Sunday, March 15, 2015

Luggage Allowances ...

We are, of course, trying to ensure that Jeremy actually leaves this green and pleasant land, so this sort of thing is somewhat on our minds. Which meant a bit of serious out-of-the-box non-linear thinking, washed down with some extra 5l tubs of Chateau Carton, but we are pleased to be able to announce a solution.

For those of you concerned about such things and yet who still wish to travel with your feathered friends, here in the Kitchen and Gene-Splicing Workshop at The Shamblings™ we have, through bleeding-edge but still entirely legal (or, more accurately, not actually illegal in the strictest sense of the word, at least not now) technology, developed the Carrion Pigeon. At only seven kilos, and flightless, most major airlines will accept it as an item of carry-on hand baggage, and the convenient handle on its back facilitates portage.

To date customer satisfaction inquests (the fact that many customers are currently technically dead is a mere statistical outlier) have been uniformly glowing (please note that there is no radioactive material involved) and the only drawback of any note is the handbag's bird's proclivity for a diet of dead, preferably aged, meat. That, and the smell. On which we are working - I can see no earthly reason why we should not be able to splice in some hungry little deodorant enzymes, such as one finds in washing powder.

But following the advice of our marketing consultants, we can also propose our tasty PopsicleMice, which come in convenient individual pre-frozen sachets and need only 30 seconds in the microwave and two weeks in damp, warm surroundings (a bathroom or hot-water cupboard is ideal) to develop their full flavour. Each is under 100ml, and may thus legally be carried in your purse or man-bag.

Whatever, Sunday did indeed turn out bright and blue and warm, so I butterflied a leg of lamb and rubbed it sensuously with olive oil and salt and herbes de Provence and set it aside whilst preparing a coleslaw, and then I went and vacuumed the terrace and washed down the table and chairs and dusted off the big Weber barbecue, carefully laid out a bed of kindling to receive the charcoal and sloshed everything with petrol before retiring.

We were probably not the only ones thus occupied: the peripatetic curé saw fit to turn up at Moux, as happens a few times every year, so the out-of-tune bells started going mad around 10:30 (I assume, to warn saner people that right now would be a good time to stay in bed) and the elderly and decrepit started flocking in. Kind of like zombies, attracted to a shopping mall.

I suppose that eventually the sermon wound down, for most of them trooped out again and then, with surprising rapidity place St-Régis was completely empty, innocent of people and cars, as everyone headed off to have a decent Sunday lunch with Gran. (Who, despite being to all appearances somewhere in the vicinity of 103, had doubtless been slaving over it since Saturday morning.) There were a couple of cats, soaking up the sun, and ourselves.

Once upon a time there was a bar in Moux: it closed down a while back now, apparently not due to any lack of patronage but simply because the owners had had enough and couldn't find anyone to take it over. The building belongs to the municipalité, and so it's been gathering dust for at least five years. But the current administration decided that having a bar-restaurant in the village would be rather nice, and so having been renovated at some not-inconsiderable expense by the mairie, it's due to reopen in May - assuming, of course, that they find someone to take it on.

It's all been redone: the kitchen's up to EU standards, a cold room for storage has been installed, the salle has been retiled and redecorated from top to bottom and they've even opened up an access to the little shady terrace out the back for those hot summer days. So if you know of anyone who wants to work themselves into the ground with cooking and serving in the south of France, café Réné (for I am assuming it will be named after M. le maire) could be theirs.

(Mind you, when the place does eventually open the name will probably be chosen by a committee and big letters will announce Le Bar du Coin, from which, to general hilarity, the letter "i" will fall in the first few weeks. At which point we shall have no choice but to inhale our vitamins at Le Bar du Con. Just saying.)

Preparations are getting ahead for shipping out the First-Born Son, and I am arming myself with screwdrivers and a socket set because, as I am peripherally involved with computers, I am deemed competent to knock his down into its component parts so that they may travel with him. (Basically, motherboard, video card and hard drive: the case and power supply he can replace when he gets there.)

Actually, as I write he has in fact left. Before leaving the house we triple-checked the possession of passport and various tickets (because certain persons have been known to request a quick return trip to the house to pick up just such an item which apparently got left on the table or something) and headed through to Narbonne, where we decanted him onto the TGV.

There were still opportunities for Mr. Cockup (to whom we try not to be at home) to make an appearance: there was the hour's wait at Lyon for the TGV through to Charles de Gaulle, and then of course there are all the possibilities of losing oneself in the terminals there ... but last we heard the luggage was checked in and he was about to have a last fag before going into the departure lounge.

The worst that could happen now is that he manages to get himself locked in a loo during the stopover at Dubai, or maybe bitten by a particularly venomous cane toad in Australia, but that's out of our hands now. We have done our bit, ensured that he's left the country.

Which seems to not please the dogs, Indra in particular. As The Shamblings™ is still very much a work in progress he was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in our future dining room, and Shaun very much enjoyed the ease with which he could heave himself onto the bed ready to give one of those ear-licks which are essential to starting off the day in the right manner. Indra just seems to assume that if a bed is there then it and its occupant(s) are there for her convenience and pleasure: a refreshingly simple point of view but not, I feel, one that Jerry really shared.

Whatever, although today it is gray and raining sullenly, yesterday was fine (truth to tell, we had a lovely week, even if the blossoms did get knocked about a bit by the tramontane) so buying strawberries and asparagus at the market was pretty much a moral imperative and then, although my intentions are always good and one of these days we will get around to having a vegetarian meal once a week (start off easy with a butternut curry perhaps, and work our way slowly up to the dreaded nut cutlets), we are carnivores at heart so a quick trip to visit a couple of butchers was a necessity.

What I'm trying to say here is that those strawberries are not going to hull themselves, nor is the poitrine fraîche that called out to me going to jump into a ziplock bag with salt, sugar and herbs without a bit of assistance, so I am going to go look after our bodily needs. Enjoy autumn, won't you?

PS: Jerry arrived more or less on schedule, albeit apparently smelly and minus the bottle of wine he'd bought for the Elder One - the Australians wouldn't let it through, for some reason. (Mind you, what can you expect from a country that elects a Tony Abbott as PM? Collectively they have to be more than a few twigs short of a bundle.) And I was kind of hurt because it seems he cooked dinner on arrival: something he has never done for us, dismissing the concept with a flippant "You want me to cook? Put me in a professional kitchen". I guess Nyarlathotep is better kitted-out than we.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Another Conversation With A Kid ...

Hey Dad!

Yeah, hi.

No, seriously.

Yeah. You want more money, I guess. Don't have any. (Where the hell does a cat keep its credit cards, anyway?)

No - well yes - Swiss bank account, they are very understanding and you are in fact the nominal account holder, nothing to worry about at this point in time there is no drug money going through that one  - but there are no more kitty kibbles!

Yeah. I thought you were looking fat. You considered cutting down on the carbs? You mean I can pull your totally non-cartel-related cash out?

Not my fault! I am not fat cat! No!!

Yeah, right. Damn. So your problem is?

That bitch (technically speaking) Indra got up onto the freezer - you know, where you thought she couldn't climb - and ate them all! None left!

You now have my undivided attention, until something sparkly comes along, but I get the feeling that I am not going to like this. Please be more clear.

Well, the kitty food dispenser is now lying on the floor, Indra has hoovered up its contents, and dipshit Shaun is wandering vaguely around hoping there's something for him in there. If you like I can convince him to go upstairs and piss on your paperwork, or you could just clean up the mess and give me more kibbles.


There are those, it seems - usually far from the countrycide - who look upon the peasantry with misty eyes and gushy gooey thoughts, seeing them as noble specimens, defenders of Nature and no doubt in harmony with the music of the spheres. I am not one of them: in my experience your average peasant is a surly son of a bitch and his attitude to the land to which he may or may not actually have title (because it's not because a peasant is tilling the soil that the soil being tilled is in fact his, it might just be otherwise unoccupied) is that if he wants to fertilise it with toxic waste then he bloody well will.

The French being, in their hearts, peasants to a non-gender-specific person, thus regard the green and pleasant fields as theirs to do with as they wish: which probably goes some way to explaining the impromptu rubbish tips that spring up overnight. It's not that I mind as such, it's just that I have problems persuading Shaun not to eat the huge pile of cigarette butts that have been tipped out of a car onto the side of the road, nor to chew of the espresso capsules - red, gold, green and brown - that put the crocuses to shame.

I am not one to let a recipe go unmolested, so when I came upon two recipes in the same post it seemed only reasonable to combine them. The first was for little rolled Chinese-style fritters, and the second for pork'n'shrimp toast, so it was fairly obvious that it would be a Good Idea, when making the pancakes for the first, rather than just spread them with sesame oil and chopped chives or spring onions, why not spread a good tablespoon of the minced pork and shrimp over them before rolling them out into cigars, rolling those onto themselves to make spirals (as the French so endearingly call them, "les escargots") and then flattening them out somewhat and frying them.

As it turns out, it actually turned out to be a good concept - well, Margo liked it, anyway, and I'll eat anything not involving (insert list of out-of-favour foodstuffs here, starting with tripe) - and not one of the brain-farts that sometimes happen in the kitchen here at The Shamblings™. So you could probably try that.

The eldest son has evacuated his apartment and is - it seems - squatting a sofa at the neighbours until Monday, when he should get his final pay cheque and sign the documents to the effect that he is leaving their employ: Margo is not willing to share a sofa with Jeremy, and so is spending the next few days with our friend Mad Karen, in her nunnery at Seyssel. And today it is the first wedding anniversary for her and the long-suffering Philippe, who I think has done very well putting up with her for so long - and vice versa, of course.

It is apparently traditional on this occasion, so I suggested mildly to Margo that she nick a bogroll from one of the many toilets in the place, stick a ribbon around it and present it as a gift at the dinner table: a suggestion that was treated, I'm sad to say, with the contempt that it doubtless deserved.

You probably recall Donny Rumsfeldt's dictum that "Shit happens". Such as, it might be, deleting all the photos from your camera's memory card before you've copied them over to the PC? Just such a shit happened to Margo, and of course it would be photos of a quilt in progress that she needed to write up an article. Go Google "SD card photo recovery" and the Chocolate Factory will serve up any number of links.

The SD card was a Lexar, and they offer a trial (recover only three files) of their recovery software which signally failed so it's probably a good thing I didn't actually pay for that: there's also a thing called, would you believe it, "Recuva" which trundled away for a bit and said it had recovered everything and it had indeed created some .jpg files which were, sadly, totally unreadable.

Finally tried something called PhotoRec, which has a user interface which will please all aficionados of the command-line interface but no-one else, and it did the job with a minimum of fuss and bother. It works by scanning free sectors for file signatures, and sadly it does not have a signature for the .CR2 files that Margo's little Canon EOS uses, so she didn't get the raw files (which publishers evidently prefer) but at least the .jpg files were all back. Recommended.

Over here the tramontane is blowing, as it will at this time of year, and so rough winds are definitely shaking the darling buds of - uh - March. But it's supposed to die down over the next few days, and I is planning maybe on the first barbecue of the year on Sunday.

In a tragic, vaguely wine-related incident involving two cars and a pair of jumper leads in the middle of a vineyard, Peter the real-estate agent managed to put his leg out. (Don't ask, OK?) Any sane man would have headed off to the clinique at Narbonne to get it looked at, but not he. Being made of sterner stuff, he immediately booked himself on a Lyin'Air flight from Carcassonne back to whatever dismal hole in England he calls home, there to throw himself upon the tender mercies of the bloody NHS.

Godnose why, I'd have thought that even the prospect of giant garlic-flavoured suppositories morning, noon and night for a week would have been better than a six-month waiting list just to actually see a doctor, but I am apparently mistaken.

(It also turns out not to be the case that French nurses are incredibly sexy soubrettes, along the lines of Yvette from 'Allo 'Allo. You want that sort of thing, go watch Benny Hill re-runs. I'll wait until your brains have run out your ears.)

Whatever, time to go. There is a large bundle of baby asparagus in the kitchen - a fruit which Jeremy has decided he rather likes, sad to say - and strawberries in the fridge, which need hulling and slicing, at the very least.

But I would like, if I may, to leave you with a profound philosophical thought from the Cookie Monster, delivered as he was musing in an art gallery (yeah OK, so YouTube does have some use): "What was the best thing before sliced bread?"

Friday, February 27, 2015

Bamboozled By Labels ...

So what the fuck is it - pardon my French - with packaging these days? Every time I see something marked "ouverture facile" I feel my temples starting to throb and I get a sinking feeling in my gut as it brings back memories of the bad old days when a hostess would stroll down the aisle on short-haul flights and casually toss a few impenetrable packets of crackers in your lap (no point in giving you actual food poisoning if you're not going to be stuck in a steel tube at 30 000m altitude long enough to really appreciate it).

You knew damn well that by the time you'd wrestled the thing to the ground and ripped it open with your teeth (or, if careful about dental hygiene, the dentures of the guy sitting next to you) the crackers would have been reduced to fine dust ...

Anyway, hope springing eternal and all that, a label such as that makes me think "Aha! I have just to prise up that little corner and pull, and then half the plastic film will pull off and then it will start to tear and I will gash my wrists on the razor-sharp edges ..." but it's not even that easy.

What it really means is that if you happen to have a set of hydraulic shears about your person it is relatively easy to slice through the Kevlar-reinforced vacuum-shrunk packaging (whilst reducing the contents to an unmentionable pulp) probably with only minor flesh wounds, at which point - once the first flush of triumph has faded - you can chuck the lot out and go get some bandages before trying to open a tin of something instead, first checking that your can-opener is certified for use on titanium alloys.

And then there's another of my pet peeves, those biscuit packets that come with a handy tear-off strip around one end, to facilitate opening - what bloody genius decided that the location of this strip should only be visible from inside the packet?

We were honoured by André's presence the other day, and he straightaway set to plumbing mightily on the first floor. Of course this involved turning the water off from time to time - great fun if you just happen to be, as it might be, actually in the shower - and a few imprecations which I shall not repeat because you are a) of a delicate nature and b) ignorant of French swearing, probably just as well as it can be quite inventive and extremely vulgar.

But that was OK, and eventually he left, having done his worst, and it wasn't until around 19:00 when I was cooking that I noticed that there was no water in the kitchen.This is not particularly convenient, but as I was sure that he'd just closed a valve and forgotten to open it again I went upstairs and looked at the handiwork. He'd installed a nourrice - sort of a distributor with hot and cold water coming in, and any number of feeder pipes going off in different directions to bathrooms and such, each with their own valve.

Easy, I thought: just leave the taps on in the kitchen and open valves until water starts spurting out - of course I'd forgotten that most of the pipes headed off to bathrooms as yet unfinished, with no taps at the end of them ... the resultant flooding was not particularly dramatic, and no drownings were reported.

After that débâcle I actually managed to get him on the phone and he suggested gently that I try taking the filter off the kitchen tap: sure enough, it was totally gunged up with a loose bit of Teflon that had got in there. I guess I shall never make a plumber.

And the next morning we woke up to find ourselves completely without water. Fortunately, before ringing André yet again and giving him a piece of my mind I looked outside and saw the municipal workmen wandering about, happily turning off mains supplies in preparation for a bit of work. Just as well, I was feeling rather paranoid by then.

Don't know about you, but I find this well worth a look. Then go take a look around the other articles while you're at it.

Whatever, I have received word from The Elder One that I've been a bit dilatory recently and that she is Not Impressed, so I suppose I really ought to push the go-button on this before anything worse happens. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

ENIAC and I ...

You may recall that a few years back Margo bought herself a little Samsung N150 netbook, the "Wave of the Future!" or whatever: an admittedly pretty, but horribly under-powered thing imminently destined to be made redundant by tablets (the "New Future of Computing!") and full-fat phones with 10" screens or whatever. (So pretty, in fact, that I think it's only since it got tossed into the pile of "junk we might as well bring with us anyway, it might come in useful some day" that the protective plastic film came off it.)

(Incidentally, she just got herself an HTC Desire, which I personally find so bloody huge as to be unusable. I mean, whatever happened to the days when you could get a phone that would slip comfortably into your hip pocket, without fear of snapping it in two if you bent over, and which you needed to charge once a week if you talked a lot?

I sometimes feel that we've regressed somewhat, back to the time when your "portable" phone and associated battery pack was the size of a small sewing machine. Also, I feel a right dick holding up what feels like an A5 notepad to my ear ... but I digress.

While I'm digressing, we had a friend who'd kitted himself out with one of the first car phones, all those years ago. Good thing he had a Range Rover: he didn't really need a trailer for the batteries. Although it was a tight fit for two in the back.)

Anyway, despite the fact that Jeremy was not allowed within a five-metre distance of the thing, one day the screen did a Tennyson and crack'd from side to side anyway and it got slung into a box and came down here with us to The Shamblings™ where it led a quiet life in the dark until recently, when I had occasion to take one of my laptops - one of the pair with self-destructing disk drives - in to the local computer shop at Lézignan to have the fan looked at (for the CPU was getting up to 80°, which would be handy if I wished to fry eggs but is a bit hot for a computer) and thought I might as well take it in as well to see if they couldn't replace the screen.

The guy looked at it dubiously, and did the sucking of the teeth and the sighing of gloom, but promised to see what he could do ...

One week and 95€ later she was back, which was very convenient because Margo would rather like to have her laptop more or less permanently up in her office but still have something downstairs to browse the web of a morning (I told you, The Daily Fail and suchlike over her morning coffee) and that we could plug in to the big 27" Viewsonic monitor in the evenings for a gross-out session of Hawaii Five-O or whatever. So as I had at some point zapped the installed version of Windows 7 Starter Edition (have I ever mentioned that you just don't seem to get the installation DVDs these days?) I "just" had to download some version of Linux to get her fit for purpose.

That turned out to take a bit longer than I'd expected. I read up a bit on it, in between checking up on security bulletins to see if I needed to rebuild a kernel for Cla-Val to block some gaping security hole in their gear, and thought I'd try Mint with Cinnamon, which everyone agreed was a nice, lightweight system suitable for installation on a gruntless processor ...

Downloaded that, made a bootable thumb drive with it, installed it: so far so good, it worked. It even latched onto the WiFi here without my even asking: this was promising. Then I plugged it into the Viewsonic. OK, then I had to go into the system setup, ask it to check for a second screen - she found it, and up it came in glorious 64-colour 800x600 resolution. But it worked.

"Fear not!" I thought, "I have but to diddle with the parameters, and all will be well, and we shall be able to watch 'Death In Paradise' tonight" ... sad to say, it was not to be. I set the screen resolution to the native full-colour, 1920x1080, and lo! it changed - and then, 30 seconds later, reverted. I finally worked out that it was displaying a dialog box asking me to confirm the changes and that this dialog box was being displayed on the built-in screen at a location suitable for a 1920x1080 screen, which sadly made it invisible.

Eventually I also worked out the keyboard shortcuts required to confirm an invisible dialog box (in this particular case, hit "Alt" twice to get its attention, then "Tab" three times, then the "Enter" key on the numeric keypad - if you're interested) and did so, and it did indeed work. Sort of.

Because for some reason, running the external monitor at full resolution slowed things down to the point where you'd click on an icon, or on a button in a dialog box, and three minutes later something would happen. This is not what I would personally call a reasonable response time, so it was back to the drawing board.

I happen to like Fedora - mainly because for me, it just worked - so I thought I'd give that a whirl. Download, make another bootable thumb drive, install ... first thing you cannot help but notice is that the install screens just do not work on the small screen of a netbook. Trying to select the keyboard layout, for instance, causes a popup list to appear with the various layouts in it: unfortunately, only half of that list is visible, but the scroll bar seems to have a mind of its own and reckons stubbornly that what you see is what you've got so it does nothing. All you can do is bang hopelessly on the down arrow key - which will change the selected line but will, crucially, not bring it into view - and press "Enter" when you feel it's more or less in the right place.

After a couple of goes I got it to recognise the timezone as Paris and - I thought - the keyboard as French, and let it carry on installing: it chundered on for a while, cheerily told me that installation was complete, and would I please reboot. So I did, and it asked me to log on, and as I hadn't created a user I just tried to log on as root with the password I'd supplied ... after the third fruitless attempt I actually noticed that the date and time were displayed in Magyar, and that this probably did not bode well for the keyboard layout.

I had also downloaded Mint with Mate, and at that point I'd nothing to lose by trying that (I mean, apart from an hour's time faffing about, but I'll bill that to someone, one way or another) so I made yet another bloody thumb drive and let it install and - without, I must admit, too much optimism - took it downstairs.

Oddly enough I had to tell it to connect to the WiFi but - to my stunned-mullet surprise - when I plugged in the monitor it came up, straight away, native resolution and no noticeable delays. Not more than you'd expect from an Atom processor. The only tweak I had to make was setting the external display to be on the left side, because that's how it physically is and I see no point in straining my brain more than necessary.

Strange, but true. Go figure. Now I just have to work out why it is that the Adobe Flash player dies regularly, for that does little for the viewing experience. (Alright, I know, it dies because it is, in fact, Adobe Flash player and therefore a piece of shit. But still ...)

I know I said something at some point about how, sometime soon, the almonds would blossom and then, eventually, the wild plums (not feral prunes) would follow: got it wrong. Under normal circumstances this is indeed what happens but as it happens this year the plums are out first, enjolivating the roadside.

And incidentally, I could not but notice at the market that the first Spanish strawberries of the year have made their appearance. I shan't be buying any: I am not really one of those who abjure and abstain from any fruit that is not in season and grown locally, nor do I knit my own yurt out of farm-sourced sustainable yoghurt, but I must admit that I do like my fruit to have a bit of flavour.

And although every year it's the same thing - hope springing eternal wrestles bitter experience to the ground - I hope I shall be able to resist for just a little bit longer. At least until they start to smell, at which point I will be unable to hold out. (Do they, I wonder, make aerosols with strawberry smell in them, like they do ones with "new car" aroma? Bound to be a market out there.)

Forewarned, they say, is forearmed: I shall thus let you know now that Jeremy is headed off to NooZild on or about March 12th, for an indefinite stay. We must head up at the end of the month to remove him and all other superfluous junk from his apartment before he hands the keys over: then we come back down here with the junk and enjoy the pleasure of his company for a week or so before tearfully decanting him onto the TGV, hoping that he will not manage to miss the flight out of Charles de Gaulle.

If you need another reason to avoid Christchurch, that's where he's heading. Just saying.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Where The Huskies Go ...

One of Margo's more unpleasant habits involves reading The Daily Fail and other journals of that ilk over her breakfast. I don't know how she does it, I'd be spewing coffee all over my keyboard ... be that as it may, she was perusing the august HTML of Metro this morning, and felt obliged to point out to me the headline reading "Woman Finds Jesus in Bird Poop". More than that, I did not care to ask, so I cannot tell you whether it was just a portrait or an actual figurine. (Because I prefer not to believe that anyone could have a revelation contemplating sparrow-shit.)

In other news, you may recall that we fled Savoie to find decent weather. It was, then, somewhat to our disgust that around 10am unmistakeable snow started falling from the sky, blocking the busy streets of Moux. OK, there I might exaggerate a tiny bit, but there was actual snow, actually falling and momentarily whitening our terrace, and I have enclosed a photograph or two for your viewing pleasure.

And EBK has just come in: he is not a happy kitton. He's never met snow before, and quite frankly I think he could have done without the experience.

For your edification, an article on toad erections: the irresponsible practice of toad licking, reportedly popular among the more time-rich Australian youngsters. Don't say I never do anything for you.

Just saying, but should you happen to be a Bear of Little Brain, and it comes into your head to have a Bright Idea - such as it might be sticking the tepid bottle of crémant du Loire that your dinner guest has brought round into the freezer "just for half an hour" before sitting down to eat and, what with one thing and another, and there's quite enough to drink here at The Shamblings™ anyway, forgetting about it - well, let me just ask you to consider the possibility that you might be mistaken.

On the bright side, the freezer compartment needed defrosting anyway, although I suppose I could have just scraped it out and served the contents as (mostly) champagne sorbet ... it was also the occasion to rediscover tubs of ice-cream and all sorts of other stuff lurking at the back. I'm pretty sure that normal people do not freeze over-ripe bananas.

We've had the electricians in all last week, re-routing the phone line so that it actually winds up in my office, and stringing cables all over the place on the first floor so that Cédric can finish putting up the gib-board on the walls and ceilings. The idea is that the two top floors are completely rewired, with their own distribution board, so at least part of the house will be "conforme aux normes", as they say.

Of course, it would have to have been the coldest day of the year when they had to cut the electricity in the place, which incidentally means that the central heating was off. And it was after they'd left on Tuesday night that we discovered that they'd cut the phone line (OK, no blame, they could hardly have known that it actually arrives in what used to be our bedroom, they thought it was an extension) which meant no phone and so no internet and so no TV.

We had to spend an evening in one another's company. What, in heaven's name, did people do of an evening, back in the days before Al Gore invented the innatoobz? Play Scrabble? No wonder there was so much domestic violence.

Whatever, as I was making my rounds at the market the other day I was pleasantly surprised to come across some bigarade, better known perhaps as the bitter Seville orange. I can see that the immediate future is going to involve a bit of time spent at the stove, making marmelade. I still have fond memories of Keiller's Dundee marmelade with navy rum, although I don't know where I'd be able to get some of that. I suppose that I shall have to content myself with a shot of Grand Marnier.

Also, why in hell should Dundee, Scotland, become a centre of the marmelade-making trade? It's not as though bitter oranges grow on trees, not up there anyway. (Although apparently around here, they do. The season is short - I shall take advantage of it. And if ever I happen to find bergamot as well, I shall be extremely happy.)

It is supposed to be warming up next week: I for one will be extremely pleased if this turns out to be the case. Whatever, the days are getting longer and soon the almonds will be blossoming, then the pruniers sauvages will burst out in white and rather startling pink.

Oh, we still have a few months of chilly winds to look forward to but that's just one of those things, and it certainly makes you appreciate the central heating, and a decent (and copious) hot meal. Anyway, mind how you go, now.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Things That Piss Me Off ...

I tend to rather go on about it I know, but I really do wish that people would not rely on their high-school children or Google Translate to do an English version of the restaurant menu. All along the Mediterranean coast you can find the local version of bouillabaisse au rouille, vociferously claimed as their own by Nice and Marseilles: the rouille in question being a fiery concoction of hot red peppers mashed with olive oil in a pestle. Calling it "fish soup with rust" does not really do it justice.

Also, a côte de boeuf flambé au cognac should not, in my opinion, come out as "steak with outbreaks". Outbreaks of what exactly is unclear to me, possibly herpes but could be worse - whatever, it seems unlikely to incite the punters to try one.

In a dyspeptic aside (mood not helped by having a bad cold for the first time in a couple of years) some of you have asked what the mood is in France after the Paris killings. I have to admit that I've never really liked Charlie Hebdo: I can handle satire but theirs was resolutely stuck in the 18th century scatological mode. So no, I'm not going to go out and buy a copy of the latest issue: to turn that apocryphal quote on its head, "just because I defend to the death your right to say something doesn't mean I have to agree with it".

Yeah, the plan Vigipirate is at code infrared and I guess that in Paris there's a squad of soldiers in every Métro station: around here it's a little more laid back, although when the other day Margo got stopped at a police checkpoint (no she hadn't done anything, just random stops) one came up to check her papers and the other two stood back with submachine guns cocked and pointed ...

Possibly the worst bit is, as one of the French online satirical journals (, recommended) pointed out, "the enormous piles of hypocrisy confronting the Paris street cleaners all along the path of the march". Thousands march and millions buy a copy of Charlie Hebdo to support free speech: then the French arrest Dieudonné for cracking what could be considered an offensive joke and that upper class twit David Cameron wants to ensure that all communications are decryptable. What a laugh.

And of course the Turkish prime minister was there, marching to show support for free speech. And without even having a hernia or whatever it is that cognitive dissonance results in, back in Turkey he can say - with a straight face - "freedom of expression ... does not grant anybody the right to insult another’s beliefs ... In this country, we don’t allow insults to the Prophet".

I see his point, of course: free speech is a privilege that is not to be abused - by actually using it, for instance.

And another thing: when Linus Torvalds arose from the toilet one day many years ago, having locked himself in for four days whilst he wrote down the original source code for Linux (the dog later managed to play with the third toilet-roll, which may explain why the signal handling code is kinda crap and missing a few bits) he was doubtless a happy man.

I have no problem with that. Where I have a problem is when I wish to auto-instrument my code, so that ever - gods forbid - something like a divide-by-zero should occur, I can log this fact, and the address of the offending code.  This should be clean, and simple. Sadly, it is not. But after only two days on the toilet, reading kernel source and stack dumps, I have managed to do it. This should make me happy, but somehow there is festering resentment that I have to dig into non-documented holes in the code and then kludge the magic number 143 in to my routines.

Maybe I should try to become a more forgiving person, and perhaps drink more.

Don't know about you, but I keep having problems with Google Maps. "How can this be?" you cry, astounded. "Why, it is so simple that, unlike a VCR" (remember those?) "you do not even need a twelve-year old child to operate it!". True enough, but that is not my problem: it is just that it is either operating in some parallel universe (one of those squished butterfly wrong trouser-leg of Time things) or in some temporal zone which is not entirely contiguous with the one I happen to inhabit.

In a number of cases, having the occasion to head off to a garage or shop or whatever, the Great Google finds the place no problem, gives directions and off I head, only to find when I arrive in the middle of a deserted building site that the place I'm looking for was last seen in that vicinity some five years ago. In others, I get there to discover that it will be there, but not for another six months. It's the latter one that worries me some.

Recent excitement in our lives includes Margo vomiting, and Indra doing the same. Both our dogs are "normal", insofar as that word can be applied, and so the highlight of their daily walks is finding something repulsive under a toad - like a toad-stool (only actually poisonous if the toad's eaten something nasty) - and scarfing it down. Shaun, as befits his stolid, phlegmatic disposition, has a cast-iron constitution and bowels to match: sadly Indra, being a lady, is more delicate.

At least I now know the origin of the expression "sick as a dog" (incidentally, and exceptionnellement, it is identique in Frog-speak - "malade comme un chien"), and I can also say, as one will under the circumstances, "if you're going to eat mummified cat-shit, live with the consequences." Sadly it was we that really had to live with the consequences, because quite honestly she could care more about living in a pool of yellow lumpy barf.

Off to the vet who said something along the lines of "Wow! That must have been really bad cat-shit!" and gave a prescription for no food or water for a bit: Indra is not happy with this. I thought I'd been clever putting the water bowl up on the table, out of reach: turns out that it is not inaccessible to a gracile dog with a long neck.

As for Margo, she woke up in agony and proceeded to vomit everywhere, which occasioned a quick trip to the quack and then off to A&E at the Narbonne clinique. I suspect that A&E is the same everywhere on the planet: if they had one in the middle of the jungle in Papua you'd still have to sit for an hour on a chair made of skulls and sharpened bamboo whilst they registered you in the system before trotting off to the other end of the jungle to see a specialist for a scan. He too has a room-full of impatients.

Once that's done you just grab a convenient liana vine and swing back across the crocodile-infested river to get back to the waiting room where, if you're lucky, only an hour or so more will pass before some professional-looking person picks up your folder and wanders off with it ... then an ambulance comes in with a cargo of people who are really unlucky, so you go back to reading Gala. Which is, for some strange reason, the only reading matter available. My brain is starting to go green and drippy at the edges.

Whatever, the MRI scan (why one of those? Guess if you have a machine that goes "ping!" you want to get as much out of it as you can) confirmed the quack's diagnosis, which was that a kidney stone was making its way down. So she finally got a morphine drip to help deal with the pain, they decided to keep her in overnight until the thing hit the porcelain, and being of no immediate use I headed back home to deal with the hairy retards.

Just saying, but as I was idly toying with ideas for dinner it came to my attention that the estimable Mr Lebovitz (whom god preserve) had published this. I am not saying that you have to go and make it, just that you should give the idea serious consideration. As luck would have it there was a tub of cream cheese in the fridge rapidly approaching its use-by date, Margo had left the dregs of a jar of confiture de lait in there, and I managed to scavenge enough speculoos biscuits to make a smaller version, which turned out to be just the right size for two.

And then, last weekend we headed off, found, and ordered some 20m² of hideously expensive Italian tiles to go on the floor of the landing/corridor up in our apartment, and in a couple of the bathrooms on the first floor. I asked Cédric if he wouldn't mind picking them up from Montredon, but was kind of surprised when he dinged the bell this afternoon with a small palette on the back of his shiny new truck.

Twenty square metres of tiles comes to 13 cartons, each of eight tiles: each tile weighs in at about 3.5kg (yeah, I weighed a couple, just to see) which means that I have just shifted 400kg up 10 metres. Also, each carton weighs about 30kg. I weigh (without boots) around 65kg so there are plenty of people around who weigh 30kg more than me, and they seem to have no trouble shifting all that weight around. Me, I don't know how they manage it.

Finally, Provence is showing its ugly side, the one they don't talk about in the tourist brochures. The one where the sky is low and leaden, the cold lazy wind goes straight through you rather than taking the trouble to go around, and spiteful rain stings your face. At least we've not had the snow that has fallen abundantly in the Pyrenées and the Alps, and the central heating is still working nicely, thanks very much. Enjoy your summer, and the barbecues. Be our turn soon enough.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Where's Bloody Hemingway When You Need Him ...

It's in Pamplona, if memory serves, where they run the bulls through the streets and the bloated old hack duly described the action in screeds of turgid prose. In Moux they seem to run sheep, which does have the advantage of pretty much ensuring that no-one gets gored to death during the spectacle. Also, after they've passed the more enterprising of the neighbourhood brats can always collect the detritus and hock it off as prime olives to unwary tourists.

A fact of interest which inexplicably failed to make it into "The Sun Also Rises". Or, "The Boat Also Sinks", whatever, who cares? Not one of my all-time favourite authors, I must admit.

About a year back now we found ourselves at Montpellier where there was a big patchwork salon - need you ask - and to my pleasure they had a small section devoted to food and therein a stand with all sorts of herbs and spices, to which I naturally gravitated. I don't recall doing it but I apparently filled out my name and address on an envelope after I'd bought a tube of powdered vanilla and various curries, for a couple of weeks ago it arrived in the mail, containing an invitation to this year's event.

I will do a lot of things to avoid working, so off we headed. And I picked up some green curry, some Madras and Bombay, some white pepper from Cameroon, five-spice powder ('cos I chucked the jar I'd had, on the grounds that it was way too old), more smoked paprika, sumac, curcuma and tandoori, and a few other bits and pieces. And I filled out another envelope, so I guess that in a year's time we'll be going back ...

If your GPS is not, like ours, totally dysfunctional and psychopathic to boot, it's an easy job to get from there to IKEA which is, let's face it, just across the autoroute: it took us a bit longer. But we made it there, and exited eventually with only a few things - a lamp and a rug for my office, some baking tins - for they carry ring and pie moulds with removeable bases - and of course some pepparkaka which is not peppery poo but gingerbread biscuits. In case you were wondering.

Also some small jars for spices 'cos I've had it up to here with a plastic tub full of small tie-closed bags that I never seem to bother looking in or I'd have seen that I already have a ginormous stash of juniper berries (and some rather inferior curry, which might be heading for the rubbish bin or if I really fancy a joke I suppose I could leave it on the edge of the dining-room table with Indra alone in there and see what happens).

Truth to tell I still have the plastic tub because there are things in there like poppy seeds and sesame seeds and the packet of badiane that I really don't have anywhere else to put, but at least it's out of the way and I know where they are. And damn!, I forgot to get another pepper grinder for that white pepper.

In the same shopping centre there is "Du Bruit Dans La Cuisine", which sells stuff - such as my big KitchenAid stand mixer - and I could hardly leave there without the pasta-making attachment, now could I? So I guess that we'll be eating a bit of fresh home-made pasta for a while, until the novelty wears off and we are totally sated with tagliatelle and lasagna.

Oh, I also - finally - got one of those handy little lighters for gas stoves, something that has become necessary these days if you do not have the good luck to own an oven with an electric ignition system. I used to use matches, but these days they've carried the "safe" in "safety matches" to ridiculous extremes. Matches are now inherently safe by design: the only way you can get one to light is by soaking it in petrol and setting fire to it with a cigarette lighter. Which kind of obviates the point.

Now might be the time to tell you about the Rossini-burger, which is both delicious and relatively simple. (Also, only slightly adapted and improved from the admittedly inferior version they serve at Le Bureau, in Chambéry.) You start off by making paillassons - so-called because they look like a straw mat - which, when cooked, you will stick in the oven to keep warm and crispy. (Because you have the oven on to cook dessert anyway, and also microwaving them would be a crime.)

Personally I grate the potatoes onto a (cleanish) tea-towel, which makes it much easier to squeeze all the water you can out of them, and I like to add salt, chives and a few spoons of corn flour (which is flour made out of corn, much finer than polenta, and not corn-starch, please). Some people like to stir in an egg at this point, arguing that this makes the things stay together better when you fry them: others remark disdainfully that if they don't stay together anyway you're not doing it right probably because the fat's not hot enough, and in any case if you want a soggy potato omelette just say so.

Whatever, stick mounds of the mix into a frying pan with hot duck fat and spread out with a fork into rounds about 1cm thick and 8cm in diameter: fry until crispy and cooked through before putting into the oven.

At this point get a green salad ready and make some sauce Aurore, which is nowt more than a Béarnaise with a college education and a bit of tomato concentrate whisked in, so that's all ready for the next step ... which is to fry some onion rings and as many 1cm-thick slices of fillet of beef as you happen to have people to eat them. In duck fat, again, and on high, if you please.

When the steak's cooked to your liking - which should not involve turning it into shoe leather - assemble everything: a slice of fillet atop each paillasson, each topped with a slice of foie gras, and a good glop of the sauce on top of that. Serve them up with the fried onions, which should be soft and golden if you got it right, heaped around, and enjoy.

More on search terms: if you look for "titsup + holidays" on Microsoft Bing! you will find this site in the results. Sadly, sandwiched between "holiday porn" and "amateur big-titted wife on holiday". I find this rather sad.