Friday, January 3, 2020

The Joy Of Printing ...

... in which, amongst other things, The Shamblings acquires a new, networked printer. Margo decided that it would be nice to have a colour laser printer about the haüs, and preferably one that was connected to the network so that we didn't have to trudge about the place, and so anyone foolish enough to come here as guests could just print stuff off from their phones or whatever, so - "make it so".

It is a shame indeed that HP apparently does not have a team, completely separate from the actual printer development team, that writes the manuals for these things. Because - as usual - the documentation is pretty crap. For one thing, it is assumed - given that the writers use the stuff every day - that the user interface is "self-evident", and that there is no need to explain that you need to use the left and right arrow buttons to navigate through a list of options, and that depending on the option you must either press "OK" to select a sub-list of further options, or use the up and down arrow buttons to change the option value (before pressing "OK" to confirm) ... talk about consistency, they've heard of the concept.

And there's another thing: let's say you want to set the IP address for the beast. The documentation happily tells you to "press the little button with a picture of a spanner on it, navigate to the 'Network' option, then navigate to the 'IP Address' option, select 'Fixed', and type in the required value". All very well once you've worked out how this navigation stuff works, but the thing is - and why this should be, I have absolutely no idea - many of these options are not in fact available if there's no paper loaded.

And why it should be the case that a printer which is "network-ready" with wired Ethernet and Wifi interfaces, and more computing power than the first mainframes I used to work on, should only be capable of using either Ethernet or Wifi, but not both, I simply do not know. Let it be admitted that this fact is at least disclosed in the manual (bottom of page 17, 6-point type, upside-down) but still I put it to you that this is an unnecessary and somewhat frustrating limitation.

Never mind, it does actually do the job once set up: both our phones found it all by themselves (OK, it's not using Wifi but it is on the home network which, of course, has a Wifi router so same difference) and it worked, and somewhat to my surprise my Linux development system also found it with no prompting from me. It would probably have been too much to expect for it to have chosen the correct driver on its own, rather than forcing me through the sort of procedure that I'd thought died out around the Windows 95 era, but it makes me feel useful ...

On to the obligatory "cute puppy" section: I try to take young Moses off for at least a 10km walk in the weekends, he enjoys it and it's got to be good for me (the exercise is probably the only thing that has so far kept me - despite my best efforts - technically alive) and a while back I took him off along the Canal du Midi, heading from Puicheric to Marseillette. Bit of a shame really, it being a fine Autumn day and all, that when I heard gunshots not too far off I recalled having read an article that very morning concerning the death toll from hunting (8 so far, and doubtless counting), and how there were those who'd like to see a mandatory breath-test be done before the hunters go out.

(Having come across hunters in the wild, sitting down enjoying a very liquid lunch with an unbroken gun on the ground or leaning up against a tree, I am not personally against that.)

Anyways, I'm extremely glad that the bridle-path along the canal is some 3m lower than the surrounding countryside. Makes me feel a bit more at ease.

And while we're on the subject of hunters, José turned up the other day with a fine young pheasant, shot recently enough that it was still warm inside when I pulled its insides out ... sadly, the breast had been somewhat massacred and in any case Margo doesn't really like either roast or casseroled pheasant, so I did what any sensible person would do under the circumstances, and gave our old friend Jacques a call. He being a master of these dark arts, I am now in a position to tell you what you may do should you, like me, find yourself with a spare pheasant on your hands:

For about 400gm of actual pheasant meat (some are scrawny beasts, mine was pleasantly plump but your mileage may vary), take the same weight of pork shoulder chops and fresh poitrine, a couple of shallots (the real échalote, not a bloody spring onion - that is, according to Larousse, a Québecois thing), two cloves of garlic, four or five slices of stale bread dunked in milk and then wrung out, and 100gm of chicken livers (in addition, of course, to the liver of the bird itself).

Note that you may not be able to buy only 100gm of liver - I know I couldn't - but never fear, the cat will probably appreciate the surplus and if not you could always just sear them exceedingly rapidly in butter and maybe flambé them with cognac before adding them to a green salad, just saying.

Chop the lot into smallish chunks, stick into a bowl and sprinkle with decent salt (you may need more than you think you will, 8-10 gm should be OK but you may not think so), freshly ground pepper and grated nutmeg, then mix well. Let me emphasize at this point that you really do not want it to be under-seasoned. Put all that though the coarse grill of a mincer (8mm holes are correct, according to Jacques, but it depends how chunky-textured you like your terrine, really) and back into the bowl. (Do not try this with a kitchen whizz, you'll only wind up with an unappetising paste.)

Add two eggs and as much cognac as you like and mix well: at this point, if you're paranoid or perfectionist you can actually take a teaspoon of the stuff and poach it, to check for seasoning. But life is too short, so I didn't bother.

Then you will need a terrine: if you're lucky you'll have one of those nice porcelain or ceramic oval lidded jobs sitting around somewhere. If not (I do, but they were too small) one of those oblong Pyrex cake moulds does the job perfectly well, using tinfoil to lid it. You may or may not line the thing with thin bacon - that's up to you - but you should definitely fill it with the mixture, stick a couple of bay leaves and a healthy sprig of rosemary on top, seal it and cook in a bain-marie in the oven: 20 minutes at 240°, then up to 60 minutes more at 200°. It's cooked when a skewer comes out clean and the juices are clear ...

But don't leave right now, because you're not done yet. To get the correct texture, once it's out of the oven you should weight the terrine: place something flat atop the paté (I used a smaller cake mould) and put a kilo's worth of tinned fruit or whatever onto that. I used a large preserving jar full of expensive organic biodegradable rice, which let me note that the stuff was no longer entirely vegan, as the rice itself was crawling with those bloody foul little moths and caterpillars. Not impressed, never mind, chucked the lot later on.

After maybe four hours of that just stick it in the fridge and forget about it overnight, or for a day or two: it will thank you for this. All that delicious juice around it will probably not gel into a firm aspic, so personally I'd avoid hassle by serving it from the cooking vessel. But if you want to unmould it feel free, just don't come complaining to me when it all ends in tears and meat juice all over the floor.

Still on the culinary note, but bringing Moses back into it, a little while back I foolishly left open the doggy gate that bars access from the living room to the rest of the house (not exactly the Black Gates of Mordor, but you get the idea) and on returning not even 30 seconds later found that he'd discovered garlic (most of a head) and dried red-hot chili peppers (over half of one of Mary's finest). I suppose I should give thanks that he'd not found the root ginger ... surprisingly enough, none of that seemed to worry him (nor his digestive system) one little bit.

Nor, as it happens, did the Imperial Meatloaf I'd left on the kitchen bench for a while before popping it into the oven: a mince/egg/breadcrumb/herb mix rolled up around a stuffing of fried poivrons, onion, carrots, curry powder and plum sauce. I looked gloomily at the wreckage, made an executive decision that the little that was left could not plausibly be cooked anyway and its odd appearance passed off as a "kitchen incident", and so we ate kebabs that night. A shame, I was really looking forward to that meatloaf.

Whatever, I shall spare you details of the incidents involving indoor gymnastics and Margo's new best-friend coffee mug, also the third pair of glasses, not to mention a wooden shoe-rack. He really is a lovely puppy, I promise!

I am, as usual, overdue with all this: please forgive me, the end of 2019 turned out to be pretty much shite. Here's hoping that 2020 goes better.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Timor Mortis Conturbat Me - Again ...

Just recently I have discovered in myself a rather unexpected talent. Our friend José, the hunter who won't touch game, turned up one fine day with a plastic bag containing a large hare in the wild state - apart from being dead, that is. I managed to hide it in the fridge for a couple of days but this is not a situation which can go on indefinitely, so I eventually got out a few rubbish bags and what I thought to be the appropriate knives, resorted - as one will - to YouTube, and set to work.

It took me longer that it would have done for someone raised in the art, but I can now peel, empty and dismember a bunny. Might be a good party trick ... but still I find myself with a certain quantity of hare in the freezer. Shall have to organise a stew, or something.

Waily waily, all is wailies - for the bar has once more rolled down its shutters for the last time. Not, I feel, from any lack of custom, more because of Lionel and Magali's unwillingness to do the work. I do recall going in there once and asking how the day had been ... "Terrible, mon Trevor, absolument terrible ... rushed off our feet, not a moment to ourselves, we normally have eight to ten in for lunch and today we had over twenty." I'm sure that many would be happy to have such problems.

And whilst I'm all in favour of a chatty bartender, I do rather draw the line when said bartender natters away for five minutes with someone that happens to be propping up the bar, all the while studiously ignoring the queue of punters lining up for a drink, some of whom are obviously dying of thirst.

Now the mairie owns the bar and - more importantly - the licence, so they get to pick from those who want to try and make a go of it: according to Dominic - maire-adjoint - the deliberations should be ended before the end of the year and the lucky candidate(s) chosen. Which'd mean that the place could reopen sometime in January - OK, this is France so let's be honest, more like end of February. Old Jean-Claude - who pootles about on an elderly quad when he's not driving the Porsche, and who is also in with the mairie establishment, is somewhat less sanguine. "There are still" he said, "another three couples to be interviewé, and then there must be a décision made which is not likely before Noël - luckily, I no longer drink ..."

Fortunately the bar at Fontcouverte, which had been closed for years, reopened - as we discovered thanks to Nicole G. - mid-June. It's been nicely done up inside - although the déco is not really on a par with that of the Grand Café at Fabrézan, but never mind - and is rather nicely situated on the square, well-hidden from the main road.

And it has a terrace, with the inevitable plane trees. It also has the advantage of being only 4km from here, for while the bar at Siran is equally nice it is - sad to say - rather further away, and accessible only through some rather twisty, narrow roads.

Which doesn't stop me going there on a Widdlesday afternoon after puppy school if the weather's fine, for it is but a hop, skip and a jump from Azille, and of an afternoon the ditches have less of a tendency to leap out at one.

Although you still occasionally happen upon some hopped-up Polish driver at the wheel of an articulated lorry coming the other way, a situation which involves dextrous driving and decent sphincter control.

Whatever, we has found our backup solution and no longer have to play at our itinerant "Chez Réné" of a Friday night, which is good.

And speaking of puppy school, much to my surprise and pleasure Moses and I shall soon move up to the "advanced learners" stream. What exactly that involves I do not know, but I suppose I shall find out soon enough. Now if only I could get the little bugger to remember how to walk correctly on a leash ... (Also, tomorrow moaning I take him off to the vet to get his testicles ablated. I do hope that won't dent the rapport that we seem to have established between us too much.)

In other news, the garage has been more or less emptied of all the junk that came down with us from Savoie all those years ago: to celebrate we promptly filled one corner of it up with a one-tonne pallet of granulés for the stove, and Margo took delivery of her potter's wheel. The kiln is yet to come. So anyway, prospective visitors are duly warned: pottery may be performed. (Along with shoe-making, but that's another story.)

Anticipating a disastrous Brexit, our friends John and Ann decided to apply for French nationality a while back. They successfully navigated the administrative minefields and - on the fifth of October, coincidentally the day I'd chose to celebrate my bththda - actually became official Frog-persons! So now they're allowed to complain properly, along with all the other French.

About, for instance, the mairie having taken on four new employés municipaux. Let it be admitted that apart from the initial outlay it won't cost us too much: I don't think that they have a pension plan or anything along those lines, nor are they even paid. For Moux now has four municipal sheep, currently grazing on the sports ground and - I note - being fed baguette ends and other unhealthy shit: is a bit of a bitch, as I can no longer take Indra up there to run after the ball, as she is way too interested in the sheep. And let's face it, the sheep are very interested in her.

Still, when summer comes and there's no more grass for them to keep down, there's always an upside: I rather suspect that they'll wind up as a mechoui for July 14. Rather them than the actual human employees, most of whom are a bit too tubby to make pleasant eating ...

Finally, as weeks go the last one of October turned out to be complete and utter shite. Cash and Terry, friends and neighbours of ours, decided to sell their house and move back to the UK: I even went round there ten days before and helped load a lorry with most of their worldly goods. They were planning on following them a few days later. But before that could happen Terry got rushed to hospital with paralysis from the waist down: they had planned on operating but apparently the surgeon took a look at the scans and said that there seemed little point in it.

And while we're waiting for him to die, got the sad news that my old uni friend Ross had just gone and done so. Now given my lifestyle, which involves a diet of cigars, duck fat, and heroic (yah, I'm talking Norse sagas here) quantities of alcohol, I had rather expected to predecease just about everyone I know. This turns out not to be the case, which is kind of sad because I was actually rather looking forward to my wake. Not that I'll actually be there for it, but still ... a brown paper bag full of ashes in the middle of the table, surrounded by food, bottles of rosé and N° 5 Whisky paintstripper.

Cancer really is a bitch. Do not like.

On the other hand, found myself pointed to a little poem by Dorothy Parker, two verses of which I shall now reproduce (with permission - tacit, because she's long dead now):

"Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiousity, freckles, and doubt.

Three be the things I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and sufficient champagne."

Mind how you go, now.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Packaging, Puppies ...

One of the many pet peeves I seem to have acquired as I get older and grumpier is - TADA! - packaging. I mean, I got a couple of parcels today full of picture frames, and each was fuller of crumpled kraft paper than it was of actual merchandise - but that's alright, after smoothing it out a bit we'll supply a few sheets at a time to Moses so that he can piss on it (and then he will try to turn it into papier maché, but that's another problem) ... no, what gets to me is things like coffee, where a 250gm foil packet is, for some strange reason, wrapped and glued into something that resembles Kevlar rather more than paper, and then two of these packets are wrapped and glued together in even more Kevlar. I spend more time trying to get to the actual coffee without getting half of it over the floor, and not too many knife wounds to my thighs, than I do waiting for it to brew.

But my most recent favourite has to be Petit Brun biscuits. (Which are kind of like a rectangular tea biscuit, if you really want to know - anyways, I like them.) Back in the day, these used to come as a packet of 48 in a filmed corrugated cardboard sleeve for protection (for nothing is worse than trying to pull one out of the packet and finding it to be broken into minuscule shards) and that was fine by me. Open the packet, pull out a few to nibble on, and by the end of the week they're all gone.

But this is no longer sufficient - maybe there really are people who just can't manage 48 smallish biscuits in a week - and now the packaging contains eight cellophaned packs, each containing six biscuits. So while you've not opened a pack, it's going to stay fresh and not go all soggy, isn't it?

Apparently, some marketing 'droid thinks not, because the external packing is now proudly marked "Emballage refermable pour garder le fraicheur" (aka "New! Improved! Resealable packaging for more freshness and no damp bikkies!") which seems a) pointless and b) totally sodding pointless, because the thing is, you can't actually open the bloody package. Not without resorting to scissors at least, at which point you've cut the sticky resealable bit of packaging away ...

The next phase, I imagine, will be to have each individual biscuit machine-wrapped and heat-sealed in 0.25mm non-recyclable stainless steel: much like airplane "meals", really. (Anyone else old enough to remember the precious little snacks they used to dish out on ANZ internal flights? No, I thought not, and I've tried hard to scrub it from my memory too.) Rather like that passage from Pynchon, by the time you eventually get to the contents you've lost all interest.

Come to that, at long last I got around to ordering a nice bit of wood to stick up on trestles in my office, replacing the serviceable but sagging folding plastic workbench that I've been using as a temporary measure for the last seven years. So a week back a random delivery guy turned up at the gate with a slab of beech, 180 x 80 x 4 and weighing about 50kg - and guess what, that was heavily packaged too! Polystyrene foam around all the edges, bubble-wrap all over, corrugated cardboard around that, and then the whole lot had been filmed onto a palette for transport.

OK, there I can sort of see the point, having actually paid for something nice (to be kept out of the reach of puppies, so that it stays nice) you really don't want to have it dinged up by the tender ministrations of the transporter ... and the foam did come in useful as Rick and I manhandled the unwieldy thing up the two flights of narrow, twisty stairs to the top floor.

And I have discovered another thing that you should take care to keep out of the reach of puppies - I mean, apart from sandals, sneakers, and other items of clothing that you'd rather stayed in a semi-presentable state - and that's credit cards. I suppose it gives Mo something to chew on, but by the time I discovered the wreckage there was no way I was going to be able to slide it into an ATM. Not without seriously jamming it, anyway. (Luckily it was the old one, which is why it wasn't in my wallet but awaiting its rendezvous with a pair of scissors - and there's another thing, would you believe it took me three phone calls explaining that Chambéry was not on my travel plans any time soon and could they please, please, just send it to me in the post?)

Speaking of puppies, Margo thought it would be a Good Idea if at least one of our pack was properly trained, so starting in October I, Moses, and a large bag of doggy treats head off on Widdlesdays to Puppy School, at Azille. I shall be interested to see how that works out: shan't get my hopes up too high for, as the suspiciously cheerful woman said on the phone, "He is a hunting dog after all, and sometimes you will just have to accept that he's going to follow his nose regardless ...". We shall see, at least it'll get me out of the house.

Which in turn reminds me that a lot of our French friends and acquaintances are in fact chasseurs, and each has taken great pleasure in informing me that Moses was going to be a great hunter. In fact one of them - Gilles, the ex-motorcycle cop from the Ariège - invited Moses and I off with them the next time the go out after wild boar. I have no objection whatsoever to eating côtelettes de marcassin, and said so, but I can do without spending a couple of uncomfortable hours up in the pinède, getting pissed on cheap rouge out of a plastic cubie and trying to avoid getting shot myself.

Been a while hasn't it ... sorry about that. I am now certifiably 61, have discovered a number of decent little restaurants around the area, and am learning how to become a puppy., Also, as if anyone actually cared, Brexit is going to happen in about three weeks time and that will be fun, now won't it?

And thanks to having had a bththda, I also have a new camera. Well, when I say "new" I actually mean "old", for it is an Agfa Optima-Parat dating back to 1963. A lovely piece of work, all stainless steel and aluminium: 35mm but half-frame, and automatic exposure/shutter speed, thanks to a handy little selenium cell. (Yep, no batteries!) I shall have to get used to the rather odd format, and the fact that it's a viewfinder model as opposed to the SLRs I've been using pretty much all my life: 200 ISO film is still easily available (if you do Amazon, that is - your mileage may vary with the local photo shop) but to actually get prints done is going to require a chat with a photo lab, and the nearest is in Toulouse ...

It may be a hand-me-down, for Birgit had it given to her by a great-aunt or something, hoping that she would take up photography, back in 1968 or thereabouts: but I think that I shall have fun with it.

Did a fair bit of touring around with Sarah in the Herault over the summer, what with it actually being summer and having Cla-Val take their staggered holidays and not decided what exactly they wanted done before heading off to wherever it is that the Swiss go on holiday: so I felt no guilt about heading off with the trusty old Olympus to places like Azillanet, La Livinière, Siran, Agel, Aigne, St-Chinian ... and it is not really a coincidence that there is good wine around these places.

And as these things do rather tend to go together, there is also good food ... having been there once with B., looking at this place in Azillanet, took Margo off one very fine day to lunch at la Table d'Azillanet, which is, should ever you happen to be in the area, a very pleasant little restaurant which sources pretty much everything locally (insofar as possible), and the menu changes daily: Mme cooks in the spanking-new kitchen, and Mossieu handles the service. (But avoid the beef until they've got the hang of it: the meat is of excellent quality but the steaks are cut too thin and grilled over too low a heat. Just saying. They'll learn.)

Sadly, they were closed for some reason or another, so instead we took the back roads and wound up eating at one of the two restaurants in La Livinière (both are, incidentally, excellent): rather copious but that's just me, in any case they know how to cook lamb chops correctly, and very pleasant it was out on the terrace under the shade of the platanes. Such moments as these remind us why we now live here ... but I had slight sads to find out that there were no more lobsters in the tank inside. Not that the lobsters were complaining.

I can also whole-heartedly recommend La Luciole, at Luc-sur-Orbieu: a family affair, where the daughter - who I'm told trained in one of the rather better restaurant schools in France - cooks, mother does service, and father does unspecified but doubtless necessary things out back. Once again, locally sourced, and the food is imaginative without being pretentious: it being lunch, when I don't really eat that much, I settled for the foie gras poelé avec réduction de griottine (this latter being a rather old-fashioned cherry apéro) and was extremely glad that I did. Quite delicious, but any more would have been too much.

Also, Luc-sur-Orbieu is in the Boutenac region, which just happens to be where some of the outstanding Languedoc wines are made. Odd, that.

You can also eat quite acceptably at Bize-Minervois, especially now that most of the tourists have disappeared, or - closer to home - at Puicheric and even Lézignan, if you know where to go.

Somewhat to my surprise, the puppy training is getting on very well. Young Moses is intelligent and extremely eager to please, and bribery does - as it will - work wonders, so "come", "sit", "coucher" are more or less done and dusted already: where I can see that I may have to be somewhat more patient is in the walkies department, and this concept of "heel". Whatever, I shall buy a 20kg sack of doggy treats, and we shall get there.

And in a last bit of puppy-related news, we managed to avoid getting two new dogs the other day. We'd loaded up little Suzy with junk from the garage (yes! After six years or more, we're finally clearing it out) and headed off to the tip to see two dogs erring along the roadside, and coming back they were all over the place, so to avoid road-kill we stopped to see if we could pick them up.

Which we quite literally did: the poor buggers were exhausted, filthily matted and very happy to see someone, so we in fact picked them up, put them in the boot, and made an unscheduled trip to the vet. And I hardened my heart, because four is enough, and we left them there in good hands.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Estate Agents And Other Pond Scum ...

Contrary to what one might think, buying or selling a house in France is in fact a simple matter. It takes a minimum of three people to tango: a seller, who has a house and wants money for it, a buyer who has money but no house, and finally, a notaire. Who usually has both, but would like to have more. (It also takes a fair amount of time and patience, but that's another matter.)

As a general rule the notaire enjoys about the same popularity as a six-months dead otter: this is not entirely fair because although it is true that their fees are eye-watering, what is called "les frais du notaire" - which come to about 8% of the purchase price - is a sum which is in fact handed over to the state, as the equivalent of stamp duty. Apart from the fees, the bloke (for most are, in fact, blokes) makes his money from parking this cash in a well-remunerated bank account for six months or so before handing it over to the Tresor Public.

Back in the day, should you be interested, unkinder tongues than mine were wont to comment on the notoriously weak bladders of provincial notaires, for the simple reason that when the deal was signed for a given - admittedly extremely low, but never outrageously so - amount, the notaire in question would feel obliged, by professional ethics (or déontologie, should you be French) to leave the room and go to the toilet whilst an undeclared wad of greasy banknotes changed hands, with a few possibly falling onto his desk.

Whatever, in principle the notaire is a totally impartial person, working only to facilitate or grease the transaction and to pocket any extra cash that might happen to come his way: in practice, this is may turn out to not be the case. Which is why my good friend and ex-spook Philippe recommends having one's own notaire in such affairs: as he said, "if they're working for the seller, they're not working for you ..." - very true, sad to say.

Take a case in point, a good friend who was taken by a house in Azillanet, put in an offer for it, and had it accepted - at 1K less than she'd she'd offered, which I suppose should really have started warning bells ringing straight away ...

Be that as it may, the procedure in France is that you first sign a "déclaration d'intention d'acheter", then - at some specified date - the "compromis de vente" (which stops people from gazumping, and is thus a Good Thing) and finally, after the statutory 10 days to repent and rethink, at some point the actual "acte de vente" is signed, at which time the place is legally yours. The exact state it is in when you get it depends on what is specified in the compromis, which is where I'm going ...

So B. put in an offer, at which point things went slowly titsup. Of course, not living here, the signature would have to be done by proxy ... no great problem. But being nobody's fool she asked to see the compromis before authorising anyone to sign, which is where things started to go bad. For starters, the signature was fixed for Widdlesday: and this on Friday. Which makes it a bit of a rush job ...

Then she read the compromis, and there were a few things therein which gave her pause. Such as, there is this thing in France whereby companies in the building trade are supposed to subscribe to a special insurance policy which guarantees their work for ten years, whether they still exist at that point or not. As it happens, any and all renovation work in this place had been done either by the owner or by a company which had not taken out this insurance, so tough titty if problems crop up.

On the other hand, despite the fact that you'd buy "as is, where is" and any hidden defects are strictly the buyer's problem, there was an out - in that the seller, having admitted to having done some of the renovation work himself, could be held, as a "vendeur professionel", personally liable. But it would be pretty cold comfort spending ten years in the French legal system, should things go titsup and if you chose to go that way. (An alternative, I suppose, would be to firebomb his house, which although satisfying is frowned upon.)

Whatever, it was at just that point that Philippe gave me the name of a friend of his who just happens to be a notaire at Gruissan, and then things started to get interesting.

For on the Monday the seller's notaire, at the request of B's notaire, sent off copies of the bills for all the work done on the place. All in all, they added up to a rather fascinating fictional oeuvre totally new to me, innocent that I am ...

They had all been established one fine day in 2016 (truth to tell I cannot speak to its actually having been a fine day as such, but it's one of them literary conventions or some-such) and paid on the nail: although surprising this is not in itself illegal.

Somewhat more surprising was the fact that a goodly amount of the work billed - and paid for - had not, to my certain knowledge, been done. This too is not illegal as such, and may indicate no more than that the buyer was a very patient person, willing to pay for work and then wait three or more years for it to be completed. I can only applaud this sort of behaviour, and wish that there were more such as he, they would make my life so much easier ...

But what was in fact illegal was that the company that had made out these bills in 2016 and, to all appearances, accepted payment, had ceased to exist in 2012. The existence of zombie companies is considered unusual, even in France - all the more so as the company, not existing, could hardly have paid the state the 10% VAT indicated.

You'd think that the seller's notaire might have done a little bit of due diligence but apparently not, it was left up to the real-estate agent to confess, when prodded with a sharp and pointy stick. These bills were totally fake, and existed purely so that when the house - a résidence sécondaire - was sold, they could be presented to the taxman to justify a mammoth reduction in the capital gains tax.

The tax department considers this to be a Bad Thing, and fiscal fraud is definitely not something I would wish to try on, for it is frowned upon. The odds of there being a contrôle may be small but the risk is there, and I personally would not care to be made an example of.

The final straw in the coffin, or nail on the camel, came with the results of the valuer's report. (I did not know this before, but there do in fact exist in France such things as chartered surveyors and property valuers. Many of them seem to be English: I assume that they cater to a small but select English clientèle who want a place in France but have no particular wish to be ripped off. Something which is difficult for the average French seller to understand.)

It was kind of damning, noting that most of the work had been done by amateurs using the cheapest possible materials and without any consideration for building standards ie "don't jump on the dining room floor, you may find yourself in the cellar". Concluding that without some major investment the place would be unsaleable.

So she walked away from it. Still looking, I hope she finds something a bit more honest.

(In an amusing twist, I heard the other day that the estate agent who tried to foist this place off is still sending her proposals. Quite shamelessly saying "I rather think that you might find this place rather interesting. Properly done up, nothing at all like that cowboy job - which I so didn't know about until you paid 1400€ to have it surveyed - in Azillanet".

And this despite having earlier said that the first seller was a personal friend and un homme très serieux ... maybe this is why estate agents are generally regarded as mouth-breathing bottom-feeders, more or less on a par with used-car salesmen and those people who ring at random hours trying to persuade you to buy double-glazing.)

In other news, I read in El Reg of a speech by "Huawei's rotating chairman Xu Zhijun". I'm pretty sure I know what they meant to say, but I'm not sure that they went about it in quite the right manner. I still have the occasional vision of an impeccably-dressed and doubtless inscrutable Chinese gentleman revolving slowly about his vertical axis, getting perhaps slightly dizzy in the process: somewhat as a sugarplum might, when dancing. (The possibility of his spinning about a horizontal axis is an amusing one to contemplate, and it would do much to enliven babyfoot games, but that way lies madness and I'll have no part of it.)
Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Worse ...

... some pitiful excuse for a human being restores your faith in the sheer depravity of humanity by dumping a litter of six-week old puppies on the side of the road, on the way from old Henri Bataille's mausoleum up to the autoroute, to die in the heat. Nice one, that guy.

Luckily for the pups old Nev had headed off on his daily jog oop't Alaric (yes, in 35° heat, go figure) and spotted some of them, and as I was going blamelessly about my own business - heading up to the bar for some vitamins at midday - he burst all a-quiver out of his front door to tell me all about it ... so little Suzy took us off to the spot and we spent a good (but sadly, extremely sweaty) while thrashing about in the undergrowth without finding anything.

Then Margo took our three off for their walk at 14h and came across old Alain, who has a remise up that way, he had found one and had planned on dropping it off at the mairie, and she offered to take it home instead and organise things with the SPA and such. So after giving the poor little sod some water, off to the vet's he went for a quick check-up ...

And about the time when the thermometer's heading up his bum who should walk in but Mme Lignères, wife of the local doctor vigneron (Chateau la Baronne, worth checking out), to announce that her husband had found five puppies at the spot when returning from the vines, and brought them back to the cave after ringing ahead to make sure there'd be food and water awaiting them: at which point the vet grabbed ours and held it out to her, saying "Do they look like this? Want a sixth?".

Sadly(?) the answer was a firm "No", although I gather all his siblings have found homes: as has our one, because we now has four dogs, the youngest being called Moses because of being found under the rushes. After a couple of years of relative peace, we're starting to get used to cleaning up random piddle again. Also, not much sleep for me: the vet diagnosed him with an intestinal parasite infestation and said to keep him inside at night - so the other dogs don't go and have a nice midnight snack of diarrhoea - for the next week, and to avoid much wailing and gnashing of teeth he's caged in the dining room, and I sleep on the sofa close by ...

Doesn't stop the little bugger from waking up at 6am, mind you.

Let it be admitted that I've not watched TV for maybe a couple of years now, neither on the honest-to-go idiot box nor via streaming or Youtube: just somehow got out of the habit of doing so, I suppose. Still, I look through the odd review just so that I know what I'm missing/can avoid appearing a complete idiot on social occasions - and let it be said that, having rather enjoyed the book, on a number of occasions (as well as rescuing it from Emma) - "Good Omens" does rather tempt me.

But that is neither here nor there: the thing is that as I was looking through a (p)review in Ars of "Black Mirror" I couldn't help but notice what I can only hope was a typo that went unspotted by the proof-readers: "Ashley O., who isn't nearly as upbeat as her pubic image would suggest" ...

May/June turned out to be busy months for us, socially: had Dijaan staying for a while, then Vic and George - old friends of Margo's - came to stay overnight on their way back to Germany. It was a memorable enough evening - or at least it would be, if I could actually remember that much of it, because to be quite honest all that sticks in my excuse for a memory is that I actually cooked a relatively decent meal for once, that there were three empty bottles on the table the next moaning, and that we hit the whisky sometime around midnight ...

I've said it before, I know, but I shall say it again: I is definitely getting too old to do this sort of thing on a regular basis.

Then Janet and Kevin turned up in their hi-tech camper-van (Kevin is actually rather proud of the swing-out gas barbecue he's built on at the back) for a few days on their way down to see the Spanish cuzzies, and Malyon arrived to a) get some of her favourite food and b) use us as a convenient base to head off to a wedding in Aberdeen and then Space Camp in the Auvergne.

Also, her friends Greg and Yumi turned up, from Lyon and Toulouse respectively, and stayed the night: more cooking, and many thanks to Greg for the excellent bottle of whisky ... you can see where this is heading, can't you?

Let it be admitted it was all very pleasant, but when the last lot had left we sort of looked at one another and sighed in relief. As the old saying has it - "family, friends and fish: chuck them all out after three days".

Fortunately July is, to the best of my admittedly sketchy knowledge and ability, untainted by visitors - with the sole exception of the Pope, who supposedly turns up at Carcassonne on the 23rd and then leaves again at some coyly unspecified date (which I can only assume to be after that, although I'm never too sure with him and he might well decide to leave before he arrives, just to piss me off).

Then we've a wedding at Montbrun on the 27th, and on the 28th, heads permitting, we shall confide all the dogs to Angela and Martin's tender ministrations for a couple of days and head off to Pesselière to catch the tail-end of a large party and, incidentally, pick up Howard and bring him down to these benighted parts for a few days.

Margo just bought herself a new laptop, on the entirely reasonable grounds that her old one predates the Flood, and I do not think that my poor delicate ears have ever been treated to such invective and vituperation as thay have today, when she decided to set it up.

I will admit that only a few days ago I was heaping abuse upon the sadly far-off heads of the "developers" of Wrike (this being, should it interest you, a web-based project management platform whose user interface can be - to my taste at least - somewhat problematic) and some of the words I used, as I got more and more frustrated with the bloody thing, were - I will agree - bordering on the obscene: nonetheless they were as light-hearted banter compared to what I heard coming from Margo's lips.

First of all, of course, you must decide whether or not to log on using a Microsoft account: in my experience this does actually work provided that you always have internet access which for us is not always the case: so "set it up to log on using a local account" I cheerily said, and went back to considering my glass of rosé.

Sadly that was interrupted, because the bloody setup procedure forces you to set up an account, even if you don't use it: once you get onto that screen you can't go back, you can't go forward, and you definitely can't get out of the game unless you do so.

Then there were even more fulminations, because you must supply a phone number or an email address, your date of birth, any identifying marks ... and then it gets worse, because the damn thing tries to persuade you to sign up for OneDrive and Office (secure in the knowledge that most people will forget to cancel the subscription before it becomes paying) and then ... and then ...

I'm well out of it.

On a cheerier subject, and just whilst I think of it, we have been goofling relentlessly and looking at photos and everything, and it would appear that our little Moses is what passes around here for a more or less pure breed griffon bleu de Gascogne. Which is good to know, at least he has his lettre de noblesse ... if I can trust various doggy blogs, the breed is "extremely affectionate and loyal" but also, somewhat more disturbingly, "adventurous and highly excitable".

Also, "requires exercise", which is typical enough for a hunting dog ... whatever, we're used to that, keeps us active too.