Monday, December 11, 2000

11/12/00 Happy Christmas

Welcome back all of you.

To those of you who enquired whether or not the house was still standing after the storms over here the answer is "yes". Those who didn't enquire can have the same answer for free. Look, the place (or bits of it, anyway) has been here for a couple of hundred years and if the roof hasn't blown off in that time it seems statistically unlikely that it's going to blow off with the first winter breezes.

Our main news is that we now have a puppy. Mother a Griffon (which I always thought was an extinct heraldic beast with the hindquarters of a wotsit and the head of a wossname and halitosis that petrifies you where you stand, but it turns out to be an authentic doggy-style breed, with the hindquarters of a dog, head of ditto, halitosis that petrifies you where you stand ... and, incidentally, the kind of fart that turns minor diplomatic incidents into nuclear exchanges) and father unknown. Several fathers to the litter, going on appearances: one Labrador look-alike, two Alsatians, and two mongrels. We've got one of the mongrels. A bitch, apparantly calm and sweet-tempered, and stupid. A dog.

We've had her two weeks now and are trying to educate her in the basics of communal living. "Come!" she understands and obeys, "Out!" (of the kitchen, for instance) she understands and obeys when not hungry or if Tess is standing guard, "Down!" (do not jump on guests wearing silk suits) we're working on. She has feet the size of soup plates and the brain of a lobotomised cockroach, with luck she'll stop growing at about the size of a Labrador. But skinnier.

Malyon has just started moaning about doing German at school - too hard. We remarked that her last two notes were, respectively, 19/20 and 20/20, implying that she was doing bloody well, and that 'too hard' is not the same as 'having to do a bit of work for a change'.

We also have two of our three new doors in. Those of you who've passed through here will (or not) remember that the kitchen door and the door from the lounge out to the balcony were hopelessly twisted and let great gusts of air in at the slightest breeze, while the big iron and glass doors in the entrance (scrounged from a demolished apartment block would be our guess) were even worse. A couple of days back the workmen turned up (with no prior notice, of course) and started at it. Naturally enough there had to be a problem and there was, the specially built-to-order kitchen door had the hinges on the wrong side. So we'll have to wait till January at the earliest to get that done, and they can bloody well wait until January to get paid. At least the most important two are done, and we'll no longer have the north wind swirling through the lounge.


Sorry about the two week delay there, just got a bit of momentum up for doing nothing and thought that as it was going so well there was no point spoiling it. Seriously, been busily running around like mad things: planting trees in the garden, delivering websites, seeing friends and now I have to learn Perl in 3 days.

Last weekend we made it around to Magali & François for dinner on Saturday night - a raclette, which suited us fine. We'd only been there five minutes when Magali asked "Where's the raclette machine?" and sure enough, we were supposed to bring the raclette machine and hadn't. Wasted ten minutes with frantic phonecalls to all the neighbours and not-so neighbours trying to find someone closer than St Pierre d'Albigny that had one, but eventually admitted defeat and I drove back home and picked the beast up and took it back to Montmelian. The raclette was nice, though. Worth the wait.


Well, that didn't get very far, did it? Here we are in the middle of December and still no snow - in fact it feels almost like a NZ summer, with afternoon temperatures around 17°, and lots of rain. Having carefully wrapped the feijoa trees in plastic bubble-wrap to protect them from the frosts I feel a bit of an idiot, they're growing like mad in their little plastic glass-houses. To date we've had one frost, and that was a rather sorry affair anyway. The ski stations are probably not happy.

Last time but two that I was up in Geneva a friend mentioned a magnificent site he'd come across with all sorts of weird music that's normally unobtainable - he'd ordered a gross of Van de Graaf Generator - and it was based in Montmelian! I logged on that night and ordered almost the entire back catalogue of Split Enz and a bit of early Simple Minds: at around 60F the CD why not?

In fact the first lot arrived a few days ago - most of the Split Enz has to be sent from the US and will take a while longer to arrive - and I rushed upstairs to listen to some music whilst working. Slid "Sons and Fascination" into the CD and marvelled as the music played! Mumbled rude words as that was all the computer would do: play music. I couldn't do anything else. So I foolishly decided to remove the CreativeLabs sound card software and reinstall it. Called up "Add/remove software", clicked on "Creative Labs", and removed the video card drivers. Found myself with a 640x480 screen, in 16 colours yet, looked everywhere for the latest drivers I'd downloaded earlier, couldn't find them. Pulled the card out and went back to the built-in Intel video card (now 1024x768 instead of 1280x1024) and downloaded the very latest drivers, to find that the machine no longer recognised the Creative card at all. Went to bed, extremely frustrated, at 2am.

The next evening, after apparently doing things in just the right order, I finally got the video back. Then, very carefully, I removed and reinstalled the sound card and its drivers. Same result: the machine would play a CD, but do nothing else. Then I had a brilliant idea and changed CDs. And it suddenly worked. For some strange reason this machine will not play the first track of "Sons & Fascination" correctly. Why? Don't ask me, I'm just a poor programmer.

We made it down to Grenoble again on Saturday: Margo had someone ring her (apparently been trying to get in touch for the past three months) to see if she was interested in giving patchwork courses. So off we went and bravely took the tram from the Maison de Tourisme to Cours Berriat (an enormously long avenue named after the megalomaniac who built it back in the 19th century) only to find ourselves at the wrong end of it, and had to trot back a couple of kilometres to get back to civilisation and where Margo wanted to be.

Wandering around while Margo chatted (and incidentally picking up a quarter-kilo of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans) it became clear that Grenoble (like Paris, or Lyon, or any other big European city) is a disparate collection of quartiers. I'm not sure that English has a word for that - probably does, but I can't remember it - a part of the city that has its own separate cultural identity. I suppose most people visit a city and see the center and think that's all there is to it: I know I was surprised when I spent 4 or 5 hours lost in Brussels slowly working my way back to the center of town on foot, about 13 years ago now. Anyway, I'd kind of forgotten (Chambéry being so small, and almost uniformly bourgeois), and it was fun to find that off this enormous avenue there were little windy streets (with names like "rue des Bons Enfants") full of Chinese shops and Indian restaurants (and the occasional sex-shop, promising "High-tech video viewing rooms" and unnamed marital aids) and Bang & Olufsen showrooms worming their way off towards a cathedral, or whereever. The funny thing is that in summer streets like that just disappear: the shuttered shopfronts (closed for holidays) must become invisible in the heat-haze and the streets themselves turn into cul-de-sacs with a couple of rubbish bins out the front. Maybe it's just that old cobblestones with a hint of rain on them and lit-up shop windows as Christmas comes are more enticing than a dusty alley baking under 38°.

(While we were wandering about we came upon a magnificant Harley-Davidson and Jeremy hung around it saying "Cool! Cool!" and would probably have licked the saddlebags had not the owner come out of the bar and offered him the keys. He doesn't yet have Malyon's presence of mind, and politely refused them.)

Anyway, Happy Christmas and a Furry New Bear to all of you, and with any luck some of you will get off your fat chuffs in 2001 and come over here to say hello. Whatever, have a really nice Christmas.

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