Monday, October 8, 2001

08/10/01 Back on the radar screen again ...

Summer's been and gone, and September's going out as gloriously as it came in, which is to say not very, as it began with rain, is finishing with rain, and was, incidentally, mostly rainy from start to finish. If only the French hadn't stopped the bomb tests at Mururoa we'd still have a decent climate. Now all the whinging Greens have got their way, and it rains all the time.

Well, we had a busy summer - didn't personally move around a lot, but we had a few people come through. First there was Janet Soler and Kevin who bravely turned up from England (well, Milton Keynes) in their old Bedford ambulance, then there were Laurence and (eventually) Mandy Hobden (the English cousins on Margo's side), then Jill & John Julian, and lastly (only just got rid of him on Monday night) Tom Livingstone. And in between visitors we managed to make it up to Pesselière.

Laurence is Margo's first cousin once removed (or something like that) - avoiding technical details, he's her cousin's son. About the same age as Malyon. Anyway, it was arranged between the pair of them (Mandy and Margo, not Laurence and Malyon) that he would come over here and be subjected to a semi-Frog lifestyle and a cousin, this being an Enlarging Experience and a Good Thing. Which, oddly enough, it probably was. The poor lad turned up as unaccompanied baggage at Geneva one morning to be welcomed by a hero-worshipping Jeremy and a somewhat sceptical Malyon. Fortunately both he and Malyon turned out to have similar tastes in literature and, having introduced her to Warhammer they now communicate regularly by e-mail.

The Julians arranged, one way or another, the loan of a house in the Lozère, which is one of the more isolated districts of France. It's not that after a day there you feel that Taihape is just too crowded, but it's not far off. The place is called Bassurels, a village of some twelve houses a good fifteen minutes drive from anywhere, where the main excitement is counting cars coming up the road. (And given the state of the road there aren't that many.) It's actually rather pretty in a savage way: great gorges, enormous bare rock outcroppings and the occasional C15 fortress perched up somewhere which was once considered strategic.

Anyway, we drove down there the day after dropping Mandy and Laurence off to Geneva airport, found the place no trouble (thanks to Autoroute Express, don't know how we managed without it) and spent four days doing as little as possible. Well, we did make it off to La Grande Motte, which was an experience: this is where - apparently - every single French family there is goes for its summer seaside holidays. The beach isn't bad, I suppose, as beaches go - lots of sand to get up yer bum, and warm brackish water in the appropriate places (and, at any one moment, about 327 Parisians piddling in it, which is why it's warm) - if you can discount the apartment blocks and flash hotels 30m back from the high water line. Then you get the crowds, and it's true that yer average Frog-person is a sociable animal. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there's a beautiful, spotless, pristine beach stretching for miles in each direction. You arrive and park yourself, Esky, radio, sun umbrella and all the usual paraphernalia, and get settled in to work on a serious case of sunburn, whilst inwardly lamenting the fact that women will keep their bikini tops on. So far so good. Then a French family - or a single French-person, the quantity doesn't matter - arrives. As previously mntioned, there's something like 15 km² of beach space. So, where do the new arrivals settle in? Why, just next to you, of course! As close as possible without actually infringing on your personal space (which is, in Europe, much smaller than it is in NZ). Why is this? Some serious analysts for whom I have much respect (Dave Barry, for example) say that it is because they really want to piss you off and see if they can't make you go away, personally I think it's because they get lonely. Missing the fact that, in Paris, the nearest person is about 30cm away.

Then lunchtime comes around, and all of a sudden the beach is again deserted. We were there, eating Dagwood-style submarine sandwiches and drinking red wine (put it in the Esky to keep it cool, a sin I know but it's still a damn sight better than HOT red wine), and everyone else had disappeared. Retreated, in fact, by about 30m, back to the restaurants, salons de thé, and fast-food joints promising boiled mussels with French fries that lurk on the ground floor of all the apartment blocks and posh hotels. I'm not complaining, I'd just like to know why people think that boiled mussels and chips are an appropriate lunch on a day when the temperature in the shade is something around 37°.

On the way back we did something I've always wanted to do and stopped off to admire the Pont du Gard, the enormous Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gard a bit below Orange. Still didn't make it through to the vigneron in Orange where I used to get my Chateauneuf-du-Pâpe, though. (Perhaps next time ...) It was very, very, impressive. Even the kids were silent for all of 30 seconds - although that may have been for lack of ice-cream.

Spaeking of the kids, we're in for a musical year in 2001. Jeremy is learning the oboe ("hautbois" in French), and Malyon has decided to do the clarinet. Fortunately we can stick them in the library to practice their scales. (TOOT toot TOOOT!) When it starts to get too noisy we can banish them to one of the cellars.

Last week of August Margo took the kids and dog up to Pesselière, and Jacques and I drove up on the weekend in his little Express van to drop off the old coal-burner that's been sitting in the garage for a couple of years, as well as a spare double bed that's been lurking in the attic. Got to see the work that's been done on the place (been quite a while since I was last up there) and I at least managed to spend Saturday not doing very much at all, although Jacques got roped in, as resident expert, to go mushroom hunting at some ungodly hour of the morning.

The stock management system I developed more than a year ago has turned into some sort of Frankenstein's monster, with a life of its own. When I took the job on I dropped the price by about 20,000F and took a cut on future sales, not really believing there'd ever be any: unfortunately the guy has so far sold about 20 copies (at 50,000F/copy that could be worse) so far, has gained an entrée in the big firms and is set to hock off another 50-100 copies next year and the thing has turned itself into a product, which has to be maintained, must evolve from time to time, needs support - all those ghastly things at which small businesses such as ours do NOT excel. We're just not built to do that sort of thing - more "do it quick, do it cheap, get it signed off and move on to the next job" is our style. But now that has to change. I can't complain (although I do): the royalties come in and I bill for evolutionary changes (maintenance is more or less under guarantee) but it would have been nice if he'd managed to sell five systems, each requiring various modifications and add-ins (all billed, of course) at some time other than now. Because right now is not a good time, I'm already up to my neck and the extra just means that I'll get to take a breath of air alternate Wednesdays. Still, better too much work than none at all. I'm starting to learn to say "no" to clients too, which is probably a good thing.

Just to complicate matters Margo has started working virtually full-time as well: 12 hours a week with the state schools at Montmelian (caused some frumping at St Pierre when she didn't get sent back there this year) and the same again (at least) with a private language school at Albertville, some 25km further up the valley. Given that her hours do not necesarily correspond with those of the schools at St Pierre, this involves some juggling of work time on my part so as to be around to pick up or deliver (as appropriate) kids to and from school or whatever. Good thing I'm self-employed, otherwise we'd never manage.

One of the other things that came out of the closet over summer was a system I did years ago for swimming pools and the like - a sort of enormous jukebox thing that brought up the box containing your clothes, knickknacks and wotsits when you went up to it with a sort of badge and a PIN. (The original development was done about 4 years ago and we nearly went under as the customer declared bankruptcy, walked off with the software and never paid. This is another problem with being a small company.) Anyway, a system of this sort was installed at St Quentin, near Paris, and since year 1 they've sent out a request for tender for the software, to which I replied with the original price, and since year 1 there's been no response. This year, when the request arrived on my desk I toyed with the idea of upping the price by 30% (then 30% more in 2002 etc, just to get them off my back) but unfortunately didn't, because as it turns out this year they were serious and actually ordered it. Which meant a couple of weeks in Paris in June/July, which would not count as my favourite time to be in Paris. Hot, stinking (usual cleaners' strike in the Metro) and too many people. Looking on the bright side, I usually managed to stay in the 13th arrondissement and consequently got to eat some pretty good Chinese food. On the bad side, on the last trip I had to stay in St Quentin itself, which has two restaurants, one of which is unspeakable and the other merely vile. At the least bad of the two I ordered a Coupe Colonel, which is normally a lime sorbet with a dash of vodka splashed over it: what I eventually got was a ball of sorbet bobbing about in a beer-mug of vodka, which started me wondering about exactly how they made a profit. Even if they were just using industrial alcohol and flavouring, they must have made a loss on it. Maybe they made their margin on recycling the left-overs from the main course.

Today, incidentally, is the 8th of October and I'm now 43. Alarming but true. I don't FEEL 43. Even if the mirror tells me that I am. Who looks at mirrors anyway?

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