Thursday, March 5, 1992

French Gazette Vol. 6 No. 2 - 5 Mars 1992

Here I am again.

Well, it’s all over bar the groaning when the taxman calls - the games, that is. Nice to see that New Zealand did get one medal - by a weird quirk of fate that fact actually made it into the news headlines (pretty unusual in itself, given that she wasn’t, as far as we know, French), and as luck would have it I was in the kitchen with Malyon squealing at the time and missed it. Shame, really. Anyway, life’s pretty much back to normal - now they’re grumbling about the fine weather we’re currently enjoying, ‘cos the snow’s melting too soon under the sun and if this goes on there won’t be any left for the Easter holidays, which is when everyone heads up to the slopes to get a last few runs in before summer. Personally, I like the sun - we had about 18° yesterday, which is pretty good for winter.

And I have my name on my first-ever patent application! For a glorified RMS multimeter, but never mind that, I’m still listed as co-inventor. No hope of royalties, of course: the thing was developed and paid for by Merlin Germ, but it’ll be something to tack onto my CV should I ever feel desperate. (“And what do you do in your spare time, Mr Bimler?” ‘Well, apart from my principal hobby - molesting photocopiers - I am coinventor of the Merlin Germ miracle multimeter and am currently developing the Mitterand microprocessor-controlled mousetrap.” Aspiring job applicant is quickly shown the door.)

Got to do a bit of proper wine-tasting the other day, too. We went along to the AGM of the Association des Amis d’Arbin and they’d laid on a professional winetaster and about half a million bottles (at a rough guess, more than half the inhabitants of Arbin - or at least of the old part of Arbin, which is where we live - make wine, bottle it or are otherwise involved in the wine trade, so it’s not too surprising, I suppose) so after a quick bit of general business we got on to more serious matters. It was extremely interesting, but I guess I’m not cut out for the job - I personally find that after the eighth glass or so my poor little nose gets somewhat overwhelmed and confused, and has rather a tough time identifying the predominant note in the bouquet or, indeed, anything at all. (And no, I didn’t actually swill all eight glasses - did it properly, take a mouthful and spit the rest into a spittoon - not like others I could mention.)

We also went out and bought a video. It’s about two years since we had anything on tick, and the strain was starting to tell, so when we went out in search of a new iron we were easily won over by the whispered blandishments of the PAL/SECAM recorders hanging about on the display shelves. They are, unfortunately, more expensive than straight SECAM ones, but also a damn sight more use - to us, anyway. We’ll fmally be able to watch the videos people have kindly sent us. And we won’t have to sit up til midnight to watch films in VO on Canal + any more (unless we really want to, of course). And just in case you’re wondering, we did actually buy the iron as well - a flashy thing with a Teflon base (which is very handy when you want to fry - or rather steam - eggs) which bears a vague resemblance to the TGV.

And just to keep you up to date, our Etymological Research Unit (set up in the hope of attracting a government grant, no luck so far but if it does catch on it could become quite a little money-spinner) has discovered that a “limpet” is in fact a dwarf with one leg shorter than the other. Didn’t know that, did you? Don’t you wish that you too had an E.R.U. to keep you up to date with important world facts like that? It’d stop you looking dumb at nobby parties, you know.


Time has, as usual, passed, and I am starting to get seriously concerned about Malyon. She headed off to the loo the other day with a good pile of reading matter - nothing extraordinary in that, you might think - except that she’d picked out a set of abstracts of World Bank economic reports. I hope we’re not nurturing a future accountant or central banker here. (What, you may ask, was I doing with literature like that about the house? They just arrive, from time to time, the fmancial equivalent of junk mail. Comes of subscribing to The Economist, I suppose.)

And time is still passing at its usual rate of knots, ‘cos it’s now 17/4/92, just for a change. I gather that the French have stopped nuclear testing at Muroroa for a year or so - we had Mitterand on the idiot’s box the other night (looking as though he’d much rather be tucked up in bed with his second cocoa of the evening, but that’s another thing again) and he sort of mentioned it in passing, in between the demise of la Cinq (personally, I’ve no great regrets over its passing) and a discussion of his piles.

First it was bats, now it’s monsters - it seems that a baby, invisible orphaned monster has come to live at our place. According to Malyon, anyway. It’s most unfortunate, but Margo seems to keep standing on it. Or sitting on it when she gets in the car, or otherwise managing to damage the poor little thing. What’s really difficult - it seems - is giving it a wash when it has a bath with Malyon. First of all you’ve got to get it undressed, then shampoo its head, but the tricky bit is soaping its armpits. How many arms do baby monsters have?

Anyway, we had a nice trip to Lyon for Margo’s first practical exam - much to my surprise. It meant getting out of bed incredibly early in order to leave before 7am to be reasonably sure of getting in to the centre of town by 8am, but as it happened navigating around Lyon was easier than I’d feared. There was sod-all traffic at that hour, which probably helped, but basically all you’ve got to do is ignore the signposts they’ve carefully put up to misdirect the casual visitor out into the suburbs, and follow your nose. Malyon and I spent the morning trotting around looking at toyshops (jigsaw puzzles for her, a Mercedes 300 SL for me) and playing in Place Bellecour - which may well be one of the largest in France, but is almost certainly one of the most boring, consisting as it does of a large expanse of reddish gravel enlivened only by an equestrian statue of a somewhat obese Louis XVI and a light breeze fresh out of Siberia with a rather high wind-chill factor.

That took care of the morning - then once Margo’d got out of the place of torture we headed off and had lunch, did the toyshops again and then took in the silk museum, which has some glorious stuff in it. Not that it impressed Malyon very much - she fell asleep halfway through and a good thing too, probably. Anyway, having got through all that we thought we might as well look at heading back home and stopped off to look through IKEA en route - just a quickie, you understand - and came out having spent rather more time and money than we’d intended. Never mind, I’ve at last got a marble slab for doing flaky pastry and croissant dough on.

As those of you who haven’t been living in a broom cupboard for the last few months will know, it’s this month that Microsoft brought out the latest and greatest, all-singing all-dancing version of Windows, version 3.1. (Do not suggest to a Microsoft employee that this implies rather a lot of goes to get it right: they are not noted for their sense of humour. Rumour has it, indeed, that Bill Gates has created a special SWAT team of Basic programmers who, as part of their training, are locked into small rooms with IBM accountants and taught to bite the heads off chickens. Dead ones, I hasten to add - the man is basically a humanitarian.) Anyway, I got invited along to the opening hoopla at Lyon on Thursday, so off we dutifully trotted, Gilles and I, in a Renault Clio stinking of dog. I won’t say the affair was a waste of time, because I at least found out that there was a rather more serious seminar on this morning (to which I went - this time in a Renault 25 stinking of dog), but the highlight of the morning was a video called “Paul et Virginie”, which looked at the start as though it was going to be a low-budget soft-porn movie (even the title is vaguely reminiscent of some of the films that pass late at night on M6): unfortunately it failed to live up to its early promise. Still, I came out of it with le pin’s de Microsoft Windows, which’ll doubtless become a collectors item in time.


Back again after our little holiday, folks. It didn’t really start off all that well: it was pouring down with rain all the way up, there were Italians on the roads, and when we arrived we had to turn the water on. Nothing too difficult there, you might think, and you’re quite correct - you’ve just forgotten one small but vital detail. The temperatures go down below freezing in wintertime, and so if you’re not living permanently in a house you purge all the water from the pipes before going away. Which had been done. We didn’t bother to check that the purge taps - located in the kitchen - had been put back in place, did we? The result was a rather cleaner floor than before, by the time we’d scooped all the water out. (To make it even more fun, the floor of the house is set somewhat below ground level and - Murphy oblige - has its lowest point as far as possible from an outside door.)

Anyway, once we’d got all that out of the way and the fire stoked up Malyon loved it -wandering around outside, getting as mucky as possible in the sandpit and feeding the horses - and so did Cato: a shame the weather was lousy. We should have stayed here, where it seems the whole week was glorious. To top it off I came down with my favorite disease - exploding tonsils - and Margo’s glands decided to blow up as well, so we had to dash off and find a quack on Thursday to pump the pair of us full of antibiotics.

Phillippe came down from Paris to spend the weekend there working on what will, eventually, be his room and didn’t really have that good a time of it either - his actual stay was fine, but the radiator hose split in the vicinity of Nevers when he was heading back home and as a result the cylinder head decided to follow suit, so he’s up for a new engine.

Never mind, despite these little inconveniences it was actually rather nice to get away from it all for a week - and let’s face it, Pesselière is about as far away from it as you can get. Even the roosters seem to have had laryngectomies - the rural calm is only broken by the baker’s van doing the rounds on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and the occasional Air Force Mirage cruising about 50m overhead with afterburners full on, heading down to Marseille to pick up some bouillabaisse for lunch.

In a more serious vein, did you realise that the French are different from you and I? Not just in the little things, such as liking Charles Aznavour and reeking of garlic, but in the ways they think. The tendency - or cultural imperative - to Analyse is a case in point. If Mitterand farts it gets onto the evening news, but not as an interesting fact which is - presumably - worthy of being reported for itself: far from it. It’s an event which must be discussed and analysed in order to bring out its significance, and the guest of the evening (there’s always a guest who’s supposed to comment on the news stories) will be expected to kick in his or her bobs-worth. “Well, compared with previous presidential petés this is quite exceptional, 47 seconds and thus well above the average length -Alain, what effect will this have, in your opinion, on the external trade deficit?” It can go on for hours, and often does.

Hand in hand with this can go a rather surprising cultural insensitivity (the British say it’s arrogance, but they’d be fine ones to talk) mixed with sometimes astounding ignorance. Everyone knows that France is the best country in the world - goes without saying and as a matter of fact the percentage of Frenchpeople who’ve gone off to verify the hypothesis is miniscule - and that, naturally enough, her cuisine is the greatest (following from which, if a dish is not French by birth or naturalisation, it ain’t worth eating). I remember once preparing petits pois a la francaise and being accused of serving up some bizarre Kiwi hybrid, no matter that it’s traditional French food. Maybe it’s genetic, or perhaps it’s just something in the water.

Anyway, it’s Thursday afternoon, the day before May Day - which is, of course, like much of the rest of May, a holiday (note that some low-minded humourists have reported that the French Federation of Labour are pushing for legislation to have the 1st of May always fall on a Thursday, ‘cos then you get Friday off as well) - and I’m sitting here typing this up and generally recovering from a couple of whiskies at lunch time. I have not taken to hitting the bottle hidden in the filing cabinet, we were just cleaning up the bits and pieces left up after last night’s little do, it being the inauguration of the new building we’re in (in fact, it’s the old building with a sort of jerry-rigged outhouse affair tacked on at the back, but it’s a good enough excuse). People were wandering through the place all afternoon to look around - I was left pretty much undisturbed, most people being apparently content with staring at me through the glass. Perhaps they think that NZers bite. (Some do, and with good reason.)


It's now Thursday afternoon, anyway. But time has gone by and we’re already well into May, which probably indicates that I’d better finish this and get it out the door before December rolls around. To cheer you up, summer’s come back to us: we even managed to go off and have a picnic lunch today, which was pretty brave. The only problem was with the cows, who decided to wander over and have a good look as we were getting onto the chocolate gateau and who eventually sort of pushed us out of the paddock. Which was a bit of a shame, as we were getting quite used to being there, soaking up the sun, admiring the view down below, the usual story. Never mind, we stopped off on the way down (I perhaps omitted to mention that we go picnicking halfway up mountains) to look at a friend’s ruin and admire the way in which it is gradually becoming a house before coming home to have a quiet nap.

I found out something I didn’t now before, too. We were vaguely thinking of going off to Strasbourg to see a friend at the beginning of June (even better if we can stop off at Mulhouse to see the Musée Nationale de l’Automobile, a.k.a the Shtumpf collection of Bugattis) so I toddled down to the railway station to find out about ticket prices and such like - imagine my surprise when the (surprisingly) helpful clerk informed me that, as a salaried-type person, I am entitled, once a year, to a 25% reduction for myself and family. All as part of the French obsession with holidays. It works out quite nicely, actually - about $200 for the three of us to get there and back, and we can even get the TGV from Lyon, which really cuts back on the travel time. (Another nice stunt, it seems -Malyon doesn’t pay for her ticket, not being of an age to do so, but if we pay the derisory price for a reservation on the TGV, she can have a seat to herself anyway. Handy to know.) So it looks as though we might be going off to northern parts for a few days. Use up some more of my holidays left over from last year.

So what with that cheerful news, we had quite a nice weekend. We’re still having it, in fact, it being Sunday night. (And before you ask, no I am not at work, I just brought the machine home for Margo to play Solitaire on and get a bit of work done.) The sun’s been busy shining away, everyone is cheerful, there are still tiny green asparagus at the market and the first cherries of the season are out ( although at ludicrous prices - about $30 the kilo) - to top it all off Malyon spent Friday night up at Steve and Isabel’s for the first time ever, which gave us the evening and a fair whack of Saturday in relative peace and quiet. (For the first time ever - or at least since she was born, which feels pretty much like an eternity.)

And there you have us - alive and well and - for the moment at least - enjoying the sunshine. To those of you who are waiting for replies to the letters you wrote months ago, may I just remind you that Rome wasn’t built in a day and I’ll get on to it Real Soon Now, please stop sending the reminder notices. To all and sundry - have a nice winter!

Trevor, Margo and Malyon