Sunday, February 3, 2019

Fecking Frigid ...

I've said it before but it's worth repeating: anyone who thinks that the south of France is uniformly warm and sunny really needs to check into one of those secluded resorts where the staff talk in cheerful but hushed voices, and the amenities include rubber cutlery, padded walls and those stylish shirts that do up down the back ... Today the sky is light, bright blue and the sun is shining valiantly: a few clouds are scudding high above for the simple reason that our lazy wind, the Cers, is gusting up to 80 kph. Let it be admitted that it's an absolutely brilliant day, ambient temperature's about 5, maybe 6° - the wind-chill, of course, knocks 10° off that.

And in but a short while I shall don the armour of righteousness ie sunglasses, scarf, closely-buttoned jacket, overcoat and gloves and go out to find a few bay leaves (some things have to be done, noblesse oblige and all that) to accompany a bit of slow-roasted pig towards its apotheosis along with yams (yay!) and kumara and stuff like that: but it will be a short walk, as short as I can make it, and I will stick to the more sheltered paths. Not that that's saying much, but you sometimes get at least the illusion of some respite from the breeze.

As an aside, I really don't know why it should be only the Brits who get such a bad press for - supposedly - always talking about the weather. Assuming that you yourself are foolhardy enough to go out for a walk, and that someone else is stupid enough to be out with the same goal, and that you should happen to meet, I rather think I've got the ensuing conversation scripted.

As such things will, the washing machine chose an Inconvenient Time to stop working: made even more inconvenient by the fact that the thing puts itself into lockdown - ie the door is actually physically locked - while it is running, or when it feels that there is an error. (For those of you not familiar with these things, I should perhaps explain that about 99% of European washing machines are in fact front-loaders, with a sort of porthole thingy at the front into which you feed any foul linen that is to be cleaned, with the drum mounted directly on the horizontal motor axis at the back. Although there is a subset, destined for tiny Parisian apartments, wherein the drum turns about a horizontal axis anchored at both ends and driven by a complex system of cogs and pulley-belts, and access is via a sort of trap-door. This latter sort do, I admit, have the advantage of not requiring a 20kg counter-weight on the axis, but are otherwise small, cheap and completely shite.)

So as opposed to a washing machine made the way that God intended, with the drum rotating about a vertical axis and - crucially - top-loading, once you start a wash cycle in one of these the door locks and stays that way until it ends, because otherwise you might open the door by accident and wind up with water all over the floor, and that would not be nice, now would it?

By sacrificing mice (I think) Margo managed to persuade it that there was not any water in it, and it reluctantly let us extract the washed but sopping load: then I went off and called the local service-person to organise a house call.

How to feel like a bloody idiot: the first thing he did, of course, was to wrestle the beast into an inclined position and then open the cap on the pump filter, from whence he extracted the half-eaten toe-end of a sock, and a toothpick. I honestly have absolutely no idea how these things came to be in there: as Jeremy is no longer with us missing socks are not an issue any more, and as a general rule we do not wash toothpicks. Still, I now know - for next time - and I suppose we shall have to start calling it the Eater Of Socks or some other cutesy name.

Once again it's the occasion for one of the occasional Health & Safety hints from The Shamblings™: this time, it's just to say that you should not pick up an ouch! burny! ramequin one-handed, from above, and try to deposit it elegantly on a plate. This is because it will slip from the oven glove's tenuous hold, fall (bouncing off a chair en route) to the floor and shatter, and then send food-splatter all over the tiles. Not to mention the chair.

Unusually, we have a solution for you: quite simply put, get at least one dog and invite it (or them, in our case) in to take a look at the problem. In about five minutes the floor will be completely innocent of any traces of scallops, shrimp, and creamy sauce (the exact details will, of course, depend on what exactly you had in your ramequin), and the cane chair seat will never have been so clean. So now you know.

So anyways, last night was that peculiarly French ceremony, les voeux du maire et du conseil municipal. For those of you who came in late and thus missed the beginning, this is a little ceremony sometime in January where (the mayor's idiot nephew having been shut in an outhouse for the duration) the mayor gets up and gives a speech telling all and sundry what happened last year and what is planned for this one; assorted dignitaries do the same; then after the obligatory wishes for health and happiness for the new year it's open season on the tables laden with crisps, pizza, and Label 5 paintstripper whisky. Usually there are lots of kids in attendance, because they're bloody expensive to feed and this one evening you can stuff them on pizza and soggy-bottomed quiche ...

I usually manage to go but this year it was cold and dank and windy, and besides I had something cooking that really needed some attention, so I missed out - but as will happen in a small village, I got the blow-by-blow account later. I was not the only one to be AWOL, apparently: our Dear Leader has managed to sufficiently piss off enough people that attendance was particularly sparse, and the speechifying was over and done with in a mere ten minutes - which has to be some sort of record.

Still, there was one thing of interest to me, namely that fibre is to be rolled out to the home in 2020. This will be a Good Thing: do you know just how frustrating it is to know that all that lovely fibre-optic cable is running under the main street (with a branch off north to Montbrun), and to think that it is dark, and that I am not connected to it? It doesn't help, either, that Orange and Bouygues and Free keep rubbing it in by sending me emails to suggest that maybe, as a professional, I should upgrade to their Fibre Pro contract: of course, when I check up as to eligibility on the appropriate website (for hope springs eternal) the brutal reply is always "No!". I has sads.

It is very true that one of the most difficult things to do in a foreign language is to use obscenities correctly. I mean, you really have to be expert ... so why do the French persist? I can still remember when we first turned up here, in Brittany, coming across a huge black-on-yellow poster for a tour by some particularly obscure English pub band which screamed "THE FRENCH FUCKING TOUR!!!", but that was a long time ago, thought that just maybe they'd got it out of their systems.

Sadly, this turns out not to be the case. The little Moux newsletter turned up at the door the other day and as one will I read it avidly, checking out births, deaths and marriages (no, I am not joking, I do that), a brief summary of some guy's master's thesis in archaeology, studying the Castrum de Moux (this being the ruin half-way up the Alaric), and turned eagerly to the announcements of the summer events. From which I learn that the vaguely Irish music at the beer festival towards the end of April will be provided by a French group calling themselves "Fucking Vintage". Gods help us all.

Whatever, time goes on - as it will - and the days are getting longer: the almond trees have their startlingly pink blossoms and soon enough it will again be Spring. Also, we seem to have missed out on the snow that was half-promised for last night ... point is, if I want to get this out the door before March I should probably hit the post button now. Mind how you go.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Letter "D" ...

... is an extremely important one, as Martin never tires of reminding us, for without it the part of Callan would have been played by one Ewar Woowar. (For those of you too young to remember the eponymous TV series, forget it.)

Anyways, after five years settling in here at The Shamblings™ it seems we really will have to leave, as the place apparently does not exist. Or so I deduce, from the fact that a UPS overnight delivery took a week due to repeatedly sending my parcel back to the Narbonne distribution centre to get the address corrected because no-one could find us: it seems that a lot of GPS systems still don't have "place St-Régis, Moux" in their database. And those that do tend to misdirect people to Fontcouverte, four km to the east ... still, I would've thought that the driver might just have phoned me. I mean, I think that's the whole point of my supplying them with a contact phone number.

Also, up till now I have managed to go blissfully through life thinking that "Murkin" was a word used by people from Canuckistan to refer to their rather more boorish neighbours to the south. But my illusions have been rudely shattered, for I have just found out that a) I got the spelling wrong and b) a "merkin" is in fact a pubic wig. It's rather a shame really, I would so like to pull that one out at Scrabble.

Christmas is approaching, and the supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of packets of Révillon chocolates - the only things worthy of gracing a French Christmas table - (there are also bloody Ferrero Rocher, and those disgusting cherry liqueur things, not to mention marrons glacés but the less said about all those the better) and the big cooler cabinets are stocked with duck thighs, duck breasts and - my favourite - raw foie gras.

I was very restrained, and only bought three: which I shall now have to devein. Not, I admit, the part I really enjoy, but it has to be done. (If you happen to have access to a supply of hypertrophied duck liver, and have no moral objections to eating the stuff, the recipe - more a technique, really - I use is here.)

(By the way, should "recidivated" be a word? As in, the act of recidivism. Because I did go back to the scene of the crime, as it were, and bought another two. Just so there's no risk of my running out. Also, I really did want to find out what would happen if I marinated one in Baileys and very strong coffee. I'll let you know how that one turns out ...)

Strangely enough, for a country that prides itself on its food, France seems to have had perhaps more than its share of food-related scandals. There was the time when literally rotting duck was sold in the supermarkets (the odd thing being that no-one actually seemed to notice, perhaps they thought that's what "gamey" is supposed to be), horse meat being passed off as beef, and of course that time when a great fuss was made when it was discovered that the pigs in the big intensive farms were being fed on dry food which involved a fair percentage of shit - both their own, and human.

So it's kind of ironic that the results of a study published the other day in le Gorafi show that there are possibly dangerous amounts of McDonalds in human faeces.

Completely unrelated is the fact that I shall be back on my usual dry-toast-and-tepid-water post-excess miracle diet, for Angela and Martin, finding themselves with a surplus-to-requirements haunch of sanglier, invited Rick and Mary and Margo and myself around to eat it last night. He'd stuck it in a bucket with a few gallons of red wine and the usual suspects in the aromates department (ie juniper berries, bay leaves, carrots and the rest) a week ago, and had hauled it out that morning to go into the oven for eight hours of slow-roasting.

And once that was in and cooking, Angela set about making gougères and baked red cabbage and concertina potatoes and cauliflower cheese ... this last being something I personally will not touch, be it with a barge-pole or any other kitchen implement, due to unfortunate memories of la grande cuisine Anglaise wherein an otherwise innocent vegetable is boiled into something that most closely resembles, in texture, colour and aroma, a half-rotting brain. Margo tells me that it was in fact absolutely delicious, and I am quite willing to believe her, but it's just one of those irrational phobias I don't seem to be able to get over.

So we started off with cheese puffs, then foie gras before attacking the pig and its trimmings, which Martin insisted on our washing down with copious quantities of a 100% syrah from the Côtes du Rhone, then after a pause for the nicotine junkies (and doing our bit for global warming), we got onto toffee pudding with caramel sauce; which is every bit as sticky as you probably think. And because, somehow, we were not totally bloated, we polished off the last bits of the foie gras along with a vendanges tardives Gewurtztraminer. Which pretty much finished me off.

Hence this morning's resolution to be rather more restrained, at least until the next time.

Which turned out, as it happened, to be some ten hours or so later, because I'm not going to skip heading off across the plain to Montbrun for drinkies of a Sunday evening.

If you ask me (that's a purely rhetorical question, I'm going to rabbit on anyway) artificial intelligence - at least the sort that gets stuck into phones and suchlike - is not yet fit for purpose. Case in point, the auto-complete feature. It's tripped me up a couple of times when writing text messages: once I had written "Enquiring minds want to" at which point the bloody thing suggested "vomit", and another time I'd got as far as "Right now, I'd really like to be eating" and the word that popped up was "you". Which, if not necessarily inaccurate, was not entirely appropriate, all things considered.

And as that has brought us back to the subject of food once again, as time goes by it seems that the Christmas-time contents of the big chest freezers in the supermarkets get more and more exotic. Used to be there was just venison and ready-marinated sanglier, set to go directly into the oven: a few years after that they were joined by kangaroo and emu steaks.

This year I couldn't help but notice the vacuum packs of zebra, llama and, of all things, crocodile steaks. I have eaten crocodile before and I can't see any point to ever doing it again: as far as I'm concerned the stuff tastes like chicken and is even more gelatinous than a lamb shank.

Speaking of which reminds me that there's a rather large (for these parts) flock of sheep and lambs pastured below us, down by the railway lines. We'll have to avoid going that way for a while: not only are they well-guarded by three or four lovely bergers des Pyrenées who take their job very seriously, but the road down there is covered in what the dogs think are exotic puppy treats. Do not want.

Christmas day was bright and sunny, so we had high hopes for the traditional Boxing Day walk oop't Alaric ... sadly, it also seems to be a tradition that the weather should turn overnight to dull, gray, cold and windy, and on top of it the bloody chasseurs were running a battue des sangliers up there, and personally I have no wish to become a statistic.

So Martin and Angela and their two dogs and I (everyone else had begged off, deciding - not unreasonably - to stay curled up inside, in the warm), thinking that discretion was the better part of valour, headed east instead, down to the Chateau La Baronne (excellent wine, by the way) and then up and over the east-west ridge that projects from the eastern end of our little mountain.

Then we found a relatively sheltered spot not too far from Martin's Chicken Bush (don't ask) and as I'd thought to bring a ham-and-egg pie and a bottle of red and three glasses and a corkscrew (somehow, you always seem to forget the little, important, things) and we had our little picnic.

Whatever, tonight it's the end-of-year bash at Ann and John's, and finding myself - beyond all understanding - with a piece of cod, and given that I always have root ginger and garlic and chilis and actually managed to get some lemongrass which doesn't look too foul at Carrefour the other day, I shall go off and turn it all into little Thai-style fish cakes to take along. Maybe some salad too, so that we can all play at hunt-the-slug ...

I missed out on the chance to wish you all a Hairy Gristlemaus, so you'll just have to make do with a Furry New Bear.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

We Shall Overcome ...

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends ... the always unedifying spectacle of the French, taking to the streets to protest - although against what exactly is not always entirely clear. I'd actually started to think that, just maybe, we'd grown out of it - for there's been nothing like a proper mass demonstration for the last few years - but sadly, this turns out not to be the case. This time it's mostly about the admittedly eye-watering hikes in the price of diesel and so, as one will, everyone is out with their cars, blocking the roads.

So it's a day of enforced immobility for me, no point to even thinking of heading in to the market at Carcassonne ... on the bright side, the subliminal hum of traffic from the autoroute has stopped, and it's eerily silent. Apart from the occasional sharp report from the vines, as some hunter takes a pot-shot at a group of hikers.

Speaking of which reminds me that if a friendly local hunter supplies you with a pheasant or two, you could do a lot worse than turn them into faisan vallée d'Auge, just saying. It's an especially good method if you're unsure of the age of the bird - not really a problem here as most game is farm-bred and then flung out into the wilderness to be shot at, but you never can tell - as it involves braising rather than roasting. It also has the advantage of being quite simple.

Basically, take your bird and wrap it in slices of bacon, then truss it and brown it in a suitably-sized sauteuse over high heat before getting to the fun part, wherein you slosh a shot glass full of Calvados over it and flambé the poor thing. Wipe away the remains of your singed eyebrows, turn the heat down to low, pour an appropriate quantity of dry cider into the pan and then, once it's come to a simmer, put the lid on and let it bubble quietly away for a while. Depending on the age and the size, this might be anything from twenty to forty minutes so do check from time to time, you don't want to have the meat actually fall off the bones.

While that's going on, take a couple of apples (Golden Delicious are pretty good, they hold their shape quite well), peel and slice, then fry the slices on both sides in butter, sprinkling with sugar as you go: you want them to caramelise nicely. And if there's still some calva left, you could flambé them too.

Finally, when the bird is done to your taste, put it aside to settle before carving and reduce the sauce, if necessary: add a healthy dose of cream and continue to reduce until thick, remembering to stir in all the nice brown bits. Rather than serving on an elegant dish such as the porcelain monstrosity you got years back from some distant aunt, just put the bits back into the pan with the apple rings on top, and spoon a bit of the sauce over. Even though buttered noodles would be the traditional accompaniment, you should remember to have hunks of baguette on the table, to make it easier to mop up the sauce ...

OK, cooking class is over, normal service will now be resumed. But you may thank me for it later.

The taxman is still doing his very best to get as far as possible up my nose. There are two sets of taxes paid on property over here: there is the taxe foncière, paid by the owner, and the taxe d'habitation, which is paid by whoever happens to be living in the place on January 1st. Lumped in with this latter is the redevance audiovisuel, better known as a TV licence, which you pay for the privilege of being able - in principle, but finding anyone who will admit to actually doing so is difficult - to watch the uniformly dire public TV chains.

So in 2016 I actually got off my arse and sent off a little déclaration sur l'honneur that we did not in fact have a TV here at The Shamblings™, and rather to my surprise, in 2016 and in 2017 I was not charged 136€ on top of everything else - so why, oh gods, do I find myself in 2018 being asked to pay for the TV I do not have? I mean, I'm sure I'd know if I'd gone out and bought one during the year ... never mind, another series of fruitless phone calls ending up in a rabbit-warren of twisty little full voice-mail boxes before I finally decide to go in and moan bitterly in person. You get used to it.

In later news, the yellow jackets blockading roundabouts and autoroute péages have mostly folded their tents and gone home, which is kind of good news for those of us who enjoy being able to go out at any random moment and buy - let's say - toilet paper. Because I went off to Carrefour yesterday to get a few basic necessities and, luckily, bog-rolls were not amongst them, because in the usual spree of panic-buying the entire alley dedicated to such things had been emptied. (Come to that, there was exactly one packet of doggy-poo bags - such as one carries about to clean up the inevitable déjection, for so it is called over here - left on the shelves, which I suppose goes to show that the French are rather more civic-minded than one might think.)

There was also no fresh milk, only two pats of organic butter, and virtually no meat. An embuggerment, 'cos what I really wanted was, as it happened, some meat, some butter, and some milk ...

Still, I suppose that even hardened protesters like to have clean bottoms, for now the supply trucks are once more rolling in to stock up the shelves and we may again wallow in the luxury of wiping our bums with luxuriously soft pale lavender rose-scented paper, rather than glossy pages torn out from last year's Home & Garden (which are not, if you're wondering, really fit for purpose).

It is now, I note, a week since I last set fingers to keyboard: the trucks are still rolling for - possibly for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic (yeah, we index them over here, possibly something to do with Cartesianism) - the CRS have apparently been told not to turn a blind eye to unlawful behaviour, such as it might be emptying a dumpster-full of pigshit at an autoroute access.

Be that as it may, there was still a manif planned for Saturday moaning in place Gambetta, which is where I always park, so I thought the hell with it, there's always the Olonzac market of a Tuesday so why go looking for an emmerdement?

And as it was - for once - a glorious day, the sort of day you're supposed to have in autumn down in these parts, Sarah took us off to Montséret down in the southern Corbières to see a little expo d'artisanat. And if that sounds like dribbly teapots, hand-made jewelry and earnest basket-weaving to you, you'd not be too far off. (Actually, I exaggerate. It was nowhere near that bad: no teapots, for one thing.)

But it is a pretty place anyway, apparently full of maisons de campagne and "artists" - both for the same reason I guess: it's cheap, and the weather is - usually - good. It also nestles at the foot of a colline, which is sort of a bonsai mountain, at the top of which there is a ruined chateau fort. From a distance it's easy to mistake it for part of the rock, but closer up you can see that it's actually a built thing (for a given value of "built" which involves piling stones one atop the other and hoping gravity gives them a break and they don't fall down out of sheer boredom).

There's a walking track up there, and I am willing to bet that the view out over the Corbières would be really spectacular, but feet were not appropriately attired for that sort of thing and I will put that one off for another day.

Apart from these minor logistical problems, and the existential dread that the bar will in fact close (I'm giving it another month or two, there's no official book been made on it yet but that will doubtless come), we know that in another month the winter solstice will arrive and then the days will start to get longer and before you know it, spring will arrive.

Whatever, I must have lead a virtuous life - either that or I have been rewarded by mistake instead of some other poor sod who really deserved it - for I went out this morning to take the dogs off and lo! on the doorstep was a large box of what I have managed to identify as lactaire délicieux, aka the saffron milk-cap.

Let it be admitted that I'd completely forgotten about meeting old Jean-Claude last night, over at the bar in Montbrun, and that he'd asked if I liked mushrooms. Not being a complete idiot I replied with a yes, and he murmured something about dropping some off some time ... and then one thing lead to another, as it will, and it had totally slipped my mind.

Just goes to show that you really should cultivate an amicable relationship with such people. At least I know what's for dinner tonight - after cleaning them delicately and making sure they're not worm high-rise housing, they will go into a very hot pan with a large lump of butter. Once they've started to sweat, get rid of the water, turn the heat down and add garlic (of course) before sprinkling with parsley to serve. Sounds good to me, anyway.

Any left-overs, by the way, go down quite well scattered on a sheet  of puff pastry which you have previously slathered with sour cream and - why not - thinly sliced strips of bacon, then sprinkled with moah parsley before baking in a hot oven. Just so you know.

Anyway, I should probably get back to more profitable pursuits ie work. For some strange reason my petits suisses want my favourite blue boxen to work as Wifi access points (with, of course, all the security problems that poses, but that is parked in the "Not My Problem" department) and so I have spent rather more time that I care to recall looking for USB Wifi dongles for which I can locate drivers that a) will build under Linux 2.6.35 and b) actually work with the dongle in question.

This is not always as easy as I think it should be. Especially when products which are advertised as using one particular chipset in fact use another, requiring a different driver ... never mind, these are my problems and I am reasonably well-paid to solve them. It keeps the wolf from the door, anyway.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Toilets, And Taxes ...

So Sarah very kindly consented to take me off to Boutenac and Gasparet yesterday, so I could get my fill of the autumn colours. Driving along the twisty little roads amongst the huge stony outcrops and pines, I don't think I will ever get tired of the landscape in our little part of the world. It's not what you could call "pretty", and certainly not for everyone, but it suits me just fine. The sky could have been bluer, but you can't have everything ...

Also, can't go out every day taking photos, which is why I found myself at home today, bored witless ... and as he will, the Devil found use for idle hands, and I now have a sparkling-clean knob.

Nine of them, in fact, for not content with cleaning the stove-top and the grills, I pulled off all the knobs and cleaned those too. Do you know how boring that gets? I must have had something really important to put off.

Someone once asked me why I don't just let Margo take care of that sort of domestic task: but she takes the not-entirely unreasonable view that not only am I the one that wanted this hideously expensive stove in the first place, but also I am the only one allowed to use it, on pain of pain, so I can bloody well clean it. No-one's ever asked that particular question again. Not since I mentioned the state of the chainsaw, anyway.

Now Boutenac is a nice little town, centre of the appellation of the same name: sadly, they seem to have decided to dig up all the streets in one fell swoop and so whichever way you arrive you will be confronted with a large and alarmingly yellow sign saying "Deviation" pointing you off on to some side street. Which, as a law-abiding citizen, you will follow.

Later on, there will be yet another such sign - "good", you think, "I'm getting out of here" - and then, somehow, in some godforsaken carpark, they seem to have run out of signage, leaving you lost and abandoned. It is at times such as these that I tend to remember that excellent episode "Countrycide" from Torchwood, way back in the day.

Not helped, I may say, when after I'd parked in the unsigned carpark and got out to wander a bit and met no-one for ten minutes or so, an elderly woman with a stick appeared from a crook or nanny and said something along the lines of "Ooh! Are you taking photos of our village?"

At that point I should probably have knocked her to the ground, stolen her stick and dentures, and been on my way - but there was a group of small children between me and the car, so I thought it better to be prudent.

And I explained that yes, I was indeed a visitor - from Moux, almost 20km away, and that I was indeed taking photos - I could just as well have said that I was some tentacled monstrosity from Mars because she took no notice, other than to say "I've just walked around the village, and it's deserted. As if there's no-one here". Then she tottered off into the distance: I weighed my options, made my way as calmly as I could back to the car, and left as discreetly and as rapidly as possible.

Gasparet, on the other hand, is the sort of place that you know will be empty as soon as you arrive. Not so much a town as a cross-road in the middle of nowhere: and even the chateau/cave was closed, despite the welcoming signs announcing "dégustation et vente de vin".

Still, I had nowt better to do, and the other chateau - from the early 1800's if I'm any judge - was worth a look, and there were no frighteningly calm old ladies wandering about. In fact, there was no-one. Not a single human being. (Apart from two Parisians, who don't really count and in any case quickly got into their Volvo and headed off.) Didn't even see a cat - at least, not one that was moving.

So from thence I went to Thézan, where at least the presse/tabac was open (the young guy behind the counter was suspiciously friendly, which leads me to suspect that they don't see too much new blood in those parts), so I bought a couple of cigars and smoked one to calm my nerves ... which was probably a good thing, because from there on the way back to Ferrals and an approximation of civilisation I had to start by following a Spaniard in a BMW who had obviously not entirely come to grips with the facts that a) you are at the wheel of "the ultimate driving machine"; b) yes, roads twist - that's what gears are for, not to mention the actual steering wheel and - if you absolutely must - the brakes; c) the speed limit in these parts is not 50kph.

Last I spotted in the rear-view mirror he had not ended up in a ditch, so I suppose all's well that ends more or less satisfactorily. For Sarah and I, at least.

In other news, it seems that our bar may not actually be closing! Bloody rumours, frightening me like that. What in fact happened that Magali, for reasons which escape me, is pregnant - which does, I'm told, rather cramp one's style - but if the financials are such that they can afford to take on Benedicte permanently behind the counter then they will do this thing, and stay open.

You cannot imagine what a relief this is to us.

Anyways, this weekend got off to quite a good start, apart from the Incident when I woke Sarah up. I'd plugged my phone in to charge, and then when I pushed the go-tit I was all of a sudden surrounded by hysterical drug-addled Daleks, screaming "Exterminate!" in unison. In my usual befuddled state (hey, Saturday moaning, remember?) it took me a while to realise that Sarah had recognised my phone as a storage device, found some music on it, and had then turned the stereo on for my listening pleasure - consequently playing my ring-tone in a never-ending loop. At very high volume.

In the Grand Scheme of Things that's really pretty trivial - once I'd found the off button for the stereo (although I know, from bitter experience, that from now on until some random time in the future she will continue to turn the stereo system on every time she starts) and things went well, until maybe an hour ago.

Not quite true, because there turned out to be a gaggle of Catalan bag-pipers in place Carnot, which was a bit of a bugger. The pipes are not, despite what you may think, the exclusive preserve of the Scots: they are just the most notorious practitioners. It seems that almost every civilisation arrives at a point where they say to themselves "Hey! Wouldn't it be a great idea if we stuck some pipes up a goat's rectum and squeezed to see what kind of noise it makes?"

To which I can confidently reply that no, it is possibly the worst idea you could ever come up with, do not even try it because the kind of noise it makes is not a nice one. You'd think they'd have learnt by now ...

But true calamity struck when José came past, pulled up, opened the boot of his enormous Beemer and handed me a large plastic bag. I was wondering why he had chosen today for a wine drop, and then "You will, of course" he said, "have to plume it". Because as it happened, the bag contained a rather freshly-dead hen pheasant.

I had not planned on spending my afternoon plucking and drawing a bird, but these things do - I'm told - gang aft agley, and so that is in fact what I shall be doing. But it will be after going off to the butcher's to pick up a nice bit of lamb (for I have no wish to turn up with feathers coming out my nose) to be roasted with the giant parsnip I picked up at the market.

I don't know why, because I'm not really that keen on the things, but Margo likes the stuff: I have received strict instructions that the meal will involve roast parsnip (check), roast potato (check), roast kumara (check), steamed Brussels sprouts (check) finished off in the lamb fat while the roasting draws to a close, and - of course, more as an afterthought than anything else - roast lamb.

If all that seems a bit heavy on the carbohydrates to you, you are not alone: but I have my orders.

But back to the bird - I have never, in all my life, done that sort of thing to any animal, although I had vague ideas that one should maybe drown them in boiling water (seems redundant, the beast was already dead as far as I could tell) and then enthusiastically pull out great wodges of soggy feathers. And as for removing the entrails, it's true that such things are usually done for one, but I have your cook's basic knowledge of anatomy and anyway how hard can it be to stick your fingers up the poor thing's bum and pull everything out?

As it happens, and luckily for me, there's any number of videos up on YouTube illustrating the act of sexual hygiene pheasant-plucking, one of which seemed remarkably simple and involved no faffing about with water at precisely 83°C or anything like that, so I watched that - twice - and set about doing it.

A bucket-load of feathers later, and with some rather disappointed dogs who were convinced that gizzards would make a great doggy snack, I found myself with an admittedly scrawny but definitely bald bird on my hands: following advice I stuck a paper towel where its digestive tract had once been, wrapped it in more paper towels, and stuck it into the fridge to - um, mature - until Widdlesday, when I shall bard and roast it.

Unless, of course, things start getting a bit whiffy in there, in which case I shall have to stick it in the freezer until required.

Please pardon a slight digression here, but over in these here Furrin Parts you can head off to the supermarket of your choice and take your pick from a bewildering array of toilet paper. They range from rolls of what look like badly-recycled newsprint up to the top-of-the-line 5-layer stuff, luxuriously soft and infused with aloe vera or other essential oils. (Margo's preference is for "Just One", a complete misnomer in my opinion because if you can get your bum clean with just one square of toilet paper then you are a much better man than I, just saying. Or, possibly, extremely parsimonious, and willing to live with the consequences.)

In fact the only sort you can no longer buy - I suspect it's reserved for public toilets and the SNCF - is the stuff that comes in what appears to be boxes of paper tissues (bet that's fooled more than one) and looks like shiny squares of nicotine-stained baking paper: also, completely useless at its stated job.

Anyway, the point is that I am informed by a member of the prominent Sources family (you know, "Reliable", "Highly-Placed", and "Confidential", to name but three of the cousins) that in inner-city Aldi supermarkets in Germany you may buy a brand that is called - and I am not making this up - "Happy End"*.

Whatever, I spent this moaning most unproductively: off into Carcassonne to queue for two hours just to make an appointment to see a tax-person. Under normal circumstances I would have arranged that by phone - yes, I did think of that - but right now any time you call and go through the comedy of punching in numbers to get through to the right department, you inevitably wind up speaking to an answering machine that says "Hello, your call is important to us. Voice-mail is full right now, please press 8 to leave a message which will not be recorded, because we're full. Thank you."

It seemed easier to stand in line and listen to other peoples' ringtones, and the odd intimate conversation. (Do these people really not give a shit that I now know things about their sex life that I really, really did not want to know?)

Whatever, huge dark clouds are rolling in ominously from the Mediterranean, and I have a rolled pork rib roast slowly cooking in the oven with garlic and herbs and milk, so I should really go occupy myself with that. Mind how you go, now.

* See? I told you so ...

Monday, October 29, 2018

Things I'd Not Planned on Doing ...

By now, world + dog probably knows that we've had a once-in-a-century flooding event: one of those Rumsfelds. You know, as in "shit happens". We got off very lightly - thank gods we didn't buy one of those picturesque houses on the banks of the canal du Midi, nor in Trèbes (where there is not only the canal, but also the river Aude), nor in Lagrasse, through which the Orbieu runs (only under normal circumstances, it runs well below street level). Truth to tell, the only problem we had was the verandah being awash in the morning, and when it all cleared up and the blue sky came back in the afternoon, we discovered why.

The verandah was roofed by a twisted evil genius - or a complete idiot, take your pick, although I'm going with the latter option - and so there's a sort of sheltered gully in it, with its own gutter, which goes into its own downpipe which then spews water all over the terrace. When it works. What we found was that the gutter, and the downpipe, were completely blocked with a few decades-worth of dried cat-shit, and the water had to go somewhere. Dripping into the verandah, as it happens, as a vaguely extremely unappetising turd soup.

So cleaning that out turned out to be our afternoon's job, and let me just say that I'd much rather not have had to do it.

The vines, of course, have very soggy feet, and around here - where the transport infrastructure is pretty much third-world quality anyway - some roads now have places where they're covered with other bits of road, where slabs of tarmac have been undermined and then come free and bobbed happily around for a bit. At least they'll now have to do something about those potholes which is perhaps just a little more sophisticated than chucking the odd shovel-full of hot-mix into them from the flatbed of the municipal truck (every once in a while, when they find a bit of spare petty cash down the back of the mayoral sofa, they splurge on a tub of tar and a cubic metre of gravel), but this being the south I'm not going to hold my breath.

In other news, it is once more time to drag the hi-viz jackets out of the wardrobe and dust off the doggy bells, for the hunting season has opened - with, of course, a bang. You can tell this not only from the occasional sharp report up in the pinède or in the vines, but also from the odd dazed pheasant wandering about the village, with what passes for its mind preoccupied with major existential questions like "what the hell am I doing here?". It would probably be better off pondering "how long am I going to be here?", but there you go, I guess that prioritisation has never been a forté of the bird brain.

(Just as an aside, there's a "fake news" site over here that I look at from time to time: one of their later articles reported on the joy of the various hunting associations on discovering that the competent ministry had significantly raised the quotas on hikers and trail bikers.)

Hunting season also means it's Autumn, and with that come the gentle breezes (gusting up to 50 kph, today) which make it quite a hard slog walking into the wind. And when you're walking with it at your back it's not so good either, as it blows straight up the dogs' bums and up to what they are pleased to call their brains, making them even more bubble-headed than usual.

José, the menuisier from Montbrun, came past a while back to drop off two large wardrobes that were surplus to requirements, and now that the borer has been put to the sword one of them is in the verandah by the front door, ostensibly for stashing coats. But it is capacious enough to conceal a multitude of gins, so Margo ever-so-gently suggested that it would be a Good Idea if I sorted through the (large) box of boots that came down with us on our epic voyage five years ago, and has been sitting out there ever since.

Quite frankly, I don't know why we bothered. Bringing them, that is. Probably because they were sitting at the front door in Saint-Pierre, and towards the end of the proceedings, when it became evident that there was not nearly enough time to sort things properly, it was a case of "fling it all into bags or boxes, load it into the lorry, and we'll sort it out at the other end".

Which has, finally, been done. Of eight pairs of boots - some dating back to the Bronze Age - seven are now in black plastic bags to go out on the street for the next time the mayor's idiot nephew comes past with the truck to do "les encombrants", and one pair is in the wardrobe, waiting for me to attack it with a brush and the vacuum cleaner.

Which I shall do with some trepidation, for over the years they have become full of dog hair and dust and godnose what else, and I rather expect that at the toe end there will be a highly-developed civilisation of fluff which I shall have to wipe out.

I has news! Not, unfortunately, good news. It would appear that our bar is to close at the end of the year, which is a complete embuggerment. OK, it wasn't entirely unexpected, but still ... the thing is, Lionel gets all a-flustered as soon as more than four people come in wanting food, and when he's busy chatting with a mate you could die of thirst before getting served at the counter. The best part, it seems, of running a bar is when you get to pop out and sit down for a fag, with no-one importuning you for service: otherwise, it's too much like hard work.

Still, it's hardly a spur of the moment decision, I would think, so I have to ask myself why they invested in a fancy kebab grill and a huge - and doubtless hugely expensive - sound system only recently. Makes no sense to me, but then it's not really my problem, I guess. I mean, apart from the fact that we will, once again, be barless. Which is not good.

Oh well, we shall just have to fend for ourselves again, I suppose, hoping all the while that the mairie doesn't take an age to find a replacement - preferably one that's competent, and doesn't mind working.

Whatever, we are currently "enjoying" a cold front that seems to have come direct from Scandinavia. From 22° about a week ago it's plummeted to 6° today: the sky is grey, dull and dismal, there is sporadic spiteful rain, and the wind is gusting enthusiastically. Also, thanks to the end of daylight saving, it is dark and gloomy around 18h, which is emphatically not nice.

Still, it could be worse. I had occasion to drag myself away from the fire and brave the weather to go help Nicole out, as she had not Internet: the phrase "computer-illiterate" was invented for her. So I reset the router, and then re-entered the WiFi key into her iThing, which had decided, for some reason, to forget it. And don't get me on to the subject of why the bloody things can't use WPS for key exchange ...

And then she had gmail working on the tablet but not on the laptop because somewhere along the line she - or, more probably, her daughter - had changed the password: you can't actually see the password on the iThing because it's protected by TouchID, which didn't seem to want to work, so I couldn't put the right password into the laptop (also, frikking Edge seems to have saved every password for every site except that for gmail), and if I reset the password via the laptop (because Google won't allow you to reuse an old password) I would have had to edit the password on the tablet and as that's protected I couldn't do that either ...

I do not know why complete strangers come up to me in the street to tell me that Apple gear is so simple to use, I really don't. I now have a brief answer for them, but I fear it may be impolite.

Anyways, the point was (originally) that we are having only light breezes compared to Corsica, where gale-force winds have kept the ferries in port. So think of us, will you?