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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Thyme Walk, Again ...

March and the beginning of April were very wet down in this little corner of these Furrin Parts, so much so that the little streams are still flowing and the countryside is lush and verdant, greener than I think I've ever seen it. So the rosemary has put on a growth spurt, and the thyme is extremely happy, so I guess that if I want to make a dessert (lemon goat's cheese souffle, anyone?) with thyme flowers mingled with caramelised icing sugar on top then now would be the moment.

(Health & Safety announcement: wild thyme grows, as is its wont, low to the ground. By all means feel free to pluck the stuff, but if you're planning to stick it into a meal which I am expected to eat, I'd appreciate it if you could see your way fit to washing it first. I know what my dogs do on their walk, and I'm willing to bet that the foxes, tiggywinkles, badgers and sundry other wildlife in the district don't stint themselves either.)

On the other hand, although we did not ourselves notice it we apparently had a vicious frost about a week ago, which ravaged some of the vines. Weird just how localised it was: I can walk down a track with vines to the left and to the right, and on one side the leaves are browned and the baby bunches of grapes are committing suicide: on the other side, all is well. Maybe some varieties are more resistant, I don't know: Julian reckons he'll lose 30% of his production this year. Same in Bordeaux, which worries me rather less - don't buy the stuff as a general rule, have moral objections about paying a minimum of 50€ for a bottle just to be sure there's a good chance it'll be at least drinkable.

March of the Steel Pussycats!
Gardener's Question Time again, and the one that pops out of the hat this time around is "Just what exactly do you do on a bright Sunday afternoon down in the south of France? Is it true that the men spend the morning playing pétanque and getting royally trashed on pastis while their wives slave in the kitchen getting cassoulet ready for lunch, followed by an afternoon snoring on the couch until 19h when it's time for another hot meal? Yours, Curious."

Happily, kindly old uncle T. is here to reply to your foolish importunings, and the answer is "Yes, and no, dear Curious. If that is indeed your real name, which I doubt. This particular Sunday morning, most will have taken five minutes off from boules to go vote (for them and on behalf of the wife) for either Macron or Murine, the effort of which will give them even more of a thirst. And an appetite. But in the afternoon, as the barbecue season is now upon us, many will do as I, and go slop another couple of layers of teak oil onto the wooden garden furniture. After which a snooze is not only pardonable, but medically indicated." So now you know.

More accurately and in our admittedly limited experience, in a lot of families madame will in fact spend Sunday moaning preparing a variety of nibbles (amongst which a cake au lardons/olives will, for some unknown reason, feature prominently and of course there'll always be quiche and slices of baguette with decent Spanish jamón iberico and maybe some poivron) whilst mossieu does the rounds of his preferred domaines and chateaux picking up some red (the white and rosé will have been procured on Saturday, and stuck in the fridge along with the beer).

Then some time around mid-day people will start to turn up and mill about the groaning tables and small children will run around like mad things on the lawn, maybe someone will fall in the swimming pool and about 16h it will, in fact, be time for a game of boules.

Knowing that Monday is another public holiday, so that's alright then. All the more reason to keep on drinking rosé - with ice in it. (Still can't get used to that one, but as they say down here - "Rosé's not wine: it's just a drink". So I suppose I should get over it, but it still seems a sort of furtive, dirty thing to do. Really need to wash your hands afterwards.)

Surprising though it may seem, there's a bit of wheat grown down here - putting the fields where the vines have been grubbed up to good use, I guess (because otherwise they'd lie fallow for seven years, which is a long time to be not making any money from it) - and I went past one such the other day with the hairy retards. Some doubtless-defrocked pointillist graffiti artist had gone to town with the poppy seeds at some point, and all without a licence. Or so I guess.

Whatever, I shall not be complaining to the gendarmerie because it is a) but brief-lived - transitoire, as we'd say; b) rather pretty; and c) not really my problem. Still, just saying, you don't seem to be able to escape poppies down here at this time of year.

As Margo is still tottering about a bit I suggested that she take Widdling Emma out for a walk whilst I took the other two retards off and let them off the leash in the vines, so that they could get rid of some of the beans of which they were full. It sounded like a good idea, so I stuck a pouch of doggy treats into my hip pocket (do remember to take them out before putting your jeans in the wash, just saying) and we headed off east along the sports ground, along past the weir and the toad-wallow, then up into the vineyards on the left and they sat down, got their tasty bribes, and ran about like the ADHD dogs that they are.

And I thought, after ten minutes of this, "what the hell, let's just walk along a bit more towards Fontcouverte, where's the harm?" and we got back to the track (for I would hesitate to call it an actual road, although expectations are lower here) and the pair of them bolted like mad things ahead of me.

After a couple of minutes I caught up with them, at Martin's not-so-secret sloe bush, where they were standing about, obviously puzzled and with good reason; for a recently-deceased (if I'm any judge) Bambi had chosen that as a good spot to curl up and die. I suppose I'm lucky that they didn't try to practice their amateur butchery skills but they seemed more concerned than anything else - and of course the beast carcass was covered in ticks which opportunistically and very enthusiastically sought another, slightly-less dead host, so I spent five minutes plucking them out of doggy muzzles ... Nature is a wonderful thing.

Whatevers, we are now the temporary keepers of the Sacred Scarf Of Annunciation and the Holy Jeroboam of José's Rosé: these being, respectively, a bright red woolly scarf that should be tied to the front door-handle to indicate that Chez Réné is in fact chez nous, and a three-litre bottle of what looks to be rather excellent rosé that José brought along to our first reunion, and has become a sort of unofficial mascot.

Yes, it's difficult to imagine, I know, but we have not - yet - drunk it. And now, as it gets ceremoniously handed on each week to the next host, the idea of actually doing so gets more and more difficult to entertain. Maybe, when the bar eventually reopens, we'll down it on our last night as some sort of commemorative ceremony ...

But that's likely to be some way off in the future (not too far, I hope, because rosé doesn't really keep) and we have more immediate, day-to-day problems to occupy us - like getting something done about the two rotting beams that notionally support the verandah roof, because at the moment (thanks in some degree to Widdling Emma's excavations while she was teething) the sliding glass doors are nearly all that's keeping it up.

Also, getting the handrail up around the terrace, also I have to finish getting the cement off the floor in bedroom #1, and just saying but it's 29° today which makes it difficult to get a lot done. Anyway, mind how you go.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Watership Down ...

Not, sadly, The Shamblings™
And there came to be a great slaughtering and an evisceration of bunnies, yea! and even of chickens, and there was much wailing and lamentation, for it was Easter and those things made of chocolate were between a rock and a hard place ...

Not being a religious person, once I'd bitten the head off my little Lapindor and devoured it, branes and all, I took the camera out for a little walk, which turned out to be about 14km (I had not really planned on that): approaching the chateau la Baronne from the arse-end (where the imposing gates are inexplicably absent, there's just a few tractors and a pair of gumboots) I accidentally strolled through their gardens, admiring the pineapples, before coming to my senses and making a quick exit before someone decided to pull out the WW I artillery piece that serves as a shotgun. Shit happens, and I hereby extend my profuse apologies to the Lignère family (who just happen to own the place).

Still, I might have been let off with just a warning for a first offense, or even invited in for a drink, for our friend and neighbour Johann takes Widdling Emma out that way most days, and she is known in the vicinity. Especially to the elderly Dr. Lignère who apparently haunts the chateau, so I guess I'd probably get away with it. Anyway, it's not really trespassing so long as you don't nick any olives.

What proper blue sky looks like
And one more thing ... the Friday before Easter the shelves at Carrefour were laden with every conceivable variety of eggs, chocolate bunnies, chickens, you name it. The Tuesday after lundi de Paques - one little tray of sad-looking Lapindor, who seemed to realise that they were condemned to the slaughter but, being rabbits, were not going to do anything about it. I can only guess that Carrefour negociates extremely attractive - from their point of view - sale or return terms with their suppliers.

Sniff, sniff, waily waily and I has sads, for today is the last day of the proper asparagus season - after which there will be but dried-up stuff from Spain (which is usable, if you're not fussy) and maybe a few huge fat white things, which are inedible whatever might be their provenance.

So I bought a kilo from my trusted supplier at the Carcassonne market, and most shall be roasted with olive oil and a bit of sea salt on tomorrows barbecue and the rest will be stewed in butter as is only right and correct, and then it's on to other things until March 2018 rolls around.

The "other things" in question being strawberries, which will last long enough to overlap with the cherries, and there are already nèfles (which are, I admit, a bitch to eat), and the first of the melons, and the tomatoes are starting to smell like the real thing, and soon enough there will be peaches and nectarines and stuff. So don't start feeling too sorry for us just yet.

Whatever, you probably do not need to be incessantly reminded of the state of misery in which we live, so on to other things: the itinerant bar-café Chez Réné seems to be working rather well so far, five weeks into its admittedly brief existence. Helped, let it be said, by the fact that Friday nights have, up till now, been fine and warm - which makes it much more inviting to get together for a convivial evening with twenty other like-minded souls.

(Seems likely enough that it'll go on for a while yet: the bar, sadly, seems to be embroiled in litigation. So we've little choice, if we want to drink in company.)

Widdling Emma, hellhound
To add to the jollity, Chateau Mansenoble have apparently offered to host one of the next gatherings: probably quite an astute commercial move on their part. Organising a degustation in a caveau need not be rocket science, I'm sure they can spare a couple of dozen bottles of their (excellent) red, and I'm willing to bet that they'll get themselves some good word-of-mouth publicity; not to mention a bit of everyone's disposable income, for as everyone knows the English jump on good wine. (On bad wine too, if the price is right.)

I had planned on being a productive person last Wednesday, but that did not happen. Tuesday, as Margo was walking Indra and Jara, they decided to play silly buggers and bounced into the back of her knee, sending her to the ground with a loud "pop!" ...

She felt a few twinges but the next day it was pretty clear that she needed to see the doctor, plus she was in no state to drive and had an appointment at the hospital in Lézignan with the dermatologist and on top of that I'd discovered a large festering sore on Widdling Emma's neck, hidden beneath her very thick black fur, so it was off to the vet for her ... sometimes things just do not go as you could wish, I won't say that the day was wasted but it was spent otherwise than foreseen.

Anyway, Margo's hobbling around with a full knee brace on while her torn ligament heals, I have a few minor scratches from holding Emma down while the vet shaved her and stuck a large needle in, and she's on antibiotics for ten days and hates us because I'm also supposed to spray the scabby bits with cortisone moaning and night, which she loathes. Such is life.

But very soon it will be the merry month of May, notable in France for having a vast number of public holidays. In better years they fall on a Tuesday or a Thursday, thereby ensuring a four-day weekend because everyone takes le pont: sadly, not the case this year. Whatever, I'm self-employed, I could care more. But I'm still planning on doing nothing on Monday, Labour day - in a spirit of solidarity with the oppressed working classes.

Of which I am a card-carrying member, something of which Johann reminded me a while back when it came up that I was about the only person around here that actually works and am consequently paying everybody else's pensions: he shyly asked if I "would not mind working just a little bit harder, because I would like to take a holiday in Guadeloupe this year". Hey, no-one ever said that the German sense of humour was always subtle.

Also, it's tax time, which means that I shall have to dig out a whole swag of documents and send them off to the accountant so that he can prepare my declaration and I shall be whacked with paying an eye-watering sum to the state - some of which will, no doubt, be spent on holidays in tropical islands.

Whatever, I don't care, summer is on its way, life is good, and I have to go stick some chicken bits to marinate in tandoori spices and a bit of lemon juice. Mind how you go, now.