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.

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