Sunday, September 10, 2017

It's a symbiotic function, I keep the city so clean: Emma and the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet ...

So the other night Johann brought Emma back kind of late and then I thought I'd take Indra out for an easement and sod me if little Emma did not decide at that point to squirm through the half-open gate and have a bit of free time running around the neighbourhood. She bustled purposefully off hither and yon, and every time I got close she would turn and look at me with an expression that very much resembled a huge grin, and bustle off again. Eventually she'd had enough - or there was no more cat-shit to be found - for she allowed me to put her leash on and trotted happily back home.

On the bright side, the quartier has never been so spick and span. But I will spare you the sordid details of the clean-up operation in the verandah the next morning, for this is a family-friendly publication.

On the other hand, I sometimes have doubts as to Johann's suitability for looking after Emma. He is now teaching her to turn tricks: there is a German sentence which, roughly translated, goes "What do all the girls do in Paris?", at which Emma lies on her back and puts her legs in the air. In her case, to have her tummy scratched.

I seem to recall that one Peter Piper, of this parish, once nicked a peck of pickled peppers - an offense for which he was eventually deported to Norstrilia where, thanks to the ineluctable workings of narrative (not to mention the state of politics in the West Island), he became Pry Mincer - and this being the anniversary of the crime, I think it only fitting to give you the recipe for the peppers in question.

First of all, you must find some nice ripe sweet red peppers : the ones that look like horns are best, due to how as they is has very few seeds, and the few that there are all lurk up at the top, by the stalk. This makes the de-seeding of them rather easier, when it comes time to do that. And having tracked and caught your peppers, stick them in a hot oven for 30 minutes or so, turning once, until the flesh is soft and the skin starts to blister and get black spots.

Then comes the fun part, where you take them out, cut the stalk end off, slit them lengthways, scrape what few seeds there are off, flip them over and pull off the papery skin. If you can't get it all it doesn't really matter, it'll come out in the wash. When they're all done, stack 'em up and slice cross-wise into thin strips, and put the whole mess into a bowl. Do yourself a favour; if you haven't got a good sharp knife, go buy one now. I'll wait.

Now work out your garlic tolerance. Personally we find that an entire head of garlic for seven poivrons is not excessive, but your mileage may vary: whatever, take as much as you deem adequate and chop finely. Please, do not put it through a garlic press. You could also, if that floats your boat, take a dried hot chili, slit lengthways and seed, then chop really finely and add to the garlic. (Handy Health & Safety hint: if you choose to do this and you are a male person, do not forget to wash your hands well should you feel the urge to go off for a quick slash. Ouch! Hot! Burny!, just saying.)

Finally, heat about 20cl of decent olive oil in a small pan and, when hot, fling in the garlic and chili: let it simmer for a couple of minutes; you want the garlic to soften, but on no account to start going brown and crispy. Pour everything over the peppers, add a bit of salt and stir gently until well-mixed, then spoon the lot into a preserving jar. If the fancy takes you, you could layer cubes of mozzarella or a chèvre demi-sec in there, but this is strictly optional. If necessary, top up with moah olive oil so that everything's submerged. Close the jar and leave to marinate for as long as you can bear: one day would be the bare minimum. Do note that these are not, as such, sterilized; so keeping the jar in the fridge would be a bloody good idea if you don't plan on eating it all in the first few days.

Our elderly dishwasher started making strange noises at us a few weeks back, such as it might be it was chewing glass and trying to spit the bits out through its bottom, and then the alarming flashy lights came on, and it refused to work anymore. It may well be that the pump is full of broken glass, for we have had a couple of mysterious disappearances in there recently, and in any case she has form in that department - but whatever, Ets Cathala, specialists in such things, were closed for the summer (because of course, white goods never break down in summer) and we did not wish to wait.

So I wandered from shop to shop, looking for a dishwasher that would fit into the limited space we have and which did not require me to take out a second mortgage, and finally found a Bosch which looks, to my layman's eyes, to be bloody ginormous - no-one seems to make small Paris-apartment-sized stuff like that any more - but which would do the job adequately. So I wandered up to the sales-person and said "Hello squire, I will take that, thank you very much." "No you won't", he replied, "we are fresh out, also I suspect that the cat piddled on it. We can probably do you one in about a week."

Which was still better than three weeks of actually hand-washing dishes, so I signed up for it and ten days later headed off with little Suzy to finally pick it up. It took a bloody age to install, due to a lack of space under the bench, but finally it got done and as far as I can tell there are no leaks. So now we have another sparkly-new appliance in the kitchen, which we can't actually turn on for a month or so when some of the shine has worn off. Also, it is rather bigger than I would have liked: will happily gobble up twelve plates and a few dozen glasses just as an appetizer, so I guess we won't be running it every other day.

In other news, my ancient SyncMaster monitor is starting to act up, which kind of reminded me that the flesh is, indeed, weak - so I thought that a little preemptive action might be a good thing and ordered a new laptop, because when they fail I do not wish to find myself in a mad panic trying to reinstall everything and copy data over ... A few days later a shiny new 17" Asus turned up and I took it home and cuddled it and made reassuring noises as I turned it on so it didn't get frighted, and together we started on the big adventure of terminating the Windows 10 installation.

I swear to the gods that this supposedly simple operation took longer than the wait for the thing to turn up, what with an interminable number of reboots and a few multi-gigabyte downloads and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, and although I'd specified during the installation that yes, my language was UK English I had a French keyboard, Windoze still defaulted to a UK keyboard layout - go figure. And then of course I had to go into the settings to say I wanted to use a local logon rather than needing an Internet connection every time I wake it up - I know, I know, you may supposedly do that at installation but the option is very well hidden, that will serve as a lesson to me next time.

And none of that was helped by the fact that Asus include their own shitware which, on startup, wants you to select the applications you'd like to install before proceeding, and which very thoughtfully sticks itself full-screen and always-on-top, which means that although you can start task manager in the hope of killing the crap, you can't actually see the task manager screen, which makes it a pretty bloody pointless exercise. Truth to tell, I don't know why I bothered, because I shall, if I can, just install Linux on it: that being the whole point.

I mean yes, I also have to replace the Windoze laptop in the near future, so at least I know what I'm letting myself in for, but it's still a rather soul-numbing experience.

You may recall that we have form with our Dear Leader: Réné Mazet, maire of this parish. (Incidentally, our itinerant bar Chez Réné has absolutely nothing to do with him, and everything to do with 'Allo 'Allo, glad to clear that one up.) Personally I have nothing against the little tit - apart from the undisputed fact that he's a complete and utter prat - so we exchange civilities and occasionally discuss the weather in tones approaching cordiality: he's never once dared to raise his voice at me, preferring to reserve his bile for the weak; women and foreigners.

Sadly (for him) he once mistook Margo for one such, and took her to task on the (admittedly lamentable) state of parking on place St-Régis. He started off by criticizing her for having dared, once a car-load of drunken revellers had freed the parking slot in front of The Shamblings™, whipping off and parking her car there in its usual place: from then on it degenerated and I fear it did not end well. Not for him, anyway.

Whatever, there was a wedding in Moux this afternoon and some innocents had the temerity to park right in front of M. le maire's house. And so it was with some glee that, out with a cigar and a glass of sherry just before midnight, I noted that as soon as they left Réné - who had obviously been peeking through the lace curtains every five minutes - opened the door and skipped down the road clad but in slippers, a T-shirt and starched boxer shorts, to hop into his car and put it back into its slot. Delicious. Amazing what some people will wear to bed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Hammer Will Usually Do The Job ...

Over the years I've amassed quite a collection of power tools, many of which I have - in a departure from usual form - actually used. Unlike some of the interestingly-shaped silicone moulds in the kitchen, but those will get used at some point, and probably before I'm dead - afterwards would be creepy. Unless they were coffin-shaped, not really the case. (Well, one or two, I'll give you that. But small, and I only have a half-dozen, not really enough. Even with the rather large meat cleaver I have.)

Mind you, it often takes six months from purchase to the actual unboxing (talking about the power tools here, not the contents of a putative coffin), so I suppose I'm lucky that none of them have ever turned out to be DOA because quite frankly I would have great difficulty, after all that time, finding the faded-beyond-legibility sales docket that serves as guarantee.

And now they all live up in the attic, one big happy family in their green plastic Bosch boxes, because I have to put them somewhere when they're not actually in use and let's face it, the bathroom off my office is not really a viable long-term solution. (Only the big Metabo radial saw is allowed to stay out, and that's just because a) it's in what will be the third bedroom on the first floor and so is not occupying otherwise useful space, b) it growls at me gently when I get too close without a plank in my hands and c) it's bulky enough to be too much of a bitch to lug it up a ladder and sling it in the crawl space under the roof. Godnose what I'll do when The Shamblings™ gets finished and I really have to put it away somewhere: cross that bridge when we come to it, is what I say.)

The point is that doing a job of carpentry around here will often involve a number of trips up to the top floor and then up the ladder to get the tool that you thought you could get away without - such as it might be the electric plane, or one or other of the various sanders up there, or possibly the jigsaw - and then, in a completely sub-optimal manner, measuring up (for instance) on the ground floor, lugging the wood up the twisty stairs to the first floor to be cut, taking it back down again to check for fit, discover you're out by 10mm and have to start again ... rinse and repeat.

I'm not bitter, it's just to explain that this is why work gets done in stits and farts in these here southern parts. To finish the terrace I had to drag down the router, the jigsaw and the big jackhammer drill (the radial saw is, as I said, more or less permanently ensconced) and once I'd put all those back I had to get down the circular saw, the jigsaw, a smaller wood drill and a sander to convert a 1950's era wooden bed into a set of shelving (don't ask, involved vast quantities of glue and dowelling but for 10€ the raw materials were incredibly cheap, and I already had the tools) and now I have to replace a grotty chipboard shelf that was retro-fitted to an old commode and also I must put up some boxing to hide some sort of disgusting rusty old girder that holds the first floor up, in complete defiance of the laws of gravity.

Were the gib-board that forms the ceiling in the living-room at the same level between the different beams that run across the room, or even just horizontal, my life would be that much easier: of course the Devil throws up on my eiderdown once more, and neither of these things turns out to be the case. Which means that I shall have to get down the laser spirit level to mark it up, the router to enjolivate the edges of the planks, the jigsaw to do some cuts to fit around the exposed beams, probably the circular saw for some rough rip cuts along the length of the planks, and the plane to finish off. Not to mention a sander or two to get the surface ready for painting ...

The life of the amateur carpenter is emphatically not what it's often presented to be. Mind you, I knew that already, having feebly attempted many years ago to make a doll's house for Malyon (it didn't actually burn down and then fall into the swamp, so I guess I'm ahead of the game there) but hope springs eternal, as they say.

Art, ...
Also, met M. Martinez, the forager, as we were both chucking our rubbish bags into the communal wheelie-bins for the Monday moaning collection, and we exchanged a few words. Well, to be honest, quite a number actually, because I can speak French or English, and he can speak Occitan or French with the particularly impenetrable accent of these parts, so achieving mutual comprehension takes some time and effort on both sides. (Sometimes, to be honest, neither party bothers with the "comprehension" bit. Lips flap, sounds come out, we smile as if something clever has been said, and go our separate ways thinking "WTF was all that about?")

Nevertheless we persevered, exchanged pleasantries, and I now know that he's 72 and still walks about 20km every day with his two huge and very well-behaved dogs: I know also that he owns three houses in the village (up for sale, if anyone's interested and the price is right) plus a bit of land, and that we have been accepted into Mouxois society.

... imitating nature
Or so I guess, for he offered me 100 snails. Along with the recipe. "Not", he said, "les escargots de Bourgogne, which are bigger, mais the petits-gris d'ici, which are finer in taste. You may put them in an earthenware casserole with butter, garlic and cream, and bake them in the oven for ten minutes: un régal." I shuddered inwardly and - I think - persuaded him that this was not my idea of a dream meal, and even if it were then Margo would have a few words to say on the subject, but as we parted he said "But if ever you change your mind, they'll be waiting for you. I normally sell them 10€/100 at Carcassonne, 12€/100 at Narbonne because they'll pay extra, but it'll be a gift." Maybe I should see if Angela and Martin would like some?

The public service announcements around these parts have a sad side-effect. Once in a while the WWII-era tannoy system in the village farts into life and the sparrows that nest in the speakers are much disturbed and there is a great shower of feathers, then there is jovial 50's-style music from an authentic wind-up Gramophone™ before Jerôme down in the underground bunker beneath the mairie coughs and declaims into the microphone. (Sadly, the effect is somewhat spoilt by the fact that many of the speakers can only handle a short time of activity before overheating and cutting out, so his eloquent phrases are not done justice. Also, said phrases are inevitably preceded by "'Allo, 'allo", which rather detracts from the overall effect. Such of it as is audible.)

But the point is that, for instance, this afternoon it was an announcement to the effect that the club de boules were having a grillade this Friday, followed by a concours (and after the food and the copious amounts of wine that will, inevitably, wash it down, I have to ask myself just how many points will be scored and how many ambulances will be called in for concussion, but that's another matter) and ten minutes later, I find myself with "une partie de pétanque, ça fait du bien ..." running through what's left of my brain on an endless loop.

My forehead is no longer blue-green because the bruises have faded with time, and the skin is now thick and calloused thanks to my beating my head against the wall. Sorry, I am going to moan again. Skip it, go down a few paragraphs.

All I'm saying is that I have this system that will - in addition to its own, local inputs, accept values from a remote system and then use them as part of its rule-based logic. Typically, let's say, I have a local input which measures water pressure in bar (0-16) and which does some sort of action depending on its value: this local input may be overridden by a remote value provided that this remote value is at least in the same unit, and its min/max values are compatible. Because let's face it, if your remote value is in tonnes (0-500), trying to use that instead of pressure is not going to lead to pleasant results. At least, nothing useful.

So I trust (that the remote values are correct) but verify (that they're meaningful).

It turns out that this is too strict a requirement: for despite having been assured that the remote systems would use the same units as I, it appears that they will use only SI units and so pressure is measured in Pa - which is not a unit of which my little boxen are cognizant. So I shall just have to grit my teeth, swallow my professional ethics and stick deontology under the cushions on the sofa where it belongs, and remove yet another layer of data validation, and see what the hell happens.

I'm pretty sure that Peter Melhuish, were he still alive, would be objecting loudly, and the sainted F. Codd is doubtless rotating rapidly underground. But maybe no-one knows or cares just why we did that sort of shit back in the day (hint: it was to avoid problems down the line). The dinosaur graveyard is over that way a bit, think I'll go over and have a lie-down.

Normal service is now resumed.

As I sit here mid-afternoon with sweat slowly trickling across my scalp and down my face, for I am in my office on the top floor rather than in the coolest room in the house down-below where - let it be said - it is still 27°, I am reminded the old fridge has finally gone to a good home. For Julian and Batu turned up for a barbecue the other day - gave me the opportunity to use up a swag of the sausages and stuff that I inherited from Valérie when I helped her shift out of her apartment - and it came to light that they'd had a pretty shitty week for the car died, then the washing machine, then the fridge ...

By an odd quirk of fate we had not only a fridge that had become surplus to requirements but also Jeremy's washing machine, which has been lurking in the garage since we apparently bought it off him when he went to NooZild, and little Suzy had come back from her latest voyage so we lent her out as well. We are happy to get a bit of room back in the garage, they are happy to be able to wash clothes and have somewhere to keep things cool, it worked out well.

Also, it seems that they managed to hock off all but a couple of hectolitres of the 2016 for a reasonable price, which means there'll be room in the cuves for the 2017 vintage: and not before time, because with the weather we've been having it looks as though that'll be at least two weeks early this year.

Whatever, we has a posh soirée to go to, best be off. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

T'were Better Back In't Olden Times ...

Dribs and drabs of information come to us on the aetheric waves that bounce around inside the crystal sphere that surrounds our local universe (Pluto is so not included) and are eagerly circulated around the little group, for actual excitement is not easy to come by in Moux. In the latest splatters, we have learnt that not only is there a prospective tenancière for the bar, but apparently the legal disputes have been resolved, and so there is no judicial impediment to its being joined in holy matrimony imminent reopening.

Also, we learn that the majority of the problems were, as all suspected, largely of the mairie's own making: for what they did (or so it would seem, according to that nice young Mr. Reliable of the well-known local family, the Sources) when leasing the bar to Ivan and Nadège, was actually hand over title to the licence IV that went with it. (This is a bit of paper that says, officially, that you are allowed to serve alcoholic beverages on the premises and is thus more or less a sine qua non for running a bar: the thing is, of course, that they don't actually make them any more - can't get the wood these days - so they trade for quite a hefty price.) So it seems that the mairie eventually clenched its collective sphincter and bought it back, and lo! the problems have disappeared.

Don't know where the money came from, but it would be rather nice if they could rummage down the back of the sofa and come up with enough small change to pay for the connection to the optical fiber that's currently being laid in the village, on its way to Douzens and Conilhac and even Fontcouverte: but apparently our Dear Leader can see no reason why people should want high-speed internet access.

Personally, I'd been led to believe that the whole operation was being subsidised to the hilt by the conseil général and so in fact it would cost the village sod-all: maybe I'm wrong, or maybe Réné is just having a hissy-fit. Whatever. What we've got is still better than good old dial-up, back in the days when we had the then hi-tech US Robotics modem chundering along at the breath-taking pace of 19200 baud, and we had to yell at the kids not to try phoning because we were doing research on kitty porn.

Sometimes the STOOPID it burns and it gets to me, and you'll just have to put up with it for a short time. Back in the day, about 40 years ago, the first lesson we learnt as wet-behind-the-ears programmers was "validate everything, as soon as you can". (Not actually true, the first lesson we learnt was "The upstairs bar at the Commercial/permanently reserved table at the Stable opens in 30 minutes, now would be a good time to go before some numpty from the Gas Department decides to try it on", and the second one was how to read a stack dump, but you get my drift.)

But somewhere along the yellow brick road to this brave new digital world in which we live, it would seem that the principle has been either forgotten, or maybe accidentally tossed out when the trousers went into the wash. For I am in the throes of implementing a data exchange system involving curl, and JSON strings (if your eyes are starting to glaze over, feel free to skip a couple of paragraphs), and handling incoming SMS, and amongst the data that I have to handle is the IMEI of the data source.

Should not be a big deal, for I already do that - it is just a string of 15 digits - but for some strange reason the database guys across the table from me decided to push it as an integer, rather than a string. So I called. "Could you not", I asked, "send it off as a 15-character string, left-padded with zeros if necessary? Because as an integer, it blows up the bloody Linux library routines, and I shall have to go modify them."

"Oh no, can't do that, it's an integer."

"Why not just change the typedef in your database to CHAR(15) or, if that's too much hassle, just export it using one of the many SQL functions available for just this porpoise?"

"Oh no! If we changed it to CHAR then people could just type any old thing and we'd have to validate it, and if we used a typecast for export that would mean extra work for us, and besides our JSON wouldn't be pure!"

Christ, even the bloody key-punch machines had programmable templates, such as "ten-character field: first three upper-case alpha, next six numeric digits only, last one either M or F": I for one am not entirely sure that "progress" is quite the right word to describe what we've done over the last four decades.

Still, we shall see just how "pure" their bloody JSON is once I've buggered it: in the interim I have modified the appropriate libraries to use 64-bit integer values, changed my code to do some special handling, and perform all the validation that should (in an ideal world) have been done at the front-end in my code (something which, I admit, I was going to do anyway because when it comes to providing me with guaranteed clean, sanitized data I don't trust them worth a damn).

Of course the downside is that when I do detect an error (and believe me I will, I just know it) I have no way of getting that information back up the chain to the actual database, so they'll just have to live with things inexplicably failing to respond as they should ...

Not sure what to make of this one: a request for tender from the CNRS which popped up in my inbox this afternoon. "Avis de publicite No 51027 : 'tableau de bord de suivi de la construction de cartes mentales' a ete publie ce jour." Skipping the blabla, this is asking for a "dashboard to follow fabrication of mental cards" and it's those last two words that rather worry me because I can't work out what they're doing in that sentence.

Just maybe, as "carte" could equally well mean "map", they are calling for a device to track the construction of memory palaces, or the oeuvre of Schuiten and Peeters ... then again, maybe not.

Whatever, evaporation has happened and all the vitamins have inexplicably disappeared from my glass so, ever-careful as to my health, I must go refill it. Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Emma And The Cicada That Never Was ...

As Johann put it, "When Emma takes me on a run, if she is off the leash she can eat any shit she finds, but if she is on the leash she knows that she should not do this, and when we were running back I noticed that she had her head down, and her mouth was tightly closed, and she would not look up at me. So I stopped, and I said 'Emma, is there something you want to tell me?' And she looked at me with her big brown eyes, and she said nothing but shook her head, and there was a huge cicada wing sticking out of her mouth which was still firmly shut."

"So I asked her again, and she was going to shake her head but then the cicada started to chirp which worried her very much, because she did not know from where the noise was coming, and then as she looked at me the cicada went full-on Wagner and started doing 'The Ride of the Valkyries' and Emma was very upset, and ran around in circles ten times and then sat down heavily, and I think that then she bit the head off the cicada, because it stopped making a noise. And then she looked up at me, and grinned and opened her mouth and said 'See? You ain't seen nothing yet. Nothing in there, never was. OK?' And we ran back home, and she grinned all the time."

So now you know.

In other news, two burly, almost offensively cheerful young men turned up in a lorry this moaning and manhandled the new fridge I'd ordered through the gate and into the living-room. Luckily I was expecting it, although I'd not thought they'd be quite so early - and consequently had to rush back halfway through the morning walkies, following a phone call. So the large fridge in the kitchen has been replaced by an even larger fridge, which is all shiny! sparkly! and has no fingerprints on it, so we're not allowed to touch it for a couple of months, and the old fridge is sitting in the living room waiting for Peter to come and carry it off to his garage for whatever foul porpoises he may have in mind.

We did not actually need a new fridge, for the old one still did its job of keeping stuff cold(ish), but you know how it is: summer sales come around, you idly say to yourself something like "Hey! After the ice-cream maker, why not a new fridge with a freezer compartment that actually holds more than a single Mars Bar and doesn't need defrosting every half-hour?" and all of a sudden nothing will do but you must have a new fridge.

And in my case this meant going through all the big supermarkets around Carcassonne only to find that they were completely innocent of anything resembling a 25%-off fridge, until in a fit of stubborn spite I went into ElectroDepot and ordered the biggest one I could find that would actually fit into my kitchen, 400€ delivered and there you have it.

Sometimes you have to wonder. As you are probably aware, I have an accountant (that I see maybe once a year) and every month I get an e-mail asking me to send off incomings and outgoings for the month, so that he can send off the VAT declaration (and, incidentally, so that I may - albeit grudgingly - pay it). They have obviously embraced whole-heartedly the new digital world, for I just got one such e-mail apparently sent to all their clients, cc'ing everyone rather than doing a bcc. So now I know, for instance, that the photo shop at Carrefour is a client, as is the chateau de Belle-Ile, another domaine at Montbrun, a few garages and a cardiologist. I've not bothered going through the 420 others on the list.

Fair's fair, they all know I'm a client too ... what could possibly go wrong? Normally, that's the sort of unthinking incompetence you associate with the government, or someone like AT&T. I allowed myself the small pleasure of adding a snarky footnote to my reply, pointing out that it was considered best practice not to do this: should it happen again I might well hit "reply to all" and cc the CNIL for good measure.

Maybe I really should get around to setting up a junk mail account for these sort of dealings, sooner rather than later. OK, the horse has already bolted, but perhaps I can stop the donkeys from escaping ...

Whatevers, we are definitely in summer now and the dress uniform about these parts is shorts, T-shirt, sandals, sunglasses and (in my case) hat: the barbecues have all come out of hibernation and we (and various friends who come round) are always delighted to find that the ground-floor living-room is the coolest place in the house.

But I am getting ahead of myself, and possibly digressing. A few days back there was a bimmeling at the door, and there was Réné. (Another Réné. Not our Dear Leader, nor the putative café owner from 'Allo 'Allo, but a short shy stubby guy who used to be a helicopter mechanic for the Army.) He had come - shyly, as is his wont - to hand-deliver an invitation to a blues evening with The Smashing Burritos, at some place we'd never heard of just out of Fabrézan.

And after watching the fireworks with Bob! and Cassia on the 13th (don't ask) and drinking chez Réné (the other Réné, do tell me if this is getting complicated) on the 14th and discovering that Julian and Batu had managed to hock off all their wine and might even manage to turn a profit, however small, from it, we thought we might as well head along and see what was on offer.

Luckily, food was not a major concern because although I actually ordered a large barquette of chips fairly early in the evening they never managed to make it to our table (mind you, I never actually paid for it either, so I feel no angst): I do know that food was in fact available (for a given value of that word) for I did see some lucky punters being served up what looked like a semi-decent hamburger (and others, less fortunate, being served a piece of fish that reminded me just why I'm a carnivore) but all in all, the words "piss-up", and "brewery" do come to mind. Hell, they even ran out of rosé after an hour or so: not easy to do around here. Maybe they'd not expected such a commercial success: godnose it's hard enough to plan for, when you never know just how many are going to turn up.

Anyways, Réné turns out to be one of nature's drummers, stolidly sitting there behind the batterie banging away, sunglasses masking most of his face, whilst the others ponced about with their guitars.

Actually, it was very good. The place itself is great, and completely unsuspected from the road (possibly, also, only semi-legal because of alcohol being served without a licence, don't you know; but what the hell, it's a private club and the membership fee is included in the price of your first pichet of wine) and the music was excellent. Shan't hesitate to go back.

And then today I cremated meats (including a saucisse de vigneron, which does not actually contain more than 0.5% wine-maker) on the barbecue and Rick and Mary duly turned up to help us get rid of the stuff along with the first trial batch of figgy ice-cream (note to self: swap in honey for half the sugar when reducing the figs, just to make it even more decadent than it needs to be) and after we'd drunk moderately we went round to their place for coffee, and a swim in the little pool they have that's hidden in the jungle out back.

Hope it didn't snow for you.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bonked by Beetles, Mauled by Midges ...

Yet another entry in our sporadic list of Health & Safety tips for the south of France: should you take it into your heads to go walking in the pinède at this precise time of year, it might be a good idea to don your fencing gear - especially the mask. (We're talking sharp pointy stick fencing here, not the sort of highly technical thing cockies do, involving n° 8 wire and posts, or sometimes just amputation, to keep sheep in one place.)

For there are the usual flocks of black or yellow admirals (I'm taking a wild guess here, naval butterfly identification was never my strong point and for all I know they're actually commodores) and the stubborn bloody little mouches that insist on trying to investigate your nasal cavities, but there are also swarms of cicadas - and I'm not talking about the teeny things you get, I mean the big buggers, two or three cm long, ugly as sin and heavy as hell.

And because they each weigh as much as a smallish brick, they do not care if you happen to be in their flight path. Just saying, is all.

Speaking of the damn things, when Johann dropped Widdling Emma off after their run the other day he promised to tell us the tale of The Adventures Of Emma, Chapter VII: Emma and the Crunchy Cicadas. I know how that ends: never well, for the cicadas. Still, Emma and the Big Pile of Poo and Emma and the Huge Muddy Puddle were ripping good yarns, so I'm looking forward to hearing it.

OK, the plots are pretty much always the same - Emma finds something really gross and either rolls in it or eats it, or both - but the nature scenes are described rather well, and I can see the characterisation developing ...

Over the years my scalp, rather in the manner of Hy Brasil and other wondrous floating isles, has risen through what little hair is still left to me until the only thing between it and the blazing sun is a few tufts of fuzz, fighting a valiant but ultimately vain rearguard action. So I bought a hat, which I now clap firmly on the old bonce (for the things are exorbitantly expensive, and I would not wish it to be blown away) whenever I go out into the daylight.

For meeting Rick in Carcassonne the other day, he gave me the address of a chapellerie - not a Christian supply house selling such necessities as small chapels, but an extremely respectable enterprise specialising in the sale of chapeaux (and occasionally, in these degenerate times, gloves - although strictly speaking that would be the occupation of a gantier) - so I hied me thither and explained my requirements to the tall, languidly elegant woman behind the counter.

"To all appearances, Sir would be best served by a panama ..." she murmured and with no further ado reached up to a shelf I'd have needed a stepladder to get to, whipped one down and plonked it on my head. "Ah non! Too big, and it does very little for sir's appearance ..." so the offending article was removed and another slapped in its place. "Très bien! Very elegant! Truly we have a hat for every head."

So I paid the eye-watering price of an apparently authentic panama hat as she was lecturing me on the manner in which it should be carried (neither rakishly tilted forwards, not worn in a slovenly manner on the back of the head, but firmly placed in a horizontal manner) and left, still with a nagging doubt that it made me look even more of a complete dork - a difficult thing to do, I must admit. I'll spare you the photo.

I can see that in the next day or so I shall be spending my time up to the armpits over a large saucepan (like, a large tinned copper saucepan, such as might be lurking in one of the cupboards) for Rick came past last night bearing a large bag of extremely ripe violet figs, which he had "acquired" with the aid of a ladder and the fact that it was getting dark and no-one could see him clambering up someone else's wall to get at the things.

(Incidentally, fig season makes walking our hairy retards into quite an exercise. They just love road-kill figs, even the ones that have been run over and squashed ... I'm sure they're not actively bad for them, just makes bowel motions a bit Technicolor.)

I already had pêches blanches destined for the midday tart because otherwise I could have done it with figs, or I guess I could have made a flammenkuche with dried ham, figs and goat's cheese, but let's face it they're hideously sweet and Margo doesn't really like them anyway (come to that, I have difficulty managing more than one), so I rather suppose I'm up for making jam. Or chutney. Or whatever. Hence the rendezvous with a pot.

On the other hand, the ice-cream maker actually works. Martin and Angela came round for fish balls in sweet and sour sauce for lunch, and as by efforts I would not hesitate to qualify as heroic we have finished off all the ice cream there was to be found in the freezer, Margo thought it would be a good idea to see what we could do. We cheated - rather than making up our own custard last night and leaving it to cool she went off and bought some crème anglaise at the supermarket, and mixed it with heavy cream - but who cares? Poured it in, pushed on the go-tit and 45 minutes later it's Hey! We has ice cream!

This is a revelation to me, and I can see that in the coming months there will be any number of trials, vast quantities of eggs will be sacrificed, and who knows, maybe dulce de leche will go in there. Shall let you know how it goes.

Whatever, it's been a social month here at The Shamblings™ - by our (admittedly low) standards, anyway. Three lots of old friends turned up in succession (yeah, that meant three trips around la Cité, but I can live with that, albeit reluctantly) and finally, just a few days ago, Julia and James arrived.

For the moment they're camping out, but I think I shall rearrange the bookshelves and stick Julia in between James and Jacques, and shift Paul off to one end, with the La Nouvelle Larousse Gastronomique (bit of a misnomer, I must admit, for my edition dates back to 1983 so it's hardly nouvelle anymore) to keep him company and stop him bothering everyone else.

Yes, Mastering The Art Of French Cooking (volumes 1 & 2) turned up, as did James Beard's American Cookery (sadly, The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking is long since out of print, and more or less unobtainable: at least, at a price that I'm willing to pay). I have a lot of reading to do: luckily Beard was a wonderful writer, and I have great hopes of Julia.

In other news, the mayor's idiot nephew is off on sick leave or something, and has been replaced by two or three yoof. "Ah!", I thought to myself, "young, dynamic, Moux shall no longer be home to Mr. Cockup ..."

Then, a few weeks back, I came across two of them at the far end of the sports ground, where they'd been dispatched to move a hole or something, so they'd driven the municipal Vespa van 150m down there and then, I guess, discovered that they'd brought only left-handed shovels so sent one of their number back on foot to the workshop to get the right gear ...

Anyway, my point is that the other two were standing around, looking in puzzlement at the bright yellow municipal wheelbarrow, as if asking themselves how in hell one was supposed to make it work. Not, I think, the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Whatever, the sun is shining bright, and the terrace calls.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pop! Goes The Pigeon ...

For our neighbour Piratical Phillippe has a very small-gauge shotgun which he uses as an argument to convince the sky-rats not to crap all over the cuisine d'été adjoining the swimming pool at the chateau. According to him, it is remarkably effective, and I'm quite willing to believe him.

In unrelated news, after three years I have finally started to put up a small barrier on the wall around the terrace, so that the dogs can't jump off (both Indra and Jara have already tried that, and whilst no permanent damage was done it's not really something you want happening on a regular basis as plummeting dogs tend to alarm the neighbours) and to act as an impediment to those of our guests who may have drunken somewhat too liberally, and I spent an afternoon with a weed-whacker out at Old Hélène's pinède.

And here is the result (not of the weed-whacker, you fools): the bar-terrasse at The Shamblings™ in all its glory. There is not, as yet, a bubbling horde of eager clients bringing animation to our quiet village square, but that may be simply because we have not yet uncorked the rosé.

Nor, come to that, have we yet started to play with my new toy, which arrived a few weeks ago, as I have had to reorganise the kitchen somewhat to accommodate it: I have moaned before, Need Moah Bench Space and this is true. So I actually went and made some moah bench space by the simple expedient of sticking up a few second-hand girders from the Firth of Forth bridge (a very nice man sold them to me, guaranteed hardly used and certainly no-one's going to notice a couple missing) to support a slab of oiled pine over some otherwise unused space.

Saint Jude Regis The Obscured
My caution when constructing things is perhaps excessive, but I do not like to hear loud bangs in the middle of the night, such as might be caused by the shelf supporting a large (and heavy) microwave oven falling spontaneously to the ground, so I tend to favour the Colditz school of building. Which is kind of ironic given that I regularly take the piss out of the previous owners here, who used the quantities of bolts and rivets that one normally associates with the building of a battleship, but there you go.

All this so that the microwave can go live next to the 8l deep-fryer and I can stick the turbine à glace in the corner next to the fridge, push the big KitchenAid stand mixer a few inches off to the left and put the Kenwood next to that, and I still get an extra six inches on either side of my marble slab, which is admittedly a small gain but still not to be sniffed at.

And that thing what I mentioned is, quite simply, an ice-cream maker. On the principle that paying for quality works out cheaper in the long run I actually put out good money for a semi-pro stainless steel job that has its own freezer unit built-in: they are eye-wateringly expensive but on the other hand there's none of this business of running power cords into the freezer compartment or sticking tubs in there for twelve hours or so ahead of time: just stick the mess in, push the go-tit and in thirty minutes you have a litre of ice-cream. Or so it says on the blurb - shall let you know. But first, we have to devour the rest of the ice-cream (from Pôle Sud in Lézignan, and very good it is too) to a) get some tubs and b) make some room in the freezer for our own production.

Old Hélène learns to drive
It is not good to be boastful, and I do not wish to denigrate your beautiful climate, but I think today was the first true day of summer down here. Still and baking under the sun in the bright blue sky, so that all those with any sense retreat into the cool of the house some time before midday, only coming out onto the terrace with the chilled rosé in the early evening.

And even though the asparagus season is well and truly over (I am speaking here of les asperges vertes, not those gross fat white things that look like some sort of vegetable sex toy) a middle-aged man's fancy still turns idly to thoughts of salads, and strawberries and cherries and melons (all of which are in season) and pleasant combinations of such things to be taken orally at lunchtime under the parasol, such as it might be garlicky buttered prawns with snow peas with fresh bread, maybe followed by a few slices of melon ... melon canari maybe, electric yellow with a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of sugar ...

But for tonight there is just a thai-style beef salad, with the thin slices of rare roast côte de boeuf marinating even as I write in a mix of nuoc mam and lime juice and sambal oelek and garlic and brown sugar with a few spring onions, to be dressed on a crisp salade with a few tomatoes and chives just for fun - I really should have bought some mint at the market this moaning.

And this will go on for the next three months, I think, until the temperatures descend to a somewhat more reasonable mid-twenties - sometime in September, I guess. Even the dogs prefer to spend their time spread out on the cool tiles in the living room, and much prefer not to go out during the day.

And it is true that even I have taken to dropping a few ice cubes into my rosé. It's too hot not to drink, but more than 2 litres of fruit juice (unfermented) per day is probably a bit too much to be entirely healthy. (Which goes some way to explaining why I also picked up a SodaStream machine the other day, because when you're guzzling a litre of tonic a day, with or without gin, it kind of changes the economics.)

Puicheric is a little village not too far north from us, across the nationale, and there is an excellent boulangerie there: they seem to be open every day of the week (although I guess that if you turned up at 15h on a Sunday you might be lucky to find anything other than a single crusty baguette) and the bread is very good, so although the road is exceedingly narrow and there's always the risk of coming across some multi-wheeled juggernaut whose hopped-up driver has foolishly trusted the GPS, that's where I tend to go every other day to buy a boule or something.

It's a family affair, and oddly enough the family in question appears to be Portuguese, which means that if you manage to get there early enough, before all the pastries have disappeared from the shelves, you stand a chance of buying a pasteis de nata. OK, it's not yer good old NooZild custard square, but it is very good and rather addictive. Good reason for me to only go early on rare occasions.

Also, I have learnt much today. By vigorous and diligent inspection of election posters (such as one might put up were there to be, say, les élections legislatives) I have discovered that there is an Animalist Party ("Your pet is disenfranchised, vote for it. Early and often"), also a White Vote Party ("Make your spoiled ballots count!"). I have also been informed that there is a perfectly good Old English word, culf, referring to belly-button fluff.

Mind how you go, now.