Monday, March 11, 2013

Every Stricture Pelts A Tory ...

Marianne. Nipples not optional.
... which is, technically, an herniated Spoonerism which'd doubtless feel a lot better if there was a story to go with it, but I do not care, it is my friend.

So anyway, it was raining sullenly today as I headed down to the Beer Tree for a quick top-up in the vitamin department, and they were glad to see me because there was but one other client (so glad, in fact, that they treated me to another glass of Cabernet, which quite possibly represented the day's profits but that is hardly my problem) and they virtually forced the plat du jour upon me, despite my initial reticence.

For it was a pavé de saumon en croute de moutarde, and I did rather fear that the mustard was going to overwhelm that poor delicate salmon, which just goes to show because I was totally, completely, utterly wrong.

They'd taken some whole-grain mustard, mixed it with breadcrumbs and maybe some grated parmesan and then spread the lot over a slice of salmon and baked it just right, and it was in fact delicious. And, being in a good mood, I said as much to Simon the cook, and it was about then that I got that glass of wine ... see where honeyed words can get you?

And as I sat and nursed the glass at the bar, who should stride in but Dirk Gently, who didn't bother to remove his trilby but parked his arse toute de suite next to me at the bar, cried out for a plat du jour and a glass of ale, and started eating - and talking. All at once. A nice chap really, if you can disregard that rather disturbing habit of masticating round his words. A bit larger than life, though.

So Margo came in with Jeremy in tow last night, having picked him up from the restaurant where he was working late (his scooter now has its plates and he is legal, yay!) and announced that it was flashing orange again. Briefly I toyed with the idea of a witty rejoinder, along the lines of whether it was the spatio-temporal distortion detector or the pedestrian velocity anomaly indicator that was playing up again, but rapidly discarded that in favour of a quiet night, and resigned myself to just feeding the car next morning without any superfluous comments. Sometimes it's just so much simpler if you decide not to be a smartarse.

An existential question from the dawn of time, or perhaps a cri de coeur from an unreconstructed (and unapologetic) music-lover: What is it about the otherwise harmless, uncontroversial and inoffensive Justin Bieber that makes me want to kick that shit-eating wanker in his non-existent, hairless nuts? Quite honestly, I don't know the answer to that one, but I can certainly understand his plight.

 Anyway, we're back in the Aude: as I write I'm perched rather uncomfortably on the edge of the bed in a B&B hotel on the outskirts of Narbonne, given that my PC is tethered to its dead rat and the only power point in the room is under the TV. We headed down just before midday: much to my astonishment the autoroute was pretty much empty apart from a slightly gross bit as we were working up to escape velocity around Grenoble, and to general surprise and applause we met up again with Peter a good 45 minutes early.

Beautiful on the way down: the sky was full of great sculpted masses of white cloud floating in blankly luminous blue: kind of reminded me of those Brent Wong paintings we all used to go wobbly-kneed over back in the day. (Full disclosure, that was me too. Those days I was still young enough to think that I knew what I liked.)

First of all he took us off to see a place in Puichéric which definitely had possibilities: an old three-story house just off the banks of a rigole and not too far from the canal du Midi. High ceilings, old tiled floor on the ground floor and the original wood floors elsewhere, and wonderfully light and airy. Unfortunately, also rising damp on the ground floor, which is - I admit - a perennial problem in these parts. And pigeons.

So we thought carefully about that one before he took us back to Moux, where he showed us what is probably the closest we've seen to what we want: another three-story house, in the heart of the village, with a terrace and sun-trap verandah. Also, fit to be lived in straight away, with a minimum of redecoration, and even better, well within our budget. Maybe even if we do buy the huge old stone barn just down the road, and turn that into an atelier and gîte.

Tomorrow we've another few properties to look over, but to be quite honest this one in Moux is looking extremely attractive. Only problem, I suppose, would be all the English-persons living there, for they are pretty thick on the ground, but I guess we would learn to live with that.

And tomorrow duly turned up ... we roused ourselves at dawn, or a reasonable approximation thereof, and then went off to try to find Paraza, which is west and a shade north of Narbonne. Unfortunately that day the GPS decided it wanted to kill us, and despite there being a perfectly good nationale headed that way it tricked me into taking a goat track. And then another. And once we got into a town, it insisted that I had to turn left - this gets you on to a small narrow wrong-way street that is parallel to the main street and which then rejoins it after 20 meters or so. What the hell is the point? It is neither shorter, nor quicker. What goes on in its tiny cybernetic mind?

Also, it's not so good when it has just woken up. (You could say that neither am I, but that's beside the point. I don't have to be.) When we finally emerged from the hotel we programmed in Paraza as our destination, and this reassuring female voice told us that "your route is being calculated", and I guess that if you were but half-awake you might not notice that your route was some 460 km with an estimated trip time of four hours or so. Hit "cancel" on that one, not at all what we want, and try again: this time it tries to get us to the centre of Monaco, godnose why. Finally, after ten minutes, it's down to a much more reasonable 19 minutes to do some 28 km, which I suppose must have lulled me into a false sense of security, hence the mean tricks with the goat tracks.

Margo reckons that we're just temperamentally incompatible: I think the damn thing's psychotic.

Seriously, I am starting to wonder whether it's not more trouble than it's worth. Still, I suppose it ensures that you keep your wits about you - assuming you want to actually arrive at your destination.

Despite the GPS we finally made it to Paraza, and then off to Peyriac en Minervois to see a house - well three houses actually, that had sort of grown into one another, nooks cuddling into crannies on all three floors until the place was like a rabbit warren of stairs and rooms. It appeared to be inhabited by two sweet little old ladies, one of whom followed us about like an anxious hamster and talked incessantly - or maybe it kept them as pets, I don't know.

It was quite odd really, we started off in a sort of kitchen with something like a 4m stud, through a much lower living room and into what seemed to be a bedroom, then into a small room full to overflowing with old VHS cassettes and up an approximate staircase, past a basic toilet and then into a ballroom tastefully decorated in plush velvet. Kind of like going to visit the Steptoe family, if you see what I mean. Only with less spitting and swearing.

At that point Peter abandoned us to go find some penetrating oil to see if he couldn't open the barn, and Lesley led us back to Siran to see the old chai that we'd looked at the previous weekend. Where this elderly bon vivant Belgian shooed away the previous pair of visitors, who roared off in an enormous black V12 Mercedes, and took us round.

I guess you've never seen a turn of the century French chai. Enormous buildings in stone or brick, for all the world like a Victorian warehouse, with huge windows on two floors: as a general rule there's a wide corridor down the middle on the ground floor and to each side, the actual cuves, each of which is nowt more than a 4m cube of reinforced concrete. The first floor is just empty space, with manholes opening into the cuves, down which they would pump the grape slurry. (Forget those romantic notions of great wooden barriques and elderly vignerons lovingly burnishing each grape as it goes in, at least down south.)

So in our case, we'd have been buying 400m² of usable space, sitting on top of 400m² of virtually indestructible concrete cubes. (I exaggerate a little. They will saw through the stuff, for 100€ per linear metre and even, if you pay extra, remove the rubble - you still have to be careful as that's what's actually keeping the first floor from crashing down.)

An interesting prospect, but more, I feel, for people with rather deeper pockets than ours: people who drive V12 Mercedes saloons, for instance.

And finally, we headed back to Moux. (Which is, oddly enough for the French, pronounced more or less as she is spelled. Moox. Go figure.) Peter had finally found a key that matched a keyhole for the grange, and which even worked, so we went took another gander at the house, being in no great rush, and then went down the road to the barn.

It too had been a chai in its time, albeit a smallish one, so down one side was the now-familiar wall of concrete, broken only by the little doors at the bottom every few metres. And piled up everywhere, the detritus of an abandoned winery: a mobilette missing the front wheel, a horizontal screw press, a great oak barrel that must have been 3m in diameter, a stack of wire-wove bed bases (don't ask me) and, of course, bottles.

Whatever, we had coffee with Peter, his wife and two geriatric spaniels and then hit the road back home: since then we've accepted the offer on this place and put in an offer on the house on Moux, which looks like it'll be accepted, despite our being cheeky and starting off rather low. So in a few months, you may have to update your address books, if any of you keep such antiquated things these days.

But right now, I'm going off to check up on the marmelade.

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