Wednesday, May 28, 2014

T is for Tortoise, Travaux, and Tardif ...

There is much excitement in the village these days - or should be, at any rate - for I have learnt that on the 1st of July, at Ginestet, there is to be an exposition of tortoises. I can hardly wait.

The world will doubtless be a salty mollusc for the man - or woman, of course - that can develop a 1m diameter racetrack, with a cunning clockwork system moving a lettuce around the inside track at the blazing speed of 5cm/hr, so that we can watch decent tortoise races on TV. Think of the excitement, the possibilities of betting - it was my idea, I want a cut. Although I'm still not sure exactly how the little insects would go on the hurdles - maybe we'll have to rule out steeple-chases.

It has been brought to my attention in no uncertain fashion that the effects on one's digestive system of 5 grammes of antibiotics per day can be rather drastic. Excuse me, don't go away, I'll be right back ... What happened was that I knocked my elbow a while back and thought no more about it, until ten days ago it started to get red and swell up - at which point I hied me to the quack. (Lucky it's not the vendange yet or I'd have been stiff out of luck.)

He told me it was a hygroma (whatever that may be, you go look it up if you're that interested) and I am prepared to believe him - he is, after all, supposed to know about that sort of thing - prescribed me a large dose of anti-inflammatories, and sent me on my way. But a week later it was not getting any better - worse, if anything, so I headed back and he humhawed and fixed me an appointment with a specialist in Narbonne the very next day.

Off I duly went and sat in his waiting-room, trying not to pick my nose, and I finally got called into the office and he made a few notes and then said something along the lines of "Right, let's take a look at this." He tweaked and prodded for a bit, and said "Ah. A mon avis, c'est infecté ..."

So that was when, without so much as a by-your-leave, he stuck a huge needle in there and sucked out some of the nastiest-looking yellow gloop ("Matter Yellow" is the best match on the colour chart) that I've had the misfortune to see for some time before sitting down again, warning me sternly not to take it lightly because septicaemia does happen, you know, and writing a prescription for antibiotics.

I have to wonder whether his specialty was not in fact horses because what he ordained was ten 500mg doses every day for a week: if that doesn't do some damage to whatever I've got it has at least seriously napalmed the flore intestinal.

In other news, I came across an interesting job description the other day: potential candidates must be "comfortable with dealing with ambiguity and able to form a cohesive and effective outcome from potentially incongruous facts (or lack thereof) and individual perspectives". It was, from memory, for an IT team manager, but it sounds to me more like the requirements for a politician. Or, perhaps, one of those Intelligent Design apologists. Got no data? What you do have is contradictory? Can't prove a thing? Make it up so that people feel good! Everyone else does.

Whatever, completely changing the subject, when I head off to the market I may have a few thoughts buzzing around somewhere in the back of my mind, but usually I have no idea what I'm going to buy, even less what I'm going to cook. This is mainly because on the few occasions that I have set off with a song in my heart, a smile on my lips, and a definite idea in my head, they are fresh out of Tibetan Peppered Cress With Yak Butter, which is a great disappointment to me. So now I head off, amble around poking and prodding to see who's got what, and just what what is, before going around again to do some sterner quality control and, eventually, buy things.

Sometimes the meals that result can be - surprising - but usually I flatter myself that they're rather good, like the time last weekend when I took it into my head to remove the bones from a poitrine d'agneau, roll it up around some decent pork chair à saucisse (which is probably nothing like what you think sausage-meat is), tie it neatly, and barbecue it. That was a definite hit around here. (Also, I found the meat grinder and the sausage-filler attachments for the KitchenAid. They have been ordered. Now I have no excuse for not making my own sausages, nor for not smoking them either, now that I have those kettle barbecues.)

But I shall have to dig Pellaprat out sometime just so that I can check up on fish - the English names and what they're good for - because especially at Narbonne they are so beautiful that I have to buy them and I have no idea at all what to do with them, or even if they're edible. Vegetables cause fewer problems, I have no problem spotting the business-end of an aubergine.

So this morning I woke with the sun seeping in round the shutters, glanced blearily at my watch to note that it was 8:30 (something:30 anyway, as it turned out) and resigned myself to being late before doing the usual things that Need To Be Done: walking the dog, coffee and cigar in the sun on the terrace, check email and stuff and then shower ... left at 10, pulled into the underground carpark at place Gambetta and emerged, to my surprise, in the middle of a second-hand car show instead of the usual flea market. And it was as I was headed out of there on my way to place Carnot that I bothered to look at a clock and saw, to my surprise, that it was only 9:30.

Which goes some way to explaining why, on my first trip round, I found someone that still had a small box of courgette flowers, freshly-picked earlier that morning. And they were pretty enough that I had to buy them, and some fresh mushrooms as well, and cherries seemed like a good bet - and as we were getting on so well I asked the woman what she would recommend as stuffing for the flowers, and we had a good long chat during which she explained to me that the best way, in her opinion, was just to stuff them with cubes of pressed mozzarella and then dip them in a corn flour and water batter before frying.

"You could" she said "stuff them with really finely-minced meat, but nicer and fresher would be to do them Thai style, with shrimp and piment and mint ... but it's fastidieux ..." and as a bit further round on my circuit I found a stall selling honest-to-god hand-knitted buffalo-milk mozzarella, I went for the easy option. Of course, being me, I mixed in some fresh chèvre and a bit of chopped jambon aux herbes just because I could, but in all other respects I followed her recipe to the letter. Must remember to pop by next Saturday and tell her just how damned good it was.

Come to that, when I bought the mozzarella the woman there told me that if I bought it, I'd be back: this may well be the case. Excellent stuff.

Sadly, when I'd got the basket with the apricots and nectarines and baby asparagus nestling in there next to my flowers and sundry other bits  back to the car it was still only 10:30 so I thought I might as well go back to les halles and pick up some meat if any took my fancy - which, of course, it did - and even after a glass of white in the bright sunlight it was kind of early so I thought I might as well take a look around all those used cars. Seeing as they were there.

I probably should not have done that really because the 14 year-old S-type Jaguar with ridiculously low mileage at only 4650€ was a snip. Sadly, although there is indeed comfortable room for five people in there, and a reasonably sized boot, the combination of automatic gearbox and 3-litre V6 petrol engine were enough to put me off. As I do not own a refinery. That, and the fact that if I tried to park it in the village it would not actually fit. Not without the front bumper being in the next village over.

On the other hand there was an Alfa 159 Q4 break, which winked at me, and managed to catch my eye. Six-speed box, the 2.4 turbo diesel engine - what's not to like? I mean, apart from the fact that she's black, and has red leather upholstery? Maybe I shall go back tomorrow. We do need another car, after all, and although little Suzy still does sterling service she's a bit elderly for those long autoroute trips. Also, I like cruise control.

We are still waiting for workmen to turn up again, and I am beginning to feel a Mayle Moment coming on. Only this will not be one of those in which, with a knowingly resigned air, you make a self-deprecating joke of it all, accept that Provence is not Paris, and earn karma brownie points as you lounge on the untiled patio around the unfinished swimming pool and chug down the rest of the bottle of pastis. Never mind that your kitchen is in limbo and your daughter is having a screamingly-loud affair with the young stud that comes in to look after the garden: the sun is shining and what does it all matter really in the Grand Scheme Of Things? You know how it goes, you've all read A Year In Provence.

Mine, I'm afraid, will not be as serene. For one thing, I can't abide bloody pastis, and for another - I am a patient man but there are limits, and living as we've done in a pile of cardboard boxes for ten months means that they are being approached.

Having written that I shall have to put it all off a bit, for only yesterday André the plumber turned up and announced his intention of devoting the next few weeks entirely to us, and this morning Cédric arrived to stick up some gib board and then finish work on the terrace before moving upstairs to stick in the Vélux skylights and get everything lined.

I know it's foolish of me, but now that it's all sprung back into action (even as I write there's a cacophony from one of the first-floor bedrooms as André tries to locate the sewage pipes that apparently descend in an old unused chimney) I can feel a flutter of hope that maybe, just possibly, we will at least be able to move up and install ourselves in the second floor before the end of June. Only a few months later than originally planned, but what the hell - perhaps I should try to appreciate pastis after all.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

It's All Pants ...

Call me slow if you like (some, the charitable ones, say that my brain is running on only 24V rather than the usual 220V) but I just noticed that blogger's login page shows up as "One account. All of Google". Couldn't see the fine print about "One account to rule them all", but I'm sure it's there somewhere in the T&C. Maybe I should have read those more carefully before signing up. Hey, it's kind of grey and smoky in here, and I can't see the door marked "EXIT". Hello? Anyone?

Down at one of the local supermarkets (in fact, at all of them, but I'm thinking of Intermarché in particular for reasons which will, as Zappa remarked, become obvious later in the song) there is a rayon holding most everything required to support the lifestyle of an expatriate English-thing. Bovril, Hovis, Marmite, water crackers, Roses' marmalade and Robinson's jam, HP brown sauce and peanut butter, authentic English curry mix and digestives - you name it.

Also, right on the bottom shelf, just to the right of the tins of feijão com arroz - not very English I know, but there are lots of Spaniards people of Catalan origin around here too, we're only a couple of hours from Barcelona - there is a stack of dusty bottles marked Montilla-Moriles, which those of you who are obsessed by drink or know about such things will recognise as being the next best thing to a decent dry fino sherry. At 5€ the bottle, I might just buy the entire stock. If I had somewhere to stick it, given that not even I am going to drink the lot in one fell swoop.

Amongst other things, our mission statement here at The Shamblings has a paragraph stuck away somewhere in an appendix which says (and I quote) "Try to be more helpful". I cannot for the life of me think how that got in there but never mind: in an effort to live up to our lofty ideals I can only say that if you're looking for the present for the significant other in your life I don't think you could do much better than this.

I've been busy working away, trying to meet deadlines that get changed every other day (or if it's not the delivery date that advances, it's the specification that changes) and was reminded of the old charter or something in which it is said (in a pompous tone), "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they is subtle and quick to anger". It should also be said, "Do not even try to be humerous with clients, for they have no sense of fun and when a message box pops up saying 'I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that', they do not get the joke". Good thing really that I coded that only once as a resource, and don't have to check every single frikkin' dialog box for the offending text.

Been having fun recently as I have my first coffee of the day, out in the sun on the terrace, for at the southern corner of our little place, where rue Ferdinand Théron meets rue de la Liberté as they both arrive, there stood a pretty, innocent, doubtless happy if somewhat rustic benitier - a font, to you.

It must have been a right bitch for the people whose little holiday home on that corner has only one window which opens - or rather, does not open - onto it, and I guess noises must have been made for at one point during the last week the entire municipal workforce (that would be two burly young men, a truck, a back-hoe digger "borrowed" from the grape vines and the mayor's idiot nephew) turned up to remove it. Passers-by stopped to enjoy the spectacle, and of course the situation had to be explained in broad Provençal to each and every one of them.

Which does take a while, especially as the work has to be inspected every time, and comments must be made as to the magnitude of the task ahead ... two days later the idiot nephew, staggering under the weight, heaved the thing into the back of the truck and I, innocently, assumed that that was the end of the entertainment.

Naturally I had not reckoned on the fact that a) the benitier was destined to be installed in the church and b) Nature abhorring, as it does, a vacuum, the place it had vacated was to be filled.

The truck in which the thing had been carted away turned up again two days later at the door of the church, and with much heaving and groaning it (not the truck, just to be quite clear) was installed and cemented into place - although godnose where they thought it might run to. And the next morning the same dream team turned up at the corner, again, with a huge block of stone about a metre high and 50cm on a side, and proceeded to wrestle that into the spot where the font had previously stood.

Work went quicker that day, for it was not as fine and sunny and the passing citizenry of Moux seemed less inclined to stop and chat, and by the evening the deed was done, and the monolith was firmly and rather definitively in place, secured by lashings of concrete just in case someone took it into their head to steal the thing. And I note that once again, the neighbours cannot open their window.

At any rate, that's one less fruit I am going to have to buy at the market. I took the time to look up as I was bringing STD back from his morning Evacuation Exercise (this is not some sort of Civil Defense thing), and I was struck - literally, by a falling fruit -  by the fact that the tree nesting behind old Régis (saint, statue of) is heavy with small yellow fruit about the size of a golf-ball and is, in fact a nèfle, or medlar. Which is kind of convenient, because I rather like them. I'm not sure if it actually belongs to anyone: I rather think not, but perhaps, just to be on the safe side, I should go gather them at night.

I don't often go buying clothes for pleasure, but when one's last-but-one pair of jeans rips across the crotch (don't ask) and the remaining pair is looking kind of strained across one buttock then someone around here makes Pointed Comments (I was spared the Meaningful Looks) along the lines that another pair or two would perhaps be a welcome addition to my wardrobe (aka where the cats sleep). Also, it starts to get breezy down below. So I made an effort, going so far as to trek from one side of Carcassonne to the other in search of a denim emporium with something in my size.

Having been blessed, for my sins, with a 28" waist, this is not an easy task. To start with, if you're looking for jeans that have not been distressed, "pre-worn", or had designer holes cut in them, your waistline is going to have to be about twice mine. Once you get up to size 45 - for respectable middle-aged businessmen - happiness can be yours. But me? Christ almighty, I swear that the designers are of the opinion that the waistline actually goes through the crotch. Also, the fly is all of about three centimetres long: which, given that the actual waist button is just about a tad above your scrotum, is perhaps not unreasonable. Who could need more?

The third pair seemed fine until I tried them on,  only to find that they had an elasticized waistband, and I am not yet ready for that. I have enough problems already with the yoof sniggering at my zimmer frame. And it was during six abortive visits to the changing cubicle (that's cabine d'essayage in Frog by the way, should ever you find it necessary to ask) that I discovered that the French (or European) size 36 is actually used for two US sizes: 28" and 30". What's a couple of inches between friends?

I finally found some Lee Coopers with a cut that does not make me look too much like a gigolo, something that's always appreciated. Still a bit too big about the waist but hell, maybe I should just eat more and exercise less. Also, they seem to feel that anyone with a relatively trim waist is some sort of Barbie, with improbably long legs - and to judge by the room they leave in the crotch for you to stow it, rather impressive wedding tackle.

Just to give you an idea of the moral bankruptcy of these times, or perhaps of the particularly degenerate - even for France - culture in which we now find ourselves immersed, even the cave cooperative at Lézignan offers a fidelity card to its customers. It seems an unnecessary incitement to drink,  if you ask me, but I suppose that competition is rife these days.

Could I just say that if you've nothing better to do, are planning a dinner for four, and can acquire 600gm of beef fillet without taking out a second mortgage, you could do worse than follow that which I am about to recount. But do try to get the fillet cut from the centre: the tail is too thin, and at the head you will spend some time removing the silvery sinewy bits, which the butcher will not do for you because there goes his profit margin.

Once tidied up you should wrap it in some slices of fatty bacon (poitrine is ideal, but you don't get that) and tie it neatly before sticking it in the oven, about 240° for twenty minutes. Whilst it's cooking, make the duxelles you will need later on: finely chop some ham and mushrooms and fry them up in butter with some chopped tomato until they're nicely dry and aromatic. You should still have five minutes left: have a glass of white (you won't need any for the recipe, so feel free) and cut eight slices of foie gras from the tin in the fridge. Do what you wish with the leftovers - I would not recommend giving them to the cats, it's not really appreciated.

When the meat's cooked take it out of the oven and put it under tinfoil to rest for five more minutes to settle: this gives you just the time required to make up a bastard sauce béarnaise to which you could usefully add a glop of tomato purée, or a tsp of concentrate (but please, not ketchup!) to turn it into a sauce aurore. (Named after rosy-fingered Dawn, I guess. Rather than light-fingered Edith, the pick-pocket. And no, it was never named after some famous nineteenth-century prostitute renowned for her hand-jobs. Some recipes, yes, but not this one.)

Now would be a good time to remove the string with which you tied the fillet and cut it into eight slices: you are now going to reconstitute the fillet by laying a slice of meat on a hot serving dish, putting a wodge of duxelles on top (see, I hadn't forgotten about them) and then topping that with a slice of foie gras. Overlap with another slice of fillet, and repeat ...

Then pour the béarnaise over the top and stick under a very hot grill for five minutes or so (the time to get a salad ready) until the sauce is browned and blistery: serve and enjoy. This is a bastard dish: without the duxelles it would be a simple filet de boeuf Rossini, with them, but sans the foie gras, it is filet de boeuf Charlemagne. Whatever. It's kind of delicious, and it's been a while since I made it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

But It Was Going Cheap ...

Another herb that grows around these parts in abundance is dill, or aneth as a Frog-thing would say. I cannot see why it should do so, for wild salmon do not, as a general rule, roam the garrigue, and the only reason for dill is making gravlax. It is a mystery, at least to my poor tired brain.

May 8 was of course a public holiday over here, celebrating la victoire glorieuse de la France in WWII. We very reasonably skipped the apéro at the mairie, and went off instead to the foire de printemps at Narbonne. Think of it as a sort of half-assed A&P show, only without the combine harvesters, and you'll get the idea. In any case, it all just goes to show that I really should not be let out on my own.

Because, you see, it was bright and sunny, and there was a leg of lamb sitting mournfully in the fridge, as these things tend to do, and in an excess of enthusiasm I had promised the neighbours a barbecue that very night - so despite the fact that we already had a barbecue we came back with two more. A little black Weber kettle job, just the right size for two or three people, and another one that is ... somewhat bigger.

Somewhat to my surprise the montage was relatively fool-proof, for I got it all together without losing any skin or, indeed, my temper, and there were no parts left over when that was done. Quite providentially Richard came past at that moment with a sack of fresh mussels, as he'd been out in the kayak at Gruissans, and couldn't help himself. So Margo very generously accepted a bucket-load, which cooked up - apparently - very nicely. (I wouldn't know. Given my history with the little rodents - I'm thinking oysters here - I do tend to avoid shellfish unless I absolutely know that I can eat them without, um, side-effects. It may be paranoia, but at least I'm not squatting the toilet all night.)

But I can see that I shall have to learn the fine art of dosing the charbon de bois for a kettle barbecue, as I had to finish off my boned-out butterflied leg in the oven. Never mind. And it's a good thing that Cash'n'Carry* are old enough to remember the time when garlic bread was considered pretty cool.

I hear the collective intake of breath as I tell you that, not content with that, we headed off to Montpellier the very next day, to take a look around Ikea and see what they had that we liked. You'll be relieved to hear that we left, a number of hours later, arms unencumbered, having bought nothing. (Apart from lunch, that is, which was when I discovered to my horror that they would not permit me to have a glass of wine with my salad. Only with a hot meal - must be healthier or something.)

However, as we were unladen and had the time, we had the bad idea to look around the rest of the huge mall, and came across a branch of Du Bruit Dans La Cuisine. I do not need any more de Buyer saucepans - and in any case I can get them just as cheaply online should I feel some sort of moral imperative coming over me - but they did have one KitchenAid stand mixer - in gloss black, admittedly - left in stock, at the ridiculous price of 500€ instead of 630€. Hell, 20% off? What was I supposed to do, under the circumstances?

I know what I did do, which was help them pack it into its carton, flash the plastic and walk off with it. So OK, neither of us should be allowed to go out without adult supervision. And of course once I got it home I was confronted with the existential question that hangs over all those of us with small kitchens - where to put the damn thing? Good one, Bruce: as it happens the faithful old Kenwood doesn't see that much use, so it's been banished to the pantry and the KitchenAid has taken its place right next to the imposing black German multi-function microwave.

Now I can see that I shall be forced to dig out Ruhlman's book Charcuterie and go online to search for things like the sausage-making attachment, and just possibly the pasta roller too, why not?

So just for a change I headed off to Narbonne on Saturday, hoping that just maybe after the market I would be able to find the Arab bazaar that I vaguely recalled was over by the gare, and that perhaps they would have some of life's necessities like sweet chili sauce and oyster sauce - oddly enough, these are things that are not easy to find in these parts.

I managed to pick up some cherries, first of the season, some of the adorable little pêches plates about which I have written before, spare ribs and tomatoes with taste and, just because I can, a couple of daurade royale (which I learn are bream) destined for the evening barbecue accompanied by some skewered vegetable chunks - courgette, kumara and onion, I thought.

And with that lot safely stowed away in little Suzy I ambled vaguely off in the general direction of the train station, studiously ignoring the blandishments of those that would have sold me all sorts of things going cheap because really, I think I've bought enough stuff for one week.

Although I am still on the lookout for some decent oven gloves: the pair I have are on their last legs but I will not be having with those damn silicone ones that make me feel as though my hands are encased in an over-sized football. So if any of you are wondering what exactly to buy me as a spur-of-the-moment present just because, now you know.

Sadly I was stiff out of luck: they stock many spices - I even recognise some of them - but the shelves were destitute of what I crave. Maybe I'll have no choice but to stock up next time I head off to Chambéry.

And on the way back life continued to spite me. When this place got done up some time ago, not only did the guy that did it have a penchant for holding things together with vast quantities of 7cm screws, but he was also only an approximative electrician. Case in point, the neon under the cupboards over the sink in the kitchen. The tube started to die and the actual fitting was sufficiently delicate that it took two of us to get a tube in and then you had to twist it just right to get it to actually work, and god help you if it got so much as a dirty look afterwards ... it seemed like a no-brainer to just replace the whole damn thing.

So cue a quick trip on Friday night to pick up a new fitting and a spare tube, head back home and start to take the old one down. Somewhat to my surprise, when I exposed the wires that lead from the switch to the old fitting I discovered that all three were red, which is not really what one expects. I guess that the guy ran out of wire.

He had thought to wrap some blue insulating tape around the neutral, and the earth was more or less recognisable because it was just screwed straight into the metal of the fitting, but he still managed to surprise me again when I found out the hard way that he'd put the neutral through the switch, rather than the phase, as would be normal. I know, I know, I should have pulled fuses one by one and used a multimeter to check that power was off to the lights (and I've no excuse because I actually own a decent multimeter), but I'd still have had to go and reset all the clocks in things like the microwave, and the UPS would've screamed at me ...

Whatever, the tingling stopped after a while, and I cursed a bit and decided that I was doing no more till I'd got some more reels of cable and rewired the damn thing comme il faut.

Also, add to the exhaustive compendium of the guy's sins the fact that half the power points downstairs, in what is currently my office, do not actually have an earth - something that became obvious the day I plugged an old desktop PC in down there and touched the case whilst barefooted.

Hence, if you like, my feeling that life is conspiring against me because when I came back from Narbonne past Bricomarché with the idea of at least getting the cable, I was reminded of the fact that they close at lunch-time.

Sad, too bad. It all got done anyway, just a bit later than I had planned. And it's not as though I'd counted on getting any work done that day.

And now, children, I'd better drag myself inside from the bright sun and start planning dinner, for I have a large hunk of pork with the ribs still in and not much of an idea as to what I shall do with it, nor what to do on the side. Decisions to be made.

* Actually that's Cash - for Catherine - and Terry, but I can't help myself.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Screens And Salivation ...

In paragraph 42, alinea b of our mission statement, it is set out - for reasons unknown to me, but there it is in black on white - "Eat out more often". Let it never be said that we do not respect to the letter our contractual obligations, so when Margo got back from Nantes the other day we did in fact go out for dinner. Also, I couldn't be arsed cooking ...

Cédric had given us the name of a restaurant at Fabrézan, just down the road, where - he assured us - "the desserts are to die for" and so we headed off to Les Calicots to see what we would find. Skip the entrée, for I took foie gras because it's a given that if that happens to be on the menu I will take it, and get on to the main course. Margo opted for the agneau de sept heures which is, as its name suggests, lamb that has been very slowly braised for about seven hours, although I doubt anyone actually bothers to time it, and I went for the cuisse de canard confite - on the grounds that a cassoulet would have been too much.

The lamb was as it should be, meltingly tender if a bit on the sweet side, but personally I remain unconvinced that the combination of a duck's leg simmered in its own fat for four hours and a sauce aux cèpes is a particularly happy one. In fact, I'm sure that you could do better things with both, but pairing them is not a Good Idea. But the beignet de courgette on the side was perfect, hot and crisp and totally unsoggy.

Madame found her tiramisu a bit on the stodgy side, but my crème brulée aux fleurs de lavande was wonderful, a subtle hint of lavender under a thin crisp of sugar. Be warned: they serve wine by the glass, the glasses are large, and they have a generous hand when filling them. Just saying. Luckily it's not too far from here,  on the back roads yet.

Anyway, if I was a happy man last weekend, what with my book turning up and all, imagine my pleasure when the Chronopost person turned up at the door with my new laser printer all to myself and that I do not have to share, and the ViewSonic 27" screen I'd ordered just because. Of reasons. Like, because a 21" screen just doesn't hack it these days, and I was bored. Of course the HDMI cable I'd ordered to connect the aforesaid screen to the PC did not turn up at the same time ... what can one expect?

Truth to tell, I'm not sure I actually like it that much. It's 16:9, like most screens these days, which is fine if you're watching TV or whatever: the thing is, I spend most of my time coding - when not watching cute kitty porn - and I want to see what I'm doing in context. And because coding involves lots and lots of lines (of code, fairly obviously, and snide, obscure, or obscene comments - actually COBOL was rather good, because you could write a line like PERFORM [sex act of choice] UNTIL [appropriate organ condition]), most of which max out at about 130 characters (for purely historical reasons, involving the width of line printer drums), I could care more about the width of a screen.

No, what I want is one onto which I can fit as many lines as possible, and by that criterion a modern screen is a retrograde step because I've lost about 200 pixels in height, let's call it 15 lines. Never mind, I can live with it - and I went off and bought another because let's face it, it is good for watching TV.

So now I have three unused LCD/LED whatever screens sitting around, and add to that the set of Altec speakers from the living-room because of course the ViewSonic has built-in speakers which just work when you're connected over HDMI so that avoids faffing about with yet another cable to plug in. (Although I am keeping my Altec pots, they're heavy on the bass which makes them great for my sort of music. Which is what they get used for.) And speaking of cables, I have a whole box full of them. Some of them are sufficiently weird that I cannot think what bit of gear it could originally have been for, nor why I still have it, come to that. I think there's still an ancient SCSI-I cable in there somewhere ...

And I can see that I shall have to get another box, just for the power cables. Which are at least, for the most part, still bagged in their original packaging, so their little part of the box does not resemble a mass of writhing vicious snakes. This is always a relief, and makes a pleasant change from going off to look for a USB extension cable or maybe a bit of CAT-5, because contrary to common belief I do not actually enjoy packing a Glock in order to defend myself if attacked.

Be that as it may, in France Thursday was the 1st of May - maybe it was the same for you, I don't know - which is la fête du travail in these here furrin parts. Normal people (insofar as we can qualify French-things as normal) celebrate this by going off and getting stinking drunk and not working (and, should it fall on a Thursday, they take the Friday off as well due to being so hungover that it's not really worth their while turning up): unfortunately, the Swiss do not subscribe to this model. They prefer to respect the day by working their arses off, which I personally find rather depressing because that means that I am more or less obliged to do the same.

In other news, let me advise you against buying a house in the south of France. Not because of woodworm, not because of rising damp, not because I really don't want you as a neighbour (although all of the above could well be true), but quite simply because if you don't have a really deep cellar your charcuterie is not going to work out, and then you'd be sad.

I say this because, if you recall, I made saucisson à la Pépin a short while back, and as there was still a faint whiff of mould in the garage (and it is also inhabited by various cats, whom I do not trust) I thought it prudent to hang them up in the attic, in what will - God willing, at some point in time - become our apartment.

Point the first - twelve hours in the brine was quite enough, after eighteen they're just a tad salty. Not bad, but still ... and point two, it's just too damn hot and dry up in the attic. A nice slow drying over five weeks would have been good, rather than the two weeks they eventually took..

Perhaps the next time the garage will be fit for purpose, or just maybe I shall let them slowly dry out on a rack in the fridge.

Also in the "wonderful news, you could probably care more" department, a little old lady at the Carcassonne market sells actual grapefruit as opposed to those gross balloons full of sugar water and snot from Florida. Small, orange-yellow, and acid. Takes me back to my (misspent) youth, when one of the pleasures of going home for a weekend was coming back with a crate of grapefruit from the various trees around the house, and juicing those we couldn't eat. (Remember when grilled grapefruit, spread with honey and ginger and stuck under the grill until it all caramelised nicely, were all the rage in what we thought of as classy restaurants? It dates you, you know.)

And there's still green asparagus - you can't imagine just how bored I'm getting with that - and the first of the apricots and the nectarines have arrived on the stands. Not local - too early for that - but still, just shipped in from across the border with Spain. Which, as you'll recall, is not far from here. So I feel no guilt whatsoever,  no matter what the "sustainable locally-sourced" yoghurt-knitters may say.

Oh, there are also the baby poivrons now in various hues, just crying out to be stuffed with a bit of chèvre such as that which I just happen to have in the fridge, and I reckon they will go down quite nicely alongside a good kilo of barbecued côte de boeuf. Which also, since you mention it, is lurking in there too. (Along with a bit of filet, which I picked up on the same occasion because given the ridiculous price it'd have been criminal not to do so.)

There's also rhubarb: I'd always been at a bit of a loss as to what to do with it until recently (probably sad memories of sour watery puddings, but who knows) but then I came across this and although I cannot honestly say that it changed my life it did at least convince me to give the stuff a try. And it's not all that bad, actually. (And I would just like to point out that it is certifiably local, coming as it does from one of the rough and ready market stands that are run by a couple of elderly people selling the surplus from their garden.)

And the stems always look so pretty, scarlet at the base, fading into green - it was not my fault, the Devil made me do it.

So you can probably guess what I have lined up to do this evening. But first up on the agenda is a walk with STD in the sun - assuming that we can escape the attentions of EBK, who thinks that we are not capable of tottering around the village on our own and require his assistance, so he follows in the usual kitten fashion of dropping back and then running ahead, and generally puts Shaun off when he's trying to concentrate on having a discreet crap - and then I have an  appointment with a tin of WD40 and one of the recalcitrant sliding doors from the verandah out onto the terrace. I had better get on to that. Have fun.