Friday, 2 February 2018

252. A February face..

28th February. The weather forecast was right on the money.. we woke up this morning to a silent white world - and it's been snowing continuously since about 6am. The dog was booked into a dog grooming place in town at 9am so I set off with him into a near-blizzard - slip-sliding along the pavements as Nutty tugged this way and that in his excitement at discovering the white stuff! When I arrived at the shop, it was still closed.. so after waiting 5 minutes or so, we returned home. I'll be glad when life returns to normal!

Here's someone who had fun in it!
27th February. There's talk of snow here tomorrow.. apparently we can expect 4-5cm of it. In ten years here, we've only once had a light covering of snow - but it disappeared by midday.

Just as we seemed to have accumulated several generations of camera technology (it's about 5 at the last count), we also have a number of corkscrews that, at various times, I've sworn by (or at!).

When I was still living at home with my parents (decades ago), an aunt gave my parents an ingenious wooden corkscrew that mystified us all. It - or, more accurately, we - could be counted upon to destroy any cork. The problem was that when using the darned thing, the main body of the corkscrew obscured the view of the screw biting into the cork in the correct place (ie, the centre). We often contrived to ruin corks so that they couldn't be replaced!

This was followed by a succession of winged corkscrews (right) but after a season or two of use, the stresses involved in pulling corks would often put an irreparable strain on the lightweight mechanism causing it to fail - just when you needed it to work!

One of the first I remember buying was a corkscrew with a wooden handle made from an old and gnarled vine root (left). They come in all shapes and sizes so I needed to try a few from the display of dozens until I found one that fitted my grip. The problem with it - such as it was - was that before using it, I first had to find a sharp knife to run around the bottle top to remove the lead capsule cleanly. Not a major problem and I was happy with it for many years. These are inexpensive and widely available - and they're often to be found in French supermarkets.

The trouble with these is that they both need a fair amount of oomph to get the job done. A few years ago, I came across this well-engineered product (right) and I gave one to my late Mum as she would frequently entertain her friends and she needed something that would lever even the most recalcitrant cork out of a wine bottle with the minimum of effort and drama - an important consideration as she was living on her own then. We have it now and it sits in a drawer somewhere as an emergency back-up.

My cousin from Canada visited us here (almost 10 years ago now.. phew) and she kindly gave me an extremely practical corkscrew known as a "waiter's friend" (left). It incorporates a small blade for cutting the lead foil neatly around the top of the bottle plus it's small enough to slip into a pocket. Try that with any of the others! Of all the corkscrews I've ever used, this has to be the best. I enjoy using things that are well designed, well made and fit for purpose. If you follow that principle to its logical conclusion, then one day you'll find yourself looking at Laguiole corkscrews. Admire the skill here as a Laguiole craftsman assembles and finishes a corkscrew.
Laguiole is the Rolls-Royce of cutlers in France. Take a look at their range of corkscrews - they're beautifully made objects and they're made to be handled. Now tell me you don't know what you want for a birthday/Christmas/retirement present!    

PS: The last word on the subject!
25th February. It's going to be cold here during the next two or three days - not as cold as Winnipeg (which is reputed to have the coldest winter temps of all major Canadian cities) but getting down there. I was down at the beach this morning with Bulldozaire aka Nutty, our 9 month old English cocker spaniel puppy (if a 15kg (33lb) eating machine can still be called a puppy!) and it was very cold indeed. Not quite raw - but very close to it. And looking out at the waves forming, I spotted a good half dozen surfers waiting for the wave. Rather them than me.

As for the weekend's Six Nations rugby, France finally won a match 34-17 in Marseille on Friday evening against the courageous Italians, the perennial holders of the Wooden Spoon (la cuillère de bois).

Yesterday, championship leaders Ireland beat a resurgent Wales 37-27 in Dublin:
Later on in the final match of the weekend's action, Scotland built on their deserved win against France last week as they demolished (no other word for it) England's hopes of a third Grand Slam with a well-deserved and comprehensive victory against the 'Auld Enemy'. Any hopes that Scotland would be unable to maintain the awesome power and discipline with which they started the match for the full 80 minutes proved to be ill-founded. There appeared to be no chinks in the armour of the men in blue. That victory will rightly be celebrated north of the border for years to come. Rugby at its best. Well done Gregor Townsend!
23rd February. I read somewhere the other day that those seeking French naturalisation may be asked to sing the "Marseillaise" during the ceremony (gulp!). While I know most of the first verse, I must review the words of the refrain to get them spot-on if I wish to avoid a repeat of John Redwood's acutely embarrassing performance (a real 'Bambi staring into headlights' moment!) when he attempted to bluff his way through the Welsh National Anthem when he was the Secretary of State for Wales in 1993. (I think this was one of the nails in his political coffin) 

Reading the English text of the Marseillaise, and comparing it with the national dirge - oops - anthem that I was brought up with, it's fair to say that they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. (That's all I'm saying!☺)

Glyn Davies, MP
20th February. It was with a jolt that I discovered a few years ago that my right to vote as an overseas voter in UK General Elections and Referendums would cease 15 years after I left the UK permanently. In my case, the current expiry date is 2022 - a date that once seemed far beyond the horizon, but which is now approaching fast. (too fast!) As my income is taxed in the UK, the mantra that sparked off the American Revolution: "No taxation without Representation" immediately sprang to mind.

However, I've just learned that a Private Members Bill - the Overseas' Electors Bill 2017-19 (sponsored by Glyn Davies MP) - will be having its second reading in the House of Commons in a few days. The worthy aim of this bill is to set out to extend the vote for life to overseas-resident UK citizens. I thought it was iniquitous that voting rights stopped after 15 years abroad - so all I can say to Glyn Davies, MP, is many thanks in advance - and should you ever be passing through Bayonne, there will be a sangria or three waiting for you with your name on it.

I heard a podcast this morning from a group calling itself Brexit Brits Abroad. It's neither pro-Leave or pro-Remain - it simply informs the curious about the range of opinions on this thorny and divisive subject. Lots of useful information there - including a brief on how to apply for French nationality.

18th February. A few years ago, when I was still rowing, a group of us from the rowing club here took up an invitation from a Basque rowing club based at San Sebastian to row with them in their trainières (or traineras in Spanish). These are large light boats with fine lines that hold a 13 man crew plus a steersman and they are raced in regattas along the north coast of Spain every summer.

They were formerly used to bring the day's catch of anchovies and/or sardines quickly back to the home port, with the first home attracting the best prices. The arrangements on board can seem primitive to anyone used to rowing in classic IVs or VIIIs as there are no sliding seats, no modern gates to secure the oars and no adjustable stretchers for the feet. However, as they are light in weight, they accelerate remarkably quickly and are very lively in the long Atlantic swells outside the bay of San Sebastian. Despite not having sliding seats, the oarsmen manage to achieve a very respectable length of stroke by leaning back almost horizontally at the finish and pulling the oar right up the the shoulder. I enjoyed the experience very much and the next day I felt stiffness in muscles I didn't know I had!
You can watch a race between 4 trainières in the bay of San Sebastian (La Concha) here.. it starts at 04:10..

14th February. After weeks of rain, I'm pleased to be able to report that the forecast for tomorrow is for 19°.. Could it be? It'll be a novelty to take Nutty for his daily walks and not have him coming back like a drowned rat!

13th February. I came across some interesting old images of the Pays Basque - so I put this short montage together accompanied by a spot of Sidney Bechet - voila! (kept me busy on a rainy day!)
11th February. Just finished watching a magnificent Scottish win (32-26) against France in the 2018 6 Nations Rugby Tournament.. Forget the "Flower of Scotland" - this music says it all! Well done the Sweaties! (In case you're wondering, Sweaty socks = Jocks!!)
Here's Scotland bouncing back after that defeat in Cardiff last Saturday and demonstrating a lot of heart against the French:
Yesterday, Ireland had a try-fest against the gallant Italians in Dublin and emerged a convincing 56-19 winners to put them on top of the table.

This was followed by the 'must-win' match of the day from Twickenham as hosts England took on Wales, fresh from overpowering Scotland last weekend in Cardiff. England won an attritional match 12-6 that started well for them but they seemed to tire in the second half as Wales came back strongly at them. The Welsh had a try disallowed by the Television Match Official (TMO) and judging by the reaction, it won't be long before the TMO has a TMO watching him. I found it impossible to judge from the available footage whether or not it was a try. All I would add to that is that even though the whole of the Welsh population desperately wished it to be a try, "wishing it" doesn't necessarily make it so. At some point we have to assume that the TMO is unbiased and competent. Therefore if he says "No try" - then that's it. 
8th February. Last weekend saw the welcome return of the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament.. Wales were first up on the Saturday and they defied all the critics and, in a comprehensive display, put Scotland to the sword:
Next up were France and Ireland in Paris. The Irish lads took an early lead but were never able really to put much daylight between them and les Bleus. This match went the distance and then some! (that's all I'm saying!)

Italy welcomed England to the Olympic Stadium, Rome for the match on Sunday. Italy have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and although England were on the scoreboard early on, they were unable to stretch out their lead until the end of the match. Italy will win a match this year, that's for sure. 2nd February. Today is la fête de la Chandeleur - or Candlemas Day - or as it's known in the US - and this should ring a few bells (!) - Groundhog Day. Hidden in the fine print of that first link is this all-important sentence: In France and Belgium, Candlemas (French: La Chandeleur) is celebrated with crêpes. As (my) luck would have it, Madame really has the knack of making these..
We generally limber up with a few savoury ones before moving on to the sweeter ones.. before finishing off with those flambé'd in rhum, Calvados, Grand Marnier or whatever else we can find down in the cellar. Mmmm-mmmm (followed by zzzz-zzzz!☺).

We were up in Bordeaux on Wednesday for the day.. However, the two hour journey means we won't be making a habit of it unfortunately - it's just that bit too far for an out and back day trip. It's a great pity though as you could be excused for thinking that, when walking around the centre (the area around the Opéra), you could be in Paris. (enjoy this video accompanied by Mahler's Symphony # 5 (Adagietto))
The spacious boulevards are lined with elegant apartment buildings very reminiscent of those built by Baron Haussmann in the capital - albeit on a slightly reduced scale. And for those interested, we found another restaurant to add to the map (left).. the lively La Villa Tourny where we enjoyed the 19€ lunchtime menu. If you haven't a head for heights, look away from 15:06 onwards..
1st February. One down - two to go! January, February, March: my least favourite time of the year. 

There's nothing like having to remain indoors while frequent rain showers sweep in from the sea for calling to mind fragments of verse learned in dusty schoolrooms long ago. 

When icicles hang by the wall
   And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
   And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
  Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost

And in case you were wondering where the title of this post came from?

"Why, what's the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?"

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing