jeudi 20 octobre 2011

On a touchy subject of deep-seated discontentment

I have decided to award myself a rant. Now rants should always be applied sparingly, as too many can be boring. But it's a good long time since I had a proper one.

As you will see, I have selected the humble lavatory seat as the subject for my whinge, ahem, I mean to say learned discourse.

Wot I want to know is this: Why can't you buy toilet seat hinges in France that don't fall to bits?

This is an important matter if you are of the Wooden Seat Persuasion. I have just fitted my third seat in four years to the upstairs lav.

As you can see from the pic, the woodwork is great; close-grained, splinter-free and very comfortable . . . when you're not living in fear of it sliding out from underneath you.

The problem is always the hinges. I wouldn't mind the screw threads being totally crap, if I could glue them up with Loctite (a particularly effective metal glue, end of free plug). But I can't buy the blasted stuff in la belle France.

Whilst the bits holding the seat and the lid to the pan fell apart in about ten minutes, the remains of the hinges turned green and corroded solid.

In fact I had to cut them off with a disc grinder. How is it possible to engineer something so badly, with all the strength in the wrong place?!

Now don't get me wrong. French engineering has achieved many fine things that simply would never have happened in Britain: The Eiffel Tower, umpteen high-speed railway lines, the Millau Viaduct, a new international football stadium.

It's a little-known fact that a Victorian megalomaniac railway magnate called Sir Edward Watkin tried to build an Eiffel Tower anglais, but gave up before he'd even finished the first bit with the four legs.

I suppose it illustrates a fundamental difference between our two nations. Les français are so good at giant projects, but can't produce a handful of decent plumbing fittings. Why this should be so entirely baffles me.

Mind you, as a member of the mighty race that couldn't rebuild an existing football pitch, maybe I ought to fermer la bouche. Rant fini.

mercredi 19 octobre 2011

And already the first snow up in the high country

I was driving up to the famed Last House itself, chez la mère de Claire; a doughty old lady, who would give She Who Must Be Obeyed (à la Rumpole) a run for her money. With ever-increasing difficulty, I regarded the bedraggled and tortuous cart-track which passes for a road in the uppermost vallée de l'Aude.

At least the icy downpour kept the lard wagons at bay. Camper vans are tragically endemic to this steep, narrow and motley pass onto the great plateau of the southern Pyrenees.

Allegro, Rapido: their names are legion, and a blatant offence under any form of Trades Descriptions Act. Incidentally France doesn't seem to possess any such thing, but I'll save that for a rant another day.

I couldn't help feeling that it might snow. But it seemed far too early. However, the next morning, there it was, fresh snow gleaming on the high peaks. Admittedly that's up at about 9,000 feet so probably no need to send for the Red Cross parcels just yet.

Of course, being anglais, I'm used to the panic aspect of snowfall: "White hell as lone flake falls on London Weather Centre". You know the sort of thing . . .

Sloe, sloe,hip, hip, sloe . . . seasonal fruits Part Two

But despite snow on high ground, the weather gods continued to favour us, as they have all this autumn.

Walking under incredibly blue skies, the latest batch of free gifts from nature were all around us; the rose-hips and the sloes.

I think I must get back into making sloe gin. No other drink has that amazing purple colour.

It's tedious having to prick each berry with a needle to let the juices out, but not so bad if you get yourself comfortable in front of one of your favourite old films.

Naturally there was a price to pay for such riches. Back in the uppermost vallée de l'Aude, swarms of lard wagons crawled out from under sundry dank stones, blinking and toad-like in the sunshine. It took bloody forever to get home.

vendredi 7 octobre 2011

Bien sûr c'est l'eau de vie . . . but it don't half stink!

If you're going to squash all those lovely grapes to make all that lovely wine, then it's logical that you'll end up with a whole load of crud, especially at this time of year. And here it is; great purple mountains of all the skins, pips and stalks, dwarfing the giant earthmover used to shift them about.

So what to do with them? Actually it's all remarkably Eco, a lot more so than most of the Eco rip-offs that I just love to rant about, given the chance.

Why is it, for example, that anything Eco costs twice as much as the ordinary item? Someone coining it again, methinks . . .

That's enough rant, back to the matter in hand. In fact, the best 20 per cent of the gunge is converted into a rather up-market spirit: eau de vie de marc. The rest is converted into industrial alcohol or bio-fuel.

Very little is wasted, so I'm quite impressed. Ordinary hairy blokes from Limoux outsmart militant beardy-weirdies.

There's just one problem. It don't half pong. When you pass the little factory sur le main drag à Carcassonne, it's enough to make your eyes water.

When they're doing all that squodging, mashing, boiling and distilling, I can't help thinking that there's a coven of redundant crones from Macbeth doing all the 'Bubble, bubble' . . .

I shouldn't let that put you off trying a quick snort of the eau de vie, I'm sure it's very good. It's just that, ahem, I haven't managed it yet. Santé!

With a certain hesitation, the mood is autumnal

For the past couple of weeks, we've been basking, sweating even, dans l'été indien. Given the lack of cultural ties between the two countries, I'm mildly intrigued to find that France has Indian summers, but it does.

However something in the morning haze, snapped from my bedroom window at Fa, suggests that l'autonne n'est pas loin.

Even if it's not cold yet, I'm already getting up in the dark, which always instils a certain grimness in the depths of the bones . . .

Actually I was more than relieved when Monsieur Lolo, Fa's amiably flamboyant village woodman, finally dropped my first couple of stères de bois, (that's to say two cubic metres of firewood) at the back of the house.

I don't suppose that we'll need it just yet, but there always comes a point in the year when I don't feel quite comfortable without it . . .

dimanche 2 octobre 2011

Michelle, ma belle, these are things that go together

The Last House never discusses politics, French or otherwise. But there's no need to blah on at length when the image says it all. I believe it's what journalists refer to as a stand-alone pic.

samedi 1 octobre 2011

Now this could be seen as taking the pee . . .

I am indebted both to the unknown graffiti artist and the photographer with the presence of mind to snap this one.

It's another little French connection, recalling dear old Marcel Duchamp's Fountain of 1917, in fact simply a porcelain urinal, signed and dated under a pseudonym.

He submitted it as a joke to a New York art show, whose organisers proclaimed that they would accept any exhibit. Actually they didn't display the piss de resistance, thus creating more of a story by bottling out.

The original Fountain was lost, probably thrown away (can't think why . . .) so eventually Duchamp authorised 11 official replicas, which you may see in the world's great art museums, and possibly various antique Gents' toilets.

An official Fountain was sold at Sotheby's in 1999 for $1.7 million. I expect you can get a new one at Bricodepot for about €20 . . .

In 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals. You couldn't make it up. Must go and let some out.

Never mind the broccoli, just keep taking the tablets

Now and again I try to dream up that miracle product which going to make my fortune: The one that's going to let me to spend the rest of my life writing, playing music etc . . .

And I think I've finally cracked it - E Number Pills. After all, if you're one of those militant, hyper-vegans, how can your diet possibly be balanced when you don't take enough E-Numbers?

Obviously I'm exaggerating because this is my sales bullshit. In fact there are many naturally occurring E-Numbers. Vitamin C, for example, has no less than five E-numbers all to itself, Nos E300-E304, because there are several chemical variants of vitamin C.

Well, that's triggered a cataclysmic veggie crisis already: How are you going to take all those toxic E-Numbers out of the humble orange?

And some E-Numbers may not be good for us, but would we willingly give them up? E1510 is alcohol. Even the finest organic wines, dammit, are bung full of E1510. And E1503 is castor oil. You wouldn't go far without that . . .

And what about E948? Er, that's oxygen. Life on Earth etc . . . And as a devout foodie, I can't help noticing that E100 is turmeric. Curry crisis? No thank you. And E407a is processed eucheuma seaweed, which sounds ideal for a militant veggie food fad, though really it's an emulsifier. Show some emulsion . . .

Admittedly some E-Numbers are much more scary - E385 is Calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetate. It's supposed to be a sequestrant, whatever that is. Perhaps it makes you go bankrupt? E537 is ferrous hexacyanomanganate. It's an anti-caking agent. Let them eat ferrous hexacyanomanganate? I'm not surprised they had a revolution . . .

Now you may think that I'm winding you up. But no; my learned dissertation is firmly based on true facts. I've just twisted them a bit. But to show there's no hard veggie feelings, here's the recipe for Progressive Salad.

It's so-called because my mate Mark, a deeply-skilled vegetarian cook, came up with:

Lettuce, tomatoes and apples, chopped together.

I added: A vigorous chopping of fresh parsley.

And Claire added: A dressing of walnut oil and walnut vinegar with a dash of salt.

Together, it's E-licious.