15th January 2012. I had a novel experience yesterday morning down at the river and it was one that I have absolutely no wish to repeat! It was bracingly cold - it couldn't have been much more than 5°C (I can hear howls of derisive laughter from mid Canada!) but we're spoilt here as far as weather is concerned so when it's down to 5°C it does feel cold. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, after the usual milling about, handshakes all round for the mecs and bises for the nanas, four of us mecs decided we'd take a coxless IV out.
The outing started fairly well with the occasional promise that we were getting somewhere. At one point we heard the sound of a boat ahead of us getting louder and louder and, as we started to overtake it, we saw it was a women's VIII. No words needed to be spoken but a sudden turbo-like surge of testosterone-fuelled power saw us shoot past them.. If you have any competitive instincts at all, this challenge was irresistible and the response was entirely understandable! (Yes!) After that, we stretched it out a bit and continued on up the river. Turning around, things started to gel a bit more and as we really settled to the task the rowing became crisper and more punchy.. As we entered the last few km, we worked up the rhythm to a hot sprint and we shot at full pelt underneath a footbridge that's only about 1½ km from home.
Suddenly, there was an almighty crash and the boat stopped dead in the water as we tangled with a part-submerged tree that we hadn't seen.. (payback for overtaking the girls!☺) The current then took charge and the boat started tipping over to the right (in ever-so-slow motion) before it turned completely over.. I always use Velcro straps to secure my feet tightly to the stretcher and as the boat went over my feet stayed firmly strapped in (which was a bit unnerving). I went under but managed to kick myself free. By now the boat was floating upside down and we were all starting to feel the cold of the water. As luck would have it, a few minutes later a club VIII came storming around the nearest bend with a coach following in a small speedboat and, on seeing us, he shot across to heave us out of the water (which was getting colder by the minute). Once aboard, we managed to retrieve our trainers which were bobbing about. Another speedboat arrived to take the upturned IV in tow back to the clubhouse while we returned to the pontoon. I had a cold and squelchy trip home!
Once there, I had a long hot shower followed by a hot chocolate with a splash of whisky in it.. That really hit the spot and I felt much better! (Note to self: must fall in more often!) We did 16km before going for an early bath. That river water was cold though.. Thinking about it afterwards, I can't remember ever falling out of a boat before - and I started rowing in 195... well, a long time ago.☺
Later. Every picture tells a story:No prizes for guessing! Mmmmm.. I've mentioned Château Bouscassé before here - a stunning Madiran that deserves wider acclaim - and I'd managed to find a bottle before Christmas. We had some friends around for dinner and I was still feeling the effects of that morning dip in the Nive (honestly!) so I thought a morale-booster was called for. It didn't disappoint.. If you like your reds on the meaty side, then see if you can find one wherever you are. (Available in the US, UK, Ireland and elsewhere). Make sure it's at room temperature when you drink it - if you have an airing cupboard leave it there for a few hours. And if you do manage to find one, let me know your thoughts on it - either via the comments or via email (link in LH margin).
17th January 2012. We've noticed that nightfall is finally starting to get a little later each evening. About time. Living here has altered my perception of the march of the seasons through the year. I used to tell myself (in England) that I enjoyed all the seasons equally, which was just as well as I had no choice! Sometimes, just to reinforce the point, we'd experience all four seasons during the same day..! But, I have to say, having now experienced the pleasures of wearing shorts for 6 months of the year (if not longer) and living outside just about every day, the return of those long days and warmer weather can't come soon enough for us both. At 8am though, as I write, it's still dark - and cold; but things are on the move.
In looking for a picture of the spot where we had our 'shipwreck', I came across this atmospheric shot of a very high Nive running in front of the covered market:
Saturday, 22nd January. Our plan to celebrate Burns night (25th January) wi' a haggis have fallen apart.. The shop I'd found on the internet that sold haggis appears to be no more. Googling Haggis by mail order, I found a Scottish site that was charging ~£5 for a haggis and a whopping £31 to post the thing here..!! Don't let the gory details put you off - haggis is delicious - even Madame loves it!
Burns suppers are great occasions and it's customary for someone to propose a Toast to the Lassies.. Here's a Toast to the Lassies delivered by someone who's clearly enjoying himself (and feeling no pain!):
I should add that it's traditional to drink whisky throughout the meal.. well, strictly speaking, not traditional - but infinitely preferable.. Can't argue with that! Finally, here's a short clip that appeared on TF1 about a family-run hotel at Guéthary (between Biarritz & St Jean de Luz).
24th January 2012. Yesterday's lunchtime news on TF1 featured a short report on a sport I've not mentioned here much but it's one that's omnipresent throughout the Pays Basque - just about every self-respecting Basque village will have a fronton.. and it's far from unusual to see private houses with their own small fronton in the garden. What's it all about I hear you ask? The sport in question is Pelote Basque and it's a ball game that's played outdoors against a fronton (a high wall) or indoors in a Trinquet.. When played with a chistera, it becomes the fastest ball game in the world.
There was another feature on TF1 at lunchtime today about the Pays Basque - this time, a report about fishing at St Jean de Luz. I had to laugh at the fisherman at 01:40 who talks of his love for the sea and fish - as he casually rips a hook out of a fish's mouth: