|Marianne. Nipples not optional.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.