Sunday, December 18, 2005

18/12/05 Merry Christmas 'an all

Hello everyone, a bit early I know but I thought I'd get in before the rush starts.

Well, we had a lovely Indian summer up until a couple of weeks ago - exceptional, really - and today, right on schedule, it snowed. We woke up to about 20cm of the stuff, nice and powdery on cold ground, to boot. As it's been about four years since I last put chains on the car I walked Jeremy up to collège with the snow still swirling around us, then came back home and got Margo to help me. (Not too proud to ask for help.) It's true that the quick-fit chains go on in less than a minute - so long as you can remember eaxctly how you're supposed to do it. Otherwise you can spend half an hour. I must admit that they're convenient - the ones I got are even auto-tensioning, so you don't even have to stop after 5 minutes to adjust them.

Anyway, made it safely down to the nationale thinking "right, I'll just carry straight across to the autoroute and take the chains off there, where it's nice and clear" only to find that the autoroute access was blocked - a lorry had gone sideways across it - so I did the 10km to Montmelian like a complete prat, at the magnificent speed of 50kph. There I finally got onto the autoroute only to find, a couple of km further on, that the circulation of heavy lorries had been banned and that they were consequently all parked in the two right-hand lanes, leaving us with a one-lane autoroute. Great. Back to three lanes after the péage, but then at Chambery the tunnel was down to one lane and then, as the autoroute to Lyon was cut, there were more lorries on the side of the road.

Finally got up the hill and negociated the tricky last 300m to the office - being a relatively little-used road it's low on the list of priorities, so the snow-plough goes by in the afternoon (when it's not needed anymore). The anti-skid thingy light was flashing on and off like a tacky disco globe and I was wallowing across the road like a bloated cow but I finally got there - only an hour and a quarter after leaving home.

It's not supposed to snow tomorrow, but it'll freeze tonight, which'll make it even more fun going in to the market tomorrow morning. Still, on the bright side, we do have the latest series of Dr Who! In Frog, unfortunately, but I can live with that.


Wel, a week has gone past since those last lines and apparently nothing of great interest has happened, or I'd surely have noted it. Wouldn't I? At least it hasn't snowed again - not down here anyway, although that might change this week as snow is forecast down around the 500m level.

One thing we did get around to doing before the snow arrived was going down to the Foire Internationale at Grenoble. Our long-suffering kids got dragged along, and it did make me wonder why we bother trying to do things as a family given that when we do we all wind up foul-tempered and bloody-minded. Personally I quite enjoyed going around, even though there's absolutely no way I'm going to buy a €6000 wood-fired stove for the kitchen even if it does come with a personal letter of recommendation from Paul Bocuse, and you can forget about the 20m swimming pool. I was happy to come across a specialist stand in the food & drink section and pick up some more decent curry powder, although I did think that their chocolate-scented tea was a bit of a failure. To say the least.


Yet another lapse, I see - it's not that nothing actually happens, just that the things that do get around to occurring are usually far too ordinary to warrant mentioning. We made it down to Grenoble again yesterday to do the last bits of Christmas shopping and to deliver clean clothes to Malyon before she went off to Valence for the weekend with a friend from lycée. Being a large city, Grenoble has a not-too-bad public transport network and in any case, like many French cities, the centre is relatively compact, so it actually turned out to be a rather good idea to take the ring road around to the enormous (free) carpark at the Grand'Place mall on the southern side, park there and take the tram into the centre. The family tram ticket cost €4, less than two hours parking in the centre, so it really ought to be pretty much a no-brainer.

The Chinese shop I usually go to had moved from its usual place behind the Halles to somewhere up Cours Berriat, which was emphatically not on our plans that day, so I'm still short of satay spices. On the other hand, the flash grocers next door were still there, so I managed to pick up some stollen cake and some pain d'épice and some posh tea and some more curry, all of which'll doubtless turn up as stocking-fillers at Pesselière. And the Laiterie Bayard (est. godnose when) deigned to open its doors at 14:30 and sold me sherry and vintage rum, and pressed a small sample bottle of extremely old Chartreuse into Margo's hand as we left. ("Laiterie" is perhaps inadequate for the establishment, although it does sell cheese, which is actually present on the premises and may be inspected. Not a Monty Python cheese shop. In fact, I'd say it dates back to somewhere around 1910, going by the tiles walls and antiquated notions of hygiene - still sprinkle sawdust on the floor. They also have as large a selection of fine wines as I've seen anywhere, ditto whiskies and rums. A nice shop.)

During this time Jeremy had been lured into a comics shop- and that's a pitiful word 'cos we're talking about the coffee-table art-book style rather than the latest Donald Duck album. We dragged him reluctantly out and headed off in search of Arab pastries for the girls. Luckily it's the right area, so we didn't have to go far. Found an Arab grocer ... what I really like are the bins full of raw spices - cumin and caraway and curry and paprika and chili and turmeric and godnose what else - and mysterious packets proclaiming themselves to be authentic Turkish coffee or tamarind paste, or bulging fresh dates ... it really is so easy to please me.

Anyway, we're heading off to Pesselière on Friday, if all goes well, then coming back on the Tuesday, admittedly to much wailing from the kids. Life is tragic.A very merry Christmas and happy New Year to all of you, and we'll catch up with you soon.


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