Friday, June 5, 2015

Extracts From The Private Journal of HvB (Esq.) ...

Like my titties? Might as well flaunt them.
I was, as one will, roaming the Arctic wastes one day - searching, if you must know, for the last of the dusty old journals of a half-crazed medical student who had set out to destroy the Thing he had created from left-over body parts and biryani and given a shambling semblance of life with three AA batteries, when the Thrane & Thrane satellite phone tinkled quietly.

(I have set it to do this on the off-chance that it should ring some time when I happen to have it about my person at an elegant cocktail party, for its default ring-tone is a recording of the foghorn of the Titanic, which then segues into Ride of the Valkyries: hardly discreet, and certainly not elegant. Although it is true that cocktail parties, elegant or otherwise, are rare things in the arid tundra, but one never knows.)

So much for incunabula, the delights of the icy wastes, and retracing the footsteps of HvB (Boris Van Helsing, of course: the lesser-known member of the family. Ah, those simpler days when mirror writing could keep your identity safe from GCHQ or the NSA).

For, with all of five days to go (two of those being, technically, a weekend) before a big trade show somewhere in California, someone had the bright idea that the gear should be able to perform a pressure optimisation - apparently this involves nothing more complicated than setting up a data entry screen and plugging a few formulae into the arse end.

Hence the importance of a more than basic grounding in maths for those who intend a career in programming.

Of course, the formulae were supplied as a spreadsheet, and it rapidly became evident to even my inexperienced eye that cell D34 depended on cell D35, which itself depended on cell D34: back in the day Excel would just have told you to go stick your head someplace where it is always dark, but nowadays it does successive approximations and other complicated stuff, and eventually comes up with an answer which is close enough to what you want.

I recall doing this sort of thing a long time ago, and I also recall the importance of starting off with an initial value which is close enough so that your iterative process a) terminates in a reasonable time and b) does not oscillate between "37" and "a ham sandwich", neither of which are good answers. (Not entirely true. They are both in fact perfectly good answers, but not to this particular question.)

Luckily, in the creaking pages of the antique notebooks that I had managed to recover, I found that the equations of Nikuradse supply a seed value, based on a smooth surface, which may be used as a starting point for the iterative Coleman algorithm (but do not forget the Reynolds number).

Back in the day, when the late, corrupt, morally ambiguous and unlamented Mitterand was president, he installed a relative non-entity, one Jack Lang, as ministre de la culture. Crueler tongues than mine have said that this was just for ease of access to the Elysée, what with him being the president's wife's lover and all: I have no knowledge of this and would not, in any case, wish to spread foul rumours.

Whatever, he was eminently forgettable, despite a suntan, teeth, and hair that would have done a Californian beach band proud: truth to tell, most French ministres, who in any case serve at the discretion of the president, are forgettable or, even if not, soon forgotten. With the possible exception of Jacques Toubon, who must be the most maligned minister of the 5th Republic, and still the butt of obscene jokes in public urinals - but I digress. As usual.

But apart from having it off on a regular basis (if slanderous tattle can be believed) with Danielle, Jack did leave one legacy: by decree, June 21 - the summer solstice - is the fête de la musique over in these parts. Although in these particular parts we don't actually do that - hell, in Moux we celebrate July 14 on the 13th - instead, on June 20 we have the fête du vin.

You can probably guess just what that involves: it's organised at the cave cooperative and involves apparently never-ending supplies of wine, copious quantities of food and - towards the end of the evening - the ritual and sadly inevitable disco. Never mind, by the time they get around to that we'll probably be rolling our bloated way homewards.

Although I get the feeling that I might actually enjoy la nuit de la poésie this year. Years back I used to look upon French popular music as something whose only use was to make elevator muzak sound good: Brel, Trenet, Gainsbourg ... all crap.

Then I got dragged along one evening to a show of which the entire second half was dedicated to Georges Brassens, and it was a revelation. It is true that ten years earlier I would not have appreciated it because I would not have understood it, but now that I have managed to wrap my ears around the particularly French habit of the contrepeterie (which is a close relation to the spoonerism, but which must be obscene) and got to grips with the subtle, self-effacing and rather subversive black humour of which they are, in fact, capable, I find it absolutely delicious.

OK, you can still take Brel and stick him where the sun does not shine, Gainsbourg was always a bloated self-indulgent whose main claim to fame was hooking up with Jane Birkin, and if Piaf is on the menu I would prefer it to be with the cheese course so that wedges of Camembert are convenient to hand: but Brassens I enjoy.

So it was with great pleasure that I discovered, scanning the list of events lined up for this summer in Moux, that the concert for la nuit de la poésie is scheduled to be a homage to Brassens. I may take a packet or two of peanuts - not to eat, for I detest the damn things, but to throw at the stage should the performance not be up to scratch - but I am hoping for a very enjoyable evening on July 25th.

Can't recall if I've mentioned it before: old Hélène has a bit of land on the slopes of a pinède around Ferrals, and every year she organises an afternoon picnic up there. There's always a catch, of course: she must be one of the last of the soixante-huitards, believes in acupuncture and homeopathy, and has cultural tendencies.

So this time round, the price of admission was a poetry reading. It is true that I hold that those who read poetry in public may have other nasty habits, but it was mercifully brief and there was enough food and drink for a small army, which is always a consolation.

And we sat up there in the sun with the smell of thyme and rosemary in the still hot air, and watched the thunderheads roll in from the east and sweep past to the south, to go play on the Pyrenées.

Kind of a precursor for the next few months, I hope: a long, slow, hot summer. Take refuge inside the house, which is dim and cool, and take the hairy retards out for their trot in the evenings, when it's not so stifling. And maybe catch some people playing boules around 23:00, well-watered and with the car headlights to light up the playing field.

It is at such times as those that it's brought home that we are no longer in Kansas.

Mind how you go, now.

1 comment:

  1. if Piaf is on the menu I would prefer it to be with the cheese course

    Je vinaigrette rien!