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