Saturday, September 24, 2011

The drinks, I suspect, are on me ...

Injustice, I fear, will always be with us. To make myself clearer, I should explain that I have a car (well, a white van) which belongs to the company, and Margo has her little red Suzy of which she is very fond (but not so much so that she won't abandon the poor thing to my tender mercies should she have to head off to a show).

Now for historical reasons, which must have been important at the time but seem to have slipped my mind just at this moment, the Suzy is actually registered in my name.

So far so good, but I would like to point out that I have never, ever, had a speeding ticket in France due to my driving always correctly and prudently and religiously observing the speed limits etc etc (we are not going to talk about the situation in NZ if you don't mind, that is kind of irrelevant and certainly impolite) whereas Margo has, to my certain knowledge, clocked up more than three.

I am perhaps a bit smug about this, I admit, which makes it all so much more unfair that thanks to my being the registered owner, the points from her latest effort came off my licence! Much wailing, and gnashing of teeth: next time I'll pay more attention to those nasty little letters.

Anyway, Margo arrived back from Alsace on Monday to spend the night before heading down south for the next salon. Of course she came bearing food: fresh spaetzle (which are the Alsatian variety of noodles, and very nice too), the Dutch caramel waffles which are sinfully good, pain d'épices and some flammenkuche bases, of which I can now say, having read the fine print on the packaging where they're obliged to mention such things, that they involve no yeast, just flour, oil and salt. Which I suppose makes them nowt but an unleavened flatbread, and that in turn is doubtless why to get that blistery appearance you have to crank the oven up to about 250°C. Good luck with that around here.

Next time I shall try sticking three slate tiles in the oven for 20 minutes or so to heat up, and then sliding the garnished rounds on top (hopefully managing not to get them all over the oven floor), but even without that they didn't turn out too badly. Just not absolutely authentic. Topped with sour cream, ham or bacon bits, sliced onion, rounds of goat cheese and, for me anyway, little dabs of confiture de figues: makes a nice change from yer standard pizza. Although it seems that I really should mix the sour cream with fromage frais, must try that next time. Still got three of the little sods left to experiment with.

Whatever, I woke up this moaning believing myself in Britanny, thanks to the mist draped around the place. OK, it's beautiful in its own way, with everything dim and hazy and the low soft sunlight filtering through but it's definitely autumn and starting to get a bit nippy. Now that is something of which I do not approve.

Saturday is set to be a red-letter day, as Karen returns from the wilderness of Mumblefuck for a day in the big smoke (aka Chambéry), apparently to celebrate her birthday. (No, I have not asked which one. I, sir, am a gentleman.) Oh, to be down from the mountain-tops for a single day of depravity in the teeming city of vice and diverse iniquities! (I hope you recognise sarcasm when it bites you on the leg, for Chambéry is a stolid bourgeois town and its inhabitants uniformly models of rectitude. After 19:30 of a Friday night there's probably more life in a bottle of formaldehyde.)

Anyway, this can mean only one thing and that is a few more glasses than usual of vitamins at the Refuge at lunch-time. I suppose we really should let Pierre know so that he can cancel the musical "entertainment" that he apparently thinks adds to the ambiance, but on the other hand it would be fun to watch Karen pelting them with bread rolls or whatever.

In the ROTM* department, I get the funny feeling that Orange have managed to fsck my Livebox with a firmware update at some point. After a couple of years of good and faithful service, over the past week we have started to have problems. Strange ones, at that.

Now you should know that of a morning I usually lounge around in the comfy chair downstairs with my coffee and laptop, check out whatever there is to look at and download a few bits and pieces: nothing out of the ordinary. Evenings, same thing. (Yes, I know, boring ... but conversation is not a strong point in this household, especially in the mornings, before coffee.)

Of course, I'm connected over Wifi down there, and the signal strength is none too good, but apart from the occasional connection hiccup with Windows 7 it's not bothered me particularly - until now. What happens is that the Livebox drops the ADSL connection, tells me that there is no broadband connection, and stubbornly refuses to find one until I reboot it. At which point, when I reconnect and start surfing again, I have the same problem.

But if I have a wired connection, or I'm in the office right next to the beast so with an excellent Wifi connection, things work fine. This is kind of annoying, because I rather like lounging in the comfy chair. Guess I'll just have to take a powerline adaptor and a bit of CAT5 down there. Bummer.

You know we moan a bit from time to time about French bureaucracy, and usually with reason (of course). Still, credit where it's due: we received a letter the other day addressed to "Jeremy Bimler, 317 St Pierre d"Albigny, France". OK, it's probably not that miraculous, there can't be that many St Pierre d'Albigny's in France and once it gets here the Bimler family is probably well-known. Due to - well, things.

None of them, I hasten to point out, related to mild nuclear incidents, nor the Congress of Fleas. (Which is NOT a sex position.) And no, I am not going to be more explicit. Those of you requiring details can send a stamped self-addressed envelope containing €50, and we'll see how we go from there.

Well, it's Saturday anyway, and for some strange reason there were oompah bands marching around the place, with concomitant noise and generally making themselves disagreable. I think it was something to do with the Chambéry-Turin connection. Whatever, must get more heat-seeking rounds for the rocket launcher (note to self, update shopping list).

A quickie, alas, with Karen (who was remarkably restrained for someone approaching her 40mumblth birthday): we had a few problems actually finding a bar we could get into as most of them seemed to have these giant TV screens out on the terrasse for some strange reason. But we eventually wound up at Cardinal's (service, as we finally noticed, "à l'Irlandaise" ie get yer own at the bar because the waitresses aren't here to mollycoddle you, don't actually know what they are there to do but it almost invariably seems to involve one of the anonymous rooms out the back) and managed to get a drink before dehydration set in.

NOT Sophie.
And then, I'rm afraid, it was off to see Sophie for a little barbecue (well, that was the plan but her gas bottle ran out so it was emergency cooking on stupidly small French stove) and wine-siphoning.  One of those odd discount stores I go to has, for reasons as yet unclear, a vast supply of Australian wines at ridiculously low prices: case in point, the "Ninth Island" 2006 Tasmanian chardonnay, which was unanimously voted "bloody excellent". Shall have to pick up a few more bottles of that next time I go past.

Especially as Lucas, Jeremy et al are, at 17+, old enough to drink wine with their elders for the apéro and with the meal: that treasured bottle didn't make it very far. When I say "a few more", make that "lots".

And after that excitement it was the usual: wine opened, attack the pork chops and the merguez and the salade Sophie, and then on to the three very creamy St-Marcellin cheeses I picked up at the market. Two of which, I think, Lucas managed to finish off by himself, using only a spoon. God alone knows how that happens. Some sort of bottomless pit/black hole/wibbly wobbly timey wimey thing I suspect, but it is a real phenomenon.

I gather, incidentally, that for once you actually managed to thrash the French. (I know this because Sophie made certain remarks when I turned up.) Do try not to lose it in the finals, alright?

* that's Rise Of The Machines, for the statistical flukes amongst you who missed Terminator

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Illicit Delights ...

So, those of you that are more or less awake when you dip into these little literary efforts may recall that I once mentioned a client of ours that concern themselves with perimeter security stuff: infrared barriers, shock-sensitive fences, radar motion detectors and crap like that. Well, they've recently developed a new product to extend the range: an IR surveillance camera.

I just found out that as usual they set it up in their parking lot over the weekend to do a bit of extended testing: I'm sure you can imagine my friend Clément's pleasure when he discovered, checking the log files on the Monday morning, his first ever grainy thermal imaging grumble flick. Hope he wasn't taking his morning coffee, or he might have to get a new keyboard.

Must say that personally I can think of a few rather more pleasant places for a bit of hot'n'heavy in-car action than the front parking lot of an industrial building - especially one with pretty obvious security barriers and cameras about the place - but I suppose tastes may differ. Come to that, I'd leave out the "in-car" bit too: come a certain age, having it precariously off on the back seat of a Twingo no longer has the same appeal it might once have had. When I was a bit more supple.

And even then, the bench seats in a Mk II Cortina were uncomfortable enough for sitting in, let alone trying to lie down.

All of which reminds me that I haven't seen too many working girls along the nationale in the mornings - you know, the white vans parked on the side roads with a curtain behind the driver's seat and an electric candle burning on the dashboard. And, often as not, a rosary dangling from the rear-view mirror.

I assume that the gendarmerie have received orders to tidy the place up a bit, sweep the dust under the rug as it were.

Being a bachelor at the moment means that I have a bit of time to revisit some older recipes just to make sure that I haven't lost the knack, and it's also the opportunity to introduce them to someone else. (It means, too, that I can cook things that there's no point to cooking when Margo's around, like diots au vin blanc or quail, stuffed with rice and apricots and raisins, wrapped in bacon and roasted. Ah, these simple and not-terribly-guilty pleasures.)

So it's out with the cookbooks and the Rolodex, looking for single women of my acquaintance, and things to feed them. (Note to self: must try to borrow that little book from Sophie - Les Recettes Erotiques des Paresseuses. Purely out of a spirit of enquiry, you understand.)

Whatever, last night it was Sue's turn: I had the rest of a tin of foie gras sitting in the fridge, left over from the previous night's steak, she'd thought to bring along an incredibly chocolatey chocolate cake and I had some hampe lying around, so it seemed the perfect occasion to finish the paté with bread and then give her Thai beef salad with sweet chili sauce, and see what she thought of it.

Apparently couldn't have been too bad, for there was none left. And it wasn't Jeremy who scarfed most of it either, despite my dire forebodings. Although he moans bitterly about the quality of the school meals, and claims to prefer skipping lunch to having to eat it, he wasn't actually that hungry. Maybe he's just not that keen on rabbit food, or perhaps he was just tired: whatever, he fairly rapidly made his excuses and left. Which was, let it be said, just fine by us.

Could also be that it was his polite way of saying that he really had no particular desire to sit around and listen as Sue and I nattered on until late.

I whipped through the market by sheer force of habit anyway this morning, despite it's being bloody miserable weather (typical, of course, after a fine and sunny week), and that there's really only me to buy for this week. But this perseverance did mean that I found some beautifully ripe figs, and a nice bit of goat's cheese, and I happen to have a magret de canard in the fridge, so it would seem a good moment to redo that idea of mine wherein all these things are combined with a bit of honey.

It's a good thing then that I'm going to cook for Stacey tonight: it will expand her culinary horizons.

And there's something else I'd like to try again, just to check that it wasn't a fluke: toasted split pita bread brushed with olive oil, hot fried aubergine on top and tomato, poivron, onion and feta salsa heaped on top of that. With mint. Lotsa mint. Or basil. Depends what you have.

Also, given the time of year, it might also be a good time to head furtively down the road with a pair of secaturs and a plastic bag, to pick up the makings of a flan aux raisins for dessert.

Going back in time a bit, finally managed to catch up with Sophie for a bit over Friday lunch, outside in the sun at the Arbre à Bières. Exchanged our  news, toasted everything in sight with rosé, and did some serious damage to a couple of enormous salades landaises, heaped high with slices of pan-fried magret, warm figs and foie gras.

Let it be admitted that I really did not feel like heading back to the office afterwards.

Do we serve the divorce papers now, or wait till later?
Seems to be the season for weddings too, can't think why. A good thing really that I was on foot this morning, for one of the particularities of a big French wedding is that after the event everyone hops into their cars and drives around honking like mad things, shouting the usual ribald advice to the happy newly-weds in the lead car, and generally doing their best to produce total gridlock.

This works best, I find, when their route takes them through the main bus hub in the centre of town, with buses trying to pull in or out of the stops and totally jammed by a line of blaring cars snaking between them.

Anyway, dinner's not going to make itself, so I suppose I'd better slope off and rustle some grapes before I leave. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Back to the Grindstone ...

Well, virtually overnight it's autumn. I can tell this because 

a) I'm extremely smart and observant, and 

b) it's starting to get crisp and cool of an evening, and all the leaves are starting to turn yellow. 

Also, up till now, it's been pissing down in the daytime. (Which, given the weather we had in the summer, is not a particularly reliable indicator, I must admit.)

Malyon brought me back a few little presents from Ecuador: an amusingly obscene keyring (can't imagine what I'll do with that) and a pack of what they are pleased to call cigarrillos, from the valley of eternal youth or somesuch. I rather think that this is a misnomer, for reasons that will become clear, and I've half a mind to take them up before the advertising standards agency.

I can see as how one might call the place the valley of eternal life, because it's true that if you try to smoke the damn things your life will at least seem to last forever. But that is not, as we're all too well aware, quite the same thing as staying youthful.

Although they are, no doubt, good for you. Actually getting one of the little coarse cardboard tubes, apparently stuffed with chopped newsprint, alight, and then smoking it down to the end, probably gives you more exercise than a good 10km run. Doubtless why they haven't bothered to put health warnings on the packets.

Whatever, got Mal & Tony back to Geneva on Tuesday, in plenty of time for them to hang around the airport waiting to board, and for me to hit the traffic jam at the frontier on the return trip, as all the frontaliers return from their high-paid day jobs in Geneva to their (much cheaper) homes in France. Note to self: next time, make sure Mal books flights to leave or arrive around midday.

No matter, they arrived back in sunny Scotland (funny how Mal has acclimatised. She found 22° a bit hot) and have immediately gone into flat-hunting mode. This is not that easy at this time of year, but seeing as how Mal did spend the last few months up a tree far from Glasgow they don't really have that much choice.

And Jeremy is back at the internat for his last year of lycée. Another year of boarding-school food ... seems it's uniformly dire, no matter what country you're in. Although in fact it's not that bad, as he only has something like twenty weeks at school: the rest of the time he is supposed to be off on stage, mainly in furrin parts. England, or maybe Canada: we'll doubtless find out at some point.

Which reminds that I really need to go down to the palais de justice at Chambéry and pick up the forms for him to get his Frog nationality: not that he cares, it just makes it that much easier for him to travel as an EU citizen.

Have finally decided after all these years to get ourselves organised up at the office and install some project management software. Which means that I've so far spent a couple of days looking at and trying out some of the diverse offerings available. Of course, we wish to pay nothing, which means the choice is limited to cloud-based with restricted functionality, or an in-house open-source solution which is potentially far too powerful for our requirements.

So I installed a thing called web2project on the server, and we'll see how long that lasts. It certainly looks scarily complicated, which has to be a good sign.

Now that the holidays are over I'd rather hoped that the roads would be better. Usual triumph of hope over experience of course, as I got stuck on the nationale behind some old fart apparently obsessed by the idea that his car would self-destruct if ever it crept over 70kph. Quite frankly, I wish it would. And as the vendange is now in full swing there are the tractors out in force as well ... must order in another palette of the pills for blood pressure that those nice online pharmacies keep trying to sell me.

In unrelated news, we is of course watching the second season of Spirited, which really is rather good. What I simply cannot work out is how in hell it came to be that Endemol, the infamous Dutch company responsible for the ghastly flood of crap "reality" shows, has a finger in it. I really thought that anything they touched turned to crud: I seem to be mistaken.

At least all the other series are coming out of estivation now, so we'll be able to while away those long autumn evenings turning our brains to mush with The Mentalist and stuff like that.
Saturday, and Beckham has convoked us all to inspect Whisky Boy, the diplomat, at the Refuge at noon. I think we'll try to arrange things so that we're lined up on one side of a table in the shade, and he's sitting there in front of us with the sun glaring in his face. Then Bryan can get out the car battery and the jumper leads, and we can have some fun. I just hope we don't scare the poor chap too much.

(Have to admit, having four fifty-mumblish persons - and I'm being remarkably charitable to Bryan here - inspecting you critically as though you were something the cat dragged in could be kind of intimidating. Another note to self: try to put on the Smiley Face. And not the crazed schizoid one, the nice one. And don't do the Goggle Eyes, even for a laugh.)

Much to my surprise, the execrable Pierre has got new waitresses in, and they are not yet trained. This means that they have not learnt the fine art of ignoring the clientele, simultaneously bustling around and doing SFA, and one can actually order a drink. Even more shocking, the drink will then be delivered to the table before it evaporates. This state of affairs cannot last, of course, but whilst it does I have every intention of profiting from it.

Anyway, back home and Margo has to get ready for the trip up to Alsace for her big salon. Once again I'll be left rattling sadly around the place with only the dog for company: for two whole weeks this time, for she has a second show down south-west, virtually back-to-back with the first. I can see that I shall have to re-learn to amuse myself.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When the Intertubes Goes Titsup ...

As it would happen, on Sunday night I had an e-mail to send off and because shit happens, Sunday night was the night that the Freebox at Pessielère suddenly realised that it was stuck out in the wops far from civilisation, and decided to sulk. So, no internet. And it didn't get better.

What exactly does one do when one can't get on the tubes? None of the kids seemed to know, which was alarming because I usually rely on them for technical advice of this sort.

Fat Lady with Umbrella
And of course I no longer have an analogue modem and even if I had it would've done me precious little good as there's no POTS at Pesselière: the line is ADSL only and the phone is VoIP.

I was girding my loins for another trip to Auxerre in the hope of finding an internet café, or even just a bar with Wifi, when suddenly the idea came to me that perhaps, just possibly, I could use my phone. Of course I had the little USB cable for the thing (easier than carrying around yet another bloody charger) and I had a vague memory that on plugging it in it asked me whether I wanted it to be, amongst other things, a modem, so I thought there was no harm to trying.

So I plugged the thing in and selected "Modem", and for once kudos to Samsung for they had set things up so that all the required device drivers and the modem connection manager were in the phone memory, all ready to be installed! Even 64-bit versions! For once, thought I, things are going right.

Of course that was hopelessly optimistic, as the 64-bit drivers stubbornly refused to install under Windows 7. Nil desperandum, as they say: Jeremy has the clunky old laptop he inherited from Jacques, running XP ... oh miracle! everything installs. Not only does it install, but when I run the connection manager it sees a GPRS modem, and when I select that up comes a screen with arcane fields like "APN name" and "Service N°" and stuff like that already filled in, and when I click on OK I am suddenly online!

Luckily - for normally my PC remembers things like that for me - I could still remember my gmail account name and password, and so after a few quick swaps with a USB key to get the files I needed (for the Freebox was sulking so hard it didn't even want to be a router) the deed was done and my mail sent off. At the blistering speed of 270KBps admittedly, but that's still better than the alternative.

Moral of the story, I suppose: always have an out-dated computer to hand, you never know when you might need it.

Just to celebrate I did a couple of barbecued legs of lamb for dinner that night. Butterflied them, as I like to do because they cook so much more evenly like that, then rubbed the flesh with that Thai chili sauce I mentioned earlier and left them to sit like that for a bit. About two hours before dinner, into the oven with the potatoes to roast (don't look at me like that. I know that oven, and it is definitely not the hottest thing on the block) and then onto the barbecue which Ian had started, with the blowtorch as usual, a bit earlier.

Come 20:30, perfect lamb, pink and smoky, with crispy roast potatoes and coleslaw. And chili sauce. Bliss on a plate. With blackberry crumble to follow - I can die happy.

And that was about it, really. Wednesday morning we loaded up the car with world + dog (and another 8kg of blackberries, now languishing in the freezer) and hit the road, more or less as planned, around 10:30 - five hours later, back home to a rapturous cat who was willing to swear that Emily, the neighbour, Hadn't Fed Her. At all.

Ever had one of those days when you can't quite seem to remember things? I mean, about two weeks ago I felt this sudden urge to use the name of that guy who comes in at the end of "Hamlet" and takes over (after a really nice speech saying about how sorry about it all he is) and I woke up at some ungodly hour Saturday morning (OK, my phone went "bing!" as well, which didn't help) crying "Of course! It was Fortinbras!". Which, although true, is pretty pointless.

Anyway, we drank with Beckham today and for some reason the conversation turned to the sexual pecadillos of the Massey Uni English department and thence, naturally enough, to the episode where (redacted) cast his wife as Rosalind and the uproar that ensued when his fellow lecturer (also redacted) (who, incidentally, cordially detested Shakespeare) suggested in his review that she was perhaps mutton dressed as lamb ... but I digress. So what was the play? I could remember the Forest of Arden, and Margo contributed Phebe, but where does that leave us?

On top of that, the Wifi in the bar didn't work, so we couldn't even google it. It turned out to be over half an hour before Beckham spewed beer out her nostrils (as one will, in those eureka! moments) and cried "As You Like It", which turns out in fact to be the correct answer.

Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest ...
Whatever, having been home for three days and, apparently, slept for about the same length of time (waking only for dinner, which is incidentally complicated by the fact that Tony is, through no innate vice or fault of his own, vegetarian, and nicotine fixes) Mal and Tony decided to head down to Grenoble for a barbecue (no doubt to be complicated by the fact that it's now pissing down with rain).

And Jeremy has to head off to Chambéry for the pot de depart for one of his mates, who's heading back to Brazil. All of which means that for the first time in ten days there'll be just the two of us again (not counting the dog, nor the cat), so we can have a civilized dinner and watch Torchwood, as god intended. This unnatural calm will last until tomorrow, when they all return to the fold, with apparently a Grenoblois contingent hungry for grilled food.

We'll see how that goes: as I said, it seems to have decided to start raining and with our luck, it'll carry on doing so. (Did I mention that it was when we actually left Pesselière that the weather finally cleared up and we got an unambiguously fine day? Thought not. Believe me, you lot have nothing to complain about.)

Oh yeah, they've started the vendange already, two or three weeks early. Can't say I'm surprised, given how ripe the grapes were. But it does mean extra aggravation on the departmentales rather before I was expecting it: must remember not to take the back roads for the next couple of weeks. But on the bright side, now that the holidays are more or less over, at least the autoroute has gone back to normal. And the bloody Dutch have disappeared.

But I suppose, loath though I am to leave the comfy chair, that I'd better go play taxi now and drop Jeremy off to this little fete. Catch you later.