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.

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