Friday, 2 February 2018

252. A February face..

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-whit;
  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

Monday, 1 January 2018

251. Another day, another euro..

30th January. I've mentioned before somewhere here that the French often abbreviate words and expressions. McDonalds becomes McDo (pronounced McDough), "l'actualité" (TV News) becomes "l'actu", ordinateur (computer) => ordi and Sécurité Sociale => Sécu are commonly heard examples. Through force of habit, I invariably say "Merci" when leaving a shop and this often triggers the reply, "Non, c'est moi qui vous remercie" (No, it's I who should thank you). The other day I received the abbreviated version of this.. I said "Merci" and the shopkeeper replied, "C'est moi..". If I hadn't heard the longer version I'd've been wondering what this meant.

28th January. Next weekend sees the opening of the NatWest 6 Nations Rugby Tournament. Here's the fixture list. I've said it before but to me it's the highlight of the sporting calendar. Forget Wimbledon, the Indy 500, the Americas Cup, the UEFA Champions League, the Ryder Cup, the Superbowl, Strictly Come Dancing (!), whatever - all pale into insignificance compared to this.  

There's a recurring theme that runs through life down here - and it's one that's very welcome. 

When we used to make our long-awaited trek to the Pays Basque every summer, we'd stay at the same little hotel/restaurant at Ascain, where we were treated like family. It wasn't long before I would regularly be offered a complimentary digestif - usually a generous glass of Marc d'Irouléguy (strong enough to fire a Buick into a low earth orbit) - with my after dinner coffee. Curiously, I never had any problem getting off to sleep there.

And the owner would always tuck a bottle of wine under my arm as we left on our last day, saying, "Think of us when you drink this.."  

The waitress at our favourite seafood restaurant in Socoa now offers us an apéro on the house each time we go there. 

Then I mentioned a few weeks/months ago about the lady in the wine shop in Bayonne who gave me a miniature of "Bastille", a new French single malt whisky (right), to try.. 

Then the other day when I'd been dispatched into town to pick up some boudins blancs from Montauzer, I found myself in line behind a young lady who, in between making her mind up in a long and complicated order, was being questioned by the assistant - as to where she was from etc etc. It turned out she was from mainland China, and she'd been working in Versailles for a year. She spoke French well too.. (oops, I thought!) While her order was being made up, my eyes ranged over all the mouthwatering products on display. Foie gras - mi-cuit (half-cooked) or sealed in jars, terrines, rillettes, all kinds of sausage including the truffled boudins blancs I was after.. either fresh or 4 in a vacuum pack. After the girl left, the assistant said to me that all kinds of nationalities came in the shop. Her ears pricked up during my response and then she was away again with "how long had I lived there?", plus a word or two of praise for my French (always welcome!). What gave away my nationality was me saying "OK" (instead of d'accord). Anyway, to cut to the chase, after buying the boudins, she asked me what I thought of jambon Ibaïama (right). I found out later that this was the ne plus ultra of Bayonne hams. When I admitted to not knowing what it was, she took a leg of ham to the slicing machine and ran me off a slice. This she wrapped up in silver paper and gave it to me. (It costs 56€ a kilo by the way!) They're a generous people down here.

27th January. "One of those things" Department! I woke up this morning thinking about the high-flown language used to attempt to describe the taste of wine. (Don't ask me why) We've all read those columns in newspapers where the journalist strings together a list of various carefully chosen oddities (a dusty drawer, pencil shavings, liquorice, woodsmoke etc etc) in trying to capture in print something so ephemeral and transient as the taste or a flavour (wrong word maybe) of a glass of wine. The problem is that the printed word enters the brain through the eyes - whereas the taste is captured instantly via the tongue and the nose. It's then correlated with our mental taste memories*. Tasting can't be done in print. It can't. For example, take an everyday object such as a carrot and attempt to describe the essence of its taste - in words. Very quickly, you'll realise that you're wasting your time. All the writing in the world can't describe the taste of even a boiled potato. What chance then has the wine writer got in trying to describe the subtleties of a glass of wine? There's only one way - it has to be tasted. Form a queue please!

I once heard a memorable expression that someone used to describe a sublime taste - he said, "C'est comme un ange qui pisse sur ta langue..". Probably not a good idea to use that one when the vicar's there.. A more polite expression was "That has the taste of not enough!".

* In my view, our memories work best for visual images and sounds - and less well for tastes.

We've just had the last of Monsieur Montauzer's justifiably famed truffled boudins blancs, (no other will do) accompanied by sauté'd apple slices.. For reasons that escape me, he only makes them over the festive period and that is rapidly drawing to a close. And bearing in mind what I've just written in the paragraph above, I won't attempt to describe the taste!   

26th January. Sighs of relief all around.. Nutty's having his stitches out this afternoon (slightly sooner than anticipated) and so we can all wave goodbye to the plastic conical collar he's been wearing for a week. I know it's been annoying him - and it's certainly been shredding our nerves as he's banged his way around the house. So, it's back to business as usual this afternoon. Phew! By the way, the rain is still with us. I escaped a soaking by a matter of minutes when I took him out this morning. And the e-bikes are still locked away in the garage!

The association I work with had a monthly committee meeting two days ago at Biriatou, situated right on the Spanish border. (The Comet Line was a WWII network set up to help shot-down Allied airmen to return to England.) As luck would have it, we had sun and blue skies for once - we soon forgot the grey skies and rain of the past month and it reminded us what a beautiful part of the world this is.

I arrived in good time as I wanted to re-visit the memorial site (right) we had inaugurated in April 2016 for two wartime evaders who, tragically, were drowned while attempting to cross from occupied France into Francoist Spain. They were part of a ten-strong group who arrived on the banks of the Bidassoa, in flood, at 1am during the night of 23/24 December 1943. They would have been hot and tired after their 4 hour hike over the Pyrenees and during an ill-advised attempt to cross the Bidassoa, two evaders were swept away in its fast-running cold waters.

There had been a memorial to one of the evaders - Count Antoine d'Ursel - at the riverside for many years. The photo (left) shows the memorial being installed on the steep river bank in 1960. However, in recent years, its foundation started to crumble, plus it was barely visible. In researching the history of that night in 1943, I became aware that no memorial had ever been provided for the other evader, 2nd Lt James F Burch, a USAAF B-17 pilot - and so we decided to rectify that. (Jim Burch was the only aviator to lose his life while in Comet's charge). It was decided to move the Count's memorial to a new site where it would be co-located with that for Jim Burch.

We selected a suitable location for the new combined memorial site and a team from the Town Hall at Biriatou cleared the ground and did all the hard work of moving the Count's memorial to it. As it weighed some 300kg, this was no mean feat.

I always find it to be a moving experience when I visit the site and it was no different on Wednesday. I'm always struck by the stillness, the tangible poignancy and the air of peace there. I had another committee member with me - a Basque - whose father had been a wartime Comet guide in the mountains, helping some 130-140 Allied aircrew to escape to freedom. He remarked on the atmosphere there too. It's a special place - and it's situated in the patch of green at the centre of this link. If you wish to experience the slightly precarious 4km drive back to Biriatou, turn right at the above link and follow your nose. This is a photo-montage I put together that tells the story:

22nd January. At this time of the year, with Burns Night (25th January) fast approaching, I find that my thoughts turn unbidden to visions of a hot steaming haggis (right).. served with tatties and neeps - and accompanied by a dram or two - never wine. One memorable Burns Night saw me drinking whisky before, during and after the meal - and, apart from me trying to take my trousers off over my head at bedtime, I suffered no lasting ill effects - my head was as clear as a bell the following day. (Realism check: I doubt that I could do that now - even if I wanted to!)

Madame shares my fondness for the haggis and so the other day I thought I'd see if I could find someone online willing to supply me with one. I found the very thing - until I asked what the postage here would be. The haggis itself would cost around £7-8 but the crippler was yet to come - they wanted £29 and change to send it from Scotland to here. If you haven't ever experienced a Burns Night, they are memorable occasions.. and having been to one, you'll be wanting to attend another. 

Stop Press: If there are any other haggis fanciers living in France, gagging for a haggis and desperately seeking a supplier, help is at hand. Here's a French-based site that will deliver a genuine Scottish haggis to your door for a reasonable sum.

There's a classic chauvinistic French joke at the bottom of the above link. To save you translating it, here it is:

A Frenchman, a lover of good food, was invited to a Burns supper by a Scottish family, and at the end  of the meal, the hostess - in search of compliments from a Frenchman – asked him what he thought of the "haggis".

The Frenchman, pushed to the limit, replied: "When I saw it arrive on the table, excuse me, but I thought it was sh1t (let's call a spade a spade).. But - once I had tasted it, my only regret was that it was not"..

And this from a nation that eats andouillette.. (if you're ever offered it, think about saying no.. unless you're feeling very brave.. and have no sense of smell)(another point of view here)

While Nutty and I were at the vet's the other day, he sat himself on the scales there in the waiting room. He now weighs in at a healthy 14.2kg (31lbs) - and all of that is muscle and bone.. He's an enthusiastic eater but he doesn't restrict himself to the all-in-one biscuits that he devours twice a day. Oh no, he actively searches out food wherever he can. Out in the street, he becomes a canine vacuum cleaner - he's lightning-quick to spot discarded paper handkerchiefs (don't ask me how I remove them from his mouth - ugh!) while chewing gum is another favourite. The Christmas tree briefly attracted his attention but since that disappeared, he's discovered new avenues of pleasure! There's a wicker laundry basket upstairs and it appears he's found how to dislodge the lid.. as he was caught late in the act of destroying one of Madame's soutien-gorges the other day. The chairs in the dining room have some tie-on cushions and - yes, you've guessed it - these too were nibbled. Shoes cannot be left at ground level.. they have to be hidden. A Persian rug in the study had one of its corners "rounded off" by him. He's also discovered that, if he stands on his hind legs, he can reach the kitchen worktop.. Then there's the garden. Shrubs, flowers, pot plants et al have all been tried. All of this has taught us that we have to 'up our game' to try and stay one step ahead of him by removing all potential food sources from his reach. And so it goes..
    
To take (y)our minds off the wintry weather, here's a reminder of some of the delights to be found here in the Pays Basque..
"Ostalapia"

We've been to "Ostalapia" a few times - it's an uber-stylish restaurant with great food, and while we've always enjoyed ourselves there, my only reservation about it is that it's out in the middle of the countryside. Not "in the middle of nowhere" but perhaps closer to the middle of nowhere than you'd want to be. After your meal there, it's a case of jumping back into the car because that's it! There are no cafés nearby for a late night coffee or whatever. The plus side of its location is that it's off the well-trodden tourist trail.. Out of season, it's perfect - however, it attracts a very different clientele during the peak 2 months of the summer season. The first time we visited it was during one summer and I must admit that we were put off a little by the rows of flashy cars outside (mostly from Paris & Bordeaux) and by the sound inside of a roomful of exuberantly bronzed, blinged-up, perfumed and expensively attired beautiful people all talking (with no-one listening) at the same time. It all depends on what you prefer. Anyway, see if Julie (below) can change your mind:
Here's another of Julie's programmes on the Pays Basque.

21st January. Still waiting for a suitable break in the weather so we can take the e-bikes out without getting soaked. I was down at the beach yesterday with the dog and there was a mighty wind from the south-west blowing in. It was cold too.. (OK, not cold as in Nebraska - but nevertheless..!) The pooch is sporting one of those conical collars at the moment. He'd gone to the vets on Friday to have a small growth (nothing serious) removed from under an eye. The house is now echoing to the sounds of crash-bang-wallop as he negotiates his way past doors and furniture. It has to stay on till the end of the month while the stitches heal.   

Peter Mayle 1939-2018
19th January. Farewell, Peter Mayle. I was saddened to read of his demise in the news this morning. He famously "discovered" the Luberon and wrote very amusingly about his experiences there, and in doing so, I think he inspired many baby boomers to follow suit. It's no secret that some/many (delete as required) Brits have a love/hate relationship with France, born out of centuries of mutual distrust. Peter Mayle committed the ultimate sin for a Brit - he actually admitted to preferring life in his beloved Provence to that of his home country. For many Brits, this was unforgivable.. Yes, France is a nice place to visit for holidays but to live there?! Good Lord no.. How many times have you heard someone express the view that "France would be OK if it wasn't for the French.."*. As a result, his books often took a hammering from certain critics who, in my view, were greatly displeased by his having opened up and popularised "their" Provence with the middle classes - and worse.

* What they choose to forget is that France didn't spring up fully-formed from the primeval ooze - it grew into the country we all love today thanks to the tireless work of countless generations of Frenchmen and -women who went before us. You can't have one without the other - and I for one would hate to see France transformed into Bournemouth with sunshine.. From my experience of living here for 10 years, I simply don't recognise the tired old stereotypes of the grumpy restaurant owner or the surly waiter beloved of the English tabloids.    

If you're unfamiliar with his work, I would recommend that you read the opening chapter of his book, "Bon Appetit! Travels with knife, fork & corkscrew through France.". I think this brief encounter with France when he was a young man marked the beginning of his life-long love affair with France. I had a similar Damascene conversion when I had my first rare steak-frites at the age of 18 - I wrote about it here. He and I were of fairly adjacent generations and his observations of post-war English food are spot-on in my view. He was clearly a contented man.. as evidenced in this interview.

I once sat at an adjoining table in a restaurant to an English family on holiday here years ago. On examining her plate (in the manner of a forensic pathologist), one of the ladies exclaimed, "It's not quite what we're used to, is it?" I silently despaired. Isn't that one of the points of foreign travel? To experience and enjoy different sights and sounds, tastes and experiences? I'd better stop here before I say too much!☺  

RIP Peter and thank you.               

14th January. In case either of my global readership (you know who you are!) imagines that life down here is one merry round of lotus-eating, interspersed only with the quaffing of fine food and wine, all taking place under rustling palms in a sub-tropical climate, then watch this - this was Biarritz on New Year's Day:
     We're still seeing the tail end of these winter storms - I think we've only had a couple of dry days since Christmas.

galette des rois à la frangipane 
couronne des rois
It's traditional at this time of the year here in France to eat either a galette des rois à la frangipane or a couronne des rois. (it's all explained here) At Pipérade Towers we'll be having both this afternoon as we've invited our next door neighbour over. She's well into her 90s and lives alone but she's very active. Madame had ordered a couple from a pâtisserie (right) in an arcade in the centre of town and I was 'volunteered' to pick them up. On arriving, I was surprised to see that, despite the pouring rain, there was a sizeable queue that stretched out of the shop onto the pavement (fortunately under cover). I think I was about 12th in line and I settled down for a long wait - but many people had put orders in and the gift-wrapped galettes were soon flying out of the door!    

11th January. This song by David McWilliams popped up on the radio today.. He appeared from nowhere - made this record (which was played to death on pirate radio Radio Caroline in 1967) and promptly disappeared again. 

There was a banner headline over an article in today's left-leaning Guardian newspaper: "Number of Britons applying for French citizenship rises tenfold in three years". On the face of it, this "disclosure" would appear to imply that hordes of expat Brits in France are thus validating the newspaper's anti-Brexit stance. This is nonsense.

In googling the background to this "story", it was a simple matter to establish that this was - in the immortal words of the current US president - fake news. While I’ve not been able to find an accurate figure for the number of expat Brits resident in France in 2017, according to a French Wiki site there could be around 400,000 of us here. (although this seems a high figure to me) According to Le Figaro, some 3173 of them applied for French nationality in that same year. That’s only about 0.8% of them. Doesn’t seem quite so big now does it?! It's hardly a tsunami..

If the expat Brit population would be nearer 200,000 (a figure I’d be happier with), the number applying would still only represent 1.6% of us. In other words, the number of Brits applying for French nationality would rise from the statistically invisible to the infinitesmal. These are negligible percentages and hardly the basis for the Guardian's shock horror report.. Imagine the impact of the story was reversed.. 99% of all Brit expats in France have no intention of seeking French nationality? (Note to The Guardian: must try harder!)

9th January. I've been hors de combat these last few days due to a seasonal flu-like cold - which means I've been exploring every combination of sneezing, wheezing, coughing, blowing and spluttering known to mankind (bearing in mind that man pain is that much worse than any other kind!☺). It's kept me indoors more or less since the turn of the year - which was probably no bad thing as we've experienced some very wet and stormy weather recently. Closing the upstairs shutters during a wet and windy night had its moments!

2nd January. I'm only 3 years behind..! The making of "Happy" videos mushroomed on a global scale 3 years ago.. see here.

1st January 2018. Good morning to all.. I hope you're feeling fine after last night. First of all, whoever and wherever you are, Happy New Year from the Pays Basque. 

Here's something I found to kick the year off in style..  If it hasn't already, I think this will catch on with Generation X or Snowflake kids or whatever those of the millennial generation are called.. see what you think:

(Other versions here of Happy in Bayonne / Biarritz / Pays Basque / Anglet / BAB2*).
* BAB2 = a large commercial shopping centre here.
We're off to our favourite seaside restaurant for lunch.. for some fresh fish and some crisp white wine.. what more do you want? ☺

(Added later: our waitress told us that their last customer left at 8.30am on New Year's Day..!)

Thursday, 7 December 2017

250. Christmas here we come!

This photo needs a few seconds to load properly:

31st December. First thing this morning, I nipped out to the fish shop to pick up our order for this evening. Luckily, it's only a 5 minute walk from here. While waiting my turn, I was eyeing up the oysters and I thought - why not..? I added a dozen Spéciales de Claires N°3 to the list. These are fairly small - I find the bigger ones test my imagination too much! (There are some about the size of a horse's hoof.. ugh!) I just squirt some lemon juice on them and voilà.. Perhaps a piece of buttered brown granary bread as well.. and a glass of Chablis.

Last night, we watched the final of "Prodiges" - a programme on France2 that featured young musical talent. There were 3 finalists - each of them having won one of the following three categories: Instrumental, Song or Dance. In the instrumental category there was Maxime, a gifted 10 year old cellist. Here he is playing the Theme from Schindler's List:
 And here's 16 year old Roxane with her interpretation of Alfredo Catalani's "La Wally"..
Finally, there was 11 year old Jasmine with Maurice Jarre's "Lawrence of Arabia":Watch the videos and decide who you think should have won. The result is at the end of this post.

After suffering a succession of shoes bought here that claimed to have been manufactured in my size, all I can say is that there must be a mismatch in equivalence between UK, US and Euro sizes. The other day I bought a pair of Timberland casual boots from Amazon (France) and by adding a Euro size and a half to what I normally take, I've finally managed to find a pair that fit me.  What a relief..! Without being too specific, my feet are "generously proportioned" - they are beyond the standard size range stocked by mainstream shops here (they generally top out at 45). At the seaside, shoes in my size usually come with an outboard motor!    

I was able to take my ebike out yesterday for only the second time over the Christmas period as for once it wasn't raining. It was a cloudless sunny day and the temperature was up to 19°! I rode out along the banks of the Adour before turning south to follow the coast down to Biarritz. Beachfront cafés at the curiously named Chambre d'Amour* (just outside Biarritz here) were packed to the gills with people taking advantage of the break in the weather. It was high tide too with a strong sea running - and so the waves and the surf were pretty spectacular.  
* Bedroom of lurve!
There's a low stone wall outside the house topped with a rusting metal fence. As it's more or less only the paint that's holding the fence together, it's about to be replaced with a low maintenance aluminium one in a few days and so it was a good opportunity to clean the wall prior to its arrival. Earlier yesterday we rented a Kärcher pressure washer and I have to say I was astonished at how easily it removed the accumulated grime of decades. It was akin to one of those adverts for a liquid cleaner for tackling problem work surfaces in the kitchen.. that, with a magic sponge, cut a swathe through baked-on grease in one pass. It now looks like we have a new wall.

Christmas 2017 wouldn't be complete without a photo of Nutty in festive mood..! (an admirer sent him the tie!)
29th December. Off to Biarritz in a few minutes to see the lights (more here) and have a drink.. (though perhaps not in that order!) Short of time? Fast forward to 2:04..

Bernard Laporte, president of the FFR announced a couple of days ago that Guy Novès would be replaced by Jacques Brunel (right) as coach of Les Bleus - the XV de France. It doesn't give him much time to influence matters ahead of the upcoming NatWest 6 Nations tournament. However, I'm sure that the FFR's sights are fixed further ahead on the RWC 2019 in Japan - where France and England are matched up in Pool C! I wish him well.

28th December. Here's another beautifully photographed slideshow from local photographer Alain Miranda - this time it shows a wintry Pays Basque as it was on 1st December:

27th December. It was a wild, wild night out there last night.. I awoke at 4am to the sound of the roaring west wind as it blew straight in from the Bay of Biscay, thrumming and shuddering over and around the house. I went downstairs and let Nutty out as he'd been woken up by the wind as well. Normally, he's reluctant to return indoors until he's good and ready (unless there's food on offer) but today he was at the kitchen door after no more than a minute outside. The beach should be a sight to behold later on! Difficult to tell but Biarritz doesn't look so bad at the moment  - whereas the beach (la plage des Cavaliers) at Anglet - dog walking territory - looks as though it's taking a pounding.

I took him down there later on in the morning to be greeted by a continuous mighty roar from the sea (reminiscent of a civil jet taking off!). There were very few walkers on the seafront path.. as there was much wind-blown sand interspersed with the occasional showers. The sea was a mass of boiling white foam, maddened surf and crashing waves out as far as the eye could see - which wasn't very far. For once, there were no surfers in evidence. After 15-20 minutes, honour was deemed to have been satisfied and we headed back to the car.     

26th December. In about 10 minutes, we'll be interviewing another serving of Monsieur Montauzer's famous truffled boudins blancs..

If there's any justice in this world, someone one day will offer me a Bentley Mk VI on a week's trial.. (I think I'd sleep in it in my pyjamas!)

24th December. That creak you might just be able to hear is the fridge door opening.. Inside, there's all manner of good things: coquilles Saint-Jacques, boudins blancs, Brillat-Savarin cheese and more besides (I'll be changing into some elasticated waist trousers shortly).
So, before the fun starts, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish my faithful reader(s) a very merry Christmas and above all else, a happy and healthy 2018.. Thanks for reading!
23rd December. "Echappées Belles" is a travel programme produced by France 5. Here, they take a protracted look at the Pyrenees-Atlantic - the western half of which is, you've guessed it, the Pays Basque.. <George Clooney voice> "What else!".. ("Quoi d'autre!"). If your French isn't up to following the presenter, just enjoy the view:
I've previously mentioned here the "Jacobite" steam passenger train that runs between Fort William and Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland through some of Britain's most stunning scenery.. Don't just take my word for it. Take a look at the short film that Arte made about this the other evening while they were investigating "Harry Potter's fantastic Scotland".

I was out on my ebike yesterday and what a pleasure it was to be able to sail up hills with an ease that might previously have had my heart pumping into the red zone! You would never guess that the bike weighs about 25kg. The whole point to an ebike isn't that the bike does all the work - it's that you can go further & faster with one.

Throughout the ride, I kept adapting the degree of assistance provided by the Bosch motor. It has 5 settings: OFF - zero assistance mode; ECO - it adds 30% to the rider's input; TOUR - this setting doubles the rider's effort; SPORT - adds 180% to the rider's effort; TURBO - adds 250% to the rider's effort. Clearly, the use of the higher power settings reduces the overall range and there's a neat computer display that indicates what the effective range is at the selected power level.

I got home knowing I'd been on a bike ride. Great fun! I was sceptical prior to trying one - but I'd would say that a quick demo ride changed my view of ebikes completely. Go out and try one - and keep an open mind.

19th December. This is the ebike that I have on a week's trial. (Yes, I know it's a far cry from a Bentley Mk VI!☺) I hope the weather stays dry over the Christmas period.

This illustration reminded me that in the mid 90s I was once that close to buying an old Bentley. I'd spotted a 1950 Bentley Mk VI (similar to this: right) sitting in the corner of a country garage and it appeared - to me at least - to be in immaculate condition. I made the mistake of sitting in it - a move with only one possible outcome (on a par with going to look at puppies!). The car spoke to me through its leather seats, Wilton carpet, solid burr walnut dashboard and door caps. Everything about it breathed quality like no car I'd ever owned previously.

The garage owner lifted the louvred bonnet (hood) to reveal the long straight six engine that wouldn't have been out of place in a Spitfire. It looked purposeful with its massive cylinder block, copper oil pipes and shiny brass fittings. He started it and after it had warmed up, he reduced the rpm to a barely audible rustle via a hand throttle mounted on the steering wheel. There was no visible rust on the car.. It had belonged to a local doctor.

I had it all worked out on the drive home - we'd drive the Bentley at weekends for pleasure at zero depreciation (at worst), and buy a used Golf (or similar) for everyday driving. Once home, I mentioned to Madame that I'd seen a car in a local garage that I thought we should look at.. so off we went. As we neared the garage, I was more specific and I started to outline the plan to her. At this point she started shaking her head.. and the shaking intensified as we neared the garage. And no - she didn't want to even get out and look at it. I realised then that I was flogging a dead horse and that some things are worth far more than an old Bentley. (sigh...!)            

15th December. I heard this song on the radio earlier. I was never a fan of Elvis but I think this song of his from 1956 has (just about) stood the test of time:
I forgot to add that the French govt will reimburse Madame to the tune of 200€ (one of my favourite tunes!) for purchasing a new electric bike. This is a measure designed to stimulate the development of electric vehicles in the Hexagon (as they love to call France here). We're squeezing in under the wire as this largesse will be discontinued as of 1st January 2018.

The bike shop man is bringing the second hand one around to the house this afternoon for me to try for a week. Should I end up buying this "pre-owned" e-bike, it won't qualify for a partial refund. Needless to say! 

13th December. Madame's electric bike arrived earlier.. so once it stops raining, we can launch her off down the road. I'm considering getting one as well. The man in the shop had a second hand one in his workshops that he was selling on behalf of a customer - it's been checked over and serviced - and it looks as good as new.

Off to Spain today for lunch with some friends - they know a Chinese restaurant there that apparently is the biz.. (I doubt that figgy pudding will be on the menu!)

Nutty aka 'Bulldozaire'
We weighed Nutty yesterday, our 6 month old cocker pup (known as "Bulldozaire" by Madame!) - and it's difficult to be accurate as he wouldn't stand still on our bathroom scales for more than a second - so I weighed myself with and without him and even then he was wriggling for England, but I'd say he's somewhere in the region of 13-14kg.. I suspect he's not fully grown yet. I think he enjoys being known as 'the destroyer of worlds' - as he's an inveterate sniffer, licker, nibbler, chewer, biter of anything he can find.. He has one or two other unsavoury habits - but as this is a family show, I'll draw a veil over those..☺

My interest in, and understanding of, modern consumer electronic products took a fatal hit a minute or two ago. I was flicking through ebay's deals and I came across this item: "Sphero Star Wars BB-9E App-Enabled Droid with Trainer Droid". (and only £150 too!) If I knew what any of it meant, I might want one too - but I doubt it! No doubt there are millions 'out there' who'd welcome the thrill ("Wow.. a BB-9E!! Thanks Santa!") of finding one of these electronic gizmos in their Christmas stocking.. but not me. I can still remember the thrill of waking up on Christmas morn to find that Santa had left an electric train set at the bottom of my bed. Ah well..

Launched in 2010NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has been recording images of the Sun in astonishing close-up detail. The spacecraft is in Earth orbit at an altitude of some 22,000 miles (35,000 km) and presented here (below) are the highlights of 5 years-worth of solar activity - as you've never seen it before.. NASA link here. Best in full screen.
12th December. The Leningrad Cowboys.. what can I say...? This act would have been unthinkable in the good old, bad old days of the Cold War - but this shows us that they are just as capable as we are of doing something totally bonkers.. <John Wayne voice> "Put that M16 down nice and easy, Pilgrim, and set a spell..". This is a Finnish rock group!

11th December. Madame found a source for mince pies the other day.. and I'm hoping that they'll soon emerge from hiding! For me, memories of Christmasses past are often conjured up by tastes or smells that I grew up with. What are the triggers that do it for me? The smell of a roasting turkey in the late morning, the taste of a warm mince pie, a glass of sherry at midday, the rich taste of a Christmas pudding (oh yes!).. In talking about food that they've encountered on the other side of the English Channel, many French people curiously recoil in horror at the memory of jelly.. As a child, I often enjoyed it with fruit and I don't recall anyone disliking it. What's to dislike?   

Living here, I've acquired some new triggers - such as the taste of Vacherin Mont d'Or cheese.. or the smell of boudin blanc (from Montauzer in Bayonne) frying gently, and served with sauté'd apple. There are more but I'll stop there as I'm starting to drool..

8th December. I read somewhere earlier that someone called Ed Sheeran was recently awarded the MBE for services to music and charity. I've got no idea who he is - and there's something about his photograph that makes me want to keep it that way. (If that means I'm very shallow - so be it.) I remember a popular music combo in the sixties known as The Beatles being awarded the MBE. Does that mean Ed Sheeran and his music is right up there with them? <Tin hat on - awaiting incoming!>   

Caves des Pyrénées, Bayonne
Just back from a flying visit into town to buy a nice bottle of wine for some friends for tomorrow lunchtime - and also one for us for Christmas at an excellent little shop - Caves des Pyrénées - in Bayonne.

In talking to Mme Rabillon, the charming owner, we somehow drifted off onto the subject of whisky - and she scurried off into the back of the shop and came back with a miniature of "Bastille" malt whisky (no prizes for guessing where that's made!) that she insisted on giving to me for me to try.. Now, the question du jour - where else would that happen? Answers on a postcard please.. Highly recommended. (the shop, that is..)

Well, I've just interviewed the miniature of "Bastille" Single Malt. There was an initial hint of Islay malts with it (presumably the French company bought some old Scottish fishermen's socks and steeped them in the mash) but after that faded away, there was nothing left. No honeyed heathery tastes, no complexity, no length - just an anonymous watery finish. Don't just take my word for it - read this review (it's far more circumspect than mine but it essentially says the same thing). 

I don't like having to write this - given that Mme Rabillon was kind enough to offer it to me - but I have to say I won't be rushing out to buy a bottle - especially not at 60+€ a bottle. This is 12 year old Balvenie money - except the Balvenie would bring with it the added bonus of 20€ change! (enough for the down payment on a second one!) For 60€, I'd want to be looking at a litre of Highland Park from Orkney. Now that's a real Single Malt..

(By the way, Balvenie and/or Highland Park would make an ideal Christmas present. Just saying!) 

We were at the e-bike shop this morning - looking at one for Madame. While we were there, a gentleman pulled into the large forecourt in a large black car with a slippery-looking shape that I'd not seen anywhere before. It was a Tesla Modèle X (it's marketed as a Model X in the UK) and it's a 4x4 SUV. The driver pressed a button to open the rear passenger doors and - whoosh! - they disappeared skywards in a manner reminiscent of the legendary Mercedes 300SL "Gullwing". After showing us a few other features of this technological tour-de-force (such as adjustable ride height and the engine compartment), he got back in and in a startling demonstration of acceleration, he shot across the forecourt in almost total mechanical silence (the only sound came from the tyres). I almost jumped at how fast it was.. Spooky!

My concern with 100% electric cars has always been based on range - and the time taken to recharge the batteries. His answers: 560 km or 350 miles and 20 minutes! ("What Car" review here; road test in English here and en français ici)        

7th December. France is in mourning following the death of Johnny Hallyday, who died yesterday aged 74. He was a true showbiz phenomenon and he bestrode popular music in France for over 50 years - while at the same time remaining true to himself and his roots. A simple man from humble origins - he'd been abandoned as a baby - and yet he had succeeded in life beyond his wildest expectations. He'd learnt his trade coming up the hard way - for him there was no shortcut to instant stardom, like winning a TV talent show for example. He understood stagecraft like few others before or since. I remember watching his performance (below) from 2003 when he was a mere youngster of 60. Ever the showman, he made a spectacularly dramatic entrance looking like nothing less than a latter day Darth Vader - and he had the crowd eating out of his hand before he even sang a note. He never put less than 100% into his act and his followers came from all ages and backgrounds.. he had a universal appeal in France.

Of course, France being France, the politicised media chatterati were quick to point out that he was a man of the political right (as if that was of any significance!). In fact, one journalist said that "Johnny didn't hide the fact that he supported the political Right".. Why should he have done?

Anyway, moving right along, enjoy this video as Johnny gives "Que je t'aime" - one of his best songs - the full "treatment"! (English lyrics here..) I only have one question - where does he keep his house keys in that suit?! (to go straight to the song, fast forward to 4:05)
Here's an unlikely fact you can drop into conversation if it all goes quiet in the snug over Christmas.. Did you know that the parents of Johnny Hallyday's lead guitarist - Robin - were John Le Mesurier and Hattie Jacques..? (where's Michael Caine when you need him!)

3rd December. There was frost all over the car this morning for the first time as we took Nutty down to the beach for his Sunday run.. The alerts were chiming in the car: 2°C! And when we got down to the sea front, there were about half a dozen surfers out there. It was probably warmer in the water than out of it though. The air was crisp, the skies were blue and the grass was white with frost. Fortunately there was no wind. 

The winner was Roxane! (Me? Last night I thought Maxime should have won.. but having listened to Roxane again today with her voice like crystal, I think the judges got it right.) 

Friday, 3 November 2017

249. Micheline Dumon Ugeux - "Michou"

30th November. This slideshow of the Pays Basque in November is too good not to share.. Ascain was the village we used to come to every summer.
29th November. You're probably more familiar with Thelonious Monk's performance of his "Round Midnight" (that's since become a jazz standard) - but in case this breathy interpretation of it by Chet Baker's trumpet passed you by - have a listen. It gets my vote. See what you think:
28th November. A friend in the US has just sent me this picture of her lakeside cabin up in Maine.. It defines idyllic to me!


"Michou"
25th November. Back home after a few days away in and around Uzès (in the Gard) for the funeral of Micheline Dumon Ugeux (aka "Michou" or "Lily"), a genuine heroine of the Comet Line evasion network during WWII. She died on 16th November aged 96. She was awarded the George Medal (below) for her work in helping 250 shot-down Allied airmen return safely to England from occupied France.

We had the honour and privilege of meeting her three years ago and we spent a few happy hours together over lunch at her favourite restaurant in a village near her home. Every now and again, in talking of those dark days, her eyes would flash and show again that she still had that determination and strength of character that helped her to accomplish so much and to survive the war.

The beautiful old village church was packed for the funeral and her coffin was decorated with a Belgian flag, the Comet standard and a cushion with all her medals. A great lady from that greatest of all generations. RIP "Michou" †.

I made this short video-montage of some of the Comet Line's key figures a few years ago and "Michou" appears in it twice. (More on the Comet Line here)
19th November. You'll have to talk among yourselves for a few days - I'll be away at a funeral in Provence.

18th November. Stop press: Just spotted the result from north of Hadrian's Wall - Scotland 17 New Zealand 22. Now that would have been a sweet win if the Jocks could have managed it..

Rugby can be cruel sometimes, and occasionally fortune favours one side at the expense of another. The England-Australia match today was one of those days when the tide of victory was decided by the finest of margins in favour of England and by the finest of margins against the Wallabies. On another day, the green and golds should have won and Michael Hooper, the Wallabies tireless captain, would have deservedly been named Man of the Match. We've all had those days when the decisions unaccountably have gone against your team and it's hard to take. It could so easily have been a 13-13 draw or a win.. instead of an improbable 30-6 home win. C'est comme ça..  
On the day when Scotland face New Zealand at rugby at Murrayfield, I think a quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington is appropriate:

"I don't know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God, they terrify me." - especially when accompanied by this. Good luck lads!

Bidart is a small village that lies midway between Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Here's a dreamy sequence from TVPI that shows the end of the day as seen from there:
I came across an excellent think-piece by Prof Sir Roger Scruton in yesterday's Times about the motivation that drove a majority of the voters in last year's referendum on the UK's membership of the EU to vote Leave.

He argued that "for many ordinary citizens, however, the question was not about economics at all. It was about identity and sovereignty. For such people, matters were at stake that the politicians had systematically marginalised, and which were more important to them than all the economic and geopolitical arguments. Their question was not: what will make us better off, but rather: who are we, where are we, what holds us together in a shared political order and on whom have we conferred the right to govern us? It is not only the British who are faced with these questions: they are the political questions of our time, and all across Europe people are beginning to ask them. Moreover, they are not questions that can be settled by economic arguments, since they must be answered before any such arguments make sense."

He included this (slightly) tongue-in-cheek gem:

"The philosopher Leszek Kolakowski summarised the difference among legal cultures as follows: in Britain everything is permitted unless it is forbidden; in Germany everything is forbidden unless it is permitted; in France everything is permitted, even if it is forbidden; and in Russia everything is forbidden, even if it is permitted. Kolakowski exaggerates, of course; but the differences here are real, and part of what has made our membership of the EU so challenging to successive British governments. Law, for us, is common law, the property of the individual and our protection against anybody who tries to boss us about, including representatives of our government."

Read the entire article here: at The Times (if you have access to their site) or a copy posted here. It's well worth reading..

I suggested to Madame a couple of days ago that the fundamental difference between the UK and France is the concept of trust vs the lack of it. She reminded me that as France is essentially a revolutionary country, the French State views its citizens as untrustworthy - therefore they must always carry ID and if driving, the vehicle registration document and driving licence (it's an offence not to). Plus, as my recent encounter with the Civil Service demonstrated in connection with my request for French nationality, they required enough documentation to sink a small-to-medium size ship to support what should have been a fairly routine request. It is recommended that all important papers are kept in box files for 10 years. It is a common sight on French TV news to see a complainant sitting at their dining table with a box file and years-worth of papers in front of them. Ready for a surprise? Here's how long documents should be kept.

In the UK, there's a presumption that all are innocent until proven guilty - hence no need to routinely carry ID, or a wodge of papers when driving. If stopped by the police and you are invited to produce your driving documents at a police station, you have 5 days in which to comply. For many years, there was no driver photo on a UK driving licence (I think the latest ones do now). The police were normally unarmed as well.. but I think this has changed in recent years for some, not all, police. People are (or were when I left!) generally law-abiding - whereas here, some consider that their needs take priority over everyone else's and so you see people parking in the strangest of places, or driving the wrong way in a one way street - because it suits them.

I can't remember where I heard this but it made me laugh at the time. If ever there was a revolution in England and you were in a howling mob that was told to 'take' a railway station, we'd all buy platform tickets.. And if someone bumps into us, we say "Sorry..". It's the way we are.

15th November. One of the few players in an England shirt who was able to lift the spirits on an otherwise dank November afternoon over the weekend at Twickenham was Bath's Sam Underhill. He tore into the Pumas with a great display of powerful tackling. As the Guardian put it: "Underhill has the upper body of a cartoon superhero, with arms that seem to dangle at acute angles because his oversized muscles push them out away from his frame. His shoulders seem ideally suited for slinging things over: sacks, logs, hostages from pillaged villages, Argentinian runners."

Watch him (in the 7 shirt) in action here:
12th November. I came across this site earlier - and it shows the wide range of activities on offer here on the Côte basque. Prior to our move here, we wanted to reassure ourselves that the coastal region didn't close its doors and put up its shutters in winter as is the case in some other resort areas. We'd only visited in the summer months (and once at Easter), and so one December, we came down here for the express purpose of seeing if the Basque coast was still alive and well in the 'Low' season.. We needn't have worried!

Down to the beach this morning with the dog under grey skies, low stratus clouds scudding through bringing more or less constant flurries of rain. The sea was right up and roaring constantly. I doubt if we stayed there much longer that 10-15 minutes - Nutty was quite happy to scuttle back to the warmth of the car! There were just a few joggers - otherwise it was deserted. Hard to imagine Christmas is only 6 weeks away.

The sight of people walking where they shouldn't is an all-too-common one these days. The landward end of this jetty is always fenced off in rough weather as occasionally a wave will break right over it. And, of course, there are always those who feel they must walk out on the jetty - thus proving something or other.



I attended a local Remembrance ceremony yesterday.. and I must say that there are more and more attendees with every year that passes. I was asked to lay a wreath on behalf of the association I work with. It's always a very moving occasion there - we had a choir and a couple of local bands - plus all the civic dignitaries and the colourful standards. There's something about the dry rattle of the drums and the clarion call of the trumpets of the "Marseillaise" that never fails to send a shiver through me.

11th November. It's the first weekend of the rugby Autumn Internationals this afternoon.. and if you feel a few earth tremors in the next few hours, you now know why! Italy play Fiji, Scotland meet Samoa, England collide with Argentina, Wales are due for a spanking by Australia, Ireland will be striking sparks off South Africa and in the evening game, France will be looking to restrict New Zealand to less than a 30 point lead. (Good luck with that!)

10th November. This great Neil Diamond song came out of "The Jazz Singer" - and in my view, it's one of the very best ballads - and I almost wrote "to be recorded in recent years" here - but I was surprised to learn that it was recorded back in 1980.. Ouch! (link to the film here)
Extra points if you spotted a few well-known faces in this video (on the eastern side of the Atlantic anyway): British actor James Booth on the right in the control room (he played Private Hook in "Zulu"); then Lucie Arnaz (daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz); and another British actor Paul Nicholas in the red shirt.

8th November. Madame has been spoiling me today for reasons that we don't need to go into.. For lunch, she made confit de canard with pommes de terre sarladaises.. (sliced potatoes fried in goose fat until crispy golden brown, with garlic and parsley..) You'll find a recipe in English for the potatoes here - but don't forget to sprinkle some coarse sea salt on them at the end. This has to be one of the tastiest recipes known to Mankind. If you've not come across this great dish before, then if you do nothing else, try it..! It couldn't be easier to make - and you'll thank me for it. (video here)

We eased it down with some Saint-Pourçain Cuvée du Bourg rouge.. (right) This is a little known red that is our current favourite and it's far better than it has any right to be. You should be able to find it in your local Carrefour (if in France) or, if not, ask your local wine merchant if he can find a bottle or two for you. (or Google) The white is also good.. and is akin to Sancerre. Both the red and the white are highly recommended. (Notes on Saint-Pourçain here)

Warning: High risk of drooling when watching this video! She omits the garlic.. Personally, I'd include it!
One last thing (and then we'll get back to the Pays Basque!): if you were to ask me who was the greatest racing driver of all time, there would only be one possible contender.. Juan Manuel Fangio - the absolute master of car control.. his four wheel drift technique can be seen here: 

5th November. I've followed motor racing all my life and in my view, the sport has gone down a blind alley in recent years. Races are now won and lost in the pits instead of out on the track, and we have such 'fascinating' technical developments such as DRS (yawn) and complex energy recovery systems  (ERS)(an even bigger yawn); plus safety cars & virtual safety cars; I've lost count of the different tyre types we now have but their useful life is measured in tens of miles, not forgetting the frangible carbon fibre aerodynamic winglets that are guaranteed to "frange" (sic) during the first corner jostling. I also think that the dignity and inherent beauty of the sport has been fatally compromised by the rampant commercialism (drivers and cars all decked out in advertising trivia) that now dominates and, to cap it all, the cars all sound as though they're powered by outboard motors. And I shudder to think how many pages are in the Formula One rule book. This is no Golden Age.

My recommendation for what it's worth: return to non-turbo, non-hybrid engines (think Cosworth V8 of at least 2½ litres) and forget about F1 tipping its hat to political correctness.. How can we pretend that an F1 car is saving energy when its tyres couldn't survive a drive from London to Brighton..? This is Ecclestone's legacy. Time to move on. Back to pure racing.. with tyres that can last a race.. no DRS.. no ERS.. no radios.. a minimum of aerodynamics (no winglets, wings or diffusers: what read-across to road cars is there? Nil..) Let the drivers drive. Gentlemen.. Start your engines!

The Thirties were the Golden Age as far as I'm concerned - plus the decade that followed WWII. I put this short video together of some of the most unforgettable sights and sounds that motor racing has ever witnessed.. (To watch a documentary on Grand Prix racing in the Thirties, click on here and here) Ride with Hermann Lang in 1962 as he powers the 1937 race-winning W125 car with its supercharged straight eight 5.6 litre engine around the old Nürburgring circuit. W125 cars occupied the top four places in the championship by the end of the 1937 season.

Listen to the haunting wail of that V16 BRM as the supercharger kicks in at 3:00..      
  
That 3lbs of warm tofu between our ears works in strange ways doesn't it? While I was out earlier with the pup enjoying a very windy & bracing (almost wintry) walk along the coastal path at Anglet, something or other triggered a dusty memory of this warning in 4 languages I once saw above the window in my train compartment during on a 4 day trans-European rail journey in the '60s. I spent much of that time reflecting on it!

It's a microcosm of Europe isn't it? In Italian, it sounds like a warning from an Italian lover (please not to come here after 7pm!) or, at the very least, a rustic pasta dish. The French version should be breathed in one's ear, preferably by a woman resembling Françoise Hardy in her youth, all legs and cheekbones (steady on!) - whereas the German version needs only the sound of a snarling Doberman Pinscher in the background.. The English warning is the only one that's devoid of any linguistic magic capable of occupying a young man's imagination for 4 days! I've been waiting for 50+ years to retrieve one of these phrases from my memory and drop it into conversation with a flourish - but, sadly, the occasion has never arisen.
In Googling for the warning sign, I found one of those old metal destination plaques they used to hang on the sides of the European railway carriages showing the routing. This one is the closest I could find to the trip I made. When/if asked what I'd like for Christmas or a birthday, I usually have no idea.. However, one of these would be a great reminder of that trip. I'll have to start looking. 

3rd November. Don't tell me you don't learn anything here..! Who knows what a SJW is? This is probably old hat to Guardianistas and NYT readers.. but for those of you who aren't, it means Social Justice Warrior. (Yes, it doesn't mean much to me either) Apparently its first use in a negative context dates back to 2011. (only 6 years behind the times!)

I once wrote a blog post about how it's a common sight to see people walking home here with a fresh crispy baguette, still warm from the oven, and being unable to resist having a not-so-surreptitious nibble of the pointy end. And I said that a small fortune awaits the person who can work out how to make just baguette ends. I've been seeing this baguette (above) lately - it's known as a campaillette sarmentine - or, more simply at the bakers I use, une baguette herriko (this sounds like a local variation). A quick flash of the knife before it goes into the oven and - bingo - you finish up with 4 crispily delicious baguette ends instead of the usual two. Cunning devils!

I've had a reply concerning my request for French nationality that I mailed recently. (I'm seeking dual nationality - I'm not abandoning Ye Olde Englande!) I'm relieved to hear that they have all the documentation they require and now I'm waiting for the police to contact me sometime in the near future to check that I've not been engaged in criminal activities since we arrived here ten years ago (apart from a slack handful of speeding tickets). Once they're satisfied, we then have to go up to the Prefecture in Bordeaux for meetings with various people to demonstrate that I can eat a tripe sandwich as a starter, followed by a great steaming plateful of Tête de veau, garnished with a few slices of Andouillette!! Only joking! And assuming my application is favourably received, the whole package then gets sent up to Paris for the approval of the Ministère de l'Intérieur (equiv to Home Secretary in the UK). And if he approves it, I think that will be the day that we'll have a good reason to revisit La Tupina!

Seeing as it's autumn, here's a great song that's made for the occasion - and instead of Yves Montand, here's Jean-Claude Pascal's interpretation: