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Thursday, 11 July 2013

Biarritz you beauty.

Sitting sleepily amid the cliffs and coves of the French west coast is Biarritz. This surfing town has good vibes and a sunny disposition, and is roughly a two hour drive from Bordeaux. For someone in need of an instant lift and some serious relaxation with a traditional holiday feel, look no further than this part of the Basque country.

The town itself is pleasing to the eye, with big old French hotels rising out of the rocks and fairy tale turrets perfectly placed to watch the sunset or gaze over at the Pyrenees, which appear cloud-like through the heat haze. Whilst there is plenty with which to entertain yourself, be it a leisurely afternoon of shopping, sampling charming patisseries or even a visit to the impressive art deco casino, one of the more addictive pursuits is catching waves. 

In Biarritz mid-summer a wetsuit is superfluous, meaning that you get to tan whilst the adrenaline is pumping and your stomach muscles are toning - just an added bonus. If all that sounds like too much hard work, plan your trip around one of the many pro surfing competitions, such as the ASP Roxy world tour. As I type we’re on the eve of the first day of this year’s international women’s surf event, and yet we’re holding our breath; the sea is set to look like a pond for the duration – there is no swell, I repeat, there are no waves! With a line up including Sally Fitzgibbons, Tyler Wright and Coco Ho, the organisers will have their fingers crossed that something turns up for these pros to showcase their talents. That said, if the recent Roxy short film (cringe) is an indication of their commitment to the promotion of female surfing, should no waves occur at least the cameras can capture the girls frolicking in the waves in bikinis – maybe they’ll even orchestrate a pillow fight! Miaow. 

Despite the wave situation, from my lofty position of a big fixed tent (with even a plug to charge my phone!), in a campsite with a pool, I have no doubts that I’ll enjoy my trip. I’ll check out the surf tour, with a sorbet or two, and plenty of sun cream, perhaps followed by a refreshing dive into the sea at the Porte Vieux, a naturally occurring cove, perfect for swimming. Then I might go cliff jumping before retiring to my private terrace and luxury tent. A glass or two of wine – did I mention the proximity of Bordeaux? Then bed. All again in the morning!

Monday, 8 July 2013


My first Glastonbury. After many years of failing to get tickets, some friends living in a little backwater town in England discovered that their post code seemed to enable them to obtain an endless supply of tickets. The knowledge of this resource was well received at 10am on that Sunday morning as I sat refreshing my browser simultaneously on both laptop and phone. As I read the text confirming my tickets, the world stretched and scratched and everything felt just a little fairer. When the Stones were finally confirmed, I was officially excited.

It was with relief and a sense of peace that I mixed my first vodka tonic of the festival, after struggling through the blazing sun with a rucksack that weighed over 20 kg. Perhaps predictably, that first night is a blurred snapshot of standing on stones at the circle and dancing so close to the fire that my leggings began to melt onto my skin. Now I am quite of frequenter of festivals, and I'm pretty fit, but I now know that unless you pace your feet, Glastonbury will hurt you. I think dancing to Andy C underneath a giant fire belching spider wearing wellies was one of the earlier mistakes. The night was in full swing and as to be expected, I had lost most of my friends. The bass dropped, Arcadia the spider roared and a scorch of light and heat lit up one missing friend's face, right in front of me in a coincidence that only seems to happen at festivals.

One morning we caught some of Amanda Palmer's set - her Ukelele song being a particular favourite. Her decision not to bother with even a semblance of a costume seemed pretty deliberate - anyone can drum up a bra and marker pen and she did both. Sadly I was genuinely distracted from the performance by the swathes of litter that covered the site - and it was only Friday morning. I'd be unimpressed with such a sight at any gathering, but that the festival's very tag line is 'leave no trace' makes it hard not to ask yourself 'where are these stealthy skanks, and why aren't they at Leeds?' I've found the likes of Big Chill and even V Festival to be more soothing on the eye when it comes to litter. 

Our festival was a smattering of Fat Boy Slim, Chic, Arctic Monkeys, Molotov Jukebox, Nick Cave, Smashing Pumpkins, Primal Scream, Mumford and Sons and fellow Nottingham boy Jake Bugg - who we heard rather than saw hold the attention of a big top using just his lyrics and guitar. Which in any day and age in impressive. Obviously the highlight was the troupe of pensioners that is The Rolling Stones; with boundless energy, costume changes and a dream playlist of hits, they smashed it. My favourite snapshot memory is of a guy in the crowd in front of us who was hoisted into the air by his mates. He waved a prosthetic leg around which I assumed was an unusual flag, until I noticed his bandaged stump of leg. Given that his instinct was to mime shooting the crowd with his leg, rather than the more natural inclination at a Stones gig - which is surely air guitar, we surmised he was probably a solider. Whoever he was the applause he received when he got down seemed to rival the band.

With an accepting and unapologetic acknowlegment to those who are currently bemoaning the sense of entitlement felt by 'the young', I can't help but feel ever so slightly disappointed that I didn't end up hanging out with Stones at any point. Honestly, I always seem to end up backstage at these things - I just sort of assumed it would happen. It says quite a lot about the state of my poor tortured feet that I didn't even try. Apparently Jagger was running around Shangri La on the Friday in a cloak and mask, which would have been an ace discovery! Our second visit to Shangri La proved more memorable than the first, (which I don't really remember at all); it was Sunday and I had taken it steady. Sadly I never got to see the Unicorn/ Absinthe bar, which are basically my two favourite things - the queue for heaven was just too long. Far easier was to stumble into hell where we found rum and Rudimental waiting for us. Even better at midnight we visited the Temple where Bearded Kitten were about to embark on a spot of holi; bags of powdered paint were handed around the crowd inside the mini muddy amphitheatre. With the patience of saints we waited for the bass to drop before launching an attack on the other side. The attacks were swift and short lived as almost immediately breathing became the priority and it took up most of my concentration for a while. However, when we emerged dusty with streaks of orange blue yellow and pink, the very real breathing panic had, in retrospect, been entirely worth it.

The next morning I knew that brushing my powder caked hair was asking for split ends and a temper tantrum so I elected to travel home without taking any pains over my toilette, in my pyjamas, which just happened to match my face and hair in their array of rainbow hues. Ten hours later (yes, ten actual hours) we arrived back at the O2. In those ten hours we could have been to Russia and back, but our highlight was a Little Chef, which actually I was very surprised to see as I thought they'd surely gone the way of Woolworths. I can't speak for my fellow coach travellers (or eco warriors as Glasto would have us known), but those ten coach-trapped hours were the most peaceful and relaxing that I'd had in a long time. I stretched out on the back seat, sun streaming through the window, using my boyfriend as a pillow and I dozed, dreamed and occasionally woke and listened to the woolly post-festival memories of the people around me. Bliss. Until I had to drag my damaged, paint splattered, unkempt frame through the tube system at rush hour, with tents and roll matts flapping and tempers fraying. See you next year.