Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Random Weekend ...

Elementary physics, with Malyon, who should know better ...

Q: So what happens when you put a bottle of water in the freezer?
A: It freezes.

Yes, I think we all know that. So now,

Q: What happens to water when it freezes?
A: It gets colder.

Yes, but ...

A: It turns into ice.

Good, we're getting somewhere. And the thing that differentiates water from most other liquids, when they freeze, which brings them to a more ordered state ... otherwise put

Q: What really happens to water when it freezes?
A: (finally) It expands, unlike most other liquids, which contract on reverting to a solid and more ordered state.

Good, we're getting somewhere. So ...

Q: When you leave a hermetically sealed bottle of water in the freezer long enough, what happens?
A: It freezes.

Malyon, you are missing the point here. What happens is, the water freezes, it expands, the bottle explodes, and the freezer is full of shards of broken glass and ice, and I am really terminally pissed off especially as I happened to grab the business end of one of those shards whilst trying to stock away some blackberries and by the way where are the other two tubs? Outside, defrosting? Oh, good. If I put them in the freezer, it was for a reason. Right. Don't mind me while I bleed to death.

(In a spirit of full disclosure - which actually features prominently in our mission statement, admittedly in small print below the part about making obscene amounts of money - and in the interests of truth, which I personally find can be bloody inconvenient, I feel that I really ought to point out that both the bratlings deny any knowledge of, or implication in, the above circumstances. And as both are too big to be beaten until they do confess, I suppose I shall just have to accept that. Irritating as it is.)

Whatever, at some point last night, so the great Google informs me, this blog passed the 10,000 page-view mark. All thanks to you, loyal readers. Can I have my money now?

I'd like to take this opportunity to note that the SNCF seems to have changed the objectives of their announcer training school. There was a time when they sought only to have the announcements almost, but not entirely 100%, incomprehensible, so that you, the hapless passenger, would realise that something important was being said about what was probably, but not certainly, your train, but would miss exactly what that was.

Probably just as well, because it would be a fair bet that it concerned either the cancellation, or the departure, not five minutes ago, of that train. And the great thing about that, from their point of view, was that it left you feeling guilty, and stupid, for not having understood a damned thing.

These days - at least at St Pierre - the announcements are still incomprehensible, delivered as they are through an ancient Tannoy system so encrufted with crud and animal life that every time it's fired up half a dozen spiders and a kilo of pigeon crap are unceremoniously ejected from the speakers, but on top of that they're delivered in a stentorian stormtrooper diction that can only be described as pants-wettingly authoritarian.

Anyway, just at the moment we're ramping up to get rid of Jeremy. There's a boulanger at Nîmes who's interested in him so he needs to get down there on Wednesday, and so that he won't be all on his lonesome in a big city Malyon has very graciously consented to go down with him and hold his hand until he's taken in by the compagnons on the Thursday.

So as I have, as usual, left things til the last minute I have to book train tickets, organise things so that his telephone is in his name rather than mine and Malyon's (yes, he inherited her old cellphone account all those years ago, he can look after it himself from now on), and try to get them in at the auberge de jeunesse de Nîmes for the Wednesday night.

Shall have to go down and see him at some point, once he's installed: Nîmes is a lovely old city, oozing Roman ruins and scenic stuff, it seems a shame not to go and take a look. Often driven past the place, heading to points south on the autoroute, but as usual never taken the time to stop and dive in. Truth to tell, I think the only time we've ever done that - stop for touristic reasons at some place that was not our actual destination - was years ago, when for some reason, never regretted, we halted at Avignon and took an afternoon off to look around the city of the Popes.

In other news, went past the Beer Tree the other day and decided on a whim to have lunch: the new chef is more than honorably filling the shoes of the old. The suprême de pintade, sauce aux herbes and the écrasé de pommes de terre which accompanied it was excellent. As usual.

And as I went to pay Jeff waved a brandy snifter at me and said "shame you're leaving, I was just going to have a drink with you", and as nothing was particularly pressing we wound up having a round or two of rosé on the house, and toasting everything in sight in honour of the good weather.

I really am going to miss the guy when he leaves next Saturday: I do hope his replacement doesn't require too much training up.

Poor Bryan, sad to say, was unavailable. He does, amongst other things, translation work for the EDF, and was foolish enough to take on, some time in the past, 470 pages to be delivered for the end of August.

Of course the Canadians who, having written it, were supposed to be translating the bulk of the document decided that they didn't really want to so it ballooned to more like 900 pages, which were delivered way past the original deadline, and it is all mind-numbingly technical and, unless you're the sort of person that gets turned on by the sordid details of building and maintaining hydro dams, terminally boring.

Luckily they do have a sort of lexicon of approved technical terms so that even if there are misunderstandings they are, at least, consistent misunderstandings, but that doesn't do much to palliate the style.

I agree that it can't be easy to write a racy, erotic chapter on the importance of the number and correct spacing between retaining dikes preparatory to the terminal work on the actual dam itself (two at least are required, and they should be sufficiently far apart so that the flow of water in the basin between them is notably slower than the flow around the ends, which fill and empty the aforesaid basin - or so it appears) but even so, is there really a need for an ainsi to appear in every second sentence?

(That innocuous little word just means "thus" and French Canadians seem to regard its use in large quantities as indispensable, but leaving it in when you translate into English makes the end result rather like a sex manual written by a chartered accountant. At least, that's what Bryan reckons.)

Whatever, the upshot of it is that Bryan claims to be spending his time, from 7am to 11pm, ingurgitating unreadable French engineerese and producing an equal volume of the same thing, but in English. Hopefully there will at least be no confusion over the use of metric and imperial measures, but just as a precaution I'd personally avoid getting too near any new dams in the Congo (for which this little manual is apparently intended) until time has proved that they're unlikely to collapse in the immediate future.

Just saying.

Over to the right, by the way, is the Mk I version of that peach crisp I mentioned earlier. The Mk II, made with filo and crème frangipane, disappeared before I had the presence of mind to get a mug shot.

So anyway, last night's storm seems to have marked the end of the canicule, so I might actually go out for a bit of a walk up in the mountains while it's not too hot to move. Mind how you go, all.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Party Party Party ...

Lucky me, I have discovered something new. Having time to spare whilst waiting for Malyon to turn up from Geneva at the gare routière, it was only natural to wander into cour Dalya, a little hole in the wall in a courtyard off an alley just by the station. It stocks a truly eclectic range of Oriental and Middle Eastern and African products - it's where I got that foufou that I've not yet got around to using - and this time, not too far from the jaggery powder, there was a sad lonesome jug of pomegranate molasses.

Interesting, I thought, but the memory of the foufou came back to me and so my wiser self took control and I walked out empty-handed. And then, that very evening, I came upon this recipe, so on Tuesday I was back there, buying that very last jug. And a packet of jaggery which is, in case you didn't know (full disclosure: I didn't) is raw Indian cane sugar.

And having these two things to hand, it seemed only reasonable, after last night's hampe with bastard béarnaise and tomato and goat's cheese salad with mint and feuilleté aux trois fromages, to make dessert. As Malyon had generously left two pêches plates in the fridge it didn't take long to decide on what that would be: quickly make up a batch of croissant dough, roll that out into a rectangle, sprinkle it with the jaggery and cover that with thin slices of peach, then fold the long edges over towards the middle to leave a band of fruit exposed and drizzle that with cream (just happened to have an opened pot) and the molasses.

Into the oven with it for twenty minutes or so, and then ... there wasn't that much left, oddly enough. And then Jeremy insisted that I show him how to make Nepalese fried bread, so that he and Malyon would have something to eat the next morning.

In kind of an odd coincidence, I was talking the other day about Julia Child (can't remember exactly how the subject came up, but that's about par for the course), and of course for the life of me couldn't remember her name! (Not helped when Stacey suggested Alice Waters, which gave me a complete mental block on any other celebrated American female chefs.) Of course I could remember the book title - Mastering The Art of French Cooking - and so quickly googled: had I gone on the site rather than through the search bar I would not had to bother doing even that, as the daily doodle was celebrating what would have been her 100th birthday.

So anyway, Tuesday was Jerry's real birthday, which we celebrated quietly but in style, with roast lamb (with the temperature at night still up in the high 20s, why, oh Lord?) and the aforementioned confiture d'aubergines (whether or not you like it may depend on your garlic tolerance, Sophie found it a bit too much but tough, as far as I'm concerned it was perfect) and salad and stuff. Fortunately, roast potatoes were neither required nor on the menu, given the heat. There were but six of us and we were very restrained, only four bottles and all of those white or rosé.

And Saturday night was the proper party. He and Malyon spent Friday making a pinãta in the form of Spiderpig, which they cunningly reinforced to such a degree that he lasted a whole hour under the onslaughts of baton, branch and, finally, thrown bricks: he also, happily saving me quite a bit of work, went down to the paddock with the debroussailleuse and turned most of it into hay.

For reasons best known to herself Stacey owns a pair of pink rabbit ears, such as those to be seen on "Bob's Burgers", and having nothing better to do I though it would be a good idea to wear them as we went off to Carrefour to buy wine and vasty quantities of diots for the party. (Because Jerry thought that perhaps everyone would, now that the proper canicule has arrived, enjoy 100% pig sausages simmered in red wine, along with a kilo of pasta. Going on the evidence, he was not wrong.)

It was definitely a good idea, at least it afforded me great pleasure. Walking through Chamnord and seeing the double-takes and people walking into pillars because they weren't looking where they were going, and then in the check-out queues - hilarious. I think I should be nominated for a Nobel, if the looks on the faces of the three young women just behind me were anything to go by. I have brightened up a few lives.

So as it happens, I was still wearing them when we got back and Jerry's guests started turning up, in dribs and drabs. Lucas & Rémi know what to expect and so were not unduly startled, but I think it would have been nice of Lucas to warn his girlfriend ... she might not have choked so much before bravely giving me la bise.

Jerry had organised things very well, and all his lot headed down to the garden to start drinking whilst the grown-ups ate; then Mal bludged a cigar off me before heading down to keep an eye on them and organise the Bashing Of The Pinãta and similar healthy activities,  which left us free to listen to decent music and work out, through experimentation, exactly what temperature you should be keeping red wine at when you're experiencing a heatwave.

Have to admit that I skived off early, around 3am: can't really hack the pace anymore. Not that the yoof was much better: apparently they were all more or less dead to the world by 4am. Apart from Malyon, who very wisely chose to retire, guessing that if vomiting was to be done it wasn't her problem anymore, around 2.

On an unrelated note, it turns out that I had some bastard puff and some powdered almonds about my person the other day, and finding myself to be in possession not only of my wits but also some raisins, and some jaggery powder, it struck me that it would be a Good Idea to make some little pains aux raisins au frangipane, givent hat Malyon was going to be around. As it happens, I was not wrong.

Now for the classic version you would of course use croissant dough, but as it happens there was no yeast in the house (someone will die for this outrage to morality, but I suspect that it might by my fault so let's not be too eager, OK?) and one does what one can ...

Which, in this case, entails nothing more complicated than rolling out the pastry into a rectangle, spreading it with brown sugar and cinnamon and raisins, then rolling it into a log and then slice, putting the slices onto cooking parchment (please. Those who do the dishes will thank you for it) and than, before they head into the oven, you stick some crème frangipane on top.

Before you get too worried, this is not complicated either, involving as it does just creaming butter and sugar and powdered almonds, then beating in a whole egg and adjusting the thickness by judicious additions of flour or whatever until you have a thick cream. Hence its name.

As you can see, my pastry turned out to be not too bad, but I'd rather hoped that the cream would soak in a bit more than it in fact did. Perhaps, next time, I should just stick the cream directly onto the pastry, along with the raisins and everything. Shall ask the opinion of my totally impartial tasting panel at some point.

And just as an aside, I was ambling down rue Metropole the other day and noted, in passing, that outside the little shop that specialises in undertaking and art religieux there was a billboard. Unfortunately I didn't have the camera with me, because although on one side there was a fairly anodyne poster promoting funeral insurance, the other side was advertising gravestones.

And not just any old gravestones either, there was the "Classique", the "Inhumation", and the rather tasteful "Crémation", which is kind of small and, from what I could make out on the photo, came with a handy flip-top lid. The photos themselves were pretty much on a par with what I'd expect from a small flyer advertising the local supermarket specials: at least they didn't have "Promo!" in bold red letters across them.

Anyway, it is, as they say, caniculaire around here: temperatures are up in the low 40s and there's not a breath of air and on the rare occasions there is one you kind of wish it hadn't bothered because it's about as dry and hot as the Sahara.

So I personally am going to slump down in my chair and try to avoid melting into a puddle of grease, until I can summon up the will-power to move, and head home to where the chilled rosé is lurking. Margo, in Birmingham, has probably had more liveable temperatures than us.

Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Marketry, Mostly ...

It is always a wonderment to me that one can learn so much from these "pages" on the "internet". Only the other day I was leafing through porn The Economist and came across a book review of a life of Titian, interesting enough in itself but with the added tidbit that he often lunched with "Angela del Moro, the model for Urbino’s Venus and the second-highest paid courtesan in Venice, who was noted for refusing to feign orgasms."

I did not know that earlier, but I can see that random fact coming in very useful for dinner parties and otherwise extremely boring lunches. And could I just say that I have never feigned an orgasm either? No? Sorry, let's forget it then. (Mind you, it's a good word, "feign". Difficult to drop into a conversation, though.)

On the other hand, I would like to know who was, in fact, the highest-paid courtesan in Venice. And having an idea of the price differential would be good.

So Margo had someone here for the week, learning everything there is to learn about the gentle art of textile dyeing. Food and board was included in the deal, and as a result I have been cooking above and beyond the call of duty: homard palestine, bubbling ramequins of chicken and lardons in a blue cheese sauce, and my favourite coquilles St-Jacques in white wine and cream. And lots of salad.

Not beans. Margo's gorgeous imperial purple silk
A shame Jeremy wasn't with us to enjoy it, but he disappeared on Monday, then we got an SMS to say that we shouldn't expect him before Friday and as of writing he still hasn't turned up. As Sophie is off in Montpellier I kind of suspect that he's staying at her place with Lucas: I hope they have time to clear up the wreckage and dispose of all the bottles/bodies before she arrives back.

But it must be admitted that not having him around does have its benefits. For one thing, you don't start the weekend off with 16 eggs in the fridge only to discover, on the Monday, that there are now only 6. (I think, but am not sure, that this is related to midnight snacks of pain perdu.) It would be nice to be able to plan ahead sometimes, rather than be forced to work with whatever one happens to find in the fridge.

Whatever, do not get me onto the topic of the SNCF and their communication skills. I checked the timetables on Friday night and headed down to the station to catch the 8:40 to Chambéry on Saturday morning: being of a suspicious nature I checked the timetables again, looked for warning notices and finally, satisfied, composted my ticket. (Do not ask why the French should choose to have a verb like composter, referring to the act of validating or stamping, because I do not know. Probably because it gives them a chance to make mean jokes about foreigners.)

So of course it was at that point that I spotted a couple of Jeremy's friends lounging around, evidently waiting for the same train as I: they very kindly volunteered the information that the train was cancelled, and the next one was at 10:10. And thirty seconds later, a rather harassed-looking little man with an official cap and ratty whiskers poked his head around a door to tell me the same thing, adding for good notice that "there were signs up, and everything".

(To do him justice, there were. I checked, and on a noticeboard behind the door in the toilets there was, tacked up, a grubby little bit of paper with a note on it to the effect that, due to work on the lines, traffic would be perturbé on the 4th & 11th of August, and certain trains were subject to cancellation. So that's alright then.)

And rather than cool my heels for 90 minutes taking in the scenery around the gare, I headed back up the hill to get another coffee. Almost killed me - by drowning - it was already about 28°. Uphill, in the full sun ...

Still, let it be admitted that travelling by train does let one keep a finger on the pulse of popular kulcha, if only by looking at the posters for films and stuff that are up at every station. (Yes, people still pay to put up physical ads. Seems a bit odd in this day and age, but there you are.)

In this particular case, I am referring to "The Expendables 2", which seems to be a sort of retirement benefit performance for every old action-movie dinosaur from the last thirty years. With an all-star cast including the Gubernator, Stallone, van Damme, Bruce Willis and with, I suspect, lots of explosive special effects but very little plot and probably even less acting.

As I meditated on this and other matters the train finally pulled up and decanted me at Chambéry, so I trundled off and stocked up a bit: no apricots because, sadly, they've reached that point where you need to eat them within five minutes of buying them and you can abandon all hope of getting them home without their turning spontaneously into soup, but nectarines and apples and as much greenery as I could carry, and cheese.

For Malyon turns up on Monday night, and she expressed a desire for Thai spicy beef salad, and maybe a feuilleté au trois fromages, and as the goat cheese guy was there and it was still early enough that he had some batusson, I took advantage of that and got some. And while I was there, a bit of cendré, and a fresh goat cheese rolled in poivre/poivron ... and then I went past a stall that I'm pretty sure hadn't been there before, selling Arab pastries crunchy with powdered almonds and dripping with honey, and also Moroccan bread.

So I got some flat-bread, which seems to be called, variously, hacha or meloui, but whatever the name is absolutely delicious, whether spread with cheese or sopping up sauce or, probably, drizzled with honey. I've found some recipes - some involving cumin and anis and honey - and I am going to try them, some time soon. I'll let you know how that goes.

It was not, in fact, this big
But I digress. With my arms about 5cm longer I gratefully deposited the shopping baskets in Stacey's car, and we headed back to the Beer Tree to pick up our cases of rosé. (Which is, incidentally, a côtes de Ventoux, which they rather tweely call "Gour'Mandiz" but the stuff is so good that I can - just - forgive them that.) So the pair of us slumped into our seats and ordered a glass apiece when Jeff came out, at which point he also saw fit to inform us that he was leaving on September 1st.

Bugger!, with feeling. He's a good lad, he will be sorely missed. Still, he won't be going far, and he promised to keep in touch, let us know which restaurant he goes to work for. After a month's doubtless well-deserved holiday, down in Croatia. (You see? I do talk to people, sometimes.) And on the bright side, we didn't have to pay for the drinks. "On the house", he said, "seeing as you're taking two crates". Anyway, know what we're all doing Saturday 1st of September, especially as he's buying. Shall have to organise Bryan & Beckham.

Anyway, for some reason Stacey decided she wanted diots that day for lunch, so she dug out those ones that she got from the farm across the valley the other day and I whipped those up in white wine and onions and herbs with new potatoes simmering in the sauce, and some salad. Sad to say they were kind of deçevants, disappointing: 100% natural, with no added colorant, but unfortunately no flavour either. Possibly a bit too much fat (for they shrank alarmingly), and whoever made them apparently forgot that a charcutier uses salt in abundance for a very good reason.

Veggie porn
And I am not great friends with the blette, which I'd call silverbeet but which our colonial cousins will insist on calling chard, but I do have to admit that if fried up rapidly with some caramelised onions and a bit of nutmeg, put on a base of filo pastry and covered with mozzarella before being stuck in the oven for twenty minutes or so, it is more than just edible. In fact, the thought comes to me that with a bit of bacon and blue cheese, it would make rather a nice filling for a vegetable strudel. Next weekend, maybe.

Also, the same guy that sells me pepperoncini also does little baby poivrons which are, with the top cut off, seeds removed, stuffed with batusson and baked in the oven for thirty minutes, quite sublime.

But right now, I am trying to work out what to do with vast quantities of domesticated blackberries (that just means that they don't piss on the furniture, also they have no sharp ouch! prickly bits) from Joëlle's garden, being as what she has taken off to New York with her niece to celebrate the Getting Of The Baccalaureat and also so that she (Joëlle) can go see the Rocky Horror show.

(You know, I would never have picked her as someone who would be into that. Just goes to show - apparently she saw it thirty years ago or so, and it marked her for life.)

In any case, I rather think the evening is going to involve blackberry shortcake. Wish me luck with that.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

In Which I Suffer Melt-Down ...

So there I was, comfortably installed under a parasol at l'Arbre à Bières (maybe I should just call it the Beer Tree from now on, would save everyone problems) and Foul Ole Ron  had wandered in with his rather glitzy purpleish shirt (must have been the height of fashion, about 30 years ago) and installed himself at the bar hoping for a free glass of the stuff they use to scrub the floors, and who should come up the street but my old friends Larry and Mark?

And they were both incredibly pissed. Not as in drunk, but annoyed.  Now Mark has a few issues, I can understand that: the sex with the secretary was entirely 100% consensual and there was absolutely no need whatsoever for the entire board to jump on him as they did. And for heaven's sake, anyone can improperly misrepresent expenses, it happens all the time.

And I can totally understand how Larry, seeing as they'd played tennis together for years, took this as a personal slight and consequently offered him the job at Oracle, hoping it would smooth things over. Sadly, turned out not to be the case, thanks to those bastards at HP, especially "Swivel-Eyed Leo" Apotheker.

Whatever, Larry was not having a good day. I mean, not often that he confides in people, what with him having a yacht and everything, but it was pretty clear that he was distressed. Not only did the other Larry get off scot-free with Android and all that patent infringement stuff in which he believed so dearly, but now HP have managed to condemn him to supporting the bloody Itanium platform for as long as Intel choose to keep making the frikkin' things.

The pair of them were rather sad and extremely angry and I can really get that: I mean, how would you feel if you were found guilty of "promissory estoppel"? Makes it sound as if your sex life were totally inadequate which is, if you can believe the rumours about Larry, completely unfair.

Still, one bright spot in the whole sorry business - he gets a bit of small change out of SAP. Not that $600 million is much more than pocket money these days, but it should pay to get the boat repainted or keelhauled or whatever.

On a different note, for those of you who have an interest in such things, it seems that Malyon will be turning up on the 13th for a couple of weeks with her little brother and her aged parents. Well, one aging parent anyway, as Margo is, quite coincidentally, heading off to a show in Birmingham on that very day, and spending a week there. I guess it won't worry Mal too much: she's probably planning on heading off to Grenoble and other points south anyway, things to do and friends to catch up with.

So Saturday started off well enough: Margo dropped me off at the market early and I whipped round in record time, a smile on my lips and a song in my heart because I managed to find some pepperoncini and discovered another stall selling sweetcorn. These simple delights really do cheer me up. I can only assume that my being happy annoys someone, because it was when I came to phone Margo to let her know I'd finished that I discovered that my phone was blocked, with a courteous text from Bouygues to tell me that I was on restricted roaming, restricted calls, restricted this that and whatever, and was basically screwed.

What the hell, the shopping basket only weighed about about 15 kilos and there's a Bouygues shop not too far away and it wasn't yet over 30°, so off I trotted to find out what the hell was going on. And cooled my heels for ten minutes whilst the guy behind the counter (why was there only one guy? Has Chambéry closed down for the summer?) sucked his teeth as he held an apparently dead phone to his ear, waiting for signs of life at the other end of the line.

Finally he gave up on that as being a bad job, reluctantly noticed me and - I guess it's part of his job - asked dubiously if there was any way he could be of help. The way he said it should have been a dead giveaway but I'm always optimistic, said that I hoped so, and explained the situation. Sorry squire, said he, you've gone way over your contract so your line has automatically been blocked. Only way to do anything is to call customer service - from a fixed line, obviously - and work it out with them. Fine.

Later that same day, in front of the PC, bring up their website to find the contact number. Somewhere down in the fine print - because they're obliged to mention it, but really really do not want actual people calling them because that wastes their time - I find a mention of 1054. Which, like an idiot, I dial. On hold for a while, and then I am asked to type in my mobile number: fair enough, but at the end their damn automated voicemail tells me that it can't recognise the number, and would I please try again. And after three failed attempts, it tells me to call 618.

Which I duly do, and after waiting some more I am informed that this number is for use from mobiles only, and would I care to call 1058, which is the number for professionals. At this point in time, I am starting to get seriously annoyed. Anyway, I dial 1058 and by some miracle on the second attempt it recognises my phone number! Only to go on and ask me for my secret code. I have absolutely no idea what my secret code might be, so I just hung on and waited: the system then tells me that it couldn't understand and in any case human beings are only available between the hours of 8am and 7pm on a Saturday and guess what, it's 19:13 so you're stiff out of luck. Try again Monday.

I mean, couldn't they just outsource the whole damn thing to India or somewhere that they can find semi-competent people available for a pittance 24/24, 7/7?

Still, nil desperandum and all that, so I thought I'd try the actual website. I know I once logged on because I ordered a new phone online some time ago: of course I've forgotten the password and the Palm V has finally died and the PC on which all that sort of thing is synched is currently up at the office, but what the hell, I can always click on the little button that says "I am a moron and have forgotten my password". So I did that, checked the little option to have my reset password sent to me by e-mail, and waited. Ten minutes later, still waiting ... I repeat the procedure. Another ten minutes, finally I give in and tell the bloody system to send me the password by SMS (brilliant idea if you've lost or broken your phone, which is why they have the apparently non-working option to notify you by mail, does no-one actually bother to do a bit of testing on websites these days?) ... and thirty seconds later I get a text, and thirty seconds after that an e-mail arrives, to tell me that I have received an SMS. Go figure.

Still, I'm duly grateful for small mercies, I have my password, time to log on. I wish to look at the last bill and, if necessary, pay it straight away and maybe change my contract: I am about to be disappointed once again. "This part of our site is momentarily unavailable. We apologise for any inconvenience. Go screw yourself."

Which is what I more or less decided to do: under the circumstances it seemed the least miserable of the available options.

Apart from that, things could be worse. Met up with Mad Karen on Thursday, as she had to leave Mumblefuck to come sign the papers for the sale of her apartment. Which means that now she and Philippe can buy that enormous plot of land they've had their eyes on and build a new house on it, preferably one without rising damp designed into it.

But right at this moment they're off to the States for a while: a week or so in LA, blissfully free of family and then, suitably restored, New York to catch up with Sylvia and Liz.

Now as Liz is still, apparently, insisting that all incoming letters and such be sterilised before being brought into the apartment, and Sylvia must wear full hazmat gear and scrub with acid before seeing the baby, this should be fun, in a twisted way.

Also, Beckham seems to have forgiven me, sort of. (Yeah, I know. As Bryan said to me the other day, "Never, ever, not even in jest, ask a woman what she's been eating. She knows what she's been eating, and she knows intimately every gram that she's put on, and where. Do not go there." I wish he'd said that before I opened my mouth.) But anyway, I headed down to the Beer Tree Thursday night to get a quick bite before going back up to the office to get some work done (the Americans - and the Swiss - are fair wetting themselves at the possibilities of this little embedded Linux system, worse than kids with a new puppy) and who should be propping up a table but Bryan, Beckham and the Lillois.

Don't know how the conversation turned to it, but as part of her ongoing mission to discover everything possible about Bryan's hidden past, including his hair colour (currently white) she let it drop that the world's biggest sperm bank was refusing donations from redheads, due to insufficient demand. Normally, this sort of fact only comes out when the tone has sufficiently degenerated, which is my job, so I guess my apologies have been tacitly accepted.