... 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.
(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 ...
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.
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.
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
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.