Thursday, November 1, 2007

01/11/07 Of graven idols, and bowing before them ...


For yea! and it did come to pass that it got colder, not to say bloody frigid, and so they got them up from where they were (which was in fact the comfy chairs) and they berobèd and bedizened themselves with all manner of dizens, and laved them they did also, even under the armpits so as not to smell pooey. And when all this was done, and it was good, did they get them to the landing, and there did they open the first of the three doors that were before their idol. And they did bow before it, and address it they did to the sound of the harp, and of the tambour, and of the Peruvian nose-flute, for their idol had sod-all taste in music. And the words that they spake went something like "Where the hell's the bloody instruction manual? How do you expect me to remember the right bloody knob? Oh, I think we just turn this one from the little hot-water tap onto the picture of a radiator".

And thus the central heating was turnèd on, and they returnèd them to their comfy chairs, and it was good, for there were no longer icicles in the bedrooms.

I must admit we've had a bloody good run up until now, but virtually overnight we went from a relatively balmy 14° in the morning to around 2°, so yesterday evening I did in fact go up and turn the knob and now the house is heating up nicely. Which is good, because outside it's pretty damn chilly, especially in the wind, and as at the moment we have the bise - the northerly from Siberia - blowing, that means you're always in the wind.

You may not actually need to know this, and it's true that the question is unlikely to come up in Trivial Pursuit, but did you know that there is an Austrian logistics company called - and I am not making this up - "Fluckinger Transport"? No? I thought not.

Another question you may not have asked yourself - "exactly how difficult is it to take photos of yer side mirror when going down the autoroute at 140 kph?". Well, I do this sort of thing so that you don't have to, and I can tell you that the answer is, in fact, "not very". But do try to make sure that you are more or less alone on the autoroute (because you will wander a bit), and focus on the mirror (well, on infinity, more or less) so that you get a nice shot of what's behind you (hopefully a really nice sunset or something) rather than a picture of the actual mirror itself, which would not be very interesting at all, now would it? Do try also to ensure that the driver's window is relatively clean and free of birdshit, if not the results may be disappointing.

Under nomal circumstances I probably wouldn't have seen Herr Fluckinger's enormous ... truck, nor would I have tried taking photos through the side mirror, but as it happens I went down to Grenoble on Saturday for emergency spice refuelling. So off to St. Bruno and the Carrefour Asiatique for sesame oil and marinades and spice rubs and dried mushrooms (and I always wind up with a few packets of something that I've no idea how to use, and the instructions will be sod-all use because I don't actually read Chinese, but never mind) and then, having half-filled the backpack, amble vaguely back to Ste-Claire and the Irish shop (to get a new coffee mug for Margo), the posh grocer's whose name I can never remember (for decent curry powder and other goodies) and diverse patisseries for cornes de gazelle and bakhlava. Had I known that my faithful trackball was going to die on me I might also have stopped off at the FNAC to pick up a replacement, but I didn't - so I didn't - and have to use a mouse until Amazon send me a Logitech trackball. (Microsoft no longer make one. Which is extremely annoying, as they were very good. Bah.)

The business about cornes de gazelle reminds me that it was the end of Ramadan last weekend, which explains why, when I popped into the butcher's on my way to the market, I had a large cup of very hot, very sweet mint tea stuck into one paw and a plate of extremely sticky things stuck under the other. I nobly drank the tea and nibbled on a sticky, because I wish to stay on the right side of my butcher. He's the only one I've come across (apart from the long-gone Vertongen's in Palmerston) who trims and prepares the meat before weighing it.


As a general rule, Saturday is pretty quiet around our way: after the market in the morning and the apéro at lunchtime with Renaud & Sophie there's the buzz of lawnmowers (in summer, anyway) and the blue haze from the cows as I contemplate an afternoon's doing nothing. Unfortunately, yesterday was not like that. I'd planned on heading up to the office in the afternoon to do a few final tests for the SNCF, and I set off with a spring in my step, a smile on my lips and a song in my heart as I plucked innocent young vegetables from the stalls and dropped them into my basket to nestle (perhaps uncomfortably) with the peppered goats cheese. Unfortunately it all went rather pear-shaped when I got back to the car and found it leaning forlornly on one very flat tire.

An annoyance, but not a great problem, so after a few minutes I worked out how to get the hi-tech emergency kit out of the boot, jacked up the car and discovered that the spare is one of those stupid half-width pancake things. Stuck it on (there not really being any other option), let down the jack, and curse as the spare reveals itself to be flatter than the tire I'd just removed. Quel bummer. (I might point out that while all this was going on I provided wholesome entertainment to at least ten families who drove slowly past to gawp - wholesome, that is, if you assume that they couldn't speak English and understand some of the words I was using.)

Much to my surprise, when I went down to the carpark office, the young man in charge came up with a foot pump and pumped the tire up (to 4.5 bar yet!) despite my protests that I could
at least do a bit, before disappearing again - having expressed the wish that I should have a really nice afternoon. Damned if I know what the country is coming to.

Of course my afternoon was not quite as I'd planned it, because of course I wasn't going to be able to get the tire fixed before the garages reopened at 14:30, so I went off and helped R&S get rid of a bottle of wine and some lasagna. By 17:00 - when they'd finished replacing both the front tires (well, they were just a little bit bald) it was pretty clear that I could forget about the office, so we headed back home to unload the groceries and I got collared into helping Emily, the neighbour, get their ADSL connection working.

Our Australian friend Sue had naturally enough chosen that day to drive back from Montpellier with Vél, picking up Zeina at Grenoble en route (forgot to mention that it was the first day of the Toussaint school holidays) - arriving to find that their central heating had broken down (which, at this point in time, is NOT good, believe me) and their computer was having a hissy-fit. So they turned up for dinner, which was rather convenient actually as it gave me a chance to try out some obscure chicken rub I'd picked up somewhere - it turned out very nicely, if you're interested. Turkish, I think it was.

Otherwise, we're back to winter time: a bit more light in the morning, but night closes in around 18:00, which is far too early as far as I'm concerned. At least it hasn't snowed yet - give it another three weeks ...

If any of you are interested, we're watching Reaper (motto: "the Devils' biggest tools"), Pushing Daisies, Criminal Minds (season 3), Supernatural (ditto), Bones (ditto again), second season of Ugly Betty and the fourth season of Desperate Housewives. Plus a few other bits and pieces. I will personally have to find the time to watch "Star Trek - Enterprise" again (well, I liked it, even if no-one else did) and the "Borg Collective" episodes.

Monday, August 13, 2007

13/08/07 Important Health & Safety Advisory

Yes, today - thanks to the miracle of Al Gore's Internet and e-mail - this newsletter is privileged to be the first to bring you an important safety hint. Women may skip the following, but all those who leave the toilet seat up (yes, we know who you are) need to read this. It may seem obvious, but do not, I repeat do NOT, urinate immediately after massaging Tiger Balm onto one or other of your appendages. Not unless you've washed your hands 37 times with carbolic soap and sulphuric acid - or, of course, you like that sort of thing. Or, possibly, if you use tongs, or oven gloves.

In other breaking news today, I'm privileged to share with you the following instructions from a packet of spice mixture: "Slim the non-bones chiken fillets as requested large. Pour into one pot The Mixture. Fill some water into another pot. Firstly, wet with water the slimmed fillets, and then include into The Mixture. Afterwards, make hot the fat on the fire and heat on the hot oil well the chicken fillets two sides you included The Mixture. Enjoy your meals." I think that about sums it up, don't you? (It was, by the way, delicious. Given that I was unable to follow the instructions completely, I can't vouch for its authenticity though.)

We headed off to Rome on the 29th, ostensibly to pick up our friend Karens' children and bring them back to Chambery, but the sad reality is that we were looking forward to spending a rent-free week in an apartment in Rome. Not central Rome - damn good thing too 'cos I'd never have dared trying to drive around there - but at the southern end of one of the two metro lines. Basically, it was a ten-minute walk to the station (admittedly a tough job in the heat) and then a ten-minute ride to the Coliseum station.

Rome's a dump. Literally. The place is full of ruins, which apparently they haven't had the time to either demolish or renovate in the last 2000 years or so, and rubbish, which appears to have been accumulating for at least 2000 years. Our parking spot just outside the apartment came with a little notice saying that we'd better not be there the second Wednesday of the month, 'cos that was when the rubbish truck might come round - bit of a shock for us poor country bumpkins used to the twice-weekly visits here in St-Pierre. The Romans themselves blame the filth on the immigrants, a practice that also dates back at least 2000 years.

Whatever, we finished by getting used to streets that reminded me more of Africa than of Europe, and as we had but three days we thought we'd better get our money's worth out of the place. Which we did, in typical Bimler fashion, by wandering aimlessly until we got to places we wanted to be. So on Monday we emerged from the metro at the Coliseum, kicked three would-be tour-guides in the nuts until they stopped importuning us, and set determinedly off through the various forums (Jules, Augustus, Trajan ...) until we got to what the American GIs apparently called the "wedding cake": the enormous, vulgar, over-the-top and totally out-of-place white marble monstrosity of the Victor-Immanuel monument. I must admit it is worth seeing, which is fortunate as you cannot, in fact, avoid doing so.

Karen had given us detailed directions to the best ice-cream shop in Rome (and therefore the world), consisting of "find this shop" (we did, I must admit, have the name) and by dint of rather aggressive questioning we eventually found the place, only 100m down a side street from parliament. Handy, I suppose, if they get peckish. The sorbet or gelati or ice-cream or whatever was, however, excellent, and copious enough that Jeremy couldn't finish his. Unfortunately he'd picked a coconut/banana crush combination that neither of us was willing to finish, and we didn't feel up to hawking second-hand ice-cream around all the other tourists, so that wound up in the gutter (no rubbish bins - this is Rome).

>From there it wasn't too difficult to find our way to Saint-Louis des Français (or St-Luigi des Frogs, in the local dialect), which has three Caravaggios depicting - respectively - the selection, temptation, and martyrdom of - I think - St Matthew. But I could be wrong. Whatever. Churches are good. They have thick walls, and it is cool inside. In a Roman summer, this is very good, and is why you will find many people in churches. It may explain why Italians are (nominally, anyway) Catholics. But don't tell the pope I said that.

On Tuesday we did something resolutely touristy and made our way (after kicking another three would-be tour-guides in the nuts) to the Trevi fountains - you know, the one Britt Eckland jumped into in La Dolce Vita. Or whatever. I think that's what Jeremy liked best - not Britt, the fountains. Then we picnicked by the Tiber and watched the birds dodging oil-slicks and other bits of crap before heading off to the Vatican.

Unfortunately the pope wasn't actually in - not to us, at any rate - and having walked down Mussolini's hatchet-job of an avenue to the piazza in front of St Peter's we thought we'd forgo the 30€/person for a tour of the museum and the Castel St Angelo and tried to find the gardens which are supposedly on the hills on that side of the Tiber. But they hid from us (you will notice that I am not saying "we were lost" because it's not true, Rome is poorly signposted), so we went off down to the Campo di Fiori (which I suppose may once have been a flowery field, but it's difficult to believe now) and said hello to Giordano Bruno instead.

Karen's two kids and their grandmother (very Italian, despite being American) came back from the beach on Wednesday, so we waited for them to turn up before going off to the Villa Borghese and the Etruscan museum, where we spent most of the afternoon. As we went through to the Spagna metro there were no would-be tour-guides waiting for us, rather lucky really as I was starting to get cramp in my right knee. At least we got to see the Spanish Steps, and some very expensive-looking shops.

One church, one museum - I don't think we overdid things, quite frankly.

Anyway, that night we got hauled off (as honoured guests, let me reassure you) to the full Italian family dinner with various aunts and uncles. Despîte not understanding a word I like to think that we acquitted ourselves honorably, and Jeremy (being a cute blond) can go back whenever he wants.

On the way back all went well until we decided to try an unscheduled visit to Pisa, to check up on the tower of that name. As it was a no-brainer we didn't bother setting it up on the GPS, and the resultant débâcle could serve as an object lesson on thirty-minute divorces. You get off the autoroute and onto the urban expressway at Pisa nord, and follow the signs to Pisa centre. After a while there aren't any more of those, just ones to Pisa sud. Quel bummer. So you get off the expressway, and find signs pointing you to Pisa centre, and follow them. They expire at a roundabout where there are many signs, none of which point you to Pisa centre. At this point you may reasonably start to wonder whether you haven't wandered into "The cars that ate Paris" by mistake, but the inhabitants show no overt signs of cannibalism ... I hate being lost, and I especially hate being lost with only 5 litres of gas left on some godforsaken wop town where the petrol pumps won't accept credit cards and there are no street signs, so I got back onto the autoroute and left Pisa behind. Going by the souvenirs they were selling at the filling stations, the tower's not that great anyway. If it's still standing the next time we go down, maybe we'll have another go.

Unfortunately the GPS chose to go depressive on us on the tangenzionale around Turin - this seems to happen a lot. As we came up to the Fréjus exit (on the right) it firmly instructed me to stay left - which I did, as the things work so well you tend to trust them implicitly - before getting us off at the next exit so as to get back on going the other way. So we come back to the Fréjus exit, and once again the thing said to stay left. Had we followed the instructions we'd still be there, doing epicycles around a shortish bit of the ring-road until Hell froze over or they decided to shift the exit to let us get off. Maybe the place is the European equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.

At about that time the weather took a decided turn for the worse: from 35° at Rome it plummeted to 15° and by the time we got up to the actual Fréjus tunnel it was bucketing down.

For those of you who've just been waiting for a good reason to come and visit, I can now give you another one (apart from the food, the wine, the cheese ...): amongst the attractions now proposed by the Tourist Office here at St-Pierre is a guided tour, with commentary, of the wallpaper at the Mairie. I'm sure that's got you salivating.

For those that care ... Malyon should arrive (despite a lively exchange of e-mail concerning her baggage allowance, and the latest ticket I've received, which has two of her going) at Auckland around 5 am Sep 02. Should you see her, be nice, and give her chocolate.



Sunday, July 22, 2007

22/07/07 The Swiss Weather Forecast

... is, according to the French joke, along the lines of "Fine weather, but cloudy with rain." It's not really funny anymore from where we are.

Anyway, there's half the year disappeared already and I for one feel no wiser for it.

Not, apparently, like Malyon, who got her bac with an average of 15.87 (out of 20, if you were wondering) and a "mention bien" (had she managed 16.0, she'd have got a "mention très bien"). She must have learnt something. Although she wasn't particularly happy, as the English orals dragged her average down quite a bit. Seems to have been generalised: one of the students that the lycée confidently expected to get 20/20 managed only 12/20, so some low-minded persons are pointing the finger at the examiners. Whatever, we're not worried: Malyon needed 12 to get into Glasgow so from one point of view she's over-achieved.

Right now she's trying to balance "social life" with "need for money": she still has to pay for her ticket to NZ. Fortunately most of her friends have now been taken off on holiday to contract exotic diseases or work with the poor and leprous, which makes the choice easier. As it happens, she (and Margo) are working for Upstart: the Swiss have a big order underway and if we're going to pay €4000 to someone to get it done it might as well stay in the family. So she'll probably have enough for her trip and still be able to make it up to Lausanne in August to see NIN.

Last night was really good - she landed a babysitting job up the valley (literally "up" - about 1000 metres up). A Franco-Scottish wedding, and they needed two bilingual babysitters. Scouse preferred, but English accepted. So after going off to the market in the morning for food, then down to Grenoble in the afternoon so that she could sell her textbooks; it was off to Les Hurtières at 19:00 to drop her off (the place was easy to find, lots off men wearing skirts) before going back to Chambéry to pick up Jeremy, back home and off to dinner at Sue's and then back to Les Hurtières at 2:00 this morning (circumnavigating a rather sorry-looking man in a skirt) to pick Malyon up and bring her back home. Personallly I rather feel I should get a cut of her pay, but she doesn't seem to look at it the same way.

You'll remember that Easter was bright and sunny - well, that was, apparently, summer. Since then it's been "variable", alternating hot and sunny with cold, dismal, dank and wet. Which, on the bright side, has meant a big harvest of certain mushrooms - chanterelles and trompettes de la mort - which Jacques and I found in abundance 10 days ago when we went off to check on some of his favorite spots, and which go down really well with a roast chicken, or as a garnish to a good steak. Anyway, we need the water. Get the aquifers back up to something approaching a normal level. Still, it would be nice to have a summer that wasn't worthy of a Wellington winter, with highs of 17°. Alternating with days when it's up to 28°. Haven't yet been able to dust off the big barbecue in the garden: seems sod-all point when there's one chance in two of pouring rain when the weekend comes around.

And just to add insult to injury, of the three apricots on our tree two ripened and then rotted overnight and I was practically forced to eat the third (under-ripe though it was) before it too rotted and fell off. Oh, the cherry season was a complete catastrophe as well. Just don't talk to me about it. And don't mention strawberries either.

But on one of the few fine days in the past few months, one of our clients invited ourselves (that's Renaud and I) and spouses to the 10th birthday of his company, which he planned on celebrating with lunch on the lake at Aix. So around midday on a warm sunny Sunday it was very pleasant to find ourselves installed on a luxury catamaran headed up to the northern end of the lake, then along the canal de Savières to the Rhône, then back again and down the western side and back to port. All very nice, and the food was excellent as well. Malyon accused us of bourgeois tendencies, but who cares?

When we got the house done up I didn't bother getting Jean to drag Ethernet cable throughout the place - Wifi would be good enough, I reckoned. Which is true enough, so long as all you want to do is e-mail and fairly standard browsing. But when you want to do video streaming from the networked hard-drive to the superannuated laptop that's plugged into the big TV, it just doesn't really hack it. Okay, having lots of ENORMOUS steel radiators hanging off each wall doesn't help, neither does the fact that all the internal walls on the first floor are built of bricks made out of slag from Bessemer converters, but still ...

So I ordered five 200 Mbps powerline Ethernet adaptors from Netgear, which arrived yesterday (In fact, they arrived on Friday, but the postman can't actually be bothered taking parcels with him, so rather than actually deliver anything he just drives past all the places that have parcels and sticks a little note in the letterbox to the effect that "You were not home. You may collect your parcel from the Post Office at any hour totally inconvenient for you, should we be there." I know this, because I've seen the lazy sod drive past, and he doesn't even bother to get out of the van ... just pulls up alongside the letterbox and stick the note in. I suppose we should be glad just to get the note. Otherwise we might never know.).

That was rather a long parenthesis. Anyway, I plugged in the CPL adapters and much to my surprise the whole thing just worked. Godnose how, I certainly don''t. But it does. (Footnote: your mileage may vary. I finally got around to installing the management software today and noted that the actual speed on some of the adapters was around 40 Mbps, and then spent some time swapping things in and out of various powerpoints until everyone was a bit closer to the nominal 200 Mbps. Having modern wiring probably helps, as does NOT plugging the things in behind surge suppressors, UPSs and the like ...) Anyone want some Netgear USB/Wifi adapters?

It's now the 17th and we've finally managed to have a BBQ in the garden. I had to put down a temporary bridge down to get there, as the one I so carefully made only a year or so disappeared in a flash flood sometime in the morning of the 9th (that's bridge the third down the tubes), but get there we did. And it was worth it. Just us and the neighbours, enjoying the rather belated arrival of summer. Even Henri turned up, bustling and bearing tarts - he left fairly early though, to doze in front of the Tour de France on TV. (One day I must get a photo of Henri and send it off - he's rather archetypal, an older version of Réné from "'Allo 'Allo".) We rather hope that it won't turn out to be the last BBQ down there this year.

End of the month we're off to Rome for a few days: our friend Karen has family down there and for some strange reason they think it'd be nice to see us, so we'll turn up and disillusion them. Her young cousins can show Malyon around, and the rest of us can wander sedately about with her mother, or something. Just so long as we aren't obliged to look at too many monuments. With luck it won't rain too much.

There's not much other news, really: we're just getting on with life, persuading the cat to eat less rat (it tends not to stay down), nuking the lawn and trying to encourage Malyon to pack her room into cartons because we're certainly not going to leave it as a shrine when she leaves (reminds me that we must get around to booking her tickets to ensure that she does actually leave) ...little stuff like that.

Oh, I finally got my car back. Someone in a 4x4 SUV ran into me on a roundabout and although it didn't look that bad he actually managed to shove the engine sideways by a good 5cm, which meant there was quite a lot of work to be done. So for four weeks I was driving around in a little Nissan Micra, which are doubtless excellent little cars if you like that sort of thing, and I suppose some must or they wouldn't bother making them, but they're not my idea of fun. They're surprisingly zippy if you nail your foot to the floor, but going round corners at any sort of speed is a bit of an adventure, the seats do nothing at all to hold you and the brakes are just a tad underwhelming. So I was very pleased to get the Alfa back; I like to think it was reciprocal.

Well, have a really nice winter: we'll be thinking of you as we huddle around the campfire in the kitchen. And take good care of Malyon for us, won't you?


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

08/05/07 Albert 1er, King of Belgium ...

... gave his name to the Savoyard town of Albertville, and has no other connection whatsoever with this email apart from the fact that he died in 1934, the numerological implications being fairly evident when you recall that I was born in October 1958. Truth to tell, I just couldn't for the life of me come up with a snappy title. Sorry about that.

We've had a fairly busy time since last I wrote, and rather nice weather as well, which always helps.

The central heating turned out to be more complicated than I'd have liked, but the nice M. Damiani tracked it down to the high-tension transformer that supplies the equivalent of the spark-plug in a boiler, and which had decided to die. We also have a very temporary (and thus semi-permanent) setup with a small 20l header tank up by the boiler, because the pump that circulates the diesel up from the cellar doesn't have a constant flow which meant that the boiler was sometimes gasping for fuel for a while, which doesn't do much for fuel economy or pollution. As we're now using something like two litres a day that doesn't worry me too luch, but I am going to have to do something about it before next winter.

Malyon finally got her ID card - it arrived at the mairie a while back and they just forgot to let us know, wasn't until she went up to ask that they remembered - so she is now not only officially a frog -person but also identifiable as such, so she will be able to sit her final exams. And look for jobs, and stuff like that. Although not vote in the elections, 'cos she's still too young. Probably just as well really, she's just as likely to have voted Bayrou in the first round and the Sarkozy tomorrow and I don't know how we'd have explained that to our left-leaning friends - to say nothing of Ian and Marie.

Speaking of Ian and Marie leads me on to the Easter holidays, which we spent at Pesselière and I think for the first time ever in my life - and possibly in the history of the universe - it did NOT rain at Easter. It was in fact bright and sunny and we ate mainly barbecues, which is fine by me. It was a bit of a reunion really as the English cousins - Mandy, Jon and Laurence - turned up with Howard who was on his way to a conference in Denmark. One of the rare occasions when Jon has actually left England for pleasure rather than work - he tends to regard foreign parts with suspicion - and as he's a keen homebrew man he and Ian were able to discuss the niceties of brewing beer over the hot-water cylinder.

And as the kids were all together again they were able to cobble together yet another installment in the Random Film Production series of home videos.

Then on Tuesday I got a call from Renaud to let me know that the office had been burgled, and all the computers had disappeared - along with the coffee machine and sundry other things. The list was quite eclectic in fact - the machines but not my 21" CRT, ergonomic keyboard or trackball - stamps, a few executive desk ornaments, bottles of champagne from the fridge but not the Scotch (that got stuck in a rubbish bin) - the printer, the coffee machine and the coffee capsules but not a 4000€ console belonging to a client (phew!) nor my debugging machine (perhaps because it's half-open and oozing strange cards) ... everything was backed up (except for email) so basically we lost nothing but time, but it is really extremely annoying.

(Much to my surprise, the police actually found the guy who did it - nothing has yet been recovered, of course. Renaud had to head off to court on Friday to be present at the arraignment, as we're claiming damages of 7000€. Not that we'll ever see it, mind you.)

Last year, after eight years of faithful service, our lawnmower finally gave up the ghost - or, to be precise, the starter cord broke. Given that I've been brutally yanking on it for years, I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised. Naturally enough, the cord broke the last time I mowed - there is a causal relationship here and it's exactly what you think it is - and I said to myself as I stuck the mower under its tarpaulin in the shelter of our enormous tillleul (that's a European lime tree, to you) "Well, I'll get that fixed next spring.".

So when next spring arrived, as it usually does, and I noted that the grass was getting just a teeny bit aggressive, I started to think that it was perhaps the time to get a general overhaul done and that troublesome starter cord fixed. Make note to self - never, ever even think of trying to get that sort of thing done in spring. The people who do that sort of thing are either up to their armpits in work or off on holiday, if they're smart. On top of it, absolutely no-one wants to work on Briggs & Stratton engines - don't know why, but by the fifth phone call I was getting a sinking feeling when the guy at the other end asked, rather suspiciously, "What sort of engine is it?". I knew that our burgeoning relationship was headed for the tubes, and the last I'd ever hear from him would be a hiss of indrawn breath, a rather prim "We don't do those" and then a click as the line went dead.

Much to my own surprise, I then girded my loins (as it were), got out the socket set, a rusty screwdriver, the owner's manual and a printout of a poorly scanned repair manual I'd found on the web somewhere (thank you, Google!), and fixed the damn thing myself. Changed the oil while I was about it, cleaned all the filter thingies (or things that looked like they might be in need of it), rescarfed the finials and put some dangly springs back where it looked they might once have been attached. Alarmingly enough, it worked afterwards. So once again I have the privilege of mowing the lawn every weekend, and I really ought to do it more often but quite frankly I can't be bothered.

Starting with Easter, and carrying on until last week, we've been enjoying an early summer - temperatures in the mid-to-high 20s, bright and sunny and generally marvellous. Unusual for April, which is traditionally unpredictable (apart from the certainty that it will involve lots of rain, wind and cool weather). So I had actually hoped that perhaps this year, as it didn't actually snow during the blossoming and we've had neither frost nor drought, we might actually get some apricots off our tree - something to compare with the 25 or so we managed before the current run of bad luck (heatwave in 2003, snow in 2004, frost in 2005 and drought in 2006) set in. We have, despite enthusiastic blossoming and apparently hard-working bees, three. Which I'm tempted to staple to the tree to make sure they don't fall off from the shock when sparrows come in to land, or something. We'll just have to hope that they ripen one day when Malyon's not here, to avoid difficulties with sharing.

Ron & Paulette (ex-PNCC) turned up on one of their periodic tours of Ole Yurrup (off to run the Vienna marathon, amongst other things) and we had a really good weekend together. Not really long enough, but that's a problem with most weekends.

Anyway, take care and keep your noses clean -

Trevor & Margo

Monday, March 5, 2007

05/03/07 Dyslexia lures ...

And welcome back for another exciting installment of "Life in Furrin Parts", soon to become a major motion picture.

Sorry about the title - still (after two months) getting used to my new keyboard, which I'm trying to use in the government-approved ergonomic carpal-tunnel-syndrome-friendly position, with wrists raised and all: perhaps I should abandon that and go back to the standard hovering hunt'n'peck. Whatever, that'll teach me to be more careful with my martinis.

I've just recently spent considerable time battling with Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, trying to port a little program I did a few years back for data entry on handheld terminals, and I think I can say with some confidence that it is the biggest pile of shit that I've ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. Unwieldy, inflexible, over-complicated, counter-intuitive and at the end of the day it doesn't even get things right. Which does rather make you wonder what the point of it all is. Luckily there are people out there who've suffered before me, so I wasted only three days in frustrated googling before finding out just what exactly was going wrong and how to fix it. It must have made me extremely poor company for the past week. (PS - still haven't finished, found yet more things that are broken. Makes me impatient to move to Vista.)

One of the things on Malyon's Christmas wish list was a digital camera, which turned out well as I'd started to get a bit frustrated with the limitations of the little Olympus C5050. So she now has a hand-me-down Olympus, and I have a brand new E500 dSLR with a couple of lenses. It's very nice, even if the viewfinder is a bit small. Been spending quite a bit of time playing about with the manual settings, sort of thing I would have done with the old film Nikon were it not that

  • you have to wait and shoot off a roll and get it developed before seeing the result
  • film cameras don't note the settings used for each photo, so that when you get them back from the lab you can't remember exactly what settings you used to get them so under/over exposed
  • a 1 Gb memory card is the equivalent of 5 rolls of film
Shall still have to beg the 5050 from Toerag should I want to do any macro photography, 'cos at €560 the macro lens for the E500 costs almost as much as the bare camera, but there you are.

Having watched the 2005/2006 seasons of Dr Who thanks to the miracle of Al Gore's internet-thingy, I went on to download and watch Torchwood, the spin-off. The general opinion around here, for what it's worth, was that it wasn't half bad, so take a look if you get a chance. I agree that it is a bit of a mish-mash and the sex seems sometimes thrown in to make it look as though Auntie Beeb is up with the play, but despite that Captain Jack is cool (so's their incredibly discreet SUV) and you have to love the pterodactyl.

Did our parental duty and once again headed down to Grenoble to see Malyon's play. I say "duty" but that's not really the case, we actually enjoy it. Admittedly we've only had three years to go by, but the plays are interesting and the acting is at least as good as what we used to manage in MUDS (anyone remember that?) so it actually makes for a very pleasant evening out. As usual we popped in to the tiny bar downstairs for a drink and a bit of socialising afterwards, only to discover that they'd run out of beer (it was the last night). So we were more or less forced to scull wine.

The theatre - St-Marie d'En-Bas - used to be the city morgue, many years ago. What's now the auditorium used to be the chapel. About 25 years ago, when it was basically abandoned, it got bought and turned into a theatre by an Algerian (I think) who's the epitome of an actor-manager. Amazing presence, an ego that's at least three times larger than life, a penchant for Pinter and a definite bent for Beckett, and sharp as nails. Malyon's not that keen on him - his idea is that theatre is a serious business and you're not there to have fun - but she does respect him and was quietly pleased when he actually said that he thought she had prospects as an actress.

Just by the by, Malyon's been accepted by Sussex and Glasgow, so far. Rejected by St Andrews, mind you, but them's the breaks. Edinborough still to come in, but Glasgow was at the top of her list anyway so she's pleased with that. In a couple of years she'll speak nowt but Scouse, and we'll need an interpreter to talk to her.

After a couple of years off (for good behaviour) we're slowly getting back into the decoration thing again. It's the turn of the entrance hall now, the paint was peeling on the ceiling and the "Venetian Nights" wallpaper still hadn't self-destructed, so we decided that it was about time to do something about it. The wallpaper came off easily enough but we started scraping at the paint on the ceiling, which was a mistake. Like an itch, you really shouldn't scratch it. Most of it just fell off as you looked at it, but some hard-core bits just would not go - until we tried putting a first coat of paint up. When some bits decided to bubble up and - you've guessed it - fall off. Waste of a good coat of paint, that was. Especially as, having learnt my lesson, I'd bought good-quality stuff to avoid having to do the job twice.

So we've just spent some time gluing up "toile de verre" - fibre-glass cloth - over the plaster, which hides a multitude of gins. One more coat of paint to go and that'll look good, then there's just the walls to be plastered and waxed (and a cupboard to go in) and it'll be done. Then we can start on the first floor, get the hallway and the landing done, and I might even get around to doing my office. Stranger things have happened, you know.

Those of you who are somewhat masochistically inclined might have decided to follow the lead-up to the French presidential elections, due some time soon in a Yurrupian country near you. So you'll know all about what I am now about to recount, and may skip this paragraph. Of course it's nail-bitingly exciting, with only months to go until people - and French-persons - get to vote for the next leader of the multi-polar world, and in common with many French-things I find it hard to restrain a yawn. But I must admit that last weekend I was shocked and awed to learn that the Socialists had decided to renew their campaign. Yes, in a bold move backwards, Ségolène Royal has invited last-time losers Jospin and Fabius to help out - presumably to coach her on how to lose this time. Some might call it suicidal, more generous souls would settle for "stupid", but the Socialists come over all fuzzy and talk about "inclusion" and "la gauche solidaire". To hell with the fact that it's a losing ticket, at least the dinosaurs are inside the tent pissing out ...

And some wonder why Nicolas Sarkozy looks smug. You'd look smug too, in his position. Although I gather that François Bayrou is coming up from behind, as it were (cue double-entendre), which may make Sarko's position less comfortable.

Whilst we're on the subject of Frog-things I'm reminded that Margo and I have to go up to the mairie sometime soon to sign, together and conjointly, what is charmingly called a "declaration sur l'honneur" (ignoring the possibility that perfidious Anglo-Saxons might not have any) to the effect that we are in fact still married. And this because, if you'll recall, Malyon is now French. At which point we decided that it'd be a Good Idea if she got her very own ID card, completely ignoring the fact that she is still a minor! Minor child, major mistake, not really a Good Idea at all, more like "Duh!". Because although being a minor is no obstacle to obtaining nationality (so long as we gave our permission); getting an ID card does not require our permission but does require proof of our marital status.

I'm not unimaginative but nonetheless I can think of no good reason why this should be the case; but it is - you can be conceived and become French without anyone wondering what relation - other than sexual - your parents were in at the time, but to get your ID card some little bureaucrat has to know. Pervert.

Under normal circumstances this would be no problem anyway, we'd just ponce off and show our livret de famille, in which our lives are duly recorded, Yea! unto the seventh generation, but we don't have one. Not being French, we wouldn't, would we? All things considered, we're getting off lightly: thay could have asked for the full set of birth, death and marriage certificates going back three generations, translated into French with apostilles. (At which point we'd have told Malyon that she could get her own damn ID card when she reached 18, and not to bother us any more.)

In any case, I'm now going to huddle under the blankets as the central-heating boiler had a hissy-fit on Friday and so we've been without heating or hot water for the weekend. Luckily it's been warm for the season, and M. Damiani turns up tomorrow morning anyway and will - with any luck - get it back up and running. Or so we hope.

Love (or PC equivalent)
Trevor, Margo, kids and animals (various)