Saturday, 21 July 2012

La Tour de France

 We first got seriously interested in “La Tour” when it passed through a neighbouring village of Le Grand Pressigny in July 2008. We visited the local Office de Tourism, and could only find one notice on the wall which said the Caravan would pass through at 2.30 p.m and the race at 4.00 p.m. We were not sure what this all meant but we decided to attend.
Luckily our friends Jim and Pauline have a house virtually on the route of the race and hosted a BBQ on the day. The first thing we noticed was a small bus with a little stage in front sponsored by PMU, the French betting organisation. On stage was a compere and two young ladies holding quizzes and giving away hats and large hands for prizes.
Gareth with prizes won
The crowds began to gather to see the caravan, and they were rewarded with the site of hoards of sponsor’s floats, jettisoning all kinds of goodies to the crowd. We, so called professional people, found ourselves scrabbling on the ground competing to pick up hats, key rings, mini-saucisson etc. Not an edifying sight!
The Peleton sweeps through
Suddenly we saw three cyclists approaching, they were a break away group in the lead of the race. After a delay of five minutes the main group of racers, the peloton, arrived. The group of 150 cyclists wheel to wheel and six or seven abreast swept through. They were followed by copious support cars with five or six cycles on each roof, and then it was over.

Since then we have watched the highlights program each evening during the period of the race. We enjoy seeing the differing countryside of France and enjoy watching the animal behaviour of the peloton as it sweeps around roundabouts and swallows up those cyclists who have the temerity to try to escape from its clutches. We also marvel at the strength, courage and fitness of the competitors as they scale huge mountains with pedal power.
So what’s the history of the tour and what are the mechanics of the race?

George Lefevre a journalist with “L’Auto” magazine came up with the concept and was encouraged by his editor, Henri Desgrange, as a publicity stunt to end a circulation war with its competitor “Le Velo”. So in 1903 sixty intrepid competitors set off on the inaugural race. It was won by Maurice Garmin, nicknamed the chimney sweep, only to be disqualified the following year  when it was discovered that he had taken the train part of the way!
Float in Caravan

In 1930 the concept of the Caravan was enacted. These days the sponsors are charged 150,000 Euros for three floats. There are approximately 250 floats and the Caravan starts about an hour and a half in front of the race. The caravan proceeds in groups of five, takes forty minutes to pass and stretches out for 25 kilometres. In1994 the bank GAN gave the following details the freebees it threw away:
  • 170,000 caps
  • 80,000 badges
  • 535.000 copies of the race daily newspaper
The whole lot weighed 32 tons.

The modern race is a team event of  between 20 to 22 teams each of 9 members. The teams are invited to attend by the ruling body, the “Amaury Sport Organisation”. The race lasts for three weeks and covers some 3,200 kilometres and always ends in Paris.

At the end of each day the cyclist with the lowest aggregate time wears the yellow jersey. The ultimate winner is the one wearing the yellow jersey at the end of the race. Points are awarded for winning each stage and for being first at intermediate places on the route  each day. The cyclist with the most cumulative points wears the green jersey. The best climber in the mountain stages wears a polkadot jersey and the white jersey is awarded to the person with the lowest cumulative time who is under twenty six years of age.

Tour trivia:
·         Average calories consumed per day for a competitor is 5,900 calories
·         217 miles of barricades are erected along the route manned by 13,000 gendarmes
·         15 million spectators line the route
·         On French TV there are 2965 hours of coverage
·         The cyclists cumulatively use 42,000 water bottles during the race
·         The cyclists are supported by 4,500 support staff using 1,500 vehicles
·         A survey indicated that 47% of spectators first and foremost came to see the caravan!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The funeral of Mme Le Roux

This week we attended the funeral of our neighbour for over 20 years Mme Marcelle Le Roux.
Ever since we bought our house in La Railliere, she with her youngest son, Jackie, have lived across the lane. From day one she was always warm, friendly and welcoming. On our every visit to our house she insisted that we went over and had a coffee with her. She and Jackie lived close to the land. They grew most of their fruit and vegetables in their small holding, kept at various time geese and rabbits for the pot, and she insisted on keeping chickens (Jackie used to remark that the eggs they collected must have been the most expensive in France). Jackie used to go hunting and often we would see Madame sitting in the evening sun plucking something or other. She would bottle tomatoes, store apples in trays, crack walnuts to make oil and preserve all other matters of fruit and vegetables for the winter months.

As you would expect she spoke not a word of English but we managed to converse well enough with her at our coffee visits. Our conversations would be about the weather, the family and any local news, beyond that it would be difficult to continue and we would give our thanks and leave. We would always leave with a gift from her of fresh eggs and in the summer she would give us some of her large, often ugly but delicious tomatoes. On one notable visit she gave us first a drink and then a bottle of her Eau de Vie; it actually evaporated on my lips! She was in the kindest sense a simple country woman.

She had in total seven children all of whom are still alive, over twenty grandchildren and countless great grandchildren. There was always family dropping in to see her, and it was clear she was deeply loved by all. She had been widowed before we met her but was the centre of her family’s life.

Being ninety-seven on her death meant that she was born in the middle of the First World War and must have lived through some turbulent times here in Lesigny. We have pictures of the Marie draped in Swastikas and being guarded by German troops, and have found in local books pictures of the bridge across the Creuse after it had been bombed by Allied forces  The village was eventually liberated by a force of the SAS{in the Marie is a plaque of the SAS badge).

Madame Le Roux always told us that she wished we could stay at the house longer, but we explained that we had to work to pay the mortgage. She prophetically told us she would be too old by the time we could stay longer. In recent years her health began to deteriorate, she became diabetic and had to have insulin injections twice daily from the diabetic nurse, who would arrive with a loud vroom when she parked her Porsche outside our house (this would not happen with the NHS). Her balance deteriorated and for the last eighteen months she had to live in a care home, though Jackie said she never complained

We did not know quite what to expect at the funeral, not being French or catholic, we just hoped that we could sneak quietly in at the back and observe. We are aware that different communities have different traditions around funerals. I remember in the 1970’s Liz being dumfounded at the funeral of one of my aunts in South Wales. The service was in the house where after the men went off to the burial whilst the women remained in the house. This has changed now.

Back to the funeral, we arrived at the church to find the mourners outside awaiting the hearse and the family. The coffin and the family entered the church where after we all filed in. We were pleased to see the church almost full. The service was recognisable in parts, but not the hymns. Members of the family read prayers and poems, and we recognised the 23rd Psalm, the Lords Prayer and the bible reading beginning “in my father’s house there are many rooms” etc. We were partly expecting a mass , but we gathered that a memorial mass would be held in a few weeks time.

At the end of the service we were requested, from the back rows forward on either side, to proceed down the centre aisle to where the coffin was positioned. There people sprinkled water on the coffin and placed money in collection boxes at the side of the coffin before walking before the family and out of the church via the side aisle. Outside the church we waited for the coffin and the family to arrive, before the hearse set off slowly to the village cemetery followed by family and friends walking slowly behind. At this stage we thought it best not to follow. We found this part very moving and felt that Madame had received a good and respectful send off.

We are sad that she is no longer our neighbour but glad that we knew her,

Monday, 9 July 2012

Le Criquet

Recently I heard from Nick, our local French builder (via Blackburn), that cricket was coming to our local town, La Roche Posay.

The plan is to create a pitch at the local hippodrome. The town website had an announcement that at 14.00 hours on 27th May 2012 cricket was coming to the town. It said that the site was ideal for the pitch and it could use the facilities already in place such as easy parking, changing rooms and the use of a grandstand. The opening event was a match for Poitou Cricket Club (formed in 2011) with the Samur Club. Nick had also heard that they further hoped to establish a national training centre there (unconfirmed).

Having caught my attention I decided to do some research into the present standing of cricket in France. According to France Cricket, the French governing body, there are some 69 registered clubs in France with some 850 registered players. Interestingly over half of the registered players are French with no expat or commonwealth connection. They are presently ranked 49th in the world but this did not stop, in 2001, their under 17 team winning the World ICC Championship in Corfu. They are also the reigning Olympic Silver Medallists, more of that later.

 When the ICC sold world broadcasting rights recently, they allocated some $300K to the development of the game in France. Progress has been made by being able to incorporate the game into the national curriculum for primary schools in the Haut Vienne Dept. They further hope to expand this into the Nord Dept in September 2012. This of course is the indoor softball version, but the advent of 20/20 and the other shorter versions of the game are within the sights of the National Governing Organisation. I think the full test match format may prove too much. It is likely that our French cousins will fail to understand how you can play for 5 days for an honourable draw.

There is a document in the French National Archives from 1458 which mentions "Le Criquet”. Horror of horrors does this mean the game was invented in France? The game mentioned also records the death of a player, but as the match was played near Calais, it is highly likely that it was played by the English. There are other historical French cricket records available such as the proposed MCC tour of France being called off in 1798 because of the Revolution, and there are also records of a match, in 1860, between the  Paris Cricket Club and a team called Warwickshire Knickerbockers!

The Olympic Gold Medal Match was a 12 aside match against Great Britain held at Vincennes, outside Paris, in 1900. After close first innings scores,  the French collapsed to 27 all out in the second innings. The match was largely irrelevant as the only two other teams in the competition, Belgium and Holland, had already withdrawn. Cricket has not appeared in the games since.

The Daily Mail in typical style has offered likely translations for our French cousins:
Batsman    Batteur
Bowler       Lanceur
Leg Before Wicket (LBW)    Jambe Devant Guichet (JDG)
Silly Mid Off        Milieu fou
Sticky Wicket      Wicket gluant
Maiden Over       Fin de serie d’une jeune fille
Daisycutter        Couper de marguerites
My mother could have hit that with a stick of rhubarb.      Ma mere pourrait avoir frappe avec un baton de rhubarbe.
That’s just not cricker.   Ce n’est pas le cricket
Owzat!!?    Er… owzat!?

Poitou Cricket Club promise a full program of matches in 2013, until then we shall have to wait for the sound of le cuir sur le saule.