Wednesday, December 18, 2002

18/12/02 The state of the nation ...

Here we are again: time to wish all of you a Hairy Gristlemouse and a very Furry New Bear. With chocolate sprinkles on it.

As Malyon has just reminded me, only three more days to go before the Christmas holidays, and then on Sunday or Monday we head off to Pesselière for a week's holiday stuffing our faces. I'm going to cause great cries of anguish because I'll take the portable along in the hope of getting some of the work done that really needs to be done before mid-January - for once I'm actually going on holiday with everyone else, that surely ought to count for something! At least I'll be more or less incommunicado, given that my cellphone only works there if I wander 500m down the road and stand in the middle of a turnip field, which is fine in summer (if you like turnips) but not much of a thrill in the middle of winter.

Not that winter, so far, has been up to much. We're still waiting for some snow down here, but it's been amazingly warm (well, above or about zero) and all we've had to date is rain. Ploppy rain, on a couple of occasions, but rain nonetheless. I can't say that I'm personally too put out by this. Maybe all the Parisians will stay at home instead of coming down here to block the autoroutes.

Got Jeremy's school report the other day, and I was pleasantly surprised. The state of his exercise book is, as his teacher delicately put it, "unacceptable", but his French is passable (we may have to work on that with him, though godnose how, as I'm certainly not competent to do it) and his maths is excellent. He decided to learn how to do division last weekend (they don't learn that yet at school) and found it easy. We'll see.

He'll finish the rugby season and then we'll see what happens with that: he still enjoys playing but complains that the other kids pick on him because he's a New Zealander, and make rude remarks about how Kiwis don't know how to play the game. Unfortunately, advice to eight-year-olds on ignoring the stupid comments of other eight-year-old titheads is invariably ignored. Ah well.

All in all, I think we're gaining ground and he may eventually graduate to join the human race. He was very - and deservedly - proud of buying all his Christmas presents with his very own money: he managed to save up his pocket money for two months and then went out with Margo and blew it all buying presents.

Malyon on the other hand needs to pull up her socks (or sockettes, for the fashion now is to wear socks that just cover your feet up to where your shoes end): she only managed an average of 18/20. There's a bit of extra work to be done there. She's 13 and feels that she should be treated as an adult: for the moment, as far as I'm concerned, she's still on probation. Even if she does remind us very strongly of Saffy, from Ab Fab.

She's much in demand at the college at the moment, as they're off to England early next year and she's the nearest thing they've got to an English-speaker in the class. She'll be able to teach them all about the delights of stodgy pud.

What she really wants is for me to trade up the Alfa 146 for a Zagato or an old Spyder. Not for any practical reason, just so that I can ostentatiously drop her off at school in a racy convertible, and she can murmur to any of her friends who dare to ask "No, that's just my Dad". She'll have to settle for a 156, I think. (Reminds me that some parents have made comments to Margo about my appearance when I drop the kids off to school. "Zombie" is one of the kinder words they've used. It's true that I'm not at my best first thing in the morning, but I still find that a bit cruel.)

Margo is waiting for the end of the year as impatiently as the kids. She finds 20-odd hours a week in intimate contact with ill-mannered, badly brought-up high-school turds rather wearing, and I can't blame her. (I'd probably have committed criminal acts by now, not being nearly so patient or forgiving - or not being paid enough to be so, at any rate.) Next year she's planning on demanding no more than 8 hours a week with college brats, the rest with adults, thanks very much.

As for me, business is ticking over nicely at the moment, even if we do have to make our accountant cut a few corners from time to time. Like today, when one of our clients, Novartis, asked us to bill them - before the end of the year - for about 50 000 euros for work to be done next year: question of finishing off the budget so that they can put justifiably put in a request for the same budget next year. ("If you've got it, you'd better spend it before budget review time") Don't want all that extra cash appearing in our books for this year, so we'll have to put out a false bill - for their eyes only - this year, and another (for the French authorities) next year. And hope they don't pay us before we do the official bill. And for once we've actually got cash in the bank at the end of the year, some of our clients having kindly consented to pay us. (But there's still about 50 000 euros sitting out there waiting to come to papa: if it all comes in at once I may succumb to temptation and flee to Bolivia with the cash. Serve the bank right, useless pack of illegitimate mother-loving offspring of female dogs that they are.)

And my Frankenstein stock-control system continues its life: we're due to roll out the web version Real Soon Now, and we're going to move to version 5 (with EDI interface) in the near future (like, in a couple of weeks, whenever I find the time). Can't complain, it's the first cash-cow we've had, and I plan on milking it for some time yet.

What else is new? Not a great deal, I'm afraid. In theory the builders turn up in March to start work on the attic extensions, after first of all ripping through the first floor here to redo the electricity and bash out a few unwanted walls over the stairwell. Margo is starting to have shivers at the thought of packing things and moving them from room to room as the work advances. The kitten has finally adopted the dog as some sort of cheap biological electric blanket, which is fine.

Merry Christmas to you all

Trevor & Margo

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