Tuesday, 3 January 2023

294. We go again..

2nd June. Seventy years ago, a 6 year old me spent most of the day watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on our new 14" television in glorious black and white. We have witnessed an astonishing number of changes during the intervening 70 years - many of which would have been unthinkable back then. I'll leave it to you to make your own list. We are now exhorted to "embrace change" - but is all change necessarily for the better? Presidents have been elected by tapping into the perception that voters want change. Remember Obama's mantra - "Change We Can Believe In", "Change We Need" and finally "Change". In France, François Hollande used "Le changement, c'est maintenant" ("The change is now"). Say no more.  

In the digital age that we find ourselves living in today, it's become easier and easier for software engineers to make changes to applications we all use on our various devices - changes that are necessary if they are to keep their jobs - and so we're doomed to experience a constantly shifting digital world. Today, it's Windows 10. Tomorrow, who knows? How many people rub their hands together at the prospect of a new Operating System.. or a new presentation for our Online Banking. I'm not a dinosaur but are all these changes to user interfaces really necessary?        

1st June. I had to return to the hospital yesterday for a thorough check-up following my 'wobble' in February. I had the lot - an ECG, an MRI scan, blood tests, a check by a speech therapist plus a few others - and I was told I could stop taking the medication - and I could eat cheese again. I was glad to leave the hospital I can tell you. Phew.    

30th May. Another great singer has left the stage.. Among her many hit records I think she'll be best remembered for this towering song - a song that's timeless in its appeal.

28th May. The pension payment saga is still rumbling on - with the UK's International Pension Centre taking two steps back for every step forward (and there haven't been too many of those). I started the process of requesting that our UK pensions be paid direct in euros to our French bank back in March - little realising that at the end of May two pension providers would still have proved to be incapable of making the changeover both 1. correctly and 2. in a timely manner. These call centres with their multiple choices and their operators who apparently are always 'experiencing a high volume of calls' approach the absolute nadir in terms of customer service.     

Apart from the above, I've been trying to take things easy here for the last few weeks as I'm supposed to be in 'complete rest' following my scare in February. I was told no computer work.. but as I'm feeling much better now, I've started resuming 'normal service'. Today, we're meeting up with R and C, friends from the Gers, and we're going up to Esteben borda for lunch. The farm is literally right on the border with Spain with stunning views of the Basque coast and the interior. One of my favourite places - it's in the centre below:    

En route, we'll be passing by this small stone cottage that has great appeal for me. There's just something about it. I know it's not practical, that it's - quote - 'far from the shops' (I don't see that as a downside!) and far from doctors and dentists and finally, "where do you buy your baguette"! We're all different. 

0th April. A few years ago, I heard the final few bars of this song on the radio and it summoned up the period in the early sixties that just pre-dated the arrival of the Beatles in the US perhaps like no other song. After a few minutes of Googling, I discovered who the artistes were - Nino Tempo and April Stevens, a brother and sister double act. I didn't realise it at the time but I later read that they reversed the standard convention and the recording had Nino singing the melody while April sang the harmony line. RIP April


25th April. A cautionary tale: Following my medical 'event' in February, I decided that we needed to put in place a "hands-off" system for converting and transferring our pensions in £ sterling from our UK bank into euros for our bank here in France. I was relieved to learn from the UK Govt web site that UK State pensions can be paid direct to an overseas bank in local currency as I thought that if any one of our pension providers would prove to be inflexible, it might be the UK Pension Service. But no, all seemed crystal clear so I started contacting all of our other pension providers to request that they made all future payments directly to our French bank in euros. 

Having set all that in motion. I now wish that I'd maintained a diary listing the dates of phone calls (including the names of the helpline advisors), emails and letters sent because what should have been a straightforward operation turned into clerical morass of contradictory advice. The UK International Pensions Centre (IPC) was the clear winner of the "wooden spoon" with their 'advisors' repeatedly displaying their lack of knowledge of their own policies and consistently giving incorrect advice - sometimes on the same day.. 

For anyone contemplating a similar step, I've extracted the magic words (italicised above) from the first link. Whatever else 'advisors' might tell you, for anyone wishing to have their pensions paid direct, these words should be carved on tablets of stone.  I would ignore the telephone helpline number and instead would recommend writing a letter containing all the usual info; name(s), address, National Insurance number(s), bank name and address, name of account holder(s) - and the most vital piece of information of all: your bank's IBAN and BIC. I would select a date at least two months ahead when you want the new system to become active and advise them of that too. 

We're fortunate in having an internet phone (VOIP) so phoning the UK was effectively free. All of our other pension providers were quite happy to comply with our request by phone - but just so that you have a record of your requests in writing, I would still say ignore the phone services and write letters. Good luck.  

Now breathe deeply - and r e l a x and enjoy some great musicianship (especially from the trumpet of Thimo Niesterok - more from him here): 


More here.

20th April. 'Sign of the Times' Dept # 1. I've had a Kindle Paperwhite e-reader for years and despite my initial wariness of the concept, I took to it like a duck to typing oops, water. I hooked it up to Amazon UK thus enabling me to trawl to my heart's content through the gazillion books available in English there. However, a while ago, I found that I was no longer able to browse and select from the vast range of titles in English as before. I first thought that perhaps my Kindle was showing its age but I had a sneaking suspicion that this breakdown of the service was somehow connected to - yes, you've guessed it - Brexit - and that the service had been blocked (as I was effectively importing books on my Kindle from the independent coastal state (as the UK is known in EU-speak) without any import duty being paid). 

I asked this question on Google the other day - "Is it possible for someone resident in France to access content on Amazon UK on their Kindle?". (It appears that I'm not the only one - see here) It turned out that the answer is no. Presumably a small-minded shiny-trousered civil servant somewhere decided that my ability to access books in English somehow contravened the spirit of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and that the House of Cards (aka the European Union) might be threatened by my doing so. The upshot of all this is that I have had to sign up to Amazon France. I did think of signing up to Amazon.com (the US site) to be able to access their content in English but then I'd have to pay in US$. Amazon France allegedly has a staggering 4m books in English available to Kindle users. I must see if I can find them.

'Sign of the Times' Dept # 2. How many people from the global English-speaking community do you think listen to BBC radio content online and accessible via an internet radio? In addition to the hundreds of thousands of users among the expats 'out there', there are those who have links with the UK through family - plus those who listen to improve their English and those who simply wish to hear a different viewpoint. My guess would be that it's certainly up in the many millions. You can't imagine how reassuring it (sometimes) has been for me to hear the news and current affairs as seen from the UK. (You can see where this is going already can't you!) 

In a high-handed move that will throw a rock into many ponds, the BBC has unilaterally decided that from mid-2023 it will no longer support the streaming format used in many legacy internet radios. 

Quote: “We are making changes to the way BBC live streams are distributed via 3rd party services and platforms, and the BBC stream you are currently listening to will stop working by mid-2023.  If you are using an internet radio or smart speaker and hearing this message, please contact the manufacturer. If you’re listening on web or mobile, this service is available to stream on BBC Sounds”

Full story here. I suspect the BBC bean counters have a cunning plan to put in place a system whereby listeners will have to pay to subscribe. What will I do? It would stick in my craw to be forced to replace our existing perfectly serviceable internet radio with another - just so that it would be compatible with the BBC's stream. And so it goes. 

As much as I enjoy living here, I have no wish to be deprived of my favourite English authors on my Kindle on the one hand and the convenience of BBC news (and other familiar content) in English on the other - even though the BBC News programmes have taken a decidedly political turn. There must be other news stations. I hope I can work out a new support regime.   

Now back to the Pays basque.. (phew!)

14th April. Just finished a prolonged period of blog maintenance.. Please let me know if you come across a link that no longer works.   

7th April. I spotted a protester's placard on the news earlier. The message on it summed up a mindset that seems all too prevalent these days.. It said: moins d'impôts, plus de apéros - or in Angliche: fewer taxes, more drinks.. Many shops and businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit staff - as a sizeable slice of the workforce became accustomed (during Covid) to not working - and they're reluctant to re-engage with the world of work. 

30th March. There's a new promo video for Bayonne. Perhaps I'm biased (!) - but for a town of 50,000, there's a lot going on here:


29th March. I'm halfway through trouble-shooting the blog - restoring defunct videos, replacing photos that have disappeared off into an electronic soup and links that no longer work. Keeps me off the streets..   

After a few false dawns, I finally took the all-weather cover off the table on the terrace this morning and stowed it away for another 6 months. Next up will be the plancha.. It will have been home to several large arachnids in the garage over the winter months - so it's always interesting when I remove its cover.  

28th March. In the Bayonne area and looking for a restaurant at midday? I don't think I've ever given a recommendation - without caveats or reservations - to a restaurant here before but I've just added the Brasserie les Arènes to the restaurant map in the left hand column. The cooking here can stand comparison with any of the more prestigious restaurants in Bayonne or indeed Biarritz. It really is that good. Definitely somewhere to book. Closed in the evening.     

24th March. In an exercise akin to painting the Forth Bridge, I've been engaged in doing some much-needed house-keeping on the blog - repairing broken links, replacing deleted videos, etc etc.


It's one of those jobs that I've been putting off - but I finally convinced myself to make a start on it. I'm about a third of the way through.    

19th March. Hard to believe but this piece - "Take Five" - was first recorded by Dave Brubeck's quartet 64 years ago.. and it still catches the imagination:


Try "Take Ten"..

Yesterday was the final day of the 2023 Guinness 6 Nations rugby tournament and Ireland were crowned as worthy winners of the Grand Slam, with France in second spot and a resurgent Scotland finishing third. For me, the stand-out fixture of the tournament was the Ireland France game - that saw two teams at their peak playing champagne rugby.. One of the greatest-ever matches I've been privileged to see.   

14th March. Last weekend saw France dish out an uncompromising and painful rugby lesson to England - a lesson that left all onlookers in no doubt whatsoever that there is clear blue water (and lots of it) between the sides..


France were brilliant to watch and they demolished (no other word for it) England with some ease and they deservedly emerged victorious with a record 53-10 win. Ouch! If I could make one comment, it would be that any one of the dynamic French forwards could have been awarded the Man of the Match accolade as they were immense. I think Ramos, the full back, who was the actual recipient of the MoM award, had a great game - but the key to their record victory stemmed, in my view, from the platform that his dominant forwards created. No criticism of Ramos is intended by the way.   

This coming Saturday will see three countries playing away from home (Italy, Wales and England) with more unpleasant medicine to swallow.. and it's difficult to see anything other than three home wins - in ascending order of points difference - for Scotland, France and Ireland.  

7th March. This particular interpretation of J S Bach's "Sheep may safely graze" BWV 208 - sometimes known as the Hunting Cantata - is a piece I've been listening to frequently while I'm in this period of complete rest. It was written 310 years ago. Out of all the different versions 'out there', Doug Marshall's is, to my mind, the only one at the right tempo - plus his interpretation is unmatched for its emotional power. Bravo Doug!


There's also a synthesized version that's very listenable to.   

Some extremely talented musicians here.. with the world's longest song intro. As good as it sounds here - imagine how much better it would be in an atmospheric cellar somewhere. Health warning: Don't try this at home!☺ (might take a few seconds to load)


2nd March. Meanwhile, back at the 2023 6 Nations Rugby Tournament, we were privileged to witness (on TV) one of the greatest-ever matches - it took place in Dublin on 11th February and it was between the two top-ranked teams in the world - Ireland (#1) and France (#2). It provided a thrilling spectacle of running rugby, played at speed with total commitment, fast hands and little in the way of foul play. You'll be lucky to see a better game than this one between 2 great teams at the top of their form. It was no disgrace for France to finish second best - both teams can be proud of the way they played. If you missed this match (shame on you), take your phone off the hook, switch it off or pull the wire out and sit back and enjoy the highlights of this pulsating match between the two giants of world rugby (give it a few seconds to load):


22nd February. I had an unexpected stay in hospital last week - 2 days in intensive care followed by 2 days unplugged! The carotid artery in the neck provides the main supply of oxygen-rich blood to the brain and mine must have suffered a temporary flow restriction at midday on Sunday 12th - because the lights in my world suddenly started going out. (more here

I found myself sitting in front of my PC wondering how to switch it on - I stared at it for a full 5 minutes - unable to convert a thought into an action. I went downstairs and Madame spotted that I wasn't my usual self. She asked me to form a sentence - I couldn't - so she had the presence of mind to phone for an ambulance straight away. Once again, the sapeurs-pompiers outdid themselves and arrived here in under five minutes. From then on, I was whizzed into the A&E unit at Bayonne hospital - and after checking all the vital signs (Ts & Ps) I had an MRI scan (IRM in French). 

After that, I became a spectator as a team of medics installed me in an ICU suite and I was adjusted, jabbed, poked, prodded, tagged and wired up to a bank of bleeping machines at the bedside. I was receiving the full attention of the hospital staff night and day and when I heard that I was in intensive care, the centime dropped - it dawned on me that the situation was serious. (Too Much Information alert: the pistolet and I never became an item..)

I have the utmost admiration for the French health system - and all those who man it. Professional, kind, thoughtful, tireless, friendly, spotlessly clean and efficient, it's the very model for how a first world European country should be providing health care for its people in the 21st Century. And when I was discharged on the Thursday, because Madame was still unable to drive, I was sent home in a taxi provided at the hospital's expense. 

I've been prescribed medication to restore me to full health and I've an appointment at the hospital at the end of May to see the specialists following a battery of tests and an MRI scan.  

It's sobering to read of the NHS meltdown in the UK - there appears to be a yawning chasm between the two systems. It's also sobering to realise just how little it takes for our carefully constructed world to collapse like a house of cards.   

4th February. This afternoon sees the start of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations rugby tournament.. featuring England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales (listed here in alphabetical order - although I'd be delighted with that as the finishing order at close of play on 18th March). Here's the fixture list. If you're new to the game - or in need of a refresher - take a look at the basic rules.. or buy the book:

2nd February. I'd better be on my best behaviour tomorrow - I've been invited to lunch by an association of retired police and gendarmes in the local area. (so - no rubber cheques!) 

Our finances took an unexpected torpedoing the other day - as we needed a new electrical distribution control panel in the kitchen. The existing one looked well past its sell-by date. It was one of those jobs I've been postponing for a while as there's no immediate benefit - but it had to be done. We now have a new smaller wall-mounted control panel with multiple circuit breakers for all the circuits in the house. We've managed to establish which of all the 23 circuit breakers control all the various circuits and power sockets - wouldn't you know it - all except one.    

24th January. I was down at the beach a day or two ago with the dog and it was cold - according to the car it was +1°C.. (midsummer in Nebraska!) The sea was fairly flat - with no giant rollers rearing up to break with a crash - and to my surprise there were upwards of 20-30 surfers out there. It made me cold just thinking about it.  

19th January. We were out at the neighbours at the end of the afternoon yesterday and walking back the few short steps to home in the blustery cold and wet made me thankful that I'd cleaned out the woodburner earlier and reset it with logs and condensed wood - so once we were back in, all it needed was one match and away it went. I closed the shutters, turned off the radiators that we'd left on, and Madame came out with the DVD for "Sleepless in Seattle". A heart-warming story just right for a cold night. I'd forgotten just how good the film and the soundtrack were - so here - at no extra charge - it is:


If the video doesn't step through all 15 tracks without needing to be nudged, click on this link

18th January. One of the most distinguished and distinctive of all the voices on broadcast radio in the 20th century belonged to Alistair Cooke. I grew up listening to his weekly "Letter from America" programme that was broadcast every Sunday morning by the BBC. Earlier today, I was listening to his measured tones in an archived recording of one of his monologues (just over 14 mins long) entitled "Summer's end". 

My ears pricked up at one point (at 7.40) as he recounted how, in 1890, William K. Vanderbilt, Edward Meade and Duncan Cryder visited Biarritz in south western France. At the resort they met Scotsman Willie Dunn, who had just built a golf course there. They were so taken by the sport that they decided to introduce golf to New York. The men scouted around the city for a spot; Meade thought upstate New York was a good place, while Cryder preferred Yonkers. Long Islander Vanderbilt urged them to look east. 80 acres of land in Shinnecock was purchased for $2,500 and 44 original members signed up for $100 each and the result was the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.    

17th January. Just back from an ill-timed trip on foot to the boulangerie - it was raw and cold òut there with gusty winds containing a mix of rain and hail. Managing the dog, an umbrella and the bag containing the bread was (word of the moment) compliqué. It looks like we're stuck with this weather for a few days. This was the scene at Biarritz earlier (clearly an OMG situation!):


We've not escaped the wintry weather that has afflicted other regions further north - in the early hours we had a visitation from one of those winter storms that we've become familiar with that blow in occasionally from the Bay of Biscay. 

It all started with the sound of the wind rising and moaning around the roof and chimneys, setting the shutters all a-rattle. This was followed by the 'car wash' style rain as it drove against the roof and the shutters - and seconds later, the gutters started to gurgle noisily. Then came a brilliant flash of light - followed seconds later by a prolonged crash and thunderous rumble close by. Cue yet more rain as the deluge intensified. I suddenly felt the weight of our 17kg cocker spaniel across my feet as he nobly decided to keep me company up on the bed. At that point I realised that there was nothing for it but to lie still and go back to sleep.

4th January. I've just found this short video made by visitors to Bayonne on 18th December - it features a glimpse of the mass release of thousands of Japanese lanterns.. it's a spectacular sight:

3rd January. A Happy New Year to you (I nearly added: to you both). I hope you emerged intact from what can be an emotionally draining time for some. Stress, families, alcohol and an ill-considered phrase or two are often among the usual culprits - in vino veritas - say no more.    

We spent lunchtime on New Year's day ensconced at our favourite restaurant (no prizes for guessing where!). The owners opened up only hours after they'd crept up to bed at 4am that morning! They are made of strong stuff in the Pays Basque.. 

I noticed that the car was showing the outside air temp to be 22.5°C.. it felt like summer. 

Monday, 4 July 2022

293. Summer is upon us..

31st December. Another unseasonably warm day for forecast for today. I think it calls for a good walk along the coastal path down to Biarritz with the pooch. 

What a world we are living in - we seem to be beset on all sides by many more problems than usual - with few solutions evident - and even fewer statesmen around to steady the ship. 

Best wishes to you all for a happy New Year - and good health. We'll be keeping clear of large gatherings in enclosed spaces and hoping for the best.

28th December. 19°C today.  Lunchtime bliss.. we each had a couple of Montauzer's boudins blancs with truffles today - served with sauté'd apple. For some unknown reason, they only appear for a month or two around Christmas. When I'd finished mine, I found myself wishing I could rewind the previous 10-15 minutes - and enjoy them all over again..! 
24th December. Wishing all those who find their way here, whether by accident or by design, a very Happy Christmas and, above all, a healthy New Year in 2023. Let's hope that those in power who affect our daily lives will try working together for once, for the common good - instead of the endless sniping we've heard so much of lately. One can but dream..
Let this song by the often-overlooked Helen Merrill cheer you up..! (more here)

19th December. We paid a visit to one of our favourite restaurants at lunchtime yesterday. They'd just re-opened after the annual end-of-season break.. and it was good to be back there. I shared a beautifully-made omelette aux cèpes with Madame. I'd like to watch how the chef makes these.. totally non-greasy and delicious. We followed that up with a sole belle meunière for Madame and canard à l'orange for me. I could easily make that a weekly visit..  

17th December. This is a 25 minute video about the Pays Basque.. yes, it's in French but if your French isn't up to following the narrator, try clicking on the Settings button.. (it looks like a gear wheel) - then click on sub-titles, then 'French (auto-generated)', then 'Auto-translate' - and then scroll down to click on the language you want.
15th December. This is another great old song that lends itself to the jazz manouche guitar treatment.. It featured in Woody Allen's excellent 1999 film "Sweet and Lowdown".. 
14th December. I'll have to whisper this - this morning the thermometer on the terrace was reading 17°C  (62°F) - in the shade. I promise I won't mention it again. 

I finally finished my Christmas shopping this morning.. <sigh of relief>. 

13th December. Here's a version of one of my favourite old Russian songs - Les yeux noirs - or Dark Eyes..  
Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie in company with some other jazz greats recorded 'Dark Eyes' in LA on 16th Oct 1956..  

And here's Gypsy Moon with something close to the original intention. 

11th December. There were very few people out and about down at the beach this morning.. one or two hardy runners, a couple of dog walkers and that was about it.  On the way home after a bitterly cold* walk, I turned on RFM just in time to catch the start of this song - one I'd always liked the sound of without knowing who it was by (The Korgis) or what it was about.

* I should have added: for here. (calm down in Winnipeg!☺) 
Yesterday evening, it was time for the annual release of thousands of Japanese (or are they Chinese?) lanterns from the centre of town - and already by 5pm cars were nose-to-tail as they prowled around looking desperately for parking spaces. The first time we attended one (in 2018 I think) it drew an estimated crowd of 50,000. It was a cold still night for it. By the way, does anyone know the title of the duet being sung at the beginning of the video? (Please let me know if you do - thanks)
4th December. It struck me last night that with my recent acquisition of an iPhone, I now have 3 devices each with a different operating system: PC - Windows 10; my Samsung tablet - Android and now my iPhone - iOS. Is that a bad thing?

2nd December. Madame's face could be described as Color by Technicolor this morning - she took a real bang to her head and her face.   

I've been entrusted with going to the indoor market this morning.. (Promotion!☺)   

Here's something to brighten up a cold, misty morning:
1st December. In the pursuance of my newly acquired domestic duties*, I found myself at Le Comptoir Irlandais this morning to pick up some mince pies that Madame had ordered for Christmas. (Explanation: Mince pies don't contain mince and they're not pies - but your mileage may vary!). After collecting them, I stood back to admire the mouth-watering display of Scotch whiskies.. (each to their own but as far as I'm concerned there's no other kind) After a few moments lost in thoughtful contemplation, a charming assistant came over and asked me if I'd like to taste some. What a question - but I had to decline her offer as it was only 9.30am.. (what was I thinking?!)

* Madame had a fall on Monday evening just outside our dentists a few steps away from home and in so doing she broke a bone in her wrist - and her face tells its own story. The strange thing is that just a few days previously we'd talked about the need for her to take extra care with all the wet leaves around.

People from our dentists came to look after her - one brought a chair out for her - and a passer-by phoned for an ambulance while Madame called me on her phone. I wasted no time in driving down there asap.. I arrived there at the same time as the ambulance arrived - it belonged to the Sapeurs-Pompiers (firemen) based 3 km away. (hats off to the pompiers for the speed of reaction) The pompiers took her blood pressure while she was still at the scene and I can't praise them enough - calm, reassuring and professional - exactly as it should be. 

Once again, the French health service came up trumps - her subsequent treatment at Bayonne hospital was excellent (arm and wrist x-rayed and concussion check) and it served to remind me of how far the sainted NHS in the UK has slipped. Hats off to all those in and around Bayonne who helped. If it had to happen anywhere, it was best that it happened here.   

I never cease to be surprised at the way that memory works. Nutty, our oversized English cocker spaniel, woke up early this morning and decided that it was high time I woke up too. He raced down the stairs like a runaway train - and click - without me being aware of it, an old memory came to mind and next minute, I was humming along to a song (that I'd completely forgotten about for decades) that had kept us all entertained in the car when I was a child.. 

I turned on our radio in the kitchen (tuned to a '60s Gold station) and they were playing a song I'd always liked. Meanwhile, we in the UK were producing cringe-worthy songs like this (it was played at a thousand naff weddings with index fingers in the air..).     

Someone sent me this the other day - it rang many bells with me! (It's in French so you might need to run it by Google Translate).     

29th November. Who would have thought that Paul McCartney of all people would have recorded songs that could truthfully be described as little-known - but here's one that I came across earlier by chance that was new to me. Two of the Beatles have already gone - the day we lose Sir Paul will truly mark the end of an era as, for those of us of a certain vintage, their music was the soundtrack of our lives .
28th November. We were down at Saint-Jean-de-Luz on Saturday for some (Christmas) shopping - and it was so pleasant to stroll around the uncrowded streets in the late November sunshine. 
Afterwards we drove around to Socoa and studied the menus at the seafood restaurants there. We decided to go to Chez Pantxua even though we haven't been there for a couple of years due to Covid and other reasons. We had a table outside and we had a freshly made paëlla (the best we've ever had there) - and at the end, our waitress offered us coffee on the house.. before we waddled away.

25th November. We were invited to attend a citizenship ceremony at the Town Hall, Bayonne, yesterday evening. There were around 200 of us altogether and Mr Philippe Le Moing-Surzur, the sous Prefect of Bayonne, spoke in his address of what is entailed in French citizenship in a warm and moving manner. 

22nd November. I forgot to mention that yesterday when we were cruising around the town centre looking for a parking space, we happened upon Bayonne's Christmas tree.. Words can't describe it - instead of a tall pine brought down from the mountains and covered in lights - we have a garish plastic tree that a child could have designed - festooned with a few oversized football-sized globes. I haven't seen an uglier Christmas tree in my life. I'll have to go back and take a photo of it for you..   

Those of us of a certain age will never forget the moment 59 years ago today when gunshots rang out in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas - and they echoed and resounded around the world. 

For those who weren't around at the time, JFK's inaugural address on 20th January 1961 set the bar very high indeed. I doubt if it has ever been equalled - let alone surpassed.   

I finally took the plunge yesterday and consigned my clunky old Android phone to the back of my desk drawer from where it will gather dust together with a few other relics of redundant technology (mainly cameras - six at the last count) - because Madame persuaded me to make the switch to an iPhone. 

While we were splashing around outside in gusting rain that threatened to turn our umbrellas inside out, we went for our 5th Covid jab.. 

After all that excitement, when we came home I closed the shutters, lit the woodburner, and then we had something Scottish and warming (no prizes for guessing!). 

18th November. Yesterday evening there was a flash of lightning followed seconds later by an ominous rumble. Then, as if someone was opening up all the valves that control rain, a drizzle morphed into a noisy downpour that intensified into a deluge. Just as well we weren't caught outside. Then this morning at 5am I woke up to the sound of rain drumming on the roof and water running in the gutters. It looks like we're in for a wet few days.

17th November. The Beaujolais Nouveau is in the shops. I always thought (in the UK) that it was highly over-rated - but not here. If you see any by Georges Duboeuf, it would be worth trying. Fresh, fruity and v drinkable.     

16th November. This record by Kim Carnes provided the ever-present (albeit scratchy!) soundtrack to my first visit to the US in 1981.. (Was this a one-hit-wonder for her?) She looks like one scary lady..
This was another song that blasted out continuously from many US radio stations at the time. 

15th November. DIY Rules: A few new ones for you.. 

Rule No 26. Nothing is more permanent than a temporary fix. 

Rule No 27. Keep the receipt. 

Rule No 28. If all else fails, read the instructions.

(You can download the complete Rules by clicking here)  

8th November. Another annoying word has crept into general usage recently in the sovereign independent coastal state* (or the United Kingdom as we prefer to call it). Apparently we no longer have debates, discussions or oral exchanges of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas - but conversations. To me, an ageing out-of-touch dinosaur, a conversation is something you might have at a bus stop, in the pub, or over the garden fence. A conversation has no starting or finishing point - they are simply characterised by the noise our lips make as they flap together. The use of this word legitimises a pointless speech exercise where there's no imperative to reach a conclusion. What are we doing to our great language? Winston Churchill (who else?) said it best when he declared that "short words are best and the old words when short are best of all."

* in Brussels-speak

Our plumber arrived yesterday with a huge package containing our new 200 litre water heater to replace the one that gave up the ghost the other day after only 10 years. This seems to be the design life of white goods these days. After removing all the packaging, I took one look at the contents - and it struck me immediately that while it was shorter than its predecessor - crucially, it was wider. We must have measured its width and the narrowest part of the dog-legged staircase down to the cellar several times but both measurements remained obstinately within 1mm of the other. It was also very heavy. There was no way we could try to manoeuvre it down the stairs with the severely limited clearance available without damaging it.. which would have made it impossible to return it to the supplier. It was the same brand as the one before - but it seems that the manufacturer had chosen to re-size the thing without stating the dimensions on the packaging. Ultra frustrating - and it proved Rule No 1 of the immutable Rules of Home DIY yet again.. namely, that there’s no such thing as a simple job. (I've included the complete list below) 

This morning, the plumber was back here at 8am - with a new, slightly smaller one and we managed to get that down the stairs without any bother. This time it has a 150 litre capacity. 

The absence of instantly available hot water over the last few days put me in mind of those poor souls from not that long ago who had to wash in cold water. We're spoilt these days.     

Rules of Home DIY   

1. There’s no such thing as a simple job.

2. If it isn’t broken, fix it until it is. (This replaces the old rule: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it)

3. If the screw isn’t going in, use a bigger hammer.

4. The drill bit you want is the one that’s missing from the box.

5. Never be tempted to change the drill bit in your electric drill with the power still  on. (I'll tell you the story one day!)

6. Measure twice. Cut once. (This rule can be applied to many areas in Life)

7. The best tool is a mug of coffee. Look at the job often - thinking time is never wasted.

8. Anything thrown away will be required within the week. 

9. If you drop an Allen key, nut, bolt or screw it will always end up in the most inaccessible place.

10. As soon as you get your hands greasy you will need to scratch your nose or use the lavatory.

11. If you are in desperate need of one item to finish a job, the shops will be closed.

12. When the shop is finally open, the one item you want comes in a pack of six.

13. If it's your lucky day, and the shop sells the item you need in a single pack, they will have it in two 
sizes: too large and too small.

14. You've been saving something for 20 years knowing that one day you'll need it. When that day finally arrives, you can't remember where you left it. (happened to me yesterday!)

15. Never start a job on a Sunday afternoon.

16. You'll never find the thing you need until the day you don't need it.

17. Someone will have used the last bandage/band aid the day before you do involuntary finger surgery.

18. The only known supplier of the part you need closed down last weekend.

19. The most useless tool in your tool box is the wrong size Allen Key!

20. Superglue is a must for many DIY tasks - it is guaranteed to rapidly and permanently stick objects to things other than that intended.

21. Despite tidying up after a job and putting everything back in place on the right hook, in the right box, on the right shelf - things disappear.

22. If you have to remove twelve rusty nuts/screws/nails that have been untouched since the Spanish Civil War, eleven of them will unscrew/come out easily.

23. You have a couple of partitioned boxes neatly filled with every type and size of nail, screw and bolt known to mankind - except for the one you want.

24. You discover that the new lamp that you bought just before closing time on Saturday afternoon doesn't come with a light bulb (and this fact isn't mentioned on the box it came in). You then discover that it will only accept a new type of bulb - and none of your spares will fit.

25. Screwing up today's "small job" turns it into tomorrow's "big job". (Hands up all those who haven't done that!)

I'd welcome any additions to the above list. 

6th November. Perfect weather this morning for a walk along the beach at Anglet (just 10 mins away) - a calm blue sea with dazzlingly white rollers breaking under blue skies, a light breeze somewhere between warm and crisp, and the northern coast of Spain standing sharp as though cut out with scissors. 
A minor "pinch me" moment.  

4th November. The plumber's just been and gone - and the upshot is that we need a new 200 litre cumulus eau chaude (Google trans: storage water heater) - I couldn't remember the English term - would it be immersion heater? Should have a new one in on Monday afternoon.   

Mopping up operations in progress down below.. 

3rd November. Just when I thought that all the domestic jobs were done and dusted and that there's nothing left on the 'to do' list, I went down to the cellar a few minutes ago only to see a pool of water spreading out from underneath our 200 litre hot water boiler. Our Basque plumber installed it almost 10 years ago to the day - I remember manoeuvring it down the stairs with him - anyway, he's just texted a message to say that he'll be here this afternoon. Phew..   
2nd November. Watching ARTE today, my eye was caught by a glimpse of graphic art (right) that had T shirt written all over it. I think it had been inspired by that slick and highly memorable logo for New York (it comprised just 3 characters and one symbol) from the late 1970s. The true test of great design is that, fifty years on, it still looks timeless in its simplicity. 

We had our flu jabs yesterday.. and Madame is feeling her shoulder today. A number of our friends have tested positive for Covid recently - which is a timely reminder to wash our hands regularly and to wear masks when appropriate. Fingers crossed. 

The seasons and the weather now appear to be in sync for the first time in months.. October was unseasonably warm but finally normal service seems to have been resumed with Mother Nature. I can't help wondering what treats she has in store for us in the months to come. 

31st October. This painting of a winding street in Ciboure - attributed to Pierre Labrouche - caught my eye.. I liked his treatment of light and shade.
25th October. Films/Movies: there may be better opening scenes out there but I can't think of one. Here's Woody Allen's "Manhattan":
A friend in England reminded me of this opening scene (best in full screen) from "Out of Africa" - one of our all-time favourite films - as a contender with the one above. As I've mentioned before here, the movers had inadvertently packed all our books except one during our move in 2007 - and that book was Isak Dinesen's "Out of Africa". Reading it, it was hard to believe that English wasn't the author's mother tongue. I think I read it three times while we spent 5 months in the gîte at Villefranque. Highly recommended if you haven't read it - and even if you have.  

24th October. I read somewhere today that among the many and varied accomplishments of the new British Prime Minister-in-waiting is the fact that he'd been Head Boy at Winchester College, his alma mater.  My Maths teacher at school was also an Old Wykehamist and his standard punishment was to have boys write out (in multiples of 50 according to the offence) his school motto: "Manners makyth Man" - three small words that lose nothing in repetition. I wish our new PM well. 

23rd October. While we've been enjoying a warm week or so down here with temps in the range 23 - 31°C, it can't be long before Autumn morphs into Winter. The clocks go back next weekend and then it can only be a matter of time before a storm rises up out of the Bay of Biscay and comes roaring in. A few days of wintry gales will set the shutters a-rattling and strip the trees of their leaves - and the period that follows always puts me in mind of this next piece:
This live version by the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili is arguably the definitive rendition of Debussy's "Clair de Lune" - but I selected the one above simply because of the moon..  

17th October. A few internal bulkheads were creaking and groaning last night after our copious lunch yesterday at our "banker" restaurant when we sampled their Autumn menu. Neither of us felt the need to eat a single thing in the evening - and even today, I could give lunch a miss.. 

We'd arrived early at Ascain yesterday and so we took a slow drive around the same leafy lanes where 30 years ago we used to go for a run before breakfast.. (was that really me?) It's still my favourite village in the Pays Basque and it was at its best yesterday under the October sunshine with few tourists about. A Basque brass band was creating a lot of noise (playing as though their trousers were on fire..) in the square but as we'd reserved a table outside in the secluded rear garden (right) of the restaurant we were well out of earshot. I hope it's not the last time that we'll be able to do that this year.
16th October. When we left the restaurant this afternoon, we were both - in Bill McLaren's memorable phrase - riding very low in the water.. after enjoying an omelette aux cèpes, followed by sanglier (wild boar) in a sauce grand veneur (a red wine reduction), then a couple of Basque cheeses - all eased down with a velvety Irouléguy Gorri d'Ansa (more here) - then dessert and coffee. It was also 31°C..      

15th October. One of our favourite restaurants is offering its long-awaited Autumn menu - featuring such things as wild boar, venison and wood pigeon (and no, it doesn't all taste like chicken!☺). We're off there tomorrow for lunch.. 

14th October. Just back from the hairdressers after a shearing.. and after contemplating the stranger in the mirror in front of me, the title of one of Hemingway's short stories sprang to mind - "The Snows of Kilimanjaro".. Can't imagine what made me think of that!
Meanwhile, walking back from town I couldn't help noticing this display of pink umbrellas overhead in support of something called 'October Rose'.. (I believe it's a breast cancer campaign..)

I'll be watching England take on France tomorrow morning at 0800 GMT .. in the Women's Rugby World Cup.. Think there might be some skin and hair flying!   

11th October.. (already!) There are some great songs tucked away in here.. I don't think I've ever bought an album, a CD or - what have I forgotten - a cassette tape by any of these artistes (apart from a few Billie Holiday CDs) but still - these songs will be played loong after I've gone..          
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 his 'Virtuoso' album (1973) is really 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.

If the video is taken down again, you should be able to listen to it all here.

Joe Pass - of whom it was said that "he looks like somebody's uncle and plays the guitar like nobody's business.."

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.