Sunday, 25 March 2012

180. First siesta of the year

22nd March 2012. After the shocking events in Montauban and Toulouse were resolved this morning, I think it's time for a reminder that Man is capable of producing works of great beauty as well as the most horrific of crimes. As you listen to Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No 5, spare a thought for the families who are mourning the loss of loved ones:

24th March 2012. It was a lovely warm morning down by the river and there was a good turn-out. I went out in a mixed ability VIII sculler and it's always sorties like these that are the most tiring. I was at 2 (which corresponds to 7 in the UK/US) and the upriver leg was fine. We stopped after 10 minutes to take our warm-up tops off as they were clearly redundant. At the turn-around point, the cox and the stroke changed over and the return leg was - how to say it - less rewarding. We did 14km.

We had lunch outside on the terrace again today.. and I finished up with a Greek coffee and a contemplative cigarillo.. I was still getting over the morning sortie and the heat coupled with a glass or two of wine had me ready for a siesta.
At the end of the afternoon, we went for a drink on the terrace of the bar/restaurant La Plancha (above), on the beach at Bidart, just below the Château d'Ilbarritz (mentioned a couple of posts ago). It must have been 22-24C out there on the terrace. Definitely a new addition to my list.  
Here's something that sounds as fresh today as the day it was recorded - in 1959!

In case you've ever wondered who the great undiscovered literary talent behind this blog is - pause while the guffaws die down - I've decided to respond to several requests and break cover at last.

Here's a fairly recent photograph of me hard at it at the editorial desk! This must have been taken on a 'dress down Friday' and it looks like the pressures of getting the latest post out and the long working days are slowly getting to me..

26th March 2012. We ate outside on the terrace this evening for the first time this year.. Now where did I put my Eric Morecambe shorts?

27th March 2012. A perfect evening's row up the river on a warm, still evening - shorts and t shirt in the boat for the first time this year. 14km. Once back home, after a quick shower and change, it was straight out to our west-facing terrace for a roast farm chicken eased down with a glass or two of Burgundy. Afterwards, I sat there feeling pleasantly tired in the evening sunlight listening to the sound of birds twittering and the distant hum of traffic as I watched the pale contrails of jets as they sped silently northwards. It was with great reluctance that I replaced the cork in the bottle! As my uncle used to say: you've got to know when to hold, know when to fold and know when to walk away.

29th March 2012. We decided to go to San Sebastian this morning to try and achieve terminal meltdown of my credit card. Don't get any big ideas though - two packets of peanuts would be enough to do that! The first strange thing was that we were waved through the first motorway toll that we came to in Spain.. and then on arrival at our favourite underground parking garage in downtown San Sebastian, it was suspiciously easy to find a space.
D'Ayuntamiento San Sebastian - or Council buildings

Then when we emerged into the daylight we noticed that every shop was closed. Not only every shop, but also there was not a single kiosk, bar, café or restaurant open. The streets were curiously busy and there were flyers scattered everywhere on the pavements in Spanish and Basque proclaiming that today was a General Strike. Sure enough, we spotted some red flags in the distance as groups of strikers started gathering. Walking through town we half expected to find at least one little dissident café open for business but no - the Basque solidarity was impressive. It was a beautiful day too for bumbling around shops pensioner-style but after a while we realised that nice though San Sebastian is to wander around, there's not much point if everything, as in everything, is closed.
Maria Christina bridge
So it was back to the car and we headed off back towards France again. I think we got away just in time as a massive demonstration was forming up across the river to march into town - and that would cause traffic chaos. The column was at least 20 people wide and it stretched back for ½ mile probably.

By this stage, stomachs were threatening wild cat strike action if food wasn't taken pronto so we swung off the motorway at St Jean de Luz and a few minutes later we were installed on the terrace of Chez Pantxua at Socoa. Just look away for the next few minutes while I recall what we had - mmmm-mmmmm - OK, it's safe to come back now! Suffice to say, it's the best place for seafood by 1.6km. (that's a mile to you!) Almost forgot - two hungry strike-breaking Spanish couples sat down at the next table and in a touching display of solidarity with the strikers they started by ordering a bottle of Bollinger* - the ladies had foie gras to start with while the men had oysters..

* It was Madame Bollinger (right) who famously said of champagne - “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and I drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty”.

It was such a beautiful late afternoon that I raised myself from my post-lunch snooze stretched out on the terrace (in swimming trunks no less!) to get changed for an evening row. It turned out that I was the only bloke-type person there and so we put an VIII out on the water. I must say it went very well, apart from a congenital need to stop for a chat at suitable intervals..!! Joking aside, it was a very worthwhile sortie and it felt like a crew that had rowed together for some time. So Tick VG from me! Think we did 12km.

31st March 2012. Down to the river again this morning (four times in a week!) and had an outing in a mixed VIII. We rowed as far as Villefranque before turning where another VIII caught up with us. G, our always-cheerful responsable, coach and all-round good guy, who was with us in a speedboat, thought it would be a good idea if the two VIIIs raced each other back to the clubhouse (known curiously in French as the 'garage'). If I was sitting comfortably in a speedboat on a sunny morning that's just the kind of idea that I might have had too! We gave the other crew a head start and then we were off.. It wasn't long before we could hear the splashing of the other crew as we drew closer plus the various incomprehensible shouted exhortations which seemed to consist mainly of "Ensemble!".. (ie, together) - which gave me heart as it indicated that they weren't.. Gradually the stern of their boat came into view and we steadily overhauled them before building a nice lead of 2-3 lengths. About 2km from home, we both stopped for another go. This time we started level and after ten strokes we were up on them and going away. All good fun! Did 18km all in all.
Blew the dust off my shorts and I took them and the dog for a walk after a quick shower.. 31st March too!

I was taking an inventory of the fridge contents after lunch (OK, aka casual thieving!) and I noticed a packet of Ossau-Iraty cheese in the cheese box. If you've been paying attention (Post #179 refers) you'll remember that this is the cheese that's been adjudged to be the Best Cheese in the World.. I might just try some this evening.

1st April 2012. The two local rugby clubs in the Pays Basque aren't having their finest season. Aviron Bayonnais are firmly in the drop zone of the Top 14 and after yesterday's dire performance against fellow strugglers Perpignan (final score 47-9) the only possible conclusion to be drawn is that Bayonne are going to go down. Meanwhile, Biarritz (also down amongst the pond life of the Top 14) played out of their skins yesterday to squeeze a much-needed victory by a 1 point margin against Clermont (who are 2nd in the Top 14). Now where's the logic in that?

4th April 2012. I'm afraid I've been neglecting the broad sunlit uplands of Blogistan lately but, as always, I have a convincing explanation. I've been knee-deep in reviewing, correcting and occasionally re-writing just shy of 1,000 PowerPoint slides on aircraft flight deck instruments of every flavour - some of which hadn't even been thought of when I was last directly involved in aviation.. As you might expect, a thorough understanding of flight deck instrumentation in minute detail takes centre stage in any Commercial Pilots course and so it is that I've been burning the midnight oil lately, wearing a flat spot on my backside, armed with a couple of hefty technical Anglo-French dictionaries, trying to make sense of some of the slides and put them in Angliche.

"So whyja wanna be an airline pilot, son?"
Young man's dream (or fantasy!)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

179. Cheese, seaplanes & San Sebastian

16th March 2012. News has just filtered through to these parts that Ossau-Iraty - a cheese made from ewe's milk in the Pays Basque - was awarded the title of the Best Cheese in the World (English version here) in November last year at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham (UK). To be honest, with a product like cheese that's so inherently diverse in all its forms, I fail to see how one cheese can ever be awarded the accolade of the Best Cheese in the World. I know I've often said here that as far as I'm concerned that Vacherin Mont d'Or is the tops but it's all so subjective and in the end it all comes down to personal preference. I suspect that marketing plays a huge part in this award and I'm sure that the makers of Ossau-Iraty will experience a significant upswing in sales over the next few months. It's a cheese I'm quite familiar with and I must admit that it's nice enough but, eating it, the thought has never crossed my mind that it is the World's Best Cheese. It's served here with black cherry jam - this is available online here, along with a selection of other typically Basque products. This beautifully made short video shows the Ossau-Iraty cheese-making process from start to finish:

I came across this blog earlier and it sums up very well the author's views of food in the Pays Basque and I wouldn't argue with a word of it.

Born in the wrong decade? Charmed by old aircraft? Does the romance of pioneering aviation resonate even just a little with you? The roar of radial engines? Yes? Well there's hope for you yet.. make a note on your calendar for these dates - 17-20 May 2012. There's an International Seaplane gathering planned at Biscarrosse in Les Landes (map here).
Here's the Dornier Do 24 ATT (unfortunately with 3 turbo-props, not piston engines) that conjures up some of the magic of those early machines. 
This Consolidated Catalina amphibian (with its 2 Pratt & Whitney radial engines) taxies low down on water - more in it than on it - in the manner of a floating log. I imagine a take-off in choppy water could be a little sporty!

More videos here.

Last Thursday saw the passing of one of the giants of the rugby world - Mervyn Davies aka Merv the Swerve. Remember those great Welsh rugby teams of the 70s? They played some of the best rugby ever seen anywhere - no ifs or buts. He was one of its stalwarts (& they were all stalwarts) and eventually captained the side. He was part of the only Lions side ever to win a series in New Zealand (1971). In his 46 international appearances for Wales and the Lions, Davies was on the losing side on only nine occasions. With Wales, his record was 26 wins, eight defeats and four draws; with the British and Irish Lions, five wins, one defeat and two draws. RIP Mervyn.
18th March 2012. The weather conditions were favourable for a sortie out on the lower reaches of Adour yesterday so we took a couple of VIIIs and a IV down under the bridges through town and out onto the big river. We were in a new carbon fibre VIII which was very stiff and balanced well and we set off in fine style past the outdoor Saturday market towards, onto the Adour and down river towards the sea. Unfortunately, as we approached the navigable channel, we encountered a rolling swell which in our sort of boat was not good news. So, we cut our losses and returned to the Nive which felt like a flat calm after the Adour. As it was going well, we rowed past the pontoon and continued upstream for a few km before returning home. 16km.

Well done to Wales for taking the Grand Slam in this year's 6 Nations Rugby Tournament, winning 16-9 against France yesterday in Cardiff. England finished second after a convincing 30-9 win against a depleted Irish XV while Scotland picked up the Wooden Spoon after falling victim to Italy 13-6.

To finish up with, here's the late lamented Keith Floyd having fun with the Basques on the other side of the border in San Sebastian. He's absolutely spot on when he says that people here (on both sides) talk about food with a rare passion. Whenever we've had friends around for dinner, the conversation inevitably turns to a discussion of what they're eating, what they have eaten or what they're going to eat. People are expected to have strong opinions on all the different kinds of meat, fish, poultry, cheese, wine & bread and where best to buy it all - or where best to eat it. Anyway, don't let me keep you from the pleasure of Keith's company:

Monday, 12 March 2012

178. The mysterious Château d'Ilbarritz

12th March 2012. What a great heart-warming performance yesterday by England in beating France 24-22 in Paris in the penultimate round of this year's 6 Nations rugby tournament (the best sporting competition in the world in my view!). Watching the teams singing the national anthems in the last few minutes before the kick-off, I must admit that the republican in me is drawn to "La Marseillaise" - one of the great national anthems - whereas I have to say that England's "God Save the Queen" leaves me totally unmoved. 

However, once that whistle is blown, and the white shirts start mixing it with the blue ones, then I become a 100% fully committed supporter of England (albeit from my armchair!). I can't imagine a moment when I could think of supporting any other country. While I have nothing but total respect and admiration for Martin Johnson as a player, I'm afraid that under his guidance England stuttered badly - all too often the ball went sideways. With the benefit of hindsight I think he showed too much loyalty to the elder statesmen of the England squad. And then there were those off the pitch banana skins..

England's try scorers -
Ben Foden, Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi 
On the other hand, his successor Stuart Lancaster, the interim coach, has picked players based on their current form and they are playing an attractive brand of attacking rugby that I, and many others, have waited many a year to see them play. The new coach has transformed a pedestrian and somewhat unimaginative England side into one with growing self-belief and the confidence to move the ball quickly with a refreshing directness from the breakdown out to the lively backs. Hopefully the England RFU will confirm his appointment in the next few days. 

France are no dummies however - they were the beaten finalists (some say unfairly) in last year's Rugby World Cup and yesterday's match was the first home defeat for them in the Six Nations since they were last beaten there 4 years ago (again by England). In the end, and with only a couple of minutes remaining, Trinh-Duc attempted a drop goal that just failed to clear the cross bar. If he'd been successful with that kick, France might have won by a point. By such narrow margins are matches like these won or lost. I think a win would have flattered France as England clearly were the better side, scoring 3 tries to a late French one. Here are the highlights:
I also think that England were unfairly penalised by the referee Alain Rolland. I think a neutral ref should have been found for this game - Mr Rolland has a French father! If the tables were turned, I can't imagine that France would have been content to accept a referee who was half English - so I think his selection by the IRFU (?) was unwise. We watched the match with some French friends in Biarritz (Madame had to keep nudging me to keep quiet!) and afterwards we all went for a blowy walk along the sea front just underneath the Château d'Ilbarritz (not far from the new Cité de l'Océan).

The Château d'Ilbarritz is a truly magnificent house located high up on a hill overlooking the sea with the kind of views out to the west across the bay to Spain that estate agents dream of. It was constructed between 1895-7 for Baron Albert de l'Espée whose family were heirs to an immense fortune founded on steel.
In the closing years of the 19th century, medical science was of the opinion that fresh sea air was the universal cure for many ailments and so Baron de l'Espée decided that there was no better place to have a house built than on the Côte Basque. So far so good! The Baron acquired a massive 60 hectares (148 acres) plot of land "unpolluted by other people" 2 kms to the south of the glamorous seaside resort of Biarritz where his new house would stand overlooking the blue Atlantic waters of the Golfe de Gascogne (Bay of Biscay). However, this would be no ordinary house. The Baron was, to say the least, something of a character and has been described elsewhere as a fabulously wealthy, mad, megalomaniac, hypochondriac, latter day Monte Cristo. Passionate about pipe organs, he had the Château designed to accommodate the largest pipe organ ever built (below) for a private client and there he would play Wagner with the loud pedal pressed to the floor and with the windows wide open! This organ is now to be found in what is probably the most photographed church in France - Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre (more here).
It's impossible to imagine the deafening impact of the "Ride of the Valkyries"  played on a large pipe organ like this in a private house - with the windows thrown wide open, the sound of the thundering surf outside, the guttering candlelight throwing wild shadows, the diapason of the mighty organ ringing out across the waves, the tormented face of the Baron in his own private moonlit ecstasy..
The Baron would surely have included this next piece in his repertoire - Wagner's stirring "Tannhauser Overture"  played here magnificently by Jonathan Scott again, on a similar 4 manual instrument to that of the Baron. Strap yourselves in and turn your volume up into the red zone for maximum effect!

And here is the Baron's celebrated organ installed at the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, Paris:  
What the locals made of all this is not recorded but the Baron may possibly have been the original inspiration for the Phantom of the Opera! There's more of the curious story of the Baron and his lady friend Biana Duhamel here (on a motorcycling web site of all places).

During WWII, the Château served as the German Headquarters on the Côte Basque. Scroll almost halfway down this link to see the Château d'Ilbarritz and other major buildings on the Côte Basque that were requisitioned by the Germans during WWII.

It appears that the Château d'Ilbarritz is for sale.

It's always interesting to see a town you're familiar with through the eyes of someone else. We'd not visited this particular stretch of coast before and so walking along the coastal path with the high spring tide just yards away was very pleasant indeed. There are a couple of restaurants here too - the Blue Cargo and La Plancha - that face directly onto the sea - it's hard to imagine that they could be any closer. Either of these look perfect for a summer's evening and we'll definitely be going there when the evenings are warmer. Having just found this link for the Blue Cargo I'll amend that to a definite maybe..
Returning to our friends' house via a tangle of narrow unmarked streets, our host (a former fighter pilot and a native Biarrot) took us on a quick guided tour of parts of Biarritz that we normally never find ourselves in - pointing out to us Serge Blanco's anonymous-looking house tucked discreetly away in a quiet area for example. Needless to say, there are some very attractive neighbourhoods there. (ker-ching!) He also pointed out that the gently curving Porte de Biarritz (left) we were on had been built on the path of the former branch line that led from the mainline station at Biarritz-La Négresse to the town centre station (above) at Biarritz-Ville (known by all here as the Gare du Midi) and thought by many to be the most beautiful and elegant of all French railway stations (now transformed into a splendid theatre). The trains would arrive at the level of the clock in the photo above and then the passengers would descend the stairs down to the road level. In the heyday of Biarritz, this is how the crowned heads of state, the titled from all over Europe and the rich and famous would arrive to take their carriages to their villas and hotels.

Following the proliferation of the railway across Europe, Biarritz became one of the destinations of choice in the 19th century. The advent of the railway made travel to the extreme south west of France a practical proposition for the first time and the rapid expansion of the European rail network had a knock-on effect on the development of the Côte Basque. What had been a quiet Basque fishing village was about to be transformed into the Biarritz that we know today. The railway opened up the region to wealthy Parisiens and others - such as the Baron de l'Espée - and the coast was never quite the same again. The English gentry also came here in droves - especially in winter - leaving a permanent mark in the form of golfrugby (more) - and tea rooms!

13th March 2012. I was still in my dressing gown and unshaven at 9.30am on Monday morning as I was watching a repeat of Sunday's France vs England 6 Nations match on BBC to try and understand all the penalty decisions that went against England and, if I'm honest, to re-live the hard-fought and well-deserved win in Paris.

The council has decided to put all overhead wires underground and EDF (the electricity company) is taking advantage of the opportunity to rewire our mains supply. Last year it was the turn of an adjacent avenue and it took around 4 months for all the work to be completed. So it was that at 9.30am the doorbell rang and I opened the door to a young man with a camera who announced himself to me as a lawyer. He explained that he was there to talk about the work that's just about to start in the avenue. He wanted to take 'before' photographs to ensure that properties were properly restored to their former condition when the work is finally completed. If there is any damage to property resulting from their work, restorative action can be taken based on his photographic records. I must admit to being very pleasantly surprised and reassured by this initiative. Well done Bayonne!  

Nice outing this evening in a quad sculler.. did 14km. Here's a link about rowing that explains the sport well.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

177. Spring in the Pays Basque

29th February 2012. As it was a warm afternoon (somewhere around 16-17C) I wheeled my bike out for the first time this year, pumped up the tyres and, after putting a few drops of oil on the chain, set off through town to ride along the bank of the river Nive south as far as Ustaritz. With it still being school holidays, there were quite a few mums out there with small children on bikes wobbling every which way and, of course, the customary roller bladers, dog walkers, joggers and other cyclists.

I was determined to do the outward leg without stopping and, to be honest, I felt OK. Returning was a different story however. Even with a gel pad on the seat, I felt every bump, cobblestone, ridge and pothole on the way back. Was I ever glad to finally pull up at the house after around 24km or so.. (I know, it's hardly Tour de France territory) That shower felt good! 

At one point, the cycle lane goes under the main A63 autoroute that runs into Spain and you would never guess from the volume of freight traffic that we're supposed to be in an economic crisis. There seemed to be a constant stream of articulated lorries spaced every 50 yards either heading towards or coming out of Spain. 

Time for some Mark Knopfler:
1st March 2012. I had a very pleasant stroll around Biarritz this morning - there weren't too many people  about in the bright sunshine as I explored the maze of old streets with their dazzlingly white houses above the old port. I emerged near the newly re-opened Aquarium where I stopped to take in the stunning view of the inviting blue sea as it rolled into the bay, dominated by the stately presence of the Hotel du Palais. I couldn't help thinking how lucky we'd been to find ourselves exactly where we'd always dreamt of living.

Meeting up with Madame later on, the plan was to have a lunch of grilled sardines at Casa Pedro in the Port des Pêcheurs (right) but when we got down there, it was closed due to some re-surfacing work. We thought we'd try Bar Jean up by the market but it wasn't our day - all the tables outside were taken - so we found a table inside. They have a new menu and grilled sardines are now a wallet busting 12€ - they're usually 8-9€. I wonder if the market price is up with it being early in the season.

El Presidente was in town today and the usual suspects (Militant Parti Socialiste (PS) and Basque separatists) turned up in force to give him a warm welcome - that is, if you call jeering, pushing and shoving your Head of State a warm welcome. Displays like the scenes shown on national television are not normally seen in one of the major European nations - they're of the sort usually reserved for some fly-blown Third World state. (search on YouTube for Sarkozy Bayonne if you really wish to see the Opposition's  interpretation of democracy here.) In the interests of his safety he had to take refuge in a bar* for some time. I think the response from President Sarkozy was measured, balanced and statesmanlike.
* I think I've used this same line myself in the past! 

2nd March 2012. I came across this slideshow of French villages this morning. It struck me that one of the reasons that many of us are attracted to these ancient villages is because we look at them as if we're in a living Time Machine.. They show us how we used to live a simpler, more fulfilling life before the advent of rows of identical brick houses, sodium street lights, double yellow lines painted all over our roads and all the rest of it - before we lost our sense of community.

3rd March 2012. Beautiful morning for the river - it was dry, warm and sunny and so I rode down to the club on my bike only to find that I was press-ganged into an VIII this morning rigged for rowing (as opposed to sculling). It was what could best be called a 'mixed ability' crew and unfortunately we weren't ever able to control the balance properly, despite numerous exercises designed to reveal the culprit(s)! This made for an uncomfortable sortie. Despite that, we continued up river as far as the passerelle (footbridge) at Villefranque which turned it into an 18km outing.

This afternoon I walked into town and noticed a gathering in front of the Monument aux Morts. There were military units in their kepis and maroon berets, a large turn-out of proud old soldiers with their standards and a fair number of politicians including Marc Laffineur, the Minister for Anciens Combattants. He stepped up to the microphone and made an excellent speech which even mentioned the contribution made by the Réseau Comète. A lady next to me said it was much better than the events of the other day (referring to the demo against the President while he was in Bayonne). I had to agree with her.

4th March 2012. Really looking forward to the next instalment of the Six Nations rugby this afternoon.. it's France - Ireland. This game was cancelled at the last minute in Paris a couple of weeks ago as the pitch was bone hard in the freezing conditions. (oddly, the Stade de France doesn't have undersoil heating?)

Who do I want to win? Easy!! Most people have two teams - the one that they owe their allegiance to by virtue of their nationality - and then a favourite. My second team is, and always has been, Ireland with legendary Irish players back in the day like Mike Gibson, Willie John McBride and Fergus Slattery lighting up the stage wherever they played.

Ireland's opponents today - France - weren't convincing against Scotland and they're without the injured Maxime Médard, their great full-back. Clement Poitrenaud plays at 15 and his handling is suspect under the high ball so I would expect that Ireland will use the up-and-under to try and force an error or three out of him. I've always been a big fan of William Servat, the powerful French hooker known for his bullocking runs with the ball in hand, but curiously, he starts on the bench - perhaps to be brought on with 20 minutes to go. I expect Ireland to win this one!

7th March 2012. The Irish XV gave it their best on Sunday.. I was fairly confident that they'd be able to build on their 17-6 half time lead to seal the match - but France raised their game in the second half and it finished as a 17-17 draw. I usually find draws unsatisfying but in this case I think both sides could take some positives out of this great match. I thought Ireland's Tommy Bowe had an absolutely electric game.. he was so close to scoring a couple more interception tries like the one he did score. He made that one look so easy. There aren't many others around with his speed of thought and the ability to execute. A rare talent. Here he is scoring his second.. According to a few armchair pundits, he should have done this or that - but what a try!   

On Sunday afternoon we're off to our friends in Biarritz to watch the France-England match. This promises to be a fascinating confrontation. Under the guidance of Stuart Lancaster, England's interim coach, the "Quinze de la Rose" (as the French commentators persist in calling England) are playing with some verve, dash and lack of fear for once. I thought they took mighty Wales to the wire in their last game with Wales only scoring their winning try with 5 minutes left on the clock. And France, as they showed against Ireland, are capable of great things once they decide to play. Young Owen Farrell should have a big influence on the game but I also expect France's Thierry Dusautoir (aka the Dark Destroyer) will be more than keen to make sure he doesn't. Extremely difficult to predict a result but I have to hope for an English win. 

Changing the subject completely - I finally worked out this morning how to centralise the blog title at the top of the page.. This has been bugging me on and off for months. There was no easy solution - ie, click on this or that button - nope, I had to get into the HTML code and insert a new line of code.. all very nerve-wracking in case I managed to screw things up completely.

8th March 2012. I took the dog down through the Place des Basques this morning to a couple of parks that  face the river Adour. A few council workmen were busy tidying things up after the winter here and everything was looking spruce. All the bushes, shrubs and trees had been neatly manicured in the French fashion, lawn edgings were well-defined and tree roots were covered in yellow sand. The litter bins are emptied regularly here and it is rare to see people dropping litter away in the same prolifically casual manner as is now the norm in the UK. There are dispensers of free plastic bags just about everywhere for déjections canines but I'm afraid using them appears to be beyond some people. So the motto for today is keep your dancing shoes on when out and about!

10th March 2012. Very nice sortie this morning.. it was cold first thing ~3°C.. Went out in a mecs coxless IV en pointe.. (sweep rowing) Getting in the boat I somehow managed to dip a leg (up to my knee) in a very cold river - so I had a fairly soggy outing. Did 14km and overtook an VIII on the return so came home feeling pleased with ourselves! After that, we had a very welcome apéro..

This evening on France 4 it's the Under 20s France vs England rugby as a precursor to the main event tomorrow. The faux English accents were much in evidence this morning!

Watching the rugby this afternoon - Wales v Italy followed by Ireland v Scotland - all this talk of "Crouch" .... "Touch" .... "Pause" .... "Engage" put me in mind of that old joke about Australian male foreplay - the one where he nudges his sheila in the ribs and asks "You awake?"