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.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Pigeon Is Almost Done ...

There is a certain sort of hotel, resolutely upper-middle class with delusions of adequacy, where the management is of the firm opinion that to go with the sweeping expanses of exquisitely manicured lawn, the quaint gazebo, the ornamental water feature copied from Versailles (only in miniature, making it look rather like a Spinal Tap megalith), the broad gravelled driveway covered in ducks (some living) and the rather cramped rooms, they need a cuisine that is edgy, and avant-garde, and fusion or whatever happens to be hip these days.

I should have known that, I mean I do know that after all these years, but I was tired and so when they offered me a hunk of salmon caught just that afternoon and killed shortly before plonking it in the pan I accepted. Don't get me wrong, the salmon itself was excellent - what you could discern of it. It just seems a shame that it was accompanied to its grave wrapped in a 5mm coat of Kevlar strands and dill fronds, then surrounded on the plate by an artistic swirl of pureed parsnip, blobs of neon-yellow grapefruit mousse and mounds of mashed beetroot. The fish, I'm afraid, lost. Someone really ought to tell them that one of the major pleasures in eating is actually the taste.

They also need to learn that if you order 25cl of wine to drown the meal, it is considered good practice - at least here in France - to serve it in a carafe and supply a standard-size wine glass, letting the punter serve himself as he wishes, rather than delivering it all in a large glass filled to the brim. Maybe it's an English thing.

For as it happens I was in Bristol for the night, lodged at this hotel not too far from the airport: the sort of place where someone has decided to take their old manor house and grounds and turn it into an up-market hotel/reception centre. And I was treated to a Basil Fawlty moment when I'd checked in, dropped my gear off in the room and went down to the bar for a pint of mine host's finest ale (well, Stella actually, but never let the facts get in the way of a good story is amongst my mottos).

The charming but not perhaps entirely competent receptionist came out from her lair to serve me and as luck would have it the keg ran out at that point leaving a glass of froth and not much else, so she went out back to change the barrel. After a few minutes of silence, punctuated only by the odd clang as of a metal keg being hit with increasing desperation by a rather large spanner, there came a louder and louder hissing noise like a boiling kettle with a whistle, and she bolted from the room with apologetic cries and headed into the kitchens. Three of them rushed forth and into that small back room to subdue the beer, and after a short time the sous-chef came out dripping, followed by the kitchen manager and the receptionist, who went off to get a mop and a large bucket.

But only fifteen minutes later I was ensconced - in the gazebo, because it had turned from a few sullen splatters to a light drizzle - with my beer and a cigar, so I guess all's well that ends well.

I shall save you the bother of asking by telling you that I was not over there purely to sample the exotic delights of the British hospitality industry: rather, I was supposed to swap out a malfunctioning bit of gear living at the bottom of a pit that was supposed to be cheerfully regulating the water supply and calling back the mothership periodically, and find out what was actually going wrong with it.

So Sunday night I packed everything into my backpack (not wishing to have to go through the hassles of baggage claim) - two laptops with their associated dead rats, multimeter, power box, plug adapters, Allen keys, screwdriver set, GSM antenna and the usual rat's nest of cables as carried by the discerning computer programmer - and on Monday drove through to Toulouse to catch a flight at a reasonable hour.

Apart from having to strip off, because just about everything about me seems to go PING! walking through the metal detectors, the plane actually arrived on time at Bristol: luckily Mike was there to greet me and in fact recognised me, for it was on arriving on English soil that I realised that the new SIM card in my phone was not in fact unlocked and would not register with any of the English cell networks, so I was grumpy and incommunicado.

And there's a thing about this sceptred isle and nation of shopkeepers: not only is short-term airport parking eye-wateringly expensive (which it is, I admit, everywhere on the planet), but there's a £2 surcharge if you pay by credit card. I suppose that's to make up for the loss occasioned by those who pay in cash, because the machines do not give change so if you're up for six quid in parking fees and only have a tenner about your person, you're four quid out of pocket.

So Mike navigated us through the Bristol traffic - all of it on roads apparently designed for horse-drawn carriages - and then calmly blocked the entire leafy street ("can do what I like," he said "'cos I've got a flashy light") while he lifted the manhole cover off what looked like a small septic tank and we did the deed. That done, off to the hotel, wherein befell the experiences previously related ...

Of course the devil had not yet finished chucking up on my eiderdown, for I was just getting ready to go in and "enjoy" my meal when Karim phoned reception - being unable to get hold of me by other means - to let me know that my direct return flight at 11am the next moaning had been cancelled due to a wildcat strike by French ATC and that I would have to be up at 4am to catch the redeye flight to Geneva and from thence a mid-afternoon flight back down to Toulouse.

Which meant, amongst other things, teaching the receptionist how to use her computer to print out my boarding passes.

I had to strip off again, of course - maybe next time, if ever there is one, I shall put the hardware (and my boots, and jeans) in the hold and to hell with the wait - and for some strange reason security confiscated my set of Allen keys. Godnose why, I had sharp pointy screwdriver bits as well, and a pair of needle probes for the multimeter: maybe they thought I was going to use them to open the locked door to the pilot's cabin and then club him to death with the biggest of the set. Go figure.

So cue a flight to Geneva populated with a good half-dozen large, cheery and rather pasty English-persons off for a good time and talking very animatedly about it (which does not make it easy when all you really want to do is catch up on a bit of sleep) and a couple of twenty-somethings in the seats behind me talking fondly about their sex life and in particular the previous evening (not that interesting, they were kind of unimaginative and I don't CARE which side she sleeps on), then a four-hour wait in the airport for the flight down south. Which was late anyway. And there was a ten-minute wait on the tarmac whilst they organised a minibus to get everyone to the terminus, but I can live with that. (Also, I got creatively insulted by an exasperated air hostess but that was my fault for pretending to speak French.)

Whatever, now July 13 is staring us in the face like a petrified rabbit in the headlights - and justifiably so, for there will be much eating, rather more drinking, and dancing to the mobile disco will be committed by the elderly, the infirm, and the feeble-minded (the yoof). Also, as temperatures climb up into the mid/high thirties, France is going into summer lockdown which is fair enough because when it gets to the point where you need three showers a day and you know that this is going to go on for the next two months, you really do not want to work too much.

Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Hellfire Burn Their Brains ...

Current dog population here at The Shamblings™
... yea, even until their eyeballs start to boil and explode from out their sockets, and wisps of smoke come up from their ears and from out of their noses, and may the smaller of the spawn of the Pit take up residence in their bowels and gnaw thereon from within and give them diarrhoea so that they may not get a good night's sleep.

You're right, I really do not like scummy scammy fraudsters. Especially when they screw around with fake debits to a dating site which means going off to the gendarmerie to porter plainte contre X and then send a swag of paperwork off to the bank in order to be  - in the fullness of time - reimbursed and then get your credit card cancelled and wait for a new one to arrive ... on the bright side, it wasn't me that had to explain away the charges to Meetic.

Guess it's a good thing I don't get to take psych evals these days. I was out looking at the evening clouds and there was a beautiful one, looked like a huge rat splayed out on the sky, only its head was breaking up into gobbets of flesh that were streaming out and away from it. Sod your Rorschach blots, that's what I say.

Anyways, one moaning this week our esteemed maire awoke with a brilliant idea, and that very same day he sent out his idiot nephew, duly equipped with two pots of paint: one green, the other white. He gaily climbed a ladder, shaved, groped and repainted the statue of St-Regis that stares benevolently down on our little square, and then ...

Difficult to say if he had misunderstood his instructions, or perhaps these were in fact unmistakably explicit: suffice it to say that he painted the stone basins of the horse-trough outside our front door a pure, blazing white. I suppose that I have probably seen a more hideously ugly effect, but I cannot remember exactly when. (Also, when we paint we tend to mask off the bits that aren't supposed to be painted: yes, we buy vast quantities of masking tape but at least the job is neatly done. This elementary precaution was apparently considered superfluous.)

Had it just been us we would have been stiff out of luck, and obliged to live with the blot on the landscape, but soon there gathered a veritable cackle of elderly ladies, muttering at his front door and pursuing him in the streets, crying out with one voice "Réné, Réné, we remember you from when you were in nappies and we ask - what the fuck have you been smoking?"

And so on Friday moaning the idiot nephew was back out in the square, under a blazing sun, busily employed with a sandblaster getting rid of the paint he'd so enthusiastically and inaccurately sloshed on two days earlier.

Of course the mairie wasn't going to pay a cent more than absolutely necessary so I suspect they'd sent him off to the local garden centre to get a couple of sacks of sand for a child's sand-pit, and when the tub of the sandblaster was empty he'd just scoop up a couple of shovels-full from the ground and stick it back in, stirring it well to mix in the gravel and pigeon-shit. By the time he'd done the verandah was full of dust and place St-Régis looked a bit like Paris-plage (only on a somewhat smaller scale), but at least I don't have to put sunglasses on just to check the mail.

We cracked - well, I cracked, if you insist on the truth - and went off to the SPA at Carcassonne on Thursday, and we now have two dogs again, if only for a short while. She's a russet hound, three years old (according to the SPA, but I have my doubts about that) and very sweet-tempered, and now named Jara after one of the multitudinous Hindu pantheon - goddess of domesticity and old age and, incidentally, a corpse-eater after hours.

I say "for a short while" because in about six weeks ie first week of August we are scheduled to take delivery of a six-week-old puppy who is currently small and black with a few white patches and apparently the most adorable little floppy ears that ever there were. I am so looking forward to taking them all out for their walk: Indra trotting brightly alongside, Jara darting off into the undergrowth given half a chance, and as-yet unnamed puppy being towed along on a skateboard.

Margo has been working on Angela for some time, and so when she went off to check out the puppies she took Angela, who dragged Martin along - with a puppy in his arms he found it impossible to say "No!", so they too are getting a small black puppy. Who will, no doubt, be rapidly taught her place by their four Maine Coons.

In late-breaking news, we may actually have a paying guest at the beginning of July. Not sure if we're ready for that. The village historian came past this moaning, to say that he'd heard that we could do chambre d'hote, and he had an archaeologist coming down for two weeks doing some work on the chateau/chapel (no-one seems quite sure entirely which it is) up in the Alaric, and could we put him up?

And as it happens that we have no friends descending upon us at that time (when you live in the south of France, do not have a swimming pool: you may discover friends you've never heard of, or people that you do actually know vaguely but, with the passing of years or the remembrance of long-gone school reunions wish you did not. Just saying.) when the guy called back I gave him the not-exactly eye-watering prices and we shall see. This is so exciting! An actual guest! (Note to self - put clean sheets on bed. Also, remove obnoxiously obvious dog hair.)

More exciting things: I guess that even over there in Upside-Down Land, where people walk on their heads (which sounds like something from Pliny back when he was doing some of the hard stuff), you'll have heard of Brexit. Around these parts there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, in part 'cos there's the pension gone south, but mostly because all those to whom I have spoken are united in considering N. Farage (should be pronounced to rhyme, apparently, with garage) to be the most odious little turd in existence.

We made it off to the Fete de la Cave Coopérative, remembering this time to take our own cutlery and crockery, and a large bag into which to put it, along with all the wine glasses we snaffled before leaving. Which we must have done at some point in the evening, I suppose. Before, I think, the mobile disco started doing its thing.

It's not something I'd recommend you come along to unless you're attracted by the ambiance and the alcohol and the company and all that sort of thing, for the food is definitely somewhere south of mediocre. Copious certainly, but that's about all you can say. But no-one minds, the threatened thunderstorms held off, and we were sober enough to walk home under our own steam, no need for the wheelbarrows for which we had farsightedly made provision.

NOT beer.
And now we still have to face the July 13 celebrations, where the wine will flow even more liberally and the food shall be of a different order, and also there will be sparkly things that go BANG! to round off the evening, and then a few days later we shall head off north to Ian and Marie's country seat in Burgundy with Rick and Mary and Angela and Martin and two dogs, for a week amidst the turnip fields dedicated to lassitude (and eating, and drinking).

Whatever, I better go pack my bag: I is supposed to be flying out from Toulouse to bloody Bristol tomorrow moaning, and I so do not wish to have to pack and run through a checklist as the sun is coming up in glory.

(Note: according the WashPo's crack researchers, a major beneficiary of Tiny-fingered Trump's charitable largesse is a foundation for indigent real estate brokers. Is that even a thing? I mean, WTF?)