Wednesday, 5 May 2021

289. And after winter folweth grene May*.

20th June. As I'm now a fully signed-up French citizen, I was able to vote for the first time in the departmental and regional elections today. As things currently stand, I'm no longer eligible to vote in the UK - and it has been decreed for reasons known only to politicians and legislators that expats lose the right to vote after living for 15 years (why??) outside the UK - even though I have to pay UK tax on my occupational pension. Remember "no taxation without representation"? Wars have been fought for less!

16th June. I've started looking at photos we took in Brittany.. This is what the hotel offered us on our last night. (OK, who else thought, "Where are the chips?") (or was I the only one!😁)
Of course, while we were away, there were temperatures of 33° here - so the garden put on a growing spurt. I had to get the ladders out this morning while it was cool to cut back a few bushes - this afternoon or evening there are more storms forecast - it's uncomfortably hot and humid.     

15th June. Arrived back home last night after a loong (10 hour) drive from Ploumanac'h in Brittany. "Ploum", as it's known by locals, was voted France's favourite village in 2015.. We stayed at an hotel that overlooked the beach at Saint-Guirec.. and the view from our room was, as the French say, époustouflante.. (click to enlarge)
The hotel shows up at 5.02 in the video below - it's the pinkish granite building in the centre of the image. The massive granite rocks that decorate the coastline are what remains of 300 million year old magma - some of the rocks have been weathered into almost organic forms.
After a prolonged siesta this afternoon, we finished a previously opened bottle of ice cold rosé in the garden in the early evening - and it really hit the spot. It was Listel Grain de Gris (and only 12° BV as well) which we used to find from time to time in England. It comes from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and it doesn't get much further south than this. This image just caught my eye.. it seemed almost a pity to empty the glass!
7th June. I've often said here that shops that sell greetings cards (especially funny ones) are thin on the ground in Bayonne - but that hasn't been true since 2018 with the advent of La Karneterie at 7 Rue Thiers.. Run by Éric and Fiona, a friendly Franco-Scottish couple, they've finally put an end to the dearth of humorous cards available here. Before their arrival on the scene here, it had reached the point where each November we'd order Christmas cards off the internet from the UK - only to send them back again once written. 

3rd June. This is Jonathan Scott at the keyboard of the organ of Chester Cathedral.. with Richard Wagner's Overture to Tannhäuser (arr. EH Lemare).. This never fails to stir the spirit..
As you might have expected, there's a tenuous link between Wagner's organ music and the Pays Basque.. This Baron Espée sounds like a character from fiction - but surprisingly it's all true.  

1st June. Late last night a powerful storm rolled in from the Bay of Biscay with lightning flashing followed quickly by the explosive crack and boom of thunder that made the house shiver. Prior to this, there had been some light rain but suddenly there was a shriek of wind followed by a deluge of rain drumming on our heavy wooden shutters. Nutty was oblivious to it all and slept through it undisturbed.. On opening the shutters this morning, there was no sign of last night's fun and games at all. 

Need a currency trader to change your funds from your currency to euros and send them to your French bank account? I'd been using World First since 2007 until recently when they decided to abandon private customers - they recommended Xe to their former customers. I've been using Xe for several months now and their service is excellent. 

28th May. We went to Saint-Jean-de-Luz at midday for the first time since I don't know when - it must be at least 6 months ago? Here's a walking tour of the town that never fails to charm us.. 

NB.. If you want to cut to the chase, fast forward to 8:45 which is when Véro starts her walkabout: 
What a pleasure it was to reconnect with one of our favourite places..
We stopped for lunch at a new spot (all of our usual haunts were fully booked) but the number of restaurants with space for outside seating is not as great as you might imagine. (At the time of writing, restaurants here can only open if outside seating is available.) Suffice to say, next time we'll book somewhere we know.  

I've been looking for a video of a walking tour of Bayonne - and this seems to fit the bill:
27th May. I was out in the garden most of the afternoon up various ladders cutting back bushes that, with all the recent rain and sunshine, had started to grow visibly. While I wobbled on high, I heard the dog getting excited about something - so I distracted him with a biscuit and found half a dead lizard in the middle of the lawn. The garden lizards are his current obsession and he's forever poking his nose in the borders in the hope of scaring one into making a dash for it.       

19th May. Nutty (our English cocker spaniel) thought all his Christmasses had come at once because he spotted a lizard in his kitchen.. By the time I arrived there, he was head-down, all-a-frenzy and not listening.. I took him by the collar and put him in the dining room - meanwhile back in the kitchen there was a small lizard minus its tail. I put it out in the garden and it scurried off. 

Meanwhile Nutty started dodging around the dining table and he had something in his mouth. The only way I could attract his attention was to fill his bowl with his biscuits.. while his attention was elsewhere, I found the lizard's tail under the dining table. I think he'll chalk this up as a victory!    

10th May. I took my ebike out for an hour's ride this morning to give my knee something to think about and when I arrived at the Plage des Cavaliers, (scroll down here for its webcam) this was the scene that faced me as I looked south towards Biarritz - with Spain in the background. In case you're wondering, it's a composite image of 3 photos - click for full size:
I made it using Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) which no longer seems to be available from MS - but I'm sure Google could turn up a free download somewhere for you. 
Voilà - I've found a free MS 64 bit download of ICE.. It couldn't be simpler to use. 

While you're here, take a look at la Grande Plage webcam at Biarritz  (it takes a few seconds to load).. a favourite of ours for a Sunday morning stroll.
9th May. I took Nutty (our cocker spaniel) out for a walk in the late afternoon yesterday and I saw that the thermometer (in the shade) on our terrace was registering 33°. I'd forgotten what this level of heat felt like.
The restrictions on restaurants here will be lifted in early June - so with that in mind, we've booked a few days away on the coast up in Brittany - for some sun, sand, seafood - and snoring!    

8th May. A beautiful summer-like morning here so I put on a pair of WWII shorts and a matching 'Che Morecambe' t-shirt, wheeled my ebike out of the garage and with a hey nonny no we were off. I rode up the Nive which, in retrospect, was not a great idea as everyone else was out there too. Still, it was fun to be out on my bike!    

7th May. The forecast for the weekend here is a cheery one: 31° on Saturday and 28° on Sunday. I'd better dubbin my legs in preparation! 😁 

5th May 2021. History buffs will have noted that it's 200 years to the day that Napoléon died in exile at Saint Helena - six years after his defeat at Waterloo. I suspect there will be a ceremony at Les Invalides today to mark the occasion. In his speech (English translation - by Google - here) at the Institut de France, President Macron trod a fine line between fulsome praise for Napoléon's achievements while mentioning his darker sides.     

He (Napoléon of course..!) was a remarkable man - a true visionary and a moderniser who changed the face of France in many ways: a man of prodigious talent and energy who rose like a rocket through the ranks in the Army and who was a General by the age of 24. As First Consul of the Republic, he introduced the administrative system of the prefects, the Napoleonic Code, the judicial system, the Banque de France and the country’s financial organization, the centralised university, and the military academies - and more. Despite these undoubtedly great achievements, he remains a divisive figure for he was also a tyrannical dictator who led his feared Grande Armée to engage in what became known as the Napoleonic Wars around Europe. It is estimated that up to 5 million people died in the course of these military adventures. I think the jury will remain out on him.  

One advantage that leaders of that era had over today's major politicians is that they weren't subjected to 24/7 scrutiny by an army of reporters and paparazzi as is the case today. Today, every utterance and action by our leaders is picked over and - in a favourite word here in France - "decrypted".. with the result that we - the poor electorate - are faced with journalists and reporters telling us what this or that politician should have said and/or done to the point where I suspect many of us simply glaze over and lose the will to live. And, to cap it all, when the politicians themselves can't decide on a course of action despite being briefed in minute detail by legions of civil servants, special advisers and other interested parties, they throw the question back at the people and expect us to be able to make the decision for them in a yes/no referendum. Fortunately, the question we were asked in June 2016 was a straightforward one and, given the way we'd sleep-walked from the EEC into what became the EU without a mandate from the country, I think that it was entirely legitimate for the electorate to have a vote via a referendum on our continued membership of the EU - or not. I'll leave it there.      

I've mentioned Ramiro Arrue several times before here. Born in Spain, he spent most of his life in the Pays Basque where his distinctive style captured the Basque spirit. This excerpt from a programme on ARTE features some superb imagery of the Pays Basque and really captures the strength of the bond that Arrue had with his adopted homeland:

* Geoffrey Chaucer 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

288. Back in the saddle..

29th April. French idioms are often full of references to fruit and veg.. Here are a few for you to try and work into your next conversation with someone of Latin extraction! 

Avoir la banane
Literal translation: To have the banana. English equivalent: To be on top form

En rang d’oignon
Literal translation: In a line of onions. English equivalent: To be lined up like toy soldiers

La cerise sur le gâteau - 
Literal translation: The cherry on the cake. English equivalent: The icing/cherry on the cake

C’est la fin des haricots
Literal translation: It’s the end of the beans. English equivalent: Game over!

Tomber dans les pommes -
Literal translation: To fall in the apples. English equivalent: To faint or pass out

Avoir un cœur d’artichaut -
Literal translation: To have an artichoke heart. English equivalent: To fall in love easily

Couper la poire en deux -
Literal translation: To cut the pear in two. English equivalent: To compromise or to meet someone halfway

Appuyer sur le champignon - 
Literal translation: To press on the mushroom. English equivalent: To put your foot down (when driving), step on the gas

Ramener sa fraise - 
Literal translation: Bring one’s strawberry. English equivalent: Come here

Compter pour des prunes - 
Literal translation: To count for plums. English equivalent: To count for nothing

Avoir la patate - 
Literal translation: To have the potato. English equivalent: To be full of beans

This is more my kind of music..
26th April. I've been playing some tracks by the late Cesária Évora - one of the Cape Verde islands greatest exports - this is one of hers that should set your foot tapping:
The enforced 'staying at home' regime has had me exploring my banjo again - and in doing so, I came across this interesting piece - Indifférence - played by Lluis Gómez (5 string banjo) & Valentí Moya (manouche guitar) with Oriol Gonzàlez (mandolin) and Maribel Rivero (double bass) - at the L'Ànima del Vi, a wine bar in Barcelona. 
23rd April. The last few days have seen us both tackling the latest Spring growth in the garden before things got out of hand. I had the extending ladder out to enable me to reach the tops of three palm trees to cut back old fronds - not my favourite job. We'd also had a small problem with the new garage door - so there was a build-up of garden waste (I counted at least 20 sacks) to be taken to the recycling centre once the door was fixed.

I'm sorry for the outbreak of domestic trivia above - but our options are a bit limited at the moment by the Covid restrictions: no travel beyond 10km from home (unless the journey is one that falls into an approved category listed on the attestation - scroll down the link for the English version), all restaurants, cafés & bars & many 'non-essential' shops are closed - plus there's a 7pm-6am curfew. Fortunately, the garden is there to distract us.
The forest at Pignada - before the fire
Earlier, I'd  been out on my ebike for an hour or so - out along the Adour to the coast before turning south towards Biarritz, a route that took me past the charred remnants of the forest at Pignada. The council has been busy cutting down trees there that had been damaged irretrievably by a blaze started by a disaffected youth in July last year. There are now great open spaces where once towering maritime pines had provided the perfect woodland environment for walking the dog in tranquillity.
It was an airless 26° this afternoon so we sat outside in the early evening and played a few hands of rummy with - what else - the first of my rhum specials this year. (I can feel it now too!) We were kept amused by the antics of the newly-arrived swallows as they darted at speed around the roofs.

This just in from a friend in England: 

I've been keeping an eye open for swallows over the last few days - and the first pair I've spotted this year just darted overhead in that familiar swooping flight of theirs..
21st April. This is exactly the kind of sax playing that I could listen to for hours.. Here's Paul Desmond (who played with Dave Brubeck, among others) with a whole collection of classic sax tracks:
19th April. Balsamic vinegar has slowly been making inroads into our collective consciousness over the last few decades - but how many of us know where it comes from (apart from Sainsburys!) and/or how it's made? Sadly I never thought to bring some back with me when I worked in northern Italy in the 1990s. What I do know is that it is delicious on a piece of fresh crusty bread.. 
18th April. Down to the beach this morning with the dog to see a completely flat sea.. Not a surfer in sight.
There's a police drama that's breaking records on French TV - one in which we're expected to believe that Capitaine Marleau - a completely ludicrous character as played by Corinne Masiero - is apparently an 'eccentric' Range Rover-driving captain (the headgear..) of the National Gendarmerie. While I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds it unwatchable, there are clearly many more who are glued to their TV sets. So far, UK networks have resisted signing up for it. If you live in the UK, I think you dodged a bullet there! 
17th April. I was ironing a few shirts a moment or two ago, half-listening to the Classic FM presenter's background prattle as he announced the dedication for the next record - someone's wife had written in asking for a certain track as a reward for all the wonderful work her husband had done on - at this point I thought that perhaps he'd developed a new Covid vaccine, or that he'd supplied clean drinking water to African villages or maybe he'd helped to build the next lunar lander - but no, it was as a reward for all the wonderful work he'd done on his vegetable plot.. (collapse of stout party!)  

9th April. Another job ticked off..😊 We have 4 or 5 bushes (up to 12-14 ft high) at the side of the garden that, as a result of our warm and wet spring, have been sprouting in all directions - and I could no longer put off the job of exercising my topiary skills, such as they are. I was a bit watchful due to my new knee and a slightly unstable stepladder, but, standing on the top platform, and ignoring the wobble as I leaned out into space, I was able to trim virtually all of them. I  think this is a job that might well be delegated in future! 

I've now had my two Pfizer vaccinations with no apparent side effects, unless you count barking at buses or howling at the moon.  

8th April. We watched "Woman in Gold" (2015) the other evening - the story of a painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907 - a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. 
The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. It's impossible to catch the full impact of this gleaming work in a still image either on a screen or on paper as Klimt made copious use of gold leaf.

Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds are both excellent in the film - that's all I'm saying! Well worth searching it out.        

4th April. Happy Easter to all of you out there (yes, you!) from us here at Pipérade Towers. It's a dazzlingly bright Sunday morning in the Pays basque, with wall-to-wall blue skies but still only 9°C in the shade. I'll be taking Nutty down to the beach in a few minutes.

On Thursday morning, I'm booked in for my second Covid jab, precisely timed for 11h48.   

Here's a reminder of those innocent days in post-war America when everything seemed possible:
1st April. I've just decided I'm going to squeeze in 3 months into each post from now on.. I remembered this blog only gives me 300 posts.. (OK, who said, "That many?!") So, by my reckoning, by doing so it will give me almost 3 years-worth of posts before I hit my limit. I just couldn't face having to set up another blog from scratch.

After President Macron's broadcast yesterday and the new lockdown programmed to start on the weekend, I thought I'd better have a mercy dash across the border to Dancharia (there are a number of different spellings) to pick up some essential supplies (no prizes for guessing what!). In the past few months, I've been forced (during lockdown travel restrictions) into topping up my diminishing stock of vital fluids by buying the odd bottle of Highland tincture from supermarkets in France - where it retails for about 16 euros/litre. Across the border, this morning I was charged a wallet-busting 18 euros for a 2 litre bottle (£15.65 in Ye Olde Poundes Sterling) of the same brand.        

31st March. Just checked the outside temperature - it's 29°.. not bad for March!

30th March. Here's the coast from Bayonne to Saint-Jean-de-Luz filmed from a drone at times of the day when the light is at its best. The film jumps about a bit - it starts at Biarritz (from 0:00 to 4:22), then goes to the beach at Ilbarritz just to the south; then back up north to the optimistically-named Chambre d'Amour at 5:34; then at 6:22, it's further north to Bayonne before finally disappearing south to finish up at Saint-Jean-de-Luz at 8:52.   
I know it's tempting fate somewhat but there are signs that life is slowly returning to normal here. Before anyone points to the third wave of Covid infections that has parts of northern and eastern France in its grip, I should add that I'm referring to life within the 'bubble' of Pipérade Towers.. The grass is growing and plants, bushes and trees are sprouting tender new green shoots, my ebike has been wheeled out a few times and we've had one or two lunches outside on the terrace. All we're waiting for now is <roll of drums> the first appearance of your newly-scarred correspondent in a pair of shorts. It does feel good though to have put the first three months of the year - never my favourite period - behind us. And the forecast for this afternoon is 27°..  

I've just realised that I haven't congratulated the Scottish rugby team for the magnificent result that they achieved in Paris.. even if it did allow Wales to win the overall championship. What a match by those Scottish warriors who took the battle to France from the outset.
26th March. Not much to report at the moment - yes, we can go out during the day but there's little point because all the restaurants, cafés and bars are closed. We normally like to visit somewhere - either on the coast or inland high up in the hills, before stopping off at a restaurant for lunch or a café for a seat outside to enjoy the early season sunshine. I took the dog to one of his former stamping grounds - and I realised that I hadn't taken him there since the start of the year. There's a great expanse of grass there for him to charge about at will. 

Apart from walking the dog, there isn't that much to do - yesterday I was in the garage checking the tyre pressures of our new car and our ebikes - and charging their batteries as well - (well, you did ask!) all made a bit trickier by my new knee.. (Surprisingly, I have more leg room in the new car than ever before) 

For those interested in our current Covid status, we have a 7pm to 6am curfew at the moment. However, even though our département (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) is currently one of the least affected areas of France, I hope that the Govt can resist calls to allow holidays (with public opinion on the matter being whipped up by the media with its own agenda) as that would surely lead to the spread of the UK variant of Covid that appears to be building up a head of steam in Paris and the départements to its north. There is an interactive map here (second one down) that shows the national situation as of 3 days ago.       

For those interested in rugby, there's an impossible-to-call match this evening between France and Scotland in Paris that will decide the outcome of this year's 6 Nations tournament. France need to win by at least 21 points to take the championship - whereas any other result will see Wales as champions. Me? It's many years since I've been a fan of Welsh rugby (the 70s) - but I don't think Wales would be worthy champions (IMHO - your mileage may vary). I've greatly enjoyed watching the progress of this hugely talented French team - so I have to say that - sadly - I find myself hoping that France can pull off a win against a resurgent Scottish side that has entertained us with some sparkling rugby this year. Unfortunately, there must be winners and losers in sports.

To save me confusing you all with an explanation of what France needs to do tonight, it's like this: to be crowned champions, France require a bonus point, which is of course obtained by scoring four or more tries. Again, even this may not be enough, however, as in obtaining the bonus point, the title will then go down to points difference. France's points difference of +41 is 20 below that of Wales' +61, meaning they need a four-try win of 21 points or more to be crowned champions.           

21st March. We were privileged to witness yesterday evening one of the greatest ever rugby matches of all time. I realise in writing that that some might think I'm guilty of exaggeration but I'm including the full match here as no compilation of highlights could do it justice. 

This was a very experienced Welsh side in Paris to face a relatively inexperienced French team. If Wales were to win, they'd claim the Grand Slam (that would mean wins over the 5 other teams: England, France, Ireland, Italy and Scotland). If France were to win - and they go on to beat Scotland next Friday evening by a 21 point margin, they could claim the Championship. Sit back and enjoy a fiercely contested match - the match starts at 10:15: 

13th March. I'm going to tag March onto February's post as I seem to remember I'm only allowed a maximum of 300 posts with this blog. One of the side-effects of my recent 'op' is that I find it hard work to concentrate on writing - but I'll give it a shot. 

I had my vaccination this afternoon at a gym in town that had been re-purposed as a centre capable of handling a large throughput of people. The organisation left nothing to be desired - my appointment was set for 3.36pm precisely - and I received my Pfizer jab, then confirmation of the date of the second one then I was free to watch the Italy - Ireland match on a TV that had been set up in the recovery area. I suffered no side-effects at all.

I had my last session of physio at the clinic last Wednesday - an hour of work in the sea water pool (34°C) followed by another hour of leg presses, walking on the treadmill and finally 20 minutes of "hot leg". Imagine pulling on a single trouser leg (including a foot) in flexible plastic - that's divided into about 5 sections, each of which is connected by a pipe to a machine that pumps hot water under pressure sequentially into each section  - and you've got it. Rather like a pilot's g-suit - but using hot water instead of air as the medium. The sensation is that the leg is being progressively compressed from bottom to top and then relaxed - before starting again. 

Impossible to predict the outcome of the "Crunch" this afternoon at Twickenham (the England-France Six Nations rugby match). The England players are going to have to raise their game if they are to have any hope of winning against a young French team that play an attractive brand of free-flowing rugby. Eddie Jones has picked Max Malins for his first start - and he'll be under pressure to make an impact. France's speedy winger Teddy Thomas will take some catching if he gets the ball - but Malins is a quick boy too. Maro Itoje and Tom Curry will be on Antoine Dupont like a flash - and both England players will be aware of the need to stay on the right side of the referee. Luke Cowan-Dickie will start in place of Jamie George - and L C-D is a dangerous player with his hands on the ball and more often than not he manages to be there or thereabouts when it comes to try time. I hope substitute scrum half Dan Robson manages to make more than a cameo appearance as he seems to bring his own electricity with him when he plays. 

Wales travel to Rome to play an Italian side that has leaked tries so far. I have to say that I admire the Italians for their sportsmanship and courage - they've never stopped playing and they've never reverted to foul play to disrupt the opposition. 

Tomorrow, Scotland line up against Ireland in a match that's impossible to call. Scotland play some great attacking rugby - often involving Stuart Hogg - but Ireland? Who knows.          

28th February. Ireland got a much-needed win in Rome yesterday to put some points on the board. Meanwhile in Cardiff, Wales benefitted from some truly bizarre refereeing decisions by France's Pascal Gaüzère for a significant 40-24 win over England.    

27th February. Every now and again I find a piece on YouTube that stands head and shoulders above all other interpretations. I make no apologies for featuring (again) the University of Redlands Choir with J S Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze".. recorded in 1957. Even though over 60 years have passed, I've yet to hear a better performance than this: 
It's the 3rd round of the Guinness 6 Nations rugby this afternoon. The France-Scotland match scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed (due to Covid) so this afternoon will see Ireland (Lost 2) visit Rome in search of their first win against an Italy XV (Lost 2) in the same boat. Looks like being a blood and thunder encounter. Meanwhile England (Won 1, Lost 1) will visit a silent Principality Stadium in Cardiff to meet Wales (Won 2). This is a 'must win' for England - and also for Wales who could top the table with a win or a draw.    

Predictions? Ireland to win in Rome and England to beat Wales narrowly in Cardiff.. 

26th February. I've been given dates for my first and second vaccinations - with the first in March and the second in April.

25th February. Yesterday we found that a warm southerly wind had brought with it temperatures of 22°C. I removed the all-weather cover from the table out on the terrace and took out a couple of chairs from the garage, dusted them off and we were in business - our first lunch outside this year. Later on in the afternoon, I sat out in a deckchair and took advantage of the sunshine - and did that feel good!  

23rd February. I had a follow-up appointment at the hospital yesterday with the surgeon who performed my recent knee replacement 'op'. He declared himself pleased with the outcome and assured me that my recovery was well on track and that I was making good progress. He made a further appointment to see me in a year's time. 

I must say that my treatment from start to finish has been exceptional. Last year, it started with 15 sessions of physio to build up the musculature in my knee prior to the operation as the view here is that this speeds up the recovery. After the 'op', I stayed at the hospital for 6 days - starting physio on the penultimate day - before being transferred to the 're-education' clinic at Bidart (on the coast south of Biarritz). There I started a daily routine of an hour's physio in the morning and another in afternoon. After three weeks, my stitches were removed and I was released back into society (ie, home). 

The physio continued and a taxi ambulance collects me from home 3 times/week to take me to the clinic for an hour's physio. When my scar had fully healed in early February, I was allowed an additional hour to use the physio pool at the clinic. This was an eye-opening experience: the water temp was 34°C and the air temp was 28°C - so it was a real pleasure. The pool was about the size of a tennis court and there were never more than five of us in there - plus the physiotherapist who made sure that we each had exercises appropriate for us. This post-op physio will continue until 10th March.      
20th February. I've been remiss in not covering the 2021 Guinness 6 Nations rugby tournament so far. I had France down to run away with it this year - but last week it was announced that their inspirational manager Fabien Galthié has tested positive for Covid - and I've just read that their playmaker Antoine Dupont, a pocket battleship of a scrum half if ever I saw one, has also tested positive, along with Gabin Villière (wing) and Mohamed Haouas (prop) and assistant coach William Servat. What a pity.. Still, they could still do it as they, perhaps more than any other team, have about 2 complete teams-worth of talented reserves to call upon. Here are les Bleus in winning form against Ireland in Dublin last week:
To see just how much the game has changed in less than 20 years, take a look at England's visit to Dublin in 2003. It bears no comparison to what we are offered today. No endless pick and go's, no defensive lines stretched from one touchline to another, plus we get to see the backs play. It gets my vote. Today's rugby is more like a 15 man version of rugby league (ouch!) and players risk serious injury in contact with the present generation of pumped-up forwards and even some of the backs. I think we're nearing the time when, in the best interests of player safety, World Rugby must consider imposing a max weight limit on squads. If not that, then other measures designed to reduce the crunching impact of collisions and associated concussions. I don't think that doing nothing is an option.   
19th February. I was returning from the clinic at Bidart this morning when I spotted an uber-cool new surf shop (right).. I don't know about you but the name conjures up all sorts of connotations - none of which are especially inviting. 

14th February. It's been a while since I last put stubby finger to keyboard.. but today seems like a good day to kick off again with some random reflections. 

First of all, here's another chance to enjoy Gautier Capuçon's virtuosity.. When we saw him last year in concert, I was amazed at the richness of the sound that he was able to produce from his 300 year old cello.. and this recording only begins to hint at its sonority and tone..
I mentioned earlier that I was booked into hospital for a replacement knee 'op' on 6th January. It was my first ever prolonged stay in a hospital (apart from an 'overnighter' I had here about 13 years ago) and it came as something of a shock to me when I realised that whatever dignity I thought I possessed rapidly dwindled away to next to nothing in the first few minutes. 

For the first couple of days I only had on one of those hospital gowns that open at the back and after some initial shyness (well, maybe two days-worth!) I decided resistance was useless and so I just let the nurses get on with whatever they wanted to do. 
I soon understood that I was no longer an individual human being but rather I was now a "patient" occupying a bed space and as such I was available to have all my vital measurements recorded 24/7 by nurses and student nurses. I got used to having blood samples taken at daybreak, my temperature recorded at 1am and seemingly at random times thereafter, blood pressure and heart beat measured as the shifts changed, and soon I was dotted with sticking plasters where I'd been stuck repeatedly with needles. I felt like a human dart board.. I remember waking up early one morning with my room in darkness to find a nurse's hand roaming around inside my pyjama jacket. She claimed to be looking for my armpit to take my temperature!😉 A friend of mine had warned me that a favourite tactic of the nurses was to wake you in the dead of night and then to ask you if you needed anything to help you sleep! 

A major challenge was the process of getting out of bed to answer a call of nature in the wee small hours. Even though I'd had 70+ years of practice, I soon found I was in danger of embarrassing myself. I had a stiff nylon sleeve velcro'd tightly around my right knee that effectively stopped me from bending it. I also had an on-demand pain relief system connected by a tube to a catheter at the top of my leg. 

So - picture this - I'd wake up in the dark feeling the need for relief only to find it almost impossible to extricate my right leg from a tangle of bed sheets. Finally, I found that with the aid of a crutch I could lift the bedding off my leg and then, with an increased sense of urgency, I could start heading towards the bathroom on two crutches - only to be brought up short by the tube - now taut as a bowstring - connecting the pain relief machine (clipped to the side of my bed and about the size of a heavy duty paperback) to the catheter implanted in the top of my leg.. Aaarrgghh! I'd make a quick U-turn and then shuffle back to the bed to detach the pain relief box from its mounting before making a panicky whimpering dash for the bathroom again with my hands full (two crutches plus the box and all the tubing).. while trying toh ignore the danger signals from below! 

Now, the question of the day is - how many times do you think I did that before I remembered I was connected to the pain relief machine? Answer A: Just the once; B: two or three times or C: four or more (no-one could be that stupid surely?). 

I did have the means of summoning a nurse in the middle of the night via a red call button - but that went against the grain with me. (I know, I know..) Those first couple of days and nights at the hospital seemed interminable. This was serious Man Pain!😁

Saturday, 2 January 2021

287. New Year strikes again..

27th January. I spoke with the doctor here yesterday and he confirmed that the stitches in my knee will be removed today - and, best news of all, that I'll be going home on Tuesday 2nd February. It's been a long four weeks.

26th January, I had my knee replacement surgery almost 3 weeks ago at the hospital at Bayonne and it appears that the surgeon did a good job. Since arriving here at the Re-education clinic, Bidart, from hospital 2 weeks ago my twice-daily sessions of physio have been targeted at reducing post-op swelling and restoring the usual flexibility. I was released onto some of the more dynamic apparatus in the well-equipped physio room here yesterday afternoon and none of it posed any insurmountable problems. I should be having my stitches out on Thursday - and after that? Who knows.

5th January. I'm off later on this afternoon to the hospital to have a new knee installed.. I've painted a blue ring around the affected limb so there shouldn't be any doubt as to which leg the surgeon should attack with his angle grinder. I hope to be back here in Pipérade Towers towards the end of the month - so you'll have to talk among yourselves for a few weeks. 

The condemned man ate a hearty lunch - two of Mr Montauzer's finest boudins blancs with truffles accompanied by sauté'd apple were eased down together with a glass of Saint-Pourçain rouge. Any crevices that remained unfilled were filled with a slice of galette des rois (right). Complete the following phrase in four words: "It's a tough job but someone...................".        

2nd January. I hope you all had a happy New Year in spite of the restrictions wherever you might be. It's probably a sign of age but I was glad to pull the plug at 00h15.. and subside gently into a coma.      

This was the scene at the dog-walking beach at around 11am this morning at Anglet.. the air temperature was 2°C and there were quite a few surfers out there in the waves. (rather them than me..!)