Sunday, October 1, 2000

01/10/00 I do not have a drinking problem ...

And it's true, I do NOT have a drinking problem. The contents of the glass only rarely miss my mouth. It's just that now is the vendange, time to get the grapes in and make wine! So the departmentales are blocked with tractors hauling trailer-loads of grapes of to the caves and the hill-sides are covered in people clinging desperately to near-vertical slopes whilst trying to hack off bunches of grapes. In a few weeks the place will smell like a refinery.

Autumn's come in quickly this year - not too long ago we were complaining about the heat, and now night comes in around 8pm, it rained steadily all morning and it's a bit chilly in the mornings. Not yet enough to turn the central heating on, but it won't be long.

By now it may have made it into your Olympic-crazed heads that France is having - once again - a Major Political Scandal. This time it's a posthumously released video by a leading political fixer (condemned for corruption) asserting that a certain Jacques Chirac knowingly received kickbacks from public-works contracts when mayor of Paris. It was of course not for personal use and all the cash went into the RPR's piggybank, but even so ... The Socialists have also been dragged into the affair, and not only for also receiving their own share of the graft: Strauss-Kahn (until fairly recently Minister of Finance) is being investigated for destroying evidence - seems he actually received the original of the video in question and rather implausibly claims to have stuck it in a drawer somewhere without bothering to look at it, unfortunately it's no longer in the drawer, the cleaner must have tidied it away somewhere.

Malyon and I finally made it back down to Grenoble. She needed special pencils for art classand although I'm sure I could pick them up at one of the specialist shops in Chambery the sods close their doors on the stroke of midday (which was when I turned up) and I didn't feel like going back in that afternoon and anyway I really needed some more 5-spice powder and stuff. So off we went and got her pencils at Arthaud, which is an enormous bookshop/fine-arts supplies, then off to the little district between the Halles and the original cathedral where the antique shops and exotic grocers lurk. The streets there are narrow, twisty and cobbled, and all the shop-fronts are done in dark wood panelling that probably dates back at least a couple of hundred years, and I don't know why it's been colonised by such a peculiar mix but there you are. I love the smell of Chinese grocers, must be the spices and the Peking duck cooking out the back, and we left with another 6-months supply of hoi sin and char siu and duck marinade. Lovely!

Malyon celebrated her birthday in style, with a party down in the field. The happy guests turned up around 1900, I lit a big bonfire and they ate fajitas before we turned them loose to make damper and then sit around the fire telling horror stories until 2100. As birthday parties go it was a raging success as far as we were concerned: no balloons to blow up, no excruciating games to organise, and above all no cleaning up afterwards - just toss the leftovers onto the fire.

The kids have both signed up for their extra-curricular activities with school. They're both doing judo (Tuesday and Thursday evenings), Jeremy has music on Wednesday mornings, and Malyon does theatre on Friday evenings. Luckily they're all just up the road, so Malyon at least can go there and back under her own steam. At least while winter holds off.

As part of my ongoing effort to have a heart attack before I reach 50, I decided to try installing Windows 2000 on the home machine.I though it might be more stable, more fun ... so I dragged out an old 18 Gb hard disk that was floating around, stuck it in, and started off. The first hurdle is that the install program requires a formatted hard disk, which I didn't have. So instead of wasting my time creating the 4 installation diskettes, I just swapped drives around again, booted under Windows 98 and created a recovery diskette. Swap the disks around again, boot of the diskette, format the hard disk , start the installation process again ... It very kindly told me, before starting to copy the required files, that "this operation may take a little time". A slight understatement, as it in fact took about two hours. I went and read a book while it went on. I must admit that after that was done it went rather smoothly, recognised my modem and in fact everything except the second printer port, and I spent a bit of time then installing software, copying e-mail across and so on, until I became aware that a) the CD writer wouldn't work and b) if the modem isn't turned on when Win2K boots, the modem won't work either. At this point I decided that I had no really compelling need for the thing, swapped hard disks around again and wrote off the weekend.


Been a quiet weekend, setting up a new computer for our Aussie friend Sue and then trying to upgrade the graphics card and get an old sound card to work in this one, so I thought I might while away a bit of dull, rainy Sunday afternoon by reproducing for your amusement an article by Dave Barry from yesterday's Herald Tribune. It's entitled "Cosmo goes Overboard", and here it is.

"When I'm in the supermarket checkout line, I always look at Cosmopolitan magazine to see if the editors have made eny progress in the ongoing effort to figure out men."

"I'm sure you're familiar with Cosmopolitan ('Fun - Fearless - Female'). It's the one with the cover that always has a picture of a woman who looks as though she has a prestigious and rewarding executive career as a hooker. Roughly half the articles in Cosmopolitan are devoted to explaining how you, the Cosmo reader, can make yourself look like the cover model. All you have to do is follow the two-step Cosmopolitan Beauty Regimen:"

"STEP ONE: Using a combination of fun and fearless beauty procedures such as the Eyebrow Yank, the Hot Wax Torture, the Hydrochloric Acid Skin Peel, the Hoover Vacuum Home Spleen Removal, the Cage of Thigh-Eating Wolverines and the Industrial Drain Cleaner Enema, you remove all of the physical elements that make you unattractive, such as your fat, hair, skin, fingerprints and internal organs. At this point you are essentially a skeleton with eyeballs, or, to put it another way, Ally McBeal."

"STEP TWO: You smear your entire self with a complex system of foundations, bases, creams, lotions, gels, powders, moisturizers, conditioners, mousses, sprays, mascaras, eyeliners, lip glosses, enzymes, lacquers, organic papaya-enhanced roofing tars, etc., until you are encased inside an impenetrable layer of beauty products thick enough that there is no way for anybody to tell, without giving you a CAT scan, what you actually look like. You could be a Shetland pony under there."

"Once you have achieved this fun and female 'look', it's time for you to get started on the other topic that is discussed endlessly in Cosmopolitan: Figuring out what men want. It's a tough one! Cosmopolitan editors wrestle with it day and night, and they're constantly announcing new break-throughs. Pick up any issue, and you'll see articles like: '23 Ways to Drive Him Wild in Bed!', '127 Ways to Make Him Want to Get Naked Right in the Foyer!', or '387 Ways to Make Him Completely Lose Biological Control of Himself While He is Still in the Driveway!'"

"Over the decades, Cosmopolitan has printed literally thousands of sure-fire techniques for driving men insane with passion. If these techniques actually worked, by now the entire male population of the United States would have been wiped out by lust, literally exploding into little mushroom clouds of vaporized bodily fluids."

"But this has not happened, except in the case of President Bill Clinton. The problem, I think, is that Cosmopolitan is making this issue way more complicated than it actually is. I mean, we're talking about MEN here. You don't need rocket science to drive them wild in bed: all you need to do is to get in there with them. Or, just leave them alone for a while. Because men don't need much. Using a complex, sophisticated technique to get a man excited is like preparing a gourmet French meal for a Labrador retriever."

"So I think Cosmopolitan is trying too hard.In fact, it may be doing women more harm than good. For example, the August issue has a feature entitled 'What to Say to Make Him Ache for You - Whisper these frisky phrases if you wish to drive him wild.' One of the frisky phrases Cosmopolitan advises you to whisper to men is - really - 'We'd better hurry home, because at midnight I turn into a vixen.' This frisky phrase might actually alarm the man, especially if he knows that the dictionary defines 'vixen' as 'an ill-tempered, shrewish or malicious woman.' Basically, you're telling the man he could suddenly find himself in bed with Lorena Bobbitt."

"Another frisky phrase suggested by Cosmopolitan is - get ready - 'My bikini waxer went a little overboard.' Listen, women: if you actually say these words to a man, he's going to assume you want him to take you to the Emergency Clinic."

"So my advice to the editors is: just drop this subject for a while. Trust me: even without technical advice from you, your women readers will have no trouble getting men excited, as long as the men are aware (and believe me, they are) that the women, underneath their clothes, are not wearing clothes."

"And consider this: if you Cosmo editors stopped obsessing about men, you could focus your brainpower on the Middle East peace process, health care, Social Security or the federal budget surplus. I bet you could give us some important insights into these issues! Or at least tell us how to drive them wild in bed."

After a couple of months of not actually looking for anything, Margo is now employed by the education department as an assistant English teacher. What actually happened is that the college principal must have twigged that she was an English-speaker, and rang one day to ask if she'd be interested and if so, could she phone the Rectorate in Grenoble. It seems that the minister has decreed that all children shall learn English, from primary school on, and even better the department has released the cash necessary to take on the supplementary teachers. They are still having difficulty finding enough people to fill the new posts - they have to be native English-speakers and, in theory, students - so they even raised the maximum age to 40, which means Margo just squeaked in. Anyway, she rang and made an appointment, turned up and had a nice interview and then left, with them saying theycouldn't promise anything, especially where she'd be posted if accepted (could just as well be Nouméa, knowing the Frog bureaucracy). That evening they rang back to ask for a few more bits of paper, and to tell her that she'd been accepted and posted to St Pierre d'Albigny. She starts tomorrow. She gets all the school holidays, of course, and is paid somewhere around FF4000/month for 12 hours a week, 9 of them at the college (at least she won't have Malyon, as she's not doing English) and another 3 hours at the primary school.
Anyway, that's probably enough from me for now, so I'll stop here and send this off.

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