Monday, April 25, 2016

Taxing Times ...

With what particularly dodgy scam, I wonder, is my hitherto untarnished good name currently being associated? (Or "besmirched"; I like that word.) Second-hand, refurbished saunas? Pickled herrings with natural GcMAF, guaranteed good for your sex life? Must be something along those lines, for it is the only reason I can think of why I should have 167 page views from Finland over the past few days.

They just don't make keyboards like they used to anymore. I gave up spewing on them a while back, as the chunky bits tend to get trapped between the keys, but even so - the decals are wearing away so that R has lost a leg and now looks like a P, and you do not want to know what W suggests to my mind.

Not even those who know and love me (the Venn diagram for that particular subset would make me sad were I not a flinty-hearted person, also I would need a magnifying glass) could honestly say that I have an inviting face. It's not the sort of thing you can spot from across the road and say to yourself "Hey! That person looks really nice and sympathetic, I shall just go over and unburden myself of all my woes (and, incidentally, try to make him/her feel just as bad as I do right now". I am aware of this, and I can live with it.

So why the hell, as I was innocently inhaling some post-market vitamins this moaning and doing my little bit for global warming (cows fart, I smoke - well, I fart too, but rather more discreetly), should someone come up to me, remark "Love the smell of cigars", and then proceed to relate - in tedious detail and with an impenetrable Provençal accent - the minor details of their life? What have I done?

Quite frankly, knowing that he was the fourth of seven children and that one of his daughters was in Australia has made no difference whatsoever to my life, apart from encumbering my poor brain with yet more useless facts. (I guess John Donne got it all wrong.)

But on the brighter side, at that very same market I found not only my usual haul of asparagus, but also some decent strawberries (that would be a glut, or a gloat, of berries) and the first rhubarb of the year, a beautiful red. So guess what we're having for dinner tonight? Yes, desserts. Because a kilo of strawberries is a bit too much for one sitting so strawberry summer cake seems like a good thing, and what I'd personally call a rhubarb crumble just because.

This does mean that there will be quantities left over to distribute to the deserving poor of the village, I guess, but cooking is a moral imperative and I just have to put up with the unfortunate side-effects.

'Tis the mating season, and it is unadvisable - not to say hazardous - to walk past the church because, let's face it, crows are ratshit engineers. Their take on "build it and they will come" seems to be "Hey! let's just drop sticks from some height onto spit and birdshit, and see if they stay there."

Mind you, when you've not yet invented cement mixers - nor mortar either, for that matter - I guess your options are kind of limited. But one of those options is still daylight robbery ...

For slurping down my coffee this moaning I spotted a blackbird (or a jackdaw, whatever, what would I know?) triumphantly fluttering back to the top of M. le maire's house with a stick about twice its own length in its beak: I'm guessing it was for a nest but could just have been to light the barbecue - whatever, a crow had a different idea.

After a full and frank exchange of views concerning property rights the crow flew off with it, leaving the blackbird looking rather disconsolate, and then a short time later I heard a "thunk" as a mound of twigs and bird-shit slid off the church roof and landed on the road.

The corvidae are supposedly rather intelligent - as birds go, although of course nothing to compare with the kea - but it seems odd that none of them seem to seek to take advantage of this pile of sticks under the church eaves.

I mean, you'd think that at least one of them would be bright enough to see this heap of raw building materials, flutter down to grab a beakful and have another go at home improvement but no - they just sit there until the mayor's idiot nephew gets sent out with a broom.

Maybe the birds feel that such sticks, which have not stuck, are inappropriate building materials, and I shall not argue the point, but it is still a puzzlement.

Also at the market - now that I think of it - are radishes, which are a vile insect that I will not eat for I cannot see the point, and there are the first nectarines and apricots coming up from Spain. I have learnt my lesson, and I shall put off buying them until such time as they actually have some flavour - or until Hope triumphs and I buy some anyway, like next weekend.

But it's a promise of things to come - hell, even the tomatoes have some taste now - and it makes a change from ever-lasting bloody apples and pears. (Not that these are actually bad fruit, it's just that at the end of the winter one gets heartily sick of them, along with broccoli and other such earnest vegetables. As summer approaches I crave stone-fruit, and salads.)

Every once in a while I look at the statistics that blogger so conveniently compiles - although for some reason I no longer have any "search keyword" results, which makes the end of the month so much less amusing. But still ...

There's always the traffic sources - that is websites that have directed the innocent over my way - and although it's not quite so hilarious it still sometimes raises a smile. Like with those poor Finns I mentioned earlier - although I still don't know who sent them here.

Now I can see why prominent SEOs such as "buttons-for-website.com" and "keywords-monitoring-your-success.com" might push you here, given my popularity and innatübz reputation as a mover and shaker. But for the life of me, I cannot work out why I should get hits from "sinusitisdr.blogger.com".

I am guessing that it is some sleazeball spammy site that is hoping to get clicks and the associated cash from the Great Google - or maybe it's an energetic housewife who is publishing her natural homeopathic secrets for avoiding sinusitis and it's just an odd coincidence that the "Get Me Out of Here" button that blogger so helpfully puts up lead 23 people in a row on to me.

And there's another thing: the 2015 fiscal year is well and truly over, which means it's soon going to be tax time, which in my case means shovelling every single bit of paper in my possession over to the accountant so that she can deal with it.

This would be easier if I had a filing system which did not consist of large mounds of paperwork and unopened envelopes sitting on the floor or on the bed in my office, the bottom layers of which are already well on their way to becoming coal.

I know, I know: it's my fault, just have to be better organised. Maybe I should just go out and buy a paper shredder.

Still, at least I have discovered that, at the beginning of this year, the URSSAF - an impenetrable organism staffed by a hereditary class of inbred uncivil servants, which is a law unto itself and before which even Ministers of the state quail - has decided that I paid them €5000 too much, all the way back in 2010, and how would I like to be repaid?

I suppose it's a good thing that I am not - technically - dead, for I can see the paperwork required to get this sum transferred to my inheritors dragging on for a century or two. The mills of God, it's said, grind slowly: they are as bloody jet turbines compared to those of the URSSAF, which tarnish ineluctably and grind exceeding small the souls of all those who have the misfortune to enter in.

Whatever, it takes more energy than I can be arsed expending to be miserable when there's light and flowers everywhere - although I do my best - and soon enough I shall be back in lizard mode, as the sun beats down on the burning ground.

But I've given up eating flies, crunchy little bastards.

Take care, and mind how you go.

NB: the URSSAF is the Union de Recouvrement de Securité Sociale et Allocations Familiales - it is a grouping of private organisations tasked by the government with the duty of making sure that you pay your social security contributions (the actual amount of which they alone seem entitled to calculate), but whose secondary objective is to ensure that your life is as miserable as possible. In this, they tend to succeed.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Death Of A Device ...

So my alarm went off an hour too early this morning, too: I had completely forgotten about going back to daylight saving, and two early moanings in a row came as a bit of a shock to the system. Whatever, I'm sure I shall be a better man for it, and it's nice to take advantage of that extra hour of daylight. Although it screws up my timetable something awful, so for a couple of days we'll be eating even later (by the clock) than usual.

Just whilst I think about La Perle Gruissanaise - I forgot to mention that it is not, perhaps, the cheapest place to eat. Mind you, that's partly because we chose oysters and lobster and even then, with a litre of white, it came to but €50 for the two of us, so it could have been worse. And the stuff is as fresh as you can get, and it would be difficult to beat the ambiance.

But if you happen to be in these parts and have a desire for shellfish, I think that I would recommend not going there on a weekend in the summer holidays unless you have a bit of time on your hands - and if you're planning on lobster, think ahead and take a small hammer, or a pair of pliers, to crack the claws. You can do it with your fist at a pinch - and I know of what I speak, for I have done this - but if you miscalculate and hit a spiny bit it hurts like hell. Just saying.

(And although there's a sign up that says "Please do not bring your own wine, nor lemons, nor aioli, because we sell the stuff and would like to turn a profit sometime, also having your head beaten in with an icepick may offend", we found that if you ask nicely and explain that you only drink red wine - which they do not sell - they will give you the nod: but take your own corkscrew.)

Typical bloody Easter Monday: neither flesh, nor fowl, nor good red herring. I had hoped that just maybe it would be fine enough to bring a barbecue out of hibernation, but sadly, no. Which is a shame, as I just happen to have a leg of lamb in the fridge just waiting for an excuse to be butterflied and plopped onto the grill: maybe next weekend? (Don't look so bloody horrified. It's a decent bit of NZ lamb that was chilled and then hermetically sealed under nitrogen, and it's rated as being good until the 16th of April. The only harm that's likely to come to me will be from my attempts to open the damn plastic packaging, when the knife slips and slashes my wrists.)

The time finally came for little Suzy to go off for her road-fitness check, so Margo tearfully left her to the tender ministrations of the serious guys with clipboards and waited, expecting the worst. To general surprise, she passed! Despite the centre rear seatbelt that is held together with spit and chewing gum, the right wing-mirror that falls off if you give it too harsh a look, and the rubber seals that protect the universal joints that are apparently spontaneously disintegrating.

We paid €8000 for her back in 2003 (less €1000 for the trade-in on the old BMW, if I remember correctly), she has notched up some 270K km since then, and we have spent virtually no money on maintenance: and let's face it, nothing major has ever shown any sign of wanting to fall off. OK, the alternator belt squeaks like a rabid mouse when it's damp, and there is a mysterious warning light that is always on - telling us, according to the handbook, that you should take your car to a garage immediately before the catalytic converter starts performing miracles - but the odd thing is that when it turns off, as from time to time it will, the engine starts to hiccup and complain. At which point your best bet is to drive directly through a large puddle, to splash some water up into the engine compartment.

Don't ask me why but it always works: the warning light comes back on, and normal service is resumed. Also, she is perhaps not the most comfortable of conveyances for long trips, and being a tall box on wheels not the best under high cross-winds - excellent on snow, mind you. Point is, she has served us well and faithfully all these years, and so it is with a twinge of guilt that we are sending her off to the garage for "Just the bare minimum, squire. Oil change, and check the brakes".

The first shots have been fired in the vide-grenier season, when the serious weaselly-faced brocanteurs and antiquaires go from village to village buying any decent stuff that might - against all the odds - be on offer, buying and selling between themselves (this is increasing monetary velocity, which may or may not be a Good Thing), and occasionally deigning to let some naive amateur pay over the odds for a very average brass lampstand with a stuffed parrot hanging from it, or a rickety sofa. They're easy enough to spot, for their hip pockets are bulging with rolls of greasy small-denomination banknotes, on the grounds that there is no point bothering the taxman with traceable transactions.

Still, at least you're being fleeced by a professional, and not by some reassuring-looking granny that wants €35 for a lurid purple stuffed donkey with a sombrero and an amusingly-hidden bottle of pastis. Must have been a riot of fun when they stuck that on the table at l'heure de l'apéro, especially if the clockwork-operated olive-ejection mechanism was still working.

I suppose we really ought to go off to some of these affairs, as we are on the lookout for furnishings for the rooms, but you really do have to be up before dawn's crack to stand a chance of finding anything half-way reasonable, and that is emphatically not our thing. Much easier to call up Old Hélène, who seems to have bought up the entire stock from several bankrupt brocanteurs, and go rummage through her remise.

We have already bought an armoire from her, and just the other day had the occasion to get a marble-topped commode (which is going to mean getting out the Xylophène again, to put any tenacious termites to the sword), and as part-payment I helped her load a few bits from the first floor in there into her beaten-up Espace. So I got to check out the stock. A couple of sofas and a few tables that took my eye and my fancy: mounds of books, any number of table lamps that probably needed rewiring but were shiny enough to attract any self-respecting jackdaw, a small pergola (don't ask me), the odd bed or two: I didn't want to explore too much, it was dark up there and I thought I might get lost, for the inside of the place is rather bigger than the outside, not to mention dim and musty, and I feared accidentally going through a wardrobe.

I never thought that it would get to the point where I could not look another asparagus in the eye, and happily it has not yet come to that, but just possibly buying a kilo of the stuff on Saturday moaning was a bit over the top. They went very well with the chicken breasts in marsala, and then with the gambas marinated in olive oil and then stir-fried in the wok, and I'm sure they'll go well with whatever it is I decide to make for dinner tomorrow: just saying, is all. Same with strawberries: a couple of kilos goes quite a long way, once you've had them nature one night, then in a cheesecake the next ...

Next thing you know it'll be cherry season, and I will doubtless start complaining about having too many of them, as well. Some people are never satisfied. But - from the stuff.co.nz cooking column - comes this particularly insensitive comment: "It's that time of year again, when the neighbours start leaving shopping bags of feijoas on your doorstep". I find that very hurtful. They are NOT that easy to find in these furrin parts.

A couple of days back, my phone gave notice that it was not much longer for this world. It's always been fussy - sometimes have to turn it off and then on again to get a signal, if it decides in its little head that there is none - but this was different, in the sense that the power switch didn't work anymore: the accumulated cruft and pocket dust-bunnies of years had taken their toll, I guess. So I certainly didn't want to turn it off, and hied me to the nearest Bouygues shop, where the charming young woman supplied me with a Huawei - and thanks to four years of good conduct, it cost me all of one euro. (Well, ten more for a new SIM card: the one I had was about the size of a credit card, and apparently they don't make phones that take those anymore.)

She also, much to my surprise, knew all about Bada (Samsung's pile'o'shit phone OS from yonks back) but very cunningly persuaded my phone to send at least the contact list over via Bluetooth - so at least that's useful for something. Just as well really, for although I still have the old Kies software that came with the Samsung, which in theory would have let me painstakingly and one by one transfer my contacts over to the PC (from whence I could probably have got them into the new phone) it is so soul-numbingly dreadful that I would have preferred to scratch my eyes out with a quill pen before writing everything down on paper and then typing them in by hand. I thanked her - warmly - and left, and now my only problem is that I have what I find to be an unconscionably huge phone.

Maybe we need a new scale for these things. Positing that a normal hand size is 1.72 Trumps, using one of these things requires flippers that are are at least 2.17 Trumps in size (although it appears that with an iThing you can get away with 1.9 Trumps, provided you have three hands for all the gestures.) Also, I can't just slip it in my hip pocket anymore.

Margo tells me that I am a Luddite. I am not a techno-illiterate, but it is true that I had a thing that just worked, and now it doesn't, and I am going to have to learn how a new thing works. This pisses me off. Still, I am going to get to fulfill one of my long-held dreams, which is to see what happens if you take an angle grinder to a cell phone. (Kids, if you're going to try this at home, do remember to remove the battery first. OK?)

Years back there used to be a French comic strip - which I vaguely recall migrating to a series of skits on what passed at the time for evening entertainment on the TV - featuring a couple of women of a certain age, wearing printed cotton smocks, cardigans, fluffy slippers and headscarves: sort of the archetypal cleaning lady. (Never actually worked out exactly what was humorous in all that, but then I never got the point of Benny Hill either.)

Whatever, I had thought the species to be extinct: this turns out not to be the case.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Old Man And The C ...

Which is a good way to start off a Hemingway pastiche, which would have to begin with the ungrammatical elderly one saying something along the lines of "A consonant, you say? They are all the same, the letters, you sleep with them and they are all the same. When I was young it was good, you could even sleep with the letter Z after some rum, and it was good. But the letters today, they are shit"

But quite frankly, I can't be arsed.

Well, at least I managed to beat my way through the indignant old hags who try to push their way into the line ahead of me, and get some asparagus before it all disappeared. And having, as one will, a filet mignon de porc in the fridge, I turned that into picatta sauce madère, and with the asparagus boiled up in a syrupy mix of water, butter and sugar, and some steamed baby potatoes, it all went down very nicely.

Especially followed up by something which I shall call tarte girasol, which involves baking a disk of about five layers of buttered filo with sugar and cinnamon between the layers, then arranging neatly-sliced pears, fried in butter and sugar on top to look vaguely like a sunflower, and popping the whole lot back in the oven for ten minutes. At the end of which you have but to dribble a vanilla custard over it and serve.

It has been a busy week, and I have spent more of it than I like to think doing something I intensely dislike, not to say loathe: just Reading The Fscking Manual. It would help if this were not, at least in part, a work of fantasy. (Basically, it is in fact a tissue of truths but some bugger's gone and cut holes in it, and then embroidered it with fibs and whoppers.)

So don't go asking me how to go about programming a PIC18F87K22 microcontroller by bit-banging, for the answer may not be fit for polite society.

Also, we have got ourselves another dog. No, no, don't go calling the ambulance for we have not - yet - taken leave of our collective senses: she is but a house-guest for ten days.

Nestor, a lovely sort-of Dalmatian, and sweet-tempered as they come. Although quite capable of keeping our two firmly in line. The main problem is that she has never been taught how to walk on a leash - which causes some difficulties, and a bit of entanglement (luckily, not quantum) at times. Whatever, we live with it.

As you go through Moux, past the signs that sternly forbid either begging or trotting and then past the pharmacie, you will notice - if you snap your neck round 180°, for it is invisible if you come from the East - a marble plaque up on the wall, in memory of les enfants de Moux, lachement assassinés by the Germans back in 1943. Noble members of the résistance.

Except that I bumped into old Charles the ex-vigneron the other day, and he took some pleasure in recounting what he swears is the true tale that he got from his father, which is that the Mouxois in question had defied the curfew and were up in the bar drinking with their German pals: sadly, when "last orders" was called they stumbled out into the street and then ran like hell at the sight of a couple of troops on motor-bikes, en route from Carcassonne. The rest is now (revised) history.

Whatever, Margo's up around Montpellier with the dogs for a couple of days so I is stuck here on a rainy Sunday with things I really ought to be doing. So far I've been out for a couple of walks, bogged up a few bits of skirting-board with plastic wood before sanding and touching up the paintwork, and vacuumed my office - twice. It is not easy to get motivated and twiddle bits in an FPGA when it is gray and dismal outside. (Mind you, as I write I can see that the base of my desk lamp is a bit dusty: maybe I should vacuum yet again ...)

On the other hand, I could always grit my teeth and get down dirty and just do this stuff for the SNCF, but quite frankly I simply cannot be arsed just at the moment.

For years now I've used a trackball rather than a rodent because I can't be buggered mousing around: what with age and everything, after ten hours of that my shoulder and elbow are giving me merry hell. The only problem with them is that after a while they do tend to get kind of grunged up over the years, with sweat and dead skin cells and breadcrumbs, and eventually you have to replace them, if only for hygiene's sake.

I have evidently arrived at that point, for the left button now generates spurious double-clicks just when you don't need one, so it was obviously time to go look on the rueducommerce website for a replacement: I have a Logitech but Microsoft used to make really nice ones, so I thought I'd check out what they had on offer. Sadly, no trackballs - but plenty of mice, and this one here rather caught my eye. As the blurb said, it's stable and solid, and I doubt I'd have problems with anyone trying to nick it surreptitiously off my desk.

Sadly, I have no need for a user-interface device that requires me to stick a ream of A4 into it before use, so I passed on that and went on to order the Logitech alternative - it is much smaller but might turn out to be noisier because it is only dot-matrix: we'll see how that works out. Well, in fact I am actually seeing how that works out right now, because despite having ordered it late on Thursday and seeing, on the Friday evening, that it was "awaiting collection by la Poste", it got plonked in the letterbox today. (Worked first time, no drivers to install - I am waiting for something Bad to happen.)

By an odd quirk of fate, Rick and Mary had a brilliant idea Friday night, and one of the unfortunate side-effects was that my alarm went off at 7am and I found myself at the market at place Carnot in Carcassonne around ten to eight, which is rather earlier than usual. But it was actually rather pleasant: the sun was slanting down over the roofs, the old hags had only just started to emerge from under the rocks with their bloody trundle-along caddies (and gods help you if ever you get in their way, for they have scimitars mounted on the hubs, and in any case they are capable of giving you such a look if you manage a quick sideways kick ...) and there was, at that hour, an abundance of asparagus available.

And I managed to make it back home before nine, and it was as I was sunning myself like an old lizard out on the terrace with a coffee and a cigar that the letterbox went "clonk" and therein was my parcel, which I wasn't actually expecting because according to the website it was scheduled to arrive on or about April 1st - not really a good date and I was actually resigned to its finally turning up sometime in June.

So much for instant gratification, all I had the time to do was remove the little box from its cubic metre of packaging before heading off to Gruissan, and more specifically "La Perle Gruissanaise", which is - as many of you will recognise from the name - a place where they sell seafood.

For this was the brilliant idea: at this place - which supplies most of the Narbonnais restaurants, I guess - you may turn up with bread, salad, whatever else you like, then go in and order. So long as it's shellfish. They take your money, give you a ticket, and about ten minutes later you go back in and pick up your platter ... so we went there for a lazy lunch in the sun.

Then you go and sit at one of the many picnic tables they've installed outside, at the end of one of the moles at the entrance to the étang de Gruissan, and sit in the sun and eat and drink your litre of fresh white wine and watch the boats go past and the light playing on the waves, and talk about Chaucer and Ogden Nash and whatever else comes to mind because, let's face it, it's a lovely day.

So Margo scarfed her oysters, feebly screaming mussels fresh from the sea, and I munched on my lobster with crusty bread and aioli (not garlicky enough, but never mind, that's just me), and I reckon that there could be worse ways to die.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

So NOT The Wind In The Willows ...

More like the bloody howling gale in the elms if you ask me, for the tramontane has started up. I'm sure that the Wellingtonians will sneer at me, but quite frankly if you really have worse than a wind that gusts up to 100kph and is as cold as charity then you have my sympathy. I had put my gloves aside, thinking that perhaps I wouldn't need them any more: seems I was mistaken. Also, the wind goes up the dogs' bums and makes them even more air-headed than usual: something without which I can do when my bemittened hands are still freezing off on the 23:00 evening bowel-emptier.

Anyway, having better things to do, I went off this afternoon to get some dog food and wound up with a bottle of what I shall choose to call whisky. "Main Fields Finest Blended Whisky, Rare Reserve", bio-dynamic to boot with each grain of barley hand-crafted, aged in French oak and made in Marseille.

It's not often I've come across such a nose, spicy with heaps of vanilla and more than a hint of apple (no, it is not scumble, although perhaps it's the closest you'll find to it) and a whiff of banana, almost syrupy: if you're not expecting a actual whisky you could drink it with something approaching pleasure. I don't think I'll be repeating that particular experiment.

And there's another thing: I had occasion to go off to Lidl the other day to do a bit of necessary grocery shopping - and now that they've done the place up and installed barriers on the parking (I guess they were getting heartily sick of all and sundry parking there on a Wednesday moaning before heading off to the marché in the centre of town) I did actually remember to take my glasses with me so that I could actually read the code that gets printed out on your receipt and key it in at the barrier. (And why the hell didn't they put in a barrier with a barcode reader? Beats me ...)

In any case, I spent the usual lengthy interval in the queue at the only open checkout, and while the woman at the head was roundly abusing her son as they loaded up the bags I had plenty of time to study the trashy el cheapo stuff that they always seem to have on display at the checkout - really, "child-resistant" cigarette lighters? You must be joking. Or if they really are what they say they must be like those bloody child-proof power points, wherein no normal adult can actually insert a power plug.

And then, "Fruity Joy"? For a packet of condoms? I mean, really ...

(According to John, in England you can buy them curry-flavoured, or salt and vinegar, should you wish. Do you serve them up plonked on a lettuce leaf, I wonder.)

When you get to a certain age - such as mine, for instance - and you are doing up a house, as we are, there is one thing that is more or less guaranteed to give you a hard-on, and that is the arrival in the letter-box of the flyers from the DIY shops. All those power tools (OK, I actually have all I need, but a man can dream ...) and the limited offer on shower cubicles, and the 1400m² of parquet that I just can't resist.

But you know what really made my week? Going off to Matcol and picking up a new chopping board, that's what. There are a few dispirited flies buzzing feebly behind the windows and the place always looks as though it's been closed for years, but when you go in an unexpectedly noisy bell tolls and an apparently disjointed guy lurches out from the back office after ten minutes or so, busily removing the jumper leads and screwing the bolts back into his neck, to see what you want.

In my particular case I wanted a new chopping board - I mean I still have three, but they are solid wood about 3cm thick which is not very practical if you want to pick them up and slide sliced things into a frying pan on top of the stove - because the little polypropylene one that Jeremy abandoned to our tender mercies some time ago a) warps under hot water and b) did not really withstand the ministrations of the butcher's cleaver when I was getting stuff ready to make honey chili chicken the other night.

So we chatted, and he persuaded me to buy some high-tech thing made of cellulose in resin, and to seal the deal he had one last solitary 20cm stainless steel poele, such as I love, and so he threw that in for only 15€ more. I already have a 20cm stainless steel poele: I knew that and quite probably he knew that, for I bought it from him a while back and customers seem pretty few and far between so it's quite likely he remembers me, but I could not resist. Okay, so now I have a crap-brown ecological chopping board and yet another frying-pan. Laugh if you like, it'll be on the other side of yer faces when the zombie apocalypse comes and Habitat is all boarded up and decent kitchen utensils are nowhere to be found.

Also, I headed off to the big brocante at Carcassonne - the one that has bronze statues of Atalanta orally pleasuring Melanion, should you have a garden into which that sort of thing could harmoniously fit - and came back (after a decent interlude drinking an excellent Mouxois white with Bob! and excusing myself to Lova, his Jack Russell) with a present for Margo (and, let it be said in all honesty, for myself).

Yes, I found an extremely over the top bronze and crystal chandelier, positively dripping gilt and extremely glittery. It was a consolation prize really, partly because it was chill and gloomy, but mainly because when I got to the market it was only to find the guy selling local asparagus loading his stall into the van, having sold it all.

So I paid the price the guy was asking for it (an eye-watering €100, but still probably a bloody sight less than I'd have been up for had I gone through to somewhere like Pezenas, where the antique shops cater to a rather more upmarket, if not actually more discerning, clientèle) and brought it home and after Margo spent some considerable time cleaning the accumulated filth of decades off the shiny bits, and I had spent even more time getting filthy in the crawl space above the top-floor ceiling (I refuse to call it an attic, 'cos as far as I'm concerned you can stand upright in one of them) arranging something sufficiently solid for my taste to hang it from, it is now sparkling up at the top of the stairwell.

Say what you like, we like it, and as it's up in our apartment no-one else has to look at it anyway. So there.

Things get confusing on Hat Friday these days, as there are two Brown families. The elder couple have been here a while, and are apparently pillars of the English church over in Homps, or Olonzac, whatever. Kind of like being Jewish, it's more an ethnic thing than actually being religious: actually believing in God is optional, the only requirement is to have some sort of vague but comforting conviction that were He to in fact exist, He would be English, and would sit down to a good roast at Sunday lunch.

I can live with that - provided certain topics of conversation are banned - but they do seem to have a certain "Little England" mentality, which occasionally makes me want to flee screaming into the night. I mean, what the hell is the point of moving to France and then settling into a small circle of English acquaintances and trying to ignore the existence of all those Frog-persons around you? (Except when you are moved to complain bitterly every time you discover that the local tabac-presse does not stock The Telegraph, to supply a decent crossword and comfortably conservative reading matter.)

I just don't get it. So when David sidled up the other night it was a good thing that Margo was there beside me, for he wanted to know what we thought of the idea of a "St. George's Night" on April 23, complete with roast beef and Yorkshire pud.

I stared glumly into my beer - for it was in fact running low - and wondered vaguely if I could get away with the admittedly lame excuse that I was scheduled to have an operation on my haemorrhoids that very day, or maybe just simulate an epileptic fit, but Margo piped up brightly with "That's a shame, but I rather think I'll be off at Nantes then, and Trevor will be far too busy, I suspect".

"Come on", he said, "it'll be very jolly. Think of England."

"I would", she replied, "but you should remember we're New Zealanders."

"Oh yes. Colonials. Oh well."

As he wandered off Hervé, the guy we'd been chatting with, turned and said "well, you rather cut him off at the knees, didn't you?" and that is where the matter rests: and I personally think we're well out of it.

Whatever, mind how you go, now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

C'était Mieux Avant ...

... as I was reminded this afternoon, sunning myself and doing my bit for global warming out on the terrace, when a couple of old grey-faced guys shuffled out like arthritic zombies carrying on a conversation that had evidently been going on for some time.

"Eh bien, c'était café calva tous les jours!"
"Et oui, c'était bien ça."
"Puis les bières!"
"Bien, la bière, j'avoue."
"Et le rouge - un verre, ou deux ... puis le 51*."
"Pas mal, le 51, quand il fait chaud."
"Et rebelote pour le calva!"
"Mouais."
"Et comme on mangeait! Le matin, le soir, même le midi - à deux heures du matin des fois!"
"Bon, c'était mieux, hein?"

*51, for those who wish to know, is a particularly foul specimen of pastis, which is by nature completely undrinkable in any case. The French, for some reason - probably from sheer contrariness, or just being sufficiently miserly to not allow themselves to buy decent whisky - pretend to like it.

I have to admit I damn near busted my gut listening to that lot, but I managed to stifle the gales of laughter and propped myself weakly against a wall until they'd tottered on elsewhere, doubtless discussing the relative merits of a cassoulet against a bourguignon. But they'd faded into inaudibility by then; probably just as well for my health.

There's quite a group of us these days up at the bar of a Friday night: there's us, of course, then Rick and Mary, Angela and Martin, Cash and Terry, Johann and Sylvia, and even old Charles the ex-vigneron showed up last time. Johann and Sylvia are the token Germans around Moux, and we headed off to their place the other night for a little apéro dinatoire - which put the kybosh on my plans for a cassoulet but never mind, that'll wait for another night. I mentioned the war once but I think I got away with it: he'd been out hunting dolmens and didn't notice.

You don't really think of the Languedoc as being megalith territory - I mean in Brittany you can't move without tripping over one of the damn things - but it is so. Mostly a bit north-west of us it's true, but if you take a good look at a decent Ordnance map you'll see they're all over the place.

Whatever, we ate and drank and chatted, then did it again and kept the rinse/repeat cycle going till around midnight, at which point Johann - good Saarlander that he is - insisted on a couple of shots of schnapps before we left. I had not expected that, and I certainly wasn't expecting to have to down two 8cl glasses of 60% alcohol in a gulp.

We also learnt that according to village rumour Jérome - the secretary at the mairie - is having it off on a regular basis with the female half of the couple that are running the bar, and that this may go some way to explaining just how it was that they landed the job. Personally I can neither confirm nor deny, and in any case it is of purely salacious interest, but I thought you might like to know.

In other news, here at The Shamblings™ we has finally got round to wallpapering the landing of our apartment, up on the top floor. Not only that, but we are both still alive, and no blood was shed, which is doing pretty well for us. As a general rule we tend to work together on such things like a pack of drug-crazed cats, and harsh words and some personal injury are more or less a given, but rather to my surprise this turned out not to be the case.

In point of fact the only real casualty was Shaun who, finding that I'd absent-mindedly left my carpenter's pencil on the floor for five minutes whilst going off to fetch the spirit level, decided that the only reasonable thing to do was to eat it. Margo caught him before he could devour the whole thing so now I have a truncated pencil with puncture wounds, and I am so not looking forward to inspecting his bowel motions in the moaning.

So we dragged the top and bottom halves of our enormous old buffet rustique out of the garage, where it's been happily slumbering for the past two years and more, and when exposed to the light of day it became evident even to one such as I, unskilled in such matters of art, that a tribe of woodworm had started building quite a flourishing civilisation in there. Luckily, these days there exist such things as Xylophène, so Margo drove off to Lézignan to get some whilst I made a start on the surface mould and brushed all the cocoons off, and then we put them to the sword.

And then I headed off to see if Cash would let me borrow her husband for a bit, so she made him a packed lunch of banana and honey sandwiches and a flask of rouge, made sure he was wearing his back brace and that the pacemaker was turned on, and we turned our attention to getting the bloody thing all the way up to the second floor. The stairs are narrow and twisty, and trying to get large rectangular solids around the corners is an exercise in advanced topology - also, the thing was made in the days before they'd heard of plywood, or MDF for that matter.

Don't get me wrong, it was well-made and to all evidence by someone skilled in his trade - I'm just saying that the back of the base on its own consists of five thick planks of solid walnut. We couldn't get the shelves out either, to lighten the load a bit - they'd been built in. Heaving and panting we managed to get that up, and then we went back down and repeated the performance with the top half: at least that was a bit lighter, the doors being merely glassed.

Next time I swear, we're getting flatpack kitset stuff from IKEA.

Sad to say, we have lost EBK. He was there one day, gone the next - along with all the stray cats in the place. I went off to the mairie to make enquiries - result zilch - and Margo more cunningly spoke to the elderly women of the village: it appears that there is a person who does not like cats.

To the point where, every few years, (s)he puts out poisoned food to get rid of them. Sadly, no-one knows who it is and those that do know are not saying, which is kind of a shame because I would really, really like to return the favour by sticking something particularly gross/toxic in his/her breakfast. Gods damn it, I was his person, and some shithole peasant saw fit to kill him. I am not pleased. BASTARD! Bloody peasants.

Did you know that Debbie Does Dallas is available on Whackymedia? I certainly didn't. The film quality's not great but then I guess it would do justice to most 70's porn movies - remember watching Deep Throat with Margo a long time ago, and mostly giggling. I mean, it looks like a bear mistakenly shagging a bathmat. Christ, what were they thinking of back then?

Right now it is the time, the tramontane has started to blow again. This is, as I've said before, that lazy wind: the one that can't be arsed going around you so it just goes straight through. We are "looking forward to" ten days or so of clear bright blue skies, only with the wind-chill factor that will take perceived temperatures down to about -5°. Still, better that than a month of gray gloomy Sundays where you have only the choice between a rollup and sullen drizzle outside, or sweet industrial sherry and conversation with Auntie Doris* inside.

(I come from a family with seemingly endless numbers of aunts and uncles with farms, and somehow when you go to visit them it's always a Sunday, and always dismal, because that's traditional. Being too young for a fag or a sticky excuse for sherry, the only alternative was Auntie Doris. That, or excusing yourself with diarrhoea and going off to listen to old 45s of Elvis Presley, which was at least slightly less boring than watching paint dry. Under no circumstances would you actually use the toilet, even to add some semblance of verisimilitude to your feeble excuse: it had a three-metre stud, was painted institutional cack-green, haunted by spiders and - in what passes for the mind of an eight year-old - other things possibly even worse, and in any case the actual plumbing was merely approximative.)

Damn, I have digressed again. But it's all true, and it gets worse (of course). Crank up the fast-forward dial a few years, and it's still a rainy Sunday, you're still not old enough to smoke or drink, and even the ducks have abandoned the tennis court because the water's got too deep; so some well-meaning but apparently slightly retarded spinster aunt, or an elder cousin, will have a brilliant idea: "Why don't you all go off and play a board game? I think there's Monopoly, if you think you're too old for Happy Families ..."

Although the elder cousin would not have put it quite that way.

I guess it was good training. The last time I ever played a board game it was "Dune" (yeah, this was back in the 80s) and I was playing the Atreides family and by a combination of bad luck and sheer incompetence got cornered in the mountains by the Harkonnens (up till that point, a good friend). Having no other choice I detonated the Family Atomics, thus wiping out myself, the Harkonnens, and incidentally (collateral damage, people - hey, shit happens) everyone else on the board - which kind of put an end to the game. No great loss, and since then no-one has ever asked me to play a board game.

In other news, a couple of Hat Fridays back (Friday evenings at the bar a hat is de rigeur) we learnt that there is a project afoot to install some wind turbines around Moux. I mean, it's not as though we're short of wind - but let's face it, the things are frikkin' ugly, noisy too, and for a supposedly ecological energy source they do rather tend to ravage the local wildlife, especially the bats. (The poor little buggers cunningly avoid the blades and fly safely between them into the low-pressure zone behind, where their lungs implode and they bleed out. So they say.)

We personally, not being EU citizens, have sod-all say in the matter in any case but I'm willing to bet that it's pretty much a done deal: yeah, there have been a couple of PR meetings organised by the company concerned and there will have to be a popular vote, but given that the prospective sites for the things - which may bring in a lucrative rental - just happen to belong to the ex-maire and to his ex-adjoint I am not expecting there to be an overwhelming "non!". But I may be pleasantly surprised.

* Name changed to protect the not-yet-proven-guilty, if you must know.