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.

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