Monday, April 25, 2016

Taxing Times ...

With what particularly dodgy scam, I wonder, is my hitherto untarnished good name currently being associated? (Or "besmirched"; I like that word.) Second-hand, refurbished saunas? Pickled herrings with natural GcMAF, guaranteed good for your sex life? Must be something along those lines, for it is the only reason I can think of why I should have 167 page views from Finland over the past few days.

They just don't make keyboards like they used to anymore. I gave up spewing on them a while back, as the chunky bits tend to get trapped between the keys, but even so - the decals are wearing away so that R has lost a leg and now looks like a P, and you do not want to know what W suggests to my mind.

Not even those who know and love me (the Venn diagram for that particular subset would make me sad were I not a flinty-hearted person, also I would need a magnifying glass) could honestly say that I have an inviting face. It's not the sort of thing you can spot from across the road and say to yourself "Hey! That person looks really nice and sympathetic, I shall just go over and unburden myself of all my woes (and, incidentally, try to make him/her feel just as bad as I do right now". I am aware of this, and I can live with it.

So why the hell, as I was innocently inhaling some post-market vitamins this moaning and doing my little bit for global warming (cows fart, I smoke - well, I fart too, but rather more discreetly), should someone come up to me, remark "Love the smell of cigars", and then proceed to relate - in tedious detail and with an impenetrable Provençal accent - the minor details of their life? What have I done?

Quite frankly, knowing that he was the fourth of seven children and that one of his daughters was in Australia has made no difference whatsoever to my life, apart from encumbering my poor brain with yet more useless facts. (I guess John Donne got it all wrong.)

But on the brighter side, at that very same market I found not only my usual haul of asparagus, but also some decent strawberries (that would be a glut, or a gloat, of berries) and the first rhubarb of the year, a beautiful red. So guess what we're having for dinner tonight? Yes, desserts. Because a kilo of strawberries is a bit too much for one sitting so strawberry summer cake seems like a good thing, and what I'd personally call a rhubarb crumble just because.

This does mean that there will be quantities left over to distribute to the deserving poor of the village, I guess, but cooking is a moral imperative and I just have to put up with the unfortunate side-effects.

'Tis the mating season, and it is unadvisable - not to say hazardous - to walk past the church because, let's face it, crows are ratshit engineers. Their take on "build it and they will come" seems to be "Hey! let's just drop sticks from some height onto spit and birdshit, and see if they stay there."

Mind you, when you've not yet invented cement mixers - nor mortar either, for that matter - I guess your options are kind of limited. But one of those options is still daylight robbery ...

For slurping down my coffee this moaning I spotted a blackbird (or a jackdaw, whatever, what would I know?) triumphantly fluttering back to the top of M. le maire's house with a stick about twice its own length in its beak: I'm guessing it was for a nest but could just have been to light the barbecue - whatever, a crow had a different idea.

After a full and frank exchange of views concerning property rights the crow flew off with it, leaving the blackbird looking rather disconsolate, and then a short time later I heard a "thunk" as a mound of twigs and bird-shit slid off the church roof and landed on the road.

The corvidae are supposedly rather intelligent - as birds go, although of course nothing to compare with the kea - but it seems odd that none of them seem to seek to take advantage of this pile of sticks under the church eaves.

I mean, you'd think that at least one of them would be bright enough to see this heap of raw building materials, flutter down to grab a beakful and have another go at home improvement but no - they just sit there until the mayor's idiot nephew gets sent out with a broom.

Maybe the birds feel that such sticks, which have not stuck, are inappropriate building materials, and I shall not argue the point, but it is still a puzzlement.

Also at the market - now that I think of it - are radishes, which are a vile insect that I will not eat for I cannot see the point, and there are the first nectarines and apricots coming up from Spain. I have learnt my lesson, and I shall put off buying them until such time as they actually have some flavour - or until Hope triumphs and I buy some anyway, like next weekend.

But it's a promise of things to come - hell, even the tomatoes have some taste now - and it makes a change from ever-lasting bloody apples and pears. (Not that these are actually bad fruit, it's just that at the end of the winter one gets heartily sick of them, along with broccoli and other such earnest vegetables. As summer approaches I crave stone-fruit, and salads.)

Every once in a while I look at the statistics that blogger so conveniently compiles - although for some reason I no longer have any "search keyword" results, which makes the end of the month so much less amusing. But still ...

There's always the traffic sources - that is websites that have directed the innocent over my way - and although it's not quite so hilarious it still sometimes raises a smile. Like with those poor Finns I mentioned earlier - although I still don't know who sent them here.

Now I can see why prominent SEOs such as "" and "" might push you here, given my popularity and innatübz reputation as a mover and shaker. But for the life of me, I cannot work out why I should get hits from "".

I am guessing that it is some sleazeball spammy site that is hoping to get clicks and the associated cash from the Great Google - or maybe it's an energetic housewife who is publishing her natural homeopathic secrets for avoiding sinusitis and it's just an odd coincidence that the "Get Me Out of Here" button that blogger so helpfully puts up lead 23 people in a row on to me.

And there's another thing: the 2015 fiscal year is well and truly over, which means it's soon going to be tax time, which in my case means shovelling every single bit of paper in my possession over to the accountant so that she can deal with it.

This would be easier if I had a filing system which did not consist of large mounds of paperwork and unopened envelopes sitting on the floor or on the bed in my office, the bottom layers of which are already well on their way to becoming coal.

I know, I know: it's my fault, just have to be better organised. Maybe I should just go out and buy a paper shredder.

Still, at least I have discovered that, at the beginning of this year, the URSSAF - an impenetrable organism staffed by a hereditary class of inbred uncivil servants, which is a law unto itself and before which even Ministers of the state quail - has decided that I paid them €5000 too much, all the way back in 2010, and how would I like to be repaid?

I suppose it's a good thing that I am not - technically - dead, for I can see the paperwork required to get this sum transferred to my inheritors dragging on for a century or two. The mills of God, it's said, grind slowly: they are as bloody jet turbines compared to those of the URSSAF, which tarnish ineluctably and grind exceeding small the souls of all those who have the misfortune to enter in.

Whatever, it takes more energy than I can be arsed expending to be miserable when there's light and flowers everywhere - although I do my best - and soon enough I shall be back in lizard mode, as the sun beats down on the burning ground.

But I've given up eating flies, crunchy little bastards.

Take care, and mind how you go.

NB: the URSSAF is the Union de Recouvrement de Securité Sociale et Allocations Familiales - it is a grouping of private organisations tasked by the government with the duty of making sure that you pay your social security contributions (the actual amount of which they alone seem entitled to calculate), but whose secondary objective is to ensure that your life is as miserable as possible. In this, they tend to succeed.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Death Of A Device ...

So my alarm went off an hour too early this morning, too: I had completely forgotten about going back to daylight saving, and two early moanings in a row came as a bit of a shock to the system. Whatever, I'm sure I shall be a better man for it, and it's nice to take advantage of that extra hour of daylight. Although it screws up my timetable something awful, so for a couple of days we'll be eating even later (by the clock) than usual.

Just whilst I think about La Perle Gruissanaise - I forgot to mention that it is not, perhaps, the cheapest place to eat. Mind you, that's partly because we chose oysters and lobster and even then, with a litre of white, it came to but €50 for the two of us, so it could have been worse. And the stuff is as fresh as you can get, and it would be difficult to beat the ambiance.

But if you happen to be in these parts and have a desire for shellfish, I think that I would recommend not going there on a weekend in the summer holidays unless you have a bit of time on your hands - and if you're planning on lobster, think ahead and take a small hammer, or a pair of pliers, to crack the claws. You can do it with your fist at a pinch - and I know of what I speak, for I have done this - but if you miscalculate and hit a spiny bit it hurts like hell. Just saying.

(And although there's a sign up that says "Please do not bring your own wine, nor lemons, nor aioli, because we sell the stuff and would like to turn a profit sometime, also having your head beaten in with an icepick may offend", we found that if you ask nicely and explain that you only drink red wine - which they do not sell - they will give you the nod: but take your own corkscrew.)

Typical bloody Easter Monday: neither flesh, nor fowl, nor good red herring. I had hoped that just maybe it would be fine enough to bring a barbecue out of hibernation, but sadly, no. Which is a shame, as I just happen to have a leg of lamb in the fridge just waiting for an excuse to be butterflied and plopped onto the grill: maybe next weekend? (Don't look so bloody horrified. It's a decent bit of NZ lamb that was chilled and then hermetically sealed under nitrogen, and it's rated as being good until the 16th of April. The only harm that's likely to come to me will be from my attempts to open the damn plastic packaging, when the knife slips and slashes my wrists.)

The time finally came for little Suzy to go off for her road-fitness check, so Margo tearfully left her to the tender ministrations of the serious guys with clipboards and waited, expecting the worst. To general surprise, she passed! Despite the centre rear seatbelt that is held together with spit and chewing gum, the right wing-mirror that falls off if you give it too harsh a look, and the rubber seals that protect the universal joints that are apparently spontaneously disintegrating.

We paid €8000 for her back in 2003 (less €1000 for the trade-in on the old BMW, if I remember correctly), she has notched up some 270K km since then, and we have spent virtually no money on maintenance: and let's face it, nothing major has ever shown any sign of wanting to fall off. OK, the alternator belt squeaks like a rabid mouse when it's damp, and there is a mysterious warning light that is always on - telling us, according to the handbook, that you should take your car to a garage immediately before the catalytic converter starts performing miracles - but the odd thing is that when it turns off, as from time to time it will, the engine starts to hiccup and complain. At which point your best bet is to drive directly through a large puddle, to splash some water up into the engine compartment.

Don't ask me why but it always works: the warning light comes back on, and normal service is resumed. Also, she is perhaps not the most comfortable of conveyances for long trips, and being a tall box on wheels not the best under high cross-winds - excellent on snow, mind you. Point is, she has served us well and faithfully all these years, and so it is with a twinge of guilt that we are sending her off to the garage for "Just the bare minimum, squire. Oil change, and check the brakes".

The first shots have been fired in the vide-grenier season, when the serious weaselly-faced brocanteurs and antiquaires go from village to village buying any decent stuff that might - against all the odds - be on offer, buying and selling between themselves (this is increasing monetary velocity, which may or may not be a Good Thing), and occasionally deigning to let some naive amateur pay over the odds for a very average brass lampstand with a stuffed parrot hanging from it, or a rickety sofa. They're easy enough to spot, for their hip pockets are bulging with rolls of greasy small-denomination banknotes, on the grounds that there is no point bothering the taxman with traceable transactions.

Still, at least you're being fleeced by a professional, and not by some reassuring-looking granny that wants €35 for a lurid purple stuffed donkey with a sombrero and an amusingly-hidden bottle of pastis. Must have been a riot of fun when they stuck that on the table at l'heure de l'apéro, especially if the clockwork-operated olive-ejection mechanism was still working.

I suppose we really ought to go off to some of these affairs, as we are on the lookout for furnishings for the rooms, but you really do have to be up before dawn's crack to stand a chance of finding anything half-way reasonable, and that is emphatically not our thing. Much easier to call up Old Hélène, who seems to have bought up the entire stock from several bankrupt brocanteurs, and go rummage through her remise.

We have already bought an armoire from her, and just the other day had the occasion to get a marble-topped commode (which is going to mean getting out the Xylophène again, to put any tenacious termites to the sword), and as part-payment I helped her load a few bits from the first floor in there into her beaten-up Espace. So I got to check out the stock. A couple of sofas and a few tables that took my eye and my fancy: mounds of books, any number of table lamps that probably needed rewiring but were shiny enough to attract any self-respecting jackdaw, a small pergola (don't ask me), the odd bed or two: I didn't want to explore too much, it was dark up there and I thought I might get lost, for the inside of the place is rather bigger than the outside, not to mention dim and musty, and I feared accidentally going through a wardrobe.

I never thought that it would get to the point where I could not look another asparagus in the eye, and happily it has not yet come to that, but just possibly buying a kilo of the stuff on Saturday moaning was a bit over the top. They went very well with the chicken breasts in marsala, and then with the gambas marinated in olive oil and then stir-fried in the wok, and I'm sure they'll go well with whatever it is I decide to make for dinner tomorrow: just saying, is all. Same with strawberries: a couple of kilos goes quite a long way, once you've had them nature one night, then in a cheesecake the next ...

Next thing you know it'll be cherry season, and I will doubtless start complaining about having too many of them, as well. Some people are never satisfied. But - from the cooking column - comes this particularly insensitive comment: "It's that time of year again, when the neighbours start leaving shopping bags of feijoas on your doorstep". I find that very hurtful. They are NOT that easy to find in these furrin parts.

A couple of days back, my phone gave notice that it was not much longer for this world. It's always been fussy - sometimes have to turn it off and then on again to get a signal, if it decides in its little head that there is none - but this was different, in the sense that the power switch didn't work anymore: the accumulated cruft and pocket dust-bunnies of years had taken their toll, I guess. So I certainly didn't want to turn it off, and hied me to the nearest Bouygues shop, where the charming young woman supplied me with a Huawei - and thanks to four years of good conduct, it cost me all of one euro. (Well, ten more for a new SIM card: the one I had was about the size of a credit card, and apparently they don't make phones that take those anymore.)

She also, much to my surprise, knew all about Bada (Samsung's pile'o'shit phone OS from yonks back) but very cunningly persuaded my phone to send at least the contact list over via Bluetooth - so at least that's useful for something. Just as well really, for although I still have the old Kies software that came with the Samsung, which in theory would have let me painstakingly and one by one transfer my contacts over to the PC (from whence I could probably have got them into the new phone) it is so soul-numbingly dreadful that I would have preferred to scratch my eyes out with a quill pen before writing everything down on paper and then typing them in by hand. I thanked her - warmly - and left, and now my only problem is that I have what I find to be an unconscionably huge phone.

Maybe we need a new scale for these things. Positing that a normal hand size is 1.72 Trumps, using one of these things requires flippers that are are at least 2.17 Trumps in size (although it appears that with an iThing you can get away with 1.9 Trumps, provided you have three hands for all the gestures.) Also, I can't just slip it in my hip pocket anymore.

Margo tells me that I am a Luddite. I am not a techno-illiterate, but it is true that I had a thing that just worked, and now it doesn't, and I am going to have to learn how a new thing works. This pisses me off. Still, I am going to get to fulfill one of my long-held dreams, which is to see what happens if you take an angle grinder to a cell phone. (Kids, if you're going to try this at home, do remember to remove the battery first. OK?)

Years back there used to be a French comic strip - which I vaguely recall migrating to a series of skits on what passed at the time for evening entertainment on the TV - featuring a couple of women of a certain age, wearing printed cotton smocks, cardigans, fluffy slippers and headscarves: sort of the archetypal cleaning lady. (Never actually worked out exactly what was humorous in all that, but then I never got the point of Benny Hill either.)

Whatever, I had thought the species to be extinct: this turns out not to be the case.