Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Am Curious (Not Yellow) ...

I have never really understood just why it should be that some people seem perpetually surprised that I can actually cook. That they should be stunned that I can get out of bed without falling over, or tie my own shoelaces without adult supervision: now that I can comprehend, given that I show few signs of competence in either area, but cooking? I suppose, looked at one way, it's sort of flattering ... mind you, looking at it that way does require you to believe that men are completely useless in the kitchen too, thereby permitting surprise at the discovery that one can cook at all, let alone do it well.

You'd think Sophie would know better - we've known each other for years, and I've made her godnose how many lunches - but still on Saturday she had a look on her face like a stunned mullet (which does not come naturally to her, but is actually a pretty neat trick if you can pull it off; must be handy for childrens' parties) as I made up some bastard puff pastry in her totally impractical (but admittedly well-lit) kitchen. OK, it is a bit of a feat in itself I admit, given that her total unencumbered bench space must be about 10cm² and I had to use a wine bottle instead of a rolling pin (yes, I bring my own gear when I cook, but I refuse to take an entire suitcase full just in case something's missing), but she's seen me do that sort of thing before.

And yet, each time, there's this look of dawning amazement and pride, as though some well-loved but particularly stupid pet has managed to do something clever and not involving bowel motions. I taxed her with this, and she said that she actually likes to watch me work; "j'aime te regarder travailler; tu fais des beaux gestes". I'm not entirely sure that I believe that, but I suppose that I should: it's better than the alternatives.

Whatever, it's not all pleasure at these lunches, you know. Yes, we get to eat, but there's the critique raisonnnée during and afterwards as well, and you are expected to be able to work out what exactly went into the plate - all part of the game. So the next time I try those scallops - and there will be a next time - I rather think I'll be sticking some badiane and cinnamon sticks into the spice blender, and adding a subtle dose to the orange juice. (Lord knows what I'll do with the rest. Make up some more confit de canard, I suppose.) And the sesame oil, instead of soy sauce, definitely stays.

But no bright red blobs of hot pepper jelly, I promise. (I do have this tendency to man-with-hammer syndrome, I admit. Everything looks like a nail. The culinary equivalent is to think that a dish is going to be improved by adding some of whatever you have available to it, which turns out to be not necessarily the case.)

This weekend - or at least Saturday night - will be busy: Stacey's trying to organise a Thanksgiving dinner and we also have the combined 90th birthday party for Sophie & Séverine. And on top of that our mad friend Karen is turning up for the day to do things with Margo, maybe involving learning how to use a sewing machine.

So the current plan is that we get ourselves tarted up (insofar as possible, in my case anyway: the theme is "chic et sexy"), then I get dropped off at Stacey's to help with the cooking because as a non-carnivore she's unsure as to exactly when meat is actually cooked and is all too-likely to leave it roasting for three hours, whilst Margo drops Karen back at the train station before returning, whereupon we eat, then run to Sophie's to catch the arse-end of the party.

Preferably bearing finger-food, which means that I will be spending tomorrow afternoon making up club sandwiches, which for some reason the French adore. Salmon and cucumber, ham with goat cheese and mustard and sour cream, chicken with smashed curried eggs - and I may, just out of a spirit of bloody-mindedness, stick in some with mashed banana and honey with dates; I'm sure someone will eat them.

Completely unrelated to anything: random Google search terms that lead to this blog apparently include "battery operated cucumbers". OK, it's my fault I suppose because I did in fact use the phrase at one point, but - umm - people search for this? Vegetable vibrator technology? The mind boggles.

Much, much later ... so the market was a right arse; they've finally finished refurbishing les halles, the old Stalinist-style market building (and don't ask me why they bothered, they could have just torn the dump down and put up something decent, not as though it had any redeeming architectural merit but there you go) and so I had to go and find out where everyone is all over again and on top of that, it being the first day, world + dog were there just to have a look and getting in the way of serious people trying to get their shopping done.

And for some reason, there was no rougette, which is a serious offence, and we're once again reduced to broccoli and brussels sprouts in the vegetable department. Good healthy stuff, certainly, but a solid diet of brassica can get boring after a while.

I don't think that you can really claim to have seen a proper party until you've seen a French one. Or heard one, come to that. Often karaoke will be committed, and they do love dancing. And not just flinging yerself around in some sort of Brownian motion, proper stuff with moves and everything. And of course there's enough food to support an African village for a year, and sufficient wine to drown a horse.

So we turned up at Stacey's, as planned, and while she was organising almond-chocolate caramel I got put in charge of roasting some pears and red onions in sherry vinegar with rosemary before moving on to the filet mignon de porc, flambé with whisky and finished off with sour cream and whole-grain mustard sauce. With beans and bacon, and an enormous (and delicious) mess of mashed potatoes drowning in butter and paprika, cooked for an hour in the oven.

Not really traditional Thanksgiving fare (if you don't think to order ahead, turkeys are difficult to find around here at this time of year - they come on tap for Christmas), but definitely good. And thank heavens we avoided the bloody pumpkin pie, something I've always dreaded because it seems to be about 90% sugar. Stacey had very thoughtfully made an apple crisp instead, and someone (hats off to that person) had brought along a proper carrot cake with real icing.

But we missed out on coffee, as time was getting on and we still had to head off to Séverine's place, somewhere out in the wops behind les Marches, for this party. Which we duly did, turning up - a wee bit late, I admit - to find that Renaud had organised a band (he's one of nature's drummers) with all the trimmings, which meant that the affair was even louder than usual.

To do this sort of thing properly, you have to cram about 40 people into a 30m² room, a good percentage of which is already occupied by the sound system, drum kit and guitar stands: then you put food onto every available flat surface, distribute bottles and Chateau Carton at strategic locations around the place, turn the lights down and put the volume knob at 11. The people take it from there.

As Margo remarked, it's quite alien. It's been a long time, I admit, since I last went to a birthday party in New Zealand, but still I doubt that there is actually organised, choreographed singing at the guest of honour. Over here, yes. It still feels odd - maybe I just don't get out enough.

Anyway, we weren't allowed to leave until the cakes had been cut and distributed which means it was something like 2:30 when we made it back home, and I for one am feeling just a little bit jaded. Goodnight, all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Food'n'Drugs ...

Do you know what happens when you put petrol into the fuel tank of a diesel? Thought so. Alright, don't laugh. Must have been the first time Margo ever topped up the van, coming back from the Lubéron on Sunday night, and automatic pilot took over ... luckily the engine started to fade as she was pulling out of the péage north of Grenoble, so rather than a long lonely wait in the cold behind the barriers miles from anywhere, she was at least pulled over under the lights and where people are still going slowly.

The tow-truck eventually arrived, mumbled something along the lines of "it happens more often than you'd think" and towed it back to the garage: from whence, once he's cleaned it out, changed the filters and does whatever other magical stuff he deems necessary, we shall reclaim it. Margo eventually turned up home in a taxi: paid for, thankfully, by the insurance. (The taxi driver was apparently a happy man. Nice long drive, non-scary passenger, guaranteed payment and in one trip he's done his turnover for the evening.)

So whatever, this morning we get a phone call from our dearly beloved son, inviting us out to lunch! Oh the thrill! More prosaically, he cooks for the lycée restaurant on Tuesdays, and today they needed more bums on seats. Ours were the lucky bums. Wasn't half bad actually: it being la semaine du goût they'd picked a maghrebin theme (at least today) so we got a daiquiri to start with, soupe au pois chiches, pastilla au fruits de mer, couscous and then, rather disappointingly, fruit salad. (Literally translated, that would be chickpea soup, seafood packets, meat & veg with semolina, and tinned crap.)

That's actually a bit more than I can usually handle at lunch so I rather toyed with it I'm afraid (and I passed on the pastilla, I've no great desire to see if I can still do projectile vomiting) but like I said, not bad at all. (Although it's a shame that tinned fruit salad seems to be full of those little pink balls that I think are supposed to have been cherries at some point. And as much cheap peach as they can stuff in.) And although my cocktail of choice is still a dry martini, I can see that a steady diet of daiquiris on a beach somewhere could become rather addictive.

Of course there were a good dozen or so of his fellow students on service, pretending not to know us as chatting would be unprofessional and they'd get marked down for it, and we got treated, as per instructions,  to a full recital of the contents of each and every plate as it was set before us. But we were very good and didn't laugh, just as well as most of them looked rather self-conscious.

I cheated, by the way, and took a look at the crib sheet that came with the pills. Possible side effects include "nauseau, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, weight gain, weight loss, somnolence, insomnia, headaches, itching, loss of libido, renal failure and suicidal urges". Also, reassuringly, "in rare cases, spontaneous combustion subcutaneous haematomas". Reminds me a bit of the malaria tablets I had to take for Cameroon, with which it was noted that "should you experience violent mood swings and psychotic periods, stop treatment immediately".

They didn't actually say "and get some of your fellow-travellers to strap you into one of those handy straitjackets that you should always have in your luggage, keep you away from chainsaws, and top you up with whisky every two hours", but they might as well have done. A good thing it didn't come to that.

Remind me, by the way, to avoid "organic" produce at the market in future. I mean yes, I'm sure they're really nice people and intellectually I'm all in favour of tree-hugging and saving the planet and stuff like that, but I'm pretty sure that something's been lost in translation because as far as I'm concerned "organic" need not necessarily mean "without pesticide of any form and therefore riddled with worms, weevil, slugs and other surplus-to-requirements dietary supplements". Because I get pissed off at having to chuck out half a spud which turns out to be home to a large and thriving family of threadworm, or whatever agricultural term might be correct for the damn things.

And the carrots are even worse, as the obsession with "organic" apparently extends to ensuring that they're neither washed nor kept humid so as a result when you buy them three days after they've been plucked untimely from the ground they are rather limp and floppy. Not a pleasant thing to touch. The brussells sprouts are, sadly, indescribable.

On the other hand, a good thing to do with left-over roast pork - provided it is decently moist ie a rolled shoulder or somesuch - is a gratin de porc sauce piquante, which I suspect I may have mentioned before but what the hell, I'll mention it again. Now sauce piquante comes in any number of varieties: my favourite is pretty simple, as you start by stewing a couple of chopped spring onions in butter until soft.

When that comes about, sprinkle the little sods with a tbsp of flour, a tsp of decent mustard powder (which is not, let me tell you, that easy to find over in these here benighted parts), a tsp or two of beef stock and add three or four chopped cornichons and, if that floats yer boat, some capers. Stir it all up, add half a cup of water (or white wine, if you insist) and keep stirring on low heat until it starts to thicken, at which point add 4 tbsp of vinegar, 1 tbsp of redcurrant jelly and, if you have some, some hot pepper jelly. KEEP STIRRING. After ten minutes or so, it should be thick but not, if you please, solid.

Taste it, and add more vinegar if it needs it - which it probably will. Many would also find this a good time to sling some parsley in as well, and fair enough too. Assemble the dish: put a coating of sauce on the bottom of a gratin dish, arrange thickish slices of cooked pork (or tongue, or whatever) on top, then coat them all with the rest of the sauce. Into the oven with it for fifteen minutes or so until it starts to bubble, then under the grill. Mashed potatoes (sans worms, weevils or whatever) actually go rather well with this.

Looks like we might have to get that emergency backup dog sooner rather than later. Kelly's having a really bad time of it with her arthritis/rheumatism/whatever - to the point of hobbling around on three legs at times - so Margo took her off to the vet the other day to see what she could get along the lines of anti-inflammatory drugs and such just for pain relief.

Which is when she found out that there was a large tumour in the stomach, and maybe a bone tumour in one foreleg. So it could be anything between a couple of weeks and a couple of months, but while she's happy and not in pain we'll keep her with us, and keep hoping it won't be tomorrow morning that we come downstairs to find her lying stiff.

Whatever, as you can probably tell I tried those raw scallops in orange juice again, followed by baked stuffed apples just for the hell of it. The hot pepper jelly, Sophie and I decided, was not really one of my better ideas: sure, it provided a little taste explosion but the napalm afterburn was enough to kill the subtle flavours of the scallops. So we both shuffled the stuff carefully off to one side and ate around it, pretending it wasn't there.

The apples didn't last long either: stuffed with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and rum-soaked raisins (I knew there was a reason for that squat little bottle that's been lurking at the back of the fridge for the past five years or so), then wrapped in bastard puff pastry and topped with a wodge of crème fraiche five minutes before getting pulled out of the oven. Not pretty, nor elegant, but still ... some things are just too simple to be improved upon.

Anyway, I'm off to the garden to enjoy this weather while I can.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Autumn at my Table ...

You know what I really, really hate about this time of year? It's like, when you go out to see people on a Sunday, and the roads are full of really slow extremely elderly people who are teaching their grandchildren to drive just like them ie assault me mentally by being all passive-aggressive, and then you finally get where you're going and you have a nice meal and a really good time and then around 16:00 it's perhaps time to leave but not just yet and so finally you drive back and when you get home it's all dark despite being only 17:30 and you feel like you're seven again and it's time to go to bed.

Which it's not, because I'm 53 for god's sake and I will not eat my broccoli if I don't want to, and it's not even time for the apéro yet. I dislike Sundays. Intensely.

Especially, Sundays where it's all gray and overcast and generally dismal. I can see no point to them, and as a general rule I won't have them in the house.

But whatever, as you can doubtless guess we made it to Mumblefuck. And back. There was no blood on the floor - Liz would no doubt have screamed at the very idea - but it was still a great afternoon. Sylvia downing kir royal as if it were going out of fashion and holding three conversations at once with anyone who wasn't actively indicating their disinterest by committing seppuku, Liz delicately picking at her food (cooked apart, so it didn"t get contaminated by blood splatter from the medium-rare roast beef, and I note in passing that she managed to eat more than I - fair enough, she's eating for two), and Philippe smiling indulgently at all this foolishness and doubtless counting the time until the next half-bottle of valium.

And then they all went to bed (that's, uh, like separate beds, people), for a little mid-afternoon nap. Something I've not yet got the hang of. Although I'm sure it'll come, as age catches up with me.

Don't get me wrong, I like these people, it's just that when you meet them you are forced to admit that a lot of American soaps fail dismally because they don't go far enough. Some things are difficult to satirize, if only because the ghastly reality is so far up the wall that any attempt to take it further would be greeted by universal cries of disbelief.

No dysfunctional family would be complete without the coolly cynical son, a rôle that the younger one is learning to perform with some credit. We were, as usual, a tad late, so Karen jokingly suggested that, in case we were lost, they should start drinking anyway and that would lead us to them - "Trevor can smell an open bottle from 20km". So Liz starts to expostulate, and Emmanueli, without even looking up from the game console, wearily says "It's true. Maybe even 30".

Mind you, the argument was not so much about the distance at which I can distinguish a Vacqueyras from a cow-pat, as to whether or not the remark should have been made behind my back. For that would be impolite, whereas accusing me of being a cork-sniffer to my face is OK. (Actually, I don't mind. And my talents are over-rated: my personal best is a whiff of Beaujolais at 17.35km. Upwind, though.)

And don't get me onto the subject of how UHT milk is apparently perfectly acceptable for coffee, whereas UHT cream, when whipped and stuck on a pavlova, is an abomination. It's those frikkin microbes, I tell you.

It's all rather like Woody Allen, only way back in the days when he was still funny.

Switching topics, as will happen when one has the attention span of a mayfly, I really love little silicon moulds. I got some miniature loaf tins a while back - about 12x5x6 - and they are absolutely great for doing individual gratins. They taste the same, but it must be admitted that if you're trying to be elegant a small gratin unmoulded onto each plate is a damn sight more elegant than a quivering wodge of a single enormous one.

Personally, I sprinkle the bottom of each with paprika and chives and maybe some gros sel and then put cheese on top - either rounds of chevre or a slice of old cheddar, line the sides with extremely thin slices of potato (shame the mandoline is so bloody deadly, but it's guaranteed to make sure you leave no fingerprints at your next crime scene as you've little chance of having fingertips afterwards), then half-fill them with more potato slices. Another slice of cheese and chives, the rest of the potatoes on top, then fill with cream. Five minutes in the microwave, followed by twenty in a hot oven, and voilà.

Goes really well with a slice of rare fillet, some bastard béarnaise, a grilled tomato and salad. In case you were wondering.

Certainly cheered me up, anyway. After Berlusconi promising to resign (but still not actually getting around to doing it), the Greek mess, Iranian nukes and Israeli menaces - and a couple of extremely persistent but excessively stupid flies buzzing around that haven't yet quite grasped the concept of dying for winter - a right depressing week. A decent meal does wonders.

Yet another public holiday, and on a Friday yet: a good reason to laze in bed for a few extra hours. Which is a bit of a waste given the weather, absolutely glorious. The stream's still dry, and the bed's full of yellow leaves; the sky is clear blue and the light is wonderful. I do so like global warming.

Because it's the season, over here anyway, I'm going to put this up as a suggestion. I profited from the fact that Margo's back in the Lubéron to make it, as I know bloody well that she wouldn't touch it because it involves fruit with meat. (Sometimes I feel that she doesn't go away often enough, as there's still some diots in the freezer to be steamed over the white wine in which the potatoes and onions are cooking, and there are things I'd like to do involving quail and apricots, or veal and apples.

OK, pintade d'automne, for which you'll need a guinea-fowl. Don't be tempted to use a chicken instead, I think you really need the gamey taste. Whatever, cut the poor beast into pieces and brown them all over in butter, along with four chopped shallots, three or four unpeeled cloves of garlic and a bay leaf. (A decent cast-iron casserole would be a really good idea here. Go buy one, you know you want to.) Then add 200gm of button mushrooms and let them sweat, then a couple of handfuls of not-too-sweet grapes and let the lot cook for another minute or so.

Finally, sprinkle it all with a couple of teaspoons of  flour so that the eventual sauce will be a bit syrupy, flambé with cognac (or Scotch if you prefer): when the flames have died down and you've checked your eyebrows add two glasses of dry white wine and a sprig of thyme, cover the pan and let it cook on low for 40 minutes.

If you can't find a guinea fowl, you could always have a go with duck legs instead, if you have access to a supply of such things. In which case I'd be very tempted to replace the bog-standard white wine with either a Gewurtztraminer or a pinot noir, something with a bit of residual sugar. Just saying.

And another thing if you do decide to go with the duck: you will need to either prepare it as if you were turning it into a confit ie cook it very slowly in its own fat for about three hours, or for some time in a pressure cooker. When the meat is soft, proceed as above. You'll be better for it, believe me.

Spaetzle, the Alsatian noodles, would go really well with this - if you've not come across them, they're little nubbins of fresh pasta dough which are poached, then drained and fried in butter - but you might have difficulty finding those. But I do remember having something similar at a restaurant in Colmar many years ago, and that went down quite nicely with cubed potatoes fried in duck fat with thyme. So if you open a tin of foie gras to serve as an entrée, that would be one way to get rid of the fat.

Finally headed off to the quack this morning (the only appointment I could get was at 7:30, which is why I was more or less out of bed around 6, one of those times which was never made for me and at which, under normal circumstances, I would sneer) to pick up some happy pills. He read the riot act of course, and one point he did stress was that I should not, under any circumstances, read the little paper inside the box: it would only, it seems, upset me. As he said, side effects are very rare, and if I do get them then nausea will be the least of my worries.

Oddly enough, I rather like our GP.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Desperate Call for Help ...

Well, the lads from Lagos are getting more and more literary as time goes by. It used to be their missives were short, sharp and to the point: the latest one to turn up in my inbox could almost be a chapter from a Mills & Boon epic, and it really touched my heart, such was the poor guy's predicament.

I'd cite it verbatim, so wonderful it is, but a) that's a really cheap way to get column-inches, to which I would never stoop and b) I'm not sure that morally I have that right, given that it's a personal email and all. So changing names where required, to protect the innocent, here's a brief précis*. Go get a stock of tissues first, I think you'll find it as moving as I did.

The poor chap was adopted by an unmarried American Indian fellow and there seems to have been a lot of love in their relationship, for he honestly seems to have felt great grief at his passing from kidney disease some years ago. There's a very heartfelt aside here, on the cruelty of life in taking the best people from this world and leaving their loved ones to mourn but we'll skip that, because the punctuation is rather confusing, although the sentiments are lofty and would repay closer examination.

He was married: very unhappily if I'm any judge. Emotionally tortured by his wife Rose (a nice touch that) who played around and finally, to really rub it in, absconded with his father's money, from a contract in EAST London. (The bit about east seems important, as it's capitalised.)

Things get a bit tricky here because his boyfriend also seems to have absconded with an undisclosed sum of US dollars, but whatever the sordid details you can understand that this caused problems with his father, who blamed him.

Then the all too-familiar story, I'm afraid: the brave chap, still looking for love, meets an African woman via an online dating site but her promises of love are just an excuse to fleece him out of the five million dollars she convinced him to bring with him to invest in African sculpture. His disillusion is evident, but surprisingly enough there's no bitterness there, which I personally find very generous, and proof of a noble spirit.

And now there he is, more or less trapped in Nigeria, despondent and suicidal with his money stashed away in a suitcase, but still hoping to find friendship and humanity out there, as evidenced by the fact that he's taken the risk of writing to me.

Despite his problems he seems to have his head screwed on right, because only he knows the secret security code to open the suitcase: it's touching that he's willing to send me the code if only I will accept delivery of the suitcase, and like that I can open it and use some of the cash to buy his ticket out of hell.

I hope this story ends happily, I really do.

The end of daylight saving is always welcome, if only because it means that we get to laze in bed for that one extra hour; what's a little less amusing is that daylight disappears an hour earlier. Yes, it's slightly less murky when we get up, but right now the sun's setting around 18:00. We have another four months of this to look forward to, you just don't know what you're missing.

This coming Sunday we're apparently convoked to our mad friend Karen's place at Mumblefuck, for lunch and moral support. Yes, not only will mother Sylvia be there (You know her. The one that never drinks. Provided you remember to hide all the bottles first.) but also sister Liz, proudly pregnant and doubtless wondering in the back of her mind if there could possibly be anything more annoying than a histrionic vegan drama queen expecting with THE most brilliant baby evah, who will be a complete genius and for all I know develop a cure for cancer at the age of five and bring peace to the world before he/she/it is out of adolescence. Because if there were, she'd work on it.

I will get out of this alive, provided I don't open my mouth too much and stay polite and sober enough to remember not to make smartarse remarks, for Sylvia thinks that I am god's gift to women - good-looking, and I cook - and quite frankly I think that Liz could stand on the deck of the Titanic and not notice this frikkin iceberg closing in, so long as everyone was looking at her.

Whatever, there will be wine because Sylvia has found all the hiding places by now, and Karen cooks not too badly all things considered, so provided Liz does not declare on arriving that there's no way she could possibly even sit at the table were there anything other than milk-washed raw rhubarb stems and organic arugula on it we should eat well enough. It will at least guarantee entertainment, even if in a rather ghastly way.

So, in a vile picking-at-scabs-in-disgusted-fascination fashion, I'm kind of looking forward to it. I'll let you know what happens.

In unrelated news - and just remember, I look for this sort of stuff so that you don't have to learn how to wipe your browser history - a Canadian politician has apparently insisted that his country was founded on "the relentless pursuit of beaver". Personally I do not know that many Canadians, so I can neither confirm nor deny that they are a nation of sexual monomaniacs like everyone else: still, you might want to check out the article, courtesy of El Reg as usual, here.

Anyway, it's the 1st of November and, as I've remarked before, in this relentlessly secular country Toussaint is a public holiday. It is just so unfair: there are heaps of things I could be doing, and were it pissing down with rain right now I swear that I would in fact be doing them, or at least thinking quite seriously about doing so, but quite frankly I just cannot bring myself to waste a day like this. The light is golden, it's warm and the sun is streaming down, leaves are lazily falling and you expect me to do a bit of work?

Even the prospect of getting the salt rub ready for the next bit of bacon smacks a bit too much of purposeful activity: it's as much as I can do to grab a glass of wine and a cigar and head down to the garden to get my boots attacked by the cat, who seems to feel that now is a good time to practice sneaky incoming runs from the far side and then diving off to safety in a pretty good approximation of an Immelman roll. (Insofar as a small homicidal furball with the brains of a cockroach can do that.) Could I actually be arsed getting the hammock out and stringing it up, I would.

In fact the idea of a barbecue is starting to get quite attractive, but that might be too much work as well., involving as it does going off and finding some wood and dusting the thing off ... maybe it's better to just go with the flow, lie back, and let the sun wash over me. It won't be for too much longer I know, so I'm making a determined effort to enjoy it whilst I can.

But as I have at least six hours until it's time to start getting dinner ready, I suppose I should pass at least some of them thinking about what I'm going to cook. Margo found some more flammenkuche bases at the local Lidl and there is sour cream and fromage frais and lardons in the fridge, and I even managed to pick up some beautifully ripe figs today, so in fact my main problem is deciding whether or not I've enough figs that I can split them between the tarte flambée and tomorrow night's duck breast. Still, if I chill my brain enough it should think sufficiently slowly that the exercise will take me a couple of hours. Bring on the LOX, Igor!

Technology, I fear, is getting too far ahead for me. We bought a new soldering iron for the office the other day - news which doubtless fails to bring a spark of interest to your drab lives - but the odd thing about it (apart from Radiospares getting the delivery wrong the first time around, and sending us a three-pin plug ready to be cabled instead of a Weller WD-2A soldering post, which at 390€ makes for a bloody expensive plug considering that you're expected to wire it up yourself) is that the thing came complete with an installation CD and a USB port and cable. I mean, WTF?

(Turns out that there is, in fact, a LabView plugin or something on the CD, so that terminally anal-compulsive types can monitor - in realtime, yet - the temperature of the iron tip. Some people must lead even less interesting lives than I, difficult as that is to imagine.)

Catastrophe strikes the Bimler family: Jeremy has expressed his desire to move back in with us. He's decided that the food at the internat is just too disgusting for a three-times-a-day regime (to be fair, their budget is something like 2€ per mouth per meal, and when you're preparing meals for X hundred adolescents that means that it's virtually impossible to make them interesting meals), and he'd infinitely prefer to take the bus in and out every day, even if it does mean getting up at six in the mornings. I'm not sure that I'm entirely ready for this: we'd actually got rather used to not having him around during the week. Quite pleasant it is, in fact.

And I'm pretty sure we won't save any money on the deal: true, we won't have to pay the boarding fees, but the weekly grocery bill for cereal, biscuits and milk is going to go through the ceiling.

(And don't get me started on the butter. Did you realise that he can get through 120gm of the stuff a day? About a kilo a week, just for him? Oh dear.)

Right, we seem to have a problem: it's 22:00 on November 3rd, and outside the temperature is still about 18°. (Inside it's somewhat lower, but that's a question of entropy or something. Things are more ordered inside - vague choking noises as red wine spurts from nostrils, and that hurts by the way - and thus colder. Due to the raspy points on the atoms having been rubbed off, consequently less friction, whatever. Go ask a physicist if you want a proper explanation.) Something is seriously wrong here, but quite honestly I have no wish to find out just what, on the grounds that if I do then whatever it is will stop happening. And I'd rather that it carried on, thanks very much.

I really do not know what to make of this. It could be the graduation ceremony  for a hairdressing school I suppose, or perhaps a group of mad scientists, having demonstrated their ability to genetically engineer turkeys into edible, non-flying headgear, are receiving their Nobel prizes. Although in this latter case I cannot see the point of all those trombones, unless they're actually cunningly concealed weapons, or portable tokamaks. On the other hand, and rather more prosaically, it could be a squad from the Italian Army: the famous Lavender Prancers perhaps (motto - "Effugio!").

*Oh what the hell, read the original. I stand in awe of this prose.

I would like to share with you my problems. i was married for 2 years but now divorced without kids. I have had a lot of bad experience in my previous relationships, and i do not want to fall into the same problem anymore, because i have been used and suffered lots of emotional torture from my ex and i will not want to be used or played games with again in my life.

I've been divorced for 2 years now, I was adopted by my father and at that time he had no woman staying with him. I loved him so much that he gave me a good life. The sad part of it is that he passed away about 3 years ago after a kidney problem. Im the only Son, the only kid of my family. We used to live in a big house. My dad is a native American. Its so sad when ever i think and come to conclusion that the world is a cruel one, taking the good ones away, leaving the bad ones behind to live on which makes the world goes more cruel and hard on people, this has dawn on me as i have experienced lots of cruel things i never thought of sometimes i feel like the world should crash on me, looking back and thoughts about my status as an orphan i need someone to fill my heart with love, someone to make me feel glad, taking me out of my worries, giving me love, someone to stand by me like a father and mother, someone so loving and caring to get me out of my worries so i don't feel neglect

My Wife, Rose played games on me lots and treated me so bad in our marriage. She absconded with my dad's money which was kept with me after a completion of a contract in EAST London, UK. When my boy friend got absconded with the undisclosed sum of US dollars, this brought the first broke up between me and my dad, because he thought we had the deal together, but not knowing that Im innocent about this.

So my dad has been harsh and tough on me about this. After all these happened to me and caused by my Ex Wife, I met an African Lady online there who promised heaven and earth that she wants to marry me and make me happy in life; "I never knew I was going to have my greatest night mare. She made use of the advantage knowing that i am lonely and i needed to someone so close to make me happy in life as my dad the only one i had is dead. The African lady told me of investment opportunities in Africa and she convinced me to come along with lots of money while coming down, which I did. On getting here, all her intention was to take away the money from me, play me and leave me alone.

I came from the states with all the money i realized from my Dad's business and contracts remuneration of five million USD, because the African lady told me of an idea to investment in African Sculptures which i feel its a good investment. When i got here, she tried all possible means to get the money from me and get away with my money. When i noticed this, i took the money and my traveling boxes and deposited it with a Security/Insurance Company here in Africa in order to save myself and my assets. Thereafter i left the lady's apartment to a hotel where i stay at the moment and communicating with you now.

I am right here in Nigeria, Africa fed up of life and even thinking of committing suicide but i guess i should hold on till I find someone that will help me. I understand that this internet stuff is hard to believe because of what people do with it nowadays as i fell into this mess, thats why I am in the condition I am in today.I, will appreciate your help. I really want to get out of here and come back to the states. I really need your trust and help to get me out of this trouble i am into and i promise i will not get you disappointed.

I will really appreciate your help towards this. Once i get there, i will really appreciate it, and i want to believe that you will not let me down. As Ive discussed what brought me here from the states. While i was coming here, the African Lady told me to come with enough money for investment and i even went to the extent to sell my inherited house just because i want to leave the states and make my self happy thinking i had finally found the Woman i have been waiting for all my life.

Thereafter, i left the lady's apartment to a hotel where i am in right now and from which i am writing to you now. Now, Im in need of your help, have gotten the enough money to run myself when i get to the states, i don't want to live here anymore, you know Im a foreigner here and it is absolute danger for me here, so that is why i need your kind assistance.

How i want you to help me? I have the money hidden from the Lady here in West Africa and I've left her apartment, because i might get setup if i did not act fast, so for me to be more safe and secure, i put this money in a trunk box and got it locked up with a security code known to me only, and i deposited the box with some of my traveling luggages with a Security and Insurance Company who render private diplomatic delivery service and i told them that the box is my traveling luggage, which i want to send forth to the states because Im returning home, then i paid them up their custody and security fee, but i did not tell them that the box contains money in order to make everything secure and safe. I want the box sent to you while i catch up with you as soon as it is been delivered to you then i come over to meet you.

Every arrangement for the delivery is kind perfect, I have obtained customs papers for private freight and there are seals on the box showing that it is a private delivery and check performed, it is free from customs checks, it will be delivered at your door step by the diplomats of the security company, you do not need to burn out to receive it.

The box has security lock code known to me only, only me can open the box, except if i tell anyone the Code, so the box cannot be opened on the way for delivery to you. Therefore, i want you to contact me as soon as possible, so that i can give you all my deposit details and information for you to make the Clearance from the Security Company as my friend who is to receive my box for me there so they can be rest assured that the box is safe for delivery since my Friend would be receiving them for me .And once the box gets to you, I will let you know the lock codes to open the box and the instructions, then you can open the box in order to have some money sent to me for my flight to the states.

Once i get there, we shall invest the money together, provided you will not disappoint or neither take advantage of me. I hereby promise 15% of the total fund for you to meet any personal needs and i can get something done with the balance. I am counting on you with trust and i will appreciate your trust towards this and hoping to hear from you and to meet you in person. Let me hear from you as soon as possible, so that i can give you the deposit details and the contact of the security company to arrange the shipment ASAP.

Promise to help me on this so that i can come back to the state as soon as you help me get my money to you...

Hope to read from you with you helping hand...

Mr. Wilford Phillip