Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Foxy Lady ...

Some people seem to take malicious pleasure in pointing out - quite unnecessarily, I might add - that I've been furtling with computers for quite some time. Since before the appearance of the PC in fact: I started out on mainframes and fortunately, but quite accidentally, got a good grounding in operating systems principles and practice which means I get to have a really good giggle when the young and the enthusiastic come up and mention that latest Really Neat Thing in iOS or whatever and I recall reading about an implementation of that back in '82 ...

One thing has changed and that's the relentless drive to specialisation, maybe it's Darwinism at work or - my personal hypothesis - peoples' brains have shrunk and they just can't hold everything in there anymore, but whatever the reason I see it happening. Web developers (who aren't really programmers anyway, not that I have anything against graphics artists if they stay in their place at the bottom of the food chain) cannot seem to grasp the concept of non-deterministic procedures, application developers blithely assume that resources are infinite and that allocating 5Gb of memory to hold a 16x16 bitmap image just in case is a Good Idea (it does, I admit, simplify the error handling - usually to the point where none is done), and when finally you track down an intermittent bug and point out to the developer that perhaps doing floating-point arithmetic in a time-critical interrupt routine is not such a great idea, they will invariably ask "But why ever not? Do it all the time in BASIC."

(Whatever you do, don't get me onto the subject of structured exception handling, I tend to froth at the mouth and get spittle everywhere. It's all crap because almost invariably misunderstood and misused: more harmful than Djikstra's pet peeve if you ask me. And having trapped your error, just what the hell do you do with it? That's useful, I mean. Just popping up a dialog box to say "An error has occurred" does not count. Like back in the days of the original IBM PC, where a memory parity error lead swiftly and inevitably to a reboot, with no chance to save your work.)

Anyway, what I'm leading up to is that this same trend of specialisation applies more and more these days to the user experience - I suppose it's an example of that hoary old "long tail" idea. Case in point: in my spam today, an invitation to join, which bills itself as "The n° 1 dating site for horse-lovers". I'm going to be charitable here, and assume that it is somewhere for the horsey set to go find other, like-minded souls who get off on leather, sweat, and a touch of the whip, and definitely not a site for people to go hook up with an underage Shetland pony. For that would be - if not actually illegal as such - morally questionable at the very least.

Whatever, I'm headed off to Chambéry for a few days in a couple of hours, and of course I would pick a holiday cross-over weekend. One of those where the juilletists go home, and the aôutards head off. Luckily for me a) Sarah is, exceptionally, in working order so at least I'll have the a/c (and mangled music, but I shall just have to live with that) and b) the SmartBuffalo website assures me that traffic conditions should be "normal".

Do not, by the way, ask me why on earth the French government thought that bison-futé was a suitable name for a website giving you traffic information. It's not as though the beast is renowned for intelligence, and to the best of my knowledge they're not particularly good behind the wheel either. What with having hooves rather than opposable thumbs. And a blind spot straight ahead. (Mind you, at one time that used to be a pretty good description of most French drivers ...) Still, I suppose it's marginally better than www.canard-dé

I shall see what "normal" means today: probably no more than that traffic is actually moving - although slowly, and with thick lumps in it - and in the right direction. In the Rhône valley speeds will doubtless be limited to 110 kph so that the camper vans don't feel discriminated against, and as usual the Dutch and Belgians will all be sitting in the left lane, gallantly spurring on their three-tonne caravans, drawn by an arthritic 2CV, up a hill. At such times as these, zen can be a difficult state to maintain.

As it happens, I was too gloomy. The trip up was quite pleasant, the speed limits were normal, Sarah did not have an injector hissy-fit and when I arrived it was 25° and not raining. Which must be a first.

I'd organised to stay at the first-born son's place, so of course when I arrived he was off in Grenoble having fun. There's not much of that to be had in Chambéry on a Sunday evening - even the bars are closed - so I took the only reasonable option, and headed off to see Bryan, to see how many bottles he had open. (Bit like Pooh, but with less hunny.)

Eventually Jeremy turned up, and we were both a bit peckish, so we headed off in search of Sustaining Nourishment. Montmelian is even more dead than Chambéry of a Sunday, if such a thing is possible, and so we wound up at the mini-golf at Challes, of which I had not-unfavourable memories. Seems they've changed chefs since last I was there, and our son turns out to be a picky eater ...

First he scanned the menu just to check that the prices weren't too outrageous for what was actually on offer, and then we both ordered the duck breast. (No way am I going to go for an entrée, 300gm of meat followed by a dessert. And they ask why there is a growing obesity problem in France.)

"It's not that it's badly cooked", he said, "mais ce n'est pas du magret du sud-ouest". And the red was tannique - fair enough, he doesn't actually like wine that much and it could have done with breathing for a bit. The he picked up a bit of bread, and sneered at it. "From mid-day, kept under a damp cloth" ... I must admit that I'm not a fan of rubbery bread either. We finished up, I paid, and we headed back to his hovel: he was quite happy in the knowledge that there was no way they were doing anything as well as he can.

Me, I don't think I'll be going back, unless I have no other option. Rather go to l'Arbre à Bières, where I found myself Monday night, where your choices may be limited to bretzels, flammenkuches and whatever they decide on for the plat du jour, but at least it's made there and then with fresh ingredients. And on top of it I ate for free: I bowled up, parked my arse at a table and ordered a glass of red and as I was slowly sipping a santorin turned up on the table in front of me. Seems they felt that they owed me for the case of rosé I brought up a while ago, maybe I should bring up some blanc next time.

I said that when I turned up it wasn't actually raining - not as such - an omission rapidly rectified. When I got up and went off to Miqro on Monday moaning it was about 25° and sunny: when I made it out of le Modesto around 14:00, with a gratin de ravioles au foie gras under my belt, it was 18° and pissing down.

And it didn't get any better. When I left Tuesday morning it was all of 15° and raining sullenly, and I was kind of regretting not having brought any clothes more substantial than a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Luckily, a/c works both ways, and in any case by the time I made it south of Valence the sky was starting to clear and I had to pull out the sunglasses, and I knew I was getting close to home when I found myself under the baking sun in a mile-long traffic jam at the Montpellier péage.

Luckily for me, not many people have worked out that the best thing to do in such circumstances is to follow the heavy lorries and the semis, who barrel down the right-hand lane mowing down cars that get in their way ... five articulated trucks in a row looks like an awfully long line, but they take no longer to get through than five cars (assuming the driver is not a Pole with an expired Russian credit card) and as the cars were about forty-deep it was pretty much a no-brainer ... it was good to get back.

In other news, not content with STD we have acquired another dog. I blame it on eating out: had we not headed off to Lou Griffou in Lézignan just because I couldn't be arsed cooking (and I would go back, with pleasure) we would not have felt the necessity of walking off a few superfluous calories before going home, and so would not have walked past the offices of the SPA and perhaps not seen the photo in the window ...

Her name is Indra, god alone knows why they named her after the Hindu god of thunder but perhaps we'll find out some time, she's mostly either a Spanish podenca or a Portuguese podengo, take your pick. Either way, the word means "hound". Poor Shaun is feeling rather oppressed, but I think he'll survive.

Whatever, I have some vitelotte, haricots beurre and fresh sweetcorn that I suspect are not going to cook themselves just like that, nor are the lamb chops going to jump into the poele for a quick kiss of butter. So I'd better go get that lot ready, before returning to do yet another bloody implementation of Modbus TCP/IP. It's not really what they promised me when I signed up to do Comp. Sci. all those years ago - a far cry from the blondes and the boozing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blink ...

Y'know, sometimes I look back at the sheer technological progress that's been made over the last thirty years in communications, and despair. Way back when, when we were living in NooZild, if I actually felt the urge to let friends and family know how things were - pretty rare, because as a rule we all lived more or less within a radius of a five-minute walk, which might go someway to explaining a lot of things - I would pick up the new-fangled telephone, and call them.

This involved a highly-skilled Telecoms operative actually making a physical connection between the piece of string coming into his or her office from the tin can in our house and the other piece of string connected to the tin can in the other person's house, and then pulling on it to make sure that it was tight. Otherwise call quality was poor, and it sounded loose. This cost money, but it was still easier than engraving stone tablets.

Then when we moved to Ole Yurrup the cost of phone calls rose from merely eye-watering to absolutely astronomical, partly because the pieces of string concerned were so damn long, and all wet because most of them went underwater, and to keep them tight the operator (so we called them) had to have a body like Charles Atlas, and so as I had available the very latest word in technology ie a Compaq "luggable" weighing only thirty kilos, I changed methods.

I started engraving bits onto floppy disks using what we used to call "word-processor technology" (almost as quick as onto stone) wherein I could actually see on the 9" CRT display more or less what might - if I was lucky, and had the right driver - come out on the printer: if you didn't mind, for instance, that the bold display on the screen was only distinguishable from italic text by the fact that it had a big CTRL/B in front. And of course it was displayed in any font you liked, so long as that was Courier.

Then I would print it out - using a daisy-wheel at first and then on a dot-matrix printer - usually in what we called "fantasy" fonts like Unicorn because they were unreadable, but we thought they were cool - and mail off five or six physical copies (paying through the nose for the privilege) to some lucky people who were supposed to read it and send it on. If ever it arrived.

Kind of like a more modern version of an eighteenth century lending library, and if any of you didn't actually send it on you can rest in peace, I've forgiven you.

Then Al Gore invented email, and on his days off the Internet so that it would work, and eventually more and more people got funny addresses like "" and I decided that it was time to take the next step, which was to laboriously type words and stuff into Microsoft Outlook Express, hope it didn't eat them or decide to purge the drafts folder (the database that they used for Outlook back in the day was the precursor of the JET engine that eventually grew into Access - it was shit back then too) and then cc everyone for whom I had what I hoped was a valid email address, hoping that at some point in the next month they'd turn on their 56K modem.

The excitement of that wore off after a while, especially when random mail servers would decide for some reason that was a blacklisted spam server, at which point I sold my soul to the great google and decided that I might as well cut out the middle-man. (Anyone remember that TV series, by the way? Great comedy.) So these days I still bash the keys and bits fly to do my bidding, but it's inside a "Rich Text Edit control" inside a "Javascript" which is somewhere inside my machine. (No longer, incidentally, a Compaq.)

Then I hit the "Publish" button, and if blogger is feeling happy my words will spring forth and go look for people with an active internet connection and spray themselves all over their screens like a dictionary with projectile vomiting, which is the only explanation I can come up with off the top of my head as to why, yesterday, 83 Russians apparently saw what I wrote the other day.

Taihape, eat yer heart out
Anyway, my aching head and I rolled out of bed at some ungodly hour this lovely Monday moaning, when all other right-thinking people were still lying in thinking about how much they'd like to go to the Bastille Day parade if only they could be arsed, to drop the yoof off at the péage at Lézignan where they were to be picked up  - they'd organised a car-share, which has become big over here. We were late - but in my defense let it be said that the car took an unreasonably short time arriving from Toulouse, I rather suspect the driver of not having respected the speed limits 100% - but I handed over a bottle of rosé as an apology, and also to ensure that they actually left. Mind you, I quite miss having teenagers around, now that they've gone.

And now the temperatures are crawling back up into the mid-thirties, and I am forced to work - or at least to retreat to the relative cool of the office, where it's only 26° - because out on the terrace it is just too hot. The air is still - which is kind of exceptional - so there's not even a breeze to stir the heavy air under the parasol, and the sun beats down on the tiles.

Some people have cats that do Useful Things. Friends or neighbours of Margo's family, for instance, had a cat that did the rounds at the local race-course picking up unconsidered trifles, and came back most Saturdays with a nice haul of banknotes. EBK, sad to say, is not in that league. Case in point, he went hunting tonight, out in the little square between us and the church. Eventually, he came back, scrambled three metres up the wall onto the roof of the terrace and then plonked down to the ground, proudly bearing in his mouth ... a plastic cup.

Which STD then grabbed, because they are fun to chew on and make a hellish noise when you crunch them between your teeth. Just saying. Also, I wouldn't have minded quite so much if only it had not been empty. Was a bit of red so much to ask for?

Anyway, a double dose of Kulcha today: having better things to do and being, as you probably know, of a religious bent ("Pass another choir-boy, Cuthbert?") we headed off to the abbaye de Fontfroide, east and a tad south of here. Started out as Benedictines, somehow got attached to Clairvaux and thus became Cistercians. I guess it didn't worry the monks too much.

Until of course one of them, who just happened to be a Papal legate, got assassinated and so quite innocently set off the Albigensian Crusade, thus allowing Simon de Montfort to show off the caring side of his psychopathic character. It all ended in tears, of course: good Catholics that they were, God saved them for the Black Death a bit later on.

Then the place got titivated as the kings of France exercised their right to appoint the abbot: these were often second sons or bastards of the nobility who saw no reason to sleep on the floor or do without a tennis court, so they improved the place a bit.

A (rich) local guy - an artist and a patron - bought the place back in 1907 for the princely sum of 50,000 gold francs - I don't know whether it was a replacement for his art collection or not, but it seems he sold most of his Cézannes to pay for the repairs. (Personally, I'd have kept those and hocked off the Gauguins, but that's just me.) It's still in the family, and still being tarted up little by little.

Although I do find all those white marble statues scattered about the place and popping up where you least expect them to be just a little bit creepy, don't these people watch TV?

We got back from that, suitably uplifted, and as Young Hélène had given us freebie tickets to the vernissage we made the 4km trip to Conilhac-Corbières to see an art exposition, "L'art dans le Ruisseau" (lit. "Bacon in the stream*").

I have to admit that the main reason for going was the prospect of drinks and nibbles, thinking to myself that it'd be mostly "art" from the senior citizen's club and let's face it, in a village of maybe 800 people the odds of finding something decent would be pretty dim. Maybe some interesting tatting, a primary school project involving toilet rolls or something along those lines ... But as it turns out, I was surprised.

For one thing, I was surprised to discover the network of alleys and flash-flood drains that run through the place, sometimes connecting streets, sometimes like a separate walled-off maze, sort of a hidden town within a town. Italo Calvino, anyone? Then I was even more surprised to find that they'd used this and some of the private gardens that open onto it, as an open-air exhibition space for what turned out to be a very good show indeed.

Okay, I'd expected daubs, but these were professional artists from all over. Drinkies in paws we went our different ways and met up again in the food scrum (people around here always seem to bring their kids along to things like this, cuts the food bill I guess but you do have to take care to avoid trampling them underfoot - not that I care that much but the parents can, I've found, get irate about it) to compare notes and head back round together.

Fortunately for the bank account, we didn't actually agree on anything - some rather strange photos I liked, but Margo didn't because there were people in them, and personally I can't see the point to rusty chicken-wire on wood.

With the exception of some paintings by a guy of, at a guess, Spanish descent, one Felip Costes, which turned both our heads. But not having a spare 3000€ floating around in my man-bag or down the back of the sofa, I was rather more modest and contented myself with the catalog.

Anyway, after a month's hiatus (or maybe more, I've given up counting because it only raises my blood pressure) Cédric turned up again and upstairs is starting to move ahead once more. Just as well because the parquet flooring stacked in the verandah is rapidly approaching its use-by date, and we are both getting very impatient to stop camping and move up there. Whatever. I have learnt not to hold my breath, and when malicious (ex-)friends ask innocently how it's getting on, I can manage a non-committal answer with a straight face, and hardly the hint of a sigh.

* A bad joke, I admit. "Lard dans le Ruisseau". Sorry.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Drinking Water ...

Another one for the collection
... is not good for you, for it rusts you from the inside, but I may just have to start for the price of wine is going to go through the roof, what with 15000 square hectares* of vines being destroyed by hail in the Aude alone last weekend. Well, when I say "destroyed" I guess the vines themselves are still there but there'll be no point in harvesting this year because they no longer have any grapes.

Actually, reboot that. I had occasion to fill up the wine tanks the other day, in anticipation of Beckham's impending visit and the damage that could do to the stocks, and the nice guy at the cave coopérative suggested that I go take a look at the damage around Homps and Olonzac just a few km to the north, so having better things to do that is what I did. Just looking, you could be forgiven for saying "so what?", but when you look closer you can see that half the leaves are on the ground, and those that are still on the vines are starting to wither because the stems have been twisted and bashed about. And the odd thing is that there's a very clear line: just out of Homps on the right of the road the vines were healthy and happy, to the left - not so much.

I guess that most of those vignerons who had insurance might just tighten their belts and hang on until next year - those who didn't will probably close up the shop. Just hope that the uninsured turn out to be those making mostly cheap rotgut and floor polish, in which case I shall shed no tears, but those are rare these days (a far cry from twenty-mumble years ago) and it will probably turn out to be small producers, and startups, that go under.

Much to my relief - and to that of my proof-reader - the delivery guy turned up Friday in a squeal of tires and to an excited chorus of barks from STD (who seems to reckon that his job description involves protecting all of place St-Régis against people that he has not personally authorised) and hastily handed over my new keyboard, so I now no longer have random characters appearing as I type. Any future misspellings will be entirely my fault.

Kitties! Look at them whilst I steal your wallet
Somewhat to my surprise Microsoft still make - and the rueducommerce website still stocks and ships - the "Comfort Curve" line of ergonomic keyboards, so when I discovered that my computer had virtually overnight become dyslexic I hastily ordered one. To my mind they're one of the best ever made - a matter of taste and habit I know, much like using a trackball instead of a mouse. I mean, I've seen Renaud try to use mine up at the office, and I swear that he just can't resist the urge to pick it up and move it around the desk, trying to get the cursor to budge.

Now there's something I am going to have difficulty replacing when eventually my Logitech one dies on me as I can only reasonably expect it will sometime in the not-too-distant future, given how long I've had it. So far I've been able to get away with cleaning out the accumulated greasy gunk once a month, but I don't know how long I'll be able to get away with that. And the only one I've been able to find is some cheap Bluetooth knock-off, which will probably try - and perhaps succeed - to pair with my phone, and stubbornly refuse to talk to anything else. (Now that you ask, no, I don't particularly like Bluetooth. My experiences with it have been - mixed, at best.)

Then, after the keyboard, Beckham and a flatmate turned up for the weekend. Forewarned is, as they say, forearmed, and I'd had the good sense to load up on thirty litres from the cave coopérative just to avoid one of those embarrassing moments when the wine runs out half-way through dinner.

We squeaked through in that department but the meal was not without its mishaps: in an excess of enthusiasm I took the heavy baking tray with six individual soufflés au chèvre et citron atop it out of the oven one-handed, and had almost got out to the table when the damn tray warped as it cooled and delivered all but one up to the mercies of gravity and a very hard tiled floor. I am afraid that I used a few of the choicer, more robust rude words in my repertoire. Bitch, Bruce.

Whatever, Zair promised to cook the next night (possibly hoping to avoid a repeat performance of the flying dessert): and if you think I'm too proud to have someone cook for me, especially when they're proposing a home-made Lebanese meal, you're wrong. So Saturday I took him through to the market to find flat-leafed parsley and adequate amounts of mint and lemons and tahini and chickpeas and all the other fixings for a decent Lebanese salad and hummus, and we sort of organised to have the girls come through and we'd meet at la cité so that they could do touristy things.

The fête de Carcassonne starts next weekend, which probably goes some way to explaining just why it was that, as we gratefully put our feet up for a glass of vitamins in the sun in a friendly little bar that just happens to be more or less on the route back to the car, an oompah band struck up with a medley of Abba - climaxing, if I may use the word, with a rousing rendition of "Fernando" scored for tuba and piano-accordion. If there are any circumstances in which the use of waterboarding as a deterrent technique is justified, I think that would have to be one.

We fled, and went our way up to la cité more or less as planned, and about the first thing we did was find somewhere to eat. And, of course, drink. Yes, Beckham went for the cassoulet, which would not be my meal of choice in summer but there you are: Margo, wiser, went for terrine and then just a cuisse de poulet and of course I had no option but to choose the foie gras followed by a magret de canard poelé. I must admit that I had not expected to be served an entire duck breast all to myself, nicely cooked though it was.

And let it be said that the foie gras was, although nice enough, under-seasoned as is very often the case - just a little more pepper is all I ask, people - and godnose what possessed them to serve puréed pumpkin with cinnamon and perhaps a bit of maple syrup on the side. Not really the happiest of combinations. Still, the chips were irreproachable.

We rolled out after dessert and tried to walk off some of the surplus-to-requirements calories, unfortunately coming across a coutellerie selling some rather interesting hand-forged cutlery which we may have to revisit sometime soon, but after a couple of hours forcing our way through the masses of tourists (I had, I must admit, forgotten that Carcassonne is kind of a tourist Mecca, being a World Heritage site and all) we all got thirsty again and decided to head stop off at Trèbes on the way home for a refreshing health drink in a shady bar on the banks of the canal du Midi.

That done and out of the way I was more than happy to show Zair where things live in the kitchen and let him get on with it before retreating to the terrace to check up on the state of the rosé, and to get the barbecue ready for the lamb leg steaks we'd picked up earlier.

Beckham had expressed a desire to go off to the beach on Sunday, but when she finally made surface there was a gentle breeze playing around, and I guess that the thought of being sand-blasted on Narbonne-Plage didn't really appeal all that much for a after a late, leisurely lunch of left-overs we decided instead to go get a dose of kulcha at Lagrasse. Where, in addition to other virtues too numerous to mention, such as its C14 covered marketplace, the abbey, the river and the rabbit-warren of narrow twisty streets, there are also a number of bars - all of them, at the start of the tourist season, open on a Sunday to welcome the thirsty footsore visitor.

And we were lucky enough to leave sufficiently early to make it to CDD at Lézignan to pick up a couple of 5l Chateau Carton (to go back to Chambéry) and a few cases of le Petit Spencer to ripen in the cupboard under the stairs that, for want of a better place, serves as the wine cellar around here, before it was time to put on our glad rags and head off to the feast.

Made it there and the tables were bare, so we were forced to mingle and chat with various people we know until, surreptitiously, serried lines of glistening bottles appeared and the fatted pizza was slaughtered and laid out. Any semblance of order disappeared as the able-bodied and small children descended in droves, milling around trying to snag the tastiest bits of pizza or a half-full bottle, leaving the senile and the grannies sitting on the sidelines and smiling benignly. Far too bloody much food, as usual, and I really should warn you that "Label 5" Finest Blended Alcoholic Shoe Polish is considered down these parts to be an acceptable substitute for whisky.

Even old Neville, who should know better, managed to snaffle a bottle and was happily downing the stuff, despite being well aware of the consequences.

And after about an hour of that the whistle blew to remind us that we were here for a serious purpose, ie major eating and we went off to find our seats between a very gai gendarme and his Camerounais family, and a serious but very pleasant family who turned out to own the couple of Ferraris I sometimes see parked out at the top of the village.

One thing led to another, and after the trou Normand and the fireworks but before the dancing had really got seriously underway it started pelting down, and after ten minutes sheltering under the tables it became apparent that this was likely to continue so with some regret we decided that discretion was much the better part of valour, and stumbled back home.

* Don't bother going all medieaval on me. I am merely specifying that the hectares of which I speak are in fact square, rather than oval or star-shaped, or something that looks like a splodge of vomit.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Salmon Run ...

 So let me get one thing straight right from the start, I have absolutely nothing against the Belgians as a species. Apart, that is, from the fact that they are, more or less by definition, Belgians, and that every time spawning season comes around they feel this irresistible urge to return to the ancestral breeding grounds - in the south of France, apparently - and they need to get there in the ancestral Mercedes. Preferably, towing the ancestral caravan. With two bikes hung off the back, and what looks like a year's supply of potatoes strapped to the roof. (For it is a well-known fact that you just cannot get decent potatoes for making chips in France, and no self-respecting Belgian holiday-maker would be without his/her steaming-hot moules-frites under the baking sun at midday.)

Whatever, they will drive down in convoys, in the fast lane, at the breath-taking speed of 110kph: maybe, being notoriously dim-witted, they have not noticed that they have left Brussels. Also, they are unaware of the existence of rear-view mirrors, or they prefer to ignore them, and so do not see the long line of traffic that has built up behind them. Sadly, although the Alfa has just about every option under the sun, I have not yet found the rocket-launcher control.

At some point they will arrive at their destination, park the caravan and erect the awnings, and boot the kids out to go play at "Bury the Body" on the beach: whilst Madame is preparing the moules-frites Monsieur will stroll around, shirtless - unfortunately - and beer in hand, to exchange a few words with the neighbours at the camp-site, whom he has not seen since they all left Brussels together about ten hours earlier.

Completely off-topic, but sometimes I feel an urge to find out just what is going on in your little green and pleasant land - even if only to catch up on the doings of your alien reptile overlord. And in so doing I came across what is, I feel, the stuff of which proper journalism is made - this is what deserves a Pulitzer - I can only stand in awe and refer you to the headline which read "Man falls from roof, hits head". Deathless prose.

(Yeah, I know, the guy died. I'd be pissed off if that was my epitaph.)

As a general rule, the French celebrate Bastille Day (and don't ask me why that is pronounced "Bastee", it just is) on July 14th, but here in Moux it is done on the 13th. The reasons are not clear to me, but I suspect that it has something to do with the fireworks and the food, which the mayor's idiot nephew bought just after the official celebration a year ago, when it was on special, coming rapidly up to its use-by date.

Whatever, I toddled off to the mairie the other day to buy our tickets, the guy at the desk dragged out the seating plan and said "where do you want to be" and I replied something along the lines of "I could care more". Apparently the English contingent around here usually buy their tickets en bloc and so get seated together and have to talk to one another: I am not sure I want to go there.

(Update: I have since learnt that the idiot nephew has unilaterally decided to stick all the known English-speakers together anyway, I suppose to stop them bothering anybody else. Turns out for the best I guess, as it appears that Beckham will be turning up, I shall have to get her a ticket, and we do not want her molesting any of the studly young things.)

For one thing, there will be more than enough time to mingle and chat if so inclined whilst we're swilling wine and nibbling on the quivering masses of quiche, pizza, pissaladière and godnose what else that are set out just to whet the appetite for the real meal, and for another, I can think of  better things to do. Just suppose, for instance, that I get seated next to Anthony and Sarah-Jane: WTF am I supposed to say as an ice-breaker? "Sold any good ships lately?" Can see that going down like a cup of luke-warm sick.

I should perhaps point out at this point that Anthony is, apparently, a ship-broker. Buys an oil tanker or so once a year, sells it on, and the margin is enough to keep up the house here, the chalet in the Alps, the little baise-en-ville pied-à-terre in London and the holiday home in  the Caymans. Or so I'm told. Have actually met the guy - once - but I got the distinct impression that my native charm failed to impress, and that he thought I was a poorly-trained trick cockroach.

About this time a year ago - give or take a couple of days - you'll recall that we were still frantically stuffing things into boxes and taping them shut: I'd say about 90% of them are still stacked, unopened, in what will eventually become the dining room here at The Shambles. The other 10% are stacked, also unopened, out in the verandah because the putative dining room is only about 35m² and I do need to be able to get at my desk.

And this same time, this year, I'm out on the terrace under a sun umbrella, with a soleil de plomb above in the bright wide blue sky. So it's been almost a year we've been down here now, and neither of us regret the move. We put up, albeit grudgingly, with the inconvenience of sun and hot weather, and being obliged to have barbecues: after all, that only lasts for eight or nine months of the year, and it's a burden we're willing to support in exchange for relief from the snow.

It helps, too, that I don't wake up in the morning these days dreading what shit is going to fall on me when I get into the office. I get up, get the coffee ready - studiously trying to ignore Needy Kitten who insists that he hasn't been fed for years and WANNA NOW! - and take STD out for his morning trot under the sky before getting back and out onto the  terrace for coffee, fruit juice and nicotine. And, finally, giving Bloody Kitten some Gourmet Cat Jelly With Lark's Tongues.

Don't get me wrong, looking at the spreadsheet where I note down my hours I actually work more than before but a) it's all billed and b) it's at my rhythm. Stuck on a problem? Take the time to think about it, preferably with another cigar. Bored witless? Take the dog off for another walk, enjoy the countryside. Or bone out the leg of lamb and get it in the marinade ready for the evening. It works for me.

I can see we shall have to buy yet another bloody Kindle, for Jeremy The Destroyer has struck again. I've said it before, our eldest son is not, it seems, able to live with electronics. A couple of motherboards, three power supplies and a few other bagatelles later I am convinced of this. (Mind you, using his keyboard as an ashtray may not help.) But still, I have to wonder how he does it.

This time he was walking home from work, with the Kindle that Margo so nicely got him and stocked up with books in his backpack, when he got overtaken by a thunderstorm. The backpack got damp - as it will - and somehow the Kindle got water up its USB port and died - how does that happen? For godsake, I've had snow in the Ethernet ports of various laptops, and they just laughed it off.

And as luck would have it, just a few days before he called with the news Margo -knowing him as well as I - had ordered a fancy waterproof case from Amazon: sadly, it has not yet turned up. I guess he gets an early birthday present this year. (But still, WTF?)