Sunday, July 26, 2015

Il Pleut, Il Pleut, Bergère ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Speling Is Opshunal ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or so I tell myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.