Monday, 4 July 2022

293. Summer is upon us..

29th September. If you enjoy the sound of someone at the very top of his game playing those old standards on a guitar, this is for you. I've mentioned Joe Pass before here - but this 1973 album of his really is worth listening to from start to finish:
"Night and Day" (Cole Porter) 00:00; "Stella by Starlight" (Ned Washington, Victor Young) 03:38; "Here's That Rainy Day" (Johnny Burke, Jimmy Van Heusen) 08:47; "My Old Flame" (Sam Coslow, Arthur Johnston) 12:20; "How High the Moon" (Nancy Hamilton, Morgan Lewis) 17:37; "Cherokee" (Ray Noble) 22:37; "Sweet Lorraine" (Cliff Burwell, Mitchell Parish) 26:13; "Have You Met Miss Jones?" (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart) 30:20; "'Round Midnight" (Bernie Hanighen, Thelonious Monk, Cootie Williams) 35:02; "All the Things You Are" (Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern) 38:38; "Blues for Alican" (Joe Pass) 42:32; "The Song Is You" (Hammerstein, Kern) 48:04.

18th September. I won't add (much) to the Niagara of words that have been and will be written about HM the Queen - but for me, there's one thing that has jarred.. and that is the sight of the extended Royal family standing in 'vigil' around the Queen's coffin. This seems one step too far to me. The acid test is could you ever imagine her doing this for her father? I'm afraid the UK media is in danger of going over the top with the 24/7 coverage, analysis and adulation of the late Queen. Of course, I respect her for how she conducted herself over her long years on the throne - but we're in danger of beatifying her.. and I think she's the last person who would have wanted that. 

We've definitely turned a corner into Autumn. I was out buying logs yesterday - and this morning I reached for my dressing gown!       

28th August. I was just looking back at an earlier post - and I noticed that quite a few of the videos and links in older posts don't work anymore. I've been putting off this job for some time - as it is a long, fiddly process but I can no longer put off the painful job of blog maintenance. So, if you don't mind talking amongst yourselves for a while, I'll be off with my bag of hammers. Just ignore any bangs and thuds from your PC. Back in a while.   

25th August. I don't think mosquitoes and midgies know the meaning of the expression, "Once bitten, twice shy.." as they've been consistently nibbling at my extremities for the past few weeks. We've both been scratching ourselves like demented chimps.

A new colour for cars has hit the streets - it's a non-metallic mid-grey colour.. the kind of ultra boring colour you would paint a car if you were ashamed of owning one. Perhaps that's the message. 

I mentioned the Citroën Ami a while back - a car the former East Germans would have been proud to produce. How big are they? Imagine 4 tea chests pushed together to make a 2 x 2 square - then imagine another 4 placed on top - and bar a little bit here and there, you've got it. This is a real anti-car.. if only they came in mid-grey!
13th August. The forecast is for 26° today - that's more like it after the temps in the mid-thirties we've had this week. The high temps gave the local mosquito population a boost and I've been the target of these whining pests. 

I was down at Biriatou this week checking on the state of a memorial we put up there on the banks of the Bidassoa and the surroundings were like a tinder box. A fire swept through the valley a year or two ago from Spain and a strong southerly wind carried sparks and embers across the river and the blaze roared up the slopes and continued almost as far as Ascain..
Fires are wreaking havoc in areas we know to the north of here (above). As for the Pays Basque, it's green for a reason - but in the current drought its forests and woodland have surely become vulnerable to fires. The cause of these is unknown for the moment but while some are undoubtedly caused by accident, barbeques or thoughtless discarding of cigarettes,  pyromania is a known condition. (the cause of the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame in Paris has never been found) 

11th August. I was using the Kärcher pressure washer a few days ago to clean the tiles on the terrace when I noticed that I needed to renew some of the grouting (a real Anglo-Saxon word that!). I managed to find the right material - Portland cement - at our local Castorama (a DIY store) - but I thought I'd check with an assistant that I had the right product for the job in hand. A few years ago, this kind of conversation would have been way beyond me so it felt like a minor victory when the assistant and I understood each other the first time around. Another plus was that it came in a handy 2½kg pack - I didn't have to buy enough to re-grout Trafalgar Square! The job was soon done with the aid of one of Madame's rubber spatulas discreetly borrowed from the kitchen. I thought it best not to ask prior permission! She is very happy with the result. What she doesn't know etc..  

This T shirt (right) made me smile! We're in for more heat today.. Yesterday it was 34° in the shade - today's forecast is for 36°..       

9th August. After days of relentless heat and humidity, I've become accustomed to waking early, going downstairs and opening the windows front and back to let some early morning 'coolth' waft through the house. This morning I did so and was sitting in the half light reading by the light of my Kindle when I heard what sounded like someone moving a piano upstairs.. Fine, except we haven't a piano! It was the discreet rumbling of thunder. I went over to the French windows that open out on to our terrace to see the garden lit by a strange orange light.. and I could see leaves quivering on a number of plants and bushes as large drops of rain spattered down. Slowly, as if someone was cranking open the tap, the spattering turned into a downpour.. I put on my Crocs and went out to make sure that the tap from the main down spout to fill our 350 litre récupérateur d'eau de pluie (rain water barrel) was open (it was) and stood there for a while taking in the sight and sound of rain again.. and savouring the smell of the parched earth and plants as they were revitalised. I can't remember the last time it rained. Unfortunately this downpour didn't last very long - maybe 10-15 minutes - but it was very welcome. I suspect rain water barrels will be selling well these days.    

We managed to escape the crush of the Fêtes de Bayonne - we headed for the hills and stayed for a few days at Vielle-Aure (near Saint-Lary-Soulan). We were up in the Hautes-Pyrénées - very close to the Spanish border - and we were surrounded by some seriously steep mountains.. with roads to match. Wherever we drove, cyclists like racing snakes in neon coloured outfits were grinding up the endless hills - you have to admire them. One day, we visited the tiny village of Ens (pop'n: 21) - situated on a valley floor surrounded by soaring mountains. 

It featured a charming simple 12th century church - L'église de l'Invention-de-Saint-Étienne (Eng translation here) - situated on what could be described as a small elevated headland (Wiki describes it more accurately as a glacial plateau). The above photo doesn't do it justice. We missed the church going into the village - but spotted it only on our departure. I stopped the car and tried the door to the church but it was locked with a note saying that the keys could be found at a nearby address. What struck me though was the cemetery.. If we have to be buried - and sooner or later we all do - I doubt if there's a better place in the world to be laid than here in this graveyard with open skies and stunning views on all sides. I don't think it's a morbid thought.. is it?    

By the way, it's one 'n' in Pyrenees.. not two! (even in French: Pyrénées)


28th July. At the conclusion of the opening ceremony of the Fêtes de Bayonne shortly after 10pm yesterday, it sounded as though 'Saving Private Ryan' was being filmed in the centre of town as the night air echoed to what sounded like a belt-fed mortar company firing off a year's allocation of ammunition! The Basques like their fireworks chest-poundingly noisy - and I imagine that no-one present was disappointed!


27th July. Just back from taking the pooch for a quick walk around the Bull Ring and return before the neighbourhood is swamped with people off to the Fêtes in town. I saw a note stuck to a mail box that a few years ago would have puzzled me. It read like a message to an errant or a bibulous husband - "Stop à la Pub". It doesn't mean "Stay at the Pub" - although perhaps it should. All it means is "No advertising material". Advertising material in French is publicité - and thus, knowing the French penchant for shortening words, it becomes Pub.

I was half listening to a discussion on French TV yesterday and someone came out with barbeq - no prizes for guessing what this refers to. 

Here's another one that may catch you out the first time you hear it on leaving a shop. If you thank the shop assistant, you will often hear back, "Non, c'est moi.." ("No, it's me..") which is the short form of "Non, c'est moi qui dois vous remercier." ("No, it's I who should thank you..") Contrary to what you might read in the papers, la politesse is alive and well and living in France.        

26th July. This magazine is telling us something that both of my regular readers here (yes, you Madame - and you, Sir!) will have been aware of for some time. Only No 3 though? * 

* This refers to a survey that placed Bayonne 3rd on the list of the 50 best French towns & cities (of more than 2,000 inhabitants).

22nd July. Many of you will have seen images of the forest fires that have beset France recently. One of the tools that Sécurité Civile has at its disposal is the Canadair - and here are three of them dropping in to scoop up water from the Garonne near Tabanac:


More about the Canadair here.  

19th July. Here's a view of the paintings of Van Gogh as you've never seen them before..


18th July. I feel slightly guilty for not including England's series win in Australia - so allow me to correct that right now. Watch out for Marcus Smith's 50 metre dash to the try line. He's a special talent and provides England with that touch of unpredictability and verve that they so need. Other plusses? The formidable Ellis Genge has developed into a world class prop and ball carrier. Michael Hooper - no slouch he - attempted to tackle Genge head-on and bounced backwards off him as if he'd run into a tree. (video here) To be fair, Hooper was caught off balance by 250lbs of Bristolian beef on the hoof. There's more footage of England's one-man wrecking ball here. Let's hope that Genge's medical condition does not worsen. 

  The clock's ticking.. the Fêtes de Bayonne starts on 27th July.. when upwards of a million people will converge on Bayonne (pop'n: 50,000) over the 5 days.  

Downstairs at 3.30am to let a restless dog out (he wasn't the only one!) and I noticed that the thermometer outside showed 26°C (79°F). The forecast is for 39° here today. Up at 6am to open all the windows to let the cool morning breeze waft through the house. I'll try and catch up on lost sleep with a siesta during the afternoon heat.    

16th July. I've been a fan of Irish rugby (second to England) for as long as I can remember - but today, in the All Blacks back yard in Wellington, they achieved a mighty first, namely, to win a Test series against the most formidable of rugby nations for the first time since matches between the two began in 1905. Enjoy:  

The 50:22 rule explained.

We're steaming in the heat here in the Pays Basque - the shade temperature in the garden is 35°C (95°F°) at 5.30pm. It's too hot for your correspondent. Madame has just returned from a trip into town and she'd like some ice cream. Always happy to oblige!  

8th July. I was in town early this morning and the appearance of two girls near the coach departure point dressed in white with red sashes and a red bandana each reminded me that the festival of San Fermín had just started at Pamplona across the other side of the Pyrenees. Hemingway has much to answer for. I've mentioned before here that this is one festival I will never attend but for those of you who'd like to experience vicariously the dubious thrill of running down a narrow crowded street echoing with the sound of drumming hooves behind you, this (below) was the opening encierro (bull run) of the festival. As always, my money's on the bulls as this is the one and only chance they get to fight on a level playing field with their tormenters. This goes on every day until next Thursday 14th July..


4th July. This is going to be one long post! (I'm allowed 300 posts with my Blogger account) so each post from now on will cover 6 months of ramblings from the Pays Basque.  

First of all, happy birthday America.. 

I don't want to pass comment on a great Nation that has never seemed so divided - perhaps since the Viet-Nam war - but I'm hoping that one day a politician and statesman will emerge from somewhere in that vast country who will pick up the torch and lead the American people back to the values that its founding fathers so wisely laid down almost 250 years ago.  

A friend in the US kindly sent me a link to the story of Walter Anderson - an American artist whom I suspect very few, myself included, have heard of. Once you see his work, you will be astonished that someone of his creativity is not more widely known. Like all great artists, he had a unique 'eye' through which he viewed the world. His talent - his genius - was, in my view, unlike anything that preceded it or followed it. He possessed the single-minded spirit of a true artist who was determined to express himself above all else.. regardless of what people thought of him (reminiscent of van Gogh). 

Horn Island is here.

Thursday, 3 February 2022

292. Next stop? Spring!

29th June. I thought I was pretty well-read - until new words started appearing in the 'meeja' in the last few years that I'd not heard of previously. Is it me or did these words catch everyone else by surprise too? I'm talking about words like these: avatar, meme and trope.. and there are more. Fortunately there aren't enough minutes left in the day for me to find time to look up what they actually mean. Are these real words - or is there a sub-editor at the uber-trendy Guardian hard at work dreaming up new ones as we speak? (and if I hear one more 'iconic', this PC is going out of the window - or through it)

28th June. While we have Gary Larson fresh in our minds, how about this one:
27th June. It was just over a week ago on Saturday, 18th June, that Bayonne lay sizzling under a stiflingly 42° heat with humidity to match. (A friend told me that at Tarnos - just the other side of the Adour - that temps of 47° were recorded on that same day). We closed all the shutters and still we sweltered indoors - only Nutty (our cocker spaniel) felt the occasional need to go out and, after doing the necessary, he would shoot straight back in again. I failed to keep myself adequately hydrated and this mistake led to a medical problem that hit me hard. I'll leave it there - but suffice to say I've learned the importance of drinking at least a litre and a half per day. 

26th June. Gary Larson with his Far Side cartoons has long been a favourite of mine. For reasons that will be obvious to those who know me, this one is a special favourite!
Here's a short guide (in English) to one of the most famous products of this area - jambon de Bayonne. As with all of these cured hams, ask for it to be sliced as thinly as possible so that it melts in the mouth.  

19th June. Apparently all records were broken for Bayonne yesterday with temps just shy of 43°. I'd taken the dog out earlier, walking him in the shadows. As for us, we couldn't do much else except close all the shutters and lurk indoors with a fan blowing warm air around. The humidity was off the clock and it really was unpleasant. 
Then at around 4pm, there was a sudden swirling wind and the temp dropped down to 26° in less than 30 mins. What a relief to open all the windows. Phew!

18th June. Just back from walking to the bakers and I'm perspiring like a porcus maximus. According to our thermometer in the west-facing garden, the shade temp at 10am local time is already 28° - and the forecast is for 40° today. We have all the shutters closed and a fan in the study is moving the air around..
I was at Hernani in the Spanish Basque country yesterday for a simple ceremony to celebrate one of its most famous sons - Florentino Goikoetxea. He was the legendary Comète guide and smuggler who led many evading Allied aviators out of occupied France over the Pyrenees into Spain. After the war, he was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive the Kings Medal. While waiting in an ante room to be received by King George VI, he was asked by an aide-de-camp what he did for a living. Florentino replied memorably - "I'm in import-export!".    

We had a musical interlude when Joxan Goikoetxea (Florentino's grand-nephew (?)) provided the accompaniment to a stirring rendition of this song. Joxan is an internationally recognised accordionist - here he is with Karl Jenkins' "Benedictus":
16th June. Temperatures for the next 3 days are forecast to be: 35°, 38° and 41°..

15th June. As it was a fine warm day today, and we had a bottle of Listel rosé in the fridgeand the plancha was gleaming, it seemed a pity not to fire it up and throw some sardines on it.. 

Aah, that feels better!👍

14th June. What with the heat and the odd shower of rain, the garden has seen some stupendous growth recently, with some of the bushes that I've slowly been pruning into shape (Topiary 101) suddenly sprouting in all directions. I planted a wisteria 2-3 years ago and its tendrils were everywhere they shouldn't be. I couldn't put off the job any longer - so yesterday out came the stepladders, the extendable ladders and the long-handled shears  - and before long I was tempting fate again on the wobbly top step, reaching out into oblivion.   

We didn't use our plancha at all last year - as the weather had been too unpredictable and as a result, it stayed under wraps in a corner of the garage where it's been home to some frighteningly large spiders for the last two years - and I'd put the cast iron cooking surface (the part in black =>) down in the cellar, lightly oiled with olive oil and wrapped in an old sheet. Today, however, was the day of the 'Big Clean Up'. 

First up though, was the chariot that the cooking surface rests on. To spare you the thousand words, here's a picture. I heaved this out of the garage and up the steps to the terrace where I was going to clean off the grease I'd applied to all the metal surfaces prior to putting it away in 2020. I found some white spirit and boiled linseed oil (that miraculously appeared a year or two ago after being 'lost' for 13-odd years) and I set to wiping off the dried-on grease from the metal surfaces and then wiping down the wood surfaces with white spirit, before applying some linseed oil. If I say so myself, it soon looked like new again.

 I went down to the cellar and took hold of the cast iron top in a death grip - it weighs a ton* - and lurched back upstairs and out onto the terrace where I eased it back into position. Its last coating of olive oil had solidified and so I turned all the gas taps to 'on' and lit the burners. After 5 mins, I wiped off the surface and all the hardened oil came away. I turned off the gas, let it cool down, re-oiled the surface with olive oil and stood there admiring my handiwork (as you do!). All we need now is a fine day, some fresh sardines and an icy-cold bottle of Listel rosé Grain de Gris from the Camargue (worth searching one out). 

* I'm sure the metal was recycled from the Tirpitz..

13th June. This is a song I've always liked - it's Georges Moustaki with the aptly-named song Le Métèque.. (a 'métèque' is a pejorative word for a shifty-looking immigrant of Mediterranean origin!) 
12th June. We voted in the Parliamentary elections this morning at a school a couple of minutes away. There can't be too many Brits here as they remembered me from the last time (is that a good or a bad thing - you decide). I was asked if I would like to come back this evening to assist in the count - I must have an honest face! The system is well organised and it runs like clockwork.  

10th June. I've just added a link to Impact FM's 1960s channel in the left hand column. (give the widget some time to wind up..) If you're anything like me, you'll be amused at some of their attempts to convert gen-u-ine rock 'n roll lyrics into French. I mean, where do you start with Be-Bop-A-Lula..?! There are some great French songs from the period though..   
2nd June. I tried a glass or two of Spain's Rueda Verdejo white wine the other day for the first time - dry, crisp, fruity and very more-ish. Worth looking to see if you can find a stockist wherever you are.. 

1st June. For any golfers out there who are thinking of visiting the Pays Basque, here's a list of the most beautiful golf courses in the area. 

It's hard to believe that the longest day of the year is only 3 weeks away.. Aarrgghh

24th May. We had a few days away up at St-Malo last week.. and fortunately we missed the wave of heat (32°C) that sat on Bayonne. 

We stayed in a hotel that if it had been any closer to the sea, we'd have had wet feet. This was the view from our window straight down one morning: 
The hotel was situated right on the sea wall a short walk from the old walled town of St-Malo -  - and for lovers of tidal action, the hotel is on the front line - as can be seen below. Our hotel shows up at 0.39 - it's the one with a flag on its roof: 
The tide at St-Malo, with its 12 metre range on average, is one of the highest in Europe - and when the Spring tides occur (6-10 times per year), the results can be seen above.  

Unsurprisingly, with all the water around, seafood plays a big part in the local diet. I enjoyed some of the best oysters I've ever had at the Café de l'Ouest. Yes, it's something of a tourist magnet - but the staff were friendly, efficient and on the ball - and the oysters (N° 4 size) that we started with were something special. After we got into our stride, we each had a seafood choucroute. There was a buzz and a hubbub reminiscent of those famed Parisian brasseries.    

We continued to eat seafood and oysters (this was taken at "Le Bout du Quai" at Cancale) until we left last Saturday.. (and I'm still peckish for another stack of those N° 4s from the Café de l'Ouest, Saint-Malo..!)  

15th May. I was having a haircut on Friday when suddenly the coiffeuse shrieked, dropped her comb,  followed by the satisfying sound of a splat as she dispatched what she said was a tiger mosquito. These pests are now to be found in France south of the Loire (map here) and I would urge tourists planning on visiting the south of France to make sure they equip themselves with mosquito repellent. There's nothing worse for a mosquito magnet (like me) than hearing the hum of a mosquito in a bedroom after turning out the light.    

14th May. Here's 'Tuba Skinny' - that great street jazz band playing here in the 'Big Easy' (aka New Orleans) - showing that 'jumpy leg syndrome' needn't necessarily disqualify you from a career in music! In case you're wondering, the trombone player is behind the box of CDs:
More here. 

13th May. I think it was yesterday that I heard and then saw the first swallows of summer.. (or were they house martins? I'm not sure what the difference is.) There was a formation of about 8 of them racing around the rooftops at breakneck speed skimming past chimneys screaming for all they're worth. 

11th May. This is the Hot Club du Nax with their very-listenable-to interpretation of 'Joseph Joseph'.. (Isobel Cope, the singer, has a great jazz voice.. is it me or is there not a touch of Amy Winehouse in the timbre of her voice - especially in the lower registers?) 
10th May. The "Great Warming Up" seems to be underway at last. We had lunch out on the terrace a day or two ago and today the temperature here is set to be 23° - with Bordeaux to the north at 29°. Suddenly it's summer..😎    
8th May. We took our eyes off the garden over the last few weeks and it had a sudden growing spurt.. Yesterday, we were out there cutting, pruning and snipping - and filling bags ready for a trip or two to the décheterie (the recycling centre nearby). We have two palm trees out front and three in the back and when the blossom (doubt if that's the right word) emerges and blooms, everything (like the car!) within a radius of about 25-30 yards gets covered in a fine layer of yellow dust (pollen?). Elsewhere, the countryside is now freshly green and the skeletal tree forms of winter are but a distant memory. Yesterday evening we had our first apéro on the terrace. It won't be too long now before the shorts come out. I'd better warn the neighbours!        

28th April. A small group of us were out on the road yesterday briefing mayors in a couple of villages about the content of the programme of our association's commemorations this September. We had a break at midday at a restaurant known as Aldaburua in the über-Basque village of Larressore. Here we were - at a time when the cost of living is high up on the national agenda - walking in to find almost every table taken.. Without boring you with the details, we took the set 3 course lunch, including a carafe of rosé and red. It was far better than it had any reason to be - and when the bill landed on our table with a whisper - rather than with a thump - it came to 13 euros each..       

27th April. Who would have thought that the vote for both of the main political parties of the French Right and the Left combined would have collapsed to the extent it did in the first round of the presidential elections in the weekend before last - with the vote for the official candidates for the Right and Left totalling only some 6% of the total vote.. These two parties had previously provided all the presidents of the 5th Republic since 1958. In forming his La République En Marche party from scratch five years ago, President Macron had cleverly cherry-picked the brightest and best from France's main political parties from the Right (Les Républicains or LR) and the Left (Le Parti socialiste or PS) to join him. In doing so, he effectively left them both with a leadership vacuum in the centre of their ranks and they were forced to field two lack lustre candidates who achieved that mighty 6% total vote.   

Could a similar thing happen in the UK? In theory - yes - because neither of the main Parties in the UK have any inspirational people - and political debate has been reduced to the ritual name-calling during Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons. In practice - no - because there are so few in Parliament who could qualify to be included in a category called the "brightest and best". On the other hand, there's no shortage of shiny-trouser'd dullards.     

25th April. There's no better way to start the week than with a burst on my banjo:
Are we having fun yet?
Last chance!
24th April. I voted this morning in the second round of the French presidential elections here.. It was one of those occasions when I had to remind myself which candidate I disliked the least. No prizes for guessing. 

I've said this before here I think but we're living in an age at a time when we don't seem able to produce statesmen or -women anymore. Is there one statesman on the world stage at the moment? Can anyone name one? Someone of genuine integrity, with impeccable judgement, a vision for the future and the ability to persuade us via his power of oratory that he or she is right? In other words - to lead us? There are one or two around who can tick some of these boxes - but not all four.    

In an attempt to slow down the speed at which Nutty, our English cocker spaniel (aka the 4 legged Dyson), devours the contents of his bowl - we've bought one of these - and it definitely has added a minute or two to his usual 50 seconds. In French, it's known as an "anti-glouton" bowl (no dictionary required to work that one out!  
10th April. We had a walk around Biarritz this morning - blue skies but with an onshore breeze that was two steps up from chilly. Many people out and about - so we found a seat at the Bleu Café at the Grande Plage to watch the world go by. 

A girl in her twenties had a shoulder bag that bore the message: Ctrl + Alt + Delete Last Night - that made me smile! - but not quite as much as when I read the result of the Australian F1 GP - this song sprung to mind.

5th April. I have to admit that the appeal of golf* has always been lost on me. Yes, I've got a bag of golf sticks/bats/whatever in the garage but to me, it's a 'sport' that requires an inordinate amount of preparation prior to playing. 

First of all, you have to find a club to join (ker-ching!), then there are the green fees (ker-ching!), then you need to spend oops, what am I saying, invest a large amount of folding in a set of clubs without any guarantee that you'll be able to hit a single ball with any of them (except perhaps the putter). When I served in the UK military, golf was known  by the unwashed, and even by some of the washed, as 'swish f***' - this being the sound that the club head made as it scythed at speed past the ball - that remained tantalisingly fixed on its tee - and the inevitable expletive that followed.  
I rest my case
Secondly, you need to outfit yourself with clothes that say 'golfer' - polo shirts with that 'must have' crocodile brand, chinos, a peaked cap and not forgetting the single golf glove dangling from the back pocket of your breeks (trousers). 

Finally (but there's probably much more), you have to draw a happy face on your golf balls to remind yourself that you're not trying to kill the thing - simply to hit it - and eventually sink it in a hole

There's no shortage of golf courses either in this part of the world.. looky here

* or, as golf is known in Scotland: a good walk ruined.  

4th April. The more news I read or watch, the more I am convinced by the sentiments expressed below by George Bernard Shaw:
1st April. We started off the morning with what looked like sleet - and just after lunch we had the MOADs (the Mother Of All Downpours). We're going to the cinema this afternoon to see "Seule la terre est éternelle".. (Only the land is eternal):
27th March. We had a sad accident in the house a couple of evenings ago. We have a 19th century spring-driven brass lantern clock very similar to this one and it's been sitting on a bookcase in the dining room out of the way. 

Or so I thought.. 

I was taking something through to the kitchen past the bookcase and just as I entered the kitchen there was an almighty crash behind me. On turning around I saw my beautiful old clock was lying in the floor in a state of disarray. I found the major parts of the clock where you'd expect to find them - directly underneath where it had been standing for 15 years - and after a careful search we managed to find the hands. However, the little cup washer that retains the hands in place had vanished. I now need to find a clock restorer to put it all back together. The clock hadn't been running for some years - it had slowly started gaining time to the point where the regulator could no longer restrain it. I'd taken it to a clock specialist in town about 3-4 years ago and in the end I had to go and retrieve it over a year later as he hadn't touched it. No apology from him either - so that's one place I won't be taking it to. I wish I could bring it here.

What caused it to make a sudden leap for freedom? I know I didn't touch it - the top of the bookcase is 4 feet off the ground. I think the clock must have been moving forward imperceptibly over the years due to vibrations caused by my footsteps (OK - who said elephantine?!) .   

The all-weather cover will be coming off the table out on the terrace today. It feels like Mother Nature has changed a gear - and we're on Summer time as of now. So goodbye string vests!😊

Here's someone I'd not heard of before playing Rachmaninoff's notoriously difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30:
25th March. We took advantage of a sunny day yesterday to have lunch at Larralde at Ascain - an old favourite of ours. We had a table outside in the sheltered south-facing garden and once again I was reminded how lucky we are to be able to enjoy days like this - and in March too.  
24th March. We missed an innovative exhibition/celebration (22nd Feb 2019 to 5th Jan 2020) of Vincent van Gogh's paintings as they were brought to life in a magical swirling display at the Atelier des Lumières, Paris in a novel immersive experience: 
I've just realised that I'd forgotten to post the outcome of the 2022 Guinness 6 Nations rugby tournament. There was only ever going to be one winner (although before the first match was played I thought that Ireland might be in with an outside chance) and that was France. Enjoy the final day against an England team that just didn't have what it took on the day. (England won only 2 of their 5 matches - same as in 2021) France were clearly the team of the tournament - they were head and shoulders above the rest - and I fully expect that they'll go on to win the Rugby World Cup in Paris in 2023. They have quality running all through their side with at least seven world class players. I can't think of one English player - or any other player from the remaining 4 Nations - who would make it into the French XV on merit - and that says it all. Well done on a thoroughly deserved win and Grand Slam!
18th March. I came across this very atmospheric collection of photos of the landscape around here.. Well worth a look at.   

10th March. Out on my ebike on a bright afternoon for the first  time this year - good to get my legs pumping again. 

Walking back from the baker this morning, a BMW i3 went whirring by (impressively in my opinion) and it struck me that electric cars will become more popular if, like the BMW, they resemble normal cars (ie, with internal combustion engines) - and if the range can be extended to 500km and if there's a truly national recharging network. 

It was followed shortly afterwards by two examples of electric vehicles by French manufacturers - the Renault Twizy and the Citroën AMI.. As Citroën itself says in the link - without a trace of irony: "since making its debut in 2020, Citroën AMI has been turning heads around the world – not least here in the UK". 

I think the target market for both of these cars will be found in the ranks of the counter culture.. the visibly green, bearded with a penchant for hugging trees. I can't imagine a moment when I could seriously entertain the idea of owning either of these two vehicles: the Twizy looks like it's escaped from a fairground while the AMI looks like not much more than a motorised tea chest designed by a 10 year old. BMW has shown with its i3 that electric vehicles don't need to flaunt their green credentials so obviously as the two French offerings.   

9th March. We 're getting down to the nitty gritty in the Guinness 6 Nations Rugby Tournament. France travel to Cardiff to take on Wales at the Principality stadium on Friday evening - while on Saturday England welcome Ireland to their Twickenham headquarters. Earlier on Saturday, Scotland travel to Rome to take on an improved Italy. My predictions - and bear in mind I have a poor track record - are for France, Italy and Ireland to emerge victorious.    

8th March. You can listen here to one of the most fascinating discussions on BBC Radio I've ever heard. The programme is called "The Life Scientific" and Shankar Balasubramanian outlines in 30 minutes how he and a colleague David Klenerman decoded DNA. Shankar Balasubramanian is an internationally recognised leader in the field of nucleic acids who is distinguished for pioneering contributions to chemistry and its application to the biological and medical sciences. He is a principal inventor of the leading next generation sequencing methodology, Solexa sequencing, that has made routine, accurate, low-cost sequencing of human genomes a reality and has revolutionised biology. More here. (Now to try and understand it!)
4th March. I've been aware of Wordle for some time now - and until a day or two ago, I'd not tried it. I didn't think it was particularly engaging - but then I don't do Sudoku either. Here's today's special offer - click here to launch Wordle. 

26th February. You'll be pleased to know that you'll not find 24/7 coverage (or speculation) here on the situation in the Ukraine. I'm already fed up with right-on presenters on the BBC's "Today" radio programme who have started pronouncing Kiev as - wait for it - Keeve. (Thwack!)

There's not much to smile about in the news today but this caught my eye:

18th February. No sign here of the high winds that are howling over the UK today.  

17th February. A few minutes ago I was standing idly watching some skating from the Olympics and at the end of one routine, the commentator on French TV mentioned Triple Salchows and Double Axels and for some unknown reason a snatch of music (from the fifties) sprang to mind. I think our memories may be interlinked and capable of being accessed and stimulated by a complex set of cues. I've got no idea of the connection between the music and the ice skating terms (never having ice skated). Is it me - or are others similarly afflicted? Anyway, here's that piece of music that will be familiar to readers 'of a certain age'.. It also brings to mind Sunday lunches at home decades ago..
14th February. Here's the late Cesária Évora with Cabo Verde Manda Mantenha - I find this very 'listenable' to: 
13th February. No more rugby predictions from me! Both Wales and France won their fixtures yesterday in two different matches that were both compelling. Of the two, the France-Ireland match had physicality and intensity in spades. With the score at 22-7, I thought Ireland were out of it - but they came back with 2 quick tries to bring the score tantalisingly close at 22-21.. France though had that little bit extra in the tank and they ran out 30-24 winners after one of the greatest 6 Nations matches in modern times!
12th February. We're all set here for two major confrontations this afternoon: the first will take place at the Principality stadium (formerly the Millennium stadium) at Cardiff between Wales and Scotland.. with the second - probably the match of the tournament - between France and Ireland in Paris. The winner of this encounter will probably go on to win the 2022 6 Nations rugby tournament. I'm going for wins by the 'away' sides in both cases.

9th February. As the lunchtime weather forecast pointed at Biarritz as being the warmest in France with an afternoon temperature hitting an unseasonal high of 20°C, we decided to drive over there to sit in the sun somewhere and shout at the traffic. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a café with the sun warming its terrace - so we eased into the Miremont - that grand old lady of cafés - or perhaps I should say salon de thé - that has seen it all (it's featured on page 143 of this guide). On the ground floor, the walls are lined with ancient mirrored tiles (ideal for discreet people-watching) that have clearly seen better days - but that's all part of its Belle Époque charm. 

We were lucky to find a table right in front of its picture window that overlooked some of Biarritz's prime real estate and the sea. Once in place, we invested (invested being the operative word!) in some weapons-grade pâtisseries - an éclair chocolat for Madame and a russe pistache (right) for me. The cakes here exemplify the very best of the fine French art of the pâtissier. Be warned: there's a link here to photos that will make your mouth water if you have a sweet tooth. 

This magnificent old building below - the former Casino Bellevue dating from 1857 - dominated our view of the outside world. I've included a clunky guide (here*) to the Bellevue that gives a flavour of its former prominence in the town. Remember, it was built just a few short years ahead of the south westerly extension of the French railway network that opened up Biarritz to the rest of Europe. Biarritz then became a 'go to' destination for many of the crowned heads of Europe.

* Click on the play button at the bottom left. Note: it works fine on my Android tablet.. but it stutters on my PC. 
France's rail network expanded dramatically with Biarritz being connected to it in 1865.  

It's days like these that make up for the rainy ones - and yes, I still pinch myself.  

3rd February. The annual bright spot for me on the sporting calendar is fast-approaching - yes, the Guinness Six Nations rugby tournament kicks off this coming Saturday with some tasty fixtures programmed for the opening Saturday. Your weekends should be built around these matches (with kind permission of She Who Must Be Obeyed of course!):

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

291. November rides again

31st January. Rain today for the first time in what seems like weeks. Also my supply of Sir Edwards' Highland Tincture has run dry.. I was surprised to see from the link that my preferred tipple - Sir Edward's Finest - is listed as 3 years old or more. There's no hint of that in the taste.. at least not to me. I'll be making a mercy dash over the border for some more in the next day or two.  

This next short clip was just by way of experimentation (the things you do when you're bored!). It's just a short video of our woodburner, filmed via my tablet.. It's worth its weight in gold in winter. The video seemed reluctant to run here so I converted it into a GIF file instead - another 'first' for me. However, the GIF image still takes a few seconds to load - so, patience! 
29th January. Still cold down here with the temps hovering around 0°C this morning. We won't be doing much lotus-eating today! Still, this cheered me up! 😁
27th January. I had a rush of what could have been cabin fever this morning - so I decided to take Madame out to lunch at Ahizpak - a restaurant on the outskirts of Biarritz overlooking the sea. Apart from the outstandingly good cooking, one plus point separates it from many others here and that is that it has a l-a-r-g-e car park.    

21st January. I was down at the beach yesterday morning and well-wrapped up as the car indicated 4°C.. (howls of derisive laughter from Nebraska - I hear you!) but there were people out in the water surfing! I've heard it said though that the water temp is often warmer than the air temp. I'll take their word for it.

Santa was kind enough to leave a bottle of "Highland Park" 12 year old single malt under the tree for me. After the fire had settled down to a red glow this evening, it seemed the perfect time to try a dram from Scotland's Orkney Islands. An interesting dram it was too.. (tasting notes here) The hint of smokiness was right on the limit for me. Glenmorangie (Original - 10 year old) remains the firm favourite at Pipérade Towers.. I've yet to find another that ticks all the boxes and satisfies both Madame and I. I was weaned onto it in the mid-1970s and I've never looked back. 

Unfortunately following its sale to LVMH (the French conglomerate), the original bottle was ditched and they started ageing the whisky in (don't start me off!) in Sauternes casks (why on earth would you do that?) and it gets worse. If you want to read up on what's happened to this superb single malt, the sad story is out there on the internet. Fortunately they've left the 10 year old alone.        

This cartoon hit the spot with me..
"How's the Psalms' title page coming along?"

15th January. Sunny with blue skies - but cold. If it's grey and wet where you are, light the fire/turn the heating up, make yourself comfortable and sit back to enjoy this - one of the great films of all time. (hope the link works wherever you are)  

13th January. Veronica Bennett aka Ronnie Spector - the lead singer of the Ronettes (you'd remember them if you were around then) passed away yesterday. They made waves with their style - although when looked at today, they appear a lot less subversive than at the time. Still, a great sound..
6th January. This time last year the surgeon was firing up his angle grinder ready to remove parts of my right knee prior to fitting a prosthetic replacement. After a slow start, that year has passed quickly.

This is a piece I've been hearing often over the festive period - it's Hector Berlioz's "The Shepherds' Farewell". This was one of the last pieces we sang in the choir before it all ground to a halt due to you-know-what. (Needless to say, this isn't our choir!)
5th January. The newsreader on the lunchtime TF1 news was discussing the sudden drop in temperatures - yesterday it was 18° here and today it's 6° - and he came out with an expression I'd not heard before that "il fait un froid de canard".. which means it's cold enough for ducks. Explanations here (in French) and here (in Angliche!). 

4th January. I was listening to the radio in the car yesterday and there was someone (I think) from the Académie Française explaining how they assign a French word (or words) to everyday words in English. The part I heard addressed the 'thorny' issue of Post-It notes. These will now be formally known as Notes Adhésives Repositionnables. Don't believe me? Try Googling it.

To a greater or lesser extent, intransigence and pedantry are part of the French character and the insistence on precision is evident in the "Notes Adhésives Repositionnables" mentioned above. Both the "Adhésives" and the "Repositionnables" must end in an s to agree with the plural "Notes". This is slightly obsessional to those of us of an Anglo-Saxon persuasion and it may be that this finicky eye for exactitude has been absorbed into their national character. I've been astonished to hear friends being sidetracked over points of linguistic detail and arguing - instead of just agreeing to differ and moving on. At times like those, it's clear that the French language is more than a language. 

2nd January. It didn't take long for the season of "peace on earth and goodwill to all men" to evaporate. I'd taken the dog with me for a walk into town to buy a baguette and I decided to return via the banks of the Adour. I was walking along a newly surfaced walkway (here) when I saw a group of three people - each with a small dog - approaching. Next minute, as we became a group of four, the dogs started sniffing each other and tangling their leads (as is their wont) and then there was a squeal of brakes as two cyclists came to a hurried stop - "This is a cycle path!" - "No it isn't - it's a footpath" - "It's signposted as a cycle track.." - "No it isn't!" - and so it went on. Neither side wanted to back down, let alone apologise. 

For some here, intransigence is the default mindset. I hate to say it but in England I don't think this would have happened - at least not in the England I knew. Maybe I'm wrong but I like to think that there would have been an exchange of  "Sorrys" and that would have been it.

Moving on, today we're going to have a raclette.. an ideal dish for winter (even though it's 18°C as I write) - but it makes a nice change and it gives Madame a break! We have an electric Tefal table top raclette (available here) and it's simplicity itself to use: 
1st January 2022. We went for a walk at Milady Beach to the south of Biarritz this afternoon as it was - wait for it - an incredibly warm 23°C.. People were having picnics on the grass and I felt overdressed with a sweater on. What a beautiful start to the year. Happy New Year to one and all.. (OK, to both of you!) 

31st December. Here's a curiously likeable little video that popped up this morning..
30th December. We'd planned to go out to one of favourite restaurants tomorrow evening but given that the Omicron virus appears to be so highly contagious, we decided to err on the side of safety and so we've just cancelled. We decided that it wasn't worth the risk - plus if we'd gone out, I was planning to have only one glass of wine as there's sure to be a heavy police presence out on the roads. Staying at home means I can have two! (who said, "Or more!"😈)  

25th December. Returning from a walk along the beach on this mild Christmas morning (temp 15°) I put the car radio on to France Bleu Pays Basque and I heard this song being sung in Basque - a song that became increasingly familiar as it progressed. See how long it takes you to guess what it is:
24th December. A Happy Christmas to all -- especially to those who, for whatever reason, are unable to be with their loved ones at this time.. 

22nd December. Norman Rockwell was known and loved for his folksy paintings of an America that portrayed, and perhaps idealised (nothing wrong in that though), the optimism, family values and innate kindness that many of us believed characterised the country in the mid-twentieth century. More here
19th December. Here's a Christmas Carol (not a Christmas song!) or two to put you in the mood for the coming few days:
Last night I'd arranged to join in with Aeolia, a choir from Tarnos - as they'd planned to sing some traditional English carols at 5.15pm in the centre of Bayonne next to the Château-Vieux (interior photos here)But as Robbie Burns said - in his poem "To a mouse" - the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley. 

The Town Hall had planned a mass launching of Chinese lanterns on 4th, 11th and 18th December. In the past, this popular event has attracted huge crowds (of around 50,000) but due to the recent intemperate weather, the first two releases had to be cancelled so yesterday evening's event proved a great draw. All the traffic on the approach roads to the centre appeared to be static and as the witching hour approached, there was no sign of anything that looked like a choir. To be honest, standing in the cold waiting just about finished us off so we elected to head for home. The release of the lanterns took place at 7.30pm: 
As we walked into town the traffic was at a standstill as the world and his dog were looking for parking spaces.. Also, the arrival of Santa Claus on a huge float accompanied by dancing elves coincided with the time that the choir was supposed to start singing. We waited for a while but couldn't see anyone and in the end we left. Once home, I closed the shutters, put a match to the woodburner and poured a couple of attitude adjusters (I had a festive warming dram from Dr Speyburn (Dr Glenmorangie's locum)).   

11th December. I know it's shallow and I shouldn't find this motto funny - but there's just something about it that appeals to me. 

8th December. Into town on foot on a windy morning to pick up a few goodies for sending to friends in the Independent Coastal State (as England is now known in Brussels). I had my Barbour jacket on and I needed two hands at times to hold on to my umbrella in the gusting wind. Of course, I'd only been gone one minute and it started raining and hailing. 

In the town centre, the loudspeaker system was playing this (normally one of my favourite Christmassy songs) as I sang along through gritted teeth!😀 I turned a corner into a gale and it was only by executing a no-notice Cruyff turn (left) that I managed to keep the umbrella from doing an inside-outy. I arrived back home dripping wet.

7th December. It's 80 years to the day that Japan struck a surprise blow against the US at Pearl Harbour - and in doing so woke a sleeping giant. America came into WWII with its vast untapped resources of men, materiel and factories and from that moment on, the outcome of WWII became only a matter of time - not 'if' but 'when'. Four years later, the world looked a very different place.. with atom bombs, rockets, jet engines, computers, penicillin and many more inventions that would - for better or worse -  change our lives forever. 

Untold millions had died in the process and new crimes were added to the statute books. Once the dust had settled, new alliances were created - either willingly or under pressure - along with new borders and frontiers as countries re-aligned themselves in the New World order. In the West, the post-war alliances are still extant while the Warsaw Pact collapsed in 1989. Are we about to experience another global convulsion as a resurgent China begins to flex its muscles? Their motto seems to be "Softly, softly, catchee monkey".  

5th December. Predictably perhaps, the release of thousands of Chinese (or should that be Japanese?) lanterns planned for yesterday evening was cancelled due to the inclement weather. Just to emphasise the point, Mother Nature laid on a storm for us in the wee small hours that buffeted the house with moaning winds and deluges of rain that swept against our sturdy shutters. 

The evidence was clear to see on the roads this morning with piles of twigs and wet leaves scattered at random on the wet streets of Bayonne. I took advantage of a gap (or so I thought) in the procession of rain-bearing clouds to take Nutty for his morning run down by the sea (below). However, in the few minutes that it took to reach the coast, a wall of gunmetal grey/blue clouds had formed out to sea and we only managed 5-10 minutes before we had to beat the rain in a dash back to the car. Our cocker spaniel does 'indignant' very well!
While drying us both off in the kitchen, I switched the radio on only to hear a piece I haven't heard for decades.. It took me back to childhood - sitting with my mother in front of the fire at 1.45pm.. listening to a radio programme for young children. I think I would have been about 4 or 5 years old. How is it that these memories can survive being buried for so long in that grey matter between our ears - and yet I can't remember what we had for lunch yesterday? (Don't tell Management!😄)
3rd December. We had a wood burner installed a few years ago and it really comes into its own when the weather is cold, wet and windy - as it is now. The one we have is fairly similar to the one shown below - and with the shutters are closed, the stove lit - and a house call imminent from Dr Glenmorangie, life doesn't get much better than this.. (in winter!)
Our first Christmas card arrived today from England - and I was shocked to see the price of the stamp necessary to send a card from the independent coastal state formerly known as England to France these days - £2.55! A week or so ago I had to return a form I'd received from the UK State Pensions to certify that I was still alive. I had to pay 1.50 euros for a stamp to send an envelope containing a single sheet of A4. As much as we enjoy hearing from our friends in the UK at this time of the year, these extortionate postal rates are beyond the pale - so for those of you who customarily send us a card, we'd be more than delighted to receive an e-card from you instead..       

1st December. This virtual ensemble comprises 25 players from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and 218 singers from the Stay at Home Choir (just love that name!) - here's their spine-tingling rendition of Vivaldi's Gloria:
If the above video is reluctant to start, try here while I go around the back with a large hammer! 

30th November. Into town quickly this morning for some shopping and while there I took the opportunity to pick up a few of the last remaining bottles of Georges Duboeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau to keep for a rainy day - of which there's no shortage at the moment - so things are looking up! 

The centre of town was all a-bustle with the signs that Christmas is fast approaching: lights and decorations going up; mini fairground rides for kids being constructed; the appearance of stands selling churros; the mini locomotive with its hot chestnuts; and the clincher: the lingerie shop with its window full of <look away now!> black and red unmentionables!😉   
There's also the release of innumerable Chinese lanterns from 7.30pm on 4th, 11th and 18th December (weather permitting) on the banks of the Nive to look forward to. See here for further details of all the festivities planned for Bayonne. 

28th November. Just back from walking the dog on a raw November morning. As it was a cold and blustery day with rain showers blowing through it seemed like a good idea to put my duffel coat on for the first time since we've been here. It put me in mind of that classic film from 1953 - "The Cruel Sea" - when duffel coats were just about the only protection available for those on the exposed bridges of the convoy escorts in the wintry Atlantic. (Here's a link to "The Cruel Sea" - full movie - in English here

The sea must have been quite a sight to see this morning with the strong north westerly winds that have been blowing for the last few days. Last night as I closed the shutters upstairs I could hear the distant roar from the coast and I didn't envy those who found themselves out on the ocean wave. I grew up on the coast in England and yesterday there was something in the air that reminded me of home - it must have been the salt-laden air.   

21st November. It was a good day for (armchair) sport as far as I was concerned yesterday. In the Autumn rugby internationals, England squeaked home 27-26 against a powerful Springboks side, then Wales did the same against Australia winning 29-28 - before the result of the day in Paris where les Bleus beat the New Zealand All Blacks convincingly 40-25. In between all this, Lewis Hamilton qualified fastest for the Qatar GP. Then in the round ball game, Liverpool thrashed pretenders Arsenal 4-0 - and finally, Max Verstappen (the accident waiting to happen) has been handed five-place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags during qualifying.    

9th November
. We're now all fully jabbed-up as we 've had 3 x Covid vaccinations - and this afternoon we both had flu jabs. I asked for mine in my left arm as my right arm is my vacuum cleaning arm..😀

Citroën DS
How times have changed.. This - the Citroën DS (pronounced déesse in French - or goddess) was the futuristic car that was launched on an unsuspecting public way back in 1955 (yes, in 1955). The DS was known for its aerodynamic, futuristic body design and innovative technologies, and it set new standards in ride quality, handling, and braking - thanks to both being the first mass production car to be equipped with hydropneumatic suspension, as well as disc brakes. The 1967 series 3 also introduced directional headlights to a mass-produced car. 

At the risk of being branded a philistine (again), I have to say that yes, the DS is resolutely modern - it's different, it's bold, it's striking - it's all of those things - but is it beautiful in the way that early Jaguar XJ6s or early Porsche 911s are beautiful? Even today, 66 years on, the DS still has enough about it to challenge our ideas of what a modern car might or should look like. However, it has a certain brutality about it in a way that the two cars mentioned above don't. I think the expression that describes it most accurately is jolie laideTo my eternal regret, I've not been in one, ever - let alone driven one. I'm open to all offers. Seriously. 

Now, fast-forward 66 years and look at the Ami - the latest all-electric offering from Citroën (left).. The Ami is roughly cube-shaped (which presented a challenge to the designers) and the resultant horror is as different as you could possibly imagine (in your worst nightmares) from the DS shown above. Looking at the Citroën Ami, you could be excused for asking: is that the car or the box it came in? The answer of course is that it's both. It looks like nothing less than something that escaped from that children's TV programme "The Magic Roundabout". It's beyond ugly.. Yet someone will buy one. I've read that they're going to be imported to the UK - but only the left hand drive version. Good luck with that. The Islington chatterati will probably go for them - but I can't imagine the good folk of Widnes or British West Hartlepools taking to them.   
(Edited to add: I've already seen a few of these dorkmobiles here on the road) Watch this and cringe..
7th November. Sad news - we heard from a friend this morning that Jean Pierre Paroix, the owner/chef of les Bains de Secours at Sévignacq-Meyracq has decided to look for a buyer for his fine restaurant. It was never somewhere you would just stumble upon - indeed, finding it - even when you knew roughly where it was - was always a challenge. It would be true to say that it was buried deep in la France profonde in an unparalleled bucolic setting. More photos here.  
We were last there in September and, as always, it was a wonderful experience, unmatched by anything we've had elsewhere. His savoy cabbage stuffed with confit de canard, foie gras and minced pork will live long in the memory. What a great pity.. We were lucky enough to have stayed there on two occasions, both times for 3-4 days, to escape the heat and crowds of the Fêtes de Bayonne.. Thank you Jean-Pierre for looking after us so well. You will be greatly missed. 

5th November. This is a song that I haven't heard in a loong time.. and it's performed here by one of those virtual choirs.. but I think it works better if you set the playback speed to 1.25.. Try it!  
Click on the Settings control (above) and change the playback speed to 1.25

3rd November. The "Hermione" has been opened up for visitors.. details here.

Back from a trip into town (in the car as it was raining) to collect the dog from the groomers. The narrow streets were full of people driving around looking for a space but I was lucky to find a paying space within a few yards of the shop. I grabbed a folding umbrella out of the car and went to buy a short stay ticket - only to be confronted by a new ticket machine with a minimalist screen that defined 'user unfriendly' - in fact, it was user hostile. (Don't manufacturers ever test their products with people who are unfamiliar with them? Grrr!) 

Standing under a torrential (as in torrential) downpour trying to figure out how the thing worked suddenly became all too much (I'm no Gene Kelly!) and so I abandoned the idea of buying a ticket, gambling that few parking attendants would be zealous enough to be out checking tickets in weather like this. After collecting the dry dog, I returned to the car and by the time I put him inside, he was soaked to the skin.. Some of the roads had lakes of water across them complete with waves! Just to make life interesting, the downpour turned into a deafening hailstorm as I made my way to the bakers where I was soaked again in the few short yards from the car to the shop. On the way home, I took a short cut the wrong way down a one-way street to avoid the worst of it and made it into our garage which was starting to flood. Fortunately we'd been emptying the fridge so I unplugged it. That's more than enough excitement for one day!   

2nd November. We've just finished the final few jobs that remained from the list that we started 14 years ago. The stairs and the upstairs landing have been carpeted; the floor of the downstairs utility room has been re-tiled; we've fitted a dog guard to stop Nutty from going upstairs (except when invited!) and we finally replaced the oversized downstairs lavatory with a more modern one that doesn't require an HGV licence to use it. 

Now we start again! 

1st November. I was out in the garden 2-3 nights ago as night was turning into day when I heard the unmistakeably raucous calls from overhead as thousands of migrating cranes from northern Europe and Scandinavia headed south for the winter. They appear to fly at all hours - I've heard them overhead at 3am. These latest ones were invisible in the half light but I expect we'll see more of their great flapping formations in the next few days.