Sunday, December 20, 2009

20/12/09 Last of the 2009 vintage ...

Well, with a bit of luck I'll get this sent off before 2010 rolls around. Hope so, anyway.

Anyway, after weeks of fine, warm (relatively, anyway) weather the cold has just started. Yesterday as I was having my usual after-market apéro with Sophie we watched melted snow plopping sullenly on the decking, and I don't think it's got over 2° all day. Not good, especially as we're promised more of the same for at least the next week. Some people - those that think that Christmas should be white - would probably like it, as it means we'll probably get snow: they are idiots and if I had a large 4x4 with decent ground clearance I would run over them. Repeatedly, until they were flat.

Speaking of Christmas, we won't be heading up to Pesselière this year: I think that's probably about finished. Robert and Huguette (that's Maries' parents) are definitely not spring chickens any more, the kids have other plans (come to that, Malyon won't even be in the country), the logistics - with the dog - get complicated ... the alternative would be for us to head up to Paris which involves a 6-hour drive (minimum) and leaving the dog here, so it'd be basically going up on the 24th and coming back on the 26th. This is not going to happen.

So what we are going to do is have a quiet Christmas Eve at home, then head off on the day to Mumblefuck for an extended lunch with Karen and her lot. At a pinch, we could send Jerry off on the train earlier, so that he could amuse Amelia ... on second thoughts, maybe that's not such a good idea. Current plans are for roast boar as a main course, work out what to accessorise it with at some point I suppose, could try to leave that up to Karen but somehow I don't think I'll get away with that. Bugger.

I have, incidentally, seen Jerry's current girlfriend, and even spoken with her mother, albeit briefly and in passing (for I did not know her to be such at the time). We went off last weekend to the parent-teacher meeting for the lycée (missed the only appointment he'd actually managed to organize, question of being 3 nanoseconds late) and as we were hanging around waiting for the actual class meeting to go over the details of their two-week stage, I couldn't help but notice that there was a girl draped around his neck most of the time. Not bad going really, given that he's 1m85, she didn't even have to stand on tiptoe.

Whatever, we went into the meeting and found out which restaurants they were all being sent off to, got the pep talk and all that, then after a decent interval I asked Jerry to stop sucking tonsils and come along. At which point a blonde woman who also seemed to be waiting came over and said that she rather admired my disinterested air before turning to the pair and saying that she hoped the hotels they were in were at some distance apart. I though that was quite tactful. I suppose we're going to have to start worrying about contraception and stuff like that. Oh bugger.

I notice, incidentally, that I've completely forgotten to mention what a "stage" is, let alone why Jerry's doing one. As it happens, it's "work experience", and Jerry has 22 weeks of it during his three-year bac. For this one, the first, he's off for two weeks at the Hotel Mercure in Aix-les-Bains, doing one week serving, then the next cooking. Food, board and washing are all taken care of, and he might - if he's lucky - find a bit of cash in his back pocket when he leaves. Or not, depends on the hotel. Whatever, the object of the exercise is that he learns what it's all about: I think that one of the first lessons would be that the hours are shit. Despite the strict rules in France on working hours for minors, he's been getting off at 23:00 - fair enough, that's when the clients start to leave.


Well, there's a boeuf bourguignon simmering away on the woodburner in the kitchen making comforting meaty smells, for winter is definitely upon us. Late, but with a vengeance. It started snowing yesterday and today I think the high was up around -2°, and there was a brisk wind to boot. Not good. Still, we can at least eat comfort food without guilt now. Hence the stew, which'll probably get eaten in a couple of days, once it's ripe. Still time, too, for the traditional Christmas BBQ: I've got some rouelle de jambon in the freezer which could do with the barbecue treatment, and it also helps to confirm our reputation as raving loonies.

Of course the sudden arrival of snow will gladden the hearts of all those Parisians and other foreigners that've booked chalets up in the stations. Had it not arrived they'd have looked like complete and utter prats cycling around in green paddocks innocent of any trace of snow. Whereas as it stands they'll drive down from Paris today (usual three-hour traffic jams on the peripherique and the Transilien extended to five hours) through half a dozen multi-car pileups towards Lyon before getting stuck behind a snow-plough just after Chambéry, with another three-hours drive still on the menu. In snow, which is always so much fun.

Personally, it annoys me intensely. I had to drive through to Chambéry this morning slooowly with filthy slush getting splattered on the windscreen, had to drag the big overcoat out of hibernation just so as I could keep warm walking around the market, and I couldn't even buy a decent bloody lettuce because they'd all frozen overnight. (I am not joking. There where some on sale, but they were stiff. Crispy, even. Only good for making soup with, and as I don't do that, I didn't bother buying any.)

We've Malyon turning up for ten days or so on January 2nd, looking forward to seeing her again. We do actually miss her, you know. Even if she does have a funny accent now - she tends to say "aye" rather than "yes".

Whatever, happy Christmas to all of you, and all the best for 2010.


Trevor, Margo, assorted animals & Jeremy

Saturday, October 17, 2009

17/10/09 Another year down the tubes ...

Well, I've had my 51st birthday and winter is almost upon us, so I suppose it's about time to come out of hibernation, however briefly, to keep you up to date on what little of notice has occurred in our drab lives. Whatever.

I see that I last summoned the energy to write over three months ago, a short time before we headed off on our luxurious week-long holiday at the family seat. As it happens there were in fact eleven of us: three adults (more or less) and eight bratlings all up. For once it was fine and sunny most of the time, thankfully not totally scorching so as usual the grown-ups spent much of their time getting absolutely plastered on rosé whilst the kids did whatever it is they do. (And, in case you were wondering, I've no particular desire to know just what that is.) We still managed to head off to Guédelon again to check up on progress, I took Brian off to the chateau at Druyes les Belles Fontaines, and we ate an unseemly amount of barbecued food. Just to soak up the rosé, really. Had we not drunk the one, we wouldn't have had to eat the other, and vice versa - or something like that.

Headed back on the 29th and dropped Karen and her kids back at Mumblefuck (aka Frangy, in Haute-Savoie, but her name is quite fitting) and then I whipped off to Geneva to pick up Ross Barkman and his partner Madeleine from the airport and then drop them off at the Hotel-Chateau des Allues, just across the paddock from us. I think I can recommend it. As the name suggests it is in fact a chateau - 18th century, I think - with its own little park around it, and about eight rooms available. The couple that run it are gayer than gay Paris - one does the desk and buys in the raw ingredients for the food, the other does the cooking.

When I turned up with Ross and Mads in tow I got the full guided tour and was quite impressed. OK, it's a chateau so the decor is definitely overstuffed, not to say baroque, but comfortable - the kitchen is small but well-equipped and when I went through the guy was making his own pain d'épices and it smelt rather wonderful. And they offered me an apéro to drink as I wandered around. On top of that it was only 130€ the night for a double room, which is a damn sight less than you'd pay for a pokey walk-in cupboard in Paris, so that has to be good. And they'll do you dinner if you remember to ask in advance.

So the next time any of you turn up around these parts, remember that there's a classier alternative to slumming it here.

Anyway, the object of their arrival was in fact a little reunion with Julianne and Graeme, who duly turned up the next day as part of their epic voyage through Yurrup. I think most of my time was spent in an alcohol-induced daze so I'm a bit hazy on the details, but I do recall having rather a good time with all of us about. Too short, unfortunately.

Then Malyon turned up in August, evidently trying to escape from the Glaswegian rain/drizzle/fog. She's good, we're very proud of her, and glad she's in Glasgow. Which she is enjoying, still.In her usual, level-headed, Saffy way. (AbFab, for those of you with Alzheimers.)

Otherwise, Jeremy's installed as a boarder at the Lycée Technique at Challes-les-Eaux, some 18km from here, learning the hotel trade. Service and cuisine. Which is good. Although, when he comes back here for the weekends he shows few signs of wanting to demonstrate what he's learnt in the cooking department, which I suppose is fair enough. And he did have the culot (or chutzpah, if you prefer) to criticize my boning knife for not being sharp enough. Which is probably true, but it's good enough for me.

In other news, I headed off to a nuclear power station a few weeks back. One of the safety systems is a black box that basically sniffs the amount of radioactive xenon and other such gasses, and is supposed to go "ping!" when it gets to the "you're all going to die horribly" point. Of course the black box is an old OS9 system, the source code has long since disappeared (although I gather that they did manage to scan in an old lineflow listing at some point), and the people that set it up have long since retired and/or died. So I wnet up, kitted out with another ancient OS9 system, to at least clone the hard drive of a known-to-be-working black box so that another one can be built.

Basically, we turned up around 8am. By 11am, the hardware had passed security and was on-site, and I'd got my hard-hat, security badge and password. Then I spent half an hour doing what I was being paid to do, then another five hours or so hanging around. Couldn't even get elegantly wasted, the site is dry. (Also resembles nothing more than a high-security prison, not that I've ever been in one of those but the concrete blockhouses and razor wire seem a pretty good indication to me.)

Mind you, did have an acceptable dinner at Nevers the night before - surprising, as I turned up around 21:30 when most cooks are off to bed. My hopes were raised when I saw that they had dry martinis (well, the french call them "martini-gin") on the drinks list and then dashed when I asked the waiter and found out that they did not, in fact, have any dry Martini - but they at least served me a neat gin and thern a ginormous slab of foie gras with fig jam, confit d'echalottes, plenty of toast and butter, and a huge glass of sauternes. Had I known about the sauternes I wouldn't have ordered the carafe of rosé to go with the rather copious goat cheese salad that followed the foie gras, but there you are. I drank it anyway. To accompany the salad. Which was, in fact, rather good. I was very pleasantly surprised.

All this was at Belleville-sur-Loire, some 500km or so from here - and, incidentally, not too far from Pesselière. Next time we go there, might take that route for a change. On the way back I got from there to Macon without incident, then on to the autoroute with only 250 km to go thinking "Goody! Back for 10pm" until a front tyre blew out at 140 kph. Not something you really want to have happen to you. Fortunately there was a rest stop about 100m further up so I managed to limp into there and change the tyre (with help from a truckie - the aluminium rim had welded itself to the hub and needed a few blows from a two-metre tyre-iron to get it off).

Unfortunately, what you get as spare tyres these days are what frog-persons call a "galette" or flat cake - a sort of pint-sized thing that's half the thickness of a standard tyre, is blown up to about 5bar and on which you may not go more than 80kph. So my dreams of getting home at 10pm were sadly dashed, as I had to leave the autoroute (I was so not going to go through the tunnels at 80k with a swag of big trucks behind me honking) and take the maze of nasty nationales and even - gulp - departementales. Finally got home at midnight. Quel bummer.

And on top of that, once I'd had the front tyres replaced, one of them went sadly down the following Friday night - of course I didn't notice until I took the little départementale from here to Arbin and spotted that I was bottoming out on bumps I normally would've sneered at - luckily it was under guarantee. Still, another Saturday morning wasted hanging around.

Finally, Sophie and I had our birthdays last week - 5th for her, 8th for moi. (That's the day of the month, not the age - although I wish ...) Had a party the Friday night - Margo had of course chosen that day to come down with some disgusting lurgy and decided not to share her germs, so I went on my little lonesome, having thoughtfully prepared steamed pork bums for Jeremy and Rémi (Sophie's youngest, who was spending the night at our place).

Usual French party: 300W sound system mumbling quietly to itself in a corner, breasts flying and bums flashing, and waaay too much food. Mind you, saves cooking for the next week or so. Nah, honestly, it was fun. Despite the fact that my brains were oozing out my nostrils when I left (around 2am, if you're counting). I got gowled for accidentally (I swear, it was on an Apple, and I don't know how to handle fruit) putting Blondie on instead of "30 Years of French Accordeon Rock", but I can handle that. And teachers (Sophie's a teacher, have I mentioned that?) are great fun when completely cut. Or cuit, as the French would say. And this time around I thought to decant the '98 burgundy into a carafe on arriving, so it was actually drinkable when we needed it.

Not that I was drinking that much: I'd no designated driver and the spare beds had all been pre-booked by the Marseillais contingent so my options were pretty much limited to driving myself safely home or crashing on a sofa around 6am: guess which one I chose.

And of course I've wasted about three days getting my laptop back up and running - once from Thursday night (just before the party, and prior to going up to Paris with it to see the SNCF) when my BOOT.INI file went inexplicably missing, and then on Wednesday moaning, when Microsoft's Patch Tuesday saw fit to replace MSVCRT.DLL with a version that caused the poor thing to reboot endlessly. Thank god for bootable Linux distros on USB keys.

Oh, and we've just turned the central heating on - 12° in the bedroom was getting a bit chilly. I expect you're all dusting off the barbecues. B'stards.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

05/07/09 Ever had one of those days?

Or, more to the point, one of those weeks?

We've been suffering temperatures up in the high thirties for the past week or so, cooling off to around 32 as we head off to bed and then I wake up to a balmy 24 ... it's all a bit much, especially as the giant thunderstorms we've been promised for so long are basically skulking around the massifs, farting a bit just to let us know they're there, then not doing anything. Which at least means that I don't have to mow the lawn just at the moment, as it's about as arid as the Sahel down there. Apart from the weeds of course, which are flourishing. I'll get them yet, though. May involve napalm.

Whatever, with weather like that it was just natural that we should get a leak under the sink, dripping a couple of litres a day onto the floor. It's also natural - given the age of the house - that the pipe in question was more or less completely inaccessible, so I ripped a fair amount of skin off yesterday trying to patch it up with that miracle stretchy rubber tape - to no avail, alas. I suspect that I also terrified the cat and any passers-by with my language, especially when the skin came off.

So we left the house dripping merrily away this morning to head off at some ungodly hour to Pierre's Bar Mitzvah. I have nothing against this sort of thing - truth to tell, I find it all quite friendly, and oddly conducive to a quick nap (provided you can do this without falling over, so as not to call attention to yourself, and it's good if you've learnt how to sleep with your eyes open) - but spending two hours in slacks, shirt and tie in a small stuffy synagogue with the sun blazing against the windows (which don't open to let in any fresh air) does, I admit, make me start to wither a bit. And then, after the ceremony, when we were all released from the Off-White and Institutional-Green Hole of Calcutta, seeing Jeremy dressed all in black lounging around in the sun soaking it up as though he was some sort of lizard made me feel like melting down on the spot. Went back to the car and spritzed myself instead, which worked for a while.

Then came lunch, which was (remember, I told you so) leisurely. And well watered. Jeremy, surrounded by girls, seemed to be holding court at the table reserved for the adolescents - we just sat, ate and chatted - and, of course, drank. No rosé, sorry. Nice cold white. Probably drank more than was reasonable, but I promise I went on to a water-only régime around 16:00.

Got back home, having done none of the usual market/supermarket/butcher visits which make up my normal Saturday moaning, and girded my loins (metaphorically) to attack the plumbing. First of all, a quick trip down to the hardware store to get a spanner or two of the right size. (Of course, they weren't. They'll come in useful sometime.) Then down on my knees under the sink with a jigsaw to remove the back panel of the charming 1970's sink surround so that I could actually get to the pipe in question without removing any more skin (I only have so much, you know), then time to play with the spanners. Which is when I found out that I have to use the frikkin adjustable wrench 'cos I still do not have a 19mm spanner. I must have everything but that ...

As it turns out, the little rubber joints or seals or whatever you want to call them don't last more than fifty years. I probably should have guessed, having had to replace one in the cellar a month or so ago - I really should stock up, as I'm sure that there'll be others that give up the ghost in the next few months. At least we no longer have a swimming pool in the kitchen.

Jerry has, by the way, been accepted for the lycée technique at Challes-les-Eaux. We need to buy him white shirts, black trousers (not baggies), decent shoes, safety shoes (for the kitchen), chef's apron and toque, knives ... I really should have gone in for financing an America's Cup contender, I'm sure it would have worked out cheaper. And probably feel better, scrubbing yourself with $100 notes under a cold shower ...

Anyway, as you may have guessed France has gone into summer recess. Now that July has kicked in, the place has basically shut down, and will remain that way until September. Which gives us two months to finish our plans for world domination, using Sarkozy as a glove puppet. (Which will be literally the case, if our fiendish plot to catch him on the beach at Cannes and pith him like a frog - which of course he is - works out.) Mwahahahaha! I just have to buy myself that big volcano somewhere in Africa, and stock the subterranean lake with sharks. Ones with lasers on their heads, of course.

Apart from that, our plans are to head off to Pesselière in the last week of July with Jeremy, dog, Lucas, Karen and her four brats in tow for a week of admiring the wheat fields. Sounds good to me. (On the other hand - three adults, at around 60cl of rosé per day per person, for 5 days - that comes to at least 10 litres, not counting special occasions like getting the barbecue to work ... perhaps I could work out a discount at the supermarket for buying in bulk.) Whatever, it should be a good week doing absolutely sod-all, apart from the odd bike ride and yelling at Jeremy to stop sucking Amelia's face off. And trying to stop Julia from climbing up Jeremy (understandable mistake, she's only 12 and thinks he's some sort of climbing pole).

On top of that, Margo has just informed me that the sink in the first-floor bathroom is leaking. Maybe my spanners will come in useful after all. Although I rather doubt it. I'll order in some skin grafts, just in case.

OK, I'm off for a glass or three of red. (Can't be arsed going down to the cellar to get another bottle of the other stuff. Too hot, anyway, don't want to move.)


Monday, June 29, 2009

29/06/09 Not more bloody rosé ...

Hello again, all of you.

Sorry this has taken so long, but we've been rather busy what with one thing and another: nothing particularly time-consuming in itself but when you add up all the little things the weeks just fly past. And on top of that it's getting hotter so the rosé consumption goes up, and quite frankly after a half-bottle you don't really feel like doing much apart from lying out on the lawn soaking up the sun. Which is what I usually try to do on a Sunday afternoon, after time up at the office trying to keep the paperwork up to date.

On the upside, although the asparagus, strawberries and cherries are about finished, now is the time for peaches, nectarines and apricots. So I go to the market and fill my bag up with these - along with a rougette lettuce or two, and some baby new potatoes, and beans or whatever else takes my fancy - before scowling my way through the assembled hordes of little old ladies with their frikkin trolleys, hoping to get back to the car with the fruit more or less intact.

So far it's worked, I've not yet been obliged to make jam when I get home.

We've a social summer lined up: Janet and Kevin have already passed through (on the way down to, and then on the way back from, Corsica), David turns up (supposedly) on or about the 15th of July, last week of July we head off to Pesselière with Karen and sprogs for a week of doing absolutely nothing (apart from drinking rosé), then on the 31st I need to be at Geneva to pick up Ross & Madeleine before Julianne and Graeme turn up the next day.

Jeremy of course has his brevet to sit:the equivalent of what used to be school certificate, back in the faraway days when I knew anything about the NZ education system. Unless he does domething particularly stupid he should not actually be able to fail, given the points he has from internal assessment. After which, next year it's off to Challes-les-Eaux to learn about cooking. Hopefully.

Malyon is, apparently, fine - was planing on ringing her tonight but when I sent her an SMS to suggest this she sent back to say that she was off to Edinburgh for the night, so we could forget about that. The latest news I have is that she gave up her office job, is working full-time (nights) in a classy bar (had to dye her hair black from blue, apparently that didn't fit in with the image) and has modelled socks. Could be worse.

Otherwise we still seem to be alive: suffering through long hot muggy days, but at least the lawn isn't growing too furiously so Saturday afternoons are not always filled with the angry buzzing of the lawnmower. Which is doubtless a relief to the neighbours. And certainly is to me, even if it does mean that I'm not working as hard as I could be on my tan.

Work goes on - not as easy as it could be, but it's not yet disastrous. Don't know what it's like on your side of the pond. Whatever, we'll get by. But I really do hate having to talk to bankers. Even though ours is rather good-looking.

Next weekend we've a Bar Mitzvah to attend: I rather skimmed over the invitation and thought "hey, I can go to the market and then turn up for the skullcap biz ..." - I should be so lucky, we have to be there at 9am. Followed by a long lunch (if I'm any judge) at midday: don't plan on being back home much before 17:00. Another Saturday to be spent getting elegantly wasted.

This is, I know, rather a short effort - not at all up to my usual standards - and I apologise unreservedly, fulsomely, and doubtless fruitily. (Anyone remember "Beer" from Blackadder?) Whatever, it's this or nowt, so live with it. You could always try sending back a big chatty reply; who knows, I might even answer.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

31/05/09 Are we all sitting comfortably?

I am - now - the side-effects of a one-metre fall flat on my arse have finally worn off. The blow to the head which is, in any case - or my case anyway - much less delicate, wore off a lot quicker. But I can now sit down without occasioning great discomfort.

You know we've fallen on hard times when Ukrainian hookers are obliged to work the roundabout at Chignin. I went through there this afternoon and spied a couple, miniskirt down to about there (actually, up to about here) and white vinyl boots trying to meet up, fishnet stockings in between (good thing the weather's fine) - I got waved on, there was already an Audi A6 and a Peugeot 607 pulled over. An Alfa just doesn't do it these days. Plus, there were only two of them, they seemed fully booked.

Helped Stéphane, the neighbour, erect his barbecue last weekend and this weekend it was the turn of the bread oven. Under normal circumstances he should have left it for at least 10 days before firing it up but he couldn't wait, so tonight we had pizza "au feu du bois" and it was rather nice I have to say, blistery around the edges as it should be. Not, unfortunately, crispy in the middle, but that's a question of mastering the heat in the thing and that comes with a bit of experience. And learning how your oven works. I'm looking forward to next weekend's effort.

Just by the way, my ham is coming along very nicely. Another month or so, I reckon, and it'll be fit for purpose. James and Lucas (4 and 2, respectively) came round to see it hanging in the cellar, and were suitably impressed. Especially when I trimmed a few bits off for them to eat. Not squeamish, these French kids. Neither, unfortunately, are flies, which is why it's now enveloped in an enormous muslin bag as it finishes curing.

Getting slack, aren't I - it's now the last day of May, and I've still not sent this off. Not for want of stuff, to say, just lack of time, really.

By the way, those of you who want to know what I really get up to on Saturday mornings might could do worse than go off and take a look from time to time at, where I contribute the odd recipe from my Saturdays with Sophie. And others. (Other recipes, that is. Not other women. Just clearing up that little ambiguity.)

Whatever, we managed to get rid of Jeremy for a week for a trip to Germany. What they call a "séjour culturel" rather than "linguistique", probably just as well as apparently they wound up speaking English all the time. Got to see a lot of chateaux (including, I think, Mad Ludwig's edifice), and Jeremy came back with a 1.5 litre choppe and a bottle of decent beer to put in it. Which he didn"t even have the decency to offer to share with me. Yoof of today - no respect.

He's quite decided that he want's to go and do cooking, so we've put his name in for the lycée professionnelle at Grenoble, second choice Thonon and third choice (far down on the list) at Challes-les-Eaux. He'll just have to get his marks up if he wants to get in to Grenoble (or Thonon, for that matter), so now it's up to him. I must admit, he'd probably do well in the hospitality business - though I say it myself he's actually a very thoughtful, sociable kid. Even if we do have to remind him every five minutes to pull up his jeans so that we're not obliged to get full-screen coverage of his knickers. (Or take yesterday morning, when he completely failed to notice that his shower was overflowing and there was 1cm of water on the floor. He finally noticed on getting out of the shower, at which point Margo gave him a mop and a couple of towels and left him to clean up. When he and I left for Chambéry I did have the wit to ask "I assume you've put the towels in the wash? And put the mop away?" Quick as a flash came the reply "Oh, Mum didn't say anything about that ..." Cue a ten-minute delay in leaving whilst he receives detailed orders and executes them ...)

I left him with Sophie yesterday, and as we were munching our way through lunch he started off a rather elliptical conversation - "I don't suppose that by any chance you have some pasta?" "Why yes, I do" - replied Sophie - "why do you ask?" "It's just that my Dad has absolutely no idea of how to do a decent gratin aux pates, and you do it so well ..." When I left she was checking up on the sour cream and grated cheese in the fridge. Learnt this morning, when we picked him up to head off to a BBQ, that he'd wolfed down about a kilo of the stuff before attacking the ice-cream. On the bright side, Sophie really does need to defrost her freezer, and like that there's a lot less in there to worry about.

Anyway, we headed off to this BBQ at Karen's, in Frangy (or as she will insist on calling the place, "Mumblefuck"). I have to admit, it is a bit of a godforsaken hole, all of 1600 inhabitants, many of which are clinically dead. But that doesn't matter so much when it's fine, as it certainly was today.

Did I mention that we've been enjoying temperatures up in the 30s? Thought not. It's actually rather nice. You lot can all wrap up warmly, we're fine.

Whatever, after starting in on the rosé then scarfing grilled piggy bits and salad and bread, I spent much of the afternoon lying on my back under a tree, waiting for cherries to fall into my mouth. Which they obstinately refused to do, I was obliged to rise from time to time to pluck a half kilo or so just to keep the wolf from the door. I think that for once in my life I may actually have eaten too many cherries. And gooey chocolate brownies. (Just to reassure you, I actually stopped drinking around 2pm. The Alfa pretty much drives herself, but she occasionally does silly things ... like overtaking at 140 kph on solid white lines in a 90k zone... so it's best if I'm relatively sober.) We made it back here around 19:30, and quite frankly I couldn't be arsed getting anything ready for dinner and in any case the only person that was hungry was Jeremy, so we left him to fend for himself with left-over bits from the fridge.

I did threaten to tell you the tale of why we've changed our e-mail addresses, and I've calmed down enough to be reasonably coherent, so here goes. We used to be with Tele2, which worked fine and never gave me problems: but in February I got a letter from SFR telling me that as they were merging with Tele2, and given the number and nature of our contracts, they were obliged to cancel them effective May 20th. A month or so later I got another letter saying that someone would be in touch with me, then we each got e-mails saying that our Tele2 mail accounts had been shifted to SFR ones, and that the username and password details had been posted out.

Yeah, like shit they had. I spent quite a lot of time on the phone being shuttled from one hot-line to another: apparently we no longer existed in the Tele2 database (apart from for billing purposes) and did not yet exist in the SFR database. Apart from fort billing purposes. One support person at Tele2 even advised me to change providers, as it was all going to hell in a hand-cart. As time went on I got very rude, even by French standards.

The final straw came when I got through on yet another hotline to someone who told me that it was quite normal that our contracts were to be cancelled, as SFR didn't offer ADSL at Chambéry-le-Haut (where we'd been enjoying it for the past 7 years). So I headed down to the local Orange/France Telecom boutique to organise a switchover. Which, I was pleased to discover, went rather rapidly and quite well. Went down on Thursday and signed the contract, on Monday a guy turned up at the office to switch us over. (Did not, unfortunately, go swimmingly - took until Friday to get all the wiring changes done at the exchange.)

I'd also switched the contracts at both houses, and Margo rang to say that Internet access had gone down at home: indeed, they'd swapped out the Tele2 DSLAM and connected us up to Orange. But no ADSL box! So I spoke gently to the nice man and to his boss, and around 17:30 we went around to the back of his van and he gave me two Livebox, saying "saves me a bloody callout, doesn't it?".

As, indeed, it did. I set one up for Sophie and then came home and did the same here, and lo! it worked. On top of it, it tells me I'm getting 20Mb/s download here, which I must admit I find hard to believe but it does seem quite snappy. On the other hand, the telephony seems to have a hissy-fit occasionally, so I might have to look into that. Because "free calls" (well, included in the price) is quite attractive, isn't it? For info, it's 65€/month, which includes the phone line, internet (no download cap) and phone. Is that good?

The only thing left for me to do is to write an extremely snarky letter to SFR informing them that, as they've cancelled our contracts (copy of their original letter in evidence), I do not expect to be receiving any bills for their services after May 20 and, if I do get any, I certainly won't be paying them. It's petty, I know, but it'll make me feel much better.

OK, you can all go back to sleep now.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

19/04/09 Our friend the pig ...

I note that in previous mails, I've completely forgotten our adventures with a pig. It started back in February, when I arrived home after work to find our kitchen table groaning under the weight of four or five boxes full of bits of the said animal (dead, let me assure you). Shoulder, chops, various unidentified bits, a liver and a whole ham. Much of it is now in the different freezers around the place, I made haste to make an enormous paté campagnarde with the liver, and the ham is now hanging solemnly in one of the cellars: should be ready by June. Unless, of course, I got the salting wrong and bits of it start turning blue and dropping off, which would be a shame - no signs of that yet, luckily.

The paté was an unreserved success, unfortunately the freezers are still full to overflowing so it's rather lucky that BBQ weather has arrived and the pork chops and stuff should get eaten. First BBQ of the season on Monday, good old tandoori chicken - had six legs so did the lot and just as well - Jeremy had a friend, Joyce (male, should you be wondering) around, same scale as he but a few extra centimetres in height, and he managed to eat three. Godnose where it all goes.

Malyon is extremely happy, having found a job and a flat (not necessarily in that order). The flat's just a few minutes walk from the uni, which is a definite advantage on the student residence, and at least she'll no longer be sharing with yoof what think that elementary/alimentary hygiene is something that happens to other people. And it's cheaper too, which has to be good.

The job is apparently as a telephone answering machine: she thinks it's pretty crap but it does pay £50 per day in cash, apparently - not as good as walking the streets but a lot easier on the back.

I have recently discovered that I are eeyore, at least according to little Lucas from next door. He's not yet old enough to comfortably wrap his tongue (and palette, and all the other organs we use for speech production) around too many consonants, and so "Trevor" becomes "eeyore". Cute. I have not yet exterminated him, still pondering the question.

Last weekend, being the 11th or somesuch, and having heard reports of small animals and children going missing in mysterious circumstances, I donned the armour of righteousness (the rather holey cut-down jean shorts that are held together by sweat and faith) and took the flaming sword of whatever-it-is in my hand (cigar actually, sorry to disappoint you but there you are) and went down to mow the lawn. Somewhat to my dismay the lawnmower, which has lived down there under the shade of the tilleul for the last four years with nary a hint of maintenance, started up with the first pull on the cord (OK, I did have to put some gas in, can't expect everything) so I felt rather obliged to continue with the massacre. Took me about 90 minutes, which is rather over par, and I was covered in grass soup when it was all done, but at least we know that Spring is here. By the buzzing of lawnmowers on Saturday afternoons shall ye know them...

Was still feeling a bit stiff after all that effort when, on Tuesday night, I decided in a fit of enthusiasm to rush up the stairs in socks. (Cue a Health & Safety warning video on the dangers of doing this.) Foot at the bottom went too far on the step, foot at the top missed the next step, next thing you know I'm falling a metre flat on my back to land directly with the coccyx on the concrete and, 30ms later, the skull doing the same thing. Mind you, as that's mostly empty, it hurt a lot less. I'm still walking with caution, and paying attention when I bend over, but I don't seem to have actually broken anything. Luckily the boys (see below) were in bed or watching something unmentionable on TV: I'd have felt really guilty had they heard some of the words I used. When I felt in a fit state to use them.

Anyway, being as what we've just ended the Easter holidays, we had three boys for a couple of days: Jeremy (can't seem to get rid of him), the abovementioned Joyce, and a Lucas (one of a number, we really shoud index them or something for easy recognition). I wasn't warned that they'd be staying over for a second night but happily I'd got a reasonably-sized chicken for dinner: it disappeared. I think Joyce actually hoovered the carcasse, to make sure nothing was left.

Unfortunately, although it is the season, there are no morilles. Too dry. You cannot imagine what a bummer this is. No chicken in cream sauce with morilles this year. So any of you who were planning on turning up for a little culinary treat can think again. On the bright side, there should be plenty of wood strawberries, and it did not snow just after the apricot flowered so we might even get a few apricots this year - until they get attacked by blight or mildew before being devoured by hordes of ravenous millipedes. One thing for sure is that we ourselves will not get to eat any of them.

Okay, back to school for Jeremy tomorrow, which means getting up at an unnameable hour to get him down to the train station. Which incidentally means that I'm going to bed.


PS: downloaded and watched the first episode of "Diplomatic Immunity" - personally I thought it was quite funny. Is that bad? And why are there no further episodes up on Rapidshare? Oh, and you probably really should watch "Better Off Ted". And "Krod Mandoon And The Flaming Sword Of Fire", while you're at it. You'll thank me for it one day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

18/03/09 Pizza Sex

No, this is not something they didn't have room to fit into the Kama Sutra (or which the editors cut), it's just that there are billboards all over Chambéry advertising the "Aphrodisiac pizza". It apparently involves chocolate, banana, caramel and ginger, is delivered to your door by a man (or at least, male person, for a given value of "male" - this may involve students) on a throbbing mobylette, and each one comes with a free condom. You may not have needed to know that, but I certainly needed to get it off my chest.

In other news, I went off on Wednesday and had my armpit drilled, bored and emptied. First off you remove all shreds of dignity and get kitted up with the bright blue paper disposable knickers and standard hospital smock that does up down the back (my personal feeling is that it's just so that the nurses that then have to do the ties up can make rude comments about yer arse), then onto the slab so that they can have a bash at finding a vein to stick the catheter in. Only took three goes, I suppose I should be grateful - mind you the thing's about the diameter of a garden hose so every time they stick it in it hurts like hell.

Once they actually found a vein to plug it into everything went swimmingly - the next thing I can recall after they pushed the plunger down on the horse-doctor's syringe was lying on a gurney hooked up to a machine that went "Ping!" and, on the third line down on the display, said "Warning! Bad contact!" whenever I wiggled my left thumb. Which, out of boredom, I did quite a lot. It didn't seem to worry anybody, which is probably fair enough. (Could have been worse - Windows For Hospitals V3.01, showing a tasteful skeleton on the blue screen as it reboots.) As, after half an hour, I didn't show any of the classic symptoms of actual death, they wheeled me out, cleaned me up, told me to get dressed and shoved me out the door. Luckily they'd actually wheeled me back into the same room in which I'd left my clothes when stripping off for the amusement of the nurses (possibly by mistake), which meant there was no Benny Hill-style humorous interlude where I run about naked groping nurses. Probably just as well, really - I wasn't really in the mood for that. Nor, by their looks, were the nurses.

Whatever, I'm now waiting for the swelling to go down and to get a bit of feeling back in the skin; the surgeon did say he had to go rather close to the nerves. And in a week or so I might even be able to get my arm over my head! (Why, you may ask, would I want to do that? Good question, don't really know.) Still, living with an armpit which is basically a massive bruise is no fun, and I wish you to know that.

Spring are sprunging, or whatever it does: the garden is full of primeveres (them's primroses to you) and things are generally warming up. Like, to 20°+ today. This is good. On top of that, my ham is curing quite nicely down in the cellar, thank you: another two months or so and it should be good to eat. Miam. And on top of it, the bats are out and flitting around again. Godnose what they're eating

Next Friday we have our annual kulcha outing: down to Grenoble to see the annual English production from Upstage, the theatre club at Europole. We started going when Malyon got involved in her first year there, and we seem to have got into the habit. Don't regret it, always well done - at least as well done as anything we ever managed at MUDS: this year it's "The Ladykillers". Whatever, gives us an excuse to go down to Grenoble, get a decent kebab before the show and then sink a drink or two after it with Mr. Simpson (who has usually sunk his drinks well before we - or anyone else - actually show up, but that's another matter) and Didane, the theatre impresario, who really has to be seen/met to be believed. Will be fun, as always.

Jeremy has more or less decided what he wants to do and it involves cooking. Shock, horror. So rather than go on and do his bac(alaureat) he wishes to do a bac technique before getting a BTS in the "hospitality industry". Surprisingly for someone so big (180+ cm and still growing - sigh) he does not wish to leave home - I suppose he is only 14, after all - so it'll probably be off to Grenoble for him too. Which'll leave us knocking around the house like two peas in a large paper bag - weekends excepted, of course.

Malyon's fine: with her triple-A results she's been accepted for the Dean's course next year, which basically means (I think) that she gets to be a research slavey doing extra work whilst the Dean gets all the credit.Mind you, I might be a bit cynical there. Whatever, she's doing well and having fun - most of the time. Which is good.

Sorry, this is just a quickie by normal standards, but quite frankly there's not that much that's happened. You know that if there were, I'd have told you. So you can, as Frog-persons say, "reprendre votrre vie normale", and/or go back to sleep in front of the TV.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

31/01/09 The mice are committing suicide - we're NOT doomed!

Strange as is may seem, this is true. Third time in a couple of weeks that I've had to fish one of the little buggers out of the dog's water bowl, drowned or frozen as it tried to do a couple of lengths breaststroke. Not house mice either - fieldmice: I can only assume that water's getting a bit scarce, what with the ground being frozen solid (think Arctic permafrost) and of course it's bloody chilly out, and so they come up to get a drink (or a bit of exercise), fall in and drown. Either that or the cat catches them and sticks them in so that she'll have mousie popsicles for later; if that's the case she's doubtless a bit pissed off at me for religiously chucking the things. I'm not sure that the dog actually notices they're there, and I'd rather she didn't sneeze one out of her nose when she's curled up on her cushion.

Today, incidentally, is the 10th, which means I had to deliver Malyon to Geneva airport at midday to catch her flight back to Glasgow. Apart from the vast number of Germanic-style persons heading back home via Switzerland after a week or so on the slopes it all went swimmingly, and the new bit of autoroute from Annecy to Geneva really does cut 20 minutes off the trip time. Much appreciated. Unfortunately, the disruption to my usual schedule meant that by the time I got back to Chambéry and had the usual apéro with Sophie, I had to do the shopping at Carrefour around 15:00. During the ski season. I can now remember just why it is I haven't set foot in a supermarket on an Saturday afternoon for the last fifteen years or so. Luckily I was unarmed, so you're not going to be reading any headlines along the lines of "Deranged Kiwi in Shock-Horror Fruit&Vege Supermarket Massacre" - at least, not because of me.

We're currently enjoying - if that's the word, and in fact it isn't - temperatures that get up to about -5° at the hottest time of day. And just at this moment, we have thick freezing fog as well. This is not good. Even Malyon in Glasgow gets up to 7°, and she's about 1000km north of us, for heaven's sake! What have we done wrong? Perhaps I should go burn some more virgin forest. At least we're better off than the Marseillais, who got 40cm of snow on Wednesday. And I'm not sure that there's a single snow-plough in the entire Bouches-du-Rhone département, so they're apparently having rather a hard time of it. Schools closed an' all, which just doesn't happen around here. Unless there's a major disaster, like the failure of the entire tartiflette crop.

I'm going to assume that your New Year passed without too much incident: ours certainly did. Couldn't be arsed doing anything major so we just had a few friends around, drank unreasonably and then I, for one, headed off to bed around 1am, having come down with a good head cold. Staggered down the next morning, ready to kill anyone who looked at me the wrong way, to find that everyone had slept over, which in hindsight was probably rather reasonable - given that the only ones that would have been classed sober enough to drive don't actually have legs long enough to reach the pedals. Probably a good thing Malyon was in Grenoble with friends: she'd have been disgusted with what her parents get up to. (Funnily enough, it's alright for Karen - she's only 40, and she's not a parent. I suppose that explains it. But I don't want to have to be good. Children are so unforgiving.)

A couple of days later Ricky & Alison Hart, with bratlings in tow, turned up for the weekend which gave us another excuse to eat and drink perhaps more than we should. Not that we really need one. Still, nice to be able to do it in company. Margo took some off skiing at Margeriaz, I took the remainder walking in the mountains. Lovely weather - for once - we really enjoyed it. Although I did feel a bit ashamed looking at the number of wine bottles ready for the recycling bin when they left - emptied them out at night so that no-one could see.

Sordid details ... woke up a week back with a large painful lump under the left armpit. Thinking to myself "Oh dear! This is not good" I rushed off to the quack, who sent me off to have about 5 litres of blood drained from my long-suffering left arm for every test under the sun, and who has now told me it's just cat scratch fever. (No, I am not joking, that's the literal translation. For what it's worth, the latin name is Bartonella Henselae.) So after 6 days of 2000mg of antibiotics per day (which achieved sod-all apart from killing off everything living in my intestinal tract, with results I'm sure you can imagine) I'll have to go through another week or so of other antibiotics, as the bacteria responsible apparently sneers at penicillin and waves its rude bottom parts at other varieties. And if that doesn't work they can always slice me up and cut the sucker out, the alternative being to live with it until it buggers off of its own accord in six months or so. Personally, I think I'd rather go with the alternative, but that may be unadvisable. Apparently.

Malyon has started getting the results from her mid-year exams: so far, so good. Biology and chemistry both As, still waiting on the psychology. She's also trying to get out of the halls of residence: it is quite expensive, one of her good friends there is also wanting to get out, and she's had enough of the yoof. So she's hoping to find a flat to share - perhaps not as convenient (at least, she'll have to pay for her own ADSL connection), but should be cheaper and at least she knows how flats work.

Jeremy just sat his "brevet blanc", the trial run for the real brevet exam at the end of the school year. French and History/Geography he found not too bad - easier, he reckons, than the tests they get in class - but maths was a killer. Whatever, we'll have to see. In any case, he still really wants to go off and get a technical qualification (preferably cooking) so that he can go into the restaurant/hospitality trade. Which might not be such a bad idea: he really is a people person, if I may be forgiven the revolting phrase, and restaurant manager would be better than gigolo, which would be another option. And he genuinely enjoys cooking (not, perhaps, too surprising, all things considered) and is not, in fact, too bad at it. He managed a reasonable forêt noir the other day. Whatever, there's a supposedly excellent cooking school at Thonon in Haute Savoie (and it's a state one, yay! no fees), so I'll look into what's required for applications for that. Might also send him up to Geneva for a few days: Jacques' middle son Vincent runs a wine bar/bistro there and should be OK to take Jeremy under his wing for a few days: see what life's like in a rather more up-market joint, go to the market every morning for the shopping ...

The weather is finally getting better: to say "warmer" would be a slight exaggeration, but sunnier - even up around 9° in the afternoon. And no wind - not since last week's horrendous storms down in the south-west. The primevere are starting to come out, only another couple of months and it'll be spring. Yay!

And finally, on a cheerful note, I have to see if I can't get an appointment with the surgeon sometime next week. Bugger.