Tuesday, December 19, 2006

19/12/06 I'll have the toad soufflé, garçon

Not a good choice.

Honestly, there's no way you can make toad good. Even with ketchup. You're probably better off opting for the pigeon-dropping paté. Which is not, oddly enough, a paté made from pigeon droppings, but one which is delivered by being dropped from specially-trained homing pigeons. Often right through a window, 'cos the little sods don't actually know what those are, but there you are.

Anyway, I hope you're all well. Personally I called in with Jeremy to see Renaud and Sophie after the market, stayed for lunch and downed a couple of bottles before coming back home to clean out the interior of the woodburner, which had started to draw attention to itself by farting great clouds of evil-smelling smoke rather than actually heating anything. A messy job, but at least I won't have to do it again before next Spring.

Always provided, of course, that it (Spring, that is) arrives - just at the moment it feels that it already has. I mean, 11pm and it's still around 15° outside, a warm southerly blowing gently up the street and the bats are still orbiting rather than hibernating.


Back again, another week older and hopefully proportionately wiser. And still warm. It's got to the point where the heating-oil suppliers are actually ringing their old customers to see whether you wouldn't by any chance like a top-up: usually they don't bother because they can't keep up with the demand anyway, but right now they must be feeling the pinch. Normally the Belledonnes across the valley are a pristine white down to about 1000m by now, but as it happens they're more muddy grey/green with the odd thin patch of snow right up at the top. They've even had to cancel the Criterium up at Val d'Isère for lack of snow. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

You may have noticed that Xmas is approaching - time for you lot to dust off the barbecues and fill the watering cans with petrol to aid ignition. And it's precisely because it's that time of year that I headed back to Grenoble yesterday, to check out on prospective presents and, incidentally, to do a bit of topping up in the spice/sauce department.

Say what you will about the European surrender monkeys, they do know how to organise public transport. Grenoble is a reasonably large, spacious city with lovely green areas which just happens to sit in a bowl in the surrounding mountains, which makes for really massive pollution problems in summer, and on top of it the older parts were designed for narrow-gauge horse-drawn carriages rather than cars, so they consciously try to discourage driving in town. Partly by making the central carparks expensive enough that you'd want to take out a second mortgage before going to one, or maybe think seriously about selling the kids off on the wharves at Marseille, and partly by making it a no-brainer to park outside and use the trams and buses. These days I park at Les Sablons, on the eastern side of the city, from whence it's a 5-minute tram ride to Place Ste Claire or Victor Hugo, right in the centre. It costs a flat 2€50 for the car-park - all day, if that's how long it takes - and that includes a round-trip tram ticket to the centre of town for each and every occupant of the car.

I must admit that I don't have to live there and so I'm not having to deal with the daily problems of - let's say - getting off the bus, staggering 500m to the door of your C18 apartment building with what feels like half a tonne of roof tiles in the (slowly ripping) plastic bags at the end of each arm and then lurching up the five (picturesque) flights of stairs (because there is no lift) before realising that you have only your toddler with you and it's quite possible that the 5-year old did not, in fact, follow you off at the bus stop. It's usually around then that you realise that you are being followed by all the neighbourhood cats because the jar of cream at the bottom of the plastic bags has broken and been leaking all the way up the stairs, and that the concierge has doubtless found the other missing packages and now knows - as if she didn't already - all about your miserable sex life.

Still, it's better than with a car. I remember that when Ian and Marie lived in the 13th in Paris, they had a car. Because there was no parking outside their apartment (well, there was in fact a park, but it was permanently occupied by some sort of vehicle that was in fact physically incapable of moving) they had all those problems, plus the next morning they had to try to remember where the hell they'd left the car the previous night. Which could be anywhere in a one-kilometre radius - or more precisely, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it was in fact everywhere in a 1km radius. Until of course you collapse the wave function by actually looking for it, at which point Sod's Law takes over from quantum physics and you find that your car has been ticketed, clamped, and towed to the pound.

Anyway, after that little digression ...

A quick trip off to the Carrefour d'Asie greengrocer's for more rubbing spices and noodles and red sugar, then back to Place Ste Claire and the "epicerie fine" (the name of which, unfortunately, escapes me - not that you're going to head over here just to visit the place. Although if you happen to be here, you could do worse than visit it.) which lurks in a side street between the covered market and rue Bayard to buy decent curry and mustard powder and gourmet chocolate.

And as it's more or less next-door, down to the Laiterie Bayard, which I'm sure I've mentioned before - the word "laiterie" just doesn't do it justice. It's some sort of Pythonesque cheese shop with cheese in it - amongst other things. I'd be amongst the first to admit that some of their cheeses are - to my taste - a bit elderly, but going by the prices they seem to be able to get away with there must be a well-heeled market for - let's say - three year-old farm-matured cheddar, or seemingly-petrified gouda. I managed to escape with only a couple of goat's cheeses, a bottle of a Speyside single malt for me and a 15-year old Antillais rum for Renaud. (This sort of thing is why, whenever I go to Grenoble for shopping porpoises, I stick a large backpack in the boot of the car. It saves me arriving home with arms of differing lengths.)

Having got out of there alive, it was time to wander off north a bit into the older centre of town, down the high, narrow streets where the Arab butchers and Indian restaurants lurk. I love those. And by happy coincidence, these are the best streets to walk if you happen to be looking for Arab pastries, and Jeremy is very partial to a corne de gazelle (which is, should you ask, a brittle pastry wrapper filled with an almond/honey paste, shaped into a crescent and then baked and suffocated with icing-sugar) so I picked a couple of those up.

Decided there was sod-all point in going into the FNAC to see about picking up a new phone, given that the place seemed to be actually regurgitating Christmas shoppers (and on top of it all that alcohol in the backpack was starting to weigh on me a bit) so it was back again to Ste Claire and this time into the Irish shop. Where, apart from the whiskies, the tinned haggises, the cheese and CDs of Celtic moans backed up by the wailings of the tin whistle, you can buy Crunchy bars and Flakes. Which is what I did. (Also got tinned haggis and fudge and stuff as stocking-fillers for Xmas at Pesselière, but that's another matter.)

Then finally, because there was still a little bit of room left in the backpack, I popped across the road and into the porcelain shop and came out with a new dinner set, so we now eat off something that doesn't look as though it's had to survive two small children. First time in a long while that I've eaten off unchipped plates.


I'm reduced to writing this using the "compact" keyboard from Jeremy's machine, 'cos I spilled half a dry martini into my keyboard on Saturday and it didn't appreciate it. Neither did I, to tell the truth - waste of a good martini - and the real bugger is that Microsoft no longer make the "Natural" keyboards that I really like, and I didn't have the foresight to buy in a bulk lot back when they were being produced. Margo has the same keyboard as I had, but trying to steal that isn't really an option, so I just have to hope that the "Natural Ergonomic" keyboard I ordered last night (and which had damn well better arrive tomorrow) turns out to be an acceptable replacement. I really did get used to that split, tilted keyboard.

Fortunately, I don't have that much to write. Malyon has class Saturday morning and theater in the afternoon (yes, she's involved in the latest Upstage production at the lycée) so we'll be leaving for Pesselière on Sunday morning, hopefully arriving before the chicken gets stuffed. If I may put it so. We'll try to leave before the conversation turns to politics, probably Thursday or Friday, and on Saturday or Sunday Jill and John are supposed to be turning up on their way back to Barcelona after a week's skiing (hur-hur!) at Val Thorens.

I mentioned that Malyon is now an official Frog-person: I had to go off to the mairie this morning and get her put on the census list so that, amongst other things, she can

  • sit her baccalaureat exam
  • get put onto the electoral roll so that she can vote for Jacques Chirac as president (yet again)
  • do her military service
As she's still a minor getting her a French passport involves us supplying our birth and marriage certificates, so that can damn well wait until she's 18. Not that it's that important: she still has her NZ passport and her French ID card will be good enough for travel within the EU.

Right, Jeremy has some googling to do tomorrow so I'd better go and put this keyboard back. Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope summer turns up soon.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

15/11/06 Allo allo allo, wot's all this then ...

Which is by way of an introduction to "Evening all" ...

For evening indeed it is, and we've wound our clocks back an hour (completely forgot to get up at 3am in order to do it at the officially sanctioned time, but there you go - I'll doubtless be punished in some hypothetical reincarnation. Get reborn as an earwig or something.).

In any case, I hope you're having as nice a spring as our autumn. End of October, and we still haven't had to turn on the central heating. Bright and sunny, temperature's up in the (admittedly low) 20s ... what more could you want from the season? There are minor inconveniences - the gold and scarlet leaves are falling, making the roads slippery and treacherous, the hunters are out with their shotguns and kegs of cheap red wine, making afternoon strolls in the mountains an exercise reserved for the foolhardy or downright suicidal, and fuel oil prices will doubtless rise again, and we'll just have to freeze in the dark, huddled for warmth around our last remaining candle, as the winter nights close in and the (reintroduced) wolves howl nearby.

Or maybe not. Whatever, whilst waiting (for the wolves of course, what else?) we've summoned up enough energy to get back to doing some of the decoration that so sorely needs doing around the place.


Well, that was last weekend. Started off in an excess of good intentions, and petered out like a balloon three weeks after the party. Virtually overnight (on Wednesday night, as it happens) we lost 10° . The weather is still fine - thanks for small mercies - but it's about 1° when I finally summon up the courage to head off to the office in the mornings, and the grass is frosted. Which probably means that the raspberries I picked on Wednesday were the last we can reasonably expect this year. With any luck the grass will also go into hibernation, which would be very welcome considered that the starter cord on the lawnmower broke last weekend and I haven't yet got around to taking the thing off to get that fixed and, whilst it's at the shop, get its first proper servicing in about 5 years.

We've also had to turn on the central heating, at long last. Mustn't complain, it's been about 6 weeks later than usual. And it is nice to have a permanently warm bathroom with hot fluffy towels waiting at the end of a nice long shower.

Spent all afternoon clinging for dear life onto the scaffolding I erected in the stairwell, finishing off sticking the faux-marble tiles up the wall from ground level to the first-floor ceiling. (Malyon thinks it's moche, but frankly I quite like the effect, it cost sod-all, required no preparation - sanding, scraping back, whatever - and it's damn quick. What more could you want?) Next weekend I'll have to get back up there again to get the grouting done, and then the weekend after that it's vertigo time again as I attack the ceiling itself - or at least the bits of it that are over the stairwell. Still, things are going reasonably quickly so we might manage to finish the entrance in fairly short order, before we're confronted with the more existential problems of the first floor.


As usual, this is turning out to be rather episodic. Sorry about that. Whatever, just to comfort those of you who are suffering a particularly grotty summer, it's warmed up yet again over in Ole Yurrup, so it's around 8° when I take Jerry up to school. If this is global warming I'll have an extra helping, thanks. Just give me a chainsaw and point me in the direction of the nearest rain-forest.

Still, I know it can't last, but until the new electric motor for my windscreen wipers arrives at the garage I'll be on my knees asking for it not to rain. Ever tried doing 140 kph on the autoroute, in wet weather, with no wipers? Me neither, and I don't really want to find out what it's like. I'm sure Jeremy Clarkson knows, and would be only too happy to tell me, but honestly it's not my thing. Hurtling backwards at 100k on the highway somewhere between Hamilton and National Park, trying to steer via the rear mirror, spoiled that sort of thing for me.

Of course, as I happened to be at the garage I just had to go past the line-up and I must admit that the Brera coupé caught my eye. And wouldn't give it back. She may have all the acceleration of a tank (a Scorpion mind you, which isn't a slouch - as tanks go) but she is beautiful. Anyone got any good pickup lines?

Jeremy decided to give up music this year, as he couldn't stand the thought of all the theory. The actual playing was fine, but the solfège was too much. So if anyone wants a drum kit (or a clarinet, come to that, as Malyon's abandoned it too - lack of time) we have one for sale. 300 €, only slightly used, got plenty of noise left in it. Anyway, he decided to take up boxing instead. The choice was that or fencing, and boxing got the nod. Have to admit that you do get your money's worth: three nights a fortnight from 18:45 and they usually finish sometime around 20:45, sometimes later. Makes it a bit tricky organising dinner, although under the circumstances I should perhaps just forget about that because when he does get back he's usually too physically tired to actually eat a great deal anyway. So a sandwich would probably do the job, all things considered.

Congratulations, by the way, on beating the French national team on Saturday. We were sitting downstairs enjoying dinner with the neighbours when Malyon and Jeremy trooped down from the TV room, laughing like maniacs, to announce the sad new that the Frogs had been walked over, 47-3. The Sunday edition of the local rag had an enormous headline "All Blacks humiliate France at Lyon", which I suppose more or less sums the matter up. I understand that the NZ coach was particularly diplomatic, making comments along the lines of "The French played just as well as us, just bad luck really that they didn't manage to score any points". How nicer could you be? Anyway, I suppose it makes up for last time when, if I remember, the All Blacks were so soundly thrashed that counselling units were set up in universities to help students facing exams deal with their grief and the returning team had to arrive disguised as German tourists to avoid being ceremonially strung up from the lamp-posts along the road from the airport.

Margo is studying hard to get her CAP (that's "Certificat d'Aptitude Professionnel" to you, or it might be "Professionnelle" depending on whether or not "Aptitude" is masculine or feminine) as a seamstress. The exam is in January (I think) and then she'll have to work out what - if anything - she's going to do with it.

Malyon, meanwhile, has padded out her already busy calendar with involvement - yet again - in the drama club's annual English production. This time round it's as assistant production manager (Mr Simpson's sidekick and general dogsbody, that is) with a couple of walk-on parts to fill in those awful moments when the director (Mr Simpson again, wearing his other hat) discovers that all of the actual cast that are not on stage are in fact getting made up or changing costumes, and someone still has to walk on and say something.

And that, to date, is about it as far as our news goes. I'll doubtless find time to wish you all a Merry Xmas and all a bit closer to the date - in the meantime, mind how you go, all.


Tuesday, August 8, 2006

08/08/06 Evil mutant chickens plot world domination ...

... and as far as I'm concerned, they're welcome.

You may relax, that was not a headline from USA Today and is thus not all that likely to be true.

Well, we came back from our week's holiday at Pesselières a couple of weeks back and I'm now sufficiently out of holiday mode to be able to write about it. Not that there's much to say, the place being about as far from the madding crowd as you can get and still have gravity in most of the rooms.

The original plan was that Sophie would come up with us, bringing Lucas and Rémi for a week's boredom amongst the sunflowers and wheat fields, but her sister turned up and announced her intention of staying quietly in Savoie so that didn't happen. Malyon was off fruit-picking in the Drôme so Margo and I and Kelly and Jeremy and his friend Benjamin headed up at the height of the canicule for a good week's doing nothing. And let the record show that we were pretty good at that. We managed a trip off to Guedélon, the chateau-fort that a crowd of loonies enthusiasts are building using medieval tools and techniques (should be finished in another 18 years or so), a stopover at the reservoir at St-Fargeau, a visit to a pottery and a cultural trip to the Marché des Potiers at St-Sauveur, but for the rest we lounged, soaked in the swimming pool, ate, drank, and watched the grass grow.

Or not, because being the canicule the grass wasn't in much of a hurry to do anything except get browner and browner. But I did manage to get astride a bike and do eight kilometers a day which is not - in absolute terms - a great deal but was at least enough to make me feel that I'd worked off some of the rosé I'd consumed. And let me get somewhere my cellphone works, and check up on messages.

The main problem when you're basically out of circulation for a week concerns the reading matter. There's quite a bit at Pesselières, but most of it is 10 year-old National Geographic magazines and the rest is an eclectic mix of French books from the 1980's with the odd sample of English airport literature thrown in. I refuse to read Wilbur Smith because doing so gives your brain pimples, and there are only so many times you can re-read Jean-Pierre Coffe's tirades on food and life before going out and persecuting small furry animals. There was a copy of "Sense & Sensibility", which lasted a day, but I was really pleased (and everyone else, including the small furry animals, was doubtless extremely relieved) when I spotted a copy of The Economist at the (one and only) bookshop of St Sauveur. In fact there were at least ten copies, which surprised me a bit - I really didn't think there would be that much demand. And as it happened I was right - there wasn't that much demand - for when we got back to the house and I settled down for a good bit of neuron-fodder I discovered it was dated September 2005. Not exactly fresh news. I was desperate, I read it anyway. Every last word.

On the return trip we decided to try the "itineraire bis", the alternative route. I'll admit it was pictureskew, but the main aim of such routes is to get Parisians off the autoroutes (thus unblocking them for normal persons) and, if possible, lost forever in the countryside. Failed with us, but it was a close shave. On the other hand the scenery is generally a bit more interesting than that around the autoroute, and one can come across some interesting place-names. I didn't have the presence of mind to get Margo to stop so I could take a photo as proof, but I swear that as we headed towards Autun we drove past the lieu-dit called "Les Pénis".

Stéphane had lavished attention on Mischief so she hardly even noticed when we turned up but I hadn't dared ask him to water the tomatoes so they were a bit crispy when I went to look at them. They survived, and the tomatoes (those that weren't too close to the ground, and avoided actually getting cooked on the vine) ripened nicely, but I don't think we'll get many more. Which does not, I admit, worry me too much as the primeur from the Drôme is at the market now so every Saturday I buy four or five kilos of sun-ripened tomatoes (which I try to remember to put on top of the melon in the shopping basket) which in fact taste better than the ones from the garden anyway.

Also in the breaking news from old Yurrup ...

After 8 years we finally concreted the floor of the middle cellar (well, Stéphane did the concreting, his uncle operated the cement mixer and I ran up and down with barrows full of concrete and made encouraging noises) and are now more or less in conformity with the law as the washing machine water outlet is now connected to the sewage system rather than just going into the ground somewhere under the terrace and from there running down the path to the stream. Not that we actually have a stream at the moment - not enough water around.

Next up in the "things I've been meaning to do for the past three years but somehow have never found time for" department is redoing the entrance hall. What wallpaper there is is "Venetian Festival" from the 1960s (or thereabouts), which needs to go anyway, and on one wall, that up which the stairs go, there's just plaster and enormous tar stains from when water got into the chimney that goes up through there. So we're going to stick fake marble lino tiles up that wall (which goes from the ground floor up to the first-floor ceiling), which means I'm going to have to build a sort of temporary platform over the stairwell so that I can actually get up there. Got everything we need (I hope), just got to get in and do it. Real Soon Now.

Ian and Marie and Elise and Caroline turned up last week to spend a few days of their holidays with us, and as bad luck would have it that coincided with the worst weather we've had for months. One day we're "enjoying" (well not really, since you ask) 28° at 9am climbing up to 39° in the afternoon, the next the high is 21° and it rained all day. Then it rained the day after that, and the day after that as well. Not that we didn't need the rain, but I could have done without the cold ... Whatever, Sunday was more or less fine and Ian decided that his visit wouldn't be complete without a bit of a walk in the mountains. I foolishly agreed to go with him, and so we set out on our little stroll - four or five km as the crow flies, but climbing 800m. I'm used to walking, but not really in shape for that much vertical in fell swoop. Not to mention coming down again, which really is not kind on your knees. Bit stiff on Monday.

Have a really nice winter ...

Trevor & Margo

PS Malyon wishes it to be known that she got 15/20 for her French bac. This is, apparently, rather good. She's also French now, or will be as soon as the judge signs the papers. Congratulate or commiserate, as the fancy takes you.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

14/05/06 The usual suspects ...

In this case, the entire French political class.The Clearstream affair is currently at the top of the national political agenda - usual story of who knew what and when did they know it. Sarkozy seems to have been innocent - for once - but decided to say nothing, hoping that perhaps someone would bring the matter up, at which point he'd be able to play the victim. The "someone" is de Villepin and Chirac, now loudly denying involvement. Amusing, but not particularly edifying.

Add something else to the list of ballsups committed on Jacques Chirac's watch - stopping the Frog nuclear tests in the Pacific. It seems pretty evident now that they were all that stood between us and global warming/climate change, and I rather think I prefer things the way they were.

Some of you - notably Gill and Isabelle - will be aware that Gill Campbell and her mother Isabelle came to visit in April. By some strange quirk of fate it was the week in April when it was sunny and hot, and we even had the annual ceremony of Turning Off the Central Heating. Which was - as usual - a bit premature, given that spring is still struggling to arrive. Not that the wild oscillations between 13° and 23° seem to worry the paddock too much, the grass still grows. Tomorrow, if it's fine as promised, I'll be able to go down and try to give it a short back and sides, knock 20cm off it. I do wonder why I bother, it just grows back again - just one of those vicious little games we play.

Anyway, as it was fine we went off to the Choranche caves south-west of Grenoble, heading across the Vercors rather than taking the autoroute that is so kindly supplied. The caves themselves are spectacular enough, but the drive through the gorges in the Vercors is really brilliant. There are points where you're driving in a sort of notch cut into the cliff-face - not a tunnel as such, because it's open on one side - and then you get through that and there's a big wide river meadow on one side where before there was a 100m drop. Definitely worth the trip.

On the 7th Margo and I went off to Lyon to take a look at the craft market that takes place every Sunday on one of the quays along the Sâone, in Old Lyon. Took the little Navman GPS along for comfort, but it doesn't seem to like Lyon. Not to put too fine a point on it, it seems to have a hissy-fit when it gets within 15 km of the place and starts losing the satellites. It's already done it on me once before, when takng Margo through to catch the train at 4am - this time it navigated us onto the Presqu'Ile (the tongue of land between the Rhone and the Sâone) before seizing up and telling me to perform a U-turn if I wanted to get back to Chambéry. Then it wouldn't turn off, so I stuffed the thing into one of the door pockets and parked where we were, reasoning that we couldn't be that far from where we wanted to be.

Which was true enough - just a 15-minute amble along the riverbank and then across the river, which did us no lasting harm. The market, when we finally got there, was mainly paintings, a bit of sculpture and pottery plus lots of the "crafty things" like a wooden napkin ring with your name on it in poker-work - not a lot in the textile field which interests Margo. So having gone through we headed back across the river and back to the car through the produce market, which to me at least was more fun. Fruit, vegetables, flowers, smelly cheese, stalls devoted to the humble sausage, racks of spit-roasted chicken with whole baby potatoes cooking (rather greasily, let it be said) in the fat ... I like food markets.

On the way to the market I'd spotted a rather sleek little 12m yacht moored below, nothing exceptional except the name was "Itirangi" or some such, flying the NZ flag and registered in Wellington. On the way back there were signs of life so we made a nuisance of ourselves until they talked to us and explained their presence. Not a bad way to spend the first years of retirement (if you like the sea): come over to Europe, buy a yacht, spend three or four years sailing around the Mediterranean and then head lazily up to Amsterdam and ship the thing back to NZ.

Unfortunately our actual paper map of Lyon is ever-so-slightly out of date and even when it was current it was a bit hazy on minor details like one-way streets and "no-entrance" signs and things like that, so getting out of Lyon was a slightly longer, rather more complicated job than it might otherwise have been - the Navman was still sulking (although it had turned itself off when we got back to the car) and insisted that we were stationary near Place Bellecour. And so it happened that although we were not (and I must insist on this point) technically lost, we found ourselves driving round the marché au gros (the enormous wholesale markets for fruit & veges & meat and stuff) and were fascinated by the number of vans parked on the side of the road. Must have been at least a hundred.

Not in itself particularly fascinating, but all of them either had mirror glass or the rear windows painted over - in itself statistically significant, I think - about one in seven had red electric candles on the dashboard and, despite it being a Sunday lunch-time, nine out of ten had a driver at the wheel and in all cases, that driver was, technically, a woman. I suppose business was slow.

Today being - finally - fine, it was garden day. Margo got around to putting out the sweetcorn seedlings that had, against all expectations, sprung from 7-year old seed, there were the tomato plants to go out and general weeding to be done (although personally I prefer napalming, it works better and is a damn sight easier). Also the lawn to be mown: after two weeks the situation was getting desperate. Not yet to the point of actually discovering a hitherto unknown tribe of Amazonian pigmies living happily amongst the grass, but there have been reports of cats going missing and I thought it better to err on the side of security.

In another three weeks Malyon's school term officially finishes, which means she'll be at home with us and we'll have to live with that. Yech! She'll still have her English bac to worry about though, so she's not yet out of the woods. In July she aparently spends a week in Burgundy at a friends chateau, then she has two weeks picking apricots in the Drôme with Elise, amongst others. Some of those "others" will be young men, spotty or otherwise, which is a worry. Becoming a Trappist monk becomes more and more appealing - the only problem is that the poor sods don't have internet access, which would be difficult to live with.

Have a really nice winter -

Trevor & Margo

Thursday, March 16, 2006

16/03/06 In the footsteps of Scott ...

... and Peary, and Amundsen, and Shackleton, and whoever else had to winter over at one Pole or another. I exaggerate of course (although not excessively so) but this really is a long cold winter. Or at least it certainly feels that way. It's snowed down here four or five times in the past ten days, and there've been flakes scurrying around in the wind all day. The absolute pits was Wednesday, when I headed off to see a client at Geneva. It was snowing when I left home and carried on that way, nothing really much to worry about as the autoroute was clear, then when I got to Annecy - as bad luck would have it, overtaking a lorry - we drove straight into a snowstorm. It goes all dark and the horizon closes in to about 10 metres, and I was acutely aware that the only thing keeping the Alfa's nose pointing in the direction that inertia was taking us was pure habit, 'cos on 8 cm of fresh snow it certainly wasn't the tyres. I was also conscious of the fact that I was still overtaking a lorry, and that perhaps I really should have worn brown that day. Suffice it to say that I spent a very bad 5 minutes - the only comparable time I can remember was heading down to PN from Hamilton years ago, me in the lead in the old Alfa and Margo a few km back in her Fiat 850, when I somehow managed to spin the car through 180° when pulling in after overtaking and found myself heading down the road at 90k looking at the oncoming traffic in the rearview mirror.

Whatever, winter's been going on for quite long enough and I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we'd all appreciate it if she'd just go away and let spring come in. At which point we'll doubtless start to complain about the noise of the birds as they scuffle about in the eaves but that's alright, complaining is in the natural order of things and at least we won't be complaining about how damn cold it is.

Not only did I make it back down to Grenoble rather better-equipped for shopping (backpack for bottles of sauce and packets of spice and the odd paperback in English that might strike my fancy at the FNAC) but Margo and I made it down two weeks ago for the play. That was just before the current cold snap, and walking around in Grenoble on the Friday night you could almost have thought that spring was coming. Ha! Anyway, I was at no point actively bored by the play, always a good sign. The young persons (can't really call them "kids" anymore, can I?) involved did as professional a job as we ever managed in MUDS all those years ago (but probably drank rather less - at least I hope so) and they're a nice group.

It still amuses me to see - or rather hear - the facility with which they switch between language and culture. We went backstage for a post-mortem drink, as one does, and in the midst of the bilingual babble one of the girls recognised Margo and switched from the French she was speaking with her family to perfect Californian to say hi and thanks for the costume. It's not much, but it's ... odd.

I think Malyon had only two regrets about this year's play - first, the last-night party wasn't really up to standard and second, she didn't make it to Budapest with the rest, where they were to present the play for a couple of nights. I'd offered to pay the transport if she'd pay her own living expenses - which I thought was fair enough - but she eventually decided that €100 for three nights in Budapest was too expensive and preferred to stick around here over the February holidays, and mope at us with intent. Which she did, to little apparent effect.

Anyway, the holidays are now over, Malyon's been delivered to the railway station to get back to the internat ready for tomorrow and Jeremy's lying in bed reading a few pages of a Terry Pratchett book, which is his idea of getting ready for school. Can't really complain.


Right, snowing again.As if we hadn't had enough of the stuff. Meant that Jeremy had a pretty damp day, as he was off at Val Thorens for a days skiing with the collège, and it was - apparently - snow/rain all day. Them's the breaks. It was pretty grot going in to the office too - slush all over the autoroute, which I emphatically do not like.

Speaking of autoroutes makes me think of cars, which reminds me that I have to organise a new one for me. I'm seriously tempted by a Saab 93, but it's even more expensive that the Alfa and I can imagine the look on Renaud's face should I tell him I've taken one (come to that, I might tell him I've done so, just to see the look) so I might forget about that. On the other hand, a 147 is much more reasonable. And I really do not want a BMW. There's still three months to go, but I'll have to make my mind up and get an order in within the next 4 weeks or so if I want to avoid an enforced period of public transport.


Right, going to wrap this up now. Nowt much to report - mind you, it's getting sunnier now (which paradoxically means it's colder) which means Jeremy might have a really nice time off skiing next week. (He gets the entire week up at Valloire or Val Thorens or somewhere classy like that courtesy of the Conseil Regional: it seems that not enough little Savoyards go skiing - too many Parisians on the slopes, no doubt - and they're trying to counter that.)

And we finally made it down south for a kebab. Trial dates finally came together, and my friend Jean-Pierre of the SNCF managed to get Jeremy and I onto a trial TGV from Lyon to Marseille, with a bit of time in the driver's cabin at 320 kph. We also did a lot of stopping, as the object of these trials was to test the brakes, and I can report that going from 320 to zero in 1700 meters is actually not that brutal. Yes, you can feel that you're stopping, but you're not actually glued up against the seat in front of you. I'd expected worse. Maybe it was the soap they'd sprayed on the tracks ... no, I'm not joking, they actually spray soapy water onto the tracks just in front of the bogies for tests like that, trying to simulate rainy conditions. What would be really good would be to get on to the speed trials in June, when they're planning on beating 560 kph, but I somehow doubt that'll be possible. Shame.

Whatever, it was all quite fun - especially leaving Lyon. Childish I know, but heading up the escalator onto a roped-off platform and hopping on to a TGV that has basically stopped on its way down just for you before heading off again in a cloud of shit and small stones (as my old boss Jim Higgins succinctly put it) feels quite nice.

And as we had a couple of hours to kill in Marseille once we arrived at St Charles station, we wandered down the monumental stairs that lead from the station down to one of the boulevards that in turn go down to the Old Port, got a kebab and a beer, and enjoyed the sunshine. A nice way to spend a Wednesday, all things considered.

Ok, be good now.

Trevor & Margo

Monday, February 6, 2006

06/02/06 The random babblings of a disturbed mind ...

Truth to tell, I just couldn't come up with an apposite title (not that I've ever been able to do so). First of all, hope you all had a good Christmas standing around cooking prawns on yer bleeding BBQs and laughing over the plight of the poor sods in the freezing dark up North, and a happy New Financial Year to all.

Some of you know, and no doubt many will have guessed, that as usual, we went off to Pesselière for Christmas. Enough food for an army but these days I just can't hack it - the very idea of sitting down to foie gras, smoked salmon, oysters, snails, stuffed capon with puréeed chestnuts, both traditional and ice-cream bûches, and Christmas pudding makes my liver tremble. There's also the logistics involved in getting 12 people, half of them demonstrably French and one third of 'em under 18, up to the table when the meal is ready rather than half an hour later, when all the possible options have been discussed and the absence of soup pointedly noted.

Summer is definitely a better time of year for Christmas: you can have a simple barbecue thus avoiding both organisational problems and the prospect of massive renal failure, it's warm and sunny, and the options for filling in the afternoon void extend beyond a 5-mile hike through muddy beetroot fields or the 7-hour director's cut DVD of a stand-up comic (and having given up smoking, I can't even go out and do my bit for air pollution with a Corona). Lolling in a hammock in the sun would be a favourite.

Anyway, January/February are typically the coldest months of the year and this year is - surprise - no exception. Everyone's moaning because it's so cold,or it's been so cold for so long ... whatever, it's definitely chilly. Be more pleasant if we got some of the brilliant blue-skied freezing days that make winter - if not comfortable - at least bearable, but with a few rare exceptions it's been grey and dismal. And foggy. Bah.

Whatever. Done a bit of reorganising around here - getting into training for summer, when we've promised ourselves to restart work on redecorating. Not that it'll help, 'cos what I've been reorganising is the computer situation, and that's not going to help much when it comes to wallpapering and such. Still, it keeps me busy.

First of all I started to run out of space on the system disk (all that downloaded music ...) so had to go get another hard disk to stick alongside it, then the antivirus went silly (problem in the virus signature database, I suspect, which got fixed literally overnight) and started telling me that some of my Windows files were infected and when I told it to fix the problem I could only boot in safe mode. So I went off and got another hard disk and did a clean install onto it, sucked all the useful data and personal files and such off the old disk and spent a happy weekend reinstalling all the software.

Then I got annoyed at the huge screens cluttering up the place and went off and got a couple of 17" LCD screens for the kids (one apiece) and a USB sound system for Malyon's old Gespac industrial computer (sound cards for that sort of thing being rather rare). Then my big 19" CRT died two weeks ago, so I went off and ordered a 20" LCD screen to replace that, and being unwilling to stop there I took the plunge and ordered a new laptop from Dell, to replace the old HP that I originally bought to accompany me to Cameroun five years ago.

Of course the laptop came with Windows XP pre-installed. I'd always planned on getting rid of it and putting W2K in its place, but I knew that I was absolutely going to have to do that when the thing suggested that "we spend a few minutes quality time together to finish the installation of Windows XP". I had to pull the battery to get it to stop. So I did all that, which was reasonably painless, and now Margo has the old HP which is fine so long as you're no more than 5 minutes from a power point.

Malyon's busy busy busy - doing the dummy runs for the bac (baccalaureat - the Frog equvalent of what UE was in my day, I suppose) at the moment and on top of that she's involved in the English-section school play again, production this year. She comes home on Fridays, logs on to MSN to catch up on her far-flung friends and acquaintances, does her homework (I assume), and occasionally emerges, alone and palely loitering, just so that it's quite clear that we have absolutely no idea about how hard it all is. Although recently she hasn't come home on Fridays 'cos the play's on in a week (yes, we get to go - couldn't get out of that one) so Saturday evenings, after rehearsal and other social activities are over, seems more reasonable.

We're not too worried about the academic side of things for her - I went down to Grenoble for the parent-teacher meeting a few weeks back and the general consensus was that she'd have no problem. They doubtless say that to all the parents, for the simple reason that they can - they get to pick their students. I think their pass-rate for the bac is not far off 100%.

On the other hand, I must have looked a bit out-of-place - plastic bags hanging from every available appendage and a faint whiff of curry. I'd parked the car at Grand'Place to the south, taken the tram and changed lines at St Bruno - the only problem is that when you get off the tram at St Bruno there, in front of you, is "Carrefour d'Asie" or something like that, a big Asian grocers. I got five different types of sugar, I topped up on satay spice mix, I got some Chinese sausages, a few more gallons of sweet chili sauce, more char siu marinade ... need to go back with a backpack.

Jeremy seems to be doing OK - he's not exerting himself but managing to get a 12/20 average. For the time being we're not going to force him too much. And he heads off skiing every Wednesday afternoon with school, and after the February school holidays he's got the whole week up at Valloire, paid for by the regional government, le Conseil Général. Seems that not enough Savoyards go skiing (fair enough, they can't afford to, for one thing) and they're trying to rectify the situation. Jeremy enjoys it, anyway. Which is good.

Anyway, that'll do for now.

Look after yourselves

Trevor & Margo