Saturday, November 23, 2013

Yog-Sothoth Eats My Brain ...

I had better things to do, which is probably why instead of doing them I decided it would be a good time to go reinstall Fedora on the second little Samsung that's been sitting around here for the past three months. This time I got the options right and it came up looking as I wanted, with all the development tools installed etc: last thing to do was download and install the cross-development environment for ARM, and do a first build.

Of course every five minutes that would come up telling me that the FTP server was down, I'd restart and it would go a bit further before doing it again ... very, very boring. So at that point, as the actual environment itself was set up, I though I might as well just copy the directories and such over from the big Asus - and of course, I was working on Windows Samsung at the same time, which meant three machines running at once.

And because I am not the sort of person who is going to leap from keyboard to keyboard just for a couple of arcane commands, and the little KVM I have here only swaps between two machines, I guess you can imagine exactly how I wasted my time.

That's right, trying to recall the steps that need to be done to get Samba up and working on SE Linux, then installing a VNC server on both Linux machines, mumblefucking because I couldn't access one from Windows using its name (that was the nmb service that wasn't started, for some reason - fooled you) but had to use its IP address, and finally logging on to both at the same time, from the Windows machine, using Remote Desktop.

Bloody marvelous, works a treat. I can sit at my main machine and have my Linux desktops but a click away. Sadly, I can no longer recall exactly why I wanted to do that.

Anyway, the weather still hasn't cleared up sufficiently to make further work on the terrace possible, so Cédric's been bashing about up on the top floor, which is now gutted.

Which is, coincidentally, kind of how I feel, just having had my soul destroyed thanks to the URSSAF web site. You may recall that I found out that I am now what is called profession liberale, and the organisme compétente is the URSSAF: they maintain a web site, the Centre des Formalités des Entreprises, on which you may - if you prefer not to deal with their staff, I'd hesitate to call them human beings - declare all those interesting things like the establishment of your company and so on.

Having procrastinated researched the matter for long enough I girded my loins and pointed Firefox at the damn thing. I always use NoScript for personal web hygiene, so I rather expected to have to allow (temporarily, for I am paranoid) the domain - and indeed I did - and finally the online form popped up. Now this is divided into blocks, each of which has some required and some optional fields, and I foolishly thought I'd hop about and fill in the easy stuff first - you know, name, address and phone numbers, stuff like that ...

Alas, each block seems to have its own validation routine, so when I'd filled in my name and tried to put in my phone number the damn thing screamed blue bloody murder at me, saying I had not filled in my nationality. Right, nationality ... pick "other" from the list, and this cool moiré effect gets applied so I assume it's trying to call up a pop-up but suddenly nothing happens, and it continues to happen so I guess that maybe there's cross-scripting from another site and maybe I'd better go authorise that one too.

The only other site listed is globalsign, and I can't see why I'd have to authorise that given that they're just a CA, but what the hell ... go do that and yes, the pop-up shudders into life and I get to tell the site that I am in fact a New Zealander, born in Napier. Fine, carry on - and at this point I wish to check a radio button, to select how I'm going to declare TVA (or GST, to you). Apparently, radio buttons - and drop-down lists too - are totally inactive. They must have dreamt up some really fancy Javascript to get that effect.

I came to the conclusion that this wasn't going to work, so fired up Chrome and headed back to the site. The radio buttons worked, but the pop-ups would not. Well, one did, but only once, and then had a hissy-fit at me and died.

So finally I started IE (I suppose I really should have used version 6.1 - and yes, I still have a copy around, if I fire up the way-back machine - if I wanted to experience the site in its true glory, but quite frankly had it come to that I would actually have gone into the local office at Carcassonne, sat down in front of the desk and insisted on doing it together with the "person" opposite me) and had a bash with that.

I managed to select "nationality: other" from the list and no pop-up popped (sigh of relief): I made it all the way down to the bottom of the form, carefully using the TAB key to skip from field to field to get there (in case it got upset), typed in their stupid captcha and hit the "Save" button.

At which point it screamed at me, saying that I had not filled in the number of my carte de séjour - quite true, because it hadn't asked for that. Which is kind of odd, because when I selected "other" as nationality under Firefox that pop-up came up and asked me for that, but under IE it did not. So I had to scroll back up and click on the button that said "Modify my nationality" (would that it were so simple) and then lo! it asks me for all this information.

Still hadn't finished, because it then - quite spitefully - decided that I'd got the captcha wrong, and proceeded to redisplay the whole form, with a new captcha. I suppose I should be grateful that it didn't wipe all the data I'd so painstakingly entered, I was certainly surprised.

I still had a few neurons functioning, in what passes around here for their normal state, but apparently not enough because I then went on to give Stacey a hand with her music. Her mother bought her a fruity fondleslab when she was in the US, and as she was headed off for the weekend thought it would be a Good Idea to take some music with her ... fair enough, and I thought it would be a simple matter. Silly old me.

This being an iThing™ I was aware that you can't just copy stuff across to it as one would do with any normal gear, although I'm still not sure as to the reason: I guess that maybe Apple just don't want anything detracting from the totally brilliant, life-changing simplicity of the user experience, or something. And anyway, Stacey had tried that, with complete lack of success.

I very carefully did not say "I could have told you that" because at that point it would've gone down like a cup of warm sick, no, I put on my best bedside manner and said "I'm afraid we're going to have to install iTunes ..." and set about doing it.

This did not, of itself, take a long time: what pissed me off was what came after. For starters, the damn thing came up saying it had a couple of hundred tracks in its library but they weren't where they used to be and what did I propose to do about it? No mean feat, given that it was a first-time install. Then, having zapped all that, how do I import the actual music that there is? There is indeed a menu option to do that - one bloody track at a time, about as useful as the proverbial tits on a bull.

So I look it up on the intartoobz, and discover that, counter-intuitively, I have to drag and drop folders ... go figure. Now iTunes has the music in its maw - how to get it onto the damn iPad? "Easy", says the innergnats, "click on the iPad button on the menu bar ..." - except there isn't one. Until, five minutes later, one magically appears. Click on it, the menu bar morphs into another one, and there is a "Synchronise" button. Hit that and it chunders away happily for a while, and then tells me that iOS 7.03 is available and would I like to update?

Why not, it's not as though I have anything to lose, at which point up pops a warning that there are apps on the slab that aren't backed up onto the PC and I must save them before continuing unless I wish to have my first-born sacrificed. Now tell me again, for I respectfully submit that it is not self-evident, exactly how I go about doing that? I had, rather naively I admit, thought that the whole bloody point of synchronising was that the two devices were in fact synchronised ie had the same data, but it seems that there is another, arcane meaning, or I do not speak Apple.

In any case I passed on that - at least the music was where it needed to be so the thing was more or less fit for purpose as a glorified MP3 player. Put like that I suppose it doesn't sound too ghastly, but it still wasted the better part of ninety minutes.

Whatever, it's comfort food time over in these parts, and as the butcher had a special on I walked out of there with a leg of lamb and a few chicken parts and a ginormous slice of beef jarret which is destined for a stew, so fairly obviously I decided on gigot à la bretonne.

A term which, incidentally, no-one has yet explained to my satisfaction: the Oxford insists that it refers to a dish prepared with a garnish of cauliflower (me, I'd always thought that was du Barry, but I could be wrong), whilst coquilles St-Jacques à la bretonne are briefly poelé in butter and then put to rest on a bed of stewed onions with parsley and white wine before being strewn with buttered breadcrumbs and then baked.

Whereas the lamb of the same name is quintessentially from around these parts: dried white beans are soaked, then simmered in white wine with chopped tomatoes and onions and some parsley is added: the whole lot goes into the bottom of a baking dish, the leg of lamb, studded with garlic and rosemary is set on top, and it all goes into the oven to roast, soused basted with more white wine periodically as either the dish or the cook dries out. So why in hell try to pretend this is Breton is completely beyond me. Not that I care too much, whatever its ancestry it is rather delicious.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Dose Of Kulcha ...

It has been drawn to my admittedly reluctant attention that there are people, even here in enthusiastically-shagging Ole Yurrup, who are opposed to this thing they call "fracking". No, it's not what you think I'm saying, it's just a method of extracting oil from underground strata by violently rupturing said strata using water under extreme pressure. But you knew that. The doomsayers are all predicting much moaning, the writing of tearful letters home, and wailing, and doubtless gnashing of teeth (I would prefer not to post the original French, it sounds rather like reflux vomiting), and are doubtless preparing their press statements to be released in the case of what they hope to be inevitable disaster. Headline spoiler - "Meddling With Things Man Was Not Meant to Know".

For god's sake, people, we are people, after all. I rather think that screwing about with things we don't understand is part of the job description. But it's true that as a general rule only engineers get paid for it.

Whatever, at some ungodly hour this very moaning young Cédric the Impenetrable (I am talking here about his accent, which is impressively Provençal and rivals Glaswegian for incomprehensibility, not Kevlar body armour) turned up with his jack-hammer to attack the terrace. Quite impressive really, by the end of the day he'd heaved about 5 cubic metres of broken tiles, mortar and sand into the back of his truck, and provided hours of innocent fun for all the passers-by (who all seemed to know him anyway, even if only as the cousin of a friend of the son-in-law).

Still, this is a Good Thing, because it means that Things Are Being Done, and just maybe in three months we'll be living in our apartment up on the top floor and everything else will be hunky-dory, ship-shape, and possibly even Bristol-fashion. (Although for me Bristol refers to sherry, dating back to the days when it was the major port for the importation of the vital fluid from the mosquito-ridden llama-infested south of Spain, so the reference is boozily dubious. And, quite coincidentally, Renaud is headed off there tomorrow to look at a motor that is misbehaving. As they will.)

A couple of days later ... Thursday, to be precise, and the terrace is ready to be waterproofed, have a new cement chape laid on top, and then get tiled. Sadly, the first of these operations requires a guaranteed rain-free 48 hours so that the resin sets properly (or something technical along those lines): the second, too, needs dry weather. Just at the moment, it's hard to predict with any accuracy just what we're going to get so, discretion being the better part of valour, Cédric has been up on the top floor breaking things.

Also, mumble-fucking about the loony that put the walls and such up, using 8cm screws spaced every 10cm to hold things together. Whoever it was must have been paranoid about the possibility of things falling down spontaneously. Which doubtless explains why the little wind shelter for the barbecue that used to be at one corner of the terrace was built out of heavily reinforced concrete. Took him all afternoon to get rid of it, maybe that was a mistake as we could always have used it as a bomb shelter should ever things come to that.

Then we spent all day Friday, after a quick visit to pick out new tiles for the terrace, with Cédric and the plumber and the electrician to go over the work and watch and listen as the future bill gets higher and higher ...

Now a while back we thought we'd better bite the bullet and accept that we are no longer young spring chickens, so Margo signed us both up as members of le club de troisième age (yes, that means what you probably think it does, and yes, I do exaggerate just a wee bit) who organise les sorties patrimoine, and on Saturday we went off with about 40 others on an outing to Mazamet, up in la montagne noire, to learn about the wool industry.

La montagne noire is one of the last bits of the massif central, I guess - an east-west ridge of schist and granite (kind of black, hence the name) that runs from Beziers to north of Carcassonne, with a river valley between it and the actual massif. So there a huge outcrops of black rock everywhere - of which, having sod-all else to hand, they built their houses and chateaux-forts - and it's very green, and that day at least it was raining persistently, so it kind of reminded me of what I imagine the West Coast to be like, or maybe Wales. Half-expected Harry Secombe to wallow into view, doing extracts from The Sound Of Music. Also, Singing in the Rain.

And I suppose you can imagine my pleasure as we went up narrow twisty roads along hill crests and through valleys and got to the snow, at about 700m I guess. That most definitely was not in the tourist brochures.

Whatever, we eventually came down the northern side of the range and into the valley and the centre of Mazamet, parked and found everyone else and then hopped on to the minibus that was going to take us back up to the mediaeval village of Hautpouls, which clings to a rocky outcrop about 300m up above the town.

The guide from the Office de Tourisme did his best, and the story he had to tell about the place was interesting: had it been fine it would have been a lovely visit but the cold drizzle and the fog clinging to the slopes didn't really help and we were extremely glad to get back down and into a restaurant to attack some kangaroo kebabs. (Yes, seriously. With green pepper sauce, which in my opinion could usefully have been replaced by something else, but that's just me.)

Maybe the weather goes some way to explaining why Simon de Montfort was always in such a foul temper: gouging eyes out, cutting off tongues and stoking the flames with a couple of hundred heretics at a time - mind you, being a rabidly psychopathic religious nut-case probably didn't help his mood either, distracted as he doubtless was by visions of lubricious succubi.

It was still drizzling in the afternoon but these old folks are made of sterner stuff than your modern wimpy yoof, so we went off anyway on a tour of the town to learn a bit about its history. They invented the technique of delainage, which basically consists of soaking a sheep pelt in water until the surface just starts to got rotten, at which point you can scrape the wool off in great clumps and find yourself with wool waiting to be cleaned and baled, and skins ready for making leather.

They made a fortune from that - well, a lucky moneyed few made a fortune from it - buying sheep pelts from all over the world (they apparently still get a few visitors every year from Australia and New Zealand, people whose families used to trade with Mazamet back in the day), and exporting wool and skins from their stockpile. Fort Knox, for dead sheep. In a town of some 10 000 people at the time, they had something like 27 banks, and could get a confirmed bank order for a payment in Buenos Aires in fifty minutes, thanks to heavy investment in communications technology. And we're talking around 1905 here, people. I'd always thought they were still using smoke signals back then, but that seems not to be the case.

The few that made the money - very large sums of it - were mainly Protestant: historically there's always been lots of them around in these parts, thanks to the tolerance and, I guess, the physical distance from the (Catholic) seat of power in Paris. They liked to be relatively discreet about their wealth, and the only signes exterièures de richesse that are left are high walls lining all four sides of a city block, with a wrought-iron gate and, plonked in the middle of the garden, an imposing three-storey neo-classical house with a mansard roof. (Incidentally, I never knew that those were named after François Mansard, a 17th century French architect. Did you? Thank me, should ever it turn up in pursuit of trivia. He came up with the idea so that you could stick the servants up there, in what would be otherwise wasted space under the roof.)

Inside was a different story, and neither money nor taste was spared when it came to the interior decoration. High ceilings, stained glass, lush curtains and lashings of guilt gilt everywhere.

The factories - and the banks - have long gone, victims of artificial textiles and ferocious competition. (Or malversation and outright fraud, in the case of the banks.) The windows in the Victorian-era industrial building are all shattered, the chimneys are tottering and odd pipes cling to the walls: the place is slowly dying and even boulangeries are closing down.

Anyway, the trip back home took a bit longer than could have been the case: we were sharing a car with another couple and he took a wrong turning at an unmarked déviation and we found ourselves driving in the starless night along rutted tracks with nary a signpost in view, just the odd isolated dark farmhouse and a marker occasionally to remind us that we were on the D54. Countrycide, anyone?

But we finally made it back to be greeted hysterically by the various animals, and after a nice hot dinner headed off to bed ... as usual something had to go titsup, which is probably why I woke up to no power and no heat.

You'll remember that I said Cédric had demolished the tiles on the terrace, ripping up and getting rid of about 10cm of tiles, mortar and sand in the process? Leaving the surface of the terrace some 10cm lower than the single drainage point? And how, thanks to unfavourable weather, he'd not been able to put down the sealing layer, nor the cement chape? Recall that it rained all yesterday?

So the terrace was looking like a shallow swimming pool, and water had seeped through into the garage (which is kind of flooded, but we'll worry about that later) and shorted out a power point, which is why every time I put the main circuit-breaker back it just cut out again, until I started removing fuses one by one ...

All of which goes someway to explaining why, at 10am on a cold dismal rainy Sunday, I was outside on the terrace with a hammer and a crowbar hacking away at the drain to make it low enough for the 600 odd litres of water to gurgle down, rather than sitting in the warmth with a coffee and hot fresh bread.

OK, you can all go have a good giggle now. I'll wait, it'll be your turn one of these days.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Train Trips and Hothouses ...

So we headed off to Homps, about fifteen minutes vaguely north of here, along the little twisty-turny départementales through Puichéric and past la Redorte, and eventually made it to En Bonne Compagnie, despite Michelin's insistence that we could just turn left at the northern end of the bridge onto the quai des Négociants ... that would have been a mistake, as there's a three-metre drop and if you miss the quai you're in the canal, but never mind, car suspension can always be replaced. And Suzy has many tricks up her exhaust manifold, she can probably swim.

Like a lot of restaurants out in the sticks around here they close down at the beginning of November, reasonable enough as I guess most of their custom comes from passing tourists and these are rara avis once autumn comes in, so sadly Margo's choice of entrée, the salade aux langoustines, was off and nothing else really tickled her fancy. Personally I had a bit of difficulty choosing between the aumonière de chèvre avec confit de figues and the foie gras but you know me, common sense won out and pretty soon there was a thick slab of foie gras poached in something like a Banyuls, I'd guess, sitting in front of me.

It was excellent, as was the salad that came with it: the little dice of caramelised pear that were heaped on the plate in fact paired very nicely but there was way too much: a little goes a long way in my opinion. And if you're going to serve it with pain d'épices, I really do think that it should be toasted until crisp, rather than left nature and floppy. Maybe it's just me.

Margo picked lotte, aka monkfish - which I guess gets its name from the fact that other fishy denizens of the deep, not being good Catholics, try to keep their little offspring out of its reach - for her main course. The poor thing is hideously ugly - looking kind of like a squashed leathery slug, as I've remarked before - but once you get over that the fillets are thick and round, about the size of a filet de porc: boneless, meaty, and not at all dry. So if you wrap it in thin slices of jambon cru and then cook it rapidly either on a grill or in a decent poele, it's difficult to ruin. That came teamed with tagliatelles de legumes, which seems to be trendy these days but no matter, it went down very well.

Actually, monkfish would make a pretty good dish for a Halloween dinner party. I can just imagine the scene down in the Officer's Mess of the Queen's Own Cowards, 13th Regiment ...

"As you were, sergeant - an ongoing festive meal status update report, if you please?"
"YesSAH Colonel Grytpype! Fish course, SAH! One (1) monkfish, SAH!, standard issue, children, for the frightening of, SAH!"
"Ah, very terrifying, with figgy pudding, I see - very good, that man. Carry on, sergeant ..."

Me, I went for the feuilleté de magret de canard, sauce aux mûres, and found it extremely good. Thick slices of just-right grilled duck breast sandwiched between puff pastry, and a not-at-all sweet coulis of blackberries reduced with wine poured around. Shame that makes the bottom layer of pastry go all soggy, but that's kind of unavoidable. Culinary collateral damage.

The choice of desserts is sort of limited, which is fair enough and in my opinion entirely reasonable (I do not wish to have a geriatric waiter pull a cart of mediocre sticky stuff out in front of me, I want something that excels in its class, no matter how simple), and as sadly there was nothing unreasonably chocolatey I passed, but Margo went for a pannacotta with rhubarb purée, which she reckoned went perfectly together.

And we escaped into the night only €66 lighter, not too bad at all when you consider that we each had two glasses of the house wine - Corbières of course, red, white or rosé.

So getting back to that fish I promised you: you'll usually find rouget translated as red mullet, which is not totally inaccurate if you happen to live around the Mediterranean, but is otherwise hopelessly wrong. For they are perciform and, to boot, Mullidae, rather than Mugilidae. Not the same beast at all! (Or so Whackywedia informs me, and it's on the internets so it must be true. Also, I am totally willing to believe this because fish in Ole Yurrup are nowt like fish in Noo Zild. Or, perhaps, vice versa. Must be Chernobyl, or something.)

Anyway, I scaled the little buggers - a tedious task 'cos the scales do tend to stick, but it's easily done with a bit of insistence from the thumbnail - and then gutted them (for they were reasonably big) and then, because I was getting into the swing of things, butterflied them. Before roasting some slices of aubergine, topping those off with sliced fresh tomatoes reduced with - I'm sad to say - vast quantities of butter and garlic, and then the fish: the whole lot then went back into the oven for ten minutes. It was OK, nothing to write home about, though.

Caroline and Piratical Philippe are supposed to be coming over for dinner Monday or Tuesday night, before I head back up to Chambéry: shall try to make something a bit more memorable for them. Maybe pizza, pig, and pastis aux poires: at least I have everything required for that.

Now I don't really want to ruin your Christmas, dash the anticipatory smiles from your faces as you eagerly rip the papier cadeau from your presents, but do think I've found a perfect stocking-stuffer. Waiting to get some cigars at the tabac this morning I was casting my eyes over the racks of magazines and they got caught by a single slim volume of glossy photos, enticingly entitled "Roundabouts of Savoy". Maybe it sounds better in the original, "Les Ronds-points de Savoie".

Headed off to Médipole on Thursday evening to see Jacques: only 48 hours after having a metre of intestine whipped out and the ends sewn back together I found the old fool sitting up doing crossword puzzles, grumbling about the food, and flirting with the nurses. Makes you wonder some times, it really does.

I had also planned, while I was up in Chambéry, to go see Jeremy, and to this end I even let him know, in advance, that I was going to be around: sad to say when I gave him a call on Friday he told me that he was off in Albertville, at some sort of exposition culinaire, to meet suppliers for the restaurant and scarf free food and drink. Maybe the chef is grooming him for higher things.

Then I had all Saturday more or less alone, and found myself - as usual - soaking up the watery sunlight outside the Beer Tree, nursing a glass of vitamins after a quick trot round the market. Then Camille came out from behind the bar to join me, and a few minutes later there was Simon, bearing two enormous plates heaped with bretzels stuffed with jambon cru and chèvre and confiture des figues, and mounds of salad with even more ham and thick shavings of parmesan ... made me feel a bit peckish watching them tuck in, so I made an excuse and left to get my own lunch ready.

Don't know, maybe despite the fact that I actually do some work for the SNCF they don't seem to like me - or maybe that is in fact the reason, shall have to think about that - but this is about the fourth time my TGV has been 40 minutes late. It was already enough of a bitch organising things to get back home, what with Saturday's TGVs costing about 120€ for the trip - which is why I opted to go on Sunday, when it was only 53€, and that had its own disadvantages ie a long wait at Valence. Which turned out to be even longer, for as it was cold and pissing down with rain at Chambéry that morning, and Stacey was headed off for the day, I opted for a lift into town at 8:30 rather than hang around in the cold and wet until the only bus trundled past at 11.

Which meant I caught the 9:30 to Grenoble and still had time to go off to Carrefour d'Asie, just behind the gare at the St. Bruno tram stop - which was, rather to my surprise, open - and pick up some sugar and curry pastes before taking the autocar through to Valence (yeah, I know, the rail line is still closed for travaux) and getting in there at midday. Where I had a four hour wait before the next TGV going through Narbonne, and the buggers expect you to pay 3€ for twenty minutes of Wifi access in the gare ...

Whatever, the sandwiches aren't too foul there - they don't have this mad impulse to slather bloody mayo over everything - and I had some stuff to do that didn't require Internet access, so I waited and swigged coffee and typed and then read a cookbook until the train pulled up and we were off. Until about an hour later, when we came to a rolling stop in the middle of nowhere and sat there for twenty minutes while the guy who'd done his training at the International School for Airport Announcers in Geneva came on the PA system and mumphled into his sleeve, which I eventually managed to translate as a request for us passengers to please not try to leave the train. It was either that, or he had a very bad cold.

Finally they got the rubber bands wound up again and we started crawling away and finally, somewhere around Montpellier, they deigned to tell us that high winds had brought down the catenaires somewhere south of Narbonne, so that was where the train was going to stop. Which, eventually, it did. Decanting me, and a whole mob of Spaniards who'd rather hoped to be going to Barcelona, out into the blustery night.

I know I can occasionally sound smug about it, but until recently it is true that the daytime temperatures have been hovering around the 20s, which isn't so bad (and certainly a damned sight better than the 11° I was "enjoying" in Chambéry) considering we're well into November ... still, we've lit the fire a couple of times, and while I was off enjoying myself Margo made an executive decision to start up the central heating.

To no avail, which is why Philippe turned up at the doorstep with one of his tame Poles this morning, and they vanished up into the attic to look at the chaudière, which is a big white and yellow beast - a de Dietrich, in fact - that sits up there and purrs smugly to itself. Now it turns out that when the system was installed, rather than stick thermostatic taps on all the radiators as most decent-minded people do, they unbeknownst to me stuck a thermostat in the kitchen, which by the ineffable operation of the Holy Spirit - or something like that - is supposed to ensure that the house stays at the temperature we like.

Furthermore, the damn thing runs off two AA batteries, and I strongly suspect that the ones in there dated back to its installation ... pop some new ones in, still no joy. "Fear not" cried the little Polish heating expert, who did a remarkable impression of Droopy the dog: "I shall go bang on it with a large hammer, and threaten it with my screwdriver", both of which things he proceeded to do.

Paying particular attention to the circulator pump which had, over five or six years of disuse, bogged up and jammed with a build-up of calcaire, which didn't help matters. So he threatened and banged and scraped and screwed, and finally the recalcitrant beast went smoothly into action and five minutes after that every radiator in the house was straining at the seams and glowing red-hot as the boiler gave of its all.

Mind how you go, now.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Calling On The Telephone ...

Pomegranates, for SC
So it was bright and sunny, if a bit blustery (hey, it's autumn over here in Ole Yurrup), when I took Shaun for his Evacuation Exercise this morning, and the wind was whipping the dead dry platane leaves into excited swirls as we walked along, waiting for him to feel the pressing urge to squat and empty his nethers. And occasionally a cloud would scud past the sun, just enough to make me wonder exactly why I was wearing sunglasses, until it passed and I remembered. Because it's too damn bright, that's why.

Anyway, if you head north from home and then, once you've gone under the rail bridge turn left (I'm guessing that's west) and go alongside the old rail embankment of the line that used to go from Moux to Caunes, taking wine north and bringing marble back south (one day I shall have to dig out some sturdy boots, clamber up with a machete to hack at the zombies scrub and follow it through to Puichéric and Azille, just for fun), on your right there's a big rocky outcrop that rises up to maybe 15m and then drops back down again, when you come out at the level crossing a kilometer or so further on.

And if you stop there and look around you can see that there's a cross planted at the base of the slope, beneath the pines, with fresh plastic flowers hung off it and some signs of an al-fresco barbecue at the base: go a bit closer and you can make out the signs nailed to it, "Place Bob Marley" and "A Notre Ami". I guess there must be some secret rastas amongst the yoof (or maybe not-so yoof, thinking on it) of the village. Or maybe it's just somewhere to go hang out, light a fire, swill beer, listen to the boom-box. Whatever.

I have just recently - ie this afternoon - spent some time playing telephone ping-pong, trying to find out from whom I depend. In the French sense, that is - who's responsible for me. No, that's wrong, I am irresponsible (and proud of it, at my age), let's start again. I need to set up as entreprise individuelle and as I am neither an artisan nor an agriculteur, it seemed obvious that I should go see the Chambre de Commerce and, eventually, register with them. And that was fine by them too, until the other day ...

When, having decided exactly what my legal and fiscal status should be, I called them back. And the woman with a young voice (I have seen her. She's at least sixty, going on hundred and fifty) brightly replied "Ah! Mais commes vous faites de l'intellectuelle" (do I? That's nice to know) "ce n'est pas chez nous. Vous devrez etre en profession libérale, avec le RSI." Which is a shame, because the RSI is a pack of incompetent twats, and on top of it they never answer their phones, but however.

Undaunted, I then rang the RSI, at Carcassonne, and explained as best I could, with my broken French, my situation. Then I worked out that I was confiding to the PABX, which was waiting for me to push the # button, did so and waited patiently until a real human being came on the line before repeating myself. She was very charming (possibly only ninety) and listened until I'd finished and then said "Eh oui, vous dependez bien de nous, mais pas ici: il faut appeller le centre à Montpellier".

OK, I did that. Got another human being (is there no end to these small daily miracles?) and went through the spiel yet again. She stopped me, and said "Mais vous vendez les logiciels?". "Mais non", I replied, "I am but a humble wage-slave, paid a pittance for churning out lines of impenetrable, bug-laden code for the dimwitted and the undiscerning. I know of no person in their right mind who would actually buy the end-result, unless they were either particularly stupid, or terminally depressed." "Ah mais dans ce cas vous etes profession libérale, et vous dependez pas du tout de nous, mais de la Caisse URSSAF nationale."

Ah. Thank you. Next phone number on the list, and by a miracle someone answers, and for the fourth time that afternoon I go over the facts. This one was rather dubious, until finally I yelled "Mais je NE VENDS PAS un produit fini! Je suis sous-traitant, je pisse du code ..." and she replied "Eh bien, en effet vous dependez bien de nous. Il y a un site web ...". Click. Buzz. Disconnected. As if they were less than enthralled at the prospect of my custom.

And as it happens, there is. A web-site, that is. At least I now know which particular organisation it is that is supposed to handle my dossier, now just explain to me why it is only one of the six (at a minimum) that exist (lucky I only had to go through four before getting the right one) that is entitled to do so? Could there not just be a single one-stop shop? Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. Don't know why I'm getting worked up, hell I'm supposed to be used to this. Oh well.

Amongst other things, I get regular e-mails from the CNRS (yes, I actually subscribed to this service, you never know when they might need my help) which let me know of requests for tender for their many and varied needs. I have but once put in a bid, but I keep on reading for the sheer fun, for they can be an odd lot, starting off with asking for bids to irradiate photoluminescent diodes with Cobalt-60 (I dunno. Maybe it cures cancer, or kills zombie photodiodes), but my recent favourite would have to be this: "Achat d'une paire de mains robotique anthropormorphique (droite et gauche)". Maybe that robot monkey butler isn't as far off as I thought.

Mind you, you can see that they still retain some of that old Soviet-era mindset, seeing as how they feel obliged to specify that when they want a pair of hands, that means one right and one left. (Also, robotic, so no grave-robbing for you today, children.) But I see their point, a robot monkey butler with two left hands would indeed look a bit odd, make you a laughing-stock on those all-too rare nights out in the company of other mad scientists (but somehow, never any women. Why is this?) down at The Old Entomologist™. Also, might well spill your martini in your lap, which would be a waste. Because, when in company - even that of an RMB - no way am I going to peel my jeans off and start sucking at the crotch.

Whatever. Today is Toussaint, All-Hallows to you ungodly lot, and in this rigorously secular country it is, of course, a public holiday. Not that I noticed - the Swiss, being Calvinists to a man, reject the concept, and see no reason why anyone else should have a Friday off, no matter what their nationality. Swiss women endorse this, having no wish to have their male partners cluttering up the house more than necessary is absolutely unavoidable.

This also means that last night was Halloween, and even here in sleepy little Moux we thought we'd better be prepared, so Margo went off and got a bag of sweeties to be distributed to those little toddlers brave enough to make it to the door, and I did some basic maintenance on the flamethrower and heated up a wok full of oil to boiling-point out on the terrace, just so I was ready to keep the numbers down if required. Needn't have bothered, as it turned out - only four hardy pairs of bratlings turned up, very politely, to beg for a sugar overdose. And, rather sweetly, to say "Monsieur, vous avez un très beau chien". How sweet. Almost made me regret putting the razor blades and rat poison in the cookies.

Mind you, given how razor blades come packaged these days (I mean, mine come in little cartridge thingies with four blades, shave so close as to cut the stubble that won't appear until next week or something) I think even the dimmest of kids would be hard put not to notice this plasticky lump in there - could doubtless swallow it without any damage whatsoever apart from a moment's discomfort at its passing - and the rat poison's probably no less wholesome and probably better-tasting than, let's say, a Quick burger (double cheese, MSG, hold the flavour).

As that may be, you may not be aware of this and could perhaps care more, but these days I tend to get up early because of a) fricking off-key carillon next door and b) dog, also not wishing to have to clean up dog crap on the verandah. So it is My Job to get up when the sun peeks in (or not, depending on the weather) and cuddle the kitting who is furring puriously and take Shaun out to fertilise the grapes, whilst Margo snurgles peacefully in bed. He is usually very eager to do this, which is good, because I am often grumpy because of waking up, also I have not yet had my first glass of chardonnay mug of coffee and wanna wanna wanna! cigar.

So we did all that this morning and I complimented Shaun on his fine specimens and then thought "OK, I'm as awake as I'm going to get and before it goes downhill, what do I do now?" Being as it is a Saturday (now) and the sun was out and bravely shining, and I didn't really need anything, the answer, fairly obviously, was to head off to the market.

I took little Suzy by surprise (she's not really a morning person either) and we headed off to Narbonne, for a change. Truth to tell, I think I prefer the marché at Carcassonne. Yes, there are definitely more English-speaking persons wandering around there, which could be a deal-breaker for one less tolerant than I, but I do find there's a much better choice of fruit & veg and little independent producteurs so I am not obliged to buy something that the stallholder himself bought just that very morning off the back of a lorry, and there's any number of excellent butchers in les Halles just next to place Carnot.

On the other hand, if you're looking for fish, Narbonne is excellent. I love the clean smell of the sea, and already it's on the air around the canal du Midi which goes right through the centre, and when you get into les Halles and are confronted by at least seven fishmongers I am, personally, in heaven. All those little fishies, laid out on ice with their eyes so bright and glistening fur ... Made it out with four little rougets barbet, don't know what I shall do with them but I shall think of something. They're called the "woodcock of the sea" because in principle you don't need to gut them - a blessing for the lazy cook. Depending on how it works out, I may let you know what happens to them.

But right now I'd better go get tarted up: for once, we is going out to dinner, at an actual restaurant. I hope it works.