Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The robots are coming to the country!

Our annus horribilis is proceeding to its close, perhaps earlier than expected if the ancient Mayans did their maths right, but probably not without a nasty surprise or two. To start with, the 'fridge to the left of the Rayburn is making strange noises. The motor is now louder than my tinnitus. Then Fred Rouchier, the wonderful electrician delivered the new combined microwave/electric oven to replace the deceased one, along with an information bombshell. I am still in shock.

What follows is what Fred has learned and what he recounted to me.
if I connect my dishwasher to a telephone line........
.......(no, I did not know the dishwasher had a telephone jack).......
then, when the dishwasher auto detects a fault,
before its owner, my respected self, does.....
then it calls Bosch Central with its diagnosis...
then Bosch Central checks its stores and despatches the part to....
Fred Rouchier who will come to do the necessary repair …
probably way before I have stopped flapping around doing housewifely
maintenance such as deep cleaning of the filter, adding extra salt, de-gunging the water sprays - and grumbling at the machine.

Given that the machine is not used on a daily basis, Fred may even turn up before I am aware that the machine thinks it has a problem.

(If this same model were in Clea's super-modern-new house, little Round Red Vacu-Bot would be skimming around the floors, possibly humming to itself as it tidied. Then – when finished or in need of a recharge - it would take itself to its dock and re-connect. My house has too many corners and steps for it to function and I feel like saying 'nah, nah-er nerrer'.)

Now I look at the new combined microwave/electric oven with suspicion. It demands to know the weight of that which it has to defreeze. It can be programmed to do a three stage de-frosting all by itself. No doubt I can pre-programme it to cook lunch, all I would have to do is put the ingredients in its cavity. I don't know, I have not yet fully digested the book of instructions. But, as far as I can see, it does not have arms and legs to go fetch the food to be cooked.

I am not happy with these machines that are more intelligent than I am, that demand a great deal of brain power to operate. The new clothes washer does not ask me when I want its programme to start but when I want it to finish! This involves calculation: the length of time of the selected wash programme, run alongside the cheap time schedule of the EdF (steady at night, erratic during the day). Of course, the wash programmes are not in whole hours, but in half hours. The EdF works in whole hours. In short, if wanting to run the machine overnight on cheap time, I have to stay up until the right time to calculate the setting and start it. For, if I get it wrong, the wretched machine beeps its 'finished, come deal with me' noise way before I want to wake up.

I did mention to Fred that I strongly suspicioned that the clothes washer had taught the dishwasher to do this irritating beep. Masterfully, he de-beeped the dishwasher. But neither of us know how to de-beep the clothes washer. It will just have to do double duty as an alarm.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Return of the Venturers

On our way back to La Chaise, we decided to go off the motorway near Figueras (just a few kilometres on the Spanish side of the border) to look for a very famous vinyard in that region. Mistake, big mistake. Not only was the vinyard not where the wine merchant, and the baker's wife, said it would be, but there was not a vine in sight. There were lots of stony fields and a delightful, tumbling stream, probably full of trout, but nary a vine.

As a result we were over an hour late getting back home, breaking a fundamental rule for a serene old age: OLD PEOPLE SHOULD NOT DRIVE IN THE DARK.
Fortunately the Rayburn was lit and the house was relatively warm which helped de-stress us. But the external walls are about 60 cm thick, made of field stone and mortar, so there was a little chill inside. To counteract this we switched on a couple of oil filled electric radiators which had been working nights in our absence. The electricity switch promptly tripped.

La Chaise is not a machine for living in (pace Le Corbusier) it is a living shell with which (whom?) those on the inside develop a relationship of give and take. Mostly take on the part of the building and give on the part of its so-called owners. The incident brought to mind the dogs' attitude to our times away. They would have their own personal attendant, living in, who had little else to do but feed them, talk to them, walk them, watch television with them. All was snug and secure. They greeted us joyously every return – and promptly ran away the following morning. Both 'so there!' reactions, sulks really. Does a house have a soul? Do dogs?

Yet the house was garnished with plants. The plumbago had come into the dining room, the hibiscus took up most of the bedroom window. Fortunately for those who stagger to the bathroom in the dark of night (me) the hibiscus does not have thorns but its twigs do scratch. The lemon tree and all the geranium plants had come into the conservatory, leaving very little room for golf bags and certainly no room for people to sit. Fortunately we don't wish to sit there as it cannot be heated to people temperatures owing to the way the electricity is distributed round the house – which is what causes the main switch to trip.

Fortunately, there was very little by way of admin correspondence to deal with but vast numbers of the New York and London Reviews of Books to peruse. So quite cheerfully I got in touch with our solicitor to arrange a rental agreement for the lovely Audrey and Alexandre who will be the La Chaise gardiens in our absence when Clea and Jerome finally move into have their own house. And ran slap bang into the rules and regulations of the wretched inspection du travail once again. It would seem that consenting adults cannot make agreements between themselves, they have to follow the rules invented by local employer/union negotiations and enarch theories of human relations. As it is said in English: I was fit to be tied.

Then I read an opinion article in Liberation, France's wittiest leading left wing daily, by one Pierre-Yves Geoffard, professor of economics at the Paris School of Economics and visiting professor at other distinguished establishments. The theme of his article: L'etat n'est ni omniscient, ni omnipotent. Revolutionary thought. Perhaps there is hope for France yet.