Thursday, 14 October 2010

88. Autumn of discontent

10th October 2010. I had an outing in the VIII yesterday (à pointe - ie, rowing as opposed to sculling) which generated a new set of blisters on my right hand.. Unfortunately I think they will rule out rowing for a few days until they've healed a little.

This evening, I went to the Amlin Challenge Cup match between Bayonne and Harlequins as the guest of one of the guys from the rowing club. It had been raining steadily all day and, as kick off time approached (6.45pm), the rain gods cranked up the volume until it was coming down in great sheets that swept across the pitch in waves - and it continued to rain throughout the match with no sign of easing. Small lakes formed and the ground soon resembled a paddy field. It was obvious that the game would be a forward battle and, with the ball like a bar of soap, "up and unders" would be the chief tactic. Bayonne scored two tries while the 'Quins kicked their points. All the details are here in this report. Unfortunately the freakish weather reduced the game to something of a lottery.

12th October 2010. We've had our Basque tiler in to tile the bathroom walls and to extend some tiling in the kitchen. This afternoon I fixed the heated towel rail back on the wall which involved drilling holes in the new tiles - a nerve-racking job! - but everything went OK and now everything is back in its place. The plumber was round as well to fix a few probs with the shower. One job less!

13th October 2010. The main item of domestic news in France is the blessed series of one day strikes by the unions in protest against the government's decision to raise retirement age from 60 to 62.. Is it me but surely unions exist to defend workers rights with employers - not the State. In my view, people having a complaint about government policy should exercise their rights to complain via the political process through their elected political representatives - not via the trade unions.

As it is, 1.5 million (Govt figures) or 3.5 million (union figures) - depending upon who you believe - people were out on strike and demonstrating in the streets against the plan to raise retirement age. I think they're living in cloud-cuckoo land. The unions have seized the political agenda and are using the proposed change to retirement ages as a stick to beat the government. And of course the media shows endless footage of it all on the news bulletins and they seem to have difficulty finding people to express a contrary point of view to those of the strikers.

Yesterday I was walking into town and the police were busy holding up traffic down one of the major boulevards around Bayonne. I asked a policewoman what was happening and she explained that schoolkids were demonstrating against the changes in retirement policy. Sure enough, minutes later, a column of slightly self-conscious teenagers came lolloping along. Successive French governments have bowed to union power over the last few decades and now the country is paying the price. For example, SNCF* workers retire at 50 and can travel free in first class. Retirement at 50 was maybe a good idea when life on the footplate was considerably harder work than is the case today. However, today's train drivers have a clean sedentary job without the physical exertions of the past. Another factor in the equation is life expectancy. This has been steadily rising in France to the extent that French life expectancy is right up there in the World top 10. Economically therefore, it has become increasingly difficult to fund a pension system that has to provide for 2 decades (or more) of retirement. I think the State should have done more to explain the rationale behind the changes..
*French state railways

Here's a quirky (and jerky!) film about Bayonne that takes you into the heart of the town:
My image of the week:
If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand..!

15th October 2010. Before the strikes in France start squeezing fuel supplies, I thought I'd go and fill the car up over the border in Spain yesterday. Driving through Ustaritz en route to Dancharia there's a spot on the road where I usually expect to see a broad sweeping view of the western Pyrenees. Not so yesterday.. We're definitely into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness here now. The hills were partly masked behind clouds of mist in the pale gold morning light. It was hard to believe that the darker outline that showed through the clouds now and again was actually composed of solid rock. Leaves have also started to fall and in the high mountains, hunters will soon be reaping the annual harvest of thousands of palombes (pigeon) which will appear in local restaurants as salmis de palombes. There are links to some other great Basque dishes too - plus many of the Basque specialities you'll need to stock your winter cupboard with. Naturally, where there's a choice delicacy in France, you won't be surprised to find a Confrérie lurking in the wings..

Recipe for salmis de palombes

Les ingrédients:

2 pigeons,
1 slice of Bayonne ham
10 onions, 6 shallots, 1 clove garlic
1 small carrot
½ tablespoon flour
2 glasses of full bodied red wine
1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bay leaf) salt and pepper
1 litre of stock
1 tablespoon flour
some mushrooms
croutons of bread fried in butter
1 glass of brandy

Cooking time: 1½hrs

Préparation:

Cut each pigeon into 4. In a pan, fry the pieces in olive oil. Add onions and minced garlic, chopped shallots and diced ham. Sauté quickly & remove from heat when the flesh is stiff (5 min). Remove and keep warm. Keep cooking oil. Return it to low heat and mix it with flour, stirring constantly. Bring the red wine to the boil. Then add the oil and flour mixture and whisk well. Add the pigeons, garlic, onions, shallots, ham. Add the stock, salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for 1½hrs. Half an hour before the end of cooking, remove the pigeon quarters, flambé with brandy and return to the sauce. Check and adjust seasoning if necessary.

If it was me, I'd be opening a bottle of Madiran with this.. and not just for the advertised health benefits either. Available in the UK from Leon Stolarski and also Tanners in Hereford.

Bon appetit!

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