt Disney is no doubt spinning in his grave.

Also, why is it that I have 260 page views in the last week from Russia? It's not as though I'm advertising mail-order Chechen brides ("have Bambi blanket and sex toys, will travel"), and the Great Google shows me none of the usual suspects in the "referring sites" list.

Oh, and there's always that lone sad tosser who, every week, looks up "titsup holiday" on Bing! I mean, why? There are much more rewarding search terms.

In unrelated news, I see that malachite is, in some circles, considered effective as an anti-virus for your computer. As this man quickly pointed out. I remember having a pet rock once, but that was back in the days before computer viruses, seeing as how we didn't have computers back then that would fit into any space less than about 50m². So I can't really say if it works, but apparently it absorbs negative emanations - here at The Shamblings™ anythings negative is more likely to be coming from me.

We had a collective brainfart yesterday: nothing would do but we should head off to Montredon and get the tiles so that I can finish off the bathroom in bedroom #3 before André turns up again in September, and pick up some other bits and pieces at Lézignan on the way back. This just goes to show that if you have the urge to fart you really should just let it out (discreetly, if possible, and do try to ensure that you're either on your own or in a crowd, so you can blame the smell on someone else) because otherwise it bubbles up to your brain and you have really shitty ideas.

Whatever, being the end of the first week of August an awful lot of people were on the road, heading back home to calm down for a week before heading back to work (traditionally, around August 15). Enough that even on the D6113 the trip, which normally takes about 20 minutes, took us more like an hour. And on the occasions that we caught a glimpse of the autoroute that looked even worse ...

We made it - eventually - and to my surprise and pleasure they even had what I wanted in stock, so the nice man helped me load 160kg of tiles into the boot and we headed back home - taking the tight twisty back roads this time. Better for my health.

Page 37, paragraph 6 of our mission statement reads "We shall sensually excite and lustily inform with vigour and forbidden knowledge our eager readers": it was perhaps, with hindsight, a mistake to run the Japanese version of the Microsoft EULA through Google Translate. Especially as it goes on to mention something about the "posture of the dog". Be that as it may that's what it says; so, giving you facts that you may not really want to know, may I just say that blackberries go more or less straight through a dog's digestive system?

I have a KitchenAid stand mixer - a big black thing that lurks on the kitchen bench - and let it be said that I'm very happy with it. A while back I got the hachoir attachment for it: it very conveniently reduces dried bread into breadcrumbs, and minces meat, and when I get around to it it will not only mince some lamb shoulder with salt, herbs and spices, but will also stuff the resulting mess into sausage casings, which I shall then hang up in decorative festoons to dry. (Maybe I should do that around Christmas, would save on decorations.)

That's not the point. The point is, having used it today I was idly cleaning it - as one will, for food hygiene is important around here - and I could not help but notice something that kind of left me looking like a stunned mullet. There is what I shall call - for want of a better word - a sort of plastic piston or plunger, with a great big handle at one end and and a small disc at the other, which it is recommended one use - rather than one's fingers - to push stuff into the maw of the grinder.

This is not, in itself, surprising: what was is that they apparently thought it necessary to include instructions with it, in the form of a little arrow moulded into the body of the piston - I assume to indicate the direction - and the words "PUSH FOOD". Either I'm missing something here, or people are a lot thicker than I thought. Next thing you know they'll be sticking warning labels on coffee cups - "Warning! May be ouch-burny!" and they'll come with an instruction manual on a CD.

What do you mean, "it's already been done"?

I've a confession to make: generally speaking, fruit does little for me. Oh, I can guzzle cherries by the bucket-load, and a Black Doris or Omega plum (such as you can't find in these parts for love nor money) is a wonderful thing. A good crisp apple is always good, and grapes of course disappear just like that: a peche blanche is good. But nectarines I can pass on, the apricot finds no favour with me, and pears ...

Great in a pastis, I have used them to some acclaim in a cheesecake, even in a tart with an almond custard, but as such - but on the other hand, a ripe pear smells like sex. Or at least, very erotic. Just peeling a perfectly ripe Guyot the other night, with the juice running down my wrists ...

Maybe I should calm down and stop cooking for a bit.

A bit to the north of us is, as you may recall, la montagne Noire. It's basically the southernmost outcropping of the massif central, and there's a valley that runs west-east between the two, from Mazamet to Beziers. There's a river that runs along it and so, as usual, where there's water, there's industry: mostly dead now, but as you go through the towns it's easy enough to spot the abandoned dark satanic mills. Which were pretty much all for textiles, because there were also sheep.

At one of those towns, Labastide-Rouairoux, they have an annual salon for textile artists and quilters and what-have-you, and having better things to do - like changing the spark plugs on the septic tank - I headed off there with Margo.

It's a very pretty drive on the back roads climbing up into the mountains: stark and desolate on the southern side, then suddenly getting green and forested on the north. It also involves a number of rather rapid gear changes, until you realise that the "curve ahead" road-sign really means "hairpin bend RIGHT NOW" and that trying to go around at 80 is not perhaps the best of ideas. Fortunately, Sarah's permanent four-wheel drive and complete lack of body roll make it rather fun. If you're not too worried about passengers, anyway.

Also, I couldn't help but notice that it's rather cooler up there. I say this because I got bored witless after half an hour and went off wandering around the place, and so had ample opportunity to enjoy the bracing breeze. Places like that always strike me as rather sad: a couple of hundred years ago they were bustling hives of industry and now the factories are shut and the huge old houses standing in the gardens are dilapidated, all the shutters closed and peeling.

On the brighter side, the English seem to be buying them: I guess they're cheap, and maybe the climate reminds them of the Welsh valleys.

And by the time I'd finished with that Margo had just about done with meeting up with old friends and acquaintances, and they did have a stand selling artisanal honey: so I came away with a couple of pots for my private stash, some chestnut honey (my god that's good) and some bruyère honey (which is to die for, and if anyone tries to get at it, they will die).

(Incidentally, bruyère covers a multitude of gins and mostly, in French, refers to what you'd call heather: but my honey comes from bruyère ereca which is, oddly enough, a small tree from the roots of which are made briar pipes. Now you know.)

Finally, life is not fair. Why do bloody engineers get all the fun jobs, like building a simulated vomiting machine? And I bet that if you got to do that at high school there's be no shortage of candidates for the STEM courses.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mostly Dead Sheep ...

So, let me tell you about lamb ham. It's not something that seems to happen in France, poor benighted folk that they are, so effectively one is obliged to make one's own. Fortunately, the procedure is remarkably simple.

Some would start with a leg of lamb but unfortunately I have nowhere suitable to put one whilst it's curing: a cool airy cellar would be ideal, but I don't have one. Not, at anyrate, one that is inaccessible to cats. So I started out with a shoulder of lamb and boned it: removed the shoulder-blade and the top leg bone, leaving only the shank in. (If you've not done it before, boning can be a tedious and occasionally bloody process but persevere, it's not really that difficult. And think of the anatomy lesson you're getting.)

This will leave you with a shank, attached to a large square of flesh and skin. Stick it into a large ziplock bag (because believe me, it's a damn sight less messy that way) and get the cure ready: mix three tbsp of kosher salt, three tbsp of brown sugar, a quarter tsp of saltpetre and herbs or spices of your choice in a bowl. (I like to use crushed and chopped juniper berries at least, and the saltpetre is optional. Yeah, it's toxic in large doses, but it does help give a nice pink colour to the meat.)

Then add three tbsp or more of molasses or treacle, mix well, and rub well into the meat, paying special attention to the ends of the shank bone because we wouldn't want it to go all mouldy and gross, now would we? Close the ziplock bag, put it onto a tray (because the little buggers always develop a leak somewhere), stick it into the fridge for ten days or so and forget about it. (Well, flip it over once every couple of days, but that's hardly onerous.)

At the end of that time take it out, wash it well and dry it, roll and tie it ... you now have two options. You could wrap it in muslin to keep the flies off and hang it for a couple of weeks in that cool airy cellar of which I spoke, or you could do what I do, which is stick it into an oven at 90° for an hour or so, until the internal temperature gets up to about 58°. Or, if you have one, use a smoker. (Do you have any idea, by the way, just how difficult it is to find an oven that gives you the option of 90°? Mine certainly doesn't.)

The advantage of the second method is, of course, that you get to eat the stuff much sooner: always a bonus for those of us with zero patience. (Also, as good manners demand that one presents only perfect thin round slices to one's guests, one is obliged to trim off the scrappy caramelised bits immediately after baking, and eat them hot and crispy.)

I have recently spent more time than I care to think about delving into the Bluetooth layers of Linux. Think of it as a learning experience: like most such it is not necessarily pleasant. I have learnt about the driver layer which manages the hardware (and good luck with that if your chipset is not supported), and the userspace hcid layer which goes on top, and the bnep layer which goes on top of that ... there are so many layers to this damn thing that it looks as though a demented patissier started work on a fôret noire and found himself unable to stop.

And then, of course, all this is wrapped up in a package called BlueZ, which was started off by a couple of hobbyists in a basement and supported ever since in a sporadic manner, with occasional bursts of enthusiasm, by a small team of two men and a cat who get together twice a year for a beer. The package is more or less essential, because no-one in their right mind would start again from scratch (possibly adding comments to the code) so basically you live with what you get.

And I can indeed live with that, it's just that when the cat decided to move to version 4 they had possibly had a few too many beers and decided to completely change the API and - here's the cunning bit - not document the new one. Or if they did, grudgingly, put up a single web page, they took care to ensure that it is misleading at best, wildly inaccurate at worst. On the grounds, I guess, that anyone who really wants to know what's going on will just read the bloody source.

So you start on your quest for knowledge thinking "Hey! This is going to be easy! Look at all those examples on the innertubes ..." and it is not until things stubbornly refuse to work as they are supposed to and clients start getting itchy that you begin to realise that the examples out there are all for version 3, and you are on your own, boyo.

This is the dark side of Linux, the foetid underbelly of open source software. Take my advice, do not go there.

Whatever, twenty km or so south of Perpignan there is a little village, Palau del Vidre, which has the distinction of harbouring a couple of dozen artisans verriers - glass-blowers, stained-glass makers, people that make pretty glass dolphins ... it also has a rather interesting church, if you happen to be into that sort of thing. Would have been nice to go in and take a look around 'cos I guess the stained glass would've been fantastic, but being a Sunday the place was closed.

As it happens, it's the 22nd Foire International de Verre down there, and despite it's being another bloody black weekend on the roads due to the juilletists heading home and the aoutards leaving (and why can't the buggers just stay put in Paris for the duration, where god put them, and evidently intended them to be) we headed off down to take a look. So that you don't have to.

Start with the bad news: there was folk dancing. On the brighter side, that was towards the middle of the afternoon, we'd been around most of the place and we were sitting at a bar nursing cold (and bloody expensive) drinks and were feeling tolerant. So you'll be pleased to know that no-one got hurt, not even the little children.

Although it did remind me a lot of that scene from Spinal Tap, you know, the one where they've got this song about ancient mystic powers and so they have dwarves dressed as leprechauns dancing around the great monoliths of Stonehenge only it's a two-foot tall scale model in polystyrene, and the dwarves keep tripping over it? Yep.

And there was sort-of Morris dancing, with people hitting other people on the head with sticks whilst wearing stockings and bells, and inexplicably missing ... a lot of the glass was extremely beautiful.

But I checked down the sides of the sofa before we left, and did not find three or four thousand euros sitting there forgotten, so we came home empty-handed, without so much as a glass harp to our names. Maybe next year, if I work a bit harder, and manage to hide some of it from the taxman ... mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Il Pleut, Il Pleut, Bergère ...

We should be so bloody lucky. Méteo France has been promising us rain for the past week, a promise that has been religiously postponed every day. The daily routine involves getting out of bed where - all unbeknownst - you've been sweating all night (not surprising, because the temperature does not get below 28°), then starting to sweat some more. Out onto the terrace for the morning coffee and cigar, and the cloudless sky is that particular provençal shade of blue, and there is no breeze. At 8:30, it is already in the thirties, and it's not going to get any cooler.

There are conflicting views about having a swimming pool down here. Not that we have one, nor could we for we have no land, but on the plus side, if you have a swimming pool you can at least swim in it and cool down: or so you might think.

On the minus side, it's a lot of maintenance and should you ever, in an unguarded moment, let it be known that not only do you live in the south of France but also that you are the proud owners of a pool, you will discover that you suddenly have a lot of friends, or friends of friends, or distant relatives, that you thought had maybe died, or that you never actually knew, or of whose existence you were blissfully unaware.

And your phone will start bleeping permanently with people calling or leaving messages to the effect that they'll probably be turning up next morning, hope you don't mind, we'll not be a problem, and the concept of swimming yourself will go by the board as reluctant hospitality and the dregs of good manners oblige you to drag out the barbecue for a midday meal, and buy in another 20 litres of rosé.

So, at least, it is said by Wossname Mayle in his marshmallow opus, and also (more reliably) by those of our friends and neighbours who do have pools, and they have learnt to harden their hearts and not pick up the phone should it ring (thank god for caller ID display), or if - by inadvertence - they do so, to invent a casual lie about how the septic tank has overflown and the pool is full of jolly turds bobbing around, would you like to come around anyway for a game of  Poohsticks? (In my experience, it does.)

Anyways, this moaning it finally did rain, after six weeks or so with nary a drop. We got maybe a drop every 10 cm² for half an hour, and then the clouds buggered off eastward, looking kind of embarrassed.

All it's done is make things worse: instead of just being stinking hot the little rain there was evaporated in about ten seconds flat on the hot tiles, and so it is now more like a sauna out there. Apparently this is supposed to continue for the next few weeks, so I guess it's time to stock up on more beer and white wine, just to make sure that we don't run out.

Fortunately the canal du Midi is just ten minutes drive north of here, so in the evening we can bundle the dogs into the boot and head off to one of the locks for a quiet walk along the towpath, with the cool green water moving lazily under the shade of the trees. Very pleasant, but I'm still waiting to get my autonomous self-driving car so that it can come pick us up at the next lock.

As a general rule I dislike being around dead people, but this time it was a neighbour and ex-maire, and we know his daughter Caroline quite well so noblesse oblige and all that. Funerals in France are always a very social affair. I guess most of the village turned out, hubbubbing under the sun, waiting around for something to happen. (Odd thing I'd not thought of before but I can see the necessity: hearses in these parts have a refrigerated compartment.)

Of course things were running late - they always do - but we finally got to queue up and pay our respects. Truth to tell, that's the bit I really hate about funerals: one never knows just what to say. But Margo persuaded me that I just had to mumble, and as M. le maire just ahead of me in line had burst into tears it seemed to pass muster.

Only the third I've been to in France: with any luck the next one will be mine and I won't have to hang around through speechifying. Especially as my plans rather involve an edifying piss-up with a small cardboard box containing the ashes, a timer, and a small(ish) explosive charge in the centre of the buffet table.
The 13th of July went well - without a sudden storm this time, obliging us to take refuge under the tables as the rain pelts down - and Margo picked up the yoof at Narbonne and got them back in time for the festivities. I guess I shouldn't have worried: I know the meal was supposed to start at 20:00 but honestly, down here, do you really think that's going to happen? (Hint: the answer is "no".)

When they turned up the assembled masses had hardly made a dent in the heaped platters of pizza and other nibbles laid out on the groaning trestle tables, and there was a constant procession of chilled bottles of white and rosé and pastis (and Label 5 paintstripper whisky) coming out.

All good things come to an end and eventually when the plates were looking kind of empty everyone drifted off to the tables for the real exercise of the day: usual five course meal, with at least three bottles per couple.

At least the caterers didn't seem to feel that they were feeding a ward-full of patients from a secure psychiatric facility and so we actually got real cutlery instead of bendy plastic stuff, which made eating the rare beef a damn sight easier.

We hung around for the fireworks display and then, as the mobile disco that is an inevitable part of a small-town fête around here (truth to tell, probably everywhere in France) started tuning up (metaphorically speaking), rolled bloatedly home. Luckily the 14th is in fact a public holiday, because I don't think anyone felt like actually doing anything the next day. Know I didn't.

We actually had plans for decorating the bedrooms, which involved a lightly-structured wallpaper and, preferably, not too many arguments (heated discussions, if you prefer) as we put it up - for let's face it, wallpapering is a job that really needs two and we do not always work well together on such things due to REASONS, and having different ideas as to how things should be done. But last night Old Hélène turned up to let us know that she's sold her house and would we be at the little celebratory piss-up apéro, and one thing led to another ...

What it actually led to was here saying "Oh! But the walls are très charmants and the room full of caractère, you must not put on le papier peint!". And the more we thought about it, the more the idea of whitewashing the walls started to appeal: partly, let it be admitted, on the grounds of price, but mainly because it would be very much in keeping with the style of the place. At least we hadn't gone out and bought forty rolls of wallpaper at €15 a pop ...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Speling Is Opshunal ...

"Armchair" is a simple concept, "easychair" might be American but is understandable, and "dining-room chair" is fine, but quite frankly, a "pus chair"? There are some concepts with which my poor brain would rather not grapple, and this is one. Mind you, I can see why they might be forbidden. For godssake people, even if you have unalloyed confidence in the literary abilities of your five year-old child, you could still run it through a spell/grammar checker. Hell, even the dire attempt provided with OpenOffice would probably have picked that example up.

As will happen, once arrived at a certain age one's obsessions tend to change a bit. It's not that I am in fact obsessed by the question, but I do have to wonder - is there a "right side" and a "wrong side" for toilet paper? It's the sort of thing that I think we have a right to know. Christ, what if, all unwittingly, I've been doing it wrong all my life? That could explain a lot. I wish the stuff would come with a user's guide.

Be that as it may, over here we is suffering - in agony, I tell you - from yet another canicule. The sky is that particular shade of provençal blue, and cloudless: downstairs it's a relatively acceptable 27°, but venture out into the verandah and it's up to 32°, and I don't even think about on the terrace, shade or not. The dogs spend their time seeking out the coolest tiles they can find on the living-room floor and then just lie still: maybe I should put ice cubes into their water bowl.

We is made of sterner stuff, and yesterday being a Sunday decided that nothing would do but we have a barbecue. I had gone off and bought a big bag of vine clippings - sarments de vigne - and I have to admit that they're perfect for something quick like lamb chops, or sausages. None of this faffing about and endless waiting with charcoal, they're up to operating temperature in ten minutes and stay just as hot as you want for half an hour, which is wonderful.

C&T brought round some asparagus and there was a perfectly-ripe melon just waiting, so we ate and drank and occasionally shifted the table around so that we were still in the shade (and maybe we shall have to look at getting one of those sail things to go over the terrace, for 35m² of shade is a lot to ask from one mingy parasol) and then, I'm afraid, we slept, down in the cool.

Not for long enough, because we had an appointment at 18:00 with Richard and Mary, to pick up the last bits of the beds they're lending us, learn about swimming holes and - of course - drink some more in a shady corner of their garden, with the cicadas making a godawful racket up in the trees. We had not planned on it going on quite so long, for Rick tends to fade early in the evening, but around 20:00 we decided that a fourth bottle was not strictly speaking necessary and staggered back home, bed-bases and mattresses on our backs.

Our piratical neighbour Philippe has finally gone over to the dark side. It's a slippery slope, you start off buying one 1950's vintage Peugeot pickup truck to restore, make a mould in Fimo to recast a left front indicator (yes Virginia, they had them even back in the day), then you pick up the estate model just for spares and before you know it the courtyard is full of the damn things, up on blocks and slowly leaking oil.

The canicule came early this year, it is lasting, and even though it's supposed to cool down again for a bit we'll get another one - so they're direly predicting. It is a good thing that rosé is just a drink, not actually wine, and that if you keep white wine in the fridge the alcohol precipitates to the bottom so you just don't drain your glass to avoid intoxication.

Or so I tell myself.

Also, I don't know if we're eating more healthily, but we're certainly eating differently. The humble spud has been more or less banished from the table, the salad is held in high honour, and our olive oil consumption has gone up by leaps and bounds. (OK, only a litre per month or so, but given that I long ago swore loyalty to butter that's still quite a bit.)

Still carnivores, mind you - can't escape that in these parts - and to remind me of that fact there are not one but two shoulders of lamb defrosting on the bench, awaiting the tender ministrations of the boning knife.

One is destined to be rolled with a bit of garlic and maybe rosemary inside, then roasted and basted with a mixture of honey and ground ginger as it cooks, and the other will meet its maker in a treacle cure to become a lamb ham, cooking very slowly in the oven (for I do not yet have a smoker) after a week or so in the fridge, salting.

Whatever, André did in fact turn up - whilst I was up in Chambéry for work, which meant that he only got a tongue-lashing from Margo - and so we now have two rooms on the first floor with fully functional bathrooms. And in one of those the floor is all done, and it needs only wallpaper and skirting-boards to be put up to be complete: happily A & B do not mind the absence of these little niceties (or so they said) so we were able to put them up in relative comfort for the five days of their stay with us.

(Which occasioned yet another trip to the cave coopérative for emergency supplies, but that's beside the point.)

They've not been down in these here parts before, so one of the first things we did was put on good walking shoes and head south through tiny twisty roads (thank you once again, bloody GPS of Doom) to Peyrepertuse, one of the Cathar castles.

Perched on a knife-edged crag at about 800m altitude and accessible only by a track that even a mountain goat would be ashamed to call its own, even a trip off to the local shop for a packet of fags would take on something of the air of a major expedition: on the bright side, it would have to be a bloody determined Jehovah's Witness that made it up there to knock at the postern gate whilst you're enjoying a quiet drink on a Sunday morning.

If anything, Quéribus - just 5km away as the crow flies - is even more forbidding. I still can't think how we managed to get the kids up there when we went, some eighteen years or so ago.

And of course we made it off to Carcassonne, because if you're here you just can't not go, and that's the first time I've ever seen a selfie stick. Do people not realise what prats they look like, holding up a golf club with a phone on the end? (Mind you, the woman was one of the loud variety of American tourists, and probably thought she was still in Kansas.)

Anyway, gotta go: the hairy retards are getting impatient, and the canal is calling.