Monday, September 21, 2015

Where Is My Cow Lunch ...

I'll tell you where: in bloody Indra's stomach, probably mixing with road-kill figs and splattered grapes. My own fault, I guess: having no baguette around and no particular inclination to hop in the car to go get one I hauled some sliced bread out of the freezer (everyone knows that sliced bread is a yardstick, the best thing that ever there was, and this was whole-grain) and put it on the kitchen bench to defrost.

With hindsight, it was perhaps a mistake to not close the kitchen door.

Helping SC: everyone has no doubt seen the article reporting on the homeopathic practitioner's group hug conference in Germany which ended in disorder due to the consumption of pyschotropic drugs. I can only say that it's a good thing they didn't take them in homeopathic doses, or the effects would have been much, much worse.

I guess up in the South you is enjoying the beginnings of spring, with asparagus and everything else that makes life worth living: over in our corner of Ole Yurrup you can tell that summer is drawing to an end. Don't get me wrong, there are still figs on the trees (and the dogs do their best to get the road-kill) and the days are still bright and sunny, but it's pleasantly cool in the moaning when we go off for our trot and in the evenings I tend to put on one of my ancient jackets. And I guess that soon I will be able to consign my single pair of shorts to the tender mercies of the washing machine.

Sometimes I feel like I'm a construction gang, working for a someone with corporate ADD. Thursday you have a conference call with the client, the architect, the CEO and it's all "OK lads, we're going to build the biggest, meanest skyscraper that ever there was, and it will be pink and maybe frilly because that's in our mission statement, and we're going to do it on time and under budget. For once. You hear that? Go, go, go!"

And then, as it might be the next day for instance, you get another call. "Ah, lads. Yerss, that skyscraper. Um, put it on hold. I know you have 5000 cubic metres of cement ready to go, you'll just have to stick it somewhere safe and hope it doesn't go off, and no-one nicks the stuff. The thing is, we have a bijou Stockbroker Tudor residence to do right now, top priority, for Wednesday. Oh, by the way, it's in Aberdeen. Hop to it.".

It is a worriment.

Which is why, right now, I'm faffing about doing some shit that was a few miles up the street on the original development road-map but which has suddenly become urgent, so forget about the leaky sewers. You get my drift.

The other night Julian and his wife came - kinda late- for dinner. They're the ones that bought into the Mayle dream and the bio-dynamic organic vineyard that goes with it ... all 8 hectares of it, scattered about the place. And because it's the first year, and noblesse oblige and all that, they are harvesting by hand - and of course the friends that were going to turn up from England to give a helping hand couldn't ... it's a long, tedious business, let me tell you. Never mind, the end-result could well be worthwhile, let you know in a couple of years.

At some point in the not-too distant future I am going to set off on a mission dear to my heart: I shall load up the tile saw, my trowels, the rubber squeegee and my sponge into the boot of the car, and we shall drive off together into the wilderness, in search of a crevasse. When we have found one that seems sufficiently deep I shall fling the whole damn lot into it, cover it with concrete and then - from a prudent distance - detonate a small-yield tactical nuke just on top.

Yes, you guessed it, I have finished tiling the very last bathroom here in The Shamblings™, and quite frankly if I never see a bloody trowel again it will be too soon. Or if anyone chooses to ask me about such things, they might well find one somewhere unexpected.

I have been having a few problems with email recently: for reasons which escaped me, Thunderbird was refusing to automatically download new messages every however many minutes. It turns out that this is a known bug (No! Really?) which occurs whenever your machine goes into hibernation. Or so it seems, going through the bug lists. The proposed solution, whilst waiting for version 38.3 to come out, is - roll of drums, please - to restart Thunderbird when you wake your machine.

Are they serious? There is another solution, which is to disable automatic upgrades, then download and install version 38.1. It will nag you at least twice a day, saying that there's a newer version available and you really should install that, but I am stubbornly deaf to these siren voices.

Don't think it's just me - there seem to be an awful lot of mobile phone scams going around at the moment. You get a robo-call from an innocuous 09 number which either hangs up as soon as you pick up, or you hear an anodyne recorded message purporting to be from an anonymous Queen/government department of your choice/Donald Trump. So you ring back the 09 number, and you get another message telling you about a knighthood/tax rebate/bridge for sale in Brooklyn, for more information please call 36**.

Which is, of course, a premium-rate number and I'm willing to bet that if you called you'd be invited to push various buttons to get through to the appropriate department and then get stuck on hold with tinny muzak and muffled sniggers in the background until you lost patience. So that'd be €50 down the tubes then.

I ask you, is it wrong of me to want to push the scamming pond-scum responsible into a vat of bubbling tarmac and then poke their eyes out with a blunt instrument, such as a sledgehammer?

Many people have laughed at French "road safety" laws, on the general principle that the French could care more. And let's face it, I myself have overtaken on a solid white line: my excuse being that I was following a tractor doing about 5kph, there was at least 100m of road clear ahead, and quite frankly you have to, don't you? (Back in the days when we got our Frog licences, this was quite acceptable: a case of force majeure. Literally, something more powerful than you made you do it. These days, not so sure if that works. Whatever.)

But nowadays this sort of thing is taken very seriously, to the point where getting behind the wheel with more than two bottles of red under your belt is considered a Bad Thing, and it's getting worse. I guess they're trying to fill the coffers of the state, because not only may you be fined €68 for smoking (as a driver) in a car containing young children - and why the driver puffing away on a weedy roll-yer-own should be fined rather than the child's mother, sitting next to it inhaling a Corona-Corona, is beyond me but never mind that - you may also be fined for listening to music on headphones, looking at a screen (wot, even your bloody GPS of Doom?), eating a sandwich, putting on makeup or looking in the glovebox: even if stationary at a red light or in a traffic jam.

It is still legal to have the car stereo blaring, which is good news.

An interesting food fact if you happen to be into that sort of thing: at Pézenas, a pretty little town a shade south-west of Béziers, you can buy a Pézenas pie. These are, as the name suggests, little pies about the size and shape of an old-style cotton reel, made from a sweet short pastry (in these degenerate times) stuffed with a mixture of minced roast mutton, suet, sugar and lemon peel. So about as close as you'll find to an Olde Englishe mince pie.

The story has it that Clive of India, when he wasn't busy having some of His Majesty's loyal wog subjects slaughtered for failure to pay taxes, introduced them to France (for he stayed at a château not far from the place). Yet another example, were one needed, of the French appropriating English cuisine for their own use.

And there's another thing: I was doing the grouting in the last bathroom the other day - and yes, thanks for asking, the tile saw and the trowels are now interred in the garage. I can't actually chuck them out yet because I still have about six tiles to cut and put down on the top-floor landing, but at least they're out of sight. Anyways, it was a kind of beige, and I couldn't help but think to myself as I squoze it into the gaps "Hey! That is exactly the colour of the inside of a perfectly-cooked foie gras." Maybe I have been here too long.

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.