Saturday, August 23, 2008

23/08/08 Yet another newsletter, including Paris Hilton, fully clothed!

Given the anguished cries of existential angst emanating from certain quarters I thought that perhaps I'd better confirm that Malyon did indeed make it back here more or less as planned (flight only two hours late - apparently they had to wait for some Aussies to turn up at Seedney and never managed to make the time up) and boldly made her way from Roissy CDG down here. Since when she's already disappeared for a weekend, disappearing again this weekend, then disappearing to Avignon the weekend after ...

You know you're hitting 50 when all your friends start divorcing ... what's it all about? Chalk up another couple down the tubes as after Renaud and Sophie in May (yes, that's my business partner and his wife) I now learn that our friends Steve and Isabelle are divorcing. The only thing they have in common is that they know us, which should perhaps alarm me. Perhaps I should start to keep a scoreboard, lay odds, place bets and that sort of thing - on the other hand perhaps not, life's tricky enough as it is trying to stay friends with everyone, no point in looking for problems.

Whatever, in mid-August we're off to Pesselière with Sophie and the boys in tow for 10 days of calm and tranquility watching wheat grow. Don't know what to do with Malyon as she'll go stir-crazy about three hours after Elise and Caroline leave. We'll have to work that one out, I suppose. I'm still looking forward to a week or so of doing absolutely sod-all except consume unreasonable quantities of rosé, mind you. If I get too bored, I could always take one of the bikes out for a bit of exercise. (Update: Malyon's off to Grenoble to get a bit of city living in. Good idea too.)

Astoundingly enough, as England appears headed for a month of cold, rainy weather, over the water it's actually fine enough to fire up the BBQ and - more exceptionally - sufficiently settled to be able to actually plan a BBQ more than three hours in advance and still stand a reasonable chance of it's not being rained out on the day. Which is pretty good, and stands in stark contrast to last summer when the only thing certain was that it's start snowing about half an hour after the coals started glowing nicely.

On a completely random note, Oostvogels Transport (of Belgium) have a really nice motto on their trucks - in English yet! It goes - and I swear that this is true - "Only God can stop us". Which sounds rather alarming to me, in a sort of Damianesque excorcistential way. Trucks from Hell loose on the autoroutes - is no-one safe? (The Belgian bit reminds me of one of the headlines in El Reg, which was - and I quote - "Windscreen-licking Belgians barely escape GPS of Doom
". El Reg is not known for quality investigative journalism. But their Playmobil reenactments of various current events are definitely worth looking at.)

Have finally organised getting Mal off to Glasgow - now I have to organise getting myself back, as I don't think my liver would stand a prolonged stay. Need to get a cheap hotel for a night or two as well. Oddly enough you can't in fact get there from here - not directly anyway: I had the choice between Lyon/Stansted/Glasgow, Genava/Edinborough then train to Glasgow, and Roissy-Glasgow and oddly enough, as Malyon has a student card for the SNCF it turned out cheaper to take the TGV to Paris and fly out from there. (Easyjet give you the breakdown of your ticket price - very transparent: the Stansted/Glasgow flight costs more in airport taxes than the actual flight.)

Also took delivery of a laptop for her - cheapest I could find, a Dell Vostro 1000 for under 400€ all-up. Of course, these days they all come with Vista pre-loaded, and whilst it's true that you can get an "upgrade" to XP that adds another 80€ to the price. This being France, the thing came equipped with a Frog version of Vista, the very idea of which caused Malyon to froth at the mouth, so I was very pleased to find that the installation DVD so kindly supplied had an English version on it. Which was when things started to go pear-shaped.

I installed Windows Vista Family Premium (not Family Basic) and then started work on the Dell-specific device drivers. First off was the video driver, which installed, but which Vista wouldn't use. It insisted that it wasn't right. And just to make the point, occasionally on booting the screen would come up all hashed and completely unusable, and you'd have to turn the thing off and on again - which often fixed the problem. And for some strange reason, despite the power settings being as I wanted them, closing the lid put the system into sleep mode - not what I wanted, as I'd hooked up an external monitor - and worse still put the screen into 640x480 resolution.

I have a little KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switch at home: it's a handy arrangement that lets me plug two machines (home machine plus laptop) through a little box into my monitor and keyboard and mousie, and swap between the two machines. Works perfectly, and means I don't have to use a ratshit laptop keyboard or look at its ghastly 1280x800 lo-res screen. Unfortunately, with Vista every time I swapped to or from the laptop it beeped sullenly at me and insisted on installing a new device. And, every other time, resetting the screen resolution to basic VGA.

All of which annoyed me greatly, but not sufficiently to make me nuke the thing - and let's face it, Vista is nice eye candy. What tipped me over the edge was when I hooked the beast up to the home network and tried to access the shared network hard-drive. It's not that it didn't work - it's just that from the moment when I clicked on the network hard drive icon to having the directory contents displayed I went and had a coffee, then a shower, then scratched myself all over and got another coffee. So after a happy evening googling for various solutions (none of which worked - for me, your mileage may vary) I decided to bite the bullet and get rid of Vista.

Having nothing to lose I downloaded all the XP drivers for the beast, reformatted the drive, installed Win2K and then the XP drivers: much to my surprise it just worked. Video, sound, Wifi, Ethernet ... only thing I haven't checked is the SD card reader, and I'm not losing any sleep over that. Spent another four hours or so installing diverse software packages, and it is now - as far as I can tell - fit for purpose. Anyone want a 5-language DVD of Windows Vista?

(Yes, I could have installed Linux - it was in fact the first thing I thought of doing. But that would have involved Mal having to learn new things, and the risk of its deciding spontaneously to no longer recognise the video card and requiring a kernel rebuild to correct the problem. Not good. Or I could have bought an EeeeeeeePC or equivalent, but quite frankly these days you'd have to pay me to take on a computer with a 10", 800x600 screen.)

Whatever, having disposed of Malyon (with a CARE package of ground arabica, a packet of filters and some home-made bacon) we headed off to Pesselière. Margo went up with Sophie and the dog, and I got the three boys - I'm pretty sure who got the better end of the deal, even if the dog did spend half the trip farting. Let it be said that there was not too much wailing and gnashing of teeth (OK, I was armed) and we arrived, more or less intact, mid-afternoon: just finished unpacking when Margo & Sophie swanned up.

Poor Sophie, incidentally, had been sufficiently naive - I mean, she's known me for 20 years! - to take rather literally my description of the place as an isolated farmhouse in the middle of a blasted moor with nowt but turnips as far as the eye can see. In my defence, this is - in winter - perfectly true. Admittedly it's something else again under a bright blue sky with mile-high white clouds and wheatfields rippling golden to the horizon - perhaps I should go and lie down until the poetry passes.

Of course, it's being summer means that the blackberries are coming out, and we eventually returned with a couple of kilos of the things. Hunting the little sods involves wandering off down twisty little lanes, all the same, with signs which - if you happen to come across them from the right direction (ie that from which they're actually visible) - point you towards places like "Les Billards" (not actually a pool table) or worse, "Chauminet" (which, with a "D" in the right place, translates as "Hot Kitty" or something rather more vulgar if you prefer).

It's being summer also means that the weather was pretty variable - ratshit is too harsh a word. We'd either wake up to rain and then have a bright sunny afternoon, or take breakfast outside and dream idly of tanning before the storms rolled over. Still: by some strange alchemy the sun always came out around 18:00, which meant BBQs and eating outside. And of course, quantities of rosé. Because you shouldn't drink the stuff without sun - something to do with the photosynthesis in your skin transforming the alcohol into vitamins. I had it all explained to me very clearly once - on a sunny day, oddly enough - by an extremely amiable chap whom I suspect of having being slightly drunk, but he made a great deal of sense. Or at least, it seemed so at the time.

The boys did a lot of biking, and about the only touristy things we forced upon them were visits to St Fargeau and Guedelon. St Fargeau is a Renaissance chateau absolutely dripping with history (owned by the first cousin of Louis XIV who got exiled for backing the wrong side ...) and still actually lived in. Which I think is very brave of them - personally I wouldn't want their heating bills. Those enormous french doors look lovely, but insulation-wise ... not good. Sophie, whose degree is in history, was going all weak at the knees, and when she discovered that Lully - the guy who wrote "Au clair de la lune" was discovered in the kitchen there before being packed off to the Court - we had to drag her senseless from the room

Guedelon is getting along nicely - another 20 years or so and it'll be done. None of the lads got lost or strangled, although it was a close call for Jeremy, whose loving parents came this close to doing the deed themselves. You know, sulky young adolescents, already been round once about 13 years ago, don't need to see it again and certainly wouldn't be seen dead doing it with the parents ... good thing I'm not a Dalek. Daleks are not good parents. They have a tendency to exterminate the fluffy toys.

Sadly enough, it took us until Monday to discover the existence of a young American in the village - all of two houses down the road. His mother is a Choux (yes, I know, it means cabbage ... over half the population of Pesselière are either cabbages or related to them, so just get used to it) who married an Indian and the lad has spent all his life in Boston. Spending a month in Pesselière was not, perhaps, his idea of a great summer holiday, but there you go.

Whatever, we came back (when I say "we" that means "the boys and I" 'cos Sophie took the train to Marseille and Margo and the dog headed straight home as quickly as possible) we stopped at Vezelay for a bit of medaieval kulcha (yes, the basilica is definitely worth a look) and then I plunged into the teeny routes départementales around Avallon to get to the Chateau de Montjallin. It's been years that I've meant to go there, finally got around to it.

It's a fairly classic C19 chateau, situated on an eminence (not a cardinal or other clergyman, a small hill) so a nice view over the valley, a private forest off to one side and the big lawn, stables and other apanages out the back. I personally found that the bike propped up against the parvis around the back was a nice touch, as was the swing on the front lawn. Whatever, didn't go there for that, went there 'cos the owner has a private car museum. Like Southward's, but a bit more focused: his thing is cars that belonged to heads of state. There's various Citroens used by de Gaulle, Mitterand's Peugeot, a beautiful four-door Citroen-Maserati SM, JFK's Cadillac, Eisenhower's Chrysler Imperial ... definitely worth a visit, should you ever find yourself in the vicinity.

Time to catch up on missed TV shows now - byeee!


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