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 coll├Ęge, 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