Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sourpuss Grumpyface ...

 Maybe I don't know what I'm doing, maybe my machines are - fragile - or just could be there's something sinister at work here, but I cannot help but get the feeling that every time I get a "security and stability" patch from Microsoft, things get worse. In the stability department, anyway.

It's bad enough that the system has to reboot maybe two or three times,  taking fifteen minutes in the process, and worse that sometimes the sucker will reboot all by itself in the middle of the night, having got bored of waiting for a reply from me. (I know, I should always save my work when I go to bed. Sometimes I don't, OK - one gets used to computers that just keep working for months,  like the mainframes I had to cosset as a youth - and even if I have done so bloody OpenOffice will still insist on recovering any documents that may have been open, even if unmodified,  when shut down - and about half the time it manages to corrupt them in the process.)

No, what really puts the fear of god in me is the certain knowledge that, some unspecified time after the update, I will plug in some USB device or whatever, and a while afterwards the screen will go a fetching shade of blue displaying the cheerful message "Windows has encountered a problem and needs to shut down. We'll just log some data and then restart for you". I do not know why this happens, but it does. Every bloody time.

And of course there's always the lurking dread that at some point I will try to start up a virtual machine under VirtualBox (which is, quite frankly, flaky enough on its own without any help from Microsoft: Oracle can do crap too), and it will stubbornly refuse and tell me that my machine image is corrupt, would I like to delete it or would I perhaps prefer to just delete it? (Have to love the error messages too. Not joking, the one I see most is "Failed to create a virtual machine. Error 7xxx (don't use this message)". Thanks for the QC, guys.

Mind you, I'm not entirely sure that it's Microsoft's fault. Wouldn't surprise me to discover that they've just yanked some error-handling code out of the core drivers, where it had no reason to be in the first place, and handed it off up the stack to the actual USB driver that came with the hardware. And as that driver was written about thirteen years ago and even back then didn't respect the guidelines, it dies horribly and, being itself a kernel driver, pulls the whole damn edifice down about my ears. Which doesn't make me feel any better, I still want someone to blame.

Also, when it comes to crap software, there's plenty of blame to go around. OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, to name but two culprits. Or Eclipse - which seems to be written entirely in Java so as to negate any speed advantage your grunty multi-core CPU might otherwise give you - and which, on my Linux machines, just ups and dies on me regularly, and for no apparent reason. Maybe I should retrain as a hairdresser.

Perhaps I should spend less time on the innertübz too, would stop me finding out about things like this*.

And once again, as Edmund remarked, the devil throws up on my eiderdown. I got Sarah back on Tuesday, and drove her home, and our plans for today were to head off to the market at Carcassonne and then on to Roullens, to learn about the elusive truffle. It all went well enough until the truffle part, for once I'd done at the market and the cherries, apricots and nectarines were nestling happily in the bag with the baby courgettes and the two kilos or so of duck sausage (I have become a dealer in that -  a duck dealer! Cash & Carry are starting to place orders.) and the sweetcorn - first of the season, yum! - we circumcised the place, going south of la Cité towards Limoux, when I noticed that I had no power at all, the fuel gauge was obstinately on empty ... you get the picture.

At that point we were only 5km or so from the garage so we limped there and various people came out and sucked their teeth seriously but - if I may give you a bit of advice, do not have your car break down in France on a weekend. Mechanics, when they work, do so only during the week. As do, it seems, the  people who handle the car guarantee. Also, as it's the start of the holiday season, everyone else has had their cars break down or in for servicing or something, and so the Alfa garage was fresh out of voitures de courtoisie ... eventually I got in touch with my insurance, who sent a taxi to take us home, and I confided Sarah and her keys to the tender mercies of the guy at the garage.

All that meant that we were kind of later than planned getting to the rotting mushrooms. So when we finally did turn up there was but one left, huge and warty, and I wasn't ready to pay the kind of money that'd be asked, so I am sadly deprived of truffles.

Not that we left empty-handed mind you: another mixed dozen of wine has been added to the cellar here in The Shamblings. Some of it might even stay there for a while, but hopefully we'll get to drink it in the next ten years or so: the serious guy behind the stall of Cave la Malepère reckoned it wouldn't last much longer, and I am not one to impugn his judgement.

Anyway, one of the reasons I was so pleased to get Sarah back is that I have a meeting tomorrow morning in Chambéry, and rather than travelling in effortless air-conditioned comfort I shall just have to slowly make my way there with little Suzy, whose a/c options are limited to how far down you wind the windows. Kind of limited, and when it's hotter out than in is of little use but never mind, at least she's still firing on all four cylinders. Better go pack, I guess.

*Bonus update: the link above stands corrected. Bloody blogger.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pissup In A Brewery ...

Big day in Moux this Saturday: yes folks, it will be the annual fête de la cave cooperative and I have, in common with just about everybody else, gone off and bought tickets for the affair. I'm not entirely sure why, because they only cover the meal and the wine is free to all and sundry - they just have to run a hose-pipe from the vats to the tables - but I guess that one of the delights of being down here is the chance to eat great lashings of aligot and barbecued sausages on what promises to be a stinking-hot day.

Aligot, in case you're wondering, is nowt more than the humble mashed potato of your youth raised to a sublime level: it involves potato, I admit, but also vast quantities of garlic, cheese and cream - it should be thick, glossy, served in heaping mounds and above all, it should be hot. Not a light meal, and I'm thinking about as well-adapted to summer as a tartiflette, but what the hell.

And speaking of summer, it seems to have been going on forever: the earth is baked dry by the sun, the cicadas are doing their monomaniac chirping out in the garrigue, and I'm dropping into lizard mode. Roll out of bed, slip on jandals and shorts, then out onto the terrace under the bright wide sky for fruit juice and nicotine before it gets too damn hot - like, around 9am -  and I have to retreat to the relative cool of the office.

The cats lie stretched out, draped over various boxes still awaiting unpacking in the verandah, or sprawled inelegantly upstairs in the bedroom, and STD can't be arsed going walkies during the day and flops in a shaggy heap on the cool tiles downstairs. There's not that many people out and about - not that Moux is exactly a buzzing hive of activity at the best of times - and those that absolutely have to leave the shade tend to do so in the morning, or early evening.

I know I said that these days I am beyond surprise, but it turns out that I can still be shocked. Like this morning, going around the market at Carcassonne, where I came upon some baby yellow courgettes, about the size of a finger (yeah, I know, depends on the size of your fingers. Mine were not built for playing the piano, your mileage may - as they say - vary), and was picking out the prettiest to snuggle in my basket before meeting their fate. Which I rather feel is to be lightly steamed and then marinated in olive oil with a few fresh herbs, although that may change. Hardly grounds for shocking, I agree, but I had to raise both eyebrows when the woman next to me started picking some out for herself and then asked, in all apparent sincerity, whether she should peel them. She didn't even have the excuse of being English.

I needed something to settle my jangled nerves after that, and as I was sitting in the sun nursing a glass of vitamins a cheerful lady bustled past and thrust a leaflet into my paw: a flyer for the fête de la truffe d'été in someplace vaguely south-west of here,  around Limoux.

So as I is a sucker for truffles, and they are promising not only a marché aux truffes but also dégustation des vins and ateliers de cuisine (also, I admit, pony rides and makeup for the kiddies), you can probably guess where I am going to be next Saturday. Might even take them up on the picnic lunch that's available, although I am curious as to the exact nature of the "truffle-based dessert".

Who knows, I might be pleasantly surprised. Although I'm not going to be betting on that.

At least I'll be able to get there in relative comfort, for I have been informed - after a plaintive wheedling phone call or two - that Sarah will once again be ready for action Tuesday night: always assuming that they do in fact get the parts on the Monday. Seems one of the various chips had fried, and was cutting off the injectors - hence her putt-putt progress. I will be very pleased to get her back.

As it turns out, the cave can organise an orgy in a brothel. We turned up, like the nice man had said, at 19:00 and I for one was pleasantly surprised to find two long rows of tables set out down the track that leads up to the building, barrels around the door with what looked like an adequate sufficiency of glasses in serried rows on top, and even better we were not the first to arrive. And we didn't have long to wait before they started bringing out the bottles, white and rosé glistening with condensation.

The only blot on the horizon was the sono set up at one end of the tables, for what indeed is a village fête without incredibly loud disco music (and the mandatory glittering disco mirror ball), but we managed to snag seats at the far end on the grounds that 100m distance would surely ease some of the pain.

So we milled around and mingled as best we could and drank and made serious inroads on the nibbles until about 21:00 when someone decided that it was time to eat: three bottles appeared on the table in front of us along with a huge wodge of paté and a fresh crusty baguette,  and off we set.

Once that had been washed down and another trio of bottles had transpired everyone queued up for their plateful of mashed spud and sausage: creamy, stringy and elastic, like melted mozzarella. They're used to bigger appetites than mine; no way I managed to finish it off, despite my best efforts. Memory gets a bit hazy from then on, for more wine appeared to accompany the cheese, but I vaguely recall that the "music" started up around then - probably on the grounds that there was no point bothering people with it while they were stuffing their faces.

Whatever, we acquitted ourselves honorably and made no frightful gaffes of which I am aware, but I must admit that we piked out fairly early and headed back home (it is particularly convenient that the cave is, quite literally,  but a five-minute walk away, well maybe ten if you're not in a hurry) before the dancing started in earnest.

Being the summer solstice it was also, as Jack Lang decreed all those years ago, la fête de la musique. There is some old charter or something that decrees that it should always rain that day, which means that the saxophones at least are silenced, but somehow that didn't happen this year. (Actually, the sax players are usually not that bad. It's the head-bangers that tend to make up in undirected energy for what they lack in technical competence.)

But Moux doesn't do that: I guess they decided, sensibly enough, that one festival a night was quite enough, thanks very much, and that wine was more important than song ...

Anyway, I have those courgettes of which I told you which need some attention paid to them for they are not, I suspect, going to marinate spontaneously: I also have a roti d'échine de porc from the nice butcher at les halles in Carcassonne who brines the joint for a bit which is just crying out to be roasted gently and served cold, maybe with a bean salad and baby potatoes.

And as it seems kind of silly to turn my huge oven on just for one teeny roast, and I happen to have some apples, making an apple sharlotka seems like a perfectly reasonable idea to me.

I shall worry about the kilo of chicken wings, the cote de boeuf, and the fillet steak later on. Not to mention the lamb shoulder, which still needs boning, stuffing, rolling and tying before being coated with a mixture of breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, rosemary and butter before being roasted with white wine and potatoes and olive oil. Be good, mind how you go now.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trials And Tribulations ...

Tomb of the Unknown Squirrel. I guess.
If you want my honest opinion, this whole gluten-free business is going a bit too far. I'm not trying in any way to minimize or belittle the sufferings of those unfortunate souls who are gluten-intolerant, but when it comes to getting out a packet of bacon chunks from the fridge and noting that on the garish label it proudly proclaims itself to be "New Recipe! Gluten-Free!!!" I think it's time to say something. I did not check on the back of the packet to see if there was a warning along the lines of "May contain nuts", but I am beyond surprise.

Before heading up to Chambéry the other day I actually took the time to read the user's manual for the Alfa, just to confirm that I knew how to operate such useful things as the cruise control and the air-con, and discovered that the beast also has sat-nav, the ability to pair with my phone over Bluetooth, and to play music from a thumb drive. Not shocking these days, but back in 2008 it was pretty advanced.

Sad to say, these three last are all tied into Fiat's "Blue&Me" (twee, isn't it?) vehicle management system which is, I'm sad to say, nothing more than Microsoft Windows CE Automobile. Which means that it's pretty much a steaming pile of shit. Although the phone pairing didn't work too badly in the Doblo, in the sense that my phone did actually pair with the car on occasion, so maybe I will try that ...

Anyway, having a five hour drive ahead of me I thought that rather than take a stack of CDs I'd just stick a swag of albums in MP3 format onto a spare USB key, plug that in and listen to what I wanted: sadly, I failed to note the paragraph of the manual wherein I was assured that "the Microsoft Media Player will organise your media content ..."

I had blithely assumed that I would have access to the different directories containing music and could just ask the thing to play the tracks in a given directory, in plain old alphabetical order as god intended but, effectively, the thrice-damned media player had other thoughts in mind. It had indeed organised my music, but exactly how I do not know.

Maybe it did an MD5 hash of every track, and then sorted on inverse order on the last eight digits. Just possibly it did a spectral analysis in the time domain and grouped tracks by similarities between the back-beat frequency. I really have no bloody idea, all I know is that it started off with a couple of Alice Cooper tracks, then Roxette's "She's Got The Look", a bit of Billy Idol and then "Call Me" before ten minutes-worth of Sisters of Mercy. I just may go back to carrying a pile of CDs in the car. Like I said, I am beyond surprise.

Whatever, despite that petty annoyance all went well until I hit the péage at Grenoble, at 18:00 on a week-day. Just saying, you don't really want to do that if you can possibly avoid it. Everyone around here just says "Oh, mais quand c'est comme ça faut pas prendre le rocade, il faut juste ..." and my eyes inevitably glaze over because they start gabbling on about short cuts on unspeakable roads through little places I've never heard of lost in the mountains or off in some bucolic valley (Countrycide, anyone?) somewhere and I really can't be arsed because I will get stuck behind a combine harvester or something, the road signs will be brief to the point of non-existence, and I will be found the next day sitting in a ditch with underpants on my head going "Wibble!"

Quite frankly, I just accept the circumstances, sit in the series of mobile traffic jams and try to keep my blood pressure under control and not hate everyone. Actually, as such things go it wasn't too bad, only took me an hour and a quarter to circumcise the dump. Could've been much worse: I have never, for instance, tried it on a journée de départ en vacances. Except once, and that day has been expunged from my memory thanks to the selective use of various hallucinogens.

Having finally made it to Chambéry I sought a rendez-vous with the eldest son - cooks have anti-social hours, it is not always easy to meet with them. He assured me that he had Friday off so I rang that day to confirm: what he actually meant was that he had Friday afternoon off (you see the subtle difference here?) so we met for about a minute in the restaurant, I handed over the loot (a Kindle, for he asked for books and damned if I'm going to let any of ours leave the place for it has happened that they do not come back, a saucisson and a bottle of Ermitage Saint-Jeremy, because it was there) and we went our separate ways.

And then, as it will, the time came to head back down, and as the work I'd gone up to do had gone reasonably well it was with a smile on my lips, a song in my heart, and Alice Cooper (when it wasn't, for some inexplicable reason, Julie Andrews) blaring around my ears that I set off. Of course we all know where this is going, which is titsup - or pear-shaped, according to your idiom of choice - and it was shortly after Orange that every single warning light lit up and I was informed that

a) ASR was unavailable,
b) VNR was unavailable,
c) assisted hill start was unavailable and
d) it would be a really good idea to hie me to a garage sooner rather than later

and just in case I was sufficiently dozy to have spotted none of these, the fuel gauge was oscillating between half-full and completely empty, and I was going up hills like a 2CV firing on only one of its two cylinders.

I suppose that the reasonable thing to do would've been to pull over onto an aire d'autoroute and call for help, which would've entailed a four hour wait for a tow truck to pull up (on a Sunday? You jest?) and cart both of us away but I am not always reasonable and in any case the phone battery had just expired so I carried - very slowly, to the point where I was overtaken by Dutch caravans, which somehow makes it worse - on and finally made it home, about an hour after I'd hoped.

Luckily there is a gold-plated guarantee on her for the next three months (good thing she broke down in that period, wasn't it?), so I can see that Monday moaning is going to involve a few phone calls to the garage. I will be very calm, and shall try not to yell or get all excited.

Once again the sparrows are rousted from their slumbers by the preliminary farts from the ancient valve amplifier, and then "'Allo, 'allo! Marcel a des cerises en vente place St-Régis, 4€ le kilo ou 7€ pour deux ..." - yes, another public service announcement courtesy of the mairie, to let us know that some horny-handed (and, as it turned out, incomprehensibly-accented) son of the soil would be selling cherries (doubtless on the black) from the back of a beaten-up white van parked across from our front door.

It is such things as this that let you know that you are in a small village in rural France. And I have to admit that the cherries aren't half bad. I asked for a couple of heads of garlic whilst I was at it, seeing them lurking in a cageotte at the back, but he very jovially said something to me that I could not for the life of me understand and carried on piling cherries into a bag, so I did not push my luck.

I rang the garage this morning to explain my plight, and the charming secretaire commerciale (who, incidentally, speaks pretty good English, not much of a shocker there I suppose) told me not to worry, just come in and drop her off at Auto Discount and they'd look after everything.

So I tootled off, straining to get up to 70kph up the hills, found first the place and then the workshop manager, and once again I trotted out my explanation. She commiserated and sucked her teeth rather dubiously, then rang the secretary back and after a fairly rapid-fire conversation which I guess she won, she pointed out the VW dealership halfway along the long line of garages that stretched north and told me to go there, and the chef d'atelier would look after things.

(Now would probably be time to explain that in our little corner of Ole Yurrup, every single car dealership of any size seems to belong to a single family, or more likely to their company. I went past the Seat dealer, the BMW dealer, the Alfa dealer, the Citroen dealer ... and they all belonged to the Tressol family. I guess that anti-trust was one of the things they'd not heard about, back in the day.)

I got where I had been told to go and hung around a bit whilst the guy shooed another client away, and it was time for the third explanation of the day. I was starting to get pretty good at it. But the guy seemed less than stunned by my eloquence and asked - reasonably enough under the circumstances I suppose - just WTF I had brought my Alfa to him, when there was a perfectly good Alfa dealer just 50m back a ways?

Remembering my promise to be good I refrained from the retort that rose to my lips, also I had no intention of explaining things yet again, so I told him, perfectly honestly, that Virginie had told me to do so, and what did he want me to do about it? He shook his head, doubtless in wonderment at the vagaries of mankind, grabbed the papers and promised with a sigh to get everything organised: with enough feeling that for a moment I almost believed him. I can see that I shall have to ring back tomorrow. If I want to get my car back before August, that is.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Happiness Is A Warm Bottom ...

Municipal Monstrosities, N° 10
"Hell", I thought to myself, settling down uneasily on the leather seat behind the steering wheel, "I really must get some of those senile nappies to avoid just this sort of embarrassing moment" but no, on closer inspection I had not piddled discreetly, it's just that the Alfa has heated seats.

Anyway, you'd think that by now I'd have learnt to avoid vernissages. Young Hélène (who is only 70, and not to be confused with old Hélène, who is not) gave us some invites to the opening of an exposition at her second home, off in Aigues-Vives about ten minutes from here as the crow flies, twenty as the road wriggles. (Actually, there are about five places called Aigues-Vives in the Aude - it means "lively water" in occitan - and so of course poor Neville, who also go an invite, got hopelessly lost and headed off to one of the wrong ones.)

It's a pretty little village, baking under the sun: as usual the monument aux morts is one of the highlights of any visit. I don't know what the Lonely Assassin is doing with that toroid (probably using gravitational lensing to focus cellphone signals or something) but it seems to be giving the guy in the bowler hat serious heartburn.

The exposition was good stuff, the work of an ancient English guy who'd spent yonks in Italy, Germany and France: collages, intricately detailed constructions of string, paper and scraps of wood, and some prints. It was the last that really caught my eye, and by the time we left we'd arranged to buy two. Which was not on my agenda when we set out.

You might have noticed that we had yet more elections in Ole Yurrup recently, and the results have left the political classes twittering furiously. The European Parliament has always been a bit of a joke: it was set up as a sop to public opinion by the great and good that set the project of European union on its way - it's always lacked power, and legitimacy. Quite frankly, yer average Frog-person - or Portuguese, or Spaniard, or German come to that - could care more about who gets sent off to Brussels.

They are more worried about who represents them where it counts, at the local level. (And given the miserable levels of participation in France even for those, I have to believe that lots of people have given up on the whole thing.)

Up to now it's been a club for superannuated politicians who can posture as they like (hell, José Bové was a candidate this year, and if anyone can posture it's him) knowing full well that with no power comes no responsibility. And now, in old news, it's been taken over by people who want to destroy it. Maybe not a bad thing, it's not as though it ever served any useful purpose apart from paying burnt-out hacks vast sums of money to shuttle between Berlaymont and Strasbourg, and flap their mouths where no-one's going to listen. I suppose it keeps them off the dole, and out of the unemployment figures.

Also, given the endemic corruption, it also keeps their immediate families and their idiot nephews off benefits as well. And it would be overly harsh to say that they do absolutely nothing: to show willing, it has been known for them to commission an outside consultant to produce a report - on what doesn't really matter. The consultant, not necessarily related, is paid by the MEP - or rather, his office, funded by the EU - who then multiplies the already inflated bill by some number or another but invariably more than three, and then bills that amount to the EU as expenses. Nice job, if you can get it.

Although they're still relative novices in some areas: I understand that the mairie de Paris is offering courses to would-be parliamentarians on subjects like the care and feeding of dead voters, and the fine art of payroll-padding. I gather that there is at least an ethics committee (mostly staffed by indigent offspring unsuited by intellect to any other form of work), which meets from time to time behind the wheelie bins on the third sub-level of the underground carpark.

Changing subjects entirely and completely without warning, it was not without a twinge that I suggested to Margo that we head off on a drive. Brought back childhood memories of being bundled into the back seat of the family car for that New Zealand penitential tradition, the "Sunday drive". We always pretended that we enjoyed it, for fear of being abandoned in a forest somewhere.

Anyway, we drove vaguely off with STD in the back of the car, hoping to get him used to trips so that he will not vomit (a waste of effort, I'm sad to say) in the direction of Bizes-Minervois. For it has a river that goes through it, which is a good thing in summer, and it is quaint, and pictureskew. And bloody hot, I should've worn shorts. Just saying.

And as you will note, its coat of arms figures a crownèd serpent chowing down on a poor small wriggly guy who seems rather uncomfortable with the whole business, which is kind of odd because up till now the only place I've seen that is on the badge of an Alfa Romeo ...

Now as it turns out the Alfa badge has on the left side a red cross on a white background in memory of the Crusaders, and on the right side this people-eating snake, which is the blason of the city of Milan, which inherited it (OK, stole it when no-one was looking, they're Italians) from the Visconti family - and nobody knows where they stole it got it from.

Rather strange to find an heraldic device from the north of Italy in the south of France, but there turns out to be a perfectly reasonable and almost believable explanation (as I keep pointing out to the gendarmes on the now-rare occasions that they come past and comment on the unseemly vivacity of our pot-plants, wondering just what it is exactly that we use as fertiliser. Since the unfortunate incident with gendarme Blot and the ranunculus, their visits tend to be short.).

It turns out that Bize-Minervois was, for some reason (probably an ancient charter or something), the joint property of four feudal lords, or seigneurs if you prefer: one of this Gang of Four was, ex-officio, the arch-bishop of Narbonne. (I know I've mentioned their monumental pile before so godnose why they wanted a share of this little backwater place, maybe they just fancied having a little place in the country where they could go for a swim in the river in summer.)

And back in the day, the arch-bishop in question was one Cardinal de Bonzi (I am not making this up), born in Milan and doubtless with a rap sheet as long as your arm, who nicked the city coat of arms when he left, took it as his own (not, I'm told, an uncommon thing), and handed it on to this little village that just happened to be partly his. Mystery solved.

Apart from being pretty, the place is also renowned for making what is possibly the best olive oil in France (and, therefore, the world). I cannot actually vouch for that because I could not try a glug from every bottle - time, and the fact that Shaun was in the back of the car, desperate to throw up again, would not permit it - but I can say that the stuff is eye-wateringly expensive.

Whatever, we have people round for dinner tonight - it being the lundi de Pentecôte I am not, for once, working - and I guess I'd better go think of something to do in the food department. Being as everywhere's closed it's going to be something that can be done with what I happen to have to hand: luckily there's an abundance of fruit and vegetables, and some chicken pieces, so it will probably involve poulet à la moutarde, and a fruity mousse.

But before that, I'd better go get some sun. Only got another four months of it before autumn rolls around again.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Kindly Mother Nature ...

Up periscope! And put the windows up.
... red in tooth and claw. Or so I thought to myself the other day as I was out on the terrace (all tiled now, thanks very much for asking, and very pleasant it is indeed to be out there) and a crow flew overhead and something went Splot! just next to my foot. Not guano, but a fledgling: I'm guessing that the butterfingered bird was either doing some house-keeping, or very clumsily dropped its breakfast.

I've noticed for a while that my cooking has definitely changed. Vast quantities of meat are out, the humble spud sits and glowers balefully on the sidelines, vegetables get to kick up their heels in the chorus line (figuratively speaking). Don't get me wrong, I've always believed in eating seasonal vegetables - which is when they're at their best - and I remain a committed carnivore: there's no way I shall stop making quiche (sometimes, I admit, with leeks) or boeuf bourguignon or charcuterie (a wonderful term which embraces even the humble sausage), nor has the leg of lamb been banished from our premises, never again to sear on the barbecue - but things do change.

Age, and different requirements, are one thing: quite frankly, there is absolutely no way I could sit down these days to a shrimp cocktail (remember when those were the trendiest of the mutt's nuts?) followed by a 300gm carpet-bag steak with mushrooms, a baked potato and salad on the side and then scarf down a healthy wedge of cream-cheese frosted carrot cake. Not that I ever could, given that a carpet-bag steak - a recipe harking back to the day when thrifty house-wives would instruct the cook to pad out the steak (expensive) with oysters (virtually free) - contains my arch-nemesis, the aforementioned mollusc. But you get my point.

And although I do a fair bit of exercise - there is no remote control for the TV, so I actually have to get up from the sofa to change programmes - I rather doubt I could burn through all those calories. Even if I did do a jog up mont Alaric every morning, as does old Neville the neighbour.

(Actually, there is no TV either. We stream everything. So not only do my legs get exercise, I also have to push a mouse around. Gotta be good for me.)

Tastes change too, but mostly it's lifestyle. It's hot, sunny and lazy; decent vegetables are virtually thrusting themselves lasciviously at you; the olive oil is almost good enough to make me forget my vows of fidelity to (salted) butter. Oh, and the fish is not only excellent and as fresh as it could possibly be without your going and catching it yourself, but also available. (Also expensive - let's not dream here - but you pay for what you get. Suppose I could buy frozen, but that's not much cheaper and has the added drawback of being uniformly foul: watery and textureless, and the flavour but a pale shadow of the real stuff.)

So anyway, since we moved down here we've started to eat more lightly, probably less, and maybe even more healthily. I'm not complaining.

You remember I spoke of an Alfa 159? She beguiled me with her lures and I bought her, leather upholstery and all. We went back to the concessionnaire, looked her over, took her out for a spin - and then Margo said "there's no point in looking at anything else, is there? You want her" and I'm afraid I had to say yes. So I reluctantly turned her nose around, for she had taken it into her mind to go to Limoux, and quietly drove back to the garage, where I signed the papers.

Of course the unseemly subject of finance reared its ugly head, as it will - and on considered reflection, although the concept of an extension of the warranty is attractive it is not sufficiently so to make me want to pay €3000 extra, which is what I've had wound up doing if I put down a bit of cash and paid the rest off over three years. So after talking to the banker I rang the garage back to say that I'd just pay cash after all: they had sads, but that is their problem, not mine.

For some strange reason - possibly related to a pressing need for the bathroom, occasioned by the fact that the lower reaches of my intestines have been scoured as clean of life as the Sahara, and reforestation has not yet taken place - I woke at an ungodly hour this morning and so arrived, once again, hideously early at place Carnot. Under a spiteful gray sky, but what the hell, at least there were courgette flowers again so I picked up some shrimp and I have heaps of mint in the freezer, and a fresh chèvre in the fridge, so that's tonight's dinner decided on.

I've not really thought much further ahead than that, although I do know that at some point in the near future there will be roast asparagus just because I can, and also for a change: come to that there's a chicken floating around the place somewhere too so maybe a barbecue would not be a bad idea.

Not actually a bulldog.
Or then again, I was trawling the innatübz, studiously postponing doing some work that I really ought to get on to (massacring a video driver so that it will handle a monochrome OLED display, if you really want to know) and quite serendipitously came across a recipe for slow-roasted chook, which involves rubbing the bird all over with herbs and olive oil and salt before putting it in the oven at 160° (180° in mine, it's kind of optimistic that way) and roast it for two to two and a half hours, with vegetables.

Which sounds rather attractive to me, so who knows? I just hope like hell I didn't accidentally pick up a boiling fowl again, by mistake. (Believe me, unless you're actually planning on boiling the bird, that is not a mistake you'd want to make twice.)

Whatever, June has just dawned and despite it not even being summer there is an ugly rash of camper-vans on the road. I think they must have hatched, and be heading off on the long journey to their ancestral breeding grounds or something. In which case it seems reasonable to assume that the Belgians, Dutch or whatever that are behind the wheel are actually unnecessary as far as piloting goes, and are just carried along to serve as food during the trip, and just before the climactic battles that precede mating. I dare say it would probably make a good subject for an Attenborough documentary.

Be that as it may, having better things to do I headed off early this morning with the camera to rejoin the canal du Midi at Trèbes, near Carcassonne, with the aim in mind of loitering in the sun and following the twisty-turny back roads to get home.

When you head to Carcassonne from here you go through Trèbes, or at least there are signposts that tell you so, but in fact you're going through the southern outskirts, which are kind of dull and semi-industrial - not somewhere you'd actually think to stop, unless you needed to pick up a baguette. But turn off the D6113 (used to be the N113, but the state got tired of paying for the upkeep and foisted it off onto the département) and head north, cross the Aude and you get into the old centre, on the banks of the canal. It's all very peaceful, with the odd houseboat moored here and there (you can rent them by the week, you know, if that interests anyone), and even this early in the year full of bloody tourists.

Given that I'm wandering about with a camera and a huge zoom slung over my shoulder I suppose I can hardly complain, but I still wonder why that should have given the English couple who asked me, in what we'll charitably call French, where the market was any confidence at all as to the accuracy of my reply I really cannot imagine.

Having wandered, and rummaged through a brocante vaguely in search of some enameled cast-iron gratin dishes (no luck there, some nice copper moulds but let's face it, I'm not going to use those) and found the English Bookshop, it seemed like a reasonable idea to head back via Marseillette and Puichéric, on the little road that more or less parallels the canal, which you can spot by the double rows of old trees that line the banks. At some point I shall have to do that on a bike, for the advantage of a bike track running alongside a canal is that it is, more or less by definition, flat. Until you get to a lock, that is.

Also, on a bike it is easier to stop when you need to feel like it and just sit down and admire the countryside and the light through the leaves and reflecting off the water and smell the scent of hay baking in the sunlight.

But even in the car, I managed to find somewhere to stop at Millegrand and wander a hundred metres or so down to the canal, up onto the old shaded hump-back bridge that goes across and do all of those things, which set me up very nicely for doing nothing at all for the rest of the day.

Hope yours was as good.