Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Joy Of Tiling ...

First of all, here's a nice NWSF picture for you.

So it seems that we're more or less sure that Mars at some point in the past had surface water and could have hosted life more or less as we know it - possibly only lawyers and politicians, but who can say? And even after the Old Ones died off as the atmosphere slowly escaped, it seems only reasonable to posit that perhaps their hyper-intelligent felines survived, learning by trial and error (and along the way, providing a totally reasonable explanation for a few otherwise problematic craters) how to use a nuclear-powered tin-opener.

Although their civilisation might have flowered for a few millennia, the race would of course dwindle inexorably, and at some point the ancient palaces would topple and only a few - perhaps only one - would remain to mourn past glories: I am really waiting for the televised press conference from NASA with jerky pixelised footage beamed back to us, showing Curiosity killing the cat.

Whatever, may I say that I really, really hate having to go to the market at Lézignan? But as last Saturday, as I said, we headed off to Montpellier for this foodie thing which kind of prevented me from whipping around Carcassonne, things were getting dire: Tuesday night we were down to the last packet of frozen peas.

So girdèd me I did my loins (also, I put some jeans on, just to be on the safe side) and headed off to brave the old hags. Also, to find a parking space. How hard can that be? I mean, Lézignan is not a big place: about 11,000 souls all up as of the last census, but I swear that on market day that must double. At least. And they're all over eighty. Towing those scythe-wheeled shopping baskets behind them.

Eventually I did find a place to leave Sarah - by dint of waiting ten minutes for some old bag to work out what reverse gear was, and then to perform a complicated manoeuvre to actually back out of the parking space: and when finally she achieved that a pair of retarded OAPs in an Aixam gleefully whipped in ahead of me to take the place.

It is probably a good thing that carrying arms about your person is not legal over here in Ole Yurrup for had I been doing so I would probably have gone all Dalek on them, but I contented myself with a sad and wistful gaze as I pulled up right behind them and gently nudged them down the slope towards the rubbish skips. At which point the least disabled of the pair (I hope, for it was he behind the steering wheel) made apologetic gestures, I unwillingly backed up enough to let them out, and they disappeared - as my old boss Jim Higgins would have said - in a cloud of shit and small stones. There was a rubbish truck going past, picking up and digesting the contents of all the wheelie bins: hopefully they ended up in it.

So having found a place to park, I went off to get my ankles flayed.

We're still in that sad period when "fruit" consists of apples, pears and bananas; broccoli and monstrous specimens of cauliflower are proudly exhibited as vegetables, and the only ray of sunshine is the abundance of asparagus. Suppose I shall jolly well have to wait until the first baby yellow courgettes turn up, along with the courgette flowers - which I admit are a bitch to stuff, but worth it. Then the garden tomatoes, and the fresh sweetcorn, and great bunches of chives and pungent North African mint.

Whatever, Hope, springing eternal as it does, triumphed over Experience and I wound up with a kilo of strawberries. Which, as it turned out, actually tasted of something, so I guess Spring may really be on the way.

(Actually, I know it is. Up in the pinède the wild thyme is in flower, and the dwarf irises have popped up, blue and yellow, in the most unlikely places. I mean, you'd really think they'd like to put roots down into actual soil but no, there they are apparently clinging to bare rock.)

Moux is sufficiently small that basically everyone that lives here may be considered a neighbour. And I guess that 200m and a couple of twisty corners is not really a disqualification so - what I'm trying to say is that we have discovered a new neighbour. To the delight of our hairy retards he has a three-month old Jack Russell puppy, and to our more grown-up pleasure he's very congenial company and a professional chef.

More classical French cuisine than anything else (what Jeremy bitterly tells us is referred to as "cordon bleu" in your parts, a term which he has never come across - and it's true that the only time you're likely to find the phrase in the wild is applied to a chicken breast, stuffed with ham and cheese, breadcrumbed and fried) with a nod to Michel Guérard and the best parts of the nouvelle cuisine movement in the 80s: so we can agree to disagree about Paul Bocuse, and happily slag off the abuse of balsamic vinegar and espuma.

It's sad, but when you get to a certain age and have a house that needs renovating and redecorating, you know what really makes your day? It's the "clack" of the letterbox, signalling the arrival of another catalogue from the local DIY emporium. Gives us hours of mindless pleasure, checking out flooring, tiles, and the merits of this or that concrete mixer. We live for this. (Also, the only other things that arrive in the letterbox are bills, which we tend to burn, sight unseen. Like that, they never came.)

They also all have internet sites (mostly, I'm sad to say, pretty unusable) but which, despite their designers' best efforts we are currently spelunking, trying to find a balustrade that will replace the little wall in cellular concrete on the top landing with something a little less hand-made ugly and also let in more light from the window in the stairwell. Preferably, for a less-than eye-watering price.

A couple of stainless steel posts anchored firmly to the floor, with steel cables stretched between them, would do the job nicely: Lapeyre offer just such a kit, at only 650€ per metre. Which would kind of blow my budget in one fell swoop.

And then there's wallpaper, for sadly the walls of the first-floor bedrooms are not really in a state where you can just paint over them and hope for the best. Nice wallpaper starts at about 50€ the roll and goes up from there: at about twenty rolls per room, given the dimensions, that too starts to get somewhat expensive. I rather think we'll go for something a little closer to the bottom of the line, thanks very much.

I'm guessing that there's any number of you that have finally bought that little Tuscan villa of your dreams and have at some point headed over to spend a few idyllic months of summer basking in the sun whilst the crickets chirp and try to rip your throats out, only to discover that the swimming pool is not quite as advertised but is in fact a branch of the local river that happens to pass through what would be your property were it not for the fact that at least three neighbours have lawsuits pending since 1732 (and another since August 2013, a month before you bought the place) to determine just whose property it in fact is.

Also, for reasons best known to themselves, the previous owners took some care to cover up the original clay tile floors with a dalle de ragréage and then some nice brightly coloured pure synthetic carpet: the advantage of course is that you don't need lights on to go to bed, the sparks around your feet from the static electricity will light the way quite nicely.

Fear not, although I cannot help you with the swimming pool nor the property disputes, you can at least get back to the tiles. A dalle de ragréage is no more than a thin layer of liquid cement poured over the original flooring, in the (usually vain) hope that this will thus be levelled out: if you're lucky and it was a DIY job they will have neither cleaned nor wetted the surface before pouring the cement so it will be thin, relatively fragile, and have - at best - a tenuous hold on reality.

I am not saying that you should put your hammer and masonry chisel out to pasture just yet, because you will need them for some obstinate bits, but with the accumulated wisdom of a few day's experience I can tell you that whacking the surface with a rubber mallet (the actual terracotta tiles seem impervious to anything short of a minor explosion) to loosen the dalle, followed by the judicious application of a 12cm plasterer's spatula, works bloody wonders.

Of course, your mileage may vary. And I would recommend that you have a pair of heavy gloves about your person: you will mash your thumb with the hammer at some point, and having a glove in your mouth at that moment will render your obscenities inaudible, or at least incomprehensible.

In a break with centuries of tradition and some old charter or something, and with total disregard for the law (which is formal on the matter), our Easter weekend was gloriously fine and sunny. Which made it a bit of a pain being inside bashing away at cement. And on top of that, the bloody Easter Bunny completely neglected us. Whatever, it is still bright and hotter than we have any reason to hope or expect, so I am going to go enjoy it whilst I can.

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