Sunday, March 28, 2010

Splenetic musings on horrible places (and a chance to win $10 000)

Well, I can see we're in for some bad weather soon. The apricot tree down in the paddock has just flowered,  along with the daffodils and the primroses, which means that in the next ten days we'll have snow, or hail, or frosts, or a tempest, or maybe pigs falling from the sky. And if that fails, and by some miracle little baby apricots do appear on the branches, they'll just catch leprosy or something, turn black and drop off. Whatever, after five years of their non-arrival, I'm pretty sure we won't be eating any this year. Although I live in perpetual hope of being disappointed. But I'm still betting on snow, despite the temperatures being in the 20s. Although, thanks to Spain, the picture you can see is dessert tonight. Mwahaha!

Discussing with Margo where we would, if ever we should return to NZ one day, elect to live. We came up with a list, not too favorable I'm afraid:
  • Orcland: hate the place, inhabited by orcs, rule that out. Besides, it's a piss-poor excuse for a city, just a ratshit CBD and masses of suburbs with people in grotty cars trying to get from one to the other, god alone knows why. And what a joke the railway station is. And mass transport? Good thing they're not getting the Olympics any time soon.
  • Wellington: love the city, hate the climate. Have to be about the closest you could find over there to the feeling of Paris, without the small dogs shitting on the pavement. Nor, sad to say, having a boulangerie 200m from your door. And unfortunately the weather is, let's admit it, 90% foul.
  • Hamilton: damp, dull and flat. Responsible for most of NZs greenhouse gasses by the sheer volume of cow farts from the surrounding farms. Enough said. Except that if ever the Merkins want to field-test a nuclear warhead, they're welcome to Cambridge.
  • Palmerston North: been there, done my time. Forget it. Forget everything. I've done my best to do so.
  • Tauranga: all I can recall is the line of zimmer frames checked in at the entrance to every supermarket. And wrinkly old people tottering about, apparently turned into sort of zombie prunes by the sun. And Winston Peters. Ouch.
  • Napier/Hastings: population apparently up by 25% over the last decade. Probably means there are about 6000 technically alive people there now, then. Boring. Unless you're a lizard. In which case it'd still be boring, but you wouldn't care.
  • Wanganui. Whanganui? Phooey.
  • Coromandel? Nice climate, but too close to Orcland, and anyway I don't grow dope. 'Cos if we did we've have the kids inviting themselves to stay far too often.
  • Gisborne. Oh for god's sake, some places are a bit out of the way but Gisborne is right off the map.  In fact, I'm not even sure that it's on the globe. Yes, the climate's nice but it's so bloody isolated you'd have more company in solitary confinement somewhere in Siberia. I don't even know if they've had gravity installed yet. And I do know for a fact that the telephone lines are made of string. (Possibly because they'd be nicked if they were made of copper.)
  • South Island. We have snow and mountains here. I can see no reason to go there to get more of the same. And there are far too many sheep, anyway.
  • Nelson? Maybe, why not? Got wine, got climate, got sea ...
Got any ideas? Perhaps we should organise a vote on the least foul place to live. Or alternatively, the one most deserving of a five-minute tirade of insults. Or you could nominate some much-loathed dump for inclusion in the list. Winner to be decided by an impartial jury consisting of me, the cat, and the dog. First prize, for the most original, amusing and spleen-filled suggestion gets M$ 10,000 (that's 10,000 Monopoly dollars, if you prefer) and possibly beaten-up by concerned citizens of the lucky town. In case you hadn't noticed, comments are enabled, so feel free. (And anyone who nominates Foxton will be - politely - escorted to the door and have his or her lungs and any other useful organs removed by Boris the bouncer.)

We're supposed to be spending Easter with Karen at Mumblefuck, so she was on the phone for half an hour this evening trying to work out what to eat. The eternal existential problem. We eventually whittled the main course down to ham or lamb, and as a good Jew (snigger snigger) she wouldn't be able to go for ham, so that's one problem solved: now just have to work out what to have with it (traditional roast potatoes? gratin? refried mashed spuds?) and should we have an entrée or a dessert, or no entrée and two desserts? Vegetable accompaniments are now officially her problem, and as for dessert I think we'll definitely go with a pavlova at least, and either I find some sort of dish that I can either do at the last minute or, alternatively, get all ready ahead of time, either an entrée or some sort of swish dessert. Happily, there's yet a week or so to cogitate on the matter.


Well bugger me rigid, Bruce (as my old aunt used to say), that first paragraph was meant in jest but today it's bloody snowing down to 600m in some parts not too far from us. So far we've been spared, but I'm willing to bet that the high winds earlier this morning will have managed to shake some/most of the apricot blossoms off, leaving only a few healthy ones to be attacked by mildew. This is just so depressing. And we've got meuhs down in the paddock behind our garden again. Fortunately, the farmer that puts them there has now learnt that no-one in the neighbourhood thinks that cowbells are even remotely cute, and so refrains from equipping them with such.

Later ... after a grotty morning of  wind and rain (and, as mentioned, snow) it's turned out fine and sunny again, if a bit colder than I'd liked. Just goes to show.

Got a busy day lined up tomorrow: Margo's off somewhere at the arse-end of Grenoble for a salon, I've organised after-market drinkies with Brian (Sophie's down in Marseille for the weekend, and he's the only other semi-pro alcoholic I know who is willing or able to keep up with me), and we're off tomorrow night to Grenoble again to see the latest Upstage production: Joe Orton's "Loot" and a Pinter of some sort. We've been going for years - since Malyon's first year at Europole, in fact - and it would be a shame to miss it. It's getting to be a tradition. So I rang Mr. Simpson today (was surprised, the lycée dished out his cell number just on my asking) and he very nicely promised to get two tickets set aside for us.

Which is going to mean leaving Jeremy to fend for himself whilst Margo and I try to meet up somewhere for a kebab. And it's the last night, so the after-show party should be good. Shall have to be restrained, don"t know anywhere to crash in Grenoble for the night. Although I suppose I could call up some of Mal's friends, call in a few favours ... god knows they've spent enough time here. Mind you, having your best friend's father crash on the couch is perhaps not what they were expecting.

Later ... made it down to Grenoble and off to the Théatre de Ste-Marie d'En-Bas (which translates literally as "Saint Mary's Down Below", which is I suppose reasonable enough as, having been a church, it was converted into the city morgue before Diden the impresario took it over and transformed it into a theatre) with no problems. Speaking for myself. Margo, coming from the other direction, managed to get herself lost and then couldn't recall, having found the appropriate car-park, how to get from there to the actual place of torture. I went and rescued her.

The lovely young lady at the counter found the tickets that Mr. S. had, in fact, had put aside for us (and I always find it marvellous the way they can switch effortlessly from French to English and vice-versa) and as usual,  the production was excellent. It was the last night so they let themselves go a bit towards the end, which made the last 15 minutes a bit sloppy, but what the hell.

We're sort of becoming a fixture: six years we've been going now. Mr Simpson (I suppose I really should call him David, that is after all his name and we know one another well enough by now) manages to recognise us from across a crowded room (I shall not describe the bar at the theatre. Suffice it to say that it is not large, and seems even smaller when you've got 50 people shoe-horned into it) and in all appearance is genuinely delighted to see us. Which is, I suppose, not necessarily impossible, even if you may think it somewhat unlikely. Whatever, he said he'd even threatened the cast with us, which may well be true. Sadly enough we couldn't stay long: Margo had her salon again today and we were going to miss out on an hour of sleep thanks to the beginning of daylight saving so decided that discretion was the better part of valour, cut and ran around 23:00. Next year we'll try to be better organised and get Malyon to come with us. If she's not off saving whales somewhere.

OK, I'd better head back to getting a frikkin GPRS modem to do what I want it to.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mostly food (may contain nuts) ...


Well, we had a nice week with Malyon - saw her for all of two days or so. She's good, and I'm so glad I'm not going to be around for her 21st birthday party. Most of her friends from Grenoble are scattering to the four corners of the earth so I kind of suspect that when she comes back in future it'll just be for a couple of days to catch up with Jerry and us - let's face it, St Pierre is hardly the kind of bustling metropolis she's used to. Nor is it particularly exotic. Anyway, I dropped her off at Geneva on Tuesday: she was very grown up and hardly cried at all when I left her, booted out of the car at 50km on the ring road, just before the airport exit.

I really should have dragged out the barbecue from its winter hibernation; the temperatures were up in the twenties this afternoon. But, being reasonable, the sun sets around 7pm still, and given the time required to fire it up ( I'm a purist, wood and charcoal) we wouldn't have eaten before 9pm at the earliest ... leave it for later. But spring's on it's way, and this is good. (Note for Sophie - barbecue lunch next weekend? Weather permitting, of course.)


Yet another Saturday with Sophie: did the usual cooking masterclass. Everyone around here is relatively blasé about food: it's a given that it's going to be good. (Or at least, edible. Not necessarily the same thing.) In fact, the only comments I get is if it's not up to the usual standards. (That's not particularly modest, I know. It's true, though, which is my excuse. We do take food seriously in this house.) Whereas Sophie seems perpetually surprised ("émerveillée" is the Frog word) that I can actually do this cooking thing.  (Could it be possible that she's like one of those flatworm/sheep things that have no long-term memory? I prefer to think not.)

Whatever, she put in a request for - for once - red meat - (I have mentioned that she's Bressane, where chicken is king and cream is mandatory?) so I dusted off the cookbooks trying to find something that isn't actually inscribed in my DNA and came up with steak Diane. Which makes a change from filet  de boeuf Charlemagne, and is definitely better suited to a meal for two. Oddly enough, it also involves vast quantities of cream, but luckily, no chicken. Sophie got a potato gratin ready, I'd bought along a salad, and while everything was cooking we sat on the doorstep out to the terrace enjoying 20° (although no sun), sipping our wine, keeping an eye on the mountains (in case they move, you never can tell) and nattering. Bloody perfect moment.

(Should anyone care, steak Diane just involves searing a couple of slabs of fillet - one slab per person is normally considered adequate - on each side, then setting them aside whilst you stew a couple of finely-chopped shallots. When those are done fry up some mushrooms - add more butter if required -  then return the shallots to the pan with mustard powder, chopped garlic, chives and parsley. Then add a glop of Worcester sauce and ten cl of cream and let reduce, slosh in some lemon juice and put the steaks back in to heat through. At which point you could - if you can - flambé the lot with a good dose of whisky. Then eat. And yes, the steak is supposed to be rare. If not, there's no point to it all. You might just as well play a flamethrower over the stuff and then pretend to enjoy it. Good luck with that.)

And, having my priorities right, I'd taken care to fix fajitas for Lucas and Rémi ahead of time, so that by the time our meal was ready they'd already eaten and buggered off to wherever it is kids go when they're not annoying their parents. (I have a few suggestions on that point, if anyone's interested ...)  No complaints from them either, which is just as well, really.

But just to screw up my evening (that was after discovering that I'd left all the weekly meat shopping in Sophie's fridge) I had Firefox hiccup on me. Started it up and it told me that there was an update for one of the various desktop themes I keep around (Gradient Brushed Metal, if you really want to know) and when that had finished installing the Firefox window was totally transparent with no menu bar. So I couldn't even close it in the normal fashion. Bugger! (Twice, with feeling.)

Finally, I wound up firing up IE and downloading version 3.6, which fixed the problem but alas is not compatible with Google Notebook (which has, I admit, been unsupported for some time now) so everything I had noted up there somewhere in the Googleplex is now totally inaccessible. Which I suppose will teach me to put faith in some benevolent external entity. Never mind, it was only recipes (mainly) and I can always find them again. Still, it rankles. I suppose I could always reinstall an old version of Firefox, download the stuff and save it somewhere, but quite frankly I can't be arsed. I'll just sit around and fulminate quietly until I get over it. And truth to tell, I can still remember the recipe for bourbon-marinated skirt steak, so I suppose I'm not missing that much.

Bill Gates has finally done me a favour: starting to get old clients ringing to say that their device drivers don't work under 64-bit Windows 7. To which I can only say "No, they don't, do they? But they were never designed to, what did you expect?" I feel their pain, I empathise as best I can, but I still prefer to hear the cash register going "ka-ching!".

And on a completely unrelated note, could anyone please explain to me why it is that the cursor does not shift when I hit return in the new blogger edit box? New blank lines are in fact inserted, as I eventually found out, but if there is no text behind them you cannot see them and, as I said, the cursor doesn't move. Which is a right pain when you're at the end of a post and want to add an empty line - you can't actually see if you've done it or not. Until you start typing, and it suddenly appears with seven or eight blank lines above. Confusing, and annoying.

Wandered off down to the paddock in one of my spare moments and discovered that, behind my back, the grass has been Growing. With intent, no doubt. Shall have to do something about that soonish, I suspect. Unfortunately the primeveres are all out now and making a pretty show and I don't really want to mow them down, so I suppose I'm reprieved for a couple of weeks. The bats are also out, flitting around under the street-lamps picking up their nightly dose of protein from whatever insects are unlucky or stupid enough to be out at that hour, and the days are getting longer and warmer. I like Spring.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Encona and I ...


Its spelling may vary, depending on the batch you buy, I suspect, but Encona or Ancona or whatever is my friend in the kitchen. Even nuzzles up to the wine, just to prove how friendly it really is. Everyone should have a bottle - personally I have two, one that's currently in use and the backup bottle for emergencies. Just a dose in a Chinese meal makes up for the inadequacies of the Chinese chili sauce you can buy over here, and a decent helping in a wet curry definitely lifts it out of the ordinary. I have not yet used it for a roast leg of lamb, but I strongly suspect that when barbecue weather comes round again I will be slathering a bit on the meat in the last stages of cooking.

Or if you happen to have some rare roast beef sitting around (bloody leftovers again) you could always slice it thinly along with a couple of shallots and maybe a bell pepper before mixing it all up in a bowl with some crisp fresh lettuce (my favourite rougette) and a simple sauce involving soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, a sugar cube and a good dose of Encona. (Or sambal oelek if you happen to have some. Some do. Always got a jar in the fridge, personally.)

Anyway, it's not really time for salads now: just our bloody luck, we've got the bise. This is not some sort of rude disease nor, as those of you who know some - but not enough - French might think, a kiss: it's the northerly wind, and it's viciously cold. One day I'm rolling up my shirtsleeves and looking at the snowdrops and primroses popping out, the next it's back to -5 and this bitter wind blasting down from the Bauges behind us. Been going on since Saturday, and let me tell you it's nasty. I'd rather hoped to be able to put the big fluffy parka away, but I can see that's not going to happen just yet.

Off tomorrow to pick up Malyon: she is supposed to arrive at Geneva at 11:40 and, as she is apparently travelling light, with only carry-on baggage, we don't care if the baggage-handlers are on strike. Then she comes home for the night, buggers off to Grenoble and I think we get to see her Sunday and Monday. She's already put in her menu request: honey chili chicken and roast lamb. Not, evidently, at the same meal. Have to try to organise that for the weekend, I think - tomorrow night she'll probably get steamed pork bums, which is what I happen to have in the freezer. Getting rid of more leftovers.


Another Saturday with Sophie - who has, by the way, looked at this little blog and accuses me of writing limpid, classical prose. Because otherwise, she said, she wouldn't be able to understand it. Personally, I think her level in English is a damn sight better than she's prepared to admit. Whatever, I turned up just after midday with Jerry in tow (he'd stayed over at the internat on Friday night 'cos it was the school open day on Saturday and on top of that they had a charity soirée to raise money for Haïti), just in time to see her disappearing down the road to drop Rémi off to tennis. Which was fine, as it gave the rosé a bit of time to chill out in the freezer whilst I unpacked the goat's cheese and played hunt-the-caterpillar with the salad.

So when she got back we shamelessly left the two boys (can't really say that any more, I suppose - Lucas is 18 now and so I guess has to be considered a young man. Oh dear.) doing whatever it is they do upstairs, and took advantage of the peace and quiet to open the rosé, demolish the salad, attack the cheese, scarf a whole-grain baguette and down a jar of venison pâté. And I'm afraid to say that we still had a bit of room left after all that so we had to open a bottle of white, the rosé having mysteriously evaporated.

A nice tranquil moment, and I'm sure we could have gone on to solve most of the world's problems had we not been brutally interrupted by the arrival of the ravening horde from upstairs, braying loudly for food. At which point I must admit that, although it's not really my thing, there are certain advantages to having a stash of ready-made pizzas in the freezer.

All in all it was probably a good thing that the mob did appear, otherwise we'd doubtless have carried on moaning about yoof and where did we go wrong (Sophie's having problems with Rémi, and we just got Jerry's latest marks - don't ask) and possibly even had to open a third bottle, which would definitely have been excessive.

Actually, some of Jerry's marks are not too bad. I mean, he's getting 17/20 for maths, as opposed to 5/20 last year, but the problem is that it's very uneven and he takes no pains to hide the fact that certain subjects simply do not interest him. Nobody expects him to go into "Technique and Practice of Service" with a song in his heart, but he could at least have a smile painted on his lips. And how anyone can get 16/20 for "Economics and Management" with one teacher and 8/20 for the same subject with another teacher is, although not totally beyond my comprehension, somewhat annoying, to say the least. On the bright side, he did actually come to talk to us about it, rather than our having to call him in to have a strip or two ripped off. So I suppose there's hope for him yet.

And while I'm in the mood for such things, I'd just like to take the opportunity to say that campervans should be exterminated. Preferably by the judicious use of low-yield nuclear warheads, or perhaps a cruise missile up the exhaust. I say this because, having got into a traffic jam on the autoroute heading in to Chambéry this morning (why a traffic jam? All the bloody Parisians should have left last weekend. Must be foreigners.) I finished the shopping at St Jeoire before doubling back on the nationale to pick Jerry up at Challes. Not one of my better ideas, really. I cannot honestly say that every damn campervan in France was on that particular stretch of road at that precise time, because that would probably be untrue, but it certainly felt like it. And just to annoy me even more, they were driven by people (using the term loosely) who appeared unwilling to startle the traffic lights (of which there are an inordinate number) either by approaching too rapidly or by setting off, when finally one went green, at a pace exceeding that of a sluggish glacier. Must have taken me twenty minutes to cover three kilometres, I'd have done better to walk.

Otherwise the weather's turned bright and sunny, the wind is disappearing and it's supposed to get warmer this coming week. I must admit that I've had serious thoughts about the barbecue, but if I drag that out of hibernation it'll probably start to snow.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

In which I get out a bit ...

In keeping with the season, this week's been generally grotty and rainy. But warm, at least. That is to say, temperatures getting up into the teens (think "spotty" and unreasonable), which will have to do for now. I assume you're finally having something approximating summer, perhaps I shouldn't ask.

The littlest niece, Caroline (I say "little" because, although she's two years older, she still only comes up to Jerry's Plimsoll line), came down from Paris for the week (evidently in an attempt to avoid skiing - see "weather", above) and, as they'd all met and got friendly at Pesselière last summer Amelia and Raffaello invited themselves down from Mumblefuck to stay over. Only for the one night, which was a bit of a shame really: they're nice kids and almost a pleasure to have around. By some miracle Jerry's new bedroom did not get trashed, although for some reason as yet unclear to me every single sheet in the house needed changing when they left. I really do not want to know.

They eat vast quantities. Of anything. And drink (heavily sugared) coffee as though it were going out of fashion. Shall have to buy some more sugar lumps. Luckily I'm usually first up in the mornings, so at least I get to have as much coffee as I want.

Today being Saturday the 27th it was Carnaval. Which meant that at the market this morning the air was full of drumrolls, rude farty horn noises and wheezy squeakings (don't know what instrument these last came from, and I'm not sure I wish to). Loud enough that I had to wait five minutes before giving in my order to the cheesemonger. On top of that acrobacy was being performed, and I'm pretty sure that street theatre was committed. On the bright side, there are starting to be tomatoes from Tunisia or Morocco, some of which actually taste sort of like tomatoes. This is a Good Thing, as it means that some time in the not too distant future there will be asparagus.

Unfortunately I missed Sophie: she - no doubt wisely - had headed off on Friday to get in a couple of days skiing before the end of the holidays. Which would normally have caused no problems, but exceptionally Bryan Lovell, the only other alcoholic I can more or less depend on to keep me company, decided to go off on a run. I mean, run rather than drink rosé? Can't see the point, myself. He did come to his senses later on, but unfortunately the car was at Myans with her nose pointed firmly homewards when I got his SMS. And I don't like to argue with her when she's like that.

Whatever, being more sober than usual I finally got off my chuff and took the time to take a little walk in the mountains (bloody good timing really, got back home just before it started raining). I cheated, and drove half-way up to the Col du Frêne and parked at about 600m altitude before setting intrepidly off.

I'd planned just a quick tour around the landslide dike, but halfway there I came across the sign that said "Digue; 20mn: Col du Frêne; 1 hr" and thought what the hell, let's go for the col. Possibly an error, as I'm a bit out of shape and the track is, let's face it, more or less vertical. Well, it starts off gently enough, but then it starts really going seriously uphill and it gets no better from that point on. The fact that there'd been heavy rain the night before didn't help either, especially as you couldn't actually see the mud. The whole track was in fact covered with thick drifts of dead leaves, and the mud was under them, sort of lurking.  The sort of track where smug bastards in a 4x4 head confidently up and then, a short while later, you hear muffled screams coming from a ravine ... And the sangliers  (that's wild boar, to you) had been out too, rooting around and, as usual, not cleaning up afterwards.

Still, despite a bit of wheezing I made it to the top and then back down again (it's actually slower going down, unless you really want to bugger your knees, of course) and decided to go around the dike anyway. By the time I got back to the car I was kind of regretting that last decision: I really shall have to get back into practice. Before it gets to be mushroom season.

Finally a bit of good news on the work front - 86K of orders coming in, of which 50K is all for us. Another couple like that and we'll be good.

Don't know what you think of the bloody Vancouver Olympics, but quite frankly they're starting to piss me off something serious. There's not a decent TV program worth downloading out there (well, there was "Burn Notice" but one program a week hardly counts, does it?). Sooner the last figure skater falls on the sharp end of the skates the better, I think. I mean, it's not even as though cross-country skiing is particularly exciting. I've seen mobs of sheep that were more fun, all they really needed was a far-sighted sponsor. And I must admit that a hairdresser or cosmetics advisor would come in handy.

Ten days now and we'll be privileged to see Malyon again, and ten days after that it's Spring! (Officially, anyway.) Not sure what we're looking forward to the most, although I suspect that if I say anything other than "Malyon" I might regret it.


Another week goes by, I have to wonder really what happens to the poor little things. At least today was the last of the really ghastly days on the road, as the last holiday-makers go back to their dismal holes up north and leave us in peace - until summer comes around, at any rate. Unfortunately, we're also back down to sub-zero temperatures in the moanings, which is definitely a Bad Thing.

Sophie was MIA again today so I missed the usual apéro, but I managed to convince Bryan that he really wanted a glass or two of white at Le Refuge so the morning wasn't a complete write-off. You'd think, mind you, that a man of his years would have learnt to be reasonable, or at least to reserve unreasonableness for the holidays or some time when you don't have to get up the next day. Sadly it seems that wisdom does not necessarily come with age, when he tried to explain away his lack of enthusiasm for more than two glasses with the story of how, on Wednesday night, he and a friend had sunk three bottles of red between them. Before having to get up at 6 am. Not too bright, and certainly not the sort of thing I'd ever dream of.

On a completely unrelated note, I must say that our family down-sizing has definitely taught me that everyone needs to know interesting things to do with leftovers. Or, put less ambiguously, how to turn left-overs into an interesting meal. And I'm also extremely grateful for the fact that phyllo pastry is now more or less freely available round these parts, because it plays a major rôle in this process. Like the other day when, despite experience and the nagging inner voice of reason, I decided to roast a chicken for our dinner. Even with three of us there was still half the beast left when we rolled from the table and that is, I'm afraid, just too much meat to chuck.

So as we had phyllo in the fridge, along with a bit of batusson that Jeremy had apparently overlooked (have I explained batusson? It's fresh goat's cheese beaten up with heaps of chives, garlic, shallots and a bit of salt - absolutely divine) and some dried mushrooms in the pantry, I opened a bottle of white and made a chicken and mushroom strudel. With hindsight I could probably have chucked a bit of my bacon in there too without ruining it, but never mind. At least there were no leftover leftovers, which is just as well because that way lies endless recursion and, inevitably, madness. And probably food poisoning.

And in other news, our friends Karen and Philippe from Mumblefuck are seriously looking at buying a monastery, apparently in or near some dump called Seyssel. Which is at least a bit closer than Mumblefuck, even if it is smaller (if that's possible). Unfortunately getting there from here does mean going through Culoz, a hole that's always reminded me (on the rare occasions I've had the misfortune to go through it on the slow train to Lyon) of a ghost town out of some old Western. If it weren't for the fact that this is France, you half expect to see tumbleweeds rolling past. Anyway, if it goes through, it'd certainly give us somewhere to go with plenty of room in summer, and enough cellars to hold an unreasonable amount of wine. Shall have to buy Karen a wimple, though.

Right, I suppose I'd better slope off and start giving some serious thought to dinner and dessert and suchlike stuff, before going outside to see if I can't terrify some small children.