Sunday, September 29, 2013

Who Should I Be Today? ...

So we seem to have accidentally acquired another animal here at The Shamblings. The other night there was this incessant squalling from the place next to us, and then the next day Margo came up and said that there seemed to be a teeny abandoned kitting crying under a bush next to one of the benches ... and so it turned out. Slippery slope, you gives it a little bowl of milk and next thing ... we is suckers for littul kittons. He seems to have decided to move in, and is rapidly putting Shaun in his place. Poor dog.

Of course that leaves poor me looking after them right now, for Margo and la baronne are off at a little salon at Limoux this weekend: fortunately it's not too far and, being as it's on the other side of Carcassonne I thought I might as well whip through the market there again today.

I was there by 9:30, which probably gives you some idea as to the ghastly hour at which we left. Looking at it objectively I really shouldn't go to markets, I just can't resist buying that one extra thing - a few fuzzy peaches, a golden yellow globe of a courgette, some purple basil or some more perfectly ripened tomatoes that I know we don't really need.

On the bright side, it gives me ideas, so once I'd found some blettes and come across some fresh chèvre it seemed obvious, as I happen to have some filo sitting in the fridge, that I really needed to queue for 15 minutes in les halles to get some poitrine fumée (for I have not yet started making my own again, had other things to think about, don't push me) so that at least part of dinner will turn out to be a silverbeet, bacon and goat's cheese strudel. And remember those peaches? They're destined for a tart, with sour cream - and stuff - in the appareil that goes on top.

Last night it was fig and blackberry soufflé, lightly adapted from this site. For one thing I didn't bother sieving the fruit - just crushed it with a fork and it seemed happy enough - and for another I wasn't too sure how well it would hold up so I did in fact add another tbsp of cornflour to the blackberries once cooked, along with the orange-flower water, and let it thicken on low for another minute or so before turning it off and letting it cool. I must admit that adding cornflour to the meringue is not something I've come across before, but those little soufflés rose perfectly and, as it happened, did not have time to fall.

And as for those tomatoes - as it happens some of the last lot were starting to shrivel a bit (which just concentrates the flavour, if you start out with tomatoes that taste of something in the first place anyway) which made it a perfect time to make up another batch of Memphis barbecue sauce. Go google it yourselves - I'm not going to do everything for you - and then go make some. It's kind of addictive.

As I am no longer - for obvious reasons - a director of Upstart & Co, I have been looking into the various options for my statut social. This turns out to be rather more complicated than I would like: what did you expect, this is France.

Initially I'd planned on becoming an auto-entrepreneur, which requires no more than filling out an online form and which can present certain tax advantages - which is probably one reason why the Hollande government is planning on revising it out of existence, or at least trying to make it as unattractive as possible, like leprosy. Like I said, this is France, and if you think tall poppies are disliked in Noo Zild  then may I just suggest you come over to Ole Yurrup and see what it's like in the paddocks.

In any case, there are drawbacks: first off, although you may not charge TVA (just pretend I'm saying GST here) and thus do not have to skim it off and pay it back to the taxman, you may not reclaim the TVA on your purchases. Also, you don't get to claim a lot of charges - for running expenses on the car, meals, stuff like that ...

Secondly, although your social security bill is reduced to a merely whopping 25% of turnover (not profit, please note), rather than the swingeing 40% or so a company has to pay on top of salary, your turnover is also limited: to 81 000€ per annum if you're in the hotel business or otherwise renting rooms (why is this?) or 31 500€ per annum if, like me, you are supplying other services. Which is not nearly enough for us to live in the style to which we would like to be accustomed.

Gift-wrapped gargoyle
But the real killer, as I found out when I went off to the RSI to get myself radié (not the same as irradiated, but about as much fun) from the list of directors, is that if, as a company director, you were involved in a certain professional activity - such as software development - you may not under any circumstances set yourself up as an auto-entrepreneur in the same sector until a year has passed. This is not an option.

The nice lady gave me a little booklet, which I attempted to digest - first of all by nibbling on the corners of the pages and then, when they turned out to be flavourless, by actually reading it - on the train heading from Chambéry to Lyon to catch the TGV back home: I was confused and it made my brain hurt, but I suspect I shall have to become an EIRL (as if you cared, that's an Entreprise Individuelle à Responsibilité Limité - fits, I am definitely irresponsible).

So cue a visit next Tuesday to the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie at Carcassonne, so that someone who actually knows about these things can explain everything to me, preferably in words of one syllable or less. So that my head doesn't explode.

You will have guessed from the hints above that I actually spent last week up at Chambéry - off to see clients and do some paper-work and discuss business with Renaud and, when I could, faff about a bit. Stayed with the generous and long-suffering Stacey, who very kindly lets me sleep curled up at the end of the sofa so long as I cook from time to time, keep myself clean, wash my own socks and pretend to be house-trained.

(As luck would have it, it was also the week in which Chambéry Metropole decided to celebrate the 20th birthday of the Parc d'Activités de Côte Rousse, of which we are - more by default than any planning, all those who set up there before us having gone unceremoniously titsup over the years - the doyens. Do you realise that the company's been going for 19 years now?)

Whatever, that is why on a fine Saturday morning I was attempting to make sense of a mind-numbingly worthy tract on my way to Lyon, where I had a four-hour wait for the TGV to Narbonne: I kind of hoped that I would be less bored-witless there than wandering about Chambéry, also I had a vague feeling that they actually had left-luggage lockers at Part-Dieu, which was kind of important to me because I was lugging around a very inconveniently-shaped 15kg of stuff in a big carry-bag. Not to mention all the usual suspects in the back-pack - two computers (including the heavy-weight Asus, portable only in name) and their associated dead rats, papers, folders, various cables and godnose what else ...

It turns out that I was right - about the lockers - so I heaved a sigh of relief and dumped the stuff off before setting out to wander about the quartier, looking mostly for somewhere to eat that wasn't going to involve pizza.

Nor a salade lyonnaise, nice though that can be - involving as it does vast quantities of croutons and lardons all fried to within an inch of their lives, and poached eggs, with the whole lot smothering a bed of frisée lettuce. Luckily I stumbled on a place that supplied me with an excellent bit of entrecôte with a cream and mustard sauce and a bit of decent salad: sad to say the frites maison probably were just that, for they were as sadly soggy as such things usually are.

Still, a pichet of rosé washes away many sins and I was feeling quite cheerful at the end of it all, despite the Aggravated Bengali Earwax from which I was suffering and had been unable - lacking hot vodka and a syringe - to treat.

The train duly decanted me off at Narbonne just before 20h, Margo kindly picked me up, and we got back home to rapturous applause from the assembled animals, who seem to have prepared a special welcoming ceremony involving buckets of warm spit and slobber. She assures me that there was nothing out of the ordinary, they'd been like that all week.

She also acquainted me with a French website, legorafi by name (which some of you will recognise as being verlan, and the others won't care), which is kind of along the lines of The Onion. To the point where this article got picked up by the mainstream Italian press, who ran with it for quite some time: yet another got picked up by The Times. Just to save you the bother, the headline reads, more or less - "89% Of the French think that a clitoris is a Toyota car". God alone knows what a Volvo would be. Also, and just as disturbing if it happened to have any relationship with reality, there's the last sentence, claiming that "45% of 12-18 year-old boys think that uterus is a planet in the solar system".

I note also that, in the traditional battling Kiwi spirit, ready to give it a go and overcome all odds as the plucky little underdogs, you lot have once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and leave that tin-plated spittoon in the hands of Larry "Mine's bigger than yours" Ellison. Congratulations, people. I mean, how difficult can it be to keep the pointy end of the boat heading in the right direction?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Technophenia ...

So I have my little Samsung Series 3 laptop running Windows 8 (for my sins, but in my defense Windows 7 is no longer available on new machines) - in fact I have two of them, but I really need to get around to nuking the other one from orbit and installing Fedora on it so that I have a backup Linux development system - and generally speaking I rather like it. It's small and light, despite having a 17" screen, and it has a proper keyboard with a numeric keypad and everything so that it's actually useable. As opposed to the big Asus which is much bigger and twice as heavy: this I could live with, but they let a lunatic design the keyboard layout.

I mean, do these people not have usability labs? You know, those sordid little rooms lit by a single grimy 40W incandescent bulb where they lock innocent passers-by in with a computer and see how they get on with simple tasks? I have to believe not, for on this particular machine, despite having about an acre of space, some absolute bloody genius decided that it would be a brilliant idea to arrange things so that at the right-hand side of the function key strip there would be the "Print Screen" key (pretty useless), a dedicated "Scroll Lock" key (even more useless - if anyone has actually found a use for it do let me know), and the third key would be "Delete/Insert".

To get to the insert function you must hold down the "Fn" key, which means that if, like me, you use the keyboard editing shortcuts a lot you are holding down three keys at once just to copy a bit of text in, and half the time you forget the "Fn" key and wind up deleting stuff instead ... I mean, how stupid is that? Are there really people who think that "Insert" is less important than a tits-on-bull "Scroll Lock"? Is this what happens when you let graduates of industrial design courses loose in the real world? I bet they're laughing their heads off in global Orbiting HQ somewhere over Taipei, as they gather round the water cooler trying to think of something they can do to top that.

"Hey, you see Ho Chin got the monthly innovation award again for that stupid Delete/Insert key thing?"

"Yeah, the guy's a genius alright, but I've got a better one. We've replaced the "Tab" key with a big picture of a daisy - we call it the "Splat!" key - which brings up a random picture of a cuddly puppy from the internets when you press it, and you have to hold down Ctrl and Right-shift and then press the letter T to get a tab ..." 

"What with, your nose? And if you have a really disgusting cold? Oh yes, I see where you're going here ..."

That is not the point. The point is that the Samsung is not half bad, but ... as is my wont, first thing I did was install Firefox on it along with everything else, and it all worked: until I went back to a page I'd already visited and it came up blank. On to another page, and it came up unformatted. WTF? This kept happening, and I eventually learnt that I had to clear the cache, and things would be alright again for a bit.

So I installed Chrome, grumbling and mumble-fucking, and the same thing happened. Finally I gave up and started googling busily, and discovered - rather to my surprise - that this is a known issue with some of the crapware that comes pre-installed on the machine: the inaptly named "Samsung Support Centre". Uninstall that, and lo! the problem disappears.

The moral of this little story, if there is one, is that a) Samsung make really crap software - they just don't seem to be able to get it right, whether it's a phone or a PC, and b) it's not always what you think it is.

Come to that, when I get a new phone - sometime in the not too distant future - I will probably get a Samsung again because I quite like the hardware, but it will be one of the Android variety. I have spent five years, more or less, trying to love Bada - their stupidly named home-grown phone OS - and the soul-destroyingly awful Kies PC software that comes with it, but I just can't do it anymore. It used to be, back when Android was a quick cheap kludge (which some would argue it still is, but let's not go there) that it was a slicker, better system: that is no longer true, and the bugs - sorry, "features" - have worn me down.

Like the memo app, which in principle lets you make little memos. In truth, it does this - as it says on the tin - but woe betide ye should you want to edit one. I have, for instance, on more than one occasion deleted a few sentences by selecting and tapping "Delete", then started typing away and a few paragraphs later lo! the text I've just typed disappears and what I'd deleted comes back from the dead. Sometimes this happens without even deleting anything. I have noticed, though, that it's less frequent if you hold the phone in portrait orientation - probably because that makes the soft keyboard impossible to use. Whatever, it's a right bastard because I haven't spent five minutes typing busily away just to have it all disappear on me for no apparent reason, now have I?

How about the really cute glitch in the call log handling, whereby when the call log gets full it shows up as being empty. Which means that you cannot fix the problem by deleting older entries because as it's empty, there's no option to delete anything. Reasonable, no? Sometimes you can work around this by deleting items from the missed call log, sometimes not: otherwise you can try removing the SIM card, turning it on, then off, putting the SIM card back, turning it on ... it has worked for me. Or a factory reset does the job too.

Or let's pretend you are cleaning up your texts: might have three or four hundred or maybe, like me (I don't do housekeeping) you have a thousand. There is indeed a checkbox to select all messages, but it is only available when you've scrolled - very tediously - up to the top of the list.

(Don't ask me what cretin came up with that great idea. Also, don't ask me why you have to scroll up and down by flicking your bloody finger up and down the screen like someone with Parkinson's, why are there no page up/down buttons? Or a scroll bar that follows yer finger? I don't know; I'm not the frikkin half-wit who designed the user interface. But if ever I meet him - in a dark alley somewhere, or a sound-proofed room; maybe an unused usability lab - I will find out.)

So let's say you've spent five minutes getting to the top of the list, five messages at a time, and have pressed the "Select all" button. Miraculously, all the messages you can see are in fact selected, or at least there's a little tick next to each one - but there are some messages you want to keep (typically more recent ones, at the bottom of the list, so let's spend five minutes scrolling back down, shall we? Nothing better to do) so you start unchecking them, and then someone rings you, or sends you a text. Do you know what happens? Yes, the phone makes a noise - we know that - but it will also unselect all the messages and take you back down to the bottom of the list.

What bloody idiot thought of that? Have these fiendishly cunning Orientals never heard of bloody multi-tasking, for god's sake? I mean, it's not as though just because a new e-mail comes in on my laptop that I lose the last ten minute's work I put in on Excel, now is it? (Mind you, back in the day ...) Is it so goddamn difficult to have the phone swap over to handle the incoming call and then, when you're done, swap back to where you were? Hell, I can do that: surely something with a 2.4GHz quad-core processor and more RAM than you can shake a stick at could handle it?

Whatever, autumn is i-cumen and the times they are a-changing and it's getting kind of cold around here - only about 26° in the verandah, so Sustaining Food appropriate to such weather is de rigeur. Luckily lamb shanks are still more or less affordable in our little corner of Ole Yurrup, so before we took Shaun off to get tutored (regular appointment, every Wednesday evening) I browned a couple in the smaller of my Ikea inox pots, then fished them out and stuck in some bacon chunks to sizzle and render. Added some sliced carrots and let that lot brown gently, then some crushed juniper berries, chopped garlic, herbes de Provence and sprinkle with flour.

A couple of glasses of red wine go in next - let that boil uncovered for a few minutes to get rid of the alcohol or it will taste bitter, trust me - then stick the shanks back in, cover, and let simmer very gently for an hour and a half. Stirring occasionally, to make sure the sauce doesn't stick too much. Personally, I rather like dumplings with something like that, but Margo won't touch those and anyway steamed ratte go quite well, so that's what happened.

Some years back SKY magazine ran an occasional series on Holiday Jobs From Hell; my favourite was the guy who went to Israel to work on a kibbutz one summer. It wasn't actually mentioned in the job description (and who could blame them, sales would plummet?), but they reared turkeys and one of his jobs was to collect semen for artificial insemination. Which involves taking the bird under your arm, and fondling it ... he swore that by the end of the summer he had only to approach the enclosure and two elderly arthritic male turkeys would come rushing up to him with eager gobbles of glee, impatient for their daily dose of masturbation.

Along those same lines, in the Jobs You Don't Want department: rubbing cortisone cream onto your dog's dick. Don't ask. Please.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hotel Hell ...

So I'm off to Paris for a couple of days this afternoon, and as I was whipping round the market at Lézignan a sudden fit of generosity overcame me, and I picked up half a dozen oysters for Margo to have for her dinner tonight. Seeing as I won't be around. I just hope she completely sterilizes the kitchen after she's finished with the little buggers - come to that, hope they don't taint the Chateau Carton in the fridge, that would be a waste. Maybe I should buy a small flamethrower.

Happiness plus, I had thought that the likes of Tech'Otel were left behind us at Chambéry and that to satisfy my grosser needs I would have to go through to Perpignan or even Montpellier: imagine my pleasure on discovering that at Lézignan there is what looks like a hole in the wall with a few dusty pots and pans and a couple of dispirited bluebottles in the window but which, if you push tentatively at the door (for the place looks as though it's permanently closed), turns out to be a true Ali Baba's cave.

Yes, Margo stumbled upon Matcol the other day: it stands for "Materiel des Collectivités" should that interest you, and they sell everything required for the self-respecting hotel, restaurant or B&B. Linen, glasses, plates and cutlery, professional ovens, dishwashers and freezers, and best of all, saucepans. Lovely non non-stick stainless-steel jobs in all sizes, frying-pans, strange things for boiling pasta vertically, fish-kettles and all sorts. And those weird devices for squashing tomatoes into eight soggy lumps, and machines for peeling apples, and something I could only guess was a belly-button lint extractor. I was sorely tempted, but I think I shall save my return visit for my birthday, and give myself a real treat. And finally get rid of the old grey enamel pots we bought all those years ago.

Whatever, like I said I headed off to Paris: it started off badly when we discovered that the trip to Narbonne, which is normally only 20 minutes, was going inexplicably slowly. Should have paid more attention to the road signs that sprouted overnight around the place, saying "Prudence! Vendanges!" for it is indeed the harvest season and the roads are full of vine tractors and the like. Which do not go very quickly.

Then once we'd arrived at Narbonne the centre seemed gripped by gridlock for some reason so it took another ten minutes to get to the gare: even if we had left a good hour before need be (for I like to be ahead of time) I was starting to sweat. But I made it on board, rather by the skin of my teeth but what the hell.

And just before Valence the TGV slowly rolled to a halt and we sat in the middle of nowhere for ten minutes waiting to see if the sunflowers would do anything amusing until a very apologetic controleur announced that there seemed to be a power failure and would we please not try to leave the train: shortly after that we limped off again at about 90kph instead of the more usual 300. Wasn't until Satolas that we got up to a reasonable speed, which meant that we pulled into Paris about 45 minutes late.

Sadly there is no direct line from Gare de Lyon to Vitry sur Seine, so you find your way from the maze out to Quai de Bercy, trot across the Seine and head off to Gare d'Austerlitz, which just happens to be undergoing renovations at the moment so you can't actually get into the place in the usual manner but have to do an extra 500m north and then double back ...

My mood was not improved on board the RER as I bent down to brush a crushed cigarette from the seat I'd chosen, which seemed oddly unwanted by the other passengers despite the fact that the carriage was bulging: the reason for that became clear when I realised that the seat was damp and that I'd just stepped in a pool of vomit. Could hardly get worse.

Until I got to Vitry and walked over to the Hotel de la Gare, looking forward to a reasonable meal and a shower, to discover that the guy who'd taken my reservation over the phone had forgotten to note it down anywhere and that the place was full. The chap at the counter was very apologetic and offered to pay me a drink on the house to make up for the disappointment he somehow scented I was feeling, but I rather churlishly declined and set out on the mean streets of Vitry in search of another hotel.

These are rare birds in the dump, and I finally wound up outside the Bar des Cigales, place Gambetta, in front of a bar whose sign announced "Bar - Bistro - Hotel" so on the principle that if I didn't ask I wouldn't find out I went in and asked if, by any chance, it was true what it said about its being a hotel? The skinny bald guy behind the bar looked up from the glass he was wiping, put the grubby rag down on the counter and allowed that in fact this might be the case. He didn't seem to feel inclined to hold up his end of the conversation so I went a bit further and enquired whether there was actually a room available: "Ca se peut, c'est trente euros."

For that amount I wasn't expecting a great deal but I paid up-front and he dug a key out of somewhere about his person and led me out the front door, round the corner, through a bit of plywood on hinges and up three vertiginous flights of stairs smelling of disinfectant, which I guess was probably better than cat piss. Then he opened one of the four bright pink doors in the hall and showed me into the room.

No shower, no toilet, and a copy of Volume 1 of the Larousse Illustré of 1962 in place of a Gideon Bible, but I reckoned that I could handle a shared bathroom in the hall and the encyclopedia would allow me to improve my mind by skimming over a few articles before bed so I thanked him and followed him back down, in search of food.

The choice, in Vitry, at 22:30 is rather limited: takeaway Chinese or a kebab so as I had no particular wish to spend more time than necessary in that rather sinister room, and in any case the takeaway joint was closing up, I sat down to a kebab with chips and salad. And a beer. And I admired the décor, which seemed to consist of pictures of oil paintings on velvet with cutesy woodland animals photoshopped in, can't see the point myself but someone certainly seemed to have gone in for it.

I don't know whether it was that that put me off or some sort of presentiment, for I suddenly didn't feel all that hungry and left half the huge mound of meat untouched on my plate as I wandered out and back to the fleapit. Where there was only one other client in the bar when I walked in and asked for a glass of white (truth to tell I'd thought they were closing when I first turned up, turns out they were only just opening) so godnose how they made any money. Although I was starting to have a few ideas on that subject. Filed it away as another reason to be wary, and went up to the room to look for the shower.

I've been in worse places - in darkest Africa. I could not find a shower for the simple and sufficient reason that there wasn't one anywhere, and as for the toilet ... what I'd taken to be a cupboard halfway up the third flight of stairs had, on careful inspection, a faded sign on the door proclaiming it to be a "Patented Water Closet". Inside, a squat loo - that's not referring to its shape, but to how you're supposed to use it. A plastic bucket hanging from a tap by the door was a useful hint: the cistern probably hadn't worked for the past 50 years so flushing was a manual operation (and no doubt optional as well). So it was a good thing, I guess, that I hadn't wolfed down that enormous meal.

For some reason the prospect of boring myself to sleep by reading 137 paragraphs from the encyclopaedia, starting at Aut (for most of the preceding pages were missing), didn't really appeal so I stood at the window smoking a cigar and waited for a bit of street theatre or some other form of entertainment to occur. Didn't have long to wait as a couple of mismatched guys hove into view, leaning heavily on a pushbike which seemed to be propping both of them up somehow, and apparently trying to keep a car battery balanced on the rear mud-guard.

They stopped just below me, both seemingly stricken by a dire and pressing need to pee so they took turns, one holding the battery and trying to stop the bike getting away whilst the other washed down the outside of a rubbish bin: then when they'd both finished the short squat one heaved himself approximately onto the saddle, weaved a couple of metres into the side of a parked car, bounced off and then sailed unsteadily off into the night, clutching that battery in one hand. As the tall skinny one ran after him, yelling out bonsoir! at the top of his voice.

And that seemed like as good a time as any to go to bed, for I rather doubt anything else would have topped that particular spectacle: it was surprisingly comfortable, and I even woke up the next morning, rather to my surprise. The Turkish loo was still there, lurking balefully in the stairwell, but I ignored its blandishments and abused myself of the lavabo in the room: then I handed in the key, left with a spring in my step, and quite frankly hope never to go back in my life.

Whatever, we are thoughtful people here at The Shamblings, and I would like to leave you with another bit of friendly advice from our occasional series of Health & Safety hints: should you, through no fault of your own, find yourself with an inquisitive bee on your scrotum, do NOT ask a friend to remove it. Under the circumstances, the uncharitable and the small-minded might well choose to put an unfavourable interpretation on the ensuing antics.

Don't ask.

Monday, September 9, 2013

This Little Piggy ...

... went to market, of course.

The hour was grave and great need was upon us, for I had not been to a market for two weeks and anyway we had run out of sweet chili sauce. So there was only one reasonable course of action, under the circumstances: rise at dawn, and head off to the market at Carcassonne.

Incidentally, I should avoid honouring Ambulances Tomasello, at Trèbes, with your patronage were I you. I have heard nothing against them and I am sure that their ambulances are as clean and hygienic as one could wish, their drivers also clean, and courteous: it's just that I couldn't help but notice, as we drove past, that they share the premises with a funeral parlour, and the possibility of a conflict of interest will come to mind. Just a word to the wise.

Fresh brains!
Should it interest you there is an underground carpark at place Gambetta, which is where you arrive if you come into Carcassonne by the nationale, so we parked there and found the marché Carnot by the simple expedient of following the hordes of old hags with shopping trolleys, all shambling erratically in more or less the same direction.

Did a quick stroll around the place just to case the joint and get an idea of what looked good, and then back around to actually do the shopping: I was very reasonable, I feel. Picked up some lovely tomatoes with flavour ("tomates de jardin, muries au soleil", the sign said, and they certainly taste like it), some ratte, delicate little yellow courgettes, a couple of decent salades and an enormous bunch of chives, some piments forts because they look so pretty and some shallots and spring onions.

And a big bunch of muscat grapes, to eat and to go into a dinner I'm planning at which Margo will frown and stamp her feet for she does not like fruit with meat, but tough titty.

Also, I must be losing it because I stopped off and bought some bio-organic bread, made with a mixture of standard wheat flour and sarrasin. Costs at least twice the price of a normal loaf, but is no doubt very worthy and will probably keep for months. But could do serious damage if you dropped it on your foot.

Then Margo went off to search around le marché des vetements to see what she could find whilst I trotted off to explore with the camera and, as luck would have it, came across les halles. And, because it's stronger than I, had to poke my nose inside. I think I can probably pass on the horse-meat, and on the pickled olives too to be quite honest, but there were a couple of butchers there with hampe, and the magret de canard at only 13 €/kg certainly looked good to me.

Do NOT feed the fish
All very well, but none of that did anything for my major problem - a lack of chili sauce - but with considerable forethought I'd taken the trouble to google épiceries asiatiques in Carcassonne the night before, and had noted down two addresses, the first of which we duly programmed into the GPS of Doom.

For some strange reason the thing always plays silly buggers and takes us down side-roads and into crooks and nannies not meant to be known by man (Margo tries to tell me that it's using what in its teeny cybernetic brain it feels to be the quickest route, I still reckon it's trying to kill us), but to my surprise it actually got us there, eventually.

And I am now a happy man, for they had my sauce, and Chinese sausages and frozen nems and spice mixture for barbecued pork and many other things, even if they had neither sucre rouge nor jaggery powder, which is a bit of a bummer.

What I really need to do now is to find somewhere that will sell me filo pastry, and I will be set up.

Completely off-topic, just outside our front door there is some sort of lavoir, or maybe it was a watering-trough for the horses, I don't know and don't much care. It was dry when we moved in and apparently has been so for some time, for one of the conseillers municipaux does not believe that children should be having fun, especially when it involves water.

Or it could be, if you're being generous, that he was terribly concerned about the responsibilité civile in case of a tragic water-related death, but that prospect doesn't seem to worry any other municipalité in France, and the received wisdom around here is that he's a miserable tight-fisted old grinch, which is why small children dance around his house singing "Sourpuss! Grumpyface!" ...

But I digress. The point is that in the middle of this waterless watering-hole there is a large chunk of concrete, or a plinth if you prefer, atop which there is a small marble statue of a young girl who is, if we can judge by the look on her face and the appearance of her feet, running bare-foot through a field of nettles whilst constipated. Also, wearing a night-dress.

Enquiring minds are not really much in favour around here, in case they start making enquiries on topics we'd rather not go into, such as "Where were you on the night of the 15th?" or "May I just take a quick look in the cellar?" but still, rules are for other people and we were curious ...

My own theory was that the mairie had had this plinth built, for no other reason than that the maire-adjoint could get concrete that probably wouldn't run in the rain at cost, and M. le maire's idiot nephew needed a summer job, and that was that: then, finding themselves with a plinth on their hands, realised that it cried out for a statue.

Not having one to hand they sent the idiot nephew off to the cemetery - just next door, as luck would have it, to the local orphanage - one wild rainy night to pick up something appropriate: off he went, the deed was done, and the very next day the astounded citizenry, burghers and bumpkins of Moux awoke to find the little girl, feet cemented firmly in place, adorning the hitherto pristine plinth.

By general acclamation and to loud applause the idiot nephew was made mayor for life on the spot, and the good people of the village returned to their usual pastimes, some of which - this being a small rural town - are too sordid to be recounted here. For this is, despite all evidence to the contrary, a family-oriented blog, which thinks seriously of the children. And not always in terms of a regular food supply.

Sadly, Margo is rarely content to leave what few illusions I may still have intact, and went about interrogating the villagers with determination; with vigour, vim, and a certain bloodthirsty gusto. The plain truth, which soon came out, is much less interesting, even mundane. It would appear that the statue in question, an 18th century work depicting Mary Mother of God™ as a child, was once harboured in an obscure niche in the church until, one day during the Occupation, a more-than-usually tasteless German officer took a fancy to it.

In my opinion they'd have been better off to let him take it and good riddance, but with pride and stealth they removed it and hid it, leaving him frustrated: being bumpkins, they forgot exactly where they'd buried it, given that one grape vine looks much like another (at least to my untutored eye). Also, being deported and/or shot doesn't exactly help your memory.

Eventually it did turn up - at what date, and under what circumstances no-one has yet said fit to say - and as its previous place in the church had been taken by a life-sized statue of Jezebel Pleasuring the Corinthians, the maire-adjoint did in fact have some almost-good cement that had definitely not fallen off the back of a lorry, and there was that bloody plinth, they stuck it up there, where it remains to this day.

Next week: Mysteries of Moux! What is being transported in the sinister black trailer that moves slowly through the streets at midnight? Who is the masked driver? What is that smell of kebabs and cat urine? Stay tuned for more incisive reporting from the bleeding edge.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Nude Interview With The Vampire ...

You were probably expecting something salacious, but it's nothing at all like that ... I drove back up to Chambery Monday night and then off to an all-day meeting with a client in Lyon on Tuesday: having better things to do I took Stacey off to the Beer Tree that night instead of doing them, to meet up with the usual dissolute companions (yeah, Bryan and Beckham, again) and listen to Tim O'Connor sing.

As a general rule, when it comes to folk music I'd infinitely prefer to slit my own throat and gargle with the blood running down the oesophagus until I pass out, but he's a really nice friendly guy so I made an exception and we wound up staying till around 2am, when Audrey and Camille started making meaningful shooing noises with the brooms, so we took the none-too-subtle hint and left. Having promised to bring them a caisse of rosé from the cave cooperative here in Moux the next time I head up.

So later that day I woke (when I say "later" that would mean rather later than intended), and finding that Stacey had gone off to do whatever it is that teachers do when the little children come rushing eagerly back to school, I wandered blearily out onto the verandah clad in the lightest of tenues legères ie bollocks-naked to bask in the sun and inhale some coffee.

(Have no fear, people. That verandah is secluded and screened from the road by masses of wisteria, so no way was I risking doing time for outrage à la décence publique. Just as well, be a shame to go down for so small a thing. He said, modestly.)

I'd got about halfway through that when the phone exterminated at me: Fabrice chose that time for a quick discussion on where we're going with the software. So I dragged the little Samsung out of the backpack and set it up on the table in the morning sun, and being very careful not to turn on the webcam we started our little séance. A working breakfast, if your idea of breakfast involves nothing more complicated than vast quantities of caffeine and a cigar.

Which meant, as I wished to go past the office and pick up a few bits and pieces, that once I'd tucked the computer away again, pulled some clothes on and done all that and fed Suzy I left Chambéry a bit later than I had in fact intended; as luck would have it the autoroute was more or less deserted (or as deserted as the A7 between Valence and Orange ever gets) so I still made it back in time for Margo to take Shaun off to get tutored.

Now for something completely different: if you head into Narbonne on the D6113, apart from the working girls strung out along its length, dancing forlornly in what they doubtless think to be an enticing manner (and who knows? To some, I suppose it could be ...) you will notice on your left, at Montredon, a sign announcing the presence of the "Sexynine Club Privé Libertin". Purely in the interests of science I googled over to their website, where I learnt that June 28 was the "Soirée Gang Bang" and also, more depressingly, that due to health problems (I do not wish to know) the owner is selling the place.

Given that the last update was in June I would hazard a guess that he or she has not yet found a buyer, so I have a wonderful investment proposition for you ...

Do you know what the main problem with working from home is? The idea is extremely attractive - I should know - you think to yourself something along the lines of "Hah! This will be cool, less stressful, I shall work at my own rhythm and walk the dog when I feel like it, and there shall be a unicorn farting rainbows in every garden."

Sadly, this turns out not to be the case - not as such. What actually happens, at least in my experience, is that the day starts with the bells of Notre Dame next door clanging brokenly into life at 7am, and that lasts sufficiently long to bring Mr. Brain to the surface and start clutching at straws, lest he sink back down into the depths again. Then the thought comes to you that a dose of caffeine is essential, as is the easing of the bladder: once easement has taken place and the coffee machine is gurgling monomaniacally to itself you are reminded, often by a cold damp bit of liver on the inner thigh, that it's time to take the dog for his early morning walk - half a litre of urine and a crap sufficiently far down the street that no-one can blame us for it..

Once these basic bodily functions have been attended to and you've stopped him trying to scarf up squashed figs from the road (because they have Certain Consequences concerning the consistency of his bowel motions) you head back home and the coffee is ready (it is now about 7:30) so you might as well slump out on the terrace with the first mug's worth and watch the sun come up (there is some Latin poem about rosy-fingered dawn drawing the curtain of day that comes to mind, I seem to recall that Caligula really enjoyed playing the part of Dawn but I simply cannot for the life of me remember it) as the dog, for want of something better to do, licks your toes.

Around 8am, as the excitement of having the sun come up yet again wears off you think that perhaps you might as well step into the office with a second mug to check up on e-mail/blogs/porn/news items before some bastard decides to ruin your life with a phone call. Which is pretty optimistic, given that about ten minutes into your browsing the phone rings. To set up a VOIP conference call. And while you're getting that organised, the cellphone rings. With an urgent question. So you're juggling two phones and the keyboard, and trying not to turn the webcam on (see note above).

At 10:30 the conference call is over but there's enough to worry about that you don't really want to take the time to go have a shower (which is a shame, as it's much-needed) so you carry on until 12:30 at which point, feeling a bit peckish and just because you can, you take half an hour for lunch. Because at 13:30 the phone will start going again.

So it goes, with the odd nicotine break, until 18:30, when you decide that you can still fit a couple of hours in after dinner ... you can easily wind up doing a 12-hour day, which is not really the object of the exercise. Still, just knowing that you can go out on the terrace for a quick smoke - or take the laptop out there with you - does keep the stress level down.

And whilst we're more or less on the subject of the effective use of time, I am currently doing - amongst other things - a contract for my way-back-when employers, Miqro. Their client is Schneider, the big multi-national industrial group, and those people are amazing. They love to have a progress meeting at least once a week, either by internet or face-to-face (which, of course, involves a trip to Bordeaux or some other distant hole) and at one of the earlier ones, the meeting closed with a decision to create a working group and to put development on hold until it had reported back with its conclusions.

Which, two weeks later, it duly did. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary there, I grant you, just that the remit of the working group was to find a way to accelerate product delivery by saving four days in development time. So putting it back by ten days would seem to me to be counter-productive, but what do I know?

Whatever, I is a happy parrot as I have discovered an Arab butcher at Lézignan. Who was happy to sell me a well-aged (if I'm any judge, and I am) cote de boeuf for only 15€/kg (so I got a kilo, it seemed the prudent course), and while I was at it I picked up a shoulder of lamb: it's barbecue time at The Shamblings, people. Hopefully, not the last of the year. Mind how you go, now.