Tuesday, 2 July 2013

205. Signs of life from the Pays Basque

Thursday, 27th June 2013. You'll be pleased to learn that I'm not going to delve into the rights and wrongs of the proposed abolition of the Winter Fuel Payment to British expats in the EU. Here's Matt's view of it!

Tuesday, 2nd July 2013. I realise I've not been keeping the blog up to date lately but, if it please the court, I will explain. Madame has been laid low these past few weeks - and as a consequence all her domestic duties have been picked up by your correspondent. I'd always thought we shared those tasks down the middle but I've come to realise that she'd been doing the lion's share - so blog maintenance has had to take a back seat to other, more pressing, jobs (such as the ironing!☺). The other main reason for dust gathering on the blog has been the weather..

The start of July usually sees us in summer mode. Normalement, this means that the neighbours should, by now, have become fully re-accustomed to the sight of their favourite Brit in his shorts; the plancha should have emerged from its winter storage to be manhandled up to the terrace and both of us should be well on our way to a becoming bronzage! Oh yes, and SaxMan™ should be in his customary place opposite the War Memorial playing endless riffs. I mean the same riff endless times. Alas, none of these things have happened. A month ago, the local TV was reporting that out of the first 149 days this year, it had rained on 100 of them.. We've hardly made any trips out and about and the plancha is still tucked away in the dark recesses of the garage. And I've only seen SaxMan™ once this year.

In the midst of all the recent dramas, Madame's laptop went on the fritz.. The warning signs had been present for a few months - but familiarity had bred contempt. It had started slowing down and it was taking longer and longer to do the simplest of tasks, even though I'd spring-cleaned its hard drive. Then one night it happened..   

Her laptop had steadily accumulated a number of irregularities over the years that I'd been unable to resolve. I think it served her well for 10 years so it'll be going to the final resting place (aka the top of the wardrobe) once she's up to speed with her new one. This could take some time as her new laptop comes with Microsoft's latest offering, Windows 8. The guiding principle that surely motivated the MS Software Development Team responsible for W8 must have been: If it ain't broke, fix it till it is. Software intended for domestic consumption should be highly intuitive and user friendly. (that's a statement of the obvious isn't it?) Very few of us are that interested in the whys and wherefores of software; for us a PC is a tool - the means to an end. It makes me feel better to imagine that these (below) are the Microsoft software engineers responsible!

You have to remember that these were the bright sparks who configured the display of all of their software prior to W8 such that to switch off your PC, you had to click on the START button. D'oh..
Enough of the Microsoft sadsacks - here's one of the most beautiful pieces of chorale music I've heard for a long time - it's Adon Olam sung here by the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir:

The Fêtes de Bayonne kicks off in 3 weeks tomorrow.. Over a million people pour into Bayonne (Pop: 40,000) and in previous years this was all the encouragement we ever needed to head for the hills to escape the crowds. The recent storms however have devastated many of the roads and villages in the area of the high Pyrenees that we like - so I think we'll be staying here for the duration.

This was Lourdes two weeks ago:

This next clip gives you an idea of the sheer volume of water that tore through some of the villages in the Pyrenees:

Still on the storms: a couple of years ago we stayed at this hotel (left) at Luz-Saint-Sauveur in the Hautes-Pyrénées over the period of the Fêtes de Bayonne and every evening we ate outside on the terrace (right) - listening to the trickle of running water. Here's that very same scene again during the storms of mid-June (the white box being tossed casually around in the waves is a fridge). The terrace comes into shot at 00:17: 

If the above clip won't start, here's a link to it on YouTube.

Time for a good song - here's one I always liked - Nathalie (English lyrics here) by Gilbert Bécaud:

A favourite from Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown":

Finally, hold on tight to something, anything.. I feel ill just watching this..

Friday, 5th July 2013. This morning I had to go to the pharmacy around the corner to rent a wheelchair for a few weeks as Madame is getting cabin fever with having been confined to the house for the past month. Unlike many other places I can think of, it was very refreshing not to have to sign any forms in quadruplicate, produce an ID or leave a deposit (plus a swipe of a credit card) - nothing. The pharmacist just asked me my name and address, wrote it on a piece of paper and that was that. This is one of the fringe benefits of having an honest face!☺

That done, we went out to Carrefour for a spot of retail therapy. They had a promotion on Coquilles Saint-Jacques (scallops to you and me) so Madame said she'd do them in a creamy sauce with tagliatelle.. and 'erbs! The table's all set up outside, the rosé is chilling off in  the fridge, the temp is ~25°.. what more do you want! I think the best plan is for you to take a walk around town for an hour or so while I deal with these scallops! (and the wine!) At times like this, all the debate about the Winter Fuel Payment fades into insignificance..☺ 

Saturday, 6th July 2013. What a great win today for the British & Irish Lions against the Wallabies.. and what a great advert for the game: skill, passion, bravery, strength, aggression, emotion, fitness, teamwork, magnanimity and perhaps above all, respect. Both teams - take a bow. This was the must-win game of all must-win games.. After 2 Tests, the teams were separated by only a couple of points - and so everything was riding on this 80 minutes of rugby. Sit back and enjoy if you're a Lions fan. If not, have another cold one.. Here are the match highlights:

12th July 2013. OK, it's official - summer is here! Yesterday I heaved the plancha out of its winter hibernation in the garage down the bottom of the garden, up the steps (phew!) and parked it thankfully in its resting place for what's left of the summer! Then it was out with the teak oil to polish up the "chariot" that it stands on - followed by cleaning up all the metal surfaces.

Today, before the morning got too hot, I was out early & down to the local poissonnerie (fish shop) where I bought some fresh sardines, a thick slice of fresh red tuna, a freshly-caught gleaming merluchon (hake), some crevettes (prawns) and finally 2 crêpes (pancakes) stuffed with coquilles Saint-Jacques (scallops) in a rich creamy sauce. Then to the market building down by the river where Madame had phoned an order through for a roast of duck breast stuffed with orange - we have visitors on Monday.

At lunchtime (27° in the shade), the plancha was lit, brushed with olive oil and 5 minutes later it was ready to receive its first sardines of 2013.. They were quickly gutted and then placed on the sizzling plancha.. The smell could be photographed without too much effort I'm sure! Just before they were ready, Madame sprinkled some of this over the fish which only heightened the anticipation of those watching (like me for example!). This was eased down with some Listel Gris rosé.. Then it was time for himself to make a couple of Greek coffees. Dis am de life - an' no mistake!

Techie question: If I launch the blog using Google Chrome it invariably "freezes" and ceases to respond - whereas if I open it with Internet Explorer 10, it's rock solid. Is it me or does anyone else have problems accessing the blog using Chrome? Let me know via the comments underneath or the email contact address in the left hand column. Thanks in advance!☺

Towards the tail end of the swelteringly hot afternoon I went out to a large garden centre to pick up a garden bench. I picked a shaded spot down the bottom of the garden in which to assemble it and opening up the packaging I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was made in Germany - not the PRC as China coyly calls itself.

The bench went together with a satisfying precision (Vorsprung durch technik) and an hour later I was admiring my handiwork - although as the humidity was way up there, I was dripping. The last few days have seen us wilting under high temps with humidity to match. This is not a problem that we usually suffer from. Let's hope normal service is resumed as soon as possible.

After a shower we sat out with a welcome drink.. Madame had a sangria while I made the most refreshing drink known to mankind - a caipirinha..

This is made with cachaça (Brazilian rum made from sugar cane), segments of limes that have been crushed, sugar to taste and .. well, watch the video..
Really - the perfect drink on an evening like this.