Sunday, September 6, 2015

Nature's Bounty ...

The blackberry season, sad to say, is more or less over - or perhaps it's just that with seven kilos of the things in the freezer we actually have quite enough for our needs - but if we really want figs they'll be available for the picking for the next six weeks or so, and of course there are the almonds ... also, after a hot rainy night there's any number of fat juicy snails.

I know this because a) they tend to go crunch underfoot when taking the retards out for their midnight walk and b) coming back this morning from the bowel-emptying exercise we met a neighbour, returning from the hunt with a sort of chicken-wire handbag full of the bloody molluscs.

Another thing: next summer, we should be open for business. Two chambres d'hôte each of about 30m², hopefully a third, somewhat more cosy, one as well: each with bathroom, hot and cold running electricity, and - if we can persuade the mairie to give us a permis - gravity everywhere.

And for those who don't mind flirting with salmonella, there will also be table d'hôte if anyone asks for it. Which, technically, means that you have to eat whatever I feel like cooking, but there've been few disappointed dinner guests so far.

Also, not only will we be open for business, we are also open for a name. Margo has, quite rightly, pointed out that The Shamblings™ is only marginally more attractive than, say, "Nevada Federal Toxic Waste Facility" or "Love Canal", and has insisted that we find an alternative. I guess we could probably run to a free case of food poisoning meal and a night's accommodation for the lucky winner, so let's see those suggestions rolling in!

Completely off-topic, but something I would really like to have the occasion to say, should ever I be invited to a swish party and be cornered by a bore: "Really? How fascinating! Would you excuse me for a minute, I feel the familiar trickle that tells me my colostomy bag is leaking."

Somewhat imprudently I wandered past Old Hélène's place with the retards in tow the other day and waved cheerily, as one will, and she bustled out for a quick word. The point of which was to say that it would be a wonderful thing, and awfully fun for me, were Neville and I to do a poetry reading, in English, out in her little plot of pinède for the delectation of her artistic friends.

Personally, I beg to differ, and rather than enjoying it I suspect most of the audience would be trying to gnaw their ankles off, so I gave an enthusiastically non-committal answer and strode off. Luckily, shortly after Rick and Mary called to see if we wouldn't care to head off to the Irish bar in Fabrézan for a few drinks (for it was not the monthly soirée fish'n'chips, must try that some time) and after a couple I thought it was as good a time as any, and probably better than most, to pop the question and see if he wouldn't like to perform in my place - seeing as they're Irish and all that, and thus imbibed poetry and the bardic arts with their mother's milk.

To my relief and pleasure he did not run screaming from the bar, and remarked thoughtfully that it really would be a good opportunity to re-read those books of poetry that he's not touched for years, so I'm very hopeful. It's either that, or I feign madness - always an option, of course.

Beware the blandishments of butchers. I do not seem to be able to follow my own advice, for I always end up walking away with far too much meat. The other day it was enough schnitzel for us to be still eating the stuff three days later; then just yesterday, at the market in Narbonne, I was admiring a wonderful bit of aged beef but the bustling fat guy behind the counter rather calmed my ardour when he told me that it was Angus, (the breed, that is, not its actual name) and selling at only €36/kg.

So to compensate I bought far too much of a Limousin beast, and 800gm or so of a good marbled pork roast, which we will not be able to eat by ourselves. And it's not just the butchers, either: one of the fishmongers was hocking off large chunks of wild salmon - the trimmings from prettifying the fillets - at €12/kg instead of double that, so I just had no choice, did I?

The vendanges started unreasonably early this year, and the big signs are up on the roadsides thanking us for being prudent and caring and not running over vignerons as they go about their business (fat chance of that being as they're doddling around in huge, slow tractors but I can understand the urge), also now is not a good time to be buying too much sugar, for at the supermarket they will ask pointed questions as to just what exactly it is you want with so much of the stuff, and how much fucking jam are you making anyway?

Although, to be fair, I rather doubt that doctoring the wine (chaptalisation, if you want to be technical) will be necessary. Long, hot and above all dry summers do tend to mean that the grapes have quite enough natural sugar to get up to 12-13% alcohol, thanks very much.

I had always thought that all this stuff about the sky lighting up as though it were day was one of those poetical metamaphorical things, but this turns out not to be the case. Down here we enjoy a mediterranean climate, which involves lots of long lazy hot weather and occasional thunderstorms. And when the storms arrive, you know about it.

Robert the caviste came round for dinner and we finished up on the terrace as the clouds rolled in and it lit up over Mont Alaric to the south, so we called it a night and I took the dogs out as we headed back to his place: we'd just about got there when the heavens opened, as they sometimes will around here, and the water was gushing off the roofs, out of downpipes, swirling down the gutters and, above all, soaking me to the skin. Also, the dogs. Very wet dogs are not fun to be with.

Discretion being the better part of valour we headed rapidly back home to unsog and watched the rain pelt down and the terrace turn into a swimming pool, and then the storm picked up its skirts and headed north. So the rain stopped, but still the bellies of the clouds were lit up, and the thunder just kept on rolling. No literary license nor exaggeration, the lightning really was continuous.

At some point - when we've finished the work on the interior and are able to move all the furniture and other stuff out of the garage, Margo would like to have it set up as a workshop, and shift the washing machine and stuff like that down there, and be able to do fabric dying and give classes down there.

Now we wished to do things comme il faut, as one should, which explains why I headed off to the mairie to see young Jerome this afternoon. I admit that I did get waylaid by Robert, who had a few bottles of something interesting and would I like to taste them and report back, especially as he has no sense of smell at this moment - must be a right bitch for a chef - but that is neither here nor there. (But if you wish to know, the 2011 was very round, just enough tannin and damn me if I could work out just what the fruity nose was trying to tell me, while the 2014 was rougher but showed great promise. If you ask me. But I'm a professional alcoholic, so what would I know?)

But I eventually got to the my destination and exposed (as one would say in Frog-speak) my problem: our house is connected to the sewers - tout à l'égout, they say - but our garage is not: the washbasin in there goes straight into the stormwater drain.

"Hypothetical question, my little Jérome: should one wish to put a lave-linge in our garage of which you know, and connect it as one should to the lovely sewers, what must one do?"

"Ah, to that there is no problem, you must engage a plombier who will do the work, and if there is to be tearing up of the pavement he must make all good, but that is ok."

"And that is all? There is no more? No bad news, your mother has not died, by any chance?"

"Mais non, elle est toujours vivante, thank you very much. Non, there is nothing, but there is a little taxe de raccordement. It is but 2300€".

Excuse me? It's not as though it's the sort of thing you can do on the sly either - someone would be bound to notice the digger out there cutting a trench in the road.

Mad Karen from Mumblefuck rings occasionally to keep us up to date with the doings of her happily dysfunctional family, so we are au courant with the news of her mother (who adores me), her sister, brother, and two sons. Emmanuelli got accepted - on probation, due to farting around last year - for the Comp. Sci. course he wanted to do, but he has a complaint: there are no young women in the class. What did he expect? The female brain is just not wired-up for tricky science-type thinking1, I could have told him that. Give 'em Advanced Remedial Knitting, course number 72.305 and they'll be happy.

Anyway, I should slither off and make some blinis to go with all that bloody salmon. Mind how you go now.

1 Before you do me irremediable damage with that blunt instrument, that was supposed to be a joke. In the interests of full disclosure, I have gone through life knowing that absolutely everyone else in my family - including my daughter - was smarter than me, and am the only one who took the easy option of an arts degree. So there.


  1. a poetry reading, in English
    A recitation of dirty limericks not good enough?

  2. So, Coleridge's "The Obscene Rime of the Ancient Mariner", or "The Dirty Kubla Khan", you think?