Sunday, June 21, 2015

Talk In The Movies, I'll Kill You Right There ...

"Word of the Week" proudly brings you the very latest in neologisms for your reading pleasure ... a bit of background here, not so long ago our failed presidential candidate Segolène Royal called on people to save the planet by banning Nutella, because of PALM OIL, and turning people with no self-respect into lard-buckets. Of course the Italians, whose national treasure it is, complained loud and long, and she back-pedaled. Or, as the headlines put it, "Madame le ministre fait du retro-pedalage".

Nice one, Le Monde.

Also, please note that even though the ministre in question is a woman of the female sex, she is always le ministre. It is the title that is gendered. Praise be for the glories of the French language. (Although, to be fair, I was idly considering the other day how to explain to a Frog-person the use - or misuse - of the apostrophe to indicate the number in a possessive clause. As in, "the husbands' children", wherein we are talking about the - obviously plural - children of any number of husbands. Then it came to me that I might as well not bother, because you can't actually say that in French. You have to say "les enfants du/des mari(s)", which translates to the rather awkward "the children of the husband(s)". That clear?)

In three weeks or so, we'll have been living in Moux for two years. And it's a sad commentary - on what, I'm not exactly sure, but that's beside the point - that the people at the cave coopérative know my name, which is more than I can say for some of our neighbours. Hell, I went off the other day to get some tickets for the fête this Saturday, paid upfront for them and, let it be said, 10l of Chateau Carton, and as I was leaving said "Oh. No tickets?" "Nah." came the reply. "We know you, it's good."

We are definitely stuck in some sort of time warp here - sometimes, when the loudspeakers fart, it feels like a bastard unholy cross between "'Allo 'Allo" and "The Prisoner". But no, it's just a public service announcement, to let the village know that old Réné is selling cherries from the back of his van. (And very nice they were, too.)

Another thing: I had occasion to give Cash a hand transferring their account from one autoroute company to another, as they have merged. You can do it all online - of course she's never done anything online with them and so has no password to access the account, but that, I thought, should be no problem - just stick in the account number and then click on the button that says "I am but a simple-minded cretin and I have forgotten my password" and lo! it will be emailed to you.

Not in fact that simple, because when you do that the site asks you for your account number and email address and if the email address does not match the one they have it gives a rude message suggesting you go perform auto-erotic stimulation: of course they had entered the email address incorrectly so I wound up ringing them anyway but that is not the point.

The point is that there are two data entry fields, one for the account number and the second for your email address: the funny thing is that the second will not allow you to type the '@' character, which seems odd to me because that's more or less required. Go figure.

Later ... I was wrong misinformed. Windows appears to have downloaded and installed an update somewhere along the line that completely borks keyboard access to diacriticals: not being Polish I can actually live with that but I am a programmer and so need constant access to curly brackets like this {} and square brackets such as these []. Guess what: I don't have these anymore.

Microsoft updates are beginning to remind me of those mad dwarves from Oglaf - "Hey, you want shit? We got shit! Hell, we can fuck you over right now!" Wibbles on the interwebs hint to me that the problem is perhaps linked to some crap Synaptics driver that got downloaded with the latest Windoze update: sure enough one such was installed. It is in the Windows update history: I must surely be able to uninstall the sucker?

Click on "Installed updates" to find out that
  • they are listed in a completely different order, which is always alphabetical no matter what sort order you select, and also
  • no Synaptics updates appear in this list, which in any case bears no apparent relationship to the update history list. 

In passing, I note that I have some Microsoft updates that were apparently installed on January 1st, 1601. This fails to inspire me with confidence.

On top of it the same update sneakily reenabled the indexing service, which I had carefully disabled 'cos the sucker was eating 80% of the CPU from time to time, apparently because the Windows Media Player required it in order to index all my music to play over the network. Which I do not do. I swear to god that were it not for the fact that I actually need Windows for development I would, at this moment, nuke the sucker from orbit - with extreme prejudice - and install Linux. It is also true that Linux is just as crappy: the little Samsung that we use as a media streamer downstairs occasionally decides that it no longer wishes to know about Wifi.

Whatever, now that I've nuked the Synaptics driver, recovered my keyboard and calmed down a bit I shall treat it as a learning experience, and I have indeed learnt my lesson: automatic updates are now banned, and I shall vet them all before applying any of them. I know, I know, I've no excuse for not having done that earlier - what can I say?

Also, upon reflection, perhaps it was just a teeny bit anal-compulsive of me to spend four hours in the evening obsessing over a few keys. I mean, workarounds exist - did you know that Ctrl+Alt = AltGr? (I must admit, I didn't. Or possibly I did, at one point, but had retired the rather obscure fact to the hind-brain.) OK, guilty as charged, I am obsessive about these little things that drive me wild.

The cave coopérative can indeed organise a piss-up in a brewery although, as is usual in these parts, there is no point in hoping it will actually start on time. I suspect they'd been busy having the apéro in the offices from about 17:00 on, and had perhaps forgotten that people were supposed to be turning up from 19:00.

Whatever, the problem was quickly rectified and there were soon serried ranks of bottles glistening with condensation lined up on the barrels that did duty as bar tables, and mounds of olives and masses of sliced saucisson rapidly going greasy in the heat.

A village fête is always fun - at least until the ambulatory disco starts belching out the rather dire music - if only for the wide range of sartorial elegance on display. Some in Prada, and the more thoughtful in loose-waisted Adidas running shorts and sandals. Tastefully accessorised with a Gucci manbag.

Still, next time I think we'll do as John and Anne did, and bring our own plates and cutlery. The flimsy plastic picnic jobs provided were definitely not up to the task of slicing a huge hunk of mostly uncooked beef, and were it not that sunglasses are pretty much an essential dress item around here you'd be in constant danger of losing an eye as an errant tine flew off your neighbour's fork.

Anyways, right now it is too damn hot and we have retreated to the cool of the house - which means I have no excuse for not sticking some silicone joints around the tiling in the two bathrooms that, if our prayers and sacrifices are answered, André will come and finish off next week before our first guests arrive.

Mind how you go, now.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Extracts From The Private Journal of HvB (Esq.) ...

Like my titties? Might as well flaunt them.
I was, as one will, roaming the Arctic wastes one day - searching, if you must know, for the last of the dusty old journals of a half-crazed medical student who had set out to destroy the Thing he had created from left-over body parts and biryani and given a shambling semblance of life with three AA batteries, when the Thrane & Thrane satellite phone tinkled quietly.

(I have set it to do this on the off-chance that it should ring some time when I happen to have it about my person at an elegant cocktail party, for its default ring-tone is a recording of the foghorn of the Titanic, which then segues into Ride of the Valkyries: hardly discreet, and certainly not elegant. Although it is true that cocktail parties, elegant or otherwise, are rare things in the arid tundra, but one never knows.)

So much for incunabula, the delights of the icy wastes, and retracing the footsteps of HvB (Boris Van Helsing, of course: the lesser-known member of the family. Ah, those simpler days when mirror writing could keep your identity safe from GCHQ or the NSA).

For, with all of five days to go (two of those being, technically, a weekend) before a big trade show somewhere in California, someone had the bright idea that the gear should be able to perform a pressure optimisation - apparently this involves nothing more complicated than setting up a data entry screen and plugging a few formulae into the arse end.

Hence the importance of a more than basic grounding in maths for those who intend a career in programming.

Of course, the formulae were supplied as a spreadsheet, and it rapidly became evident to even my inexperienced eye that cell D34 depended on cell D35, which itself depended on cell D34: back in the day Excel would just have told you to go stick your head someplace where it is always dark, but nowadays it does successive approximations and other complicated stuff, and eventually comes up with an answer which is close enough to what you want.

I recall doing this sort of thing a long time ago, and I also recall the importance of starting off with an initial value which is close enough so that your iterative process a) terminates in a reasonable time and b) does not oscillate between "37" and "a ham sandwich", neither of which are good answers. (Not entirely true. They are both in fact perfectly good answers, but not to this particular question.)

Luckily, in the creaking pages of the antique notebooks that I had managed to recover, I found that the equations of Nikuradse supply a seed value, based on a smooth surface, which may be used as a starting point for the iterative Coleman algorithm (but do not forget the Reynolds number).

Back in the day, when the late, corrupt, morally ambiguous and unlamented Mitterand was president, he installed a relative non-entity, one Jack Lang, as ministre de la culture. Crueler tongues than mine have said that this was just for ease of access to the Elysée, what with him being the president's wife's lover and all: I have no knowledge of this and would not, in any case, wish to spread foul rumours.

Whatever, he was eminently forgettable, despite a suntan, teeth, and hair that would have done a Californian beach band proud: truth to tell, most French ministres, who in any case serve at the discretion of the president, are forgettable or, even if not, soon forgotten. With the possible exception of Jacques Toubon, who must be the most maligned minister of the 5th Republic, and still the butt of obscene jokes in public urinals - but I digress. As usual.

But apart from having it off on a regular basis (if slanderous tattle can be believed) with Danielle, Jack did leave one legacy: by decree, June 21 - the summer solstice - is the fête de la musique over in these parts. Although in these particular parts we don't actually do that - hell, in Moux we celebrate July 14 on the 13th - instead, on June 20 we have the fête du vin.

You can probably guess just what that involves: it's organised at the cave cooperative and involves apparently never-ending supplies of wine, copious quantities of food and - towards the end of the evening - the ritual and sadly inevitable disco. Never mind, by the time they get around to that we'll probably be rolling our bloated way homewards.

Although I get the feeling that I might actually enjoy la nuit de la poésie this year. Years back I used to look upon French popular music as something whose only use was to make elevator muzak sound good: Brel, Trenet, Gainsbourg ... all crap.

Then I got dragged along one evening to a show of which the entire second half was dedicated to Georges Brassens, and it was a revelation. It is true that ten years earlier I would not have appreciated it because I would not have understood it, but now that I have managed to wrap my ears around the particularly French habit of the contrepeterie (which is a close relation to the spoonerism, but which must be obscene) and got to grips with the subtle, self-effacing and rather subversive black humour of which they are, in fact, capable, I find it absolutely delicious.

OK, you can still take Brel and stick him where the sun does not shine, Gainsbourg was always a bloated self-indulgent whose main claim to fame was hooking up with Jane Birkin, and if Piaf is on the menu I would prefer it to be with the cheese course so that wedges of Camembert are convenient to hand: but Brassens I enjoy.

So it was with great pleasure that I discovered, scanning the list of events lined up for this summer in Moux, that the concert for la nuit de la poésie is scheduled to be a homage to Brassens. I may take a packet or two of peanuts - not to eat, for I detest the damn things, but to throw at the stage should the performance not be up to scratch - but I am hoping for a very enjoyable evening on July 25th.

Can't recall if I've mentioned it before: old Hélène has a bit of land on the slopes of a pinède around Ferrals, and every year she organises an afternoon picnic up there. There's always a catch, of course: she must be one of the last of the soixante-huitards, believes in acupuncture and homeopathy, and has cultural tendencies.

So this time round, the price of admission was a poetry reading. It is true that I hold that those who read poetry in public may have other nasty habits, but it was mercifully brief and there was enough food and drink for a small army, which is always a consolation.

And we sat up there in the sun with the smell of thyme and rosemary in the still hot air, and watched the thunderheads roll in from the east and sweep past to the south, to go play on the Pyrenées.

Kind of a precursor for the next few months, I hope: a long, slow, hot summer. Take refuge inside the house, which is dim and cool, and take the hairy retards out for their trot in the evenings, when it's not so stifling. And maybe catch some people playing boules around 23:00, well-watered and with the car headlights to light up the playing field.

It is at such times as those that it's brought home that we are no longer in Kansas.

Mind how you go, now.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Eat Another Day ...

We're none of us, I guess, as young as we used to be: exceptionally, I am not an exception to this rule, and sometimes reality sneaks up, bites me on the bum, and this is brought home to me. Like the other night, for instance, when I invited Caroline and Philippe over for dinner but they had friends coming ... so I wound up eating with them. And very nice it was too, but there were five of us, and I had to make my excuses and leave about 1:30, after the seventh bottle was well underway.

Still an'all, we're younger than a lot of people around here, and they sometimes have an inflated expectation of our capacities. Old Helène turned up the other day to see if I happened to have a hacksaw - "Ah have", she said, "une ou deux metal bars to cut". "No problem", I replied, and this moaning I armed myself with the trusty Stanley and she took me off to her remise.

A remise, by the way, is just a barn, or a garage, or some other capacious, dim dusty space where you stick all those old things that you don't want to chuck out just yet because hey! who knows, maybe they'll come in handy sometime, five hundred years on.

So they tend to be full of old plumbing, dangerously wired valve radios and the 1930's vacuum cleaner that only worked on 110 volts, old dolls and metal beds, a few worn tyres and bits of furniture hewn from solid Formica: I guess a lot of antiquaires get their stock by going round villages and snapping up their contents.

Whatever, I turned up and she took me right to the back where there's no light and there amongst the cobwebs were the metal bars in question. Luckily there is actually electricity in there - probably installed about the same time as gravity - so when I saw them I went straight back home and got the big angle grinder.

I mean honestly, three four-metre bars of 7mm thick solid forged steel? Even with the disqueuse it took me ten minutes to do each one.

Around these parts, they used to carve the owner's initials and the date into the lintel over the front door, ours being a solid block of stone over a metre long, and thanks to this we know that the current incarnation of The Shamblings™ was erected by monsieur Politically Correct back in 1811.

I suspect that the plumbing goes back a bit earlier than that.

The municipal gardener, gravedigger and general handyman turned up to change the mains cutoff tap for the water. In principle this is a relatively simple operation: there is a pipe leading from the mains to the house; on this pipe there is a big valve hidden beneath a metal cover in the street; you close this and Robert is your mother's brother.

Of course it's not that simple: over the years the metal covers have themselves been covered over by tarmac because let's face it, it's easier that way and anyway, how many times do you actually need to cut off the water? So the guy brought his metal detector and dug wherever it went ping!

He found a horseshoe, and a bunch of massive old nails and finally, more or less where it should be, something that turned out to be a water valve. Stuck the enormous cast-iron key into it, turned ... and the water was still happily running in the house.

OK, so maybe our house is connected directly to the mains, and there is no shutoff valve. Once again this is simple enough: you shut off the water to rue de l'Eglise, which runs behind our place and is where we are connected.

Except that this turns out not to be the case. Our water comes from rue de la Liberté, second street over on the other side of the house, from whence a solitary pipe does a big dog-leg along the front of the house, left and under the archway to the chateau, and then left again to go up rue de l'Eglise and provide us directly with water.

I guess that in places where the infrastructure is not quite as old this would all be clearly marked on a plan somewhere: this may be the case here but even if so I suspect that the parchment in question is mouldering in an old tin box somewhere in the basement of the mairie.

Still, now I know. I shall make a note of it, just in case.

Whatever, over here in Ole Yurrup a new commercial excuse for spending has arrived: it is, tomorrow, the "fête des voisins". Neighbourhood day, if you like. I guess the idea is that you go out and get neighbourly, eat and drink too much, and possibly sleep with the neighbour's wife/husband - not that you need a special occasion for that.

And of course you have to buy all that extra food and drink, and maybe a romantic present for the intended partner. Which of course makes the supermarkets happy. Hell, even the DIY chains are announcing a "fête des voisins" special on chainsaws. I can see where they're going with that.

Around here we have simpler tastes (and also freezers full of food) and a sort of vague urge apparently came upon everyone in the district to have a small, calm, street party. Nothing over the top, just a few tables out in rue de la Liberté (which is, I admit, sufficiently narrow that a decent sized rubbish bin outside the front door will block vehicular traffic) and everyone outside in the sun for l'apéro and maybe a carefully-planned impromptu barbecue. You know, people having a good time. What can I say, shit happens.

So old Helène got onto us and Nev and a few others, young Helène spread the word, and everyone was fired up to go: only one blot on the horizon because as, technically, we could be impeding traffic on the street (in the unlikely event of an original Mini or Fiat 500 coming down, these being the only cars small enough to get through) an arreté municipale was required to legalise the situation.

In other villages, other places, as you were chatting to M. le maire in the moaning you would just mention that you were planning on a party - would he mind, of course you're invited - and with a minimum of fuss and zero paperwork you're good to go.

Sadly, our esteemed mayor M. Mazet seems to have gone back into anal-retentive mode, or maybe someone's been fiddling with his medications.

Young Helène got the job of broaching the subject with him, and feeling in need of moral support she took old Angela (who gets on with absolutely everyone) with her, but despite that it did not go well. I was not there, I cannot vouch for it, but there seems to have been no meeting of minds.

The answer was a categorical "non!", with rhetorical flourishes, threats to call the gendarmerie, and in a final parting shot - "si vous voulez la guerre, vouz l'aurez!"

Maybe someone stuck a stick back up his arse. It is a shame, because a) I was kind of looking forward to a decent party and meeting people we don't see every day and b) I am now unable to get rid of that kilo of merguez I'd rather planned on frying up.

On the brighter side, old Helène will go absolutely ballistic when she hears about it, and I expect her diatribe to be very educational. Also, we can doubtless piss the old twat off  by hosting, in a decent interval, a decorous and quiet barbecue on the terrace. Honestly, Clochemerle has nothing on Moux.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hot and Sweaty Science ...

I read these things so that you don't have to, and I'm pleased to announce that the august pages of Ars Technica have informed me that there exists a "phenomenon called superlubricity". The mind - mine, anyways - fair boggles. Yer bog-standard lubriciousness I wot of, but this seems to be carrying things to a higher order. As usual, it seems that it involves diamonds.

Tom: should you happen to be reading this by mistake, know that we finally got around to opening that bottle of dessert wine from the Clearview winery that you brought over a few years back. It went down very well with a pear and caramel cheesecake, just saying.

Exceptionally we both headed off to Carcassonne this moaning - the object of the exercise being to take Margo off to Robert's boutique (for he also enjoyed the wine and the cheesecake). So as Margo is bored witless by the market, she stopped off to poke around a museum whilst I went off to get my fill of fruit and tender young vegetables, from mother's womb untimely rip't. As it were.

Looking for her on the way back, I stuck my nose into the permanent collection (17th - 19th century) at the musée des Beaux Arts. They knew how to paint back in those days, and they certainly knew what they liked: acres of breasts as far as the eye can see. Also, bored, malformed (due to misunderstandings about perspective) kinglets, and the odd 30 m² canvas depicting amusing dogs cheating at cards. Or a naval battle, with the obligatory tits and cannon.

We headed off for rue de la Republique, going via place Carnot, and happened upon Rick and Mary seated on the terrace at their favourite bar. Personally I have never been able to see the attraction of the place because the waiters were obviously schooled by the execrable Pierre from le Refuge at Chambéry, and a man could die of thirst waiting for a drink to turn up. In fact, the last time I went I just parked my arse at a convenient table and waited for ten minutes before lighting up a cigar, which generally brings someone up in rather short order. Twenty minutes later I'd finished my nicotine dose and trotted off, looking for somewhere that didn't seem morally opposed to actually serving people.

Be that as it may, we chatted, as one will, and once we'd got over the usual mutual "hell, been meaning to invite you round for apéro/snacks/dinner sometime but ..." Mary confided that they're off to County Cork to see a fourteen year old grandson, of the existence of whom they were completely unaware before a week back.

How does that happen, I wonder? I can understand that in the heat of the moment, with all the stress attendant on childbirth and whatever, one could neglect to call one's agèd parents to let them know that there was a new addition to the family. And sending an invitation to the christening is something that could so easily slip from mind. But you'd think that after a few years of no Christmas or birthday presents turning up, one would start to ask a few questions. Apparently not: whatever, I can only wish them luck with their first meeting with a surly adolescent who was completely unaware of their existence.

Anyway, on the way back home Margo suggested we try the back roads through Comigne which apparently winds through a pretty little valley: I say "apparently" because I still cannot say from personal experience. I firmly believe that road signs are for poor people (note to self: get one of those bumper stickers that read "Actually yes, I rather think I do own the road") and so rather than heading off to Comigne (in my defence, let it be said that the signpost was not actually visible until we'd gone past it) we found ourselves going along a narrow twisty goat track into the Alaric.

We went up, and over, and came down into the plain between the two ranges that head east from Carcassonne, and eventually came across Montlaur, where another road sign (this one lying on the ground) pointed us towards Fabrezan, so we went that way. The sign also said something about the gorges de Congoust, which turned out to be an added bonus.

As gorges go it's no match for the Grand Canyon but it is extremely beautiful, if rather savage, and the little river that winds its way through makes swimming holes behind the natural dams formed by the rock outcrops that look rather attractive, and I guess would be even more so in the height of summer. Especially as the countryside is kind of deserted, so you wouldn't have to fight through a crowd to get to the water.

Of course I didn't have my camera with me so I shall just have to go back there one weekend in the not too distant future. Recommended as a side trip, should ever you find yourselves here with a couple of hours to spare. (And for fitness fanatics, you can do it all on a VTT if you really insist.)

When things go titsup here at The Shamblings™, which they do with alarming regularity, we at least try to ensure that they do so in style. I had occasion to go into Carcassonne yesterday (ran out of nicotine, if you must know) and bumped into Robert, who very thoughtfully invited himself round for dinner: and a while later, he turned up with an enormous tajine full of potatoes and carrots and poivron and tomatoes and chicken breasts stuffed with spicy Basque sausage.

Having had a bit of warning I had actually thought to open and decant the very last bottle of the '98 Maltoff, which was surprisingly drinkable, so we ate and drank, discussed the weather and the lamentable state of French politics ...

Never discuss politics with family, by the way. Not if you're French, anyway. There is a peculiarly French mind-set which holds that the best possible job you can get is that of fonctionnaire: failing that, you should be salaried.

The self-employed are held by all right-thinking people to be no better than scavenging parasites on the rotting corpse of the body politic, to be treated with opprobrium and disdain and, where possible, pelted with vegetables. This does not, if you happen to be self-employed, make for pleasant family dinners and explains why certain topics of conversation are banned at Pesselière.

Luckily he's kind of atypical in that respect - maybe spending twenty years in Quebec had something to do with it - so we had a very pleasant evening and I eventually rolled into bed in the wee hours of the moaning and slept the sleep of the just.

From which I awakened with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart, and tottered downstairs to the kitchen in search of coffee, where it took me some time to notice that the floor was awash.

As with many places down here there is - was - a water softener built in to the plumbing, and this had decided to spring a leak. There were taps fitted to cut it off, and another tap to open a bypass in case of emergency: I decided that this was, in fact, just such a thing but sad to say the bypass tap, doubtless installed sixty years ago, was rusted solid and had no intention of turning.

"No matter", quothed I, "I shall just call a plumber who shall come and perform his little miracles and all shall be well.". Finding plumbers that are actually available is not an easy job, but eventually a guy turned up from Fabrézan and I knew that I was not going to be happy when he starting doing the sucking of the teeth and the gloomy scratching of the lip. Then he started mumble-fucking, and headed back out to his van a few times to get plumbering stuff.

Of course I had been too distracted to think to attach the dogs, so the first time he went out Indra seized the opportunity and buggered off, and the second time I just had time to spot Shaun's great hairy bum waddling up a side street ... I followed him, and suggested in my nicest voice that I had doggy treats in my pocket if he'd like one, but the bugger just finished eating a choice bit of fresh catshit, looked at me and smirked, and lumbered off up the road with a surprising turn of speed.

Whatever, something to look after later ... when I got back to the house the plumber was swearing mildly, which I took to be a good sign, for he had successfully removed the leaky adoucisseur and stuck a bypass in its place (because you just can't get the parts, you know).

So he made relieved noises, and went to open up the mains tap to restore water to the house: imagine the looks on our faces when the tap handle came off in his hands. The thing is blocked, closed tight, and as it is between the mains and the water counter it is legally the property and the responsibility of the mairie and he is not allowed to touch it. Also, as the plumbing on the mains side of the tap is old lead piping, I suspect that he would rather prefer not to do so.

Luckily we have a separate water supply for the verandah and the garage, so I can at least go fill up the toilet cisterns with a bucket, and I guess I could always have a bath in the horse trough. But this is not entirely satisfactory, nor viable in the long term, so tomorrow morning's little job is going to involve going to the mairie and getting them to send someone around - hoping like hell that they pull finger for tomorrow is Friday and Monday is a public holiday. Five days without a shower is pushing it a bit.

Never mind, the dogs turned up a bit later: at least, Indra came back of her own accord, looking a bit embarrassed, and I went off and found Shaun just where I thought he'd be, up at the terrain de foot mumbling disconsolately at a bit of fallen branch. Had I left it another fifteen minutes he'd probably have got bored and come back by himself. Bastard.

In late-breaking news, it would appear that Viagra has other uses than what you're thinking of - which has to be good news. Also, this means that Bill Gates is helping fund your erections, which must be good for a late-night snigger.

Goodnight: I am going to go fill a few buckets. Then I shall go get some water.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Nights On The Tiles ...

There are two cookbooks I crave: Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, and just about anything by James Beard. I was reminded of this the other night, looking down at the chopping board on which sat my solitary veal chop.

I stared at it, it stared stonily back. I had a vague recollection of his recipe for Swiss steak: perhaps it was lucky that I didn't actually follow it, because I'm not sure that veal actually requires at least 45 minutes braising ... although perhaps it would indeed have gone from "raw" through "tough" and metamorphosed into "meltingly tender", who knows?

Truth to tell, the only similarity between his recipe and what I did was the beating into the meat (the back of a meat cleaver or a heavy knife works well, I find) of unreasonable quantities of flour and seasonings before browning it in a very hot pan: at this point we diverge because
  • I was hungry
  • it smelled too good
so I contented myself with a quick whisky flambé, sloshing in some Marsala and sour cream and tinned (oh! the shame!) mushrooms to heat through and thicken, before sticking the chop back in the pan with a bit of parsley to reheat.

This is, incidentally, one of those reasons why iron or stainless steel pans are so much better than bloody light-gauge aluminium Teflon-coated crap. They heat nicely and evenly, never warp, and you actually get the caramelised brown bits stuck to the surface that you may then slowly incorporate into the sauce to thicken it and add flavour. (I recall that one of Sophie's wedding presents - from her father-in-law, a chef - was a hideously expensive professional stainless steel frying pan which actually had a slightly milled surface, just to make sure that things stuck better. It was always a real pleasure to use.)

Despite the wails of our hairy retards I headed off to Carcassonne on Saturday evening, found somewhere to park (and cheated myself out of 50 cents by feeding it to a parking meter which didn't really need it, as parking there is free after 18h - I really should read the manual) and wandered vaguely up rue de la Republique until I found le Canard Bleu.

Where Robert was already occupied with other guests, pouring wine and encouraging nibbles ... for he has finally opened his wine shop. There were seven or eight bottles I really wanted to try so not only did I pace myself but also limited myself to a mouthful or two of each: still probably over the limit, even spread out over four hours, but what the hell.

Way back in the last century when The Shamblings™ was last done up, they did not believe in this new-fangled concept of stripping wallpaper before putting the next layer on. You just kept slapping the stuff up, year after year, and imperceptibly the rooms got smaller ... to add insult to injury, not content with slapping up some particularly ugly textured paper they went on to paint over it with acrylic paint at some later date.

All this makes stripping back an archaeological adventure in bad taste, not to mention hard work. We borrowed a wallpaper stripper from Peter - it's kind of like an oversized stream iron - and a handy little device that I think is called a scarificator which just puts zillions of pinpricks in the paper so that the steam can actually penetrate, but even so with all the layers and the paint it all needs going over at least twice.

Also, I know I've mentioned it before but those people were absolutely paranoid about gravity, and things falling down. Shelving was put up with huge bolts and screws every ten centimeters, so I guess that in case of a nuclear blast in the vicinity the house might be vaporised but the shelving would still be standing. They were also apparently afraid that the skirting boards might fall to the floor, so rather than do as normal people do and just glue the things in place they attached them, more or less definitively, with 8x80mm screws at frequent intervals.

I did not know this initially, and tried to remove them with a crowbar. Not one of my finer moments.

May is, as you might have noticed, upon us: it's not officially summer but it feels that way, especially as we get loads of public holidays. The 1st (Labour Day), then the 8th (some war or another); jeudi d'Ascension and then lundi de Pentecôte, both of which are celebrated religiously in this secular country. True to form, it was bright and sunny, and I found myself inside doing more tiling (last bathroom floor done, yay!) and grouting.

There is evidently a correlation between these things - "fine weather" and "inside working on the house rather then enjoying the weather" - but I am having a few problems trying to work out the causality. It seems unlikely that the mere fact that I am inside doing something I detest could cause the sun to shine so munificently, and the sky to be so blue, but it also beggars belief to hold that I feel obliged to go lay tiles just because it's sunny.

In NooZild you have the katipo, whose bite is apparently capable of causing a painful state of priapism (although not, obviously enough, in female-gendered persons): in the West Island there are redbacks, coral snakes, crocodiles, rabid wombats and Tony Abbott. Around these parts we are blessed with scorpions.

No, I am not joking. Only little buggers - the one I saw crawling down the (outside) wall was only about 3cm long and looked kind of fragile - but quite definitely a scorpion. Another reason to wear boots when out walking up in the pinède. (Only joking. Euscorpius flavicaudis is a shy creature, and rather less venomous then a bee. Or so it seems. Yes, I did look it up.)

Would be better with MS Comic Sans
I think this is the first time I have ever taken a photo with my phone. I had occasion to head up to Chambery the other day and found myself with time to kill until Beckham became available, so I duly slaughtered it by wandering around in the FNAC and sneering at the music that the young folk are listening to these days, then down in the basement at Monoprix, where they have a very small selection of foreign wines. Is it just me, or does this look like shit wine?

Anyway, another weekend is drawing to its close but I do not care, I am smug and happy because there's another bathroom with the walls all tiled and ready to be finished - always assuming we can get André around to do this, preferably before next year. Only two to go now, and then I can ceremoniously dispose - hopefully forever - of various trowels, glue combs, and other tiling-related paraphernalia. And if I never see another 25kg sack of colle à carreler it will still be too soon.

Be that as it may, and always looking on the bright side and assuming that it is not in fact a train wreck coming in the opposite direction, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, there's still plenty to be done but it's mostly up to us now: apart from having the poele (which has been sitting in our garage for over a year now) installed in the living room - which will involve a lot of mess and dust - there's nowt major left.

The walls are up, plastered and sanded: cables poke enticingly out of holes (and the electricians are supposed to be turning up in a day or two to do something about that, and maybe even hook it all up so that we are no longer reliant on a single power point for the first floor, which is not exactly convenient), and the hot-water pipes for the central heating are all ready, just waiting for us to paint or wallpaper behind before the radiators go back up.

So although we know damn well that the chances of our actual receiving paying guests this summer are precisely zero, we are getting there. Maybe next year - assuming our progress is not asymptotic.

In any case, it's difficult to be gloomy: there's still plenty of asparagus about (never thought that there would come a time when I could seriously ask myself whether or not to buy some, on the grounds that we've had so damn much recently), and the first stone fruit of the year were out at the market yesterday.

Okay, I'm willing to admit that the pêches blanches didn't actually taste that exciting (and were much better off halved, stoned, stuffed with mashed-up butter and sugar and speculoos biscuits before being baked in the oven with orange juice) but hey! it's a start. And anyway, the apricots were fine.

Whatever, mind how you go now.