Saturday, October 26, 2013

And the Red-Hot Pointy Stick Too ...

So I was pretty sure I'd worked out my Windows woes when I headed off to Vitry-sur-Seine to see my good friends at the SNCF, and so I had: those I knew about, at any rate. The first inkling I had that all was perhaps not well was on the TGV, when I plugged the phone in to check my mail and it stubbornly refused to connect. "No worries", I thought, "it'll be better when I'm not swapping from tower to tower" ...

Of course when I got in there was Wifi at the little chambre d'hotes in Sucy (yes, that's the actual name of the place, the inhabitants call themselves Sucysois and apparently get away with it) so I didn't bother looking any further, which as it turns out was a mistake. For when I got to the SNCF the next morning I discovered that the update to Windows 8.1 had somehow screwed the licence key for InstallShield, which needed to be repaired - over the internet, naturally.

Now I don't know if the SNCF follow security best practices but their offices are certainly locked down tighter than a cat's arse: there is no Wifi, only authorised computers are allowed to be connected to the intranet, and of those only a small number have external access - and even those privileged few have to got through an SNCF portal that makes a slow stroll through a septic tank seem like a brisk walk up Everest.

Naturally enough I plugged in my phone, dialed up - at which point my mousie suddenly stopped moving and a few minutes Windows cheerfully told me that there seemed to have been a problem, it was just logging some information and would then restart for me. Very sweet of it, good thing I had no important open, edited and unsaved files ...

After three tries I realised that this was not going to get any better, also it's not very easy to look up solutions on the web when you have no internet access ... so I gave it up as a bad job, abandoned that, and went back to other things.

That evening I went out to dinner with Jean-Pierre and Denis and when I got back at about midnight had precious little urge to go problem-solving, so I told myself it'd wait - and so it did, until the next evening when, driven mad by a lack of cute kitty videos and craving my fix of "news" from El Reg, I fired up the phone and used it to google the question.

It's something I hate doing because a) the screen is really too small for anything useful, b) it's kinda slow and c) as one should expect, the Samsung browser is crap, but I eventually found out that the problem seems to reside in a buggy Microsoft RNDIS driver which - knowing them - probably got reinstalled with the update. And there's sod-all I can do about it.

But I finally got around the problem: not the most elegant of solutions I admit, but activating the phone as a mobile access point and then connecting to it via Wifi from the PC does actually seem to work. At least once. And I managed to reinstall my licence, but repairing the Visual Studio install so that I have a C++ compiler again will just have to wait until there's a wired connection in reach.

Actually, it won't. I just discovered, at 11pm, that not only had that bloody update screwed the licence but also Visual Studio itself, so that it would open a project but then be able to open any of the files in it. Seems something happened in the registry, as usual. I do actually have better things to do with my time than faff about fixing Microsoft's cockups, for god's sake! But I still wound up running the "repair" option from the Visual Studio DVD (which I still, luckily, have lying about on the PC as an ISO image) rather than sleeping. Only took two hours. And whilst I was about it, took the opportunity to back up 2Gb or so to some cloudy backup service - over my phone, as that's all I had. At least it was working.

Do not nibble your toenails
Off-topic, I agree, but - did you know that all around gare de Lyon there seem to be a number of sex shops? Some offering "salles climatisées" so you can watch your porn in air-conditioned comfort. Innocent that I am, I thought everyone just watched the stuff over internet these days. But as I walked past I have to admit I was sorely tempted by the "Vibrating Ice Massager", the pictures looked so very attractive. But I thought better of it, and refrained.

Whatever, autumn has come and the sky over Carcassonne was cool and wind-swept when I went off to the marché this morning. Didn't seem to put a damper on anyones' spirits mind you, was as animated as usual. And the bright colours of the pumpkins and courgettes and the last of the summer's sweet little tomatoes and the aubergines and poivrons and tiny buttery yellow pears and the clementines and muscat grapes more than made up for the slate-gray sky.

And when I'd filled my bag with all these things and more, like a few cobs of sweetcorn that I bore off with cackles of glee and some sucrines, which are my new favourite lettuce (yes, I'm a complete slut in the vegetable fidelity department), I took that back to the car, got out the camera, and went for an amble. One which, unfortunately, took me back through place Carnot where I suddenly remembered that it's been a bloody long time since I stuffed and baked some mushrooms, and then past les Halles where it came to my attention that if I was going to stuff them then some decent pork mince would come in handy, and they had épaule d'agneau sitting there as well and it would've been a shame not to buy one, as they were calling out to me.

So by the time I'd done all that, and picked up a little ciabatta for my lunch and some chives because - well, I didn't have any left in the freezer - my arm was getting longer and it's kind of uncomfortable with a camera slung over one shoulder, so I was glad to get back to place Gambetta and head back home.

Where the dog greeted me joyously, and in an attempt to make up for leaving him alone for all of four hours I took him off for a long walk through the vines, and he pranced merrily and slurped as many as he could of the last sticky-sweet grapes left on the vines after the vendange. Just hope he doesn't get diarrhoea.

Note to self: do not eat any low-hanging grapes, you never know what else has been licking them. Although, now that I think of it, now might be the perfect time to make a another grape flan, to eat after that rolled roast lamb shoulder. With the stuffed mushrooms. And maybe some goldenrod broccoli (Digby Law's excellent "Vegetable Cookbook", doubtless out of print these days but that's just too bad, go look it up).

Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bring On The Boiling Oil ...

Not the way I would personally have chosen to start a post, but there you go: have to take the brazen bull by the horns, grab the stinging nettle of opportunity, look on the bright side whilst going up pooh creek and any number of other befuddled metaphors, similes, and figures of speech.

So I rang our old friend Jacques this morning just to see how life was getting on up in St Jean de Maurienne, and he tactfully let me know that he's been diagnosed with bowel cancer of one form or another. No-one knows just what yet, or if they do they're not saying: upshot is that in ten days or so he meets with the surgeons and all, and they let him know whether it's worth opening him up again. (Really should have got a zipper put in when they extracted his prostate, I guess.)

I'm told that bowel cancer is highly survivable, although with a certain lack of dignity under some circumstances (I think I might actually prefer to be dead rather than wander about with a colostomy bag, but that's just me) so I'm hoping for the best: suppose that, like him, I'll just have to hurry up and wait.

Which doesn't make it any easier: over the years, as some of you know, Jacques has been a great friend and a surrogate father to us, and an uncle/grand-father to the kids. I was kind of hoping that he'd just go on forever. Not that I'm saying that he's actually going to stop doing so in the immediate future, just that Tim R. Mortiss is definitely conturbing me.

Anyway, I had to go up to Chambéry on Wednesday night to do a couple of days debuggering in Lyon, and the long-suffering Stacey kindly let me curl up at the foot of the sofa to sleep (there was even an old mat to sleep on - luxury!), so that was fine until Friday. There are some days you're really better off not getting out of bed. She was flying out to the States that day to spend a couple of weeks in California, so as I was going through to Lyon anyway offered to drop her off at the airport. Got through to Satolas no problems, dumped her off at the entrance to Terminal 2 and headed back to the autoroute to do the remaining 15 km or so ... which is where I ran into a traffic jam. It took me three hours to get to my destination, and the more mathematically-minded amongst you will have already worked out that this comes to about 5kph, which is not even a brisk trot for an arthritic Pekinese.

All this aggravation due to a lorry that had side-swiped a semi and then three other lorries driven by Poles high on speed piling into that little lot, which kind of blocked the road.

So instead of a whole day's productive work I managed about five hours (but either the problems were less recalcitrant that I'd guessed, or I'm that much more efficace than I thought, for it sufficed), and I guess you can imagine my delight when I came upon another accident on the drive back to Chambéry that evening. Still, that only tacked twenty minutes onto the trip time, nothing really.

Maybe it was because of all that, maybe from some other cause, but a fit of madness took me, also I was bereft of my senses, and for reasons still unclear to me downloaded the free update to Windows 8.1. I most emphatically did NOT install it, but when I woke up in the morning and went to check the progress of the 3.8Gb download found that it had not only finished, but had also decided to install itself. With no apparent option to cancel at any point, but maybe I slept through that.

So it trundles about its business and asks a few stupid questions and then apparently decides it needs to create a Microsoft account at, will not let me skip this step, insists on a strong password and, to add insult to injury, won't do it until I hook up the wired network, the Wifi apparently being insufficient. Oh well, another useless online account to which I shall soon forget the password ... it then cheerfully tells me it's finished - just as well as I have a train to catch - and returns me to my desktop. Down goes the lid, and I'm off.

Next thing, on the TGV from Lyon to Montpellier (more about that later), I decide to unship the PC, for diverse reasons, but mostly to vent my spleen. An error, because I'm sure that no-one else on the train really wanted to learn some of the words I used. I type in my password, which is refused: being stubborn, or stupid, or half-blind or all three I try again and again until I finally notice the text that pops up to tell me that the computer is off-line and would I please type in the last password used on it?

Which, it turns out, is not, as I thought (but what would I know?) good old ********, but the new strong password that I created for their goddamn crap online cloudy account. No doubt so that I can log on to their totally unwanted SkyDrive service, the offer of which I have already turned down. It is also at this point that I discover that for some reason the PC no longer boots up with NumLock on, and I then recall that there is no NumLock indicator to be seen. (There are four or five pinpoint blue LEDs along the front of the machine: I've never taken the trouble to find out what they're for but I can say unequivocally that none of them are for useful things such as Num or Caps lock status. One lights up when I turn the machine on, which is kind of pointless because the power button does the same. Go figure.)

Type in my new password, which I can see - for reasons that will become obvious later in the song - that I shall have to learn, to be greeted by a new Welcome screen: for reasons best known to the fairies of Redmond the old wallpapers have disappeared, leaving me with a choice between tasteless and gross. I mean, I actually rather liked the nautilus cross-section I'd selected before. That's why I picked it, you see. Anyway, first thing to do is to clean up some of the crap that I'd got rid of before but has apparently been reinstalled, so it's off to that hateful home page with it's goddamned-to-hell "Live Tiles" (™, probably) to remove things.

Where, as Windows insists on showing me all its new tricks - which it does in a very subtle manner, by plonking up a huge smarmy self-congratulatory notice (did they learn nothing from that stupid paper-clip debâcle?) which you can't get rid of without doing what it says, which is shift the cursor there and then click on it, in the bottom-left, top-left, and top-right corners of the screen - I get sufficiently infuriated to right-click on the Desktop tile (the only one that's any bloody use) and then press Enter, which is not a good idea because it seems that doing so deletes it and so I am obliged to use shortcut keys to get back to there.

Whatever, when I get back in reach of a network I shall google how to put it back (for there is no contextual help that I can find anywhere on that screen: Microsoft apparently felt that while you need to be held by the hand and forced to learn the neat things you can do with the mouse, things like restoring or adding tiles is just so self-evident it would be pointless to explain) but right now I would like to change my password.

Stiff out of luck there too. I find the control panel, User Accounts, and click on "Change my password" - "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that. You don't seem to be online". You are trying to tell me that I can't change my fricking password if I'm not connected to thar intartoobz? What is the rationale for this? Which cretin came up with that particularly brilliant idea? And whose fscking machine is it, anyway? I am getting really, really pissed off at this idiocy.

My mood is not helped because I discovered all these things by giving up on that Samsung crapware that is the phone's memo pad to take notes when it started inserting words at apparently random places in my text, and deleting others that it perhaps felt to be superfluous. And I am doing this on a TGV which is not only packed with small children all being sent off to see their bewhiskered old grannies (for it is the first day of the Toussaint school holidays, and elderly ladies must be put to useful service) but also running 25 minutes late, which means that I am going to miss my correspondance at Montpellier and so shall have to take a later train to Narbonne.

On the bright side, the enforced wait did give me time to appreciate the friezes and embellishments on the façades of some of the nineteenth century buildings about the Montpellier Saint-Roch train station, like the marvelous one depicting a chubby half-naked lady with big boobs and (it must have been rather chilly) pointy nipples bottle-feeding a satyr. From a jug.

Later that night ... the Great Google is indeed your friend, and I have recovered my desktop access, set the damn thing up to boot straight onto the desktop, and reestablished my local account. Why does this have to be so bloody well-hidden? Never mind, it's done.

Finally, a word of warning. As I took Shaun for his big trot this morning I could not help but notice a small sign taped up in the window of the local doctor's rooms: "Pendant la période des vendanges, pas de consultations". If you know what's good for you, do not fall sick at this time of year, as the quack will be way too busy with his wine-making to pay any attention to your little problems.

I'm not that stupid. My password isn't really ********, it's actually *********. So good luck with that one.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When You Have to Go ...

In a recent Blinding Flash Of Inspiration™ leading to a technological advance which is destined to improve the lives of millions, I have discovered that the humble dishwasher is a useful tool for the breadmaker. In no way do I wish to suggest that you should use one to go from whoa! to go! as it were (for one thing, the temperature's far too low for successful baking, unless you are an unconditional fan of Runny Stodge, one of Nature's deservedly neglected food groups) but for proving dough, it is perhaps unsurpassed.

After everything's gone through and the drying cycle is done, it is still warm and humid in there - just perfect for yeasts.

I say this only because I was making hamburger buns - and then I thought that as I had this stone-ground flour from CDD and some anis vert and golden syrup, which is close enough to molasses for my foul porpoises, I might as well make some rye bread whilst I was at it. And not being one to let the contents of the fridge go unused, and finding a bottle of beer in there ...

The thing is, beer from the fridge is, as God intended it to be, cold: which is good for drinking, not quite so good for encouraging yeast to do its thing. Under normal circumstances I would have just stuck the bowl with the flour/yeast slurry into the microwave on defrost for a minute, but I'd used a metal mixing bowl and that would probably not have been a good idea. And it was at about that time that the dishwasher beeped at me, in its happy monomaniacal way, to let me know that it had licked the plates and finished digesting our leftovers - and a great idea was born.

And oddly enough, it worked. Sadly, the rye bread did not turn out as moist and heavy as I wanted, but that's my fault for winging it.

After the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie on Monday, to see what they had to say about my status, I headed off to an accountant, as one will: one that they'd more or less recommended. Oddly enough, for as a general rule accountants are down there at the bottom of the food chain along with trodden-in dog turds on the carpet in my opinion, I rather liked him. "Hie thee" he said, "to a notaire, but make sure you get a price out of him upfront. They're conniving skinflint bastards."

Then, when I raised the vexèd subject of the auto-entrepreneur, he answered me thusly: "Opinion is divided on this. Everyone else thinks it's shit. I don't.". Yes indeed, Captain Rum. He also offered me a damn good deal, 50€ per month for the first year and as he said, I just stick all the bills and such into a cardboard box or a rubbish bag, and drop it off once in a while.

Whatever, as one will from time to time, I had to go off and renew my driver's licence, which naturally enough involves a medical checkup. Nothing too complicated, just counting to make sure I have a full complement of arms, legs, and the other basics ... so I turn up in at the appropriate address in Carcassonne with the four ID photos, blood tests, power bill and whatever, and get in line. Not too sure that I ever wanted, in fact, to get to the head of the line, because the woman behind the desk looked like she bit the heads off chickens for pleasure, which leaves me wondering what her job involves.

But eventually I got to her and hand over my dossier, which was briefly and contemptuously considered before I was informed that my power bill is more than three months old (it was dated July 26th, which would make it three months on October 26th, but I guess that higher maths is not a job requirement) but that I could post that in (a not inconsiderable sign of flexibility, for which I am eternally grateful) and that I might as well go get my gear off anyway, but before that - at which point she hands me a little strip of cardboard and points me in the direction of the toilet.

Which is about as seedy as you'd expect, given that apparently every visitor to the building is directed in there and have only five minutes to do their business because Hey! There are others waiting out here you know! and in any case, it's a funny thing but you never can actually piss on demand. I did try, I strained and heaved, but there was nowt to be done and that strip remained resolutely dry.

I toyed with the idea of dipping it into the toilet bowl but rejected that on the grounds of hygiene, also if they did actually test it I didn't want to be held responsible for what they found, so I left that sordid room as soon as possible and took my place in line and when it was my turn and I was decently undressed handed it over to the quack with a mumbled excuse about somehow you never can when you really need to, isn't that so?

From the weary look I guessed I am not the only person he'd met that couldn't wet themselves to save their life, and five minutes later, once we'd agreed that I can't see worth a damn close up without my glasses, and that my blood pressure could be lower, I was out of there.

And whilst we're on the subject of renewals, I had to go off and renew my NZ passport, given that it expired a few years back. (Remember the days when they were good for 15 years or whatever? Like when your driver's licence was good "for life"?) And so it came to my attention that I could do it all online, no more hassle downloading and printing some enormous PDF file, then filling it in and posting it off to what you hoped was the right address - for over here we has three to choose from, between the embassy in Paris (wrong!), the High Commission in London (maybe wrong) and Internal Affairs in Wellington (usually right).

It was all quite straightforward, I even managed to put down Bryan's name and all as my character reference without sniggering, and then came the hard part: the passport photos. Not that the process of uploading them is particularly difficult, or even unclear - what is a right bitch is finding a photographer who is prepared to supply you with your photo as a JPG image file. I tried all over in Caracassonne, with no luck, and Chambéry, when I was there, was no better: finally discovered that the guy in the little Carrefour at Lézignan was willing to do it.

(Incidentally, the nice man from DHL dropped it of at the door yesterday morning. Such efficiency! But why is it that NZ passports have really cheap plastified cardboard covers that curl up of their own accord?  For the money you pay, you'd think they could have done something better than that.)

I am once again reminded of the perils of multi-tasking as I prepared the evening meal the other night: a simple quiche with lardons and poireaux, and I thought "Why not a nice loaf of pain méridionale, with honey and anis in it?". Fair enough, so I rolled out the bastard puff and lined the dish with it, set the leeks to stew gently and grated the cheese, then mixed the yeast with a bit of flour and sugar and warm water and let that prove before going off and mixing the eggs and cream for the quiche.

And then, as the yeast mixture was bubbling nicely I thought it was probably about time to tip in the anis seeds and stir that about before adding the rest of the flour and the raisins and the honey ... you get the picture, I suppose: two identical stainless steel bowls on the bench, each containing a healthy dose of thick liquid - guess which one got a teaspoon of anis in it?

Just for the record, provided you manage to fish out most of the seeds (they do tend to float, which is admittedly convenient), the result is not inedible. Kind of interesting, but not in a ghastly way.

In other news, which will interest absolutely no-one apart from terminally minutiae-obsessed geeks, I am obliged, nay! constrained, to follow MISRA coding rules for Schneider. You probably don't want to know but I shall go ahead and tell you anyway, these are a set of standards laid down by the great and good (read "petty-minded, anal-compulsive, and unemployable") to which your C code must conform. Many of them are purely stylistic and, like dead yeast left in beer, at least do no harm: a good number of them are best-practice and I have no problem with that, but whichever committee sat down and wrote the bloody thing evidently had a deep, undying collective hatred of pointers.

I am well aware, after godnose how many years in the business, that the misuse of pointers can be is dangerous, but I would humbly beg to suggest that forcing people to use array syntax instead is no more readable, just as risky, and - depending on your compiler - much less efficient. Mind you, I'm just saying that because I'm pissed off at spending an entire day rewriting pointer-based code in order to reduce the number of compile errors from 1576 to 7 (you have to admit, that is a significant improvement, even if 95% were just because of using the disapproved syntax for comments).

Yes, I can see the original worthy point of the exercise: the idea is that by eliminating the use of possibly risky constructs (such as multiple exit points from a procedure, the use of goto, stuff like that) the resulting code is more easily proven correct. (I recall that back in the 80s the UK DoD sank millions into an effort to develop a provably correct microprocessor, the VIPER chip. After a while, the maths at the base of it all - the mechanically provable correctness - turned out to be wrong. Shame, really.) But, my point is, there is a cost to all that.

 For one thing, you are still depending on the compiler to generate correct code, and in my experience - having spent some time on odd occasions poring over disassembly to work out exactly why a syntactically correct program should malfunction - that is not a given. (Although I guess that if you've followed the rules then you've covered your arse, and it is Someone Else's Problem.) And if, as logically you should, you turn off all optimisations, the resulting source, stuffed as it is with explicit typecasts and if statements that serve only to skip over code that could easily be avoided with a simple return and superfluous tests in the for loop exit conditions, is going to generate rather inefficient code.

Not, I admit, much of a problem when you're writing for a PC or a tablet or even a phone, most of which have CPU cycles to spare, more RAM than you can shake a stick at, and more sheer computing power than the NSA back in the 90s - but we are talking here about embedded systems with a teeny, underpowered and above all cheap processor that is supposed to run off the smell of an oily rag. Somewhere along the line here, Schneider has chosen a very large and possibly inappropriate hammer to smash a very small nut.

Mind you, that's just my opinion, and I'm pissed off. Yours may differ. If it does, I'm not sure I really care that much.

Anyway, as I was waiting for the train that was going to take me south on Sunday morning, standing on the quai at Chambéry and bitterly regretting not having brought something a little warmer than a T-shirt and leather jacket, I could not help but notice that sprouting up in the middle, right between two sleepers, were a couple of flourishing tomato plants, soaking up the pale watery sunlight.

Some were ripe enough to have fallen to the ground: no-one seemed to have been inclined to go pick them up, possibly (in the case of the general public) because of the dire warnings posted prominently about the consequences of crossing the tracks rather than taking the passage souterrain. I still have my SNCF gilet de securité somewhere about but I wouldn't try picking them either, given where the toilet waste from the train carriages goes. Have to admit they did look very healthy, well-fertilised tomatoes.

I passed. Organic's all very well, but one must draw a line somewhere.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Exciting My Languid Spleen ... *

Yet another advantage of being down here in the lazy sun-kissed riotously-alcoholic soberly family-friendly south of France is that the beach is only half an hour away. So this evening we headed off east to Narbonne-Plage, noting with some smug satisfaction that everyone else appeared to be heading away from the place, and took Shaun for a romp on the beach.

As the sun goes down the masses of clouds over the Mediterranean go deep gray and merge into the sea on the horizon and the waves slosh onto the gray sand and send playful fingers up the beach and wash up a few shells and the odd dead bird or a condom or two, and when a few rays of light break orange and gold through the clouds Shaun seals the moment by finding some used toilet paper to chew on behind a clump of bushes.

Somehow, magic moments do not survive pets. Nor, it seems, does intelligence, as the accompanying graph clearly shows.

So anyway, Mad Karen rang this moaning to give us all the news that's fit to print: not only did they get burgled last night (computers, phones, the lot) whilst they slept - which I guess means that they both wear ear-plugs, or had very stealthy burglars - but her mother (who loves me) and sister are turning up from the States this very afternoon.

Given that the entire family is dysfunctional to a level that you wouldn't believe even in a Woody Allen film, I have to ask myself what could top all that off, complete the hat-trick as it were. A direct nuclear strike on Mumblefuck perhaps, but under the circumstances that might be considered a blessing ... I gather that Philippe has already started on the tranks.

Whatever, like babes in the wood we bought down here in the sunny south, hoping to escape the bloody Climate. All well and good, but they conspicuously fail to mention in the brochures that it does, in fact, rain in these here parts. I suppose I should have started to get suspicious when, wandering about, I spotted these culverts which looked rather sur-dimensionné, even to my untrained eye. I mean, who in their right minds would build a culvert a metre wide and about 80cm deep, somewhere it doesn't rain?

Excellent question - it seems, no-one. I guess on the principle that if you build it, they will come, they are there for those days like today, when it fair pissed down, and the rain gurgled happily down the gutters and turned the street into a (admittedly shallow) lake. But I will definitely have Words for Peter Mayle, should ever I come across him.

Having other things to do, like get a blood sample taken and little Suzy's front tyres replaced, we headed off to the marché at Narbonne instead (actually, as well as). Les halles is a magnificent building, which just about manages to do justice to its contents. First off, about six bars, serving tapas (hey, they're fashionable these days, and in any case we're only about an hour from Spain - get over it).

Walk in the southern entrance, and to left and right there are fishmongers. I stopped buying frozen fish quite a while back, for it is crap (although a 300gm packet of coquilles St-Jacques in the freezer is quite acceptable, and indeed de rigeur for those days when you have unexpected guests, as is a tin of foie gras in the fridge), but this was marvelous. Stalls packed with bar, and merlan, and pêche de roche, daurade, rouget and grondin, lotte (which is kind of hideously ugly if you ask my opinion, like someone ran over a leathery slug), espadon and thon, and mackerel ... bright little eyes, and the clean smell of iodine. I see that I shall have to drag out my ancient Larousse Culinaire so that I can work out exactly what some of these little buggers actually are, in a proper language. And to see what I can do with them.

The prices are kind of terrifyingly atmospheric, but we made it away from there with only 600gm of fresh dos de cabillaud (that would be cod to you lot, I do know that one) before going on our merry way. With visions of fish'n'chips, in beer batter, dancing in my brain.

There was a cheese stall - truth to tell, there were a couple, but they were far outnumbered by those selling olives in all their many guises (personally I can happily pass on the olive, a small stony fruit with zero culinary interest as far as I'm concerned but maybe that's just me) - and do you know what? No way I am paying 32€/kg for bloody Beaufort d'alpage. Next time I go up to Chambéry I shall take a chilly bin, and it shall not come back here empty.

One of the butchers had some agèd beef which called out to me, so I bought a slab of that as well - hardly green at all, and then we got on to the fruit & veg. Picked up some firm baby aubergines, the size and colour of passionfruit, which I suspect will just get sliced in half and roasted in the oven with lashings of olive oil, maybe on top of some tomatoes.

Also, sweetcorn!

Otherwise it's the usual suspects of course - pears, apples and the first clementines of the year (it's late autumn, people. The nectarines are crap) - and then came across some anones, from Spain.

Bought one, and on arriving back home had to go and check up on Wackymedia to see just what it really was. (Yes, I know, I have a phone and therefore internet access wherever I go, but I refuse to try and read pages rendered to a 3.5 x 2.5" screen and also searching is not a happy experience, given Samsung's obsession with making such little details as unpleasant as possible.)

Anyway the flesh is creamy white, with large black seeds: it is sweet, texture a bit granuleux, and tastes of - well, feijoa. According to that august organ of crowd-sourced wisdom I was eating a cherimoya (or custard apple), native to the Andes: Mark Twain apparently said that it was the most delicious fruit known to man (I would disagree, for he had apparently forgotten all about cherries, and ripe peaches, and strawberries) but it is not half bad. Although the guy on the stall did give us fair warning - "you'll either love it, or hate it" he said. True enough.

In fact, I can see that just maybe I shall be able to make that feijoa bretonne I used to do back in the day in Noo Zild again, sticking these things in, in the place of the genuine article. I think that will work.

For your general edification, just to the north of Carcassonne there is a small village, name of Montolieu, which decided some years back to call itself "le village des livres" and has done so with such obstinacy that now it's known by that name throughout France. Well, truth to tell, many years ago some bloke empassioned of books thought it would be a Good Idea if his village became some sort of Mecca for book-lovers, and with stubbornness and dedication, the relentless application of a personal reality distortion field and only a few "accidental" deaths along the way his dream was realised, and now this tiny place hosts about 18 bookshops, all of which seem to be thriving. Although god alone knows how.

We ambled around the narrow streets for a bit and poked our heads, followed by the rest of us, into Abélard's, one of those ancient half-timbered corner houses with big bubbly windows on two sides and a heavy wooden door that somehow manages to look solid and rickety at the same time.

You remember Black's Books? With Dylan Moran as the misanthropic foul-tempered bookshop owner? Apart from the owner's being, to all available evidence, perfectly charming, and certainly not at all Irish, this place was kind of like that. Books everywhere. Some gesture in the general direction of organisation had at one time been made, I guess, because there were a few little hand-scrawled labels tacked up about the place saying things like "Gastronomie" and "Regionalisme", but they were definitely more in the nature of guidelines than a definitive statement of what you were going to find in their vicinity.

Obviously enough some books were on shelves, but they'd run out of shelf space fairly early on, I'd guess, so there were more stacked on tables, and packed in boxes under tables, and in tottering piles under the stairs. And if you cared to venture onto the first floor where the English titles were tucked away - possibly to avoid corrupting the innocent, I don't know - some had been pressed into service to construct a solid-looking tower that was holding up one corner of a desk, which was itself supporting a 90's-era PC and an ancient studio patch board..

Also, Weeping Angels!
We left empty-handed though, not that the owner seemed to mind - he was busy haggling with a rangy white-haired Englishman over a late 19th century book of plates and had little time for anything more than a perfunctory "bonne journée" as we sidled out the door and into the sunlight. Maybe he did have a thing about actually selling any of his books.

You can't really take in that many bookshops in one afternoon and we didn't actually try that hard, especially as a suspiciously large number of them seemed to have sections devoted to esotérisme, healing yourself with flowers, and accountancy. But there was supposed to be a glass-blower down one of the alleys, and I am a sucker for glass, so we set bravely off in that general direction ...

Only to find ourselves at La Manufacture Royale, an imposing construction built in 1739 by order of Louis XV (if you can believe the little plaque on the front door) to house a linen factory, and which is now home to, amongst other things, a restaurant, yet another huge bookstore, and the fore-mentioned glass-blower - who turned out to be closed. I suppose we are no longer in the height of the tourist season, but it seemed a shame, especially as some of the bits I could see peering in through the grimy windows looked rather attractive.

It's an impressive pile, and well worth a look should you ever find yourselves in the neighbourhood. I will definitely be back, if only because on December 14th there is a renowned marché aux truffes in Moussellens, an otherwise undistinguished village just down the road, on the way back to Carcassonne. And I've always wanted to go to one of those. Not that I'm likely to be buying.

Also, on one side of the little square where we'd parked there was this, which kind of piqued our interest. It turned out to be just what it said on the tin: a distributeur of organic produce. You go up, pick the little casier that strikes your fancy - the one with the juiciest slugs on the lettuce, or the wormiest carrots - put your money in the slot and make off with the loot. I'm kind of surprised that they haven't yet extended the principle to cute puppies and kittens staring mournfully at you through the glass, but I suppose it's just a matter of time.

* Gilbert and Sullivan. Go on, you know you want to.