By Tony Stafford
I forget who it was, some comedian or other, who had a spot in his act, 20 years or so ago, where he said: “Today, I will be talking mainly on…” In his memory, forgotten or no, today I will be talking mainly of swearing, on and off camera, driving or cycling through England and France, cricket, football, the British Grand Prix, Wimbledon tennis and even finding time for a little horse racing in the same two countries.
On Radio 4 yesterday early morning, on the way to the gallops at Newmarket, there was an interesting programme devoted to the Yorkshire Dales and cycling thereon. The presenter interviewed mainly old but much fitter versions of the human condition than myself, traversing the climbs and descents that Mark Cavendish and the rest were to undertake later in the day.
It made you want to get out the bike – haven’t actually ever had one – and do your impression of Eddy Merckx. I’d already done the next best thing over the past few days. The M11 echoes part of stage 3, Cambridge to London, and even such an inconsequential trip to drop off Mrs S at the Westfield shopping centre (one mile, or 1.6 kilometres) also takes in a little bit of said stage – as the official tour guide has it Cambridge to Londres – along the QE Olympic Park.
I think the boss of those ubiquitous Addison Lee cabs must have done the scheduling for the stages. “Wouldn’t go that way mate, there’s loads of traffic – look at my screen”, he’d say. However else would they say Leeds to Harrogate is 119 miles (actually 57); York to Sheffield (actual 57, Tour 125) and Cambridge to LONDRES – can’t catch on surely – 94 as against the 59 that my meter claims.
I even did a bit of the fourth stage, Le Touquet, Paris Plage to Lille, well only the bit passing the Le Touquet exit on the Toll road. You may not know it but the Paris Plage bit was coined because of the propensity of wealthy Parisians – bolstered by English nobs looking for a special weekend – to get their coastal air in the nearest spot to the capital.
The plage (beach) is spectacular on what is known as the Opal coast, a name reinforced every time I drive down to Deauville as I did early Wednesday morning. Every year they have a race, the Enduropale, on the magnificent beach, in which hundreds of motorcyclists from weekenders to top professionals compete.
I’ve only seen that on the box. Going myself to Deauville, my favoured modus operandi is on the 1.23 a.m. train from the Channel Tunnel terminal, arriving at 2.58 a.m. in Calais. Three hours to Deauville, petit dejeuner (€9.50) in the Ibis hotel by the marina and then a kip in the car park before they start charging at 9 a.m.
By then on Wednesday morning, the Arqana sales viewing was in full swing. The odd drink, lunch in the restaurant and plenty of time spent in the auditorium kept me going. From the kick off at 11 a.m. the action was much more akin to Keeneland than Tatts at Newmarket and it took a while to register why.
For a start there was a bigger turnover of auctioneers, all apparently – as far as O level French and a few frog (is that OK, ed?) relatives enable me to twig – red hot. But then it gradually dawned that all the way round the foot of the auditorium upwards of a dozen spotters – mostly female apart from the odd bespectacled M. Smooth of the Stella Cidre ads – screamed out their delight as a bidder entered their eyeline.
One of the auctioneers, I’m sure, is having – or hoping to have – a relationship with Alexandre, one of the more obviously up-market members of the team, such was his encouragement to “Alexandre” as her voice swung into ever-increasingly shrill decibels as she triumphantly topped her colleagues (rivals?). Then as soon as the lot was sold, she and the rest of the douzaine calmly marked their catalogues, smoothed down their dresses and waited for the next excitement.
Our excitement was the sale of a Martaline colt – needs his nuts out apparently – for €53,000. Good luck to whoever races him. Then it was off again, onto the 8.20 p.m. return which I safely made no thanks at all to Stan Moore’s lorry, whose cargo, carrying a winner from that afternoon’s Deauville track action, held me up for at least ten minutes at one mini roundabout and then on the narrow road up to the big Normandy bridge over the Seine estuary. The happy part was arriving home by 9 p.m. Neat, that train.
Now I can’t help thinking that they should have a stage 3A, from Buckingham Palace, via the Tunnel, to Le Touquet, where the houses in some of the sandy off beach areas remind me of the Battledown estate on the short cut from Charlton Kings to Cheltenham racecourse. No don’t try it, you’ll hold me up.
The mileage for that proposed stage is ideal, 143, and Cav would have plenty of time for an early-morning massage and a meal in one of the 70 restaurants. Wonder whether they and all the bikes are catching the train over? [I notice that Cav won’t be making the journey as wretched luck has seen him abandon after dislocating his shoulder and damaging ligaments in a crash on Stage 1]
As I said the 1.23 a.m. is never too busy even in the season, and it’s only £22 one way, even for a minibus load. Imagine how much money the Sky cycling team could save. Chris Froome would have to drive, though.
There’ll be the odd cricket fan on board. Le Touquet, as I suggested earlier is the sort of place that Henry Blofeld, my dear old thing, with whom I once shared a stage (table) at Salisbury racecourse – he the provider of tales, me of losers, each for the bounty of a case of Veuve Clicquot’s vintage – would have repaired to in the 1950’s for a few days with his chums.
The nearest among present-day commentators is nice Andrew Strauss, although South African-born, is or rather was nothing other than the perfect Englishman until during yesterday’s bicentenary match at Lord’s, he was caught saying the c-word in referring to that other SA-born Englishman, Kevin Pietersen.
Of all the swear words, that one, even the initial letter of which I’m embarrassed to repeat – my wife wonders whether it’s c for cricket, philistine! – that’s the one that induces the most horror. If Ron Atkinson, Andy Gray and old hairy arms could lose their jobs for their indiscretions, Straussy must be walking in dread.
The other awful swearing of the week came from Andy Murray, who reverted to being a Scotsman again – until he wins another Wimbledon – after his lunatic barrage of post-defeat vitriol, delivered even as I shot along the A28 in northern France.
We have to hound these people out of sport, along with everyone we don’t like. For instance I don’t like the look of that Louis van Gaal – he of the staring eyes. Have you noticed, all of his penalty takers, van Persie, Robben, Kuyt, Schneider and Huntelaar, all share the stare. As for that substitution, putting in the guy who let in seven against Arsenal a couple of years back, a man as Shearer noted who had saved just two of 20 penalties for Newcastle. I don’t know about you, he took up so much of the goal I’m amazed Costa Rica scored any.
Now van Gaal’s trick will be to get the likes of Tom Cleverley to get the eyes. We know already he’ll be hypnotising all his transfer targets so they’ll want to come, never mind no European football. Hard as it is for me to say, I think the new Mad United will win the League this season with so many free midweeks.
Don’t think the relatively erratic Hamilton will drag back his deficit on team mate Rosberg at Silverstone today, while Roger Federer, back on his favourite piece of grass – wonder where van Gaal’s is? – can beat Djokovic.
For those of you who like the Tour and don’t drive, you can see tomorrow’s finish at the Palace. Stay in town overnight, and then be up early to get the Eurostar from St Pancras to Lille (8.04 a.m.). It takes 1 hour 40 minutes and if you’re quick, you’ll get it for £73 and see the conclusion to stage 4 – in another country!