Tuesday, July 30, 1991

French Gazette Vol. 5 N° 3 25 Mai 1991

Only just got the last letter to bed, and here we are again.

We had a busy weekend: open day at Margo’s work the Saturday morning, so I profited from that to go in to the market with Frog and get all the freshly-killed spring vegetables for the week, then back home, bake a tart for the Sunday, drop Frog off with Steve and Isabel, then off to the wedding. Which was a lot of fun, I must say. We left extremely early - at 11pm, in fact - ‘cos we were totally shagged out, but Renaud and Sophie stayed until 6am. Made of strong stuff. Stayed the night with S & I, arrived back home on Sunday morning, picked up the tart and headed off to lunch with Sue and Serge.

Other news: Margo’s glasses broke definitively a short while ago, so she’s now gone back to wearing contact lenses: worked out cheaper that way, especially as hers are an off-the-peg pair, so to speak. And we’ve got a kitten, tentatively called Cato. Mischevious little beastie, Malyon seems to like him. Although she gets awfully jealous when he starts playing with her toys (which basically means anything lying unattended on the floor) and starts telling him off in no uncertain fashion. (She does that when we tell her off, too: called scapegoating or something like that, I believe.)


Tom arrived safely, and we thought we’d celebrate the occasion in a fitting fashion with the first barbecue of the year. Great idea. We got out to Aiguebellette and it started raining - just a little, so we said “Won’t be frightened by a little rain, we’ll just have it under shelter until it clears up ...“. And so we started our barbecue under the convenient little shelter and the sausages were grilling nicely and then the thunderstorm (for such it was) decided to show us what it was made of (which is, in case you didn’t know, mostly wind and water, with a fair amount of static electricity floating about for good measure). As a couple of the littlies seemed to be in some danger of being carried away by the floodwaters swirling about our feet we decided to abandon the premises, women, children and lamb chops first.

Played the same trick the next day, too: we were up at Steve and Isabel’s, looking after the livestock again, and after a luxurious lunch decided to go for a little walk to see a waterfall. (And exercise the half-wit duo at the same time, why not?) Decided to turn back about 15 minutes from the falls, due to ominous rumblings and enormous grey clouds making an appearance, and so we were only about 400m from the gate when someone turned the taps on. (Which didn’t actually matter too much for the first minute or so - the drops were so big and far apart that you stood a fair chance of dodging them.)

Tom’s headed off to Italy for the week now (took the day train rather than a sleeper; I must admit that the stories of people in sleepers being gassed and then robbed at leisure are pretty hair-raising, and some of them are true to boot) and in theory should turn up again Thursday or Friday. He’s using our place as a base for his European travels, which fits in very nicely for all concerned.

And while I remember: we’ve finally bumped into the other Kiwi couple at Montmelian. Or at least, I bumped into the female half of it. I would have walked straight past her into the Post Office (I was posting a letter, yes it was on work time, mind your own business) except that someone wearing a Massey University sweatshirt kind of sticks out a bit in these benighted parts.

In the “Unusual Requests” department - Margo has been asked to write down the lyrics, in English, of a couple of Peter Hamill albums (“Nadir’s Big Chance” and “In Camera”, for those of you interested) so that someone can translate them into Italian. Must see if I can lay my hands on a decent cassette deck so that I can stick them on a tape for us while we’re about it.

Today is a particularly slack day at work, in case any of you are wondering what I’m doing writing this instead of being productive. I did try to be good, spent all morning twiddling my thumbs and polishing my code until it shone, but the fact is I’ve got my current projects as far as they can go without a bit of hardware to run on, and there isn’t any, and everyone else has gone up to Cluses to reinstall a system for Eaton (who make, amongst other things, washing machine controllers and oven timers) and consequently I’ve naught to do. I even tried reading a French computing magazine rather than conduct personal letter-writing in work time, but that soon palls (a bit like having your brain wade through sudsy molasses) so I’ve given up.


One week later ... we passed a lovely weekend; Malyon came down with gastro-enteritis and has been throwing up all over the place and I started to think I’d broken the car. These two facts are not particularly related. The first came about ‘cos there’s a bit of an epidemic going about amongst the sprogs of the countryside, and Malyon doubtless picked it up at the halte-garderie. (Just by the way, Margo is now on the committee, having foolishly gone off to the AGM the other night she got pressed into service.) She’s slowly getting better, actually asked for some bubbles for breakfast. (Kelloggs Rice Bubbles, that is.) As for the car, Tom, Malyon and I headed up to Annecy on Sunday, and on arriving I had to brake rather suddenly to avoid slamming into someone up ahead: managed that alright, but got the rather unnerving feeling that the brakes seemed to be locked on afterwards. We parked and had our look around anyway, then tried to find a garage that could take a look at the brakes - no such luck, you’d think Sunday was a public holiday or something. So we thought “Well, if anything’s locked up it’ll be the front discs ...“ so we jacked up the car and the front wheels seemed to go around without too many problems, so what the hell, off we set - slowly.

Then we stopped en route at a place called St. Felix to look at a car museum - just as I stopped the brakes gave a jolt and came back to normal and a good thing too, ‘cos the rear drums (as it happens) were smelling of extremely hot metal. We ducked into the museum - a bit disappointing, but still, they do have a couple of rather nice cars (a DB-5 and a couple of MGs amongst them) - and then, eventually, found a bar that was open (Sunday syndrome again) before heading back home with nicely cooled brakes. I later found out what the problem was. Alfas have a handy little mechanism for automatically taking up the slack on the brake cables for the drum brakes ... if you brake very hard, very suddenly, it takes up an awful lot of slack, and it doesn’t want to give it back.


Still later ... barbecues seem to have an adverse effect on the weather - something to do with the ozone hole or something, no doubt. I say this because we went up for a barbecue above Bourget du Lac on Saturday night, and no sooner had we got the thing started and the chicken legs sizzling nicely than the thunderstorm came rolling down from the mountains above us, making menacing noises and raining seriously. In fact, the thought of someone calmly enjoying an outside meal seems to have perturbed it to a degree bordering on the extreme: it rained all Sunday and it’s still raining now. A good summer for ducks, so far, and that’s about the best that you could say for it..

Tomorrow Margo’s off to Lyon to see about a course which apparently qualifies you to teach English as a second language. Find out about the hours and (especially) the cost, things like that: been there, done that. They’re not sure if they’ll be offering it (depends on student numbers) but if they do it’ll be about 5000FF, and they’d prefer their students to have adult teaching experience. See what happens. She’s also heading back to the university here to remind them that she exists, should they need any English-language tutors come September (the start, should you not know this, of the new academic year).

While I remember ... I have been informed by the usual fairly reliable sources that the Post Office (or Telecoms Corp. or NZPost or whatever it is these days) is in the process of mucking up all your phone numbers. Would those of you who are still on speaking terms with us please let us know how to get in touch?


Well, Tom’s left to head back to New Zealand, the school year is over for Margo, we’ve been to another barbecue - and this time it did not rain - and I’ve just finished the awfully tedious process of installing Windows 3 on my nice shiny new machine. The Dutch are out in force on the roads again -as are the dreadful Parisians - and in another two weeks we’re off on holiday! Back up to Pesselière to pick up our camescope this time - and see Ian and Marie and Elise, of course.

The weather’s been beautiful and warm for the past few weeks, so last Sunday we headed up to a place called Mont StGilbert for Serge’s birthday party. As the name suggests, it’s a mountain, and when you get to the summit (which takes quite a while, ‘cos the road is very narrow, very twisty and unsealed for the last few kilometres) you find, dug back into the rock, an abandoned Napoleonic fort which looks out over the Maurienne, this being the valley that leads on into Italy. I suppose the idea was to give the army somewhere nice and safe to hide: no-one in their right mind would bother climbing up all that way to fight them, so they could sit there snug and safe for the duration (until they found out whether they should surrender or start a victory parade). Be that as it may, these days it makes a lovely spot for a picnic, and in fact we spent all afternoon up there eating, drinking and not doing very much of anything else, which made quite a nice change. Malyon got herself a sunburnt nose, and Margo’s been a bit tender for the past few days, but that was about it.

As for little Cato, he’s rapidly developing into a right royal little pain - to date he’s devoured two pot-plants, half the sofa and a fair bit of my patience. When he wants to be he’s really nice, but he does have this annoying habit of waking up all bouncy at about 4am and wanting to eat shoes or something, so we have to chuck him out on the balcony until a more reasonable hour. If we could do that with Frog as well life would be perfect.

And as I mentioned, my faithful old 286 machine has shifted off my desk (it’ll probably get cleaned up and palmed off on the next client who needs a PC as part of a system) to be replaced by a shiny new 386 - rather a slow one, unfortunately, and currently possessing only 1Mb of memory, which is totally inadequate for any serious porpoises. But I still managed to amuse myself installing Windows 3 on it - without any of the problems I’d rather expected - and have passed much of my time today drawing little pictures of Kilroy (who wuz, if you recall, here) to act as the wallpaper for my screen. It passes the time of day, and I’ve no great urge to get out there and work terribly hard just at the moment, given that the temperature is about 29° in the shade. Perhaps I’ll have a game or two of solitaire.

We seem to be developing into some sort of Eastern-bloc aid agency these days - we’ve got a couple of Rumanian stagières here working for us now. (Do not confuse these with etagères, which are bookshelves: a stagière is someone who is paid by the state to work somewhere - or more accurately, his or her employer is paid to employ him - as part of their education/integration into French society/payback/whatever). Took them up to Eaton the other day to see some of the sort of stuff we make (about ten of us from Miqro turned up in the end - the poor fellows must have started to think they were being invaded) and had a great old time driving along misunderstanding one another. (What with various French accents, and their habit of sticking English words in from time to time ... I must have seemed a right prat at one point: she mentioned small-talk, and to me SmallTalk is a computer language; I replied - very virtuously - that I didn’t speak it, and it wasn’t till five minutes later that I realised that house-wives natter was the actual subject of conversation. I thought vaguely of trying to excuse myself for being a cretin, but quickly realised that doing so would only complicate matters more - they actually think I’m some sort of village idiot - and decided not to bother.)

Anyway, it’s currently Sunday the 7th, and we’re off on holiday the week after next. It’s been so hot that Cato gets exhausted just rolling over, and twitching is almost too much for him. Until this evening, of course, when the thunderstorm started about 4:30 and has only just let up, and it’s now 10:30 at night. We’ve passed a reasonably pleasant weekend, in case any of you were thinking of asking: Saturday morning at the market in Chambéry, picking up fresh fruit and veg (including a kilo of la ratte , last year’s trendy spud but still good eating for all that) - a bit of a sod really ‘cos I buy so much more at the market (it looking so nice and fresh and all) that, although it’s cheaper, I wind up spending more there than I would if I just went on down to the fruit shop. Then lazing about in the afternoon, followed by a swim at the lake and watching a Kiwi film on Canal +. (“Merchants of Shadow” in the translation, starred Annie Whittle, all about a mad - or perhaps not - architect who wanted to raze central Auckland and replace it with something fit for human beings to live in. If that means anything to you.)

We’d actually planned on going down to the lake again today, but then this thunderstorm intervened so in fact all we managed was going down and getting some picture frames for a couple of photos we had blown up - ones which accidentally turned out so well that we thought we’d stick them up on the wall to be embarrassed. So all in all we’ve done very little, and personally I’m not against that. But just now, les enfants, c’est l’heure de faire dodo and I for one am headed for bed and the arms of Morpheus, being as I am tired and shagged out after a prolonged squawk and the effort of getting up at 6:30 this morning to look after Frog (it being my turn for the dawn shift).


Back again, all fit and bronzed after a delightful holiday. We made it up to Pesselière according to plan, to discover that major renovations were to take place (not according to plan - not our plan, anyway) so Margo spent her time knocking windows out with a sledge-hammer whilst I hid in the kitchen. Where I discovered why it is that the traditional French country house-wife is depicted as a small, bent, rather frail looking little old lady: you would be too if you were preparing three cooked meals a day for ten people.

We took Cato up with us, not really wanting to leave him shut up in the apartment for a week - which meant that our trip was punctuated by cries of “Pipi! Pipi!” from Malyon, and blood-curdling yowls from the cat. He really enjoyed it once we got there, though: spent the first day running around like a mad thing and, as a result, was too exhausted to move the day after. (The very first night Marie got all upset, thinking he’d run off: she’d looked all over the place and couldn’t see him, so we spent ages traipsing up and down the main - and only - street of PesseliIre looking for him before we hardheartedly decided to give up and go to bed. At which point Marie found him sleeping on her bed, which just goes to show.)

Anyway, you probably get the picture: we spent a week eating and drinking too much before heading back home to relax for a while. (We nearly left early, as it happens: Marie didn’t think that the TV at Pesselière could pick up la Cinq, so we thought of rushing home on Friday to catch “Twin Peaks” that night. Fortunately Phillippe twiddled the aerial sufficiently that we didn’t have to take such drastic steps.) Which sort of reminds me that, it being summer, they’ve started screening “The Avengers” again, but in VO this time (ie in English, with French sub-titles) at the ridiculous hour of 10:30 in the morning, during the week. That’s bad enough: worse is that, starting tomorrow, “Monty Python” takes over, and where am I? At work, that’s where. I hope to pick up a cable tonight that’ll hook up the camescope and the TV to allow us to use it as a VTR.

And that’s pretty much it for now: I’ll see if I can’t print this off before getting back to another round or two of solitaire. Bye!

Trevor, Margo and Malyon

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