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.


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