Monday, 2 March 2020

277. The first green shoots of Spring

31st March. Finally, some good news.. On 24th March, the UK government announced it would turn the ExCeL Centre in London's Docklands area into a temporary hospital to cope with patients affected by Covid-19 and work began almost immediately.

Due to open this week, NHS Nightingale Hospital London will have between 4,000 and 5,000 beds. Congratulations to all concerned.. This project reminded me of the miracles that were achieved in WWII by people working for a common cause. It's sad that an emergency such as Coronavirus was required to bring us together. Of course, there will be no shortage of critics who will perform all manner of mental contortions to avoid praising any of this government's actions.   

Story and pictures here and here.

30th March. Musicians from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in isolation at their homes play Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ - coordinated by Skype: 
With so much bad news circulating, I thought I'd change the mood and show you a playlist of several short 30 second videos of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. This charming seaside resort and working fishing port was where we started looking for a property following our move to the Pays Basque in 2007. We'd first visited the resort in 1991 and we were smitten instantly (and we still are).

However, given the nature and layout of the town, it quickly became apparent that there was little hope that we'd be able to find what we were looking for in the town centre - and even if we had have done, it would have been outside our budget. Nevertheless, Saint-Jean-de-Luz remains a firm favourite with us and even now we count ourselves fortunate to be able to access it just a few minutes from home. These clips were filmed in April 2019.

29th March. There are so many funnies circulating now about Coronavirus (due to people having a lot of time on their hands). This is one that I particularly liked:

28th March. Stéphane Sénéchal, a professional opera singer, has been providing a free concert to his neighbours since Tuesday from the window of his apartment in Paris's 9th arrondissement. A gesture of comfort in this difficult period, especially for the elderly.
27th March. One very welcome side effect of the Coronavirus global pandemic is that drug addicts and users will have extreme difficulties in sourcing their supplies, given that many communities have been placed in lock down. Oh dear. How sad.

Back from an early morning shop at Grand Frais, Biarritz - whoever thought of the concept deserves a medal.. Much thought has clearly gone into the presentation of the produce - the shop is lit like a film set. I noticed this morning that, in addition to the spotlit displays, discreet clouds of water vapour was drifting over selected gleaming fruit and vegetables. This is nothing more than Food Porn! Everything is presented to maximum advantage and as I've said before, it really does make shopping pleasureable. The effect is more than skin deep though.. I watched the replenishment of the displays and it's clear that the produce is as fresh as can be. It all looks as though it was picked first thing this morning (although it might have been as long ago as yesterday afternoon!)

The shop opened at 9am (later than usual) and so we had to queue (yes, in France!☺) with a couple of metres spacing. Of course, that wasn't good enough for some shoppers with the queue-jumping gene who, ignoring the big queue for the main shop, joined a separate shorter queue for the shop's bakery and when the shutters were raised they somehow found themselves - by chance! - in the entrance to the main shop. There are always those who seek to gain advantage.. it's a trait of human nature that's to be found in every country - but here some have turned it into an art form. There was a time when behaviour like that would have had me mentally reaching for a baseball bat or a pump action shotgun (yes!) - but I've become more philosophical these days (I just give my knuckles a good clenching instead!). 

26th March. I was woken early this morning by a couple of paws on the bed and some heavy breathing.. I can take a hint.. I let Nutty out in the garden and true to form, he scurried around to check on his lizards.. After he'd had his first hunt of the day for them - with him all a-quiver - we went back to bed. With the present restrictions in place, there's practically zero traffic using the avenue and so I thought I'd open the bedroom windows to let some fresh air in.

Two minutes later, just as I was heading for oblivion, it sounded as though the Bayonne & District Chapter of the Vespa & Lambretta Club (right) was holding an Open Day outside.. so out of bed again to close the windows. Back to bed.. Two minutes later, it felt like a sack of potatoes had landed on my feet - and wasn't going to move. (guess who?!) After that, sleep was impossible.

My mind started wandering and I recalled a Parisian friend we had here some 10 years ago - a good friend and yet someone with the unintentional (I hope) arrogance of one who lives in a nation's capital. I was watching him tapping away at his Blackberry (left) and so I asked him what he used it for. He replied that it was useful for noting the dates and times of expositions in Paris.. but (and this is where his bluntness took me by surprise) he said that one wouldn't be much use to me as there were no exhibitions here.

He came out with another zinger during that same visit. He regarded himself as an "intellectual" (a compliment in France) and one day he was searching for a word to complete a comment he wanted to make on a cultural subject - and I supplied the right answer. His reply? "Yes, but that's outside your sphere isn't it..". I've always been too polite to make, or reply to, comments like these.

I could have said that going to exhibitions is a passive activity and that I prefer doing things - rather than simply looking - but I didn't.

So, in reply to your unasked question, this is what kept me awake this morning! Strange, the things we remember.           

25th March. As the weather warms up here and the lizards in the garden ease out of their hibernation, it's not gone unnoticed by Nutty, our cocker spaniel. He's on permanent lookout duty by the kitchen door with his view of the lizard border. He's become totally obsessed by them and as soon as I let him out, he darts straight there to stare intently at the tangled roots where they hide. They're quite safe though - their reactions are sharper than his.  

Here's a video about the coastal towns here - to watch in full screen.. The Bayonne segment starts at 0:50..
We have 5 more weeks of confinement to look forward to here - and so I've been tackling jobs I've been putting off for a lo-o-o-ng time. I've been meaning to do some much-needed blog maintenance - repairing broken links, replacing videos that no longer play and replacing photos that no longer display. I started this mammoth task a few months ago and I'd been making slow progress as it seemed never-ending. However, this confinement triggered a fresh burst of energy and I finished restoring all 277 posts just a few minutes ago. May I make a plea - if you find a video that doesn't work, or a broken link or a missing image - I'd be grateful if you could draw my attention to it. Many thanks! 

23rd March. The YouTube issue appears to have been resolved.

19th March. The conditions were just right on 15th February for the offshore reef between Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Hendaye to produce the celebrated "Belharra" wave. See what you think:

18th March. Come on, snap out of it! Being "confined to barracks" gives you the chance to watch escapist fantasies like this next video. For those with long memories, yes, it's a re-post from 7 years ago - but it's well worth it don't you think? If this doesn't ring your bell, float your boat or jangle your bangles, there's no hope for you! Best in full screen..

16th March. Some interesting statistics emerged from yesterday's vote in the local elections. Firstly, out of 32,138 registered voters (of which I was one), there were some 19,672 abstentions. I would imagine that the majority of those who stayed away did so due to fears about the Coronavirus. Secondly, when we arrived in Bayonne in 2007, its population was 44,498. In 2017, the population had risen by almost 20% to 51,228. 

The World Health Organisation has published a great deal of useful information regarding Coronavirus (COVID19). It's available in the following languages:  العربية, 中文, English, Français, Русский and Español.

15th March. We went for a walk this morning at the quaintly-named Milady beach at Ilbarritz, just to the south of Biarritz. We sat on a couple of rocks and watched the rise and fall of the ever-changing sea.. something we never tire of:

The answer to the world's insatiable appetite for energy lies there if only we knew how to exploit it. Looking at the turquoise green sea with its dazzlingly white breakers under a cloudless blue sky, it was hard to believe that all was not well with the world (that's Spain in the distance by the way).

There are a few short (about a minute each) videos here that show the coast at Biarritz. Well worth a look:

14th March. Earlier this evening, Edouard Philippe, the French Prime Minister, announced a package of measures designed to slow down the proliferation of the Coronavirus in France with the closure of restaurants, cafes, cinemas and nightclubs as well as other businesses deemed to be non-essential. It would not, Mr Philippe said, affect essential businesses such as food shops, chemists, banks, newsagents and petrol stations. Mr Philippe also asked people to reduce their travel, especially between towns.

"The best way to slow down the epidemic", he said, "is social distancing. I say this gravely - we must all together show greater discipline in the application of these measures."

However local elections due on Sunday would also still go ahead. he said. Religious buildings would remain open but gatherings and ceremonies should be postponed. France reported a sharp rise in cases on Saturday, from 3,661 to 4,499. It recorded 12 more deaths, bringing the toll to 79.

Elsewhere, I came across this chilling and horrifying assessment of the Coronavirus pandemic and a prediction of potential outcomes. I'm convinced that what we've seen so far is but the tip of the iceberg. Infection rates will increase exponentially from now on. There appears to be no solution to this pandemic other than a vaccine - and that has yet to be developed.
12th March. We're getting ready to batten down the hatches here - I think we've seen just the leading edge of the global Coronavirus pandemic - and who knows what the future will bring. Remember - get into the habit of washing your hands frequently while singing the anthem of your choice.☺ This is one I discovered by chance a few weeks ago. Here are a few more to choose from: here, here, here and here.

9th March. Just when you thought you could - maybe - predict the outcome of a match, the Guinness 6 Nations came up with a thriller from Murrayfield (Scotland's home) that is likely to change the outcome of this year's tournament.

First up though, Saturday saw Wales visiting Twickenham to play England in a match that I thought would be close - and my money was on Wales to snatch the win by <5 points. However, while it was close at the end of the 80 minutes, it finished with a narrow 33-30 win for England. Close but no cigar for the Welsh boys. Match report here.

Tuilagi was red-carded towards the end of the match for a 'no arms' tackle (at 1:20) on George North - and Alun Wyn Jones' tackle was gripped by Joe Marler in an attempt - unseen by the ref - to provoke a retaliation from the Welsh captain that probably would have resulted in a red card for him (AWJ). Joe Marler is a somewhat bizarre individual but using whatever lies between his ears is not his strong point. The game does not need this.
The real story of the weekend came from north of the border at Murrayfield. A young French team had been writing its own headlines from the start of this year's tournament but I think that they travelled to Scotland with the mindset that they were in for a routine win. However, other teams (notably England) with the same mindset have gone to Murrayfield and found it to be the rock upon which their dreams foundered. Scotland were all over France yesterday like (as they say) "a cheap suit".. and France only managed to play their game in brief sequences. 

Exhibit A
France proved the truth of the saying that "no plan survives first contact with the enemy". They were unfortunate to lose their hooker Camille Chat in the warm-up, to be followed shortly after by their lively fly half Romain Ntamack, who left the field following a knock to the head. They were also deprived of Cros for 10 minutes for a dangerous tackle on Grant Gilchrist – although Paul Willemse seemed to be the real culprit – then worse followed for them close to half-time, when Haouas was sent off for punching Man of the Match Jamie Ritchie in his face. Provocation or not, there can be no argument against his red card. Scotland went on to win 27-17 - a result that was thoroughly deserved! Stuart 'Ogg (as he's called on French TV) had his usual influential match and flanker Hamish Watson seemed to be ever-present in both attack and defence - he has a low centre of gravity and is difficult to knock off the ball - a real warrior!  Match report here.
The upshot is that England has moved to top the table on 13 pts - with a slightly better points difference to France. What happens next is in the lap of the Gods.     
6th March. I came across this next clip by accident - I don't know about you but I feel sick just watching it. It's over in Vancouver Island. See what you think:
Look at his earlier videos for more scary stuff! 200 feet up in an aeroplane is a much less scarier proposition than 200 feet up a tree - especially with a chain saw dangling off your wrist! Wild horses etc.

I was reminded of a trip I made years ago to Tofino and Ucluelet on Vancouver Island's west coast.

Here's Tofino:
.. and Ucluelet:
I'd be sorely tempted to move there if it wasn't for a few insoluble practicalities - plus the fact I'm firmly rooted here! 

Much rumbling of thunder during the night accompanied by the sounds of rainwater running in the gutters. As we're only about 3-4km from the sea, the westerly gales of the last few days have also meant that the sound of crashing surf has been clearly audible here. I took the dog down to the coast a couple of times at the height of the gales and I don't want to imagine what life must have been like for anyone out at sea in the Bay of Biscay. The sea that I could see was seething - waves were breaking further out than usual - and the surface was a mass of whiteness with large banks of quivering wind-driven foam 2-3 feet high that had been blown high up onto the beach. There's no mistaking the sea here for the Mediterranean!      

5th March. One of the 'benefits' of my having taken French citizenship is that I am now eligible to vote in the municipal elections which will take place here on 15th and 22nd March.

Another step forward: this morning I received my Carte Electorale which, together with my Carte Identité, is needed to vote here.

Meanwhile, President Macron has issued a reassuring statement regarding the status of British expats here in France. He said, "Dear British friends, you are leaving the EU but you are not leaving Europe. Nor are you becoming detached from France, nor the friendship of its people. The Channel has never managed to separate our destinies; Brexit will not do so, either."

Personally, I've yet to experience anything but a warm welcome from people here. I think the UK media must shoulder some of the blame for stirring up tensions where, in reality, none exist. 

4th March. Some moody shots of Biarritz for you here filmed just before l'heure bleue (blue hour) or, as I'd call it, the "cocktail hour":
..speaking of which - I'm off to see a man about a dog.

3rd March. Coronavirus in France - info.

Looking for property in France with listings in English? See here and here. For listings in English in Pyrénées-Atlantiques - look here.

I heard on the news this morning that, prior to 2007, no high speed rail network existed anywhere in the People's Republic of China (PRC) and yet today - it has more high speed track than all of the other countries in the world - combined. Astonishing. And how many of their cities have you heard of?
It could be argued that the Chinese model of communism and capitalism is working better than Western capitalism. Unfortunately, the two party system prevalent in many western democracies is incapable of sustaining coherent long term strategies for the benefit of their peoples. It could only have been a Western politician who once said that "a week is a long time in politics". Yes - perhaps that statement is probably true for most everywhere - except for China, where they have traditionally taken the long view of events. There are many downsides to Chinese politics that would be unacceptable in the West - but there's no denying the remarkable results the PRC has produced.   

Then there was the offer by the CRCC to build the proposed UK High Speed 2 (HS2) in only five years for less money and at faster speeds (260mph). As kids say today: "What's not to like?". What an embarrassment..

The internet revolutionised society with the number of social networks that proliferated in recent years. Political debate (discours in French) has fragmented in conjunction with the rise of special interest groups enabled by the internet. During the last 3½ years of UK politics (post-referendum and pre-Boris Johnson government), we saw how dissent within both main parties threatened to overturn the status quo and destroy party discipline. I'm not sure that Jack can ever be put back in his box. Future election success will go to the political party that dominates social media. It's worth noting that few of your correspondent's generation are active in this sphere and once we're gone, debate will be a thing of the past. The short tweet is the way ahead for the upcoming generations (whether we like it or not). President Trump was the first to learn this lesson.     

I had to laugh yesterday morning listening to BBC Radio 4 - a report on the measures necessary to curb the spread of Coronavirus said that people should wash their hands thoroughly - but for how long? The UK's Health Secretary said members of the public should sing "God Save The Queen" as they wash their hands to try and combat Coronavirus. Normally, at times of national emergencies,  civil servants add on the caveat that the public should be vigilant.. but against an invisible threat such as Coronavirus they clearly decided it was unnecessary. Still, the image of millions of Brits standing at their kitchen sinks warbling the national anthem while they wash their hands will take a long time to fade.

Those familiar with British politics will recognise straight off the bat that this suggestion went down like a lead balloon with Scots of a nationalist persuasion! According to this report, GSTQ is the English national anthem.. and so it goes.

Off to wash my hands with a song in my heart!

2nd March. A real blowy and blustery day today.. I might just take another trip to the coast to see what the sea is up to.

We were out in the car yesterday and noticed the first greening in the trees - Spring is on the way. Our garden is cranking itself up for another year of growth - aided and abetted by spring rains and warm weather. We saw 20°C yesterday. 

I was down at the beach yesterday with Nutty, our cocker spaniel, and it was such a great day - a roaring sea with crashing Atlantic waves driven by a blustery wind from the west - and so I decided to walk along the coastal pathway (left) to "Le Rayon Vert" - a bar/restaurant on the beach just outside Biarritz. If you click on the photo (right), a small yellow cross marks the northerly and southerly ends of the walk.  

On arriving there, Le Rayon Vert was still closed for the winter so we turned around and set off back to the car to try and break one hour for the out-and-back walk. Tick VG!

This walk didn't seem to have made any kind of adverse impression on the dog at all! Once we got home, he started darting around the house with his bone. Me? Er yes.. different story.. I don't mind admitting that I was glad of a sit-down! ☺

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