Sunday, April 19, 1998

French Gazette Vol 12 N° 1 4 Avril 1998


Happy New Year to all, even if it is a bit late.

Sorry about the delay, but we’ve been busy. Kids, cars, and houses basically. Relax, we haven’t had a third sprog, it’s just that the two we’ve got are quite enough and more than a handful. Thanks very much. Now that Ian and Marie are back in France we actually took them up to Paris just after Christmas to stay for a week and see their cousins - everyone seemed to enjoy it and there were no actual deaths, so I think we came out on top there.

Margo is happier now that we’ve at last replaced the old Alfa. With a venerable BMW - an ‘87 318i in good nick, should last another 100000 km yet. I must admit that the body-work isn’t too bad and the paint job, although apparently committed by Attila the Nun Paintshop & Axe Attack Co., doesn’t look too bad from a distance. The further the better. But it’s roomy, it goes well, and it’s even more economical than the Alfa. (I don’t know whether or not it’s still the case, but the old fuel-injection BMWs have an economy meter: it’s quite alarming to see your fuel economy drop to 201/100km as you accelerate. But soothing as it goes to 61/100km when cruising on the autoroute. And the first time around it’s cardiac arrest time when it goes to infinity when stopped at a red light - although it’s logical enough, you’re using fuel and the car’s going nowhere.)

I’ve finally got MSN to work correctly: we can now send and receive e-mail which contains attachments (Microsoft have finally upgraded their servers. Not that you’d have known it if you didn’t happen to check up on their MSDN CD~ROMs to see that MSN 2.5 was available). Not only that, but it works under NT as well, which means that I’ve been able to get rid of Windows 95 at the office. Which reminds me that in a month or so our e-mail address is going to change, as Microsoft has sold MSN in France to France Telecom - I suppose they couldn’t have been making enough money from it. In any case, our domain will change to “” and the name will probably change as well, given that we’ll get 5 addresses for the one subscription - we’ll keep “upstarting” for the business and get another one for personal stuff. Never mind, I’ll let you know and anyway the old address will be valid for the six months after the changeover so there’s no rush.

The big news, for those of you that haven’t picked up on it so far (which must be a pretty small minority, given that most of you get e-mail one way or another), is that we’ve bought a house. More precisely, we’ve signed to buy a house and have until the 15th of May to come up with the financing. I spent last week looking around different banks to see who had the best offer and rather to my surprise Credit Agricole, our current bank, won out, so I rather think that on Monday I’ll drop all the papers off with them and wait for the loan to be approved. (Here’s hoping, anyway.) Assuming that all goes well, we’ll sign some time in June, get done what needs to be done before we move in, and start paying back the mortgage in July. The mortgage repayments, by the way, should be less than the rent I’m currently paying, which pleases me no end.

We’ve started planning a bit about what will need to be done: the first thing, of course, is getting the wiring replaced, as I’ve no wish to be electrocuted in my bed one night. And there’s the door to be put through between the two halves of the house on the ground floor. That pretty much takes care of the urgent work, and the rest we can worry about on a longer-term basis: getting a staircase from the ground floor down to the courtyard behind the house, redoing the courtyard, opening up a second terrace under the eaves on the first floor and eventually sticking in another 60 - 70 m2 in the attic space ... and of course getting a bit of planting done on the section across the stream. We’d thought of willows, maybe a clump or two of silver birch and some fruit trees - stick a kauri in too, if we could get one to germinate and if there were any prospect of our living to see it more than two foot high.

We’ll also have to get the kids slightly better trained, geffing them to wear shoes all the time when outside and not go sticking their hands into gaps in the old stone wall that runs the length of the section, stuff like that. We’ll also have to organise some way of keeping the grass reasonably short, which may be a bit tricky given that it’s currently paddock, and a pretty uneven paddock at that. Sheep? Malyon would love a donkey. The problem, of course, is snakes. They like the heat, they like hiding, and some of them - especially vipers - like water as well, so we’ll have to pay rather more attention to all that than we do here.

The biggest question mark hangs over the actual shifting. We’ve accumulated a fair bit over the last ten years, and the shipment of our stuff from NZ that arrived earlier this year has only added to it, so we’ll soon have the double problem of “will the new house be big enough?” followed by “if so, how the hell are we going to get it all there?” (The answers, by the way, are “probably, if we squeeze” and “by truck, you idiot”.) The other thing is that it’s all very well to get the stuff there, you also have to get it inside and in the appropriate rooms. The staircase is rather narrow - luckily most of the furniture can be knocked down. Cross that bridge when we come to it. Have to move the cats too: Bluffy will probably accept it as she accepts everything (she’s a cretin) but Tess might be more bloody-minded. That too is something we’ll worry about when the time comes, and if necessary we could always leave her here: the neighbours would be pleased.

Spring, incidentally, has sprung, with its attendant strawberries and asparagus. To celebrate, it’s pissing down and from 24° it’s dropped to about 16°, which pleases no-one. (At least, no-one I know.) Last weekend Jeremy and I lunched outside with the neighbours (lunch being a flexible thing, it went on until about 5 pm, when Margo and Malyon came home from a days skiing/swimming at Meribel) and I started thinking seriously about getting the barbecue out: this weekend it’s snow down to 500m or thereabouts, if you can trust the weather forecast.

And the Easter school holidays have started - not before time, the kids were getting rather scrappy. Still are, come to that. Malyon’s school have done something a bit out of the ordinary: seeing as they couldn’t go skiing this winter (not enough parents and teachers willing to take the risk of accompanying the kids - speaking legal risk here, in case of accident) the whole school did a story together, which they then put together in book form for each family, and this last week or so they’ve been turning it into an animated film. A chap up the valley specialises in doing such things with plasticine models - same sort of line as Wallace & Gromit (reminds me - has “Crapston Villas” got to you yet? Looks gross!) - and they paid him to come along and everyone got stuck in, getting the sets and the cast made and then doing the filming. Once the soundtrack has been added we’ll all get a cassette of “Philibert le Ver de Terre”, written, produced and directed by l’Ecole d’Arbin, screenplay by the CM1 & CM2 classes, incidental music by the municipal employees band.

On top of that, all winter they’ve been working on a top-secret project, namely the decoration of one wall of the games room at school with a mural of an aquarium of tropical fish. Once again, the whole school joined in, all working together on the background and then each one choosing their own fish and doing that, and we had the grand unveiling a couple of weeks ago - with food and wine, of course. Everyone had to get up and say a few words about the project and identify their fish (along the lines of “this here is a which lives at the bottom/top of stagnant pools/open sewers and eats anything”) and I remember that when Malyon stood up and started blahing on someone close by said “she really ought to go into politics, I think.” I’m sure it was meant nicely.

Jeremy is his usual self: charming and stubborn. (His English is, to put it nicely, rather quaint. He goes to the toilet by himself but hasn’t yet mastered the toilet paper, so at the end of the affair we hear an imperious voice calling “Someone wipe mine boppum! “) His school exercise books came home for the holidays a few days ago, and we’re expected to look through them and see what progress he’s making. It’s all shape recognition and stuff like that, of course - “draw a line between the pairs of pink dots” and “colour all the triangles in raspberry crush” - and he’s perfectly average, except for a couple where his teacher has rather despairingly written “Jeremy refuses to do the exercise.” We tried asking him why and all he said was “Me not want to doing it.” Difficult to argue with that. To tell the truth, I don’t think there’s any reason at all: he just decided he didn’t want to do it at that time and the more he gets pushed the more stubbornly he sticks to that. Extremely annoying. Runs in the family, of course, although I’ll tactfully refrain from specifying on which side.

On the other hand, he really made a good impression on Mme Beauquis (the lady who’s selling us the house). The second time we went to take a look~we took the kids along with us so that they could start getting used to the idea, and when we went out into the section Jeremy picked daffodils (her daffodils) which he then had the chutzpah to offer her when we went inside. She thought it was really sweet.


A big day tomorrow: I’m off at the crack of dawn with Jacques, heading off somewhere around St Etienne to stick probes up pigs’ privates. Sound like fun to you? Personally, I rather doubt it. It’s all the fault of his bleeding piggy pregnancy detectors: some sows, statistically sub-normal, have a raised resistance (internal, of course) which aborts the measurement. Whatever, we head off to a piggery tomorrow morning with a cartload of high-tech measuring gear (which is, odd though it may seem, usually employed in recording the last few milliseconds in the life of a nuclear warhead or, in these times - now that Chirac has given up testing the things - a solid rocket booster) which we hope to be able to introduce surreptitiously into several sows, hoping that their reactions won’t be quite as apocalyptic. I don’t know why, but it always seems to be me who gets this sort of job - tanneries, abattoirs and now acting as some sort of porcine sex counsellor - I’ve tried explaining that I’m really a city boy at heart but it does no good, say you’re a New Zealander and everyone automatically assumes that you love rugby and know what to do with a sheep. (I do know what to do with a sheep, but it’s not what they think.)


Been there, done that. Pigs are gross. We duly headed off at about 7am, got to Givors without too many problems, and then set out in search of St-Denis sur Coise, a village which (as it turns out) has a mairie, a school and two bars, one of which is closed on Thursdays, and which appears on no map. On top of that the area is a dead zone as far as cell-phones are concerned, so we couldn’t even call for help. We eventually found a truckie in a bar off the autoroute who gave us fairly detailed and, unusually, accurate directions. So we made it to St-Denis and then had to get to the piggery, which was naturally enough hidden well off the beaten track, and when we finally managed that we had a hail-storm.

So we unloaded the PC and the rest of the gear in the teeth of a tempest and got all that inside, only to discover that the PC wouldn’t boot up because its battery had died and it had lost all its setup information and no longer recognised the hard disk. Being an old Compaq, you need the setup diskette to fix the problem, and of course we didn’t have that. (Quite frankly, I’m not sure that anyone has the damn things anymore.) Fortunately, I did have a bootable diskette about my person (never leave home without one) and to general surprise it worked. So having lost an hour finding the misbegotten hole, another 30 minutes unloading and an hour sitting about wondering what to do about the PC that wasn’t working, we managed to do a quick in-and-out on 12 sows in half an hour before going off to lunch. (This last figure is not, incidentally, a record.)


So far this must have been the grottiest April on record: it’s certainly the worst I can remember for the past eleven years. It even snowed down here on Easter Monday - just a few flakes that didn’t really stick around for very long - but the fact that they managed to get down this far is itself rather alarming. We had been hoping for some nice weather, but there seems to be some sort of enormous depressed air mass moping around on top of us, resisting all efforts to cheer it up. At least it’s not actually raining just now. In fact, by some small miracle the sun is shyly peeping through - just so that we can recall what it looks like.

This afternoon the kids and I are off to Chambery to wander around the Salon Habitat et Jardin. Maybe we’ll get some ideas for the house. (Margo and Malyon would like to have a spa pool put in off the courtyard - that’s only about 70,000F - so I personally think that my own idea of buying myself a new stove, at only 27,000F, is so much more reasonable.) Margo’s already there as one of the exhibitors: she and Monique shelled out for a stand and now have to spend four days hanging around looking creative and talking at passers-by, trying to get them to buy things. Which reminds me that I received strict instructions to tape “Babylon 5” on Canal+ so that she can watch it when she gets home. Do you have that, or is it considered too crappy even for New Zealand TV? It has a sort of cult following here.

Otherwise there’s not really much news from here. Tomorrow I have to sort out the VAT (read GST) for the business and stick that in the tax-man’s letter-box before heading off North at some ungodly hour Tuesday moaning for a couple of days to fix a few problems, so that all needs to be organised Monday as well, and then when I get back I’d better ring the Credit Agricole to see where they are with our loan application ... the usual.

The kids are back at school again: Jeremy has started telling us that he doesn’t like it very much. He actually goes along quite happily, but he’s very attached to his family and he finds the day’s separation a bit long. (This is perhaps not helped by the fact that I lost him at the ChambĂ©ry market a couple of weeks ago. We were happily strolling around inspecting vegetables and cheese and then I looked around and he wasn’t there any more. Luckily, some kind gentleman took him in charge and boosted him up on his shoulders, which is how I came to spot him five minutes later. He was very pleased to see me again, and since then he’s been noticeably reluctant to let go of me when we’re walking out and about, or in places he doesn’t know.)

And that’s about it: I’m just going to check the oil in the car, so I think I might as well send this off right now. Do feel free to keep us up with what’s happening in your neck of the woods - how’s Jenny Shipley, and what’s Winston been up to lately? We do think of them, you know.

Trevor, Margo, Malyon & Jeremy