Tuesday, May 2, 2000

02/05/00 A sorry spectacle ... several apologetic glasses

Back again.

I did get around to mowing the lawn on the 9th, promise I did, and I really would have mowed it last weekend too had it not been too wet. So now it's nice and sunny and warm and the grass is back up to knee height, and I am going to have to get back out there Real Soon Now and try to bludgeon it back into submission.

At the moment I'm trying to get a website together in a bit of a rush (like, for in 8 days): the layout is all prepared (read "is in the process of being prepared", which is not what I really want to hear) so all that needs doing really is sticking in the bits that handle database access and stuff like that in order to make the site a "life-style-enhancing experience". Or something like that.

What makes me laugh is that the site is a throwaway - it has to be up for the end of the month, and on the 24th of May it will cease to exist. Its sole porpoise is to let about 100 top managers for a Swiss drug/chemicals firm sign up for a 2000AD pissup in Montreux. The really funny bit is that the company knows the names of the managers that it's inviting to the bash, but it either does not know - or cannot extract from the IS system in place - exactly which country they work in and what their phone number might be. It's not a website that they need. Still, why should I complain? They're paying me to learn how to put up an interactive site with access to an industrial-grade database behind it - I can handle this.

Just being looking over the latest newsletter we got from NZ and saw one item, under a headline of "Neo-Nazi Row" which worried me a bit - a Dr Pratt of Waikato University who seems to be asking why they have not expelled a student who has - I quote "been identified by overseas experts as an anti-Semite". Did Jörg Haider publicly say that he knew the fellow, for god's sake? If the resumé of the article is correct, I have to cringe for academic standards in NZ. If it's not, perhaps I should start worrying about journalistic standards.


Well, mowed the lawn again (fascinating news, that) and as it was lovely and hot today (about 26° in the shade down in the courtyard) I took all the necessary tools down and put together a new bridge for the stream. This involves - at a minimum - the circular saw, small B&D drill (for pre-drilling screw holes), the big Bosch hammer-action drill (for use as as a screwdriver, the battery-operated screwdrivers give out after about three screws in the sort of wood I used), set-square, clamps, assorted hardware ... took about three hours and incidentally served to remind me just how hot it gets down in the courtyard when the sun gets in there.

Tomorrow is Easter Day and, as is traditional, it'll be grot. About 16°, they reckon, persisting down and snow at about 1500m. Might as well be in NZ, really. Jeremy is really looking forward to it and made us promise to leave out a couple of carrots and some water for the Easter Bunny. My idea of a shotgun and buckshot didn't go down at all well. Margo's patissier/chocolatier friend Jean-Luc has already givern him a chocolate dinosaur full of lollies and this morning she picked up his proper Easter egg, so he's likely to overdose tomorrow.

Last week one of the few French documentary programmes that's worth watching - Thalassa - did a special programme on NZ. A number of our friends watched it - either from some warped sense of duty, or just because they've been sensitised to the idea of NZ - and most of them asked us the same question afterwards: "What on earth are you doing in France? You could be in New Zealand!" The only convincing answer I've been able to come up with is that we've been exiled for some crime too heinous to even talk about and are only allowed back (with paper bags on our heads so that we can't see the scenery) every five years or so for a brief visit. I've tried giving the real reasons - that we're actually reasonably happy here, Savoie is - in its own way - quite beautiful too, and I actually quite enjoy - in a twisted masochistic way - trying to run a company here and make some money - but it's not paranoid enough and no-one believes me.

(In fact, we can't leave until we've managed to get Renaud and Sophie over to NZ for a holiday. I will then be able to return happy in the knowledge that they will no longer be content to live in France, knowing what they're missing.)


Got back safely on Friday night from Geneva and installing my little website. I can now put "JSP experience" down on my resumé. Our clients (a reasonably big "communications agency", whatever that maybe) were impressed and so they should be - it actually worked! They now want to buy us - or at least enter into some sort of meaningful relationship going a bit further than us selling them our services from time to time. I'm all in favour of that - especially if it means that I can retire at 50 with an Alfa Spyder in the garage. Unfortunately I don't think it'll come to that, but we'll see what they have to say next Wednesday, when Renaud has a meeting with them to discuss such things.

So it's been a reasonably busy week. Up in Geneva for most of it, but still managed to find time for a BBQ on Tuesday and then Renaud and Sophie came round on Thursday night and we pigged out on foie gras and smoked salmon and drank unreasonable quantities of wine. Rather enjoyable, really.

This coming weekend is yet another long weekend - can't remember exactly why May 8 is a public holiday, but it is - and we're going off to the Gers to see Jacquy and hopefully pick up Malyon's bed and a big dresser. So in the next couple of days I have to work out how we're going to get them back here - it'd be nice to rent a van for a one-way trip, or even better send them off by rail - but this being France it won't be easy.

Jeremy had his two friends Pierre & Florian round for the day - six-year old twins. I wasn't there for most of it, as I had to go off and fix up a few problems with my stock-control system. Nothing particularly dramatic, but as it's the end of the week and, on top of that, the end of the month (and thus billing time), important for the client. So anyway, I missed much of the fun involved in having three five/six year-olds at home on a rainy day. Margo reckons it involves at least five times more mess than just Jeremy multiplied by three. It's probably some sort of boy thing.

By the time I got home they'd been safely delivered back to their parents and I was able to take a Martini down to the garden and watch the grass grow. Which it does, almost audibly. (Except on the bits Margo napalmed the other day.) It really is rather nice. Something a lot of you probably take for granted, but in Europe it's rare. You can almost understand why the French have this sentimental passion for peasant farmers, and why every Parisian dreams of having a patch of land of their own in the country.

Strange, really, as the actual peasant farmers are a dirty old lot that think that government subsidies are a god-given right and that clear running streams are Nature's waste-disposal system. I'll have to go down soon with boots on and clear out the three or four empty oil cans, the seeding cabbages, and general household waste that's currently bobbing around in our stream. Good thing Malyon's not here to see it all, she'd probably give us a lecture on respecting ecosystems and then march off to the Mairie to lay a complaint against person or persons unknown. Morally she's quite right, but I'm patient - I can wait four or five years until they all die off and are replaced by gentrifying "jeunes cadres" trying to escape the city. Who will throw their lawn clippings into the stream. Evolution is a slow process.

... Still trying to plan our trip off to the Gers, and it's not easy. The SNCF actively discourage people from using their services directly - wouldn't even give me a price. I don't really want to rent a van, as that would mean taking the BM and the van down and I, as the happy van driver, would have to go down one night and come back the next day and even at that it'd cost 2300 F or thereabouts (without petrol) which is rather expensive. So Margo had a brilliant idea which involves putting a tow-bar onto the work Clio and taking Sue & Serge's enormous trailer down. As getting a tow-bar fitted costs only 1000 F it's a no-brainer - now I just have to get it done. Can I find a garage that can stick a standard tow-bar on a stock-standard Frog car in the next three days? Does a pope shit in the woods? Is the Bear a Catholic? Answer is no. Bugger! (With feeling.) So we might wind up going down during the week rather than over the weekend.

Which is perhaps not too bad an idea anyway, as it'll give me a little more time to attack some of the work I have to do. Having got my website out of the way I now have a DOS-mode video driver to do in a couple of days and then - if the client I'm off to see at Geneva tomorrow agrees to our exorbitant prices - a Windows 98 driver for a video camera. To be done for the end of the month. And there's always paperwork to get out of the way, and all these strange people who keep sending us bills and who, for some strange reason, expect to get paid. There are times when it'd be nice not to have to worry about any of all that.

Just to supply another good reason why those of you who have no children want to keep things that way - found Jeremy in the shower this evening, lying on his back with the water beating down on what, for the sake of decency, we'll call his "lower abdomen". I asked exactly what he was up to and he replied - rather defensively - "Nothing! I was just giving my willy a drink!".

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