Saturday 1 August 2009

In the summer time when the weather is fine....

Ok, I’ve recovered from the party. I’ve slept for several days straight, eaten ALL the left over potato salad and picked up every crushed plastic cup lying in the grass.

And listened to some music that isn’t rap.

Unfortunately whilst I was doing this summer decided to continue it’s relentless march towards autumn and already it’s August.

Three weeks ago my skin was still white, the party was a nebulous concept and the Tour de France bike race had just peddled off. Three weeks later my arms look like a builder’s, the party is just a slight worry concerning the future and the Tour de France riders have hung up their saddles for another year.

The heat of the summer unfolds to a backdrop of, lycra on steel, sweat and mountain yellow and green (the jersey’s) and the winner’s podium on the Champs-Élysées.

And then it’s mosquitoes, the President goes on holiday and the supermarkets fill their shelves with school things.

If I were in England I would be measuring time by the progress through a series of Cricket Test Matches, leather on willow, red on white, spit and polish.

And then the supermarkets full of school things, the Prime Minister leaving for holiday and flies.

There are many differences between the two countries but the summer sporting schedule is an illuminating one.

This year in France the Tour saw the return of Lance Armstrong and a battle between young pretender and ancient champion, in England the struggle between old colonial masters and young nation upstarts for The Ashes.

Both events are seeped in more convention and attitude than is probably healthy for the uniformed spectator and both events display, once personal prejudice has been set aside, impressive athletic prowess. But something essentially different separates them, as deeply as the waters that flow between Dover and Calais.

This year the cyclists climbed the Alps through driving rain, snow capped peaks looming above them and later toiled across the plains in blistering heat, nothing stopped them. If they fell they were pushed back onto the bike. In contrast this is what happened in England.
“Shadows stop play.”

Is it a sign of the times? In my youth, listening to the commentary on radio 3 in a field in Lincolnshire I was sometimes frustrated by “bad light stops play” – but shadows?

There was a time when in Tennis a commentator described Boris Becker as confusing his opponents by grunting so hard that they were unable to judge whether to play the noise or the ball. Surely a cricket player can handle a shadow?

Still, you wouldn’t catch me in a field standing and waiting for someone to throw a ball made of wood as hard as they could at me.

On my parent’s bookshelves there was a book called “How to be an Alien”. It was full of practical advice for a foreigner coming to live in England and explained many of our obscure customs. The book survived my parents’ deaths and sits on my own overcrowded shelves.

From within its pages comes the following – “Continentals think that Life is a game, the English think cricket is a game.”

Anyhow, as another writer wrote - Paul Fournel (though I owe it to The Guardian newspaper for this information) – “With the end of the Tour de France the summer reaches its moment of sadness: long, hot afternoons and no longer anything to get your teeth into."

Well, I hope he is a little wrong. I’m off for a croissant right now for example.

And how did ancient champion Armstrong get on?

In his own words - "It went well," he said. "I felt good. It was a little aggressive at the bottom, but I can't complain. For an old fart, coming in here and getting on the podium with these young guys, that's not so bad.”


(photo guardian newspaper)

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