Monday, March 26, 2001

26/03/01 I HATE camping!


Back again so soon? I'm afraid so.

Finally moved into the modern world and the faithful mouse has been replaced by a trackball - my right shoulder was starting to play up after a couple of hours mousing around so I though it was time to try something that required less movement. Once you get used to it, it really is quite good. Luckily I've a friend who buys one of everything new that comes out, so once I've finished with the Microsoft trackball I can try the Logitech one ( which does feel a bit better in the hand, but costs about 400F instead of 150F) and go on until I find something I'm really comfortable with and am willing to pay for. But I think the mouse is definitely superannuated, and can take a well-earned retirement. (For info, Tom, the list price here is 159F or something under $50, so if you bought one "on special" at $50 I think someone's getting ripped off.)

In two weeks time I head off to Cameroun for a couple of weeks - to some godforsaken hole called Lake Nyos, near the border with Nigeria. It's a crater lake, and carbon dioxide comes out from the lake floor and dissolves in the water, to such an extent that at 200m below there's something like 15 litres of CO2 dissolved in each litre of water. Unfortunately this is not, long-term, an equilibrium situation - the last time (in 1986, I think) it went out of balance half the lake bubbled up into the air and then godnose how many litres of CO2 went rolling down the slopes of the mountain and suffocated 1600 people. So a client of ours had the bright idea of sticking a pipe down from top to bottom of the lake, inducing a low-pressure zone at the bottom (which causes the CO2 to come out of solution and go bubbling up the pipe in a self-sustaining reaction) to slowly bleed off the gas. So far so good, and it's all in place and apparently working perfectly (he's created the world's first 45m high soda fountain) but none of the remote monitoring equipment seems to be working.

Which is why I get my yellow-fever shots in a week's time and then fly out to a place so primitive that the only phone link is the Inmarsat satellite phone that got set up so that we could monitor the operation from France, spending a day or so in a 4x4 getting there and then ten days with no toilet facilties and a tin bucket with holes punched in the bottom as an excuse for a shower . Oh, and sleeping in a tent. I absolutely, totally, HATE that! At least in theory it's not a malaria-risk zone, but I think I'll take the tablets anyway. As I've no wish to end up with egg all over my face I shall go armed for bear, which means that in the next few weeks I shall have to buy a portable, install all the necessary software on it, and in between time try to set up in the office a close approximation of what there is out in the wilderness so I can do some more testing. Once happy with that all the hardware will get packed up and accompany me over, which means that my excess baggage bill is likely to be alarming.
Fortunately it falls in the school holidays, so Margo and the kids might head up to Pesselière while I'm away. Jeremy had two things to say - the first was "Can I come too?" and the second, after a bit of thought, was "Mummy, I'm not going to be eating nothing but pasta for two weeks." Food is taken seriously in this household.

I went off to see the quack and he told me, very reassuringly, that Cameroon is classed 4 on the 1 to 4 scale for malaria ie it is prevalent and resistant to most drugs, which means I'm on Larium starting one week before leaving and carrying on 4 weeks after returning. The accompanying note states that "sudden mood changes and attacks of vertigo are not unknown, if they persist see a doctor", which is nice. I also have my tetanus, typhoid, polio, diptheria and hepatitis vaccines to get up to date: as he said, I won't be sitting down for a while. And in the same line I have tablets for runny diarrhoea and stubborn constipation, just hope I don't get both at the same time. His final words of advice were "ne fréquenter pas les filles" ie resist the urge to sleep with whatever moves, which I thought was very thoughtful of him.

Whlist I'm away Margo will look at taking the kids and dog up to Pesselière for a week, helping clean up. Ian and Marie have had more work done on the place, including major masonry work, which means (if our experience is anything to go by) that there'll be dust everywhere. Which is not, in itself, unusual for Pesselière, but never mind, Marie has decided that enough is enough.

For the past few days we've been having torrential rain and the usual at-risk zones have once again been flooded, with the usual cries for compensation. The Isère isn't far from the top of its banks, and our stream is running full tit (and very dirty) which doesn't stop Kelly from going and wading through it. The worst was last night, when the wind was strong enough to wake me up about 4am and wonder whether we would still have all our chimney-pots in the morning, but the place was still intact when we got up. From now on it's supposed to dry out a bit, which'd be nice: I'm really looking forward to the first BBQ of the year.

What I'm not looking forward to is the annual ceremony of "dusting off the lawnmower", because as it's been so wet and warm everything is growing like mad, including the grass. This weekend we'll have to sprinkle petrol over the pile of branches from the tilleul we had topped so that they will burn, in the hope that the weekend after we can rent a rotary hoe and go over that patch of wilderness so that it's ready to get grass sown on it while there's still time.

Well, we tried that today - after sprinkling vast quantities of every inflammable liquid to hand (gin supplies excepted) over it the heap still refused to do more than smoulder sullenly for half an hour, and the lawnmower wouldn't work. So the grass gets a week's respite from the blades whilst the mower's off getting serviced, and I think that our plans for grass-sowing are just going to have to be put on hold until my return, when hopefully the wood will be a bit drier and more amenable to immolation. Which pushes things back to the end of April/beginning of May, which is not really the best time for starting a lawn, but there you are. As Blackadder once remarked to Percy, "Once again the devil throws up on my eiderdown".

At least after a week's anxiety my portable finally got delivered yesterday - I was starting to get worried that the supplier's website was a complete tissue of lies and that rather than having 34 of the little beasts in stock they actually had twice that many on order, and that I was going to turn up in Cameroon with an abacus and a picture of a computer cut out from a catalogue. But I'm now the proud (and relieved) owner of a little HP Omnibook xe3, onto which I shall have to (after my return) install an English version of Windows. But for the time being I can live with it in Frog, and I've no wish to get halfway through the installation process only to discover that it requires some warped Hewlett-Packard-specific variety of Windows which is only available by snail mail from their service centre in Mongolia.

Anyway, our two quadrupeds seem to have settled into a reasonably peaceful cohabitation, which involves Kelly trying to lick Tess' bum at every opportunity (godnose why, it's daggier than a back-country sheep back there - maybe that is why) and Tess slicing her with a claw when she feels she's had enough. Kelly still has only two brain cells to rub together but she's a good-hearted dog: she'll obey me (when she feels like it) but her mother is Margo. She follows Margo about the house, and should ever she go out - even if only for 5 minutes - on the return it's as if she'd disappeared for a year.

And at 2am tomorrow I shall have to get up and rush about the house setting all the clocks forward an hour - yes folks, daylight saving again. It will be so nice to have that extra useable bit of daylight.

Back in three weeks -
Trevor & Margo

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