Tuesday, January 1, 2008

01/01/08 That was the year that was ...

Well, since last I wrote we've been to a Bat Mitzvah and a couple of expositions (not at the same time), bought heaps of glittery stuff that we don't really need from Ikea, and seen the year out through an alcoholic haze. Not bad going. A Bat Mitzvah, should you be wondering, is the feminine version of a Bar Mitzvah, rather than a spelling mistake. This particular one belonged to Caroline, the daughter of friends of ours, and it was quite a big deal: the family came over from New York and we had a very long lunch at the Chateau des Comtes de Challes, which was definitely gastronomic.

As for the expositions, there was the Foire Internationale de Grenoble (which we forced Jeremy to attend), of which the best part is the food hall (we made it away quite frugally, with only saucisson and chorizo and paprika fumé and curry to weigh us down), then there was the silk exposition in Lyon (of which the highlight - for me, anyway - was definitely the building: the Palais de Commerce in the 2ème arrondissement is a huge late C19 gilt and baroque pile which is definitely worth a look) and then it was back to Grenoble for the Salon de l'Artisanat. What took my fancy there were some rather nice Laguiole table knives with rather odd-looking but surprisingly comfortable handles made from semi-precious woods and/or polished stone. Shame there's no way I could justify €300 for a set of six, and I don't think they did matching forks. Probably just as well, 'cos if they did I would have had to buy a set, wouldn't I?

On the other hand I did manage to justify getting a couple of nice stainless-steel saucepans and some other cooking utensils from the new Ikea store on the way back. Margo made hummus a while back and left the pois chiches to boil just a tad too long, so that particular grey enamelled pot will never play the violin again ... and on top of it I've been looking for a decent whisk with a Teflon coating on the wires for a while now, and the stainless-steel roasting pan with grill was an absolute steal, even if not, technically speaking, indispensable ...

And of course last night was New Year's Eve and so we left Jeremy at home with some chili con carne, tortilla chips and a friend (with strict instructions not to eat the friend, nor to burn the house down) and we went off for champagne with Arlette and Pierre to whet the appetite before all going to Karen's in the middle of Chambéry for buffet and booze. Foie gras, samossas, a rather yummy roast turkey and then cherry tart and sticky buns - along with quantities of wine. For me, anyway - Margo was designated driver this time around.

Like every year, Christmas was overfed and foggy. We headed up to Pesselière on Sunday, thinking that like that we'd avoid the worst of the traffic - which may well have been the case, but it's not saying very much as the traffic was still pretty appalling. At least once we got past Beaune the fog cleared (be reassured, it rolled back in again for Christmas day). Monday night was the traditional "stuff yer face" feast with oysters and salmon and foie gras and capon and chestnuts and bûches swilled down with copious quantities of wine. Every year I have more difficulty forcing at all down - it'll get to the point in a few years where I sit in a corner nibbling on a rusk and sipping tepid mineral water. Not there yet, though.

It was a bit odd not having Malyon with us, mind you. Normally she and Elise would be merrily bossing Caroline and Jeremy around and making them do all the dishes (having themselves ostentatiously "set the table" by flinging the odd fork down as their contribution to the household tasks), but this year Elise had to do all the bossing by herself and her heart didn't seem to be in it. We all left on Thursday, and we had a reasonably quiet trip back (in the fog, yet again), finally catching up with the sun as we emerged from the tunnel de l'Epine, just west of Chambéry. The cat and guinea-pigs seemed happy enough to see us - insofar as you can tell with creatures whose main activities are lying down, eating, and going "wibble". No more signs of the mice in the cellar - maybe the cat's done her job, although I have my doubts. (I know there were mice because the little sods got into the Sarde cheese I had maturing down there, having eaten through the tea-towel I'd wrapped it in, leaving masses of mousie dung as their visiting card.) I hope they have gone, because I've taken the sugar-cured bacon I'd made up before Christmas out of the fridge and hung it up to air-dry, and I'd like it to be whole when ready to eat.

I'm now the proud owner of a certifiably brand-new PC (emphatically not an office hand-me-down) bought in bits and pieces over the last few days and put together over an evening. All because we unplugged - as is our wont - the various computers around the place before heading off for Christmas, and in the general flurry of reconnecting to check e-mail and such on our return Jeremy's power supply went poof (and left a smell of ozone that lingered for some while, but that's another matter). Second time that's happened - I can't help but wonder whether he doesn't have issues with 220V. (The first machine was a slimline Compaq from the days when the company designed everything to be non-standard - the power supply was an interesting dodecahedral box with 16 pins on the connector instead of the more usual 20 - and is now used as a doorstop. I've removed everything that could conceivably be of use, and will get around to taking it to the tip Real Soon Now.)

Whatever, having - as one does - a spare power supply lying around I stuck that in, but no joy. So as I passed by a computer store the next day I popped in, picked up a new case to replace the hideous purple Compubox one, a ten-euro DVD/CD burner and - for all of 15 euros - possibly the last motherboard in existence which would accept an Intel Socket-1 P3 (yes, his machine was that old) and rushed home with them. Still no joy, so I bit the bullet and on Saturday got an up-to-date motherboard, a Core Duo processor and 1Gb of RAM to go with it. Before putting all that together I thought I'd give the old gear one last try - I hate chucking out obsolete kit - and then I noticed that the fan on the processor wasn't working (must have fried with the power supply) and when I replaced that it all started to work. Unfortunately the BIOS on the new old motherboard was so out-of-date it wouldn't recognise any drive bigger that 16 Gb, and those are getting to be rare beasts - even around here - so I put everything back as it was, original motherboard and all (in the purple case, even) and it carried on working. So Jeremy has his machine back (saves transferring all his bookmarks and MSN contact list and whatever), we have a really cheap surplus-to-requirements motherboard which we could use as a wall hanging, and there's a new machine onto which I suppose I'll have to shift all my stuff once I've bought a huge SATA hard drive for it (only one IDE interface, unfortunately).

Which is a pain, because some of the software I have predates Noah and I'm not sure I even have the disks for it (not too much of a problem really, 'cos software that old usually doesn't have an installation procedure - just copy the directory) and for other stuff - mainly Microsoft DDKs - I'm not sure which of the fifteen versions is installed and what I had to patch to make it work. Mind you, there's not much demand for Windows 95 device drivers these days, so I suppose that's not really a great hassle either.

I'm still not entirely sure why I insist on hanging on to old gear, though - apart from sheer stupidity stubbornness and the feeling that even if it is a bit old it's still Good Enough. Which in most cases it is. Even so - the case and power supply were €35, €10 for the CD/DVD, €30 for the DDRAM, €50 for the motherboard and €70 for the CPU (could have got an Athlon at €40, but they didn't have one in stock ...) makes a brand-new machine with all mod-cons for a grand total of €200 (not counting a few flesh wounds from slicing fingers open on sharp eges of the case). Of course it too will be obsolete in three months, but that's another problem.

We also found time to get a little more work done on the house in the past few days: light fittings and spots and stuff for the top floor so that it actually looks sort of finished (four years with naked bulbs dangling from wires sticking out of the wall is enough) and then finishing off the entrance hall downstairs with curtains and a bit of wood panelling to hide the water pipes and circa 1920's electricity cables snaking around the ceiling. Next job - the first floor!

Slouching around on Sunday morning (technically it was morning - just - I was having breakfast at about 11:30) and had an unexpected knock at the door - Jill & John Julian with kids in tow, on their way back to Barcelona after a week's skiing at Val Thorens. Had a good long chat about this and that, and decided that we really need to go back down there before they head back to NZ (probably in October, unless Jill can manage to postpone it again) to pick up a spare Vespa for Jeremy. And maybe get a bit more sightseeing done than we managed three years ago. Whatever they do, their eldest son Michael will be staying: he's been accepted at Sussex University and hopes to be able to get into Bath after resitting the exams in a week's time.

Anyway, I'm going to watch Voyage of the Damned - the latest Dr Who Christmas special, so I'll just wish all of you a happy New Year. Hear from you soon - I hope.


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