Monday, November 24, 2008

24/11/08 Concerning significant others ... or whatever else escapes your spam filters

It has come to my attention (there has been some moaning from the cheap seats) that I've not mentioned Margo enough recently. To some degree this is her own fault: she's been gallivanting off to Alsace and England, so that when I finally got up the courage to turn fifty she was in London and when Jerry got his thumb smashed she was in Glasgow (I think. Or it may have Milton Keynes.). So there. But I'm ready to admit I've been remiss, so here we go for a bit of Margo-related news.

Basically, she's been trying to get her website up and running, which involves learning how to use Joomla! and other such pretty content management tools. It also involves me trying to learn Joomla! so that I know what the hell is going on and can try to be of some use in the process. All this learning stuff takes some time, and both our brains are full.

She also has her blog - textile related, and which she doesn't keep as up to date as she should - and teaching (still!) and sewing, all of which fills time. On top of that she got a call from the Banking Fraud department of the bank the other day to say that they'd spotted suspicious transactions on her credit card, and the upshot of that is that her card has been cancelled and she's had to go back through all the transactions for the past few months to find those which aren't hers in order to contest them. A right bummer.


Into November now and today is a public holiday - Armistice 1918. We don't do dawn parades over here: it's more around 11am so that the municipal band can wake up sufficiently to tootle on time, and it's all followed by a hot meal and copious quantities of rouge for the local dignitaries. Good day to go up to the office: no phone calls, no interruptions, and I can finally get a bit of paperwork out of the way. It's also persisting down, has been since last evening, so somehow stacking the wood that Stéphane delivered on Sunday seems an unattractive idea.

As it happens, on Sunday I went off to see Jacques and we came back down from the mountains with about 2kg apiece of chanterelles. These do not go well with a salmon/sour cream pizza, so I decided to dry them and I now have two big glass jars full of smokily aromatic dried mushrooms, ready and waiting to go in the pan juices with a bit of roast beef or a chicken in cream sauce - or why not, a boeuf bourgignon? Whatever, I managed to miss the wood delivery and so Jeremy had to hump it all down the path and on to the decking, where it sits under a tarpaulin even as I write, just waiting to get stacked away.

Friday we had a little party oop't t'office. The very first edition of the now-traditional mid-autumn fête. A lot of wine, rillettes de lapin, cheese, good bread, more wine ... and a blind tasting courtesy of one of our neighbours in the building that was absolutely exceptional. Just three whites: one I'd have put as a rather good Pouilly, the second as perhaps a sweet southern job, the third a Trockenbeeren Auslese or some such. But no. They were all Marestel, from Yenne - about 30 km from here: a dry 1996, a vin de paille and a 199something vendange tardive. I didn't know anyone did vendange tardive around here! Amazing. Then three of Jean-Charles' paysan mates from Yenne turned up: one whipped out an enormous home-made saucisson from his overalls (you do not want to know which pocket), another one did a conjouring trick with a peppery cheese, and the third apparently was afraid that there'd be insufficient wine and plonked four more bottles of white down on the table. I piked out around 9:30, what with not having a mattress ready in the office and all, but apparently things went on for quite some time, although interrupted momentarily by having to move the tables into the entrance hall of the building to stop the alarm going off. At last count there were 16 empty bottles which, for twelve people, is hardly excessive.


Toddled off to Jerry's parent-teacher meeting, where everyone was extremely positive - which is nice. The difference between the public and private schools was fairly apparent: his history/geography teacher congratulated him fulsomely on his participation and oral work but said that the written side needed more work - so she gave him her email and suggested that he write up his work, mail it off to her and she'd correct it and send it back in the evening. Maths and German along the same lines, and his French teacher has decided she likes him (now that she knows he lives in an exclusively English-speaking household) and on top of it he's working hard. Even giving up TV-watching to do his homework.

The only one to rip into him was his English teacher (whom he does not appreciate) for being rather arrogant at the start of the year ("I am a native English-speaker, what can you teach me?") and for having no ambition to higher education. She made the excellent point that you're always learning something new about your language (unless you're clinically dead, or a member of the Academie Française, which is more or less the same thing) and that with his talents there was absolutely no reason for him to cut himself off from going further. I think he'd rather have eaten dead rat than admit it to her, but he has decided to carry on.

Shortly after that he had his "stage en entreprrise" at the resto routier (truckie's restaurant) 10 km up the road, at Coise - went very well. He came out of it knowing how to prepare iles flottantes in the microwave (I must admit I'd never have thought of that one), get salads ready, operate the big machines (yes Virginia, restaurants have some big, scary machines) and with 30€ in his pocket and maybe a summer job. The owner is a friend of Stéphane (the neighbour), good to know that we won't have to go around and apologise.

I also had a bit of computer repair and recovery work to do (non-paying, unfortunately - Rémi & Lucas, and Pierre). AVG unleashed a buggy antivirus signature file which marked our old friend USER32.DLL as a Trojan, and kindly offered to stick it into quarantine, which resulted in an endless cycle of boot, BSOD, reset, boot ... had to set up a bootable Linux distro on a USB key to fix that one. A right pain. And on top of it the weather's grot. Not proper winter yet, just cold and damp ... not nice.

The 13th, you'll recall (those of you with PDAs and an organised lifestyle anyway) is Margo's birthday, so I managed a little filet de boeuf Rossini for dinner. Always goes down well. Shame about Jeremy slouching about at the table - sort of spoils the candlelit effect. Whatever.

On the more miserable side, some of you may remember our old client Data Environnement (the one I went to Cameroon for). They've spent the last 8 months or so setting up a degassing column in lake Kivu, on the border between Rwanda and Congo, and the other day, on a calm night, about a week before starting the thing up and (hopefully) getting methane out, the whole kit and kaboodle went to the bottom. 350m down, which is not exactly a Sunday stroll. Not as though you can stick a fishing line down and drag the lot back up.

Update on that one: it seems that the Rwandan government has decided to find another 1.5m euros to restart the project. It may - or may not - have been sabotage, it appears that there were internal politics involved, but Pres. Kagamé has apparently decided to fire a minister or two and carry on. Which is good news for all concerned, not least for the Rwandans employed on the project who risked losing the first jobs they'd had in their lives.


Bloody typical, cows in't frikkin' paddock again! Margo finally managed to find the farmer's phone number to let him know, and he complained how late it was - he finally sneaked in at some ungodly hour this morning and extracted the cows, but naturally enough didn't actually bother to get rid of the cow-shit, fill in any of the holes in the lawn, or stick the garden chairs back upright. Next time I think we call the butcher straight away, cut out the middleman. Must remember to make some room in the freezer.

When I have time I go through the approximately 10 Gb of photos on the machine (not too much, considering I went digital in 2003) and stick them up on Picasa. Anyone who's interested just needs to point their browser at to see what's up. (Not much at the moment, but I'll get more, I promise. Once I sort them out.)

This is getting ever more fragmentary - now the 24th. Had a big party up at Karen's at Frangy on Saturday night, fell into bed (luckily we were sleeping over) and fled into the morning mist at 10am before anyone else woke up and asked us to help with the cleaning-up. Of which, let it be said, there was in all evidence quite a lot to be done. I don't feel guilty at all, which is probably a symptom of a diseased mind, but there you are. It was a good party - I even danced! Dragged out the old Billy Idol and Gary Numan and Sisters of Mercy CDs from the car, and cranked up the volume. Luckily they have no close neighbours.

And then last night, faithful to the rendezvous, it snowed. Small fine flakes and then big fat lazy ones: woke up to about 5cm of the stuff this morning. Bugger. And once more, with feeling.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

02/11/08 The mice are winning - we're all DOOMED!

Back again with more of the usual trivia, I'm afraid.

First up, those of you who follow this thing may be aware that Jeremy had a quick (loooong) trip to A&E for an exploded thumb. They put a couple of stitches in, which he decided to remove the other night rather thean head off to get the quack to do it. A quick snip with the scissors, a tug ... and then a yell for the butterfly bandages to hold the edges together. DIY, that's what it's all about here.

Then, of course - unrelated to the stitch-pulling thing - I get a call from him saying he'd fallen asleep on the train back from Chambery and was now at Frontenex. Silly thing that I am, I confused Frontenex (about 25 km from St Pierre) with Freterive (about 3 km, and has no railway station) so I said I'd pick him up. So off I went to Freterive (on the teeny route départmentale, yet) where I fairly rapidly realised my mistake and compounded it by carrying on. On the teeny, admittedly touristic route départmentale, which goes through places I'd always managed to avoid on slick roads covered with wet leaves (for it had been raining). Something I think I'll avoid in the future. Next time he sleeps through to Frontenex, he can catch the train back here.

After which I turned up - as is my wont - at Sophie's on Saturday for our usual after-market apéro to discover her obsessed by mice. Well, that's perhaps too harsh a word - let's just say that she'd discovered mousie-dung (do not confuse with Mao-Tse-Dung, a respected elder statesman aka the Great Helmsman) in the clothes dryer, a hoard of cornflakes in an old boot and a stash of walnuts in a hole in the wall. She was, understandably, concerned. (Especially as the cat had, as a special treat, left the eviscerated bottom half of a mouse on the bonnet of her car.) So we spent an agreeable half hour sticking rat poison into every available crevice in the house. Have to see if the little suckers go for it. It's supposed to be quite painless for them ... and even if it weren't, I feel no guilt. (I'm still puzzled by the walnuts. If I didn't know better, I'd say she had an invasion of squirrels. Which are, I suppose, just mice with hairy tails. So that's alright then.)


A bit chillier than I could wish, but still fine around here. But not, unfortunately, at Grenoble, where I rushed last Thursday on a mission of mercy - more precisely, delivering Malyon's resuscitated laptop to her friend Sarah, who was going to join her in Glasgow for a week. Mission accomplished, the swap was made, and as I stumped off back to the car wearing my scowly face so as to frighten wee children and elderly ladies, and generally make people give me a wide berth, I was accosted by a young lady (unusual enough in itself) and made to smile. You must admit, having someone offer to be a ray of sunshine in your apparently gloomy life does have that effect. (And before your filthy minds go off into overdrive, let me point out that it was not what you're thinking. She was a charming young person out trying to sign people up for Medecins Sans Frontières, and had evidently learnt that the thing to do with a scowly-faced person was to break the ice with a tactful but humorous offer of cheer. Well, it worked, didn't it?)

We got Jerry's first school report the other day, and his notes are going up. And the "appreciation" from his head teacher was definitely more upbeat - "Jeremy seems to have undrstood the stakes at play in this last year of college. With disciplined working methods he should certainly succeed". Which is all rather good, and was the main objective of sticking him there, rather than carrying on at St Pierre. It almost makes getting up at 6:55 to get him to the train on time seem an acceptable price to pay.

Then we got a call from Malyon to say that Sarah had arrived but had forgotten the laptop at Roissy. Where it had been neither blown up (as tends to happen to unattended bags) nor stolen (which can happen to any sort of bag), but had been taken into the care of the lost and found department. So when Sarah comes back next week, she will (if she remembers) pick it up, bring it back here and I will send it over to Malyon through the good offices of UPS or FedEx.

And it was indeed a lovely day. Bright blue sky, marred only by the discovery, when I went down to the car to head off to the office and get a bit of work done in peace and quiet, that some helpful sod had tried to steal my wing mirrors, and had succeeded only in breaking both of them. It could, I suppose, have been worse. He could, exasperated by his evident incompetence, have decided to break the windscreen and ruin the paintwork for good measure. Which he didn't, so I really ought to be thankful for small mercies.


One of those small mercies was, I suppose, the fact that I had to go off to the Alfa garage to order new mirrors, then back again to get them fitted. Something for which they did not, in fact, charge me any money. Which made me very happy. As did the fact that I took advantage of my presence to hop into Alfa's latest, the little MiTo (which is, despite the rather ridiculous name, a nice little car - if you happen to be childless or, failing that, have a family of amputees), and then the Brera. Which looks - and feels - beautiful. I know that, according to Clarkson, its acceleration is measured in geological eras - it apparently gets from 0 to 100km in 7.2 seconds, which is slower than about anything other than a John Deere tractor - but I don't care. Just sitting in it and fondling the gearshift almost had me drooling. Or something.

On the other hand, I woke up on Wednesday to find that it had snowed down to 600m, which is rather too close for comfort as far as I'm concerned. Then it turned to what is technically called "pissing down", and I was extremely glad to have my rearview mirrors back as I drove off to Annecy to see a client. It's not the overtaking I mind, it's pulling back in afterwards that has me nervy. Godnose how I managed in the old Alfetta, which came standard with 1 (one) inside mirror. Maybe I'm spoilt now - or maybe I just drove faster then, and didn't need to worry about people being alongside when I pulled in. Your choice.

In other news, we had a little party last night - not really for Halloween, just because. We locked the boys in one of the cellars to sleep around 3am, and going by the number of bottles it must have been a success. I had decided to do the Frank'n'Furter thing - dress shirt, waistcoat, stockings and high heels, and may I just say that even if I can still remember how to put makeup on I've gotten a bit out of practice concerning walking around on heels. But I only got them caught in the decking once, which isn't too bad. And it certainly surprised the neighbours. Even at fifty, my calves aren't too bad. (Pass on the rest, no comments please.)

All of which may explain why I'm feeling a bit dissipated today - happily Jerry's gone off to Frangy for a few days with Karen and Phillippe, so tonight I can perhaps settle into bed early with a mug of cocoa. Or not.

Oh, and Sophie's mice/squirrels have apparently been TWEPped, so you can all sleep more safely tonight.