dimanche 27 juin 2010

Vide grenier trauma - Poubelle turns in own grave

Got your poubelles at the ready? No? Well it's your own fault that your home is about to be inundated with total crap (ref dear old G. Ratner). This because it's the vide grenier season, when all and sundry in virtually every village en l'haute vallée and far beyond, both in kilometres and all reason, "empty their attics". Or as they say en Angleterre: 'Ave a car boot sale.

You may become arrested by trop de veng, trop de soleil and great overloadings of general picture-skewness as in this leafy, tranquil scene at agreeable Arques of a peaceful Sunday morning. Actually it's trop de vin but I'm rashly trying to imitate our local impenetrable brogue (veng demeng peng etcetera). In all such words, the non-existent G at the end, for non-existentialists, is sounded out fully.

Be afraid, be very afraid. All those innocent faces of the young, not so young and the positively antediluvian, lined up behind their cute assortments of artefacts are mad, bad and dangerous to know.

If you succumb to these sirens, you will return home, wiser, sadder, much skinter and driving an exhausted vehicle in dire need of new springs, clutch and back axle. Such will be its burden. In total crap terms, the average VG can definitely give Ratner, G. a run for his argent. The Chief Anti-tat Meister, Monsieur Eugène Poubelle himself would be struck dumb by horror, could he but see us now.

There are ways to avoid buying overwhelming quantities of other people's rubbish. One of them is to try selling it instead. Personally I'm not convinced by this, observing that most merde de VG remains unsold at the end of the day. My own grenier is two floors up and the last thing I would ever want to have to do is to cart all my tat back up there again.

I sometimes give stuff to the stand for the village school. They get the sous if they sell it but under no circumstances will any of my merde come back to me again . . . I have disowned it forever. More beguiling is the idea of perception: They're not trash, they're . . . treasures. Don't believe a word of it, I say.

It's certainly more effective to specialise in some particular form of tat. I have personally narrowed myself down to Tintin hardbacks in French and in pristine condition; large blue plates and cast iron trivets because new ones cost a fortune and I've got a glass dining room table top.

Actually wanting these items means that you will never see them at a vide grenier ever again and you will become totally tat-proof. Except . . . just now and then you do find a genuine and irresistible bargain: Aside from a copy of Waiting for Godot in the original French for a mere 50 centimes, I found four decent matching pint beer glasses for €3 the lot at Arques.

So why pint glasses? I always try to avoid virulent English ex-pat syndrome as I find it a real pain, but none of us can ever completely deny where we come from, and nor should we try to: You can't change the fact of who you are.

And we all have little things that remind us of our roots. For me it's PG Tips, Cooper's Oxford Marmalade, Branston pickle and an unshakeable gut feeling that beer always tastes nicer in pints. After all, I believe that the Danes still drink beer in a measure that has been illegal since 1695 so I figure these little things must matter somehow.

But here we are, always still in SW France, so let us remind ourselves with the choicest idiom that has come my way in a long time via girlfriend Claire: Il a le cul bordé de nouilles, which literally means: His arse is edged in noodles. No-one has a clue where it comes from but the French say it as we would say: He lives a charmed life. Perhaps we do . . .

mardi 15 juin 2010

A gentle discourse on the recurring subject of feesh

I can't help noticing a certain piscatorial repetition amid these musings - a feesh-motif, you might say.

Thinking that this might be like a leitmotif only with scales, I even bothered to check the dictionary and was alarmed to find that it had something to do Wagner. Screeching fat birds with added cod? Scary . . .

Moving hurriedly on, it is indeed true that I nicked the feesh from Terry Darlington's highly enjoyable Narrow Dog to Carcassonne sometime last year to reflect on two intriguingly black specimens by Braque.

Then there was Cantona with his sardines, not to mention my mate Stan and a hard man punk he knew in New York who wanted Poison tattooed on his arm. Unfortunately it came out Poisson . . .

I used to enjoy a spot of fishing myself and have been known to dip into that fine English classic The Compleat Angler. Which could all have kept for another time, had I not paused to consider what the great poet-philosopher Isaac Walton would have made of the magnificently tacky feesh en plastique which has just appeared on a brand new rond-point (roundabout) near us. I can only think that he would have been compleatly gobsmacked.

This actually used to be the carrefour (crossroads) outside the Champion supermarket at Quillan. Then Champion changed to Carrefour. I assume that the carrefour outside Carrefour was too confusing and positively lethal in the camper van season, so they built the rond-point instead. In a way it's a masterpiece; the great feesh en plastique suspended in mid air above its rocks, turf and deliciously fake mountain stream.

In times of economic crisis, one never fails to be amazed, thrilled and comforted by the absolute necessities on which local authorities still manage to spend money . . . Given that it hasn't properly stopped raining since about last November and even rivers as humble as the un-mighty Faby are teeming with enough real feesh to give the bonking frogs a run for their money, one might possibly just question which financial genius authorised this one.

Or you could just give up the unequal struggle and try lieu noir with tarragon, tomatoes and mushrooms. I dreamed this one up the other night and was rather chuffed with the way it came out.

*Chop up an onion and three cloves of garlic and fry in olive oil.

*Chop up three good, ripe and juicy tomatoes, three large mushrooms and four 10cm sprigs of fresh tarragon and add to the pan. Add a veg stock cube, a teaspoonful of paprika, a slosh of white wine, a sprinkling of freshly-ground black pepper and about half a mug of water.

*Bring to the boil and simmer until the onions and tomatoes soften into a sauce, reducing the fluid until the sauce thickens.

*Cut a large fillet of lieu noir (coley) into bite-sized pieces, add to the pan and simmer for about five minutes or until the pieces of fish whiten and the whole pan is bubbling again.

*Serves three. We had ours with mixed rice and peas.

lundi 7 juin 2010

Frozen idols or the noble art of fridge worship

I suppose the classic definition or crossword clue for a fridge should be low temperature space which is always too small.

My own example is somewhat on the diminutive side and duly suffers from periodic crises of volume, especially when girlfriend Claire arrives for the weekend from Canet, laden with sundry samples of cheese, asparagus and other rogue projectiles.

I should make it clear that I'm not at all complaining about her generosity, just a bit buggered sometimes as to where to put everything. And it's not all bad either: We've discovered that the world is overly obsessed with refrigeration and many things, strawberries and tomatoes especially, have a lot more taste and do not go rotten instantly if merely kept somewhere cool and shady.

Probably it's my own fault for having a passionate aversion to those gigantic and disturbing American stainless steel monoliths erupting out of kitchen worktops in an ever increasing number of homes, rather like the horrible squid creature that gives John Hurt a severe stomach ache in Alien.

I'm not generally a conspiracy theorist, indeed I have been known to be deeply satirical par rapport those who are. But I am completely convinced that giant fridges will take over the world and appear in lots of Tim Burton films opposite Johnny Depp, who is possibly less all-powerful on the Degrees Kelvin Front but nonetheless a great hit with the girls, as I understand it.

There are a number of recognised solutions to this problem: Your faithful correspondent is pictured firstly Praying For Space. This never works so you immediately proceed (lower pic) to the full humiliating and unadulterated Fridge Grovel, in which all products of dubious age, condition or identity are either sought and destroyed or whizzed straight into a passing improv dinner.

The other really good thing you can do is to avoid buying a fridge with one of those useless cool box affairs. These really do defy the laws of physics; they make vast piles of ice but anything you put in them, melts . . . How can this be possible? one asks oneself.

I find that it's therapeutic to take it out on the cool box with my pet method of fridge defrosting. Being far too impatient to wait for the defrost function (which never seems to work), I always take a large hammer and cold chisel to mine. Very fast, effective and lots of fun though you have to be careful not to whang the chisel straight through all that pipework containing freon and other chemicals not lightly to be inflicted on an unsuspecting world, if you fear for the future of dear old Planet Earth.

mercredi 2 juin 2010

You won't believe this . . . but I wrote about football

I always like to try and ring the changes on this blog; after all, there are only so many rants that you can write about camper vans in l'haute vallée de l'Aude.

(Actually, I could damn camper vans and barking, crapping French dogs to hell on a daily basis, without stopping to draw breath, but you, loyal reader, would get bored.)

It is nonetheless rather taking my life into my hands to write about soccer, as there are almost no other subjects about which I know less, apart possibly from brain surgery. Fancy a quick trepanning before dinner, cherie?

I have a very clear memory of experiencing a reverse epiphany (an unepiphany, a disepiphany?) about soccer at the age of five.

There I was, all togged up in my brand new primary school soccer strip: green shirt and socks with white trim, plus black shorts. This was one of the very few occasions on which our headmaster managed to raise sufficient steam to trek us down to the proper pitch on Brereton Rec.

I could see his point. There were only 29 kids in the school, half of whom were girls, and thus not allowed to play footy in those unenlightened days. So I suppose we could only raise about a team and a half to spread over that gigantic pitch, even with the skool dog doubling as inside right and sweeper, and Sir playing too.

Within five minutes of kick-off, I knew with the utmost clarity that I would never ever be any good at soccer. I suppose it was all down hill from there really, though I did manage to collect a full set of Esso coins commemorating the FA Cup Centenary in 1972.

These had a display board with a hole for the special large brass coin denoting the eventual 100th winner (Leeds Utd). The hole was cunningly made just too small to insert the coin into the board without wrecking it so I suspect that mint condition sets are rare.

Esso coins apart, I have been resolutely bored by soccer for more than 40 years. Except for Eric Cantona. The man who put the oxy into that notable oxymoron: intelligent footballer. He also happens to be French, which of course is useful for French blogging purposes.

Early Cantona sightings were not promising: The sound of massed crétins chanting Ooh! Aah! Cantona! But I have to say that yer man, uniquely for a soccer player, won me over. Here was a genuinely interesting and intelligent character, not to mention the huge force of personality, formidable talent and periodic propensity for duffing people.

I loved all the stuff about the feesh, trawlers, seagulls etc. All much too deep and meaningful for The Sun. So I couldn't resist getting a copy of Ken Loach's Looking for Eric, in which Cantona plays himself; managing to remain as charismatic, philosophical and downright elusive on screen as off it.

Girlfriend Claire and I really enjoyed Looking for Eric; she being another Cantona fan with an ignorance of soccer almost as complete and profound as my own. Mind you, it still comes as a shock to realise that I actually own a DVD with quite a lot of football in it . . .