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.


  1. I love figs ! Maybe you could chuck a few in the freezer for some fig ice cream to celebrate my prodigial return ...

  2. Shall put in a word with Rick, the tree-thief ... alternatively, could buy some at the market. Have recipe for figgy ice-cream.