Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More RWC Fall-out

Poor old England's losing it, sack Tindall, then re-instate him, meantime they've let a good coach, Martin Johnson fall on his sword.
And its not safe for Bryce Lawrence to go to South Africa.
C'mon guys, tournament rugby's unpredictable and cruel .....
man up, you got beaten.
You dont have to destroy your nation's game, like a few headless turkeys round here wanted to do after the last RWC All-Black quarter final loss.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

To Melbourne

Another overdose of exasperation, and fatigue, from trying to get everything done before getting away, you wonder if it's worth the effort.
But the work gang dont mind going elsewhere for a week while I go walkabout, and Brent, at the car dealer's, where I'm having the Cherokee checked out before the drive to Auckland chips in, don't worry about the work, it'll still be there when you get back.
Mate Peter, some time back suggested how about joining him for the "First Tuesday in November", on his way home to Pennsylvania.
The Melbourne Cup..., never been before, I say OK, fluke a seat with AirNZ through my airpoints and internet booking on much better terms than the travel agent quoted some time earlier, so its done and dusted.
Something of a becoming well worn track we do the pre-flight overnight at Gold Star Motel, Kirkbride Rd, Mangere, where manager David Charteris, well known ex-Wanganui actor and playwright, will term-park your car and shuttle you to and from AKL International all for the room fee of $95 a night.

Easy flight over, Boeing 777, I'm right down the back with my cheap carry-on-bag-only fare, last row, where the narrowing fuselage determines only 2 seats on the outside, so I get plenty of leg room, and somehow the seats feel bigger than on the long-haul 777 to LA and SanFran.
Even better, I manage to squeeze 2 in-flight movies into the wind-assisted 3-1/2 hour trip.
The first was "Secretariat", the story about Penny Tweedy/Chenery and her journey with Big Red to the US Triple Crown, one of only a handful of horses to ever accomplish it, and in the doing win the last leg at Belmont, outclassing by some 30 odd lengths, his grudge rival in the preceding Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, Sham, a top horse in his own right.
Anyone with racing connections should love this movie, Diane Lane and John Malkovich do outstanding work in their roles as owner and trainer, and the crowning star, the horse. Actually, Peter says, five horses were used to composite Secretariat, but you wouldn't know it. The camera and sound work is a treat, and the opening and closing voice-over recitation is a real stir, taken from Job39, there's all sorts of translations, but goes something like this:

            "He paws the earth, rejoicing in his mettle
              laughs at fear as he runs to the battle
              He does not turn back from the sword
              He does not stand still at the trumpets sound
              He scents the battle from afar
              the yells of the captains and the thunder of war
              In  excited rage he races over the ground"
Breeding and racing has more than its share of ups and downs, I'm going to buy this DVD for inspiration and encouragement when things aren't going so good.
Still an hour and a half to touchdown, so I search for a short movie and find "Red Dog", one hour 20, that'll do, and another treat unfolds.
It's about an Aussie red kelpie and his exploits in a Dampier, WA, mining community, an intelligent heart-string tugger, if ever.
My first dog was a red kelpie, and I've had one in my team ever since. They're an intelligent little dog, clean, and fantastic company.
I wont say anything about this movie, tongue in cheek, sympatico humour, just go see it.
Melbourne materialises behind the wing, the CBD high-rises tower out from the sprawl, its sunny with a bit of wind says the captain, as the last vestige of guilt at work left undone flies out the cabin window.
Aussie here we come.
Picking up a paper in the terminal, along with a few items from the pharmacy I couldnt take on board in my cabin bag, waiting for Peter's flight, I come across an item mentioning "Red Dog"s growing popularity.
Not surprised.

Monday, October 24, 2011

RWC: All Over Bar the Shouting

The nation chewed its nails for 30 minutes while the AB's held desperately to a slim lead to take the RWC.
Several of us think France were deliberately playing possum with their holding back of top players in their first pool clash with the AB's, so called dissension between team and coach, and their losing to Tonga, (although it must be said Tonga played a blinder in that win).
So did France in the final, arriving there without the same debilitation the AB's got in their semi against Aussie. Now that was a game, unfortunately for the Wallabies, coming after their really tough quarters grind against the Springboks.
Have to comment on the grace of the Wallabies in defeat in the semi, applauding the AB's off the field.
Its amusing to note the Eden Park noise-ometer almost flat-lined over the last of the final as the French played the game to a standstill, the wildest oscillations coming after the final whistle and at the awards ceremony.
Our little party group at Wharf 69 made a bit of noise too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Movies: The Millennium Trilogy

While RWC has generated a lot of excitement over here, I have to admit I went to sleep during the Aussie vs Wales Bronze decider, and on coming to at the final whistle, flicked over to Rialto Channel to catch "The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo", followed by "The Girl Who Played With Fire", the first two of Stieg Larsson's Trilogy.
It was after 1am when the latter wound up, but there was no way I could have dozed off for this lot.
Good thing too, the RWC Final is tonight (Sunday), and not last night when Rialto ran the 3rd in the series "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest", otherwise there would have been some serious viewing conflict.
Its reported Hollywood have their mitts on a series remake with Daniel Craig as the male lead. I'll probably go out of curiosity, but cant help thinking what a sacrilege a Hollywood version of it will be.
Nooni Rapace's portrayal of Lisbeth is masterpiece, a fascinating and fantastic act that defies duplication, and makes the whole of each of the films.
The Scandinavian backdrop and the subtitling enhances the authenticity and uniqueness, (I've never been put off by subtitling of a foreign film).
David Fincher, director of the Hollywood effort has chosen a lesser face from his "The Social Network" to play Lisbeth.
Best of luck to him. As original director of the series, Niels Arden Oplev, says, Nooni Rapace "was" Lisbeth, in expression of his disappointment. Couldn't agree more.
11 out of 10, and thanks Rialto, for the privilege of viewing this classic entirety, before.... who knows what.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Movie: Three Musketeers 3D

Around they go again, jees, how many manglings now of this classic French novel.
And did I say recently, all art, including movies, is a political statement?
Not sure what the politics of this is, but its definitely an aping of the "Pirates" series, with an ending leaving an opening for the next episode.
A cliche from beginning to end, but hell's teeth, total entertainment, plenty of action, great stunts, good camera, no heavy emotional or political grind, and no swearing and no sex!
The world needs more shit like this, it beats a night of TV hands down, but save it for discount Tuesday.
The credits at the end were fascinating, through the 3D goggles they sort of hung mid-air, then slowly moved forward like they were hovering over the pews just in front. Whip the goggles off, and they blurred back into the screen.
Then I noticed I was alone in the theatre, everyone had buggered off!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Frizzell Comes to Town

Other highlight of the week in Wangas was the visit of artist Dick Frizzell, promoting his new book, "Its All About the Image", with a lecture at Alexander Library.
Was fortunate a year or two back, to be invited to make up numbers for an art weekend at Pukeora Estate, Waipukurau, where 10, mainly rural gents, completely unschooled in the finer points of painting, were delivered to the care and tutelage of Dick, to have us create an art work before the weekend was through. This, all part of the Arts Channel series, "Artland NZ", where several artists were commissioned to "do their thing" for an episode each.
Self dubbed the "Pukeora Picasso's", it was rather fortuitous that Pukeora Estate is now a winery, and all being rural blokes with a dab hand at knocking up a feed, we each contributed to the food basket, to round out a great weekend, and learn a new hobby.
While we'd all freely admit the non-likelihood of any of our works getting into the National Gallery, we were all immensely surprised at what we achieved with a bit of solid tuition, and simple pointers on how colour might be mixed and moved around a canvas.
What I learned was never to be intimidated by any work of art just because one might not feel in the same class, it is really, all about the image, and what the individual perceives as important, as, after all, all art, whether painting, verse, prose, or movie, is a political statement.
Dick has quite an irrepressable mischief, albeit good mannered, about his journey along his road of appreciation and learning, and I was fortunate to have been levered into it his way.
This is a great read if you want to know how to appreciate art, as a racehorse breeder, there are similarities.
My first go at painting a picture

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

RWC - Final Week Rolls Down

Agony of the Semi's week has to be the red-carding of Sam Warburton.
Who knows what spectacle a Wales vs All Blacks final might have been.
With the Springboks moaning about the refereeing of the quarter final against Aussie, the poor old ref's are getting it in the ear.
Tell me about it, such pinings are lost on us Kiwis after Wayne Barnes' job on the AB's at Cardiff 4 years ago. And Wales had, what was it, 5 kicking chances to get points ahead, which if they had been got, we'd have had to cope with headlines proclaiming a courageous and mighty win, but that's tournament rugby folks, there's nothing to stop an AB getting red-carded in the final against France, (particularly if Sonny Bill gets a run-on), LOL.
Had a chat to a rugby-head this morning who thought the AB's got well treated by the ref, relative to the Springboks vs Aussie clash, so who knows. Us mere mortals can only sit back and enjoy the roller-coaster ride.
Back to the spear tackle. It was a dangerous tackle, and surprising Clerc wasn't seriously hurt.
Rather symbolically, almost the same day, I noted the death notice in the local rag of old acquaintance Tony Taylor, fine young man taken out in his early 20's in a friendly match while doing his OE in UK, spent the rest of his life in a wheel-chair.
Serious accidents do happen in this hard and fast game, and I think its better we dont lose sight of the need to keep it safe in our quest for entertainment. That gladiator shit went out with the Romans.
Another thing you'll see in the replay is a Welsh player taking out a Frenchman in an off-ball tackle, at least 5 or 6 metres from the Warburton/Clerc incident. Nothing annoys me more than off-ball play, the Aussies and the Boks are masters at it.
I think Wales got their beans. France are the forgotten outsiders of the play-offs, and deserve justice, even if they over-milked this situation. That said, I hope soccer's academy award mentality never establishes in this, at present, greater spectacle professional rugby.
Some of the commercial folk are lamenting the expected visitor spending hasnt eventuated. I could have told them so. After cruising round Europe in July basking in the strength of the NZ dollar, enjoying accommodation and booze cheaper than what it costs back here, even before some RWC hydraulicking, you couldn't blame tourists keeping their hands in their pockets, or seeking out cheaper avenues.
It so annoys me when cities evaluate events in terms of dollars into their financial communities, they're like a bunch of vultures, probably more focussed on screwing the extra dollar, than simply ensuring the visitor has an enjoyable experience.
Or maybe its that media again, starved of news in this small populace, inventing some self-effacing controversy.
Speaking of media, have to pay some compliment to the likes of ex-English fly-half, Stuart Barnes, stuck in the Sky commentary studio for the best part of 7 weeks, sheeesh, what a marathon, and some excuse for the rattiness that crept into the pre and post-match comment. But well done anyway, your commentary was appreciated.
Ditto for the appearance of Matt Gitteau and Nick Farr-Jones, my opinion of Aussies has got back to how it should be after listening to these guys knowledgeable contributions, and seeing the gallantry of the Wallaby side as they guard of honoured the AB's off the pitch on Sunday night. I can tell you, a stadium blacked full of serious Kiwi fans is a pretty formidable encounter, and they will have been rue-ing the Quade Cooper affair having got so out of hand. Personally, my maori-ness registered some slight at Quade batting Richie on the back of the head after the Wallaby victory last year, (heads are supposed to be sacred territory to maori, and I was further suprised to see his Tokoroa mother supporting him all the way), but it was laughably ironic to see the AB's counter strategy at work in Sunday's semi, as they batted a Wallaby every time they winkled a penalty or scrum out of the enemy.
Great to see Piri Weepu and Aaron Cruden acquit themselves so well, both these guys were discards 12 months ago, and Ma'a Nonu dropped from the Hurricanes as well.
And another plaudit extended in surprise after seeing him on the Sky team, has to go to Jake White, ex coach of the Springboks. Seriously, I wouldnt mind if this bloke one day coached the AB's.
Significant to mention, 3 of the 4 semi-finalists have Kiwi coaches. What's wrong with a rugby family, southern hemisphere, IP inter-change.
As usual we booked into our party cafe, Wharf69, this time I had the chowder as an entree, jees, how they can pack so much kaimoana solids into a $10 soup I dunno, then followed up with the spare ribs main w/ veges, phew, no wonder the health commission or whoever it is, is today warning about the dangers of RWC indulgence finding its way to the national waistline, booze and pies the main culprit, so that excuses me, LOL.
Plus we knocked off a couple of bottles of Whitecliff pinot, Hawkes Bay product, bit smokier and velvety than the Central Otago brew, but OK nevertheless.
Joined the traffic scurrying home after the game but never saw a cop. My in-glove-box breath-tester read 25% under the limit so figured I was OK.
Roll on the Final and another night at Wharf69.
Its never over till the fat lady sings, we've been ambushed by France so many times before.
They're a very athletic team, back three good under the high ball, powerful loose forward trio. Going to be as good a match as the Semi was.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kahungunu Seafarers Weigh Anchor in Whanganui

Been an interesting week here, outside of RWC.
Monday night was a lecture/video evening presented by Awhina Twomey and Hannah Rainforth, who earlier this year spent several weeks on board a traditional design double-hulled ocean going waka.
There were a fleet of seven such canoes navigating, using revived traditional methods of the 1100-1600 AD period, from Auckland NZ to San Francisco CA, each of them crewed by different cultural groups representing Aotearoa NZ, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Cooks, and the other two Pan-Pacific.

Use of pacificvoyager photo acknowledged
On account of not wanting to knock down fourteen 200 plus year old trees to carve the hulls out of, the 33 metre waka were cast in fibre-glass here in Auckland. Sails were also conventional material, but one waka did carry tradional pandannis sails.
One novelty of construction was a solar panel bank mounted over the prows, which charged, I presume, batteries to drive twin swing-down propellers, auxilliary power is a mandatory requirement of all ocean going sailing vessels.
The waka had 8-bunk water-tight crew compartments in each hull, a small galley on deck, plus a head.
All crew had life jackets and clips to attach themselves to a stanchion line for safety purposes.
Steerage was effected by a steering oar, sometimes requiring 3 men to handle. Sails were twin mast, inverted keeler.
Apparently, there was only one man left in the whole Pacific, who had been raised in traditional sailing culture, a Marquesan, and its fantastic of him to share his knowledge with the new school of navigators.
The system uses stars, sun, moon, wind, cloud formations, ocean current and wave direction, drift matter, seabirds and fish, to steer by.
The ancient sea-ways were pretty well established in the Pacific Triangle bounded by NZ, Hawaii, and Easter Island, (NZ Maori tongue is highly similar to that of Easter Island, Rapanui, being the two most isolated corners), but the presence of a North American Indian welcoming committee at San Francisco exercising recognisable protocol leaves one with the strong impression contact with the American coastline did occur throughout those times.
These young women had a fantastic experience. A documentary was shot during the mission, with an environmental message theme, and is due for release in due course.
The whole exercise had funding assistance from German industrialist/philanthropist Dieter Paulmann.
An excellent website including GPS tracker progress of any of the waka offers more extensive detail:
http://www.pacificvoyagers.org/

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rugby, Rugby, Rugby...................

We're having a total hogging of it out here.
You'd think we'd be getting rugbied out by now, but far from it, every game has its own interesting drama.
For us Kiwi's I think part of the fascination is watching other nations bring their game to the table.
This weekend just gone was quarter finals play-off, Wales bt Ireland, France bt England, Australia bt South Africa, and the AB's bt Argentina.
Wales v France, and Australia v NZ make up the semi's draw this coming weekend.
Anybody could win this Cup. The nice thing about it is all these four play with some creativity and flair.
I dont know what we're going to do when its all over in a fortnights time, life wont be the same.
We've got a General Election getting off the blocks straight after, and while it's often said incumbent governments win or lose on the success or otherwise of the All Blacks, I predict the election will be a big yawn no-event, we're going to be well off in rugby la-la land till at least the start of 2012 Super 15, with the Wellington Seven's in Feb to navigate beforehand.
Last Sat us locals also had the 3rd tier Meads Cup final played at our Cooks Garden field, against East Coast Ngati Porou. The big game trappings have rubbed off all round us provincials, with Sir Colin (Meads) and NZRFU President BG Williams arriving mid-field by helicopter, local 11yo St John's Hill schoolgirl Bella Maua doing a fantastic rendition of the national anthem, and dress-ups by the crowd, locals decked out as home-side mascot Barrie the Butcher, complete with cardboard choppers, and the Ngati Porou's in the South Stand bedecked and ballooned in their blue and white strip.
We even had the tarantara ole' trumpet, but not enough people to start and sustain a Mexican wave.
What we'll mostly miss with the end of RWC is the party atmosphere, people have come from all round the world to enjoy themselves.
Last night 20 odd of us booked into local cafe/bar Wharf69 to watch the two Sunday quarters.
The Thai soup got good comment, I had Beef Bourgignon, a hot-pot of beef and mushroom in I guess like a red wine cass, with a pie crust, crunchy brocc and cauli, and potato sauce.
Others had the always value fish and chip meal, and the surf and turfers were well catered for.
A couple of weekends back a few of us went to the pool games at Wellington, France v Tonga, and NZ v Canada. The Stadium audience was 50/50 French/Tongan, both very vocal, but so much like being back in France. Out on the street and in the bars you could strike up a conversation with, at one turn a couple of French people, and at the next a Welsh couple.
Sundays game the capacity stadium was a lot more serious..... black, with the odd fleck of Canada red here and there.
We got a reasonable price pint and a watchable TV of the Auckland games at Chicago Bar on the waterfront, on the Saturday, tried the Royal on Lambton after the game, quiet enough to watch the next game on TV, but no seats available, finished up at Matterhorn Restaurant on Cuba for dinner, tapas menu that late at night but top food, honey-glazed baby pork ribs and spicey chicken drums, with the fries and garlic bread.
Sunday before the game we lunched in the Thistle, one of Wellies oldest pubs just across the road from the Stadium fortunately before it filled to over-flowing with pre-game tipplers.
Have to comment Wellington's done pretty darn good coping with the crowd, cafe and bar staff near run off their feet but delivering. The transport system's functioned well, we got a taxi at one stage and were dropped off right convenient, quickly and for a very reasonable fare. Actually, right at the permanent pie-cart anchored just outside the railway station, where you can get juicy battered oysters and chips, all-be-it $10 a punnet this time, (I'm sure I got them for $6 at the AB's v SA test a couple of months back).
We stayed with friends at Waikanae and caught the train in to town, about a 3/4 hour ride, but plenty of capacity and service running till well into early morning hours. Its just a 5-10 min walkway to the Stadium.
The crowd spirit was great all weekend till we got home to Paraparaumu Monteiths Brew Pub, where a brawl broke out during the NRL final between Manly and the Warriors, that's league for you, complete with cops, ambulance, and broken glass. The feed there wasnt bad, monster burger and chips, but dear enough at $20.

Anyway, roll on Wellington Sevens!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Movies: Abduction, Cowboys and Aliens, Billy-T

Been a while since posting movie reviews, but not to say havent been going.
Abduction's a ripper, starts off seeming tedious American family ho-hum, then drops into a hold your seater.
Dont think the plot's got holes in it, the pace of the movie keeps the mind off such things.
Six-packer Taylor Lautner stars, is he the bloke played the were-wolf in the Twilight series?
Little bit on the corny side for a lead, but the whole effect of the movie is the lurch from normality to mayhem, and a teenage couple coping with the unknown.
Well done... I'll give this one 10 out of 10.
And Sigourney Weaver plays a cameo hutch-mother, bit like when Sean Connery pops up, oh... there's mum and/or dad!

Cowboys and Aliens was an 8 of 10 for me, not to say it wasnt a barrel of entertainment, Daniel Craig's the ultimate action hero.
Several reviewers panned this movie saying the attempt to mix genres didnt work, but there's no accounting for taste, I thought it did. We've had sci-fi/western mix before in Back to the Future, I think its fun to stretch your mind a bit, and clever how film-makers can concieve and pull it off.
The only thing that gets me about alien movies is the life-forms chucked at us, fair enough in comedies or tongue in cheekers like ET, Paul, or Independence Day, they can assume the ridiculous, but in action thrillers they need to be a little more believeable than they were in Cowboys.

Billy-T..., cant put a score on it really, its a 9/10 doco on someone who meant a lot to most of us Kiwis, the last hurrah of a time when race relations weren't a worry to us, mainly we could laugh at ourselves without fear of rancour, or how its so aptly put by others, 'the tyranny of umbrage'.
Those close to the man through his career speak of their times with him, through his rise and fall. There's no doubt his career started its belly up journey after the PC brigade wreaked their havoc.
Most of us weren't aware of what was happening behind the scenes.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

We're a sporting nation out here..... aren't we?

Good job that pimp who shopped the Mike Tindall pics got his beans, and got the sack.
He should get a lot more.
Apart from farting in the church of a security firm supposed to be being just that, secure, he's gone and upset those of us who take pride and enjoyment in hosting visitors, and in particular the players, wherein we hope the stars of the game, or of any calling for that matter, can relax in the knowledge they're among friends.
The bloke who did the pimp said he did it because he thought the behaviour disgusting.
What bullshit.
He did it because he wanted the instant fame that goes with airwave sensation, but the irony is he'll be forgotten in just as quick an instant, but his offence will last forever.
He's pricked our angst in the same way Quade Cooper stirs the hornet nest with his sledging and provoking of our favorite son Richie (McCaw). Every show has a villain, single-handedly he's gone and made the Wallabies it for RWC.
There was an amusing pic in the paper a couple of days back, some Auckland wit had sign-writ his/her car with "Quade Sucks".
As for Zara.....
its a pity their relationship's become NZ derived tabloid fuel..., I'm sorry it happened here and hope the media let it go quickly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Smash Safety

When you were a kid, playing games in the car helped to pass the time of the journey, I Spy, Beaver, spot the horse, etc
Now, on the bike, the name of the game, aside from enjoying the ride, is staying alive.
Good article in yesterday's DomPost summarising road accident stats in the lower NI region.
21%, one in 5, of fatal and serious accidents involve motorcycles and mopeds, and the proportion is picked to grow with the increase in interest in 2 wheel transport.
The article lists the dangerous scenarios.
1. Riders aged between 19 and 24 are over-represented in the stats
2. A quarter of the crashes happen at night
3. 11% involve travelling too fast for the conditions, not necessarily faster than the local speed limit either
4. 14% ditto on the open road state highways
5. Crashes on local roads most commonly occur when crossing and turning, and on open roads, losing control and crashing on bends.

Obviously, continuous care and judgement are the necessaries, I enjoy the challenge of having to keep mind on the job, and am sure my car-driving has benefitted from the motorcycling experience.
I avoid biking at night too.
Wearing fancy protective clothing and helmets, are only ambulance at the bottom the cliff measures, not a license to hoon around at what one considers normal pace.
Making us farmers wear helmets at all times on the farm, wont reduce serious accidents significantly either, I bet.
Generally, I think there is a noticeable difference in the way people are driving more carefully on the roads these days, but there's still a gulf in awareness and acceptance of motorcycles compared with USA, and even Europe. For some reason the NZ motorist has got into a very arrogant position regarding his/her place in the sun.
I dont think our no fault accident compensation system, and social welfare in general, does us any favours in the responsibility department. Bowl a pedestrian or a child in USA, or a motorcyclist for that matter, and see where that gets you.
In the old days here on this rural road, if your dog got bowled, the motorist offered to pay for a replacement, get in the same situation now, you'll just as likely get sued for damage to the car.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fantastic Rugby

Here we are 2nd weekend of RWC, the stand-out observation being the quality of the northern hemisphere play.
Ireland have just beaten Australia, Wales pushed South Africa to within one point, and, as inferred last blog, England looked formidable in their opening game.
The atmosphere round the country is fantastic, hosting towns turning out in their 1000's to welcome the teams, visitors flying the nation's flags from their vehicles. Its great to be hosting them, and I hope they're enjoying themselves.
After tonight's match O'Driscoll said it was like playing in Dublin, such was the green around the stadium.
Last weekend a Wellington Welsh bar owner said they were still roaring at 5am the next morning, following the match against South Africa.
The All-Blacks scored a heap of points against Japan, but are yet to convince of the necessary to beat the Tier 1 sides. Ditto Sonny Bill.
There's a bit of angst round the country, about the lack of settling on an A side and staying with it, actually mainly with that dork Deaker who seems to have it in permanent for coach Henry. After the last RWC failure, Deaker ran hot on his Sports Talk, bad mouthing the coaches. One poor customer phoned in to say hey lighten up, and Deaker bit his head off, saying if he didnt like what he was hearing then don't tune in.
A little while later, Deaker says every call coming in supports his view, this is after inviting anyone who didnt, to turn their radio off.
What a joke.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Travesty at Stadium Otago, that Black Shirt

The Rugby World Cup's off to a fantastic start.
Last night's first up for England and Argentina in front of a full and party-mode stadium was a gripper.
Argentina laid their lives on the line, and England...... played like pugilists, (Johnny Wilkinson apart).
The way a rib injured and just taped up Contepomi was smack tackled mid-riff was some distance from the gentlemanly manner England claims is its province.

And what's more they flogged our jersey to do it in.
How on earth the world body of rugby let a team get away with strategic crap like that I dunno.
They did it to us last RWC making the AB's play in some non-descript strip against Scotland.
Its time some Europeans got displaced from the international board.

Its great how "sporting" teams reflect national character.
In England's case, getting themselves a black strip was a great way to unsettle NZ, bit like Quade Cooper's constant needling of Richie McCaw conveniently assumes an unsettling role.
I had a laugh that Cricket NZ ignored the experience of 138 tests held by Turner, Greatbatch, and Rutherford to appoint Bowl's Australia's high performance manager (with little more cricket experience than club "hack"), to the newly formed post of national selection manager, inferring we need to add the something at the top that we're missing, and what makes Aussie a great sporting nation.
Well..., have to hand it to them, they are, and it might help overcome our in the shade attitude, but I hope we dont get some of the "rub it in" that goes with losing to the green and gold.
I dont think we need it.

The AB's got through their first encounter, against Tonga unscathed. I dont think the accolades over their win, are entirely warranted, Tonga just didnt come to the party like they normally violently do, that was England's domain on the night.
SBW? Well, I dunno just yet, certainly his best AB performance this season. I'm just a Ma'a fan that's all, and haven't seen anything convincing enough yet to ring in substantial changes.

Win, lose, or draw, I just want to see the AB's play fast, creative, and entertaining rugby and I'll still love them, even if they dont win the Cup

Monday, July 25, 2011

Angleterre - Wiltshire

Thursday 14 July
Rainy morning on Guernsey, the locals did warn me it wasnt always as sunny as I found it the couple of days I spent there, but heading north across the Channel, cleared the rain by the time Portland head and Weymouth hove into view.
Ferrying the bike's a simple process, book on the internet via http://www.directferries.com/ (24 hours ahead), get in the right queue, hand over your booking reference number, ride on when and where directed, the crew strap the bike down, 2 hour crossing, all there is to it.
Wanborough, where I am now, near Swindon, Wiltshire, 200 odd km from the ferry terminal, starting a week's loop back to London to hand the Bandit back.
Very pretty countryside, rolling pastures split by hedges and trees, more livestock than I've seen yet, a nice gentle re-absorb into something familiar as time to go home gets closer. I can smell the pig farms in my helmet riding past, huge pigs when I see them, (England has great bacon), and Wiltshire sheep in the paddocks.
NZ imported quite a few 20-30 years ago, their self-defleecing trait thought one day might be important in hard pressed wool producer times, and the horned version of the breed, having a medullated, or hairy fleece, maybe not so desirable today as hollow fibre dosent absorb dye as well as fish-scaled proper wool does, but adds resilience to a carpet.
Also a heap of mule females, black-faced hill sheep crossed with a meat breed, and mated back to a meat sire like Texel, Hampshire, or Suffolk.
My fabulous hosts here, Tim and Linda, are friends of friend Peter. Within minutes of arriving its a short trip to the village local, or should I say one of the "locals", there are about 6 here. We should be so envious of village life, a short walk to the local, and a social life, a good one too, no roughs in sight, all bon homme. France have it a bit the same, whip down to the local village cafe for lunch, albeit a 2 hour one, or for dinner.
In the morning Linda takes me on a walk around the village, thatched roof cottages, and a very old church, originating from 1090 AD, rebuilt in the 14th century, and unique in that it has both a spire and a tower, added in the 1500's when a suitable bell was bequeathed and they needed a tower for it.
Thought provoking in age, most of this occurring before Maori arrived from Hawaiki. In fact there's a local hill called a castle, but its actually an earthen redoubt dating back to stone age time when the ramparts and pallisading were probably enhanced by wood. It looks familiar.

Following the Neolithic thread, Tim takes me to Avebury in the afternoon, where the stone circles pre-date Stonehenge. I didnt call at Stonehenge despite passing within a stone's throw on the way up here. You cant get within a touch of the stones there, but you can at Avebury, or what's left of them. By some curious delinquent neglect of antiquity, more recent home builders split the menhirs for building material. There's still plenty there to get a sense of how it was, a huge moat-like structure surrounding the two internal stone circles.

Like Stonehenge, there's a 200 stone avenue to nearby Silbury Hill, a supposed burial pyramid, entirely man made.
As with the stone stuff on Guernsey, there was some association with the dead and their relationship with the living, and where they were, or were not, headed thereafter. The museum's worth the couple of quid it cost for a look.
A group of mystic seekers hold their seance-like gathering around one of the bigger stones.

On the way home Tim calls to see a friend who happens to run the private estate Ramsbury Brewery, I'm fortunate in getting a walk through, and despite them being flat out producing to supply local festivals, I'm accorded the pleasure of a taste of the product. Situated in the chalk hills of the Kennet Valley, this 5500 ac farming estate has a particular story to tell, both about the purity of the local water filtering down through the limestone, and the vintage barley growing in it, earning a reputation for being the genesis of a fine brew dating back to the 1790's. They produce no fewer than 10 beers here, and the one I have tastes pretty good.
Sporty family too, are my hosts, daughter Louise is a world ranked wheelchair tennis star, vying for a place in the 2012 Olympic team, a spectacular sport to watch. Tim and Linda are off this evening on what turns into a 15 mile mountain bike ride, they lend me a bike, up and down lanes, round a lake, up and down a farm track behind the "castle", swooping back down to another of the village pubs for a social hour or two with the bike group, where I forget the ignomony of getting off for the odd walk up the steeper bits.
I vow to get into some serious training when I get home.
Next morning its heading to Derbyshire. Linda's given me a stop-off agenda, looks interesting, Stratford on Avon, and Warwick Castle.

Pleasant spot, Stratford Upon Avon, the GPS lands me right outside the door of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Across the road, in a park beside the river where tourist laden punts ply up and down, there's a multi-national promenade going on, and so too, through the streets. Unfortunately I'm a little too early for the theatre in the park.
I follow the signs to William Shakespeare's birth place anyway, and guess from the gathering of shutter clickers I come across, I've found the right house. I've started reading Cornwell's historical novel 'Azincourt", given me by one of my French hosts, a darn good read, but really will have a go at Shakespeare's 'Henry V' when I get home.
Hardly 20 miles along the way, its Warwick Castle, Britain's ultimate castle the brochure says, its origins tracing back to Saxon fortification used by Alfred the Great's daughter in defense aginst the Danes, but the first actual castle was a wooden one built at the command of William the Conqueror in 1068. Its been the home of successive Earls of Warwick since, despite attack and siege in 1264 and 1642 respectively, and damage by fire in 1871. The de Beauchamps were the main family through this time, one of them, Richard, got to burn Joan of Arc in 1431.

You were an old man at 40 in those days, if you got to live long enough, so sayeth the ongoing history of the place. When the de Beauchamp line eventually faded, a Neville took over, a powerful fence-sitter supporting both contenders for the Throne, earning the title of Kingmaker.
You could do a couple of hours here no problem, without taking in the extras, like tournament and archery re-enactments, or tour the dungeons.
I dont stay so long, its 21 quid to get in, a fiver for the guide booklet, another 8 to tour the dungeons, and another fiver to get out of the carpark, NZD 70 if you want to do the full trip. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Biggest Surprise - Guernsey

Tuesday 12 July
Travel teaches you there's folly in entering a country with a pre-conceived notion of what you'll find, USA the classic case not at all like the movies and TV depict.
So it was with Guernsey, no thought about what I'd find, and probably more on catching up with good friend Lou in the process of making my way back over the Channel to England, anxious moments trying to find the poorly signposted convoluted way to ferry embarkation point in St Malo, and the subsequent collapse in relief once on the ferry and underway, not helping.
Guernsey's one of the 3 main islands making up the Channel Islands group along with Jersey and Alderney, who in turn have some sort of jurisdiction over smaller islands, like Sark.
At 25 miles square, I couldnt escape a growing recognition of island life, like on Norfolk Island, a living bounded by sea, photographers dream coastline, not so rugged and dramatic maybe, but more serene, more beaches, with an inter and intra-personal, low security issue lifestyle only islands have, and Norfolk Island's old English maritime heritage and emotive history contributing to the comparison.
Even the historically favourable tax and estate regime with its resultant offshore investment, plus the sheer desirability to outsiders to come and live on a place like this adding to native woes, and the island's electricity needs met by diesel generation.
And being met and whizzed round small roads by Lou in her convertible Megane, just like sister Kathleen used to do in her red Mazda on Norfolk, complete with dented mudguard. (Must ask Lou if she's a Gemini too).
But there the comparison diverges, Guernsey has a very upmarket under-belly, for starters the population's somewhere approaching 65,000, like Palmerston North on something like the same land area. The place is a mosaic of brick and stone cottages, homes and buildings, sections, small paddocks, and narrow lanes. The main commercial centre is befitting of the population, modern shops in the old town's narrow cobbled streets, and opulent yachts fill the marinas, the place is a sailing utopia with neighbouring islands and France so close.
Guernsey's a bailiwick, a conglomeration of at least 10 parishes, dont ask me to explain its intricacies, it grew like  that over the centuries, its defense is part of UK responsibility, but its not part of UK, has its own currency, but equal to to the pound, part of the European Common Travel area, but not part of EU, although that crowd are leaning on the island somewhat to equalise its tax laws.
And centuries old its history is, saw one quote the name is viking in origin, sey island, and guern, green. It used to be part of the French mainland but was transformed into an island by the post Ice Age global warming, neolithic farmers built dolmens and menhirs here. Bretons migrated from the mainland bringing religion and the almost entire French place and street naming.
Neolithic burial shrine
There was a constant see-saw of jurisdiction between Britons and Normans up to and around the 900's AD, and during the 100 Years War its maritme situation saw the rise and fall of continental piratage, the Capetians, and mercenaries to the French throne. 
During the English Civil War, Guernsey sided with Parliament because the reformed churches were Calvinist, while Jersey stayed Royalist, and there was fighting between the factions here. Add to that a failed invasion by France.
At the time of the 17-18c France Spain wars the place was a privateer stronghold and as the 1900's approached and many of the population migrated to America, (there's a Guernsey in USA), trade with the ex-pats flourished and grew.
WWII brought a grim aspect to its history, being Occupied by the Germans, who wanted to establish a naval base there, never realised, but built the coastal defense system with forced local labour. The Vallete Military Museum just a short walk along from St Peter Port town, is a good place to catch up on this part of the island's history, a miserable time with fear of reprisal for any deemed support or assistance to the Allies.
Other bits of trivia, the Central Bank in earlier days, issued interest free money a la Social Credit, 32% of the economy is financial services, Victor Hugo wrote Les Mis here when in exile, and this is the home of the Guernsey cow, a bigger gentle version of the Jersey, but mottled, almost piebald colour. Didnt see many, and bet there'd be more in England than here these days.
Actor/producer Oliver Reed is a native son, and the island Softball Assn formed in 1936 is pretty near the oldest in the world.
Good place to eat, Hojo's, along the waterfront a bit, and Le Friquet hotel I stayed at was great value, well appointed room, good table and cooked breakfast included in the tariff.
Guernsey islanders like beer and rugby, some are travelling out to attend RWC, joining in wasnt a problem. Thanks heaps for the show around Lou and a great joy to catch up, see you back in Kiwi before too long.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cancale

Saturday 9 July

Dont know when this will be posted, I'm at another place where the wifi is a chien.
Big drag up here from Thiviers, bit over 500 km, but fortunately, most of it straight road.
Have seen a lot of cops in the last few days, more in the Limousin/Aquitaine area than all of the rest of France, hiding in the trees with their radar guns, the rest of the squad down the road a km or two to haul in the sinners. So far not me, but dont know if I'll figure on any of the camera images, the bike rental company will get them in the post I guess. As I said, the emphasis seems to be on safety, you pass signs saying, for your securitie with a picture of radar waves, and sure enough there's the camera post.
With a couple of gas/feed stops it took 7 hours from the Remembrance Village of Oradour-Sur-Glane, left entirely as is from the day of the massacre, machine gun bullet holes still visible on the eroding walls, schools, the bakery, the eglise, burnt out hulks of cars. You try to feel some animosity toward the Krauts, but imagine they got it back with the likes of the fire-bombing of Dresdin and other main German centres. I've rode over 2,800 miles round France over 3 weeks now, and there's always evidence of war, you wonder what sort of aggro drove them, not just here but on the Eastern Front and across to North Africa as well.

So, here in Cancale, its a little fishing village type place on the other side of a low peninsula from ferry port St Malo, little 2 storey houses packed against the hillside chocolate box lid style, not just one row, but about three separated by tiny streets, kept private to residents by buttresses that rise from the street entrance to bar vehicles, only accessible by key post.
Nice hotel, but one of the more expensive I've used, has a restaurant overlooking the sea, a long tidal flat with boats like little painted corks lying careened till the next tide comes in.
Was asked at one place I stayed what were the provincial specialties around NZ and was a little lost in that we dont have any, only answer I could think of was blue for Auckland, red, yellow and black for Waikato, yellow for Wellington, you get the drift.
Here in Bretagne the things I've been told to try are cider, seafood, cheese, and calvados, to put a real smile on the face of your host.
My first night I ordered a bowl of mussels entree, taking the junior size after being told the bigger serve was half a kilo worth, imagine my surprise when the mussels were hardly an inch long, and the bit inside half a pipi size.
So there you go for first lesson, big fat mussels are an NZ wide specialty food available in any supermarket. Then there's the fish, for the main I dodged the plat du jour having seen a haddock sized entirety delivered to the table next door. I got a soupy bowl instead, of scallops, good size, and small fillets of I assume the same fish as next door, in a thick broth. Give French cooks their due, you dont know there's garlic lurking until you wake sometime in the night, slightly uneasy in the tummy, and burp up something would burn the face off the cat and send it running for fresh air.
A slug of calvados, and its bon nuit nurse.
Yesterday, I had some choices to make, either head to the eastern beaches of Omaha, Utah, Gold etc, Mt St Michel on the way, and follow the gourmet trail clipping Peter Hall sent me, or head south to Carnac to see some megaliths. The distance was about the same, I could see rain to the east, and I'm about done with war stuff, so Carnac it was.
Good trip down, tidy rural scene, very proper is the feeling about this area, heavy traffic somewhat unexpected, not much further to the west you jump off into the Atlantic. The stones were great, even though it was raining for the last 50km of the trip down, and never stopped till the last 50km home to the hotel. The stones, awesome and inspiring, are in about 6 to 10 rows stretching probably for a km, and are estimated up to 200 years older than Stonehenge. The mystery is what they were intended for. I wonder if it was to keep warm while its raining, or some mental occupation while its raining, or some religious thing to entice the sun back, or whether there was a serious drought they built the lines for as a sort of rain dance to bring the rain back, but they overdid it, and thats why it always rains, in England too.
Les Alignments theyre called in French, but around here Breton was spoken years ago, was nearly stamped out after French takeover, but like with te reo, there's a revivalist program underway, and signposts are dual languaged.
Followed Lonely Planet's recommendation and had a couple of crepes and a cider at Creperie au Pressoir, right next to the stones.
The big shock of the day was being caught in a traffic jam the likes off which I'd never imagine, on the way home, around the cities of Auray, Lorient and Vannes, and direction Ploermel and Rennes, roundabouts linking the freeways choked for hours. I left Carnac with 3 bars on the fuel gauge and got rid of one sitting in the traffic for an hour, having pulled out looking to try next exits twice without joy, so I pulled off the road and waited another hour, still no movement in the queue, then desparate with evening coming on, shot into town central, found a gas station and filled up, rejoined the queue with 3 hours of light remaining, still raining, and 140 km to home.
Made it just on dark, ignoring the speed limit when clear of the freeways, but putting the hazard lights on while on them. One of the scariest experiences ever, wet through, cold, shattered, straight into a hot shower.
On the road to St Malo ferry
Decided to skip the hotel restaurant, couple of doors along to a pizzeria instead, half doz huitre's (oysters) entree, big ones still in shell, they'll be farmed ones like the scallops I'd guess, after a pastis aperitif, spag/bog with steak main, 1/3 litre bottle bordeaux, topped off with a cafe and another calvados.
Today I catch the ferry to Guernsey, and its goodbye to France, mixed emotions, loved most of it as you've read so far, but yesterdays experience with the traffic, just about a turn-off.
I need, similar to observation on American highways, to make the comment in light of the enormity of the traffic chaos here, how ridiculous it seems for NZ to be trying to show the world the way on ETS, these people dont care, they only want to get home without blowing their cool. We need to be emphasising how much food we can produce for so little total national consumption of energy and release of CO2, (as if thats a problem) rather than give them an excuse to carry on with their own consumptive existence. Our political leaders need to be plonked in the middle of this lot, on a motorbike, on a wet day, in their togs, to sharpen their perspective.
The English papers here carry a lot of comment on how commercial firms are directing their strategies toward greener solutions, in production, shipping, transport, and power generation. There dosent need to be a tax to make it happen, the market is providing the imperitive.
Went 1 km off the highway for this doozey, wonder how much CO2 got expended in its transport and erection.

Thiviers

Wednesday 6 July
Another day of discovery, another place to add to my list of places - Place with the most charm - Brantome
That's right, its a name that features in the pedigrees of many thoroughbreds, son of Blandford, out of Vitamine, by Clarissimus, named after this town, foaled mid '30's, a top 2 & 3 yo raced by the de Rothschild family, retired to stud but swiped by the Nazis along with 600 other French t/breds during the war. In 1945 after war's end he was reclaimed, died 1953.
Brantome's only about 20km from my 2 night stopover at http://www.lasimpode.com/ just one of a heap of attractions within a days sweep of this B&B.
Its got little old streets, a river, a cathedral, and the inevitable heaps of cafes. Allow half a day, at least.
Also went to the Vezere Valley, a further 40 odd km south where all the prehistoric-man sites are, Lascaux Caves etc, but dont expect to see the real thing so far as the cave art goes, they're long since off the tourist agenda, what you get is a walk through an underground reproduction of cave walls on which the art's projected, with video-movie theatre commentary (in French), and/or a walk through a faithful artistic reproduction, with an English guff-sheet to explain the tour. And it is, surprisingly, more art than simple cave-painting.
The valley itself interests as a hang-out for early man, the river, and miles of high cliff-side offering shelter, and a place to paint animals and activity of the day. Millennia ago the African plate whacked into the European one, and folded up the Pyrenees, which then got covered down to as far as by the Ice Age, the smooth Pyrennial valleys being glacially carved, shortly after which the Cro-Magnon artists appeared on the scene, descendants of the Homo erectus arriving between 700,000 and 100,000 BC, hunters following the trail of mammoths, rhinos, reindeer, and early cattle.
The painting came to end about 10,000 BC when the last of the ice receded, and the people moved out to a more fixed agricultural lifestyle.
I also had a quick look at an old Troglodytique, (quaint expressions you come across en France) village site, cliff-dwellings.
This whole district, south of, and around Limoges, really deserves a week.
Richard the Lionheart met his end round here at the now in ruins Chateau de Chalus-Chabrol in 1199, shot by a young cross-bowman, his mother was a local, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Bit of a macabre twist in the story too, on his death-bed Richard forgave the young opponent, but was subsequently caught and skinned alive for his miscreance.
There's a heap of chateau/castle stuff can be visited in this district, in fact all over France, and I guess all over Europe, like Maori pa on every strategic hilltop, with a history littered with the same chivalry of engagement bullshit, ludicrously familiar whether armour or piopio clad.
As much as some dont like police and general law these days, its probably not such a bad alternative.
Craig and Beryl run an excellent B&B here at La Simpode, nice pool, provincial farm home, and I've been royally treated, Beryl's cuisine is tops, a place people return to for more. I've learned here, that the best goat cheese dosent pong and tastes great, and rape seed oil is the go for deep frying.
Farming foie gras round France is big business, the resultant surplus duck meat is an absolute treat, and duck fat is common for cooking.
The drought in this western part of France is for real, pastures are brown and dead. French grain production was so low last year a lot of wheat was imported, shift of land use to ethanol production also partly to blame. A fair bit of the fuel at pumps is 10%, on the road you can smell the bio-burn.
This year farmers have been incentivised to grow more grain, short stemmed varieties better in the dry.
St Jean de Cole
Got a peep at a UK newspaper, theyre still trying to strike their way to greater prosperity. Talk is the industrial capacity has been run down, as in USA, and its the financial hub activity holding the GBP up where it is. Around France I've seen several industrial centres with big signs like Toyota and Hyundai on the buildings, like that plant down near Palmerston North.
I've got a long stretch tomorrow heading for Cancale, on the Brittany coast, but on the way out I'm taking in St Jean de Cole, just a couple of clicks down the road, a picturesque medieval village and important way-point for the Templars, another bit of trivia, the Templars developed an early system of banking, so you didnt have to risk carting your money with you all the way to the Holy Land.
And heading north, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, where the Nazis slaughtered the whole population of over 600 men, women and children, the ville left intact to this day as a remembrance shrine.
The really striking thing about my travels is discovering how unique each of the parts of France are, you get to enjoy several countries, within a country, each one deserving of at least a week's stay.
You cant begrudge the French their uniqueness and language, and their insularity, for want of a better word. That they've been able to keep a hold on what they are despite being trampled and annexed by every passing Thomas, Richarde, and Harold for centuries earns them that respect.
Plus the food and wine, definemently ....,
but maybe not their driving, and not just the men either, I've seen some women just as shocking behind the wheel.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lourdes to Thiviers

Monday 4 July

Well, made it to Lourdes, tagging onto the 6 million odd pilgrims who'll come here this year.
Lonely Planet comments, "despite the spiritual importance, genuine holiness is a little harder to come by".
Wouldnt quite agree with that, but I'm astonished to see its a souvenir town, this place is huger than Sturgis, no T-shirts, but everything else religious, crucifixes, Marys, theme bottles you can put your water in, candles, you see some people on their way to the Grottos with 6' tall ones on barrows, and an endless procession with small candles in hand, liveried up in church-group colours, or like one lot in World Multiple Sclerosis shirts.
Multi-storied hotels line the streets, molto-supra tour buses fill them, hear lots of Italian spoken, stop at an Italian cafe for a coffee and overhear what seems to be English, then flick its Mick, Irish. Lots of men in collars, just as many in monk habit, and double that for nuns and nurses.
And the lame, maimed, and old, and even see one chap being wheeled in on a gurney. Touching scenes, a middle aged man hand in hand with his doubled-up bent-over father, handicapped in wheelchairs, kids in mobility scooters.
And beggars, again they look like arabs, one woman's got her head in a scarf... still, its said many people spend their life savings to come here.
I find the main Grotto, sit in quiet contemplation, I dont want for anything, so I settle on hoping everybody lining up to go in, touch the cave walls, and kiss it as well, get all they ask, and dont pick up germs from the 6 million other kisses and touches, and theyre coming in from all over, Italian, Espagne, Japonois, Korean, Afro people...
I still dont feel I've got it exactly right, till I change my quiet little orison to, I hope they all get what they deserve, and I repos a reverent hour.
The place got its fame when, in 1858, a 14 year old girl saw visions of Mary, confirmed as bona fide by the Vatican, and she was beatified in 1933.
Again its a holy place I'm not of the faith with, I'm sort of an imposter, and the Maori in me is itching to go wash my hands, so I go to the washing wall, so now I'm at one with it all. Nothing happens, not even a bolt of lightning to strike my infidel soul.
I find a cafe instead of a cave, and try a Holiheineken water, oddly I feel something working, and after another I definitely do feel different.
Lonely Planet's on the button, the eateries are tres ordinaire in this town, I have steak and chips streetside, the hotel restaurant isnt open Mondays. The steak is another pattie disguised as ground Charolais. Actually, I meant to report I've regularly seen one dish of raw ground beef, it comes with a bowl of dip like you have for dipping bread, oil with chopped up herbs and other greenery in it, the diners stir the lot together before relishing it. Now thats what you call rare...
The amount and variety of meat on menus here, and what gets killed to supply it, is almost disturbing, but like USA and its meat eaters, great for us Kiwi producers, and a blow against the activists who drivel meat production is destroying the planet. 
Could mention too, whole families going out dining often include the dog, mostly little terriers or bichons, that fosick round the tables and look up at you with hopeful faces.
Referring Mayle again, he and his wife attend a Provencal dog show, rows of breeder's puppies lined up for sale, and the wife is ooh-ing and ah-ing over the cuties, a raffle seller approaches offering a range of prizes including a mountain bike, a micro-wave oven, a shotgun, and a maxi saucisson (sauce making pot). Mayle mutters relief the puppies arent part of the prize, and the ticket seller leers, "you never know what might be in the saucisson", and then spotting the horror in the wife's face, quickly pats her arm, "non, non, je rigole", (just pulling your leg)
It was a tough ride getting here through and over the Pyrenees. Started off hopeful enough, no rain, and climbing out of St Giron, mid-point in Stage 15 of the 2010 Tour, caught up and passed the cycling-holiday group from the hotel, and a heap of other hopefuls out on a ride.
This mornings soliloquy was Belloc's 'Tarantella'
Do you remember an inn Miranda, do you remember an inn?
And the tedding and the spreading of the straw for a bedding
And the fleas that tease in the high Pyrenees
And the wine that tasted of tar
Do you remember an inn?
Funny what sticks in your head, primary school headmaster's teaching example of onomatopoeia dredged up from the cranial hard-drive.
But it did start to rain, so on with the leggings and flexi-tech mitts, which eventually got more water inside than out. Back on the farm I've given up wearing gloves in the rain, nothing works and they impede the simplest of tasks like opening gates. So they got put away, and it was back to just my kid-skin gloves, they dont feel wet, dont sweat inside, mould to the skin, are warm, and dry rapidly in the airstream. No argument, the best gear to wear on a wet day is a warm hotel room.
The road's well marked with TdF route arrows, start and end of climb stages and more urgings to favoured stars, Andy Schleck must be huge all round France, but I do spot one simple dedication to my hero, 'Lance'.
The GPS isnt co-operating this morning, I've way-pointed the villages on the stage, but both fastest, and most direct route fail to take me over a high col, despite the route arrows on the road pointing up into the mist. The GPS circles me through the same village 3 times as I fight to find the way, and embarrassment, circling the same cafe audience, so I consult the Michelin road atlas, the road isnt marked as paved, or map must be out of date, but its still raining, and I dont like the thought of disappearing up into the cloud, in fact at times I've been above it, so I flag it, and re-route to where that col track rejoins.
Nothing much lost, I'm back following road-mark arrows, somewhere, Col de Portet d'Aspet actually, I've passed the memorial shrine to Fabio Casartelli, who died age 24 in the '95 TdF, in a 55mph downhill crash. I've been in a cycle race support vehicle in Italy years past, a Lancia, struggling to keep up with the peliton doing 70kmph down the switchback hairpins. These guys negotiate these roads faster than I am on the Bandit, no fancy armoured jackets here, no helmets a lot of the time either. When I was doing a bit myself, I once asked vet cyclist Bill Main what was his advice on how to manage taking a spill. I was expecting something like roll technique, or what body part to land on, but after little hesitation he just replied, aim for the kerb, you'll be less likely to get run over by a following car or truck. 
Tour de France memorial Col Marmelot
At the bottom of Col Marmelot, fantastic place to go skiing up there, the rain's gone away and I get a French sandwich to placate the growling down under. From there its a fast run into Lourdes. I passed a couple of foxes up in the hills, the cols get up to around 2000m, the peaks around 3000m.
Nice hotel again, the bikes under a tree in a private park, the receptionist infers nothing gets pinched round here.
Morning now, Tuesday 5 July, enough time to scope out the chateau on the hill overlooking town, just 5 mins walk away, great how booking.com can place you so accurately for an overnight stay.
Dont have to climb the hill either, there's a lift to take you up to the ramparts, and a very good self guided path through the museum and around the castellations, a veritable boys play fort, but serious in its heyday, you can imagine firing muskets through the slots, or in earlier times, dropping hot oil over the side.
After the place got over-run during the Revolution, it did a term as a state prison. The latrines are amusing, through the floor slots, you look out into space.
View from Chateau Fort, Lourdes
Reminds me of my years ago visit, in a 2 storey country home, not insubstantial, I innocently asked for the toilet, was taken to the upstairs master bedroom, the closet opened, clothes pushed aside, and voila, there was a beaten brass pan, pull the chain, a little flap opens, and I can see grass outside through the hole. Might as well just have walked behind the house, I guess all the other men did.
Different story today.
I'm amazed at France's infra-structure. Pretty near all the rural village situations I've stayed in have mains water, and some, sewage service, despite being miles away from main centres, and as mentioned before, all the roads are good. Often I've seen farm homes and out-buildings roofed totally with solar panels. Have had no compunction anywhere, to drink cool clean water straight from the tap. No worries about getting gas for the bike anywhere.
Found another good wayside patisserie for lunch, beside N21 at Auch, this one has seats inside in air conditioned comfort, and a coffee machine. I choose a couple of tartes, a strawberry, and a pear in light caramel jelly over custard one. I pick up a local newspaper and start reading, the madam behind the counter keeping an eye on the gaijin who dont speak Francais all that good, but appears to be reading it.
On the front page is another story about a bad road accident, 19 yr old boy killed, his 20 yo mate in coma at the hospital, lots of usual why question, the engine is found 30 metres away from the wreck. Had a near miss myself this morning, following a car when suddenly another materialises on my left shoulder straddling the centreline, wanting to overtake us both, but a cars coming the other way. Then the one in front anchors without warning, flips his signal to turn left, and the 4 of us are in a 60kmph dance, 6' apart from each other. I spot up the 10' of clear space to the right, but dont need it as all 4 of us go our separate ways as quickly as it all came together. I rev up and get on the tail of the silly bastard who nearly caused the pile-up, I'm not going to pass him, I'm just going to annoy his french passion to be in front for a few km. The wagon's got a couple of kids in it, easy to see where the young generation learn their foibles.
The paper goes on to discuss the DSK scandal, ongoing, a pretty young reporter has popped up from the woodwork alleging more instance of a bit of the old frottage, while on the sports page there's a pic of the local rugby team in training, a jumper being hoisted in a mock line-out, and detailing how a last minute substitute won a game, they play in summer?
I move onto the horoscopes, hey I'm getting the hang of this francais, my amor prospects say why not more pleasure, loosen up, give freer rein to it... ouis d'accord to that.
Next to the stars is a column that causes a laugh, and the madam behind the counter shoots me a peripheral look of disapproval when she see what page I'm at, an ad starts, "J.femme, (presumably the J. means jolie), sexy et tres coquine realise ts vos fantasmes erot" then a phone number.
They got it all here en France.....
and I head off down the road with a new hum in my head...
"They got everything Tahiti got...
they only no got, l'coconut...
See, I even rigole en Francais now, you can get at least 2 meanings from that statement.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lorp Sentaraille, nearly in the Pyrenees

Sunday 3 July
 
West out of Albi
Another quick run down a couple of freeways before climbing over the Petites Pyrenees and Cap Blanc at 519m, nice wooded hill road, up in the cool.
Its been 33 deg most of the day, this hotel has a pool.
 
I miss Albi already, such a nice town. Shot back to the Lautrec Museum to buy the 'Les Chevaux de Toulouse Lautrec' book before leaving, Lautrec's horses. Like the waiters at the St James, the girls recognise me, and we have another nice little chat.
I pass the Tetu magazine ad again, it goes on from saying 'nos heros le rugby' to add 'virile` et sensible'. Cripes...
I see in the paper at breakfast, that Contador and Schleck are at it sledging each other in le Tour.
 
Into the Petites Pyrenees
Had a swim on arriving here, too late for lunch and nothing open in the ville except a MacDonalds, had to happen sooner or later, and a chance to do the international value for money comparison. I got a bacon-burger, sandwich they call it, NZ$7.60, and a large fries as afterthought, $5.00, but roughly about the same in total if I'd bought them as a meal. The large coke was $4.80.
They didnt have an Angus burger, but wait for it,"Le Charolais" was on special for $4.00.
The girl behind the till handled english OK, I think as a general rule, the younger they are the better they speak english, must take it at school.
There's a sunday market across the street I take a look at, supposedly antiques, but the same veritable pile of junk and rusty old tools we've become accustomed to in NZ
 
Down towards Lorp Sentaraille
This hotel is quite conservative, older clientile, but a group of blokes on a cycling holiday turn up, coming in from their days lark in the Pyrenees.
There isnt a covered secure bike park, the proprietor says no problem here, and I sort of believe him looking round the village.
Main problem is it looks like rain, and the forecast says 40% chance of tomorrow. I go back out and push the bike under a tree.
Good table here though, I take option A of the set menu, lapine terrine au pruneau armagnac, 3/4" slab of rabbit pate with liqueured prunes, souri de agneau, lamb shank with baby spuds and stuffed tomato, I dodge the cheese platter, and finish off my local Ariege sav blanc, before the myrtleberry pie dessert and inevitable thimble of cafe.
Sorry to load you with the cuisine detail, but life the same hereafter wont be easy for me.
 
Morning of 4th July now. Have just read Mayles chapter on going to Cannes, cannily familiar, I have to quote him:
"Outside the Palais, what seemed to be the entire Cannes police force, equipped with revolvers, walkie-talkies and sunglasses, was busy creating a series of traffic jams and making sure Clint Eastwood didnt get kidnapped. With the skill that comes from many years of practice, they directed cars into snarling knots and whistled at them furiously, sending the drivers off to the next snarling knot with irritated jerks of the head. It took me 10 minutes to cover 50 yards. When I finally reached the car park, I saw an earlier victim of the chaos had scrawled on the wall: Cannes is a great place to visit, but I wouldnt want to spend the day there."
I watched a bit of TV last night, Clint Eastwood in that movie where he's an aging Presidential protection squadie, dubbed in francais. I try hard myself, but its really difficult to speak french with a low voice, Clint looks absolute incongrous squeaking his lines. That aussie actor in CSI and Shaun Connery in an early Diamonds are Forever are equally hilarious.
And in case you think my comments on french drivers are really because I'm snailing it along the roads, here's Mayle again, in his car, following another to a lunch rendezvous:
"... I should stick closely to his car. Easier said than done. So far as I know, there are no stats to support my theory, but observation and heart-stopping personal experience have convinced me that a frenchman with an empty stomach drives twice as fast as one with a full stomach (which is already too fast for sanity and speed limits). And so it was with Michel. One minute he was there; the next he was a dust smudged blur on the shimmering horizon, clipping the dry grass verges on the bends, booming through narrow streets of villages in their midday coma, his gastronomic juices in overdrive"
Michel goes on to explain to the author how a frenchman needs to win.
I'm amused I should finally make the frustrated comment about fellow road users upon arriving in Provence, where Mayle resides and writes about. There definitely is a difference about that place.
France actually has quite a diversity of character depending where you are.
I'm ultimately careful setting my lines through corners I cant see right round, never to get closer to the centre than half of my lane, and if there's no marked lane, then the right shoulder of the road is my line.
I've picked up on a few bad accidents in the papers around here too, the only blessing being you get scraped up quite efficiently, 2 helicopters at one fatal scene, a 4wd went under the front of a truck, just the floor and seats left.
Last night there were bean sprouts with the terrine, and I think about the news that people are still karking over here from that listeriosis scare.
 
The cyclists are outside my window cranking up for another day in le montagnes, its stopped raining, so I think I'll chance my arm on the run over the mountains to Lourdes, tonight's stop.