Friday, 27 May 2011

146. Feel the need for speed?

26th May 2011. This made me laugh this morning - I read on an aviation web site that "..the hump on the 747 was designed so that the Captain could sit on his wallet." And while we're thinking about that, have a look at this:
It looks spectacular but there's at least 2,000ft separation between the two aircraft.. (that is, provided that both pilots don't cough at the same time!)   

A clip showing rowers from Aviron Bayonnais in competition:
Watch out for them rowing uphill at 2:42.. How do they do that!

Another milestone date is approaching.. don't ask! My motto is fast becoming Old people live longer.. I worked out in an idle moment that during the course of my 65 orbits around the sun I will have clocked up about 38bn miles or 60bn km. Puts my rowing distance into perspective! 
Chocolate lovers.. this one's for you! Coming up are the Bayonne en chocolat days on 3rd & 4th June 2011.. Break out those pants with the elasticated waist and get down here!

12 happy km this evening in a mixed VIII sculler.. very nice outing on a breezy river. (Running total: 712km)

There's a storm in an espresso cup going on in France at the moment. In the wake of the latest figures showing that road deaths are on the increase despite the year on year pattern of a continual decrease, the government felt compelled to take remedial action to reverse the upward kink in the trend. Fixed radar speed cameras (left) were widely installed across France over the past few years as excess speed has been identified as a major contributory factor to accidents. Motorists were warned of the presence of these cameras by a warning panel (right) approx ½km before the radar camera. The government has decided that the panels are to be removed and this caused a predictable and very vocal outcry. Speaking as one who has been caught speeding via these cameras, I can only say that it's a good thing.. Drivers must change their habits.. We don't need warning signs reminding us not to commit murder so why should speeding be any different? A speed limit is not an invitation to drive at that speed. People used to slow down when they saw the warning sign only to speed up once past the camera. There's also a proliferation in the number of unmarked mobile radar traps.. and of course there are no warning signs for these.  

The latest device to hit the French roadsides are the "radars pédagogiques" (left). The sign is warning you that your speed is 53kph, worth a fine of 135€ and 2 points off your licence* and to watch out for kids. In accordance with their fondness for linguistic precision, only France could christen this type of radar a radar pédagogique.. Reportedly, over a thousand of these are going to be installed across France. The intention is clear - to warn offending drivers (or automobilistes as they're known in French!) that, one, they are speeding and two, of the penalty they would face were they to be stopped. Knowing the mindset here, I would anticipate that the vast majority of French automobilistes will disregard these warnings once they realise there's no financial penalty or points on licence.

*Sharp-eyed readers will have noted yet another difference between the UK and France. In the UK, you start off with 0 points on your driving licence and points are added up to a maximum of 12 - at which point you take up walking/cycling/Lib Dem politics (topical jokette there!). In France, it's the other way around - you start with 12 points and watch them slowly disappear.. Wouldn't it be handy to be able to manage your points total by alternately committing offences in the UK and France to maintain your running total somewhere between the two extremes!  

France has discovered radar speed cameras with a vengeance and so the days of driving at 160kph and more are a thing of the past. The gendarmes are now armed with hand-held radar or laser cameras.. which are impossible to spot. Even if you were to spot one in advance, the chances are that the operator will already have spotted you. The moral is quite clear - don't speed.

I believe the current prolonged outcry in the Left-dominated media over this issue - where the benefits are self-evident - is nothing more than a maskirovka operation designed purely to attack the government and thus avoid the DSK affair from hitting the headlines. If the government didn't take any action, there'd be just as many howls of criticism. 

Thought for the day:
There is no pleasure worth foregoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. ~John Mortimer.

Another UK/France difference (this could build into a series!): English book titles on shelves can be read by tilting one's head to the right - whereas in France - yes, you've guessed it - it's by tilting your head to the left. We have several bookcases full of English and French books - scanning along is a nightmare..

28th May 2011. Went out in a quad sculler this morning on a warm cloudless sunny morning.. Did 12km (Running total 724km). I forgot to mention that I moved the plancha out of the garage and up the steps to the terrace where it will now stay until November probably. I cleaned all the spiders webs and other assorted crud off it, oiled the wood and it looks like new again. I have an idea that Madame is planning to use it today..!

This evening we were out on our sunlit terrace (me still in my shorts and t shirt), with a glass of sangria each and some olives and nuts, playing a game of cards while the dog snoozed on his back with his paws in the air.. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Now, I ask you, what more do you want?

The answer to that, of course, is that great 3-1 win by a classy Barçelona side against an uninspiring Man Utd in the UEFA Champions League Final. Class vs hype? Only one outcome..

29th May 2011. Since thinning out an overgrown corner of the garden the other afternoon, I've uncovered 2 palm trees (each about 8-9 feet tall) that were being stifled. I've been cutting back old fronds and pulling creepers off the hairy trunks - they're certainly very different to the trees we had in our garden as a kid! Now that they can see the light, I'm hoping that they'll put on a growth spurt. I'm glad we put in a 350 litre (77 gall) rain barrel over the winter - it's come in v handy during the prolonged dry spell we've had here.

In case you've forgotten, Vino Griego (click on 'Listen' next to "Vino Griego - Harmonie bayonnaise - MP3" for a better quality rendition than the video below) is the anthem of Bayonne that we hear each time Aviron Bayonnais (the local rugby team) play at home. And of course, during the Fêtes de Bayonne, it's heard constantly..! And during rugby internationals in Paris, you'll often hear the Basque travelling choir bien arrosé  "giving it large"! By the way, that's the rowing club at 00:14 into the clip..
Heard this today for the first time I think - pity they didn't keep the instrumental part and junk the rest..

Monday, 23 May 2011

145. Saint Pée and Hondarribia

21st May 2011. Had an outing this morning in an VIII - usually we take an VIII sculler out (with 2 sculls each), however this time we had an VIII set up for rowing.. ie, with one long oar each. Rowing, as opposed to sculling, is more technical and demands more in the way of precision from everyone if the boat is to be well balanced and pleasant to row in.. We had our moments! 14km today (Running total 700km).

Another difference between rowing in France and rowing in the UK - and I've been meaning to mention it for months - is that here in France the seats in an VIII are numbered from bow to stern from 8 to 1. In the UK (can't speak for the rest of the world) it's the other way around - thus, from bow to stern it runs from 1 to 8 - except that 1 & 8 are known as "Bow" and "Stroke" respectively. The habits of a lifetime die hard in the heat of the moment.. that's all I'm saying!

And - for any oarsmen reading this - here, they start from backstops which generally means the balance of the boat is compromised right from the start. It's much more difficult to balance a boat that's static when people start moving around. When I learnt to row we always started from frontstops.. Non-rowers here might think - what's all the fuss about?

According to this guide to rowing from Trinity College, Cambridge, octuples (an VIII sculler) and coxed quads are used only by children!

Sitting out on the terrace this evening with a pastis, there was the distant sound of the natives getting restless; yes, you've guessed it - the drums were back.. That haunting, hollow, slow rattle of drums which can set the hair on the back of your neck on end. A local band must be practising in advance of the Fêtes de Bayonne (there's an HD web cam running already). I was taking no chances though so I slipped silently off to the rifle rack - and took out my Westley Richards double-barreled .577-calibre Nitro Express elephant rifle and slid a few of the long brass cartridges into my shirt pocket before tiptoeing back to the terrace. I gently eased a cartridge into both breeches before closing the gun with a well-oiled click. My thumb rested on the safety catch and I slowed my breathing down as I waited in the shadows. After a few minutes there was a tell-tale crack of a twig.. and then.. I woke up! (Phew, that pastis must have been strong!)

23rd May 2011. Back home after a great day out yesterday with Y (our metronomic oarswoman!)(that's a compliment by the way!) and her friend M (un vrai Basque) at his house on the lake at Saint Pée.
They'd invited us over for a barbeque lunch (I'd forgotten to take the camera.) They had 2 huge côtes de boeuf (ribs of beef) waiting to go on the barbeque. 
No nook, cranny or crevice was left unstuffed as a continuous production line of food appeared briefly in front of us before it all vanished! We were supplied with enough vittles to suggest we were anticipating a long sea voyage in an open boat! A platter of Spanish jamon cut paper-thin with scoops of cantaloup melon, roast veggies, the côtes de boeuf, Basque cheese, a cherry clafouti and a coffee.. If you're not sure how to make a clafouti, it's all here:

All this accompanied by a very nice Bourgueil.. If you're going to drink red at lunchtime, there's none better. The more powerful reds of the South West would have your head nodding by 3pm..! A most memorable and delicious Sunday lunch..
Later in the afternoon, we drove down to Hendaye and took the little navette (ferry boat) across to Hondarribia in Spain. Y & M had wanted to show us the Parador (which dates from AD 980 - yes, 980 anno domini!) at Hondarribia but unfortunately there was a no dogs sign.. a great pity.. so we sat in the square (left) and had a drink. All in all, it was a lovely day out in good company. Needless to say, neither of us were hungry in the evening!

I've mentioned before here that one day I'd like to sit down to a meal composed entirely of different French cheeses - starting with mild ones before progressing through to the varieties that the smell of which are capable of stunning a medium-sized wart hog at 10 paces (such as a Livarot or a Munster) or that cheesy weapon of mass destruction - an Époisses de Bourgogne* - all served with wines to match. Well, I understand a similar experience is now possible.. at this place in Paris. Apparently there used to be a cheese restaurant called Androuët but I believe it's now closed. However, the name continues with the establishment of a number of cheese shops in the Paris region.

* Allegedly a cheese so smelly it is banned from being taken on public transport in France.

24th May 2011. Watched Something's Gotta Give last night - Jack Nicolson on top form!

25th May 2011. Heard this on the radio yesterday.. it's a piece my father could play beautifully:
Spent the afternoon cutting down 4 trees at the bottom of the garden that had grown wild and were crowding out the others.. then sawing up the branches before taking it all to the déchetterie (the tip). Hot work..

It's now 30° (86°F) on our west-facing terrace at 6.30pm.. and the dog is spread-eagled on the tiles in the house keeping cool. I'm thinking about joining him..! 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

144. Add James Salter to your Must Read list

16th May 2011. I've been reading James Salter lately, an American author whose prose is capable of stopping you in your tracks. He's a former F-86 Sabre pilot who flew combat in the Korean War and this was the subject of his first book - "The Hunters". The book I've currently got on the go is his autobiographical "Burning the Days". I read it far too quickly the first time around but I'm taking my time with it now. I was pulled up short by one sentence in particular - he was describing a friend who'd died during WWII and he wrote, "His death was one of many and sped away quickly, like an oar swirl."  The image of that oar swirl receding in the wake of life was one that struck me forcibly. I found it such a powerful simile* and I struggle to imagine how he came up with it. His books repay slow careful reading - they can't be read in my usual rush. Here's an interview with the great man (from 1992). His books are well worth searching out.

* just realised it's not a metaphor.

Here's something you don't see every day.. It was the 100th anniversary last year of the birth of Django Reinhardt, the legendary gypsy guitarist. If three guitars are good - then surely a hundred would be fantastic.. non? Just as well Django didn't play the banjo then! Make your own mind up - listen here if the YouTube clip below doesn't work.

17th May 2011. Another perfect evening out on the river. This time it was an outing in an VIII sculler. Good outing in a well-balanced boat. Going up-river we had a warm breeze behind us that matched our speed so with the temperature at 26° (79°F), it was warm work. Coming back, it turned into a welcome headwind but despite that we romped home at a fine pace. Did 12km (Running total: 686km) Think I'll be just shy of the 1,000km mark (which is 621 miles - it sounds better in kilometres!) for the year which ends on 5th August.

18th May 2011. Quick trip over the border this morning to stock up the cellar with sangria et al ready for the summer. I passed through Ainhoa and already the first tourists to this honeypot Basque village were in evidence.

I haven't provided an update to the Chibby situation. If you've just joined us, Chibby is our cocker spaniel. Some friends here have a cocker spaniel bitch that's en chaleur at the moment and for the past 3 days Chibby has been extremely active in attempting to extend his lineage. So far he's had at least 50 attempts by my reckoning..! What do they say about a picture being worth a thousand words..?
20th May 2011. Pleased to see P & M yesterday - some friends who came down from Lacanau for the day. Madame excelled herself for lunch and so it was afterwards that we thought we'd add to the number of confused pensioners ambling around Biarritz in the late afternoon. We finished up at the Bleu Café, which is ideally situated on the sea front overlooking the Grande Plage. It must have been 28° at least and it was very pleasant watching and listening to the crash of the surf close by - think it was high tide. Here's some web cam views of the Grande Plage that may or may not work. Another one of the beach here.

Well spotted.. no rowing for me yesterday! Oh yes - and Chibby had a day off too!

Now that the warmer weather's here, the lizards are back! Walking around the neighbourhood you'll often hear the scurry and the rustle of quick little feet as you pass a sunlit garden wall. Lizards lie on warm stones soaking up the warmth of the morning sunshine and they disappear as quick as a flash when they sense someone approaching.

I was in the garden a few minutes ago when I heard a deep rumbling sound in the sky to the south. Not the usual Ryanair 737 or an Air France twin jet taking off from Biarritz airport.. No, this was an Airbus A380 - the new behemoth of the skies. I spotted it in the distance heading out to sea - and with the illusion of moving incredibly slowly. 
Very impressive.. first time I've seen one of these puppies..
Update on Chibby - Day 4. I think we have a result! In contrast to his previous 60 or so attempts over the last 4 days, this happened this afternoon. I'd not seen this before ever and the two dogs just stood there looking a bit bemused during what apparently is called a 'tie'. If all goes well, the litter should appear towards the end of July. Then the fun will really start!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

143. Grey Saturday

14th May 2011. It was a dreich day out on the river this morning.. grey, cold and with a constant fine drizzle.. We went out in a coxless quad sculler but there was some kind of problem with the steering because we seemed to have a magnetic attraction to one of the banks! In the end, I suggested disconnecting the steering as I suspected it wasn't set up correctly and once we'd done that there was a marked improvement. Arriving back at the clubhouse, we were pretty much all wet through and cold and G (le responsable) suggested an impromptu apéro - he was going to get no argument from me! It's surprising the difference a little whisky makes to the world. Did 12km (Running total: 674km)
The pooch - unhappy at being told to sit still!
This afternoon should see Chibby, our cocker spaniel, in action for the first time. Some friends of ours have a black cocker spaniel bitch - Cerise - and yesterday they phoned us to say that she's come into heat.. Between us, we decided some time ago that the next time she came into heat, Chibby would be given the opportunity to do his best (lie back and think of England) to spread his genes. We'll be getting one of the pups if everything works out fine. Poor lad - he has no idea what's in store for him!

And just in case you were wondering:
I heard this 60s song on the radio earlier today and it brought back lots of memories.. it's full of that Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" excess - it has every instrument you can think of in it - including the kitchen sink - and a few you can't. I looked it up on Wiki and there it was in black and white - it was released in shhhh -  1963. This goes back to an earlier comment I made that we're scarred by the music that was popular when we were 17. It's still a classic though after all those years (especially after an hour or so wasted watching the latest Eurovision Song Contest this evening - don't ask!!) Turn the volume up, listen to it and then tell me that's not a great pop song.. 
I mentioned the Eurovision Song Contest - this is the entry from Moldova - complete with girl on unicycle - that drove me to despair:
15th May 2011. Went for a windy walk along the sea front at Biarritz this morning. Ended up in Dodin's café having one of their hot chocolates and watching the surfers. Chibby is still on alert in case the doorbell rings with his date..! He's showing no signs of big match tension.. 

Today's special offer: if you don't already know it, Radio Nostalgie, a French radio station, has sorted all its catalogue into genres. So, if you're an ABBA fan, this might be right up your strasse - this link plays non-stop ABBA hits. Or, if you like non-stop 60s hits, try this! But maybe you'd prefer to browse the blog with some classic French hits in the background.. Zut alors! In that case, look no further! Or if it's that time of day, here are the non-stop smoochy ones.. (what have I started!!?) Think you need Google Chrome set as your browser to access these links.. 

You'll find that links on the blog will open in a new window from now on - I found the code that allows that to happen - so you can click on the music channels above and carry on reading - that is, if there's no paint drying in the vicinity that needs watching!

16th May 2011. I must admit to being puzzled by the allegations levelled against Dominique Strauss-Kahn (or DSK as he's known here in France), the managing director of the IMF. He'd been positioning himself as a strong Socialist candidate for the 2012 Presidential campaign here in France - and, according to many political commentators here, he would have been very electable versus the unpopular incumbent. He had a lot to lose. I'm not alone in finding the situation that unravelled over the weekend in New York a little bizarre. Without going into details, the claim is that a man staying at a major New York hotel allegedly forced his attentions on a chambermaid - in his hotel room! He's hardly an anonymous figure and hence he stood no chance of the incident passing unnoticed or that he could escape identification.

I started wondering if it might have been a case of entrapment.. Perhaps the chambermaid thought, "This guy's loaded.. I could squeeze him for a few bucks or I'll tell the cops he assaulted me." It wouldn't be the first time. I'm never a great believer in conspiracy theories such as Elvis is alive and living in Essex, or Hitler's U-boat was found on the dark side of the moon, etc etc but DSK is/was probably the only credible candidate the Left could have fielded with a chance of beating Sarko.. (Martine Aubry? No chance. Ségolène Royale? Likewise..) By the time these allegations have been proved/disproved, months will have passed and even if DSK is found to be innocent, the smear will linger. And, in case you're wondering, I don't share DSK's political views.

The Telegraph has more on this unhappy saga. It appears that DSK has an Achilles d--k. (fill in the blanks yourself!) Maybe he was so jaded by everyday life that he needed the rush that an adventure like this could provide.  

In the context of DSK's trousers, I'm reminded of Spike Milligan's alternative version of the traditional nursery rhyme about the Grand Old Duke of York

Oh, the grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half way up,
He was arrested.

Anyway, that's enough of that.. here's an interesting web site to browse when you have a spare moment. It looks suitably dull, as befits a product of the EU (sponsors of the world's dullest looking currency below). I hadn't thought it possible to reduce half a millennia of European cultural heritage to something akin to base metal but with this site they've managed the impossible - and in spades. I'm not a euro-sceptic by the way. This clip may throw some light on what they're about:
On the other hand..

Monday, 9 May 2011

142. Remembering

9th May 2011. As I walked into town early yesterday morning to the bakers I noticed activity around the huge War Memorial that's set into one of the old ramparts that encircle Bayonne.
There was someone setting up loudspeakers and microphones - I asked him what was happening and he reminded me that it was 8th May - ".. la fin de la guerre." - I'm ashamed to say I'd forgotten. Waiting in the shade across the road, there were a few old soldiers in their kepis and berets in their be-medalled blazers proudly holding their old standards. Those old links and bonds with the tragic history of Europe are still evident - 66 years on. 

Long time (or long suffering) readers of this blog may recall I once wrote a post about the sound of the cimbalom.. Well, it started off as a post about the cimbalom but it ended up as a homage to Le Grand Mayeur, a fabled and unique institution in Brussels that's sadly now closed (more details at the above link). I was browsing on YouTube earlier and I came across this great interpretation of Vivaldi´s Concerto in C for cimbalom, 1st movement - I hadn't realised up until now that anyone had tried to play the cimbalom with more traditional instruments. I think it shows that the cimbalom can stand comparison with classical instruments as it's accompanied here by a harpsichord, double bass, cello and violins (all being played pizzicato):
Here's the 2nd movement - apparently, this concerto was originally written for mandolin, strings & continuo. I've read the link for continuo ( a new word to me) and I'm none the wiser..! The absence of a non-musical education shines through yet again!
10th May 2011. Just back from letting the dog take me for a walk around town. Looks as though the summer season has started. There was a group of Spanish pensioners receiving a guided tour of the old ramparts; couples with street maps, back packs and cameras; obvious tourists wandering slowly looking all around them and, of course, the street people. There was one this morning who caught my eye - she was standing on a street corner in the centre twirling a long scarf as if she was trying to shake a knot out of it. Then I saw the bowl on the ground with a few coins in. A bit of a minimalist act I thought.. 

The walk took us through the well-maintained gardens that have been laid out in the spaces between the ramparts.  
Here's a view of Grande Bayonne that shows how compressed all the building in the old town centre had to be due to the surrounding ramparts. The confluence of the Adour and the Nive can be seen at the top:
Much remains of the old fortifications - here's one of the entrances into the town, still in daily use:
Bayonne is justifiably proud of its "green" credentials and the town operates a free transport system known as the Navette (shuttle) - these electrically-powered buses circulate continuously at frequent intervals in and around town and are a great boon to elderly shoppers. 
Another free mode of transport provided by the town are these bikes - known as Velibs (the French love abbreviating words!) and this comes from Velo Libre (free bike):
There are a great many cycle lanes around town and it's possible to ride along the banks of the Adour and the Nive - which is something we like to do.

Another lovely warm sunny evening out on the river tonight. Had an outing in a beautiful Swiss-built coxed quad sculler and the slanting sunshine made the most of its honey-coloured varnished wood. I derive more pleasure of rowing in a boat like this compared to a carbon fibre boat - OK, a carbon boat is lighter, stiffer etc etc but next to a fine shell four like the one we were in tonight, a carbon boat looks like something for holidaymakers.. Did 11km (Running total: 662km).    

11th May 2011. Most mornings when I walk into town I pass the same café that has a few tables on the pavement. More often than not, there are 3 well-upholstered gents of retirement age sitting outside wearing leather jackets covered in badges, each with a small cup of coffee (in the French style - small, strong and guaranteed to inhibit the blinking reflex for up to 3 days).
Their motorsickles are parked on the pavement opposite - or perhaps moored would be the better word - as all three are monster-sized, lavishly chromed and highly polished Harley-Davidsons. No biting the heads off chickens or general purpose hell raising for the owners - nope, they just sit there talking quietly with their coffees until it's time to be respectable again and go home for lunch. It must be hard being a head-bangin', hard drinkin' rebel-without-your-teeth when you've just picked up your pension and your wife wants you to take her to the supermarket in the afternoon.

A column in today's Telegraph claims that three years is all it takes before expats start to tire of life abroad. Yawn..! (was that me?) We'll have been here 4 years in September and neither Madame nor I have yet to experience a "tiring of life here" moment. Ye gods..! I'll keep an eye open for one though and if one comes along you'll be the first to know. Expect they all come in threes.

14th May 2011. Noticed this morning that a few recent comments that were posted to the blog have disappeared - for example, 'Lesley' commented on the above paragraph. In case you're wondering, I've not been tidying up - there must have been a problem with the server somewhere. Feel free to keep 'em coming..!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

141. The empire strikes back!

5th May 2011. I encountered the same lady in town again yesterday - she of the cryptic comment about "dogs being for sentimental people" - mentioned here in March. As our paths crossed anew, she came out with the same phrase again but this time I was ready for her with a pithy phrase of my own. It was a heart-warming moment to watch her jaw drop in amazement! Another minor victory!

The weather forecasters here keep warning of a long hot summer and certainly if the temps in April and May in these parts are anything to go by, they may well be right. Today, the forecast is for 24°C which will get no complaints from us. I must admit though that once temps rise much above 30° then it's starting to be outside my own comfort zone. In Spain a few weeks ago, we had a dry 36° in Seville and it was very pleasant indeed. For me, I start to struggle with high temps when they're coupled with high humidity. I have memories of being in Naples once when it was 43° with the humidity up at ~90%.. Ouf!
A beautiful evening out on the river - had an excellent outing in an VIII sculler (3 nenettes & 5 mecs). There was a warm breeze blowing and we rowed up the Nive non-stop to the turn-round point under blue skies and a hot evening sun. The boat was well balanced (not always the case) and felt solid as we cut through the pollen-dusted olive green water, and we made satisfyingly swift progress upstream with only the rhythmic whoosh-whoosh of the seats for company.
It's outings like this when it all goes well that makes rowing so rewarding. After a while, I found I'd 'zoned out' as I focussed totally on all the technical aspects of the stroke. The challenge is - if you think the last stroke was pretty good - to make the next one even better. And the one after that. You can't be wondering what colour to paint the spare bedroom or any other trivia - and that's another reason why I enjoy it.. it's a great exercise in clearing the mind. Did 14km (Running total: 644km).
Now doesn't this beat a 10 mile tailback on the M25..?
6th May 2011. There's an article in today's Guardian that caught my eye.. the headline was "Coffee, vigorous exercise and nose-blowing may trigger a stroke. Doctors have identified eight everyday activities, including drinking coffee, that often precede a haemorrhagic stroke.."

These eight triggers include: "...drinking coffee within the past hour was most strongly linked with ruptured aneurysms, accounting for an estimated 10.6%, with vigorous exercise at 7.9% and nose blowing at 5.4%. These were followed by sex (4.3%), straining on the toilet (3.6%), drinking cola (3.5%), being startled (2.7%) and being angry (1.3%). Both cola and coffee contain caffeine, which can raise blood pressure."

It didn't mention combinations of the above factors but being startled while indulging in vigorous sex in the toilet/rest room in Starbucks must clearly be something to avoid..! As Basil Fawlty would say: "That particular avenue of pleasure has been closed off!"
A comment under the article made me laugh!

"Basically confirms a theory I have had for some time... that statistically speaking the most dangerous activity a human being can indulge in is 'living'. It should be stopped IMMEDIATELY. I'm off to bed now with my Hi-Vis pyjamas on. Just in case."

Don't say you don't learn anything here!

7th May 2011. Minor setback out on the river this morning.. Went out in an VIII sculler and things were shaping up nicely for a good sortie when there was an ominous dull thud that seem to ripple through the boat followed a second or two later by another. I saw what caused it as it surfaced in our wake - a large straight log a good 12" in diameter was bobbing in our wake. After the excitement died down, we set off again only to find the boat wasn't answering to the rudder (aka the Bismarck syndrome!). So we did a quick about turn and returned to the clubhouse. On lifting the boat out of the water, we saw that the rudder had been completely torn off. Only 7km this morning (Running total: 651km).

I somehow forgot to mention that the other day we had some new asparagus for lunch.. Thick as my index finger, tender and white, Madame served them with a crispy fresh baguette to mop up the vinaigrette - they were so tender I ate all of mine. 

And yesterday, as a total surprise, she prepared some scallops in saffron with spaghetti.. with a glass of cold rosé..   She followed this up with some pistache ice cream with a splash of Amaretto.. If you haven't tried Amaretto over your ice cream, try it.. That's all I'm saying!

On the lunchtime national news, there was a clip about the coast just to the north of us and they played Sacha Distel's The Good Life over it. I couldn't find his version in English on YouTube so here he is with La Belle Vie en français.. (well he did write it!)
While I'm here, one of my favourite Piaf songs - Milord:
How does that old expression go..? They don't write them like that anymore.. What a voice! I love the sound of that tinkling piano as well.