Wednesday, 25 November 2009

33. Christmas countdown..

25th November 2009. With the erection of 40 or so wooden chalets (aka garden sheds) in front of the Hôtel de Ville in Bayonne - ready for the Christmas market - there's now no hiding from the fact that Christmas is coming. The lights aren't up yet though.
When I was over in England in September, the previously mentioned Major Bloodnok was kind enough to make me a present of 2 large Christmas puddings. They've been sat in the cellar ever since and each time I go down there I'm tempted to bring one up into the light of day and sweet-talk Madame into heating one up. (Fat chance!) She does like them - but only at Christmas. (Rats!) I think that, as a food item, appreciation of them is usually limited to those of an Anglo Saxon origin. We're going up to Paris to stay with Madame's brother for a few days over Christmas and, for a few crazy moments, I thought that one of the Pudding Brothers would make an excellent contribution to the Christmas fare. That is, until the mental image of a table full of chauvinistic Gauls swam across my mind - each regarding their steaming slice of pudding with the utmost suspicion, poking and prodding it with looks of disdain as if it were still alive.. reluctantly tasting a morsel that could be harbouring e-coli at the very least. And this from a nation wot eats andouillette!! No, I don't think I'll bother. The French have a great expression for this: donner de la confiture aux cochons.. or to give jam to pigs!

At the risk of annoying those who live to the north, I must mention the unseasonably good weather we've been enjoying here for the last week (after the storms!). Temps of 24C and today it must be ~18-20C.. with matching blue skies.

With my knees giving me gyp at the moment, it's clear that our Golf is too small for us (ie, me) if we want to visit Tante S, Madame's auntie who lives in the Jura near the Swiss border (830kms away) as well as doing any long trips of exploration into Spain and Italy. After an hour's driving, I need to extend my legs which, in the Golf, I'm unable to do. So for the last few months we've been looking at all the options. We've test driven all kinds of cars and now we've homed in on the VW Tiguan as being the most suitable. With a little luck we should have one in time for our Christmas jaunt up to Paris..

Mentioning Tante S reminds me of the time when she and her now late husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary one summer in the mid 90s. They'd decided to have a celebratory dinner and had invited a representative from each part of the extended family (to keep the numbers down to a manageable level) and so we came to be invited. We'd planned our annual visit to the Pays Basque such that at the end of it we could drive up & across to the Jura to arrive in time..

We wanted to avoid the boredom of the autoroutes so we thought we'd simply "straight-line it" across France - going by the Departmentale* roads - thus seeing a bit more of the country. After driving all day on lonely roads through mountains, forests and villages we stopped overnight at a village called Bourganeuf (between Limoges and Clermont-Ferrand) which is as near as dammit in the centre of France. We quickly dropped our bags in a 2* "Logis" hotel in the centre and then went out for a swift leg stretch before dinner. I remember being amazed to find a fish shop still open at 7pm. What's more, the display of gleaming fish on ice under the lights looked as fresh as could be and - remember - this was in a village 200 miles from the coast..!

We returned to the hotel and went into the cosy and heavily beamed dining room. Looking around, it was clear that this was the real France (aka la France profonde). After browsing the menu for a few minutes I realised that this was somewhere that took its food seriously. All the classic dishes were there. Madame often says that food is the second religion in France but I'd go further and say it's the first - as more people go to restaurants than go to church. Looking through the wine list I couldn't believe what I was seeing - most of the wine was priced at somewhere between £200 and £800 a bottle.. There were some fabled wines there that I'd only read about - Château Palmer, Château Gruaud-Larose, Château Haut-Brion and Château Yquem - and this in a un cheval village in the middle of nowhere.. Who was buying this? Needless to say, we had a bottle of something far more modest!

/to be continued..

* Autoroutes (motorways) are A roads.. as in the A63 from Bayonne to Bordeaux (UK equivalents? The M1, M5, M6 etc).
Nationale roads are N roads (as in N7) - these equate to the A roads in the UK.
Departmentale roads are D roads - and are equivalent to the UK's B roads.
Hope that's cleared up any confusion there may have been!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

32. Spain

We went across the border to Irun in Spain today as Madame was in need of some retail therapy. Her "SHOPPING" low level warning light had been indicating steady red for a few days!

On arrival, we stopped for a hot chocolate at a cafe we'd been to before.. These are the real thing here - made with dark chocolate melted into hot milk - and are highly recommended. Looking around at the clientele of the cafe, it looked like they were auditioning for a Pedro Almodovar film.. There were a couple of middle aged guys who looked suspiciously "light on their loafers" and a number of excessively well dressed women who looked like they each had a story to tell (for a small down payment!). After that Madame went loose to look at clothes various - an activity which I was mercifully spared from - so I walked the pooch around.

I wished I'd brought my camera with me to take a few pictures of things that caught my eye - such as a shop that declared itself to be a Zapateria (a shoe shop in case you're wondering), a shop (in the main street) that curiously just sold domestic internal doors, a bar that advertised strep tease (yes, it was spelt like that), and a cafe that offered hamb urguesas (no prizes for guessing that one). There was a very pleasant square there with plenty of shade provided by plane trees that still had their leaves.

In the middle was a chap sat in a ONCE* booth not much bigger than an old-style red phone box selling tickets for the fabled Spanish lottery. La Loteria Nacional is played every Thursday and Saturday; the Bonoloto, which is drawn every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; la Primitiva, which is drawn every Thursday and Saturday and the large jackpot, El Gordo de la Primitiva, or "the Fat One" as it's known, is drawn every Sunday. The main prize is a dizzyingly huge number of euros.

Spanish pedestrian crossings are quite novel and show a countdown in seconds of how much time to wait before the display changes from an animated Pacman-esque green one to a stationary red figure.
Back in the car, the outside temperature was reading 24C as we passed through Behobia on the border.. which I thought was very reasonable for 19th November.

Hmm, I think I've just worked out why Madame sometimes refers to me under her breath as El Gordo..

* ONCE = Organizacion Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (Spanish National Blind Organisation)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

31. Vocabulaire

Another observation on how words are used here. For some time I've been aware at a subliminal level that the state and the media uses words for public consumption that we would never dream of using for the same audience in the UK and elsewhere in the Anglo-Saxon sphere.. While these words are completely correct, they would be judged by those who judge such things in the UK to be too highbrow, too technical or incomprehensible to yer average Brit. Or all three.. In France, there is a precision of expression - an absolutism - that mandates the use of a word that is totally correct (even if only a small percentage of the public is likely to understand it) in preference to a more widely understood simpler but less precise one. We appear to have swung in the opposite direction in the UK.

Let's take the TV weather forecast for starters. Here, instead of saying it will be cloudy - or "nuageux" - they talk of increased "nébulosité". Compare this with the baby talk by UK weather presenters – bits and pieces of rain, gorgeous sunshine, weather pushing up from the south, or weather lurking out in the Atlantic waiting to attack us. I’m not making these up! And Arctic conditions when it's -1C..! Meanwhile, back at the Météo in France - another common one is to talk about a "perturbation" in the weather when all they really mean is a blip or a change in the weather is imminent - usually for the worse. "Luminosité" is yet another one.

And what is plain and simple in Anglo Saxon - for example, a ring road - becomes the périphérique in French. In the UK I somehow can't imagine White Van Man referring to the M25 around Greater London as the Peripheral Motorway.

Sometimes the centre of a road here is blanked off by a metre-wide strip of red paint to indicate that motorists cannot cross it. This is known here as the axial which I'm sure means nothing to a large percentage of the populace.

Catherine Jentile, the resident TF1 (the major French TV network) correspondent in London always refers to the English language as la langue du Shakespeare (the language of Shakespeare) rather than as English. And the UK/Britain/England becomes la royaume de sa gracieuse Majesté - the kingdom of her gracious Majesty. They often use this indirect form of address when referring to someone or something - for example, someone from Biarritz will invariably be referred to not by their name but as the Biarrot. Every town has an identity form which can be used like this. I'm not suggesting that any of this matters much.. but it's interesting to experience a different slant on how things are viewed. Broadcasters will not dumb down. In the UK, some cultural activities are perceived to be of interest only to a minority - such as the theatre or ballet - whereas here in France they are routinely reported in the television news both in the mornings and evenings.

And if you’re ever considering putting your foot in your mouth, French is the easiest language in the world to do it in. Ask me how I know..! “A”, one of the girls at the rowing club, said during an outing on the river that she had a spare ticket for the local rugby derby match between Biarritz and Bayonne. Later, in the mens’ changing room, when the subject of the game cropped up I mentioned to the others (in French) that “A” had a ticket for me.. This produced howls of laughter..! Apparently this means that I have a crush on her! Another ‘foot in mouth’ moment occurred during an outing on the river, when I was attempting to explain to one of the girls in the crew the technique at the finish of the stroke for getting the oar out of the water and feathering the blade all in one smooth action. I remembered my old coach talking about rolling the handle of the oars (oars = les pelles in French) so I translated this into French as “roulez les pelles” which again produced a gale of laughter. This means to kiss with tongues..!

Meanwhile, some French humour that's doing the rounds..

Jean Pierre trouve sa prof d'anglais tout à fait à son goût, aussi il lui envoie un texte message:

"Douillou sink it is envisageable crak crak wiziou this ivening?"

Scandalisée, elle répond: "Never!"

Alors Jean Pierre, en joie, lui renvoie: "Splendid, disons never, never et demie!"

(Be still my aching sides..!)

Some useful vocab:

mon amour my love

mon ange my angel

mon bébé my baby

ma belle my beautiful (informal)

ma biche my doe

ma bichette my little doe

ma caille my quail (informal)

mon canard my duck

mon chaton my kitten

ma chatte my cat (familiar)

mon cher, ma chère my dear

mon chéri, ma chérie my dearie

mon chou my pastry (informal)

mon chouchou my favorite, blue-eyed boy/girl, pet* (informal)
*as in "teacher's pet"

mon cochon my pig

mon coco my egg

ma cocotte my hen (informal)

mon cœur my heart

ma crotte my dropping (also refers to a small, round goat cheese)

ma fifille my little girl (informal, old-fashioned)

mon grand / ma grande my big guy / girl

mon jésus my Jesus (when talking to a child)

mon lapin my rabbit

ma loutre my otter

mon loup my wolf

ma mie literally "my female friend," but used to mean "my dear/love." (This is a somewhat old-fashioned term contracted from mon amie > m'amie > ma mie. Note that mie also refers to the soft part of bread - the opposite of the crust.)

mon mignon my cutie

mon mimi my pussycat (informal)

mon minet / ma minette my pussycat

mon minou my kitty

ma moitié my half

mon petit / ma petite my little guy / girl

ma poule my hen

mon poulet my chicken

ma poulette my pullet (informal)

ma poupée my doll

mon poussin my chick (informal)

ma puce my flea (informal)

mon sucre d'orge my barley sugar

mon trésor my treasure

mon trognon my (fruit) core (when talking to a child)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

30. Optional read: Two wheel interlude

The 500cc Matchless G80CS was a competition motorcycle aimed squarely at the US market where the model was arguably the one to beat in off-road events such as hare ‘n hounds, scrambles, desert races and enduros in the fifties and early sixties. It could never be described as a lightweight, as it was always rumoured that Matchless kept adding 3lbs of metal to the frame where it had broken in competition until it stopped breaking. The result was the almost bullet-proof, highly reliable, late model G80CS which, in its final incarnation, weighed in at some 380lbs.

This was the image (below) that sustained me during the long search for my bike and then again during its subsequent restoration. It belongs to Dave Campbell up in Alaska and is the perfect example of the model. 

After searching in vain for 8 years in the UK for an affordable G80CS, I finally stumbled upon one advertised as a basket case in Walneck’s Classic Cycle Trader magazine while on a lengthy business trip to Seattle in 1998. Belonging to magazine proprietor Buzz Walneck himself, Buzz had bought it from the estate of the first and only owner. It had been dismantled many years before and had apparently been dry stored in the first owner’s basement ever since. I called Buzz in Illinois (1500 miles to the east) and asked him how complete the bike was. He told me that it was 98% all there. I then asked him if the engine would turn over and if there was compression? The answer was yes to both of these questions. Finally, I asked if gears could be selected – again, yes.

A couple of days later a set of photos arrived from Buzz that showed the dismantled G80CS in all its glory - underneath a thick crust of thirty year old mid-Western topsoil - and they are the ones in the first 55 seconds of the following slideshow:

After taking a long deep breath I decided to buy it (while the bike might have been 98% all there - was I?). When I finally got to inspect the various parts after its arrival in the UK, it looked like the first owner had in fact raced it because all the quickly detachable (Q/D) parts - headlight, silencer, rear light, chainguard, speedo - were like new. The speedo showed only 603 miles on it when I bought it.

The bike is one of the very last of the illustrious line of Matchless competition singles to be made – it was manufactured in April ’67 before full-time production ceased a month later. Tall, slim, & functional, it was lent an additional massive presence by that beautiful all-alloy short stroke engine. It oozed charisma (but not oil!)(well, not much..) and had character in spades.

With the original Amal 389 carb fitted, starting was always something of a lottery despite following the approved procedure. Starting from cold, I used to tickle the carb until petrol showed. I would then pull the exhaust valve lifter and turn the engine over a few times to fill the cylinder with mixture. Retarding the ignition a tad, I would then administer the traditional “long swinging kick”. It would usually start within 5 kicks - provided there wasn’t an audience! Anything after this caused my leg to grow weary due to the 8.7 piston so I would revert to a “run & bump” on a nearby hill. I fitted a new carb body and a chrome slide from Hitchcocks which did improve things a little but even then I was never able to achieve predictable starting and a satisfactory tickover.

Out of the blue, a colleague at work offered me a new Dell’Orto PHM40 carb at a price I could not resist. I wanted to fit the Dell’Orto in such a way that originality would not be compromised. I asked a friend if he could make up a new manifold that would allow the original Amal to be re-fitted if necessary. A skilled precision engineer, he did a superb job of machining a new manifold from solid alloy billet.

With the Dell’Orto now fitted, starting at last became reliable. The routine was then: petrol on, retard ignition a tad, open air lever a little if cold, give the twist grip a couple of turns to squirt some neat petrol into the cylinder, followed by 2-3 long slow strokes of the kick starter with the exhaust valve lifter lifted. Following the first serious kick, it usually boomed into life and settled down quickly to a slow even tickover.

The clutch action was light (to me) and gear selection was foolproof. Finding neutral was simply done. The engine smoothed out once the heavy flywheels were spinning and the faster the bike was ridden, the smoother it got. It sat comfortably at 60-65mph with snarling power instantly available beyond that. I had it up to 80mph for the odd brief period but wind pressure made life uncomfortable at that speed. Cruising at 60mph was far more preferable and sustainable. The exhaust note was a constant source of pleasure to me but some bystanders might have felt that its healthy crackle to be excessive by today’s standards. A plodding Matchless single it wasn't! The riding position suited me – the seat height was 33” and I didn't feel cramped at all. As far as roadholding was concerned, potholes or white lines didn't disturb its line through bends and it never shook its head. I think that, in common with most other bikes of the same era, its braking ability was the only aspect of the bike that showed its age in the cut and thrust of modern traffic.

Best bike I ever had.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

29. Winter's here (I think)

Sunday, 8th November 2009. More storms last night.. I woke up in the wee small hours following a loud crash of thunder only to find that we'd been joined in bed by the dog (who was shivering for Britain). I lay there listening to all the hullabaloo outside for a while before dropping off back to sleep again. There's something curiously satisfying about being wrapped up in a warm bed while listening to Mother Nature doing her worst outside. It's even better in a tent. I think there must be something about this experience that's tied up with some early folk memory in us that harks back to ancient times. The storm lasted through till around 10 this morning when the clouds cleared to reveal a bright blue sky. While the worst of it has blown through it's still very windy. I think we'll drive to Biarritz this afternoon to see the waves crashing against the rocks..
I walked into Bayonne this morning to pick up the bread and there were very few people out and about. Opposite the Galeries Lafayette someone has set up a hot chestnut stand ("Marrons Chauds") that looks like a small steam locomotive. Winter's here. We've started doing chestnuts at home during the last week or two. Just back from a good blowy walk around Biarritz. I've been meaning to mention something for a while about the pavement (sidewalk for US readers) rules of the road in France.. In England, there's no rule or set side for which way to let people pass who are coming towards you on the pavement. In fact, quite often it's all too easy to end up in a pavement tango.. where you both step the same way left and right and left before finally saying "I'll go this way.." I had it drummed into me as a callow youth that I should always pass on the outside (ie, the road side) if approaching a lady. This can complicate things. Here, the rule of the road applies.. you always let people approaching (regardless of gender) pass to the left.. Easy.

We went to Biarritz straight after lunch where the sea was running very high.. with boiling surf and huge breaking waves that crashed with a sudden explosive whumph against the foot of the cliffs by the lighthouse. We weren't the only ones there.. and parking space was at a premium. The dog's ears were horizontal as the wind caught them! It's quite sobering watching a stormy sea - even though in real terms the waves weren't that big compared with, say, the Southern Ocean between Australia and Cape Horn. At times like this, my admiration for those solo round the world sailors knows no bounds. After watching the violent sea for a while, we walked down into Biarritz and along the promenade that we'd been sunning ourselves on - only a week ago. This time, the sea had thrown up on the beach great wobbling banks of foam or spume (good word for after lunch!) about 2 feet thick that rippled in the wind. We found our way to the Hotel Plaza (an ornate Art Deco hotel) where we had a hot chocolate each. This is (another!) one of Madame's favourite places as they make them from real chocolate here.

As we left Biarritz about 4pm to return home, the roads leading into Biarritz were solid with glassy-eyed post-Sunday lunch traffic all eager to see the sea.

Monday, 9th November 2009
Last night we had the last of the thunderstorms and now it finally looks as though the week of rain is over. This afternoon the skies are blue and the pavements are drying out.

One good thing - my new grass is growing.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

28. It never rains but it..

5th November 2009. I’ve been confined to barracks for a couple of days – last Tuesday the rhumatologue administered the final injection (last of three) of 'gunge' into my knees to act as a cushion in the joints. After my knees have stabilised, I’ll then have to see a physio for some “re-education” as they call it (sounds a bit Maoist). Rowing looks to be ‘off’ for the foreseeable future – it will probably be around Christmas before I can start again.

The Indian summer we’ve been enjoying up last weekend has suddenly segued into a week of most un-English rain. Fortunately, window shutters here in the South West are solid wood – they’re not the effete louvred jobbies beloved of impressionist painters – and, as always, there’s a very good reason why.

The Vieux Port, Biarritz taking a pounding.
Here, rain doesn’t manifest itself as a gentle drizzle that lasts most of the day, or as dancing showers that spatter the windows for a few minutes and puts a short-lived shine on the pavements. No, rain “à la Pays Basque” sweeps in directly from Ye Famouf Olde Baye of Bifcay (Purveyor of Torrential Downpourf to SW France fince Time Immemorial). Rain that, if it were any heavier, would be solid water. Rain that seems malevolent and blows in visible sheets that hit the ground and bounce back up again. Rain that drums in rising crescendos against the roof, walls and shutters, swept in by wailing winds that buffet and swirl around the house, rattling the tightly fastened shutters as if searching for the weak point.
Approaching storm at Anglet
Last night was a particularly bad night I’m told. While I was deep in my usual 3am coma-like oblivion, apparently the world as we know it was ending just the other side of our shutters and Madame feared for the house. This phenomenon probably explains why hanging baskets are rarely if ever seen here.. they'd be blown away in one of these storms.

Here's a clip of the breakers smashing in to the rocks at Biarritz..
I've come to realise that France is greatly more politicised than England. French politics exert a huge influence on daily life here. The complete politicisation of French society surprised me when I first noticed it and it continues to surprise me. Politics are everywhere and just about everything on the radar seems to have a political dimension.

In England, the Royal Family is available to act as a distraction for the media but here in France, with no Royal family, the media in all its forms has the government of the day's actions under permanent microscopic daily scrutiny. Every argument has 2 opposing elements – Left & Right – and the airwaves are awash with programmes with political journalists arguing and chewing over every action by the government. Journalists of the Left and Right try to tease an anti- or a pro-government spin respectively from daily events. The apparatus of the State is visibly politicised to a degree unknown in England – although maybe in England it is there but it’s less intrusive. The power of the State cascades down through a formal system of Prefets, sous-Prefets and mayors - all the way down to idle wasters.. like me.

And so we sign off on this rain-sodden dank grey day with this uplifting reminder of the 1950s:
And if I'm not mistaken, I reckon the chicken giving its all for Pathe News is a poulet de Bresse - ze Rolls-Royce of chickens, at least here in France.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

27. All Saints Day

1st November 2009. Yesterday, I went to watch Aviron Bayonne, the local rugby union club, play Toulon (Jonny Wilkinson's new club). Unfortunately he wasn't playing as he's back in England training with the England squad in preparation for the autumn internationals. Toulon is coached by Tana Umaga, the former All-Black, so they are no slouches. I came by the ticket courtesy of one of the girls at the rowing club - she said that her husband Éric was going and could get me a ticket. We arranged to meet at the main gate at 2pm.. When they arrived, it turned out that it was a 'freebie' and, not only that, it was a VIP ticket as well with access to pre- and post-match hospitality. Yee-haar..!

We went in and headed towards the hospitality tent, spotting Amelie Mauresmo (the French tennis player) on the way. The level of support for the club was clear for all to see - just about everyone was wearing something pale blue - the colour of Aviron Bayonne. It seemed as much a social occasion as a rugby match with many elegant ladies evident. Entering the VIP hospitality tent, I was staggered by the quality of the offerings.. there were ~30 tables - each sponsored by local companies – laden with seafood and other delicacies. We quickly found the right table and, as it was very warm, we just had time for a cold beer before going into the main stand to find our seats. Bayonne are struggling at the foot of the Top 14 having just sacked their coach but despite that they were very lively. They could and should have put points on the board before Toulon did. However, as it was, Toulon were more clinical and it ended 8-14.

This is a video of the Bayonne crowd singing their "Hymne" - Vino Griego or "La Peña Baïona" - on another occasion. When Bayonne play at home and the crowd sing it, we can hear them at the house. Guaranteed to bring you out in goose pimples..!
After the game, we returned to the VIP tent and this time, every table had, as its centrepiece, platters of seafood and oysters.. and cheeses various. ("Only in France.." I thought) There were opened bottles of Bordeaux on every table as well which I just had to interview and there was a champagne bar which didn't appear to be doing much business after the loss.

After we'd drowned our sorrows a bit, we came back to our place and sat out on the terrace in the garden with some tea and cake that Madame had. All in all, a very pleasant afternoon.

Today is All Saints Day in France and it's the day in the year when families, friends and relatives set off to visit the graves of their loved ones in cemeteries all over France. Not entirely coincidentally, the weekend also rates very highly as a "Black Weekend" as far as road deaths are concerned as motorists take to the motorways in droves and embark on long journeys - to the town or village of their infancy - to visit the family grave.

Many of these drivers seldom travel outside their Department and so the prospect of a long road trip is more than usually fraught with danger. For the rest of us, it's a good weekend to stay indoors. For the last few days, the local regional TV news has been showing the Gendarmerie operating speed traps along the length and breadth of Aquitaine - all of which served to remind Madame to wag a cautionary finger at me - as my driving licence is hanging on - as they would say in the Eurovision Song Contest - by neuf points..

It is traditional to leave flowers at the graveside and the flower most often left is the chrysanthemum. (Warning: if invited to a French home, never be tempted to offer chrysanthemums.) Flower shops at this time of the year seem to sell nothing but pots of chrysanthemums (right).. I walked into Bayonne this fine Sunday morning - in shirt-sleeves (winter seems like another country) - to buy a couple of campaillettes (an extremely more-ish pointy-ended crusty baguette currently in favour with the Mem'sahib) from a baker with a traditional wood-fired oven in Petit Bayonne - just across the Nive. As I walked down the avenue, I couldn't help noticing the size of the chestnut leaves that have started drifting down - some were a good foot across. Our local florist had an amazing display of beautifully sculpted chrysanthemums in pots this morning.. as did all the other florists in town.

I stopped at a cash machine and when I'd finished, an old gentleman who'd been waiting behind me asked if I could help him. At first I thought I was being offered an opportunity to contribute to his lunch but then I realised he was asking me for help in operating the cash machine. I managed to get through all of this without asking him to repeat himself or without him asking me to repeat myself. All in French. Afterwards, I continued my walk feeling pleasantly pleased with myself. Another minor victory. I've had these unexpected conversations before where I've had to run up the white flag and confess to being an "Angliche" - being unable to dredge up the right words in time.

Into Bayonne proper at around 10am, the shuttered streets were fairly empty apart from a handful of chic Parisian tourists clutching their Guides Michelin. It was low water and looking down into the Nive, there were shoals of fat grey mullet hunting in packs for titbits. Over the bridge and into the bakers and the heady smell of hot fresh bread.. (Mmm!)

Job done - two hot loaves in hand - I somehow managed to resist the temptation to nibble the pointed end of a Campaillette on the return journey. Walking down the shopping street near home, I passed by 'our' estate agent.. Its window was full of property details and I noticed a smallish slim box with a slot in it affixed to the wall. It invited any party interested in a property to leave a Carte de Visite in the box. This struck me not only as an excellent idea but also a delightfully old-fashioned one at the same time - the assumption that a prospective house buyer would possess a carte de visite. How many people in England would have a visiting card - not a business card. Not too many I’d guess.

It's midday, the windows are wide open, the sun is shining and church bells are ringing all across Bayonne.

I don't know about you but I'm off downstairs to set the table.

Addendum. It turned out that Madame had other ideas. A pot of paint and a paint brush were waiting for me downstairs and she pointed me in the direction of the front door which needed another coat of paint before winter. She simply doesn't realise the importance of keeping this blog up to date!

We went for a walk with the dawg along the sea-front at Biarritz in the late afternoon as the forecast for next week is for showers (or bits and pieces of rain as the BBC weather girls say!). Although the car thermometer said 25C, it felt a few degrees warmer.. and there was quite a crowd out, with people swimming and surfing. It was still 24 at 6.30 when we arrived home - all this on 1st November!

We once saw the "Riverdance" show at the Sheffield Arena in England and it was a stunning performance. It was a fill-in act during the interval during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin and they took the place by storm. (Health Warning: Don't try this at home!) Fast forward to 4:45 if you're short of time:

When we saw the show in Sheffield, we were lucky enough to be seated near to the very talented Irish band. I'd've paid just to hear them.. they looked like they were enjoying themselves and would have played for nothing. The one who stood out for us though was Davy Spillane on the Uilleann pipes: