Badgers’ Bike Squad – With Apprentice Badger Brice

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 21.37.42March 2, 2017. The Badgers are joined by artist Brice Desrez for a round trip from Saint-Senoch, taking in Saint Flovier, Charnizay, Le Petit Pressigny, La Celle Guenand, Ferrière Larçon and Esves le Moutier. Will Brice remain a “Badger for a Day”, or is he made of sterner stuff? Indeed, is he destined to become a true Apprentice Badger? How far is Yves prepared to go in his increasingly convincing imitation of Po from Tellytubbies? On the road, can any of them keep up with Adrian? Watch the video to find out! The route is 51km but very hilly, with coffee-stops and lunch to ease the pain. Plus, a special feature on a daredevil aspect of Yves’ cycling technique – unique for its physical prowess and heroic intrepidity –  captured on video for the very first time! (Good job there weren’t any rose bushes around!)

Click here to view the video. 

Badger’s Bike Squad in the Parc de la Brenne

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-12-39-38

 Click HERE to view the new Badger’s Bike Squad video.

This week, historian and impresario extraordinaire Yves Krier chose the route and took us to the Parc de la Brenne, one of the biggest and most serene nature reserves in central France, famous for its extensive lakes and the variety of birds. We rode our bikes from Preuilly-sur-Claise to Bossay-sur-Claise, Lureuil, Douadic, Rosnay, the Château du Bouchet, Saint-Michel-en-Brenne, Azay le Ferron, and back to the same café we left from in Preuilly.

Though Steve doesn’t like flat landscapes and had various things to carp about – except the excellent battered carp we had for lunch! – we enjoyed the trip, meeting interesting people, enjoying local culinary specialities, and engaging – as ever – in creatively inane conversations and intriguing misunderstandings.

Forget the Famous Five and Secret Seven. We are, as Yves has christened us, “The Three Dicks”, possibly without realising the impact of this phrase on anglo-saxon ears. A shame in a way. We started as the Three Musketeers, transformed into Three Men on Their Bikes, and now … The Three Dicks? Well, so be it. As Steve has decreed, in his infinite wisdom, “Death is the Only Condition in Which Surrender is Acceptable”…

Bloody hell, how did I get into this? Anyway, both Yves and Steve had a keen eye for the local bird life on this particular trip, as this modest video discloses.

Badger’s Bike Squad – Descartes Wheels

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-20-35-48

A new Badger’s Bike Squad video is online: click here to view it.

Badger’s Bike Squad cycles a 73-kilometre round trip from Descartes, birthplace of the philosopher, through some of the prettiest villages in Southern Touraine and blessed with balmy weather. Steve and Yves engage in an insane competition to be the best historical storyteller, casting all respect for truth and honesty to the winds. This was Steve’s choice of route, and we all agreed that it was one of the best we’ve done. Thanks, maestro! For previous badgerish adventures, just type “Badger’s Bike Squad” on YouTube. If you work for HBO or Time Warner, please get in touch asap before the media jackals pounce on the movie rights in the imminent bidding feeding frenzy – gosh, it’s a jungle out there!

Click here: Badger’s Bike Squad – Descartes Wheels

Badger’s Bike Squad – Cold Warriors

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-09-18-23Another Badger’s Bike Squad video is online. Click here to view it!

Badger, it’s cold outside!

Badger’s Bike Squad braves temperatures around minus 4C, cycling 60 km from Saint Hippolyte to Bridoré, then on to Saint Flovier, Châtillon-sur-Indre, Le Tranger, and back to Saint Hippolyte. On the way, a stirring mix of adventures and misadventures, accidents and incidents, unexpected encounters, a couple of châteaux, some churches, a light sportsmans’ lunch, and the inimitable waggish jokes, franglais and badinage of the celebrated misspelt triumvirate, “les trois moustiquaires”: Badger (Resident President), “Slipstream” Yves-el Knievel (Cultural Secretary), St Eve (State-Registered Jester and Super-Hero at the Court of King Badger).

Despite a few slight cultural friction burns, deft feats of tact and humour – and the boundless good cheer of the Three Men on Their Bikes – help keep Anglo-French relations on an even keel to remain afloat another day! (Please contact us for our fees and availability for important international diplomatic missions and/or children’s birthday parties).

View the video.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-19-19-40

 

Badger’s Bike Squad – Dawn to Dusk!

La Corroirie

A new Badger’s Bike Squad video is online! 

Badger’s Bike Squad – Dawn to Dusk!

It was Yves Krier’s turn to define our route. He took us in the footsteps of the Plantagenets – La Chapelle du Liget, La Chartreuse du Liget, Le Corroirie. All interlinked 12th-century monastic foundations, with connections to the Plantagenet empire. However, he then got us seriously lost, almost to the point of missing lunch – a totally unBadgerish risk to take. We rode home at nightfall, dodging cars and trucks on a busy road and in the rain. Yves – we’ll buy you a watch and a map for your birthday! But thank you for your erudition, even if you did make it all up. And Badger’s Bike Squad survives to pedal forth valiantly another day…

Click here to view it.

Badger’s Bike Squad – November Update!

Adrian and Steve, on the road near Chaume

Adrian and Steve, on the road near Chaume

Since my last blog post on Badger’s Bike Squad, two more videos have been put on YouTube.

Badger’s Bike Squad: On the Heel’s of Saint Joan. 

(Nearly said “hot on the heels”, but given the poor lady’s fate, perhaps not, eh?) From Sepmes we cycled to Civray sur Esves, Bournan and Bossée, where we had lunch. In the restaurant, a surprise encounter with an old friend! Next stop, Sainte Catherine de Fierbois where Joan of Arc turned up on 4 March 1429 to get her mitts on a famous sword. Lastly, back to Sepmes via Sainte Maure en Touraine. The usual dose of gorgeous French countryside and architecture, Anglo-French ribaldry, rivalry and repartee, mutual incomprehension, corny jokes, profound historical, philosophical and political discussions, and – well, just CLICK HERE to watch it!

Badger’s Bike Squad – Sissies, Do Not Apply! 

“Badger’s Bike Club: Sissies, Do Not Apply!” In which the three intrepid cyclists set out one cold November morning despite a dire weather forecast of wind, storms and hail. A mishearing nearly leads to being too late for lunch, and Yves thrills us with his spectacularly original accident – caught on video. Or was it a curious attempt at oneupmanship or even “onedownmanship”? Hmm. CLICK HERE to watch it!

In the last video, and from now on, subtitles help those who have not yet mastered the nuances of franglais.

Loches-by-the-Sea

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-18-42-29In Blighty, as I’ve had occasion to mention before, oysters have become a rich man’s delicacy, whereas in Dickens’ day they nourished the poor, collected at low tide in the Thames estuary. In Dorset, where my brother lives, they are almost impossible to find. One girl, working at the fishmonger’s counter in a large out-of-town Tesco’s, simply did not know what they were – one of the saddest moments in my life. Likewise, fresh seafood is very hard to come by in England, even in popular seaside resorts. The industrialisation of the fishing industry is to blame, I presume, but wherever one casts one’s aspersions, it is a tragic tale indeed.

In France, thankfully, the opposite is true, and the wonders of the deep are everywhere on offer at prices that suit all pockets.

If you were to stick a pin in the centre of a map of France, you wouldn’t be far from Loches – in other words, a long way from the sea. Nevertheless, Loches market, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, has always had two huge fishmongers’ stalls – one next to the other – with a cornucopia of affordable produce. Whoever invented the refrigerated truck, chapeau!

A week ago, a new venue opened, l’Oyster Bar in the rue Saint Antoine. In the summer months, this outlet was in the open air, in front of the florist’s beside the river Indre. It now has its own chic premises, with 18 seats inside and, when the weather’s fine, 12 on the terrace. This is all thanks to Vincent Houlier and Florent Gouverneur who have created a shellfish haven that is destined to be popular throughout the year – even in the months without an “r” in them, when the oysters are milky, and thus not to everyone’s taste. 

We went there with old friend and antique dealer Frédérique Grego who lives next door, and the dining room even has a little barred window that looks directly into her garden.

Winkles were served as a little amuse-gueule, along with a little aioli, and we chose platters of Ile de Ré oysters, shrimp, whelks, langoustine, and half a crab (at a reasonable 23 euros a platter), accompanied by a pichet of Muscadet white wine. If you’re eating à la carte, there’s a choice of 9 different types of oysters from different French coastlines, French caviar from the Dordogne, and smoked fish from nearby Descartes, in addition to cheese and charcuterie platters.

The wine list was elaborated with the help of Jean-Christophe Laplanche of Les flaveurs de la terre, the best wine merchant in Loches and the most enthusiastic and eloquent oenologist I’ve ever met.  The tableware is intriguing, including individual transparent lemon presses to produce the juice that stuns the oyster prior to ingestion.

We regularly eat seafood bought either at the market or at the supermarket, and the fare on offer at l’Oyster Bar was noticeably superior: very fresh, clean, plump and full of flavour. Having eaten at its US namesake, the famous Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, New York, I know which I prefer – Loches! 

The bar is open 7 days a week and is sure to become a popular haunt for oyster maniacs such as ourselves. All Loches needs now is a proper Sushi bar, but maybe l’Oyster Bar will branch out in an easterly direction one day?

 
screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-18-43-07
screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-18-41-58
screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-18-41-17
screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-18-42-59
screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-18-42-51
screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-18-42-10
 

Testaments to the Living World

J. A. Baker

J. A. Baker

J. A. Baker (1926-1987) was an amateur ornithologist who cycled around the Essex countryside in the 60s, observing the bird life. Little is known about him, except that he worked for the Automobile Association but did not possess a car.  

He wrote a book about his observations of the wintering  peregrine falcon, The Peregrine, which was published in 1967. This beautifully written work has since acquired a unique status, transcending many other works in the genre with its poetic power – at times like Gerard Manley Hopkins’ The Windhover, elsewhere marked by the author’s admiration for Ted Hughes. It is, in a remarkable way, the closest any human being gets to actually becoming a wild creature – the hypnotic absorption is so complete, the language so vibrant and evocative.

The whole book condenses 10 winters of observation into one, and the  overarching lesson it teaches is how to “see” and marshal the powers of language to preserve the freshness and truth of that vision. The film director Werner Herzog has famously championed the book, saying that it has “an intensity and beauty of prose that is unprecedented” and calls it “the one book I would ask you to read if you want to make films”. 

A few illustrative extracts, chosen almost at random:

“The sky peeled white in the north-west gale, leaving the eye no refuge from the sun’s cold glare. Distance was blown away, and every tree and church and farm came closer, scoured of its skin of haze. Down the estuary I could see trees nine miles away, bending over in the wind-whipped sea. New horizons stood up bleached and stark, plucked out by the cold talons of the gale.”

“The tide was rising in the estuary; sleeping waders crowded the saltings; plovers were restless. I expected the hawk to drop from the sky, but he came low from inland. He was a skimming black crescent, cutting across the saltings, sending up a cloud of dunlin dense as a swarm of bees. He drove up between them, black shark in shoals of silver fish, threshing and plunging. With a sudden stab down he was clear of the swirl and was chasing a solitary dunlin up into the sky. The dunlin seemed to come slowly back to the hawk. It passed into his dark outline, and did not reappear. There was no brutality, no violence. The hawk’s foot reached out, and gripped, and squeezed, and quenched the dunlin’s heart as effortlessly as a man’s finger extinguishing an insect. Languidly, easily, the hawk glided down to an elm on the island to plume and eat his prey.”

“At two o’clock, a crackling blackness of jackdaws swept up from stubble and scattered out across the sky with a noise like dominoes being rattled together on a pub table.”

I read this in the same week that I read Brian J. Ford’s Sensitive Souls (1999), a magnificent study, rich in the latest scientific information and insight, that debunks man’s sense of his own superiority and illustrates how all of life – animals, plants, bacteria – is sentient in ways we would never have suspected, often with a rich emotional life and complex sense of family and social structure.

The case he makes is that we are all “cousins” in life, and should act accordingly. The back-cover blurb says the book “offers an all-embracing new vision of life”, which indeed it does. As I read it, images of Gulag livestock rearing and abusive abattoirs constantly came to mind. This book, and Baker’s, go a long way towards opening our eyes to the incredible beauty and complexity of the natural world, but also to how far we have debased it and, in so doing, debased ourselves.

Badger’s Bike Squad

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-10-06-38Badger’s Bike Squad (BBS) comprises Adrian Mathews (Badger), Steve Birkbeck, retired British detective and stand-up comedian manqué, and Yves Krier, French playwright, wit and raconteur. Once a week this intrepid trio sets out for a one-day cycle ride, a different person devising the route each time and ensuring that there’s a decent auberge at midway point for lunch. The aim? A nice day out, a bit of a laugh, a cycling challenge, and to discover the highways and byways of rural Touraine.

The latest round trip of 58 kilometres was to Chinon, taking in the ruins of an old abbey (where the final campaign against the English was decided upon), Emilien’s excellent wine cellar and the beautiful old town of Chinon. But the adventure was not without its mishaps. You can watch the video by clicking HERE

A video of the previous ride down the valley of the river Creuse can be viewed HERE.

Watch this blog for further BBS escapades!

The Saint-Epain - Chinon round route.

The Saint-Epain – Chinon round route.

Badger's Bike Squad: Steve Birkbeck, Adrian Mathews (Badger), Yves Krier

Badger’s Bike Squad: Steve Birkbeck, Adrian Mathews (Badger), Yves Krier

 The Badger Song, written by Steve Birkbeck

I’m pedaling on for Badger
He’s in front, he’s in front
I’m pedaling on for Badger
He’s behind, he’s behind
No matter where I am
Paris or Vietnam
Badger is always on my mind

I’m spinning spokes and flying with the wind  
I can hear gears a-changing Badger’s close behind
He’s closing in so fast
My legs aren’t going to last
Badger is always on my mind

The skies go on for ever
The mountain climbs are tough
When I fear I will surrender
When I feel I’ve had enough
Badger’s there beside me
He whispers words so kind
Yes Badger, Badger, he’s always on my mind.

VERSION 2.

CHORUS:
Badger on the run
We’re going to have some fun
When bikes run free
We know that he
He’s the One.

Badger thinks of things that might have been
Of all the valleys never seen
And so he pedals on in song
Rolls towards another dream
We’re not so far behind
Badger’s always on our mind.

CHORUS

Badger’s kind, Badger’s calm,
Badger’s wisdom does no harm
There’s no one he cannot charm
For everyone he does belong
So pedal on to search and find
Badger, he’s always on our mind.

CHORUS

 

Blackberry Way

img_1408One of the joys of a dawn cycle ride in mid-September is that you can skip breakfast and head for your favourite blackberry bushes. In the shops, a tiny punnet of blackberries costs at least 3 euros, and they’re probably imported from Mexico. Out here, they’re free – and plentiful. This morning I must have eaten over two hundred, while humming Blackberry Way of course – The Move’s 1968 hit, and probably one of the most depressing songs ever penned. Tomorrow I shall stick to quoting Sylvia Plath’s mesmerising poem Blackberrying which includes the lines: “I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies, / Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen. / The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.”

It is a sad reflection on our day and age – and our churlish abandonment of Mother Nature – that if you Google “Blackberry” the entire screen fills up with references to the make of mobile phone, with not an edible soft fruit in sight. 

Blackberries are rich in dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin E, anti-oxidants and minerals, and they are very low in calories. However, let it be admitted, loud and clear, that they are also outrageous imposters, since they are not in fact berries at all from a botanical point of view.  But then neither – I hear you groan – is a mobile phone. At least the fruit of the humble bramble looks somewhat like a berry. Ah verily, ’tis not alone his inky cloak that can denote him truly…

A blackberry isn’t a single fruit but a circular arrangement of 80 to 100 drupelets, like a miniature bunch of grapes for the dining-room table in a doll’s house. After this morning’s overdose, I was inclined to believe they also had hallucinogenic properties, since shortly afterwards I came face to face with a vision of an abandoned trampoline in an otherwise empty field. However, I took the photograph below to confirm that it was not a trippy apparition induced by blackberry delirium. At any rate, it inspired the following immortal verse. 

The saddest thing I’ve ever seen
Is an abandoned trampoline.
Yet show me the man who would not renounce
A trampoline that’s lost its bounce…
 
img_1410
© 2018 Adrian Mathews