Thursday, August 15, 2002

15/08/02 A weeks-worth of Valium ...

Here we are on holiday, for once, at Palavas-les-bloody-Flots, Mecca of the Francais moyen. (Not quite true. Mecca is la Grande Motte, just up the coast a way. Palavas is one of the lesser holy places.) Benidorm it isn't, but the coast is built-up, in varying degrees of hideousness, for at least 40km to each side of us.

It's one of those spots where, by tradition, the average Frog-person comes to spend their holidays, and there are many magnificent examples of the species to be observed and even, if you can get close enough to take them by surprise, photographed. The usual collection of bare breasts about, many of which would, unfortunately, be better suited to a museum than a family beach. Still, there are always a few delightful exceptions.

Thanks to the mother of a friend of Margo's, we have a small studio in the casino complex, about 20m from the sea. Directly in front of us is the port, with about 800 boats of different sizes moored at the moment (it's not Monaco either, so don't bother thinking of ocean-going palaces) and just a bit off to the left are the beaches. The apartment itself is a perfect size for two wife-swapping couples, and adequate for us, given that neither of the kids have yet discovered hormones. Be impossible once they develop mood swings and pimples.

Personally I find the water far too chilly for anything more than a quick paddle just to keep up appearances, but Jeremy and Malyon demand to be taken down at least once a day, even if it's only to build sand-castles or, in Jeremy's case, to dig a hole and bury himself in it. The water, it seems, is too cold, and the sand keeps him warm.

We came down here on Monday 5th, hoping to avoid the weekend traffic jams. I suppose we were successful in that, but it didn't stop us taking a couple of hours to do the last 70km of autoroute. Good thing we left reasonably early (or, as far as I'm concerned, unreasonably early).

One of the minor inconveniences of the Mediterranean is the mistral, the south wind which can reach alarming speeds. It hasn't been that bad, but there have been a couple of times when Margo and the kids have been forced to abandon the beach to avoid being sandblasted to the bone.

Anyway, yesterday - Friday - wasn't particularly nice so we decided to go off and have a wander around Montpellier. A charming city. The name comes from the latin "mons pistillarius", spice hill (because the spice merchants - the then masters of the universe - lived there). And the old city is indeed built on a hill - or several of them. Low hills, admittedly, but still hills, or what passes for them around here.

Apparently they tried to do a Haussmann on it in the 19th century and turn it into some sort of southern Paris: luckily they didn't succeed. There is a mini-Opera, more or less a direct copy (in miniature) of the Palais Garnier, and a few grands boulevards, but most of the old city is still a labyrinth of old buildings on tiny cobbled streets and around miniscule courtyards. As luck would have it we went down one of these, attracted by the bridge across the street at the third-floor level, and stumbled across an English bookshop, where we were able to stock up.

Then, investigating a C14 first-floor off-the-wall privy (still, to all appearances, in use, although I imagine that the plumbing has been redone since the installation of the original long-drop) came upon a discreet window with a tasteful display of exotic leather and chain lingerie. The prices seemed excessive for something that was mainly holes. Sort of thing that'd leave nothing to the imagination, were it not that shop dummies have no primary sexual characteristics.

For some strange reason, possibly related to the fact that Margo was with us, we then wandered into the sewing-machine district (yes, there is one, bizarre as it may seem) where Margo came upon a patchwork shop, which made her very happy. The kids do not share her enthusiasm, so the rest of us waited outside in a litte square and amused ourselves with watching grass grow.

Today being fine we spent the afternoon on the beach, making sandcastles, while Margo went off to - guess what - a patchwork exhibition. When that was over she came down and joined us, so I went off to do some serious degustation at the wine fair that took - is, in fact, still taking - place today. As a result we'll be heading home on Monday about 20kg heavier, and that's without counting the collections of interesting shells and the omnipresent sand.

Back home again to discover the lawn overgrown thanks to all the rain we seem to have missed out on whilst on holiday, and the faithful dog is just as cretinous as she was. Jeremy is now all of eight years old, Malyon will soon be thirteen, and the summer is slowly winding down.

On a practical note, some of you may remember Anne-Laure, the young lady who came over with us last time we were in your neck of the woods. She's at university now ( how time flies) majoring in computer imaging, 3-D animation and complicated things like that which I don't pretend to understand. Whatever, she wishes to do her doctorate and for some really strange reason she'd like to do it either in New Zealand or in Canada. Is there anyone out there who knows if such a degree is possible in NZ, and if so where? There's no great rush, but she'd like to know.

Carry on having a really grotty winter: I personally am going to get back to doing some really disgusting things with a DSP (nothing personal, it's for the SNCF, so that must be alright).

Trevor, Margo & everyone else

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

13/08/02 Rising damp


Here we are, having closed the final chapter of a pretty mediocre summer (weather-wise, I'm talking) and starting on what will be, if we can extrapolate from current trends, a grotty autumn.Cool, and wet. Excessively so.

Well, things are moving - at a glacial pace - on our naturalisation dossiers: we got a letter a few weeks ago asking us for "legalised" versions of the documents (birth certificates, marriage certificate etc) with which we'd supplied them - God nose what it means but the NZ Embassy people seem to have some idea. It just means getting recent copies of the said documents (they apparently don't like to work with old ones - must be allergic to dust) and sending them off to get translated and struck with some sort of magic wand (or ambassadorial stamp, I have no idea) and, of course, paying for the privilege.

As an aside, they also asked for the birth certificates and, if it existed, the marriage certificate for Margos' parents (not mine - why not?) in order to facilitate the process: "failing which, the High Court of Nantes must be asked to establish the appropriate equivalents".

The big news from our side is that future visitors will be able to stay in rather more comfort. The bed may still be a joke exploding sofa that folds up with you still in it, but at least it'll be in a room that isn't shared by five cubic metres of material and a decade's worth of accumulated junk.Yes, we have the plans for doing up the attic and the bank has agreed to pay for it, so in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future we'll have an extra three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a reasonable living area up there: and if we're lucky and our menuisier friend Philippe gets off his arse, we'll have a staircase so that we can get to them.

It won't really increase the number of rooms available, because the plans are that Malyon's bedroom then becomes my office, our bedroom becomes Margo's junk room, the upstairs living-room becomes just that (rather than Margo's junk room) and Jeremy's bedroom turns into the landing for the staircase. But it will give us another 90 m² in which to complain about the lack of space in the house.

All that remains to be done is to get in touch with the guy that did the quote and see when he can get started. Unlikely to be before 2003, but with any luck he'll be able to fit us in at the beginning of the year rather than at the end. It is, let it be said, a perfect winter job: inside, dry, and reasonably warm.

I've also managed to do something that everyone ought to be forced to do at least once in their lives, namely installing Windiws 98 (or "Windows mille neuf cent quatre-vingt dix-huit", as Jeremy insists on calling it) side by side with Win 2K. It took some time, as only Win98 SE has a utility allowing one to create a bootable diskette that will recognise FAT32 disks (which, of course, Win2K uses by default). Unfortunately, the said utility requires access to a hard disk to create a boot diskette (and doesn't tell you if it hasn't got access, it just goes ahead and creates a totally unusable diskette with all files at 0 bytes) which left me somewhat stuck, as it works only under DOS and the only DOS boot diskette around was one for Win95 (which doesn't recognise FAT32 disks). I finally had to boot my office machine (which has a FAT16 drive) using the old Win95 diskette and do the job there. On arriving home, much to my surprise and alarm the whole thing worked - and for what? So that Malyon can use Encarta 2000 (which won't install under Win2K, with the rather cryptic error message that KALLISTI.EXE is trying to violate something) and so that Jeremy can play a couple of games (one of them was, I must admit, his birthday present, and having a present that you can just look at but can't play is a bit tough). It only took a day or so.

Spent a fascinating afternoon scraping down the windows upstairs: the last three weekends I spent replacing all the panes in the french doors onto the balcony on the north-west side of the house. They were put in when the upstairs was built, some sixty years ago, and the putty had perished and was falling out and anyway the glass was only 1mm thick, so we reckoned it was about time to replace the lot. Not a perfect job, but at least now the wood's stripped back ready for revarnishing, and when the wind howls down from the north it won't be coming into the bedrooms around the window-panes.

Back from a couple of days in Paris, where I luckily missed out on some of the worst flooding in years down in the Midi. Apparently there was just very heavy rain here - drove through some of it heading up. And despite Meteo Frances' promises, things didn't really get better until today. Hope it lasts: we've a BBQ scheduled for Sunday and everyone is busy getting the grapes in for what may well be a somewhat watery vintage.

Have a day of hard physical labour planned for tomorrow as someone turned up with an enormous rotary hoe and dug up the old vegetable garden in the paddock (the one we've been talking about having dug up for the last three years): now it needs rolling down, a big level patch (just big enough for a swimming pool) made in it, and then sowing with grass. Luckily there's only a few hundred square metres to be done. Anyone care to come over to give us a hand?

To round off the day, I discovered where 10000 euros can disappear. Back in April, I billed a Swiss client for doing their website and waited for the cash to roll in, as it usually does with them. After a few months, still nothing: I ring and enquire. Turns out that the temp worker they had in at the time had put the bill on the top shelf and left it there. Time passes, as it does: where's my cash? Ring again, the company has out-sourced its accounting to Young, Rubicam: a few hiccups. Still later - beginning of August - I ring again: goodness me, the outsourced accountants don't have our bank references, so haven't been able to pay us (haven't said anything either, until I asked). We are promised payment that same day, if only I will fax them the bank references. Done. Today, still no cash. Ring the client. Yes, payment went out. Ring our bank. No, nothing's come in. Ring client again. Their account has been debited. Ring our bank again. Still no cash. Ring client a third time, get the bank transfer order details. Ring our bank, give them said details. Miracle! the money is found, sitting in our bank's holding account (gathering interest at LIBOR, no doubt) while they decided what to do with it. Ring client to apologise. Make mental note to change banks, preferably with extreme prejudice. Honestly, sitting on 10000 euros for 24 days whilst "the transaction was being handled"? I want the interest!

They apologised fulsomely (like, "Sorry, see what we can do about getting you your money, perhaps by Monday") but I rather think that we can do without them any more. Such incompetence is rare and doubtless deserves to be rewarded, but not by me.

Margo is back with the language school at Albertville and her hours have been finalised: the good news is that they entail no evening work, and in fact most days she'll be home in time to pick up Jeremy from school. The bad news is that four days out of five she has to be at Albertville at 8am, which means setting the alarm for 6:15. An hour at which (unless I've spent the entire night working and am still awake) I am only barely recognisable as belonging to the same branch of the evolutionary tree as the rest of you. Not that Margo's much better.
And the more brutish amongst you will doubtless be pleased to hear that Jeremy has decided that he wants to play rugby, and has started with the Montmelian rugby club. We'll see how long it lasts. I might be being over-cynical, though, as according to Margo (who gets the job of taking Jeremy through to Montmelian every Saturday afternoon) there's a good atmosphere about the club, and Jeremy is quite capable of deciding that he really does like rugby and will work at it.

Goodnight, all
Trevot, Margo, brats & animals