Sunday, November 22, 2015

Les Talents qui Travaillent le Tubercule ...

As was so often the case, Pooh had a pained
expression when listening to Eeyore
Yes, it is indeed la semaine internationale de l'alliteration.

Let's get it over with straight away: then you may read on and enjoy yourselves. It has been drawn to my notice that some of you may not follow The Register. So under the circumstances, I feel myself obliged to draw your attention to this article, announcing the annual clitoris festival in some small Spanish town.

Whatever the procedure and criteria might be for selecting the festival Queen, and what the parade afterwards would be like, I do not know: nor do I wish to, for I fear the worst.

We have new neighbours: the house they rent has a sort of roof terrace - a very Provençal concept, that - and I guess they were trying it out a few weeks back for there was an enormous fuss and then Blofeld sauntered over the roofline and came to lick his paws on the tiles above the verandah. He was followed by the neighbour's head, which didn't rise higher than the roofline: making for an amusing spectacle when this sort of disembodied football spoke.

"Excuse me, but do you have a cat?" it asked. "Mouais", I replied, "but to which of our disreputable fleabags do you refer?"

"The big white hairy bastard that just nicked two merguez off the barbecue!"

"Sorry squire, ah cannot help you there. Although ah admit that it has a suspicious hair that he should now be innocently sunning himself on our tiles, he is not ours, nor have ah evah seen him befoah."

Not entirely true, for Blofeld is in fact known to the services of law and order around these parts, but it seemed to satisfy the football, which retreated grumpily and - to judge by the noises - gave diverse brats a good clip around the earhole to remind them of the seriousness of barbecue-guardian duty. Just as well really, for the ancient and estimable firm of Delacrotte & Morveux, Solicitors at Arms, charge a small fortune for the privilege of offering up a defense in such cases.

Ohs noes! Catastrophe! (We are in France, so that would be pronounced "katastroff", in case you were wondering.) The coffee machine has died with a fatal case of kidney stones! Woe is us, the sky is falling, how shall we live? Fortunately, being the forward-planning persons that we are, we have three others. Acquired in all legality, I hasten to point out. Although I did like that Bosch: enough for two-and-a-half huge mugs in the morning, and sufficient left over for Margo's midday dose. The Moulinex that Jeremy so kindly donated to his aging parents before leaving for furrin parts is insufficient.

(And do not try to criticise our coffee intake. It is an admittedly feeble flap in the direction of healthy living, totally not an ad-hoc post-facto justification, having read somewhere that coffee helps repair liver damage due to excessive alcohol consumption.)

Anyways, what follows is what happens when you try to multi-task and are, through no fault of your own, chromosomally-inadequate. Not to say "deficient".

Margo having headed off to Pau for her birthday, I thought I'd at least have a stab at fending for myself and making dinner for one, and settled on a salade Lyonnaise as being not insurmountably difficult and also, although there are certain elements that cannot be omitted unless you want a surprise visit from the Spanish Inquisition or the Commission Française de Défense des Traditions Alimentaires, is limited only by your imagination and the contents of your fridge.

Can't go too wrong with a lettuce - unless of course you're English, and take some sad watery flavourless piece of shit and then boil it to within an inch of its life, or French, in which case you might braise it in veal stock and butter. But at least then it would go to meet its maker knowing that it was destined to be served up alongside a Chateaubriand, which has to be some sort of consolation. Ditto the plump ripe garden tomatoes.

The potato slices, fried in duck fat, were as golden as one could wish, and the lardons of bacon (yeah, home-made - so sue me) as crispy and carcinogenic as I could get them. The rounds of chèvre, breaded and fried in the rest of the fat, were quite acceptable. But my poached egg was NOT RUNNY ENOUGH!

It should have wobbled atop the mountain of ingredients on my plate, and when I stabbed it with my knife there should have been a bright golden lava flow of yolk splooping out over everything, making a dressing totally redundant: did NOT happen. I has sads.

(If you're trying this at home, do remember to fry up some garlicky croutons in the bacon fat, as well as the chèvre. It doesn't actually reduce the amount of cholesterol in there, but it lets you feel a lot better about it.)

We is working on this "local bar support group" thing. I don't know whether or not they make enough money from us, but we are trying to do our bit. Last Friday, Margo being absent - again - I went off to inhale a few vitamins and then Cash & Terry turned up with the same idea, then a bit later up came Johann and Sylvia ... so we all decided to stick around and eat.

It was not bad, although personally I find that they could have cut back on the size of the pizzas without anyone reproaching them (but then, looking at they way some people around these parts eat, I could be wrong): the problem was that there were quite a few clients and I suspect that the kitchen just is not kitted out to handle it. Just saying, the service is slow in such circumstances, and if you're at a big table you might find some people tucking into the main course whilst others are sipping their coffee.

So do what we did a few nights later, just go for a table for two. At least like that you're pretty sure to be served more or less at the same time. And let it be said that the hamburger was quite honorable, even if I did - to the disguised disgust of everyone else - eat it with my fingers. And next time, I shall ask for a fried egg in it, and maybe take up a jar of pickled beetroot. To make it proper.

And then the other night I dined with Bob! - a lengthy affair involving pâté, a stuffed râble de lapin, a bit of foie gras, the liver of the rabbit in question (which was evidently surplus to requirements, under the circumstances, and some of which, I'm ashamed to say, Indra managed to nick before it went into the dish) and a couple of bottles which we thought we'd better walk off, with the dogs - and coming back into the village around 00:30 noticed that the lights were still on in the bar, and Robert pointed out that it would be a good thing just to check that they weren't being burgled and if not, they might have some whisky.

As it happens, they did.

Also, none of this new-fangled nonsense about dogs not being allowed in bars. But they are under-age, so no alcohol for them.

Then we both managed to head off last Friday evening for a drink with Rick and Mary before heading home for roast lamb with brussels sprouts and chips - hardly traditional, I know, but Rick is a great fan of chips ... so we made it back here and those of us who like our nicotine dose were out on the terrace doing our bit for air pollution and talking smugly about how balmy it was: for it is true that up til now we have been enjoying - if that's the word - temperatures up in the admittedly low 20s, which is still acceptable.

In the classical Greek manner hubris is, of course, punished - often rather disproportionately if you ask me, but that's neither here nor there - and so of course on Saturday we got up to about 10° and things stubbornly refused to go any higher. Could've been worse: it snowed in Savoie.

This can mean only one thing: time to drag out the Yog-Sothoth disguises from Halloween and go do the Ceremony of Appeasement of The Boiler. (I know, I know. The robes and mystical chanting are not actually required and, whilst personally satisfying, the sacrifices are a purely optional extra: be that as it may, we do feel that just going off to the boiler cupboard and pushing a switch is rather lacking something. Letting the side down. It's supposed to be a complicated, obscure ritual, for godssake.)

And the steam hissed around the joints, the water gurgled through the pipes (I suppose I shall have to go bleed off the surplus air) and now we is toasty-hot. Which is a Good Thing.

This also means we're getting into the truffle season, and maybe this year I shall actually take the time to head off to Moussoulens or Talairan, or Villeneuve Minervois, to one or t'other of the various truffle markets. And maybe even buy a black, warty testicle, having worked out in advance just what I want to do with it this time round. I mean, a poularde demi-deuil is a lot of work for sod-all in my opinion and in any case it's a cold dish, which is not what I want at this time of year: maybe, if I speak nicely to Jacques, I can has some decent mushrooms and then I could just roast a chicken with slivers of truffe under the skin and make up a sauce with vin jaune, cream and morilles.

Alternatively, my elderly copy of Pellaprat has a number of dishes involving beef fillet and truffles: maybe I should be looking into those. And if anyone wants to pop over for a truffle omelette, January or February would probably be about the right time.

In late-breaking news, we seem to be still alive. I would have been blissfully unaware of this fact, as I do not read the papers, nor listen to the radio, and we do not actually have a TV, had it not been that, taking our two hairy retards for a bladder-emptying exercise that Saturday afternoon, I came across old Neville.

He's a Fabian conspiracy-theorist of the old school so it took a bit of time to get any sense out of him, what with muttering about it all being a capitalist plot to oppress the workers, but I finally worked out that perhaps I really ought to go home at some point and check up on the news and my email.

As it turned out Ian and Marie were in Britanny, niece #1 in Jordan, and niece #2 spent the night in lockdown behind the steel security shutters in a bar off les Halles. Which had not, I think, been in her plans for the evening.
Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Piece of Cod (That Passeth Understanding) ...

S'a funny thing, but for about 25 years I called Savoie "home". And the other day, driving back from Chambéry where I happened to be for reasons into which I will not go - sunglasses on, because south of Valence, and "White Wedding" full tit on the stereo because hey, it's Billy Idol and deserves to be played with the volume turned up to 11, right? - and with the windows down around Montpellier there was that clean smell of juniper and thyme and heather and I thought "Hey! I'm almost home." Back in the south, under the wide blue sky, where the air smells of gin. I can go for that.

(On the other hand, and as a cautionary tale, Sarah does not have an ignition key: just a stop/start button. Which is just a few centimetres away from the stereo on/off button ... you can see where this is going. I can report that if, through no fault of your own, you happen to push and hold that button, trying to turn off the stereo, the motor will in fact turn off - despite the fact that you're driving along at about 140 kph. I did not wish to find out what happens if you try engaging the starter motor at that sort of speed so I drifted over to the side - not easy, 'cos there's no power steering with the motor off - came to a halt, and restarted. Just saying, do not try this at home.)

To no pomp, and with very little circumstance, the village bar has finally reopened. Not that you'd have known, from the befuddled looks adorning the faces of some of the locals - mind you, some of them always look like that, case of rather too much inbreeding than is good for them would be my guess.

But whatever, they advertised themselves as doing "depôt de pain" along with drinks, and although it turned out to be industrial fluffy-centered baguette it's still better than the day-old burnt dog-turd facsimiles you can get from the surly lady at the local Vival store - always assuming that she deigns to actually sell you one, maybe most of them are reserved for poo fanciers - so it saves me going through to Lézignan for bread should I want some for lunch, which has to be good. (Sadly, the boulangerie at Conilhac, only a few km away, seems to have closed down. Shame, 'cos their bread was good and on top of it they stocked the cigars I like to smoke. Bitch.)

Did not, however, go off to the inauguration ceremony a week after. There was, it seems, a concert - followed by a meal: folk songs have never appealed, so we passed. Apparently we did not miss much: the organisation of the affair (so not their fault, the mairie was involved) was up to the usual pissup+brewery standards, standing room only, and when Terry discovered that he would have to help drag a table outside to sit in purdah with the other English-persons he gave up in disgust and headed back home. Which earned him a righteous and doubtless well-deserved bollocking from Cash.

We have, however, decided that although we're not going to create a formal support group, the least we can do is organise something amongst those we know along the lines of "we'll be there Friday night around 18h for a beer, weather permitting, see you there". A case of use it or lose it: three years without a local bar is quite enough thanks very much, we'd rather use it.

A couple of Sundays back the church bells starting clanging in their very annoying out-of-tune and subtly off-pitch way, and from about 11am on (could've been earlier, maybe was, but I was not actually out of bed and in any state to check) people started turning up in their glad-rags, with small children and an accordion.

Some of the local yoof, in ill-fitting (or maybe just uncomfortable, because not used to such things) suits had apparently been deputised to look after parking, and as most French drivers will greet advice on that subject with the same sort of response I'd give if someone inadvisedly suggested I have a vegetable soup enema, things got a little bordelique ...

After the service everyone hung around in the little square, all apparently having a good time, and there was what I will charitably call "music". Still trying to work out just what it was. Could have been a baptism, maybe a first communion - or given the date, maybe they'd come to commemorate the death of French rugby?

We've had a little more work done on the house, rather sooner, than we'd reckoned on. Those of you who've been here before may recall that the ceiling in the downstairs living-room had been tastefully paneled in pine and varnished shit-brown, which made it pleasantly dim in summer but downright gloomy at other times. Well, this is no longer the case.

Cédric having ripped out the fireplace to make room for the pellet burner (and also, incidentally, exposing some asbestos piping that was apparently part of some rustic system for piping tepid air into a bathroom or two on the first floor - less said about that the better) also did some collateral damage to the ceiling, so having better things to do one Saturday I got up on the stepladder with a crowbar and had some fun.

Once I'd recovered, and Cédric came back a few days later, we discussed our options. The false ceiling had hidden the original wooden beams and the old plaster ceiling, which was in pretty bad nick, so we came to an arrangement whereby he would charge us a reasonable amount of money and in return stick up plasterboard about 10cm higher, so that some of the beams are still exposed, and plaster over all the rather shitty bits that were revealed.

But he did not wish to sign his name on the old ceiling before covering it up again - unlike Réné and Alain, cowboy builders, who did the first job on March 12, 1975. Do you know, when I was removing the pine planks, I came across a piece of wood, serving absolutely no useful purpose, that had been attached to one of the beams? A piece of wood maybe 15cm long, 5cm x 3cm. Very, very firmly attached with three 8 x 100 screws. I mean, three? Nuclear armageddon could come and go, and that bit of wood would still be there.

Whatever, unplanned or not it's done now, and the old room will be that little bit airier, and probably a whole lot lighter. Especially as part of my demolition work involved removing the old lampshade, which had apparently been designed to WW II specs to block out 95% of all visible light. What were they all on, back in the 70s?

(Anyone saying "You should know, you were there" is banned. With extreme prejudice.)
Is a bepuzzlement. We has been living in this little corner of southern France for what, about two and a half years now, and during that time the bank has been sending out statements and begging letters and godnose what else to this address, but still it does not seem to have penetrated whatever it is that passes for their collective hive-mind that this means that I am actually here, and not there. For once again I just got a phone call asking if it would be convenient for my banker to call upon me next Tuesday, in the moaning.

"But certainly, dear secretary. Ah will be pleased to see her."

"Verrah well, ah shall note you for dix hours?"

"But with pleasure. You do, of course, realise that this entails a 923 km round trip? But if she wishes, she will be more than welcome."

Somehow, I don't think so. 

I also gather that as part of the international conspiracy led by Hollywood, Wall Street bankers, Jews and the Illuminati, both processed and raw meats have been classified by WHO as being carcinogenic. I could care more. Shall just have to wear a tin-foil hat when eating my crispy fried bacon down in the cellar, so that UN death squads do not detect my brainwaves and cart me off in a black helicopter.

Other things are doubtless bad for you too: fish'n'chips, for one. (Truth to tell yer usual home-made variety is generally both unhealthy and pretty gross, as most domestic deep-fryers aren't worth crap. Which is why I have an industrial deep-fryer.) Who cares, we organised drinks at the bar with Richard and Mary, to be followed by a bit of greasy delight here - and a big "Thank you!" to Margo, by the way, for suggesting that just perhaps turning eight huge spuds into chips for four people would be a good idea, rather than going with my miserly five. It's amazing how the damn things just disappear.

Unfortunately I do not actually have eight litres of duck fat (although I am working on this problem) so I had to fry everything in oil: never mind, we managed to force it down anyway. And as we munched our way through the crispy beer-battered fish, and the frites, the wind came up and howled and the rain started to pelt fretfully down, but we nicotine addicts are made of hard stuff for we found ourselves on the terrace under the downpour - me with a cigar, Rick with his usual weedy roll-yer-own and Mary with a camel (don't say anything, thank you) - and I thought that perhaps I'd better do my hostly duty and offer something post-prandial.

"Our son" I said "left us some rather ghastly pastis, but if you'd rather not - and personally I wouldn't - there's some gin, or some decent whisky ..."

"Any port", said Rick, "in a storm?"

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Extremely Grammatical Case Of The Superfluous Semicolon ...

So I was writing some C code, as I must in order to get paid the pittance that allows us to eke out a miserable existence in our humble cardboard box over here in Ole Yurrup, and - as is usual with C code - it did not work. Well, it worked for a given value of "working", if what you mean by that is that it did not actually fall over and die (this is already a small triumph), but the results were not as expected. And there were seemingly random incidents of memory corruption, which tend not to please me.

As one will, I dug out the debugger and fired everything up: this gets complicated because there are actually two systems running in parallel on the platform in question and I was trying to debug the microprocessor and had to hope like mad that the Linux bit didn't bugger everything up too much. But it seemed to be fine, and everything went swimmingly until I put a breakpoint on one particular line ... and the debugger hung.

The definition of insanity is, supposedly, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results: I guess I must be slightly mad because I reran the damn thing four or five times, suspecting a compiler bug, before I actually though to look at the single line of code in question.

Autocomplete bites my bum again. I had started to type in a "for (...)" construct, and the frikking editor had thoughtfully added a semicolon at the end: so the procedure that should have been executed every time through the loop was in fact executed only once, when the loop had terminated. This being the case, it was also executed with out-of-range parameters, which explains the memory corruption. (Yeah, yeah, the procedure in question should have validated its arguments and returned a meaningful error code. Go have carnal knowledge of a chicken, smartypants.)

Also, I am reminded that the ARM architecture rigorously enforces 32-bit alignment for pointers to multi-byte objects. Although this speeds things up (by minimising external memory access cycles on the 32-bit bus, as if you cared or really wanted to know), it has its drawbacks when accessing data structures coming from a different architecture. Another fact that I knew, but had somehow managed to file in the "Shit I don't care about" drawer in the mental filing cabinet that's in the disused toilet under the temporal lobe.

There are still a few tractors out in the vines but, for the most part, the vendange seems to be over around these parts. So it is emphatically not a good time to be buying wine from the source, as it were, for any vigneron worth his (or her) salt is busy in the chai, fussing over the vats. Generally speaking the red pretty much looks after itself, provided you keep an eye on the temperature for the last thing you want is for it to go runaway on you, overflow and leave you with huge puddles of sticky smelly must all over the place: the white can be a bit more problematic.

Especially for the bio-dynamic crowd that refuse to use sulphur dioxide to sterilise anything, on the grounds that it's chemical and therefore nasty: you can get some particularly foul wine that way. Sticking dock leaves (or whatever) in to "neutralise the toxins" just doesn't seem to work these days, nor does pumping the stuff off the lees in harmony with the phases of the moon seem to be particularly effective.

(And speaking, whilst I'm on the subject, of sticky, smelly must, another reason to avoid the chais at this time of year is the smell of fermenting grapes: sickeningly sweet and mildly alcoholic, it's almost enough to put you off drinking.)

As will happen just about every year, unless the vines have actually been attacked by leprosy, they are proclaiming it to be, if not the vintage of the century, at least it'll be "un vin de vigneron" - your guess is as good as mine, but I think that probably means that a winemaker can either do something great or some mediocre ratshit, depending on whether or not he knows what he's about. Which is at least true: it's rare that you have a year in which you're going to make great wine no matter how incompetent you are.

I am not an unconditional follower of the American political scene, but I do have to say that even if it's just for laughs The Donald certainly spices things up. It would be so much fun if ever he did get the Republican nomination, thereby pulling a Corbyn and making the party toxically unelectable. Also, it would give me the opportunity to casually drop into conversations the fact that the American conservative establishment was one Bush short of a shrubbery.

A lazy Sunday (OK, I still got up at 8:30 so that our hairy retards can go about their business elsewhere than on our terrace, but still I didn't do any actual work so that counts for something) and in Moux it was the vide-grenier de l'école, ie the boot sale to try and make up the short-fall in funding from the state, and maybe pay for the kids to go off on a school trip somewhere more interesting than the local sewage treatment plant. (Which is, incidentally, almost operational now. I can hardly wait for the inauguration - don't like to imagine what we'll be drinking, though.)

We've been there, and done our share in the past of buying an entire booklet of lotto tickets so that the local OAPs were not confronted with a line of fifteen brats each trying to sell them one, and making stodgy olive and bacon savoury cakes for the last prize at the tombola, but we went off anyway - just to have a look around and see what there was (who knows, perhaps some furniture we need for one of the bedrooms?) and with the firm intention of popping a €10 note directly into the petty cash. Saves bother. Because if you actually buy a tombola ticket you run the risk of winning, and finding yourself obliged to lug home a furry purple donkey with a straw hat, a bottle of cheap fizzy stuff, and a rather nasty olive and bacon savoury cake, all of which you will have to surreptitiously chuck into the recycling bins at some point.

There was actually one professional brocanteur there, but I didn't really want a gilt triptych mirror from the 60s, nor a set of steak knives from the 30s with casein fake-bone handles - and in any case the guy seemed more interested in buying up the stock from some of the other stands. Which probably made Joanne very happy, because she managed to hock off all the old china from various hotels that's been following them around for years at a knock-down price, then fold up her table and go home.

But we did see quite a nice tall wooden cabinet, which looked as though it'd been made as a one-off job by a professional - a bit spoilt by the fact that at some time in the past someone had tried to remove the varnish on one side with spit and sandpaper, then given that up as a bad job and stuck a bit more varnish on top. But that's easy enough to fix.

So I asked the price, and the woman told me it was sold: I said "Too bad" and she replied "How much would you pay?" Even if you do rather expect stall-holders at such things to have the commercial ethics of CMOT Dibbler I found that rather blatant and we wandered off to inspect the six-packs of Johnny Hallyday VHS tapes and the Barbies at the next stand: later in the morning I saw her from a distance trying to inveigle someone else into gazumping the original buyer. If in fact there had been one.

Got a letter from the EDF in the mail today: I foolishly opened it, not having bothered to check the address because if I had done so I would have seen that it was for Jim and Céline, the previous owners - so I suppose that strictly speaking I am guilty of interfering with the Queen's Mail, or something along those lines. Still, I'm glad I did, it will save them bother ...

Nowhere, I suspect, but in France could this happen. It seems that in 2012 the government issued a fiat to the effect that electricity, for those happy enough to be on a "tarif Bleu", would be priced at a given level. Fair enough, the EDF is a state enterprise, after all ... but then, in 2014, the high court decided that this level was insufficient to cover the costs, and upped it. OK, why not?

Because there is a big "but", that's why. Rather than say "Fine, we cocked up, we'll raise tariffs and claw the cash back somehow" because let's face it, the money has to come from somewhere and if they write it off it will be coming out of my pocket anyway in higher taxes somewhere along the line, the decision was made retroactive: so in my trembling hands I have a bill, for Jim and Céline, asking for €9.50 covering the period from 9/07/12 to 9/07/13 ie the year before we moved in. I rather think that is €9.50 that the state will not be seeing in the near future, for I have absolutely no intention of forwarding the letter.

I really think that the French need to buck up their ideas about retailing. I mean, do you have any idea how bloody difficult it is to find a bottle of beer at 7am? It should be simple: it is not. And before you ask - no, it was not for breakfast. Not principally, anyway.

As it happens, I was up in Chambéry for a number of reasons - of which more later, also concerning the retail sector - and I foolishly asked Stacey what I could do to give her pleasure the next day. The grubby-minded amongst you may now leave the room. The answer turned out to be "a carbonnade". This is an eminently simple dish which requires nowt more than some stewing beef, onions, bacon and - here's where it goes kinda titsup - decent dark beer. Also, about three hours slowly simmering, minimum ...

So Saturday moaning I rip't myself (untimely) from the comfort of the sofa around some ungodly hour and headed off to the market, where I found the meat and bacon - and a baguette, and a pain au chocolat aux amandes just because - easily enough - but, sad to say, not one single little seller of artisanal beer! Never one to be defeated, I recalled that there was, not too far away, an inner-city supermarket (these seem to be springing up like mushrooms, and a good thing too because at least you can get a bottle of crap wine early in the morning, or some hideously overpriced industrial gin whose principal ingredient seems to be used paint-thinner, and I'll let you work out just why it is that the bottle seems to have been sand-blasted from the inside) so I tried there.

Sorry, inner-city supermarket, but a €5 bottle of bloody Heineken just is not going to do the job!

Eventually I wound up driving out to Bassens and waiting for the big Carrefour there to open - and that was an experience in itself, one I rather wish I'd not had, seeing all these pensioners queuing up ready to batter the doors down with their shopping trolleys and walking frames the instant the bell rang - and rushing in to snaffle a single bottle of beer from the shelves and escaping with it. Godnose what the cashier thought: I really hope I don't look quite like that particularly desperate sort of alcoholic, but I must admit I'd left the house unshaven and in dire need of a coffee, so just maybe ...

By 8:30 I'd fried up the bacon chunks with the onions, browned the beef in the fat and sprinkled the lot with flour, and poured most of the beer over the top with a satisfying fizzle, and as it started to make slow happy bubbling noises on her ridiculous hotplate I thought to hell with it, and went out to finish the beer on the verandah, with a cigar. I thought I deserved it, for I am not a morning person.

Mainly, I had gone up to see a client: knowing a bit of SQL is always a handy thing to have in your toolkit. But there was one more thing (there always is): our credit cards had expired. End of September, in fact. Under normal circumstances the bank automatically sends you out a new one about a month earlier, no problems -  as the end of the month loomed I started to worry, and rang the buggers.

"Woah, it simms your cartes were not renouvelled automatically, and they will expiah."

"Yes. This is a fact of which I am, oddly enough, aware. What exactly are you proposing to do about it?"

"Ah shall warder some moah, and they shall be posted out to yew next week."

And time went by ... it's hard, these days, without a bit of valid plastic about your person. At least my business card was still valid, otherwise we would have had problems feeding the cats. So anyway, as I happened to be up, I rang the agency, expecting the worst. Which I got. "Yerss, we have yore cartes. Zey has been heah for ten days."

"Excuse me, which of the words in the very slowly-spoken phrase 'send them down here by post' did you fail to understand? Please do not try to tell me it was my bloody accent."

"Will you excuse me? Ah have anothah call."

Yeah. So whatever, after the beer and nicotine fix, and a much-needed shower, I went back - again - into Chambéry. Is it too much to expect of a bank that they be at least as competent as a ten year-old with ADD? Apparently so.

But in other, unrelated news, Cédric turned up and we no longer have a dire salmon-pink fireplace. It makes that downstairs room that much bigger and lighter, although he still has the half-tonne cast-iron insert to remove, and the pellet burner has yet to be installed. It has also advanced our timetable a bit, because now we have no choice but to rip out the wood-panelling false ceiling in there, and do something about that rather quickly. Sooner, at any rate, than we had planned. What the hell.

Mind how you go, now.

Also, no photos today: you have not been particularly nice, and I have not had the time to go out with the camera. Live with it.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Where Is My Cow Lunch ...

I'll tell you where: in bloody Indra's stomach, probably mixing with road-kill figs and splattered grapes. My own fault, I guess: having no baguette around and no particular inclination to hop in the car to go get one I hauled some sliced bread out of the freezer (everyone knows that sliced bread is a yardstick, the best thing that ever there was, and this was whole-grain) and put it on the kitchen bench to defrost.

With hindsight, it was perhaps a mistake to not close the kitchen door.

Helping SC: everyone has no doubt seen the article reporting on the homeopathic practitioner's group hug conference in Germany which ended in disorder due to the consumption of pyschotropic drugs. I can only say that it's a good thing they didn't take them in homeopathic doses, or the effects would have been much, much worse.

I guess up in the South you is enjoying the beginnings of spring, with asparagus and everything else that makes life worth living: over in our corner of Ole Yurrup you can tell that summer is drawing to an end. Don't get me wrong, there are still figs on the trees (and the dogs do their best to get the road-kill) and the days are still bright and sunny, but it's pleasantly cool in the moaning when we go off for our trot and in the evenings I tend to put on one of my ancient jackets. And I guess that soon I will be able to consign my single pair of shorts to the tender mercies of the washing machine.

Sometimes I feel like I'm a construction gang, working for a someone with corporate ADD. Thursday you have a conference call with the client, the architect, the CEO and it's all "OK lads, we're going to build the biggest, meanest skyscraper that ever there was, and it will be pink and maybe frilly because that's in our mission statement, and we're going to do it on time and under budget. For once. You hear that? Go, go, go!"

And then, as it might be the next day for instance, you get another call. "Ah, lads. Yerss, that skyscraper. Um, put it on hold. I know you have 5000 cubic metres of cement ready to go, you'll just have to stick it somewhere safe and hope it doesn't go off, and no-one nicks the stuff. The thing is, we have a bijou Stockbroker Tudor residence to do right now, top priority, for Wednesday. Oh, by the way, it's in Aberdeen. Hop to it.".

It is a worriment.

Which is why, right now, I'm faffing about doing some shit that was a few miles up the street on the original development road-map but which has suddenly become urgent, so forget about the leaky sewers. You get my drift.

The other night Julian and his wife came - kinda late- for dinner. They're the ones that bought into the Mayle dream and the bio-dynamic organic vineyard that goes with it ... all 8 hectares of it, scattered about the place. And because it's the first year, and noblesse oblige and all that, they are harvesting by hand - and of course the friends that were going to turn up from England to give a helping hand couldn't ... it's a long, tedious business, let me tell you. Never mind, the end-result could well be worthwhile, let you know in a couple of years.

At some point in the not-too distant future I am going to set off on a mission dear to my heart: I shall load up the tile saw, my trowels, the rubber squeegee and my sponge into the boot of the car, and we shall drive off together into the wilderness, in search of a crevasse. When we have found one that seems sufficiently deep I shall fling the whole damn lot into it, cover it with concrete and then - from a prudent distance - detonate a small-yield tactical nuke just on top.

Yes, you guessed it, I have finished tiling the very last bathroom here in The Shamblings™, and quite frankly if I never see a bloody trowel again it will be too soon. Or if anyone chooses to ask me about such things, they might well find one somewhere unexpected.

I have been having a few problems with email recently: for reasons which escaped me, Thunderbird was refusing to automatically download new messages every however many minutes. It turns out that this is a known bug (No! Really?) which occurs whenever your machine goes into hibernation. Or so it seems, going through the bug lists. The proposed solution, whilst waiting for version 38.3 to come out, is - roll of drums, please - to restart Thunderbird when you wake your machine.

Are they serious? There is another solution, which is to disable automatic upgrades, then download and install version 38.1. It will nag you at least twice a day, saying that there's a newer version available and you really should install that, but I am stubbornly deaf to these siren voices.

Don't think it's just me - there seem to be an awful lot of mobile phone scams going around at the moment. You get a robo-call from an innocuous 09 number which either hangs up as soon as you pick up, or you hear an anodyne recorded message purporting to be from an anonymous Queen/government department of your choice/Donald Trump. So you ring back the 09 number, and you get another message telling you about a knighthood/tax rebate/bridge for sale in Brooklyn, for more information please call 36**.

Which is, of course, a premium-rate number and I'm willing to bet that if you called you'd be invited to push various buttons to get through to the appropriate department and then get stuck on hold with tinny muzak and muffled sniggers in the background until you lost patience. So that'd be €50 down the tubes then.

I ask you, is it wrong of me to want to push the scamming pond-scum responsible into a vat of bubbling tarmac and then poke their eyes out with a blunt instrument, such as a sledgehammer?

Many people have laughed at French "road safety" laws, on the general principle that the French could care more. And let's face it, I myself have overtaken on a solid white line: my excuse being that I was following a tractor doing about 5kph, there was at least 100m of road clear ahead, and quite frankly you have to, don't you? (Back in the days when we got our Frog licences, this was quite acceptable: a case of force majeure. Literally, something more powerful than you made you do it. These days, not so sure if that works. Whatever.)

But nowadays this sort of thing is taken very seriously, to the point where getting behind the wheel with more than two bottles of red under your belt is considered a Bad Thing, and it's getting worse. I guess they're trying to fill the coffers of the state, because not only may you be fined €68 for smoking (as a driver) in a car containing young children - and why the driver puffing away on a weedy roll-yer-own should be fined rather than the child's mother, sitting next to it inhaling a Corona-Corona, is beyond me but never mind that - you may also be fined for listening to music on headphones, looking at a screen (wot, even your bloody GPS of Doom?), eating a sandwich, putting on makeup or looking in the glovebox: even if stationary at a red light or in a traffic jam.

It is still legal to have the car stereo blaring, which is good news.

An interesting food fact if you happen to be into that sort of thing: at Pézenas, a pretty little town a shade south-west of Béziers, you can buy a Pézenas pie. These are, as the name suggests, little pies about the size and shape of an old-style cotton reel, made from a sweet short pastry (in these degenerate times) stuffed with a mixture of minced roast mutton, suet, sugar and lemon peel. So about as close as you'll find to an Olde Englishe mince pie.

The story has it that Clive of India, when he wasn't busy having some of His Majesty's loyal wog subjects slaughtered for failure to pay taxes, introduced them to France (for he stayed at a château not far from the place). Yet another example, were one needed, of the French appropriating English cuisine for their own use.

And there's another thing: I was doing the grouting in the last bathroom the other day - and yes, thanks for asking, the tile saw and the trowels are now interred in the garage. I can't actually chuck them out yet because I still have about six tiles to cut and put down on the top-floor landing, but at least they're out of sight. Anyways, it was a kind of beige, and I couldn't help but think to myself as I squoze it into the gaps "Hey! That is exactly the colour of the inside of a perfectly-cooked foie gras." Maybe I have been here too long.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Nature's Bounty ...

The blackberry season, sad to say, is more or less over - or perhaps it's just that with seven kilos of the things in the freezer we actually have quite enough for our needs - but if we really want figs they'll be available for the picking for the next six weeks or so, and of course there are the almonds ... also, after a hot rainy night there's any number of fat juicy snails.

I know this because a) they tend to go crunch underfoot when taking the retards out for their midnight walk and b) coming back this morning from the bowel-emptying exercise we met a neighbour, returning from the hunt with a sort of chicken-wire handbag full of the bloody molluscs.

Another thing: next summer, we should be open for business. Two chambres d'hôte each of about 30m², hopefully a third, somewhat more cosy, one as well: each with bathroom, hot and cold running electricity, and - if we can persuade the mairie to give us a permis - gravity everywhere.

And for those who don't mind flirting with salmonella, there will also be table d'hôte if anyone asks for it. Which, technically, means that you have to eat whatever I feel like cooking, but there've been few disappointed dinner guests so far.

Also, not only will we be open for business, we are also open for a name. Margo has, quite rightly, pointed out that The Shamblings™ is only marginally more attractive than, say, "Nevada Federal Toxic Waste Facility" or "Love Canal", and has insisted that we find an alternative. I guess we could probably run to a free case of food poisoning meal and a night's accommodation for the lucky winner, so let's see those suggestions rolling in!

Completely off-topic, but something I would really like to have the occasion to say, should ever I be invited to a swish party and be cornered by a bore: "Really? How fascinating! Would you excuse me for a minute, I feel the familiar trickle that tells me my colostomy bag is leaking."

Somewhat imprudently I wandered past Old Hélène's place with the retards in tow the other day and waved cheerily, as one will, and she bustled out for a quick word. The point of which was to say that it would be a wonderful thing, and awfully fun for me, were Neville and I to do a poetry reading, in English, out in her little plot of pinède for the delectation of her artistic friends.

Personally, I beg to differ, and rather than enjoying it I suspect most of the audience would be trying to gnaw their ankles off, so I gave an enthusiastically non-committal answer and strode off. Luckily, shortly after Rick and Mary called to see if we wouldn't care to head off to the Irish bar in Fabrézan for a few drinks (for it was not the monthly soirée fish'n'chips, must try that some time) and after a couple I thought it was as good a time as any, and probably better than most, to pop the question and see if he wouldn't like to perform in my place - seeing as they're Irish and all that, and thus imbibed poetry and the bardic arts with their mother's milk.

To my relief and pleasure he did not run screaming from the bar, and remarked thoughtfully that it really would be a good opportunity to re-read those books of poetry that he's not touched for years, so I'm very hopeful. It's either that, or I feign madness - always an option, of course.

Beware the blandishments of butchers. I do not seem to be able to follow my own advice, for I always end up walking away with far too much meat. The other day it was enough schnitzel for us to be still eating the stuff three days later; then just yesterday, at the market in Narbonne, I was admiring a wonderful bit of aged beef but the bustling fat guy behind the counter rather calmed my ardour when he told me that it was Angus, (the breed, that is, not its actual name) and selling at only €36/kg.

So to compensate I bought far too much of a Limousin beast, and 800gm or so of a good marbled pork roast, which we will not be able to eat by ourselves. And it's not just the butchers, either: one of the fishmongers was hocking off large chunks of wild salmon - the trimmings from prettifying the fillets - at €12/kg instead of double that, so I just had no choice, did I?

The vendanges started unreasonably early this year, and the big signs are up on the roadsides thanking us for being prudent and caring and not running over vignerons as they go about their business (fat chance of that being as they're doddling around in huge, slow tractors but I can understand the urge), also now is not a good time to be buying too much sugar, for at the supermarket they will ask pointed questions as to just what exactly it is you want with so much of the stuff, and how much fucking jam are you making anyway?

Although, to be fair, I rather doubt that doctoring the wine (chaptalisation, if you want to be technical) will be necessary. Long, hot and above all dry summers do tend to mean that the grapes have quite enough natural sugar to get up to 12-13% alcohol, thanks very much.

I had always thought that all this stuff about the sky lighting up as though it were day was one of those poetical metamaphorical things, but this turns out not to be the case. Down here we enjoy a mediterranean climate, which involves lots of long lazy hot weather and occasional thunderstorms. And when the storms arrive, you know about it.

Robert the caviste came round for dinner and we finished up on the terrace as the clouds rolled in and it lit up over Mont Alaric to the south, so we called it a night and I took the dogs out as we headed back to his place: we'd just about got there when the heavens opened, as they sometimes will around here, and the water was gushing off the roofs, out of downpipes, swirling down the gutters and, above all, soaking me to the skin. Also, the dogs. Very wet dogs are not fun to be with.

Discretion being the better part of valour we headed rapidly back home to unsog and watched the rain pelt down and the terrace turn into a swimming pool, and then the storm picked up its skirts and headed north. So the rain stopped, but still the bellies of the clouds were lit up, and the thunder just kept on rolling. No literary license nor exaggeration, the lightning really was continuous.

At some point - when we've finished the work on the interior and are able to move all the furniture and other stuff out of the garage, Margo would like to have it set up as a workshop, and shift the washing machine and stuff like that down there, and be able to do fabric dying and give classes down there.

Now we wished to do things comme il faut, as one should, which explains why I headed off to the mairie to see young Jerome this afternoon. I admit that I did get waylaid by Robert, who had a few bottles of something interesting and would I like to taste them and report back, especially as he has no sense of smell at this moment - must be a right bitch for a chef - but that is neither here nor there. (But if you wish to know, the 2011 was very round, just enough tannin and damn me if I could work out just what the fruity nose was trying to tell me, while the 2014 was rougher but showed great promise. If you ask me. But I'm a professional alcoholic, so what would I know?)

But I eventually got to the my destination and exposed (as one would say in Frog-speak) my problem: our house is connected to the sewers - tout à l'égout, they say - but our garage is not: the washbasin in there goes straight into the stormwater drain.

"Hypothetical question, my little Jérome: should one wish to put a lave-linge in our garage of which you know, and connect it as one should to the lovely sewers, what must one do?"

"Ah, to that there is no problem, you must engage a plombier who will do the work, and if there is to be tearing up of the pavement he must make all good, but that is ok."

"And that is all? There is no more? No bad news, your mother has not died, by any chance?"

"Mais non, elle est toujours vivante, thank you very much. Non, there is nothing, but there is a little taxe de raccordement. It is but 2300€".

Excuse me? It's not as though it's the sort of thing you can do on the sly either - someone would be bound to notice the digger out there cutting a trench in the road.

Mad Karen from Mumblefuck rings occasionally to keep us up to date with the doings of her happily dysfunctional family, so we are au courant with the news of her mother (who adores me), her sister, brother, and two sons. Emmanuelli got accepted - on probation, due to farting around last year - for the Comp. Sci. course he wanted to do, but he has a complaint: there are no young women in the class. What did he expect? The female brain is just not wired-up for tricky science-type thinking1, I could have told him that. Give 'em Advanced Remedial Knitting, course number 72.305 and they'll be happy.

Anyway, I should slither off and make some blinis to go with all that bloody salmon. Mind how you go now.

1 Before you do me irremediable damage with that blunt instrument, that was supposed to be a joke. In the interests of full disclosure, I have gone through life knowing that absolutely everyone else in my family - including my daughter - was smarter than me, and am the only one who took the easy option of an arts degree. So there.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hello, Kitty ...

Moux needs moah pussy
Actually, this turns out not to be the case. It's summer, and the ladies of negociable virtue are working the départementale between Narbonne and Carcassonne, so if you're a truckie or the sort of person that drives a flash white Audi you're spoilt for choice.

One of the roads that leads from the main strip up to Moux is a small affair that goes under an old rail bridge, last relic of the spur line that used to go from here up into the montagne Noire, and just off that little road, on a track that leads up into the pinède and the vines (and the blackberries), there is - I am told, for I cannot swear to it of my own knowledge - a place of business.

Margo took the dogs up there the other day, for their midday trot and also to pick up some blackberries, and came upon it: a bit of beaten grass under a tree with a Bambi blanket, a porn magazine open to page 57 (the Bob Guccione-style soft-focus feature with lotsa close-ups 'cos "Hey! I've got a bigger zoom than yours"), and a dildo. Walt Disney is no doubt spinning in his grave.

Also, why is it that I have 260 page views in the last week from Russia? It's not as though I'm advertising mail-order Chechen brides ("have Bambi blanket and sex toys, will travel"), and the Great Google shows me none of the usual suspects in the "referring sites" list.

Oh, and there's always that lone sad tosser who, every week, looks up "titsup holiday" on Bing! I mean, why? There are much more rewarding search terms.

In unrelated news, I see that malachite is, in some circles, considered effective as an anti-virus for your computer. As this man quickly pointed out. I remember having a pet rock once, but that was back in the days before computer viruses, seeing as how we didn't have computers back then that would fit into any space less than about 50m². So I can't really say if it works, but apparently it absorbs negative emanations - here at The Shamblings™ anythings negative is more likely to be coming from me.

We had a collective brainfart yesterday: nothing would do but we should head off to Montredon and get the tiles so that I can finish off the bathroom in bedroom #3 before André turns up again in September, and pick up some other bits and pieces at Lézignan on the way back. This just goes to show that if you have the urge to fart you really should just let it out (discreetly, if possible, and do try to ensure that you're either on your own or in a crowd, so you can blame the smell on someone else) because otherwise it bubbles up to your brain and you have really shitty ideas.

Whatever, being the end of the first week of August an awful lot of people were on the road, heading back home to calm down for a week before heading back to work (traditionally, around August 15). Enough that even on the D6113 the trip, which normally takes about 20 minutes, took us more like an hour. And on the occasions that we caught a glimpse of the autoroute that looked even worse ...

We made it - eventually - and to my surprise and pleasure they even had what I wanted in stock, so the nice man helped me load 160kg of tiles into the boot and we headed back home - taking the tight twisty back roads this time. Better for my health.

Page 37, paragraph 6 of our mission statement reads "We shall sensually excite and lustily inform with vigour and forbidden knowledge our eager readers": it was perhaps, with hindsight, a mistake to run the Japanese version of the Microsoft EULA through Google Translate. Especially as it goes on to mention something about the "posture of the dog". Be that as it may that's what it says; so, giving you facts that you may not really want to know, may I just say that blackberries go more or less straight through a dog's digestive system?

I have a KitchenAid stand mixer - a big black thing that lurks on the kitchen bench - and let it be said that I'm very happy with it. A while back I got the hachoir attachment for it: it very conveniently reduces dried bread into breadcrumbs, and minces meat, and when I get around to it it will not only mince some lamb shoulder with salt, herbs and spices, but will also stuff the resulting mess into sausage casings, which I shall then hang up in decorative festoons to dry. (Maybe I should do that around Christmas, would save on decorations.)

That's not the point. The point is, having used it today I was idly cleaning it - as one will, for food hygiene is important around here - and I could not help but notice something that kind of left me looking like a stunned mullet. There is what I shall call - for want of a better word - a sort of plastic piston or plunger, with a great big handle at one end and and a small disc at the other, which it is recommended one use - rather than one's fingers - to push stuff into the maw of the grinder.

This is not, in itself, surprising: what was is that they apparently thought it necessary to include instructions with it, in the form of a little arrow moulded into the body of the piston - I assume to indicate the direction - and the words "PUSH FOOD". Either I'm missing something here, or people are a lot thicker than I thought. Next thing you know they'll be sticking warning labels on coffee cups - "Warning! May be ouch-burny!" and they'll come with an instruction manual on a CD.

What do you mean, "it's already been done"?

I've a confession to make: generally speaking, fruit does little for me. Oh, I can guzzle cherries by the bucket-load, and a Black Doris or Omega plum (such as you can't find in these parts for love nor money) is a wonderful thing. A good crisp apple is always good, and grapes of course disappear just like that: a peche blanche is good. But nectarines I can pass on, the apricot finds no favour with me, and pears ...

Great in a pastis, I have used them to some acclaim in a cheesecake, even in a tart with an almond custard, but as such - but on the other hand, a ripe pear smells like sex. Or at least, very erotic. Just peeling a perfectly ripe Guyot the other night, with the juice running down my wrists ...

Maybe I should calm down and stop cooking for a bit.

A bit to the north of us is, as you may recall, la montagne Noire. It's basically the southernmost outcropping of the massif central, and there's a valley that runs west-east between the two, from Mazamet to Beziers. There's a river that runs along it and so, as usual, where there's water, there's industry: mostly dead now, but as you go through the towns it's easy enough to spot the abandoned dark satanic mills. Which were pretty much all for textiles, because there were also sheep.

At one of those towns, Labastide-Rouairoux, they have an annual salon for textile artists and quilters and what-have-you, and having better things to do - like changing the spark plugs on the septic tank - I headed off there with Margo.

It's a very pretty drive on the back roads climbing up into the mountains: stark and desolate on the southern side, then suddenly getting green and forested on the north. It also involves a number of rather rapid gear changes, until you realise that the "curve ahead" road-sign really means "hairpin bend RIGHT NOW" and that trying to go around at 80 is not perhaps the best of ideas. Fortunately, Sarah's permanent four-wheel drive and complete lack of body roll make it rather fun. If you're not too worried about passengers, anyway.

Also, I couldn't help but notice that it's rather cooler up there. I say this because I got bored witless after half an hour and went off wandering around the place, and so had ample opportunity to enjoy the bracing breeze. Places like that always strike me as rather sad: a couple of hundred years ago they were bustling hives of industry and now the factories are shut and the huge old houses standing in the gardens are dilapidated, all the shutters closed and peeling.

On the brighter side, the English seem to be buying them: I guess they're cheap, and maybe the climate reminds them of the Welsh valleys.

And by the time I'd finished with that Margo had just about done with meeting up with old friends and acquaintances, and they did have a stand selling artisanal honey: so I came away with a couple of pots for my private stash, some chestnut honey (my god that's good) and some bruyère honey (which is to die for, and if anyone tries to get at it, they will die).

(Incidentally, bruyère covers a multitude of gins and mostly, in French, refers to what you'd call heather: but my honey comes from bruyère ereca which is, oddly enough, a small tree from the roots of which are made briar pipes. Now you know.)

Finally, life is not fair. Why do bloody engineers get all the fun jobs, like building a simulated vomiting machine? And I bet that if you got to do that at high school there's be no shortage of candidates for the STEM courses.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mostly Dead Sheep ...

So, let me tell you about lamb ham. It's not something that seems to happen in France, poor benighted folk that they are, so effectively one is obliged to make one's own. Fortunately, the procedure is remarkably simple.

Some would start with a leg of lamb but unfortunately I have nowhere suitable to put one whilst it's curing: a cool airy cellar would be ideal, but I don't have one. Not, at anyrate, one that is inaccessible to cats. So I started out with a shoulder of lamb and boned it: removed the shoulder-blade and the top leg bone, leaving only the shank in. (If you've not done it before, boning can be a tedious and occasionally bloody process but persevere, it's not really that difficult. And think of the anatomy lesson you're getting.)

This will leave you with a shank, attached to a large square of flesh and skin. Stick it into a large ziplock bag (because believe me, it's a damn sight less messy that way) and get the cure ready: mix three tbsp of kosher salt, three tbsp of brown sugar, a quarter tsp of saltpetre and herbs or spices of your choice in a bowl. (I like to use crushed and chopped juniper berries at least, and the saltpetre is optional. Yeah, it's toxic in large doses, but it does help give a nice pink colour to the meat.)

Then add three tbsp or more of molasses or treacle, mix well, and rub well into the meat, paying special attention to the ends of the shank bone because we wouldn't want it to go all mouldy and gross, now would we? Close the ziplock bag, put it onto a tray (because the little buggers always develop a leak somewhere), stick it into the fridge for ten days or so and forget about it. (Well, flip it over once every couple of days, but that's hardly onerous.)

At the end of that time take it out, wash it well and dry it, roll and tie it ... you now have two options. You could wrap it in muslin to keep the flies off and hang it for a couple of weeks in that cool airy cellar of which I spoke, or you could do what I do, which is stick it into an oven at 90° for an hour or so, until the internal temperature gets up to about 58°. Or, if you have one, use a smoker. (Do you have any idea, by the way, just how difficult it is to find an oven that gives you the option of 90°? Mine certainly doesn't.)

The advantage of the second method is, of course, that you get to eat the stuff much sooner: always a bonus for those of us with zero patience. (Also, as good manners demand that one presents only perfect thin round slices to one's guests, one is obliged to trim off the scrappy caramelised bits immediately after baking, and eat them hot and crispy.)

I have recently spent more time than I care to think about delving into the Bluetooth layers of Linux. Think of it as a learning experience: like most such it is not necessarily pleasant. I have learnt about the driver layer which manages the hardware (and good luck with that if your chipset is not supported), and the userspace hcid layer which goes on top, and the bnep layer which goes on top of that ... there are so many layers to this damn thing that it looks as though a demented patissier started work on a fôret noire and found himself unable to stop.

And then, of course, all this is wrapped up in a package called BlueZ, which was started off by a couple of hobbyists in a basement and supported ever since in a sporadic manner, with occasional bursts of enthusiasm, by a small team of two men and a cat who get together twice a year for a beer. The package is more or less essential, because no-one in their right mind would start again from scratch (possibly adding comments to the code) so basically you live with what you get.

And I can indeed live with that, it's just that when the cat decided to move to version 4 they had possibly had a few too many beers and decided to completely change the API and - here's the cunning bit - not document the new one. Or if they did, grudgingly, put up a single web page, they took care to ensure that it is misleading at best, wildly inaccurate at worst. On the grounds, I guess, that anyone who really wants to know what's going on will just read the bloody source.

So you start on your quest for knowledge thinking "Hey! This is going to be easy! Look at all those examples on the innertubes ..." and it is not until things stubbornly refuse to work as they are supposed to and clients start getting itchy that you begin to realise that the examples out there are all for version 3, and you are on your own, boyo.

This is the dark side of Linux, the foetid underbelly of open source software. Take my advice, do not go there.

Whatever, twenty km or so south of Perpignan there is a little village, Palau del Vidre, which has the distinction of harbouring a couple of dozen artisans verriers - glass-blowers, stained-glass makers, people that make pretty glass dolphins ... it also has a rather interesting church, if you happen to be into that sort of thing. Would have been nice to go in and take a look around 'cos I guess the stained glass would've been fantastic, but being a Sunday the place was closed.

As it happens, it's the 22nd Foire International de Verre down there, and despite it's being another bloody black weekend on the roads due to the juilletists heading home and the aoutards leaving (and why can't the buggers just stay put in Paris for the duration, where god put them, and evidently intended them to be) we headed off down to take a look. So that you don't have to.

Start with the bad news: there was folk dancing. On the brighter side, that was towards the middle of the afternoon, we'd been around most of the place and we were sitting at a bar nursing cold (and bloody expensive) drinks and were feeling tolerant. So you'll be pleased to know that no-one got hurt, not even the little children.

Although it did remind me a lot of that scene from Spinal Tap, you know, the one where they've got this song about ancient mystic powers and so they have dwarves dressed as leprechauns dancing around the great monoliths of Stonehenge only it's a two-foot tall scale model in polystyrene, and the dwarves keep tripping over it? Yep.

And there was sort-of Morris dancing, with people hitting other people on the head with sticks whilst wearing stockings and bells, and inexplicably missing ... a lot of the glass was extremely beautiful.

But I checked down the sides of the sofa before we left, and did not find three or four thousand euros sitting there forgotten, so we came home empty-handed, without so much as a glass harp to our names. Maybe next year, if I work a bit harder, and manage to hide some of it from the taxman ... mind how you go, now.