Sunday, April 20, 2014

Veni, Edi, Discessi ...

... came, ate and buggered off. Old Jules, despite his undoubted talent for turning a Latin phrase, was writing in simpler times, and I guess didn't have people turning up unexpectedly at his doorstep.

Anyway, I find the yoof of today undemanding, and rather rewarding, when it comes to the food department. It fair warmed the cockles (St-Jacques, as it happens) of my cynical old heart to see how rapidly it all disappeared - yea, even unto the bretonne aux fraises  that followed the cheese - and I'll spare you the comments, lest you think they've gone to my head. But I did find the sight of all three of them getting out their cameras to take photos of the food before they ate to be somewhat - alarming.

The next morning (given the hour, only nominally so) after they'd devastated the cereal and laid waste to the jam, we managed to stuff them and their backpacks back into little Suzy and Margo pootled off to decant them at Narbonne, from whence the day's plan was to hitch down to Barcelona before heading to points even further South. Hope they make it to Marrakesh for the big party on the 23rd.

I remember reading an article in The Register by Alastair Dabbs, the gist of which was that he couldn't work out why it was that mentioning that you're in IT seems to make you irresistible at parties. Women still avoided him like a six-months-dead otter with psoriasis, but males he'd never met would come up unasked and engage him in serious conversation about the merits of this that or the other hard drive, which would inevitably lead to the confession that their PC was running rather slowly and did he think he could spare a moment to come look at it?

I only mention this because it is in fact true, and I would seriously recommend that anyone thinking of a career in IT forget about it and become a trainee sewer inspector or something or, if you absolutely have to do it, make sure no-one ever finds out. If you are planning on having a normal social life, anyway. Kevin has said that much the same phenomenon occurs to electricians as well: he might be at a party with Janet, hobnobbing with the academic crowd, and then somewhere off in a corner someone whispers that Dr. Soler's husband is an electrician and suddenly he's the centre of attention.

The Dean of Education hangs on his every word, senior lecturers fawn at his feet, and elegant faculty wives invite him around for the afternoon, when they excuse themselves for only being able to offer him whisky but every time they plug the kettle in to make tea the fuses blow all over the house ...

I suppose there must be some professions where supply is sufficiently ample that people are prepared to consider paying for their services, but electricians in England are apparently rare enough that if you manage to lay your hands on one you don't let the opportunity slip through your grasp, and so it is with computer people. Just admit that you know something about it and you are promoted on the spot to tech support for friends and family (if you weren't already - I said to make sure no-one ever finds out, just lie to them, say you've given up your university studies to go on the game) and most of the neighbourhood.

The point I was getting to here was that old Neville around the corner picked himself up a PC for 80€ at Emmaus the other day, and was having one or two little problems with it ...

So I turned up one afternoon with a couple of Homeplug adapters so that he could at least get on to the internet without stringing 30 metres of CAT-5 cable between the ground floor where the Livebox is and under the eaves where he's built himself a very neat, tidy office.

Which is where the first hiccup occurred: their twisted little house has two entirely separate power circuits, one for the ground floor and the other for everywhere else. So much for the easy connectivity solution: I told him to go off and buy a USB Wifi dongle and read the manual.

And he did, and got it installed and working and everything, no small feat considering that he's in his seventies, speaks sod-all French (although trying his hardest to learn), and was doing all this on a PC with the French version of Windows 7 installed.

Too good to be true, of course, and it wasn't long before he was back with a tale of woe, and how slowly the PC was running. Having better things to do, and being of a naturally kindly disposition, I headed round again to take a look at the pestilential thing. Fairly quickly it became evident that this was not going to be a simple five-minute in-and-out job, so I grabbed the box and took it home.

Oddly enough, as I sat there waiting for it to boot I could not but notice that the boot logo was a Compaq one. Anyone else remember them? I thought they got borged by HP back in 2002, but I guess they must have kept the name going - out of respect for the dead, maybe.

Around midnight I finally worked things out, more or less: the thing hadn't been used for some time, a backlog of Microsoft updates had built up which needed to be loaded and installed, and one of them seemed to have gone into an endless download/update/fail loop, and the update task was eating about 90% of the CPU time, and all the band-width.

Luckily, fixing that was fairly straightforward and whilst I was at it - told you I was sweet-natured - and as the previous owners had paid through the nose for a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate, I set it up in English. Which means that the next time Neville has a problem - and I fully expect he will - he will at least be able to tell me what it is.

You know, the life of a tech-support person is not really that sexy: in fact, re-reading that lot it looks, even to me, to be rather boring. I cannot see why we're so popular at parties, it can't be because of being good in bed.

One of life's little mysteries - why are animals so gross? Came down the other morning and went out onto the terrace (nearly all tiled now! Yay!) to enjoy the first coffee of the day in the warm sunlight, and Shaun scurried furtively off into a corner with what looked suspiciously like a bird's wing waggling out of one side of his mouth.

When I finally convinced him that it would be a Good Idea to spit it out it became evident that the poor beast had not been of this world for some time: I can only assume that the cats had been out foraging earlier and, coming upon this mummified carcase, had brought it back as a special treat.

Very thoughtful of them, I will admit, but I could wish that they had not done so. Disposing of surplus-to-requirements fleshy envelopes is not really part of my job description, and even if it were I would much rather not have to do it before I'm set up for the day.

I recently came across a marvelously simple recipe from the excellent Jacques Pépin (a French chef who is, incidentally, virtually unknown in France but very popular in the US, and whose two primers on cooking - La Technique and La Methode - are amongst the very first cookbooks I ever bought) with a new take on saucisson. Why, he reasoned, do I take all the trouble of mincing fat and meat and salt and stuffing that into sausage casings when, with much less effort, I can simply and rapidly brine a whole pork fillet and hang that to dry?

And as it is - according to tradition, or an old charter or something - a grey rainy Easter Sunday over in these here parts, and as I happen to have a couple of excellent pork fillets on my hands (don't know why, but Lidyl - a German hard-discount chain - has splendid meat. I wouldn't touch their vegetables with a barge-pole, but the meat - and the butter, and the bûche de chèvre - is above reproach.) I have just, following his instructions, trimmed them, rubbed them well with a cup of gros sel mixed with 2tbsp of brown sugar and a bit of saltpetre, and put them in the fridge.

The saltpetre is optional, and only toxic in large doses, but it does mean that the meat keeps a lovely bright rosy colour. If you happen to be able to get sodium nitrite use that instead - about 6% by weight - or just use pink curing salt if you can get that.

Anyway, tomorrow I shall take them out, dry them, and rub them with a bit of cognac, cracked black peppers and some herbes de provence before wrapping them and hanging them somewhere cool and airy to dry for four or five weeks. I'll let you know how that turns out.

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