Monday, November 26, 2012

Last Seen, Wandering Vaguely ...

So I was wandering aimlessly around Chambéry the other night, cursing my lack of forethought in not having brought the camera along with me (for the Christmas decorations are up - already - and once night falls it is, as Malyon used to say, "Pretty! Sparkly sparkly!") and came across Beckham's rear end, disappearing into the Café de Paris.

And at that point it came to me that Beckham going into a bar on a Friday night could only mean one thing, namely that Bryan was in there drinking, and as I hate to leave people to drink alone I thought I might as well go in too and keep the poor things company.

Which I duly did, and no sooner was the usual spiteful exchange of civilities over than Beckham just happened to drop into the conversation that of course I wouldn't have heard about Kevin, and that she was turning 31 on Sunday and was planning a big party at Cardinals and that under no circumstances was I to even think of turning up, as that would rather lower the tone. And then, as the subject had just come up, I got an earful all about Kevin, who has replaced the Lillois and is apparently, as if I really wanted to know, hung like a stallion.

Or something like that anyway: I have to admit that I was more concerned with snaffling another bowl of nibbles to go with the roussette as Bryan had fallen with little cries of glee onto the first one that came round and had mostly devoured them, and wasn't really paying that much attention. So it might have been that he stung like a hellion, not sure.

Anyway, rewinding the week a bit, I trotted up the road and popped the mandat de vente in Jean's letterbox on Sunday: on Monday son number three (I think), Alexandre (the real-estate agent) rang to see if he could bring some visitors round this week. Then Stéphane, our would-be slum-lord rack-renter neighbour (OK, dead-keen Monopoly player), rang to see if his cousin could come take a look around one evening ... and they say the housing market is dead.

Possibly is, I suppose, if you're hoping to shift some monumental pile for a for a half-way decent percentage of what you overpaid for it back in the day, but I get the definite feeling that if you're not greedy and have a decent property, there's plenty of life in it yet.

(Also, in about six months, we will actually own the place, more or less. This will be a definite first for us, and should make life a damn sight easier. Then, of course, we will buy this enormous old dump and spend a packet on doing it up, and will go straight back into debt again, but we're used to that.)

Whatever, as will happen from time to time I popped into a pharmacy the other day and, continuing the fine tradition of hard-driving investigative journalism for which these pages are rightly famous, headed over to take a look at the condoms wedged uneasily between the baby food and the insect repellent. (And no, I have no idea why they thought that would be appropriate placement. The baby food maybe, as a dire reminder of what you could get if you don't use one, but as for mosquito cream I simply cannot imagine.)

So anyway, I'm happy to be able to report that at least in the Grande Pharmacie Tercinet at Chambéry, those eager lovers blessed with sufficient restraint and a bit of forethought can take their pick from "Jeans" (no zipper, I assume), "Endurance", "Orgasmic", the enticingly named "Pleasuremax Warming" (now god alone knows what that's all about, as for the warming part I can only assume that means batteries somewhere in the equation, they're not included and with my luck they'd go flat before we'd even started - or maybe they're full of Tiger Balm, which would indeed be warming but not necessarily a Good Idea) and "Happy Hour".

Which I guess means either that you get two for the price of one, or that's about as long as they expect you to keep it up.

There is also the "Super Pratique", which would normally just mean "simple and useful", as though anyone could actually need a user's manual for such a simple device. Hell, there aren't even any moving parts. (Stops, thinks for a minute about that one.) OK, sorry, there are moving parts. But they tend to take care of themselves, in my admittedly limited experience.

Now Margo headed off to Pau for a salon, leaving me rattling around the house all on my own (unless you count the cat, which personally I tend not to because our only interaction consists of her coming and giving me the silent miaow treatment when she thinks it's time for her to be fed, other than that I might as well not exist) so I was kind of pleased to get a call from Mad Karen to say that they were going to be having a Thanksgiving lunch at Mumblefuck on Sunday, and would I like to turn up?

Sophie once asked me to try and explain exactly what Thanksgiving was all about. I'm not so sure, with hindsight, that saying it was a holiday when Americans thank god for having taught their forebears to swindle the indigenous race, steal their land and eventually massacre a fair percentage of them, was such a good idea.

In any case I made it up there just after midday to find Karen bustling around the kitchen in some sort of culinary dervish dance, orbiting the salads, basting the beast and generally faffing about her monstrous stove, trying to make sure that everything was going to be ready more or less at the same time and, more importantly, that that time would be when most everyone was actually there.

Which, this being France and a Sunday to boot, meant some arbitrary time after the actual appointed moment, but Amelia eventually turned up, followed closely by Jocelyn and Hervé, and just to ensure that Roger wasn't too late we stuck all the extra grub that Joc had brought into the oven to reheat and settled down to the apéro.

And after half an hour of that we all decided that enough was enough and Roger could bloody well starve so we persuaded the various bratlings to organise the table settings and so naturally enough he turned up just as the sideboard was buckling under the combined weight of a huge turkey with chestnut stuffing, spiced candied yams, brussels sprouts, twice-baked potatoes, cornbread muffins, cranberry sauce and various other unconsidered trifles.

It took us quite some time to even start making a dent in that lot, even with the help of a few bottles of Gigondas, and then it was time for dessert - happily Karen had decided to skip the cheese course, for that would have been sheer cruelty, and totally superfluous to boot.

But we did our best, and by four the table was looking somewhat barer and we were all thinking wistfully of a siesta, which of course did not happen because quite frankly I for one had no particular desire to take the départementale from Mumblefuck back to Annecy too late, as for some unknown reason it's always clogged and anyway it was raining spitefully. So instead we divvied up the books, for we run a sort of rotating book club around here, and whenever we meet it's always accompanied by shopping bags packed with an eclectic selection of reading matter.

They get emptied onto the table, some go back into other bags whilst others go back on the shelves and new stuff gets brought out, and a couple of months later the little dance repeats itself. I wasn't greedy that day, and hove off bearing only a couple to go back in the library and a copy of the first volume of "The Dresden Files", which I remember enjoying on TV - lightweight, but fun.

So anyway, that was the week, that was. Sad to say that on Sunday the weather took a serious turn for the worse - fairly typical, I guess, for Thanksgiving - to the point where they're promising de la neige en plaine during the week. Still, I can always take solace in the fact that as I took a glass of rosé at the Beer Tree on Saturday their new chef was busy out in the tiny kitchen, removing sinew and nerves from a great hunk of venison.

Which means venison stew on Tuesday, after a day or two marinating, which can only be a Good Thing, as far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

And The Forests Burn ...

 ... which is, as far as I'm concerned, a Good Thing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some wild-eyed denier of anthropogenic-induced climate change but let's face it, if setting the Amazon (that'd be the rain-forest, not the online tat bazaar) aflame ups the sum total of human happiness I'm all for it. Not that I'm against burning the online Amazon either, given that I appear to have an entire junk folder devoted to their seemingly endless promotional offers.

Just saying, but I really do not care if other people who bought "Charcuterie" also bought "The Joy of Tantric Sex" or even "Greasy Sausage Love", and not only do I not care, I do not even wish to know. So why, for buying one book - one single bloody book - am I so punished?

I guess that their marketing robots are unconcerned, but I'd have thought that just maybe someone higher up the food chain would have realised that sending me all these emails about books I don't care about, recommended by people I don't care to know, was not only unproductive but also counter-productive, because quite frankly the only way I'll be buying anything else from Amazon would be because it's something I really need and I can't get it anywhere else (like, maybe a pocket nuclear warhead, or some weaponised anthrax), or I have rabies.

And in the latter case, I'm not sure that I really fit into their market demographic.

Although I'm sure that if I went back into the APG database through the handy SQL back-door that I doubt anyone thought to remove (mind you, they might finally have gotten around to cancelling the Remote Server account that let me pop up inside the firewall), I could slice and dice the data to demonstrate a link between barking-mad chefs and sexual perversion, but what would be the point?

In any case, over here in our little corner of Ole Yurrup, it is mid-November and the central heating is just barely ticking over - the boiler, in fact, looks rather upset, as it has bugger-all to do and it does like to feel useful. (Mind you, when that does happen, it looks really smug, which is incredibly annoying.)

So anyway here we are, like I said, mid-November and it's still around 17° in the afternoon, not yet had a frost ... the poele in the kitchen more or less heats the whole house and quite frankly, I rather like that. In fact it's warm enough that sometimes I even take my jacket off at the office, an event rare enough to be commented upon.

Usually, let it be said, unfavourably, with particularly venomous attention paid to those little white under-arm circles on the sweat-shirt, but hell, you don't want to wash those suckers too often, it just sucks the goodness out of them. Washing them is what puts holes in clothes. Apparently.

Although when I look at my mowing and market-going shorts, which have not been washed for some time (alright, epochs), and which still consist mainly of holes, I'm not so sure. But it's not a syllogism, so that's alright then.

As it turns out, I was perhaps over-optimistic when I wrote about the weather.

I headed off, as is my wont, to the market this moaning under a clear blue sky: sad to say, the closer I got to Chambéry the more it became very apparent that the place was, as so often, sitting sullenly under its very own grey cloudbank.

And when I actually got there it was swimming in fog, heavy, cold and damp, with a slightly lighter patch somewhere around where the sky would normally be to show that the sun was, in fact, up and about. Of course I hadn't bothered to bring a pair of gloves, an omission I quickly started to regret as my hands got chillier and chillier, and a playful little breeze from points further north made a few vain efforts to shift the mist around and only succeeded in biting to the bone.

Still, at least it was a rapid trip around: hardly any little old ladies at that hour of the morning. Although I note with alarm that even the younger people - younger than I, that is - are starting to use those frikking pull-along shopping caddies, usually with some sort of humorous slogan blazoned on them, and they can be even worse than the poisonous hags because not only do they have the caddy, they also have a pram and sometimes a loosely-orbiting child as well.

About the best you can say of them is that they don't stop in the middle of the alleys between the stalls and block all traffic whilst they chat with other caddy-towing families, probably because they're generally stopped blocking traffic as they vainly try to wipe snot from the nose of orbiting brat - or at least smear it about a bit, so it's not as noticeable - and strap screaming brat n°2 more firmly into the pram. And then they flick you a dirty look as a misplaced kick accidentally sends a soggy fluffy toy under one of the stalls.

But like I said, the foul weather was localised, and once I'd got what I needed and wandered off aways the sky started to clear up, and I rather foolishly decided to take the back roads to Montmelian.

Which is when I was reminded that it is also that time of year when the last of the enthusiastic velocipede-artists are out in force, clad in flashy Lycra, holding up traffic on the windy bits of road (which is most of them, almost by definition), and eventually clogging up the space between the front bumper and the tarmac. Inconsiderate of them, because it's a bitch to clean under there.

Now another random thing about the French language: over here, as in most places I suppose, you buy a ticket for your public transport of choice and then, in some way or another, when you actually get on board the conveyance or whatever you are supposed to mark your ticket in some way, to indicate that it has been used. (and just scrawling a big cross on it in crayon or marker pen is not, for some reason, considered adequate).

All this is fine and dandy, but it still seems odd that there should be several words for this act: if, for instance, you take the train, you should compost your ticket (in the bright yellow omnipresent pillars), whereas if you take a bus, it must be obliterated. In the little orange boxes, which sound like a miniature guillotine. Taking the train is definitely more ecologically sound.

Anyway, I thought that just for once I would not do any work this weekend, but instead indulge in that quintessential French activity, the post-lunch afternoon walk. You can often see whole families setting out, dressed to the nines, with kids in prams, spotty adolescents, parents, grandparents and usually a dog or two (for some strange reason the family groups have small yappy dogs, older couples tend to have Newfoundlands or something, go figure) for a bit of healthy exercise to help lunch settle down.

So off I went, camera slung over one shoulder, for a leisurely amble in the countryside, under the low sunlight slanting in and lighting everything up in shades of misty gold.

If you stick to the slightly muddier tracks there's little risk of encountering one of those family groups so it's very quiet and peaceful, and for a little while I can almost fool myself into thinking that I like the countryside.

Although then, just as I'm starting to feel good about being a child of nature and in harmony with the slow laziness of things and stuff like that, I do tend to think of that Torchwood episode, "Countrycide", and the feeling passes.

Whatever, I finished up - as quite often happens - at the cemetery at St Jean de la Porte. I like cemeteries - seeing how the names change with the years (I mean, the Euphrosines and Hippolytes are pretty thin on the ground these days), wondering just what it was that killed off a swag of children and young men in 1922/23 (flu epidemic? Particularly cold winter?), and looking at the occasionally melancholy histories of the noble families that have either disappeared or are being very discreet right now.

My favourite is still the Delachenals du Noyer de Lescheraines, who are buried at St Pierre and who seem to have made a living furnishing ladies-in-waiting to Her Majesty Queen Therèse of Sardinia, but the counts, viscounts, and assorted petty nobility of la Barge de Certeau, now definitively installed at St Jean, are pretty good too.

And in keeping with old traditions, many of them seem to have inherited the selfless dedication to their country and the utter stupidity that characterised the English upper classes, by going nobly to their deaths (probably along with their troops) as infantry captains or whatever in Indochina, back in the 30s. Those of them that survived the first world war, anyway. Must be some recessive gene, one that goes along with not having much of a chin or something.

Also, there is the doubtless less-nobby Pissant family, one of whom, Henri Alphonse, had a wife who was Sublet. To whom, the tombstone does not say.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Grease, The Cooking Class ...

So I forgot to mention, amongst other things, that as I was wandering through the lost aisles of Carrefour, where there be monsters and all manner of fabulous beasts including otherwise perfectly-formed men with but a single great foot which they hold over their heads to protect them from rain, rather than the more standard but admittedly boring unipedal locomotion favoured by other one-legged species (credit here to Pliny, who made it all up years ago), I came across the little brother to my birthday sauteuse.

And so, as it was looking lonely, I bought it, and brought it, home. Spot the superfluous grocers' comma. But anyway, by sheer coincidence I happened to have some frozen scallops, and one thing lead to another, as it will ... have I mentioned before that I really, really like stainless steel non-non-stick pans? I mean apart from not getting a dose of Teflon every time you cook, the sheer pleasure of a micrometrically flat stainless steel/copper sandwich base which heats quickly and gives you (if you wish) burnt crunchy bits for sauce?

Also, a sauteuse has high, vertical sides - kind of like a flatter saucepan - which means you can actually shake things around in it so that they at least stand a chance of browning evenly without them flying all over the stove-top. Which, for those that have to clean up afterwards, has to be good.

And if you happen to have, as I did, a duck breast in the fridge, you could probably do worse than to cook that along with pommes sarlardaises and goldenrod broccoli, from Digby Law's excellent "Vegetable Cookbook". (And no, I am not going to pull it out of the cupboard to check the publishing date. Suffice it to say that my edition must date from 30 years ago, at least. Thank you, Bennett's Bookstore, where I spent many a happy hour trying to memorise recipes and even jotting notes on scraps of paper, until I started earning enough money to be able to actually buy the books.)

The trick here is to slash the skin of the duck breast and then fry it, skin side down, for about ten minutes: the skin will crisp and it will render a phenomenal quantity of fat, which is why I have a never-empty jar of duck fat in the fridge - no matter how much I use I never seem to be able to get rid of it all. A decent forensic cook could probably tell what I prepared six months ago just by observing the colour of the different fat strata in there.

Anyway, having done that and spooned most of the fat out, it is time to fry some lardons - or chopped bacon, if you prefer - in there, and when that gets crispy, add the diced potatoes. You might need to spoon a bit more duck fat back in, just saying - when they start to brown cover the pan, turn the heat down, and start to worry about the broccoli.

This too is remarkably simple: boil and drain - or steam - the broccoli, taking care to remove any caterpillars as people who find those in their meal often tend to show off about it, and make a bechamel with the smelliest cheese you have floating around, and a good dose of Worcester sauce. To this shall you add the chopped white of a hardboiled egg, and then pour it all over the broccoli which you'll have thought to put in a gratin dish. Then, using the small sieve you just happen to have lying around, sieve the egg yolk over the lot, salt and pepper to taste, and pop it into the oven whilst you turn your attention back to the main attraction.

Now, where were we with that? Oh yes, crispy bacon with potatoes. Now that they're all done, and there's still a bit of fat left in the pan, just add a finely chopped onion (red, if you like the colour contrast) and a couple of handfuls of frozen peas, and stir all that around a bit before slapping in that duck breast again: skin side down for a few minutes, just to crisp it up again (for it will have gone soggy), then flesh side down for another five minutes or so, depending on just how rare you like your duck. Personally, bloody is good, but tastes differ.

And after all that, it's just a question of letting the meat rest for a few minutes before slicing it and serving (in the pan, why not, saves on dishes), accompanied, if you want my opinion, with some redcurrant jelly. Whatever.

I made the mistake of moving my keyboard the other day, due to an unfortunate drink-related wine-spill. (Probably more ecological than Exxon Valdez, certainly less voluminous.) I have to say that those Microsoft "ergonomic" keyboards (which they do not, sadly, seem to make any more) are not only very comfortable to use (once you get used to them, which some people apparently never quite manage) but also extremely robust.

I have had keyboards which have died when exposed to a few drops of pure water, godnose what would have happened with half a glass of Cabernet: my faithful old MS one, even though the letters are wearing off the keys so I would have to guess half the time exactly what I was hitting were it not that my fingers know their way around it, sneers at such things.

I suspect there's a drip tray in there, all you really have to do after such an incident is turn it upside down and shake it, then wipe up. Which rather brings me back to my original point, which is that over the years there's an awful lot of stuff that builds up in and under keyboards, and some of it you might not want to know about.

Okay, a bit of dandruff is perfectly acceptable and dead skin cells are falling off all the time. Biscuit crumbs? Why not, I doubt I'm the first person to nibble whilst hunched over the keyboard. But honestly, a dead spider? And hair? And that's just what falls out of the thing, along with the drips of wine.

Fortunately, paper towels were invented for just such an eventuality but just when you start cleaning up is when you notice that under the small mound of dislodged detritus the previously-hidden surface of your desk appears to be covered in what you could only call, being honest, grey greasy stuff.

With lint, apparently, being rubbed into it: almost as though someone's started out making linoleum there. There are also small scraps of paper that have crept away to die, bits of lead from the Rotring pencil, and lots of whatever it is you call the bits that come off a rubber when you use it on paper.

And in my particular case, there were a couple of crop circles or something: I suspect that some mould got started and later died from lack of food. Whatever, quite a revelation. Who knew all that stuff was lurking under there? I'm sure it can't be entirely healthy.

Whatever, 'tis the season and all that so it was grey and wet as I wandered around the market (and as I write, it is fair pissing down) which is probably why, in addition to the grenaille and the sweet potatoes (to go, eventually, with the bit of lamb shoulder that's nesting in the fridge) and the clementines, I threw caution to the winds and bought a pomegranate.

I have always liked the looks of them - like jewel boxes, with those ruby seeds spilling out - but never quite known what to do with them, or even what they really tasted like. So it seemed like a good idea.

Sadly I still had no idea at all what to do with the damn thing, although certain people of my acquaintance told me just to eat it as it was, without embellishment: unfortunately as far as I'm concerned that's a non-starter because if you can't do something with it then just what is food for? So obviously, I resorted - as any fule kno - to Google.

Now there's any number of recipes out there which call for pomegranate juice, or molasses (which, oddly enough, I happen to have, in a tightly-stoppered bottle in the cupboard where the sauces and spices lurk. Which reminds me that I managed to stock up on some decent Madras and Bombay curries at Toulouse so the trip definitely wasn't wasted, also that there is some hampe in the down-below fridge and they are just made for each other ...) but not that many for the unadorned fruit.

So I came across one for an apple and pomegranate crisp and the idea tempted me mightily, but if I might just warn you, do not use brown sugar as this one called for. The raw sugar taste overpowers the delicate flavour, and on top of it the juices come out looking like Ganges mud rather than brilliant crimson. Come to that, I'm not sure that the cinnamon was called for, either.

I mean, it wasn't actually bad as such, but not what I'd been looking for. Let's call it a mitigated disaster, and make a mental note for next time. Maybe it'll be better cold.

In other news, our prodigal son, who has to do the return trip from Nîmes to Alès every day, has decided that life would be a whole lot easier if he had transport (for bus services do not necessarily coincide with the working hours of a boulanger). So he went off and enquired about such things and for only €800 or so he can get his scooter licence.

In all fairness, I should point out that this sum also covers a brand-new 125cc scooter so it's a kind of package deal, buy the scooter and get the licence chucked in for free (for he gives us to understand that the actual test is not particularly rigourous, provided you don't actually fall over and can spell your name or a close approximation thereof it's in the bag).

Less cheerfully, he had his three-month old laptop nicked on Friday, which is definitely a bit of an arse. He went off and did all the formalities, but I guess that's one machine he won't be seeing again. Not covered by our insurance, either. On the brighter side, as he's a poor apprentice earning 75% of the SMIC, seems he should be eligible for aide au logement, which might be a couple of hundred a month. We'll see.

Anyway, time to go scavenging for more coffee, and stick another log on the fire. See you.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Combatting A Gloomy Sunday ...

As it turned out, dinner was not in fact half bad. The little cheese swirls turned out to be more than acceptable, the pig was as tender as one could wish, and dessert - have to think of a name for it some time - was worth the minimal effort. And it certainly felt good, on a particularly grey, cold and dismal Sunday afternoon, to spend most of the afternoon in the kitchen, full of warm smells from the old poele as things sizzled and bubbled and generally cooked.

And Monday dawned bright and sunny, absolutely beautiful with the sun shining off the snow on the flanks of l'Arclusaz to the north: a bit chilly (first frost of the year, far too early for me: hope we brought the lemon tree inside in time) but that's doubtless good for the soul.

On the autoroute the other night, heading home after installing a new Livebox at Stacey's (and do not get me on to the topic of why the hell they designed those things so that when you have the power supply plugged in the little right-angled plug almost totally obscures the Ethernet port next to it, so that you cannot unplug your CAT5 cable without unplugging the power supply first, a task made almost impossible without using pliers because it's in a narrow recess) and passed a huge lorry with "Chicken World!" emblazoned down the sides in big spiky red letters. I merely draw your attention to this, I neither criticize nor speculate.

France being the resolutely secular nation that it is, Thursday - All Saints Day, or Toussaint - was a public holiday. Traditionally it rains, I suppose so that people feel suitably miserable as they lurch round the cemetery looking for Granny's grave, the aim being to plonk a big pot of chrysanthemums on top. (Suspiciously, a couple of days later the graveyards are back to their usual rather desolate state, and there are lots of second-hand potted flowers for sale. Just saying.) More modern families sometimes opt for a tasteful solar-powered LED "eternal candle", which looks rather disquieting at night. But I guess that at least no-one wants to steal them.

But this particular Thursday it was bright and sunny, and people were wandering about looking rather disturbed - kind of as though gravity had suddenly stopped working or something - as I, not being French, headed off to the office to get a bit of work done with no interruptions. It's rather pleasant actually. And when I'd finished being productive, back home to wait for Jeremy to delight us with his presence.

Which, eventually, he did. As though he'd never left: he turned up, announced that he was only here until Sunday because, to his dismay, the two weeks holiday he'd been looking forward to were actually going to be occupied by school-work, then scarfed a chicken leg, baked potato and a bucket of St-Marcellin cheese (very runny indeed, runnier than you'd like it I think squire) before going to bed.

So of course I missed him this morning, but I guess I'll see him for a bit tomorrow because he headed off to see his mates in Chambéry - won't be back tonight, having too much fun - so I shall have to pick him up before lunch. From somewhere: all will be revealed on the day. (Truth to tell, I don't think he's too sure himself at this moment exactly where he'll be spending the night, just that someone will in fact provide.)

And some things just don't change: I had a niggle in the back of my mind this evening and quickly looked in his room, quite reassuring really to find a dirty plate or two and a couple of coffee mugs on the floor, surrounded by crumbs, odd bits of cutlery and, with the outside temperature something like 8°, the window wide open. All of this probably reassures the cat.

We really should have left quite a while back, without leaving a forwarding address.

At least, thanks to his invaluable information, I can tell you that there are many more prostitutes in Nimes than there are in and about Chambéry, that they may be found after 9pm at bus stops (he says he found this out because at one point, after that hour, he asked the nice lady when the next bus was leaving: happily he did not go into details of the reply, which I can imagine), and that the going price for a blow-job is about 30€.

Which seems a bit steep to me, but what would I know? Welcome to the inflexible law of supply and demand, people. (For extra points, you could leave a 10 000 word essay explaining exactly why this is - or is not - a fungible good. If you need to look that up feel free, I'll wait. Hint: does not involve mushrooms.)

In other family-related news (those of you who could care more may skip this bit, if you'd like), Tony got his work visa for NooZild in record time, so any of you who care to be at Orcland airport on or about December 12th may welcome he and Malyon into the country, preferably with a suitable musical accompaniment. Anyone want to play the national anthem on a kazoo, perhaps?

So the pair of them are supposed to turn up here on the 5th - hopefully bearing gifts of decent whisky, which we shall try to make last a little more than just that one evening - and we shall tearfully farewell them five days later at Lyon. After that they are going to be your problem, just deal with it, alright? (Hey, he's a big softie, and all her job references have been glowing. Probably too scared to mention the GBH.)

I hope you've arranged some decent weather for them: it would be a shame for them to leave Glasgow under the rain and turn up, expecting some sun, only to find it gray and dismal.

Speaking of which, today being Sunday it as, according to that ancient charter or whatever, gray. Mild temperatures, and the leaves have changed colour but not yet fallen so that the flanks of the massif behind us look as though they're covered in some ornate, if somewhat sombre, thick Persian carpet, but definitely one of those melancholic autumn days with the scent of wood smoke in the air and all you really want to do is curl up in an armchair with a good book and hope that Monday somehow never comes.

Definitely getting to the point where I really want to shift, somewhere we're not hemmed in by mountains and where my life is a bit more my own. Not that I have any romantic notions about walking straight into success or anything like that, and I certainly don't believe for one instant in the idealised Provence of perpetual azure skies and cicadas in the lavender baking under the sun that's pushed by Peter Mayle and various tourist boards, but I need a change.

Anyway, we now have an idea of what the house is worth (whatever people will pay for it, under the current economic circumstances, but the consensus seems to be around 200-230 thousand) and also, thanks to the last couple of trips, have some idea of where we could happily spend our days like wrinkled lizards under the sun - or more precisely, where we would definitely not want to be.

So I guess the next step is ringing the real estate agents and actually putting the place on the market, and also - with no great anticipation, I assure you - going off to see the bastard bankers.

And things will take their course, as they do, and sometime, hopefully in the not too distant future and always provided that wherever we decide to park our arses has broadband, you'll get an invitation to come over and inaugurate our gîte and who knows, I might even be persuaded to cook dinner. And just possibly - and very exceptionally, seeing as it's you - fish out a bottle or two from the stock that's been lurking in the cave for the past fifteen years or so.