Sunday, September 11, 2016

Eating Fish ...

So after an impromptu and totally not-my-fault meal with Rick and Mary the other night (so I had a bit too much beef fillet. Go sue me) we organised ourselves for a Tuesday's goofing off, a day at the beach.

Don't know how it happened, but we got to Narbonne and onto the road to Gruissan, and then somehow we got lost. Or geographically disadvantaged, whatever.

But once we'd worked out that we didn't actually know where we were it turned out to be pretty easy to get where we really wanted to be, by following the roads through the lines of little ticky-tacky boxes (and giving way at each intersection, which is so not fun) and wound up once again at la Perle Gruissanaise for a seafood lunch.

And no, we did not take the dogs. Some people do, but they have well-behaved dogs. Sad to say, we do not. Okay, Indra and Jara would - eventually - have calmed down and sat quietly at our feet whilst we munched our prawns and bread and salad and sipped/slurped the excellent local white (La Clape, try it if you get a chance) but Piddling Emma would definitely have let the side down if you ask me.

Then once we had eaten, and drunk, we clambered our way across the breakwater and down to the little beach at that end of the port, and collected sand in various orifices and laid back in the sun and watched the water come lazily in before retreating, clawing back the shells and interesting stones and bits of driftwood and the odd condom into the sea, to turn up eventually on another beach, to give other people somewhere else something to look at. Maybe Tokyo Bay is the human condition writ small, all I know is that I really hate getting sand in my jandals.

Also, we had inexplicably forgotten to take glasses and another half-litre of cool white wine with us, which is always a bummer when contemplating metaphysical questions.

Because such things are usually fueled by alcohol, and under the sun on a day as summer draws to a close, white wine is the best there is. (Although Rick prefers rosé, but then he is not really a serious thinker.)

As part of our on-going effort here at The Shamblings™ to improve the human condition, I will shortly be patenting the Device And Method For Keeping Spaniels' Ears Clean During The Act Of Ingestion. (I realise that, like Leonard da Quirm, the Naming Of Things is not one of my strong points, and I'd appreciate it if anyone could suggest something slightly snappier. It's so important for commercialisation, of which I have great hopes.)

The invention consists of two studs (A and B) of surgical-quality titanium which shall each have on the upper portion a vertical axis on which a neodymium magnet may freely rotate in such a manner that the N/S faces are parallel to the axis (see Fig. 1). Each stud is implanted at the end of an ear (assuming a standard two-eared dog) with the aforementioned axis on the upper side of the ear. When feeding time arrives the studs may be brought together in such a manner (thanks to the freely rotating axes) that the magnets M1 and M2 are attracted sufficiently to hold the tips of the two ears over the head, rather in the fashion of a bonnet (see Fig. 2), so that they may not fall into the dish of food.

When eating is completed it suffices to slide the flat surfaces of the two magnets in an opposed direction (see Fig. 3): they are thus disjoined and the ears may once again fall freely. Is this a Great Idea, or should I start taking the medication again?

In other news, I took little Suzy off a few weeks ago - whilst she was still insured - along the wibbly-wobbly rough goat-tracks that pass for roads around here and into the vineyards to - umm, acquire -  a certain number of souches de vigne. Which are now lurking in the garage, and from time to time as the need arrives, I go down with the sabre saw and slice them into bits, and then they go onto one of the barbecues - which one depends on how many of us are going to be eating.

They're at least 50 years old by the time they're untimely ripp'd from the earth, and so as dense as The Donald - consequently absolutely ideal for this porpoise: the only problem, if such it is, is that they just keep on going. So once the flames had burnt down one evening I slapped on the spatchcocked chicken and about 45 minutes later that was ready and we ate it: it's just that once we'd eaten and I went out to inspect the funeral pyre I could not help but notice that it was just ready for, as it might be, a nice côte de boeuf. And then, maybe, some toasted marshmallows.

Come to that, I re-offended last night when Martin and Angela (and Manon the puppy) and Rick and Mary came around. Rick brought a huge 2-litre bottle of tonic, saying he'd just have one little gin and then he was on to something rather better for his liver: I note that the bottle is still lying, untouched, in the fridge.

I also seem to recall that he and Martin between them finished off the bottle of Gran Riservo Ambrato vermouth that was lurking there, as being the best I could find for making dry martinis (because proper Martini Sec cannot be found for love nor money in these benighted parts, and Noilly Prat is not the same) so I shall have to make a trip to the one supermarket of which I know that stocks the stuff, and so replenish my supply.

(In all honesty, not entirely his fault. We'd run out of wine in bottles, had already finished off the Tanqueray in the freezer and the sherry had not yet been stuck in the fridge, so when he called imperiously for something to drink that "would surprise me" I had precious little choice. And when Martin asked for "that is so excellent, a bit of the same?" I knew the bottle was doomed.)

Whatever, two large côtes de boeuf and a half-dozen sardines went to their maker over the coals, along with the last few cobs of corn I could obtain (at, admittedly, eye-watering prices, thanks to the general drought in these here parts), and then ... Do you recall, back in the seventies when burnt oranges and browns were considered good colour choices for wallpaper, that really classy dessert made by dunking gingernut biscuits in sherry and then sandwiching them together with whipped cream? And flummery?

Thought you might. And as Martin had brought back a couple of bottles of sherry and a few packets of gingernuts from the UK, as part-payment for our looking after little Manon for the week, it seemed to be the only reasonable thing to do.

Anyway, the vendange has started around these parts, and there is a great clattering of tractors and a general air of cautiously optimistic morosity. The grapes are exceedingly small, and on a lot of bunches there's maybe 30% that haven't even developed past the tiny green marble stage, but those that have are very ripe and massively full of sugar.

Godnose what they're going to do with that: I am not a vigneron, but even I can guess that the quantity will be way down, and depending on how it's vinified it could be overloaded with tannin and absolutely ghastly, or just right and - unusually for these parts - turn into a decent vin de garde. Not really my problem, I just drink the stuff.

But right now I guess I'd better go see how many puddles of piddle there are to be cleaned up in the verandah, then carry on working on my sun-tan. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Summer Lawns, Hissing Of ...

Over here in Ole Yurrup it is, as you are doubtless aware, summer-time. It is also and quite incidentally 2016, which means that as the stifling air starts to get that just-baked smell about it around these parts (about 9am) we retreat indoors and, for want of anything better to do, dip into the on-going cluster-fuck that is the American presidential election cycle.

It's an odd thing, I have the best adjectives, the greatest adjectives ever, but I couldn't think of a single one that I really wanted to stick into that sentence, just before "cluster-fuck". Purely out of a sense of decency, and because I actually like words and do not want to embarrass or hurt them. (Also, my fingers are perfectly average in size, maybe the left index is a bit stumpy but nothing to worry about when the Digit Police come around.)

This is France, and so things are more complicated than they need to be. Margo's little MiTo is all organised, and we have but to pay for it. First option, of course, is to get financing through the garage, but then they want your proof of residence, in my case the bilan for the company, plus tax returns unto the seventh generation, and you know what? I can't be arsed.

So I phoned the bank, who have had the privilege to have us as clients for some time now, to arrange a loan, which they are more than pleased to do: apart from a few signatures no paperwork need change hands and on top of it the interest rate is about 1.7% which is, quite frankly, not too bad. The fly in the ointment is that although the cash will land in an account as soon as the bank gets a copy of the bill, I still have to pay the garage at some point. (Unreasonable, but there you are.)

Which means that I have to obtain a bank cheque, rather than a personal cheque, so that I can hand it over tomorrow when we take delivery. In principle there is no difference, there is no way the bank is going to honour its cheque if, somehow, you manage to clean out your account and flee to Bolivia before it gets cleared, but it seems to make people feel more comfortable.

This in turn means that I have to go into a local branch of the CIC to get such a thing, and as it's summer here (see first paragraph) all the people who are actually allowed to sign off on them are on holiday, and the desks are (wom)manned by pimply-faced interns who ask me to please come back in the afternoon, when there is a slight chance that there will be someone competent to handle the matter.

I am not, by my oath, a violent man, but I swear that I am, at times, tempted to perform certain acts which would make even Attila the Nun look shame-faced. The same pimply-faced youth was there when I went back and apparently a) he has a short memory, for I had to go through the whole bloody schtick one more time and b) he has no idea how lucky he is, for he had the culot to tell me "Sorry squire, can't do you one of those: you is with CIC Savoie, down here we is CIC Sud-Ouest."

I swear to god I nearly killed the little bugger on the spot, followed rapidly by an invasion of maggots in the eyeballs of his immediate superiors and then a tactical nuke on Orbiting HQ in Paris, but I refrained. And phoned the garage, and worked out that they would take the money anyway they could get it.

(Incidentally, if that interests you, they have an elderly Rolls Royce Silver Ghost - only it's painted cack bronze, so not quite silver but never mind - in stock, only €22 000.)

So anyway Friday was a big day. We went off and got Sarah's little sister, and then that afternoon I had to take Sarah back to Carcassonne so that the nice mechanics at the Alfa garage could put their hands up her skirts (and as it turns out there's another bit playing up, I has sads) and finally we went off and picked up Waddling Emma.

Who looks, more or less, like this. She's (mostly - well, partly) spaniel and she definitely loves water. To the point of not wanting to have any of it in her water bowl, which involves sticking the muzzle in to drink, then the front paws go in to see if she can't splash it all out that way, finally the hind paws go in too. Water bowl as foot bath. And if all else fails she can always pick it up in her teeth and empty it out.

This makes for a fair bit of cleaning up in the moaning - and, to be fair, at any other time of the day. Also, we have her sister Manon staying with us at the moment, due to Angela and Martin having gone back to the UK to sob about the exchange rate these days go to a music festival.

Both belong to the old school of gnawers, as witness the state of the cross-bar on the wooden table on the terrace. Puppies are why we can't have nice things.

Some people are apparently concerned, to the point of obsession, with emoji - those stupid yellow Pacman heads that sometimes crop up in your SMS, for those of you that are the proud possessors of an ancient Nokia candy-bar and have been living under a rock for the past 20 years (and quite rightly too). The possibility exists for everyone to create their own, and - I quote - “If this is taken to extremes, it could result in entire sets of incompatible emojis that are indecipherable on other platforms,” Jeremy Burge, founder of Emojipedia, told Ars. “That would be a problem.”

Actually, no, it wouldn't. It might - by some stretch of the imagination - be a slight inconvenience to some wankers. Having a thermonuclear bomb detonate over New York - on the orders of POTUS, à la Failsafe - now, that would be a problem (especially for New Yorkers, but maybe they're all actually Woody Allen so who cares). Go get a fucking life, you sad tosser.

And we wrapped up the week  with another manifestation, organised by the comité des fêtes and this time they'd had the brilliant idea for a soirée dégustation. (Well, I say "brilliant" because it all worked out very well indeed, but quite frankly you never know and it might well have been that no-one at all turned up - which would have been a shame.)

They managed to get five of the nearby wine domaines to turn up, along with the guy from St-Couat who makes beer as a sideline (and of whom I have spoken before) and the principle was quite simple: pay 5€ and you get a glass and five tickets, each good for a refill. Pay another 5€ and you get what I personally considered a way-too huge assiette de tapas. Could have sold them for twice the price.


Unfortunately Moux is a bit behind the times and it is felt that serving such things on a slate rather than a plate is edgily trendy, or vice versa. It's not, believe me. They're a pain in the arse to actually serve up, dull the knife, are excessively heavy and are a bitch to clean. Mind you, if you don't happen to have a pizza stone they'll do the job quite honorably.

Be that as it may, the Chateau de Cavailhès, just across the nationale at Montbrun, had a wonderfully spicy nose so I think I just might go get some more of that at some point in the not-too distant future. Also, the domaine des Demoiselles was kind of promising ...

I make all these good resolutions about not drinking any more than is strictly necessary, and then something like this happens. Bitch!

In a fit of more-than-usual stupidity I happened to go past the sports ground this moaning, taking Indra for her bowel exercise, and seeing only Dominic and one other person up there volunteered to help clean up. (Volunteering? I don't do that! Or shouldn't, at my age.) Whatever, didn't hurt too much, and at least I got an invite to a full guided tour of the cave coopérative on Thursday. Which has to be a plus.

Anyway, I'm sure I have better things to do - like go top up my glass - and it is hot, and the puppies are lying out on the verandah having a sleep and it would be nice if they stayed like that for a while, and the Canadairs are droning back and forth overhead because it looks like a fair bit of acreage about 4km east of us is up in flames, so I'll let you get back to your doubtless blameless pursuits.

Think of us as we suffer in the heat, and mind how you go now.

Just a quick PS: what the hell happened to journalism whilst I was out of the room? Or have sub-editors finally evolved to the point where they can do spontaneous sarcasm?



I suppose I should credit stuff.co.nz for the image and the headline, but it's quite likely that they're already cringing and I can see no point to adding to their humiliation - apart from the purely gratuitous fun and pleasure, I mean.

Also, the answer is, apparently, between 7 and 13 minutes. Reflect on that. 

PPS: don't know if that includes foreplay. Perhaps I should ask the scientists.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rustication ...

With perfect 20/20 hindsight, we should perhaps have named New Dog "Shiva, the Destroyer", rather than "Jara, goddess of old age and occasional corpse-eater". "Cease your tedious wittering, you old fool", I hear you say, "can you not see that butter would not melt in her mouth?"

True enough, for a given value of "true": in this case, one which involves our making bloody sure that she has no access to butter. So far she has eaten a crochet hook, severely mangled the covers of two Kindles, devoured the front cover and page 117 of a copy of Good Omens (which I was actually reading although not, evidently, at the time), unrolled and turned into lace doilies 2km of paper towels and, just last night, knocked over and broke one of those nice old stoneware preserving pots, of the sort that you might use to store a winter's-worth of confit de canard and which, these days, cost a small fortune.

I rather think that in future we shall have to tie her up when we have to go out and leave the pair of them to their own devices, because Mischief loves company. And we still have some stuff out on the verandah that is important to us.

Anyways, the 13th duly rolled around and we ambled up to the sportsground adequately prepared - that is, we'd neither eaten nor drunk for about 48 hours. A wise precaution, all things considered. Sadly, no fireworks - the wind was too high, and we'd had the Canadairs circling lazily overhead for a few days beforehand, not to mention a couple of thousand hectares going up in flames.

Whatever, we did due justice to the food, and as soon as we started on one bottle another one, dripping with condensation, was delivered as backup: but we left before the serious dancing started.

And then a few days later we loaded up the car with woefully inadequate supplies of wine and food, stuffed the dogs in the boot and headed off up the A75 in search of Burgundy, and Ian and Marie's country seat.

Made good time - although it was perhaps a bit naughty of me to be doing 120 along the departmentales when we were finally obliged to quit the autoroute - so it was but mid-afternoon when we rolled up in front of the gate, only to find it blocked by some bloody Parisian tourist.

You guessed it: despite the most pious intentions Ian and Marie had not actually left as planned that morning, not a bad thing as we had time to exchange hellos and Ian left the combination for the wine cellar.

Which is, incidentally, looking rather emptier than when last I saw it, some six years ago I guess. Fair enough, there comes a point where you have to start drinking the stuff and there's no point replacing it because you'd just be leaving it for your kids to inherit. Which would be a waste, admit it.

We'd had time to unload and fill the fridge and unleash the dogs (who promptly went berserk for ten minutes) and then clean up the mess in the boot (next time must take some brown paper bags, Jara does not travel as well as Indra and to all evidence tends to get carsick, but at least we'd had the foresight to put blankets down) before Rick and Mary turned up, having been temporarily geographically disadvantaged.

We'd planned - vaguely - of doing all sorts of cultural things, including going off to see Mssrs Martin and Maltoff at Coulange-la-Vineuse to stock up on some wine (for the very last bottles in my possession evaporated a few years back), but as luck would have it the weather was exceptionally fine and sunny.

And as Burgundy is well-watered, that means it was also humid - to the point where, between 9am and 18:30, we all sat or lay flopped in the shade or in the cool of the house, doing as little as possible. Even the prospect of a trip to the reservoir for a cooling swim was considered and rejected on the grounds that it's all very well going off for a refreshing plunge and getting duckweed in your ears, but you still have a half-hour in the sweltering car to get back to the house afterwards and A/C is all very well but ...

So by general agreement, we did very little apart from a few necessary trips in the cool of the morning to Clamecy for provisions. About the only thing we did get around to doing was heading off to St Sauveur to see the nature park (Angela and Mary, who wanted to see Bambis) and the slowly-advancing chateau of Guédelon (the rest of us, with the exception of Rick who very nobly decided to stay at home and guard the gin).

Oh, and Margo and I managed to make it off to a pottery exposition at Lain, and it's being a number of years since last we did something like that we could not resist, and bought some shiny! sparkly!

(Not exactly. I got two plates which, being flat, are ideal for unmoulding as it might be a cheesecake onto and were therefore a necessary acquisition, and something that looks rather like a terrine dish or a tall sardine tin, and a couple of nice bowls just because, and six small saké cups which will be repurposed for whisky. Margo got a clock.)

Three couples, and we took it in turns to do dinner and the following day's lunch. Which made a pleasant change from the usual state of affairs. Rick is an excellent cook who can churn out great pizza and wonderful falafels apparently at the drop of a hat, Angela and Martin produced a sublime prawn curry, and I managed to find some popsicle lobsters so that was homard Thermidor one evening.

(Note, incidentally, that that's a lot quicker and easier than you may think, especially if you're easily intimidated by words like Escoffier.)

In fact the only worm in the apple, if I may say so, was the fact that the little épicerie at Sougères closed down a while back: something I only discovered after a fifteen minute walk under the blazing sun (with dogs) with the firm intention of picking up some bread. I was sadly disappointed.

And the dogs enjoyed it. For one thing they got to roam around the garden: something we do not have and expressly didn't want when we came down south looking at houses.

For another, the wildlife is much more in evidence in Burgundy - I mean there's sanglier and deer and foxes and rabbits around Moux, but they tend to keep themselves to themselves: further north they seem to be less shy. Maybe the hunters aren't quite so keen up there.

I took the pair of them out one morning, doing my rabid dog + Englishman impersonation, and decided - having come some 4km along the little winding (and shadeless) country road - to turn off onto a tractor trail which I knew would get me onto yet another windy road to head back to Pesselière, rather than give up and head back the way we'd come. (Yes, I sometimes make incredibly stupid decisions.)

Whatever, I was kind of surprised to see a head pop up from a clump of brambles to the left, and then have two roe deer bound across the road about 5m ahead of us and disappear into the cornfield, just their heads and scuts visible from time to time as they bounced along.

Took me some time to calm Indra down, and then then the next morning it was a rabbit that she thought might want to be her friend.

On the other hand, it took quite a while to persuade her to go past a few Charolais that were peacefully grazing in a paddock just outside the village: I guess that size does matter, despite what they say.

Eventually good things come to an end, and as niece and friends were coming down from Paris for a weekend house party, we packed up again and headed south, back home, on the Friday.

And despite the best efforts of a couple of Parisians who seemed to think that rear-view mirrors are reserved for makeup, and that indicators are some sort of fashion accessory, we actually arrived: in plenty of time, as it happened, for the Friday rendezvous oop t'bar.

Which is where I'll leave you. We have a busy week ahead: Sarah needs to go to the garage because her turbocharger is playing up, must organise Margo's new BFF (a little Alfa MiTo), and we have yet to puppy-proof the verandah against the imminent arrival of little Emma.

Wish us luck.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Pigeon Is Almost Done ...

There is a certain sort of hotel, resolutely upper-middle class with delusions of adequacy, where the management is of the firm opinion that to go with the sweeping expanses of exquisitely manicured lawn, the quaint gazebo, the ornamental water feature copied from Versailles (only in miniature, making it look rather like a Spinal Tap megalith), the broad gravelled driveway covered in ducks (some living) and the rather cramped rooms, they need a cuisine that is edgy, and avant-garde, and fusion or whatever happens to be hip these days.

I should have known that, I mean I do know that after all these years, but I was tired and so when they offered me a hunk of salmon caught just that afternoon and killed shortly before plonking it in the pan I accepted. Don't get me wrong, the salmon itself was excellent - what you could discern of it. It just seems a shame that it was accompanied to its grave wrapped in a 5mm coat of Kevlar strands and dill fronds, then surrounded on the plate by an artistic swirl of pureed parsnip, blobs of neon-yellow grapefruit mousse and mounds of mashed beetroot. The fish, I'm afraid, lost. Someone really ought to tell them that one of the major pleasures in eating is actually the taste.

They also need to learn that if you order 25cl of wine to drown the meal, it is considered good practice - at least here in France - to serve it in a carafe and supply a standard-size wine glass, letting the punter serve himself as he wishes, rather than delivering it all in a large glass filled to the brim. Maybe it's an English thing.

For as it happens I was in Bristol for the night, lodged at this hotel not too far from the airport: the sort of place where someone has decided to take their old manor house and grounds and turn it into an up-market hotel/reception centre. And I was treated to a Basil Fawlty moment when I'd checked in, dropped my gear off in the room and went down to the bar for a pint of mine host's finest ale (well, Stella actually, but never let the facts get in the way of a good story is amongst my mottos).

The charming but not perhaps entirely competent receptionist came out from her lair to serve me and as luck would have it the keg ran out at that point leaving a glass of froth and not much else, so she went out back to change the barrel. After a few minutes of silence, punctuated only by the odd clang as of a metal keg being hit with increasing desperation by a rather large spanner, there came a louder and louder hissing noise like a boiling kettle with a whistle, and she bolted from the room with apologetic cries and headed into the kitchens. Three of them rushed forth and into that small back room to subdue the beer, and after a short time the sous-chef came out dripping, followed by the kitchen manager and the receptionist, who went off to get a mop and a large bucket.

But only fifteen minutes later I was ensconced - in the gazebo, because it had turned from a few sullen splatters to a light drizzle - with my beer and a cigar, so I guess all's well that ends well.

I shall save you the bother of asking by telling you that I was not over there purely to sample the exotic delights of the British hospitality industry: rather, I was supposed to swap out a malfunctioning bit of gear living at the bottom of a pit that was supposed to be cheerfully regulating the water supply and calling back the mothership periodically, and find out what was actually going wrong with it.

So Sunday night I packed everything into my backpack (not wishing to have to go through the hassles of baggage claim) - two laptops with their associated dead rats, multimeter, power box, plug adapters, Allen keys, screwdriver set, GSM antenna and the usual rat's nest of cables as carried by the discerning computer programmer - and on Monday drove through to Toulouse to catch a flight at a reasonable hour.

Apart from having to strip off, because just about everything about me seems to go PING! walking through the metal detectors, the plane actually arrived on time at Bristol: luckily Mike was there to greet me and in fact recognised me, for it was on arriving on English soil that I realised that the new SIM card in my phone was not in fact unlocked and would not register with any of the English cell networks, so I was grumpy and incommunicado.

And there's a thing about this sceptred isle and nation of shopkeepers: not only is short-term airport parking eye-wateringly expensive (which it is, I admit, everywhere on the planet), but there's a £2 surcharge if you pay by credit card. I suppose that's to make up for the loss occasioned by those who pay in cash, because the machines do not give change so if you're up for six quid in parking fees and only have a tenner about your person, you're four quid out of pocket.

So Mike navigated us through the Bristol traffic - all of it on roads apparently designed for horse-drawn carriages - and then calmly blocked the entire leafy street ("can do what I like," he said "'cos I've got a flashy light") while he lifted the manhole cover off what looked like a small septic tank and we did the deed. That done, off to the hotel, wherein befell the experiences previously related ...

Of course the devil had not yet finished chucking up on my eiderdown, for I was just getting ready to go in and "enjoy" my meal when Karim phoned reception - being unable to get hold of me by other means - to let me know that my direct return flight at 11am the next moaning had been cancelled due to a wildcat strike by French ATC and that I would have to be up at 4am to catch the redeye flight to Geneva and from thence a mid-afternoon flight back down to Toulouse.

Which meant, amongst other things, teaching the receptionist how to use her computer to print out my boarding passes.

I had to strip off again, of course - maybe next time, if ever there is one, I shall put the hardware (and my boots, and jeans) in the hold and to hell with the wait - and for some strange reason security confiscated my set of Allen keys. Godnose why, I had sharp pointy screwdriver bits as well, and a pair of needle probes for the multimeter: maybe they thought I was going to use them to open the locked door to the pilot's cabin and then club him to death with the biggest of the set. Go figure.

So cue a flight to Geneva populated with a good half-dozen large, cheery and rather pasty English-persons off for a good time and talking very animatedly about it (which does not make it easy when all you really want to do is catch up on a bit of sleep) and a couple of twenty-somethings in the seats behind me talking fondly about their sex life and in particular the previous evening (not that interesting, they were kind of unimaginative and I don't CARE which side she sleeps on), then a four-hour wait in the airport for the flight down south. Which was late anyway. And there was a ten-minute wait on the tarmac whilst they organised a minibus to get everyone to the terminus, but I can live with that. (Also, I got creatively insulted by an exasperated air hostess but that was my fault for pretending to speak French.)

Whatever, now July 13 is staring us in the face like a petrified rabbit in the headlights - and justifiably so, for there will be much eating, rather more drinking, and dancing to the mobile disco will be committed by the elderly, the infirm, and the feeble-minded (the yoof). Also, as temperatures climb up into the mid/high thirties, France is going into summer lockdown which is fair enough because when it gets to the point where you need three showers a day and you know that this is going to go on for the next two months, you really do not want to work too much.

Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Hellfire Burn Their Brains ...

Current dog population here at The Shamblings™
... yea, even until their eyeballs start to boil and explode from out their sockets, and wisps of smoke come up from their ears and from out of their noses, and may the smaller of the spawn of the Pit take up residence in their bowels and gnaw thereon from within and give them diarrhoea so that they may not get a good night's sleep.

You're right, I really do not like scummy scammy fraudsters. Especially when they screw around with fake debits to a dating site which means going off to the gendarmerie to porter plainte contre X and then send a swag of paperwork off to the bank in order to be  - in the fullness of time - reimbursed and then get your credit card cancelled and wait for a new one to arrive ... on the bright side, it wasn't me that had to explain away the charges to Meetic.

Guess it's a good thing I don't get to take psych evals these days. I was out looking at the evening clouds and there was a beautiful one, looked like a huge rat splayed out on the sky, only its head was breaking up into gobbets of flesh that were streaming out and away from it. Sod your Rorschach blots, that's what I say.

Anyways, one moaning this week our esteemed maire awoke with a brilliant idea, and that very same day he sent out his idiot nephew, duly equipped with two pots of paint: one green, the other white. He gaily climbed a ladder, shaved, groped and repainted the statue of St-Regis that stares benevolently down on our little square, and then ...

Difficult to say if he had misunderstood his instructions, or perhaps these were in fact unmistakably explicit: suffice it to say that he painted the stone basins of the horse-trough outside our front door a pure, blazing white. I suppose that I have probably seen a more hideously ugly effect, but I cannot remember exactly when. (Also, when we paint we tend to mask off the bits that aren't supposed to be painted: yes, we buy vast quantities of masking tape but at least the job is neatly done. This elementary precaution was apparently considered superfluous.)

Had it just been us we would have been stiff out of luck, and obliged to live with the blot on the landscape, but soon there gathered a veritable cackle of elderly ladies, muttering at his front door and pursuing him in the streets, crying out with one voice "Réné, Réné, we remember you from when you were in nappies and we ask - what the fuck have you been smoking?"

And so on Friday moaning the idiot nephew was back out in the square, under a blazing sun, busily employed with a sandblaster getting rid of the paint he'd so enthusiastically and inaccurately sloshed on two days earlier.

Of course the mairie wasn't going to pay a cent more than absolutely necessary so I suspect they'd sent him off to the local garden centre to get a couple of sacks of sand for a child's sand-pit, and when the tub of the sandblaster was empty he'd just scoop up a couple of shovels-full from the ground and stick it back in, stirring it well to mix in the gravel and pigeon-shit. By the time he'd done the verandah was full of dust and place St-Régis looked a bit like Paris-plage (only on a somewhat smaller scale), but at least I don't have to put sunglasses on just to check the mail.

We cracked - well, I cracked, if you insist on the truth - and went off to the SPA at Carcassonne on Thursday, and we now have two dogs again, if only for a short while. She's a russet hound, three years old (according to the SPA, but I have my doubts about that) and very sweet-tempered, and now named Jara after one of the multitudinous Hindu pantheon - goddess of domesticity and old age and, incidentally, a corpse-eater after hours.

I say "for a short while" because in about six weeks ie first week of August we are scheduled to take delivery of a six-week-old puppy who is currently small and black with a few white patches and apparently the most adorable little floppy ears that ever there were. I am so looking forward to taking them all out for their walk: Indra trotting brightly alongside, Jara darting off into the undergrowth given half a chance, and as-yet unnamed puppy being towed along on a skateboard.

Margo has been working on Angela for some time, and so when she went off to check out the puppies she took Angela, who dragged Martin along - with a puppy in his arms he found it impossible to say "No!", so they too are getting a small black puppy. Who will, no doubt, be rapidly taught her place by their four Maine Coons.

In late-breaking news, we may actually have a paying guest at the beginning of July. Not sure if we're ready for that. The village historian came past this moaning, to say that he'd heard that we could do chambre d'hote, and he had an archaeologist coming down for two weeks doing some work on the chateau/chapel (no-one seems quite sure entirely which it is) up in the Alaric, and could we put him up?

And as it happens that we have no friends descending upon us at that time (when you live in the south of France, do not have a swimming pool: you may discover friends you've never heard of, or people that you do actually know vaguely but, with the passing of years or the remembrance of long-gone school reunions wish you did not. Just saying.) when the guy called back I gave him the not-exactly eye-watering prices and we shall see. This is so exciting! An actual guest! (Note to self - put clean sheets on bed. Also, remove obnoxiously obvious dog hair.)

More exciting things: I guess that even over there in Upside-Down Land, where people walk on their heads (which sounds like something from Pliny back when he was doing some of the hard stuff), you'll have heard of Brexit. Around these parts there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, in part 'cos there's the pension gone south, but mostly because all those to whom I have spoken are united in considering N. Farage (should be pronounced to rhyme, apparently, with garage) to be the most odious little turd in existence.

We made it off to the Fete de la Cave Coopérative, remembering this time to take our own cutlery and crockery, and a large bag into which to put it, along with all the wine glasses we snaffled before leaving. Which we must have done at some point in the evening, I suppose. Before, I think, the mobile disco started doing its thing.

It's not something I'd recommend you come along to unless you're attracted by the ambiance and the alcohol and the company and all that sort of thing, for the food is definitely somewhere south of mediocre. Copious certainly, but that's about all you can say. But no-one minds, the threatened thunderstorms held off, and we were sober enough to walk home under our own steam, no need for the wheelbarrows for which we had farsightedly made provision.

NOT beer.
And now we still have to face the July 13 celebrations, where the wine will flow even more liberally and the food shall be of a different order, and also there will be sparkly things that go BANG! to round off the evening, and then a few days later we shall head off north to Ian and Marie's country seat in Burgundy with Rick and Mary and Angela and Martin and two dogs, for a week amidst the turnip fields dedicated to lassitude (and eating, and drinking).

Whatever, I better go pack my bag: I is supposed to be flying out from Toulouse to bloody Bristol tomorrow moaning, and I so do not wish to have to pack and run through a checklist as the sun is coming up in glory.

(Note: according the WashPo's crack researchers, a major beneficiary of Tiny-fingered Trump's charitable largesse is a foundation for indigent real estate brokers. Is that even a thing? I mean, WTF?)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Apologies To Bryan Ferry ... *

Over here in Ole Yurrup sumer is icumen and all: you can tell because, as is so often the case at this time of year, the air is heavy with the smell of burning tires and tear gas. Yes, another summer of discontent with more unrest and rioting so the SNCF and RATP are on strike and the CGT are blockading the oil refineries: students, having nothing better to do anyway, are out in the streets protesting. You got it - another law to liberalise ever so slightly the ridiculously rigid French labour laws is supposed to be passed.

I honestly don't know why they don't schedule these things better - push the damn thing through in dead of winter, for instance, when rioting is so much less attractive.

Also, you sometimes have to wonder how it is that in a supposedly civilised state a small handful can try - and have, in the past, succeeded - to hold the entire country to ransom by cutting off fuel supplies. Me, I don't know, but I do recall reading an article a while back which opined that as France has no long tradition of civil society, and change has only ever come through usually-violent upheaval, that is considered to be the "normal" way of getting what you want.

As it turns out our estimable President, François Hollande (current popularity rating about 15% lower than a six-month dead otter) must have called our slightly-less unpopular ex-Pres Nicolas Sarkozy (rating up there with a live skunk) for advice, and subsequently used high-pressure hoses to clean up the blockades. (Sarko is particularly famous for once saying that he would "take a Kärcher to the suburbs" to clean them up of "the rabble". He was not known for his bleeding-heart sensitivity.)

Mind you, the French - although a nation of râleurs - seem willing to put up with all sorts of inconvenience in the name of solidarity with the working class (although to be quite honest, the CGT could give a fuck about the appalling rate of unemployment amongst the yoof and are quite simply, and very cynically, trying to defend the "jobs-for-life" that their membership grew up with) there are some things where they draw the line. And I rather think that the dunnykin/garbage-collectors strike in Paris might cross it.

It must be pretty fragrant down in the Métro by now, just saying.

Still, May 30th is upon us now, and it seems that this is a Bank Holiday in the UK. A festive occasion during which, according to the innatübz, "In Endon ... the villagers dress their well ... and crown a girl as the Well Dressing Queen. In other places ... Morris dancers [are] put on displays." Fascinating stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. Although much and all as I loathe folk dancing in all its splendoured glory, I do feel that stuffing (I assume) Morris dancers and using them as some sort of centrepiece for a cabinet of curiousities is going a bit far.

It came to me, the other day, just how to make my next million.

Simple in the extreme, as such things are, yet brilliant: we shall create a social media site reserved for French men, and the punters will pay to upload selfies or videos of themselves peeing on the side of the road. (Note to self: could we have a free service where people can upload photos of other people peeing? Could work.) Or possibly, they will pay to have them removed. (If uploaded by someone else - see above. YES! Is blackmail legal? Talk to lawyer.) We shall call it - drumroll, please - "YouPee!". (Note to lawyer: possible trademark issues here.)

GPS tagging: spot the piddle point, win a prize. Tourism possibilities - check with Conseil Regional - link with routes vertes jaunes etc. Possible tie-in with Michelin: autoroute rest stops to avoid. Security and privacy issues - check with lawyer (what, again? - this will cost a bloody fortune) but fuck that: hell, you're taking a leak on the side of the road in full view of all passing cars and campervans, and you expect privacy? Anyways, should be no problem if no username and password required for logging on, so long as possibly recognisable penises are pixelised.

We're still a bit in the underpants gnomes phase here, but you know, I really think we're onto a winner. What could possibly go wrong?

Right now in Moux the streets resemble a battlefield after a particularly bad hair day, for we are having gravity installed the ancient cast-iron water pipes replaced throughout the village. Which means that there are trenches everywhere, some roughly filled with gravel and others still gaping, and I am always concerned that one day I shall stumble upon one such brimful of little old ladies, who have fallen in by accident whilst out and about on their blameless little-old-lady activities. (Such as harassment, spitting on yoof, tedious pettiness, boring conversation, writing spiteful letters to the editor and blackmail.) One of the few good things, I suppose, about living opposite M. le maire is that place St-Régis will be the last place to be opened up, and the first to be resealed, so let's hear it for favouritism.

Also, they are promising us fiber-optic in the near future. They'll probably close up all the trenches for the water, then come back a few months later to dig the whole place up again and lay the fiber. I shall have to head up to the mairie to see little Jérome and enquire about the price of connection: I don't mind paying and I would be very happy with thunderingly fast downloads, but if - like getting hooked up to the sewage - there is a €2300 connection fee, I'll stick with POTS thanks very much.

In Paris, as you may have noticed, the Seine has burst its banks. At least like that they no longer have to open the fire hydrants at the top of the streets every morning, to flush the crap down into the sewers. We seem to have escaped that, although I must admit that the Aude is looking very brown and muddy at the moment: thick enough that you could probably plant a small vegetable patch on it. It would slowly drift down to sea, I guess, but by the time it got down to Beziers the strawberries would be ripe.

Whereas here it feels like the first days of summer. Long hot days with a cloudless blue sky, all those things that we came down south for. Right now we leave the doors open, for here at The Shamblings™ the ground floor is cool and dim and it is considerably warmer outside than in, but soon enough we'll get back to the summer routine of closing the place up after 10:30 so that it stays cool inside, because 35° is all very well out on the terrace under a parasol, but a bit too much inside when you're trying to work. It's bad enough as it is, trying to get motivated.

The barbecues have been dusted off, and a few months of l'apéro of an evening out on the terrace beckon.

Adding to this general impression of time dilation at work (because time does indeed slow down in these parts) is the fact that you can still hear the "clonk!" of boules and the gurgle of pastis around 23:00, when it's cooled down enough to play (boules itself is not a particularly strenuous game, but there's a bit of heavy lifting involved with the bottles), and also the vide-greniers. We had ours yesterday, and I trotted up in the moaning and came back with a couple of wonderfully OTT chandeliers fair dripping glittery stuff - all for the princely sum of ten euros. Now I shall just have to work out where to put them, for the ceilings are relatively low and I do not want to have to live walking around a chandelier hanging from its chains and suspended at about waist height. (Alternatively, I guess I could hang it in one of the bedrooms and we could reserve that for dwarfs. Sorry, the vertically impaired. Or "The Pit And The Pendulum" cosplayers.)

Also, hearty nourishing stews have been banished from the kitchen and the table, and the first person who asks for a cassoulet will get what they deserve, which explains perhaps why I made this the other day. I'll save you the bother of flying to Google Translate for the recipe, if you can call it that, is sufficiently simple to be well within my capacities: basically, you take a large slab of fresh meaty pork belly (2kg works for me) and remove the skin. Then you rub salt and pepper into the flesh (you'll need more salt than you think: a good teaspoon of flaky sea salt would be a good start) and smear it with a mixture of chopped garlic, rosemary and thyme - and bay-leaf and sage, if you happen to have that around.

Roll it up tightly using both hands, then with the other hand wrap its skin back around the roll, and then with another hand tie it neatly before sticking it in the fridge overnight. Then roast at 180° for about three hours, basting regularly: you can eat it hot (if you must, we did - at first, but as two people, well-intentioned as they might be, still can't make much of a dent in 2kg of meat, we had it cold later on. And again, the night after.) but it is quite divine cold.

Let it not be said that the Germans have no sense of humour. You are doubtless aware that the name "Bimmler" comes from the German, meaning "the ringing, or a ringer, of small bells" (from which I must deduce that my ancestors were either petty functionaries or people who went about bawling "Bring out yer dead!") and so now, whenever our neighbour Johann comes round, good Saarlander that he is he tinkles the little bell that hangs at our front door and proudly announces "Heh heh heh! I have rung your Bimler!".

May the record show that I never said it was a good sense of humour.

*For those unfamiliar with the canon, that would be the eponymous track off "Let's Stick Together".