Monday, March 30, 2015

This Post Has No Title, This Post Is Anome*

April 8, 2014 and the earth moved for some of you: and of those, for a certain number, it was only because on that day Microsoft ended support for Windows XP. (Geekish persons have to take their thrills where they find them.)

So it's not quite a year later, and the SNCF have decided to finally migrate their huge installed base of XP systems to Windows 7 (yeah, no-one sensible that I've heard of is moving to Windows 8, personally I find that the damn thing gets more unstable every day and that really pisses me off) and discover that the Microsoft ERP package that they bought back in 2003 does not, in fact, work under Windows 7. Would you have thought it, and who you gonna call?

Sadly Bill Murray has retired, so in fact you call some poor overworked hack programmer who has unfortunately admitted to having some competence with a debugger. Of course it's a rush job: maybe I should just suggest that they set up WinXP in a virtual machine on each and every new system - can see that going down like a cup of tepid sick.

(As it happens, that is exactly what I wound up doing. Rather than trying to patch an executable to use other libraries with a different API, just run a VM. It will get kind of complicated because their sysadmins are not going to let any traffic from an XP system pollute their network, but fortunately there are solutions to that. Kludgy ones, I admit, but should work - and on the cheap, at that.)

Always fascinating to see what the CNRS is looking for. I was rather amused by this one, calling for offers for: "Supply and installation of 16 weighing stations  for monoliths, from 1.5 to 3 tonnes: region Languedoc/Roussillon." WTF? It's not as though monoliths are conspicuous by their presence around these parts, and even if they were - why weigh them? See if they're putting on weight?

As a Godless Atheist® (one or other of those two words may be redundant) I sometimes head over to Orac's place to get a dose of scepticism. I should really stop doing that perhaps, it may not be good for my blood pressure. It's not the articles nor - for the most part - the comments: oh no, it's the subject matter. The people. They do not seem to have grasped the point, which is that science, like gravity, works whether you believe in it or not. (See, incidentally, The Flying Sorcerers for a full explanation. And very bad puns. So Niven's an American, not his fault.)

Thought of the week: "When looking for a needle in a haystack, it's easier to just burn all the hay."

Anyway, I had occasion to head off to Carcassonne the other day: not the usual in-and-out for the market, for my sins I had to go off to the Hôtel des Impôts. Because, as the house is being renovated and changed, they wish to know just how much they can unreasonably charge us for the crime of owning too many bathrooms or whatever, and having received - for the third time in as many months - a form asking me to give the date of demolition of the place, failing which a swingeing fine and jail sentence await me, I decided that it was better to go in and throw myself on their mercy.

Exceptionally this turned out not to be a mistake, for when I finally got ushered into the plush-carpeted office the woman behind the impressive piece of nasty hand-hewn Formica furniture from somewhere rather cheaper than Ikea said something along the lines of (roughly) "why the fuck did they send you this?" and then went through form H-1(A) with me, explaining the trickier points of using a tape-measure so that I may, come July, correctly fill out case 37(1), total surface area of all cupboards less than 1 m² and my personal favourite, 52(3) average capacity of toilet cisterns. Of course, if they're under 1.58m high (the cupboards, not the toilets) they don't count: remember that.

The point is that I was in a part of Carcassonne where I've not been before: in the shadow of la Cité, on the eastern bank of the river. So having time to spare, I wandered off - as one will - for a quick shufti. Cobbled streets, gaunt old houses, a garage that last put the shutters down sometime in the 1930's and a boulangerie with an illegible, fading note duct-taped to the door and a few flies buzzing dispiritedly behind the windows - of course most of the places are now B&B's or restaurants these days.

And there are some to which I shall return - assuming they're still there in a few months: one which advertised very promising burgers (do you know how much I crave a decent burger after all these years? Not the same when you make them yourself) and another which proclaimed itself to be a wine & truffle bar, which has to be good. (Although even allowing for a 50% markup, I still find 2300€/kg for truffles to be kind of excessive. Given that they still smell of shit, no matter how much you pay for them.)

This year the frères Pourcel, chefs at Montpellier, decided to put together a salon: MAD or Mediterranée à Déguster. Celebrating the food from around the Mediterranean - olive oil, tomatoes, fish ... and they'd managed to get together a group of some sixty chefs. Not all from Montpellier either: from Greece, Italy, Croatia, Tunisia. Between the lot of them, they totalled 35 Michelin stars.

So off we went (I even forbore the Saturday market visit, I shall atone later and I guess I'll have to head off to Lézignan on Wednesday moaning, although I hate it due to the prevalence of energetic and malign elderly ladies) and shelled out an entirely reasonable 69€ for entrance and food and wine.

That got us each six bouchées, each made by a different chef, and feeling somewhat peckish I wolfed down the round of broccoli flowerets on a cloud of hummus, topped with a St-Jacques and citrus, then the filet de rouget with mousseline d'asperges, and the cube of marinated tuna skewered with ventrèche (which you'd call bacon, I guess, but it's a far cry from that) and grilled in a very hot oven, atop a purée of aubergines and tomatoes.

I have to admit that I passed on the smoked mussels on their bed of nasturtiums: a very pretty dish but the oyster and I are emphatically not friends, and so if I'm going to eat shellfish I like to be sure that there's an unoccupied toilet within easy sprinting distance.
Of course, since the runaway success of la cuisine moléculaire yore espuma has been flavour of the month for a few years now: the general rule seems to be that if you can possibly get it into a soda siphon, then you should. I am not entirely convinced of this, especially when it comes to steak, but I'm probably wrong.
Picked up some powdered tonka beans, and combava - now I shall have to work out what to do with them - and then we came across a stand selling artisanal beers and something they called "whisky au gout du sud-ouest de la France". Naturally enough this piqued my interest, so I went over to harangue the guy and find out what exactly was going on. 
He cheerfully gave me a shot and as a smallish crowd had gathered happily went on to explain: four passionate whisky fans took it into the collective head to import ten-year old cask whisky (that's about 70%), blend it and cut it with water from the Salvetat in the Montagne Noire, then age it in Armagnac casks and hock it off as Black Mountain Whisky, in a bottle with a tasteful picture of the mythical half-boar, half-wolf that is reputed to roam the area. No doubt looking for something decent to drink. You are doubtful, thinking of Breton white wine: so was I. Then I tasted it, and I bought a bottle.
I rather doubt that it'll last until Mal and Tony come over here: too bad, I shall have to head off up there to buy another one.
Quite serendipitously, there is a Chinese emporium just across the road from the (rather pretentiously named, if you ask me) Parks&Suites Arena where all this was going on, so we toddled across the street and went in. Sheer bliss, 500m² of spices and sauces and Chinese sausages and fresh spring roll wrappers and decent raw brown sugar and rice flour and foufou and ... oh, whatever. I shall go back later, and satisfy my baser urges.

I think that if it is at all possible, I detest grouting even more than I do tiling. It's tedious, picky work involving - unless you happen to be one of those lucky bastards with a grout gun - too much time on your knees with a small trowel and a rubber squeegee. And, as I have learnt through bitter experience, you need to clean up afterwards or you will regret it.

Not the tools so much, that's just a few minutes - no, you've smeared grouting all over your tiles so you need to wipe the excess off with a dry sponge, then twenty minutes later you need to go over the joints with a damp finger-tip (one of your own if absolutely necessary, but one out of a jar of formaldehyde works for me) so that they're nicely inset and then another half-hour after that you go over the whole lot with a damp sponge. Finally, two days later you get to spend a few hours of quality time back on your knees rubbing the entire floor with a dry cloth to get rid of the last traces of cement.

I have actually found better ways to pass my time.

*A blatant lie, as this post evidently has a title. Check out the relevant Whackywheedia articles on Lord Sir Elton John of the Admiralty, also on Paradoxes, especially those involving lying liars who lie all the time especially when they say that they are lying. They're just trying to do your head in.

Also, the articles on gnomes. More specifically, on being without a gnome.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Luggage Allowances ...

We are, of course, trying to ensure that Jeremy actually leaves this green and pleasant land, so this sort of thing is somewhat on our minds. Which meant a bit of serious out-of-the-box non-linear thinking, washed down with some extra 5l tubs of Chateau Carton, but we are pleased to be able to announce a solution.

For those of you concerned about such things and yet who still wish to travel with your feathered friends, here in the Kitchen and Gene-Splicing Workshop at The Shamblings™ we have, through bleeding-edge but still entirely legal (or, more accurately, not actually illegal in the strictest sense of the word, at least not now) technology, developed the Carrion Pigeon. At only seven kilos, and flightless, most major airlines will accept it as an item of carry-on hand baggage, and the convenient handle on its back facilitates portage.

To date customer satisfaction inquests (the fact that many customers are currently technically dead is a mere statistical outlier) have been uniformly glowing (please note that there is no radioactive material involved) and the only drawback of any note is the handbag's bird's proclivity for a diet of dead, preferably aged, meat. That, and the smell. On which we are working - I can see no earthly reason why we should not be able to splice in some hungry little deodorant enzymes, such as one finds in washing powder.

But following the advice of our marketing consultants, we can also propose our tasty PopsicleMice, which come in convenient individual pre-frozen sachets and need only 30 seconds in the microwave and two weeks in damp, warm surroundings (a bathroom or hot-water cupboard is ideal) to develop their full flavour. Each is under 100ml, and may thus legally be carried in your purse or man-bag.

Whatever, Sunday did indeed turn out bright and blue and warm, so I butterflied a leg of lamb and rubbed it sensuously with olive oil and salt and herbes de Provence and set it aside whilst preparing a coleslaw, and then I went and vacuumed the terrace and washed down the table and chairs and dusted off the big Weber barbecue, carefully laid out a bed of kindling to receive the charcoal and sloshed everything with petrol before retiring.

We were probably not the only ones thus occupied: the peripatetic curé saw fit to turn up at Moux, as happens a few times every year, so the out-of-tune bells started going mad around 10:30 (I assume, to warn saner people that right now would be a good time to stay in bed) and the elderly and decrepit started flocking in. Kind of like zombies, attracted to a shopping mall.

I suppose that eventually the sermon wound down, for most of them trooped out again and then, with surprising rapidity place St-Régis was completely empty, innocent of people and cars, as everyone headed off to have a decent Sunday lunch with Gran. (Who, despite being to all appearances somewhere in the vicinity of 103, had doubtless been slaving over it since Saturday morning.) There were a couple of cats, soaking up the sun, and ourselves.

Once upon a time there was a bar in Moux: it closed down a while back now, apparently not due to any lack of patronage but simply because the owners had had enough and couldn't find anyone to take it over. The building belongs to the municipalité, and so it's been gathering dust for at least five years. But the current administration decided that having a bar-restaurant in the village would be rather nice, and so having been renovated at some not-inconsiderable expense by the mairie, it's due to reopen in May - assuming, of course, that they find someone to take it on.

It's all been redone: the kitchen's up to EU standards, a cold room for storage has been installed, the salle has been retiled and redecorated from top to bottom and they've even opened up an access to the little shady terrace out the back for those hot summer days. So if you know of anyone who wants to work themselves into the ground with cooking and serving in the south of France, café Réné (for I am assuming it will be named after M. le maire) could be theirs.

(Mind you, when the place does eventually open the name will probably be chosen by a committee and big letters will announce Le Bar du Coin, from which, to general hilarity, the letter "i" will fall in the first few weeks. At which point we shall have no choice but to inhale our vitamins at Le Bar du Con. Just saying.)

Preparations are getting ahead for shipping out the First-Born Son, and I am arming myself with screwdrivers and a socket set because, as I am peripherally involved with computers, I am deemed competent to knock his down into its component parts so that they may travel with him. (Basically, motherboard, video card and hard drive: the case and power supply he can replace when he gets there.)

Actually, as I write he has in fact left. Before leaving the house we triple-checked the possession of passport and various tickets (because certain persons have been known to request a quick return trip to the house to pick up just such an item which apparently got left on the table or something) and headed through to Narbonne, where we decanted him onto the TGV.

There were still opportunities for Mr. Cockup (to whom we try not to be at home) to make an appearance: there was the hour's wait at Lyon for the TGV through to Charles de Gaulle, and then of course there are all the possibilities of losing oneself in the terminals there ... but last we heard the luggage was checked in and he was about to have a last fag before going into the departure lounge.

The worst that could happen now is that he manages to get himself locked in a loo during the stopover at Dubai, or maybe bitten by a particularly venomous cane toad in Australia, but that's out of our hands now. We have done our bit, ensured that he's left the country.

Which seems to not please the dogs, Indra in particular. As The Shamblings™ is still very much a work in progress he was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in our future dining room, and Shaun very much enjoyed the ease with which he could heave himself onto the bed ready to give one of those ear-licks which are essential to starting off the day in the right manner. Indra just seems to assume that if a bed is there then it and its occupant(s) are there for her convenience and pleasure: a refreshingly simple point of view but not, I feel, one that Jerry really shared.

Whatever, although today it is gray and raining sullenly, yesterday was fine (truth to tell, we had a lovely week, even if the blossoms did get knocked about a bit by the tramontane) so buying strawberries and asparagus at the market was pretty much a moral imperative and then, although my intentions are always good and one of these days we will get around to having a vegetarian meal once a week (start off easy with a butternut curry perhaps, and work our way slowly up to the dreaded nut cutlets), we are carnivores at heart so a quick trip to visit a couple of butchers was a necessity.

What I'm trying to say here is that those strawberries are not going to hull themselves, nor is the poitrine fraîche that called out to me going to jump into a ziplock bag with salt, sugar and herbs without a bit of assistance, so I am going to go look after our bodily needs. Enjoy autumn, won't you?

PS: Jerry arrived more or less on schedule, albeit apparently smelly and minus the bottle of wine he'd bought for the Elder One - the Australians wouldn't let it through, for some reason. (Mind you, what can you expect from a country that elects a Tony Abbott as PM? Collectively they have to be more than a few twigs short of a bundle.) And I was kind of hurt because it seems he cooked dinner on arrival: something he has never done for us, dismissing the concept with a flippant "You want me to cook? Put me in a professional kitchen". I guess Nyarlathotep is better kitted-out than we.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Another Conversation With A Kid ...

Hey Dad!

Yeah, hi.

No, seriously.

Yeah. You want more money, I guess. Don't have any. (Where the hell does a cat keep its credit cards, anyway?)

No - well yes - Swiss bank account, they are very understanding and you are in fact the nominal account holder, nothing to worry about at this point in time there is no drug money going through that one  - but there are no more kitty kibbles!

Yeah. I thought you were looking fat. You considered cutting down on the carbs? You mean I can pull your totally non-cartel-related cash out?

Not my fault! I am not fat cat! No!!

Yeah, right. Damn. So your problem is?

That bitch (technically speaking) Indra got up onto the freezer - you know, where you thought she couldn't climb - and ate them all! None left!

You now have my undivided attention, until something sparkly comes along, but I get the feeling that I am not going to like this. Please be more clear.

Well, the kitty food dispenser is now lying on the floor, Indra has hoovered up its contents, and dipshit Shaun is wandering vaguely around hoping there's something for him in there. If you like I can convince him to go upstairs and piss on your paperwork, or you could just clean up the mess and give me more kibbles.


There are those, it seems - usually far from the countrycide - who look upon the peasantry with misty eyes and gushy gooey thoughts, seeing them as noble specimens, defenders of Nature and no doubt in harmony with the music of the spheres. I am not one of them: in my experience your average peasant is a surly son of a bitch and his attitude to the land to which he may or may not actually have title (because it's not because a peasant is tilling the soil that the soil being tilled is in fact his, it might just be otherwise unoccupied) is that if he wants to fertilise it with toxic waste then he bloody well will.

The French being, in their hearts, peasants to a non-gender-specific person, thus regard the green and pleasant fields as theirs to do with as they wish: which probably goes some way to explaining the impromptu rubbish tips that spring up overnight. It's not that I mind as such, it's just that I have problems persuading Shaun not to eat the huge pile of cigarette butts that have been tipped out of a car onto the side of the road, nor to chew of the espresso capsules - red, gold, green and brown - that put the crocuses to shame.

I am not one to let a recipe go unmolested, so when I came upon two recipes in the same post it seemed only reasonable to combine them. The first was for little rolled Chinese-style fritters, and the second for pork'n'shrimp toast, so it was fairly obvious that it would be a Good Idea, when making the pancakes for the first, rather than just spread them with sesame oil and chopped chives or spring onions, why not spread a good tablespoon of the minced pork and shrimp over them before rolling them out into cigars, rolling those onto themselves to make spirals (as the French so endearingly call them, "les escargots") and then flattening them out somewhat and frying them.

As it turns out, it actually turned out to be a good concept - well, Margo liked it, anyway, and I'll eat anything not involving (insert list of out-of-favour foodstuffs here, starting with tripe) - and not one of the brain-farts that sometimes happen in the kitchen here at The Shamblings™. So you could probably try that.

The eldest son has evacuated his apartment and is - it seems - squatting a sofa at the neighbours until Monday, when he should get his final pay cheque and sign the documents to the effect that he is leaving their employ: Margo is not willing to share a sofa with Jeremy, and so is spending the next few days with our friend Mad Karen, in her nunnery at Seyssel. And today it is the first wedding anniversary for her and the long-suffering Philippe, who I think has done very well putting up with her for so long - and vice versa, of course.

It is apparently traditional on this occasion, so I suggested mildly to Margo that she nick a bogroll from one of the many toilets in the place, stick a ribbon around it and present it as a gift at the dinner table: a suggestion that was treated, I'm sad to say, with the contempt that it doubtless deserved.

You probably recall Donny Rumsfeldt's dictum that "Shit happens". Such as, it might be, deleting all the photos from your camera's memory card before you've copied them over to the PC? Just such a shit happened to Margo, and of course it would be photos of a quilt in progress that she needed to write up an article. Go Google "SD card photo recovery" and the Chocolate Factory will serve up any number of links.

The SD card was a Lexar, and they offer a trial (recover only three files) of their recovery software which signally failed so it's probably a good thing I didn't actually pay for that: there's also a thing called, would you believe it, "Recuva" which trundled away for a bit and said it had recovered everything and it had indeed created some .jpg files which were, sadly, totally unreadable.

Finally tried something called PhotoRec, which has a user interface which will please all aficionados of the command-line interface but no-one else, and it did the job with a minimum of fuss and bother. It works by scanning free sectors for file signatures, and sadly it does not have a signature for the .CR2 files that Margo's little Canon EOS uses, so she didn't get the raw files (which publishers evidently prefer) but at least the .jpg files were all back. Recommended.

Over here the tramontane is blowing, as it will at this time of year, and so rough winds are definitely shaking the darling buds of - uh - March. But it's supposed to die down over the next few days, and I is planning maybe on the first barbecue of the year on Sunday.

In a tragic, vaguely wine-related incident involving two cars and a pair of jumper leads in the middle of a vineyard, Peter the real-estate agent managed to put his leg out. (Don't ask, OK?) Any sane man would have headed off to the clinique at Narbonne to get it looked at, but not he. Being made of sterner stuff, he immediately booked himself on a Lyin'Air flight from Carcassonne back to whatever dismal hole in England he calls home, there to throw himself upon the tender mercies of the bloody NHS.

Godnose why, I'd have thought that even the prospect of giant garlic-flavoured suppositories morning, noon and night for a week would have been better than a six-month waiting list just to actually see a doctor, but I am apparently mistaken.

(It also turns out not to be the case that French nurses are incredibly sexy soubrettes, along the lines of Yvette from 'Allo 'Allo. You want that sort of thing, go watch Benny Hill re-runs. I'll wait until your brains have run out your ears.)

Whatever, time to go. There is a large bundle of baby asparagus in the kitchen - a fruit which Jeremy has decided he rather likes, sad to say - and strawberries in the fridge, which need hulling and slicing, at the very least.

But I would like, if I may, to leave you with a profound philosophical thought from the Cookie Monster, delivered as he was musing in an art gallery (yeah OK, so YouTube does have some use): "What was the best thing before sliced bread?"