Sunday, October 31, 2010

A few vicious thoughts on ergonomy ...

 Actually, I should probably have titled this "I really, really need to wash my car". But that's not going to happen any time in the immediate future: it'll start raining sometime soon anyway, so what's the point?

Going to moan some more: not only have I had to get my new PC fit for purpose (and don't get me on to the subject of the keyboard, which is really really cheap and flexy) but I'm trying to get used to a new phone, which is kind of more urgent. Computers I can chop and change and run in parallel, but I've only got one SIM card ...

Anyway, the old Samsung UGH600 fell once too often: it's survived 1-metre falls onto concrete and tarmac, been sat on, wedged into the car seat, you name it, but the other day it fell two inches onto the floor, landed screen-side down on a dust-mote and whee! there's a big shatter mark on the screen. This, I thought, is the beginning of the end, so I went looking for a new one. No-one, apparently, does dumb phones anymore: at least, the only slider phone I could find that actually had a keyboard (I'll pass on a RIM, thanks) was pink and had Hello Kitty! stamped all over it. And whilst I don't mind being considered a bit odd, that might have been a bit much to bring out in meetings.

So I gritted my teeth and ordered a Samsung Wave, which arrived this morning, and I'm trying to get things transferred. And I have come, once again, to the conclusion that although Samsung make good phones, they make really ratshit software. The last lot that came with the old phone was counter-intuitive and bad: this is evil, or at least soul-destroying. Let me explain.

First of all, the old software would - sometimes - let you save your contacts and then export them to a CSV file. Messages, on the other hand, were much more random, and if ever you had multi-part messages (ie anything over 160 characters) you could forget about them, because Samsung's own software couldn't handle them. (It's not as though it's bloody rocket science, is it? It's been happening for years, for god's sake.) So I kissed my messages goodbye, but I did have the phonebook.

I thought I'd start from scratch, so I installed the new software (called Kies, what kind of a name is that?) and thought to myself  "Right! I shall create myself a new phonebook!". That was a mistake, because you can't. Your only option is to open a phonebook file, and if you type in a new name it will spit at you and say the file doesn't exist. Which is true, but rather misses the point. OK, let's try exporting the old phonebook. (From the home machine, on the first floor, of course.) Try as a Windows Address Book format: well and good, but the new software doesn't recognise that (damn, didn't look at the recognised files extensions). Go back upstairs, try as .vcf format: one entry per phonebook entry, and it seems I have to import each one individually. Let's try another trip and .csv format: yes, that works! Sort of.

Importing the .csv requires you to give the field mapping, so you have to check back to the .csv to get the column names and say what phonebook field you want each one to correspond to. Considering that, in many cases, the names are the same, you'd think this could have been automated, but apparently that was too difficult. So we go through that rather boring procedure and hit the button and lo! I have all my entries. Some of which have no phone numbers. At this point, I was happy that the machine hadn't melted down, so that was OK.

The new software gives you a nice spread-sheet style list of entries and you can in fact click on a cell (say, for mobile number) and an edit field opens, but you can't type anything into it. So that's a fat lot of bloody good. If you double-click on a line, though, a data-entry form will in fact pop up and you can type stuff in, but it has a few idiosyncracies of its own. For one thing, it requires a mobile number. (As does the import process: this is apparently why some of my entries had no number. No mobe, no numbers at all.) This is odd, because the phone itself doesn't care. But the software does.

It also has a really innovative, possibly even ground-breaking feature (I'd say it was magical, but I think Steve Jobs has patented that one), and I'm sure that back at orbiting corporate HQ in Seoul they're really pleased with it: when you edit a field with data already in it you can put the cursor where you want and start typing. (I did this because I had some numbers without the international dialling prefix, which is handy to have if I'm calling France from Switzerland, for instance.) But don't type more than one character, because once you've done that the cursor will automatically skip to the end of the data entry field! So to delete the leading zero and add the "+33" prefix takes four keystrokes and four mousie move/clicks. And you have to use the mouse, 'cos the cursor keys seem to be disabled inside the field.  Should probably count my blessings that the TAB key still navigates from field to field. I mean, what demented cretin came up with that one? Don't these idiots have a usability lab? Are they all high on crystal meth? Do they just not care?

Still not quite at the end of my pains, for having got most of the entries up-to-date on the PC you're now faced with the hurdle of getting them transferred to the phone. So you plug the phone in with the handy USB cable, Windows sees it and will let me copy files to and fro, but the phone says it can't log on in Kies mode until I have killed all running applications (how do I do that? Where's the bloody manual? Where's the task manager?) and the mother-loving PC software doesn't want to know anyway.

So I check the manual and hold the menu button down for five seconds until the task manager appears and gives me the option of killing all running processes: which, despite warnings about losing any unsaved data, I do. Happily. The phone is happy: it connects. The PC software still sees nothing. I unplug, I replug, I kill the PC software and restart it: by some miracle, the two enter into contact and bodily fluids (or whatever) are exchanged. I may now transfer my half-assed and incomplete phonebook over, and I do this with some alacrity before the frikkin' software decides it doesn't wanna.

So what sort of company ships software that will only connect to their own hardware when it feels like it, and the wind is blowing in the right direction? Well, I can name you one. For no extra charge, I can also name you a piece of software that's getting uninstalled in the next five minutes.

Surprisingly enough, getting my Dalek ringtone over was a piece of cake: just copied the MP3 file over with Windows and picked it on the phone (under "Sound/Profile/Normal/Ringtone", but I suppose I can live with that). Have to choose something else for my wakeup alarm, though. I really do not want to wake up every morning to shrill cries of "Exterminate! Exterminate!".

Then on the actual phone side, OK, it's a soft keyboard and you can pick the language and everything. 'Cos it's a smartphone, you see. So I thought I'd set it up with a French keyboard, because the accents come in handy - like frak, 'cos the only difference is that the layout is azerty rather than qwerty, you're still not getting any accents. Can't get them if you go into handwriting entry mode either (which otherwise works rather well): only way I've found so far is to go into keypad entry mode where it emulates a bog-standard dumb-phone and you click six times on e to get é, and if I wanted to do that I wouldn't have got a bloody smartphone, would I?

One reason Mother Theresa got beatified was that she didn't have a smartphone.

End of rant.

In other, family-related news, we apparently get to see Malyon over, before, or after Christmas. Should, by some quirk of fate, Tony get his passport, we'll see him as well. Personally, I have this nagging feeling that he's doing everything he can to not get his passport, so as to avoid meeting us. Probably a wise move, all things considered: no point in being disillusioned when still so young.

And then Malyon apparently hikes off (canoes off) to the middle of the Ecuadorian jungle in June/July 2011, to count bugs in the rain-forest canopy. Or that's what she says. (Actually, what she really said was "I'll mainly be working on frogs." Which is rather ambiguous and, if you happen to be a frog, more than a little worrying. I don't honestly want to know.)

Tomorrow being Saturday it's off to the market again, as usual: Margo's in Nantes, Sophie's down south at Cap d'Agde, so my options are limited. I shall have to go drinking with Bryan. I'll let you know how it all works out.

As it happens, not so well. Bryan was off kayaking up the coastline or doing a couple of lengths of lac du Bourget, or whatever he does in his spare time (when not trying to pick up waitresses), so I was condemned to drink une blanche all by my lonesome, looking out over the deserted terrace.

Still, not a complete waste of a day, as I picked up some collier d'agneau (that's neck of lamb, to you, don't bother googling it) at Mr. B's, and Carrefour were hocking off two chickens for the price of one (sailing close to the wind on the DLC, but what the hell ...) so after taking Jeremy up to the optician's to order some glasses and contacts I started cooking. Which I personally find rather a comforting thing to do.

The chooks found their way into a roasting pan with some potatoes and seemed happy with that: godnose what I'm going to do with the leftovers. Strip the meat from the bones, freeze it and turn it into an enormous chicken strudel at some point, no doubt.

The lamb is still simmering slowly on the range, turned into a navarin: floured, browned savagely, then drowned in white wine along with some carrots, potatoes and herbs. Should be fit to eat tomorrow night: when I don't have Jeremy, as he's been invited to sleep over at a friend's. More bloody leftovers.

There was also half a tin of apricots in the fridge, left over from a clafouti a couple of months back (only joking), so the obvious thing to do with that was to make a bretonne. Now there are two ways you can go about this: traditionally you'd make a thick slab of sweet short pastry (but using shortbread dough would elevate it to ther realms of the sublime), stick some apricots on top, and bake it.

This is all very well as far as it goes, but not, in my humble opinion, sufficient. I make something more like a kuchen: flour, butter, sugar, an egg and yeast revived in milk to make something approaching a brioche dough. (For a proper kuchen you'd also put in grated lemon peel. I have a little bottle of natural lemon oil, which works rather well.) This you shall flatten out into a round in the base of a springform cake tin and, when risen, shall ye put the apricots on top. After which you just have to strew sugar, cinnamon and powdered almonds all over before sticking it into the oven for half an hour.

And it doesn't mind if it's sitting next to a couple of chickens.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The week that was ...

Definitely autumn: a grey, dismal day until the clouds finally pissed off around 18:30, just in time for the sun to go down. Not my favourite season - not by a long shot - and knowing that there's another four months of crap weather to follow, doubtless involving snow at some point, really doesn't help.

No wonder the Scandinavians all either become alcoholics or top themselves over the winter. An eternal diet of grain alcohol and pickled herring can do that to you.

Still, at least there's still food. And, of course, wine.

Margo's not a great fan of veal chops - she doesn't actively dislike them, but they just don't tick her boxes - but unfortunately for her I am (a fan, that is). Especially when crumbed and fried just right, and served with sauce gribiche, which is the main attraction for Margo. Sauce gribiche is an odd mayonnaise (in that it's made with hard-boiled eggs, rather than raw ones) and it's the traditional accompaniment to such culinary delights as tête de veau, which is - yes - a cooked, boned, stuffed, rolled calf's head. Need a good sauce with that - not that you're likely to find me eating it. It takes me an hour or so to summon up the courage to eye a croissant in the face, let alone the rather quizzical look of a recently-departed calf.

Anyway, first hard-boil an egg. I'm assuming you're capable of this without further instructions on my part: should I be mistaken, feel free to leave now. When that's done (the boiling), slice it around the middle (I personally find this much easier when it's shelled, but you may have other ideas), stick the yolk in a small bowl and put the white somewhere you won't forget it, because you'll need it soon.

Now use the back of a spoon to mash the yolk with a good dose of Dijon mustard (don't know why, but cookbooks always specify a wooden spoon. Can't think why that should be, it's not as though it adds any flavour or anything), and when that's well incorporated start beating in some olive oil - bit by bit, until you think you've got as much as it will take. (You'll know when you've gone too far. It will separate and look very sad, and you'll have to start again. Although you could try energetically whisking in a tsp of water - it may work.)

Once you've got it to the right point, add obscene amounts of chives, chopped capers, parsley - whatever takes your fancy, really - the finely chopped egg-white, and a dribble or two of decent vinegar. Mix well, and serve. Excellent with cold meats, or boring old veal chops.

Speaking of vinegar, I know I've spoken of the chili vinegar I make, by the simple expedient of leaving little langue d'oiseau chilis to soak in good cider vinegar for a month or so, after which it's fit to go into Magali-dressing. There is a little Health & Safety advisory to go with that, which is, quite simply - do not let some of the little buggers slip into the vinaigrette along with the vinegar. Sophie got one with a mouthful of rabbit-food last weekend, and damned-near choked. I think she's forgiven me. Suppose I was lucky she didn't find the other two I spotted lurking under a lettuce-leaf at the bottom of the salad bowl, and manage to dispose of quietly.

Jerry's on holiday - again. The fact that school's out for two weeks has also put a dampener on the strikes; after all, who wants to protest out in the cold leaving the kids warm at home? Last week was apparently quite chaud, as they say: the proviseur of Lycée Monge apparently got truncheoned by the CRS when he went to deny them entry to the school (as he has every right to do), there've been a few cars and many rubbish bins torched, and Bryan was moaning today about being evicted from one of his favourite bars at 8pm on Thursday, being as there was a manifestation taking place. All good stirring stuff, almost makes me want to sing the Marseillaise under the shower.

But what I really started out to say was that when Margo brought him home on Friday night, he casually tossed her a bit of paper: turned out to be the results of his last maths test. He only got 20/20: it would be an understatement to say that that's a bit of an improvement on last year. Don't know what happened, but something certainly seems to have. Shan't complain.

On the other hand, I would like to moan about the fact that nothing seems to be delivered with paper manuals these days. Yes, I'm sure it's very ecobloodylogical, but it's also a right pain in the proverbials. Case in point: last Saturday night Sophie tried to take a photo with my camera, and must have pressed some buttons. So wandering about Chambéry today, I discovered to my horror that instead of the full-screen view of the shot I'd just taken I got a useless thumbnail with all sorts of histogram information, about which I do not care. So I had to wait until I got home and fired up a computer so that I could look at the bloody PDF to find out that I just had to push the INFO button repeatedly in playback mode until I got the display back the way I like it.

Bloody marvellous. At least the old Nikon F401 came with a hefty honest-to-god paper booklet (still in the camera bag, by the way) detailing everything you might ever want to know about its care, feeding and operation, and all you needed to consult it was a pair of glasses (for the typeface was, let it be admitted, pretty miniscule).

Which reminds me that I read an interesting article the other day in The Economist, on preserving digital documents. Not only, as they pointed out, does the physical medium present problems (anyone still have a reliable 5" floppy disk reader? Or an MO drive, with working SCSI-I interface that'll fit into a PCI-Express slot? Thought not) but the actual file formats themselves are problematic. Especially when proprietary (as they all were) and from companies that've long since ceased to exist and whose documentation, such as it was, paid a visit to the dumpster years ago.

Whatever. We're all still alive - although technically speaking I can't be certain about Jeremy, because he still hasn't emerged from the Nest he calls a bed. Smart lad. Margo's off to another salon next week, up at Nantes, passing by Lyon and the south of Paris to pick up her new toy - a long-arm sewing machine conceived with only one purpose in mind, quilting quilts (which sounds a bit oxymoronic, but I can't help that). We shall have to find a place for it to live when it arrives here.

And that"s pretty much the week that was. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to try and find some pickled herrings somewhere.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The snow is nigh ...

All alone again: Margo and Karen have headed off to Milan for this big salon thingie. Sounds as though the Italians could teach the French a thing or two about organising pissups in breweries (or an orgy in a brothel, if you prefer - that translates better into French). There are apparently two big exhibition centres at Milan, about 15 minutes apart, and they both have the same name. So the possibility of some confusion would seem high. Assuming that you are confused, you'd think that when, at the exhibitor's gate, they scanned your barcode, big warning lights would flash up on the computer and they would tell you that you're not at the right place. Apparently not, for according to Margo they wandered around for an hour before someone eventually said that they were not where they wanted to be. (And it's probably just as well that Karen speaks fluent Italian, which is in fact why she's there - to look after poor Margo.)

Whatever, they eventually disovered their mistake and got to the right place (only two hours later than planned) to find that parking was, even by Italian standards, worse than dismal. German mobile-homes with caravans trying to get into the exhibition parking, half a kilometer of backed-up traffic all honking enthusiastically behind ... and they they were told that they had to park on the other side of the street anyway. What fun. Especially lugging all your stuff across a busy 4-lane boulevard and up three flights of stairs ... at least the worst that happened to me today was having WinCE not wanting to include one of my drivers in the build, and I was kind of expecting that because it hadn't played up for over a week.

You may have heard that we're suffering strikes at the moment, occasioned by our dwarf president's proposed reforms on retirement: I cannot say that having lots of retirees on strike really draws attention to itself, as almost by definition they don't do a damn thing anyway, but having the public transport workers go out as well was noticeable. A hell of a lot more traffic on the VRU, which meant diving off and going through twisty side roads to get to the office on Tuesday.

More importantly, and definitely more annoying, I have discovered that there are apps that will not install under Win7 64-bit: including some of my development tools. B'stard. This means that I'm going to have to keep the desktop machine running for a while yet, which was not really in my plans.

And on top of that there's a bit of maintenance to do on the TV computer. One of the external hard-drives died the other day: one of those with about 500Mb of TV series on it, not all of which we've had the time to watch. As I plugged it into the USB port I heard the sad "clunk-clunk-clunk" of a desperately seeking drive head and said to myself "that's one dead disk", but much to my surprise, once I'd managed to pry open the case (shame about that, one of the nice Porsche Design jobs from LaCie), extract the disk and plug it into  the only spare IDE slot on my computer, everything was still there! So I suppose the USB/IDE interface fried, which is kind of unusual.

I have two other definitely dead USB drives lying around (or rather had: I've just now chucked them) that once had Hitachi Deathstar disks in them (do not, ever, buy one of those or you may well wind up regretting it: I've had a 100% failure rate so far) and I'd hoped to be able to reuse one of the housings, but unfortunately they had neither IDE nor SATA connectors but some silly thing with which I am not familiar, so that definitively screwed that idea. So I am going to have to excavate the TV PC from its niche, open it, and stick the drive in it. Probably profit from the occasion to give it a good vacuuming whilst I'm about it, I suppose. Can't hurt.

The other lesson I should probably draw from this is not to buy LaCie gear again. I've bought four: two with the Deathstars which died suddenly just out of warranty, the one with the fried guts, and another one which is still - cross fingers - working. It has all my backups on it, so I hope it keeps on doing so. But as I'm not a particularly trusting person, I think I shall go out and buy yet another little WD 1Tb job, and back up my backups. Just to be on the safe side. (Oddly enough, the really cheap no-name one I got from Rue du Commerce years ago, with Ethernet and USB interfaces, is still working like a champ. Full to overflowing - only 500 Mb - but never a hiccup. Go figure.)

Forgot to mention, not that I want to make you jealous or anything, but how does roast shoulder of lamb with gratin dauphinois and carottes vichy sound, followed by tarte tatin? (Which, incidentally, sounds better as "Tarte tatin, tarte tatintin, tarte tatintin ..." performed to the Star Wars theme - or maybe that's just me.) Should you be wondering; tarte tatin is just upside-down apple pie. Now there are those who will make this with flaky pastry: this is heresy and an abomination, and I'll have no part of it. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say at this point that I make the caramel in the pie dish itself: no farting around with a saucepan and trying to get the last drops of molten but rapidly hardening golden caramel out. And there's a stall at the market that sells Elstar apples, which I'd always thought to be pretty crap but I've since revised that opinion, as they are in fact quite delicious: crisp, juicy and just a bit tart. Great stuff for a tarte tatin.

And we had a small feast on Saturday to celebrate Sophie's and my birthdays: she's the 5th and I, as you may recall, am the 8th. Should have got round to it last weekend, but what with one thing and another that didn't happen. And in fact we had not one, but two. I turned up as usual at lunchtime, and we enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided to repeat the experience that evening. So I brought Jeremy along with a couple of popsicle lobsters and the makings of a curry for the boys.

I suppose I really should know better by now than to expect that to have been enough. There were five of us after all, with Sophie's friend Séverine, and it rapidly became obvious that something had to be done so I was banished to the kitchen to whip up a chocolate soufflé. Which disappeared in its turn. As did, I'm afraid to say, vast quantities of wine.

And right now it's a gray, depressing Sunday evening, and there's a light dusting of snow up on the Arclusaz, at about 1100m. Emphatically not good: lit the old woodburner in the kitchen, and I shall have to order in some more diesel for the heating. (Shall have to pay for it too, which is another problem.) Still, we've had a good run with the weather, so I suppose I can't complain too much. Good luck with yours, by the way.

Anyway, gotta go: there's a chicken roasting in the oven that needs my tender attention.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Obscene or vulgar vegetables ...

Up at the crack of dawn (I may exaggerate a bit, but not much - 7am, then) as I'd rather foolishly booked the car in for her WoF visit at 8. Not that there was much do be done: basically, just get the guy to check that yes, I had got new tyres on the front - it still meant driving down in the autumn fogs at an hour when I'm usually still nursing my first coffee of the day in the comfy chair, and wondering why it is that no-one's bought me a pain au chocolat aux amandes for breakfast. (Stupid question, I know. Jeremy's out to the world until 11, and when Margo does emerge from bed it's not exactly with a smile on her lips and a song in her heart. As a general rule, we try to avoid speaking to each other until the coffee-pot is empty.)

Still, it meant that I was - albeit rather unwillingly - awake, and as at that time of the morning Carrefour is more or less deserted the shopping went quickly and I was in at the market before the late-morning rush. Which doubtless explains why this marvellous specimen of aubergine was still on the stalls. (Margo reckons that if I'm not careful I shall turn into Baldrick. She's probably right, I should watch out for that.) 

Speaking of the vegetable in question, did you realise that the French have no equivalent for the English phrase "plumber's crack"? Seems odd, for a language so rich in other respects - like, having at least 237 terms for oral sex - but there you go. Strange but true.

'Tis now the season for root vegetables and other boring fodder, although I can still find tomatoes that actually taste of summer rather than cotton-wool: just have to accept that they may look a little deformed. And I managed to get some chili peppers, some of which will doubtless get to dry out and then go into the next batch of chili vinegar, and the rest will get borged into curries and whatever.

As a general rule one doesn't let peppers and pears sit too close for too long, but the pears were so buttery and the peppers such a brilliant red ... and in any case, they're none of them long for this world, and it's not as if they're going to get up to anything.

Whipped past the Alfa garage this morning too: I'd left my chequebook there on Thursday after paying for the maintenance. Unfortunately I was too early, and in any case most of them were off at the Salon de l'Automobile, but I got to squeeze into a Brera. The only guy that was actually present (the manager, I think) didn't seem too enthralled about that, but there wasn't really that much he could do about it, was there? I could feel that she really didn't want me to leave, and I'll admit that I could happily have taken her for a run, but it was probably better not to push my luck.

Had a bit of a shock on Friday, waking up and realising that all of a sudden I was a year older - and supposedly wiser. (As our hateful daughter rather spitefully remarked. Still, at least she remembered.) If I were wise, I'd be a cat. Like Jungle Kitten, over there. Now he has it easy. Cute as all hell, brain the size of a pea: only concern in life seems to be a perpetual fear that a twig or a blade of grass will attack him stealthily from behind, and consequently spends much of his time (when not annoying older cats) in pre-emptive strikes. Seems to give him hours of simple pleasure. Not that the "cute" works on Mischief (our official cat, you'll recall): she gave him pretty short shrift last time he dared invade our terrace.

And as, despite the heat, we know it's autumn, I've had something simmering away in the back of my mind for a while now (not the questions concerning suitable picnic fare for fussy eaters, involving nothing more complicated than a little Camping-Gaz burner and a frying pan, nor the imminent need to turn the central heating on) and that's a decent stew. So when I saw that Mr. B had some ox-tail, I knew what to do. Flour it, brown it in oil and butter for ten minutes, then sweat some onions and garlic in the fat before adding a glass or two of white wine and some chopped tomato, and let it simmer gently for four hours or so.

If you felt like it, you could give it an Italian twist by adding some lemon peel during the simmering, and sprinkling it with gremolada when you serve it. (To save you rushing off to google that, it's just lashings of lemon peel, garlic and parsley chopped very finely together. Adds zing.)

Dogs like it too, because they get to eat the bones.

Despite a full-on assault last weekend the grass is still green and growing blissfully down in the paddock: I'd kind of hoped that I'd not have to attack it again before spring, but that may have been a bit optimistic.

Karen's returned to Mumblefuck after a week in the States, aiding and abetting at her sister's wedding. Given their family it should have been an epic, probably entertaining, and doubtless eccentric affair: she and Margo are off to Milan for one of Margo's salons on Thursday so I expect I'll get a blow-by-blow account on Sunday night. With what Sylvia (that's Karen's mother, for those of you not up with world affairs) had to say (she's a sociopath, but she loves me because I am a Man Who Cooks, which is apparently a Good Thing), and what Karen had to say back, and ... well, everything. I can hardly wait.

I suppose you're all gearing up for a wonderful spring and a long lazy summer. Best of luck with that. Over here the vendange has finished (which at least means I can take the back roads again if I feel like it without being stuck behind a tractor for what seems like eternity) and all we're left with is the odd bunch on the vines that the machines somehow managed to miss.

Still, all warm from the late afternoon sun, they're lovely to munch on. Gotta finish them before the snow comes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Another one of those days ...

Well that was bloody quick. One week we're appreciating mid to high 20°s, right now the day starts off around 5° and struggles to get up to 19°. Nice and sunny, I'll grant you, but there's a playfully vicious little breeze and it just Is Not Warm. Which is a bit of a blow.

(Of course, since I wrote that things have changed. Exceptionally, for the better. Bright sun and lovely blue skies, and we've managed to get back up into the 20°s. Mustn't complain.)

Malyon's been skyping us again: she's all excited, been invited to a wedding (not, I would like to point out, her own - not yet) and hasn't a thing to wear. One of Tony's cousins, or something like that. Which forces me to admit that she and Tony seem to be quite serious. Hmm.

Market time again, and you can see the season changing there too. The peaches and nectarines are still around, but you just know they're going to be cottony and disappointing, and the pears and apples are making an appearance. The tender young beans have disappeared, and in their place there's broccoli (can handle that) and - ugh! - cauliflower. Even if it is yellow or violet, it does nothing for me. (Apart from causing shudders, that is.) I have to admit that it does look quite pretty, though.

One of these days I'm going to make a mourning meal, declined entirely in shades of black and purple. Squid-ink pasta, vitelotte potatoes, black salsify with beurre noir ...

On the other hand, the guy from the Drôme is still around with his tomatoes, and I managed to find some tender young ears of pearly-white sweetcorn, much to my surprise. Some of that's going to get cut off the cob (which then gets scraped with the back of a knife to get the last bits of starch and milky juice out) and be gently fried in butter with onion, poivron and some decent curry powder: the rest is destined for the barbecue, and a messy end with heaps of melted butter.

Still going through the throes of getting my new laptop fit for purpose. First thing I did when I got it (well, second thing, to be quite honest - the actual first thing was to admire how sparkly it was, and observe just how well the glossy black finish attracts finger smudges) was to note that it came pre-installed with Win7 Frog. I have enough problems as it is without that, and fortunately I'd ordered the install DVDs with the machine (only another 5€, and worth it) so I got that out and found, to my relief, that it was in fact the multi-lingual version. So three or four hours later I had a nice new English installation, and heaved a sigh of relief.

Since then it's been copy time: getting all the various projects and mail folders and general junk transferred, downloading and installing the essential tools and now, before I nuke the old machine and set it aside for Malyon or whoever, I need to do a sort of inventory of all the old software tools that are still there, work out which ones are definitively obsolete, install the others (assuming I can find the media) and then back everything up anyway. What fun!

Anyway, I spent quite a while wandering around Chambéry: not all of it intentional. I had a really busy Friday up at the office with Clément, the software guy from a client in Lyon, running tests on some stuff I'm supposed to be doing for them, and surprisingly enough was still sufficiently alert on leaving around 7:30 to notice hat the front right tyre was rather flat. Never mind, a quick stop at the station on the autoroute made it all better, and it was up for replacement anyway ... Oddly enough, Saturday morning it was fine, so I headed off planning a few boring hours hanging around in the afternoon getting the front pair replaced at Norauto or somewhere, so the irony was not totally lost on me when I got back to the car after the after-market beer with Bryan to find it completely, utterly flat. Pancake-shaped.

Still, I am not unequipped, so I dug out the jack and, with some difficulty, got the car up off the ground enough to undo the bolts and, after a well-placed kick to loosen the wheel (mags have a nasty tendency to sort of weld to the hub) got it off. The jack, of course, chose that moment to tilt and then to buckle, leaving me looking like a completely incompetent prat, with the hub resting forlornly on the ground. At which point I decided screw it, and phoned the insurance, who sent around a jolly dépanneur who had a bloody good laugh but fixed me up.

Of course I was probably not his only call-out so that gave me an hour to wander around, and to note that the French too are quite capable of suffering from grocers' apostroph'e.

I still had to get those tyres replaced, so after that it was off to the industrial zone alongside the autoroute to the north of Chambéry to find a place that would do that for me. Preferably without having to make an appointment for sometime in the next week. And as luck would have it the first place I went to would in fact do that, and so by 16:00 I was bored witless, ravenously hungry, but at least I had two new tyres.

Jeremy had, of course, forgotten to put Nutella on the shopping list and in any case I still needed some phyllo and a huge pot of dried chives, so rather than take the autoroute back home I took the good old départmentale and whipped in at Lidl at St Jeoire to get these few necessities. (For those of you who don't know, that's a German discount chain. Often have odd things you can't find anywhere else, can't imagine why. And if you see something that you like, you're better off buying lots: they may well never have any again.)

So far so good, except that as I was only going to buy two or three items I hadn't bothered with a shopping bag (and anyway, as I'd had to empty the boot to get the spare tyre out the shopping bags I had were pressed into service to hold things on the back seat) and of course I bought a few extras and no sooner had I paid for everything when my huge jar of chives took a dive to the floor and shattered. Which meant another, very quick, red-faced trip through the place.

Still hadn't eaten, which probably explains why I thought I might as well continue on the back roads and stop off to take a few photos up at the old tower above Cruet. So I drove through Montmelian, and Arbin, and noted as I drove that it's definitely vendange time, because Arbin stank of grape juice.

Or so I thought until, having taken my photos and noting that the car still smelt of wine, I opened the boot to find that a bottle of red had smashed and of course emptied itself. Some days you're better off not getting out of bed.

Still, managed that last barbecue of the season - unless, of course, I do another tonight. A little rouelle de jambon, smeared with Encona and grilled - though I say so myself - to perfection, with sweetcorn and potatoes baked in the embers. On reflection, with a glass of nicely chilled white to hand, perhaps the day wasn't so bad after all.