Tuesday, January 2, 1990

French Gazette Vol. 4 No. 1 2 Janvier 1990

Hello everyone, and welcome to the New Year!

We’ve just come back from a jolly little Christmas en famille at Pesselière (faithful readers will recall that this is the country seat of the eminent Ian Vickridge): ourselves, Ian, Marie, their sprog, Manes’ parents and good old uncle Roger. A nice chap, if a bit on the neurotic side: a bachelor of advancing years, he lives in his apartment in Paris (this Christmas makes the second time in 137 years that he’s left the place, the first time being for the wedding) on a diet of boiled potatoes and slices of ham - for his health, you understand. This did not stop him from wolfing down roast duck in orange sauce, leg of lamb in honey and ginger, rabbit doused in cognac, set alight and then drowned in red wine

M. Vivion himself is a keen do-it-yourselfer, reasonably rare around these parts. We arrived in time to help put a wardrobe together, and to put a door into the room we were going to sleep in. Then he wanted to do something with concrete blocks, but got dissuaded, and he was rather disappointed when told he couldn’t pour any concrete on Christmas day.

We also heard the story of one of the neighbours, a chap of about 80 years who, a few years ago, had his first ever encounter with a lift. He wasn’t overly impressed at first - you go into a small metal box, the doors close, then the open, and you get out of the small metal box and where’s the pleasure in that? (Unless, of course, you Jjic~ small metal boxes.) “Well and good,” replied his guide “but you do not, perhaps, appreciate that we are now on the 8th floor.” The poor chap thought it was a joke at first, until he looked out one of the windows.

Anyway, we had a lovely time: beautiful weather, if a bit on the chilly side (there’s still no snow, unless you’ve got enough cash to head up to one of the higher ski stations), too much to eat and drink, and not too much to do. Headed back on the Thursday, and promptly ran into a bank of dense fog covering the entire country. Typical.

New Year’s Eve we spent quietly at home, watching the rock special for want of anything better to do. Spoilt a bit by the appearance of French groups, in particular by the presence as “special guest commentators” of Les Rita Mitsoukos, who’d have to be two of the most pretentious, posturing prats I’ve come across in a long time. (Sample - “Madonna can’t sing or dance, and her body’s not that hot either - can’t imagine what anyone sees in her. No relevance whatsoever to modern life.” No dears, and she sells more records than you too.) Never mind, the avant-garde has to have its say, I suppose. Which brings me to my favourite quotes from the evening (both of them from the real host, a nice young fellow with gloriously bad taste in waistcoats and matching ties):

“French rap music is just like French rock music - the English do it so much better” and

“I’m keeping my Stones records so that in 20 years or so I’ll be able to blast the ears off any kids unfortunate enough to be mine.”

An interesting and little-known fact - two out of three French singers are actually glove puppets manipulated by tone-deaf, brain-dead literary critics who’ve read rather too much of the works of Schopenauer than is good for them. The remaining 33% represent a bit of a dead end in the evolutionary tree which Mother Nature somehow never got around to pruning, which I suppose is good news for the anthropologists.

For those of you who hate writing letters, ~by the way, there’s a bit of good news: Margo will be going back to New Zealand for a bit in April (probably), so you’ll be able to say everything and save on the envelopes. She’s taking Malyon back to be cooed and gurgled at by the rest of the family in the traditional ceremony, which goes something like this:

“we, the uncles, aunts, great-aunts twice removed and cousins here assembled in solemn congregation, do hold these truths to be natural and self-evident, to wit

- that it is beyond a doubt the prettiest baby in the whole world
- that her little sparkling eyes are the nicest little sparkling eyes in the whole world
- that she just has the chubbiest little cheeks

and furthermore that we will uphold and defend these truths, and smite with contumely those who dispute them, at least until the time comes when we have to change her nappies.”

We have received a number of letters along the lines of

“Dear Agony Aunt - is Malyon a French name or what? I’d always thought it was a sort of pumpkin, but my boyfriend tells me not to be silly, the lipstick was on his shirt when he bought it. Please help me, Confused. (Name and address withheld)”.

The reply is simple:

“Dear Confused - No, it’s not French: it is in fact a family name dating back to the days of the Crusaders and one William of Malyon, who changed his name from William of Pumpkin in an attempt to avoid being harrassed in vegetarian restaurants. As for the lipstick, I’d recommend changing your washing powder and, if the stains still don’t come out, your boyfriend.”

Simple, really.

Having got all that out of the way, on to other matters. I’m still cobbling bits together for Merlin Germ - the affair is starting to get up my nose a bit, actually, it’s rather disheartening to work with such a sorry pack of amateurs. On the software side they’ve got a large team, each member working busily away at his or her little bit of the project: I’ve yet to meet anyone there who knows (or wants to know) how the bits are going to fit together. (One of their “programmers” ordered from us a reasonably complicated, and typically ill-defined, bit of software to synchronise two processors, generate and count timing signals and check the ignition on your car, rather grandly called “the ultimate and indispensable stage of validation”, which was duly delivered and paid for: I have since discovered that the sole object of all this was to allow the fellow to test a routine he’d written which converted a count into a date. There are easier ways.) As to the hardware, they’re currently on revision 4 of the card which is the key piece of the project (they designed it themselves, and are terribly proud of it), and the thing still doesn’t work.

On the brighter side, Pechiney (the aluminium people) have ordered a system similar to those we installed in their French smelters to control energy use for a new factory in Greece, so with a bit of luck Renaud and I will be off there later this year to install it. That, I think, would be rather nice.


Hello again, children. Awfully sorry to be this late in getting back to writing ... just leave it for a day or two, I thought ... what with one thing and another I’ve been working flat out and just haven’t been able to spend an hour or so enjoying myself. However, the last project I was working on - a sort of oscilloscope imitator for one of Pechiney’s aluminium smelters, which took about two months to get going properly - is now finished and I have a bit of time before getting on to the affair of the Grecian urn, so here goes.

On the off-chance that this arrives before she does: Margo is leaving here April 6 to arrive - all things going well - on the 8th. She’s planning on passing a week in Hamilton, one in Palmerston North, another in Wellington and a last week back in Hamilton, so those of you who want to should be able to see her.

Spring is here: temperatures are climbing back up into the 20s. For all that we have had a bit of snow and we’ve even managed to go skiing. Once. We were going to go again last weekend, but both Malyon and I had colds so we decided not to do anything at all. Had to go out anyway, as we got a phone call from the friends we’d planned on going up with to say that they’d just had an accident on the route national and could we come and give them a hand? About this time of year the garage owners on that particular stretch of road make quite a nice living from accidents.


Yeah, so much for having a few days free. However, I’ve just finished the Greek business, so this time I really do have a bit less to do. As the more astute of you will have deduced, Margo is - at
the time of writing - actually in New Zealand. With luck, I’ll get this finished and in the post before she arrives back here.

Next weekend it’s off to Annecy, I think, for the annual Salon des Vms et les Arts Culinaires ie the food and wine fair. The wine-maker from whom we bought a case of Chateauneuf du Pãpe last year very kindly sent me a couple of invitations, so I feel honour-bound to go along. Maybe buy another case, who knows? This weekend I’m booked up: out to dinner on Sunday with friends (Angeline and Tony, an Irish-French couple) and spend the rest of it trying to baby-proof the stereo in anticipation of Margo’ arriving back with a baby that crawls. A simple job, you may think, but I’m sure that I’ll manage to take at least five times longer than need be.

We finally got around to braving the legendary Lyonnais driving a few weeks ago, by the way, and drove into the place. As usual, we got a bit lost, case of missing signposts and suchlike, got onto the Pdripherique, missed the turnoff, got off at the next one, accidentally got back onto the Pdripherique going the other way, went too far, got off and found ourselves on the street we’d been looking for all along, heading tranquilly toward the railway station (this being the only place in all Lyon where I ~ there’ll be a parking slot. Usually, anyway).

A brief note on vocabulary: in French there exists the verb “englander”. When you’ve been Englanded, you’ve been swindled. (I doubt somehow that the word has anything to do with the English across the channel, which is a shame. The noun “Engliche”, on the other hand, definitely does have something to do with them: it means “English(wo)man: stuck up person: hoity-toity”. Isn’t language a wonderful thing?) There are many other interesting words in French, and a number of them are not rude.

Anyway, tonight I’m off to get the car exhaust replaced. I thought she was making a little bit of noise, and when I got around to looking under her the other night I discovered that the silencer had split from one end to the other, and on top of that the actual exhaust pipe at the rude end of the silencer, from which the whole assembly is suspended, is only hanging onto the silencer by sheer will-power. As I’ve no wish to be stopped by the cops for noise pollution, and even less desire to have the exhaust drop off if I change gear too quickly, I thought that getting it changed ASAP might just be a good idea.

Life is very tranquil: the place is always clean (relatively so), no piles of purée on the shagpile after feeding time, I’m sleeping very well, and the only fly in the ointment is the Pile of ironing to be done. Do not mistake me, I know perfectly well how to iron things. Just that, personally, I’d much rather not iron things, and I think that the ironing is of much the same opinion, and in any case I can always think of something more interesting to do (clean out the septic tank, for instance) and so the Pile just sits there. I look at it, it looks back at me, but generally speaking it’s not much of a conversationalist. I’ve a funny feeling it’s getting bigger, though: perhaps it eats the odd shirt that goes wandering past, or maybe it just sneaks out at night and steals washing. I’ll get onto it Real Soon Now, I promise. Just as soon as I’ve rebored the gaskets on the toaster.

OK, I think that had better be it. Time to run off a couple of copies before I head home, then drop them in the post tomorrow. With luck.

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