Monday, November 21, 2011

Self Spamming

My email address was hijacked by some Russian spammers recently. I have been getting several hundred bounced email notifications a day for the last few weeks.

Fortunately my mail server bins them and sends me a list of what it has binned so I can oik them out of the bin if I want to. But I have to scan this list one line at a time for stuff I actually want. This is OK for the odd half-dozen emails, but when they are in their hundreds is is a bit of a bore and a lot of a chore. But one day while scanning the list I saw this:

Not only have I spammed myself, but my spam filter recognised it and binned it - a complete work cycle with no input from me - brilliant!

Now all I need do is extend this principle to work and I can take the rest of my life off.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Upton Downton

It is the third week of November and while it is lovely and warm during the day we have just started burning logs in the evenings. This also means we have started watching a bit more TV. We used to have four analogue channels, much of it crap. But, Glory be! our part of France went digital last week and we now have a new digibox which delivers some 20 digital channels, much of it crap. It is just like English crap except it is in French. Most of it is formula chat shows and game shows, US imports voiced in French and genre shows like Strictly Come Truffling and World's Tallest Truffle.

I kid you not ($160,406)

So we tend to watch the odd video cassette or DVD for a change. Among the goodies which always deliver are classic movies, and classy comedy including current favourites Black Books, Gimme Gimme Gimme, The New Statesman and Blackadder. I have also enjoyed The Sopranos and The Wire but Mrs PJ was not so impressed by these foul-mouthed, expressions of violent savagery - can't see the problem myself...

Anyway, in an attempt to drag ourselves into the 21st century we have just obtained a copy of the first series of Downton Abbey.

Even here in the depths of Le Countryside we have heard of this phenomenon, but have completely failed to grasp the awful truth. The filming is quality, the cast is mainly quality, the script average, the storylines drab, character development pitiful, and the prognosis dire.

In some respects it is a perverse inversion of East Enders. The characters, while coming from a different era have fewer skin complaints, more tiaras, and know their place. True to the requirements of the soap genre they live in each other’s pockets and treat one another with the usual mix of love, hate, curiosity, concern, contempt, devotion, lust, greed, hypocrisy and dismissive arrogance, but lack any imagination.

While Albert Square is a rectangle of greenery surrounded by dwellings, Downton Abbey is a rectangular dwelling surrounded by greenery.


For Christmas I would like a promise that there will not be a second series. I expect to be disappointed.

[Your expectation has been pre-empted, the folks back home are enjoying series two as you write and series three is due for release into the environment in September 2012 – Ed.]

Maggie Smith must be turning in her grave.

[Wrong again. - Ed.]

So What?

So much to do, so little time. I only wrote that sentence so that I could write this sentence. So, I was bored and decided to write this.

These three sentences include two valid uses of the word ‘so’ and one which is spurious. In the first example it is an adverb – it modifies another word. In the second it is a conjunction – it joins two things.

In the third it is just an annoying way of starting a sentence which could have been omitted without changing the meaning of what was being said and is becoming increasingly common. 

Listen to people interviewed on the radio and you will hear it.
Interviewer: How are you?
Interviewee: So, I’m very well.

It is starting to spread to sales people.
Customer: Have you got one of these in red?
Sales person: So, let me go and have a look.

I only mention it in an attempt to stop this linguistic twitch from spreading into the home.

I do not expect to be successful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Woodcutter's Daughter

A principal player in the fairy tale genre is the (usually) beautiful young girl who lives with her father who is a woodcutter. Things happen to the young girl involving wolves, witches, goblins etc. and she invariably comes out on top.

It is essential that she is isolated and left to her own devices apart from a bit of help from fairy God mother, a prince, fluffy bunny etc.

The Woodcutter’s Daughter from "The Fairy Book" (1913).
Illustrated by Warwick Goble (I kid you not)
Her father’s solitary occupation is a device to explain why there is no one else around and why he is out of the house all day – after all woodcutters don’t need a factory or shop or anything else involving other people and you can’t fell trees indoors, you need a dense, dark and foreboding forest full of wolves, witches and goblins etc. 

The girl is the centre of all the action and her dad’s job get scant attention which is not only disrespectful, but is a missed opportunity to appreciate the finer points of wood cutting. I hope to redress this injustice right here, right now.

IT’S BLOODY HARD WORK – RESPECT. There, that just about sums it up.

Apropos of nothing, here is a picture I found at Tractomania of another daughter who fancied the life of a woodcutter  – after a fashion…

They say that wood is an excellent fuel as it warms you twice, once when you cut it and once when you burn it. It’s actually better than that. 

Earlier this year, Tricia found that one of our more mature oaks had fallen over.

This is a fallen oak tree, trust me

It was it the top of a steep bank and looks like it just died and broke off at the base.

We have no idea when it fell over or how long it had been lying there as it had fallen into heavy undergrowth and was just about invisible from below...

I inspected the thing with mixed feelings, namely ‘Whoopee! Loads of free wood to burn’ and ‘Bugger! Loads of tree to cut up’. So I put it off until last week. 

As they say in Woodcutting for Dummies ‘first find your tree’. Before I could cut the thing up I had to get to it which involved hacking through the undergrowth. This is hot work

Spot the difference from picutre above.

Getting to the branches was a struggle as the ‘outer layer’ is just twigs. This is hot work. 

Then I start hacking off the limbs being careful not to try and hack off a bit that is supporting the weight of the tree. If this happens the saw blade gets jammed as the cut closes up. It is not always easy to see if this is going to happen.

I chop up all the smaller branches and only get the saw jammed once. Getting it out involves jacking up a tonne or so of tree and using the second chainsaw to make a cut from the bottom of the branch. Getting your chain bar stuck is not something to be proud of and so I do not photograph it, which is a pity because the jacking operation was quite elegant. Needless to say this too is hot work. [But you still said it. Ed.]

Having chopped the branches into fire-sized pieces I then have to roll them down the hill so I can carry them off in the trailer. 

This is not too difficult as they have many of the characteristics of a wheel and roll down the slope to the track very easily. Unfortunately they then carry on down to the bottom of the hill and have to be carried back up to the trailer. This is hot work.

Next I have to load them into the trailer and sort them into a ‘ready to burn’ pile, and a ‘need splitting’ stack. Stacking and splitting is hot work.

Throughout the process I am thankful that I have a couple of chainsaws, a 10 tonne jack, a tractor and trailer and am not a woodcutter with an axe.  By my calculation the wood of this tree has warmed me up five times already and I haven’t set light to it yet.  Bloody bargain! 

Pity its best part of 30 degrees C at the moment – what a waste, should have waited until December.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Airport II – The ins and outs of modern travel

I underestimated Tunis Carthage airport on arrival. It is mainly a result of the joyless experience that flying presents to the traveller these days, especially in economy class.

But I was not overly impressed by this welcome advert from a mobile phone company on the luggage reclaim belt which had a sarcastic quality...

...nor was I moved by the austere arrivals hall...

It is all capped by the curious habit I have only experienced at Arabic airports of delaying my arrival at the hotel by making me queue to have my luggage x-rayed as I exit the terminal.

Leaving Tunis is a very different experience, while not exactly a bundle of fun, the departures hall is much more ornate and impressive...

complete with classical mosaics under the stairs:

But then I am reminded of the more prosaic features of modern life which make me wonder what school of marketing the concessionaires attended:

Strongbow €10.50                    Claymore €9.90

This example is from the multinational duty-free booze, smoke and stink retailers who revel in the name Dufry... Duty Free… geddit?

Who in their right minds would rather spend €10.50 on four cans of Strongbow cider-based chemicals than €9.90 on a bottle of, admittedly not very good, Claymore blended scotch? 

Curiously, both are named for weapons of war - and were I choosing between actual weapons it would be the other way round.

At the other end of the retail scale is this delightful example of window dressing:

It might have proved useful for this member of our cabin crew who seems to have lost her head.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Real Shit Job

This is Le Palais de Sport (AKA Coupole el Menzah).

The management have retained the services of a cat to control the vermin, it is great with rats and mice, but has yet to learn the basics of cat-powered flight so the local starlings have the roof to themselves.


There are 4,190 seats. One woman (centre right below) is responsible for cleaning them. It is a real shit job. 

No, really.

Friday, November 11, 2011

(Just) a bit of excitement

This is one of those jobs that can be summarised as airport, hotel, venue, hotel, venue, hotel, venue, hotel, venue, hotel, venue, hotel, airport. The bits in between are mainly traffic. Driving has its interesting aspects, such as traffic lights, one way systems and lanes which are optional, and horns which are obligatory. Life it seems is cheap, well, pedestrian life anyway.

On the way to the venue we pass the Libyan Embassy all snuggly and wrapped up in razor wire with an army Hummer at one end, an army truck at the other and a small squad of very bored soldiers on patio chairs inbetween. It is just round the corner from the hotel and I walked up there after breakfast on the first morning to get a nice picture, but they don't like you to take pictures so I had to take a couple from the bus each day and mash them together.

The Tunisians I have met all seem to speak more French than Arabic, all the signs are in French (and Arabic), there are croissants for breakfast, they do not tend to have mousatches or wear dish dashas.  In fact it is quite like France with more dust and worse drivers. But as I said I haven't been out much, so it is probably more Arabic elsewhere.

I did cross the road from the venue to buy a phone card the other day (one of the more exciting moments) and came across this blue box on legs at the side of the road.

I thought it was a post box at first until I saw the chimney. Closer inspecton revealed it to be a pavement barbecue.

The Singe 'n' Go roadside barbecue
 Ideal if you just have to have a sizzling sausage and cannot wait until you get home.

Other exciting moments were passing a dead palm tree:

Finding a copy of Miss Mécano:

 and trying to choose between a red Christmas tree and Ché Guevara air freshner (also in the shape of a Christmas tree):

 I did not choose either as very few things smell worse than a cheap air freshner.

More later, including Amen Corner, A Real Shit Job and the Tunisian Ant and Dec...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Amen Corner

Nice to have a local bank.

 Personally, I like my bank to be a little more secure

Amen, indeed. Or should that be Insha'Allah?

Room 101

No, really.

But it's got TV, a shower and no rats. It could be a lot worse.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The news-introspection-misery-bomb

My granny was old, and I mean old like Victorian-old. She remembered ‘the Old Queen’ dying. And in case you think I am talking of Quentin Crisp, I mean Queen Vic and if you think by Queen Vic I mean the pub in East Enders, I mean:

Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God,
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.

Strange syntax, but Gawd bless ‘er nonetheless.

Anyway, the thing is, my granny lived through some of the Boer War, two World Wars, the Great Depression and a whole load of other difficulties, most of which were instigated by politicians, bankers and arms dealers who stood to make a lot of money. The end result for ordinary people being the usual: premature death for some and poverty for most of the rest.

Like most prudent Victorians, Granny was very wary of borrowing money. Had she not died in the 1970s she would have tut-tutted loudly about the ease with which people were getting credit in the 1990s – and she would not have been alone.
After the second world war, she also experienced the growth of American influence on the world stage including the Korea and Vietnam wars, most of the Cold War, the creation of Israel, and a whole array of US based events such as race riots, the shootings of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the moon landings and much of Watergate. US cultural imperialism did not pass her by and she was as swamped as anyone by Hollywood films and  imported TV shows and the new language they brought with them, and more. And no doubt at some point she may well have thought ‘they are making trouble for themselves’.

What these things had in common was an element of predictability. Many of us thought ‘almost unlimited credit will end in tears’. Most of us probably thought that ‘someone’ was keeping an eye on the apparent folly of the finance industry. Few of us expected that it would involve the banks, financial institutions and regulatory bodies behaving quite as badly as they did, and (at the time of writing) the near collapse of the Euro.

And I think many of us have thought at some time or other ‘those American cousins are getting a little pushy, there’ll be tears before bedtime’. Though, having avoided nuclear war with the Russians, none of us expected it’s most brutal realisation (to date) to take the form of the spectacular destruction of the World Trade Centre and the emergence of suicide bombings as a regular feature of the news.

Which brings me to the point: The News. I find news coverage is making me more concerned about  financial and political issues I can do nothing about. The sheer number of hours of news devoted to pundits picking over 'events' is going to have unintended consequences. It must effect the thoughts of those with power and influence as well as those egregious tossers speculating on the financial markets with greed as their only motive.

And what effect will it have on rest of us who so often feel we can do nothing? In the short term people will just become more paranoid. The long term tangible result is likely to be that most people will become poorer and gap between those who have and those who have not will continue getting wider. This is seldom a good thing.

So what are we doing about reducing the amount of bad news? Sod all, that's what. In fact BBC Radio 4 has just announced that it is extending its lunchtime news programme, The World at One, by 15 mins. I listen to a lot of Radio 4 (you can tell by the very little information I have on a lot of topics) and the thought of yet another 15 mins of daily misery is little short of depressing.

Radio 4 already has three hours of Today, half an hour of lunchtime grimness,  60 minutess of the PM show, followed immediately by another 30 minutes of much the same at 6pm (but this time the presenter is wearing a suit), and the 3 minute news hits every hour. To those you can add the regular current affairs programmes including Question Time, Any Questions, Any Answers, Today in Parliament, The Westminster Hour, The Week in Westminster, What the Papers Say, and a load of one-off political and news based shows.
There is also the print press, other radio networks, innumerable bulletins and rolling news channels on TV, Internet news and campaigning sites at home and abroad - a veritible tsunami of (mostly) bad news. All these channels need to fill their schedules with something, but as there is not enought factual information, much of their content is 'speculation' or what most of us would understand as unfounded tosh.

We have all heard the fanatical probing of interviewers, fairy-footed evasions of politicians, denials of bankers, distortions of industrialists, speculation of pundits, arguments between experts and the plain bollocks contributed by anyone who just happened to be passing the broadcaster’s microphone. And most of us must have thought ‘just take a break, give us some breathing space’  or maybe ‘this is not helping’ or possibly ‘stop picking at it, it’ll never get better’ or even ‘this is going to end in tears’.

Our media cannot generate all this information (think of it as light) without producing a lot of nonsense (think of it as heat).  One day it will ignite. No one knows how or when the news-introspection-misery-bomb will go off or how the detonation will manifest itself, but it is likely to be in the political or financial sectors triggered by a significant number of people looking after number one... leading to a societal breakdown brought about by mass public discontent with the unfairness of it all resulting on some form of anarchy. And I don’t mean  the fun sort of anarchy with a nice logo...

which relies on a functioning brewing industry, dogs on string and the welfare state in order to exist, but a rather more unpleasant one where a big bloke takes all your stuff, kills your family and enslaves you to work in his salt mine.

Or it could be a very scared political class, led from behind by a wealthy elite closing ranks and instigating martial law. Or both.

But whatever and whenever, most of us will say ‘I knew that was going to happen.’

I know I will.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


We bought the barn at Poulet ten years ago. In some respects it was a barn.

In other respects it was a pile of stones...

..with a fabulous view.

An autumn evening
During the building process we generated two massive piles of stone from bits of the barn that had fallen down and were not going to be rebuilt, and from the 20 metre  manger which was just surplus to requirements what with not having any cows an' all...

20 metres of stone manger

The bits of barn pile
The manger pile
After five years these two piles had been moved a total of five times, twice by machine and three times by hand. The hand-balling confirmed that I did not want to move them again. So I started 'building' things so that at least they would look deliberate and I would not have to move them again.

I started with the manger pile and built very low wall which started out as a visual reinforcement of the path which divides the meadow - but also turned out to be quite useful as the start of more extensive terracing.

Not very elegant but it works

There was still a lot of stone left so I constructed a septic tank cosy, thus using more stone and hiding the cuvee de merde.

The septic tank cosy, under (mainly) geraniums
But there was still some left and I was not going to take it very far. Looking around I thought the adjacent telephone pole could do with some protection.

Telephone pole cum lighthouse foundation
The second pile was by the road and taking up the only shady place where we could keep the car out of the sun. Most of this pile was rearranged into half a gateway and later into a... what? I don't know, I don't want it to become a flower bed but Mrs. PJ may have different ideas. I prefer to think of it as a very regular pile of stone.

Half a gateway? Flower bed? Pile of stones? Who knows?
The last of the bits-of-barn pile is in the process of becoming another terrace wall.

Work in progress
When this wall is finished I will have just about run out of stone - which is a pity as I am beginning to like the stuff, especially now that I know how to move it without breaking my back and can put it up so that it stays up.

Of course the whole of Chicken Hill is made of stone, so I suppose all I have to do is dig up some more.

I'm not sure I am quite that enthusiastic...