Thursday, April 14, 2011

Revenge of the furry folk ...

Of course, with all those good intentions the weekend had to go titsup, didn't it? Up at the crack of 10 on Sunday and, having girded my loins and dressèd myself in the Grungy Shorts of Righteousness, down I go to the garden with resolute tread and smiling face. For a wonder the mower started up first pull, which I suppose really should have hinted at what was to come because, upon reflection, it was too good to be true.

About a quarter of the way through the poor thing stalled: not particularly surprising, as I'd asked it to eat a small hummock of pasture: imagine my pleasure, on yanking the starter cord, to find the cord housing and motor fairing flying off! My fault for tugging so enthusiastically of course, and perhaps I ought to have checked the rather corroded state of the fairing around the anchoring bolts ...

Still, I'm not one to let a little thing like that stand in the way of a well-mown lawn, so I forced the whole damn lot back together (bit like squeezing a too-tight hat onto someone's head) and, more gently this time, tugged the starter once more.

Lo! it started up again, and off I went until, being a bit slow sometimes, and especially at that hour of the morning, I noticed pools of oil and acrid clouds of white smoke appearing ... on a bloody Briggs & Strattion Quattro the oil filler tube is attached to the motor fairing and the bottom end sits snugly in the appropriate orifice in the motor block. Only it wasn't so much "sitting snugly" as "flapping loosely" (think, if it helps, of the consequences of a two year-old trying to hit somewhere near the toilet), so oil was flying everywhere.

No problem, time for the screwdrivers and socket set, not to mention a bit more oil: ten minutes later and we're good to go, filler tube hammered into place and the fairing held firmly to the motor block with some n° 8 (liberated from the vineyard, if you really want to know). This time I managed another five minutes before the motor slowly wheezed to a halt and stubbornly refused to start again.

I have since downloaded the service manual from the B&S website, and I strongly suspect the culprits are the little sad floppy springy-things that - apparently - have something to do with the carburettor. They are, it seems, set at the factory and if they get out of whack the fuel pump will not work: as far as I can tell with my limited mechanical ability they are currently just there for show, as they've long since lost any springiness they may once have possessed.

But a) finding spare parts is not that easy at the end of a Sunday morning, not around our way anyway, and b) under a bright blue sky in 27° heat is emphatically not my idea of the best circumstances in which to try dismantling a carburettor. So I called it a day and went off to find the shower, which was perhaps the best idea I'd had so far that day.

I'll try to get around to the repair work this coming weekend - Saturday's out, of course, as I think I shall have to go off to this salon up around Lyon: just hope it's not pissing down with rain on Sunday. And of course, no-one - but absolutely no-one - wants to touch a B&S engine. When you phone to see about getting it repaired there's a doubtful voice asking what type of motor it is and you haven't even got time to get the first syllable out before the line goes dead. I find that rather depressing.

On the other hand, things did get better. I headed up to the office to see if I couldn't find a Windows XP installation CD with the 25-digit serial number from hell on it, given that the one I used to have around the house seems to have mysteriously vanished, only stopping off at the cave de Cruet to pick up a couple of Chateau Carton 5-litre baggies of Mondeuse.

And on the way back (no, I did not find the CD I wanted, it seems to have gone AWOL too) I stopped by Stacey's to pick up that chicken curry recipe and to check that the Mondeuse was indeed what it said on the box (it was, although it took a bit of sampling to be absolutely sure). But I'm not certain that buying the stuff like that is a good idea: it's all too easy to drink without noticing how fast the level is going down. At least when you chuck the second bottle of the evening in the recycling bag you've the occasion to ask yourself whether or not opening a third is really a good idea. (On considered reflection, the answer is usually "Yes" anyway, but it's nice to ask.)

Been so beautiful that we actually got around to turning the central heating off, a good month or so earlier than usual. As the more realistic of you will guess, this was a signal for the temperatures to plummet. Can live with that to be quite honest, it's not that the weather is foul or anything, just that the day starts off around 9° as opposed to 15°. Still bright and sunny, though.

Which makes up for the rather sad disappointment I experienced when I wandered into one of my favourite boulangeries at Chambéry, on rue d'Italie, and saw that they were offering pain de tradition au chocolat blanc. There was no way I wasn't going to buy that, and I rushed home with it in my arms, envisaging beautifully chewy bread studded with little explosive nuggets of white chocolate (which reminds me, gotta go down to Grenoble again to The Cake Shop to pick up some more of the stuff). What I was not expecting was an admittedly good, if a trifle stolid, flute with a tunnel down the middle, the walls of which were apparently lined thickly with mucus.

Definitely not what I'd been hoping for. I suppose next time I go in I shall have to have a few words with them about it.

I know I've mentioned l'Arbre à Bières before, in conjunction with their flammenkuche: having little better to do at midday I met Stacey there for lunch. I can see that it might well become a favourite watering hole: they don't do an enormous choice - you can pick from the list of tarte flambées, stuffed bretzel or the plat du jour - but it's very well done, nicely presented and quite cheap.

The bretzel struck my fancy: it came out on a slab of slate, served a bit like an anorexic hamburger (only the bread is absolutely delicious and a pleasure in itself, a far cry from the bland crumbly tasteless excuses for a hamburger bun that you usually find), and it was stuffed with ham and fresh goat cheese and a smear of fig jam, and came with a pile of salad and a mound of spirilli dripping with what tasted like (and might well, in fact, have been) fresh tomato sauce. And a simple fried tomato, with basil and pepper: I like simple.

The plat was announced as a straight-forward filet mignon  de porc aux champignons, but I saw a couple of guys eating it and it was nowhere near as basic as that suggests. It is true that there was pork fillet in there, roasted and nicely pink alongside the mushrooms, but there was also salad, a sort of bagel sans hole, potato croquettes and ... I could not have eaten all that.

Stacey, poor benighted Californian that she is, had never heard of flammenkuche, so I suggested that she owed it to her continuing education to try one. I have to admit that even the chicken curry one sounds attractive enough, and one of these days I'll summon up the courage to order one.

Anyway, I made her order my favourite, the Santorin (for some strange reason, these people seem to think that the combination of ham, goat cheese and figs is as Greek as homosexuality, for my bretzel was garniture cyclade, but I can forgive them that).

Washed down the lot with a 50cl pichet of cabernet (nothing to write home about, but at least it wasn't water) and the whole thing came to the princely sum of €26 (of which €9 for the plonk - you can see where the margins are in  the restaurant business), which is definitely on the low end of the scale.

And even if the decor is a bit grunge (kind of arty student-bar style, if you get my drift), there's a loaded bookcase off in one corner with a couple of chessboards as well. Add friendly staff (all two of them), a nice welcoming atmosphere and an eclectic selection of beers, and I think it's a winner. All they need is a house cat.

Mind you, I have not been brave enough to try the toilets. I got put off that by the bar we used to hang out at in Vitré, all those years ago, and I really do not want to find out that some things never change.

Whatever, I think I'll be heading back there in the relatively near future - if only because it's Stacey's turn to pay. And I am going to have to learn how to make that bread base. Still white, paper-thin and blistered - I suspect, sadly, that the secret is in the oven. Bugger.

A good thing that no-one has yet had the bright idea of putting the equivalent of a Plimsoll line on cars, otherwise Margo would be in trouble. She and the long-suffering Suzuki headed off to Beaujolais Wednesday morning, with the wossname (in Frog it's a coffre de toit, but bugger me if I can remember what the English word is) on the roof packed with alcohol and food, and the car as full as it could possibly be and still leave room for her. She'll probably have a slow trip: it's not the most powerful car at the best of times, and loaded down like that the climb up to the Dombes east of Lyon will doubtless be at walking pace. Give her time to appreciate the scenery.

This also means that when I get home tonight I shall have the dog (who will have forgotten that I exist, and be ever-so excitedly surprised to find that, in fact, I do) falling over herself (quite literally) to greet me by shedding hair in a great cloud all over my black shirt and jacket, before insisting on her usual geriatric waddle around the neighbourhood. The cat will sidle in and insist on being petted as she eats, which will make the dog jealous, and finally I might get a few minutes to myself to make up a quiche and some salad for a solitary dinner out on the terrace, with any luck.

Then I suppose I'd better go rinse off the bacon that's been curing in sugar, salt, juniper berries and herbs down in the fridge in the cellar before hanging it up to dry for a couple of weeks, after which it should be fit for purpose. And finally, when the dog's been fed, perhaps I can look at slothing out in front of TV - catch up on "Endgame", perhaps. (Saving the last three episodes of "The Almighty Johnsons" - Margo'd kill me if I watched them without her.)

Little note for those of you that care: Malyon just called to say that she's managed to wangle a £900 scholarship grant. I do not want to know how. On top of her getting her International Canopy-Crawling Certificate (or whatever it's called, means she's licenced to clamber around at 60m in tropical canopy, apparently): she seems to be on a roll. Well-done, that daughter.

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