Monday, October 14, 2019

Packaging, Puppies ...

One of the many pet peeves I seem to have acquired as I get older and grumpier is - TADA! - packaging. I mean, I got a couple of parcels today full of picture frames, and each was fuller of crumpled kraft paper than it was of actual merchandise - but that's alright, after smoothing it out a bit we'll supply a few sheets at a time to Moses so that he can piss on it (and then he will try to turn it into papier maché, but that's another problem) ... no, what gets to me is things like coffee, where a 250gm foil packet is, for some strange reason, wrapped and glued into something that resembles Kevlar rather more than paper, and then two of these packets are wrapped and glued together in even more Kevlar. I spend more time trying to get to the actual coffee without getting half of it over the floor, and not too many knife wounds to my thighs, than I do waiting for it to brew.

But my most recent favourite has to be Petit Brun biscuits. (Which are kind of like a rectangular tea biscuit, if you really want to know - anyways, I like them.) Back in the day, these used to come as a packet of 48 in a filmed corrugated cardboard sleeve for protection (for nothing is worse than trying to pull one out of the packet and finding it to be broken into minuscule shards) and that was fine by me. Open the packet, pull out a few to nibble on, and by the end of the week they're all gone.

But this is no longer sufficient - maybe there really are people who just can't manage 48 smallish biscuits in a week - and now the packaging contains eight cellophaned packs, each containing six biscuits. So while you've not opened a pack, it's going to stay fresh and not go all soggy, isn't it?

Apparently, some marketing 'droid thinks not, because the external packing is now proudly marked "Emballage refermable pour garder le fraicheur" (aka "New! Improved! Resealable packaging for more freshness and no damp bikkies!") which seems a) pointless and b) totally sodding pointless, because the thing is, you can't actually open the bloody package. Not without resorting to scissors at least, at which point you've cut the sticky resealable bit of packaging away ...

The next phase, I imagine, will be to have each individual biscuit machine-wrapped and heat-sealed in 0.25mm non-recyclable stainless steel: much like airplane "meals", really. (Anyone else old enough to remember the precious little snacks they used to dish out on ANZ internal flights? No, I thought not, and I've tried hard to scrub it from my memory too.) Rather like that passage from Pynchon, by the time you eventually get to the contents you've lost all interest.

Come to that, at long last I got around to ordering a nice bit of wood to stick up on trestles in my office, replacing the serviceable but sagging folding plastic workbench that I've been using as a temporary measure for the last seven years. So a week back a random delivery guy turned up at the gate with a slab of beech, 180 x 80 x 4 and weighing about 50kg - and guess what, that was heavily packaged too! Polystyrene foam around all the edges, bubble-wrap all over, corrugated cardboard around that, and then the whole lot had been filmed onto a palette for transport.

OK, there I can sort of see the point, having actually paid for something nice (to be kept out of the reach of puppies, so that it stays nice) you really don't want to have it dinged up by the tender ministrations of the transporter ... and the foam did come in useful as Rick and I manhandled the unwieldy thing up the two flights of narrow, twisty stairs to the top floor.

And I have discovered another thing that you should take care to keep out of the reach of puppies - I mean, apart from sandals, sneakers, and other items of clothing that you'd rather stayed in a semi-presentable state - and that's credit cards. I suppose it gives Mo something to chew on, but by the time I discovered the wreckage there was no way I was going to be able to slide it into an ATM. Not without seriously jamming it, anyway. (Luckily it was the old one, which is why it wasn't in my wallet but awaiting its rendezvous with a pair of scissors - and there's another thing, would you believe it took me three phone calls explaining that Chambéry was not on my travel plans any time soon and could they please, please, just send it to me in the post?)

Speaking of puppies, Margo thought it would be a Good Idea if at least one of our pack was properly trained, so starting in October I, Moses, and a large bag of doggy treats head off on Widdlesdays to Puppy School, at Azille. I shall be interested to see how that works out: shan't get my hopes up too high for, as the suspiciously cheerful woman said on the phone, "He is a hunting dog after all, and sometimes you will just have to accept that he's going to follow his nose regardless ...". We shall see, at least it'll get me out of the house.

Which in turn reminds me that a lot of our French friends and acquaintances are in fact chasseurs, and each has taken great pleasure in informing me that Moses was going to be a great hunter. In fact one of them - Gilles, the ex-motorcycle cop from the Ariège - invited Moses and I off with them the next time the go out after wild boar. I have no objection whatsoever to eating côtelettes de marcassin, and said so, but I can do without spending a couple of uncomfortable hours up in the pinède, getting pissed on cheap rouge out of a plastic cubie and trying to avoid getting shot myself.

Been a while hasn't it ... sorry about that. I am now certifiably 61, have discovered a number of decent little restaurants around the area, and am learning how to become a puppy., Also, as if anyone actually cared, Brexit is going to happen in about three weeks time and that will be fun, now won't it?

And thanks to having had a bththda, I also have a new camera. Well, when I say "new" I actually mean "old", for it is an Agfa Optima-Parat dating back to 1963. A lovely piece of work, all stainless steel and aluminium: 35mm but half-frame, and automatic exposure/shutter speed, thanks to a handy little selenium cell. (Yep, no batteries!) I shall have to get used to the rather odd format, and the fact that it's a viewfinder model as opposed to the SLRs I've been using pretty much all my life: 200 ISO film is still easily available (if you do Amazon, that is - your mileage may vary with the local photo shop) but to actually get prints done is going to require a chat with a photo lab, and the nearest is in Toulouse ...

It may be a hand-me-down, for Birgit had it given to her by a great-aunt or something, hoping that she would take up photography, back in 1968 or thereabouts: but I think that I shall have fun with it.

Did a fair bit of touring around with Sarah in the Herault over the summer, what with it actually being summer and having Cla-Val take their staggered holidays and not decided what exactly they wanted done before heading off to wherever it is that the Swiss go on holiday: so I felt no guilt about heading off with the trusty old Olympus to places like Azillanet, La Livinière, Siran, Agel, Aigne, St-Chinian ... and it is not really a coincidence that there is good wine around these places.

And as these things do rather tend to go together, there is also good food ... having been there once with B., looking at this place in Azillanet, took Margo off one very fine day to lunch at la Table d'Azillanet, which is, should ever you happen to be in the area, a very pleasant little restaurant which sources pretty much everything locally (insofar as possible), and the menu changes daily: Mme cooks in the spanking-new kitchen, and Mossieu handles the service. (But avoid the beef until they've got the hang of it: the meat is of excellent quality but the steaks are cut too thin and grilled over too low a heat. Just saying. They'll learn.)

Sadly, they were closed for some reason or another, so instead we took the back roads and wound up eating at one of the two restaurants in La Livinière (both are, incidentally, excellent): rather copious but that's just me, in any case they know how to cook lamb chops correctly, and very pleasant it was out on the terrace under the shade of the platanes. Such moments as these remind us why we now live here ... but I had slight sads to find out that there were no more lobsters in the tank inside. Not that the lobsters were complaining.

I can also whole-heartedly recommend La Luciole, at Luc-sur-Orbieu: a family affair, where the daughter - who I'm told trained in one of the rather better restaurant schools in France - cooks, mother does service, and father does unspecified but doubtless necessary things out back. Once again, locally sourced, and the food is imaginative without being pretentious: it being lunch, when I don't really eat that much, I settled for the foie gras poelé avec réduction de griottine (this latter being a rather old-fashioned cherry apéro) and was extremely glad that I did. Quite delicious, but any more would have been too much.

Also, Luc-sur-Orbieu is in the Boutenac region, which just happens to be where some of the outstanding Languedoc wines are made. Odd, that.

You can also eat quite acceptably at Bize-Minervois, especially now that most of the tourists have disappeared, or - closer to home - at Puicheric and even Lézignan, if you know where to go.

Somewhat to my surprise, the puppy training is getting on very well. Young Moses is intelligent and extremely eager to please, and bribery does - as it will - work wonders, so "come", "sit", "coucher" are more or less done and dusted already: where I can see that I may have to be somewhat more patient is in the walkies department, and this concept of "heel". Whatever, I shall buy a 20kg sack of doggy treats, and we shall get there.

And in a last bit of puppy-related news, we managed to avoid getting two new dogs the other day. We'd loaded up little Suzy with junk from the garage (yes! After six years or more, we're finally clearing it out) and headed off to the tip to see two dogs erring along the roadside, and coming back they were all over the place, so to avoid road-kill we stopped to see if we could pick them up.

Which we quite literally did: the poor buggers were exhausted, filthily matted and very happy to see someone, so we in fact picked them up, put them in the boot, and made an unscheduled trip to the vet. And I hardened my heart, because four is enough, and we left them there in good hands.

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