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.