Thursday, 2 January 2020

275. The Hindsight Year

28th January. The annual rugbyfest that is the 6 Nations tournament (English version here) kicks off this weekend. First up on Saturday, it's Wales v Italy followed by Ireland v Scotland - then on Sunday, we're off to Biarritz to watch France v England with A & V, our French friends - always an enjoyable occasion regardless of the outcome! Hopefully, it will be him shouting at the TV - not me.

Had a special treat yesterday lunchtime - Madame caught me by surprise when she served me with some truffled boudins blancs - served with sautéed apple - fresh from Montauzer's new premises smack bang in the centre of Bayonne (right). This was a major mmmm moment! (whatever I did to deserve this, I'm going to keep doing it - once I know what it was!)

27th January. The lunchtime news today led off with a report on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We're supposed to forgive and forget - but I feel unable to. I don't see how either are possible.

No choir practice for me tonight - I've somehow managed to pick up a bug over the past few days and my voice is not much more than a croak - plus there's are all the usual joint pains - and I'm coughing for Britain. Dr Glenmorangie's Patent Restorative has so far been unable to make an impact on any of my symptoms - we've had Whisky Macs and hot toddies but to no avail - so I guess I'll just have to keep trying.

24th January. Is the cold getting to you? Joints getting a bit stiff? Problems wid de articulamations? Here's the late, great Miriam Makeba with her global 1967 hit, "Pata Pata".. she'll soon have your feet tapping again!

21st January. Spotted in French Entrée magazine: "A study of data that has taken two years to compile has named the best – and worst – places to live in France. The Villes et villages où il fait bon vivre association assessed eight key areas: education, shops and services, health, sports and leisure, solidarity, quality of life, and transport. The 34,841 municipalities of France were ranked based on data provided by the National Statistics Office and, controversially, did not take residents’ views into account.

The winner of the coveted top spot of the category for towns or cities with more than 2000 inhabitants was Annecy, in the Haute-Savoie, closely followed by Bayonne, La Rochelle, Angers and Le Mans. In this category, Biarritz, Anglet and Pau also scored highly.

In the category for locations with fewer than 2000 inhabitants the top three were Peltre, Guéthary and Martinvast." Look up your village/town here.

I have to say that Annecy is a beautiful town - we visited it a while back - but Bayonne is in the warm South! - and it's far more affordable - and it's a real living working community.. as opposed to Annecy which had the feel of a retirement home.

It could be argued that those conducting the survey should have included climate, the job market and the property market as factors. One downside to Bayonne is the high humidity - and the Côte Basque is notoriously difficult from an employment perspective.

Still no reply or even an acknowledgement from Bill Wiggin MP to my email of 7th January proposing that the UK offers assistance to the Australian government to combat the fires raging throughout the country.

Haggis, clampit tatties & bashed neeps
(decode extra!)
This week will see the slaughter of thousands of innocent haggis in readiness for this coming Saturday when Burns Night (video here) will be celebrated throughout the length and breadth of Scotland as well as by all those exiled Scots around the world wishin' they were hame. This is also one occasion when this particular Sassenach wishes that he could be north of the border to enjoy this most über-Scottish of celebrations.

For those who curl their lips at the idea of eating this Caledonian delicacy, let me simply say that it is truly de-lic-ious - and it tastes even better when accompanied by a dram or several of mountain dew - aka the Great Scottish Blended or Single Malt Restorative Compound (you know what I'm talkin' about!). On a winter's night, what could be better?

Make no mistake - it has to be Scotch whisky. Would you consider buying a bottle of Polish claret, a Mexican Rolex or a pair of Chinese Levis? Of course you wouldn't. Yes, there are now several distillers around the world offering up their products and calling them Whisky - or Single Malt Whisky (here are but two examples - here and here) but trust me, we're talking chalk and cheese here. Buy a bottle to offer to your friends - saving the genuine article for yourself. I've tried both of the examples above and I can honestly say that they're not even close.

I remember one enjoyable Burns Night aeons ago when whisky was served before, during and after the meal. The funny thing was, the next day I suffered no noticeable battle damage - none whatsoever. For me, it's fatal to mix whisky with wine.       

I was down at the beach a day or two ago early in the morning to give Nutty his morning run and it was a bracing 1°C..!

I'm honoured and privileged to have been invited to the Château Vieux in Bayonne this coming Thursday for the Galette des Rois ceremony. The Château Vieux is situated in the heart of Bayonne and it's currently the Mess of the 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment (1er RPIMa) as well as housing the personal quarters of its Officer Commanding. I was there last year and there were a few lantern-jawed paras present who looked straight out of Central Casting! (think "Rambeau"!)

19th January. We went out to a concert yesterday evening to see David Krakauer and the Chamber Orchestra of Nouvelle Aquitaine at the Quintaou Theatre, AngletDavid Krakauer is an American clarinetist who performs klezmer, jazz, classical music, and avant-garde improvisation. To be absolutely honest, we both preferred the playing of the clarinetist in the orchestra to that of the soloist.

This is how the piece should be played (starts at 12.33) - with the clarinetist showing the instrument's capability to produce that wonderfully liquid tone. I'm no expert but to both of us, the soloist last night had the instrument shrieking in a way that didn't do justice to this great piece.

Still, we both enjoyed the experience of live music.. I've become so used to hearing music either from CDs or via YouTube that the difference was really remarkable.. particularly in the strings. I think YouTube recordings capture only the centre part of the frequency bandwidth required to give a faithful rendition of the sound. The experience made us both want to attend more concerts.

Meanwhile, here's one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkel tracks..
15th January. Still waiting for a response (or even an acknowledgement) from Bill Wiggin, my MP, to my proposal that the UK takes the initiative in helping to provide whatever aid the Australian Govt deems necessary. Whichever way you look at it, this is a major catastrophe.

12th January. I offer this to you all as a freebie! - in full knowledge that it might not be your cup of tea.. It's Nostalgie Best of 60s - it's a good mix of great French and English songs from the 60s. You'll probably have to disable your ad-blockers to access the site from this link.

10th January. No reply as yet from my MP.

8th January. This is a beautiful contemplative piece from J S Bach - his Adagio in D Minor, BWV 974 - played here on a harpsichord by Olga Pashchenko - it starts at 2:50..

7th January. Given the extent of the Australian bush fires that have been - and still are - sweeping the country, I asked myself the other day why hasn't there been a coordinated international effort to try and bring these fires under control and bring assistance of all kinds to the community? Here in Europe there are countries - like France for example - that possess numerous firefighting aircraft (like these Canadairs) - and I remember seeing similar but more capacious aircraft in service in the US. From a practical perspective, it would be a simple matter to deploy jet-powered water bombers (like some shown here) to this distant region. It's also the northern hemisphere winter so there can be little or no requirement for them here.

Is it that Australia needs to ask for help from the international community first? This image below shows that Australia is a huge country. Surely we could and should all be doing more to help our friends down under? If the much bandied-about term "Global Village" is to mean anything, this ongoing human tragedy and ecological disaster demands a world-wide response.

Email your representatives / MPs / Congressmen  / Deputies and demand action! I've emailed my MP and I'll publish his response here if/when he replies.

Here's a video that originated from ABC Australia Central Coast that (Warning!) shows some harrowing, even apocalyptic, scenes.. It's hard to watch:
2nd January 2020. Here's a look at the Pyrenees as seen from the air - it's a video with a Spanish commentary - but it has some truly spectacular footage. Our part of the world comes in at 13:40..

Happy New Year! I can't believe we're already 20 years on from the Millennium. Remember all the media uncertainty and hype about Y2K and what might happen if all our computers went on the fritz?

My ears pricked up when I heard this playing on the radio earlier today - "Sheep may safely graze" by J S Bach - a piece that's long been a favourite of mine. Here, it's sung beautifully by the University of Redlands choir, California, directed by Mr J William Jones way back in 1957. Here are the lyrics:

Sheep may safely graze and pasture
In a watchful shepherd's sight.
Those who rule, with wisdom guiding,
Bring to hearts a peace abiding,
Bless a land with joy made bright.

(I think the choir sings another verse that I don't have the lyrics for) It's a benchmark performance and the Redlands choir is simply the perfect blend of voices, singing with conviction. I've listened to it more times than I care to admit to! I wonder how many of them are still with us? Enjoy!
If the YouTube player above is intermittent, - try this direct link to the source video.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir can always be relied on to provide a wonderfully polished performance and while they don't disappoint here, I just prefer the version above. 

Here's the same piece - but this time it's performed / rendered / mangled (you decide) on the Moog synthesiser. From the image of Herr Bach that appears early in the video, you could be excused for thinking that he'd been overdoing the Columbian Marching Powder!

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

274. December again..!

31st December (aka Saint-Sylvestre here). I just noticed that France play England in Paris on 2nd February in the first weekend of the 2020 6 Nations rugby tournament. Not long to wait then this year!

Here we are again - as the closing hours of 2019 tick away. For many, it's an occasion for letting rip one last time before the New Year presents itself with bills to be paid (or to be tucked behind the clock on the mantelpiece!).

We're off out this evening - to Restaurant Larralde, Ascain - as they've put together an interesting-looking menu for this evening. This means that I'll have to limit myself to a couple of glasses of wine during the course of the evening - but this is honestly no longer the hardship that it might once have been a few years ago. I'll be quite happy with a glass of Jurançon doux (the wines of Domaine Cauhapé are a current favourite) and one of velvety Irouléguy Gorri d'Ansa (right).. We're taking a friend who would otherwise be on her own. 

For others, this time of the year is often a difficult hurdle to surmount, especially for those who have lost a loved one during the previous 12 months and before. Each New Year is a reminder of loss and it marks a further distancing from the passing of a loved one - and for those out there for whom this applies, try and seek comfort in the bosom of your friends and/or relatives. Tomorrow is a new day and life continues afresh - if not exactly as before. Remember that quote: "The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, moves on.."

I was out early this this morning to the bakers in town before Ali Baba (& friends) sweep through and hoover up everything out on display. (I remember this scene from childhood a long time ago - it starts at 9.45)

Coming back, the whitewashed Basque houses glowed yellow in the slanting rays of the early morning sun.   

30th December. It was a crisp 2°C this morning.. but at least we had cloudless blue skies.

Boudins blancs with sauté'd apple
I forgot to mention that Madame made our favourite boudin blanc aux pommes for lunch yesterday. These were the truffled boudins blancs from Montauzer in town.. but as they're a seasonal dish that appears only during the Christmas season, perhaps that's why they don't feature on the website. If you are tempted to try them, whatever you do, don't buy them from a supermarket - find a good charcutier who makes his own.

Verdict? They were absolutely de-lic-ious! (my mouth's still watering with the memory!)

29th December. This morning I took the pooch to the coast for a run and according to the car it was 3°C (37°F).. When I got down to the beach there were some quite big breakers rolling in - and here's the thing - the sea must have been warmer than the air above it as steam fog (or sea smoke) was forming and rolling off the waves in billowing clouds.. I've seen it once before here on the river Nive - but this was the first time I'd seen this phenomenon at sea.

As 2019 rumbles on towards its end, it's maybe time to review the past 12 months - or maybe not! Whenever I turn on the TV or the radio, or open a newspaper, the first thing that catches my eye are the inevitable lists of the 10/50/100 Best Whatevers (pick from Teams, Cars, Books etc etc) from the last decade, or yet another reminder of those who have shuffled off to pastures new in another world - most of these last being 'celebrities' I've never heard of!

To spare you from having to read yet another list, let's look instead at one or two highlights. The political uncertainty of the last 3½ years since the Brexit referendum had been a constant reminder to me of the potential fragility of my position here. I decided to find a solution that could mitigate any downside of Brexit from a personal perspective - and so I applied for French citizenship.

I think the single event that pleased me the most in the last 12 months came when I learned that my application for French citizenship had finally been approved. This means that my position here is now secure, regardless of what happens on the Brexit front, especially if the UK leaves the EU on WTO terms, ie, "No Deal" - as I think it will. (Here's a brief guide to WTO terms).

One of the side benefits of my being a bona fide French citizen (albeit one with dual nationality) is that I can now vote here. I duly applied at the Town Hall to be added to the registered list of voters. It's not an automatic process - for some reason, my request had to be approved by the Mayor of Bayonne. However, all's well that ends well as he did approve it - so now I can vote in elections here.

Does my newly acquired French ID card mean that I won't ever return to live in the Independent Coastal State (as the EU now likes to characterise the UK) that lies across the English Channel from Calais? I can think of few scenarios that could force me to do so - but one possible scenario might be if the value of the £ sterling vs the Euro were to plummet to a point where it became unsustainable to continue to live here.

Who was it who wrote: "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Independent Coastal State"..? Here's the original.  In classifying the UK as an Independent Coastal State, the EU has succeeded* in removing the magic from the title of Bill Bryson's first great book!

* Only here in this blog! I did it just to emphasise the EU's sterile vocabulary and lack of imagination - remembering that it was this particular small Independent Coastal State (supported by the Commonwealth and the Dominions) that stood resolutely alone in 1940 until the United States entered the war in December 1941. The Anglosphere Allies enabled freedom and democracy to be re-established in continental Europe. I know it's unfashionable and perhaps insensitive of me to remind people of this inconvenient fact - but it does need re-stating from time to time.

If you haven't read Bill's valedictory review of the island that had been his home for some 10 years, I would urge you to do so. It's a very, very funny book indeed.

25th December. Our very best wishes to all of you out there.. I hope this is a happy time for you with family and friends - but just remember that, if they're in short supply, tomorrow's another day. (Maybe Dr Glenmorangie can make a house call!)

22nd December. Another noisy night here on the Côte Basque with strong winds and rain lashing down all night. We have a weatherproof cover on the table outside - hope it's still there! Gusts of 140km/h (85mph) with 9 metre (30ft) high waves..

20th December. On the lunchtime news today there was a report that a maximum wind speed of 207km/h (128mph) had been recorded during the night at Irati.. I went to sleep last night to the various sounds of shutters rattling, the roof creaking, wind whistling and howling around the house etc etc before falling into my usual coma! For some reason, these sounds kept Madame awake! 

The weather forecast for Saturday does not augur well for the mass release of thousands of Japanese lanterns planned for tomorrow evening - strong winds and heavy rain are forecast. Great pity as last year's event was a real triumph. Here's a video from a practice run they had on 8th December.. (we didn't attend - thinking that we'd go to the one planned for 21st instead). I suspect tomorrow's release will be cancelled or postponed.

(The singer in the above video is the legendary Luciano Pavarotti, the song is "Caruso"..)

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the mother of one of our Basque mountain guides for an association I'm involved with - she was 97. The funeral was held in the church of Saint-Etienne in the beautiful village of Espelette. While waiting outside, I was talking to an elderly Basque gentleman and he happened to mention the village of Villefranque. I told him that we'd stayed in a gîte there for five months upon our arrival in the Pays Basque in 2007. It turned out that the owner and propriétaire of the gîte - Mr D - was his brother-in-law! Small world. 

The church was packed and the service was all in Basque. As is the custom here, all the Basque hymns were sung with a gusto unknown in England - especially for those of us brought up in the Church of England tradition (I was its sole representative!). What could be better than to leave this world to the sound of these ancient songs, sung with such force and passion? It must be a great comfort to the family.

Afterwards, I was invited to join the extended family at a restaurant in the hills for the traditional post-funeral meal. The communal spirit was quite remarkable.. and it's one of the reasons I love the people here.    

18th December. This morning we drove to Peyrehorade (about 45 mins away) to meet up with a friend to look at the Christmas market.

Walking through the crowds, it was clear that we were in la France profonde heartland! As is usual with these markets, there was an optimist who was trying to sell mattresses (there's always one!). I've never understood this.. It seems that "going to the mattresses" means literally that in the Pays Basque! (maybe we've misunderstood "The Godfather" all these years!) I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that a mattress is the last thing I'm thinking of when I visit a market. (I must be missing something!)

The real reason for our trip to Peyrehorade was to pay a long-awaited visit to "Au Bon Coin aux Pieds de Cochon". This unpretentious restaurant is something of an institution in the area - it serves authentic regional food cooked in the traditional manner.

pièce du boucher
la grande dégustation..
One of the items on the à la carte menu was something called La Grande Dégustation (left). It comprised almost all of my personal nightmare dishes - all on one plate! There was tripe, a calf's head with sauce gribiche* and a pig's trotter. A portion of andouillette would have completed the nightmare for me. Like the mattress, how many people leave home thinking "I fancy tripe, a calf's head (with sauce gribiche) and a pig's trotter for lunch"! We safely avoided la grande dégustation and instead ordered a pièce du boucher - an un-named cut of beef (above) while our friend chose an omelette au cèpes.

* this was said to be one of the late President Jacques Chirac's favourite dishes.

Looking around the busy dining room while we waited, locals were tucking into prodigious quantities of food and the room resounded with many animated conversations in the unmistakable twang of the south west. I'd like to return someday and try some of the other dishes. Here's what someone else thought of it (in French).

16th December. How many more chocolate shops can a small town of 40,000 support? Two new ones have opened in Bayonne (however, there may be more that your scribe is unaware of).

Perhaps the better-placed of the two is Puyodebat (opposite Monoprix at the intersection of Rue de la Monnaie and Rue Orbe..). The shop, a former jewellers, has been re-styled and really looks ultra-chic with some spectacular-looking chocolate products.

The other new kid on the block is Chocolat Pascal that has taken over the former shop of Montauzer (at the intersection of Rue de la Salie and Rue du Pilori).

We stopped off for a hot chocolate (5*!) at Kalaka Café.. Highly recommended.
15th December. As today was sunny with blue skies, we headed off to Biarritz that dazzled us in the bright sunshine. We had a good walk along the sea front on the Grande Plage that was protected by a barrier of sandbags. Imagine a row of sturdy canvas bags full of sand, each about 4 feet x 4 x 4, all ratchet-strapped together - and you've got it. In previous years, the sea has come up onto the promenade and smashed a few windows.. This solution looks capable of withstanding most of what winter might throw at it. Unfortunately, the Bleu Café (our favourite) was closed up for winter so we found a table at Le Georges, a café in the Place Clémenceau.
14th December. Into town straight after lunch and the outside terraces of the restaurants and cafés were full of people! The temperature was 18°C.. not bad for just before Christmas..

The centre of Bayonne (particularly near the rivers) will be at risk of further flooding today if this video (filmed yesterday) is anything to go by:
 This (below) was the Nive at Bayonne this morning - at low tide - and the level is still dangerously high.. but it takes more than floodwater to stop the Basques from singing (see 1:06):
Villages further inland look set to be troubled by rising floodwaters - though not, at the time of writing, on the same scale as was seen recently in south east France:
Fortunately, we're on higher ground so zero flood risk - but, with Christmas looming, my sympathies are with those who are faced with rising waters.

13th December. Listening to Classic FM earlier, I'm sure I heard the presenter announce the next piece of music as coming from Wagner's Rinse Cycle..

Just back from town on a last-minute shopping expedition for a few odds and ends to top up Madame's Christmas stocking. As we walked back on a very blowy morning, we faced a prolonged headwind that felt like at least 80km/h (50mph) that made Nutty's long ears stand out horizontally. I was convinced that they were actually producing lift!  

Following the outcome of the UK election, at last we have a government with a substantial majority that will, after the log-jam at Westminster that's dominated politics since June 2016, enable the country to move on with the #1 issue on the agenda. There are many issues with the Withdrawal Agreement that is essentially the one that Theresa May negotiated - minus the Irish backstop - but that's all for the future. This result completely changes the political dynamic in the House of Commons and opens the door to further progress. That's all I'm going to say.

11th December. We had blue skies and sunshine at midday and we'd hoped that perhaps we'd seen the last of the squalls out of the Bay of Biscay - but earlier this evening once again we heard heavy rain lashing against the shutters and the sound of water running in the gutters. Even the dog limits his time outside to the bare minimum required!

"The World's Gone Mad" Department: German banks have now started charging retail customers for their savings. Now I'm a self-confessed financial pygmy but for the life of me I cannot understand why, given that, anyone would want to deposit money in a savings account in a German bank. There must be some hidden warning implicit in this but I haven't the economic insight to say what it could be. Will this policy trigger a rush towards gold? Has the ECB started printing money - aka quantitative easing (QE)? Here's the Bank of England's take on QE - and the ECB's guide to it. They make it all sound so benign.  

This Peter, Paul and Mary song (1969) came up on the radio earlier and it took me straight back to 1967 when Madame and I met - and before long, we were conducting a long distance relationship.

It was a bittersweet time for us as it seemed that we were forever waiting at airports or windswept railway stations to either meet each other or to say goodbye till next time. And when we were together, the time flew by.

Then there were the postal strikes and expensive international phone calls. If only we'd had email, Skype, VoIP phones*, the Eurostar train or Ryanair back then - but we didn't. This song captures that period.

* We pay about 7€/month for our VoIP phone - and that gives us unlimited phone calls throughout Europe and North America.

9th December. I've just noticed that there will be another spectacular mass release of Japanese lanterns in Bayonne on Saturday evening, 21st December (details here). We went to last year's event (here) and it was a great evening! If you are planning on coming, it's highly likely that the drifting smells from foodstands will give you an appetite. In that case, it's probably a good idea to book a table somewhere in advance for afterwards. I think the police estimated that there were 50,000 people present in 2018. Just to remind you, this was 2018:
Some wild winds during the night and looking outside now there are only a very few leaves left hanging on. I could hear the muted roar of the sea in the distance when I let Nutty out. Might just swing by the beach later on for a look.. it's always an impressive sight.

8th December. Struggling to find a Christmas present for a father/husband/son/brother/cousin? My father once gave me a copy of Eric Newby's first book - "The Last Grain Race" - and I think I wore the print off the pages by reading it so many times! I lent it to someone (forgotten who) years ago - and it was never returned. I bought a second copy a decade or two ago - and the same thing happened. I've just downloaded another copy onto my Kindle - it should be safe there.

"One hand for yourself and one hand for the ship.."
Eric was 18 years old when, in 1938, he signed on as an apprentice on "Moshulu", a Finnish 4 masted barque working the South Australian grain trade. He was the only native speaker of English on the ship - the rest were largely Scandinavian (Swedish or Finnish) - with a sprinkling of other nationalities. He has a terrific ear for dialogue and the book fizzes with laughter and acute discomfiture in equal measure. The characters he describes live on years after my first reading of the book - as well as the tensions that built up between the Captain, the Mates and the crew and how they were resolved - sometimes explosively. He's at his best when describing the sensation of being "op the rigging" and out on a spar in the middle of the night in a storm-tossed Southern Ocean:
At this height, 130 feet up, in a wind blowing 70 miles an hour, the noise was an unearthly scream. Above me was the naked topgallant yard and above that again the royal to which I presently climbed ... the high whistle of the wind through the halliards sheaf, and above all the pale blue illimitable sky, cold and serene, made me deeply afraid and conscious of my insignificance.
Eric joined the ship as a boy - and left it a man.  He appears to have been ravenously hungry, cold, wet, exhausted, and yet exhilarated all at the same time. The next meal assumed an importance for the crew that's difficult for us to comprehend today. Ironically, "Moshulu" is now a floating restaurant - moored at Philadelphia..

This short video gives some idea of what life was like on board one of these ocean-going windjammers:
I defy anyone not to enjoy this book - even if you've never sailed a boat or been higher than the top deck of the Clapham omnibus! This is one book I can recommend unreservedly. 

7th December. There's a new word in town - curated - and it's one I've been aware of reading for the past few months without it really registering on my cringe-ometer. I see the NY Times spotted it 10 years ago - a decade before it popped up on my radar. What does it mean? Simply means that objects in a collection that have been "curated" have been specially selected by 'one who knows'. In other words, it's more media tosh. You won't be reading it here.

4th December. Earlier today, I came across a curated list (aaargghh! See above..) of 30 things to love about life in France (here) - she gets most of them spot-on. See if you agree. My comments in red:

1. Café culture and people watching, it's a way of life in France.

2. Croissants: flaky, buttery, sweet and soft, the perfect start to the day.

3. Cheese: Camembert, Brie, Comté, Epoisses, Munster, Tomme - even Vieux Boulogne, officially the smelliest cheese in the world. + Brillat-Savarin & Vacherin Mont d'Or (we can argue about what it's called another day)..

4. Cakes that look like jewels and taste like heaven made by master craftsmen.

5. Eiffel Tower: meant to last for just 20 years, the 130-year-old Eiffel Tower is one of the most photographed sites in the world.

6. Wine: red, white, rosé and even yellow wine from the Jura region. There is a wine to suit all. and at affordable prices!

7. Banks where you get to speak to a real person.

8. I love that French bookshops are still going strong. Nothing wrong with buying books online but there's something reassuring about seeing books on shelves.

9. Champagne, of course.

10. Crêpes: thin, sweet and crispy or savoury galettes from Brittany, what's not to love?

11. Paris. As in point five.

12. Brocantes, vide-greniers, marchés aux puces: flea markets are a national obsession and a cultural connection for visitors.

13. Two-hour lunch breaks being normal! (not any more.. at least not in the Pays Basque. They make up for this by shops staying open until late.)

14. French language: croquer la vie à pleines dents literally means 'bite into life with all your teeth' but really it means, 'To embrace life to the fullest.'

15. Baguettes: Tucked under your arm, sticking out of a basket, nibbling the end, smothered with butter - a taste of France.

16. The French passion for heritage and deep-rooted support for the arts.

17. Christmas Eve dinner lasting until 5am. What?! That early? ☺

18. Community spirit in country villages. Yes! And in towns too.

19. Work-life balance - key to the good life in France.

20. Street markets being a way of life, ensuring local producers are supported and people can buy fresh, seasonal, local produce. Amen to that!

21. Shops that close at lunchtime and on Sundays, and are not open all night long. Used to be true - we have a supermarket here that's open from 6am - midnight. 

22. Bastille Day or le Quatorze Juillet as the French call it: fun, food and fireworks.

23. Politesse (politeness): saying bonjour when you walk into a shop, doctor's waiting room, shaking hands with everyone in the local bar. and saying goodbye to all when you leave.

24. French philosophy: Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup. It means eat well, laugh often, love abundantly... I think we all agree with that then!

25. Supermarkets that have an aisle dedicated to local produce.

26. La mairie (town hall) - the one-stop shop for all your questions about life in your village or town.

27. Beautiful châteaux.

28. Architecture: Baroque, Hausmannian, Le Corbusier, Auguste Perrett, French Renaissance, Gothic, Romanesque, Gallo-Roman, Beaux Arts, Belle Epoque and more… the fact that each region in France has its own distinctive architecture. There are no rows of cookie-cutter houses. 

29. Family values.

30. French people. It can take a while to make French friends, but once you do, it's for life. So different to the stereotypes beloved of UK media.

To this list I would add that, for me, No 31 would be the refreshing absence of sarcasm and / or irony - call it what you will. The constant drip of sarcasm in England masquerading as wit is tiring.. I'm fed up with people who say the opposite of what they really mean - because they're too emotionally stunted to talk plainly. As you can tell, I much prefer the warmth and directness of the French.. 

I would add another - treat waiters and waitresses as human beings and they respond with kindness and generosity. 

Another one is that they love their food and wine with a passion that doesn't exist across the Channel. I could write a book on this! 

The almost total absence of litter - especially noticeable out in the country.

A friend has just suggested: Modern and clean trains that run on time that get to useful destinations by reasonable routes at sensible prices. Agree 100%. 

If you have your own reasons to love life here, don't be shy - send them in to me! (via the contact form in the left hand column - or add a comment at the foot of this post) I'll add them to the list (no names!).

In talking to people here who went on school trips to England years ago, it appears that just as I have an aversion to andouillette and tête de veau (calf's head), there seems to be one thing, above all, that many French people remember with horror - and that's jelly! (jello in the US). I must admit that I haven't had any for years - but when I was a child, it was very popular.. With some tinned fruit (pears, pineapple or peaches) and a swirl of evaporated milk, there was always room for seconds! (this was the 1950s remember)

However, on a scale of 1-10, jelly for me doesn't get even close to the real horrors that are andouillette and tête de veau (both of these are solidly in projectile-vomiting territory). I've tried both andouillette and tête de veau once (you have to) but wild horses etc etc. I guess it all depends what you are used to. Naturally there's an association for andouillette. If I was forced - at gunpoint - to have to choose to eat one or the other, I think tête de veau would just shade it - by a millimetre or two. It would have to be a big gun though! If I'm honest, I'd rather go hungry. I don't care what anyone says - for me, these two dishes are the stuff of nightmares.

Next come the marginal dishes. There are several dishes in France that I've never been hungry enough to try: snails.. (and yes, I know the garlic and parsley butter is delicious); tripe - regardless of how it's been cooked; whelks (bulots here). Ris de veau (sweetbreads or pancreas) teeters on the brink (I tried this once - couldn't finish it). I've never had the opportunity to try a pied de cochon (pig's trotter). There are probably one or two more out there that I can't remember just at the moment - but, in extremis, I could - just - imagine eating something in this group.. maybe. Perhaps - when there's a 'k' in the month.

To try some of these specialities, you must pay Au Pied de Cochon (right) a visit. It's open 24 hours/day.. so it's perfect for night owls (and owlettes!). Their onion soup au gratin is legendary.. I had this once in the 60s at about 4am.. You'll see an eclectic and eccentric mix of  characters there too.. (menu here) I've added it to the map in the left hand column.

On the other hand, there are some/many specialities here that I really do enjoy: duck gizzards (gésiers de canard); foie gras (social suicide in some quarters to admit to this), calves' liver, frogs legs, oysters, mussels. I'll think of some more.       

1st December. Fingers crossed that December will be drier than the month just gone.

We've been talking about a trip up to Paris - not sure if it will be this month or next year in the Spring - but just writing that has made my mind up!

Saturday, 2 November 2019

273. "In November you begin to know...

" long the winter will be.” - Martha Gellhorn.

29th November. This is a stunning piece I found recently - Albinoni's Oboe Concerto in D minor, Op. 9, no.2 - II. Adagio. Unfortunately this live recording was marred by the thoughtless person  who just had to cough (nothing registers displeasure quite so quickly and succinctly than a good "thwack" from a baseball bat) during that first sustained note from the oboe - beautifully played here by Amy Roberts..
Quick trip out to an out of town garden centre this morning for some Black Friday shopping. It's a surprisingly warm day (16°C / 61°F) - which is just as well because the forecast for the first few days of next week here is for a shivery 2°C.

28th November. Not a good day to be a turkey today.. especially in the US! Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers here.. (still time to dig out those pants with the elasticated waist!)

An unwelcome envelope in the mailbox at midday.. a speeding fine! 90€ for doing 61km/h (38mph) in a 50km/h (30mph) zone. Ouch! 

George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is a great favourite of mine that I first heard in childhood - and ever since Woody Allen used it brilliantly to underscore the opening credits of "Manhattan" (1979), it has become synonymous with the incomparable imagery of New York's skyline. Both were made for each other.

Many years ago on a business trip, I routed through New York for a destination further south. I first landed at JFK, from where I changed to New York Helicopter (ceased operating in 1988) for onward travel to Newark airport via LaGuardia. Flying low across Central Park in Manhattan in a Sikorsky S58 was truly unforgettable and a real thrill.. and it was just like it appears at 1:31.

See what you think of this latest mix of Gershwin and NY:
27th November. I treated myself to a bottle of Alain Brumont's Bouscassé Menhir this afternoon. It's a 2006 Madiran and it promises to be quite something. Still deciding whether to open it at Christmas or to lay it down in the cellar for a few more years - (I'm an optimist!)

No prizes for guessing who this is..! If it can't be sniffed or licked he's not interested. It makes for many interesting encounters when we go for a walk.. He gets away with murder - especially with the ladies! 

I received a text message yesterday to say that my carte d'identité had arrived and was waiting for me at the Town Hall in Bayonne. Phew.. that's a weight off my mind. As the Brexit saga grinds slowly on, the acquisition of my new status as a French citizen guarantees that, whatever else may happen, I can remain here.

At the 2017 General Election, I received the postal ballot papers only 4 days prior to the Election date and despite returning them lickety-split by post, I was never entirely convinced that my vote had been registered and counted.

After the announcement of the forthcoming UK General Election on 12th December 2019, I asked a friend in the UK if he would act as my proxy and vote on my behalf. When he confirmed that he would, I applied to the town responsible for managing voter registration in my former UK constituency for a postal proxy vote. I arranged for all the necessary papers to be sent to him and he's now primed to vote on my behalf on 12th December.

On returning home yesterday after a shopping trip in Spain, I was amazed to find a complete postal voting pack-up waiting for me in our mail box.. I phoned the Electoral Services office in the UK and they seemed blissfully unaware that I was now equipped with the means to vote twice. How hard can it be to manage a list of voters such that vote duplication does not occur? (How did we ever run an Empire? Ye gods..)   

As things stand, this will probably be the final UK General Election in which I will ever vote. It's a little-known fact of expat life that a registered elector loses the right to vote in UK elections after living outside the country for 15 years. I served in my country's military for almost 30 years and the government insists that my pension must be taxed in the UK - and yet, in 3 years time, I will be disenfranchised by my own country. If I am to be taxed in the UK, I should have the right to vote on how tax revenue is collected and disbursed. (How other countries manage the right of expats to vote in their country of origin). 

The "No Taxation without Representation" mantra was heard loud and clear during the rebellion in the American colonies pre-1776 - and it was a major causal factor of the American War of Independence (1775-1783). It seems that 250 years later that this particular lesson has yet to sink in with the legions of shiny trouser'd civil servants in Whitehall who make the rules.

24th November. Just when I was beginning to think that perhaps we'd seen the last of the rain, the skies opened in the last half hour and we had a torrential downpour. The lunchtime news featured the flooding experienced in south east France in the Var and the Alpes Maritimes.. Starts at 0:25..
Strong winds over the last couple of days have stripped all the leaves from the trees in the garden, especially from our red maple. The forecast was for winds of around 100km/h and it certainly felt like every bit of that when I took the pooch out.

On the bright side, the Beaujolais nouveau is in the shops..! Madame brought home a few bottles of George Duboeuf's Beaujolais nouveau - and we tried some on Friday evening with the wood burner providing us with a toasty heat. Mmmmm! Think they'd call this a hygge moment in Denmark.

19th November. "You Couldn't Make It Up" Department! General Georgelin, the French army general overseeing the reconstruction of Notre Dame, has fallen out with the architect in a disagreement over the spire (below) put in place by Viollet-le-Duc in the mid-19th century that was destroyed in the fire this year. Predictably, General Georgelin agrees with President Macron (no surprises there) that the replacement should be contemporary in design, in opposition to the vision of Philippe Villeneuve, the project's architect. In a meeting over the construction General Georgelin prompted gasps by saying that Mr Villeneuve should “shut his mouth”. (More here)

I think the architect understands exactly what is required of him. He stated unequivocally in mid-October that if he is allowed to restore the building to the condition it was in before the fire, then he will continue in post. If, however, a "contemporary" arrow is added to the spire (in accordance with President Macron's wishes) then someone else can take over. I imagine that neither President Macron nor General Georgelin are remotely qualified to make an artistic judgement on a building of such global renown and significance. Why don't they add a 'contemporary' red nose to the Mona Lisa while they're at it?

18th November. As it's been a dry day so far today here's a little treat for you - the sublime opening minutes of the 3rd Movement (Adagio molto e cantabile) of Beethoven's Symphony No 9 in D minor, played by the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig, conducted by Andris Nelsons. Start the playback at 29:30.. or just enjoy the entire work:

Compare this with Daniel Barenboim's interpretation of the 3rd Movement with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

16th November. Here's an action that I guarantee you'll never see in a TV commercial in any country - other than France. I refer of course to the scene portrayed at 0.07..
I hope "ze pipi rustique" isn't mandatory with the acquisition of a French carte d'identité! 

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Bayonne was soon declared to be at risk of flooding. After a prolonged period of rain (since the beginning of the month) the ground is absolutely waterlogged and so any further rainfall just runs off.

The confluence of both the Adour and the Nive is in the centre of town (right) and the area most at risk in my (non-expert) opinion is where the Nive has been constricted (here) to flow through town. There are other rivers that feed into the Adour such as the Gave - and here are a couple of disturbing short clips (here and here) of the Gave from a few years ago - and one from the Nive. These are all old videos but we can't be far from these water levels.

As the Adour and the Nive are both tidal in Bayonne, it doesn't require too much imagination to see the potential for flooding. According to this map provided by the Town Hall, we are outside the flood risk area.

15th November. During the course of my first visit to the Pays Basque (almost 30 years ago) I was struck by the shape and the structure of the Pyrenees. The mountains are generally steep-sided with jagged summits - and the contorted underlying strata is often visible. It's clear that the Pyrenees are the result of severe forces of Nature at work. This is from Wiki: "The chain's present configuration is due to the collision between the microcontinent Iberia and the southwestern promontory of the European Plate (i.e. Southern France)". Put simply, the Pyrenees owe their distinctive formation to a collision between Spain and south west France.

(Had a phone call from a friend today to tell us that "there was snow on them thar hills!")
13th November. I'm not making a comment either way about the story that follows.. (you'll see why!)

Yesterday we were invited out for lunch by a friend.. and during it, one of the ladies present was telling us that she'd checked the oil level in her car engine by looking at the dipstick and she was shocked to find it was absolutely bone dry.

She drove to the dealership and told her story - and when the man checked, he found that the dipstick hadn't been replaced in its guide - it had merely been inserted somehow around the engine.

He asked her where she had been putting the dipstick and she showed him how she jammed it down the side of the engine so that it held firm..

Laugh? I almost did..☺! (but I know my place!)

You should be able to see (& hear) live images of the beach (of dog walking fame!) at Anglet..

9th November. 8.15pm: I've just closed all the west-facing shutters at the back of the house (and got soaked in the process!) as driving rain continues to blow in from the bay. I think we'll start to see some flooding around the town centre once the levels of the Adour and the Nive start to rise. We're up on a hill here so I don't anticipate any problems.

I opened the back door at around 4am this morning to let the pooch out for a leg stretch - but all I could hear was the sound of water running in the gutters - it was yet another downpour. He went out with the greatest of reluctance - and was back within seconds! (as long as he's happy etc etc)

Here's an artist's rendition of one of our favourite places for an apéro and a spot of people-watching in summer - the tree-shaded place Louis XIV at Saint-Jean-de-Luz:
la place Louis XIV, Saint-Jean-de-Luz
However, once the branches of the platanes are cut back in October, the square loses a good deal of its charm and looks very bare. 
Here's a museum that is sure to be a great success - the newly-opened International City of Gastronomy at Lyon.. (here) and unlike any other museum in the world, you can actually eat the exhibits! 'Look but don't touch' is the rule at most museums, but not at this one - instead visitors are encouraged to taste the exhibits. Exhibits will include menus, recipes, films and photographs. Plus there will be a range of interactive exhibits like the Atlas of Gastronomy, a touch-screen, wall-high map where visitors can learn about cuisines from around the world. On top of this, visitors will have the opportunity to take part in a series of tasting sessions and culinary workshops in which audience participation is encouraged. The food visitors can taste here will rarely be repeated. There will be different themes on different days ranging from food from a specific international country to the speciality dishes of certain local chefs. Around 300,000 visitors are expected each year at the International City of Gastronomy. The location of the museum is no coincidence as Lyon has long been considered the heartland of French food. The city and its surrounds are home to 39,000 farms and 80 distinct wines are made in the region.  

Speaking about the opening of the the Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie, the president of Lyon Métropole, David Kimelfeld, said: 'Lyon’s gastronomy, a jewel in the crown of the French art of living, recognized as part of the Unesco World Heritage, is integral to the city’s identity and part of its universal appeal and reputation. 'The Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie will be its emblem, a showcase for the entire world to see and enjoy.' The museum will be open every day from 10 am to 7 pm, Sunday to Friday, and from 10 am to 10 pm on Saturdays. The majority of the third floor of the attraction has been dedicated to these events. The recently opened Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie (International City of Gastronomy) in Lyon, France, aims to immerse visitors in the world of both French and global gastronomy using all five senses.

Visitors to the attraction, housed inside the restored Grand Hôtel-Dieu, a former hospital, will have the chance to digest information about everything from how food has evolved through history to setting an attractive dinner table, and from the lives and culinary legacies of Lyon's most revered chefs to utensils used in kitchens around the world.

8th November. Further to my question yesterday about the "One, two, buckle my shoe" rhyme, I'm advised that it continues: "Seven eight, open the gate; Nine ten, do it again". This doesn't ring any bells with me. I'm wondering if there were regional variations to it?

We had a minor domestic event to celebrate today but as it was raining chiens et chats (cats and dogs!), walking to a restaurant in Bayonne was a non-starter. Instead, we headed off to Ascain for lunch at Restaurant Larralde, one of our "bankers" (ie, always a pleasure). When we arrived there, we were delighted to see that they were featuring a set menu with an "Autumn" theme.. (this usually means game: venison, wild boar, wood pigeon etc).

Where to find Irouléguy
We decided on an omelette aux cèpes (wild mushrooms) to start with - then a healthy portion of wild boar served with a red wine reduction.. then a variety of brebis cheeses - and then desserts (ouf!) - and coffee.. followed by a slow waddle back to the car - accompanied by the sound of creaking trousers!

Madame enjoyed a generous glass of Pacherenc sweet white wine as an apéro (me - a dry Jurançon white) after which we switched to our old friend - a velvety Irouléguy Gorri d'Ansa red*.

We won't be eating this evening!

* I know what you're thinking but we only had a glass each of it! Honestly..

There's an excellent feature on Irouléguy wine here. The reds are the ones to try in my opinion - especially Gorri d'Ansa. Irouléguy wines can be sourced in the UK (with Google's help) but sadly with a hefty and unjustifiable mark-up.

The Cave d'Irouléguy is well worth a trip to carry out comparative side-by-side tastings of Irouléguy - without any pressure to buy. You'll find it in the heart of the Basque Country, in the village of Saint Etienne de Baïgorry. And about 300 yards away to the east, you'll find the Fabrique Maison Petricorena - where you can stock up on all sorts of Basque products - including the unobtainium-in-the-UK Sauce Basque (forte - with the red top). It's highly addictive.

I'd recommend trying to search out Jurançon white wherever you are - the dry and sweet varieties are both worth the effort. As for the marketing claims given in the link, clearly neither of us are drinking enough of it! There's a very readable article here on the wines of Jurançon. I think a bottle or two of the sweet would be especially well received at Christmas. 

Whoever is in charge of turning the rain on, I wish he/she would bear in mind that there's an OFF position as well as ON! We've had what seems like a week of downpours, interspersed with short periods of grace that are just long enough to tempt me into making a quick dash out with the dog before turning the rain tap fully on again when I'm far from home..!

7th November. At lunchtime, for some reason or another (two stray neurons colliding after a good lunch?!), I suddenly came out with "One, two, buckle my shoe..".. There was a pause - as a few more lines of the old nursery rhyme were remembered that I hadn't heard for decades - and then this came out: "Three, four, knock at the door.. Five, six, pick up sticks...". I tried to dig deep for the rest.. but I couldn't dredge up any more. If you can finish it off (without Googling(!)), send me the rest via the comment feature at the end of the post. Very odd.. I haven't heard that for years

The vast majority of the visitors to the Pays Basque generally stick close to the coast and often ignore - or simply forget - the rural interior. For me however, the interior has a special magic all of its own that isn't to be found on the glittering coast. Once you've experienced the pleasure of being up high on those magnificent and largely empty hills, with breathtaking vistas all around, the hills fading to blue as they march away into the distance, you'll return time and time again to gaze perhaps at an isolated Basque farmhouse, with its white-washed walls dazzling in the sun, perched high on a hilltop or tucked into the side of a valley - always with that same thought - what would it be like to live there?

Madame - ever-practical - is a "townie" - whereas my instincts would, if left to my own devices, lead me unerringly towards a Basque house on a hill somewhere! (I'm still not totally reconciled to living in town - even though the advantages of doing so are self-evident)

This video explores the interior of the Pays Basque and it starts with a visit to Saint-Martin-d'Arrossa (about 45 mins from Pipérade Towers) and the Massif de Larla:
5th November. Just as well there's no Bonfire Night here in France.. you'd need an industrial-strength blow torch or thermal lance to start your mountain of thoroughly soaked wood.. We've had rain and still more rain (and wind) here - and the avenue is adrift with piles of wet leaves. I shudder to think what it must be like up in the mountains.. When we did our annual Comet weekend in 2017, we enjoyed similar weather - horizontal wind-blown rain - up on the mountains - and it tested our communal resolve to the limit.

2020 Vauxhall Brexit
4th November. The Labour Party is proud to announce that it has a new sponsor for the 2019 General Election - Vauxhall - and that they have just launched a new model - the Vauxhall Brexit. The manufacturer has donated a fleet of them to the Labour Party to help the candidates travel around their potential constituencies. The Brexit was deemed to be a perfect fit for the Labour Party because it looks like it's heading in one direction, but when it moves it actually goes in another - and ultimately it has no idea where it will end up!!

Health Warning: Feel free to skip this next section if you're not a UK voter. The UK is holding a General Election on Thursday, 12th December - but - you're unsure who to vote for? Here's a refresher to remind you of what we've been told since the outcome of the 2016 Referendum. If you voted Leave because you wanted to sever our links with the European Union, then be very wary of the Brexit 'deal' that's being dangled in front of our noses..

When it comes to the day in question, try and bear in mind the following statements by the "Great and the Good" of Westminster and then vote instead for what you actually believe in - what you voted for in 2016 - as opposed to so-called "tactical voting", ie, voting for one party to keep another party out. Remember which party* tried to prevent Brexit from happening by every means, trick and device open to MPs and their Civil Servants. (* Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP)
Since the 2016 Referendum, we've witnessed the greatest outbreak of parliamentary anarchy in the UK that I can remember - and my memory goes back to Suez.

We who voted Leave have been repeatedly characterised by Remainers as racist, bigoted, intolerant, provincial, xenophobic, uneducated Little Englanders who are nostalgic for Empire.. and I'm sure there are a few more epithets that I've forgotten. I can only speak for myself - I love France and Europe - it's the undemocratic and unaccountable European Union that's been forced on the people of Europe by a politically motivated élite that I take exception to. I was brought up to believe that those who indulge in ad hominem attacks have lost the argument. As I've written before here, Brexit is all about returning sovereignty to the UK - everything else flows down from that.

Here's the full text of the Withdrawal Agreement. If it is passed into law, Boris Johnson's Treaty will mean:
  • Britain remains under EU rules but with no vote, no voice, no veto. During the Withdrawal Agreement’s extendable ‘transition period’ (which lasts until at least the end of 2020 and almost certainly years longer), we won’t withdraw from the EU at all but become non-voting members. We will still be trapped in the EU customs union and single market, subject to all existing EU laws and any punitive new ones they might pass (Articles 4.1, 4.2, 6, 41, 95.1, 127). And we’ll be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) (Arts 4.4, 4.5, 86, 87, 89, 95.3, 131, 158, 163). The difference is we won’t have any say (Arts 7.1, 34). Is this Brexit?
  • EU judges can still override our laws. The ECJ – a foreign court – governs the Treaty and EU law takes precedence. Future British parliaments will be bound to obey ECJ rulings, and UK judges will be obliged to overturn laws passed by our Parliament if the ECJ says they don’t comply with the Treaty or the EU laws it enables (Articles 4.4, 4.5, 86, 87, 89, 95.3, 131, 158, 163). In some cases, the ECJ will rule for years even after the transition ends. How is this possible?
  • We won’t control our fishing. The dreadful Common Fisheries Policy continues in UK waters during the extendable transition period, but we will have no say in it (Article 130). That means huge foreign trawlers plundering our waters at the expense of our coastal communities. After the transition, the Political Declaration (PD) signs us up to sharing ‘access to water and quota shares’ (PD, paragraph 73) – which equals continued EU exploitation of UK fishing grounds. No way José..
  • We still won’t be free to trade as we see fit. Boris boasts of leaving the EU customs union. Yet the Political Declaration states any future free trade agreement with the EU must ensure ‘a level playing field’ (PD, paragraph 17, 77) and ‘deep regulatory and customs cooperation’ (para 21). This means sticking to EU rules. It will be hard for the UK to reduce tariff barriers to cut the cost of living and make trade deals with other nations. The PD also requires we pursue ‘ambitious customs objectives that are in line with the Parties’ objectives and principles’ (para 22) – another restrictive EU customs union in all but name. Is this Brexit?
  • We won’t have control of our tax or state aid policies. EU law applies to the UK during the transition period (WA, Article 127), and beyond that the Political Declaration obliges the UK to adopt EU rules on state aid rules and ‘relevant tax matters’ (PD, para 77). This all means we can’t change tax rates to be more competitive and can’t assist a strategic industry such as British Steel. Is this the UK being an independent nation again?
  • Britain can’t pursue an independent foreign policy. The Treaty restricts UK sovereignty by preventing us taking ‘any action likely to conflict with or impede’ EU foreign policy (Article 129.6) – despite having no say in policy making. The UK will be signed up to all EU treaties, including new ones, throughout the transition period, and must ‘refrain… from any action… which is likely to be prejudicial’ to EU interests within international organisations such as the United Nations Security Council and the WTO (Art 129 points 1 and 3). Is this Brexit? (How on earth did Mrs May or Boris sign up this?) 
  • Britain can’t pursue an independent defence policy. The Political Declaration commits us to security integration through the European Defence Agency and the European Defence Fund (PD, paragraph 102(c)). We will fund the EU’s military plans during the transition period at least, and British troops in EU battlegroups will be under foreign command (WA Articles 128.2, 129.7, 156, 157). We're a nuclear power, a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and a founding member of the NATO Alliance (before the EEC and the EU were thought of). Defence matters are totally outside the remit of the EU. How on earth did Mrs May or Boris agree to this?) 
  • The United Kingdom will be divided. The Treaty creates a de facto customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain. Goods moving between NI and Britain will be checked. Citizens living in NI would effectively be staying in the EU, without any say in their laws, for at least four years after the transition and quite possibly forever. In other words, the UK gives up part of its sovereign territory —for what? (“Backstop” Protocol Articles 5 and 6.2). Is this Brexit?
  • We pay the EU billions and get nothing in return. The Treaty commits us to pay a sum to be decided by the EU (WA, Part Five). The £39bn payment demanded is likely to be just the start, with billions more to follow. What have they been smoking? Does this sound like a good deal to you?
  • And we’ll be trapped by the Political Declaration. The problems won’t end with the transition period. Don’t be fooled just because the Political Declaration on future relations is not legally binding. Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement requires us to use ‘best endeavours, in good faith’ to negotiate a future deal in line with the PD. Any breach of this duty will see the EU haul Britain before an arbitration panel – half EU appointees, half pro-EU judges from the UK. And the panel must defer to the European court on anything concerning EU Law. If they rule that a UK law goes against the Political Declaration, UK courts will have to overturn that law (WA, Articles 170-175). The Political Declaration is a trap from which there is no plausible escape. You must be joking.. No wonder Boris only talks about losing the Irish back-stop. 
Can any Brexiteer inclined to support this Treaty honestly say that it amounts to a proper Brexit? We deserve better than this. A Clean-Break Brexit remains the best deal for Britain. We need a General Election for a Leaver alliance to win a big majority and make Brexit a reality.

There's only one party committed to taking the UK out of the EU with no "deals" - just out - and that's the Brexit Party and fortunately Nigel Farage has chosen to contest and fight every seat with a Brexit Party candidate. He's doing this to ensure that as many of the electorate as possible will have a Brexit Party candidate to vote for - a candidate from the only party committed to leaving the EU with no strings attached. It's that simple. 

3rd November. If you're not familiar with the great Chet Baker, listen to his understated trumpet playing - described as "minimalist eloquence"..

The squally rains sweeping through here today from the west put me in mind of the atmospheric opening scenes of Woody Allen's 2011 film "Midnight in Paris" - a well-chosen montage of Parisian scenes accompanied as always in Allen's films by a great jazz track - in this case, it's Sidney Bechet with his "Si Tu Vois Ma Mère"..
We're thinking of going up there sometime before Christmas for a few days.. As in visiting London, I think about 3 days-worth will be my limit! (Too crowded for my liking)

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of strong winds as they howled around the house. Every now and again, I'd swear I could feel the house shudder as it was buffeted by a sudden gust of wind. The forecast last night was for onshore winds of 140km/h (90mph) and they sounded every bit of that. I'll go down to the beach this morning to take a look what's going on down there.. the waves should be spectacular.

This morning the garden and the avenue were covered with twigs and ragged and torn leaves.. there were some almost a foot across that were from platanes (plane trees).. I took the dawg down to the beach mid-morning and the grey sea was a mass of churning explosions of foam whipped up by the strong winds. I sympathise with anyone finding themselves at sea, especially in the Bay of Biscay, on a day like today.

I must congratulate the South African Springboks for their stunning victory in the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final.. Despite England having played what many observers said was the perfect game against New Zealand last Saturday, clearly the 'Boks hadn't read the script because they shot out of the blocks playing their devastating blend of direct power rugby and speed that England simply couldn't cope with. The men in white were second best all over the pitch - and this was especially evident in the scrum where the mighty Boks just pushed them aside. A well deserved win by the Boks. England can have no complaints. 
2nd November. There are still several places on my "To Do" list - I mentioned a day or two ago the church of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe set high up on a rocky outcrop on the north coast of Spain. To that could be added the Café Iruña at Pamplona.. Here's a Flash Mob having an "impromptu" sing in the Café Iruña - it looks somewhat staged to me - but still fun. This is yet another of Ernest H's hideaways! Enough said. This is exactly the sort of café in the grand style that I wish we had nearby:
Then there's the Flying Boat Museum at Biscarosse (Le Musée de l'Hydraviation de Biscarosse) - this has been gathering dust on my "to do" list for years. Photos here.

There's also the Guggenheim at Bilbao.. a visit that's difficult to manage with the dog. Still trying to work out how best to do it. Another one is the suspension bridge at Holzarte.. There are more!

Later this morning: How wrong could I be!!! I'll stick to weather forecasting from now on..☺

8am. The day of the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final in Japan.. Who's going to emerge with the win? What a question..! If I was a betting man I'd stake the house on England. They really impressed in the match against the current world champions New Zealand (or, as French TV commentators have it, "les Nouvelles Zeds"). They meet South Africa's Springboks in the final but I honestly don't see that South Africa have the weapons in their armoury to trouble England. If England do win today, they will have beaten in this RWC all the giants of the southern hemisphere: Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa - Wales and France having both dodged the bullet.

By the end of the morning, this forecast will be proven to be either fine judgement on my behalf - or, as seen by the usual England haters, as yet another example of English arrogance! We'll see! Kick-off is in 2 hours..   

1st November. Living in this blessèd corner of France, winters usually only have one attribute - rain! - but when it's not raining, there are often burning blue skies to keep the spirits up. I'll be glad when they make an appearance!