Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sunlight, and a pale blue sky ...

So the phone rang today and, as one will - on occasion - I answered it, and some young woman marketing droid claiming to be from a travel agency congratulated me on having won a free, gratis, and totally for-nothing holiday!
Sadly, I am old enough to no longer believe in these things, and for a short while I toyed with the idea of disappearing down the phone line at the speed of a wave-form in copper, only to emerge in some call centre where I'd gift everyone present a virulent case of hookworm maggots ... but the prospect of seeing them reduced to bones within minutes was not enough to compensate for the realisation that I'd surely bump my head going through the copper/fibre-optic couplers, so I contented myself with wishing the AI a good day, and hanging up.

And then I had occasion to order a book for Rick from the Grauniad - as they're English liberals I hardly expected efficiency or competence, but even so - I guess the library pixies despatched to get a copy got lost in the stacks, or maybe the scribe that is preparing my hand-written copy is drunk ... despite the assurance on the site that I would receive an email when the order was stuck in the post that never actually happened, and it was only when I rang (and was put on hold for ten minutes) that I learnt that my order had been sent out on the 12th. With alarmingly good timing, it arrived on the 23rd. Brexit, I guess.

In other news, I seem to recall (admittedly rather vaguely) talking about the project to install some wind turbines at Moux. There was a public meeting (in the disused toilet that now holds the filing cabinets from 1947) and public opinion having been rightfully disregarded, the process proceeded to the next step, the expertise. This was done and the report handed in, and lo! Moux was an ideal spot for windmills!

But my dumb has never been more founded, and you may colour me speechless, for apparently the mairie has asked for a contre-expertise, to say that Moux is not in fact a good place to install aeoliens, and this despite the fact that the project would have involved them being built on land owned by M. Bollano, ex-maire and greasy eminence of the village.

I is perplex. Maybe the Dear Leader is growing balls - although I rather doubt it - more likely, I suspect, is the possibility that should a wind farm not be built then compensation would be paid ... it's sad how cynical one can become.

Whatever, it's been but a week since Rick set a match to his traditional solstice balefire (paraffin is a great boon to the budding arsonist) and it is already starting to feel like Spring, though the year's not even ended. The days are lengthening perceptibly, the evening light is glorious, and the lazy tramontane wind has been notable by its absence. It'll all end in tears, I know, but I am shamelessly profiting from it whilst I can. And did I say that it's up to 18° in the afternoon some days, hotter if you're in the sun and out of the breeze?

Come to that, having better things to do the other weekend I took the pack out for a decent walk. We is at the eastern extremity of the montagne d'Alaric, a limestone outcropping that stretches some 20km east from Carcassonne, and reaches the dizzy height of 590m. (I know. It's the best we can do around here.)

From that extremity there are two lower ridges that go a few km further east, with a sheltered plain between, and when you leave Moux by the south-west you go through a natural cutting in the northern ridge and from thence east to Fontcouverte (the true birthplace of our famous Saint Régis), follow the GR77 south and west up into the Alaric, or just go straight ahead, crossing the plain and following the rough road up and over the southern ridge.

So that's what we did. Alarmingly beautiful in its savage way, with dew still on the spiderwebs covering the moss on the rocky slopes on the north, sunlight filtering through the pines above, and a bright provençal blue sky and the air was chill. Then we'd get out into a clearing, or a little plateau, and off with the jacket because too hot, past the ripped-up earth where the sangliers had been looking for something to eat, and on and up under the sun.

Anyway, the year is coming to an end so I guess I should just wish you a Furry New Bear, and leave it at that. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Dolmas Season ...

Despite appearances, I am a happy man (although I has sads 'cos Martini sec seems to be unavailable in these here southern parts) for I have a good butcher, and there are once more feijoas on sale (admittedly at an eye-watering price - I mean, 10€ the kilo?) at the market. Which means, I guess, that at some point I will dive into the pile of yellowing clippings from The Listener* (ca 1985), and hopefully come back up with that recipe for feijoa and apple bretonne.

(Incidentally, meeting Bob! later that day for a few vitamins, as is our wont on a Saturday moaning, I tried to explain the feijoa, and its flavour, to him. The closest I've come across is the anone - the custard apple, as you'll recall - and so of course the bugger wilfully misheard. "Le gout", he said, "de la nonne? Je vais certainement l'essayer alors.")

A "good butcher" is one who, should his client request 400gm of minced lamb for instance, will take a thick slab of meat from the leg of the beast, remove the bone and any unnecessary skin, then grind it and only then weigh it. And sell it to you at the price of the gigot. Such honest shopkeepers are rare birds indeed, and should ever you come across one I suggest you do as I do, and clasp him firmly to your bosom (firmly enough that he may not escape, but not so firmly that he suffocates).

Having had the occasion to go up to Chambéry for a bit the other week, I thought I might as well profit from the trip by bringing back a few regional specialities. (Also, two bottles of Ancona Jamaican Ouch! Burny Hot Pepper Sauce, due to there being very little left in the cupboard as a person or persons who shall remain nameless were using the stuff like ketchup on their burgers a while back. Because Mad Karen goes through harissa like anything, and Martin felt obliged to emulate her - the look on his face as the afterburners kicked in was ... interesting.)

So there was a kilo of Beaufort d'alpage for Margo, a kilo of vieux Comté for me, and I thought I might as well bring back a bottle of génepi for Martin, whose tastes run to undrinkable alcohols. (Génepi, should you not have had the misfortune to come across the stuff, is one of those "herbal" liqueurs - all of which tend, in my opinion, to resemble Chartreuse in that they smell, and taste, of sticky sweet detergent. The distillers of the up-market varieties tend to stick some sort of stem with a rather sad flower or two on it in the bottles, to add an air of verisimilitude to the story.)

So I took it off to the bar on Friday night and presented him with it, and I'm sad to say that when we left some while later there was precious little left in the bottle. I have since been requested to bring back rather more the next time. I guess I owe him, for the Tanqueray.

It is once again That Time Of Year, and as we are no longer Upside-Down Landers who heat their houses in winter with a single 500W electric radiator in the living room, grudgingly turned on for an hour or so after 19:00, we went into the utility room on the top floor and did the Propitiation of the Beast. Which goes - in our case - something like this:

"Hey, where's the bloody candle?"
"Well, I've got the little tinkly thing from last year's Christmas cracker, and the 1934 Boy's Own Digest, so that's bell and book: you're supposed to have the damn candle!"
"I think the dog ate it."
"Right, well we'll just do our best with a pocket torch shall we, and hope it all works?"

Then we turnèd the knob, and with a rush and a gurgle hot water surged through the pipes and I ran about the house opening the purge valves on the ancient cast-iron radiators and wrapping lagging around the pipes where super-heated steam was venting, and now it is toasty-warm and we is happy, and having a shower is no longer an exercise in Nordic masochism.

(Be under no illusions. The Languedoc is hot and dry in summer - and, in all fairness, mostly so in spring and autumn too - but in winter, especially on a dismal damp grey Sunday with a spiteful crachin Breton, it can get bloody miserable and cold. This is why a number of the British ex-pats go back to England for the winter: not for the weather, but for the central heating. When every room in your three-storey maison de maitre has about 4m² of French doors made with 1mm-thick glass, you rapidly learn that trying to heat it is a losing proposition.)

Other reasons to be happy: M. Bourrel sent one of his doubtless numerous minions around this moaning with a small tanker truck, and there are now 2000l of diesel in the garage along with 300kg or so of wood pellets, so we can now sneer in the face of winter.

(Also, Cash and Terry headed off the other day to the ginormous strip mall that is the frontier town between France and Spain, and very kindly brought back two bottles of Tanqueray and four litres of Martini Extra Dry. So that's me set up for a couple of weeks, anyway.)

Our neighbour Johann, the good Saarlander, would rather like a dog but can't have one; because of cats, and Sylvia. So he has adopted Widdling Emma. Being a keen jogger he trots off on a 6 - 12 km run every other day, and one fine day he shyly asked if she could go for a run with him. We did not pose too many objections.

I'm not sure which of the pair is the keenest to go: at least Johann doesn't jump vertically in the air with his forepaws straight up, which is what Emma does when she spots him coming up the steps to the gate. He seems to think that the exercise does not tire her out enough, because the other night oop't bar he suggested that he could perhaps take her for a walk on those days when he doesn't go for a run - "and I will train her, with the throwing of the ball, or of a wooden branch".

Karma + Blofeld
Something which did not, apparently, go too well when he tried it on Friday - not that Emma ran away or anything, just that she is maybe short-sighted and, as he said, "I took a ball that was green, and a ball that was red, and I threw them in the grass for her, and she could not see them. I could not see the green ball either, in the green grass, and I had forgotten that I am red-green colour-blind, so we went home with no balls, but with a stick of wood."

Let no-one say that a self-deprecating sense of humour is the exclusive preserve of the English.

(In unrelated news, a Kindle Fire can apparently survive a fall from about 80cm onto carpet, and the depredations of sharp puppy teeth: although the cover is looking a little the worse for wear. I do not get paid for these unsolicited testimonials, just saying.)

* Note for younger readers: this was an actual paper magazine which in fact listed the TV programmes for the week. I guess The Watcher or The Couch Potato Tuner Guide were not snappy enough.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Shaken, Not Stirred ...

... with a twist of lemon, leave out the bloody olive.

To all of you in the God Zone, hope you're OK.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Party Like You're It's 58

Which is, by an odd quirk of fate, exactly what I will be by the time you get to read this here deathless prose. Yet another year down the tubes, on this rough beast's slouching journey to retirement.

Well, thanks for asking, it was a good party the other night. Julian and Batu, who bought old Charles's vines (along with the Mayleish dream of life in the south of France), finished the vendange (all done by hand) and threw a party for all the devil's little helpers, in the chai on the ground floor.

As an aside, the house that came with the vines was in rather worse shape than The Shamblings™, and living there is still kind of approximative. Although there is electricity - of sorts - and something that makes an effort at imitating plumbing. And of course, gravity is free. Charles's son Philippe was squatting the place at the time, and I must admit that it's the first time I've ever heard of a real-estate agent having to ask someone to clean the drying cannabis leaves out of the attic so that he could reasonably show prospective buyers through the place without too many questions, possibly of an awkward nature, being asked.

Anyways, old Charles and Isabelle were there, and we took the opportunity to raise the question of child support for little Emma and her sisters. He hummed, and hawed, and allowed as how it might just be possible, but insisted on DNA tests and if they turn out positive he might just have to charge us stud fees, given as his dog is mostly beauceron. Also, that would make us family, of a sort, which is an alarming prospect. The better part of valor is running away: I think we'll call it quits.

Batu must be seen to be believed. Ever watch "N° 1 Ladies Detective Agency"? Extrovert, larger than life in all senses, and you'd swear she'd never met a person she didn't like. Or if she didn't like them, there were certainly bloody good reasons. (She makes an exception for me.)

Johann did the music, being a pretty mean guitarist, and old Nev did the vocals for a couple of songs - in what was, I must admit, a bit of a revelation for us because I can now see how he managed to make a living for a while singing in clubs and bars. Seventy-mumble, and a great voice.

Of course there was wine - it's only a bloody winery, innit? - and between us all there was enough food for a smallish army, and dancing was committed. And then sometime around midnight the impressively-mustachioed local pharmacist turned up, he being the pharmacie de garde for Sunday, and jovially consented to drink a few glasses in between welcoming people turning up to buy a packet of aspirin at 1am.

I had occasion to go see one of the inspecteurs des impôts at la cité administrative at Carcassonne the other day - a little question of a re-estimation of tax due (guess I make too much money, must stop doing that) and it left me unnerved for a week.

First of all, I rang and requested an appointment. "When", I asked, "may I come in to see you?"

"Why, at your convenience, sir. I exist merely to serve you, the public". Already, that left me a bit queasy. A public servant - a fonctionnaire - announcing (over an unencrypted communication) that he is there to serve the public? I don't think so.

It got even weirder when, once he'd fawningly accepted a date and time for a rendez-vous, he told me that rather than wait at the accueil with the other plebs I should just give him a call and he'd come down directly, and to this end gave me his personal cellphone number. Alarming, I think you'll agree.

And then I turned up at the appointed time, called the number I'd been given, and a little white-haired guy bounced out of a stairwell and cheerfully led me to his office, where he proceeded to have problems with his computer - still, I noted, running XP.

Then he clearly and courteously explained the administrative procedure which would be followed, and went on to congratulate me on my excellent grasp of the French language before discussing the natural beauty of New Zealand. And finally, before shaking my hand and leading me to the stairs, "You will, of course, receive a letter. When you receive this letter, you should call me and bring it here, and I will explain the necessary elements to you. You may not be aware of this, but there are certain inspecteurs who are not gentil, but even so they may not oblige you to pay the full amount in one sum. Should you have problems you have but to call me, and I will ring his superior. I wish you a good day, and also to your doubtless equally charming wife".

The word "gob-smacked" is, I think, in order here.

Just like Donald Trump, I have an accountant - which is where the similarities end. For one thing, I actually have to pay for their services, also they have not yet found a creative way of letting me lose some 900 million dollars. Which is a shame, because if I could pass the resultant tax credits onto the kids, as part of their inheritance, I guess that this particular branch of the Bimler family would be living tax-free for the next ten generations at least.

Anyway, I guess that they must feel guilty about making me fork over hard-earned cash for their services, and as some sort of consolation every three months or so I get a large envelope from them in the post. I must admit that I'm always eager to get it, for it contains a glossy booklet absolutely brimming with articles of passionate interest to accountants. My favourite would have to be the last-but-one issue, with a full-colour tear-out section on ring binders ...

What I actually meant to say was that I have just learnt - from the aforementioned little fascicule - that France is taking a leap forward of some fifty years or so, for in 2018 they will be instituting PAYE! Only a few decades behind the rest of the world, but you wouldn't want to rush things. (Also, the French taxman has discovered the innatübz, and has embraced it with a vengeance. To the point where, when you receive - as you will, inevitably and sadly, very regularly - demands for your taxe fonçière or the taxe d'habitation, all of which involve frightening numbers and a due date for payment which is unnervingly close, you will note that you may pay online. The advantage of that is that you have an extra 15 days before the cash comes out of your account: that much more time to plan a bank robbery.)

Whatever, I shall pass on the sordid details of my birthday, mostly because I can't remember that many. I spent some time officiating at the bigger of the barbecues and then, having dished out the chicken wings and the bulgogi and merguez and fish and this, that, and the other, quietly slipped upstairs and went to bed - half-cut, and completely knackered. Didn't bother anyone, and I got to sleep the sleep of the just.

And the next weekend our old friend Jacques came down from the mountains to see us, bringing his fractured L1 vertebra with him (the old fool would slip and fall on his arse playing ball with various grand-children: godnose I've tried to tell him but will he listen? No). It was mainly to see his youngest daughter Claire (whom I mostly remember as a ten-year-old kid when we first turned up in France) do a 180km run, starting from Carcassonne: heading off to points south before looping off to the east to take in Peyrepertuse (and actually running up 1100m to get to the chateau itself, before running back down again) then back to the west and up to the starting point.

This, I should point out, on goat-tracks and the sort of pistes that SUV drivers tend to avoid. (Because you really don't want to scratch the paintwork on your brand-new Cayenne.)

We duly saw her off, and welcomed her back 44 hours later, and quite incidentally discovered a few worthy restaurants in Carcassonne, which is nice. But I think that at some point Jacques must have offended whichever god it is that watches over the SNCF, for his train into Narbonne was 50 minutes late (due to flooding, which didn't help that run either) and then as we were sitting on the quai waiting for his train back to St-Avre there was an ominous (and of course, completely incomprehensible) announcement over the Tannoy which, on enquiry turned out to be to the effect that his train would be delayed at least two hours ...

 And to cap a busy month, our friend Mad Karen turned up, abandoning her cosy nunnery in Seyssel for the rigours of life down in the Languedoc. Ie, booze and sunshine. Mostly.

Sad to say, we missed the inauguration of the House At Pooh Corner, due to having better things to do. Shame really, apparently there was a vin d'honneur and nibbles and everything: but quite frankly, cutting the ribbon on a sewage treatment station does little for me.

Now if I knew that our estimable M. le maire were to be ensconced on his throne and, to general applause, give the first flush, that could be a different story - sadly, no.

Whatever. I'm not going to be watching the news for the next four years, and I'm seriously thinking of taking up drinking.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sweet, To Taste It ...

By which I am, of course, referring to this, which is absolutely excellent hot or cold. It's the sort of thing I make for myself when Margo is away, because it involves pastry. But be warned, caramelised onions are sweet, which may surprise some.

So anyway, the week started off really well when I went out to take the two big morons out for their walk one evening and I could not help but notice that the front right tire was completely flat. Rare are the cars these days that have a full-sized spare, so I had to put the dinky little galette on and, whilst I wait for the tire to be repaired, am thus obliged to drive around at a speed not exceeding 80 kph. Which is a) boring and b) surprising, because even at that speed I was not being overtaken when I went in to the market at Carcassonne this moaning. No wonder I bitch.

Having a puppy is very much like having a small child: you tend to become obsessed with bowel motions. Every time I come back from taking Widdling Emma for a walk I must report each dejection in detail and when, the other morning, I came downstairs to find not a single puddle of piddle nor pile of poo in the verandah, I rushed back up to write a letter to the local rag.

I should probably not have done that, for she took advantage of those five minutes of absence to make a veritable lake by the front door, but it's a start: those of you who childless live just can't begin to understand the excitement.

(Also, whenever we meet Angela and Martin, who have Emma's sister Manon, before we can proceed with other topics of conversation there are certain niceties that must be respected.

"Hey! I took Emma out this moaning and she had a crap just outside Cash and Terry's front door!".
"Damn. Manon didn't make it past the doormat. But there was no piddle on the carpet! And she slept through the night".

We don't have that many friends anyway, and now people seem to be actively avoiding us.)

Of course, that would be the day the weather broke, and after three months of drought it fair pissed down. But by the time I'd cleaned up Lake Erie there was but the occasional drop, so off we went - and got to about ten minutes from the house when the heavens opened again. Now you may not know what happens around these here parts when it rains heavily: let's just say that the phrase "flash flood" is possibly inadequate. Also, all the culverts are blocked with bits of crap that've blown in there over the summer, which does not help, but mainly there's an awful lot of water falling on hard dry slopes that has to go somewhere.

Which meant that we struggled uphill back to the house with about 5cm of water slooshing along the road: not that little Emma minds that one bit. In fact, I'm pretty sure she was looking about for deeper bits to go jump in, to get seriously damp.

Indra and Jara, on the other hand, were totally unimpressed. As were, I imagine, the vignerons, because it fell right in the middle of the vendange. Mind you, it had all dried out the next day so I guess there was no great harm done.

Anyways, Saturday we is confiding Emma to Angela and Martin, and Jara and Indra to the kindly care of Cash and Terry, before loading up the car with vast quantities of wine and heading off to see our friend Mad Karen, who will be celebrating her 50th birthday in her convent in Seyssel.

Having made it back from that, we took little Emma off to the vet on Monday for her first round of booster shots. And after the obligatory "Ooh she's just so sweet what a lovely healthy happy puppy" came the bit I really did not want to hear: "She's only 8.5 kg, I'd be surprised if she gets to weigh more than 35". Her mother was - mostly - spaniel: I suspect that Martin and I might have to go off and see old Charles and have a serious talk about child-support payments due from his enormous black Labrador.

Occasionally, as some sort of punishment for my sins, I do follow the American political scene and I've not been able to help but notice the gesticulations and brain-farts of Lamar Smith (whom God preserve), Republican of Texas and chairman of the House Science committee. (Which seems a bit like putting the fox in charge of the hen-house if you ask me, but then, the Murkins didn't.)

Not, it seems, content with issuing subpoenas left right and centre to the scientists at NOAA, who'd had the temerity to suggest that perhaps, if you measured it against the proper baselines, climate change was more significant than previously thought, he is now doing the same to the Attorneys General of a number of states and the SEC, who are looking into the admittedly murky affairs of ExxonMobil. (Admittedly there is a bit of consistency there, as the grounds for both actions are that First Amendment rights are imperiled. Well, colour me shocked.)

Whatever, I guess that issuing a subpoena to an actual AG might, on dim reflection, have seemed a step too far, for he called in a brace of lawyers to supply some legal justification. Which is what really interested me, if you must know, for one of these legal eagles rejoices in the name - and this is, apparently, true - of "Ronald Rotunda".

I mean really, people, what is going on here? At least Willy Wonka had the excuse of being a fictitious character, and everyone knows that Ronald McDonald is some sort of pervert killer clown, but can you imagine anyone - anyone at all - who a) having had the misfortune to be born one, would keep a surname like "Rotunda" and then b) having for reasons unimaginable decided to stay a bandstand, call their child "Ronald"?

I don't know about you, but personally I find that it beggars belief. (On the bright side and totally in keeping with the principles of nominative determinism, the guy seems to favour rather psychedelic bowties.)

Anyways, must go: we've yet another party to head off to, to celebrate the end of the vendanges, and I need to make a quiche.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Eating Fish ...

So after an impromptu and totally not-my-fault meal with Rick and Mary the other night (so I had a bit too much beef fillet. Go sue me) we organised ourselves for a Tuesday's goofing off, a day at the beach.

Don't know how it happened, but we got to Narbonne and onto the road to Gruissan, and then somehow we got lost. Or geographically disadvantaged, whatever.

But once we'd worked out that we didn't actually know where we were it turned out to be pretty easy to get where we really wanted to be, by following the roads through the lines of little ticky-tacky boxes (and giving way at each intersection, which is so not fun) and wound up once again at la Perle Gruissanaise for a seafood lunch.

And no, we did not take the dogs. Some people do, but they have well-behaved dogs. Sad to say, we do not. Okay, Indra and Jara would - eventually - have calmed down and sat quietly at our feet whilst we munched our prawns and bread and salad and sipped/slurped the excellent local white (La Clape, try it if you get a chance) but Piddling Emma would definitely have let the side down if you ask me.

Then once we had eaten, and drunk, we clambered our way across the breakwater and down to the little beach at that end of the port, and collected sand in various orifices and laid back in the sun and watched the water come lazily in before retreating, clawing back the shells and interesting stones and bits of driftwood and the odd condom into the sea, to turn up eventually on another beach, to give other people somewhere else something to look at. Maybe Tokyo Bay is the human condition writ small, all I know is that I really hate getting sand in my jandals.

Also, we had inexplicably forgotten to take glasses and another half-litre of cool white wine with us, which is always a bummer when contemplating metaphysical questions.

Because such things are usually fueled by alcohol, and under the sun on a day as summer draws to a close, white wine is the best there is. (Although Rick prefers rosé, but then he is not really a serious thinker.)

As part of our on-going effort here at The Shamblings™ to improve the human condition, I will shortly be patenting the Device And Method For Keeping Spaniels' Ears Clean During The Act Of Ingestion. (I realise that, like Leonard da Quirm, the Naming Of Things is not one of my strong points, and I'd appreciate it if anyone could suggest something slightly snappier. It's so important for commercialisation, of which I have great hopes.)

The invention consists of two studs (A and B) of surgical-quality titanium which shall each have on the upper portion a vertical axis on which a neodymium magnet may freely rotate in such a manner that the N/S faces are parallel to the axis (see Fig. 1). Each stud is implanted at the end of an ear (assuming a standard two-eared dog) with the aforementioned axis on the upper side of the ear. When feeding time arrives the studs may be brought together in such a manner (thanks to the freely rotating axes) that the magnets M1 and M2 are attracted sufficiently to hold the tips of the two ears over the head, rather in the fashion of a bonnet (see Fig. 2), so that they may not fall into the dish of food.

When eating is completed it suffices to slide the flat surfaces of the two magnets in an opposed direction (see Fig. 3): they are thus disjoined and the ears may once again fall freely. Is this a Great Idea, or should I start taking the medication again?

In other news, I took little Suzy off a few weeks ago - whilst she was still insured - along the wibbly-wobbly rough goat-tracks that pass for roads around here and into the vineyards to - umm, acquire -  a certain number of souches de vigne. Which are now lurking in the garage, and from time to time as the need arrives, I go down with the sabre saw and slice them into bits, and then they go onto one of the barbecues - which one depends on how many of us are going to be eating.

They're at least 50 years old by the time they're untimely ripp'd from the earth, and so as dense as The Donald - consequently absolutely ideal for this porpoise: the only problem, if such it is, is that they just keep on going. So once the flames had burnt down one evening I slapped on the spatchcocked chicken and about 45 minutes later that was ready and we ate it: it's just that once we'd eaten and I went out to inspect the funeral pyre I could not help but notice that it was just ready for, as it might be, a nice côte de boeuf. And then, maybe, some toasted marshmallows.

Come to that, I re-offended last night when Martin and Angela (and Manon the puppy) and Rick and Mary came around. Rick brought a huge 2-litre bottle of tonic, saying he'd just have one little gin and then he was on to something rather better for his liver: I note that the bottle is still lying, untouched, in the fridge.

I also seem to recall that he and Martin between them finished off the bottle of Gran Riservo Ambrato vermouth that was lurking there, as being the best I could find for making dry martinis (because proper Martini Sec cannot be found for love nor money in these benighted parts, and Noilly Prat is not the same) so I shall have to make a trip to the one supermarket of which I know that stocks the stuff, and so replenish my supply.

(In all honesty, not entirely his fault. We'd run out of wine in bottles, had already finished off the Tanqueray in the freezer and the sherry had not yet been stuck in the fridge, so when he called imperiously for something to drink that "would surprise me" I had precious little choice. And when Martin asked for "that is so excellent, a bit of the same?" I knew the bottle was doomed.)

Whatever, two large côtes de boeuf and a half-dozen sardines went to their maker over the coals, along with the last few cobs of corn I could obtain (at, admittedly, eye-watering prices, thanks to the general drought in these here parts), and then ... Do you recall, back in the seventies when burnt oranges and browns were considered good colour choices for wallpaper, that really classy dessert made by dunking gingernut biscuits in sherry and then sandwiching them together with whipped cream? And flummery?

Thought you might. And as Martin had brought back a couple of bottles of sherry and a few packets of gingernuts from the UK, as part-payment for our looking after little Manon for the week, it seemed to be the only reasonable thing to do.

Anyway, the vendange has started around these parts, and there is a great clattering of tractors and a general air of cautiously optimistic morosity. The grapes are exceedingly small, and on a lot of bunches there's maybe 30% that haven't even developed past the tiny green marble stage, but those that have are very ripe and massively full of sugar.

Godnose what they're going to do with that: I am not a vigneron, but even I can guess that the quantity will be way down, and depending on how it's vinified it could be overloaded with tannin and absolutely ghastly, or just right and - unusually for these parts - turn into a decent vin de garde. Not really my problem, I just drink the stuff.

But right now I guess I'd better go see how many puddles of piddle there are to be cleaned up in the verandah, then carry on working on my sun-tan. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Summer Lawns, Hissing Of ...

Over here in Ole Yurrup it is, as you are doubtless aware, summer-time. It is also and quite incidentally 2016, which means that as the stifling air starts to get that just-baked smell about it around these parts (about 9am) we retreat indoors and, for want of anything better to do, dip into the on-going cluster-fuck that is the American presidential election cycle.

It's an odd thing, I have the best adjectives, the greatest adjectives ever, but I couldn't think of a single one that I really wanted to stick into that sentence, just before "cluster-fuck". Purely out of a sense of decency, and because I actually like words and do not want to embarrass or hurt them. (Also, my fingers are perfectly average in size, maybe the left index is a bit stumpy but nothing to worry about when the Digit Police come around.)

This is France, and so things are more complicated than they need to be. Margo's little MiTo is all organised, and we have but to pay for it. First option, of course, is to get financing through the garage, but then they want your proof of residence, in my case the bilan for the company, plus tax returns unto the seventh generation, and you know what? I can't be arsed.

So I phoned the bank, who have had the privilege to have us as clients for some time now, to arrange a loan, which they are more than pleased to do: apart from a few signatures no paperwork need change hands and on top of it the interest rate is about 1.7% which is, quite frankly, not too bad. The fly in the ointment is that although the cash will land in an account as soon as the bank gets a copy of the bill, I still have to pay the garage at some point. (Unreasonable, but there you are.)

Which means that I have to obtain a bank cheque, rather than a personal cheque, so that I can hand it over tomorrow when we take delivery. In principle there is no difference, there is no way the bank is going to honour its cheque if, somehow, you manage to clean out your account and flee to Bolivia before it gets cleared, but it seems to make people feel more comfortable.

This in turn means that I have to go into a local branch of the CIC to get such a thing, and as it's summer here (see first paragraph) all the people who are actually allowed to sign off on them are on holiday, and the desks are (wom)manned by pimply-faced interns who ask me to please come back in the afternoon, when there is a slight chance that there will be someone competent to handle the matter.

I am not, by my oath, a violent man, but I swear that I am, at times, tempted to perform certain acts which would make even Attila the Nun look shame-faced. The same pimply-faced youth was there when I went back and apparently a) he has a short memory, for I had to go through the whole bloody schtick one more time and b) he has no idea how lucky he is, for he had the culot to tell me "Sorry squire, can't do you one of those: you is with CIC Savoie, down here we is CIC Sud-Ouest."

I swear to god I nearly killed the little bugger on the spot, followed rapidly by an invasion of maggots in the eyeballs of his immediate superiors and then a tactical nuke on Orbiting HQ in Paris, but I refrained. And phoned the garage, and worked out that they would take the money anyway they could get it.

(Incidentally, if that interests you, they have an elderly Rolls Royce Silver Ghost - only it's painted cack bronze, so not quite silver but never mind - in stock, only €22 000.)

So anyway Friday was a big day. We went off and got Sarah's little sister, and then that afternoon I had to take Sarah back to Carcassonne so that the nice mechanics at the Alfa garage could put their hands up her skirts (and as it turns out there's another bit playing up, I has sads) and finally we went off and picked up Waddling Emma.

Who looks, more or less, like this. She's (mostly - well, partly) spaniel and she definitely loves water. To the point of not wanting to have any of it in her water bowl, which involves sticking the muzzle in to drink, then the front paws go in to see if she can't splash it all out that way, finally the hind paws go in too. Water bowl as foot bath. And if all else fails she can always pick it up in her teeth and empty it out.

This makes for a fair bit of cleaning up in the moaning - and, to be fair, at any other time of the day. Also, we have her sister Manon staying with us at the moment, due to Angela and Martin having gone back to the UK to sob about the exchange rate these days go to a music festival.

Both belong to the old school of gnawers, as witness the state of the cross-bar on the wooden table on the terrace. Puppies are why we can't have nice things.

Some people are apparently concerned, to the point of obsession, with emoji - those stupid yellow Pacman heads that sometimes crop up in your SMS, for those of you that are the proud possessors of an ancient Nokia candy-bar and have been living under a rock for the past 20 years (and quite rightly too). The possibility exists for everyone to create their own, and - I quote - “If this is taken to extremes, it could result in entire sets of incompatible emojis that are indecipherable on other platforms,” Jeremy Burge, founder of Emojipedia, told Ars. “That would be a problem.”

Actually, no, it wouldn't. It might - by some stretch of the imagination - be a slight inconvenience to some wankers. Having a thermonuclear bomb detonate over New York - on the orders of POTUS, à la Failsafe - now, that would be a problem (especially for New Yorkers, but maybe they're all actually Woody Allen so who cares). Go get a fucking life, you sad tosser.

And we wrapped up the week  with another manifestation, organised by the comité des fêtes and this time they'd had the brilliant idea for a soirée dégustation. (Well, I say "brilliant" because it all worked out very well indeed, but quite frankly you never know and it might well have been that no-one at all turned up - which would have been a shame.)

They managed to get five of the nearby wine domaines to turn up, along with the guy from St-Couat who makes beer as a sideline (and of whom I have spoken before) and the principle was quite simple: pay 5€ and you get a glass and five tickets, each good for a refill. Pay another 5€ and you get what I personally considered a way-too huge assiette de tapas. Could have sold them for twice the price.

Unfortunately Moux is a bit behind the times and it is felt that serving such things on a slate rather than a plate is edgily trendy, or vice versa. It's not, believe me. They're a pain in the arse to actually serve up, dull the knife, are excessively heavy and are a bitch to clean. Mind you, if you don't happen to have a pizza stone they'll do the job quite honorably.

Be that as it may, the Chateau de Cavailhès, just across the nationale at Montbrun, had a wonderfully spicy nose so I think I just might go get some more of that at some point in the not-too distant future. Also, the domaine des Demoiselles was kind of promising ...

I make all these good resolutions about not drinking any more than is strictly necessary, and then something like this happens. Bitch!

In a fit of more-than-usual stupidity I happened to go past the sports ground this moaning, taking Indra for her bowel exercise, and seeing only Dominic and one other person up there volunteered to help clean up. (Volunteering? I don't do that! Or shouldn't, at my age.) Whatever, didn't hurt too much, and at least I got an invite to a full guided tour of the cave coopérative on Thursday. Which has to be a plus.

Anyway, I'm sure I have better things to do - like go top up my glass - and it is hot, and the puppies are lying out on the verandah having a sleep and it would be nice if they stayed like that for a while, and the Canadairs are droning back and forth overhead because it looks like a fair bit of acreage about 4km east of us is up in flames, so I'll let you get back to your doubtless blameless pursuits.

Think of us as we suffer in the heat, and mind how you go now.

Just a quick PS: what the hell happened to journalism whilst I was out of the room? Or have sub-editors finally evolved to the point where they can do spontaneous sarcasm?

I suppose I should credit for the image and the headline, but it's quite likely that they're already cringing and I can see no point to adding to their humiliation - apart from the purely gratuitous fun and pleasure, I mean.

Also, the answer is, apparently, between 7 and 13 minutes. Reflect on that. 

PPS: don't know if that includes foreplay. Perhaps I should ask the scientists.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Rustication ...

With perfect 20/20 hindsight, we should perhaps have named New Dog "Shiva, the Destroyer", rather than "Jara, goddess of old age and occasional corpse-eater". "Cease your tedious wittering, you old fool", I hear you say, "can you not see that butter would not melt in her mouth?"

True enough, for a given value of "true": in this case, one which involves our making bloody sure that she has no access to butter. So far she has eaten a crochet hook, severely mangled the covers of two Kindles, devoured the front cover and page 117 of a copy of Good Omens (which I was actually reading although not, evidently, at the time), unrolled and turned into lace doilies 2km of paper towels and, just last night, knocked over and broke one of those nice old stoneware preserving pots, of the sort that you might use to store a winter's-worth of confit de canard and which, these days, cost a small fortune.

I rather think that in future we shall have to tie her up when we have to go out and leave the pair of them to their own devices, because Mischief loves company. And we still have some stuff out on the verandah that is important to us.

Anyways, the 13th duly rolled around and we ambled up to the sportsground adequately prepared - that is, we'd neither eaten nor drunk for about 48 hours. A wise precaution, all things considered. Sadly, no fireworks - the wind was too high, and we'd had the Canadairs circling lazily overhead for a few days beforehand, not to mention a couple of thousand hectares going up in flames.

Whatever, we did due justice to the food, and as soon as we started on one bottle another one, dripping with condensation, was delivered as backup: but we left before the serious dancing started.

And then a few days later we loaded up the car with woefully inadequate supplies of wine and food, stuffed the dogs in the boot and headed off up the A75 in search of Burgundy, and Ian and Marie's country seat.

Made good time - although it was perhaps a bit naughty of me to be doing 120 along the departmentales when we were finally obliged to quit the autoroute - so it was but mid-afternoon when we rolled up in front of the gate, only to find it blocked by some bloody Parisian tourist.

You guessed it: despite the most pious intentions Ian and Marie had not actually left as planned that morning, not a bad thing as we had time to exchange hellos and Ian left the combination for the wine cellar.

Which is, incidentally, looking rather emptier than when last I saw it, some six years ago I guess. Fair enough, there comes a point where you have to start drinking the stuff and there's no point replacing it because you'd just be leaving it for your kids to inherit. Which would be a waste, admit it.

We'd had time to unload and fill the fridge and unleash the dogs (who promptly went berserk for ten minutes) and then clean up the mess in the boot (next time must take some brown paper bags, Jara does not travel as well as Indra and to all evidence tends to get carsick, but at least we'd had the foresight to put blankets down) before Rick and Mary turned up, having been temporarily geographically disadvantaged.

We'd planned - vaguely - of doing all sorts of cultural things, including going off to see Mssrs Martin and Maltoff at Coulange-la-Vineuse to stock up on some wine (for the very last bottles in my possession evaporated a few years back), but as luck would have it the weather was exceptionally fine and sunny.

And as Burgundy is well-watered, that means it was also humid - to the point where, between 9am and 18:30, we all sat or lay flopped in the shade or in the cool of the house, doing as little as possible. Even the prospect of a trip to the reservoir for a cooling swim was considered and rejected on the grounds that it's all very well going off for a refreshing plunge and getting duckweed in your ears, but you still have a half-hour in the sweltering car to get back to the house afterwards and A/C is all very well but ...

So by general agreement, we did very little apart from a few necessary trips in the cool of the morning to Clamecy for provisions. About the only thing we did get around to doing was heading off to St Sauveur to see the nature park (Angela and Mary, who wanted to see Bambis) and the slowly-advancing chateau of Guédelon (the rest of us, with the exception of Rick who very nobly decided to stay at home and guard the gin).

Oh, and Margo and I managed to make it off to a pottery exposition at Lain, and it's being a number of years since last we did something like that we could not resist, and bought some shiny! sparkly!

(Not exactly. I got two plates which, being flat, are ideal for unmoulding as it might be a cheesecake onto and were therefore a necessary acquisition, and something that looks rather like a terrine dish or a tall sardine tin, and a couple of nice bowls just because, and six small saké cups which will be repurposed for whisky. Margo got a clock.)

Three couples, and we took it in turns to do dinner and the following day's lunch. Which made a pleasant change from the usual state of affairs. Rick is an excellent cook who can churn out great pizza and wonderful falafels apparently at the drop of a hat, Angela and Martin produced a sublime prawn curry, and I managed to find some popsicle lobsters so that was homard Thermidor one evening.

(Note, incidentally, that that's a lot quicker and easier than you may think, especially if you're easily intimidated by words like Escoffier.)

In fact the only worm in the apple, if I may say so, was the fact that the little épicerie at Sougères closed down a while back: something I only discovered after a fifteen minute walk under the blazing sun (with dogs) with the firm intention of picking up some bread. I was sadly disappointed.

And the dogs enjoyed it. For one thing they got to roam around the garden: something we do not have and expressly didn't want when we came down south looking at houses.

For another, the wildlife is much more in evidence in Burgundy - I mean there's sanglier and deer and foxes and rabbits around Moux, but they tend to keep themselves to themselves: further north they seem to be less shy. Maybe the hunters aren't quite so keen up there.

I took the pair of them out one morning, doing my rabid dog + Englishman impersonation, and decided - having come some 4km along the little winding (and shadeless) country road - to turn off onto a tractor trail which I knew would get me onto yet another windy road to head back to Pesselière, rather than give up and head back the way we'd come. (Yes, I sometimes make incredibly stupid decisions.)

Whatever, I was kind of surprised to see a head pop up from a clump of brambles to the left, and then have two roe deer bound across the road about 5m ahead of us and disappear into the cornfield, just their heads and scuts visible from time to time as they bounced along.

Took me some time to calm Indra down, and then then the next morning it was a rabbit that she thought might want to be her friend.

On the other hand, it took quite a while to persuade her to go past a few Charolais that were peacefully grazing in a paddock just outside the village: I guess that size does matter, despite what they say.

Eventually good things come to an end, and as niece and friends were coming down from Paris for a weekend house party, we packed up again and headed south, back home, on the Friday.

And despite the best efforts of a couple of Parisians who seemed to think that rear-view mirrors are reserved for makeup, and that indicators are some sort of fashion accessory, we actually arrived: in plenty of time, as it happened, for the Friday rendezvous oop t'bar.

Which is where I'll leave you. We have a busy week ahead: Sarah needs to go to the garage because her turbocharger is playing up, must organise Margo's new BFF (a little Alfa MiTo), and we have yet to puppy-proof the verandah against the imminent arrival of little Emma.

Wish us luck.