Thursday, May 8, 2008

08/05/08 The usual tripe, but cooked for rather longer ...

Another way of saying "sorry chaps, late again". But it's alright, I have perfectly good excuses, and a note from the doctor just in case.

I actually started putting down some notes in January (yes, this is not just spontaneous creative writing, takes effort tossing off careless nothings - probably why Noel Coward felt so hard done-by, his own fault for making it look easy) but things got a bit out of hand.

Wind up the way-back machine to take us to the start of the year, notable for Jeremy's ill-fated snowboarding career. It started off fine - following Sophie's advice I took him up to Margeriaz for a days lessons, which went very well. On the first school outing he unfortunately fell (or fell unfortunately, either would be correct) and broke his wrist. On the upside, he missed out on cross-country skiing, which he cordially detests. On the downside, having shelled out 180€ in ski hire for the season I took the gear back two weeks later and got a "pro-rata" refund in the form of a 30€ gift token, which succeeded in pissing me off enormously. Shall not be going back to Montaz ski hire next year.

Not long after that debâcle my sister Ali and niece Rosie turned up in Old Yurrup. We had plenty of warning, which was just as well because I needed it to deal with the demented SNCF website, trying to reserve tickets for Eurail-pass holders. It seems that it is possible to do this provided that you know the secret codes, if not you're stiff out of luck and as it turns out these secret codes are distributed on a need-to-know basis and not even Sarkozy has them. Certainly the average SNCF booking agent doesn't ... and on top of it they broke the website.

That is something that really annoys me, because it used to work well enough - a bit stodgy, I agree, but at least you could fairly easily go on, check out the timetables and book a ticket without having a doctorate. At some point they apparently decided that "just working" wasn't good enough and hired some Web 0.3 consulting firm who persuaded them that the thing to do was set up a portal through which you must pass to do anything, to lard said portal with cunningly animated Flash menus in stunning black text on darker black background, make it compatible only with IE7 and then make sure it doesn't actually work. As in, if you want to see the trains that leave, say, Chambéry for Paris between 14:00 and 19:00, you'll get a page with maybe five trains and a little button to see the next page. When you push the little button, it shows you the same page again. You have to note the time of the last train on the first page - say, 15:47 - and change the departure time in your request - this is, very conveniently, shown in a little sort of panel thingy off to the left. Now when you push the button, it takes you back to the search page, with all fields blanked out. After the third time, you get used to it: much like a lobotomy I suppose.

Another odd thing is that it doesn't (didn't) handle accents, which is odd for a language was uses them liberally. I won't go into the details, suffice it to say that it was all rather depressing. And totally avoidable. I mean, why did they screw around with it? What came over them? Were they all sitting around smoking dope one day and decide it'd be a real giggle, or does someone there actually believe in what's been done? Sadly enough, probably the latter.

Whatever, by dint of actually getting off my arse and into the station at Chambéry I actually found someone who could service my requirements, as it were, and Ali & Rosie turned up as promised and on time, having negociated their way from Strasbourg to Chambéry via Lyon. We had a lovely time - well, Margo and I did, and no-one else complained. Finished by heading off to Paris with them for a few days - they needed to get to Madrid and you can't get there from here (well, you can, but you wouldn't want to), and it would be a bit of a shame to spend time in France and studiously avoid seeing the Eiffel tower. I'd managed to book a really cheap (by Parisian standards) hotel in the fifth arondissement, on Boulevard St Michel opposite the Ecole des Mines and the Jardins de Luxembourg (Hotel des Mines, if that interests anyone - personally I'd recommend it) and we spent two days being tourists. Rather nice actually, been a while since I was one of them (tourist, that is) at Paris.

We did almost get lost in the Louvre, I must admit. I may have been holding the map upside down and instead of going from "Greek Antiquities" to "Chinese Curiosities" we wound up in Italian statuary after a detour through an Egyptian sarcophagus, or something along those lines. Whatever, we did manage - godnose how - to find our way into the Salle Apollon, which is amazing. Think gilt, and roccoco - then double it. Double it again, then go and lie down for a bit, because you're not there yet. Like the ballroom in what used to be the Hotel de la Gare d'Orsay (now part of the museum of the same name) it really does have to be seen to be believed.

I really do like Paris, it's just that I don't want to live there - not until I have the money to buy a 200 m² apartment in a C16 tower on Ile de la Cité, anyway.

Around this time I got interested in charcuterie, or the fine art of curing meat. Having eaten enough of the stuff, it seemed a reasonable idea to attack it from the other end ,as it were ... Let me just say that if you happen to have (as we do) a dry, airy cellar, making your own bacon or pancetta is both easy (as in effortless) and rewarding (as in having bacon that isn't 90% water when you fry it. It is 50% fat, but that's the nature of the beast ...). Unfortunate side-effect: everyone around here is now spoilt rotten and I can't buy bacon at the supermarket anymore.

Confit de canard is even easier and keeps really well in the freezer: I have to get around to trying duck prosciutto. And making a smoker out of flower-pots so that I can try smoking the last lot of maple-syrup cured bacon ... that should be good. I shall slowly work my way up to doing a whole ham, cured and smoked. Miam.

In the not-so-amusing department, Margo went back to NZ in April to be with her father before he died. Can't really say much more than that, can you? Apparently it was viral, very quick, and she and Ian made it back in time to see him - which is what matters.

Anyway, tomorrow is May 8 (over here, anyway) which is of course a public holiday (like every other day in May), Friday no-one will go to work anyway 'cos there's no point and Monday is also a holiday (Pentecost, if any of you are Catholic). A five-day week-end. Bliss. Nowt to do but mow the lawn and plan the barbecues. Oh, and try to work out just what the hell is going on inside one of Alstom's radio-telescope positioning systems that causes it to hang every once in a while until rebooted, behaviour which is starting to annoy Thalès Aerospace. I love industrial archaeology.