Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Old Man And The C ...

Which is a good way to start off a Hemingway pastiche, which would have to begin with the ungrammatical elderly one saying something along the lines of "A consonant, you say? They are all the same, the letters, you sleep with them and they are all the same. When I was young it was good, you could even sleep with the letter Z after some rum, and it was good. But the letters today, they are shit"

But quite frankly, I can't be arsed.

Well, at least I managed to beat my way through the indignant old hags who try to push their way into the line ahead of me, and get some asparagus before it all disappeared. And having, as one will, a filet mignon de porc in the fridge, I turned that into picatta sauce madère, and with the asparagus boiled up in a syrupy mix of water, butter and sugar, and some steamed baby potatoes, it all went down very nicely.

Especially followed up by something which I shall call tarte girasol, which involves baking a disk of about five layers of buttered filo with sugar and cinnamon between the layers, then arranging neatly-sliced pears, fried in butter and sugar on top to look vaguely like a sunflower, and popping the whole lot back in the oven for ten minutes. At the end of which you have but to dribble a vanilla custard over it and serve.

It has been a busy week, and I have spent more of it than I like to think doing something I intensely dislike, not to say loathe: just Reading The Fscking Manual. It would help if this were not, at least in part, a work of fantasy. (Basically, it is in fact a tissue of truths but some bugger's gone and cut holes in it, and then embroidered it with fibs and whoppers.)

So don't go asking me how to go about programming a PIC18F87K22 microcontroller by bit-banging, for the answer may not be fit for polite society.

Also, we have got ourselves another dog. No, no, don't go calling the ambulance for we have not - yet - taken leave of our collective senses: she is but a house-guest for ten days.

Nestor, a lovely sort-of Dalmatian, and sweet-tempered as they come. Although quite capable of keeping our two firmly in line. The main problem is that she has never been taught how to walk on a leash - which causes some difficulties, and a bit of entanglement (luckily, not quantum) at times. Whatever, we live with it.

As you go through Moux, past the signs that sternly forbid either begging or trotting and then past the pharmacie, you will notice - if you snap your neck round 180°, for it is invisible if you come from the East - a marble plaque up on the wall, in memory of les enfants de Moux, lachement assassinés by the Germans back in 1943. Noble members of the résistance.

Except that I bumped into old Charles the ex-vigneron the other day, and he took some pleasure in recounting what he swears is the true tale that he got from his father, which is that the Mouxois in question had defied the curfew and were up in the bar drinking with their German pals: sadly, when "last orders" was called they stumbled out into the street and then ran like hell at the sight of a couple of troops on motor-bikes, en route from Carcassonne. The rest is now (revised) history.

Whatever, Margo's up around Montpellier with the dogs for a couple of days so I is stuck here on a rainy Sunday with things I really ought to be doing. So far I've been out for a couple of walks, bogged up a few bits of skirting-board with plastic wood before sanding and touching up the paintwork, and vacuumed my office - twice. It is not easy to get motivated and twiddle bits in an FPGA when it is gray and dismal outside. (Mind you, as I write I can see that the base of my desk lamp is a bit dusty: maybe I should vacuum yet again ...)

On the other hand, I could always grit my teeth and get down dirty and just do this stuff for the SNCF, but quite frankly I simply cannot be arsed just at the moment.

For years now I've used a trackball rather than a rodent because I can't be buggered mousing around: what with age and everything, after ten hours of that my shoulder and elbow are giving me merry hell. The only problem with them is that after a while they do tend to get kind of grunged up over the years, with sweat and dead skin cells and breadcrumbs, and eventually you have to replace them, if only for hygiene's sake.

I have evidently arrived at that point, for the left button now generates spurious double-clicks just when you don't need one, so it was obviously time to go look on the rueducommerce website for a replacement: I have a Logitech but Microsoft used to make really nice ones, so I thought I'd check out what they had on offer. Sadly, no trackballs - but plenty of mice, and this one here rather caught my eye. As the blurb said, it's stable and solid, and I doubt I'd have problems with anyone trying to nick it surreptitiously off my desk.

Sadly, I have no need for a user-interface device that requires me to stick a ream of A4 into it before use, so I passed on that and went on to order the Logitech alternative - it is much smaller but might turn out to be noisier because it is only dot-matrix: we'll see how that works out. Well, in fact I am actually seeing how that works out right now, because despite having ordered it late on Thursday and seeing, on the Friday evening, that it was "awaiting collection by la Poste", it got plonked in the letterbox today. (Worked first time, no drivers to install - I am waiting for something Bad to happen.)

By an odd quirk of fate, Rick and Mary had a brilliant idea Friday night, and one of the unfortunate side-effects was that my alarm went off at 7am and I found myself at the market at place Carnot in Carcassonne around ten to eight, which is rather earlier than usual. But it was actually rather pleasant: the sun was slanting down over the roofs, the old hags had only just started to emerge from under the rocks with their bloody trundle-along caddies (and gods help you if ever you get in their way, for they have scimitars mounted on the hubs, and in any case they are capable of giving you such a look if you manage a quick sideways kick ...) and there was, at that hour, an abundance of asparagus available.

And I managed to make it back home before nine, and it was as I was sunning myself like an old lizard out on the terrace with a coffee and a cigar that the letterbox went "clonk" and therein was my parcel, which I wasn't actually expecting because according to the website it was scheduled to arrive on or about April 1st - not really a good date and I was actually resigned to its finally turning up sometime in June.

So much for instant gratification, all I had the time to do was remove the little box from its cubic metre of packaging before heading off to Gruissan, and more specifically "La Perle Gruissanaise", which is - as many of you will recognise from the name - a place where they sell seafood.

For this was the brilliant idea: at this place - which supplies most of the Narbonnais restaurants, I guess - you may turn up with bread, salad, whatever else you like, then go in and order. So long as it's shellfish. They take your money, give you a ticket, and about ten minutes later you go back in and pick up your platter ... so we went there for a lazy lunch in the sun.

Then you go and sit at one of the many picnic tables they've installed outside, at the end of one of the moles at the entrance to the étang de Gruissan, and sit in the sun and eat and drink your litre of fresh white wine and watch the boats go past and the light playing on the waves, and talk about Chaucer and Ogden Nash and whatever else comes to mind because, let's face it, it's a lovely day.

So Margo scarfed her oysters, feebly screaming mussels fresh from the sea, and I munched on my lobster with crusty bread and aioli (not garlicky enough, but never mind, that's just me), and I reckon that there could be worse ways to die.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

So NOT The Wind In The Willows ...

More like the bloody howling gale in the elms if you ask me, for the tramontane has started up. I'm sure that the Wellingtonians will sneer at me, but quite frankly if you really have worse than a wind that gusts up to 100kph and is as cold as charity then you have my sympathy. I had put my gloves aside, thinking that perhaps I wouldn't need them any more: seems I was mistaken. Also, the wind goes up the dogs' bums and makes them even more air-headed than usual: something without which I can do when my bemittened hands are still freezing off on the 23:00 evening bowel-emptier.

Anyway, having better things to do, I went off this afternoon to get some dog food and wound up with a bottle of what I shall choose to call whisky. "Main Fields Finest Blended Whisky, Rare Reserve", bio-dynamic to boot with each grain of barley hand-crafted, aged in French oak and made in Marseille.

It's not often I've come across such a nose, spicy with heaps of vanilla and more than a hint of apple (no, it is not scumble, although perhaps it's the closest you'll find to it) and a whiff of banana, almost syrupy: if you're not expecting a actual whisky you could drink it with something approaching pleasure. I don't think I'll be repeating that particular experiment.

And there's another thing: I had occasion to go off to Lidl the other day to do a bit of necessary grocery shopping - and now that they've done the place up and installed barriers on the parking (I guess they were getting heartily sick of all and sundry parking there on a Wednesday moaning before heading off to the marché in the centre of town) I did actually remember to take my glasses with me so that I could actually read the code that gets printed out on your receipt and key it in at the barrier. (And why the hell didn't they put in a barrier with a barcode reader? Beats me ...)

In any case, I spent the usual lengthy interval in the queue at the only open checkout, and while the woman at the head was roundly abusing her son as they loaded up the bags I had plenty of time to study the trashy el cheapo stuff that they always seem to have on display at the checkout - really, "child-resistant" cigarette lighters? You must be joking. Or if they really are what they say they must be like those bloody child-proof power points, wherein no normal adult can actually insert a power plug.

And then, "Fruity Joy"? For a packet of condoms? I mean, really ...

(According to John, in England you can buy them curry-flavoured, or salt and vinegar, should you wish. Do you serve them up plonked on a lettuce leaf, I wonder.)

When you get to a certain age - such as mine, for instance - and you are doing up a house, as we are, there is one thing that is more or less guaranteed to give you a hard-on, and that is the arrival in the letter-box of the flyers from the DIY shops. All those power tools (OK, I actually have all I need, but a man can dream ...) and the limited offer on shower cubicles, and the 1400m² of parquet that I just can't resist.

But you know what really made my week? Going off to Matcol and picking up a new chopping board, that's what. There are a few dispirited flies buzzing feebly behind the windows and the place always looks as though it's been closed for years, but when you go in an unexpectedly noisy bell tolls and an apparently disjointed guy lurches out from the back office after ten minutes or so, busily removing the jumper leads and screwing the bolts back into his neck, to see what you want.

In my particular case I wanted a new chopping board - I mean I still have three, but they are solid wood about 3cm thick which is not very practical if you want to pick them up and slide sliced things into a frying pan on top of the stove - because the little polypropylene one that Jeremy abandoned to our tender mercies some time ago a) warps under hot water and b) did not really withstand the ministrations of the butcher's cleaver when I was getting stuff ready to make honey chili chicken the other night.

So we chatted, and he persuaded me to buy some high-tech thing made of cellulose in resin, and to seal the deal he had one last solitary 20cm stainless steel poele, such as I love, and so he threw that in for only 15€ more. I already have a 20cm stainless steel poele: I knew that and quite probably he knew that, for I bought it from him a while back and customers seem pretty few and far between so it's quite likely he remembers me, but I could not resist. Okay, so now I have a crap-brown ecological chopping board and yet another frying-pan. Laugh if you like, it'll be on the other side of yer faces when the zombie apocalypse comes and Habitat is all boarded up and decent kitchen utensils are nowhere to be found.

Also, I headed off to the big brocante at Carcassonne - the one that has bronze statues of Atalanta orally pleasuring Melanion, should you have a garden into which that sort of thing could harmoniously fit - and came back (after a decent interlude drinking an excellent Mouxois white with Bob! and excusing myself to Lova, his Jack Russell) with a present for Margo (and, let it be said in all honesty, for myself).

Yes, I found an extremely over the top bronze and crystal chandelier, positively dripping gilt and extremely glittery. It was a consolation prize really, partly because it was chill and gloomy, but mainly because when I got to the market it was only to find the guy selling local asparagus loading his stall into the van, having sold it all.

So I paid the price the guy was asking for it (an eye-watering €100, but still probably a bloody sight less than I'd have been up for had I gone through to somewhere like Pezenas, where the antique shops cater to a rather more upmarket, if not actually more discerning, clientèle) and brought it home and after Margo spent some considerable time cleaning the accumulated filth of decades off the shiny bits, and I had spent even more time getting filthy in the crawl space above the top-floor ceiling (I refuse to call it an attic, 'cos as far as I'm concerned you can stand upright in one of them) arranging something sufficiently solid for my taste to hang it from, it is now sparkling up at the top of the stairwell.

Say what you like, we like it, and as it's up in our apartment no-one else has to look at it anyway. So there.

Things get confusing on Hat Friday these days, as there are two Brown families. The elder couple have been here a while, and are apparently pillars of the English church over in Homps, or Olonzac, whatever. Kind of like being Jewish, it's more an ethnic thing than actually being religious: actually believing in God is optional, the only requirement is to have some sort of vague but comforting conviction that were He to in fact exist, He would be English, and would sit down to a good roast at Sunday lunch.

I can live with that - provided certain topics of conversation are banned - but they do seem to have a certain "Little England" mentality, which occasionally makes me want to flee screaming into the night. I mean, what the hell is the point of moving to France and then settling into a small circle of English acquaintances and trying to ignore the existence of all those Frog-persons around you? (Except when you are moved to complain bitterly every time you discover that the local tabac-presse does not stock The Telegraph, to supply a decent crossword and comfortably conservative reading matter.)

I just don't get it. So when David sidled up the other night it was a good thing that Margo was there beside me, for he wanted to know what we thought of the idea of a "St. George's Night" on April 23, complete with roast beef and Yorkshire pud.

I stared glumly into my beer - for it was in fact running low - and wondered vaguely if I could get away with the admittedly lame excuse that I was scheduled to have an operation on my haemorrhoids that very day, or maybe just simulate an epileptic fit, but Margo piped up brightly with "That's a shame, but I rather think I'll be off at Nantes then, and Trevor will be far too busy, I suspect".

"Come on", he said, "it'll be very jolly. Think of England."

"I would", she replied, "but you should remember we're New Zealanders."

"Oh yes. Colonials. Oh well."

As he wandered off Hervé, the guy we'd been chatting with, turned and said "well, you rather cut him off at the knees, didn't you?" and that is where the matter rests: and I personally think we're well out of it.

Whatever, mind how you go, now.