Monday, September 29, 2014

Learning To Fly (Aint Got Wings) ...

For those of you blissfully unaware of current events, it can now be revealed that Margo is winging her way across various oceans and the odd continent, destination NooZild for three weeks. Originally she'd planned on going with Malaysian Airlines but had second thoughts after the first little incident, so finally she settled on an Air France flight from Montpellier to Paris at some ungodly hour of the moaning, then from there to somewhere unpronounceable in China, and thence to Orcland.

The timing was kind of tight, as she only had four hours to get across Paris from Orly to Roissy, but it was doable if there were no hiccups ...

Of course it all went titsup, as while she was off swanning around in Alsace the Air France pilots decided to go on strike in order to a) protect their grossly inflated salaries and b) inconvenience as many people as possible, and when I checked on the website I discovered that they couldn't tell you whether or not you were going to be able to fly until 24 hours before the flight, which is kind of short if you have to make alternative arrangements. Given that Paris is not next-door.

Stupid EBK! That is yore dirtbox!
It could have been boiled down to a little statement along the lines of  "Thank you for trying to fly Air France. If you're planning on doing so, please don't count on it for the next few weeks. We appreciate your custom." So I booked her on the TGV from Montpellier direct to Roissy the night before, just in case ...

In the meantime I had to head back up to Chambéry so I dropped the retards off at Margo's friend Mimi at Canet and puttered off in little Suzy. (Mimi has a swimming pool outside, and the garden around it has all been gravelled. Thanks to Indra and her OCD, she is still finding gravel all through the house, sometimes in the most unexpected places.)

When Margo arrived back at the house she finally found an email from Air France (for the internet does not yet extend to the darkest reaches of Alsace) to say that her flight to Paris had indeed been cancelled (godnose what contortions we shall have to go through to get reimbursed for that) and so she was definitely going to have to take the train: of course that meant that I had to be back on the Wednesday, before 15h, to get her off to Narbonne in time to catch the TER that would (hopefully) get her through to Montpellier before her TGV left.

Managed that: sadly the TER ran late so she missed that TGV. By dint of pouting and jumping up and down on a small controlleur she persuaded them to let her on to the next TGV to Paris: that did not - of course - go through to Roissy but stopped at Gare de Lyon, which meant hopping on the RER to get out to Roissy. And when she got there it was around 23:30 so the meal she'd kind of hoped to get was down the tubes ... she spent a sleepless night in the uncomfortable seats in the departure lounge, but finally boarded and as I write I guess she's on her way to China.

Sadly the Brit Food Stop Shop (or whatever) at Narbonne is closing down: it's conveniently located just across from the gare and I went in to see if I couldn't get Margo a proper sticky bun or something for sustenance on the train but the shelves were almost bare and when I indignantly protested the Scots guy who, with his Swiss wife, owns and runs the place gave me the bad news. She's having both hips replaced, which means that she won't be able to work for about a year, and rather than his working 12 hours a day six days a week all that time they decided it was perhaps about time to retire and learn to play golf.

On the bright side what stock there was left was all at half price, so I picked up the last packets of suet and some emergency supplies of golden syrup and a few bags of demerara sugar and more malt vinegar and, because I could, some decent sherry. Also something I hadn't suspected even existed: freezer bags of mushy peas. (I'd always thought that to attain this nadir of gustatory delight required personal attention from an English cook to turn each individual pea into a revolting squishy green bag, but apparently - such is the pace of technological progress - the process is automated these days.) Neville's from Barnsley and has often sung their praises, so I picked up a couple of sacks for him.

In other news, by dint of careful application of all those bushcraft skills I learnt so long ago in Scouts, I hunted down and trapped a plumber in the wild. Yes, André finally turned up on Thursday and started hooking various bits and pieces of pipe and stuff up, and on Saturday I got a text to tell me that the wooden benchtop I'd ordered from Lapeyre had in fact arrived so I went off to Carcassonne and stuck that in the boot, headed home and lugged it up the stairs.

Somewhat to my surprise André was still there so I set that up on its trestles and he set about things with a will, and didn't leave until all was done. So now we have a hot-water cylinder connected to the central-heating boiler up there (the electric cylinder will be disappearing in a few short days), the heaters are connected (as are, no doubt, the hip-bone, the thigh-bone and godnose what else) and - very important - there is a shower, a handbasin and a toilet, all three functional.

To celebrate, I immediately went off and had two showers, just for the fun of it, not because I was particularly filthy.

These little things may not seem very important to you, but as on Thursday Cédric and his little helper come and start demolishing the bathroom on the first floor, and our bedroom, it means quite a bit to me. I'm no stranger to privation, and I can live under rough conditions, taking things as they come with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart, but I do insist on having a toilet, or a reasonable approximation thereof, and a shower handy. If not, I am not a happy camper.

But now, even if I have to sleep on the spare bed in my (temporary, for the past year) office downstairs until such time as Margo returns to paint the bedroom upstairs so that I may lay the flooring in there and we can move in (for I am not going to have time to do the painting myself, have to earn money somehow and I still have my bathroom up there to tile and floor in the near future), I do not care for I will still be able to rush upstairs and have a shower when I feel like it.

Haven't had much time for photos this month: sorry about that. Things will get better, I promise. But right now it's persisting down - not in the brochures - and I think maybe I'll go have another hot shower.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Purple-Rinsed Dinosaurs Roam The Earth ...

Return of the Technically Dead Dead
I know it's kind of masochistic and just a little bit perverted, not to go so far as to say actually disgusting, but given that "Dirty Politics" and various claims and counterclaims of wholesale surveillance in NooZild have managed to make it to the front pages even over here in Ole Yurrup, not to mention a sick secret fascination with Winston Peters, I try to keep up with your imminent erection by following

Which is where I found this photo (original attribution retained, please note), which has to be one of the most frightening I've seen in a while. Who the hell was responsible for the lighting? Reminds me of something out of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, or maybe Bad Taste. The old bastard has obviously been cryogenically preserved and wheeled out of the crypt, you can even see the dry-ice smoke in the background. And I'm guessing they used plaster of Paris as a cheaper alternative to botox. Absolutely terrifying, do NOT let your children watch politics on TV.

Also, this: "According to psychiatrists specialising in sexsomnia, a condition that has not been widely researched yet, it is a sleeping disorder close to sleepwalking that includes sexual behaviour. Those affected by sexsomnia are completely unaware of their acts, specialists say. However, the affliction is very controversial among physicians and lawyers." If you ask me, it needs more study. And a semi-literate sub-editor, for it should read "has not yet been ..." Definitely more university grants. Mostly to statisticians, so that they can work out just how to do the double-blind trials. And I think that lawyers should be paid more.

Come to that, just how do you get to be a "specialist" in this? Do you get to make it up as you go along? Does having an erection at 5am count? Or having sleepy sex? An enquiring mind would like to know. Yeah, I know, they laughed at Freud too. Just saying, they're still laughing at Freud. (A barrel, in fact - of laughs, that is - every Friday on "Interpretation of Dreams" night down at Le Vieux Pissoir in Conilhac. You really don't want to know.)

And he's dead - Freud, that is - last time I checked down in the vaults. (Reminds me, I better go down there again and check that the real Winston is still in his drawer, if not there'll be hell to pay what with the accountants, and the family paying for maintenance and everything.) Which means that the last laugh is not his.

Whatever, at this time of year you're reminded that Moux, like Arbin, is basically a wine village. The tractors rattle incessantly through the streets towing their trailers heaped with grapes and when, as one must, you head off to the cave coopérative to pick up another twenty litres or so of wine (yes, I'm off to Chambéry again on Sunday, and Bryan put in an order) the air's heavy with the sticky, slightly foul smell of fermenting grapes. Could be worse.

Anyway, I need to go: got a long drive ahead of me tomorrow and as Margo's up in Alsace I have to drop our two retards off to be tutored for a couple of days: also, there's still some parquet flottant that isn't going to lay itself. Mind how you go, now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dorian Gray's Shaving Mirror ...

So everyone is now back working on the house, as if to make up for lost time: I've tiled the shower in our bathroom (the one in my office can wait a bit) and the terracotta/raspberry crush lino that's going on the wall arrived today - anyway, we are having to seriously think about décor.

The tiles we chose were huge Italian ones, 30 x 60 in anthracite and pale gray - and may I just say that they're a bitch to work with? OK, we'd already bought the electric saw with a diamond blade to cut them as required (and that has been well amortised already): when it came to cutting out the holes for the taps and suchlike I had planned on using the old tungsten bit and handsaw I still have lying around but soon changed my mind when it became apparent that it would take me about three days doing it that way.

Cue a trip off to Lignières to pick up a hollow diamond-tipped 8mm bit for the big Bosch drill: it did the job. Tedious, but by some miracle I managed to avoid cracking the tile I was working on - always a good thing.

Another reason I hate tiling is that it requires some thought beforehand. One thing that you can be absolutely certain of is that the surfaces you're tiling will not be square, maybe not even flat: neither height nor width will be a multiple of the tile size. So if you start off as a novice is tempted to do, starting from the bottom inside angle and working out and up, you may be sure that you are going to have some very ugly, very fiddly cuts to do.

Also, I am paranoid, and measure things about three times before actually cutting anything on the principle that I may have got it wrong first time, or forgotten 4mm for the grouting, or things have just changed anyway because of quantum, and measurement collapsing the waveform.

Luckily for me, when we had the St-Pierre Shamblings done up Jean took me aside one day and explained how to do it correctly, which involves marking a cross at the centre of the surface to be tiled: that's where the first tile goes, and you work out from there. You will have a bit of waste: never mind, the end result will look a damn sight better.

Of course I still managed to get it wrong because we had Cédric build a seat in there - well, more a ledge really, somewhere to park the shampoo bottles and put your feet up when you're shaving your legs or whatever - and I failed to take that into account so there's a strip only a few cm deep at the back but what the hell.

So anyway, there's the shower in gray and black and the wall next to it, where the handbasin will go, sitting on its slab of wood on trestles, will be mainly red/orange, so we decided that for a mirror we would like a big old one, with an ornate gilt frame with naked ladies, bunches of grapes and cherubs everywhere if possible. Which means op-shops, and various brocantes.

Margo went off all on her lonesome and found one at Emmaus which was not exactly what we wanted, being mahogany and actually relatively restrained, but it was suitably huge, the silvering is going on the actual mirror so it definitely looks ancient, and on top of that it was cheap. So cheap in fact that she also bought an enormous pure wool rug for the dogs to sleep on.

We unloaded all that, brought it inside and settled down to more serious business like dining, and watching Dr Who, and then went to bed ... now it's a funny thing, but you'd think that they'd have little warning signs on articles such as these, along the lines of "May contain maggots".

At least, we strongly suspect that it was in fact the mirror that was harbouring the troop of the white wriggly buggers that we found all over the floor the next morning ...

I headed off to Carcassonne, leaving Margo to deal with the invasion, and after the market headed off to a big brocante of which I know, where I found not one but two mirrors that were just what we were looking for. The guy at the desk sucked his teeth, and opined that the shop was probably, in fact, open, and might actually remain that way until midday, although from the shrug he gave he didn't seem entirely certain about that - so I went back and found the car and navigated the one-way system through Carcassonne, went in, paid, and walked out with them.

In an excess of generosity he chucked in an old blanket (actually, as it turns out, a tablecloth complete with rude cherubs) free, gratis and also for nothing as a bit of padding in the boot, and I happily went back home. I suppose I could have bought a few other bits and pieces - just to encourage his unexpected enthusiasm - but quite honestly we don't actually need, nor do we have room for, a metre-high chicken in cast-iron, nor a marble statue of some Grecian bint discovering auto-eroticism. Nor, for that matter, a C19 bronze reproduction of The Emperor Trajan With Medusa And An Erection.

In other, unrelated, news I headed off on Sunday to see if I could find Bezier aerodrome International Airport, where I was supposed to be picking up my brother. I went prepared, with a large inflatable cushion, because I'm not sure that Ryanair actually bother touching down at such places, and I was half-expecting to see him hurtling from the cargo doors at 100m altitude ... as it turns out I need not have worried, the plane landed - maybe they needed more packets of overpriced peanuts to sell to the punters - and debarkment was sufficiently quick that I didn't even have to pay for the carpark.

Where, to tell the truth, I'd only gone because a short fat stuffy little man blew a whistle at me because I'd had the temerity to park on the place reserved for buses: this may be true but they could at least have had the decency to put up signs saying "Bus Only!" and in any case on a Sunday afternoon the things are pretty few and far between.

Just to complicate matters, later that night a nephew and his partner turned up a few days earlier than expected, fearing that their hire car was marked for instant depredation in Barcelona - who knows, they could well be right. So now the dogs must sleep outside, as the living-room floor has been commandeered as impromptu sleeping quarters, and EBK is pissed because there are New People with whom he will have to put up.

My brother left - I took care that we left the house heading for Narbonne with 20 minutes to spare, because I am wary of traffic in Narbonne, and then we left a second time, 20 minutes later and with no time to spare, because on arriving at Conilhac he remembered that he'd forgotten to pack the dead rat for his laptop. Luckily, although they had closed the TGV doors they were not actually in lock-down so he managed to hop aboard, about two minutes before the thing pulled out of the station.

A snail tree (immature)
It may not even have been the right train, I could care more.

Then we decided to take nephew and partner (N & P?) out to show them what a traditional French lunch is (although you no longer get a litre of really cheap rotgut plonk per person slapped on the table these days, I blame the government myself) and so we headed off to Le Cers at Conilhac. The midday menu goes for 11.50€, can't complain, we were out on the terrace under the sun and although I was wise enough just to go for a salad everyone else opted for the menu and none of them managed to finish it off. Kinda copious.

Of course they get the odd tourist passing through and so the chef speaks English - although oddly enough the waitress didn't - but this still brings me back to a pet peeve which is why, oh why, do people trust the translation of their menus to Google Translate? It's the easy option, I admit, but quite frankly when cuisses de grenouille flambées au cognac turns out as legs of frog (with outbreaks of cognac) I really have to wonder what the value-added proposition is here. Maybe I'm just being picky.

Seriously, how in hell does a flambé turn into an outbreak? Metaphorically, I suppose, if you're talking about genital herpes, that could happen ... I will not go there.

Anyway, I had to head off to Chambéry on Thursday - which goes some way to explaining the hiatus, sorry about that - and once I'd headed back down on Saturday and duly admired the 15km traffic jam in the north-bound direction at the péage at Montpellier Sud and arrived home, it became pretty obvious that work was going ahead and that Things Needed to be Done.

So Margo got into full-on Painting Mode (and let me just say that the little Bosch spray painter really is rather good, at least for putting on the undercoat) and I managed to finish the tiling in our bathroom, did the grouting (gods, I hate that!), stuck silicone around top and bottom, got the lino up on the wall, hung the mirror, cut out the sisal matting and got that down on the floor ... once André gets arse into gear and puts up the glass partition, hooks up the shower and (very important, that) installs the toilet, it will be usable.

Which would be rather convenient, given that they'd like to attack the first floor now - which will involve destroying the bathroom there - and now that they have their élan it would be a pity to slow things down, especially as we can begin to discern some progress. So even if the top floor is not, technically speaking, ready for habitation - missing a few of those optional extras like paint, and flooring - I guess we might just be moving up there next week.