Saturday, December 25, 1999

25/12/99 Warm & Happy Xmas

Those of you who don't watch the international news roundup on TV, or read major investigative papers like the Taihape District Herald, may still be unaware of the fact that we've had our central heating in and running for the past week. Still a few minor problems - a joint in the fuel circuit which wasn't properly tightened, meaning diesel was pissing everywhere in the cellar, air bubbles everywhere in the radiators which means that when the thing starts up at 5 am it sounds as though there's a small waterfall in the room with you, stuff like that - but the place is WARM! And we don't have sheet ice forming down the bathroom walls either.

And a Merry Christmas to all of you, even if it is a bit late (for you. It's still Christmas day here, although not for long). Malyon rang this morning to let us know (amongst other things) that the weather was traditionally grotty: well, it was the same here too. Cold and wet, maybe some snow tomorrow. Better that than the oil slick currently washing up on the Britanny coast.
Traditionally in France the big feast is in fact on Christmas Eve (followed by another garguantuan one on Christmas day, but that's another matter) and so when Anne-Laure turned up last night to check something up on the Net with her mother Maryse in tow, I thought I'd better check on what they were having. Just a snack, really - salade composée with smoked salmon, snails, venison, vegetables and the bûche de Noël. Our leg of lamb crawled off into the kitchen and hid itself in shame.

Never mind, we'll make up for it on New Year's Eve, when we go around for a small party at Renaud & Sophie's (they have their central heating in and working too!). Just four couples, everyone brings a plate, and just to give you an idea, we have four desserts to bring - pavlova, brandysnaps, cassata and I can't remember what else. I think we might sleep over the night.
Anyway, Merry Christmas again, and think of us laggards when you're washing down the year 2000 with whatever it is you drink on occasions like that, andwe're still sitting around the remains of lunch waiting for 1999 to go away.

Tuesday, December 14, 1999

14/12/99 Frozen Frogs On Sticks

No, not a new type of iced dairy dessert, just a moan about the fact that it's snowed again today. Forget about the sticks, that's just in the subject to add a bit of local colour. They're not very nice on sticks anyway - trust me. Green, and crunchy (too many teeny-weeny bones. Like vertebrate shrimp).

Well, as far as we're concerned the big news is that the central heating system has finally been installed. Boris Yeltsin may have said unmentionable things about Clinton's willy (can't remember which way it twists, personally), Tony Blair and Lionel Jospin may no longer be friends, for all I care the world may have ended three hours ago, but the thing is done. Now all that remains is to start it up. The fuel gets delivered on Monday and on theory the technician should be around sometime in the week to push the button - only six months after I started organising things, a clear condemnation either of the French way of life or of my personal organisational skills, personally I prefer the first option.

Anyway, we woke up this morning to find it snowing again. A right royal pain. I had to follow a snowplough into Chambery to go to the market, a long slow trip. And of course I forgot to take the umbrella, so I got soaked. Then this afternon we all went down to Grenoble to get our Christmas shopping up to date and pick up a few necessities like Golden Syrup, good thing that the roads were clear as the BMW is a right cow on snow. Even with 80 kg of bricks in the boot.

Work is going well, perhaps a bit too well - just manage to almost get one job finished and another pops its head up. Renaud has almost finished the Nestlé breast-feeding site, and now there's an entire intranet-based document-control and publication system to set up for an insurance company: I may have to start learning about some of the technology behind all this if I'm not careful. Never mind, a couple of days reading and I can pass for an expert - bullshit baffles brains, as usual. And I'm still polishing the rough edges on my inventory-control system: reports to be created, usual problems with Microsoft products that don't respect their own guidelines on internationalisation, general teething problems ... the usual.

Tuesday night now, and I'm completely knackered as usual. Spent all day trying to track down a bug in my stock-control system only to find that it wasn't a bug in my program at all, but a bug in the Microsoft ADO library. I don't know why I'm surprised at this. Happily, the guy who's paying for the system is a developer's dream who notes everything he does, so I was able to reproduce it on my system and track it down - turned out to be the contents of a read-only recordset being modified by updates to another recordset on the same SQL connection. This completely irrational behaviour is doubtless by design.

The snow's stopped - for the moment - and the rain has set in, so the stream is running high just now. Good thing too, with a bit of luck all the crud that the peasants have chucked in (straw from rabbit cages, half-digested pumpkins, rotten tomatoes and stuff like that) will get washed down to the Isère and it won't look quite so much like a sewage station for a while. More snow forecast for tomorrow though, and the temperature has indeed dropped noticeably - at least the technician comes to push the button on the central heating on Friday!

We have a vertically-challenged Christmas tree in the hall - a real live one, with roots and all, so if we look after it it'll do for next year too - and Jeremy has spent all evening decorating it. It's very pretty, but perhaps a bit lopsided, with decorations only at the front, at Jeremy-height. He enjoyed himself. Perhaps Margo will be able to tactfully rearrange it a bit tomorrow.

Spent Sunday evening cleaning out the pantry cupboard - now that winter's well and truly in a family of mice have aparently decided to look for easy pickings, and they'd worked thir way through a packet of pistachio nuts, the stock of Basmati rice, some spaceman pasta and half a packet of egg noodles. I got suspicious when the rice (which I'd planned on cooking) turned out to have some black grains in it, which is a bit out of the ordinary. Tess obviously needs to sharpen up her act.

I can see that if we decide to treat ourselves out to dinner this year it'll be a good one - Renaud's eyes lit up when one of our friends from a company just downstairs described their little do at Bocuse the other night. The menu starts at 750 FF (for eight of them) and the first bottle of wine, an 87 Cheval Blanc, set them back 1500F. It's tempting, but I must admit the the thought of the 300 km round trip is a bit discouraging. Suppose we could always stay over the night - godnose what breakfast costs though.

Anyway, that's enough for now, and in case I don't get time to write again soon, Happy Christmas to the lot of you.

Thursday, November 25, 1999

05/11/99 Ohmigod I'm really for it now ...

I can see that the coming week is going to be a difficult one: virtually everyone I know is going to assume that, for some bizarre reason, I really care, and they're going to try to rub my unshapely nose in the fact that the All Blacks lost humiliatingly to the French today. We have three choices:
  • pretend that we bet heavily on the French to win, knowing that the All Blacks were going to pull the game
  • say that we expected it all along, as being 90% Labourites they didn'twant to help Jenny Shipley
  • admire how well the French played
Can't say that any of them are particularly appealing.

On top of that daylight saving has just ended, which means that it's night at about 6pm now - at bit too early for my taste. Still, we did get an extra hour's lazing in bed this morning, which was much appreciated - especially as Jeremy wasn't here, having spent the night with neighbours up the road after a kids' Halloween party.

The plumbers have been through the place and by the end of next week the central heating will be all installed, with the notable exception of the radiators, which is a bit of a shame. Seems they're having production problems in the factory, which fails to impress me. Too bad. We've got two tonnes of wood arriving in two week's time, which ought to tide us over if necessary. But I'm still looking forward to the time when we'll be able to go into the bathroom in the morning without putting on an overcoat. (Makes showering such a messy business.)

And after looking through the neighbours' place last night (when dropping Jeremy off) we came to the conclusion that turning our third cellar into a party room wouldn't be such a bad idea. Just needs decent wiring and a concrete floor put down and we could hand it over to the kids as their very own. An appealing thought.

Monday night now - All Saints Day over here - and we've had a regular procession all afternoon down to the cemetery to drop flowers off on especially loved-one's graves. (Or, in some cases, rearrange existing flowers that some thoughtful person brought down but inexplicably forgot to put on the right tombstone.) If I'd thought ahead I'd have set up a small drinks and hot-dog stand at the entrance, would've done good trade.

Been another lovely day, bright and sunny, and first Brian Lovell (ex-pat NZ) dropped by on his bike for a drink and a bit of a rest before heading back the 20km or so to St Baldoph, then Jean-Christophe & Babette popped around for the afternoon. All very nice and relaxing (even if their eldest son, at 11 years old, is headed into some sort of adolescent-cusp crisis which is raising merry hell around their place).

Well, it's Friday now after all that - sorry, been too busy too keep this up - and I gather that the All Blacks lost again. A sad state of affairs, no? Not that we care too much - come to that, I've not even had too many remarks about the French debâcle and all of those were sympathetic, so I'm really counting my blessings.

Anyway, there's a hard week of SQL coding over (with not too much to show for it, apart from the ability to import the existing database with no glaringly apparent errors, which isn't too bad for a start) and the major Frog news is the sudden disarray in the ranks of the government, occasioned by Dominique Strauss-Kahn's quitting. He (call him DSK from now on, the French all do and it's so much shorter) almost overnight got involved in a party finance scandal when some unspeakable little git from the biggest students' mutual insurance society accused him of taking large sums of money for undisclosed (and apparently non-existent) "consulting" services, accusations which have since resulted in some upstart investigating magistrate taking considerable interest in the affair.  DSK and a number of other persons, more or less prominent, have been "invited to help the police with their enquiries", as the phrase goes - all good for a laugh.

The business of phantom jobs (ie large salaries and fees for work which is never actually carried out) as an arm of political party finance (and, of course, personal enrichment) has been receiving quite a bit of attention here ever since the revelations that the City of Paris, first under Jacques Chirac (now president, last time anyone bothered to check) and since him, Jacques Tiberi, has had about 10000 full-time employees who never showed up: all of whom, coincidentally, held full-time posts at the RPR (who wasn't paying them). It became juicier when it came out that the Mayor's wife had been paid 200000F for a 50-page report full of elementary spelling mistakes and no research other than what could have been performed by a semi-competent Labrador on a bad day. Didn't help, either, that Alain Juppé's family benefited from rent-free apartments (in the 16th arrondissement yet - we're talking Embassy Row here, none of your Khandallah slum district stuff) thanks to the Paris housing agency, headed at the time by one Alain Juppé (ex Prime Minister).

At the time, the RPR cried foul: everyone was doing it, it was legal at the time (true, I think) and why blame them? There was even wild talk of indicting Chirac, but the constitutional issues involved get rather thorny (and besides, everyone WAS doing it, so why rock the boat?). But the Socialists, of course, were Mr. Clean personified, and so now the RPR are sticking the boot in with some pleasure. Bit of a shame really, as ministers of finance go DSK wasn't that bad - had almost Anglo-Saxon tendencies really, wanted to improve labour flexibility and reduce the tax burden on companies, stuff like that - godnose who they'll drag in to replace him. So long as it's not Martine Aubry, Mother of the 35-hour working week.

Chatting with the accountant the other day and his opinion was that the major problem with the French economy (apart from minor sectors being able to hold everyone else to ransom by blocking roads, ports and toilets, or burning McDonalds restaurants - can understand that last bit) is that there is no finance market for small companies. The ENArques (think MBA, but high-class) who still supply the government with its technocrats are trained to go through government and then collect directorships at big companies, and of course the French tradition, ever since Colbert, is state corporatism, so basically if you're a big company that doesn't need cash you get it thrown at you by the bucket-load, whereas small companies (1-10 employees) can maybe get a 20000F loan and an overdraft facility after signing over the owner's wife as collateral.

Speaking of minor sectors holding the rest of the economy to ransom, there was a nice bit on the news last night: Breton poultry farmers are demanding subsidies because exports have plummetted to about 30% of their normal level, thanks to revelations that European poultry is often nourished on a diet containing 30% refined shit (literally) with added dioxin. Not only do they want to kill us all, they want us to pay for the privilege!

Damn, spleen's working overtime tonight. Usually does at the end of the week, before I have time to wind down. Sorry. Better than on Tuesday nght anyway, when I looked up a particularly irritating bug on MSDN and found this reassuring line from the fairies of Redmond "Error 80000e23: SQL Server crashes with GPF after INSERT involving a JOINed table. This behaviour is by design."

Okay, that's it for this week (and last week too, sorry about that).

Wednesday, November 24, 1999

24/11/99 Humble Pie & Other Subjects

Well, the big news over here was that the French team lost against the Australians. On the other hand, they weren't actually expecting to win against the All Blacks, so it wasn't too much of a let-down (and rugby is definitely a minority sport here anyway, played only by garlic-munching thugs from the South) and they didn't feel obliged to lynch the coach and cut the players into small bits with blunt rusty axes, which is, as far as I've been able to gather, more or less what happened in NZ. And Massey University set up a grief counselling crisis cell for depressed students during their finals? Get a life!

Winter's come in about a week earlier than usual - at least by our rather primitive measure, which is whether or not it snows down where we are. Started yesterday and kept up quite heavily today, so there's about 15cm of snow down in the garden, the trees occasionally go "Whoosh! Slither!" as a branch gets tired of holding up so much snow, and right now it's stopped and there's a glacial wind fresh from Siberia which means that the slush on the road will be nicely frozen for tomorrow morning. As if I didn't have enough problems getting home tonight. (As, let it be said, did Margo - the BMW is a right pig on snow. Needs a couple of 40kg sacks of cement in the boot.)

Great whoopee next week as the radiators finally arrive on Monday: on Tuesday the plumbers actually put them in and finish off the last little bits of the installation. With any luck the central heating will be functional in December. It'd better be.

It's now Monday next week - when the radiators were supposed to arrive - and as you can of course guess they haven't. Friday, they're now promising. The snow is deep (about 35 cm) and crisp and even, and looks like hanging around a while as it's definitely not the sort of weather you'd want your pet brass monkey to go out in ie bloody cold. Tonight there are no clouds in the sky, a full moon and it must be about -10 out there. More snow forecast for tomorrow.

Of course there's the usual chaos on the roads, mostly caused by the freight lorries which try to go through mountain passes before the snowploughs have had a chance to clean them up a bit, then of course they jack-knife on the snow and then the snowploughs CAN'T get through - then we have the edifying spectacle on the evening news of truck drivers moaning about how they can't get through to Italy or wherever because people haven't been doing their jobs and keeping the roads clear. Having been overtaken by at least 40 lorries doing 110 on Thursday night, when I was lumbering along at 80 due to the snow, I can't say I have much sympathy for them.

A handy tip, incidentally, for winter driving in the continent - do NOT take the autoroute when it's snowing. It is usually clearer than the nationales, but IF there's an accident and you get stuck there's no way you can get out - just have to wait until it's cleared up. And that could take some time - they're still working on the A7 from Chambery to Marseilles, which was blocked by snow last night.

Succumbed to temptation and bought a Palm V (two, in fact, one for Renaud, one for me) today. About two weeks back Renaud said he WANTED ONE as a NEW toy, so I thought I'd better check the things out. I must admit that I thought it'd probably turn out to be some sort of executive fiddle beads, but I borrowed an old one from Jean-Gilles and after a week I was hooked. The address book is handy - it's all in the mobile anyway, but when someone rings me and asks for so-and-so's phone number I can't give it to them 'cos I'm already using the phone. So it's nice to have the numbers somewhere else. What'd be good would be able to synchronise the two lists, what's in the mobile and what's in the Palm.

The calculator doesn't have a hexadecimal function so it's of no earthly use whatever, and I haven't yet figured out how to make the e-mail work, although when I finally get the proxy server at the office working correctly that will doubtless be no problem.

But what really makes it useful is the notepad. Once you get the hang of writing on the little beast it really is simple, and it saves me an enormous amount of time bringing out the big notebook, flicking through it to find an empty page, writing my notes ... and then, back at the office, trying to find all the notes in my big notebook concerning some particular contract. If only for that, it's worth the money.

Now I just have to overcome my aversion to spending money long enough to buy two portables with 17" screens, sufficiently equipped for Windows NT, decent-sized keyboards and built-in ISDN modems, and I'll really be able to work anywhere. At the moment I'm still lugging the office machine back and forwards between office and home, as there's no way I'm going to pollute the home machine (which is working nicely, thank you, and will probably do so as long as I don't install any more Microsoft crud on it) with SQL Server and as at any rate it's only a poor 133MHz Pentium I it'd take me at least an hour to execute a query.

Anyway, we're all well, if a bit on the chilly side. Tess rufuses to go outside unless she absolutely has to (ie is kicked out) and I can't say that I blame her. Margo is much the same. Jeremy doens't seem to worry too much about the temperature so long as he can play with Lego - or watch the cartoon series of Godzilla. Great way, incidentally, to get him showered and clean - "You can't watch Godzilla until you've had a shower. Godzilla is on in 5 minutes." 4 minutes, 30 seconds later, he's clean, damp and sweet-smelling and sitting in front of the TV.

As for Malyon, it seems that she's settled in very well - got her yellow belt in judo so I expect that when she gets back here corporal punishment will no longer be an option - I've no wish to find myself lying on my back with her elbow in my throat. It's bad enough sitting in the armchair with Jeremy bouncing on my lap.

Sunday, October 17, 1999

17/10/99 Return of the Redeye

Monday, 11/10:
Well, we picked up Margo safe and sound from Geneva on Saturday night, as according to plan. Luckily her flight arrived about 10 minutes early and as we arrived bang on time we only had to wait 5 minutes or so for her to finish picking up her luggage and then we were out of the dump. Jeremy was extremely pleased.

Today things didn't go quite so swimmingly. I had to head back up to Vevey to try and iron out the last wrinkles in the test gear for our (excessively rude word) Swiss client and someone had neglected to inform me that today was the opening of the big Telecom 99 expo at Palexpo, just opposite the Geneva airport. I spent an hour inching forward in the tunnel (it's almost 2km long, so the calculation of my average speed is fairly simple) and then another 20 minutes or so getting past the Palexpo/airport exit ramp. Instead of getting to Vevey at 10am, it was almost midday by the time I got there.

Never mind, when I left this evening (just in time for the traditional traffic jam at the Bardonnex customs post, that's only 10 minutes) things were working at about 95%, it proved to be their fault (I can say "I told you so") and on top of it on arriving home I found our lovely central heating burner sitting up in the attic, all plugged into the hot water cylinder and just waiting to be hooked up to radiators! There are minor details to attend to, of course - getting the fuel lines hooked up from the tank to the burner, getting a filling inlet for the tank set in somewhere, getting a power point put in the cellar and in the attic, getting the documentation for the burner in a language other than German ... but I start to feel that things are moving, in more or less the right direction. Too slowly, but we'll have to live with that.

Still working on my big SQL Server application with its Visual Basic front-end, and getting more and more frustrated. The application itself does more or les what I want it to, apart from a few minor bugs and not-yet-implemented features, but it's come time to add the reporting side of things. Microsoft thoughtfully provide a handy DataReport control with Visual Studio, which you can hook up to a database table and use to generate simple reports. Provided you want to do what its designers thought you might want to do, in the way in which they thought you might want to do it, it works - sort of.

Unfortunately, its designers were people (I suppose) of limited imagination, so they didn't think of many things you might want to do, and even what you are allowed to do doesn't work 90% of the time. It is very, very, annoying. I realise that all their competent people are working overtime trying to get Windows 2000 out with only 16,504.2 known bugs before they have to change the name to something like Windows 2010, but why oh WHY do they have to hire cretins fresh from university to write controls that get distributed everywhere and which would be incredibly useful if they actually worked as advertised?

So long as I take my tranquilisers and no-one gets me onto the subject of compiler service packs which require you to reboot your machine three times (a record for something which is not, à priori, an operating-system component) and which break all your existing applications (a big hand here to the Microsoft QA teams -who now utnumber the programmers at Redmond, or so I've heard - for their non-existent egression testing) I'll be all right. But how can any software company employ more software testers and QA people than the entire population of Peru and still turn out such utter rubbish?

End of moan, and rather more time has passed than I thought: it's now the 17th. The usual busy week, although I spent rather more of it than I'd like tracking down a bug in a fixed-point multiplication library. It's been fine and warm - at least during the day - and yesterday I went down and gave the lawn its last short back and sides before spring comes round again. Hot enough to be out there in nowt but shorts and gumboots. Spent this afternoon bashing small boxes into kindling for the fire (really must order the firewood this week) and tidying up under the balcony to get enough place to stack the wood when it gets delivered: Jeremy really enjoyed that. He got to smash boxes with his hammer and then jump up and down on them - definitely reduced to kindling after that.

Somewhat to my surprise Jeremy hasn't regressed since Margo came back: he's still into tidying things up without being told, serving himself at dinner, getting his breakfast ready ... must really have decided he's grown-up. Now if we could just get him to learn to wipe his own bum without leaving brown streaks up backside, walls and underpants, life would be looking pretty good ... I suppose it'll come with time.

Anyway, as you'll have guessed, we're all of us alive and getting on well enough, even Fat Tess, who's laying in her winter grease supplies and is looking more like a furry beach ball than a cat. But she's suffering from a Lack of Cuddles, and I get the feeling that she misses Malyon more than the rest of us. Jeremy's no fun to curl up on at night.

Margo and her partner Monique are going to close up the shop as soon as they can do so and get out of it without losing too much money: what with the explosion and now the fact that people who would normally be clients have found that they can order stuff direct from the US (without paying import duties or TVA, if the quantities involved are small enough to be classed as "for personal use") it's just not worthwhile carrying on. Never mind, they had fun while it lasted.

And now goodnight - I'm back off to Vevey tomorrow for another day's farting about, with any luck I'll miss the traffic jams this time.

Sunday, October 3, 1999

03/10/99 Autumn Blues

A lovely autumn day here: started off grey and raining, kept it up through lunchtime and on into the afternoon, and as I write it's still going strong, grey and raining. The stream is up, and a dismal air of dampness is around. Mind you, that's most Sunday afternoons.

Not that things were helped by last night's little effort. As usual on a Saturday, Jeremy popped in to see Sophie and Renaud on our way back from the market and stayed on for lunch, and as we were leaving Sophie suggested we stop by that evening for a little apéro - not dinner, she was too tired, just drinkies. So we went home and I went down and cleared out the cellar where the fuel-oil tank is going to go and made a bonfire with useless old bits of wood and did our little bit of shopping and then we got our glad-rags on and went back to Sophie and Renaud's, bearing a bottle of hydromel as our contribution.

We got there about 19:30 to find Bruno Fontanel and his wife Patty there as well, and they'd bought two bottles of Bordeaux, and Renaud had opened a bottle of his extremely strong Swiss white, and when we'd finished the apéritif it was after midnight, we'd written off all the bottles and were on to the vodka that Sophie had hidden away in the broom cupboard. Jeremy and Lucas and Thibaud were still happily playing upstairs (Rémi had crashed some time earlier) but the grownups were rather written-off and decided to call it a night. It made getting up this morning a bit of a chore - especially as Jeremy crept into bed with me about 8, but happily went back to sleep - without wriggling, thank God - and we managed to grab another two hours of sleep before getting up, blearily getting a baguette for breakfast (with lots of coffee) then making a tart and heading off to see Hervé and Jocelyn for lunch. Drank Perrier.

Right now Jeremy is busy vacuuming the playroom. He keeps saying that he really wants to help, so that I don't have to do things. Quite sweet - it'd be even better if he were actually capable of doing what he tries to do. Mind you, there's not too much that can go wrong with a vacuum cleaner, except perhaps my having to open it up and pull Jeremy out of the bag.

At least we've had a couple of fine days this week so the vendanges have finished. Unfortunately it was the whites that got left on the vine while it rained, so with the first fineish day everyone was out hurriedly getting them in before they rotted. They're still promising a good year: we'll have to see. I really must take the time next year to go down south to Courthezon and Orange to pick up some more Chateuaneuf-du-Pape now that we have a bit of spare cash: the stocks are running low and the oldest bottles I have down in the cellar date from 86, and at 13 years old they really need drinking so I shall have to replace them. Maybe in Spring I'll find the time to take a couple of days off.

As far as I know the world hasn't ended: can't be sure, as I haven't watched TV for a month or so (no time) and I may have missed it. It seems that Jospin is trying to shore up his socialist credentials by talking tough about new laws punishing businesses that make a profit and yet lay workers off: I doubt it'll come to much, he's playing to the gallery. At least in the last budget the 10% surcharge on the ridiculously high company profit tax of 33% is to be removed, which will knock 4% off what Upstart has to pay at the end of each financial year.

Unfortunately the tax loophole whereby I got reimbursed the difference between what I actually owed in tax and the tax credit from our dividends (on which Upstart had already paid tax) comes to an end, so I can no longer look forward to a nice 15000F cheque in the mail every August. Bit of a shame. It's now in my interest to pay myself a bit more so that I personally owe more tax so as to get some use out of the tax credit, which will also reduce the tax burden on the company. Accountancy is so much fun.
Anyway, I'm going to get an early night tonight, so goodbye and love to you all.


Sunday, September 26, 1999

26/09/99 End of week update ...

Back again, after a busy week and a busy day.

Off to the market in Chambery this morning as usual, then stopped by Renaud & Sophie's for lunch and so that Jeremy and Rémi could play together while I gossip, then up to St Jean d'Arvey for William's birthday party (and some more gossip with Steve while Isabelle looked after the kids). Jeremy was the token boy: William invites girls to his parties. Says he likes them. It's probably hereditary - Steve's the same

Finally got the evaluation from Bruno and the quote from his supplier for the central heating system: a bit more than I'd expected (hoped) but everyone tells me that it's incredibly cheap. At about 75000F all up, it probably is: most people are happy if they can get away with 125000F. The radiators are expensive but should last a lifetime or two (they get made to measure, I found out) and the big oil burner that feeds them and the hot water system is another big item but once again, it's top-quality German stuff (only the Germans understand central heating, or so the French say) so I suppose I can't complain.

The only thing that annoys me is that I have to wait three weeks or so for the radiators to arrive, which pushes us back to the end of October before the system is up and running - I suppose we'll just have to grin and bear it, and hope it doesn't get too cold before then. Couldn't be worse than last winter anyway, when we had the electric heating on and it made no bloody difference (apart from the power bills). On the brighter side, the bank's lending us the money to pay for the hardware at only 3% interest: we had points left over from when we bought the house, and although I could (just) pay for it out of my pocket I rather prefer to have a bit of cash sloshing around just in case and at that sort of rate it's pretty much a no-brainer.

Renaud and Sophie are in pretty much the same situation, which I suppose should cheer me up. They don't even have any backup heating in their nice new house, which worries Sophie no end. Mind you, she likes worrying. Renaud has been enormously busy trying to transform the 45° slope down to his front door into a sort of rustic rockery with stone steps up to the driveway and garage. Their house, you see, is built on two levels on a hillside, with the garage and bedrooms up at the top and the living areas below. As the place was, until very recently, a construction site, he has about 100 cubic metres of topsoil at the top of the slope - which he'll have to shift down to below the house when he gets around to terracing the hillside so that they can have something resembling a garden -and a muddy slope with 150kg rocks in it down to the front door. So far he's managed to get a retaining wall about three metres high up to the level of the driveway and has terraced about half-way up following the curve of the hillside. Hard work - I don't mind watching.

The tractors are out bringing in the trailers full of grapes for the vintage and I bet those who started harvesting at the beginning of the week are feeling pretty smug as today it started persisting down. Still warm - about 24° - but wet. Very wet. They're still forecasting another "vintage of the century" - what else could you expect for the last year of the millenium - but they might even be right: the grapes are healthy, as the summer has been so dry, so a day or so of rain won't do any damage that a few sunny days next week (as predicted) and some extra sugar in the vats won't cure.

Tomorrow ... definitely the first day of autumn: grey and wet and a bit blustery. Still, it's relatively warm. Had to rush up into the attic at about 11 last night to push a slate back into place: it had shifted sideways a little over the summer and as a result the rain was plitting on top of the ceiling, making a nice little soggy puddle of the insulation. Which I shall have to replace soon anyway, as it's not really in the best of shape.

Given the weather we haven't done much so far today - Jeremy's been busy with his Junior Meccano and right now is sitting in front of the TV watching Cow and Chicken, while I try to summon up the courage to go and attack the Pile of ironing. I've been trying to put off the dreaded moment by working on my stock-control project, but I've just about got to the point where I'll have to run it against the database to check out the inventory transfer functions and as I haven't installed SQL Server on the home machine it'll have to wait until Monday. Maybe if I went and had lunch ... that would gain me another 20 minutes.
And then I think we'll head off to see Jean-Gilles and look at getting a new 19" screen for the home machine: the one I've got now works fine but only with one specific video card (probably the last remaining on the planet) and on top of it won't lock on to anything but 1024*768 in 256 colours, so I can't see a thing if there's a full-screen DOS box up, or while the machine is booting. Now that 19" screens are a reasonable price (and I can get one at cost from J-G anyway) I think I might as well profit from the situation to pick up a new one (and a spanking new video card to go with it) and Margo can inherit the old one.
Bye now
Trevor & Jeremy

Sunday, September 19, 1999

19/09/99 Rotting grapes ...

Yes folks, it's that time of year again when Frog-people go out by the thousands into vineyards on ridiculous slopes and harvest wasp-infested bunches of grapes which they're planning on turning into wine. For the next few weeks the village is going to be clogged with tractors towing enormous trailers, and the place will smell like a brewery.

By this shall we know that autumn is approaching, if it hasn't already sneaked up on us unawares, and the colour of the leaves shall change, and lo! it shall start to get cold at night. Which pisses me off, as I am still waiting for the quote for the central heating. Never mind. At least today, after an unpromising start, it turned out fine and sunny and even hot, which is good as I'm planning a BBQ for tomorrow lunch, doubtless the last of the year.

At least it was almost a pleasure mowing the lawn this afternoon: not too hot, and with the dry spell we've had the stuff hadn't grown too much anyway.

Tomorrow now ... well, the BBQ got cancelled: it's been grey and overcast all day, and the temperature has plummetted to 25°, not really ideal weather for it. So we've just mucked around all day: I got the house cleaned and even plan on doing some ironing sometime Real Soon Now - like when Jeremy needs some clothes to wear to school.

Went around to see our friends Hervé & Jocelyn (she's the New York lawyer) and Hervé reminded me of something: our good friend DSK (that's Dominique Strauss-Kahn to you, the French finance minister) has just put through a budget lowering TVA/GST on house building and alterations to 5%, from its current 20.6%. Which means that when we get it done, the central heating will be about 15% cheaper! Whoopie! Just have to get it done now (resigned sigh).

As some of you will already have noticed, Margo and Malyon made it safely to NZ and are even now lurking in your midst. As far as I know all is going well. The highlight of their departure (apart from peeling Jeremy off Margo's left leg so that she could make it into the departure lounge) was seeing a typical Swiss farmer on the autoroute as we went to the airport: we passed a beaten up old Renault 4L with the farmer driving in the front seat and a sheep sitting in the back seat. Not something you see every day: Swiss agriculture in action.

Jeremy has been excessively good: almost overnight he's turned into an angel, or something closely approximating one. Before, when it came time to tidy the playroom, Malyon would do the heavy work and Jeremy would pick up one piece of Lego, put it in the box, and cry out that he was tired and his arms were hurting him: now he tidies up without being told and calls me up to let me share the surprise. He goes downstairs in the mornings and gets his own breakfast (OK, I have to get a plate down for him) and when he's finished he puts away the milk and cereal and puts his bowl in the sink all by himself (trap for parents - in the evening the porridge has congealed and I have to get out the electric drill and wire brush to get it off) and then goes off and dresses himself. Then in the evenings he gets into the shower by himself and into pyjamas ready for dinner: I am really impressed. No doubt when Margo gets back it'll go back to what it was before, but for the moment I'm really enjoying it.

He's also taken to his Junior Meccano: we got him a box for his birthday and it's turned out to be extremely popular. He still has to call me in for some of the tricky bits, but he manages about 90% of it himself and is already on model n° 9 out of 13. That and Lego keep him happy.

Oh, just in case it interests anyone, I saw my first ever woodpecker today. Saw this sort of bright flash fly across the paddock and when I got the binoculars out and trained on the fence-post where it had landed spotted a red-headed, green-and-gold feathered beast with a big solid beak. Looks very exotic and colourful when it flies, as the underside of its wings are yellow-gold. What with that and the badgers (geting diarrheoa from eating too many grapes at the moment), the squirrels (little red ones) and godnose what else, there's quite a bit of wild-life infesting the garden at the moment. Without counting the odd visiting fox (one wanders down the path occasionally). The swallows have all left though: in enormous flights, about two or three weeks ago. Off to Morocco for the winter.

That's about it for now: goodbye!

Sunday, September 5, 1999

05/09/99 Departure of a daughter ...

Hello again, people.

As usual we've been incredibly busy, haven't got half the things done that really need doing, it's Sunday night and I'm half-cut again so it's time to let you know what's going on over here.

On the politico-economic front, not a lot. The French central bank and regulators still have to rule on what BNP have to do with the (hostile) minority 37% stake they acquired in Société Générale whilst trying to put together a Frog mega-bank (BNP + SG + Paribas): the only certainty about the outcome is that it'll piss off a lot of people, be bad for consumers and certainly won't help the French banking "industry" (in quotes because it's actually a small, exclusive and excessively expensive gentlemans' club). The minister of finance went so far as to harrumph that foreign bidders were extremely unwelcome: they all took the hint and no unfriendly foreign bids arrived which is probably just as well for them, it'll be the French government, rather than US & UK institutions, pumping billions of francs into some bloated inefficient bank that's not allowed to fire one of the fifteen people in its Crumbville (pop. 200) branch office. Citibank is probably heaving a sigh of relief.

But basically it's been the silly season for the past two months - when all the political parties go off on what they call "Université d'été", or summer brainstorming sessions - and real news is banned, or ignored. Incidentally, these Université d'été things are actually quite interesting, if only for the chosen sites. They're supposed to be prestigious affairs, hence the name - the sad reality of course is that only the party faithful appear, usually the ones that wear Crimplene suits and drive Skodas. Anyway, the Socialists have an enormous media-friendly affair somewhere like Bordeaux in which Jospin makes a brief appearance on a 150m² TV screen and is cheered by the crowds (to the best of my memory, feminine underwear has not yet been chucked at his feet on the stage, but that's probably not far off). These days the different right-wing factions (talking National here, not LePen and associated turds) have difficulty agreeing on anything important and even more difficulty getting together for what is - now - essentially a publicity stunt, and consequently have three or four affairs, usually in minor (don't tell them I said that) provincial cities (but not too far from Paris, because otherwise no-one would notice). Blue rinses are prominent in the audiences, and the differences between the different factions are so negligible that quite frankly no-one cares, apart from political commentators, who are paid to care but even so have difficulty. The Greens go and commiserate together either in some dreary seaside resort in Britanny or in some grim ex-industrial town whose current state is a direct result of 50 years of failed state industrial policy, and promise more of the same. This (and the fact that they do prefer crimplene suits - environmentally friendly - and Skodas - emphatically not environmentally friendly, but you can't just fire all the people making the filthy things) is probably why the Greens are not really taken seriously by anyone, certainly not by the Socialists, with whom they're supposed to be junior partners in government.
Still, the school holidays are now over and autumn is coming in, so with any luck some group or another will start feeling oppressed or deprived and stage a massive strike which'll paralyse the country, and then we'll have something to talk about over drinks in the evening.

Anyway, the month has gone by - Renaud & Sophie went off on holiday and I went in and varnished their staircase while they were away, and we went around last night to inaugurate the house. A little soirée "bien arrosée" ie we drank a lot, altogether very pleasant. Got the kids to bed about 1:30 this morning and slept in massively this morning before getting up to organise Malyon's birthday/departure party.

Which was a relatively small affair, about 10 young girls running screaming around the place and dunking for apples in the paddock, luckily Anne-Laure turned up aound 4pm to say goodbye to Malyon and help supervise so the adults could lie around drinking in the shade. The last of the balloons have exploded now and the chippie crumbs have been swept away, so that's all over. Now there's just the actual departure to get organised - bags to pack, stuff like that - and then Jeremy and I have to drop the pair of them off at Geneva at some filthy hour on Wednesday moaning

But right now I'm tired and I'm going to bed -

Trevor & margo

Sunday, August 8, 1999

08/08/99 Yet more DIY ...

A very busy couple of weeks since last I ranted, so here goes.

My estimable friend and partner Renaud has finally got his house finished - at least there are walls, a roof, and a floor - so last weekend we shifted house. Four burly gentlemen (one of them, the least burly, being myself) took a day to move their apartment into the new house. Sophie had been very organised and had boxed everything except the kitchen sink, each box being numbered, indexed (Dewey decimal) and destination coded in plain-text just in case. With the exception of the house-hold cleansers (still un-accounted for as I write, a complete mystery to all) I think everything arrived. A right pain shifting the white-ware, as we had to take them down a 45° slope of unsettled earth to get them through the front door without apparent damage, but we seem to have managed.

Since then I've become an expert on fitted kitchens, as I've been helping out in my own little way by setting his up. First you put the modules together (one small error where I banged a hole in the side of one with my fist trying to set the dowels in place, happily it's hidden), then you stick all the different modules together side by side, check the level, stick the wall oven in its slot, put down the workbench and cut out an enormous hole to fit the gas hobs in ... I have to go back on Tuesday to cut out and attach the cornice and mouldings to cover up the raw particle-board edges, but with any luck that should go pretty quickly.

Meanwhile Sophie is painting over the gross marks we've left on the walls from all this, Bruno is pulling all the electric cables through their pipes, and Renaud is doing heroic things like sticking up the hot water cylinder on the wall and hooking it up to the pipes using only string and chewing gum.

So I took this weekend off to make a start on the decking. Borrowed Hervé's big van on Friday to shift the wood, then spent yesterday running around getting all the screws I'd need (640 of them) and the bricks to lay the beams across and the felt stuff (they call it "géotextile here, it's basically a waterproof plastic cloth you put down under your bricks to stop rising damp and above all weeds) and then today was spent laying all that out and getting the beams down and level. Hervé also lent me a handy dandy spirit level with a laser beam integrated - you stick it down, get it level, then switch on the laser and your level is extended for a useful distance of about 20m, which was perfect - and that helped a lot. The bricks are now laid, the support beams are across and all levelled, I just have to slice and screw the planks in place. All for next weekend, because I foolishly promised Jeremy that he'd have his last year's birthday present ( a sandpit) out there on the terrace for this birthday.

And Jeremy doesn't forget things like that. Never mind, the worst is out of the way and if I take a day off during the week it'll all be done - thanks be to Heaven for circular saws and electric screwdrivers.

During this time I also have a major database application to design for someone who, as an intermediary, manages JIT delivery for his clients. He has his clients, their suppliers, and the warehousers to keep track of, and the stock at the warehouse has to be kept track of at the palette level - plus there's all the billing side of thing to handle. I spent Friday installing SQL Server at the office (much to my surprise, I didn't have to reboot the machine during the process) and then started using the database design tools to start designing the thing. Fair takes me back about 20 years to Computer Science 58-203, fourth-order normalisation and all the rest. Except that back then normalisation and table relationships were things that you scribbled down on grubby scraps of paper, at least one of which would be missing when you came to write the SQL code to set up your database, whereas now you can do it all graphically.

Given that it's Microsoft, I still wouldn't put it past the beast to forget one or two electronic equivalents of grubby scraps of paper and get the entire architecture screwed up, but at least the diagrams it produces look pretty. Gives me something to show to my client tomorrow to make it look as though I've been working for him.

Our friends Magali and François and their three girls came round last evening to camp in our garden - idea was to check that they could get their super new tent up in the requisite 15 minutes etc before trying it out on a real holiday. We all dined and they went off to bed, us too - and about 4am, when Margo went down to check on how Tess had managed to get inside given that all the doors were closed, she found them all camping in the living-room. Can't say I blame them - the wind was up to about 70 kph, and it was raining a dog's breakfast horizontally. Not really the night to choose for camping out.

At least it was better than Friday night: we had the same thing, only redoubled in spades, and I spent rather more time than I wanted sawing up fallen branches and generally getting rid of bits of dead tree. Much to my surprise, the old apple tree is still with us - it's old and looks rotten, but there's life in the old thing still.

Margo of course spent most of the week at Pesselière with Ian & Marie and various other frog family members - probably Malyon's last chance to see this set of cousins before heading off to NZ on or about the 10th September. I'd sort of planned on heading up on Wednesday night to be with them, but realised that it meant that I'd have all of Thursday to spend with them before heading back on Friday, and consequently gave up the idea - especially as SQL was calling. So I missed out on all that, but never mind, I'll make it up later. Don't know when.

Jeremy came back and naturally enough he and Elise had made friends with some horses in a paddock down the road. The proof is the enormous masses of horse-hair coming out of his pockets in the wash. Yucky stuff, horse-hair. Long and stiff and springy and well, horse-coloured.

That's probably enough from me, you're doubtless tired of hearing about how the temperature is up in the 30°s most of the time and the weather (apart from the cloudbursts around 3am) is more or less perfect - so I'll say goodnight for this week.
Trevor & Margo

Monday, July 26, 1999

26/07/99 Frenchmen caught choking on snails ...

Time to get up your noses again, I'm afraid.

The subject comes straight from Dave Barry, who admitted in his last column that French food was very good, apart from the snails, which even Frenchmen loathe. His theory is that French people sit in restaurants pretending to eat from empty snail shells and saying things like "Yummé" until American tourists are led to order them and are brought steaming platefuls of snailshells WITH SNAILS IN THEM at which point the Frenchpersons cited above subside under their table and laugh until - I quote - "red wine starts spewing out of their nostrils".

He may well be right. Personally I can eat six or so, at which point I begin to ask myself questions like "Why am I eating garlic butter off a slug when I can eat it on bread?". I have not yet had a good answer to this question, so these days I leave the slugs for the tourists, and I've had plastic tubing installed in my nasal passages for those moments when I just have to laugh.

Found a good bit of spleen the other day which I just thought I'd share with you: a theatre review of the sort they don't really make any more - Sheridan Morley, in the IHT, had this to say -

"There is something monumentally terrible about the acting of Charlton Heston, and of course there always has been; having brought us the tablets as Moses, having won the chariot race in Ben Hur, he now appears live on stage with all the brisk, charismatic energy of a man carved into Mount Rushmore. To the Theatre Royal he comes with his wife, Lydia Clare Heston, a lady also suffering from a tragic talent bypass, reading Gurney's "Love Letters"."

"Soon it will doubtless be performed under water, or in outer space, or preferably anywhere but in a real theatre, least of all the Haymarket, which even now deserves better than this disgraceful apology for an entertainment; so far from charging for tickets, the management should be at the doors paying out recompense to all audiences as they leave, which they would be wise to do after about 10 minutes."

"The most exciting thing you can watch here are the potted plants that have been neatly arranged, as at a funeral parlour, about the Hestons' feet. There is at least the chance that they might grow, or change colour, or start talking to us, or just wither and die in sympathy with this whole misbegotten shambles."

"Anything would be better than having to watch the Hestons still inefficiently reading, despite having trailed it around America and Britain for some years, a script of such terminal boredom that even they seemed to be having trouble staying awake through it on a hot night. Nothing happens in the first half, happens again in the second, and then Mrs Heston commits a graceful little suicide which she signals with a well-bred little whimper, as though she were trying to attract the attention of a Harrods salesperson on a busy afternoon."

"As for Heston, the most moving thing about him is still his hairpeice ... No director is credited, presumably because if named he or she would never work again. The Hestons alas probably will, but with luck not over here."

As for us, we've just been fiddling around as usual. The barbecue is up, so this weekend Margo started painting the balconies on the road front while I went down and terrified the lawn again, then levelled the courtyard to get it ready for the decking. Then down to the lake for a quick dip and a cold dinner before nailing brats into bed and getting ready for another week of a French summer.

We currently have Caroline, the littler Parisian cousin, as a house guest and it's going quite well. She's little enough for Malyon to boss around, and big enough not to let Jeremy do the same. (Two years older than Jeremy, in fact, but the same size.) Unfortunately she heads back on Wednesday, which means that from Thursday on any social interaction between the kids will end in tears after about half an hour - if we're lucky. Don't get me wrong - Jeremy does love his sister dearly, and vice-versa - but they simply canot play together for any length of time: not at the same game, anyway. That's probably why all the tears - it takes them all that time to realise that not only are they not playing the same game, but the rules are different, and neither of them will accept losing.

There's not an enormous amount of news from over here - none at all, really. I will have to pull finger and start working on some of the stuff that piled up while I was away - the Swiss are back (Wednesday I head off again - not for too long, I hope), there's a little microprocessor application to straighten out, then a big SQL Server database and associated front-end to set up for the end of September.

During this time my estimable friend and colleague Renaud is finsihing off his house - in fact I think they're supposed to be moving into it this weekend, or at least shifting the furniture and chattels (from the old French meaning "small cat"). I rather hope he won't need me to help, as I'd planned on getting some work done on the decking side of things.

That's about enough rubbish for one night, I think.

Trevor & Margo

Monday, July 19, 1999

19/07/99 Sun, surf and foie gras ...

Back from our holiday, all rested and tanned, thought I'd see if I couldn't provoke a bit of envy (a mortal sin, if you recall ...)

Well, we made it down to the Gers and back without getting the car pranged this time - in fact I was rather pleasantly surprised, the BMW is a very economical car to drive on the autoroute. Averages about 7l/100km, which isn't too bad for an ancient bomb weighing in at a couple of tons.
Margo managed to put her back out again just before we left, which meant that by the time we got down there she was ready for a week's bed rest, which is about what she got. Didn't do a great deal at all, really: made it down to Biarritz (nice place, shame about all the people on holiday) and then (just) into Spain to pick up some cheap sherry and suchlike, then off to the beach to try and drown the kids and that's about all. I took the kids off to a nearby lake a couple of times - not feeling up to the 2-hour drive to the beach all by myself, Margo being laid up - and all my good intentions of taking them off to see cultural things like the Dartagnan museum went by the board as they confessed themselves to be extremely happy just puddling around in the water. Can't say I was too distressed.

Shame about Biarritz, really - I'm sure it's a nice place, but my memories are of about 50km of Tauranga suburbs in endless procession, linked by a nationale crammed full of Dutch caravans. Our fault for heading down in the holiday season, I suppose.

We did make it off to see the old farmhouse that Jacquy bought and is slowly making habitable: the kids weren't too impressed until they found the shed full of old tiles (the place was at one time owned by a mason) which they collected in an alarming selection of plastic bags and insisted on bringing back home "to do things with". I can see that we'll have ceramic place-mats and potholders coming out of our ears.

It was a nice relaxing week, which we all needed - miles from anywhere, cellphone didn't work, too hot to do anything - apart from pat the cats and type up the course I had to give on getting back - good food ... (I did actually get around to giving my course, by the way. 12000F for a days speaking but I think I earned it - I spoke so long that I managed to put my jaw out. Don't know how Malyon manages it.)

Stopped off at Carcasonne to give the kids another look at the place - Malyon probably remembers a bit of the last time we went there, with Renaud & Sophie, but for Jeremy it was as though it was all new. It is an impressive pile, I must admit. Made it back on Monday evening to find a happy cat waiting for us (a bit pissed off that for a whole week she hadn't been able to sleep indoors) and then back to work on Tuesday. (Rather to my surprise, Jeremy sobbed like anything when we came to leave Patricia & Jacquy's place.

He definitely did not want to leave his G'ma Pat, nor his favourite Jacquy. Took all of 20 minutes before he cheered up enough to start listening to Malyon's stories.)

Wednesday of course was the 14th of July, so we had a couple of people round and ate and drank excessively, as usual, before heading off to Montmelian to watch the fireworks.

The next few weeks (or weekends) are going to be busy: tomorrow I absolutely have to take a couple of car-loads of rubbish down to the tip, price out wood for the decking in the courtyard, and buy (and then put in) the sand and concrete tiles for the barbecue area in the garden. I also have to wander off with the circular saw to give Renaud a hand in the house he's building - I think he can do the actual cutting, I might get a bit carried away.
Speaking of new houses reminds me of Ian & Marie, who've just moved into theirs and who've had a minor plumbing problem: they have two toilets upstairs, and when they were installed the pressure was so finely balanced that when you flushed one of them, the contents turned up in the other. They apparently had a rather confused turd going from side to side of the house for days before they figured it out

Tomorrow evening now, and I'm feeling rather tired. I didn't realise - didn't bother to check - that 40x40 concrete tiles weigh in at about 10kg each, and I've just loaded 35 of the damn things into the back of the 205, along with two 40kg sacks of sand, and then unloaded them little by little here, taking them slowly down in the wheelbarrow. Made for a lot of trips.
Anyway, the little BBQ terrace is now installed - just needs the BBQ installed to finish it off and that's planned for Real Soon Now ie sometime this week, then there's the wooden decking to go down in the courtyard. I still have to price out the wood for that and get it delivered, but once that's done it should go quite quickly. And then we can - finally - put up Jeremy's sandpit, which he got for his last birthday. Almost a year ago.

Reminds me that the other night he was getting worried - "What will happen to me when Mummy dies?" The answer of course is "Mummy's not going to die just yet, don't worry". "But mummy is old!" At which point Malyon stuck heroar in - "Mummy isn't old! She's not even 30 yet!". All lies. Don't know howMargo got her to swallow that one.

Right, I'm off to bed - or at least to watch the end of the bad film ("The Peacemaker", with George Clooney) on TV before turning in. Goidnight, all.
Trevor & Margo.

Thursday, July 1, 1999

01/07/99 Usual blurb

Haven't written for a while so I thought I'd get up the collective nose again with some more useless information from the bottom half of the world!

Off on holiday on Monday - a whole glorious week of doing as little as possible. Down to the Gers to see Patricia & Jacquy, with no more worries than a briefcase full of papers I have to organise into a two-day course to be given on the 15th, just after we return. Never mind, it'll be alright on the night - or so I keep telling myself. I'm taking the laptop, but not the modem.

Anyway, we're slowly getting into summer mode: winding down for the long school holidays. Malyon has finished school, Jeremy follows suit tomorrow. And as Margo is working full-time at the shop, that means I get to work at home for a while. Quite pleasant really, I find I manage to get a lot done (don't know how) and there's none of this silly business of getting up at some ungodly hour when the alarm goes off.

Margo is working full-time partly because her partner, Monique, is marrying off her eldest son this coming Saturday (we're invited to the whole lot - registry office, church, drinkies, dinner & piss-up, dancing to traditional obscene French folk tunes) and has consequently been busy for the last two weeks or so making petit-fours and patés. There will probably be enough to feed a NZ family of four for about three years, which means that there'll be no leftovers.

The kids are now officially on holiday, freed from all care and worry apart from who's going to look after them when Mummy and Daddy are away working. When they were smaller we could just lock them in a cellar and they'd stay quietly there until one or the other of us came home, but it doesn't seem to work anymore. Shame, really.

Malyon bid a tearful farewell to her school and came away with the address so that she can post a few letters there when she's in NZ. She also came away with something I hadn't been expecting: every year, the kids in CM2 (ten-year olds - is that form 2?) who are heading off to lycée get a book each from Mme Carceles, their teacher. Malyon walked off with a $60 boxed set of stories of life in old China. Mme Carceles approves of us, although she has said that we'll have to make an effort and try to get Malyon to lighten up a bit.
I think I've mentioned before that my friend and estimable colleague Renaud is in the throes of having a house built - in theory they move in at the end of the month. Spent all last Sunday round at the site, helping lay the pipes for the underfloor heating. You learn a lot about house-building doing these little things, but what I haven't learnt is why exactly people actually want to do it! As far as I can see Renaud might as well get the phone surgically grafted to his ear - it'd save time - and it seems to be extra stress that anyone could do without. Still, when they sort out the problems of exactly where the sewage line is going to go (through the neighbour's garden is where the builder wants to put it, but the neighbour is - understandably - reticent) and how they're going to get a bit of flat land out of their 45° slope, it should be really good.
Just to make you all envious, it's been stinking hot all day and we had dinner out on the terrace, as usual. Supposed to carry on like that for some time, I gather. The swallows are flitting about in the evening - as are the bats - and the apple tree down in the garden is groaning under a bumper crop of worm-ridden apples (you expected plums, perhaps?) And the grass needs mowing - again.

Anyway, I'd better get back to looking up interesting articles concerning the Windows 95 registry on the Redmond CDs - you'll hear from us again when we get back, tanned and fit, from our too-brief holiday.

Trevor & Margo

Sunday, June 6, 1999

06/06/99 Sumer icumen an'all

Back for another brief blurb whilst Margo slumbers fitfully in front of NYPD Blues ...

Nearly lost Jeremy last weekend: we went off and up to Montlambert, not too far from here (about 4km back down the road towards Montmelian, and 600m higher up) where the paragliders take off from, for an evening BBQ. There's a sort of little plateau which turns into an 80° slope which falls 200m or so into the forest below, and the kids were playing there with Pierre's motorbike helmet (do not bother asking why) when suddenly Jeremy came scrambling back up to us bawling his head off - they'd been playing at the top of the slope and he'd been given the helmet to bring back up to us and as it was about as heavy as he is he'd dropped it and it had gone all the way down! Lucky he didn't follow it, I suppose.

Apart from that little incident it was a really nice evening, although a bit chilly: 600m makes quite a difference in temperature, and I wasn't really dressed for it.

The 205 is still at the garage waiting for an assessor to drop by and say whether it's worth repairing or not: if I don't hear back this week I'm going to get seriously pissed off. I no longer know how it works in NZ, but in France insurance companies don't have their own assessors: there are little firms of the beasts around the place to which the work is sub-contracted. It's supposed to foster independence and make sure that the assessment is impartial, but in practice I'm not sure that it works like that ... never mind. When I started to get impatient around the middle of last week, having rung the garage every evening to discover that yes, the assessor had dropped by, but no, he hadn't looked at my car, I finally managed to get in touch with the insurance company only to discover that they'd cocked up and assigned the job to a firm that doesn't go anywhere near the garage concerned: I suppose they'd probably have worked out that they'd made a mistake in a month or so, but I don't really want to wait that long.

Especially as just at the moment the 205 would be bloody useful: there's rubbish to take to the tip, concrete and sand to bring here ... and in a short while Renaud is going to need it to start shifting into his new house (the boot of the Clio - the other work car - is fine for people who travel light, like with a couple of average handbags, but not for much else).

Margo's shop is still closed, probably until the end of next week. They have to get rid of all the rubble on the roof and shore up the wall of the apartment that exploded to make sure that the rest of the place doesn't fall down. It's all quite worrying from a busines point of view, as every day they're closed is a day they don't take any money.

Anyway, sumer is icumen, but it's not here yet: we'd planned a lovely BBQ with Renaud & Sophie yesterday, but as it turned out had to eat inside, it'd started to get almost chilly. Then the rain set in, and kept going till midday. Boo hiss! Same sort of weather predicted for the rest of the week, which is no fun at all. The wood strawberries are out on the banks of the stream though, which is nice for all of us. The kids go down and get what they can, then I go down and eat the rest.

And the grass is still growing, although it's slowly getting a bit tamer - or has learnt to keep its head down when I bring the mower down. It's not an English lawn, and probably never will be - more what the French call "gazon rustique" (read "rugby field") - but at least it's well-trimmed enough to make it a pleasure to go down and loll. Most of those who saw it when we bought the place are now suitably impressed, not to say amazed.

Looks as though we're in for a bumper crop of apples and plums this autumn too: the apple tree is literally bowed down under the weight (luckily Wednesday's storm blew a lot of the smaller fruit off, saving us the bother of picking it off by hand) and the three plum trees are well loaded too. This is good: we're in sore need of plum sauce.

Both kids are well: Malyon is eagerly counting the days until her birthday, which she may well celebrate in a 747. Jeremy is definitely getting up her nose, and while she's away we'll definitely have to organise things so that she has a room of her own. Got another 18 months, filed and forgotten. Jeremy is still Jeremy, with that bizarre anatomical adaptation (from the Vickridge side, no doubt) whereby both ears are directly connected by some sort of tube going through the brain without being hooked up to it, meaning that what goes in one ear really does come straight out the other.

Yesterday was St Igor's day, so all those of you who know an Igor and forgot to wish him a Happy Saint's Day may go off and hang their heads in shame.

Trevor & Margo

Friday, May 28, 1999

28/05/99 Boom!

An exciting day today, Margo's shop exploded!

Well, not quite that bad. All started off quite reasonably, in fact - I rang a client I've been neglecting for over a month now (pressure of work, all that) and managed to put off delivery of his useless system for yet another month, which I suppose means that I'll have to start working on it pretty soon - fobbed him off with the usual story of how I've been off work for two weeks and anyway the hardware won't be here for another two weeks anyway. So far so good.

On top of it the Swiss business looks as though it's finally finishing - things are becoming clear. It's all time billed out, so money-wise it's no problem, but it's still an enormous pain in the fundament.

Margo's shop, on the other hand, has a little three-story building next to it which is all in apartments, and around midday today the top-floor apartment exploded - apparently a leak from a gas bottle. About 70 m² of wall (not talking Kiwi wall here, talking good Frog stone & concrete wall about 80cm thick) fell on the shop roof and in the courtyard behind the shop. Result is that everyone's been evacuated, the street is closed to traffic, and the shop's been shut until further notice. At least no-one was hurt.

Now we just have to wait and see what happens: whose insurance will have to pay for loss of earnings etc, whether or not they have to pay rent for the period that the place is unusable, whether or not they bother opening up again (if it's closed for too long there's no point, they'll have lost too much money), whether or not the municipality will offer them temporary space in one of the boutiques they own in the street ....

I got down there about 16:00 to find Margo calmly discussing matters with cops, various elected officials and the other commercants of the street - mainly along the lines of "who's gonna pay?". Fair enough too. I must admit that if they continue to push the municipality probably will do something to help: they hate seeing small shops go under, especially in electorally sensitive areas.

Other than that life's fine. The weather's been lovely all week, temperatures up in the 30s (now that's what I call a temperature) and the rain's eased off so the grass isn't growing quite as quickly - plus repeated mowings seem to have frightened the grass a bit and it's rather more amenable. Just waiting till I get the 205 back from the garage now so that I can go and get some sand and some cement and concrete slabs and a big outdoor BBQ and I can get all that finished ...

Trevor & Margo

Tuesday, May 25, 1999

25/05/99 Over-ripe Brie

Back for some more punishment?

A really great week all around: tonsillitis again, grotty weather ALL WEEK and I pranged the 205 on Saturday. All in all, I've known better.At least the weather's picking up: we managed to erect the big garden tent down in the field this evening and we're planning on a BBQ tomorrow: it's Pentecost, innit, which is a public holiday in this rigourously secular but none-the-less Catholic state. And it should stay nice and fine and warm (like about 28-32° - these are what I call real temperatures) for at least the rest of the week.

Unlike the tonsillitis and the weather, the accident was in fact my fault: rear-ended some-one who'd slammed his brakes on to avoid rear-ending the bloke ahead of him, who'd decided at the last minute to turn left. Still, no great harm done, apart from the Peugeot which now needs a new radiator and a bit of bodywork, but it pisses me off and I could do without the extra hassle just at the moment. Never mind.

The thermals around the Bauges (that's the massif just behind us) must have been fantastic today: counted at least 60 parapente (those rectulangular parachute thingies - paragliders, that's the word!) up in the air, flying in formation along the massif and up and around the peak of the Arclusaz. One of them went a bit too low, and landed in the paddock behind ours - must have made his getaway across the fields, as we saw no more of him.

Oh, we saw our resident snake again. I'd just finished mowing and left the kids down playing whilst I contemplated a beer and a well-deserved (and much-needed) shower when Malyon came running up with Jeremy in tow to say that she'd just jumped over a snake in the grass. We all headed back down to check and sure enough, there it was, slithering quickly out of the way. Tess bravely waited until it had disappeared before going off to make threatening noises around where it was last seen. At least we know that it is a couleuvre, ie quite innocuous. Still give you a nasty bite, though.

Tuesday now, and I'm totally knackered. Spent two hours waiting at the insurance agency to hand in my statement, up to the office to abuse a few people by phone, then back here to look after the kids for the afternoon. No urge at all to work - doubtless the aftereffects of the barbecue, which turned out a great success. It was beautifully fine and hot so we ate, drank enormous quantities and generally idled until the end of the afternoon, when Rémi (being Steve's son) made me play badminton with him. Fine, only I haven't played for about 20 years, and my legs are regretting it.

Anyway, I'm off to bed - got another busy day tomorrow, and I need my beauty sleep.

Trevor & Margo

Sunday, May 16, 1999

16/05/99 Corsica Rules!

Another shitty week over and done with, and here I am to complain about it again.

Spent last Sunday out mowing the paddock and starting to level out the little bit where the BBQ is going to go - really hot weather, of course I stripped down to the painting shorts Malyon won't let me wear when there's company - and on Monday I woke up to raging tonsillitis and a fever. Off to the quack for some more industrial-grade antibiotics and then back to bed, that's Monday and Tuesday wiped out.

Back to Switzerland on Wednesday: in theory the gear goes off to Gravelines on Monday to be tested on site, but I can't see that happening. Spent all day discovering all sorts of lovely electrical problems with one sort of system that the gear is supposed to check out: I sort of sat around and looked elegant, or tried to anyway, and did little else.

Spent Thursday working around that and other difficulties, and on Friday I was planning to replace the microcontroller with an Intel 80151, which goes 6 times faster and would allow me to keep to the spec. and generate pulses at about 50KHz. Arrive, check out my code one last time (the Intel component can only be programmed once, and at 350F a go you don't want to make too many mistakes) and find that there's no way I can program it: the programmer just doesn't want to know! Arghh!

Spent a lot of this morning looking for answers, and found that when Intel says in their documentation that the 80151 is programmed just like an 87C52, they mean that it isn't. Yes it is, in the sense that the algorithm is the same, but it's not, in the sense that all the pins are different and you need a new adapter for your programmer. There are times when I would like to be able to go - unsearched - into the building where they hide the people (loosely speaking) responsible for Intel documentation, and satisfy a few of my more revolting fantasies. The developer community would, I'm sure, thank me for it.

Margo's garden gnomes have been installed around the paddock (a malevolent friend gave her three of the things) and show no signs of wanting to move, so perhaps they've become acclimatised. On the other hand we haven't seen the snake recently: it may have gone back into hiding. Or perhaps the gnomes were hungry.

The weather's been pretty grot too - started out lovely and fine -for the two days I was lying in bed - and since then has been raining steadily. Lovely thunderstorm lasting all Wednesay night, and it hasn't really let up since. I don't dare go down to the paddock to see how much it's grown.

Tomorrow now, or was when I started this, and we've had a lovely idle day. Turned out fine for once, and we got invited round to Joc & Hervé's (she's the American lawyer, he's the French entrepeneur) for a BBQ lunch. Good French affair, lasted about 4 hours, then we came home and I mowed the lawn - again. Then watched the very last of AbFab on CanalJ - depressing to see it go. Don't know what they'll fill the slot with next weekend.

Down in the field the acacia tress are in blossom - looks a lot like kowhai, only a sort of discreet greeny-white instead of vivid yellow, and smells like a tart's bedroom. Pretty, though. The apple tree and the plum trees have heaps of small green soon-to-be fruit hanging off them, and the best of all is that the wood strawberries are out in force, so that shortly I shall be found lying on the grass with my head over the bank stuffing my face with the little darlings.

Malyon's getting taller and leggier - eats like a horse and you can still count her ribs. Still doing very well at school too, although she has a tendency to make stupid mistakes through not bothering to think what she's doing. And she looks after her aged mother very well - Margo just has to bellow "coffee!" on a Sunday morning and Malyon's downstairs loading up a mug and toasting muffins for breakfast in bed. (Unfortunately I don't get that sort of treatment - I'm usually ambulant and semi-sentient about an hour before. The time to go up to the boulangerie, get a fresh baguette and then finish half of it off with marmelade and a gallon of coffee whilst slowly going over Saturday's paper, that I didn't get time to read on Saturday. Life is full of these small pleasures.)

Jeremy too is growing and, like Tigger, the bigger he gets, the bouncier. He does seem to be having problems with short-term memory (this is perhaps a boy thing, I don't know): we tell him not to do something under any circumstances, and about five minutes later he's guaranteed to have done that very thing. "Gowling him", as he puts it (as in "I used Daddy's cooking knives pour try to couper les rocks, and Daddy gowled me", has a limited effect - he stands sulking for a few minutes but can't keep it up, and carries on. I suppose he wouldn't be our Jeremy if he didn't. Heart of gold, head of ... well, never mind.

Anyway, it's time for me to go to bed - no trip to Lausanne tomorrow, thank God - the stream is babbling as usual but the birds at least are quiet, so now we have just the crickets with their infernal bloody din. You get used to it. Eventually.

Trevor & Margo.