Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Piece of Cod (That Passeth Understanding) ...

S'a funny thing, but for about 25 years I called Savoie "home". And the other day, driving back from Chambéry where I happened to be for reasons into which I will not go - sunglasses on, because south of Valence, and "White Wedding" full tit on the stereo because hey, it's Billy Idol and deserves to be played with the volume turned up to 11, right? - and with the windows down around Montpellier there was that clean smell of juniper and thyme and heather and I thought "Hey! I'm almost home." Back in the south, under the wide blue sky, where the air smells of gin. I can go for that.

(On the other hand, and as a cautionary tale, Sarah does not have an ignition key: just a stop/start button. Which is just a few centimetres away from the stereo on/off button ... you can see where this is going. I can report that if, through no fault of your own, you happen to push and hold that button, trying to turn off the stereo, the motor will in fact turn off - despite the fact that you're driving along at about 140 kph. I did not wish to find out what happens if you try engaging the starter motor at that sort of speed so I drifted over to the side - not easy, 'cos there's no power steering with the motor off - came to a halt, and restarted. Just saying, do not try this at home.)

To no pomp, and with very little circumstance, the village bar has finally reopened. Not that you'd have known, from the befuddled looks adorning the faces of some of the locals - mind you, some of them always look like that, case of rather too much inbreeding than is good for them would be my guess.

But whatever, they advertised themselves as doing "depôt de pain" along with drinks, and although it turned out to be industrial fluffy-centered baguette it's still better than the day-old burnt dog-turd facsimiles you can get from the surly lady at the local Vival store - always assuming that she deigns to actually sell you one, maybe most of them are reserved for poo fanciers - so it saves me going through to Lézignan for bread should I want some for lunch, which has to be good. (Sadly, the boulangerie at Conilhac, only a few km away, seems to have closed down. Shame, 'cos their bread was good and on top of it they stocked the cigars I like to smoke. Bitch.)

Did not, however, go off to the inauguration ceremony a week after. There was, it seems, a concert - followed by a meal: folk songs have never appealed, so we passed. Apparently we did not miss much: the organisation of the affair (so not their fault, the mairie was involved) was up to the usual pissup+brewery standards, standing room only, and when Terry discovered that he would have to help drag a table outside to sit in purdah with the other English-persons he gave up in disgust and headed back home. Which earned him a righteous and doubtless well-deserved bollocking from Cash.

We have, however, decided that although we're not going to create a formal support group, the least we can do is organise something amongst those we know along the lines of "we'll be there Friday night around 18h for a beer, weather permitting, see you there". A case of use it or lose it: three years without a local bar is quite enough thanks very much, we'd rather use it.

A couple of Sundays back the church bells starting clanging in their very annoying out-of-tune and subtly off-pitch way, and from about 11am on (could've been earlier, maybe was, but I was not actually out of bed and in any state to check) people started turning up in their glad-rags, with small children and an accordion.

Some of the local yoof, in ill-fitting (or maybe just uncomfortable, because not used to such things) suits had apparently been deputised to look after parking, and as most French drivers will greet advice on that subject with the same sort of response I'd give if someone inadvisedly suggested I have a vegetable soup enema, things got a little bordelique ...

After the service everyone hung around in the little square, all apparently having a good time, and there was what I will charitably call "music". Still trying to work out just what it was. Could have been a baptism, maybe a first communion - or given the date, maybe they'd come to commemorate the death of French rugby?

We've had a little more work done on the house, rather sooner, than we'd reckoned on. Those of you who've been here before may recall that the ceiling in the downstairs living-room had been tastefully paneled in pine and varnished shit-brown, which made it pleasantly dim in summer but downright gloomy at other times. Well, this is no longer the case.

Cédric having ripped out the fireplace to make room for the pellet burner (and also, incidentally, exposing some asbestos piping that was apparently part of some rustic system for piping tepid air into a bathroom or two on the first floor - less said about that the better) also did some collateral damage to the ceiling, so having better things to do one Saturday I got up on the stepladder with a crowbar and had some fun.

Once I'd recovered, and Cédric came back a few days later, we discussed our options. The false ceiling had hidden the original wooden beams and the old plaster ceiling, which was in pretty bad nick, so we came to an arrangement whereby he would charge us a reasonable amount of money and in return stick up plasterboard about 10cm higher, so that some of the beams are still exposed, and plaster over all the rather shitty bits that were revealed.

But he did not wish to sign his name on the old ceiling before covering it up again - unlike Réné and Alain, cowboy builders, who did the first job on March 12, 1975. Do you know, when I was removing the pine planks, I came across a piece of wood, serving absolutely no useful purpose, that had been attached to one of the beams? A piece of wood maybe 15cm long, 5cm x 3cm. Very, very firmly attached with three 8 x 100 screws. I mean, three? Nuclear armageddon could come and go, and that bit of wood would still be there.

Whatever, unplanned or not it's done now, and the old room will be that little bit airier, and probably a whole lot lighter. Especially as part of my demolition work involved removing the old lampshade, which had apparently been designed to WW II specs to block out 95% of all visible light. What were they all on, back in the 70s?

(Anyone saying "You should know, you were there" is banned. With extreme prejudice.)
Is a bepuzzlement. We has been living in this little corner of southern France for what, about two and a half years now, and during that time the bank has been sending out statements and begging letters and godnose what else to this address, but still it does not seem to have penetrated whatever it is that passes for their collective hive-mind that this means that I am actually here, and not there. For once again I just got a phone call asking if it would be convenient for my banker to call upon me next Tuesday, in the moaning.

"But certainly, dear secretary. Ah will be pleased to see her."

"Verrah well, ah shall note you for dix hours?"

"But with pleasure. You do, of course, realise that this entails a 923 km round trip? But if she wishes, she will be more than welcome."

Somehow, I don't think so. 

I also gather that as part of the international conspiracy led by Hollywood, Wall Street bankers, Jews and the Illuminati, both processed and raw meats have been classified by WHO as being carcinogenic. I could care more. Shall just have to wear a tin-foil hat when eating my crispy fried bacon down in the cellar, so that UN death squads do not detect my brainwaves and cart me off in a black helicopter.

Other things are doubtless bad for you too: fish'n'chips, for one. (Truth to tell yer usual home-made variety is generally both unhealthy and pretty gross, as most domestic deep-fryers aren't worth crap. Which is why I have an industrial deep-fryer.) Who cares, we organised drinks at the bar with Richard and Mary, to be followed by a bit of greasy delight here - and a big "Thank you!" to Margo, by the way, for suggesting that just perhaps turning eight huge spuds into chips for four people would be a good idea, rather than going with my miserly five. It's amazing how the damn things just disappear.

Unfortunately I do not actually have eight litres of duck fat (although I am working on this problem) so I had to fry everything in oil: never mind, we managed to force it down anyway. And as we munched our way through the crispy beer-battered fish, and the frites, the wind came up and howled and the rain started to pelt fretfully down, but we nicotine addicts are made of hard stuff for we found ourselves on the terrace under the downpour - me with a cigar, Rick with his usual weedy roll-yer-own and Mary with a camel (don't say anything, thank you) - and I thought that perhaps I'd better do my hostly duty and offer something post-prandial.

"Our son" I said "left us some rather ghastly pastis, but if you'd rather not - and personally I wouldn't - there's some gin, or some decent whisky ..."

"Any port", said Rick, "in a storm?"

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