Monday, November 6, 2017

High on a Hill ...

NOT The Shamblings™
As you may or may not have noticed - and if you had actually noticed, you could probably not give a rat's arse - there is a butter famine in these parts of the world. The more excited of the commentariat would have it that this is due to the evil machinations of the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu who has bought up the entire world butter supply; doubtless with the aim of using it to grease Chinese gymnasts so that they can excel come the next Olympics. More reasonable people have a slightly more plausible hypothesis but hey!, that's probably fake news.

Personally I too would not give a rat's arse, were it not for the fact that when I pootled around Carrefour today in search of another 10 kg of cholesterol to last us through the week the shelves were bare, apart from the margarine department which was plentifully stocked.

I know that some people do actually prefer margarine to butter, and I'm very grateful that they're safely locked away somewhere they can do no harm to themselves or others (and above all, not allowed access to any cooking utensils), but I will have problems with this. Olive oil is all very well but you can't spread it on a proper sandwich (for the sake of amicable relations, we'll agree not to talk about the pan bagnat here, because despite its undisputed merits it is not really a sandwich) and anyway I really, really, like butter for frying. Also, it's probably good for your complexion.

Be that as it may, we went away again last weekend, leaving Mad Karen's eldest son, Rafaelo, once again in charge of the dogs. For Rick and Mary were house/dog-sitting for a friend of theirs, who just happens to own a) a converted bergerie up in the mountains, just a shade north of Queribus, and b) a young and very enthusiastic sheepdog.

You tend not to think of the Corbières as being a mountainous region, but as you go south you get closer to the Pyrenées and you start to climb and go round twisty-turny hairpin bends to get up to the little cols (OK, at all of 600m altitude, but that's nothing to laugh at if you happen to be walking up it) and finally, when you get to the top of one such - assuming you take the time to pull over and admire the view - you have to admit that you were mistaken.

So Saturday moaning we headed down in Margo's little MiTo and hardly got lost at all, apart from right at the end when we started down the wrong dirt track (also, backing up the wrong track, smoke started coming out from under the bonnet and there was a strong smell of burnt rubber, which we decided was probably just a brake pad and as nothing nasty has happened since we shall continue to ignore it), and wound up in this valley, surrounded by mountains, at about 300m altitude, with this old house sitting there in a sort of prairie with a small river running through it, and a lake, and lots of trees: cue a full-throated rendition of "The Sound of Music", specifically the song about the lonely goatherd.

And then we unpacked, and waited for Angela and Martin who were also turning up along with their two dogs, and drank a bit - as one will - to while away the time; and when they'd emptied their car of enough gear for an assault on Everest, by common consent we went off and had lunch, and more wine just because.

All this to fortify ourselves, because the main object of the afternoon was in fact going for a walk in the mountains. "Only three hours", said Mary cheerfully, "and about 200m of denivelé".

I would not have thought it of her, and had someone suggested it to me I would have been shocked, but she lied - both by commission, and by omission. But whatever, we set off along this little track that led us through woods and meadows and sundry other of Nature's delights (personally I always have this nagging doubt that I am actively profaning Nature with my presence, which is one reason I usually try to avoid such activities) until we came up to a bit of scrubby pasture which was mostly thyme - about in the middle of that photo below.

Walked on top of this one
Where we found the GR 36, which we were not allowed to take at that time for Mary insisted we go "just a little further up" so we pushed on through the shrubbery and found ourselves at the edge of a precipice (you see that outcropping of rock to the right?), which was, it seems, the ideal spot for a little snack. It is true that the view was spectacular.

 Then we were allowed back to the GR 36 and followed it sort of easterly, for it traverses the rock face and heads - mostly - downwards, on mossy paths through bosky whatevers, with a suitable screening of trees to the right as you go down, hiding the grim reality of your imminent lapidary death should you slip.

Which is all very well until you get to the part where a large section of cliff face has actually - doubtless out of sheer boredom or possibly plain old malice aforethought - fallen off, leaving something that I can only describe as an inverted pimple on the rock wall: but bits of the mountain decided to stay where they were, so the path brings you to a natural rock bridge over the goufre, with a pit to your left and a sheer drop to your right. OK, it was at least two metres wide, and the odds of death by being impaled on a larch whilst plummeting from 50m up are, statistically, pretty close to zero, but still ...

After that, clambering over this treacherous sort of ball joint sticking out of the rock (where the view down was merely vertiginous) to get back to the path was pretty much a doddle, and from thence it was but a stroll through an idyllic river valley to get back to the car. The next time Mary invites us on a walk, I shall make sure to ask for more details.

But we all survived, and ate boeuf bourguignon and fruitcake snug inside as the tramontane decided to blow, and Martin had - as is his wont - brought some excellent bottles, and as icing on the cake I had no need to get up the next morning to take the hairy retards out. Of course, it would have been the weekend that Europe changed back to winter time so I didn't really feel as though I'd taken advantage of that, but you can't have everything.

TL;DR version: it was a lovely weekend with good friends in an old house that had, to all appearances, been outfitted with the contents of all the antiquaires and braderies within a 50km radius: lovely for a holiday away from it all (I think even internet was over satellite, and gravity was optional) but no way we could ever have lived there. Not for any length of time.

We got back to find that, as per instructions, Rafaelo had not only occupied himself with the dogs during our absence, he had painted the ceiling and the rafters in the living room. I rather suspect that it was the first time he'd ever wielded a paintbrush in anger, for there are certain lacunae, but hey! it saved a lot of bother. Also, the ceiling is actually and certifiably white, possibly for the first time in I don't know, maybe fifty years?

Rather stupidly I decided to plaster up some of the more egregious holes and dings in the wall, which means that there is a fine dusting of plaster all through the place (for I am not competent enough to do a job that requires little to no sanding) - also, you can't stop yourself. You say to yourself "Right, that's the very last bit done and dried, just sand it off and we're good to go" and it's at that very moment, when your nose is up against the wall, that you spot another bit that really needs doing, and wonder how in hell you missed it the first time round. It is very annoying.

But never mind, it's done (actually, I gave up in despair) and we've chosen a colour with which we can both live, so now it's just a question of doing the actual painting. After which I can put up all the light fittings, we can shift all the furniture (and then some) back in, and we will have the luxury of five minute's quiet contemplation of the work that remains to be done in the future dinning room. Where there's half a wall that sorely needs replastering (rising damp): I think I shall call in a professional for that.

Mind how you go, now.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Unashamedly Fat ...

So here we are, as Autumn comes in and I'm another year closer to getting my OAP card and joining the masses of totterers and the feeble-minded shuffling witlessly about the aisles at Carrefour, looking for the adult incontinence pads.

Apart from that it's a wonderful season: crisp and bright in the moaning, when the dogs and I go out for our respective bowel motions, and then in the afternoon when the low sun lights up the old stonework and a few rays filter through the leaves, and the sky is vast and the colour of lapis lazuli, it is almost too beautiful for words. Luckily, we've got used to it, and are no longer surprised.

Whatever, I celebrated with a two-hour walk out on the plaine de l'Alaric - without the dogs, for once, as I wished to take the camera and have at least a sporting chance of getting a few photos - and then when I got back, as it's the foire au gras around these parts I found myself with a foie gras de canard which is even now bathing in milk until I season it and dose it with cognac before wrapping it in a tea-towel and poaching for an honest-to-god foie gras au torchon, also four duck legs which are macerating in gin, salt and allspice before reaching apotheosis as confit de canard.

But not tonight - it being Monday now - as chez Réné, our itinerant drinking session, had organised lunch at le Gallois, a little gîte/restaurant at Capendu, all of 4km from here. We turned up, all seventeen of us, around midday, and the last of us rolled out some time around 16h. It's a bit too soon to start on the obituary: announcements of the death of the good long French lunch are somewhat premature.

But as you can probably guess, I am not particularly hungry just at the moment, and the concept of confit de canard with potatoes fried in duck fat on the side is not as enticing as it would be under other circumstances, so I rather suspect it'll be an omelette tonight.

I am planning on cooking that duck liver au torchon, which in fact (according to the excellent Mssrs Ruhlman and Polcyn, of Charcuterie fame) means not really cooking at all, given that it just involves poaching the thing, wrapped tightly in a tea-towel (hence the name) in barely simmering water for all of 90 seconds. As he says, you're basically just softening the fat (and a hypertrophied duck liver is, mostly, fat) so you can make it into a nice shape: also, it'll have been salted and soaked in alcohol and most bacteria do not really thrive in fat (you are starting to see the common point here?) so that's fine. Just keep it in the fridge, and eat within a week.

Ten Twelve tiny toes ...
It will make a change from my usual terrine, cooked in a bain-marie - which is always a bit of a hiss-and-mit affair because the temperature regulation on my oven is neither precise, nor repetitive, nor does the scale actually go down to 140° which is what I really want: this is yet another incentive for me to go off and buy a new oven. Let's face it, the one I have has given ten years at least of good and faithful service, but I choose not to repeat what the guy said about the grill on it when he came around a year or so back to change a gas tap on one of the burners (from memory, "public menace" and "incendiary" were some of the words he uttered), and anyway I am a complete slut when it comes to cooking gear.

I have my eyes on a very nice replacement, same five gas burners including the ridiculous 4 KW one for the wok, and the same huge oven only electric rather than gas (which is actually better for patisserie and stuff like that): I have but to convince myself that I really want it.

That, and I shall have to get used to having something in my kitchen with the brand name SMEG. Which always sounds like one of those gross runny skin diseases to me.

That can wait. For a bit, anyway. Before that I have to go buy a couple of old-school dumb phones, of the kind with a cord that you just plug into a wall socket, in order that I may, in fact, just plug them into some of the phone jacks around here in The Shamblings™. This is because, in common with many, we have two phone numbers: good old POTS, and the VoIP number that comes with the Livebox that provides us with essential things like Internet and kitty porn. In principle one plugs one's Livebox into a phone jack and the phone into the Livebox, and whether someone calls on the POTS number or on the new-fangled VoIP number the phone will ring.

Sadly, this turns out not to be the case - at least, not reliably.

For the past week it was a wonderment to us that we had had no phone calls, and I tried ringing us, and lo! there was a great silence in the Force, for the phone did not ring. So I called the Orange support-drones (give them their due, they are actually available 24/24, 7/7 like it says on the tin) and I was led through the process of disabling the ring on POTS calls, saving that, then re-enabling it and saving that. Upon which, it all started working again.

"Admit it", I said to the anonymous "technician", "this is not optimal. True, I now know that the software in your frikkin Livebox is brain-dead and has hissy-fits, and I know what to do about it, but I ask you how I can know when it has had a hissy-fit, given that we do not know that we have missed a possibly life-or-death phone call?"

"Ah", it mumbled back at me. "Sir has two options. You may do this every evening, just in case. Or, my personal preference, buy a really cheap phone and plug it into the phone jack. Like that, if your really cheap phone rings but not the others, you will know that your Livebox has deconned, and you may repeat what I have taught you."

I put it to him that this too, although admittedly a solution, was one which required me paying about ten baguettes-worth of my own money to fix a problem which was, in theory, their responsibility, and was also unaesthetic in the extreme; but I could tell he'd lost interest. So we exchanged civilities, hung up, and I resolved to do as he had suggested whilst waiting for Orange to stick out a patch: which'll probably bugger something else, but that would be par for the course.

Hell, with the brand-new Livebox they recently sent me (and which I foolishly installed, believing their blandishments when they said it was necessary to take full advantage of the refurbished network that will be coming our way Real Soon Now), I can't even change the interface language, nor can I pick my preferred DNS provider ... I suppose this is progress, of a sort. Should be inured to that sort of thing by now.

Anyway, like I said earlier it is now autumn and the dogs' walks are necessarily somewhat curtailed during the day, for that means it is hunting season. And around these parts lots of people go hunting. We prefer not to go up into the pinède, for there the hunter's vision - already blurred by heroic quantities of cheap plonk - will be even further obscured by the pine forests; and down amongst the vines where some go for rabbits it is no better. I suppose I should take some comfort from the fact that hunters usually kill other hunters rather than innocent passers-by (hunters tend to wear hi-vis vests along with their ridiculous little deer-stalker hats, which makes for a better target), but I would prefer not to become one of the exceptions to this general rule.

On the bright side, there are huge cèpes at the market, and bright yellow/orange girolles (or chanterelles, if you prefer) at a price which, on the "eye-watering" scale, is at least closer to "a kick in the kneecap" than "a knee in the balls". Also, huge and deformed pumpkins, but the less said about them the better.

Also, we've just arrived back from a weekend in Spain with José and Guillain. I don't think I've eaten - and drunk - so much in the space of 36 hours for quite some time. We left home at some ungodly hour on Saturday to get down to Empuriabrava in time for the market which was the ostensible reason for going, and had an apéro. Then we ambled up and down the market, headed back to the bar, and had another apéro. Then as it was getting on for 14:00 and thus lunch-time, we found a restaurant, had an apéro and a full lunch, with wine.

(Incidentally, the Spanish will have no truck with your wimpy Frog 13cl glass. The white wine you take as apéro comes in a copa, which holds rather more.) Then we went off to another village, where José won a couple of hundred at the casino, then had an apéro before going off to another village for yet another apéro: then up into the foothills above the coast for an apéro at the local bar des chasseurs. Back to the hotel they'd booked for the night, and an apéro before dinner, which we were forced to wash down with wine.

There was a disco for the over-fifties, so we hung around there for a bit and José insisted on a little digestif, which in my case turned out to be about 4 inches of whisky in a highball glass: as a reward for being so good we were then allowed to go to bed. And after a final apéro with breakfast this moaning (you ever tried chocolate-filled churros?) we stopped off briefly at La Jonquera to pick up a few essential and otherwise unobtainable supplies - such as dry sherry, dry Martini and queso manchego - before heading home to find that Rafaelo had neither burnt the house down nor been slobbered to death by the dogs in our absence. Which has to be good news, I guess.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

And What Is More, It Radically Affects My Sense Of Smell ...

Health & Safety warning once again, just don't stick a ferret up your nose. The little buggers don't really appreciate it, and it won't do a great deal for you either.

So the other day I managed to get lost geographically-disadvantaged on my way to Bizes-Minervois for a little wine'n'food salon, Tastes En Minervois, and as is mandatory in such cases (due to there being an old charter, or something) when I pulled over and tried to get bloody Google Maps up on my phone to direct me it let me know that no maps were available. Bugger. Another 5km down the road and all was well, and I'd actually been orbiting the place for the past ten minutes: let that be a lesson to me, do not place too much faith in the signage around these parts.

I missed the food part, due to turning up around 14h, but according to Bob! I didn't actually miss a great deal: he is, of course, a chef of the old school but I have to admit that what I saw of the menus did not actually inspire me that much either. Whatever, I paid my 15 euros (which in theory entitled me to food that wasn't being prepared anymore because, like, too late), got a glass, wandered about and drank. I think I got my money's-worth, and I did come across some vignerons whose wine interested me, so I shall not complain.

Come to that, I see that I shall have to head back down towards Queribus again, and stop off at Maury where, if the bottle José brought around to chez Réné a week back is representative, they make a bloody good Corbières.

In other, unrelated, news, autumn is upon us and as usual the days are bright and warm - although a bit cool in the mornings and late at night, when the pack go for a walk. We've not yet considered pushing the go-tit on the wood-burner, even less placating and turning on the central-heating boiler, but these things will come. While we wait the vendange is more or less over around these parts, and as happens every year it is predicted to be the vintage of the century. We shall see.

I am all in favour of broad churches, and inclusivity, but it is difficult for my tired old neurons to keep up, sometimes. I was delighted, a while back, to find out what LGBTQIA acronymised (if that's actually a word) and thought that maybe I could die happy: now I discover that I will have to determine what LGBTQIA2S+ is before shuffling off this mortal coil in peace.

The Languedoc - not to be confused with Provence, which is actually quite a way north-east of us - is a pretty poor region (with the exception of Toulouse) with a fine old tradition of obstinate -  not to say "retarded" - peasantry. They are emphatically not in tune with Mother Gaea, and the first reaction on seeing some pristine landscape of great natural beauty is something along the lines of "Hey! I could stick some goats on that, and just over there I could dump all the effluent from the wine vats ..."

Which probably goes some way to explaining why it is that we get the odd abandoned car turning up on the outskirts of the village: it was more or less broken down, not worth repairing and certainly not worth paying the knacker's yard to come take it away, so why not put a minimal amount of petrol in, drive it off somewhere, park and leave?

In a few days the local yoof will have smashed the windows and pulled the tires off and a while later, when it's quite clear that no-one is going to come and reclaim it, a number of the aforesaid yoof will return with a jerrycan of petrol and a few matches and there will be a brief but intense display of pyrotechnics down by the départementale. Also, a strong smell of petrol and burning rubber.

Like that, I guess, the actual owner can eventually claim insurance - assuming, of course, that the car was actually insured, something which is not guaranteed - and the burnt-out wreck becomes Someone Else's Problem.

In our case, should this happen just outside the village it is efficiently taken care of by the département (they, and the SNCF, take a rather dim view of cars going up in flames just next to the rail lines) but if it is technically within the village that's another story.

Because of course poor Jérôme can't be everywhere, nor can l'équipe municipale (who are otherwise occupied anyway, I'm not sure with what exactly, mostly watering the municipal pot-plants I think, also if the mairie wins big on the loto they buy a van-load of hotmix and drive around flinging it approximatively on to some of the more obvious potholes), also it would cost money and apparently Moux has very little of that.

Like I said, it's a poor region. Hell, we can't even get fibre to the house ... you win some, you lose some, and you can't beat the lifestyle. The climate's not so bad either.

Today we headed off to Toulouse: taking Malyon off to gare Matabiau in the centre of town to catch the TGV back up to Paris before hopping on the red-eye flight to Bali tomorrow morning. When all's said and done, despite the reputation of southern-style people, les toulousains are not actually bad drivers. (As opposed to the lyonnais, les grenoblois, and the guys from Annecy.) Maybe it's because they all seem to own hugely expensive cars, and do not wish to have them dinged.
Be that as it may, we arrived with time to spare - more or less as planned - and went off to find a restaurant for lunch. Mal had her heart set on a good couscous, and the Great Gazoogle obligingly directed us to one such which was supposedly good, so off we trotted in its general direction.
Oddly enough the ad-slinger turned out to be right, it was excellent - and I say this as a man who is not, in fact, that fond of couscous or tajines - it's just that I spent an awful lot of time looking at my watch waiting for the meal to arrive, knowing that there was a train to be caught.
Our fault, should have said at the beginning. Forgot. What can I say? We scarfed, paid, apologized, and left. Whatever, you may safely go to Le Marrakech, 19 rue Castellane in Toulouse, but if you're in a rush do let them know. Also, according to "Grossed Out, of Mayfair", do not ask for a vegetarian tajine (if such a thing exists, which I rather doubt) because it will come with "disgusting bits of meat in it". So unfair, my meat was far from disgusting.

We shall go back - to Toulouse, that is - sometime soon: take the train (I'll soon be eligible for an OAP card), spend the night, and wander around. It's been a long while since I spent any time there, it's a city that deserves more attention.

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.