Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hanging On The Telephone ...

"Ooh!" said Jeremy, "the fridge is full again! And there is bread, and still biscuits I haven't yet eaten!" For him, I feel, the fridge is this magic white(ish, because sparkly cleanliness is optional around here) box that fills up every Saturday, and in which there is a bin that holds the cheese (but not, sadly, for long), and a shelf dedicated to yoghurt, and always some saucisson somewhere. Life must be so simple when you're seventeen, not pregnant, and despite that always, for some reason, ravenous.

Hey, there's still some Nepalese bread in there, just waiting to be fried up for a healthy low-fat breakfast.

None of which really helps me as I try to think of healthy, protein-packed meals. I have this bit of hampe, and obviously just frying it up and serving it with a slab of foie gras, some oignons confits and maybe a bit of bastard béarnaise is not an option.

On the other hand, maybe slicing it thinly and stir-frying it with ginger and spring onions, and a slosh of worcester sauce at the end, could work. And I know what I'm going to do with the asparagus, diet or not.

Not that oignons confits are particularly calorific, just that what they're usually served with (ie foie gras) is. But if that doesn't worry you, Margo had some at a restaurant in Lyon the other day (before the diet) to which they'd added a twist, which I tried: once your thinly sliced spring onions are sweating nicely in butter, add the balsamic vinegar (use the white variety if you can get it, it'll turn out a pretty pink) which will slowly reduce and a slosh of sirop de grenadine and some vanilla seeds. Definitely worth your while.

And as it's been raining so much and the stream is full and sometimes I have nowt better to do with my time, I have invented a new game for all the family (provided all the family smoke): Poohbutts. It's basically a variation on the old favourite Poohsticks, but you use cigar butts. For it to work without recriminations, dispute or hard feelings, everyone needs to smoke a different brand, and leave the band on the butt so that they're easily distinguishable (for a butt, by itself, is pretty nondescript), but that's not a lot to ask for hours of simple fun.

Finally managed to get a quorum on Saturday chez Liddy: Bryan seems to have finished painting the rooms of his new language school (a task made more difficult by the fact that inconsiderate members of the public will occasionally wander in and ask what's going on), Beckham was not, for a change, being kicked out of anywhere, and having finished the fruit & vege run in record time I too was there; with Margo, for once.

Not always the easiest of bars in which to actually get a drink: you often have to force your way up to the bar (good exercise for the elbows, mind you) and then you have to catch the eye of the person behind it, not always a simple matter. Not helped by the fact that there's a new barmaid who has her own ideas about service. Very friendly mind you, and doesn't always insist on taking your money. Whatever.

Have I mentioned that we are going to be very happy when Jerry shifts out? Not that he's any great trouble, objectively speaking, but along with this capacity to make food supplies disappear he also has all the stealth of a mammoth which means that when he gets up early to catch (or, occasionally, miss) the bus through to Challes, all the rest of us know about it.

And of course Monday was the first day back at school, and he cheerfully informed us on Tuesday night that he had to be at the lycée at 7:30 the next morning for a school trip he'd just found out about., to Strasbourg. Which is going to mean getting up at six, which is emphatically not one of my favourite times.

It's been eighteen months or so since last I changed phones, and as the current one is starting to have the odd hissy-fit, like turning itself off spasmodically and then claiming to have no battery, I thought it was about time I replaced it. Don't know why but I still rather like Samsungs, so I trotted off a week or so ago to the local Bouygues shop down at Carrefour (I'm old-fashioned and I like instant gratification: going online, ordering something and having it arrive a few days later just can't compare with the feeling of walking out of a shop with the coveted object) to see what they could offer me.

Got to the head of the queue, decided against getting an Android and settled instead for the Wave II: it may be Bada but at least I'm more or less familiar with that. So I was kind of pissed when the guy went out back to get it and came back empty-handed, saying "Desolé squire, le chat l'a bouffé. Y'en a plus". But he promised to give me a ring when the next delivery came through ...

You can see where this is going, I expect: sure enough, the sod never rang back and the next time I went past the dump there was a big sign up saying it was closed until June for renovations. So I gritted my teeth and went to the Bouygues agency in town, and after 45 minutes I found out that they didn't have any either, and finally walked out with a Wave M as I was damned if I was going to go out without something shiny.

That was, of course, the beginning of my problems. Call me naive if you wish, or brain-dead if you prefer, but I really had forgotten - or forced back screaming into the dusty back cupboards of my brain, where the old umbrellas and ripped raincoats live - the living hell that is the fricking Samsung Kies software.

The first step, obviously, was to reinstall the 1.54 software that came with the old phone, and back everything up: contacts, texts, and memos. So far, so good. Then, we try connecting to the new phone. Ah, no luck there: don't know why that surprised me. So I go onto the Samsung site and download the latest version on offer: 2.00. Install that: still no luck. And I notice that the backed-up data isn't available either. Bugger.

After a few minutes, the very latest software informs me that version 2.31 is available and would I like to download it? On the rather shaky grounds that things could hardly get worse, I agree. Click on the button, nothing happens. Wait a bit, still nothing.

At this point I notice that the bloody Windows UAC permissions window has, as usual, opened up behind the software installer window, which is of course waiting for me to click on the OK button on the window I can't see. Of course there is the teeny icon on the taskbar, but that's on the other screen ... Sigh, curse, carry on.

Miracle, the new sodware recognises both phones! I can download my contacts from one, and upload them to the other! This is progress, of a sort. More progress: some kettle-head at Samsung orbiting HQ has decided that no-one used the feature, or it was too useful, or something: so they axed the possibility of transferring SMS and memos from the latest version of their filthy brain-dead program which, at this point in time, I want to exterminate. With extreme prejudice.

But all is not lost: the new phone will import SMS from the SD card. Although it will not import memos, but what the hell. I don't have that many. The old phone will happily export all memos to the SD card - great! - but each and every SMS must be exported individually. Which is, when you have about 400 of the things, a somewhat tedious process.

Mr. Good Taste: Pierre The Execrable
Whatever, I'm dedicated - or stupid - so some time later I have an SD card full of old texts. Stick that in the new phone, hit the "restore" button and wait a bit: after a fashion it has indeed restored those texts. Sadly, not in any particular order. Which kind of makes it rather worse than useless, if you're trying to follow a thread in simple chronological order.

So I eventually abandoned that particular bright idea - what the hell, it's just a year or more of my life in there - and resigned myself to starting from scratch. I wouldn't mind quite so much if I didn't know that sometime in the future I'm going to have to go through the whole bloody procedure yet again, probably with the same lack of success.

What looks like a Good Keen Man
Looking on the bright side, I did manage to get the phone numbers across, and at least like this I'm getting rid of a lot of no-doubt useless baggage. Which should probably cheer me up, but sadly it annoys me so very much. And I won't bother going into the things that used to work that they just fscked up, doubtless with the aim of improving the "user experience": like when it would automatically shift to caps after you typed a full stop? Doesn't do that any more. Bitch. (Mea culpa. If you drill down three levels into the settings menu, you can in fact find the option "Auto caps", which does the trick. I would like to point out that this is not immediately obvious, also I hate apologising, so I won't.)

Perhaps I should just give in and read the manual - once I can find out exactly where on Samsung's crap site I can download the festering thing.

In other news, the shrink doesn't want to see me any more: apparently, I am not mad enough. I suppose I'd have to agree with him on that one - but then, I would say that, wouldn't I - but it's true. Doesn't take much, some times. More news on that one next time, I think.

Finally, could I just suggest that if you manage to get hold of a decent buche de chèvre (truth to tell, I use the cheapie ones from the discount supermarket, 'cos they're good enough considering what's going to happen to them) and happen to have some jambon cru and redcurrant jelly in the fridge (as all right-minded people do, it seems), you could do a damn sight worse than to stack up three sheets of buttered filo pastry, cut them into smallish squares, and then line muffin tins with them: a square of ham at the bottom, a round of cheese on top, and a wodge of redcurrant jelly (or a pitted date, if you like) on top, then fold the edges over, a quick slathering with butter, and into the oven with them for 15 minutes or so.

You really should try that. And if you're good, you might get some more from the Beckham Diaries (Currently at 3657 Reasons to Hate The French.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

All Cooks Are Bastard ...

... which is true enough, let it be admitted. But I still can't see why someone googling that should wind up here.

Headed off on Wednesday to some benighted hole somewhere around Annecy to take Jeremy for his half-day introduction to "Les Compagnons du Devoir". Of course I couldn't be arsed grabbing the GPS and in any case it scares and annoys me because it will often refuse categorically to admit that my intended destination actually exists, which would be rather worrying should it turn out to be correct. I did, on the other hand, have the foresight to get onto ViaMichelin and print out the driving instructions, which seemed clear enough for once ...

Of course that was hopelessly optimistic because one of the things about their directions is their subtle use of ambiguity to throw you off-track, quite literally. I mean, it gets you onto the VRU and then goes something like "at Argonnay, take the second exit on the roundabout (D1203). Leave Argonnay, and turn right onto the D175 after 3.8 km. Arrive at Villaz after 2.7km of twisty-turny road."

Bergen Rose: The Boat
This may seem like a model of precision, and so it would be if you actually knew how to get where you wanted to go. For in real life, travelling along the VRU and coming across an exit marked "Argonnay", I put it to you that it's rather natural to turn off there and start looking for the roundabout. Which you will come across and take the second exit, which is unfortunately, after some fair distance, marked as being the D173.

At which point you belatedly start to realise that you've been suckered again, and start to keep your eyes peeled for helpful locals, hoping not to fall upon the village idiot. Eventually we came across one such, asked for and got directions, and found ourselves back on the VRU and then taking the exit marked "Villaz" followed a windy road which was emphatically not the D175 without much hope until we eventually found ourselves at our destination.

Bergen Rose, again
A good thing too as we were starting to run out of both time and petrol, although as it turned out we'd been convoked for 13:30 and the thing didn't actually start until 14:00, so at least that was alright then.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I realised on the return trip that what the instructions actually meant were to go past Argonnay on the VRU (which, incidentally, is in fact the D1203, although you'd not think it to look at it), go straight ahead at the roundabout about 500m further on, and then you will indeed come across the D175, clearly marked as such, off to your right. Still, it lets one do a bit of tourism I suppose.

The compagnons, for those that don't know them, are based loosely on the mediaeval guild idea of apprenticeship. In Jeremy's case, as he will have his bac, that means that he'll go off to some place like Nîmes and be lodged in what I suppose we might as well refer to as the guild house, which is usually pretty spartiate and probably not for those who detest communal living or have bad memories of student hostels.

They find him a job in a boulangerie, that being what he wants to do, and he works there for six weeks at a stretch (with 2 hours of tuition in the evenings, 8 hours on Saturdays but you do get Sunday off) and then two weeks in the classroom, all that for a year. And at the end of that he should come out with good practical experience and a CAP (or, if you prefer, a Certificat d'Aptitude Professionelle, if that interests you), which makes him employable.

After that, should he so desire, he can go off on the tour de France as a compagnon itinérant, which basically means that he spends six years going to a different town in a different region every year (and at least one year has to be spent overseas: oddly enough, quite a few seem to go to New Zealand). After which he should know a fair bit about his subject, and would definitely be in demand.

We'll see what happens: should get a letter in a week or so to let us know if he's been accepted: if so, it will definitely be party time around here. (We must be Bad Parents, for we do not think of it so much as "losing a son" as "getting some space and our lives back". Jeremy, I suspect, is more or less in agreement with that.)

Anyway, it's been a grotty week of low snow, lower temperatures, rain and wind: pretty much typical for April in these parts. Sort of weather that makes you light the old wood-burner in the kitchen again and dream of satisfying hot meals with lashings of carbohydrates and creamy sauce. (Also, means I have no wish at all to go down to the paddock and mow it, even if it is getting knee-high down there.)

Alas, Margo has decided that it's time to go on a diet: high-protein, no carbs and not too much fat. I'm sure that there are things we can all eat with pleasure (although I don't know that anyone has yet managed to make quinoa interesting, maybe I'm just unimaginative) but I am going to have to make a determined effort to find them.

Come to that, perhaps it's time I went through the flour cupboard (yes, I have about ten different varieties of flour: foufou, pois chiche, manioc, rice flour, special flour for steamed buns ...) and started working on filing the contents correctly. That would make a good project.

Whatever, I finally gave in to the anguished squeaks from certain quarters (truth to tell, the calm, persistent and above all repeated question every bloody night finally ground down my stony heart) and made Nepalese Fried Bread.

Now I cannot vouch for the actual authenticity of this, and to be quite honest I prefer to use wholegrain flour when I have some  (oddly enough, that's one thing that's missing in my collection of Flours of the World) rather than the traditional Nepalese flour with mouse droppings (I have never had the patience to train mice to perch on the edge of the mixing bowl and crap in it, and somehow sweeping them off the floor seems somewhat unhygienic), but it's still rather good.

Take out your trusty stand mixer from whatever dank cupboard you keep it in (if you're like us you swear you'll use it every day, but somehow that just doesn't happen) and stick two cups of flour in the bowl along with three or four heaped tablespoons of sugar and a decent wodge of butter. Add yeast, dissolved in warm milk, cinnamon and anis seeds, a pawful of raisins and some roughly chopped dates (I personally find it helps to stone the dates first, you may have your own opinions on that), then set the machine to work.

After ten minutes of moronically enthusiastic robotic kneading (god, the damn thing sounds so smug when it's doing that, and I swear it smirks when you turn it off, as though expecting congratulations for a job well done) the dough should be nice and glossy and elastic: stick it in a bowl in the microwave on low power (200W works for me) for two minutes to bring the whole mass up to something approaching 37°C, at which point you can let it sit there and rise for half an hour.

So when you've finished your drink or whatever just knead the dough lightly again and cut it into six bits: form each into a ball and then roll out into a disk about 15cm in diameter. Stack those up with waxed paper between them, cover loosely with clingfilm and stick them in the fridge overnight before going off to watch TV.

Which brings me to my question: how is it that I was not informed that "The Almighty Johnsons" had started again? I only found out yesterday, quite by accident. Not really good enough, people. Still, I managed to get the first eight episodes, which gave us something to watch in bed and meant we didn't have to talk to one another ...

Anyway, if you're organised you could get up a couple of hours before breakfast, stumble blearily downstairs and remove the dough from the fridge before grumbling your way back up again: then again, you could fling boots at your son until he does the job. Or you could fry them straight out of the fridge, doesn't really matter.

And if you put them on the table the cat's likely to get at them (looking for Mao-Tse Dung, no doubt) which is not a good thing.  (We had one cat who was a paragon of virtue in all respects, except that you could not leave a Sydney Flat unattended in the kitchen: unless of course you wanted to come back and find she'd carefully nibbled all the corners off. Come to think of it, there was that time with the rabbit defrosting overnight too, when I decided the next morning that perhaps it would be best, under the circumstances, to turn it into a stew rather than bone, stuff and roast it as originally planned ...)

Either way, make sure the coffee's ready and then heat about a quarter inch of oil in a small frying pan and fry the disks in it: about two minutes a side, until puffed and golden. Or if you have a deep-fryer, and don't mind cleaning it, you can do them in that.

They are definitely at their best eaten straight from the pan, liberally slathered with butter and honey. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

They're Putting Peroxide In The Water ...

... for there is no other reason I can think of that I should be becoming so bloody blonde. (Unless of course it's the experimental mind-control rays from the black CIA helicopters that seem to be all over the place these days. Note to self, buy more tinfoil for a really seriously big hat.) But never mind, we'll get on to that in the fullness of time.

Anyway, the week started off auspiciously enough, apart from pissing down with rain and being by turns cold, and then hot and muggy - and of course Jeremy's first words on getting back, which were along the lines of "Where's the bloody cheese?". Seems that the only affordable cheese in England is crap cheddar, and he's too much of a food snob these days to eat that.

Dominique Fave
(Actually, I retract that. He's come relatively early in life to the realisation that food's purpose is pleasure, so why eat something that gives you none, or is actively disagreable? Life's too short as it is, without having to eat badly into the bargain. A fair point, and I have to admit that I'm on his side on that one.)

Just up the road from us work continues apace on St-Pierre's twin tower blocks modest apartments and I expect that any day now we'll no longer be dragged rudely from our sleep by the happy (and doubtless obscene, if I but knew) songs of the Hiho crew of Portuguese masons headed off to work. I won't miss it: now if we could only get the bloody birds to shut up ...

Yoko Sekita
Which reminds me, vaguely, of the (admittedly true, sorry about that, will do better next time) story of the Scottish (I think) woman who got slapped with an ASBO* for overenthusiastic and excessively noisy love-making, which was apparently making her neighbours' lives a misery. (The screams, it seems, were the worst bit.) But you may not wish to know that, and anyway, I digress.

Whatever, Margo headed off on Wednesday with Mad Karen from Mumblefuck in her insanely huge black Audi break, loaded to the gunwales with what I can only describe as "stuff", to this big quilting salon in the Beaujolais, at Villefranche-sur-Saone.

Also, Yoko Sekita
It cannot have been a comfortable trip, as Margo was in the passenger seat with her pillow and her suitcase sitting on top of her, but at least it was raining and cloudy so Karen didn't have to put on her burqa lest she burst into flames.

(Unusual, but true: she's actually allergic to sunlight. That, and the sharp pointy teeth, go some way to explaining a few things.)

Now many of Margo's friends in the quilting world do not believe that I do, in fact, exist because, as they say in what seems to them to be a reasonable manner, "if he did, he would be falling over himself to come to shows, now wouldn't he?".

For apparently, Good Husbands do that sort of thing, and always appear to be delighted at the prospect of seeing more quilts, and discussing esoteric and doubtless fascinating techniques for using moth-wings for fixing procion dyes, or something like that.

Dijanne Cevaal
Personally, I suspect that the only reason they agree to go is that they know that once there they will meet up with other tender, caring, understanding and supportive husbands/partners who are in the same boat, and can then head off together to the bar on some pretext or another and drink all day before the doors close at 19:00 and their respective spouses, who've drunk sod-all, drag them out for a soused dinner at the local pizza palace before a few more bottles (for "few", read "lots") back at the gîte and an early-morning start at 5am the next day.

(Incidentally, I assume that they're trying to be trendy when they try to give such places what they think is an English-sounding name, but quite frankly "Freddyes Saloon" just does not do it for me. And come to that, it's not really his fault and in French it doesn't really mean anything, but honestly, "Leggjob & Co."? I really, really, don't want to know. What a legjob is, that is)

Larkin Von Hor
So anyway, killing two birds with one stone, it was more or less arranged that, on receipt of a coded message I should drop everything on Saturday afternoon, head up to Villefranche, put in an appearance at the salon just to prove to the doubters that I was not purely a comfortable figment of Margo's imagination, then go off to Pascale's place and get dinner for ten ready.

Duly, early Friday evening as I was round as Stacey's fixing a few minor problèmes d'informatique (how to burn a DVD), the phone discreetly belched to let me know that Thunderbirds were indeed Go!, that my mission, should I choose to accept it, would self-destruct in five seconds, and how about cassoulet for 13?

Jan Watson: Ninian's Treasure
Now I'm the first to admit that cassoulet is indeed a wonderful dish and a Very Good Idea if you have lots of guests, as it seems to be inexhaustible (think loaves & fishes, people) but if there's one drawback it's that the beans need to soak for at least 12 hours and then cook very slowly for another three, so it's not really the sort of thing you put together on the spur of the moment. Plus, the supermarkets were closed and I had no beans.

So I looked for alternatives. And as I was wandering vaguely through the aisles at Carrefour the phone made a farting noise (it was a voice call) to enquire if I minded very much if there were 15 of us? That, and the fact that the estimable Mr. B. had no beef fillet, rather put paid to the vague idea I'd had of filet de boeuf Charlemagne; but he very kindly went out back and cut me off a nice 2.5kg baron of lamb. (That, should you not know, is the entire back, from hips to shoulders. It is considered posh: I like it, it's not too fatty and you get those lovely fillets.)

I'd also toyed with the idea of fish, but Margo advised against it: some of the people had got food poisoning  the previous night, and were a bit suspicious on general principles. But on the grounds that I love it, and if no-one else does then all the more for those that do, I got some noix de St-Jacques anyway. So at least I had the entrée and the main course, thought I could probably wing it for dessert.

Anne Steele: Snakes In The Grass
Garbèd myself I did in my cooking glad-rags: a decent shirt (yes, with cufflinks!) and the rather flamboyant silk scarf and coat of many colours that I nicked from Stacey and which make me look like some sort of Victorian ponce, loaded the Esky with food and utensils (for you never know what you're going to find sur place, I mean Sophie doesn't even have an egg-beater for god's sake and I'm buggered if I'm going to use anyone elses' knives), and headed bravely off in the little Fiat Panda that is mine whilst I'm waiting for the Doblo to get better.

Oddly enough I found the place easily enough: the Parcexpo is well signposted and clearly visible as you drive frustratedly up and down and up and down the main drag of Villefranche: what is not so obvious is how to get into the parking, which is why I was going back and forth. Eventually tiring of this, fun though it was, I rang Margo and she gave me the secret way, which turned out to be as simple as turning down an (unmarked) side-street just after the carpet shop and then hanging a left at the Franco-Turk Cultural Centre: should have been obvious, really.

Andrea Glittenberg-Pollier
Having demonstrated my existence to the apparent satisfaction of all and sundry it was about time to get onto serious matters, and it was at that point that the blonde moment struck. Little Pandas do not have an enormous gas tank, and what with the autoroute and the going back and forth it was pretty much empty, so I pulled into a gas station and started to feed the poor thing.

I could only manage to force five litres in, as the nozzle wouldn't really fit into the filler, but what the hell I thought as I went off to pay - and then it struck me that I'd been trying to stuff her with diesel.

Gretel Heileman: Gris à la rencontre du rouge
The nice man behind the counter did his very best not to laugh and said, in what I assume he hoped was a reassuring manner, "I really don't know, but I think that if you've only stuck 5 litres in just fill her up with petrol and it should be alright. Might drive a bit funny for a while, mind you.". Luckily, this turned out to be true, for I had other things to contend with.

Now Pascale (la baronne, for she is indeed one, even if only Belgian) has an enormous old place someplace at Belleville, not too far from Villefranche, and very thoughtfully gave me, along with the keys to the place, her GPS with "Take Me Home" programmed into it. Which lead me to her front door: or what would have been her front door, if her house had in fact been accessible from there. Luckily a neighbour, who seemed to be accustomed to this sort of thing, pointed me in the right direction, albeit rather vaguely. But I found it, anyway. Despite the bloody GPS of doom.

By the simple expedient of trying the key I had in every door that presented itself. Definitely a brute-force solution, but hey!, it worked.

Gudrun Heinz: Perspectives
I had, of course, remembered to bring everything that might be required, barring the kitchen sink and, as it turned out, potatoes. Luckily Pascale had told me that "there are some in the third drawer, not the freshest ...": first problem then is to find out which, of the multiplicity of drawers in her enormous house, might contain spuds. Finally found them, lurking as they do in the dark and doing disgusting things with shallots, and it was clear that they'd seen better days, but what the hell - in a gratin with goat's cheese and cream who's going to know?

So having got that lot ready (note: Roseval potatoes discolour as you look at them, doesn't change the taste but is unsightly so do work quickly) I was wondering whether to prep the lamb or get the scallops ready, decided on the latter, after a glass of white, and was busy at work when an American woman walked in, after five rather hesitant minutes summoned up the courage to ask if I spoke good English (a not unreasonable question, under the circumstances), and went on to say that she'd never seen scallops with coral. Which strikes me as rather sad, but there you are.

Bergen Rose: Through the Window
And then it was that I discovered Pascale's stove-top, which is one of that sort where yer standard radiant elements are buried under glass (no, it's not a halogen wotsit, I know those) and which take about three hours, if you're lucky, to get up to anything approaching a temperature. So actually searing the scallops was out of the question, although I did manage to flambé the suckers eventually. (Something which, to judge by their feverish camera-clicking, seemed to fascinate the Swiss ladies.)

Just so you don't die of impatience, the menu turned out to be:

noix de St-Jacques en coupelle de filo

baron d'agneau roti au miel et gingembre
gratins individuels de pommes de terre au chèvre et paprika
carottes Vichy
salade Sophie

sharlotka Russe

and no-one complained.

And as it turned out, there were only ten of us, which was probably a good thing because there were no leftovers that I spotted (and I was on dishes too, so I would have noticed).

* That's Anti-Social Behaviour Order, to you.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Less-than-Prodigal Sun ...

Well, that was kind of interesting. We made it up to Jacques' place - found him looking better than I've seen him for a while (suppose having your prostate removed would tend to put you off your form somewhat) - and enjoyed the first barbecue of the season. Nothing fancy, just potatoes baked in the embers and nicely grilled sausages (and andouillette, no thanks: even after cooking they still smell like a sheep's rectum if you ask me) and copious quantities of wine.

Then we headed off to this little salon du vin et du terroir just across the valley, and rather to my surprise the first stand we came across was manned personned by a blonde woman, selling saffron that she grew and harvested in her own domaine, and sporting a pronounced Australian accent.

So as one will under such circumstances we fell to talking: she's apparently been over here for about as long as us and in addition to the crocus plantation the domaine also harbours a gite and a couple of horses. An interesting person: shall have to head off there some time. Maybe around harvest time: must be quite impressive to see 220gm of saffron being picked. I can imagine the mighty combine harvesters out there in the fields under the blazing sun, and the traditional fête at the end with mountains of pork products washed down by sour red wine ...

Oh, and after four weeks of radio silence we finally managed to get in touch with our wayward son. We'd had a bit of news from Malyon, who said he could have been enjoying it more because he couldn't go to a bar and there were no girls, all of which was terribly interesting but didn't really help with our main preoccupation which was trying to find out exactly how he was planning on getting home.

And as it happens he's managed to organise getting back with the mother of one of the other lads that's over there, so we can go off to see the final night of the latest Upstage production without too many qualms and no guilt whatsoever.

As is traditional around the world, the Easter weekend will be rainy. We can tell this because the temperatures have plummeted by 8° or so, and it's persisting down. Come to that, according to Mal after three magnificant days of 20° in Glasgow (unheard of!) it actually snowed there yesterday. Call it hubris if you like, I should never have dragged out the T-shirts from their cobwebs, and should certainly not have let Jacques go near that barbecue.

I have the sneaking feeling that somewhere in China, CMOT Dibbler is employed writing T-shirt slogans. His unique blend of low cunning and even lower intelligence is the only thing I can think of that could possibly have produced "We Redial Collop Skinny EtehNic Resort" (in Gothic lettering, yet). And no, I have no idea what it means either.

(And whilst we're into the Pratchett space, we have recently encountered Not-So-Foul Middle-Aged Rhonda, and the local equivalent of the Duck Man. One day I'll get around to taking some photos.)

During my more reflective moments (the brain still functions: despite what they say alcohol does not kill neurons, it just preserves them) I occasionally wonder whether T9 and other predictive text systems haven't done more to promote misunderstanding between people than anything else.

A case in point: as is my wont, texted Sophie to say goodnight - finishing off with a cheery "hope you're going well" or something along those lines - and duly at around 2am the phone emits a discreet "ponk!" to let me know that there's incoming traffic.

I know, it's an ungodly hour, she's tired witless, but even so - T9 had magically changed "je vais un peu près" (as in, could be worse) into "je suis un peu prédateurs". Which is not really something I wish to know at that time of day. (Also, I  have decided that I do not want to have a look at her personal dictionary.)

Makes me wonder sometimes just how many of our occasional misunderstandings aren't simply due to technology, rather than any innate incompetence on my part..

Made it off to see the shrink on Friday; an unconventional chap. Partly because he tutoies everyone (with which I personally, not being French, have no problem) but mainly because his cursus, as he explained it, was rather odd: defrocked (or disbarred, or whatever the word is) and sent into a psychiatric institution, on the wrong side of the bars, for ten years before getting out and going back into business.

I suppose that would, as he said, give one another perspective on one's methodology. Luckily, he does not bear any apparent resemblance to Hannibal Lecter. But does, apparently, like cows - if the pictures, paintings, stuffed, ceramic and pewter ones adorning his office are anything to go by.

Ah, the casual, oblivious racism of the French: gotta love them for it. I'd just managed to slide myself and a glass of white into a seat at an unoccupied table outside Chez Liddy when who should turn up but Monica, an attractive Roumanian, friend of Bryan's, and occasional English-speaker, so we sat out in the sun and chatted. To improve her English.

And it was about then that the guy that had been industriously hammering away at the player piano out behind the Hotel de Ville (not, it must be said, to any great musical effect, although the occasional silences were most welcome) chose to send his kids around with a cup, just in case anyone wanted to say "thank you for stopping, here's something so you don't have to start again".

At which point one of the other patrons chose to utter a witticism, along the lines of "Hé! Vous avez les têtes des Roumains là", which was so hilariously funny that I was glad Monica didn't hear it, because I had no wish whatsoever to be present when she removed his genitalia with a teaspoon and without benefit of even a local anaesthetic. (Although to be honest, after a good kneeing he probably wouldn't be feeling a great deal down there anyway.)

Unfortunately Bryan was off painting all day - getting the new offices ready, nothing of any artistic merit - and Beckham could only offer the feeble excuse that she had the mother of all hangovers, so I wasn't too late home: just as well for there was, as always, quite a bit of loafing about to be done before heading down to Grenoble.

Been there, done that ... play was excellent, as always, and as we seem to have become part of the furniture we might even head back there tonight for the big party. And when we finally arrived back home it was to find Jeremy comfortably ensconsced as if he'd never been away.

Seems he had a good time, apart from the lack of alcohol and girls, and was impressed by the cooking and the team. Although he was kind of shocked by the British habit of using pork dripping for a short pastry, and was less than thrilled at how little they used in the way of eggs and cream. Becoming quite the discerning cook, he is.

And they even asked if he'd like to go back for a paying job over summer, so I suppose he must have made some sort of impression on them. And he's obviously been doing a bit of thinking as well in his spare time: he's decided he'd rather like to become an apprentice with the compagnons next year, rather than go back for another year of school.

Whatever, I'm off to enjoy what I can of this rather typical Easter Sunday: blustery and damp. Mind how you go now.