Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Midday Sun ...

Either Gordons have started bottling a special "Made in Marseilles" gin for the French market, or up at the bar Lionel has taken to washing out the empty gin bottles with pastis and then refilling them from the vat of industrial alcohol out back. And it's not just me, Angela spotted it too. It's ... interesting, not totally unpleasant but not an experience I'm really looking forward to repeating, just saying.

I guess that most of you are - sadly - familiar with the over-rated oeuvre of Peter Mayle, in all its condescending glory. He did however, through some oversight, manage to get one thing right: when summer really starts, it's as if life has come to a sudden and mysterious end. The bleached stone houses bake in the sun and the air shimmers over the empty narrow streets - there's not even a mad dog, nor an Englishman, to be seen. Were you foolish enough to wander about  - keeping to the shade as much as possible - you might sometimes come across ambiguous signs of recent occupation: a fly screen curtain moving lazily, despite the complete absence of any movement of the air, or it might be a thin wreath of charcoal smoke. But otherwise, just the incessant chirping of sex-starved cicadas.

It's all just tricksy and deception, of course: those who can retreat to the dim cool of the ground floor rooms, behind the metre-thick stone walls, or if they happen to have a shady garden they might be found out there, around the pool.

I have spoken before of Julian and Batu: she is the rather unforgettable, larger than life African woman, and he is her British now-husband. At some point he must have read A Year In Provence and drunk deep of the Kool-Aid, for he decided that nothing would do but that he come to the south of France, buy a vineyard and make wine.

It is not good wine - not yet, at least, because he started off not knowing the first thing about wine-making - I've bought a couple of boxes from their first year which now sit in the cupboard under the stairs, and I take them out from time to time to look at them and wonder what the hell I'm going to do with them: they may improve with age. Whatever, he is happy, because he's doing what he really wants to do before he dies.

Anyway, he definitely belongs to the mad dogs and Englishmen school of thought, for rather than - like all the other vignerons around here - get up at 4am for a couple of hours work in the vines and then go out again around 9:30pm, when it's nice and cool, he prefers to go out in the midday sun. Godnose why. But so it was that the other day, around 13:30, I was out on the terrace and saw him coming wearily up the road and into place St-Régis, at which point he called out and asked if I happened to have such a thing as a pair of bolt-cutters. Or a hacksaw.

Now why, you may well ask, would he want such things? A fair question, and I put it to him. He has some vines in the garrigue around Montbrun, and he had taken his Toyota 4x4 out there to do a bit of work - at midday! - and had driven it over a rock and burst a tyre. Not having a mobile about his person he had then trudged 4km under the blazing sun back to Moux to seek help. Still doesn't answer the question "why bolt-cutters?", because in my experience these are not very useful when it comes to changing a tyre: but recall that it is a 4x4, and the spare tyre is hung on the tailgate, and so that people don't nick it it is attached with a chain and padlock. And when he came to unlock the thing, he found that had rusted solid over the years, and would not open.

So I got out the boltcutters, and the hacksaw just in case, and he actually thought to take his mobile this time, and he was driven back out to Montbrun, watched as he cut the chain and took the spare down, and left him to it. What could go wrong?

Just about everything, for ten minutes later - just as I was thinking idly of a nice cold drink chock-full of vitamins, such as a nicely chilled rosé - there came a call from a UK number and it was Julian, to ask if I had some WD40 and a hammer, because the wheel bolts were - like the padlock - rusted in place. And so it was back to Montbrun with these things and hanging around this time and watching as he started to remove the bolts: at which point it was evidently pretty much "mission accomplished", and time to go back home.

Ten minutes later, another phone call: all the bolts were out with one exception, the anti-theft bolt, for which the special key no longer worked. Cue a third trip, with a roll of duct tape and some of that aerosol stuff you can inject into a tyre as a sort of emergency measure so that you can at least get to a garage on a flat without completely knackering the rim of the wheel ... duct tape fixes an awful lot, but here it had met its match because when he'd driven over the rock he had more or less split the tyre over more than 30cm, and despite the tape the expanding foam stuff was pouring out of this gaping hole.

Finally gave it up as a bad job and got him to drive - very, very slowly - back to Moux: luckily the tyre was so badly damaged that it looked almost as though the wheel was wearing slippers, so the rims weren't in too bad shape when he made it back. And this explains why there is a beaten-up Toyota parked outside The Shamblings, waiting until he can order a new anti-theft key.

Did I mention, by the way, that although they've been here more than three years the damned thing is still registered in the UK, has no contrôle technique and to top it off, is uninsured? Which is probably a good reason for not doing what any normal person would do under the circumstances, and call a tow-truck. (The car disappeared at some point on Friday. John has - in addition to his Corvette - an entire mechanic's workshop in his garage, and locked bolts do not daunt him: in fact, I rather think he takes them as a personal affront.)

Went off the other night with Philippe and Caroline to a little restaurant in Ferrals called Chez Bembe, and I can heartily recommend the place. The food is very simple - a choice of four or five grillades done over an open hearth, excellent chunky chips and salad - and extremely good. The eponymous Bembe (a very cheerful ex-rugby player, tall and about the same diameter as his height) sources thick pork chops from a local poacher farmer who lets his pigs run wild and live on acorns, the huge entrecôte steaks come from some other local place, and I don't know where he gets the jamon ibérica but I am pretty sure it's never seen the inside of a freezer.

It's small - probably seat maybe 25 tops - so you do have to reserve, but it is definitely worth it: and to top it off he comes round after the meal with a conical metal jug with a long thin tube in lieu of a spout, full of carthagène. Which you are then expected to drink in the approved fashion, which involves holding the end of the tube about 10-15 cm from your wide-open mouth and tilting the whole thing so that a stream of sticky-sweet alcohol goes neatly down your gullet. That's the principle, anyway: in my case most of it went down the front of my shirt, or up a nostril.

(Purely as an aside, we repaid the favour by having them around for dinner: a decent bit of onglet, with beurre café de Paris slathered on it. Caroline was quite taken with it, and apparently googled the recipe: unfortunately she misspelt, and looked for "beurre de garçon de café", which is not the same thing.)

Google, you is drunk. I have just had the occasion to pull up Goofle Maps for the charming little town of Olonzac, where there just happens to be the Café de la Poste - I know exactly where that is, for I have drunk there (listening all the while to English tourists complaining about their sunburn, and the difficulty of finding decent porridge oats ...). And according to Google, there are at least four of them, one of those (the original article, I assume) which seems to have swapped places with the actual Post Office - another couple are randomly situated on the same street, and the fourth is slap in the middle of someone's swimming pool off on a side street. This, I guess, is only to be expected when you crowd-source your location data to ratshit GPS and an incestuous self-referential mix of Wifi hotspot locations.

But right now I am even more idle (and foul-tempered) than usual, due to the fact that the big muscle at the top of my left calf spontaneously and quite gratuitously decided to rip in half the other evening. So now I have an elastic bandage wrapped tightly about it to keep everything in place while it (hopefully) heals, and a bad case of limited mobility which really pisses me off. Still, it does serve to reinforce my determination to not go through to Carcassonne of a weekend at this time of year, given that the roads are awash with bloody tourists.

Anyways, mind how you go now: I shall go back to sweating like a pig in the heat.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Morning Regrets ...

One of these days I shall successfully integrate the knowledge that I am not as young as once I was. It's all very well, in your thirties, to stay up drinking wine and then whiskies until 2am whilst listening to Motorhead with the volume turned up to 11, and even now it seems like a Good Idea at the time: the only problem is that when the time is past, and the morning has brutally flooded the bedroom with light, you start to have second thoughts about the wisdom of the whole thing. Ben's good company, and I'm not actually regretting it, but just saying.

At least I've worked out what to do with that bottle of balsamic vinegar (heavily) flavoured with truffles: you can put a few drops of it onto your asparagus spears once they're cooked. (As an aside, this would have to be one of my least favourite times of the year, for the only things available at the market are asparagus and strawberries. You cannot begin to imagine just how sad this makes me.) And how many ways are there to cook asparagus, anyway? Not that many, really.

Also, when we shifted down South five years ago we had a chance to start a new life, one at which I really should have jumped. I would have had but to explain, when asked, that I was a male prostitute, sadly unemployable due to leprosy of the vital member: anything but say that I was "in computers". You pay for your mistakes; most recently I spent a few hours helping a neighbour set up her home Wifi, which has not been working for the past two years - not, in fact, since the day she took home the sparkly cardboard boxes. Can't say I'm surprised.

For out of the box, the Freebox sets up an open Wifi network with no Internet access, and that's it. Which is at least pretty secure, but also about as much use as a cardboard barbecue. RTFM, people. Please?

You can tell that the winter of our discontent has ended, for the French have set aside such pastimes as rugby and enthusiastically embraced the national summer sport of rolling strikes and protests against whatever reforms it may be that the gubblemint of the day tries to sneak past. (You can tell Macron's an amateur at this game, else he'd have snuck them in July/August, knowing full well that no French-thing worth their salt would ever waste a day's paid holiday doing something as unrewarding as protesting.) I sometimes think that if the government tried to introduce a programme involving a 10% pay increase across the board and an extra two weeks of paid holiday per year the French would be out on the streets en masse.

And just saying, the evils of auto-correct mislead us to believe that there are some medical men who do not rent out rooms in their houses (just to make ends meet, I assume). At least, if you can believe the article in Ars Technica which had "Médecins sans Frontières" down as "Doctors without Boarders".

Whatever, we've had some pretty seriously shitty weather recently: what seemed like incessant rain, and chilly enough that, having turned the central heating off some time ago, I was obliged to lug buckets of pellets up from the garage and start up the fire of an evening. At least things are now back to normal for these parts.

Johann rang the other day to suggest a little three-hour walk around le Roc Gris, which is part of our end of the montagne d'Alaric. Now had it been Mary I would have been highly suspicious, for she has a tendency to fabulation when it comes to little details like time and distance, but as a German engineer I was more willing to trust Johann: so having other, more profitable, things to do I naturally accepted.

So at 13:00 a few days later five of us, plus Emma, set off past old Henri's mausoleum, under the autoroute, and then unleashed Emma and went along a track to the west, which takes you up to a point above the huge quarry that was set up back in the eighties, purely to provide stone for the autoroute construction. From thence to a cave where, it seems, bodies got chucked at the time of the Black Death (Emma was very happy, she found a bone), then on and up to the summit at about 490m - where there is a dolmen. At least, the remains of one.

I really need to get more exercise: climbing only about 410m should be a doddle, but in my defence it was over only about two km, and much of that was on loose and very slippery scree. And truth to tell the going up is not so much of a problem, it's the coming down that's a killer. Still and all it was worth it: a magnificent view all over the Corbières, and found some beautiful spots that I hadn't suspected even existed, just ripe for a picnic some fine day.

As no good deed goes unpunished, I am condemned to dine tonight with an elderly Dutch couple, at the ungodly hour of 6 pm. I mean, can you imagine? Whatever, about a year back this couple turned up in Moux: they'd bought one of the Huc mansions - the Huc family being one of the principal landed gentry families around here - and for months they brought stuff down from Holland in an enormous trailer; then they'd empty it, go back to the polders, rinse and repeat ...

The last time they came back with over a dozen double-glazed windows in their frames, each weighing in at about 60kg if I'm any judge, and as Johannes seems to be constructed from sticks, string and spit and moves by kicking a leg out vaguely in the direction he wants to go, falling that way and then kicking the other leg out to avoid the ground, Johann and I gave them a hand unloading the bloody things and shifting them around.

As recompense for which we were both invited for a good Dutch meal, at a good Dutch hour. I only hope that Johannes does not expire from an excess of excitement, and keel over with his head in the soup bowl.

UPDATED: despite my forebodings, Johannes survived. He spent much of the festivities with a nondescript yappy dog in his lap, shedding fur, fleas and - for all I know - scrapies madly. (The dog, not Johannes.) I too survived; happily I was rescued at 8pm by a fortuitous phone call from Mad Karen, which I was able to pass off as a work call from the US which required my urgent attention. And so it was that I was spared the rest of the bottle of sticky sweet Californian rosé, smelling rather like grenadine. Vile stuff: I'm told that - for reasons which quite escape me - the Dutch prefer their wines that way. Bloody Zinfandel, complete crap.

We seem, with Widdling Emma, to have acquired one of the ancient gods, more particularly Dog-Sothoth, Eater Of Socks. For some reason she has taken to sneaking into the dining room where, by one of the armchairs by the window, I tend to leave my boots with my socks stuck into them, and then she trots out. If I am lucky enough to be present I may notice that she is bustling about with a sock in her mouth and an air as though butter would not melt in it: if not, I will find it out in the verandah, or abandoned somewhere on the terrace.

Wailies, for the asparagus season is now more or less over. We are now condemned - for a short while - to subsist on snow peas, butter beans, strawberries, cherries and apricots. You lot just don't know how lucky you are.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Hoorah! Hooray! The 1st of May ...

So just why exactly is it that I keep buying Samsung gear? I mean, the hardware isn't actually awful, but the software is - to put it mildly - shit. Soul-destroying shit. Like, shit that even The Eater Of Souls would be a bit embarrassed about. I mean the Samsung software, nine times out of ten, won't even recognise Samsung hardware - how shitty is that? And of course, you realise this just at the moment when you have a Critical Need. Case in point, I have to go see the accountant tomorrow, and he'd like a scan of all my phone bills for 2017. "No problem", I thought, "I just start up the printer, select 'Scan to PC', then scan each page into a single PDF document."

(Now that's another thing, for of course the Linux systems around The Shamblings™ willfully do not recognise USB scanner/printers, and I just had to clone the hard drive on the Windows laptop to - hopefully - avoid eternal slowdowns due, I suspect, to bad sectors. That too, of course, was due to a Critical Need: and even as I type, despite having happily rebooted with the cloned drive Windows now tells me, after another reboot to try to fix the scanner problem, that it is 'attempting repairs". I see that I shall have to buy another laptop, although I doubt I'll be able to get one with Windows 2000 pre-installed.)

Yeah, whatever, no bloody problem. Eventually the sucker comes out of reboot and I start the printer, select "Scan to PC" and after a bit it tells me that the PC doesn't exist or will not connect. Fall back to Plan B, which involves starting the Samsung "Easy Document Manager" (excuse me whilst I vomit down my sleeve from sniggering too much, also the red wine has to go somewhere) to scan multiple pages as a single PDF. Apparently, the printer exists and it scans - which is kind of an improvement. I scan twelve pages, and then I want to save the resulting document.

Of course I can't choose the name I want for it - that would be too useful - nor can I even choose where I want it saved, for that too might be too firm a nod in the direction of user-friendly (or at least, not actively user-hostile). What the hell, I know from long experience just where it's going to be saved so I push the button and eagerly check up in "My Documents/Scans" and what do I find? Twelve documents, one per page. The soft pulpy sound you hear is my forehead, hitting the desktop.

I gave up buying Samsung phones a while back, just saying.

(Bloodied but unbowed, it turns out that I can, in fact, change the directory for saving scans. But that's not in the scanner application, too easy. You have to run the Samsung "Easy Printer Manager" app - of course! because scanning has everything to do with the bloody printer - and you can do it from there. Running that also seems to fix the connection problems. Who'd have thunked it? Have I ever mentioned that I HATE software developers that are allowed anywhere near a user interface? To tell the truth, I think I hate ANYONE that has anything to do with a user interface. But that's just me.)

There's a brocante in Lézignan I pop into (into which I pop?) on a regular basis, hoping against hope that I'll find another shallow sideboard to match the one that we picked up from there about six months back and which is now in the dining room concealing vast quantities of shit like gratin dishes and cast-iron casseroles and ancient Temuka coffee mugs (wedding present by the way, thanks to whoever it came from because I really can't remember these days) and other stuff, and which also gives us some sorely-needed room to stick vases (overflowing with daffodils and irises just now) and gewgaws and stuff.

I didn't, of course: wasn't really expecting to, 'cos I think the one we did manage to find was made to measure some 80 years ago and the odds of picking up another one are pretty low. But I did find a 1960's white suit, just my size, made by some company in Romford that specialised in ripping off Carnaby Street gear for the mods back in the day: and even better, I picked up a carving fork and a serving spoon, all for the princely sum of €20. I must admit, I got the suit because it looked suitably poncy, and the fork because it felt suspiciously heavy, and the spoon just because it seemed a shame to leave it there.

It got to me, I admit, and I dug out the magnifying glass and checked out the maker's marks and it seems that I now have in my possession a 1930's Christofle sterling silver carving fork (around €200 on e-Bay, your mileage may vary) and a Ravinet & Denfert plated spoon from around 1912, which is apparently worth at least the amount I paid for the whole damn lot. For once, I seem to have come out ahead of the game.

Now, why is it that GPS hates me? Having occasion to take Margo through to the airport at Toulouse the other day, just to be absolutely certain I didn't cock things up I took my phone, called up Goofle Maps and programmed my destination as being "Toulouse Airport". It very sweetly asked me exactly where at Blagnac I wanted to end up, I told it "the short-term parking, P0, thank you very much my good lady" and off we headed.

Truth to tell I don't know why I actually did that; I know bloody well how to get to Blagnac and on top of that it's so well indicated that some of the signposts are even in Braille, for the benefit - I assume - of blind drivers. Whatever, I quite happily managed to get us onto the western periphérique (for Ms Goofle wanted me to go up the A62, on the eastern side, towards Bordeaux and then cut down southwards but I wasn't having any of that nonsense) and then the bitch said to take the next exit.

Godnose what I was thinking - although let it be said in my defense that it is not actually impossible that the route she'd selected was maybe 40m shorter than going my way - but I followed instructions. She took us along a kilometre or so of approximately-paved road to some little hamlet called "Pech David" and proudly announced "You have reached your destination!". Followed by "Would you like to continue to short-term parking P0 at Blagnac airport?".

At this point I was not really up to irony, nor even sarcasm, and in any case I suspect it'd be wasted on the damn thing, and when I saw - vaguely, I didn't have my reading glasses on me - the twisty-turny route she'd planned I just contented myself with a few choice expletives, ignored her wailing and killed the bloody app, then did a U-turn and got to P0 in about ten minutes. Gods below, I hate those things.

Summer seems to have arrived - as in, we've had three consecutive days of 25°, and I have made an executive decision and turned off the central heating - and to celebrate, Mary rang to say she'd organised a little walk, would I like to come along? Despite the fact that Mary's "little walks" are well-known as being anything but I accepted, just because it was such a beautiful day and I felt like goofing off, so about 10:30 Rick and Mary and Cash and Terry and Martin and Angela and two of their friends from the UK and I and all five dogs turned up at Minerve.

Don't know whether I've had occasion to mention the place before, it's an incredibly quaint village on an outcrop of rock in the middle of some gorgeous gorges, where the Cesse meets the Brian. (Yes, these are actual, real rivers.) This being Rick and Mary we turned off the road onto a little track heading precipice-ward that was prominently marked "Do not take this track" and went down. And kept on doing that, round the hairpin bends and through bits where all those tons of cliff-face are actually hanging over your head, and a few other places where a false step on the muddy trail would send you down to be impaled on some sort of shrub, and finally we made it to the river bed and the old Roman bridge that crosses it.

Of course Emma "accidentally" fell into the river but never mind, she needed a wash anyway. And she dried out in the sun when, after another 40 minutes or so clambering back up (Terry did fall off the edge once, luckily not too far, and he swears that Indra just sat there and sneered at him) we found a bar that would deign to serve us and sat out on a terrace with a lovely view enjoying our beers.

I have been triggered again: my own fault, as I'm too stingy to shell out for Microsoft Office (also, let it be said, when I set up the Web version of Office 360 that came with my laptop as an option it stubbornly refused to do anything but spin at 100% CPU use for a few minutes before dying, which started our brief relationship on completely the wrong foot). So I use LibreOffice, the FOSS suite that almost - but not quite - does the job; I say "almost" because for anything involving graphics it will usually wibble them into incoherence by ignoring transparency and location information (I have found, on opening a Word document, all the embedded images displayed on the first page, and the watermarks have become opaque), also it sometimes refuses to edit documents that it has itself created.

But this particular little hiccup is not as serious, just intensely annoying: if, in a cell of a LibreOffice spreadsheet you should happen to type a URL, it will recognise it as such and immediately make it read-only. If you have made a mistake typing your URL you cannot correct it: unless, of course, you right-click on the cell in question, click on "Options", then "Format", and turn off some arcane option. Damned if I know which particular mouth-breathing bottom-feeder thought of that one, but I do know that it's considered to be a feature, not a bug. "Hey look, we've got this really neat feature! You can't edit spelling mistakes in your spreadsheet!" Some people should get out more often, just saying.

French banks are an odd mixture of high-tech sophistication and abysmal human stupidity. José, our menuisier mate from Montbrun, replaced our front door recently and, as one will, I paid him for that. Eye-wateringly expensive, but the alternative would have been to get some standard door made out of corrugated cardboard so I made out the cheque secure in the knowledge that the revolving credit facility I have with the bank would ease the pain to some degree. Hell, I even rang the bank and confirmed that when they got a cheque for 4000€ I would get an email and would just have to confirm that I wanted the credit to apply.

Of course that did not happen, not quite as planned anyway. For a few days later I did get an email, telling me that I was in overdraft and would I consider doing something about it? More phone calls, and the discovery that, for some reason which doubtless seemed good to them at the time, the credit had been capped at 0€ - about as useful as the proverbial tits on a bull. That was the burning stoopid, so I organised a short-term loan. Back in the day you'd have needed to go into the branch office (in Chambéry, so not helpful) after making an appointment and then sign reams of paper before waiting ten days or so: within 30 minutes of my rather annoyed call an email turned up with the documents as a PDF, I clicked on the button saying "Append digital signature", got an SMS with a one-time validation code and typed that in, and apparently Robert is my mother's brother.

Also in the face-palm/WTF department, whilst I was waiting for little Suzi to get her WoF (much to our surprise, despite the fact that she belches gouts of grey smoke every time you turn the key in the ignition she passed the pollution tests: but after ten years of driving around with a comforting orange warning light on the dashboard we were finally told to get that fixed. Which involved getting Roady to order the part, their fitting it yesterday and my organising a second WoF appointment for today: so you can imagine my pleasure when I drove off there and had that self-same warning light come back on. Never mind, fixed, done.) I had time to wander around Biocoop, the little "bio" co-op supermarket. Where, as I think I've said before, I won't buy vegetables because they don't have the turnover so some of the lettuces have been sitting forlornly on the shelves for months (I'm pretty sure there was one there that waved at me, think I last saw it there in February), but they do have interesting sugars and flours, and I'm a sucker for those things.

Anyways, the point is that they also sell "bio-organic" pet food, although I personally doubt that either Felix or Fido could give a tinkers. The brand is "Yarrah" (not Australian, which was my first thought, but is instead proudly made in the Netherlands) and on the tins it says - and I am not making this up - "Pet food not tested on animals". Around a picture of a bunny with a big cross over it. Seriously, people?

And right now sumer, as it does, is icumen, and the fields are full of wildflowers and up in the pinède it smells rather like an excellent dry martini (twist of lemon, forget the bloody olive). Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Hah! No Pictures ...

Once again the devil throws up on my eiderdown: I find myself, through no fault of my own, with four kg of foie gras au torchon in the freezer. So anyone who turns up at The Shamblings™ this year may find themselves asked to help deal with this situation. There's also some duck breast turning into prosciutto hanging in the garage, along with that wild boar ham: and speaking of which Daniel Carle is supposedly arriving at Martin & Angela's some time this moaning to drop off some more.

Good thing there's now a bit of room in the freezer: good, too, that the boar is supposed to arrive ready-cut, which means I won't have to turn up nonchalantly swinging the sabre saw. That tends to attract unwanted attention, especially if the gendarmerie happen to be making one of their periodic rounds in the area.

Those of you who take an interest in such things will doubtless be aware that over here in Ole Yurrup there is a cold snap: I can confirm that this is the case. It snowed on Wednesday, and that turned to heavy rain on Thursday, and it got cold and dismal enough that we felt it necessary to turn the fire on. Not so much for the heat; just for the flames.

Of course Wednesday would be the day I had to go through to Lezignan to get new tyres put on Sarah's rear end, and the fact that 5mm of snow is enough, in these parts, to make people - especially those with big 4x4 SUVs - drive like pithed frogs did not improve my mood: already dyspeptic enough at having to go out in -5° weather, and with one of those bloody ridiculous half-width spare tyres on to boot. In principle you're not supposed to go over 80k with one of the damn things but I need not have fretted, I was lucky if I managed to get up to 60.

And then when the rain arrived it came from the Wrong Trousers, for the wind had turned to a violent easterly and this is not a good thing because a) it makes for very wet rain, what with all the humidity from the Mediterranean and b) it's hammering on the eastern side of the house which almost never gets any rain and was built in consequence, so the verandah roof leaks and we have major lakes, with tides, out there. Which doesn't impress the dogs, either. With the exception of Emma, who could care more. She has an unrelentingly sunny disposition, and she loves water. Also, she is known as Piddling Emma and for good reason, so sometimes we find lakes out there even if it's not rained. Such is life.

While I'm thinking about cars, little Suzy went off for the mandatory contrôle technique the other day and - to general consternation - is actually good to go for another two years, provided we shell out some €200 to get the little warning light that is permanently on fixed. Not too bad for 15 years, almost 300 000km on the clock, and zero maintenance apart from the odd oil change from time to time. Try telling that to the young folk today.

Oop't bar things are still somewhat shambolic - that is, it is rather more probable than not that what you get is not what you ordered, also the dishes that you did not order at a table of four are all but guaranteed to arrive spread out over a period of an hour or so - but what the hell, we is has our bar back. And we are taking over! Of a Friday evening, anyway. Between the English, the Irish, the Germans, the French contingent from Montbrun, the Dutch couple that turned up on our doorstep one bitterly cold night a few weeks ago (having discovered that the lock had broken, and they were locked out), a couple of Swedes and a Dane from Douzens, some yoof and the Mouxois who don't mind sharing the place with us, there's probably about thirty of us.

And Tuesdays it's lad's night out as Martin and Terry and Nev and Ivor and José head up for an evening playing pool ... I think Margo wants to get me out of the house for she gently hinted that perhaps I should go up as well, but I pointed out that no-one really wants to lose an eye to an unfortunate stroke of the cue, also Lionel would be upset when I rip a great gouge in the felt, and that is where the matter rests.

It was grey and dismal when I went through to the market at Carcassonne the other day but hey! the first of the local asparagus are out (you really should avoid the dry wizened spears that have spent a couple of days in the back of a truck coming up from Spain, just saying) and on top of that the reptile family from Marseillette actually had some bigarade, the bitter Seville oranges, on offer and so I did the only thing possible under the circumstances and bought all they had left, which amounted to just over a kilo. And now it smells bright and sunny in the kitchen as they simmer in the big copper pan, all chopped up nicely, waiting for their apotheosis as marmelade.

I had actually thought, when I went off to get the few kilos of sugar required, to pick up some preserving jars as well, but when I'd finished boiling it up to 104.5°C (soft ball) it became apparent that they were not going to be enough, and of course it was a Sunday so the odds of being able to go pick up some more were pretty low: happily, rummaging under the crooks and nannies in the pantry and below the stairs turned up a few lurking jam jars and so now I find myself with about 2.5kg of Seville marmelade on my hands. Metaphorically speaking.

 We bravely left the house yesterday for points south, down in the rugged stony Corbières, to see if we couldn't find a little fête de la bière artisanale that was supposedly being held somewhere called Portel des Corbières. And we made it, despite Goofle's best efforts at killing us by sending me off along little twisty roads (I suppose you could call them that, they were actually sealed, which is pretty good) and through gorges and ravines. There seems to be no option to say "Do NOT want the scenic route" when using Google Maps on yer phone. Mind you, it was still better than the first time ever we came down this way, some seven or eight years ago now, when the now superannuated GPS Of Doom sent us from Carcassonne up and over and onto the southern flank of l'Alaric and along goat-tracks and through a military firing zone, just to get to St Laurent de Cabresrisse. I think, on the whole trip, we saw maybe three houses and thirty-odd sheep, so it was definitely restful.

Anyways, they'd doubtless cunningly planned this little festival to coincide with the solemn and sacred Feast of St Patrick, and there were loads of people. Rather more, we thought, than they'd planned on. Also, on the website there were five little micro-breweries announced: there were in fact seventeen of them. That rather surprised me. Whatever, it was all excellent; although "Vlad", the 9.8% Imperial Stout (two English guys and a Belgian, from up in Ginestas), was very smooth and without a hint of bitterness it did leave me, an hour or so later, thinking wistfully of a nice little nap somewhere quiet.

And in keeping with the spirit of the day there was an enthusiastic and surprisingly competent Celtic punk group providing the music: three guys dressed, to all appearances, in dead badgers. We left, not too soddenly, shortly after their mid-afternoon finale, and I couldn't help but notice that the queue at the fish'n'chip wagon wasn't really getting any shorter.

Whatever, this has been kind of episodic due to Busy!, also I have to rummage through the fossil pile to find papers for the accountant so that he can fabricate the end-of-year statement and that I may pay income tax, and there are drinkies at Montbrun tonight so perhaps I should go and shave.

Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

I Get Out ...

If you take a look at the satellite view of these here parts, you'll see that the montagne d'Alaric is a great long outcrop (mostly limestone, which is why there was a four à chaux here, to turn the stuff into chalk) that stretches from Carcassonne to Moux, where it abruptly ends. Well, not quite, for the massif itself stops dead, but stretching out some four km to the east are two rocky ridges - and in the northern one there is a natural cutting that takes you through, rather than up and over - about 1 km apart, and between them is the plaine de l'Alaric.

This is mostly occupied by vines, olive trees and rabbits - and hunters, in season - but that is not the point. The thing is, if you leave Moux and go through the cutting you can just keep walking south across the top of the plain until you get to the southern ridge, where you have to start doing a bit of work as it climbs. After a while the tarmac disappears and if you carry on through the open stands of pine and low shrubs and rosemary and stuff, with the sun filtering through the leaves, you eventually get to a crossroads: east towards Fabrézan, west back up into the Alaric to join up with the GR77, or south for another four or five km going (mostly) downhill to Camplong.

I had no wish to add another couple of hours to my walk, nor to ring home from Camplong and ask Margo to come pick me up, so I turned around and went back the way I'd come. Even so, my calf muscles gently reminded me the next day that I'd done it. Getting soft; I really should get out more often.

Through the usual channels I learn of yet another IoT sex toy - the proudly Made In Germany "Vibratissimo Panty Buster", if you really want to know, but damned if I can work out what their target demographic is with a name like that (also, I do not want to know what would come out if I put the company name "Amor Gummiwaren" through Goofle Translate*) - which, as they rather nicely put it, "failed even basic penetration testing". Cue sniggering, and Benny Hill theme music. More explicitly, the backend database was wide open and the thing could be remotely controlled via Bluetooth or the innatübz: the manufacturer contended that the possibility of such non-consensual tickling was a feature, not a bug. So be careful, people.

Also, I have done my good deed for the year: unpaid tech support for a neighbour having problems sending with gmail. Tracked that one down to bloody Avast AV and twepped the thing, but you can see why the less computer-literate would be completely lost. Of course it was the free version, said it needed to be updated but the licence had expired, would I like to buy the Standard version at only 14€ or the Pro at €25? Then you spot the teeny button that says "No, I'm a cheapskate" and click on that and up comes the download screen offering the choice of the Standard or Pro versions ... life's too short, I just uninstalled it.

But even at that, the uninstall asks you plaintively if you're really sure you want to do this, and when you reply that "Yes, I really, really want to get rid of this useless piece of shit" it refuses to go any further until you say why ... I absolutely hate software like that, and I feel no guilt whatsoever at sending it into the bit-bucket and flushing it down the crapper.

This will come back to bite me on the bum, I know, because when she has problems using the iPad that her daughter cruelly gave her for Christmas the first stop for advice will be me.

I sometimes get a bit OCD about things, I know - look on it as a procrastination-enabler because I actually do have better things to occupy my time than get obsessed about accented characters no longer displaying correctly in Arial. So having been annoyed about that for about the past month, and being kind of busy with other things today, I had no choice really but to put everything else to one side and get to the bottom of it. At first I vaguely suspected it was some weirdness in Firefox and I was already getting pretty pissed off with that, due to the latest update having set bloody Bing as my search engine without so much as a by-your-leave - and even less pardonable, from my point of view, set the startup preferences to "go directly to Bing" rather than "display my tabs from the last session".

Which really, really annoyed me, as there were two tabs with information it'd taken me half a day of exotic search queries to find and that I hadn't bothered to bookmark. Nor, two days later, could I remember exactly which queries had come up with paydirt ... so I was a) back to square one in my search to find out how to preload a 32 or 64-bit version of a runtime library depending on the executable type, and b) half looking for an excuse to switch to Chrome, or Opera, or anything ... but it turned out not to be that.

Eventually, spelunking around in the font files and the registry, I realise that I must have installed some PoS software on or about January 17, because that's when the Arial font file got replaced with one called "homol.ttf". I have no recollection of that at this time. Only took most of the morning to track that one down, and I'm supposed to know about things like that.

Well, I managed to make a bit of room in the freezer by the simple expedient of removing the 5kg leg of sanglier that's been sitting there for a while, and sticking it into salt. Should be ripe in ten days or so, then I can brush it off, slather it liberally with lard and cracked black pepper, and hang it up in the garage to dry. If nothing goes wrong - like mildew, blight or leprosy - should be good to eat around mid-June. Be warned.

Now I just have to clean out the fridge: there's about two kilos of foie gras cru in there waiting for some attention. I think I shall do two of the little suckers au torchon, and the last I shall put into a terrine and produce a mi-cuit so that Margo can eat it. And in other really exciting news (if porcelain cooking gear makes you go weak at the knees), my gratin dishes should be turning up in a couple of days. I know, I have gratin dishes - not exactly coming out my ears, but enough for any reasonable person - but they are not the right gratin dishes.

For, many many years ago back in NooZild I bought a large white oval porcelain gratin dish and we were very happy together for a while, but then on one of our moves it disappeared and I thought no more of it - until, a few weeks ago when I was up in Paris and Ian brought it out. For we had left it with them, when we left for our two years OE in France, some thirty-one years ago. And for some reason, I got obsessed with getting it back.

Fairly obviously I wasn't going to rip it from Marie's cold dead fingers (for one thing, she's probably meaner than I am in a fight) so I did the obvious thing and asked of the great Google. Now it turns out that Apilco still make that exact model: but I cannot recommend that you go looking for it on their website, for it is absolutely shite, and every single link I clicked on came up with a 404 error. Google gave me links to some of their catalogues (sadly, not the one for the particular line I was looking for) but you could not get there from the site itself. Go figure.

Also, they have an online store, or "boutique" as they so charmingly put it. That too, I discovered, does not work. I am not surprised. (Cynicism means you're never disappointed - and, in my experience, rarely pleasantly surprised.) But I found a couple of sites that not only advertise themselves as having Apilco porcelain for sale, but also have an actual working store, so I went to the first of these and found exactly the one I was looking for (lacking 35 years of burnt-on filth patina, but you can't ask for too much) and because breakages will happen, I ordered two.

I should probably not be allowed on the innatübz unsupervised, because then I looked at the second site and they had a smaller model, and if I had two they would be ideal for making and serving coquilles St-Jacques for two people, so I ordered those as well, and they also had big enamelled cast-iron gratin dishes at half price and it would have been criminal not to take advantage of that so I ordered two of them for good measure, and then I came to my senses and stopped.

You see why Amazon is eating everyone's lunch. After the cooking ware splurge I also had occasion to buy a new keyboard, due to a highly technical incident involving white wine spewing out of my nostrils all over the old one, and I headed off to the rueducommerce website to see if they still stocked the Microsoft Natural keyboards. They do, and for the low, low price of €48, so I stuck one in my shopping cart and headed for the metaphorical checkout: where I learnt to my dismay that I'd either have to pay €6 extra for shipping, or they'd generously let me pick it up in a couple of days - for no extra charge - at the nearest Carrefour. Unfortunately, as far as they were concerned that would be the one at Port La Nouvelle, an 80km round trip from here ...

Amazon had it at exactly the same price, for free delivery to the door the next working day. Guess who I chose.

Whatever, all good things come to an end and our itinerant bar Chez Réné is no exception. Magali and Lionel will be opening the doors on Monday, so last Friday was our final session: a large crowd of us gathered and ate a bit, and drank somewhat more than usual and almost certainly more than absolutely necessary (and yes, I did feel a bit embarrassed taking all the empties down to the recycling yesterday moaning), and we dragged it out till around 1am in a general ambiance of jollity and self-congratulation at having kept it going for almost a year.

And you know, I really think we deserve to feel a bit smug about it. From saying casually to Rick and Mary one day "see you oop t'bar Friday?" and having that snowball, when the real bar shut down, to managing to keep a group of friends, French and English, together: we've not done too shabbily.

But anyway, tonight is bar night at Montbrun and it's François' birthday - a youthful 58 - so I better go knock up a chocolate cowpat cake for thirty, that being our contribution to the festivities. Also, I have yet another three foie gras that are even now soaking in milk, and which I need to salt and pepper and leave to macerate for a bit in Rivesaltes before poaching them tomorrow. Mind how you go, now.

PS: the €20 menu at La Petite Auberge at Tournissan is more than honourable: excellent foie gras, a lovely-looking risotto with mushrooms and bacon, magret de canard ... Le Tournedos, at Lézignan, is great if your tastes run to grillades - they've an open fire in the dining room just for that - but if you want a cassoulet be aware that theirs is the "original" recipe, with no tomatoes. So just beans, duck, and bits of pig. The servings are copious - we waddled out with a huge doggy-bag - but sad to say the profiteroles au chocolat were strictly industrial. I couldn't finish them either, but they did not end up in the bag.

* I cracked. The answer, for what it's worth, is "Cupid Rubber Goods".

Monday, January 29, 2018

19th Nervous Breakdown ...

The world has become a slightly more boring place, as one more of life's little mysteries has been resolved. Here at The Shamblings™ we is technologically advanced, having as we do a cargo-cult doorbell consisting of a huge box with a bell and a transformer in it inside, and an actual bell-push at the front door: it has never worked. One day, a while back, I got annoyed with this and dragged out the multimeter and a few screwdrivers and the power drill, then drilled out the rusting screws that held the 70's-era bell-push in its cavity in the wall.

Great crumbs of rusted metal fell out, and it became clear to me that the ends of the copper wires that had once been connected to what was once a button had long since ceased to function as conductors, so I headed off to the hardware store and got a stainless steel plate to cover up the gaping and now superfluous hole and a new button with a handy light in it so it can be seen in the dark and a handful of screws and bolts to hold the whole thing together - bloody miracle, it all worked! And it carried on doing so, for a while, until it stopped.

A few weeks of that and it started, quite of its own accord, to work again: we were happy and then it stopped - once more - and stubbornly stayed like that. I checked everything I could think of: there was 220V going into the bell and 10V coming out of the transformer, I had more-or-less 10V at the switch, but no ding!dong! Then three days ago it worked.

You take this sort of thing with mild pleasure, and above all you don't ask questions ... halfway up the wall in the living room, just by the door, there's a block of three light switches and an extremely inconveniently placed power point: I guess it's there so that the little electrons come tumbling out downhill and so are not tired when it comes time for them to make the vacuum cleaner work, or something like that. One of the switches is for the central light inside, one is for the light in the verandah, and the other one - we never worked that out, could turn it on or off and it made neither a tot nor a jittle of difference.

So last night, as I was heading outside on my own business (emptying cooking oil down the storm drain BAD TREVOR! if you must know), I noticed that it was on, so as it serves no useful purpose I turned it off, and at the door saw that the doorbell was not working anymore. Yes, some unsung genius had decided way back when to wire the neutral side of the bell-push switch through a light switch inside the house, to what end I simply cannot imagine. There you have it, now we know.

Whatever, the ageing Asus laptop I use for all my Linux development is starting to warn me about unrecoverable hard drive errors, so rather than waiting until the old beast falls flat on her face and then have to do everything in a mad rush I thought I'd take the new (almost unopened) Asus that I bought a few months ago, for just such an occasion as this, and set it up as a dual-boot Windows/Linux system. Aren't I brave?

Every year, for almost as far back as I can remember, some wittering know-nothing cretin tech pundit has been proclaiming this to be "the year of Linux on the desktop". And every single year, this has signally turned out not to be the case. Having just survived - and I mean, "just" - installing a bog-standard Fedora 27 installation, I can honestly say that there are five reasons for this: in order, they are The. Fucking. Shitty. GNOME. Shell.

There we are, I've said it. The thing is, professional developers actually have the advantage of what they call, in the trade, a "useability lab". This is a thing where innocent people are pulled in off the street and forced to use software - as it might be, the latest version of Office - until their eyes boil out of their sockets while people in serious white lab-coats and armed with clipboards observe their suffering and make snarky remarks. The point is that the happy team who develop GNOME do not have one of these, and I truly believe that they live in some sort of echo chamber and are convinced that they are right.

Even when it comes to having big blobby icons that were designed by a four year-old with access to too many Crayola sets, the belief that swapping between mouse and keyboard to get anything done is ergonomic and - my personal favourite - scroll bars that disappear when you're not looking at them. Nice one, guys! Yeah, I know, I could spend a week or so spelunking about and installing five zillion add-ons and customising it to my wishes, but I'm lazy and do not want to have to do this.

Nor, I suspect, do 90% of the 80% of computer users who are used to Windoze, and that sheer weirdness unfamiliarity is why they're not going to switch. And I certainly won't push anyone I know to do so, not even hint that such a thing is possible; I know damn well I'd wind up spending most of my time as unpaid tech support.

Another thing I really hate for its sheer Byzantine complexity, but am forced to use, is Eclipse. The keyboard shortcuts are unobvious, there are always at least three ways of doing anything - each less intuitive than the others - and to top it off, it's useless out of the box. You have to install some add-ons - for C/C++ f'r'nstance - which is OKish, but first you have to work out how to do that. Simple enough, it's an option under the "Help" menu. Obviously. Then you have to guess which of the 15 or so packages to install: the documentation speaks airily of a "C/C++ CDT" but that's not actually in the list ... small wonder I'm on meds.

Also, the UI "designers" thought that having loads of teeny icons everywhere would be a really good idea, doubtless on the principle that icons make up some sort of universal language. This is true enough - for a given value of "true" - most of them are in fact either incomprehensible or misleading no matter what your native tongue may be. Click on the wrong one and you may discover that you've irreversibly reformatted your entire project in conformity with the Strunk & White style guidelines from 1959.

And even trying to rearrange windows in the workspace to suit your preferences is an exercise in frustration: you have sod-all visual feedback and what you do get just shows you what it feels like doing, not what you actually want it to do. Guess I should add Lisinopril to the shopping list.

Never mind, there is good news anyway because it's an ill wind that blows up nobody's arse, also there's a silver cloud to every lining; I can now buy vegetarian pesto at the local supermarket. What the hell do they put in the standard version, I wonder?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Spring Cleaning ...

The shouting and the tumult have died, and now that we actually have two liveable rooms on the ground floor and cupboards and bookcases to put things in, we find ourselves chucking quite a lot out. Having lived without stuff for over four years does tend to make you wonder if you really, really need it taking up space. Like, as it might be, kids' fluffy toys from twenty-odd years ago: but they are all up in the attic, preserved from my rapacious hands. You never know, we might have grand-children at some point, for whom these things will be precious antiques. Or not.

Anyways, it's looking pretty good down there now, with photos and a couple of ancient Malcolm Warr prints on the walls, and since yet another truck-load of furniture turned up from Emmaüs there are comfy chairs and the books in their bookcases, and above all NO MORE BLOODY BOXES (check off a number of trips to the tip with little Suzy, full of flattened-out cartons). But I have had to order yet more picture rails for the first-floor bedrooms and the stairwell, also some picture frames because although I have any number of photos they do actually have to be framed ...

There had been plans afoot to head off for a walk around the massif of la Clape on the 31st, followed by a seafood lunch at la Perle Gruissanaise, but as the sun came up unpropitiously for sheep (you know, red sky, all that, apparently they don't like it) things got changed around a bit and we and Rick & Mary and Martin & Angela and all five dogs headed off a bit north-west, destination a short (6.5km) walking circuit that would take us around to look at some Visigoth graves. (Big thank you! by the way to Rick & Mary for getting us out of bed around 8am, just in time for me to see the sunrise when walking the dogs. I am so not bitter about that.)

I'd sneered at the weather and taken my photographer's vest rather than a jacket (for one thing, it has pockets that hold a spare zoom) and kind of regretted that for the first half hour or so because up there in the Minervois, closer to the montagne Noire, the climate is emphatically not the same. Think, humid. And very green, compared to here - and it's only about 20km away.

Still, reminds you that life was nasty, brutal and above all short back then in the 9th century. Forty-odd graves - pits in the earth, lined and covered with flat slabs of stone - and most of them only a foot or so long. For children.

Whatever, I decided to do a decent New Year's day dinner for us and Bob! and his son Alex. It's become a tradition in France to eat game at Christmas, so during the week afterwards everything goes on special as the use-by date arrives and - without actually having had the express intent to do so when I left the house - I picked up a largeish piece of NZ venison that should have been eaten that very day and stuck it in to marinate for a couple of days, reckoning that bacteria can't read the labels, anyway the alcohol should kill the little buggers off ...

And at the market I'd had the good luck to find proper yams, aka the "oca de Pérou", which seem to be available once a year at this season: they cost an arm and a leg but what the hell, as far as I'm concerned they're a tradition. So they went into the oven with orange juice and butter and a bit of brown sugar to bubble away, along with some sprouts in a gratin dish with cream and wholegrain mustard and blue cheese, whilst I did a proper job of barding the venison with some Black Forest ham that just happened to be in the fridge, and stuck that in the other oven at 220°.

(Actually, it turns out that I can in fact find yams at other times of the year, in the local bio supermarket. But I still have to take out a second mortgage to be able to afford them, and as often happens in these places, where turnover is pretty slow, they get dumped on the shelves and left there for weeks until either some enthusiast buys them, or they go runny. I have standards: won't touch them once they've started to go flaccid.)

Of course there was still the marinade, and some mushrooms and bacon, so champignons à la bourguignonne were inevitable, and a clafouti aux abricots seemed a no-brainer so that was dessert taken care of ... we ate and drank with moderation (for a certain value of "moderation") and that's how we started the year.

I agree that it is a good thing that we, consumers, should be made aware of just what it is that we are actually buying, and I have no problem with the fact that the labelling on - say - a packet of flour tells me that it may contain gluten, traces of nuts and, eventually, bits of small woodland animals that thought it would be fun to play chicken with a combine harvester. So when, just the other day, I took a couple of ready-made cassolettes de St-Jacques, sauce au chardonnay from the freezer (I know, I know, but I got them to see if they were any good 'cos it's quite handy to have something to hand if necessary) I was not surprised at all to find the same sort of thing.

What did surprise me - bear with me please, I'm getting to the point - was that they felt obliged to note the the product "may contain traces of mollusks". I wonder, sometimes.

And as one thing segues into another, let me tell you about the latest leap in culinary technology ... over here in furrin parts, UHT cream comes in little TetraPak bricks: used to be that they were just that, you'd slice a corner off with a good sharp pair of scissors and you were good to go, these days they all come with little plastic spouts and a screw-on cap, as if you really needed the extra hassle when you're cooking, have wet slippery hands and wind up ripping the carton in half and losing most of the cream on the floor as you try to unscrew the damn thing ...

The actual point is that I needed some more the other day, to go into the pastry for my galettes du roi, and I could not help but notice, when I got them home, that the entirely superfluous extra packaging was trumpeting something New! and Improved! - yes! "Bigger spout! Pours faster!" This is your unique selling point? Humanity, I weep for thee.

On the brighter side, reports of the death of the traditional French bistrot are somewhat exaggerated. I had occasion to head off to Paris for a couple of days, doing a bit of work for the SNCF - and let me just say that the cold reality of a 90-minute commute via RER/Metro morning and evening really brings it home to me that I must, somehow, have led a life virtuous enough that I am spared this shit on a daily basis (unless I'm being saved for something rather more dire) - and rather than eat at the canteen J-P and Dénis took me off to a little bar near the centre of Vitry for lunch.

Ah, such things as to die for. OK, the décor is resolutely French 60's with tables in massive Formica and chromed tubular steel, but the omelettes! Huge and creamy, with ham and cheese, actually decent frites that resemble McDonald's pus-bags only in the shape, and a generous helping of salad with a sharp creamy sauce - and the next day a boeuf bourguignon, tender as you could hope for. True, the waitress told me off for not eating all my carrot purée "it'll make your butt look nice and attractive for Madame" (although I'm not sure exactly how that works) but I was allowed to have a coffee anyway.

So there's hope yet.