Lights out

We woke yesterday morning at 07:00am to find that it had been raining in the early hours but was now, thanks to a stiff wind, starting to dry out. The sky was positively leaden and, while we doubted we would make it to the pointage, after 4 days off the bike, we were keen to get out. On the way to the club’s rendez vous point, we passed a few, but not many, other cyclists.

About a dozen hardy club mates had gathered and, as we set off, it started to rain again, albeit gently. The wind was still blowing hard so I tucked in behind our former Directeur Sportif, not a good choice of protection as he’s much smaller and lighter than me, but then aren’t they all? As he dropped back to chat to someone, I went to the front of the bunch and rode alongside M Le President. The rain had now started falling in earnest as we approached the Promenade des Anglais, M Le President muttered something about his waterproof and dropped back. I forged on, head down, only to be pulled back by my husband who advised that everyone else had turned tail and headed for home. We wisely did the same.

Predictably, we got drenched riding back and it took several minutes under a hot shower to warm us up. We went out to collect the newspapers and some shopping,  returning home resigned to spending the rest of the day indoors, in the warmth. We spent a lazy afternoon watching a veritable feast of derby matches: Everton v Liverpool, Arsenal v Chelsea, Barcelona v Real Madrid. The more fancied teams winning in all three games. My two teams had both played on Saturday. The boys in claret and blue had a hard fought home draw with Spurs while Nice, away at Sochaux, were undone by a goal which didn’t actually go over the line, according to the replay.

While enjoying the football, I pottered around in the kitchen preparing some meals as my beloved is home all week and will, no doubt, require feeding at regular intervals.

We were woken early this morning by loud claps of thunder and lightening overhead and when we got up found we had no electricity. I could see that the other apartment blocks in the Domaine had lights at a number of the windows; obviously the problem was restricted to our building. Actually, it was restricted to our block of the building, although the lift and the lights in the common parts were working, we just had to wait for the problem to be fixed.

At 11:00am, I decided to investigate what progress was being made to repair the problem and, in the lift, I bumped into my neighbour’s housekeeper who lives in one of the other buildings. She advised that the lightening had thrown out the circuit breaker. I said we’d tried that already, without success. We returned to the flat, she opened the door to the fuses and pressed a switch, in the bottom left-hand corner, which we didn’t know was there, and voila, normal service was resumed. Needless to say, we both felt, and looked, more than a little sheepish.

Parisian diary

I took the train from Antibes to Paris: just over 5 hours door-to-door and a bargain at Euros 80 for a first-class return. I passed the journey lost in the pages of Sir Chris Hoy’s biography a very readable adjunct to “Heroes, Villains and Velodromes.

On my arrival in Paris, the skies cleared and the rain stopped so I decided to walk to our hotel on the Left Bank, near the Sorbonne. Each time we go to Paris we endeavour to stay in a different quarter as I enjoy traversing the streets looking at the magnificent architecture and window shopping – by far the safest type of shopping! In addition, I love browsing the art galleries, antiques and book shops.

I also adore finding us great restaurants for lunch and/or dinner. Now, of course, I could just fish out a guide book and book one of their many suggestions, but where would be the fun in that? No, I like to walk around, sizing up the restaurants and their menus before making my choice.

Over the years I’ve had many pleasurable trips to Paris. My first came courtesy of my French pen-friend who, while she lived in Grenoble, had a large family living in Paris. I spent a week with her aunt in an impressive apartment just off Boulevard Haussmann and traipsed to my heart’s content around all the sights of Paris and Versailles. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to visit it on a regular basis.

When I told my Dad we were off to Paris, he reminded me of the trip we had taken with them some years ago, at about the same time of year, where we had eaten “our most expensive meal”. He still has a copy of the bill from the now-defunct “Lucas Carton” near Place de la Madeleine.

I have to say it was a truly memorable meal but, at the time, I had no idea how much it had cost as neither my Mum nor I had menus with prices. I started with polenta and truffles, while everyone else had scallop tartar. Dad and my beloved followed that with lamb while Mum and I had lobster, at my Dad’s urging, as it’s my Mum’s favourite. We elected to have the wines chosen by the chef to accompany the meal, but didn’t have room for a dessert or coffee, although we did manage to demolish all of the mouth-watering, petit fours.

My Dad picked up the bill, which was not what I had intended. It was some months later that he asked me what I thought it had cost. The tilt of his eyebrows indicated that my initial bid was way off the mark. But he did concede it had been well worth the money.

My first job in Paris was to interview 20 French dentists about their periodontology regimes. After speaking to a couple, it was clear that a 4-page questionnaire was several pages too many despite the inducement of a free gift. I decided an alternative strategy was required and based myself outside of the exhibition, close to one of the many lunch-time venues. Sure enough, by 11:30am, there was a long queue of people waiting to be served and what better way to while away the time answering my questionnaire. By the time lunch was over, I had filled my quota.

After a delicious meal in a small family-run restaurant on Wednesday evening, we invited a business colleague to share some champagne and oysters with us on Thursday evening at a restaurant close to the Palais des Congrès where we have previously enjoyed many similar evenings. Like me, he’s a recent convert to cycling and we are considering organising a cycling trip next year for his readership, to coincide with the club’s “ Brevet Kivilev”.

I used to view oysters with great suspicion. After all, they look like large blobs of snot. Well, they do don’t they? However, I decided that millions of French people can’t be wrong and took the plunge. Now, they’re one of my favourite foods and I regret all those wasted oyster eating opportunities. So, if you’ve never tried them, go-ahead, just do it. I promise you won’t regret it.

I bought my beloved an oyster opening kit for last Xmas (among other things) so we can enjoy them at home. I like them best with a squeeze of lemon juice and a glass (or two) of champagne. As I’m fond of saying “I’m a woman of simple tastes, all of them expensive”.

Friday morning I rose early for a run along the Seine. I can’t totally abandon my new regime. Although my husband had promised to keep Friday clear, I truly did not anticipate seeing him at all. However, we shared lunch at a delightful Corsican restaurant I found in the Marais before he returned to the exhibition for a further round of business meetings.

Bike friendly Paris!

We rose on Saturday to find leaden skies. It rained from time to time but fortunately, not heavily. My beloved decided he wanted to look around the Louvre. I knew once he saw the queue, he would decide otherwise, and was proved correct. He hates to wait for even 5 minutes: strange behaviour from a guy who generally keeps everyone else waiting!

However, we happily whiled away the morning wandering around the area and I found a fabulous restaurant for lunch a few doors down from Le Grand Verfour, which, sadly, was not open for Saturday lunch – maybe, next time.

While from time to time, I enjoy a few days away, equally I enjoy getting back home. I’m already looking forward to tomorrow morning’s ride, weather permitting, to Roquebrune Cap Martin. It’s a 90km round trip for us and I still recall how equally exhausted and elated I was the first time I did it, two years ago. How time has flown!

You could love it too much

Having dropped off my beloved at the airport at some ungodly hour I am now privy to a spectacular sunrise over the Baie des Anges. Truth be told, I typically head back to bed for another half-hour or so but I’ve too much to do today and have no intention of forfeiting my ride.

Yesterday, which also started bright and early, saw me glued to my office chair until the late afternoon. My husband went off for his lunchtime swim and returned, so it seemed, in the blink of an eye, demanding to be fed. I gave him money and sent him packing to a local restaurant.

When I finally managed to escape to the gym for a work out, before heading to the shops for supplies for dinner, I had a bit of an unpleasant surprise.  As I went to open the car door I noticed that it was now splattered with bird pooh, where before it had been pristine. Obviously, this had happened while it had been entrusted to my husband. There’s a series of car adverts where unfortunate things happen to friends who abuse the beloved small car of their wife, friend, husband. These adverts have struck a chord with me. I think you can see where I am going with this one.

Right before we moved to France, my husband rushed off to his local Mercedes dealer waving his bonus cheque and made a substantial down-payment on a 4×4. Having advised my husband to wait while I investigated the tax implications of such an acquisition, I was not a happy bunny. Even though Mercedes is a global company, there was no way legally we could continue to insure and pay for a German registered car while living in France. As a consequence, I had to put in train the rather long and very tedious process of re-registering the car in France which starts with parcelling up the number plates and sending them to the German consulate in Marseille. I won’t bore you with the rest of the process. The car was effectively off the road for 6-weeks.

Having, finally, successfully re-registered the car, we then had to exchange it for a new  model as we could not transfer the German operating lease. Needless to say my husband was over the moon. Me, much less so. The car was used mainly for business purposes, indeed our personal use of the car was less than 10%. I had to keep a record for the French tax authorities. In addition, despite it effectively being a “company” car, not all of the costs were tax deductible as it cost much more to run than was fiscally permissible. A point which surely rankled with me.

Finally, the operating lease came to an end and this time my husband was forcibly prevented from acquiring the car with a balloon payment. That’s right, he’s not a signatory on any of our bank accounts. A very wise move on my part. Initially, one of his clients allowed him to use one of their pool cars but that arrangement has now ended.

The thought of not having his own car, has been difficult for him to digest and he’s mulled over a couple of options which, to humour him, I have appeared to entertain. But, the other day, he conceded that we could manage perfectly well with only one car. However, I have had to point out that use of my car does carry with it a number of conditions. Yes, note the use of the possessive, it is my car, not our car.

One: when the light flashes indicating that it needs more petrol, please fill it up. I do not want to get into the car, see the flashing light and wonder whether or not I have enough in the tank to make it to the nearest petrol station. My husband has run out of petrol on a number of occasions, I have not. Two: if birds pooh on my car while you’re using it, you immediately clean it up. I keep cleaning fluid and roll of paper in the box in the boot of my car for this very purpose. Three: I do not like to be seen in a dirty or untidy car. It gets a weekly trip to the car wash where it is carefully washed, hand dried and vacuumed. If you get it dirty, you know what needs to be done. I don’t have to spell it out.

My husband knows what will happen if he doesn’t follow these three simple rules. We have been married long enough for him to appreciate that I make promises, not threats, and I have an elephantine memory.

Lazy Sunday afternoons

According to yesterday’s copy of L’Equipe, and possibly much to no one’s surprise, Wiggo is joining Sky. Jonathan Vaughters has evidently realised the futility in trying to hang on to a rider who wants to be somewhere else. No doubt Garmin will be amply compensated for losing a rider, still under contract, who finished 4th in this year’s Tour. Also, assuming that the 5 delinquent Pro-Tour teams managed to get all their paperwork in order and submitted to the UCI by the deadline, there’s probably going to be no more “big surprises” in 2009.

Regrettably, the weather today was both overcast and humid. However, nothing could dampen the boys’ (and girls’) spirits as we set off this morning for the pointage. I managed to cling onto the back of the peloton as we rode up the route de Grasse. The club hosting the pointage had thoughtfully signposted the way thus preventing most, but not all, from getting lost. A number of clubs arrived at the same time swamping the refreshments table and picking it cleaner than a horde of locusts.

On the way back from this morning’s ride, I picked up the newspapers (L’Equipe, Nice Matin and The Sunday Times) to enjoy over a coffee. There was an interview in The Sunday Times Sports section with David Brailsford which I started to read, anticipating gleaning some interesting titbits about Team Sky or indeed confirmation that Bradley Wiggins was Sky-bound. The interview almost immediately took a strange turn, backtracking to 2004 when David Millar was apprehended by the French police, in the company of Brailsford. At once, I realised it was a Paul Kimmage interview where no doubt there was going to be some pointed homily about doping in the peloton and it was highly improbable that I would learn anything of either use or interest about Sky, or indeed anything related to cycling. In the hope, rather than expectation, that I might be proved wrong. I read the entire interview. I wasn’t.

Instead of going to watch OGCN play Toulouse this evening, we’ve elected to stay at home and finish up a few necessary household chores (no, not the ironing) ahead of our trip to Paris next week. I’ve bought another bookcase which needed assembling. This will house my growing collection of cycling books in the entrance hall thereby alleviating the overcrowding in the main bookcase just outside of the kitchen which is home to my substantial collection of cookery books.

Most women will say that they can never have enough shoes. While I don’t necessarily disagree, given the choice between books and shoes, I will almost always opt for the former, unless you’re offering me a pair of Christian Laboutin’s. If you don’t believe me you are most welcome to come and check my respective collections of both.

My beloved also needed to tend to his collection of citrus trees which are exhibiting a distinct lack of TLC as evidenced by the absence of both fruit and leaves. I am many things, but green fingered I am not. He leaves them in my care during the week at his (and their) peril.

Postscript: 10/12/09 Wiggo’s transfer to Sky confirmed at a press conference this morning over 2 week’s after the L’Equipe story.

Conflicted

When I worked as a volunteer at the World Road Cycling Championships in Stuttgart 2007, manning the UCI’s VIP Welcome Desk, I met the guys responsible for Melbourne 2010. My friend Valeria and I had a bit of a running joke with them on account of our accommodation problems. Let me explain.

Initially, Stuttgart had asked if we could work for two weeks, the week before and the week of the Championships. We both consented and I found us a handily placed, inexpensive, small family-run hotel. The month before, Stuttgart decided they only needed our services for 10 days. So I changed my flights and the hotel booking.

I arrived at the hotel before Valeria, checked in and the owner asked me if I’d like to pay for the night’s accommodation in advance. A strange question I thought, given we were staying for 10 days. But no, it appears she had totally mis-read my email, painstakingly written in German, and thought we were now only staying for one night. When Valeria arrived, I had to break the bad news to her: the WiFi wasn’t working. Then, the really bad news, we only had one night’s accommodation.

Fortunately, the hotel-owner could also accommodate us on Sunday but thereafter, we were on our own. Not a problem, or so you would think in a large town like Stuttgart – wrong! Not only were the World Championships in town, being held at the old Exhibition Centre, but there was also an exhibition being held at the brand, spanking new Exhibition Centre. No room at any of the inns, hotels, pensions, hostels or doss houses according to the Tourist Office. Suddenly, those two sofas in the reception of the Hotel Meridien, where we were working (also fully booked), were beginning to look tempting. We starting scanning the UCI guest list to see who had single occupancy of a double room: one, Miguel Indurain. Dream on, Valeria.

Thanks to my beloved’s Accor loyalty card, we managed to find rooms in some of their hotels. It became a bit of a joke, each morning the Australians would stop by and enquire whether we’d got beds for that evening. In the event that we hadn’t, they offered to share so that we could have one of their rooms.    

So, having pre-registered my interest in volunteering for Melbourne 2010 back in July 2009, an email inviting me to complete the relevant documentation recently popped into my in-box. Trouble is I’d had such a good time at Mendrisio 2009 not being a volunteer, that I was now conflicted. What should I do?

In the end I volunteered. But in completing the documentation was advised that it was obligatory for all volunteers to attend a training session being held the month before the Championships. Cunning move on the part of the organisers to validly eliminate any overseas volunteers. However, my conscience was clear. I had promised to volunteer, and I had.

Hands off

I’m picking my husband up from the airport in an hour or so, around 23:15. He’s been in UK and Poland for the past 10 days. I’d like to be able to tell you that while he’s been away I’ve demolished the Vuelta and post-Vuelta ironing mountain, but I haven’t; maybe, next week.

No, while the weather’s fine, I’ve been out on my bike. Plus, let’s not forget, I’ve been baking biscuits for the dental students at Nice University where my beloved in lecturing tomorrow. I’ve made American-style squidgy raisin and oatmeal cookies (my fave), classic chocolate chip cookies and some elegant lemon thins.  In addition, I’ve been toiling with my translations and chasing up those members of the cycling club who have yet to pay their subs.

One of the (few) advantages of being club secretary is that I’m now on the mailing list for the details of each week’s pointage. So, no need to rely on the instructions on the club’s website or check the location on a map, I’ve got my own directions. The pointage is typically held in a car park. This week’s is in Stade Charpin in Les Semboules, which is behind Decathlon in Antibes.  

Lloris looms large

Of course, today’s big story has been Thierry Henry’s “hand of God” goal-assist which has prompted the Irish to ask FIFA for a replay (no chance). My estimate of six pages of commentary and two of adverts in today’s L’Equipe was a page shy of the mark. Man of the match, once again, was home-boy, Hugo Lloris. I can’t help thinking that he’ll be off to pastures new (and better paid) next season – Arsenal peut-etre? I do hope OGCN put a sell-on clause in the contract when they sold Hugo to Olympique Lyonnais. If so, they’ll be quids in. If not, they’ll be kicking themselves.

Extra time

I’m typing this during the action packed second-half of extra time at Stade de France where the score is one apiece. The Irish started the match strongly and Robbie Keane, deservedly,  fired one in from a Damian Duff pass on 32nd minute.  The match was still tied at the end of full-time.

Govou’s goal in 102 minute was ruled off-side then Gallas scored a minute later, from a double Henry hand ball, much to the disbelief of the Irish present. At the end of extra time cue huge sighs of French relief all-round accompanied by much gallic hugging and kissing. Yes, the French, along with the Slovenians, Greeks, Algerians and Portuguese are off to South Africa.

Obviously, L’Equipe has been building its coverage since Sunday and I’m thinking they’ll easily fill 6 pages tomorrow plus a couple of full-page adverts from grateful sponsors.

I was somewhat mystified to learn that Yoann Gourcuff had been voted (only) the 3rd best looking footballer in France until I learned that it was by the readers of a gay magazine – that explains it. Don’t worry Yoann, you’re still top dog with the girls.

I’ve finished reading Jens Voigt’s book “Man Muss Kaempfen!” (one must fight) and it’s pretty much what one would expect but I was left wanting more. Most of the narrative surrounds his Tour de France rides for firstly Credit Agricole and then CSC, where he’s equally complimentary about Roger Legeay, Bjarne Riis and his teammates. I’d have liked a bit more nitty, gritty. But in Germany, post-Puerto, I guess something anodyne was just what the doctor ordered. Jens comes across as a hardworking, reliable team mate and devoted family man who believes that if you don’t give it a go, you don’t stand a chance of winning – very true.

For a complete contrast, I’ve turned to “Vie et Mort de Marco Pantani” (Life and Death of Marco Pantani) written by L’Equipe’s own Philippe Brunel.

Il Pirato in pink

This’ll be the third book I’ve read on the topic and it appears to give more of an insider’s view than the other two: The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendell and, the compilation, Marco Pantani: The Legend of a Tragic Champion. Shame I never got to see him dance on those pedals.

Rum soaked

My trainer, at my request, has ramped up the exercise regime. As a consequence, after our session yesterday, I have a few aches in areas best left unmentioned.

The weather the last two days has been glorious, just what I ordered. As I rode out of the Domaine this morning, my neighbours were picking the olives. Yes, we have our own olive oil from the 100 or so trees on the estate. The driver of the car in front of me stopped abruptly to encourage those picking, sadly without glancing in her mirror, so I nearly, but fortunately not quite, shot into the back of her car.

I decided that some interval training was in order and headed to the hill which goes up from Garoupe to boulevard Kennedy, in Antibes. The idea is to ride as hard as possible out of the saddle up the first incline, rest as it tails off and then pick it up again for the last bit. I did this six times much to the amusement of the builders working on the construction of what, I’m sure, is going to be an amazing (and totally wildly expensive) new property, “Villa Robert”. A couple of times round the Cap [d’Antibes] and then it was back home for lunch.

I spent the afternoon working on a translation before heading over to the cycling club. The offer of an English and/or IT course on Thursday afternoon seems to have been well received by my fellow, largely retired, members. I’d better get working on my first lesson plan. Loads of kisses, a couple of licence renewals and a new member later, I was back home in time to bake some cookies.

From time to time, my beloved speaks to the dental students at Nice University about aspects of dentistry in English, thereby satisfying some of their obligatory study of that language.The feedback from his first session suggested that he should have bought them something to eat. Remember, we’re talking about students. It was probably said tongue in cheek, more in hope than anticipation. So for his next visit, I sent him armed with cake: brownies, coconut macaroons and carrot cake. His ratings improved dramatically!

This time, I’ve decided on a selection of American style cookies.  I’ve made up large batches some of which can go into the freezer ready  for my first recreational afternoon at the club. We’ll need something to go with the tea and coffee.

I’ve also started on my Xmas cake. I like to soak the 2 kilos of dried fruit that I put into the cake for a couple of days in a mixture of rum, orange and lemon juice. Generally, I’m not a big fan of traditional UK Xmas food: disliking Xmas cake, Xmas pudding, turkey, sprouts, bread sauce, mince pies, brandy sauce and butter. You get the picture.

Our first Xmas in France, I decided to have one of my “once every eight years or so” family (mine) Xmas’s whereupon I needed to come up with a more acceptable (to me) Xmas cake. I decided to deconstruct the traditional recipe, eliminating the ingredients I don’t like and replacing them with ones I do. I came up with a recipe which makes a medium sized, square cake, choc full of lovely alcohol laden, dried fruit: prunes, dates, raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, apricots and figs. After it’s baked, I soak it weekly in rum for a further 6 weeks and then I cover it in home-made marzipan and soft royal icing. Now I’m not an aficionado of fruit cakes, but my sister Lynn is and she reckons it’s the world’s best Xmas cake. I’m prepared to accept her opinion and concede that it’s probably one of the world’s most expensive.

Hotch potch

Yesterday, I had a very special, overnight visitor, my neighbour’s daughter. She is a truly delightful child, a credit to her parents and teachers. She came for dinner which we prepared and ate together, before settling down to watch the football match.

We’d already had a lively discussion over dinner about rugby. She’d seen her first match this summer, Toulouse v Brive. So she was more than happy to

Ireland v France
I rest my case

watch the Ireland v France match with me. After Anelka scored in the 72nd minute from a Gourcuff assist, she  promptly fell asleep on the sofa, secure in the knowledge that France were now much more likely to be South Africa bound.

It was a tight match which, frankly, could have gone either way. Tellingly, the man of the match was the French goalkeeper, and ex-OGCN player, Hugo Lloris. Though I should add that the  French scored more heavily in a couple of departments by comparison with the Irish: cooler kit (Adidas) and better looks (IMHO).

Earlier, I had watched an understrength England be dazzled by the Brazilians in Doha, Qatar. Ex-Villan, Gareth Barry was easily England’s best player in their 1-0 defeat.

My overnight guest was collected early this morning to allow me to leave for the pointage in Cannes. As I cycled past the hippodrome, I joined up with a group of cyclists, including a guy I rode with last week. To my surprise I managed to stay with them all the way to the pointage. I had anticipated that at some point I would be joined, and overtaken, by riders from my club. But they hadn’t arrived by the time I departed the pointage, returning home via Mouans Sartoux and Mougins.

I then had a quick turn around as I was meeting a friend for lunch. We were celebrating her new job in New York where, among  other things, she’s going to be looking after shipments of Chanel into the East Coast. I’m truly pleased for her. She’s worked really hard to build the up the company’s operation in Nice and needed another challenge. I will miss her, but have already signaled my intention to visit her next year in the Big Apple.

I’m now in my nightwear contemplating either an evening curled up on the sofa watching the TV or an early night with Jens Voigt’s biography. Reading in bed is another of my guilty pleasures and one which I can indulge only when my beloved is away, and he’s away until Thursday.

A rose by any other name

M Le President handed me a medal on Tuesday for the “Velocio UFOLEP 2009”. Appropriately enough it features a rider slinging his handlebars across the finish line or more accurately, in my case, slumped exhausted over the handlebars. Unfortunately, whichever club awarded me the medal spelt my name incorrectly “SHEREE WATHLEY”.

This is all pretty much par for the course. Neither my christian name nor my surname are that common and over the years I’ve had some interesting spellings of both. My favourite misspelling was “Cherry Whipley”. Now that sounds like the name you might find on a card in a telephone kiosk advertising any number of services for a fee; either that, or some sort of calorific, ice cream dessert from  McDonalds.

I’ve never found out why my parents called me Sheree. They had been planning to call me Ian, which would have been novel. My mother was convinced she was having a boy on account of my early proficiency at kicking. Generally though my parents favoured names which cannot be shortened and, indeed, no one has ever attempted to shorten my name.

Of course when you have a slightly unusual name, you tend to come in for a fair amount of ribbing, particularly at school. But, honestly, it never bothered me. In the mid-eighties, I had a secretary with the same name albeit spelt “Sherry” which caused no end of confusion. But other than the afore-mentioned secretary, Mrs Blair (Cherie), an American actress (Sheree North) and a couple of golden retrievers, I’ve not come across any others with the same or similar sounding name.  

My surname I acquired when I married my long-suffering husband many, many moons ago. It’s a place in Somerset, which we visited on our honeymoon while staying at Whatley Manor in Wiltshire. My abiding recollection of the honeymoon was our bath, which would have happily accommodated at least four people and had taps shaped like swans heads and necks.