Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hopeless People on TGV Trains ...

Bose speakers, c. 1870
So you go away for a week, get back home to decent internet access (and the time to use it), and find out that someone's been playing silly buggers in your absence. I only say this because once I'd put up the last (admittedly rather belated) post I happened to check the stats that the great google so thoughtfully supplies, only to find out that on the 28th of January there were about 1300 unique visits, about 95% of those being attracted by an item on thread-worms. I really cannot think why this should be so.

I also got three spam comments that day (hey, they may be spam, but they're still comments - I take what I can get) so I can only guess that for some strange reason a bot got interested (and then, very quickly, bored: hopefully terminally). Anyone have an idea how I can get rid of this blip from the statistics?

Spiky lemmings
Whatever, it came to my mind as I was sitting waiting in the TGV station at Valence on my way north that there are some announcements that you really do not want to hear. OK, "the TGV 9648 from Lille, destination Marseilles St-Charles, departure initially planned at 14:53, is announced with a delay of 10 minutes due to the breakdown of another train" is not exactly something that inspires dread, and absolutely every time I've had the occasion to be there, rain or shine, they always announce "Mesdames, messieurs, today's meteorological conditions make the platforms particularly slippery. Please take care." which to me means that someone actually specified a mirror-like surface for the platforms when the place got built simply because it would look so good, and to hell with the consequences, just blame it on the weather.

In a minor discursion, the French have form there. I can recall the rumblings when the bibliothèque nationale aka the François Mitterand Library was erected out around Austerlitz way - a great set of airy towers apparently especially designed to let full sunlight in on to all those books. Also, air-con was an afterthought, it seems - after all, you have heaps of books sitting around your house, don't you, and the absence of a controlled environment has never done them any harm. And closer to home, back in Chambéry, the Carré Curial is surrounded by an interesting loop road: the surface is broken by transversal brick and concrete slabs every few metres, and lights are embedded in the tarmac at seemingly random intervals. It's a bitch to negociate in a low-slung car, but apparently it looks wonderful - especially by night - if you look down on it from a helicopter. As one does.

That was not the point, the point was that this time the announcement was a little more out of the ordinary and I'm not sure that I really want to know what's going on when someone comes on to say that "the TGV 9873 from Paris, destination Barcelona, departure initially planned at 15:30, is announced with a delay of 30 minutes due to an intervention by the forces of law and order." I just hope the driver wasn't hopped up on crack or something.

Still, it could have been worse. Like the return trip, for example. I crawled out from my grubby heap of blankets in the corner early Saturday morning, stumbled down to the bathroom and scrubbed my eyes and rinsed my mouth and ears with vodka (essential for personal hygiene, and doesn't smell as much as gin), and blearily headed off to the gare, pausing only occasionally en route for a glass of chardonnay to fight off the alsatians. Got there with twenty minutes to spare, enough time to appreciate the aromas of a Chignin Bergeron, especially as the dogs had shrunk to small poodles, with the occasional Jack Russell terrier.

Must say that the SNCF did a good job, the train rolled up on time and despite a little contretemps when it became apparent that the carriage I and a number of Parisians headed off to the ski-fields were in was not actually going anywhere (exactly why the Parisians thought that Valence would be a good place to ski is beyond me, but I don't like to ask questions, nor look a gift horse in the dentures, and they were mixing up rum and coke in a gallon jar: not my favourite, especially at that hour, but beggars can't be choosers) we all headed vaguely south. No dogs, apparently, although there were a couple of bicycles.

Two hours and a decent nap later I was duly decanted at Valence TGV, to await the arrival - and, hopefully, the eventual departure - of TGV 6065, schizophrenic destination Perpignan and Barcelona but either way, supposedly stopping at Narbonne with the express purpose, I gather, of letting me off. I know that I have written of this station before, all very modern and hung cantilever-fashion over the rails, so I'll say no more than that should you wish something more than beer and sandwiches, bring your own.

Time passed, as it tends to even in train stations, and at some point the train screeched to a halt and the speakers quacked and wibbled and the Parisians and I fought our way on board. No-one was injured, despite the "conditions méteorologiques qui rendent les quais de notre gare glissant", which I suppose is a good thing.

I plonked my arse in my designated seat and heaved a sigh of relief as a pretty young woman heaved herself into the seat next to me, pulled out a thick folder and promptly started to snore softly but the moment of calm was short-lived, as the young woman in the seat in front was phoning her boy-friend.

I learnt quite a bit about her: she'd gone up to Strasbourg to see him and then headed down to Paris to go to the sales at the grands magasins, but sadly she'd not been able to go to as many as she'd have liked for her friends were party-poopers and refused to go to every single boutique in the 15th. They also very cruelly refused to go to the tour Eiffel with her, so she couldn't pick up a snow-globe, which does seem rather a shame. But she did manage to pick up a nice jacket, really quite cheap, at Jennyfer ... also, her friend Charlotte is a grosse conasse (which is as rude as you think) who will only drink tepid tap water, has to have the room hermetically sealed to sleep, and doesn't want to go out to bars until the wee hours of the morning.

I'd hoped for some respite when the phone cut off - as it tends to do from time to time, especially going through tunnels - but no, that was just the signal to call back and take up where she left off, plus going back over some bits just in case they'd been lost or forgotten ... around Nimes I was seriously considering strangling myself with my own small intestine but contented myself with muttering snarky replies in English to her rhetorical questions.

Coming up to Montpellier and getting back to her sex life I'd just about decided to strangle her instead, using that angora scarf that was such a bargain at Galeries Lafayette, but luckily for me (although I'm sure I'd have been acquitted on appeal) the conducteur came past and pointed out that it is interdit to telephone in the actual carriages, and she blushingly headed off to the toilets. Where she stayed, until just before Narbonne.

Whatever, as I took the dog out for his first dejection of the day this morning (no, Virginia, "un déjection de chien" does not mean a depressed dog) and as I was staring courteously out in another direction I could not help but notice that the wild plum trees are starting to flower.

At which point a magnificent moustache hove into view, followed a short while later by its owner, the local chemist. A big bluff hearty outdoors type, and when he's not out hunting or tending to his vines I understand that he sells the occasional pill or homeopathic cold remedy. But like the doctor, probably not a good idea to try to find him when it's wine-making time.

You know, I really want to like FOSS, I do. Honestly. I use Eclipse (which, apparently out of a desire to make you appreciate the sheer blazing speed of your PC, is written entirely in Java, to slow it down to a glacial crawl) and I use LibreOffice, or OpenOffice, but I can see I'm just going to have to bite the bullet, grit my teeth, hold my nose or any other idiom of your choice, and actually pay money for a Microsoft product.

Because, after a certain point, these things just don't do it. Hell, even using .odt format, neither LibreOffice nor OpenOffice will render a document in the same way. And I have some documents in .docx format, of which each page is watermarked with a big "Confidential" sign: well and good, but in both the FOSS offerings this is displayed as a big opaque white splodge on the page, which kind of defeats the purpose.

And don't get me on to the formatting options, whereby I can right-click on selected text and have some options come up: if I pick the "Format" menu I have other options. And editing tables comes under the heading of "shit you never want to do". I have saved documents, and opened them, and found them empty. So I am sorry people, for all your work and the love you've put into it, but I want it to actually do something useful and not be a bitch to work with, and you are not actually there yet. I would even pay for that privilege - of having something that works - which is probably why I shall pay Microsoft for something that does, in fact, do what it says on the tin.

Early photo of Alice Cooper, with his Mum
Mind you, little Sammy came with a free six-month trial of Office: when I came to download it it, saying to myself that I'd at least kick the tires before buying, it turned out to be their cloudy offering, Office 365. What the hell, I thought, and carried on. Didn't take long for me to uninstall that with extreme prejudice: you might, if you're as innocent as I, think that it would at least be capable of reading older Word files but sad to say that turned out not to be the case - it committed suicide each and every time I tried to open one.

I'm sure that if I looked hard enough in some of the dirtier corners of thar innatoobz I could find a copy of MultiMate. Then I just have to download DOSbox or something, so I can actually run it. On second thoughts, just forget about it. I'll go pay my Bill.

1 comment:

  1. neither LibreOffice nor OpenOffice will render a document in the same way.

    I've struck the same problem. And diagrams jumping from the end of the document to the beginning. Usually I send .docx files off to Zamzar to be converted, but even that sometimes gibbles them into a state of incoherence, and I have to go back to the person who sent the file in the first place, asking for a copy in a comprehensible format.

    I see what you do there with the post title.