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.

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