Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Le Salon des Fainéants ...

A while back now, our neighbour in the office up at Cote-Rousse was one Jean-Charles Bouillot: a specialist in printing images onto all sorts of material, a bon vivant in the traditional French mould, and also an excellent photographer.

When I say "was" he still is, or still would be were it not for the fact that I'm not there ... if you see what I mean. Anyway, the point is that at some point back in the day we decided that having a photo exhibition could be a not-too bad idea, and I even got around to sorting through the archives.

It never happened, partly because I am now in southern parts and partly because we really couldn't be arsed, but I was digging around in the dirtier recesses of my hard drive the other day and found them again. I think many have been posted here before, whatever: here they all are.
 
 

Damn Statistics ...

The estimable SC recently went all teary-eyed whiny over his visitors being about 95% Ukrainian. Here at The Shamblings™ we aspire to a better class of click-bait: only Russian oligarchs and mail-order brides for us - if you can trust the Great Google's statistics. And oddly enough, a number of those assiduous followers seem to arrived at these august premises by following a Bing search for "titsup holidays". I draw no conclusions from this, I merely present the evidence. As follows (for this day, 8/4/15):



Something's going on here. Why is no-one in NooZild interested in me? What the hell? I don't have to do this, you know. It takes time (which is money) and money (which is also, more or less by definition, money): perhaps I should just go back to my roots acting as a facilitator (is that a word?) for FOWAs (that's Fat Old White Americans) looking to hook up with attractive young Russians who give great head (but no guarantees as to gender, no money-back guarantee).

If I choose to look at this as a percentage, the Russian population is around 144 million so my readership there is about 0.00000064 percent. Which is - pretty small, not to say infinitesimal - but that's alright, even if I cry at nights, because ... in UpsideDownLand, all I can manage is a lousy 0.00000025%. Come on, people - look at my blog: not because you like it, it's for democracy and freedom! (Well, that and the ad revenue - haha.) Do you really want Vladimir Putin to win?

Strike a blow for Western civilization, leave all your small change in the tub to your left as you go out the door. Thanks.

I swear to god, they will drive me to drink. (Not that I actually need to be driven: that would be rather ostentatious given that the fridge is but a few short steps away, also there'd be a problem trying to get a car into the house. Maybe a golf cart.) Twice so far I have had to rewrite my original spec for Modbus access, and now I'm going to have to do it a third time. I hate writing specs, maybe even more than I hate grouting.

Once I can handle, twice is unfortunate, but the third time it's definitely because someone out there either hates me or has a really sick sense of humour.

I do not wish to brag, but right now - around 10am on a Sunday morning - it's sufficiently hot that I've retreated from the terrace, where I was recovering from last night's barbecue (a rouelle de jambon and a vast potato salad, if you really want to know) and contemplating one of those existential questions that confront us all at some time or other, namely what in hell pushed me to buy two kilos of strawberries and what am I going to do with them now, into the cool of the house.

Where I have another bathroom floor to tile, for Cédric and André turned up last week and set to work again with a will, and André is coming back on Tuesday to put the bath in there so I really do have to get off my arse and get it ready.

Still, assuming it's not a train coming the other way we can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel: apart from the demolition of the monstrosity that is the fireplace downstairs in the living room all the really major work has been done. Yeah, there's still a few places where the plastering needs finishing off and of course there's the ceilings to be painted and all the wallpapering and skirting boards and godnose what else but with any luck by the end of May - only a year overdue, but what the hell, this is the south of France after all - the place should be more or less finished and there will be bedrooms for guests with - a very important thing - functional bathrooms.

Of course, there may not be actual beds for them to sleep in but that is a minor detail which I am choosing to ignore just at the moment.

Also, it is that time of year when cuddly furry animals and all our feathered friends (to whom, at some point, I intend to dedicate a post - mainly with recipes) get it off and start to do something about housing the next batch or brood.

I have said it before and I will say it again: crows have all the architectural style and building prowess of English town planners from the 1960s. Not so much "build it, and they will come", more "drop a load of branches from 50m onto the church and see what sticks". The answer, as it turns out, is "not a lot", and walking around the south side of the église gets kind of hazardous: you trip on heaps of twigs and are quite likely to get another load delivered directly onto your head, courtesy of a short-sighted member of the corvidae.
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At least the pigeons don't seem to have this problem: for all I know they wait until the crows have managed to put together (for "erect" is not quite the word here, implying as it does some sort of planning) a relatively robust pile and then go and squat it. I'd not be surprised.

And of course we also have the swallows, who seem to feel that bird poop and spit are an acceptable substitute for actual building materials. I really cannot recommend loitering for too long under one of their nests either: it might not fall off (despite appearances, the things are really quite solid, especially when they're ancestral homes) but there's a reason why there's piles of guano beneath and it's because the little rodents are copious crappers. Just saying.

And you might not want to end up like one of our friends who, many years ago now, came to visit us via London. I think it was in King's Cross station, as they were catching a train to get to the ferry, that a pigeon voided with gusto all over her head, so poor Leslie left Ken with their luggage and went in search of a toilet, to clean up a bit.

This being England, everyone was far too polite to point out that she had bird shit in her hair and running down her face and acted as though this was a perfectly normal state of affairs, and she could wait her turn in line for a handbasin, thank you very much. The poor woman was finally reduced to going up to the people at the head of the queue and saying "Excuse me, you may not have noticed, but I am hot and sweaty and, incidentally, covered in bird crap - would you mind awfully if I just rinsed some of it off?"

Whatever. After months bitterly complaining about the weather we are still doing that, but for different reasons. Out in the verandah it's up to about 26°, the cloudless sky is that particular Provençal shade of blue and to be quite honest, it's difficult to summon up the enthusiasm to get behind a keyboard and do some honest work.

I used to think that the habit of sticking ice cubes in your rosé was obscene and unsavoury, but I can see it has its advantages. I suppose I'd better go order in another tanker of the stuff, mind how you go now.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Joy Of Tiling ...

First of all, here's a nice NWSF picture for you.

So it seems that we're more or less sure that Mars at some point in the past had surface water and could have hosted life more or less as we know it - possibly only lawyers and politicians, but who can say? And even after the Old Ones died off as the atmosphere slowly escaped, it seems only reasonable to posit that perhaps their hyper-intelligent felines survived, learning by trial and error (and along the way, providing a totally reasonable explanation for a few otherwise problematic craters) how to use a nuclear-powered tin-opener.

Although their civilisation might have flowered for a few millennia, the race would of course dwindle inexorably, and at some point the ancient palaces would topple and only a few - perhaps only one - would remain to mourn past glories: I am really waiting for the televised press conference from NASA with jerky pixelised footage beamed back to us, showing Curiosity killing the cat.

Whatever, may I say that I really, really hate having to go to the market at Lézignan? But as last Saturday, as I said, we headed off to Montpellier for this foodie thing which kind of prevented me from whipping around Carcassonne, things were getting dire: Tuesday night we were down to the last packet of frozen peas.

So girdèd me I did my loins (also, I put some jeans on, just to be on the safe side) and headed off to brave the old hags. Also, to find a parking space. How hard can that be? I mean, Lézignan is not a big place: about 11,000 souls all up as of the last census, but I swear that on market day that must double. At least. And they're all over eighty. Towing those scythe-wheeled shopping baskets behind them.

Eventually I did find a place to leave Sarah - by dint of waiting ten minutes for some old bag to work out what reverse gear was, and then to perform a complicated manoeuvre to actually back out of the parking space: and when finally she achieved that a pair of retarded OAPs in an Aixam gleefully whipped in ahead of me to take the place.

It is probably a good thing that carrying arms about your person is not legal over here in Ole Yurrup for had I been doing so I would probably have gone all Dalek on them, but I contented myself with a sad and wistful gaze as I pulled up right behind them and gently nudged them down the slope towards the rubbish skips. At which point the least disabled of the pair (I hope, for it was he behind the steering wheel) made apologetic gestures, I unwillingly backed up enough to let them out, and they disappeared - as my old boss Jim Higgins would have said - in a cloud of shit and small stones. There was a rubbish truck going past, picking up and digesting the contents of all the wheelie bins: hopefully they ended up in it.

So having found a place to park, I went off to get my ankles flayed.

We're still in that sad period when "fruit" consists of apples, pears and bananas; broccoli and monstrous specimens of cauliflower are proudly exhibited as vegetables, and the only ray of sunshine is the abundance of asparagus. Suppose I shall jolly well have to wait until the first baby yellow courgettes turn up, along with the courgette flowers - which I admit are a bitch to stuff, but worth it. Then the garden tomatoes, and the fresh sweetcorn, and great bunches of chives and pungent North African mint.

Whatever, Hope, springing eternal as it does, triumphed over Experience and I wound up with a kilo of strawberries. Which, as it turned out, actually tasted of something, so I guess Spring may really be on the way.

(Actually, I know it is. Up in the pinède the wild thyme is in flower, and the dwarf irises have popped up, blue and yellow, in the most unlikely places. I mean, you'd really think they'd like to put roots down into actual soil but no, there they are apparently clinging to bare rock.)

Moux is sufficiently small that basically everyone that lives here may be considered a neighbour. And I guess that 200m and a couple of twisty corners is not really a disqualification so - what I'm trying to say is that we have discovered a new neighbour. To the delight of our hairy retards he has a three-month old Jack Russell puppy, and to our more grown-up pleasure he's very congenial company and a professional chef.

More classical French cuisine than anything else (what Jeremy bitterly tells us is referred to as "cordon bleu" in your parts, a term which he has never come across - and it's true that the only time you're likely to find the phrase in the wild is applied to a chicken breast, stuffed with ham and cheese, breadcrumbed and fried) with a nod to Michel Guérard and the best parts of the nouvelle cuisine movement in the 80s: so we can agree to disagree about Paul Bocuse, and happily slag off the abuse of balsamic vinegar and espuma.

It's sad, but when you get to a certain age and have a house that needs renovating and redecorating, you know what really makes your day? It's the "clack" of the letterbox, signalling the arrival of another catalogue from the local DIY emporium. Gives us hours of mindless pleasure, checking out flooring, tiles, and the merits of this or that concrete mixer. We live for this. (Also, the only other things that arrive in the letterbox are bills, which we tend to burn, sight unseen. Like that, they never came.)

They also all have internet sites (mostly, I'm sad to say, pretty unusable) but which, despite their designers' best efforts we are currently spelunking, trying to find a balustrade that will replace the little wall in cellular concrete on the top landing with something a little less hand-made ugly and also let in more light from the window in the stairwell. Preferably, for a less-than eye-watering price.

A couple of stainless steel posts anchored firmly to the floor, with steel cables stretched between them, would do the job nicely: Lapeyre offer just such a kit, at only 650€ per metre. Which would kind of blow my budget in one fell swoop.

And then there's wallpaper, for sadly the walls of the first-floor bedrooms are not really in a state where you can just paint over them and hope for the best. Nice wallpaper starts at about 50€ the roll and goes up from there: at about twenty rolls per room, given the dimensions, that too starts to get somewhat expensive. I rather think we'll go for something a little closer to the bottom of the line, thanks very much.

I'm guessing that there's any number of you that have finally bought that little Tuscan villa of your dreams and have at some point headed over to spend a few idyllic months of summer basking in the sun whilst the crickets chirp and try to rip your throats out, only to discover that the swimming pool is not quite as advertised but is in fact a branch of the local river that happens to pass through what would be your property were it not for the fact that at least three neighbours have lawsuits pending since 1732 (and another since August 2013, a month before you bought the place) to determine just whose property it in fact is.

Also, for reasons best known to themselves, the previous owners took some care to cover up the original clay tile floors with a dalle de ragréage and then some nice brightly coloured pure synthetic carpet: the advantage of course is that you don't need lights on to go to bed, the sparks around your feet from the static electricity will light the way quite nicely.

Fear not, although I cannot help you with the swimming pool nor the property disputes, you can at least get back to the tiles. A dalle de ragréage is no more than a thin layer of liquid cement poured over the original flooring, in the (usually vain) hope that this will thus be levelled out: if you're lucky and it was a DIY job they will have neither cleaned nor wetted the surface before pouring the cement so it will be thin, relatively fragile, and have - at best - a tenuous hold on reality.

I am not saying that you should put your hammer and masonry chisel out to pasture just yet, because you will need them for some obstinate bits, but with the accumulated wisdom of a few day's experience I can tell you that whacking the surface with a rubber mallet (the actual terracotta tiles seem impervious to anything short of a minor explosion) to loosen the dalle, followed by the judicious application of a 12cm plasterer's spatula, works bloody wonders.

Of course, your mileage may vary. And I would recommend that you have a pair of heavy gloves about your person: you will mash your thumb with the hammer at some point, and having a glove in your mouth at that moment will render your obscenities inaudible, or at least incomprehensible.

In a break with centuries of tradition and some old charter or something, and with total disregard for the law (which is formal on the matter), our Easter weekend was gloriously fine and sunny. Which made it a bit of a pain being inside bashing away at cement. And on top of that, the bloody Easter Bunny completely neglected us. Whatever, it is still bright and hotter than we have any reason to hope or expect, so I am going to go enjoy it whilst I can.




Monday, March 30, 2015

This Post Has No Title, This Post Is Anome*

April 8, 2014 and the earth moved for some of you: and of those, for a certain number, it was only because on that day Microsoft ended support for Windows XP. (Geekish persons have to take their thrills where they find them.)

So it's not quite a year later, and the SNCF have decided to finally migrate their huge installed base of XP systems to Windows 7 (yeah, no-one sensible that I've heard of is moving to Windows 8, personally I find that the damn thing gets more unstable every day and that really pisses me off) and discover that the Microsoft ERP package that they bought back in 2003 does not, in fact, work under Windows 7. Would you have thought it, and who you gonna call?

Sadly Bill Murray has retired, so in fact you call some poor overworked hack programmer who has unfortunately admitted to having some competence with a debugger. Of course it's a rush job: maybe I should just suggest that they set up WinXP in a virtual machine on each and every new system - can see that going down like a cup of tepid sick.

(As it happens, that is exactly what I wound up doing. Rather than trying to patch an executable to use other libraries with a different API, just run a VM. It will get kind of complicated because their sysadmins are not going to let any traffic from an XP system pollute their network, but fortunately there are solutions to that. Kludgy ones, I admit, but should work - and on the cheap, at that.)

Always fascinating to see what the CNRS is looking for. I was rather amused by this one, calling for offers for: "Supply and installation of 16 weighing stations  for monoliths, from 1.5 to 3 tonnes: region Languedoc/Roussillon." WTF? It's not as though monoliths are conspicuous by their presence around these parts, and even if they were - why weigh them? See if they're putting on weight?

As a Godless Atheist® (one or other of those two words may be redundant) I sometimes head over to Orac's place to get a dose of scepticism. I should really stop doing that perhaps, it may not be good for my blood pressure. It's not the articles nor - for the most part - the comments: oh no, it's the subject matter. The people. They do not seem to have grasped the point, which is that science, like gravity, works whether you believe in it or not. (See, incidentally, The Flying Sorcerers for a full explanation. And very bad puns. So Niven's an American, not his fault.)

Thought of the week: "When looking for a needle in a haystack, it's easier to just burn all the hay."

Anyway, I had occasion to head off to Carcassonne the other day: not the usual in-and-out for the market, for my sins I had to go off to the Hôtel des Impôts. Because, as the house is being renovated and changed, they wish to know just how much they can unreasonably charge us for the crime of owning too many bathrooms or whatever, and having received - for the third time in as many months - a form asking me to give the date of demolition of the place, failing which a swingeing fine and jail sentence await me, I decided that it was better to go in and throw myself on their mercy.

Exceptionally this turned out not to be a mistake, for when I finally got ushered into the plush-carpeted office the woman behind the impressive piece of nasty hand-hewn Formica furniture from somewhere rather cheaper than Ikea said something along the lines of (roughly) "why the fuck did they send you this?" and then went through form H-1(A) with me, explaining the trickier points of using a tape-measure so that I may, come July, correctly fill out case 37(1), total surface area of all cupboards less than 1 m² and my personal favourite, 52(3) average capacity of toilet cisterns. Of course, if they're under 1.58m high (the cupboards, not the toilets) they don't count: remember that.

The point is that I was in a part of Carcassonne where I've not been before: in the shadow of la Cité, on the eastern bank of the river. So having time to spare, I wandered off - as one will - for a quick shufti. Cobbled streets, gaunt old houses, a garage that last put the shutters down sometime in the 1930's and a boulangerie with an illegible, fading note duct-taped to the door and a few flies buzzing dispiritedly behind the windows - of course most of the places are now B&B's or restaurants these days.

And there are some to which I shall return - assuming they're still there in a few months: one which advertised very promising burgers (do you know how much I crave a decent burger after all these years? Not the same when you make them yourself) and another which proclaimed itself to be a wine & truffle bar, which has to be good. (Although even allowing for a 50% markup, I still find 2300€/kg for truffles to be kind of excessive. Given that they still smell of shit, no matter how much you pay for them.)

This year the frères Pourcel, chefs at Montpellier, decided to put together a salon: MAD or Mediterranée à Déguster. Celebrating the food from around the Mediterranean - olive oil, tomatoes, fish ... and they'd managed to get together a group of some sixty chefs. Not all from Montpellier either: from Greece, Italy, Croatia, Tunisia. Between the lot of them, they totalled 35 Michelin stars.

So off we went (I even forbore the Saturday market visit, I shall atone later and I guess I'll have to head off to Lézignan on Wednesday moaning, although I hate it due to the prevalence of energetic and malign elderly ladies) and shelled out an entirely reasonable 69€ for entrance and food and wine.

That got us each six bouchées, each made by a different chef, and feeling somewhat peckish I wolfed down the round of broccoli flowerets on a cloud of hummus, topped with a St-Jacques and citrus, then the filet de rouget with mousseline d'asperges, and the cube of marinated tuna skewered with ventrèche (which you'd call bacon, I guess, but it's a far cry from that) and grilled in a very hot oven, atop a purée of aubergines and tomatoes.

I have to admit that I passed on the smoked mussels on their bed of nasturtiums: a very pretty dish but the oyster and I are emphatically not friends, and so if I'm going to eat shellfish I like to be sure that there's an unoccupied toilet within easy sprinting distance.
 
Of course, since the runaway success of la cuisine moléculaire yore espuma has been flavour of the month for a few years now: the general rule seems to be that if you can possibly get it into a soda siphon, then you should. I am not entirely convinced of this, especially when it comes to steak, but I'm probably wrong.
 
Picked up some powdered tonka beans, and combava - now I shall have to work out what to do with them - and then we came across a stand selling artisanal beers and something they called "whisky au gout du sud-ouest de la France". Naturally enough this piqued my interest, so I went over to harangue the guy and find out what exactly was going on. 
 
He cheerfully gave me a shot and as a smallish crowd had gathered happily went on to explain: four passionate whisky fans took it into the collective head to import ten-year old cask whisky (that's about 70%), blend it and cut it with water from the Salvetat in the Montagne Noire, then age it in Armagnac casks and hock it off as Black Mountain Whisky, in a bottle with a tasteful picture of the mythical half-boar, half-wolf that is reputed to roam the area. No doubt looking for something decent to drink. You are doubtful, thinking of Breton white wine: so was I. Then I tasted it, and I bought a bottle.
 
I rather doubt that it'll last until Mal and Tony come over here: too bad, I shall have to head off up there to buy another one.
 
Quite serendipitously, there is a Chinese emporium just across the road from the (rather pretentiously named, if you ask me) Parks&Suites Arena where all this was going on, so we toddled across the street and went in. Sheer bliss, 500m² of spices and sauces and Chinese sausages and fresh spring roll wrappers and decent raw brown sugar and rice flour and foufou and ... oh, whatever. I shall go back later, and satisfy my baser urges.

I think that if it is at all possible, I detest grouting even more than I do tiling. It's tedious, picky work involving - unless you happen to be one of those lucky bastards with a grout gun - too much time on your knees with a small trowel and a rubber squeegee. And, as I have learnt through bitter experience, you need to clean up afterwards or you will regret it.

Not the tools so much, that's just a few minutes - no, you've smeared grouting all over your tiles so you need to wipe the excess off with a dry sponge, then twenty minutes later you need to go over the joints with a damp finger-tip (one of your own if absolutely necessary, but one out of a jar of formaldehyde works for me) so that they're nicely inset and then another half-hour after that you go over the whole lot with a damp sponge. Finally, two days later you get to spend a few hours of quality time back on your knees rubbing the entire floor with a dry cloth to get rid of the last traces of cement.

I have actually found better ways to pass my time.

*A blatant lie, as this post evidently has a title. Check out the relevant Whackywheedia articles on Lord Sir Elton John of the Admiralty, also on Paradoxes, especially those involving lying liars who lie all the time especially when they say that they are lying. They're just trying to do your head in.

Also, the articles on gnomes. More specifically, on being without a gnome.

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.