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.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Cheeky Little Claret ...

So I headed off to the bar the other night for the birthday bash: couldn't be arsed getting out the glad rags so just slipped on a caftan, which is at least extremely comfortable although not, I admit, a particularly 80's thing. Have to say the greatcoat over the top of it looked a bit out of place, but I wasn't trying to make a fashion statement, it's still only the middle of February after all, and things were getting a bit nippy north of my knees. (For reasons which will become apparent later on, I need not have worried quite so much, as it turned out ...)

The place was already starting to fill as I hove up and plonked a half-kilo of foie gras onto the bar as my little contribution to the festivities: old Neville had really outdone himself with a rather funky Elvis wig, mirror shades and tats up both arms. Quite impressive, really. And at least he wasn't being miserable.

After the second or third rosé, as things were definitely getting busy and the music got cranked up (pretty dire but less so than I'd feared, what the hell were we all smoking back in those days?) it became clear that someone with too much time on their hands and the sort of sense of humour that finds fart jokes bloody hilarious had headed off to the little shop in Carcassonne that sells farces et attrapes and bought a job-lot of particularly hairy merkins, for Lionel was wandering around with a tray of the things, distributing them to all and sundry. They were supposed to be attached with a little loop of elastic and I can tell you that it does rather cut the circulation: Albert S., smarter than I, hooked his over one ear, where it looked quite rakish.

I pulled myself away around 8:30 - the place was booming but a man - no matter how dedicated he might be - can only drink so much, and all that rosé needed a bit of company. In principle I could have eaten there but it was by reservation only and I had not reserved: also, I think that over the years I've eaten quite enough bloody tartiflette to last me a lifetime, thanks very much.

Luckily I'd had the foresight, after getting the latest batch of foie gras ready, to cut some hampe into very thin slices and put it in to marinate, chop up an onion and some garlic and steam a bit of broccoli, so the stir-fried saté beef was pretty much ready to go when I got back. Which was a Good Thing, for I shall admit that I was just a bit wobbly at that point, and being in charge of a sharp knife could have been too much to ask.

Took the two younger dogs out for their late-night walk after that (being somewhat steadier on my feet at that point), and as I'd rather expected people were still turning up and, despite the cool, spilling out onto the street, so being a glutton for punishment (and a semi-professional alcoholic) I went back, sometime before 11. Managed to slither my way in (standing room only, and it looked as though they'd tried to pack about 60 people in there before the yoof spontaneously overflowed on to the pavement) and got yet another glass of vitamins - sadly, just at the time they put on a Boney M mash-up, starting off with rah! rah! bloody Rasputin and getting worse as it went on, which meant I damned near spilt it.

Did my usual trick and squirmed from group to group, chatting of this, that, and of t'other, but after a while and another few glasses it seemed like a reasonable idea to find a wall not too far from the bar and prop it up, lest it escape. At which point, having more or less blended into the background, I took up my favourite hobby and started seriously watching people.

As spectator sports go it really is rather good, requiring no special equipment apart from the ability to be inconspicuous: my only fear is that one day, as I'm scanning the crowd, I'll spot someone in the shadows on the opposite wall, studying me. It's happened once or twice, and I find it rather unnerving.

It seems that every single self-service pump these days comes equipped with a 9" LCD display, the better to serve you untargeted and (incidentally) completely crap ads while you're filling up the car. I mean, personally, when I'm giving Sarah her 60l of finest diesel I am not actually thinking about getting the trees that don't exist in the garden that I don't have trimmed so it follows that the ad for "Languedoc Elagage" is - apart from being crap - completely pointless and totally wasted on me, but whatever: fortunately, I no longer have anything to do, even peripherally, with publicity campaigns.

The thing is that these really cheap montages with their nasty soundtracks are interspersed with ads for the media company (two guys with a camcorder and a dog in someone's garage) that is responsible. At our local Intermarché, this turns out to be one "Poop Digimedia": I am not sure why anyone thought that was a good name.

Completely off-topic, but it turns out that there are advantages to being 60. For some strange reason my presence is required in Bordeaux on Monday, but as it's a four-hour drive and I'm supposed to be there for about 9:30 I thought I might as well check the train situation. And as I'm now over 59, the return ticket, first-class, from Carcassonne to Bordeaux cost me all of 50€: even with an overnight stay on Sunday night at a nice little hotel in the centre of town it still works out cheaper than taking Sarah through, and also means that I can get up at a reasonable hour and have a decent breakfast and still be on time for the meeting.

Having turned up at Gare St-Jean mid-afternoon I then had to find my way to the hotel, which was located just around les Quinconces. Luckily, Goofle maps exists: but I am enough of a Luddite to not have spotted that I can try to persuade the damned thing to give me pedestrian directions, so it sent me all around the bloody one-way system (also, Bordeaux has all these grands boulevards which are off-limits to cars, so I had to avoid those as well: shame, as the hotel was just off one of them: cours de l'Intendance, if you feel like looking it up ...).

Having come to my senses the next day I decided to try the walking directions, and let it be said that it was fine: were it not for the fact that my phone is, of course, set up for English and the silly bitch was trying to speak Frog. So, "turn left from Boolyvar Cl-e acute accent-mon-soh on to roo Gene Jor-e grave accent-z": truth to tell, I found it easier to make her shut up and just follow the map rather than trying to decipher boulevard Clémenceau and rue Jean Jaurès.

Incidentally, Suez/Lyonnaise des Eaux Mission Control at Bordeaux has a control room worthy of NASA: a big grid of twenty-odd huge screens up on one wall, in front of an enormous horseshoe-shaped desk with twelve screens, keyboards and various rodents, and then a large glass-topped desk with an absolutely ginormous touchscreen set flush into the top, for when you feel like playing at Minority Report ...

And to one side of the desk an executive leather swivel chair, of the type in which Bond villains love to lounge, and on the chair a rather tatty cat basket, and in the basket a cheerful tortoiseshell cat who has - it seems - adopted the place. The only problem, really, is that as the place is considered vital infrastructure and is currently in DEFCON 3 the cat - who doesn't have security clearance - has to be swiped in or out as required, by someone with an access badge.

Also, I'm not entirely sure what they put the cat food down as on the operating budget.

The hotel itself was very comfortable and the staff not only competent but also friendly: however, the bathroom in my room had obviously been created by the simple expedient of sticking up a partition about 50cm from one of the walls, then heaving toilet fittings in there to see what stuck. So you had an ancient shower at one end (with the traditional half-hour wait for hot water to actually arrive), hand-basin in the middle, and then the toilet ... when you were on the toilet your knees were under the hand-basin, and to get from there to the shower you had to squeeze - naked, for there was no room in there to undress - through a 15cm gap between the partition and that ice-cold porcelain. I'd still recommend the place, just be aware that you need to be rather lithe if you're planning on taking a single room.

Also, don't eat out in Bordeaux. The choice of eateries is vast, and the wine is uniformly excellent, so you're likely to spend an hour or so just agonising over where exactly to go.

Whatever, a couple of weeks back Dr. Lignères - the local vigneron who has a sideline as the village quack (maybe that should be vice versa, but I rather think I've got his priorities right) - lured me into his office on some pretext in order to take some blood samples. Not something I really enjoy: not because of the pain or anything, it's just that I'm pretty sure that when I get called back to have the results explained at me, there shall be Words said about the fact that my blood is, in fact, about 90% ethanol. But he insisted ...

And so, a week later, a plain brown envelope turned up at the house - addressed, just because, to one "M. Trésor" Bimler - containing the results. Much to my relief they don't seem to test for the alcohol level, but everything else is resolutely normal (my cholesterol is perhaps towards the low end) and there are no signs of prostate cancer. Which is probably a Good Thing.

And finally, Nicole has taught me something new. Having set up her Livebox and TV decoder and fixed the Homeplug problem it was only natural that she should call me when her new printer failed to work ... the first two rules, under such circumstances, are to ensure that a) it's got power and b) it's plugged in. I wasted half an hour downloading new drivers and suchlike, having ignored the second rule: guilty as charged, Yeronner, but let it be said in my defence that I did not believe it possible to plug a USB type B connector in upside-down. Now I know better.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Ricardo Memorial Lecture ...

Having better things to do the other day, I found myself - as one will - up at the bar, getting some vitamin supplements. Magali clambered down from her precarious perch, trying to hang a disco light up for the next weekend's festivities (because it'll be the bar's birthday), for the obligatory exchange of smacks on each cheek, and once I'd shaken hands with Lionel and the three or four elderly guys seated at the bar and got my drink, life went back to normal - that old tradition of redoing the world. (No, I am not joking, the French phrase is "refaire le monde" and it is a game best practiced when a) you have no idea what you're on about and b) you are slightly lubricated, thanks to pastis ...)

And of course talk turned to the eye-watering amounts that the French must pay in social security charges, and taxes. You really shouldn't get me on to that one, because having been self-employed for the past 25 years or so I have actually lived with it for most of my adult life: suffice it to say that the word "entrepreneur", for all that it is in fact French, is almost universally employed in a pejorative sense. Because the French are, at heart, a very conservative people, with statist ideas dating back at least to Colbert and his ilk, and their idea of a magnificent career is that of an uncivil servant. If you can make it through the exams and become a fonctionnaire (aka "petty bureaucrat"), then you have reached apotheosis - a job for life. Hell, I have heard people speaking admiringly of some distant nephew or something that managed to get employed by the police nationale ... these are the ones that follow the Fred Colon school of policing, and tend to avoid going anywhere that policing might actually be necessary.

Anyways, as a member - these days - of the professions libérales I do have a bit of the respect grudgingly afforded to the sort of semi-official people with whom one must deal - like notaires, avocats and - horrors - huissiers: but still there is a certain wariness. Not to say, disdain. Because if you're not employed by the state, or failing that a state-owned business, or even just employed by someone else, you are obviously gaming the system and screwing honest hard-working employees out of money that really belongs to them, in some hazy and ill-defined fashion. (Of course, if you're not employed by the state then your boss is doing exactly the same thing but that's OK, when you get too annoyed you can always go on strike and smear dogshit all over his 40-year old Renault Fuego, which is all he can afford ...) But from the point of view of the smug, self-satisfied 40% with secure government jobs, the self-employed are somehow grinding the faces of the poor.

Which is probably fair enough. It's a harder job than you might think (the grinding bit, that is), and no-one thanks you for doing it - certainly not the poor, whom you'd think would be used to it by now. Dirty work, but someone has to do it.

Where were we? Redoing the world, that's right. So the old guy at the end of the bar piped up and said "What we need is a decent war. A proper one!" Then, apparently, everything gets blown to bits and at the end the state will step in and dish out enormous amounts of cash for reconstruction and we'll have yet another trente glorieuses. Yep. Simple as that. Lionel has his own ideas, and as he said, "I am not an economist" which is a) true and b) probably a bloody good thing for all the rest of us, but his concept - mind-boggling in its elegant simplicity - is that if, like Renault, say - you have replaced people on the assembly lines with robots, you should have to pay 3000€ per month in tax per robot.

This figure being arrived at quite simply, because you'd pay about 1000€ for a human bean working an 8-hour shift, so a that for a robot that works 24/7 you should pay at least three times more ... Some obstreperous bastard at the other end of the bar pointed out that the prices of cars would automatically go up, but apparently the answer to that is price controls. I'd not thought of that, mind obviously not stellar enough, I shall forget all about that Nobel for economics.

So I finished my glass, said "goodbye" all round, and was kind of glad to walk out into the sunlight under a bright blue sky - because I don't get paid for nodding when people say stupid shit.

Of course it went downhill from then on anyway, because it does: I was just topping up the oil in Sarah's power steering circuit when Neville spotted me and came by for a decent moan. Or a whinge, whatever. But more of a moan, I think. Whatever, can't call it communication because it's strictly one-way, but ...

Now don't get me wrong. Despite being, to all appearances, constructed entirely of sticks, string, spit and chewing-gum, Neville is a warm and generous man, and I actually rather like him. In small doses. For his emotional ground-state is one of paranoia, perpetual anguish, and a vague feeling of ineffectiveness.

Maybe it's something to do with coming from northern England? Or maybe he's actually a reincarnation of Goethe? He is totally convinced that, no matter what he does it will a) be wrong, b) be useless, and c) The Man will stick it to him anyway. (I'm not entirely sure exactly which man, but it may be an entire class.) He might actually be right about the first two, but it doesn't matter because he will go and do it anyway ... and don't get me onto the subject of that ageing VW combi that he fell in love with and bought despite everyone from whom he asked advice saying "Don't go near it with a bargepole or any other kitchen implement" ...

Still, with the incompetent cluster-fuck that is Brexit looming ever closer, he really should stop talking to other Brits. It only makes him worry even more. Last night he and Reet had dinner with a couple of other ex-pats who foolishly mentioned that they were looking at getting cartes de résidence, and then mumbled something about their health insurance, and of course that went straight to his brain.

Never mind that, in preparation for the Doomsday scenario, the French are putting legislation in place to ensure (if the UK is willing to do the same) that Brits in France will continue to be covered by the extremely generous French social security system, never mind that he doesn't actually have a top-up private health insurance scheme (unlike about 95% of the French) and so is unlikely to see any major changes there, never mind that he's not paid income tax in either country for the last ten years (but still moans bitterly about the fact that he might have to) ... that bloody Man is still, somehow, sticking it to him.

(Actually, I tell a lie. About three years back he did in fact get a tax bill - I remember the wailing and lamentations at the time - for the princely sum of 340€. Which, by a strange coincidence, happened to be just about the amount of money he had lying about in an undeclared bank account in the UK - to this day he is convinced that The Man found about it, and decided out of spite to confiscate it. Yep, that Man is an evil, shafting bastard.)

I listened with half an ear as this litany of woe washed over me (and FFS Neville, ten years in France and you still don't know that "au" can mean "until", or "up to"? WTF?) then closed the bottle of oil, wiped my hands and said "Sorry, Nev. Can't help you with that one." Which was, oddly enough, completely true. And sent him off to see Rory, who might know more about such things than I (and there's another thing: an English ex-pat who lives in France and yet positively loathes the EU, to the point where FU EU is spray-painted on one of the unfinished walls. Godnose how he deals with the cognitive dissonance in that one ... luckily, not my problem), and then, to clear my head, headed off for a walk in the hills, which are just starting to smell like gin again.

Also, this weekend's theme is - apparently - the 80's. Which makes me shiver with anticipation (not) at the thought of the music we'll be listening to ... but now I must head off into the wardrobe and find some authentically 80's clothes. I know, most of my wardrobe does in fact date from the 80's - all those pure wool slacks and the business shirts I paid good money for back in the day when we were working and had disposable income, and which followed us over to furrin parts - but sadly, at some point (possibly when I developed colour vision) the banana-yellow cord trousers which were, god help us, in fashion at one time, and the paisley shirt in tasteful muted browns both disappeared. Probably a good thing, really.