Thursday, 11 August 2011

8th August 1991

Driving back yesterday from a visit to the town of Vouvray, which is on the Loire, having been to purchase some wine with a friend. We passed a place where we know we had stopped for a picnic on the 8th August 1991.

Strange you may think, but on that date about 1 p.m. as we were getting into our filled baguette a gentleman, obviously English from his dress, rushed over to us. ""Do you have a radio, have you heard any news? " he anxiously enquired. "Yes", we replied, " isn't great that John McCarthy has been freed ". "No no" he replied,"what's the cricket score?"
You can take an Englishman away from cricket but not the cricket out of an Englishman (spoken by a Welshman)

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Le Tour de France

As a cyclist who presently only cycles up to 8 Km (if its flat) at any one time,  any further than that would leave me walking like John Wayne for days, I have total admiration for the competitors who for 6 days a week for 3 weeks cycle 150 Km per day over the Alps. Pyrenees and any other mountains they can find.

I enjoy watching Le Tour edited highlights, as you are able to see the varying countryside as the tour crosses and recrosses France.  Although the scenes when the cyclists are battling up 1 in 10 inclines, on roads overcrowded with spectators, then find themselves accompanied  by an overweight man dressed as a chicken, who then runs alongside them shouting(or should that be clucking) encouragement, I find  somewhat bizarre. A few years ago on a wet day in France I had to resort watching it live, it was somewhat unfortunate, as all the cyclists were protesting about something,  it meant they did not race each other, but merely ambled along for five hours. It was like watching paint dry. C’est la vie.

In my university days I was very interested in the behaviour of social insects, such as ants and termites. The pelaton (main group of cyclists) behaves in a similar way in that it seems to develop a persona and behaviour of its own. It swarms around roundabouts and swallows up (mostly) any cyclist who has the temerity to try to escape from its clutches.

In July 2008 Le Tour passed through the neighbouring village of Le Grand Pressigny. We were excited at the prospect and searched in the village’s Office de Tourisme, and neighbouring ones, for information about the event to no avail. Eventually we found a small note saying the caravan would pass through at 1.00 p.m. and the race at 3.00 p.m.  Caravan, what was that ? Would it be a procession of cars towing trailers?  Time would tell.

Gareth shows off his prizes
The day arrived and on the route, just outside a friend’s house, was parked a bus with a small stage in front, sponsored by PMU, the group involved in the French betting industry. On the stage were a compare and two lightly clad young women. The day was looking up. They started holding competitions, and we were extremely proud when our son Gareth, won a prize of big hands, a pen and a hat by answering the question in French. C’est mon garcon!!

The caravan duly arrived, consisting of sponser’s floats and floats made up of racing horses , lions etc and also with young women poking out of cars sun roofs. It passed through for about half an hour. During its passage they threw into the crowd hats, pens, bottle openers, mini saucisson etc for which we all scrabbled around  on the ground picking them up. It must have been a sight watching a professional accountant elbowing children away (rather gently persuading them to move) to pick up a mini saucisson.

Excitement started to rise along the road, which was only 5 or 6 meters wide, when  3 cyclists (a break away) came into view. Three minutes later the swarm of the pelaton arrived 6 to 8 abreast and nose to tail. They were so close that you could touch them and then within 20 second it was gone.

Hope it comes again soon.
The peliton arrives with Alberto
Contardo in the yellow
The peliton leaves

Monday, 1 August 2011

Watching the Olympics whilst in France

The announcement recently that there was only one year to go before the start of the Olympics in London, reminded me that since the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 we have watched the games (along with various World Athletics Championships) here in France.

Are there any differences in the coverage? You would expect no but there some subtle and some not so sutable differences. France seems to have the same two comentators who cover virtually all the major sportrs, athletics, football and rugby and others I am sure. I can remember David Coleman getting excited at the end of close races etc but its nothing compared to this duo especialy when French athletes are involved. "Extrordinaire" is uttered many many times. So if it happens so often is it that extraordinary?  Nevermind lets move on.

Are we as two nations different in our nationalism ? I remember when there was a British athlete just about to take part in a semi final race,  which we were getting quite excited about . All of a sudden the coverage switched to a horse dressage competition. We hurled abuse (mildly) at the TV until we realised that a French competitor was about to win a medal in the dressage. I am sure we would have switched from dressage to athletics if the reverse was to happen!

If a French serious medal hope is a day away from a final the whole news media goes into a frenzy. I remember the fuss around Marie-Jose Peric, a fine French athlete, who won gold medals at the Barcelona and Atlanta games at 400 meters. The pitch of the comentators was rising by the minute as her event approached. The race before her event was just about to take place when the coverage suddenly switched to the warm up track where we saw Marie-Jose gently jogging around the track doing her warm up.

We are all to some extent nationalistic but to be fair to the French if the event does not contain one of their countrymen or women they are very supportive of British athletes, Linford Christie for instance was well thought of, and they absolutely loved Paula Ratcliffe as she spoke French to them when interviewed. I suppose better a european than an american.

Our greatest enjoyment as a family watching the games came from watching the French interviewer who took his place in the line of international journalists who spoke to the athletes just after they had completed their event. His name is Nelson (Montfort) who is fluent not only in French, but also in English, Spanish,  Italian and possibly others. The sure look of bewilderment on the face say of  an athlete from the USA  who answers in English for about 10 seconds a simple question from Nelson , then hears Nelson expounds his excited translation lasting at least 30 seconds. Then there is the bemused look on the face of a Russian male high-jumper when asked what he thinks of the chances of Marie-Jose in the ladies 400 meters in two days time.

Nelson's most surreal moment when he interviewed an Ethiopian athlete after his 10K race. The athlete spoke only his native tongue so he had his coach with him to transate. The interview went thus: Nelson asks the question first in French, then in Italian for the Coach. Coach then asks the question in the athletes native tongue, athlete answers , coach translates the few words into Italian before Nelson expounds for 30 seconds in French. Priceless.

Les araignees- spiders

Anyone who has an old house in rural France will know about the problem of the spiders. Consulting my nature books the ones who are the vast majority in our house are Daddy-Long-Legs-Spiders (Pholcus Phalongiodes). They are described as usually found in buildings and houses, typicaly haning upside down and who spin a tangled untidy web. That's the little critters alright.

You do not have to be arachnophobic to have a severe dislike/hatred of the little blighters they just seem to be everywhere.Nevermind the cobwebs theres nothing like looking up to the eave's ceiling above your bed to see a large one just sitting there gloating at you, just waiting for your other half to say "get up I can't sleep with that thing there get rid of it". It's not that you can just swat them as they leave a mark on your nice white ceiling oh no you must remove it quickly and efficiently in a tissue or such like.

No sooner have you think you have thoroughly cleaned your house when there they are again. At the end of the season as you leave the house for the last time you spray insectocide in all the places they haunt hoping to have got rid of the blighters. The following year when you enter the house for the first time you feel that slight touch on your hair from the cobwebs and you know they are back. They congregate around the windows and doors, on the ceiling, under chairs, on the beams you name it where else. They just seem to be "breeding like rabbits" if you can excuse the expression. Where to they get the energy to grow from? There are not mega-numbers of flies caught in their webs.

Mr Henrie
Yesterday my able assistant (Mr Henrie) and I had completed a full sweep and suck of the premises, got you  I thought as I sat on the throne in our white tiled bathroom in the evening. Looking over my shoulder I saw not one, not two but three of the little s--s casually walking up the tiles. When  I returned in the morning to do battle once again they were not to be seen. Do you ever get the feeling they are taunting you.

One last thought if all the house spiders in all French houses were gathered together how many tons do you think they would weigh. Food for thought - well not food -yuck