mardi 17 septembre 2013

It should be wood - that time of year again already

One minute it was summer, and actually quite summery in the end, the next thing you know, it's bois de chauffage time again.

It's actually quite worrying once it gets into September if you haven't got a walloping great pile of dry timber all ready for winter. Especially if you don't have central heating. It becomes increasingly vital to do something about it.

In my case that means getting the nice Monsieur Alain Bellamy and his cohorts to slice six cubic metres of oak and beech into bite-sized pieces for my woodburner.

Then I stack it all behind the house, as pictured, in mid chaos. Mon dieu! Burning all that priceless hardwood? Well, not exactly. Oak grows like weeds on the hillsides in l'haute vallée de l'Aude. You won't end up with any wonderful park-type mature trees, because after a certain size, they would simply fall off les slerpes. In any case it's a renewable resource, and it's rather nice to know that you've already paid for it. No need to dread the heating bill next Easter . . .

There's always a big change of gear round here after La Rentrée, or when the schools go back. I've never quite understood why French schools only provide parents with La Liste De Toutes Les Choses Essentielles Qu'il Faut Absolument, that's to say All The Stuff Your Sprogs Must Have, only a week before term starts. But they do.

It inevitably results in mass panic as hapless parents zoom round the shops desperately seeking textbooks, stationery, football boots, clothes, pens, pencils and ten different types of exercise book. Nobody knows why, but it's always been like this, which is a cogent enough reason for doing anything in la belle France.

From our point of view in Fa and district, it means that thousands of tourists suddenly vanish, leaving it possible to circumnavigate our agreeable local market in neighbouring Esperaza without suffering crush injuries.

Once again the Sunday constitutional becomes possible: wander down au marché, meet people you actually know, be able to find a seat and buy a coffee, pick up the latest gossip. It's all a bit of a relief really.

Let's hear it for La Vache Qui Rit - the laughing cow

This, believe it or not, is the hot, happening tourist destination of Rennes-les-Bains, 20 mins or so from my front door, pictured circa 1900.

I can't help thinking that the noble art of publicity photography has matured since this somewhat passive shot was taken.

RLB was actually brand new at the time, built to capitalise on the locality's natural hot springs, at a time when health spas suddenly became popular all over Europe.

In fact the village was heaving in summer as thousands of grockles descended on the place to take The Cure. This treatment survives to our own times, mostly being a variety of different ways to stay soaking wet every day for two weeks. Apparently it's good for your rheumatism.

This all begs the question of why on earth produce a postcard that gives a fair impression of nuclear winter? Practically no leaves on the trees and hardly a soul to be seen. Venez nombreux à Rennes-les-Bains! Meet our resident old duck, Madame Olive, and Suzette the solitary sprog. And let's hear it for our resident comedian La Vache Qui Rit! (note cow's bum, bottom right).

That may possibly be a pet dinosaur to the left of Madame Olive or just some exotic topiary . . .

* La Vache Qui Rit, which translates as The Laughing Cow, is a popular "plastic" cheese, very similar to Dairylea.

mardi 28 mai 2013

So why do these eco-freaks want more nuclear power?

For some time now I have been spoiling for an eco-rant - something I haven't indulged in for quite a while.

This maybe because the first bunch of hideously expensive eco-lightbulbs that I was forced to buy haven't lasted anywhere near the seven years stated on the packet. The last of the batch is just about limping past the four-year mark.

But actually it's more because I am getting seriously pissed off with eco-freaks lecturing me on all the reasons that we shouldn't use alternative energy sources.

I'm increasingly convinced that the swelling armies of the half-baked must therefore want us not only to keep all our lovely safe existing nuclear power stations (especially in France where there are billions of them), but even to build some more.

This has particularly come to mind because our Mairie is backing a scheme to put solar panels on top of one of our hills. Those about to whinge, we salute you . . .

 Once upon a time, shortly before the dinosaurs were zapped by a previous bout of global warming (or was it cooling?), I was a student. Dutifully, I attended the freshers' fair where duly I was set upon by the zealots of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

We must abandon nuclear power, they said - it's dangerous. I agreed. I wore my CND badge with pride, for so long that it eventually went rusty.

We must adopt alternative energy, they said - wind, solar, waves. I agreed. For about 30 years, nothing happened. Of course, anything eco contrives to cost a bloody fortune.

Then one day, I saw a windmill. And I read about the Thames Barrier. Gosh, that's good, I thought, we're finally getting somewhere.

Then the whingeing started . . . This is the age of the Eco-Nimby.

Eco-Nimbies don't like windmills. Well, each to their own. I haven't any real objection to them myself, except when they're put too close to motorways in order to hypnotise you into crashing the car . . .

The thing that really pisses me off is that these are same bloody people who were so keen to bend my ear about nuclear.

The other thing that really pisses me off is all the bloody silly arguments they use, such as: It will frighten all the animals! 

I refer you to the above pic by Martin Castellan of a bunch of sheep being terrified by a windmill . . . er, or should that be a bunch of hot woolly things standing exactly within the shadow of a windmill in order to escape the full blazing heat of a summer's day in the South of France?

And now the solar panels - I've been told we mustn't manufacture them because they use up precious rare earth metals. Er, no. They use these metals, then when the panel is life-expired, you reclaim the rare earth metals and use them again. This is a process called recycling which is, believe it or not, quite well known in eco-circles.

Apparently it is also deeply sinful that Fa's photo-voltaic installation would be built by a private company, who might make a profit. Now I understand that allowing anything to be remotely profitable in France is really not playing le game. But given that the French state owns all those lovely safe nuclear power stations, do you really think they're going spend anything at all on alternative energy?

Doubtless there's also someone with a long list of reasons why we mustn't use wave power. Britannia probably . . .

Il pleut comme un vache qui pisse - mon flippin' Dieu

Something rotten in the state of Denmark? Well I dunno about Denmark but it's distinctly mouldy round here.

It hasn't stopped raining since last November. As I write this soggy epistle, il continue à bollerk it down.

Que je m'ennui . . .

Les vieux canards or old ducks of Fa tell me it's been the wettest winter for 50 years and it ain't over yet. A couple of days back in not very gay Paree, they recorded 3°C, the lowest temperature in May since 1868.

Personally I'm getting desperate enough to launch a conspiracy theory, and for me that is seriously desperate.

I notice this all started round about the time that the World Didn't End last year in Bugarach. As the great day of the Apocalypse-free Apocalypse drew near, it began to rain in earnest, consummately even, resulting in a less than impressive turnout by the not entirely dedicated Loons of Armageddon.

The weird thing is that . . . it hasn't stopped since. Do you think someone is trying to tell us that the world ought to have ended? Certainly it seems daily closer to dissolving.

You may be wondering why these reflections, in a puddle so to speak, are accompanied by a picture of the church clock in Fa. That's the next stage in my argument: Our clock has gone wonky.

Normally the bells of Fa dong out solidly and confidently on the hour, every hour. In accordance with local custom, they even do it twice. Quite a lot of church clocks do that round here, presumably in case you didn't hear them the first time.

The clock at Fa does a highly impressive 24-dong double midnight, resulting in the standing instruction that insomniac visitors to Boulevard de La Pinouse shouldn't try bothering to get sleep until five past twelve.

My guests often wonder how I stand the bells but after 11 years I'm used to them and it's bloody chaos when they don't work. I find it particularly luxurious in the early morning to listen out for the dongs, and to know it's still an hour before I have to get up. No bells and you haven't a clue where you are, it's just not comfy any more.

I first suspected something was wrong one Sunday morning when I heard dong, dong . . . pause . . . dong . . . pause . . . dong, dong  . . . silent collapse. I realised that it couldn't possibly be 5-ish AM, as the sun was unexpectedly percolating through the shutters. It does very, very occasionally still do this.

This was quickly confirmed by the klaxonated whinge which heralds the bread van each morning at 8am. That's on the early side for a Sunday, and explains why I have long eschewed hangovers. I'm not particularly saintly but with that racket going on, you haven't a chance of sleeping it off.

Incidentally, for many years the klaxon had a distinctly Motown ambiance, being exactly on the opening chord of Mary Wells's My Guy. Presumably it eventually clapped out because these days it's just an amorphous noise.

So there you have it, Captain, the bells have buggered their dilithium crystals. Strictly-speaking, this ought to be due to a deep fault in the space-time continuum but may be merely because the mechanism has rotted solid under the pressure of constant immersion . . . which is a tad too prosaic for any self-respecting conspiracy theorist.

Suddenly we had two days of sun. I promptly caught a vile cold. Curiously I haven't had one all winter, presumably because all our local bacteria either died of exposure or were too frozen solid to replicate.

Then today it rained again. I finally gave in and lit a fire. Près qu'à la fin de bloody mai? This planet is going to les chiens . . .

dimanche 24 février 2013

Neiging your bets - why worry on a winter weekend?

Oui, c'est de la neige. C'est à dire: Snow. I suppose we had to have a dose of the white stuff sooner or later. Up until now, it's just rained . . . and rained . . . and rained.

Doubtless it's deeply good for the water table and all that, but it does get to be rather a muchness.

Feeling a bit stir crazy on Saturday night, I did venture out as promised to une petite soirée Céltique in the snowy fastness of St Jean de Paracol, a couple of villages up the valley.

Joanne McIver and Christophe Sauniere on pipes and harp respectively were well worth the slither in the dear old Kangoo, complete with obligatory handbrake frozen solid.

I don't know quite how Renault managed this particular eccentricity, but I wish they hadn't. Still, as they say in France: Renault, chaque jour un bruit nouveau, or: Renault, every day another rattle . . .

It was while I was seeking a suitable pic to illustrate white hell in Fa, that I came across this poignant reminder of the golden age when cars were made of Meccano, mercifully free of crap electronics that cost a fortune and don't work.

Otherwise it was a case of indoor entertainment: email, Grauniad website, Facebook, email, Grauniad website, Facebook, email, Grauniad website, Facebook . . . 

Farcebook does however occasionally produce the odd grain of inspiration: I was particularly touched by a short video clip of one Alice Herz-Sommer, 109-year-old Holocaust survivor, who proceeded to tell the world that all life is beautiful. Even more touching was her gigantic smile.

Seeking intellectual stimulus, I hied me unto our beloved hostelry, the café that is called de Fa. Therein, my old mate Dave le Philosophe, his visiting son Joe and myself didst make ourselves suitably comfortable in a quiet corner and beat the Guardian Prize crossword to death.

Spoiler alert: I was particularly chuffed with myself for noticing a sequence of answers: Soup A Collie Fridge Elastic Eggs Peas Halitosis. Gaw bless yer Meerry Pawpins . . .

I went home and wrote a poem. After that nothing happened.

dimanche 20 janvier 2013

Born to prawn - it's the Return of the Soup Dragon

January being cold, dank, wet and possibly snowy according to latitude and altitude, there's nothing for it but to make more soup.

I was talking food with a young chap called Ezra, when he mentioned a sweet and sour prawn soup from somewhere vaguely Far Eastern.

I promptly forgot the soup's rather exotic name and I'm far too lazy to look it up, but one essential point actually registered in the decaying grey matter.

You boil up all the prawn heads, skins and other gubbins to add to the stock. Being very much in a waste-not want-not phase, the basic idea appealed so I made my own soup. Never can understand anybody else's recipes anyway . . .

As you're probably aware, prawns just love it hot and sweet so here goes:

* Skin 500g of cooked prawns. I diverted some of the flesh into an cunningly-placed dhansak sauce but kept all the debris for the soup. If you're just making soup,cut the prawns to say 300g.

* Put all the skins etc in two mug of water in a saucepan

* Skin and crush/grate three cloves of garlic, an inch of ginger root and chopped hot chillies to taste, fresh if you can, otherwise dried, or maybe an inch squdge of harissa toothpaste. Add to saucepan.

* Boil the lot together for ten minutes.

* In a second saucepan, fry a finely chopped onion in butter until soft. You could add some finely chopped red pepper.

* Pour the liquid from the first pan through a sieve into the second. Discard the debris.

* Add a veg stock cube, a shake of paprika and of black pepper and four mugs of water.

* Bring back to boil, add chopped prawns and a handful of chopped, fresh bean sprouts, a slosh of soy sauce, and simmer for five minutes.

* Serve

 PS This kind of soup is a bit of a movable feast. I added a handful of mixed frozen seafood because I wanted to finish the packet. You could try a bit of finely chopped crab meat. If your chillies are fresh you could add them at the frying stage. You could also add noodles or a little finely chopped pineapple. Chop the noodles and bean sprouts so that they will sit conveniently on a soup spoon

mercredi 16 janvier 2013

This, as you are probably aware, is a horse . . .

It's actually rather a useful pic, being marked with all the different bits of horse, so that you wouldn't mistake them for . . . a beefburger perhaps . . . like those jolly silly chappies in the British food industry.
Apparently, back in dear old Blighty, they're getting terribly worried that bits of horse have been getting into beefburgers, thus rendering the description on the packet . . . wrong. 
Of course it's wrong - Everyone knows that beefburger means "round frozen thing composed of fat, gristle, onions, E-numbers, as much ice as they can get away with, and miscellaneous cack." Eight out of ten bacilli that expressed a preference stated that they preferred the packet.
Having lived in France for some 11 years now, the thing that really intrigues me is: Why are they so worried that someone's found some meat?
 I was deeply shocked the first time that I cooked French beefburgers. They bled. Il y avait du sang partout! These weird, even alien objets were clearly contaminated with beef . . . we only needed one each for a meal because they filled you up.
Of course the French, in some ways, don't take these things so seriously. A restaurant is quite within its rights to serve you steak and chips without being absolutely specific as to whether a cow or a horse donated the requisite pound (or should that be demi-kilo?) of flesh. In terms of averages, you're more likely to eat horse up north or anywhere near Belgium.
 But the whole affair does highlight very well something that I find quite strange about the British: They fill horses up with top quality natural foodstuffs. But it's cruel to eat cute-shaped animals so they sell them to the Belgians. The horses still get eaten. But by Belgians.

Then the British take some un-cute-shaped animals and fill them up with utter shite, such as cows (which are naturally vegetarian) with bits of other cows, because they think that's not cruel, and feed the un-cute-shaped animals to their children.

Then the British get worried because some of the ultra-processed utter shite accidently gets polluted with bits of healthy cute-shaped animal meat.

Only the British could do this . . .
To be honest it's the idiotic sentimentality that really pisses me off. It's OK to eat animals so long as they're not cute-shaped. What kind of consistent moral stance is that? Either you think it's acceptable to eat animals or you don't.
Then there was the English woman I met at a restaurant in Perpignan who ordered un plat du lapin and sent it back because she hadn't realised it was another cute animal - a bunny rabbit.
I couldn't help noticing that she wore a small fur. 
"What fur is that?" I asked, sort of innocently.
"Oh, a rabbit."
"So you will wear it but you won't eat it?"
Mon bloomin' Dieu! I rest my case, m'lud.