Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hello, Kitty ...

Moux needs moah pussy
Actually, this turns out not to be the case. It's summer, and the ladies of negociable virtue are working the départementale between Narbonne and Carcassonne, so if you're a truckie or the sort of person that drives a flash white Audi you're spoilt for choice.

One of the roads that leads from the main strip up to Moux is a small affair that goes under an old rail bridge, last relic of the spur line that used to go from here up into the montagne Noire, and just off that little road, on a track that leads up into the pinède and the vines (and the blackberries), there is - I am told, for I cannot swear to it of my own knowledge - a place of business.

Margo took the dogs up there the other day, for their midday trot and also to pick up some blackberries, and came upon it: a bit of beaten grass under a tree with a Bambi blanket, a porn magazine open to page 57 (the Bob Guccione-style soft-focus feature with lotsa close-ups 'cos "Hey! I've got a bigger zoom than yours"), and a dildo. Walt Disney is no doubt spinning in his grave.

Also, why is it that I have 260 page views in the last week from Russia? It's not as though I'm advertising mail-order Chechen brides ("have Bambi blanket and sex toys, will travel"), and the Great Google shows me none of the usual suspects in the "referring sites" list.

Oh, and there's always that lone sad tosser who, every week, looks up "titsup holiday" on Bing! I mean, why? There are much more rewarding search terms.

In unrelated news, I see that malachite is, in some circles, considered effective as an anti-virus for your computer. As this man quickly pointed out. I remember having a pet rock once, but that was back in the days before computer viruses, seeing as how we didn't have computers back then that would fit into any space less than about 50m². So I can't really say if it works, but apparently it absorbs negative emanations - here at The Shamblings™ anythings negative is more likely to be coming from me.

We had a collective brainfart yesterday: nothing would do but we should head off to Montredon and get the tiles so that I can finish off the bathroom in bedroom #3 before André turns up again in September, and pick up some other bits and pieces at Lézignan on the way back. This just goes to show that if you have the urge to fart you really should just let it out (discreetly, if possible, and do try to ensure that you're either on your own or in a crowd, so you can blame the smell on someone else) because otherwise it bubbles up to your brain and you have really shitty ideas.

Whatever, being the end of the first week of August an awful lot of people were on the road, heading back home to calm down for a week before heading back to work (traditionally, around August 15). Enough that even on the D6113 the trip, which normally takes about 20 minutes, took us more like an hour. And on the occasions that we caught a glimpse of the autoroute that looked even worse ...

We made it - eventually - and to my surprise and pleasure they even had what I wanted in stock, so the nice man helped me load 160kg of tiles into the boot and we headed back home - taking the tight twisty back roads this time. Better for my health.

Page 37, paragraph 6 of our mission statement reads "We shall sensually excite and lustily inform with vigour and forbidden knowledge our eager readers": it was perhaps, with hindsight, a mistake to run the Japanese version of the Microsoft EULA through Google Translate. Especially as it goes on to mention something about the "posture of the dog". Be that as it may that's what it says; so, giving you facts that you may not really want to know, may I just say that blackberries go more or less straight through a dog's digestive system?

I have a KitchenAid stand mixer - a big black thing that lurks on the kitchen bench - and let it be said that I'm very happy with it. A while back I got the hachoir attachment for it: it very conveniently reduces dried bread into breadcrumbs, and minces meat, and when I get around to it it will not only mince some lamb shoulder with salt, herbs and spices, but will also stuff the resulting mess into sausage casings, which I shall then hang up in decorative festoons to dry. (Maybe I should do that around Christmas, would save on decorations.)

That's not the point. The point is, having used it today I was idly cleaning it - as one will, for food hygiene is important around here - and I could not help but notice something that kind of left me looking like a stunned mullet. There is what I shall call - for want of a better word - a sort of plastic piston or plunger, with a great big handle at one end and and a small disc at the other, which it is recommended one use - rather than one's fingers - to push stuff into the maw of the grinder.

This is not, in itself, surprising: what was is that they apparently thought it necessary to include instructions with it, in the form of a little arrow moulded into the body of the piston - I assume to indicate the direction - and the words "PUSH FOOD". Either I'm missing something here, or people are a lot thicker than I thought. Next thing you know they'll be sticking warning labels on coffee cups - "Warning! May be ouch-burny!" and they'll come with an instruction manual on a CD.

What do you mean, "it's already been done"?

I've a confession to make: generally speaking, fruit does little for me. Oh, I can guzzle cherries by the bucket-load, and a Black Doris or Omega plum (such as you can't find in these parts for love nor money) is a wonderful thing. A good crisp apple is always good, and grapes of course disappear just like that: a peche blanche is good. But nectarines I can pass on, the apricot finds no favour with me, and pears ...

Great in a pastis, I have used them to some acclaim in a cheesecake, even in a tart with an almond custard, but as such - but on the other hand, a ripe pear smells like sex. Or at least, very erotic. Just peeling a perfectly ripe Guyot the other night, with the juice running down my wrists ...

Maybe I should calm down and stop cooking for a bit.

A bit to the north of us is, as you may recall, la montagne Noire. It's basically the southernmost outcropping of the massif central, and there's a valley that runs west-east between the two, from Mazamet to Beziers. There's a river that runs along it and so, as usual, where there's water, there's industry: mostly dead now, but as you go through the towns it's easy enough to spot the abandoned dark satanic mills. Which were pretty much all for textiles, because there were also sheep.

At one of those towns, Labastide-Rouairoux, they have an annual salon for textile artists and quilters and what-have-you, and having better things to do - like changing the spark plugs on the septic tank - I headed off there with Margo.

It's a very pretty drive on the back roads climbing up into the mountains: stark and desolate on the southern side, then suddenly getting green and forested on the north. It also involves a number of rather rapid gear changes, until you realise that the "curve ahead" road-sign really means "hairpin bend RIGHT NOW" and that trying to go around at 80 is not perhaps the best of ideas. Fortunately, Sarah's permanent four-wheel drive and complete lack of body roll make it rather fun. If you're not too worried about passengers, anyway.

Also, I couldn't help but notice that it's rather cooler up there. I say this because I got bored witless after half an hour and went off wandering around the place, and so had ample opportunity to enjoy the bracing breeze. Places like that always strike me as rather sad: a couple of hundred years ago they were bustling hives of industry and now the factories are shut and the huge old houses standing in the gardens are dilapidated, all the shutters closed and peeling.

On the brighter side, the English seem to be buying them: I guess they're cheap, and maybe the climate reminds them of the Welsh valleys.

And by the time I'd finished with that Margo had just about done with meeting up with old friends and acquaintances, and they did have a stand selling artisanal honey: so I came away with a couple of pots for my private stash, some chestnut honey (my god that's good) and some bruyère honey (which is to die for, and if anyone tries to get at it, they will die).

(Incidentally, bruyère covers a multitude of gins and mostly, in French, refers to what you'd call heather: but my honey comes from bruyère ereca which is, oddly enough, a small tree from the roots of which are made briar pipes. Now you know.)

Finally, life is not fair. Why do bloody engineers get all the fun jobs, like building a simulated vomiting machine? And I bet that if you got to do that at high school there's be no shortage of candidates for the STEM courses.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mostly Dead Sheep ...

So, let me tell you about lamb ham. It's not something that seems to happen in France, poor benighted folk that they are, so effectively one is obliged to make one's own. Fortunately, the procedure is remarkably simple.

Some would start with a leg of lamb but unfortunately I have nowhere suitable to put one whilst it's curing: a cool airy cellar would be ideal, but I don't have one. Not, at anyrate, one that is inaccessible to cats. So I started out with a shoulder of lamb and boned it: removed the shoulder-blade and the top leg bone, leaving only the shank in. (If you've not done it before, boning can be a tedious and occasionally bloody process but persevere, it's not really that difficult. And think of the anatomy lesson you're getting.)

This will leave you with a shank, attached to a large square of flesh and skin. Stick it into a large ziplock bag (because believe me, it's a damn sight less messy that way) and get the cure ready: mix three tbsp of kosher salt, three tbsp of brown sugar, a quarter tsp of saltpetre and herbs or spices of your choice in a bowl. (I like to use crushed and chopped juniper berries at least, and the saltpetre is optional. Yeah, it's toxic in large doses, but it does help give a nice pink colour to the meat.)

Then add three tbsp or more of molasses or treacle, mix well, and rub well into the meat, paying special attention to the ends of the shank bone because we wouldn't want it to go all mouldy and gross, now would we? Close the ziplock bag, put it onto a tray (because the little buggers always develop a leak somewhere), stick it into the fridge for ten days or so and forget about it. (Well, flip it over once every couple of days, but that's hardly onerous.)

At the end of that time take it out, wash it well and dry it, roll and tie it ... you now have two options. You could wrap it in muslin to keep the flies off and hang it for a couple of weeks in that cool airy cellar of which I spoke, or you could do what I do, which is stick it into an oven at 90° for an hour or so, until the internal temperature gets up to about 58°. Or, if you have one, use a smoker. (Do you have any idea, by the way, just how difficult it is to find an oven that gives you the option of 90°? Mine certainly doesn't.)

The advantage of the second method is, of course, that you get to eat the stuff much sooner: always a bonus for those of us with zero patience. (Also, as good manners demand that one presents only perfect thin round slices to one's guests, one is obliged to trim off the scrappy caramelised bits immediately after baking, and eat them hot and crispy.)

I have recently spent more time than I care to think about delving into the Bluetooth layers of Linux. Think of it as a learning experience: like most such it is not necessarily pleasant. I have learnt about the driver layer which manages the hardware (and good luck with that if your chipset is not supported), and the userspace hcid layer which goes on top, and the bnep layer which goes on top of that ... there are so many layers to this damn thing that it looks as though a demented patissier started work on a fôret noire and found himself unable to stop.

And then, of course, all this is wrapped up in a package called BlueZ, which was started off by a couple of hobbyists in a basement and supported ever since in a sporadic manner, with occasional bursts of enthusiasm, by a small team of two men and a cat who get together twice a year for a beer. The package is more or less essential, because no-one in their right mind would start again from scratch (possibly adding comments to the code) so basically you live with what you get.

And I can indeed live with that, it's just that when the cat decided to move to version 4 they had possibly had a few too many beers and decided to completely change the API and - here's the cunning bit - not document the new one. Or if they did, grudgingly, put up a single web page, they took care to ensure that it is misleading at best, wildly inaccurate at worst. On the grounds, I guess, that anyone who really wants to know what's going on will just read the bloody source.

So you start on your quest for knowledge thinking "Hey! This is going to be easy! Look at all those examples on the innertubes ..." and it is not until things stubbornly refuse to work as they are supposed to and clients start getting itchy that you begin to realise that the examples out there are all for version 3, and you are on your own, boyo.

This is the dark side of Linux, the foetid underbelly of open source software. Take my advice, do not go there.

Whatever, twenty km or so south of Perpignan there is a little village, Palau del Vidre, which has the distinction of harbouring a couple of dozen artisans verriers - glass-blowers, stained-glass makers, people that make pretty glass dolphins ... it also has a rather interesting church, if you happen to be into that sort of thing. Would have been nice to go in and take a look around 'cos I guess the stained glass would've been fantastic, but being a Sunday the place was closed.

As it happens, it's the 22nd Foire International de Verre down there, and despite it's being another bloody black weekend on the roads due to the juilletists heading home and the aoutards leaving (and why can't the buggers just stay put in Paris for the duration, where god put them, and evidently intended them to be) we headed off down to take a look. So that you don't have to.

Start with the bad news: there was folk dancing. On the brighter side, that was towards the middle of the afternoon, we'd been around most of the place and we were sitting at a bar nursing cold (and bloody expensive) drinks and were feeling tolerant. So you'll be pleased to know that no-one got hurt, not even the little children.

Although it did remind me a lot of that scene from Spinal Tap, you know, the one where they've got this song about ancient mystic powers and so they have dwarves dressed as leprechauns dancing around the great monoliths of Stonehenge only it's a two-foot tall scale model in polystyrene, and the dwarves keep tripping over it? Yep.

And there was sort-of Morris dancing, with people hitting other people on the head with sticks whilst wearing stockings and bells, and inexplicably missing ... a lot of the glass was extremely beautiful.

But I checked down the sides of the sofa before we left, and did not find three or four thousand euros sitting there forgotten, so we came home empty-handed, without so much as a glass harp to our names. Maybe next year, if I work a bit harder, and manage to hide some of it from the taxman ... mind how you go, now.