Well, yet again I pen this short column from 35,000 feet as we head back to Scotland once more via the splendour that is Ryanair, sandwiched between sweaty Frenchmen in suspicious overcoats and small sunburned children with earache and attitude! Oh how I miss travelling business class… It has been quite a difficult trip to judge, as we leave 37 degree heat in France for something that may hopefully be above double figures in Fife. After continually grumbling about the weather this year, I can report we have had a nice month, weather-wise, much to the delights of both my sons who have visited and had their feet in the pool. Possibly the daftest thing I have done in a while, along with my eldest son, Sam, was to build a 4 foot pizza oven on the back terrace, over a three day period when the sun was so hot we could have quite successfully cooked pizza and chips on the slabs around the swimming pool, which were certainly uncomfortable to walk on. But on we toiled, first building a concrete platform, then a giant sand-castle which we covered in ceramic bricks and cement, before finally removing the sand and crossing our fingers that it didn’t collapse faster than a house of cheap playing cards. This morning, before we left, we ceremoniously lit a fire in it and ran up a full English, albeit a little on the smoky sausage side. The whole idea was inspired by a TV programme I watched about Argentina where it appears that it is near illegal to eat anything other than beef scorched over flaming coals. I have to say, as a self confessed bodger builder, I am quite proud of my effort, despite me not even liking pizza!
On a tenuously linked foody subject, often in this column I bring attention to the ridicules of French governmental decisions which are so far beyond comprehension that they are just tail lights through the fog. So, keeping with tradition, let me highlight yet another. France has just made it illegal to throw away edible food. No, hang on a minute, on the face of it, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. So let’s take a little look at this new ruling and its purpose. Seemingly there are a lot of starving poor people in the nation, and not all the rich folk can manage to eat everything on the shelf in LeClerc before it goes out of date, to the tune of 7.4 million tons of it. ‘So,’ says an unusually unanimous government,’ let’s do the sensible thing and give all the out of date food to the poor. I am sure they love 3 week old chicken. What could possibly go wrong?’ Is it me, or does this sound about as risky as poking your index finger into a socket to see if it is live? If I was to detect something fishy here I might suggest that perhaps some pharmaceutical giant might be working on a cure for salmonella, back handed by the same government? Either that, or they will have to build more hospitals!
Earlier in the month, between the two visitors, Wendy and I managed to shoe-horn in a weekend in the Bay of Biscay in our favourite little spot just south of Biarritz. A couple of days dining on fish so fresh it was still smiling, and a quick round of golf, has whet both our appetites enough to return again, once I get this latest purgatoric trip out of the way. Hopefully, after two weeks of tiling, painting and furnishing, this should be the concluding part of my little house renovation project, and one that will bear fruit in the near foreseeable as we catch the summer holiday rental season in East Fife. It is my intention to spend the surplus ill-gotten gains on some Atlantic oysters and a bottle of the finest wine known to humanity! To those unaware of this extreme corner of France, Biarritz is one of the most magnificent cities in Europe, underpinned by being favoured as a regular holiday destination of Queen Victoria herself, who, along with her husband, seems to have named every park, street and even car-park after herself. No seventies flat roofed low rise here, with every building resembling a French chateau, if not a palace. Unlike the Med, the rougher seas of the Atlantic coast boasts some fairly hefty waves that are non-friendly to young families, making the inhabitants a mixture of wealthy middle aged French ladies with too much money and beatnik surfer dudes with none at all. Yet somehow, the place just works and I have to say, despite me being neither, I can feel myself drawn in by its charm.
Finally, as I sit crammed into a seat made for slim people I get chatting to the girl next to me, as she is clutching a rugby ball, and a silver trophy. On further investigation there are a number of other young ladies also clad in tracksuits and around me it transpires that this is none other than the Caithness girls rugby team, on tour. Having spent some time in Caithness in my younger days and, more recently, being married to a girl with family from that area, I have to say I am somewhat terrified. Whilst catching a mountain sheep with one hand, diving for lobster in the icy waters in a bikini or throwing large rocks over goalposts may seem a pastime for the mentally insane, it is this very grounding that gives these lassies the genetic make-up that would send the fear of god into an All Blacks national side, let alone some poor slight French schoolgirls in chic shorts and a selfless love of ponies. However, despite winning the tournament by a fair margin, these hardy land-girls complained that the weather was far too hot and they couldn’t wait to get home to some familiar squally showers and a plate of mince and tatties!
An addendum: with permission from the recently sun-tanned editor, this column is actually finished off a few weeks later, while resting my weary knees on the Ektorb, sitting on the Wrorstob with my feet up on the Elkatort, all of which ache like a miner’s elbow! Yes, against all my wishes, I have made that intrepid pilgrimage to Ikea, without which no holiday home would be complete. I will admit I am still twitching after 4 hours in the godforsaken giant Swedish shed but, with helpful assembling skills from an unsuspecting visiting friend, the house looks almost habitable. The final 2 weeks of painting, polishing and positioning have pushed me a long way outwith my comfort zones, as I do my best to provide relaxing surroundings for guests who may shortly be queuing up to rent this - though I say it myself - rather swish home-by-the-sea in East Neuk. It has been an interesting journey over the past 6 months, in a village that has only just discovered round tea-bags, let alone the internet, but one where the pace of life still lives in an age when people are polite, shops close at 5pm and nobody is in a desperate hurry to be in front of anyone else. In other words, the ideal destination for a UK holiday! This weekend, I will return to a similar environment, with identical values, only a few thousand miles south with a bit more sunshine, for a well earned rest.