Monday, July 31, 2000

31/07/00 What we did in the holidays

Here we are in Pesselières for the traditional rainy 14th July celebrations, en famille for once. I managed to get a mockup of my website running and e-mailed off to the client on Wednesday, so we left as planned (although not in quite as organized a manner as the word suggests) on Thursday.

On Day 1 of our stay the kids went tadpole-hunting and of course wanted to take the lot back to Paris with them. "But what" we asked "will you do with them when they have beome little frogs, and you go on holiday?" Quick as a flash Jeremy replied "Cuddle them!" and then, after a moment's reflection, "or eat them."

The weather's been 'mitigated', which makes a change from unmitigated rain and temperatures down to a high of 18°. Which is what we've been "enjoying" for the past week or so. I'm seriously considering turning the central heating back on.

Just spent an agreable afternoon mainly chatting in a chateau. We went off to a brocante yesterday and quite by chance Margo went into a tiny patchwork stand where they gave her the address of the place and suggested that we stop by. Which we did, and were glad we did so. They were a very pleasant couple who bought the place about 10 years ago and have been doing it up ever since, partly as chambre d'hote and partly with the intention of making it into a sort of patchwork centre. The sort of thing Margo would've liked to try if we had the money and the time. We promised to try and keep in touch.


Well, we made it back home - a day earlier than planned, but as everyone else was headed back to Paris and the weather was so grotty, we thought we might as well leave too. Took the scenic route this time, rather than head back to Avallon and catch the autoroute from there: as it happens there's a C13 chateau in the Morvan which, every year, hosts an international quilt competition at around this time. On top of it Margo knows the quilter-in-residence for the year, and a number of the exhibitors as well (the theme this year was, it seems, Australian quilts), so it was pretty much a must. So we headed more or less dead south from Pesselières, and had a picnic lunch on the banks of the Laughing (or chuckling, if you prefer) Yonne (the Frog name is actually La Rigole d'Yonne - you translate it if you think you can do better!). Then we arrived at the chateau: not a chateau-fort, just a nice little country home with three floors and a dungeon, a couple of towers at each end, walled park and garden, stables and dove-cote, stuff like that. A bit crumbly now for want of enough money to do it up properly, but definitely a chateau. The 4m stud is a dead giveaway, as are the 80x80 oak beams in the ceiling.

It's actually quite interesting - if you're into that sort of thing - to see where a place like that fits in to the general evolution of chateaux over time. This one is very definitely a house - as opposed to a castle - but a very modest house to boot. The Bordeaux wine chateaux have the same general look, but they all have a fairly massive front entrance a couple of metres up from ground level giving onto a large balustraded terrace with sweeping flights of steps down from each side. The Chateau de Chassy (such being the name of the place we visited) has the same idea, except that the steps are narrow and the terrace is just about large enough to put a humorous welcome mat on. More modern chateaux have the same pepper-pot roofs on the towers, but with slate rather than earthenware tiles (thank Catherine de Medicis and her Italians for that one). And then there's the use of internal space: the early chateaux tend to have enormous roms opening off the central staircase and from corridors on each side (a model taken up again in C18) whereas the C15-17 ones tend to real rabbit-warrens of small rooms.

Anyway, the place is definitely a domestic, human-sized chateau, and we left the kids downstairs curry-combing the ponies and avoiding attacks from the chickens in the courtyard (no peacocks here) while we went off to look at the quilts. Up in the attics. Which are also quite fascinating. St-Fargeau, near Pesselières, was built by ship-wrights, and its attics look like the ribs of a boat: Chassy was evidently put together by Boris Build-on-spec the Cowboy, and its attics look like something put together in a hurry and never mind if it doesn't last more than a century or two, some bugger's sure to come and burn the place down soon enough. But noone did, and the pile is still there, sort of grown into the surroundings (more vice-versa, really - the surroundings have grown into it) and slowly decaying. Very slowly.

The quilts themselves were a surprise to me, at any rate - more figurative or abstract art than what most people who've seen "The Making of an American Quilt" would think of as a patchwork quilt. They're pictures of things, or expressions of ideas, or a combination of both, using fabric quilting as a medium. Perhaps they should just call it "textile art". That aside, there were quite a number that I wouldn't have minded having and hanging around the place, if we had the space and the cash.

We eventually left and took the D985 (or something) vaguely southeast through to Autun (which has important Roman ruins) and then through vineyards and forests to Chalon and the autoroute. A very pleasant drive, through places like Mercurey and Gevrey which I think we'll repeat - in the opposite sense, and with ample time for stopovers - next time we go back: early August, with any luck. This time round there was no time to get some Burgundy to replenish the cellar, and it's starting to look a bit empty down there.


Last week we had a man in, as they say, attacking our terrace. He finished putting the stairs down to the courtyard, restored my decking to its previous state and then went on to repair the concrete railings on the balcony, which were, as visitors can testify, in a precarious state supported mainly by string. All for the very reasonable price of 5500F, material included. Margo is very happy. And I must admit, it really changes the way we use the place. "Going down to the courtyard" used to be the last resort: now we can just wander down and enjoy it.

Jeremy needs to learn to read. He gets a rather idiosyncratic view of things from just looking at the pictures, as witness what he told me last night: "And you know Daddy, they put the baby Jesus up on nails, on a croix, and then he woke up and went picking flowers in his dressing-gown.". It seems unlikely that religious studies will be his strong point.

We seem to have had the wettest July on record. About double the usual rainfall, it seems. And I'll spare you the temperatures - we might as well have been in NZ for the winter. At least it's started to clear up - at least a little bit - and as Sunday dawned clear and fine we had a barbecue again. Steve and Isabelle and Joc the New York lawyer and her husband Hervé and assorted kids, and to general surprise no casualties were reported. I had vaguely been hoping to get some work done so as to e-mail off the results on Tuesday before heading back up to Pesselière on Wednesday, but as usual we didn't wrap things up until about 18:00 and at that point I was wandering about in an alcoholic haze so I'll just have to catch up tonight and tomorrow, and then submit things late as usual.

I shall also have to bring my rudimentary carpentry skills out of hibernation so as to build a couple of units for Malyon's bedroom: one with a desk in it and the other with lots of shelves and drawers and things. We could buy a very nice one if we were willing to pay at least 10,000F, which I'm not: if I'm careful and work nicely I ought to be able to knock together the equivalent for about 2,000F in wood and accessories, which sounds much more reasonable. Time to dust off the circular saw, I think.

Anyway, I'm going to pretend to get a bit of work done so I'll send this off now rather than next month some time.

Sunday, July 2, 2000

02/07/00 Of marbles and meatballs ...

Welcome back, everybody.

Well, we've had an interesting couple of weeks trying to reintegrate Malyon into the family and get used to having two kids again. Not that easy but Malyon (and Jeremy) have done really well. She's grown up a lot and it's (almost) a pleasure to have her around. For the last couple of weeks they've been sleeping in what is now Jeremy's bedroom; now that Jean and Leigh have left for England Margo has started attacking the bedroom to get it up to scratch for Malyon ie strip the old wallpaper, paint walls and ceilings, stick up the bad-taste dolphin frieze and then, finally, put in her mammoth antique bed and shift her in.

As I said, Jean & Leigh left today: I took them off to Satolas (now confusingly signposted "St-Exupéry" on the autoroute). Just to make sure they didn't forget their stay Jeremy chose today, abot 15 minutes before we were due to leave, to swallow a marble. Don't ask how it got into his mouth, I don't know and don't really want to know, but I came down from my shower to find Jeremy sitting bolt-upright, looking pale and panicky, while Margo phoned A&E to find out what to do with a six-year old that's just swallowed a marble. We left together: Margo, Malyon & Jeremy in the ambulance and Jean, Leigh & I in the Alfa. Waved as we overtook them on the autoroute - I don't think anyone noticed. We now have a souvenir X-ray of Jeremy, showing a big white blob in his stomach. Acording to the quack, it should move out in 48 hours or so. We'll know when we hear a "Ping!" as it hits the porcelain.

On arriving back home I took their bed down, we emptied the room and Margo started getting the wallpaper off so that we can turn it into Malyon's bedroom, tastefully decorated in cream and brown with a frieze of jolly grey dolphins leaping about. When that's all done we can move her big bed up there and get her properly installed. Also have to get a couple more quotes on replacing the doors downstairs: got a first one for about 28,000F (which was about what I was expecting) but I'd like to have a second (and a third, why not?) opinion before I go spending that much.

I also finally got off my chuff and shifted machines around so that the home machine has at long last gone downstairs for the kids and the new machine is upstairs for Margo and I. It all went swimmingly until I tried to import the old mail messages from Outlook Express 4 into Outlook Express 5, at which point it told me that there were no mail folders present. I've tried pleading, when that failed I tried threats, but I still haven't managed to get two years-worth of e-mail onto the new system. This is extremely annoying.


Ah well, seems it was my fault after all. I checked up on the appropriate MS site for Outlook Express and found (not under the error message I got, but never mind that) that to import mail you must NOT select the folder actually containing the mail, but its parent folder! As is so clearly marked (sarcasm) in the dialog box for the mail import wizard, which asks you to select the folder containing the mail to be imported. Microsoft proudly boasts that it has more usability testers than it has programmers: I already know that the programmers don't do a lot of work, and it seems to me that their testers are on permanent holiday. Or permanently pissed. Or both. Never mind, I've got you all back, all those beautiful words I've written and all the silly things people have sent us ... I feel much better!

I really ought to be working on another website just now but I really can't be bothered, and Margo is down below doing another translation for AXE: about 18 pages this time, an offer for a communications strategy for one of the companies nvolved in the Sydney Olympics. Which, of course, they'd like for tomorrow evening. They'll pay for this. She's probably made more monry translating in the past month than in all the time with the shop. Speaking of which, the bank has been alarmingly forbearing. We got a recommended letter more than a month or so ago demanding repayment of the loan they took out when they opened the shop, and after a simple phone call back we haven't heard a word more from them. Worrying, really. Shall have to ring back and find out what's going on - still like to hear from the lawyer and know what the insurance company has offered before doing that.

Met one of our neighbours for the first time the other day, by the way - the female half of a young couple that's installed in one part of the rambling old house/farm next-door. She speaks perfect English, with a slight Surrey accent - result of a mixed marriage (one male, one female - no, father English, mother French). Her attention was apparently drawn by our yelling at the cat in English.

Anyway, I'd better stop here for the time being as I have to take the machine to bits (again) so as to extract the Firewire card from it so that I can hand it back (along with the little Sony video camera) to a client tomorrow. I'd planned on doing a bit more work with it but I haven't had the time so tough titty, they'll just have to live with the driver as it is.


Sunday night here and the cars are honking like mad as it seems that the French team won some provincial soccer match or other and thus have a chance at becoming European champions. Didn't even know it was on, personally - been too busy out at a 4th of July BBQ with Hervé and Joc and some of their friends. (An odd mix really - them, us, an Italian-American of Panamanian nationality/Italo-French couple and an American/French couple.) Been incredibly hot today - if I can believe the thermometer down in the courtyard it was 33° in the shade. Thank god for air-conditioning!

Malyon finally has her own room - there's a bit of finishing-off to do (like sand back the skirting-boards a bit and giving them a second coat, and putting up the frieze she chose) but her mammoth bed is installed and she's actually sleeping in it. We've also had a man around for a guesstimation on putting a staircase down from the balcony to the courtyard and repairing the bits of balcony that are dropping off, and he came up with the totally reasonable figure of 6000F all up, which I can certainly live with. (All work paid for under the table, of course.) He also took a look up at the attic and reckoned that it'd cost us about 100,000F to get it done the way we want it ie at least three bedrooms (including a massive one for us) plus extra for sticking in an ensuite for us, a bathroom and a toilet. I think we'll be able to manage that over the next few years. When it all gets done, we should have a house with about 250 m² living area, not counting balconies, terrace and courtyard: with a bit of luck we'll turn a tidy profit when we eventually come to sell the place.

I have some pages for a website to set up in the next week or so: it's an online marketplace for machine-tool buyers and sellers and they want to get the auction side of it up and running. In theory it should be done for mid-July but I really don't know if that'll be possible, especially as we're all taking off to Pesselière for a couple of days on the 13th. I haven't been able to get the existing site to access the database on my machine, no-one at the company actually knows how - or why - the database interface works ... I have a progress meeting with them tomorrow afternoon so I can see that after installing my stock control system at Rumilly in the morning I'll have to stop off at a bar somewhere and invent some sort of status quo to show that I have actually been thinking of them. Not really the case, but Bullshit Baffles Brains is still my motto.

And on Tuesday Margo takes off to England for a week, ostensibly to attend the quilt exhibition in which she's a competitor. The kids will be in my gentle care for an entire week - luckily they're still at school so I basically just have to get them there in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, which'll leave me all day for adrenaline-fuelled development. Right now they're screening the entire lot of the original Star Trek series on Canal Jimmy, and the first episode is about to start and I am going towatch it. So goodnight all!