Sunday, July 28, 2013

Eating Crow ...

Edgar, in fact, or so I'm told. But I shall call him Edgar Allen Crow for short, and because it's more fun. In case you're wondering, Edgar is a juvenile crow, doubtless a rejeton from the flock that seem to inhabit the church, and thanks to an unfortunate childhood now believes that he's a person. He first came to our attention when he hopped up onto the balcony and sat there disconsolately until a young woman came to the door to ask if we'd seen Edgar (and this is how I know his name), at which point I picked him up and carried him out to her.

Sadly, he took this as a sign of affection, and has appeared every evening since. Not actually quothing anything, but he can be a bloody nuisance. He likes to eat and drink (maybe that's just because wine glasses are shiny! sparkly!) as he walks about on the table, and to perch on your shoulder and go to sleep. Which is all very well, cute and all that, but he tends to get a bit irritated when you decide that it's time to go to bed, and that crows do not form part of your sleeping arrangements. Also, he craps down your back occasionally, very charming but not so good if you don't notice at the time and wear the same shirt the next day to a client meeting.

Whilst I think of it, may I suggest that you not use my personal e-mail until I let you know? We are still waiting for the miracles of the intartoobz to arrive here at the Shamblings, and you can probably imagine my delight when I got a mail last night from Orange to tell me that, contrary to what I had organised, hoped, and believed, my old e-mail account had been cancelled along with the phone line.

Then, when I arrived home this moaning, after a delightful five-hour drive floating along down the middle of a steaming sewer of tourists, I found a number of letters from Orange awaiting my attention: one of them informing me of the resiliation total of my old accounts, another welcoming me to the serried ranks of Orange users along with my new access codes and e-mail address, and a third advising me of the availability of a charming young woman named Julia, and would I like to install Orange Anti-Virus?

So I spent ten minutes on hold, and twenty minutes fulminating, with someone who may, for all I know, have been Julia, who gave me some hope that once the actual cable guy comes round and connects the phone that just maybe I might be able to get in touch with tech support and that they could perhaps be willing to give me back my old address, with a wave of their magic wands. Who knows, could work. And the fact that they were actually answering the support lines on a Saturday afternoon has to be a good sign, no?

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself here. If you are reading this you are probably aware that we successfully dumped, over the course of a week, a goodly percentage of our affairs here - although for reasons unknown, some of the essential stuff, like my saucière, seems still to be lurking in Sue's Garage back in St Pierre - and that we duly managed to turn up for the fête de village on Saturday night.

But then on Sunday I headed back up to Chambéry for a week's work, tidying my desk and stuff like that, cloning my work machines and wrapping up a few other details: not that that's anywhere near finished mind you, as witness my experience with Orange. At least the insurance and EDF went smoothly.

And then I dragged myself from sleep at 4am the following Saturday, clicked my talons once or twice around some coffee until I felt more or less human, and drove back down, hoping to miss a) the rush, and b) the heat. And that time, apart from a sticky moment at the northern Montpellier péage, it actually worked. Bloody miracle.

I had most of a week at what I'm starting to learn to call home, and our friends Janet and Kevin turned up from Italy in their camper-van, which made a good occasion to baptise the brand-new barbecue. Margo had gone off and bought the biggest cast-iron one she could find: nowhere near as big as the one we had in the garden, but should be enough for at least a leg of lamb. Suppose I shall find out tonight, as we are supposed to be having an English couple round for dinner, and I just happen to have a bit of NZ lamb waiting to be butterflied ... there's also some mascarpone and some rather tired strawberries in the fridge which would like to become dessert, and as we went out this morning to stock up on Chateau Carton I couldn't help but buy a jar of gelée de romarin, for which I shall have to find a use. Smells bloody wonderful, anyway. Concentrated rosemary.

Also took the time to wander about a bit - not that difficult, Moux is not exactly what you could call a sprawling metropolis - and stumbled into Chateau Mansenoble. Run by a charming couple of Belgians who came here some twenty years ago, and who very generously insisted on my tasting a bit of everything. I am not, as a general rule, one to go on about bouquets and the nose and all that sort of thing - mainly because I know sod-all about it - but I can honestly say that the 2010 had a wonderful smell of blackberries and figs. On the other hand the 2008, aged in wood, was still fermé and a bit too tannic for my taste - if ever I get some I shall have to put it away for a few more years.

There's also the Cave Cooperative de Moux, which makes an excellent plonk in red, white and rosé - that's what was dished out so liberally at dinner the other night. Not the same standard - nor the same price either - and personally I think it's a shame to be drinking red wine at this time of year, but the white and the rosé are perfectly passable.

So once James has worked his magic and we have our chambres d'hôte up and running, we shall at least be able to supply those of you that decide to come and visit with some decent local wine.

Whatever, had to head back to Chambéry on Thursday for a client meeting at Miqro: much to my deception the actual client wasn't present as everything was done by conference call, so I could easily have participated from here. Never mind, gave me Friday to go off to Lyon and see another client, and then to load little Suzy as full as I could of stuff from Sue's (including one huge box enticingly labelled "kitchen", but in which I did not, sadly, find my other saucepans) before driving back Saturday morning.

Which is where you came in.

Another fête last night - la nuit de la Poésie, an excuse for a meal and a booze-up if you ask me. I avoided the poetry bit because, as they say, people who read their own poetry in public may have other nasty habits, but the jazz wasn't half bad. And the meal, if indifferent, was the occasion to meet more people. But I piked out around dessert - no great loss, industrial packs of fruit salad don't really do that much for me - and headed home to some sorely-needed sleep.

Anyway, this lamb is not going to cook itself, so I'd better get busy, I guess. More later, when I no longer have to rely on the vagaries of Bouygues Telecom and an increasingly temperamental phone for my internet access.

30/07/13 at 14:13

Bonus update, also free and totally gratis: WE IS HAS INTERNET AGAIN! So here are some photos for your viewing pleasure.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Le Chant du Mygale ...

May I suggest that, whenever you really feel like shifting house, you leave it to the professionals? Or perhaps just take a flamethrower to the place and claim the insurance. Just saying. We were "helped" by enthusiastic if somewhat clumsy yoof, and I don't know if that was a good thing or not. To be sure, things eventually wound up in cardboard cartons: many of them were in fact things that we had no intention of taking with us and that were destined, in our minds, for the tip - and of the rest, they were decanted into anonymous boxes that we shall, one day when Bob James the Builder has worked his magic, unpack and say "Oh gosh! Is that where that got to? Shame we bought another one."

Also, 40m3 somewhat underestimates the sheer volume of stuff you can accumulate over 15 years in a 200m² house.

Two vans were not, as it turns out, enough for our needs. Never mind, we got through it without filing for divorce - on to the blow by blow account of the past few weeks of our excellent adventure, heading to points south ...

So after a frenetic weekend's packing what we could into boxes and realising, somewhat belatedly, that we really should have started earlier and perhaps have had more boxes, Monday rolled round, as it will in the natural order of things after a Sunday, and we started loading those two vans and taking stuff for which even we could find no further use off to the dechetterie. Not, sadly, enough, for even as I write we are discovering things that turned up here that we had fondly hoped were gone forever: I guess that Jeremy and his eager friends decided that if it was in the house it might as well go into a truck.

A quick break around 16:30 for a shower and off to the notaire to sign the act and do the deed, after which we were considerably wealthier and, unfortunately, homeless: and as the new owners were turning up up the next day to start demolishing the kitchen (bloody good idea, we'd have done it if we had the money or the skill, Bob'll do it down here) we stuffed the vans, packed the rest into the garage, did a cursory clean of the place just to show willing, and finally, somewhat later than anticipated, turned up at Jacques' place for a rather late dinner and then bed at something like 1:30am Tuesday moaning.

Not the end of it, because later that day, after a totally insufficient amount of sleep, we then drove five hours down south (after picking up the cat) to start doing everything in reverse. Of course the bloody GPS Of Doom did its best to kill us or, failing that, lead us into crooks and nannies where we would be sure to get stuck, like asking us to take these huge vans down a sharp right turn off a street that is, at best, wide enough for one car and a pushbike down into an even narrower alley with overhanging balconies. But we resisted its blandishments and honeyed words, for our faith was strong, and eventually we found a local of whom we could understand three words out of five, and got directions. One day, I swear, that GPS will meet with an Unfortunate Accident.

Unpacking is, as it turns out, a lot quicker than the other thing. Especially as we made the acquaintance of Neville and Reet, whom I suspect of having lurked for at least 50 years, waiting for just such an occasion.In case you're wondering, they both come from the north of England and are consequently, unless you catch them on a good day with the wind in the right direction, totally incomprehensible. Neville is in his seventies, bald and apparently constructed entirely of string and sticks with knobs on the ends, and "enjoys" (without sarcasm, in his case) a 10 km run before breakfast and is thus, in theory, in much better shape than I, were it not for his bad back. Which gives him twinges. His favourite meal, should you wish to know such things, appears to be baked beans. From what he said.

But let it be said, bad back and all, he did sterling service that day, without even being asked, and I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have got everything unloaded without his help. Especially as the front door turned out to be too narrow to accept some necessary items, like tables and chairs. Which entailed a 100m dash around and up to the back door which was persuaded, after a bit of demolition work, to open and accept them.

So please, take the time to raise a glass of steaming (I suppose) Newcastle Brown to Neville, who has made us his projet du mois.

Whatever, as everything was going so well, something had, by the laws of narrative wotsit, go titsup. Which it duly did. It was hot as hell at 17:30, we were still busy unloading the first of the vans, and my phone exterminated at me: it was, of course, the banker. Who had just been contacted by the notaire down here to talk about the purchase and such things, and who was shocked to find that we had more than enough in cash to do the deed.

This disturbed her, for the object of the loan was to finance the purchase ... I left her with a promise to get in touch with Maitre Faure to see what could be done, and gloomily contemplated the possibility of not being able to sign the next day, leaving us, Jim, and Celine somewhat in limbo, and them with a houseful of our stuff. Also, they were flying back to the UK the next afternoon ...

Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, and we'd got onto emptying the second van (more of a bitch that one, as things had, towards the end, just been chucked in wholesale) when the phone rang again, the notaire this time, to say that all had been more or less arranged: they were going to pretend that we lacked 40 000€ and, whilst waiting for the bank loan to come through, would loan us that sum, and the banker would pretend to believe them. So that was alright then, I heaved a sigh of relief and carried on heaving furniture with poor Neville wheezing at the other end, and about 13:30 we all five of us crammed ourselves into Peter's Citroen and headed off to Siran to sign the sale.

The presiding notaire is obliged to read the acte de vente, or at least the important bits, and so we learnt that there are no termites, that where we are is not particularly inondable but that there is, it seems, a risk should ever there be a rupture de barrage (a phrase which we were, despite her excellent English, obliged to translate).

So that's alright then.

I suppose that normal people would then have gone and spent their first night in the new home, but we had other plans, and about 21:00 we turned up at Jacques' place again, having dropped one of the vans off at Montmelian, for a slightly earlier dinner than the previous one. Which didn't stop it being marvelous, Jacques seems able to outdo himself each and every time. Did not, unfortunately, profit from the occasion to soak in his spa pool, for an early morning beckoned ...

We duly went in to Chambéry to sign the loan (that we did not, technically speaking, need) with the banker and organise those little things in life that you require when you finally have some spare cash, like credit cards and chequebooks, carpenters and kings, then back to St Pierre to empty the garage into the second van: kind of a bastard 'cos much of it was things stuffed willy-nilly into plastic bags (some of them, to add to the fun, were bursting - thank our overly keen youthful helpers for that) or, failing that, tied up into bundles with string.

And having done that we left again for Moux, Margo driving the van and me bringing up the rear in the Suzy, who was also stuffed to the plimsoll line and then some.

We got in about 23:30 I guess and, too tired to contemplate anything else, fell into bed and slept the sleep of the just (or the terminally exhausted), and left the van to unpack itself. Which it kind of magically did, for on Friday moaning we were back on the road headed north, to drop the van off at Chambéry and for me to do a bit of work at Miqro (yes, my old employer all those years ago). Then we packed even more stuff into Suzy and, its being one of the traditional journées de départ, ate (and drank, sparingly) at our ex-neighbours before going south again at around 21h.

Guess we must have made it back somehow, because I distinctly remember being woken at about 7 by the eccentric carillon on the church right next door, which has an extremely annoying off-tempo 5/7 beat to it: I think that will, at some point, afford me endless hours of pleasure doing ranging practice with the mortar from the terrace. Until of course I manage to score a direct hit, at which point I shall have to find some other source of amusement, such as skeet shooting with the local yoof as targets.

And for the first time in godnose how long we had the day to ourselves, and nothing we actually needed to do in it: only one thing to do in such circumstances, and that is to take a leisurely breakfast out on the terrace and look out over what is now our home. First major decision in our new life: buy a huge parasol.

The house is big and cool and dim and airy, kind of like one of those friendly old English sheepdogs that seem to spend most of their time asleep in the shade, lifting their head to cover you in slobber and wagging a bit for politeness's sake when you come close, before going back to dream about young poodles. I think we may well be happy here, it seems to have adopted us.

Good thing it is cool inside, for even with the gentle breeze that stirs the air a bit and stops it stifling you, the terrace is baking in the afternoon sun. You can understand why even the hordes of cats that seem to be one of the cottage industries around this place spend their time sleeping under the cars, parked à la sauvage around the square. Some things Peter Mayle did get right, about life in small-town southern France. Old stones, baking in the heat under that bright blue provençal sky. And the mosaic of fields, gold and violet with wheat and lavender.

That evening was the fête du village, with fireworks and everything for the 14th of July, and we had reserved tickets (15€ a pop) with Peter. Two little numbered slips of paper were duly slipped into an envelope in the mailbox during the day, and as I was struggling with my cufflinks Margo tactfully reminded me to take my wallet so that we could at least pay for a bottle of wine at the table ...

Need not, as it turned out, have worried. We turned up, decently late, to find the trestle tables set out on the aire de boules groaning under the weight of diverse pizzas and other amuse-gueules, not to mention the array of bottles - white and rosé, dripping with condensation, red, and whisky. Which I carefully avoided, given the heat. So I admired the costumes, which ranged from shorts & sandals (me, but with a black bow tie - have to keep up appearances) to evening dress, and tried to understand the local accent. Not, let it be said, with any great success.

We were introduced to the English community - quite a number, for such a tiny place - which collectively said something along the lines of "Yummy! New toy! New books!" and were then lead off to our places at the long lines of tables equally well-equipped in the alcohol department ie three or four bottles every 50cm to find ourselves seated with the English and other debiles mentales, and then they started serving the food.

So we start off with a slab of foie gras with figs on toasted brioche (lacked a bit of pepper in my opinion, but that's just me) and slowly moved on to the cote de veau and then to the lotte sauce provençale followed by a little sorbet citron with a generous lashing of marc sloshed over it, and every time a bottle emptied another two magically appeared in its place: my wallet stayed in its place, untouched, and about 1am, after the fireworks (which were excellent) had been admired, the kids had been shushed and the dancing had well and truly started, we sloshed sleepily back home, leaving everyone else to it, and slept.

Doesn't end there, 'cos I still had things to do in Chambéry so on Sunday I drove back up and occupied myself with clients and making sure I had all the gear I am going to need, duplicated my laptops, stuff like that. Bit of a b'stard but I might as well get used to it, I guess I'll be headed up for a week or ten days every month for the foreseeable future.

I left there early Saturday morning, way too early like about 5am, hoping to avoid the traffic and above all the heat: it more or less worked until after Valence, where you rejoin the A7 clogged with just about every species known to man heading southwards from Paris, Brussells, Berlin and points further north, drawn irresistably by the siren song of bloody boiling hot moules frites on the sweltering beaches, lying cheek by jowl with their neighbours from whatever shithole city they drove all night to escape from. Oh, and the péage at Montpellier was an absolute arse as well. Unimpressed.

Still, once you get to Montpellier you're only an hour away from here, whipping round Beziers, Narbonne and off towards Toulouse, so I took it quite calmly and drove on ... stopping only at Lésignan to pick up some summer fruit, and some decent meat from a butcher I came across who will cut pork chops to my specifications and who also makes his own sausages, which are really rather bloody good. Now if I could only persuade him to make some lamb sausages I would be in heaven.

Now the fridge stinks of melons, 'cos the primeur at Lésignan-Corbières had a special offer of a tray of twenty of the things for only 10€, and you know me ...

No pictures today because France Telecom won't be sending someone around until the 30th to reconnect the phone, as a result I'm using my mobile as a 3G modem which is all very well, and actually works, but uploading 50Mb of photos is a bit slow. Will do better next time, promise.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Goodbye, hello ...

In just two days we are signing the sale on this place (and, incidentally, packing two huge vans on the same day) before driving down to Moux on the Tuesday to unpack and then sign the purchase (yes, in that order: doesn't seem to worry Celine and Jim that much ... they obviously don't know us very well). At least we have the bank loan (not really necessary, but nice to have), and even an account number so that the notaire can dump vast sums of money into it, hopefully before we empty it all out again.

This afternoon I have two entire rooms to take to the tip, and at some time I need to snag and bag my office, box the wine in the cellar, and shrink-wrap the kitchen. I also have to go up to the office at some point, as the server has gone catatonic.

So until all these things have been done and we are installed in the new Shamblings (same as the old Shamblings, but a bit bigger, and somewhere else, and a different colour, and not at all the same really) there will be a hiatus.

Normal service - or what counts for that around here - will be resumed as soon as possible. Just don't hold your breath, blue is not a natural colour for people.

Bonus update, free gratis and for nothing, that's how much I love you people: I wandered down at 14:00 in the baking 30°+ heat to bring Jacques' Dacia up to the house to be loaded with crap, only to discover that it was making a strange clunky noise ... this happens when the front right tyre is dead flat.

Of course to extract the spare tyre you must more or less lie on your back on the tarmac (no shirt on, ouch! hot! burny!) and then extract the jack and ... what the hell, I shall spare you the sordid details. Suffice it to say that it was a half hour I had not really counted on.

And so now, having worked hard and sweated like pigs, I rather think we is going to have a light meal out on the terrace of steak and salad before heading down to the lake to see the July 14 fireworks, which are on tonight because here at St Pierre we have, being skinflint peasants, worked out that it is cheaper to buy the things after the correct date and then stick them in someone's cellar until the DLC comes around and they're covered in greenish fuzz, at which point you fire them off at all and sundry.

The colours are wonderful, even if not perhaps what the makers intended, due to the pig dripping, and some have been known to go off at random moments and not necessarily as required, but that just adds to the fun. And let's face it, handless municipal employees will not be skimming any money from the tills, now will they?

Also, for your reading pleasure, In a development whose scientific importance would be difficult to exaggerate, it has been discovered that hawk moths emit powerful ultrasonic pulse beams from their genitals