Thursday, 1 June 2017

243. Perfect morning in Saint-Jean-de-Luz

19th June. With all the heat we've been enjoying recently, I just realised that I've completely forgotten to keep you posted with the key matches from the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand. They had an uneven start to the tour, due I think partly to the compressed fixture list, coupled with the fact that for some reason known only to Warren Gatland, the touring party arrived in NZ only 3 days before the first match. Here's last Saturday's match played against the Maori All Blacks..

Next weekend sees the 1st Test against the full All Black side.. 

It's now up around 37° in the late afternoon. Might have to take my duffle coat off!

I went for a speed walk along the boardwalk at Anglet this morning. At my max taxying speed, I can get to the far end in just under half an hour, followed by a quick turn around and then back again. There were waves of heat rising up from the path.. and when I finally arrived back at the car, it indicated 34½°. I was steaming when I arrived back at the house. If you click on the photo (right) you should be able to see the start point near the top and the turn around point by all the restaurants below. (look for the yellow X)

The season has definitely started.. car with foreign plates and camper vans are trundling around in ever-increasing numbers. The season proper starts in less than a couple of weeks and that means waving goodbye to a parking space in Biarritz.  

This picture made me smile!
Keep calm and mow the lawn!
15th June. In the interests of balance, here are a couple of images of Bayonne to even things up a little. The river in the foreground is the Nive, (with the much-lamented rowing club at bottom left) before it joins forces with the mighty Adour in the background on its way to the Bay of Biscay. (worth clicking on this one)

This one is taken from the Citadel, overlooking the town and the Pyrenees:
9th June. Here is the view of the Grande Plage at Biarritz as seen from the lighthouse. We always take our visitors here for what is arguably the best view in town:

4th June. France 2 put on a programme the other night about young musical prodigies called "Prodiges" and, in my view, Marin, a young clarinettist, stole the show:
These two precocious youngsters ran Marin very close for my top spot.. very easy to warm to these two!
More of these richly talented young prodigies here.

1st June. We went off early this morning to buy some lawn edging (ooh, the excitement of it!) from a garden centre outside Bayonne the size of Rutland - and after that it seemed like a good idea to zip down to Saint-Jean-de-Luz to enjoy the 1st of June. Madame needed to stock up with some flimsy accoutrements and we also needed to check the menus on a couple of our favourite restaurants as we have a marital milestone approaching. Here's a listing of all the restaurants in and around Saint-Jean-de-Luz. I wouldn't pay too much attention to the comments - I think some of them might be malicious. 

Once again, we pinched ourselves as we walked along the sea front - perfect weather and Saint Jean looked at its best. We'd wanted to have lunch at the Buvette de la Halle but they don't open properly until 14th June so we ended up having lunch at Le Fandango, in rue de la République.. grilled sardines and a green salad for Madame and a salad with roquefort, chorizo, croutons etc for me plus a glass each of a homemade sangria.. What was the damage I hear you ask? 33€ including coffee. My only comment would be that calling itself a bar brasserie is - in the words of the much-missed Alan Clark - being economical with the actualité.      

Thursday, 11 May 2017

242. The swallows are back..

27th May. While Madame was out at the market buying some sardines (among other things) this morning, I was heaving our trusty plancha (right) out from its winter storage in the garage. It didn't need much in the way of titivation as I'd lightly greased all the metal parts prior to putting it away last November. With a new gas bottle in place, the sardines were soon sizzling away and the bottle of rosé sitting in an ice bucket was pulling "open me" faces! 

I say this every year I'm sure and this is probably heresy to "Barbeque Man" but nothing cooks better outdoors than a plancha. I've tried them all - those little Hibachi BBQs in the 60s & 70s, the Weber kettle BBQs in the 80s, gas BBQs in the 90s - been there, done that. Sticks, firelighters, charcoal lighting fluid, the jokey aprons (you know the ones I mean!) - they can all be junked. With a plancha, there's no fuss, no dramas, no clouds of blue smoke drifting over the neighbouring gardens.. Just food cooked to perfection!  

Not convinced? Try this on your barbeque! ☺
26th May. Back from a steamy visit with family - it was 35° up there in Andernos-les-Bains.. It was too hot to be out in the sun there so we stayed indoors in the air conditioned coolth (is this a word?!) of the house.  Once back home in the Pays Basque, we were relieved to find the temperature was a welcome 10° cooler. Later on in the evening, the skies darkened, the wind began to blow* and the stage was set for a rumble.. and we weren't disappointed. It arrived around 11pm - the sky was almost continuously lit up with lightning and then the rain started. We have a small balcony at the front of the house and towards midnight I stood out there in my pyjamas hoping to get arrested enjoying the light show. It was quite spectacular! 
* known as a brouillarta here.
Here's (yet) another look at the Pays Basque.. OK, the coast has all the hot spots and those "must see" places that have to be visited if it's your first time here - but I would argue that the interior merits equal attention. It has an added advantage - while frustrated and frazzled motorists on the coast crawl from one tourist honey pot to the next in long shimmering tailbacks, the interior is by comparison virtually car-free. That's all I'm saying! 
We're off to Andernos-les-Bains for the day today so you'll have to talk among yourselves while we're away or - have another look at our town..!
25th May. The forecast today was for 33° so we decided to go down to the beach early for a walk before the day became too hot. Just as well we did because by 11am it was already 28° - and so after having lunch outside we moved back indoors this afternoon. The outside temperature in the shade is now 35° at 6.30pm..

Here's a quirky reminder of what Bayonne looks like.. I think it's a photogenic town but it's hard to see it now with fresh eyes after 10 years.. See what you think.  
I made one of my "specials" yesterday evening to cool off with.. Into a tall glass, pour a measure of white rum (from the French islands if you can find it), then add a similar quantity of sugar cane syrup. Then take a couple of limes and squeeze them. Add the juice to the glass. Stir well. Finally, top up the glass to the brim with cracked ice. This is hard to make if you don't have a machine for grinding ice cubes into fragments - but do your best. It's worth the effort. Find a shady spot - and enjoy!      

23rd May. I was upstairs earlier getting ready to go out - when there was a light thump at the window. Lying on the window ledge was a small yellow bird that was clearly dazed. This is becoming a habit! (two others did the same thing last year) It appeared to be still alive (just) so I took it downstairs and sat it in the garden while it slowly recovered its bearings. After about 20 minutes, it flew off to a nearby bush and vanished in the tangle of roots.

On coming back home, there was no sign of it so no harm done. I think that's about the third or fourth one that's done this particular trick in the last few months. It looked like one of these - that's as specific as I can be - I'd say it was a juvenile goldfinch (probably maybe).

19th May. I've been trying for a while to find a video that shows what rowing is like from the inside.. The problem is - you can't row and take a picture at the same time. It needed the advent of GoPro cameras - sturdy, small & autonomous - to open it up. Here's one that doesn't do a bad job of portraying the sport - apart from the music. It would have been better if we could have just heard the rhythmic whoooosh whoosh of the sliding seats and the sound of water bubbling under the boat:

If anyone knows of a good rowing (not sculling) video where you can hear just the sound of rowing (without a $&ù§?à music track!) I'd be grateful if you could send me the URL, and I'll post it here. Contact me via the link above the visitor counter in the left hand margin. Thanks! 
17th May. I try not to pay too much attention to political tittle-tattle (meat and drink for rolling news channels) and there's certainly no shortage of that at the moment on this side of the Atlantic. In France, there's much interest in the composition of President Macron's new government (with legislative elections to follow in June); in the UK, political pundits are unanimous in anticipating a landslide election victory for Prime Minister Theresa May on 8th June - plus there's the ongoing Brexit saga as British negotiators prepare to lock horns with the assorted suits of the EU.

However, my ears pricked up after listening to some of the claims and counter-claims emerging from the US (summary of the salient points here). I can't help but think that Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, has either been remarkably unlucky, spectacularly misquoted, poorly advised or just plain dumb (or all of the above!). It could also be that he's the latest example of the bull who carries his own china shop around with him. Surely he is surrounded by advisers who can guide him through the political minefields of Washington?

The "impeachment" word has started to be bandied about.. and we haven't heard that since 1998. Only one President in my lifetime has been impeached (President Nixon beat the House to the draw by resigning in advance). I view the impeachment process as evidence that no-one is above the law in the US. President Trump appears to be sailing very close to the wind and now the FBI has been given a week to hand over records & transcripts of conversations from the White House. Brace yourselves..

Meanwhile, here's a timely reminder of when, on a hot Texas morning 55 years ago, a young President inspired a nation - and a watching world:
(Entire speech here)

Watch "Journey to Space" here.. best in full screen) 

16th May. I was out in the garden yesterday doing a few small jobs when I was minded to check the temperature.. We've a thermometer out there in the shade and it was registering 30°! I've just come indoors after doing some more work out there and it's now a sultry 31° at 4pm.. Phew! Suddenly it's summer. And Madame has just returned from a trip into town and even she was complaining about the heat. I think we might be due for a storm this evening.  

10th May. A long-lost cousin of mine arrived in town a couple of days ago in a camper van from a holiday in southern Spain. We spent the last two days catching up and visiting all the "must see" places in the Pays Basque. We got up to speed on Monday evening with dinner at Chez Pantxua before heading out on Tuesday for Ascain, Sare, Ainhoa, Dancharia, Itxassou - for lunch at Esteben Borda (right) - where we were defeated by the generosity of the lunch - and the quantity of the wine! It's not often you'll hear me say that - before we headed back to Bayonne.

Today, we did Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Les Aldudes (for lunch at Pierre Oteiza - highly recommended!), Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry and Espelette. Fortunately, the weather gods smiled on us on both days - we were blessed with temps up in the high twenties - and so our visitors saw the Pays Basque at its very best. The roads inland were traffic free and it was a real pleasure to show them why we are so well-rooted here.
Although this bridge over the river Nive at Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry is known as the Roman Bridge, it actually dates from 1661. Looking down from the ancient bridge and watching foot-long trout in the crystal-clear waters below was addictive - a trout would give an occasional flick of the tail to hold station over a stone, then its dark shadow would slide across the river bed followed by a sudden sparkling dart and a spreading ripple as one took an insect - but we had to move on.

The grooves worn in the cobbled surface bear witness to the use made of the bridge by countless heavily laden carts and wagons over the centuries travelling to and from nearby Spain.

8th May. And so today we enter the era of Macronomics. There's much optimism and enthusiasm on TV for the new man but it's early days yet. I think he'll find his hands are tied by the "Golden Rules" just as Hollande's were - thus the only actions available to him are those that cost little or nothing to implement, but generate the impression of activity. His record will be judged on his reaction to threats to the country's security and the economy, notably the unemployed and the unemployable. Can he connect with the people? Can he convince the unions to back him? Can he get his reforms and legislation through the National Assembly without a party machine? He has a massive challenge ahead of him. 

Meanwhile, the first swallows are back. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

241. April showers in the Basque Country

2nd May. We're back after a few days away visiting A-M, an old friend who has a house at Le Montat, just outside Cahors (capital of the Lot department). A-M and Madame taught French together at a school in England and she now divides her time between her ancestral home at Le Montat and a small town in the West Midlands in England - and it would be difficult to imagine two places that had less in common than these two. Le Montat would have been a comfortable 4 hour drive (virtually all autoroute) from Bayonne, if we'd driven there non-stop.

Le Montat is situated in what's known as la France profonde.. which means that the pace of life is delightfully slow and blissfully tranquil. La France profonde has been defined as a rural area of France that has preserved its authenticity, where time is not a rushing river but a meandering brook. Her house (above) dates back to the 18th century and it's full of character. In the garden, there was no sound except the distant puttering of a light aircraft a few miles away as it towed a glider up into the sky. A-M has two brothers - J-R and B - and they both have houses in the village. It's hard for someone raised in suburban England to imagine the enduring pull of family roots that have locked successive generations of the same family into one small village. Walking around the honey-coloured village with A-M, every house had a story to tell and every passing car (not that there were many!) gave us a friendly wave and exchanged a quick word with her.

On Saturday evening, the plan was that we were going to take a dinner that A-M had prepared to J-R's house. We loaded a large casserole (containing her aromatic chicken dish) and a few other intriguing bags into her car and we drove the few yards to his house. A large wood-burning stove was doing a good job of warming the house while we unloaded the meal in the kitchen: corks were extracted from bottles of wine, bread was cut and once everything organised, there was the 'pop' of a champagne cork and seconds later a mother and daughter (with good hearing!) from the village arrived to make up the six-some. At the table, there was asparagus, the chicken dish (mmm!), some Basque cheese and a gateau basque.. all of which was eased down with the help of some Irouléguy and a fine bottle of Pomerol.. (la vie est dure!) A wonderful evening.

Here's a picture that should help you to orientate yourself as to where wines I've mentioned often here - such as Irouléguy, Jurançon, Madiran - stem from. I used to drink Gaillac in England but unfortunately Madame's not wild about it. Tursan is another one. Cahors is an inky black full-bodied wine that we don't see too often here. Very drinkable.

I woke up on Sunday morning after a brief but satisfying coma, and stepped outside to savour the silence. The plan was to visit a nearby village for lunch and so with about an hour to go before lunchtime, the four of us headed off into the countryside (past endless rows of the Malbec grape vines that were destined for the famous 'black wine' of Cahors) to Saint-Cirq Lapopie, one of the most beautiful villages in France. J-R was kind enough to volunteer to do the driving, thus releasing me to enjoy the countryside as it passed by.

This medieval village in pale stone would clearly be a tourist honey pot during the prime summer months but on that Sunday we were able to park the car next to our destination - Lou Pastis Quercynois.. (try saying that while eating a Cornish pasty!). We found a table outside overlooking the village (right) and we started off with a copieux (as they say here) serving of terrine de foie gras on toast..
I have to say more courses followed but we'll draw a veil over those.. otherwise you'll be salivating on your keyboards. (website here)

We burnt off some of this superb lunch by waddling around the narrow winding streets of this magnificently preserved medieval village.
A village house being restored
J-R took us next to Cahors where he gave us a guided tour by car (as it was threatening to rain) through the ancient streets before we finished up at the Pont Valentré, a 14th century six span stone bridge across the Lot river. We walked across it while J-R drove around to meet us on the other side. By any measure, this was a stunning technical achievement for the time. Construction started in 1308 and it was opened in 1350.

Sadly, our weekend was over all too soon and we said our fond farewells and headed back home on Monday morning. This is an area I'd like to explore further.

More on Cahors and its surroundings here:
Here's Jean-Luc Petitrenaud, the travelling TV gastronome, with one of his weekly programmes on France 5 that explore the gastronomic delights of France. In this episode, he investigates Cahors. (here's Le Balandre, featured in the programme) Don't worry if your French is not up to speed - sit back and let your eyes do the work:
This made me smile: I was listening to a phone-in radio programme on the BBC this afternoon while making myself a coffee and the presenter took a call from a man who had the following question:

"Where should I stand in the kitchen so that I won't be in the way..!"

It still makes me laugh now about 5 hours later..

Two stray neurons must have collided in my brain because I was suddenly reminded of Franco - the ever-smiling polyglot receptionist (5 languages and counting) on the night desk at the hotel when I was based in Pordenone, in northern Italy during the Balkans unpleasantness in the 1990s. He'd make me a much-needed double espresso (aka a heart-starter) at 2.30am and we'd chat while I was waiting for the rest of the crew to show up for an early flight. One of his favourite sayings was: "La vie est dure, et les femmes coûtent chères et les enfants sont facile à faire.."* and it never failed to put a smile on my face - even at 2.30am!

* Life is hard, wives are expensive and children are easy to make.

29th April. A new word for my reader(s): a quockerwodger - I'm sure you can think of a politician who fits the description without needing any help from me.
21st April. An "unknown ancient reptile roamed the Pyrenees" is a headline from the BBC's news page. You could be excused for thinking that they're talking about a rare sighting of DSK.. but no, the bruised Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been maintaining a suitably reptilian low profile - but it seems that's not low enough for even Hollywood to ignore. There's a film proposed on his travails.. but as yet, no director or cast have been identified. I would think this film would slither easily into the "Wouldn't touch it with a bargepole" category, no matter how much you pay anyone. Wait for: "How much? Where do I sign..?"

17th April. Sorry for the hiatus here.. Both of us have been suffering from an odd cough that refuses to go away. There's a suspicion that it might be pollen related. We've been gulping down the antibiotics, cough mixture, inhalers et al but to no avail. The antibiotics are doing a great job of sending us to sleep in the afternoons. I'll be glad when we're free of it. We've also had to cancel a holiday in Croatia we'd booked in May - due to other factors. All in all, not a good start to the year.  

8th April. It's all set for a steamy weekend here according to the forecast: 27° for today and tomorrow (80°F). This means eating out on the terrace at midday and possibly again in the evening. The downside? The dreaded shorts might have to be brought out!☺

2nd April. This morning, Madame was putting together a little treat for Sunday lunch - blanquette de veau - which admittedly is a bit of a time-consuming dish to make, and so I was released to go for some fresh air along the boardwalk at Anglet. On arrival, I found it was busy with all manner of joggers, sportifs, waddlers and stumblers (your guess as to which category I fit into).

We'd had a blowy day yesterday and this morning a gusty wind was blowing out of the north west over an agitated sea. However, the sky looked clear of rain and so I set off southwards on a brisk 30 minute walk to Le Rayon Vert, a beachside café, just to the north of Biarritz. Once there, I didn't hang about as one or two grey clouds had appeared on the western horizon. I turned around and headed back to the car while keeping a watchful eye on the low grey rain clouds that had formed up out over the sea.  It wasn't long - no more than about 10 minutes - before I felt the first drops of rain. Despite thinking "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" - within 5 minutes I was completely wet through - as in drenched. Was I glad to see the car!

Blanquette de veau
Once home, I stood dripping in the hall, my nose twitching with the wine-rich smells drifting out of the kitchen. A couple of minutes later, I had dry clothes on and I was enjoying an eyes-closed moment as I inhaled the steamy aromas rising off the blanquette de veau (left) that Madame had set in front of me. I poured two glasses of Haut-Médoc and set to work. I love Sundays!
We were looking at electric bikes the other day. at Newteon, Anglet - they had a good range of electric bikes available to buy or hire. (Map here) Madame hasn't been well lately and she wants to get out on her bike again but I think she'll need some assistance - so possibly an electric bike will be the answer. (by the way - that's Bayonne from 0:43 to 1:00). We'll probably rent a couple for the day to see how she gets on with one. (Pedego Biarritz here)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

240. Spring in the French Basque Country

31st March. Here's some more of that gypsy music that I like listening to:

Café Bleu
It was like summer here yesterday - 27° - I dusted off a pair of shorts for the first time this year and we enjoyed lunch out on the terrace. This is more like it! The palm trees down the garden have pushed out pods which have burst out into yellow blossom (left) and the maple is suddenly red with leaves. A couple of pairs of blue tits have discovered the bird feeder and the feed level seems to be going down steadily. We went for a stroll around Biarritz later on and had a coffee at the Café Bleu that overlooks the Grande Plage. The beach was well populated with people trying acquire that first tan. Very pleasant and borderline hypnotic watching the waves!

29th March. Ignoring all the political chatter this morning, it must be noted that Spring has arrived here with a bang.. (a term to be used advisedly in the Basque Country!) We were out and about in the car yesterday and in a week, the countryside has turned green..

27th March. When the British government activates Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon on Wednesday 29th March, it will start a process that will enable the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. All I can say is - at last! No doubt there will be some who confuse my view with being "anti-Europe". Far from it. I think Europe contains more cultural riches of the human story per square kilometer than any other surface in the world. It was from this soil that civilised society grew and flourished. It was from here that many of the fruits of Western civilisation first appeared. Its culture remains the reference for modern day Western culture. 

However, the political expression of Europe's identity - the European Union - leaves much to be desired in my view. I won't delve deeply into the arguments here but suffice to say the 'democratic deficit' lies at the heart of my concerns. Millions died in the twentieth century to preserve democracy and yet somehow the UK, with its proud democratic parliamentarian history and love of freedom stretching back hundreds of years, allowed itself to become embedded in a profoundly undemocratic political construct. No doubt there will be a price to be exacted from the UK for leaving the EU. To me and many others like me, regaining our sovereignty is paramount. I look forward to the next few years.   

25th March. How many of you have tasted Saint-Pierre (or John Dory - more here on its origins)? In the opinion of your scribe, it's one of the finest of all sea fish. It's expensive in restaurants - because it's an expensive fish to buy. However, earlier today we went to the Leclerc supermarket at Urrugne and I was surprised at the extent, range and quality of the fish and seafood on display. My eyes lit upon a display of pale golden Saint-Pierre and out of curiosity I checked the price.. it was only 11 euros and something a kilo! In contrast, the price at our local fishmonger is usually somewhere between 25-28€/kg. In fact, many of the prices were significantly lower than we're accustomed to paying in Bayonne, no doubt due to the proximity of the fish market (known as La Criée) at Ciboure (1km away). We bought one and enjoyed it with a beurre citronnée sauce.

So, if you intend visiting here and wish to take advantage of the above, this self-explanatory video (no sound) shows how to fillet a Saint-Pierre:

However, if you don't feel like getting "up close and personal" with a Saint-Pierre (as above), then the Saint-Pierre at Chez Pantxua at Socoa is highly recommended. (Needless to say, I have no connection with Leclerc or Chez Pantxua other than as a satisfied customer).

24th March. British journalist Andrew Neil spoke out yesterday in the wake of the terror attack in London that saw the death - among others - of Police Constable Keith Palmer. 
PC Keith Palmer
In a moving tribute (video here) to PC Keith Palmer, he said: 
Keith Palmer had been a copper for 15 years, a husband, a dad, brother, uncle, public servant. Before joining the police, he’d been in the army, defending our nation. Yesterday he was murdered defending our democracy, defending the very heart of our democracy from a barbarian at the gate. Just doing his duty, reminding us of something we badly needed reminding of, that the most important people in this country are not the rich, the powerful, the famous but those who run to confront the enemies of our civilisation while the rest of us are running away. First responders like PC Palmer. Brutally stabbed to death by a jumped-up jihadi, not fit to breathe the same air as the man he killed. 
Now I know there are still some ‘Jihadi Johnnies’ out there who think they will eventually triumph because their love of death is greater than our love of life. Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with? This is the country that stood up alone to the might of the Luftwaffe, air force of the greatest evil mankind has ever known. If you think we’re going to be cowed by some pathetic, Poundland terrorist in an estate car with a knife, then you’re as delusional as you are malevolent. Yes, you have the power to hurt us. Sometimes the hurt is more than we can bear - but you cannot defeat us. Because for every brainwashed, brain dead Islamist you send to do us harm, we have thousands upon thousands of Keith Palmers. You find them in every walk of life and in every part of the land, they come in all shapes, all sizes, all colours, all faiths. They are the British people and against them you will never prevail.
Well said Andrew.

23rd March. This is the time of the year when the temperature fluctuates. The other day we had 25°. Tomorrow? The forecast is for 3°.

21st March.  Here's something else that's guaranteed to brighten up your day!

20th March. I'm afraid no words are possible to describe "Intro Outro" - by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - except to say it always put a smile on my face. See what you think:
Looking at my desk, it's clear that I must be keeping the makers of Post-Its in business. I think moths have been at my short term memory. I'll be downstairs and think of something I need to google on my PC upstairs.. In the time between having that thought and finding myself sitting before the flickering screen, I often find that the inspiration for the trip upstairs has evaporated. It must be the stairs!☺ The worst are those stairs with a landing half-way up. Pause for a second, and you can't remember whether you were on the way up or.. Perhaps a high speed chair lift is the answer - to get me to the top before I've forgotten what I came up for! So now, we (OK, I) keep a block of Post-Its in the kitchen to make a note of that transient thought.

I believe goldfish have the same problem. It's claimed that they have a 5 second memory. Anything that happens longer than 5 seconds ago is deleted. Life must be hard for them swimming around the goldfish bowls - each time they come across that bridge, they must think "What's that??"

19th March. I read this morning that Chuck Berry had passed away.. A real original and the true father of rock 'n roll. I was lucky enough to have seen his live show in the sixties and that memory will live long with me. His obituary here.

In addition to the seemingly endless list of rock 'n roll standards he wrote, he also made famous his "Duck Walk" (right).. and crystallised teenage angst (before we knew we had any). His guitar playing had that distinctive driving rhythm and he could make it conjure up the lonely night-time wail of a freight train as it thundered across the darkened prairie. A true giant who didn't owe anything to anybody. Thanks for the memories. RIP Chuck. 
And this was in 1958..!

One of Chuck's songs featured memorably in "Pulp Fiction":

18th March. Another video for you that shows why the Pays Basque is gaining in popularity.. I'll watch it in slow time after this afternoon's rugby marathon has finished! It's the last weekend of the Six Nations - and England have everything to play for in Dublin.. 
La Concha
16th March. The forecast was for a sunny day here so we decided to go to San Sebastian. It's always a pleasure to go there - it has real style. The pavements are wide, there's no shortage of shade when it sizzles and there are some cafés worth visiting - plus there's La Concha, an almost circular bay with its golden crescent of sand to contemplate should you feel the need. It has more than its share of individual shops where it's possible to find unique designs. I've long admired the stylish apartment blocks in San Sebastian and I finally got around to taking a picture of one in the centre of town - and yes, that's a blue cloudless sky.. According to the car, it was 25° and what a pleasure it was to feel the sun on our backs again. Take a look at San Sebastian for yourself here.

14th March. I've finally started the process of requesting dual nationality. Why? When I look at the political pygmies (you know who I mean!) who straddle world stage today, I wouldn't put it past any of them not to make life more difficult than it need be for those of us who live in the EU in somewhere other than their country of birth.

One of the first delights I encountered was a requirement for me to attach a UK Criminal Record Certificate (CRC) along with my application, testifying to all and sundry that I'm a model of sobriety and an all-round good egg. The software gurus who designed the CRC application form have, in their wisdom, made it impossible to save it - to enable it to be completed in stages. Plus - once I started completing the online form, it wasn't possible to go back to the page of instructions - and the lengthy form had to be completed within 60 minutes, with all the scanned material attached, otherwise all the data on it would be deleted. Nice touch!

So there I was - having dutifully assembled all the required documentation as briefed - scanned passport photos, two scanned proofs of address and other supporting (scanned) documents - and I clicked the website to start completing the form. The first shudder was caused by the fact that straightaway I was asked for information that hadn't been called for in the instructions on the previous page (aarrgghh!) - including various key identifiers that should have pinned me down uniquely, such as my UK National Insurance number. You might be excused for thinking that this alone would have been enough - but oh no - I also had to state my UK Drivers Licence number - despite the fact I no longer have one. This had me dashing around the house frantically opening drawers and cupboards - before I could lay my hands on my old tatty out-of-date one. Perhaps UK government agencies aren't as joined up as we sometimes might believe. I won't bore you with any more of this but it was one of the most stressful 60 minutes I've had recently.

The CRC is but one of the many pieces of paper required by the French authorities. A whole host of assorted documentation is required for the process - all of which has to be translated by a sworn translator (ker-ching!)

Soon* though, if all goes well, I'll be in possession of a French passport and I too will be able to stop anywhere for an al fresco pee.. or go sailing blithely around roundabouts while indicating with my windscreen wipers. (oh yes, and be able to vote!) I found out by chance a few years ago that I will lose my vote in the UK once I've lived outside the country for 15 years - despite the fact that I pay my income tax there. (Remember "no taxation without representation"?)
* Soon = <12months!

However, I don't anticipate that, even with a French passport in my sticky mitts, I'll ever be able to enjoy a steaming plate of tête de veau or andouillette. While I have to confess to enjoying frogs legs, I doubt if I'll ever be hungry enough to eat a snail! I'll always support England come the Six Nations rugby. A French passport will simply provide me with an additional "belt 'n braces" layer of security regarding my stay here.

12th March. If, like me, you never tire of walking in (or simply looking at) the more remote parts of the Pays Basque, then you'll enjoy these two films.

More here:

11th March. Look away now if you're not a fan of England rugby.. They demolished (there's no other word for it) Scotland today 61-21 in the 4th round of the RBS 6 Nations rugby tournament.. A match that some commentators thought beforehand (in their dreams) might go Scotland's way. This was the first time this year that England really clicked - and they were scoring tries at will. I've long been a fan of Scottish rugby but today it was no contest. England - sending Scotsmen homewards tae think again since 1983. To be fair to Scotland, they lost their likeable and influential playmaker Greig Laidlaw a couple of weeks ago and today they lost their dangerous full back Stuart Hogg through a head injury. But - these things happen in rugby. England were without 4 key forwards at the start of the 6 Nations campaign and they're still without Chris Robshaw and George Kruis.

It's a pity that Vern Cotter is nearing the end of his contract - he's made Scotland into a much more potent attacking force - but sadly, for those north of the border, not today.

I read somewhere this morning that "Life's too short to drink cheap wine" and I suddenly thought, you know, the man has a point. Old habits die hard - I've usually bought wine in the past that sits somewhere between wine that makes you grit your teeth when you buy it and wine that makes you clench your teeth when you drink it.. In real terms, in France that means I've been paying between 5€ to 10€ a bottle. The trouble is that wine money is different to whisky money. I could, without much effort (not that I do), drink a bottle of wine in one swell foop, oops, I mean in one fell swoop. Whereas a bottle of Scotch gives me more pleasure for longer. Where is my money better invested? I've always tended towards buying better whisky. I think the person who came up with that maxim though about cheap wine did hit upon a truth though. I'll have to stop buying wine from the bottom shelf!

9th March. We went out to Chez Pantxua at Socoa for lunch today. Our waitress asked us where our cocker was..(she always made a fuss of him) and so she heard the sad story of what happened to the poor lad. She took our order and minutes later, she returned with a couple of complimentary sangrias and some nibbles. We've known her for a good few years and her kind gesture was greatly appreciated.

We sat outside under a blue sky in the sunshine and enjoyed a whole sea bass between us, eased down with the aid of some Jurançon Sec.. We opened the roof of the car on the way home and watched as the temperature crept up to 20°..

The temperature is slowing creeping up here - the forecast is for 19° today. I'd better start dubbining my legs in preparation for their annual re-appearance under a pair of ex-8th Army "Desert Rat" shorts..

8th March. That Emmanuel Macron is being talked up as a serious contender for the Presidency is worrying.. I fail to understand how any thinking person can seriously consider voting for Macron and at the same time say ".. quite what he will bring is unclear."? (quote from a newspaper) We've just lived through 5 years of a do-nothing, lack-lustre president - in my view we need 5 years of a Macron Magical Mystery Tour like a hole in the head..

Summer's on its way! This morning, I spotted a couple of camping cars (camper vans in English) with number plates from northern Europe making their way through town, each towing a small trailer with a motorbike. I wonder how many retirees are in motion on the roads in Europe? Plus those who wander the Mediterranean footloose and fancy free in their yachts? Very tempting!

Further to the ongoing Fillon story, we were watching the news last night and I said to Madame that now Juppé declared his intention not to be considered a presidential candidate, it won't surely be long before someone digs up some more dirt on Fillon. I had less than a minute to wait..! The next news item was a story that, according to Le Canard Enchaîné, Fillon had received a loan of 50,000€ from someone. And so it continues..

7th March. Another short film for you that shows a slice of life in the Pays Basque:

Plus this week's special offer:
6th March. In yet another twist in the panier des crabes (the literal translation makes it clear: a basket of crabs) that's French politics, Alain Juppé has decided that he should not be considered a candidate for the Right in the event that François Fillon were to step down. I don't think Juppé has the stomach for what would inevitably be a bruising campaign for him - the media would dig deep into his personal life and, if he lost the election (which would be likely), he would have to suffer months of media speculation, intrusion and attacks for nothing. His decision eases the "do I stay or do I go" dilemma for Fillon as the Right now has no alternative candidate to fall back on. I think there will be more twists to come in this story.   

The main candidates are now (from Left to Right): Benoît Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

5th March. Having decided that my PC was long overdue its spring clean, I started deleting all the rubbish that I've allowed to accumulate on my desktop.. In doing so, I came across this (right). I apologise if I've posted it before - but it caused a wry smile to appear briefly on my wizened features! (click to enlarge it)

I was driving along the Adour this blowy morning while out to buy a baguette, and I noticed the river was very high (it's tidal here) so I carried on down to the coast to take a look at the sea. Getting out of the car at the Plage des Cavaliers, I was struck by the deafening roar coming up from the beach.. What a sight..! The sea was breaking high up the beach and the first 50-100 yards was all seething white foam, with a confused mass of waves breaking in different directions. Rain-laden grey clouds were scudding low overhead and so I didn't stay there long as there were intermittent showers. (photos here) My old dog would not have been tempted to stay a while either - he'd have stood there with his ears horizontal.. sniffing the air.. before trotting back to the warm car and home. He liked his comfort..

4th March. A blustery start to the day with sudden, quick showers blowing through from the sea - it's known in French as a giboulée.. (another word to let loose when it all goes quiet in the snug!)

Here's a film I found that focuses on the Basque coast - orientated towards the 'beautiful people'! For me, the interior of the Pays Basque is equally attractive, especially up in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It's in French - but there are some nice images here:
We have a few palm trees down the bottom of the garden. My knowledge of things horticultural is exhausted once I've called them 'palm trees'. A quick google tells me that ours have fan-shaped leaves or foliage (take your pick). There's also a much bigger one in the front garden that must be between 40-50 feet high. Every so often we have to call in someone to cut back the dead fronds - he scrambles up the swaying tree (with no safety net) like a rat up a drainpipe - as the saying goes. I tried it myself once and got halfway up before deciding discretion was the better part of the Accident & Emergency Unit. The ones in the back garden are only about 15-18 feet high.. and I spent some time yesterday cutting back the leaves there. They're attached to the tree by a sturdy stalk (known as a petiole) about 4-6 feet long. Rather than give you a thousand words, here's a picture. I think Trachycarpus Fortunei - or Chinese Windmill Palm - is its correct name:

3rd March. The French media has seized upon the Fillon story with great relish as it involves a politician from the Right - something that always guarantees a feeding frenzy by the Left-dominated media. Politologues (what a word) are heavily and endlessly involved on TV with the décryptage (another mot du jour) of the story as it unfolds. The focus on Fillon means that the other candidates for the presidency are left untouched, while the major player in French politics - ScooterMan - remains in the Elysee doing President impressions.

1st March. This was always a favourite for a late night stumble around the dance floor:
The attempted political assassination of François Fillon is coming to the boil. The carefully orchestrated timing of this murky attempt to discredit a political opponent reveals the depths to which some will go to win an election. Whoever is behind it, this action is completely unworthy of a modern Western European democracy in 2017. Remember: Cui bono.  

I'm starting to fear for the UK in the negotiating process with the EU that will start once Article 50 has been triggered. One of the issues that could affect me directly is the question of UK citizens living in the EU. I was astonished to read this morning that a cross-party amendment in the House of Lords (where the government does not have a majority) to guarantee - in advance of negotiations - the position of EU citizens living in the UK is expected to secure the backing of most peers. However, it is expected that the Commons will reject this amendment. Ye gods. This is surely one of the key negotiating cards and it makes me question the sanity of those gentle, well-meaning, but hardly worldly-wise folk in the House of Lords. If this amendment was to be accepted in the Commons, the offer would be swallowed in one quick gulp by EU negotiators with no quid pro quo. Why on earth would anyone turn a valuable negotiating card face up on the table before the talks have even started? More here. And according to this report, the negotiations won't start until the UK has paid a 60bn€ exit bill. Time to start investigating dual nationality I think. (Procedure here in English for others who may be thinking of doing likewise. Here's the official French site).

The title of this post* is a fragment recalled from Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" - those long hours spent in dusty English classrooms were not, as I thought at the time, entirely wasted.

* I'd originally called this post "Can Spring be far behind?" - but I changed it to something banal.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

239. Politics à la française

28th February. The long-awaited (by some) extension of the TGV line from Paris as far as Bordeaux was inaugurated today. Up until now, the high speed track was only available from Paris to Tours - but this newly laid high speed track will enable TGV trains to reach Bordeaux from Paris in 2 hrs 4 mins - which is about 1 hour 10 mins less than at present. I understand property prices in Bordeaux have rocketed during the past 12 months in anticipation of this new line, thus opening up the possibility of living in Bordeaux and commuting to Paris. Thankfully, travel from Bordeaux south to the Pays Basque is still via the old rail tracks and it takes almost 2 hours. The thorny question of building the new track down here has been put off for a few years in the (vain) hope that local tempers will have cooled. Some hope!

In my view, the Pays Basque needs connecting to the high speed rail system like un trou dans la tête. Developers and builders are everywhere - buying up old properties, flattening them and then constructing multi-occupation residences on the cleared sites. The sellers get the top price, the Town Halls are happy because they can demand more tax from the same site and the developers and the builders make a profit.

The problem is that the Pays Basque is a 'destination' area - it seems that there's no shortage of people who want to retire here. While it seems that every square meter of available space is being built on, the roads are becoming increasingly congested. Where one property formerly had one or two cars, erecting a residence in its place guarantees that it will result in at least 5 times as many vehicles. The Pays Basque is noted for the charm of its white-painted properties with Basque rouge shutters, topped by gently slanting overhanging roofs. Sadly, the old Basque properties are being squeezed out one by one and replaced by ugly concrete and glass monstrosities, like here (below) in Bayonne. What on earth were the planners thinking of - apart from the increased receipts from taxation? (I think I might have just answered my own question).

And here's more of the same in Anglet. Appalling monstrosities. They add nothing to the environment but everything to the coffers of the respective Town Halls.

For many, the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games are remembered chiefly for Jesse Owens' astonishing feat of athleticism in winning gold medals in the 100m, 200m, the 4x100m relay and the high jump events.

However, against all expectations, another group of US athletes won gold in the Mens VIIIs. Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George ‘Shorty’ Hunt, Jim ‘Stub’ McMillin, John White, Jr., Gordon Adam, Chuck Day, Roger Morris, in front Bob Moch were the boys of the University of Washington’s 1936 crew who represented the USA in the VIIIs. They were the sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers, and they defeated the Italians, Germans and British oarsmen in the Olympic final in front of Adolf Hitler and other Nazi dignitaries.
Here's the short version of their inspirational story:
And the fuller account (the one to watch!). It also tries to explain the ethos of rowing:

22nd February. This short film (not always easy to watch) touches on the importance of wine in French life, showing how it's a central thread that runs through their lives, how the great occasions of life are celebrated hand-in-hand with wine, and how life's pleasures and sadnesses can be conjured up by the memories of certain wines. If the video refuses to run, click on this link and scroll down to launch the "Fil Rouge".
If you're an aficionado of chocolate in all its forms, then this link that a friend kindly sent me will surely have you drooling at the chops..! I've never quite been able to understand how a town like Bayonne, with only 40,000 inhabitants, manages to sustain so many 'high end' chocolate shops*. Much of the activity happens here in the rue Port Neuf (below) - so there's no need to waddle a great distance! (couldn't resist that one!)

* Just found out there are 12 of them..

21st February. This week's special offer! I know I've mentioned the great Dorado Schmitt here many times before - but if you'd like to listen to more of his work, then open this link and click on Videos.. There are also a few other samples of his under the MP3 and YouTube captions. 

Banjos.. I love this story!
I feel cold just watching this video of Bill Buchholz's beautifully built ice-boat out on a frozen Chickawaukie Lake, Rockport, Maine up in the north eastern USA. Wouldn't this make you feel glad to be alive..? Skimming over the ice at a fair old lick on a sunny day in winter in frozen Maine? I would willingly sacrifice an organ to try it! The boat is right up meine strasse.. with not a hint of carbon fibre in sight - just the honeyed glow of varnished wood:

That final comment made me laugh! More here.

20th February. I've just stumbled upon the photographs of Véronique Derouet.. this was the one that caught my eye.. along with this one (below). No prizes for guessing where it is! (best seen full size)

18th February. I've just discovered that an old fave of mine - Kitty O'Shea's Irish pub in Paris - has closed and has been re-invented as the Frog Hop House. Kitty O'Shea's couldn't have been more authentic - the friendly bar staff were as Irish as they come and the Guinness was well-kept. In other words, a great place to be trapped in.

17th February. At choir practice last night we tackled a new piece by Schubert (Tantum Ergo in C D739). All I'm saying is that we've a long way to go!
15th February. I went for a walk along the beach at Anglet (formerly known as dog-walking territory) this afternoon as it was a warm day.

We had 19° here yesterday. We'd planned to go out for a seafoody lunch at Chez Pantxua (just across the bay in St Jean de Luz) but, in turning the car around in the street the day before, someone* had contrived to pinch a tyre sidewall against the kerb and, in doing so, tore an irreparable split in it. I always carry a footpump in the car but this time it was of no use. Of course, VW discontinued the practice of supplying spare wheels for this model some years ago - so the car was completely undriveable - and, to cap it all, it appeared that no-one in town stocked this particular tyre size! I'll spare you the rest of the story - suffice to say that I picked the car up from the tyre supplier in town late yesterday afternoon after some 260-odd euros (breakdown recovery + new tyre) had changed hands. So Chez Pantxua will have to wait for another day. It's strange how your day can be spoilt by such a trivial incident.

* Yes, that someone was me.
13th February. And now for something completely different.. I heard of this recording earlier today - it's Keith Jarrett and his "The Köln Concert" - a concert recording of solo piano improvisations performed at the Opera House in Cologne on January 24, 1975. (this blog is nothing if not up to date!) The background to this recording is worth reading. I'm not sure I could listen to this for long.. but I could be, and probably am, wrong.
Going further back in time, I find "Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk more to my taste..
12th February. Post match: Well, I don't think I'll be giving up my day job after my prediction that Scotland would win in Paris! Highlights here. (en français)

Just as my heart-rate has returned to normal after the thrilling match in Cardiff yesterday, the prospect of the 6 Nations encounter between France and Scotland this afternoon threatens to send it surging back into the red zone again! My money's on a win for Scotland.

After a pulsating match in Cardiff yesterday, England emerged winners after fashioning a sweeping try by Elliot Daly in the closing minutes. Post-Gatland, Wales have changed their style and were on top for most of this enthralling match - but Eddie Jones seems to have instilled a winning mentality into the English players. To watch the entire match in HD, look here. If it's just the highlights you want, look no further. (Extraits officiels en français):

Italy played host to Ireland in Rome on Saturday.. and the match turned into a 63-10 pointsfest for the men in green. Highlights here. (en français)

11th February. Farewell Joost van der Westhuizen.. a giant of Springbok and world rugby, regardless of era, who passed away on 6th February. He re-invented scrum-half play in his own fashion - athletic, never say die, a fierce competitor in both attack and defence, totally committed and a feared and respected opponent. A great loss at such an early age.

Joost van der Westhuizen, 1971-2017
9th February. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Scotland emerge victorious from their encounter with France in Paris on Sunday afternoon. They've been playing some fiery rugby and they look as though they're all singing from the same hymn sheet. They have some classy players and I think they'll do well against a French side that is slowly rebuilding.

6th February. For an update on that François Fillon story, here's a report on the press conference he had earlier this afternoon. Read on here.

The streets of Bayonne are looking a bit bedraggled this morning after the violent weekend storms - the pavements were covered in twigs, branches, leaves and other detritus. Storms down here are pretty intense.

This was the sea at Biarritz yesterday as seen from the lighthouse:

5th February. What's going on? A few minutes ago in the early afternoon, another wall of water came rolling in from the sea.. along with thunder and lightning, hail and rain (as though from a fire hose!), not to mention the shrieking wind. I don't envy anyone on a boat/ship in the Bay of Biscay at the moment!

For once, I was woken up in the wee small hours last night by the sound of a major storm blowing through here. We had the lot - torrential rain, winds howling around the house, shutters rattling, the sound of storm water in the gutters. Then I went back to sleep!

Italy - Wales this afternoon!

4th February. Post match: Eddie Jones' England scraped home after a scruffy match with a narrow 19-16 win over a much-improved France under the likeable Guy Novès. Novès had selected a powerful and athletic set of players (Piano Shifters and Piano Players). In contrast, Eddie Jones was unable to field the Vunipola brothers, George Kruis, Chris Robshaw, Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Watson - all being unavailable due to injuries. The English forwards lacked conviction and as a result, England weren't winning enough ball at set pieces - plus, they looked rusty, short of oomph and they played like a team of strangers. In the closing few minutes Eddie Jones sent on Danny Care, Ben Te'o, Jack Nowell and James Haskell and the changes galvanised England - it was as though they'd switched to mains electricity after running on dud batteries for 70 of the 80 minutes - and Ben Te'o went over to seal the match with only a few minutes remaining. I think France will be feeling justifiably aggrieved at letting a Twickenham win slip through their fingers after having dominated the match for long periods. For England, it was their 15th consecutive win (a national record) under Eddie Jones - but it wasn't a pretty sight. This was winning ugly. France will win more matches than they'll lose if they continue to play like this.
I wonder how much of referee's Angus Gardner admonishments - delivered in Australian English - were understood by the French pack, particularly the front row. I could see some puzzled expressions among them yesterday. In the interests of fairness, perhaps it's time the IRFU provided referees who are bilingual. I think the respected Irish referee Alain Rolland was one of the very few (if not the only) international referees who were genuinely bilingual. If that's too difficult, how about introducing some codewords (along the lines of the ICAO phonetic alphabet) for specific instructions or penalties? With so many matches being decided by penalties, it's time to level the playing field.  

Well done Scotland! They upset the form book with a thrilling win over an Irish XV who looked curiously out of sorts. Resurgent Scotland played some beautiful flowing rugby with Stuart Hogg scoring a couple of cracking tries. This is how rugby should be played. Ireland came back in the second half but Scotland took the game with a 27-22 win. Hogg's place in the British and Irish Lions squad could be inked in now. He must be the Lions first choice full back.
Edited to add: good to see that the SRU has finally seen fit to play the "Black Bear" prior to the anthems..! Now all they need to do is ditch that maudling dirge "Flower of Scotland".

Today sees the most eagerly-awaited event of the year.. No, it's not the re-appearance of the boudin blanc at Montauzer's in Bayonne but it's the opening weekend of the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament. If you're new to this, the 6 Nations involved are - in alphabetical order - England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

The opening match should be a cracker - it sees Scotland taking on Ireland at Murrayfield. Ireland are widely tipped to win the tournament this year but I don't see them having an easy ride against a much-improved Scottish XV. Ireland are without their talismanic Johnny Sexton so anything could happen. Players to keep an eye on? Stuart Hogg for Scotland and Simon Zebo for Ireland. I think Ireland should just shade this one.

South of the border, last year's Grand Slam winners England host France in what promises to be a mouth-watering encounter. The anticipation can sometimes be greater than the performance as 2 great teams can nullify each other. However, two years ago the match unfolded in spectacular fashion:
Elsewhere, Wales travel to Italy for their opening match tomorrow. Italy will be pumped up this game so I think the scoreline will be pretty close. I'm going for a Welsh win but not by more than 10pts.

Here's an unusual stat for you: the 6 Nations tournament is set to be watched by the highest average attendance per match of any tournament in world sport. This is truly an astonishing statistic. To me, I rate it higher than the Olympics..

3rd February. We realised with a start a couple of days ago that it was 9 years to the day that we moved into the house. I was just thinking of how much work we'd had done in the house in that time.. In no particular order: double glazing, new more efficient electric radiators, roof re-tiled, new front door, new paths (back and front), 3 major trees taken down, hall and kitchen re-tiled, new kitchen and bathroom, exterior of the house repainted, garage doors replaced, garage rewired, new door to cellar, old fireplace replaced by wood-burning stove, a forced ventilation system (VMI) fitted - plus many more smaller jobs. Then there are those ongoing battles - like the lawn! (Won't bore you with the details) I know it's an old cliché that time seems to accelerate as we get older but the last nine years really have flown by. It certainly doesn't seem like nine years that we moved in the house with its pristine paintwork everywhere.      

Penelope and François Fillon
1st February. I wrote a few months ago that I thought François Fillon would be the next president of France. Well, recent events may have proved me wrong. It was alleged in the Canard Enchainé - a whistle-blowing satirical French newspaper - that Fillon's (Welsh) wife Penelope had been paid 900,000€ for what was claimed to be fictitious work and that furthermore, two of his five children (who were students at the time) had been employed as parliamentary assistants, earning another 84,000€. I would have thought, perhaps naïvely, that as the Fillons had both trained as lawyers that somewhere in the mix that we could have reasonably expected to find a spot of integrity. I should add that, so far, these are allegations and that maybe he has a satisfactory answer for this story. I must admit that at first I thought this was simply a well-timed smear story, released by someone with the intent of derailing the Fillon presidential campaign but I have to say that the omens aren't good for him. It would be interesting to know who put the Canard Enchainé onto this story. 

I think this might well see the end of his presidential ambitions. If so, it leaves the field wide open as the other candidates are, with one exception, something of a dog's breakfast. Representing the Parti socialiste is Benoît Hamon, and he's cut from the same cloth as the UK's Jeremy Corbyn - therefore unelectable in 2017.

The far right Front National will be represented by Marine Le Pen. It's difficult to judge the appeal that Mme Le Pen has for the voters - especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Even if she makes it through the first, I'm not convinced that she could win the second round.

At the moment, it's unclear who will be the candidate for Les Républicains - whether it might still yet be Fillon, or perhaps the septuagenarian Juppé will step forward and re-enter the fray. For those on the Right, Fillon now has a question mark over him - is he damaged irreparably? If Juppé stands, he'll be seen as a safe pair of hands perhaps by some, certainly - and by others as far too old and lacking in dynamism, especially at a time when France requires leadership. 

The one exception I referred to earlier is Emmanuel Macron. He is young (40 I believe) and he's relatively untainted by association with Président Hollande. He could well attract votes from those disaffected PS voters who feel let down by Hollande and who refuse to vote for the far Left Hamon. I think Macron must be well placed to make it through to the second round - and perhaps beyond. Here's he is in conversation with the BBC's Andrew Marr:
Macron is something of a wild card in the May election - and he's unencumbered either by a party or a manifesto. He's an énarque, a technocrat in the classic French mould and he's positioned himself in the centre of the political spectrum. Can he connect with the ordinary voter - enough for them to vote for him - that's one of the key questions.

Disturbingly for EU sceptics, he believes in more, not less, Europe. I read the other day that he is proposing that the EU adopts a common debt policy. This means that all members of the eurozone would be responsible for the debts incurred by member states. Have a think about the implications of that for a moment. Would I be happy about that if I were a German? I don't think so.

Another question to mull over stems from a legal phrase I once heard: "cui bono" - or, as we might say today - "To whose benefit?", or less politely: "follow the money". In other words, to find out who set this Fillon story running, we should look at who stands to gain the most from the revelation. I'll leave you to ponder that question. As Madame says - it's a panier de crabes! If you want to read more on the French political horror-show, look here and here:

With the French presidential elections this year as well as the German elections, I hope the outcome brings an end to the drift towards extreme politics. An extreme party requires another extreme party to oppose it - and we all remember what happened the last time this situation occurred.   

Meanwhile, in the UK, there is much hand-wringing among the usual suspects over the proposed State visit by President Trump to the UK. The figure below on the left is Jeremy Corbyn, who spent 30-odd years polishing the seat of his trousers on the back benches in Parliament before his surprise accession to the leadership of the Labour Party. He's a permanent member of the "awkward squad" (always outside the tent pi**ing in) and he's seen by many as unelectable. Thankfully.

The furore by the chatterati over the President Trump State visit is all meaningless froth in my opinion. Since when have we rejected, or even considered rejecting, a visit to the UK by the elected leader of the free world - and our chief ally? Sounds to me as though there are too many people with access to social media working themselves up to a self-righteous frenzy. Taking the dog for a walk would be a better option.