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.

Sunday, May 9, 1999

09/05/99 Frogs Legs and Other Delicacies

Back for my weekly moan, I'm afraid.

Well, the big news over here is the arrest of the préfet Bonnet of Corsica for having ordered the fire-bombing of an illegally-built restaurant on a Corsican beach-front. It was so ineptly done that the three gendarmes involved in the affair were easily identifiable: they were the ones with 2nd-degree burns on the face and singed moustaches. Shades of Rainbow Warrior - you'd think they'd have learnt by now!

Exactly why the préfet (whose status, incidentally, is rather akin to that of an American governor, in that he can call in the army or rule by decree if he so wishes, but who is appointed by Paris rather than being democratically elected) would wish to have a third-rate restaurant which was due to be torn down at the end of summer bombed remains a mystery for the
moment. This being France, conspiracy theories abound, and the loyal opposition has of course demanded the resignation en masse of the government. Unlikely.

Kosovo is also in the news, naturally enough - after all, it's a small, if undeclared, war being fought more or less in Europe's back yard. Once again, the conspiracy theorists are busy - why is America doing much of the work whilst letting the NATO allies take most of the credit (or blame)? Whatever the answer to that, the news is full of civilian casualties and aghast responses: don't seem to realise that if you're going to have a war you might as well do it properly and kill people.

Anyway, Spring's in and the grass is growing as if there were no tomorrow, which means regular mowing (twice a week if possible). I'd planned on getting it done today, but the weather had other ideas and it's been raining steadily all day, so it's been pushed off until tomorrow. I hope.

In fact, with the warm (28° promised for tomorrow) and humid weather we've been having, the place is almost impossibly green: all the high mountain slopes that are forbidding grey rock in winter have suddenly turned into pasture, the trees are in leaf and the massif behind us is covered in great clots of different shades of green. Looks a bit like the top of a swamp, really.


And as it turns out, today was hot and sunny. Yesterday having been totally grot, I "profited" from the fine weather to take the mower down and frighten the grass, then carry on shifting soil to level off the little bit where, in the not too distant future, we'll install the barbecue. Another couple of weekends should do it, I reckon, then it's down with the sand, on with the concrete slabs, and up with the BBQ. Then all we need are a couple more adult trees planted around the place to give a decent bit of shade.

After that, there's the courtyard to get done. The first plans were for just paving it over, but I'm leaning more and more towards sticking decking down: looks nicer, and it's a lot less work, all things considered. But it's so hard to think about working when it's warm, and the sun's shining brightly at 8:30. Especially after a hard day's mowing, with the attendant beer consumption.
Had a ring from our painful Swiss client, who swears blue that he's finally cabled up all the necessary gear so that we can start testing another type of equipment. This does not please me, as it means I'll be back to doing 5hrs/day driving again all week, and we still don't know whether or not the thing will actually work when it goes out on field trials in a week's time. The buggers will pay for this!

Anyway, I'm up early again tomorrow morning, so I'll sign off here. Love to you all
Trevor & Margo