Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nids de Poule, En Formation ...

Where else but in France would you find road signs warning you of the possibility of stunt-flying chicken nests? (Or, just possibly, chicken nests that are being trained: for formation comes from the verb former which can, reasonably enough, mean both to form as in to shape or to mould, and also by extension to form, like forming an opinion, as in educate. Such are the delights of a language which lacks a sufficiency of verbs.)

Sad to say the truth is rather more mundane - did you really expect anything else - for a nid de poule is also a pothole. Which are, apparently, in training around here.

Anyway, for my sins, I have just been made aware - thanks to the seemingly infinite resources of thar innatübz - of an undeservedly obscure fact, the importance of which is difficult to underestimate: you cannot hum whilst holding your nose. Try it some time in the shower - the acoustics are always best there - and call me a liar.

But whilst I was doing that, and other things, I was also getting extremely off-pissed, for my stubby fingers were morris-dancing across the keyboard and every other sentence I'd suddenly have a 'Q' when I'd pressed 'A' as Windoze decided to swap from French to English keyboard layout. (You may not have this problem: you probably don't have multi-lingual machines. I do.)

I learnt a while back that when you hit that silly flying window key (which I shall, from henceforth, refer to as the "splat" key, at least until I am contacted with prejudice by Apple's lawyers) and the spacebar at the same time this would happen but that is, let's face it, an unlikely sequence - and then I noticed that it seemed to happen more often when swapping between RDP sessions with the Linux boxen and wondered if that wasn't related ...

As it turns out, no. All kudos to Microsoft, by the way, for ensuring that various system parameters have, under Windows 8, been scattered to all four corners of the screen so that actually getting to one that interests you - or even knowing that it exists - is rather like playing roulette. (You know, they used to make a big thing of having a usability lab. Not so much these days.) Whatever. It turns out that if you hit Splat+X and run the control panel you should not try fiddling with the keyboard options, for that will do you no good at all.

Neither will going to the regional settings, although you could be forgiven for hoping that it would. No, you must go to "Language". From there do not try to change formats, because that will just get you back to the regional options which are no bloody use at all - no, you must select "Advanced settings", and then "Change language bar hot keys". (Which sounds, when you think of it, rather like one of those meaningless phrases you see on T-shirts, dreamt up by some illiterate Burmese peasant whose acquaintance with English is purely notional.)

I did not know this - why should I? I have better things to do with my time - but by default Shift+Ctrl will also shift between your keyboard layouts. (OK, why didn't I just get rid of the English keyboard layout? Because it is tied intimately to the English input method, which I happen to use. Don't ask silly questions.)

I only mention all this because quite frankly, losing a half-hour's work through pressing what you fondly imagined was Ctrl+W but turned out in fact to be Ctrl+Z gets to be kind of annoying. Okay, the first time you can almost see the funny side of it,  but the third or fourth you just want to kill something. Preferably, something small, furry, and helpless enough that there is no risk of its doing you any damage.

One of the few signs of life around here on a Friday is the appearance, just around the corner from us, of the white van and its proprietor, the volailler. Sometimes his coming is announced over the municipal Tannoy system, more often than not he just quietly turns up and parks, waiting for the customers. Who always seem to turn up, little old ladies in dribs and drabs, coming along to buy a farm chicken for the weekend roast, or some blanc de poulet such as might be sustaining for an invalid ... and always, within a short distance, most of the neighbourhood cats - nicely groomed, as befits the occasion, purring like mad, and waiting patiently for scraps. There's usually a particularly elegant white Persian: looks as though Blofeld has come down in the world and can't even afford cat food.

Speaking of the Tannoy system, that's been working overtime lately. It may have escaped your attention over there in Bottoms-Up Land, but over here we is having municipal elections. And despite the fact that, in the best Russian tradition, there is only one slate up for the vote, at least twice a day the mighty valve amplifier hidden deep in the bowels of the mairie gets 220V stuck up the jacksie just when it least expects it, and the nesting sparrows are blasted from the speakers strung about the village with a preliminary high-frequency fart.

That's just the warm-up. Then comes the stirring brass-band music, complete with the hisses and crackles from the original 1950's cassette, and then "Allo! Allo! Aux habitants de Moux ..." for on Sunday everyone must get tarted up and go off to vote. Or so it seems. Me, not being of the French persuasion I shall lounge disreputably on the terrace - which is now, by the way, thoroughly waterproof - and possibly, for entertainment, chuck cigar butts on passers-by. One of life's little pleasures.

Whatever, Margo's off at Grenoble for a few days and I was kind of looking forward to spending a bit of quality time in bed this moaning, given that she's taken the car and all so marketry is not really an option: sad to say that some time around 7am PSC and EBK saw fit to dispute the ownership of one small patch of bed (the fabled "hot spot"), sufficiently vehemently to drag me from the arms of Morpheus and send me lurching downstairs in search of a caffeine fix.

Although I'd had the forethought to get a couple of loaves of Barm Brack ready to bake - and surprisingly enough, had sufficient wits about me to turn the oven on when I made it down - I had inexplicably neglected to get the coffee machine ready to go: a shame really because it seems to take at least five times longer to do that in the morning than at night. When I'm actually awake, or at least sentient.

Still, I managed to get that going without the actual coffee pot dropping to the floor and shattering into a thousand slivers, just as well really because cleaning up a mess like that at such an hour is not really one of my strong points, and made it back to bed hoping for another ten minutes of peace and quiet until the coffee was ready and the oven hot ...

Sadly, about half-way through that PSC decided that it really was time she went outside to perform her toilette, which involves her thumping down the stairs, realising half-way down that I haven't followed, thumping back up to make sure that I appreciate the gravity of the situation, then going down to sit by the front door with crossed legs. So I stagger down and open the door, at which point she decides that this is too easy, also no fun at all, and skitters off into the pantry.

After playing that little game for five minutes I decide that I might as well stick the bread in the oven and go put some clothes on while I'm at it, so that I can at least go out on the terrace with my coffee while the bread's cooking. And it's whilst rummaging through clothes baskets that I discover that although someone has indeed deigned to use the dirtbox so thoughtfully provided, her aim is - approximative.

Looking on the bright side, barring something catastrophically unlikely the day could only get better from then on.

And truth to tell, it could've been much worse. Alright, the clouds were drifting about purposefully, but - as I reflected after only ten minutes with the camera around my neck and Shaun eagerly trotting along beside me - it was almost too warm for a jacket. But we passed the local pharmacist - he of the impressively large, semi-autonomous moustache - and chatted a bit as he sat in the sun on a bench outside old Henri's mausoleum before going off into the garrigue.

Which never fails to remind me of one of the reasons we're now here rather than somewhere else. Without wishing to come over all Mayleish, wherever I walk I can't help but step on clumps of thyme, or rosemary, or lavender, and the warm air is full of the smells of Provence. Unless, of course, it's one of those days when the tramontane is blowing, in which case the air is not warm, and what it's full of is flying leaves and old plastic bags, for yer average Provençal tends to regard Nature as a providential, never-full land-tip.

Of course after a morning like that it had to go titsup and as the clouds got darker and the hail started clattering on the roof I started flicking through online cooking porn - godnose why, it's not as though I have any actual need for any more inox frying pans, nor saucepans for that matter, or a handy plastic and steel device for deseeding raspberries - and as I was trying to justify buying a full set of de Buyer sauteuses came across the stainless steel mixing bowls.

I really must get around to looking up the etymology some time, for the French call these things a cul de poule: literally, a chicken's arse. The great google, curiously, is silent on the matter: Whackywheedia is content to say that is because "the implement resembles a chicken's bottom" which merely indicates to me that the collective authors of that esteemed institution are unfamiliar with the appearance of either.

No matter, my current, admittedly deplorable, state of ignorance will not prevent me from stuffing flour, milk and suet into a chook's bum and making some decent suet pastry, fit to contain a beefsteak pie. (Yeah, you guessed it - got an attack of the leftovers again.) Mind how you go, now.

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