Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sprung - Finally ...

It seems to me - and the statistics bear me out on this one, or doubtless would if I bothered to check them out - that there's a strong correlation between the increased use of GPS systems and the alarming rise in divorce rates (which, as a card-carrying member of the Immoral Minority, I can but deplore).

Case in point, I had to drop Margo off at Pascale's place in or about Belleville sur Saône, north of Lyon, on Monday so that the pair of them could head off the next day to a salon in Colmar or something.

Municipal Monstrosities: N° 4
So we set off, with the trusty GPS softly insisting that we really ought to stay right, and all went well as we circumcised Lyon and passed Villefranche - for who could possibly get lost on the autoroute? - and then we got off at Belleville itself.

Margo insisted that she knew the road from this point on, in which case you may well ask yourself "just what, then, is the point of the GPS?" but never mind that, and to prove the point she stuck her left arm out across the car and said "turn left here!".

Which turned out to be an unwise move, as it meant we were going around a roundabout the wrong way: luckily the dump seems to be deserted at that hour, and we surprised no-one.

We carried on, and found ourselves on some sort of ring road that Margo insisted shouldn't be there, although the GPS was quite happy with it and wanted to be its friend, so in a fit of pique we turned it off, did a U-turn and went along a road that Margo vaguely remembered.

Sadly, this lead us to a level crossing which was decidedly closed for the next month or so, so we went back, and around, and along the original route and on to that rocade, and then for some reason off to the right only to find ourselves on the other side of that same blocked level crossing - maybe it was following us.

At which point I, sad to say, gave up and sulked, and Margo took the wheel and apparently navigated by smell along the road that the GPS had wanted us to take all along until finally we turned up, not too much the worse for wear, at Pascale's.

She unloaded the car, we had a quick glass of white, and I hopped back into the car to drive back, silently resolving as I did so to turn the GPS back on as soon as I was out of sight and let it get me back to the autoroute - it seemed the prudent course. A wise decision, as it turned out.

What with all that excitement it was getting on for 22:00 when I left, and I was starting to feel a bit peckish, so I thought I'd barrel through to the southern side of Lyon where there is, exceptionally, a place that does almost decent sandwiches on one of the aires d'autoroute - actually use proper fresh bread and everything, and don't insist on slathering the things with bloody mayo - and I was in fact feeling quite optimistic when I pulled in.

Of course that didn't last very long, because it fairly rapidly became apparent that all the food shops on my side of the autoroute were in fact closed, due to some coyly unspecified "incident technique" - which could have been anything from a gas explosion to the discovery of a dead rat in one of the freezers.

All, that is, with the exception of the actual service station, where I could doubtless have found a month-old damp vienna roll enclosing some limp rabbit food that had seen better days, some time in the previous century, and mayo-drowned "chicken" bits enclosed in a  cellophane wrapper under nitrogen, but it's not often that I feel quite that hungry. So I pulled back on, hope springing eternal, as it will, that perhaps something would turn up ...

Sadly that too was dashed as I discovered, just before the last possibly decent place to get a bite, that all the roadworks I'd gone through up till then were but harbingers, or maybe precursors, and that the autoroute was closed, next exit obligatoire - which meant taking the bloody départementale at La Tour du Pin.

I always wonder about the people who organise the déviations - makes me think of that excellent Torchwood episode Countrycide. When you actually leave the autoroute there'll be a little yellow sign, hopefully marked something like "Déviation, Chambéry", and pointing off down what probably looks like quite a reasonable road to take, under the circumstances.

As you continue you will find more of these signs still pointing you along the road and this is very reassuring, for do not forget that it is dark out there, possibly even raining, and it is pretty much a given that you do not actually know the road. (Nor, in most circumstances, do you want to, but that's neither here nor there.)

Just consider then what it feels like as it dawns on you that the last signpost was now some five km back, and the road is getting a few potholes and looks kind of unused, except maybe by very large agricultural-style vehicles or perhaps hearses, and the few houses that there are all seem to be cold and forbidding, showing only blank walls to the road.

Also, having read about this sort of thing, the rush of hope when you see, off in the distance but still apparently reachable, what look like the lights of the next péage, is tempered by the certitude that it's all a trick, and that inbred paysans like their meat with a bit of adrenaline still pumping through it ...

Luckily for me the scriptwriters downed tools at that point, so the tractors got driven off the road and back into the barns, the peasants grumbled, put down their pitchforks and went back to mucking out the silage heaps or whatever it is that they do to fill those long lonely evenings, and I made it back home intact rather than winding up as a rather lean, dry (if insufficiently well barded) Sunday roast.

Which meant that I made it to the market, where I discovered more asparagus, and the first of the mangetout peas, and fine green beans (from Morocco, but I'm not complaining, whatever some people might say about buying local because if that means bio-dynamic, organic vegetables full of worms I'm not ready to pay that much for the extra protein and in any case they often look rather sadly flaccid) and some extremely runny Saint Marcellin - runny enough that it had achieved apotheosis and was more of a thick cream soup that an actual cheese.

Anyway, about then the sun came out and I started to reflect that perhaps the black woolen jacket was kind of surplus to requirements and that the basket was starting to feel just a bit heavy and that I really should have brought the camera along anyway, and at that point I decided to repair to the Beer Tree.

Where, as I sat in the sun inhaling a few vitamins with Beckham, waiting for the miracle of photosynthesis to kick in and idly putting the world to rights, it occurred to me that, despite my reticence on the matter, the combination of cheese and potatoes is a time-honoured one, and that perhaps that Saint Marcellin would enjoy it.

I put the question off for just then Bryan turned up to raise the tone of the conversation and talk turned, as it will, to lit. crit. and exactly why in hell Harry Potter was such a spectacular success. (Confession: I read the first one and couldn't really say why. Then I read the second, and could see no reason to go on with the rest. This may make me a Bad Person, but I really do not care.)

And we discussed Beckham's magnum opus, a work which is still in gestation but which will, it seems, shock the world with its brilliance when it sees the light of day, and then we got on to that recent study of bra-wearing and whether or not it's good for you, and Bryan lamented that he was not the curator of the French Custom's archive of photos of breasts. And as the sun was still shining, and honest citizens were hoping to be able to eat out and some of them started making meaningful looks at our table, we sloped off: Bryan to run a marathon or something, and me to cook lunch for Beckham.

So the idea that had been snoring fitfully at the back of my mind came back to me, so I baked some potatoes and split them in half lengthways and slit them and pushed at each end so that they opened out a bit, and then put them in a baking dish and poured that runny cheese all over, added some slices of fried lard, sprinkled the lot with paprika and stuck it into her ridiculously small and inefficient oven under the grill until hot and bubbling and delicious. (Actually, I lie. Her oven is so amazingly primitive that it doesn't have a grill, as such: so I just baked them some more. But under the grill would have been better.)

Not half bad, with a green salad and a bit of bread (to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates) on the side.

And right now the sun is shining brightly and all of a sudden it's almost too hot, so I shall go down to the paddock and emasculate the last of the daffodils so that they may brighten up the house. (Which always brings to my mind at least that old joke about the blonde and the brunette - stop me if you've heard it before - walking down the street when they see a guy come out of the florist's with a huge bunch of flowers. "Oh shit!" says the brunette, "that's my boyfriend!". "Why do you say that?" asks the blonde. "Because", comes the reply, " that means I have to spread my legs tonight." And the blonde asks "Why? Do you not have a vase?")

Oh yeah, next weekend we're back down in Moux - gotta see the notaire and Bob the Builder. (First name James in point of fact, but never let reality get in the way of a good line is my motto.) We'll let you know how that goes.


  1. "lack of carbohydrates" - what do you call spuds, then???

  2. My point exactly. Still, better than Marie-Christine, for whom a meal of pasta is incomplete without bread.

  3. we circumcised Lyon

    Taking a short cut, then.