Yesterday evening the French won their second consecutive Men’s Handball World Championship title. They’ve been pretty much unbeatable since picking up gold in Beijing 2008. Handball is played globally but is particular popular in Northern and Continental Europe. It’s widely accepted to be Danish in origin, although records of handball-like games have been found in medieval France.

I have never seen a live match, although I have seen a number of games on the television, and it’s relatively easy to get to grips with the rules. (In fact, the rules are not too dissimilar to water polo, for which I gained accreditation as a referee many moons ago when my beloved played the game.) Playing on a 40m x 20m indoor court, two teams with seven players apiece (six outfield players and a goalkeeper) pass around a hand-sized ball with the aim of throwing it into the goal of the other team. The team with the most goals after two periods of 30 minutes wins.

Games tend to be high scoring and fast paced  with plenty of body contact as defenders try to prevent the opposition’s attackers from approaching the goal. Contact is only permitted when the defender is between the offender and the goal: a player sandwich. Any contact from the side or especially from behind is considered dangerous and is usually met with penalties. When a defender successfully stops an attacking player, the play is stopped and restarted by the attacking team from the spot of the infraction or on the nine meter line. Handball players are allowed an unlimited number of “faults,” which are considered good defensive play and disruptive to the attacking team’s rhythm.

Field players are allowed to touch the ball with any part of their bodies above the knee (knee included). As in several other team sports, a distinction is made between catching and dribbling. The following restrictions apply:

  • On receipt of the ball, players can only retain it for a period of three seconds before passing, dribbling or shooting.
  • When holding the ball, players can take up to three steps without dribbling. If players dribble, they may take an additional three steps.
  • Players that stop dribbling have three seconds to pass or shoot. They may take only three additional steps during this time.
  • A player may dribble as many times as he wants (though since passing is faster it is the preferred method of attack) as long as during each dribble his hand contacts only the top of the ball. Basketball style carrying of the ball is prohibited.
  • Only the goalkeeper can move freely within the goal perimeter (6 meters) and touch the ball with all parts of his body. He may not gross the perimeter while carrying or dribbling. If he deflects the ball over the outer goal line, his team stays in possession of the ball.

Two blue-shirted referees of equal standing, assisted by a timekeeper and a scorekeeper, control the game, using a variety of hand signals, whistles and those all-important red and yellow cards. Their rulings are final and can only be appealed against if not in compliance with the rules. Referees can, at their discretion, call for timeouts. Each team, so long as it’s in possession of the ball, may call for one timeout, of one minute, per period.

While there are 7 players per team on the court, there are a further 7 substitutes on the bench. Substitutions can take place at any time and any number of times during the game without pre-advising the referees.

If a match ends in a draw after regular time, 2 x 5 minute periods of extra are played. Thereafter, the game will be concluded by a penalty shootout. Such was the case yesterday evening, in the match between France and Denmark, with the French winning 35-37 in extra time.

France’s Nikola Karabatic, who plays for Montpelier, was unanimously deemed the most valuable player (MVP) of the Championships. I know you’re probably thinking “hmm not a very French name”. His Croatian father, also a handball player, and Serbian mother moved to France when Nikola was very young.

France’s week end roll call of honours doesn’t stop there. Pechalat and Bourzat picked up gold in the ice dance at the European Championships while they also collected gold (Florent Amodio) and silver (Brian Joubert) in the men’s ice dance.

Cycling’s saviours

As I was scanning the news this week, an item caught my eye. Ben Spies, Moto GP Rookie of 2010, racing with his own Elbowz Racing Elite Cycling Team, had finished a very respectable 12th, and first in his category (Cat 2), in the 90 mile Copperas Cove Classic road race. Heath Blackgrove, a former New Zealand Road Race Champion, and leader of the team, finished atop the podium. 

Spies, nicknamed “Elbowz” because he rides his motor bike with his elbows sticking out,  set the team up this year which, while aiding development of local talent, will also support Spies’s pet charities. The team, a mixture of emerging talent and seasoned riders, will compete largely on the US Criterium circuit, as well as the odd UCI race, select US NRC and regional races. It’s a 2-tiered squad with a roster of  eight full-time elite riders and six locally based ones.

Of course, Spies is not the only speedster who enjoys taking to two non-motorised wheels. Alan Prost competes (and places well) in a number of cyclosportives, including L’Etape du Tour. Last year I had the not inconsiderable pleasure of riding from London to Paris in the company of Nigel Mansel who, you’ll be reassured to learn, is nothing like he’s portrayed in the advertisement for a comparison website. Seven times Rally World Champ Seb Loeb, I understand, is frequently found astride a cross country bike. Moreover, a year or so ago, I recall former F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso expressed a desire to set up his own ProTour Cycling Team.

Maybe, this is what cycling needs. A real shot in the arm. The boys on two and four motorised wheels earn enough to set up and run their own cycling teams. Plus, they could presumably tap into their existing network of sponsors. This would allow them to compete against one another all season, on and off the track, whatever the discipline. Loeb’s team pitted against Alonso’s, Spies’s and Rossi’s. Now that would be worth seeing. Move over Pat and make room for Bernie!

Dancing on ice

I have been watching the European Ice Skating Championships from Bern. You may not be aware that I once spent my Saturdays twirling around an ice rink. My mother had been a keen ice skater and, having found her old skates in the boxroom, I had taken it up with gusto. My aunt made me an ice skating dress in jade green, with matching knickers, which I used to wear with those thick, orange day-glo, American tan tights. As you may have guessed this was well before the introduction of lycra. Nonetheless, I thought I looked the bees knees.

I have a good sense of balance, thanks to spending most of my early childhood whizzing around on roller skates. The transition to ice skates was achieved fairly smoothly. I had lessons every Saturday at the rink in Birmingham and then spent several hours afterwards practising. My parent’s friends, whose eldest son skated, used to take me and bring me back.

My nascent career was cut dramatically short when I passed one of the exams while the son of the friends did not. They stopped taking me. To be fair, if I’d been really passionate about skating, my mother would have stepped in. While I enjoyed the exercise and challenge of balancing on two slim pieces of steel, I was, at best, technically competent. I lacked the grace and elegance so necessary in these types of sports. I was quick over the ice, had good control of the edges, but would probably have fared better as a speed skater.

As a consequence, I know my loops from my axles but, more importantly, appreciate the difficulty of the moves the skaters are executing. On television, however, one cannot fail to register their all-important speed across the ice. These competitions are all about performing under pressure. None of them are executing moves they haven’t done a thousand times. But mental toughness, as in so many sports, is generally what divides the top few competitors. Of course, we are talking here about a sport which tries its best to be objective about the scoring but a goodly dash is, inevitably, subjective. So a winning, confident smile, a cute bum or a pretty face or frock do you no harm at all.

I don’t feel it’s necessary to have taken part in a particular sport for you to enjoy watching it. Participation merely highlights awareness and imparts greater understanding. The very best sportsmen and women make their particular disciplines look easy, conveying the impression that with a bit of application we too might ape them: not so. I read somewhere that to become competent and competitive one needs to have spent at least 10,000 hours practicing. To put this into context, if we assume you spend six hours a day training, this equates to around 6 years’  full time.

So, only another 6,000 hours  to go to before I catch up with Jeannie. If only it were that simple!

Between a rock and a hard place

The rumours that have been swirling around the internet are true, the Spanish Cycling Federation has handed Alberto Contador a one-year ban.  Subject to the outcome of any appeal, this means he’ll be stripped of last year’s Tour win and won’t be able to ride again competitively until 24 August 2011.

The problem for Contador is what to do next? He did say he would retire if he received any sort of ban. Was this a hollow threat? Will he really retire? I think this depends on how much money he’s already made. He comes from a very humble background and he may have already made enough money to look after his family. After all, you don’t see him flashing the cash on fast cars and flashy watches, but somehow I doubt it.

So if he’s not going to retire, should he appeal the ban? If he doesn’t, will AMA and UCI appeal the ban, feeling that 12 months is too lenient? They might do as they’ve never appeared all that convinced by the contaminated meat story. However, from a political perspective, the UCI will not want this story to drag on and obscure the 2011 season. Should they take a reasonable or outraged stance? There’s little way of knowing.

Here’s Contador’s quandary. If he doesn’t appeal but UCI/AMA do, he runs the risk that the ban might be lifted to two years. If he doesn’t appeal, then maybe neither will UCI/AMA. It’s a tricky one and I’ve no doubt that while on the Saxo Bank-Sungard training camp in Majorca he’s having his ear bent. He won’t, and doesn’t need to, do anything hasty. Alberto’s not a gambler, he’s much more calculating. He’ll take the full amount of time to consider his options, weigh up the risks and talk it through with those whose opinions he values.

Given Pat McQuaid’s initial sensitivity to this issue, I would definitely try to have an off the cuff discussion to gauge which way the wind is blowing. The best for all concerned might well be to accept the one-year ban. 

Only Alberto knows what really happened. If the contaminated meat story is true, it seems an unreasonably harsh outcome. If the contaminated meat story isn’t true and the clenbuterol, however small, got there by way of more nefarious methods, then a one-year ban isn’t a bad result. Either way, we’ll never know.

Friday postscript: In today’s press conference, Alberto claims that he will appeal the proposed ban and is prepared to fight to clear his name. Of course, the cynics may say that they’ve heard it all before and cite the case of Landis who protested his innocence before finally admitting he did indeed dope. This is a brave move on the part of Alberto who claims that he has never, ever doped. If that’s truly the case Alberto, I wish you the best of luck in your defence.

Heavenly feeling

The weather the past few days has been gloriously sunny, albeit cold. I’ve been out every day, generally around lunchtime, diligently following the training plan. I’ll shortly  have been trained by my coach for twelve whole months. I’m going to continue as I feel it’s been money well spent. My technique has improved, I’m feeling more confident on the bike, I’m riding faster and further, climbing better and I’ve lost more weight. I’m definitely heading in the right direction.

Yesterday, I had another puncture. My second in four days but only my fourth in four year’s of cycling.  You may recall I had both the tyre and inner tube replaced on Saturday. I hit a pothole (unfortunately) while riding (fortunately) with some clubmates. I hit the hole heavily with my front tyre, but it was the rear one which rapidly deflated. Quick as a flash my team mates dismounted and within a couple of minutes, they had rectified the problem. Thanks boys!

I spent last week putting the final touches to the brochure for our annual cycling event, La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev, this week I’m translating it into a number of other languages, ready to disseminate far and wide. I’m also finalising plans for my 2011 Cycling Trips.

I may well be making an appearance at all three Grand Tours this year, although the trip to the Giro, because of its timing, just before the Kivilev, is always the one most likely to be cancelled. I booked our trip to watch the Tour in the Alps the same day ASO announced the route, but the others have been coming together more slowly.

For instance, as soon as I learned, a week or so ago, that the Vuelta would be visiting Bilbao, I immediately located and booked a  bijou hotel. Getting to Bilbao by plane involves a change in Barcelona, so I may well go either by car or train which will make taking the bike much easier.  It’ll also mean I can bring back plenty of Basque goodies: edibles, not riders clad in orange jerseys. There’s a thought. How many Euskatel riders could you cram into a Smart?

It was only when I received, somewhat belatedly, my Xmas card from Bert that I realised, if he could get to the next World Championships in Copenhagen from Auckland, I really needed to be there too. At his age, he’s unlikely to be around for too many more. He’s currently two short of seventy-five. I’m sure he’ll make it. Hotel and flight have now been booked. I have finally arranged the much-vaunted trip to go and watch Paris-Roubaix. I can easily get to Lille on the train and have found a delightful, quirky hotel in Roubaix. Not wishing to risk either of my beloved BMCs on the cobbles, I may travel “sans velo”.

There’s less urgency over planning and booking trips to watch either the Dauphine or the Tour of Switzerland. I’ve never had any problem sourcing last-minute accommodation for either of them. Of course, I’ll also be watching those races close to home such as Tour of the Med and Paris-Nice. Sadly, events beyond my control have interfered with me viewing the Tour of Haut Var (younger sister’s wedding) and Milan-San Remo (club sponsor’s daytime 60th birthday party). I’m also planning  to support our club’s junior and espoir teams when they start racing at the end of next month.

I shall of course be making my annual pilgrimage to Mont Ventoux, this time in early June. I plan to cycle around the Italian lakes in early April when attending the Grand Opening of my Swiss friend’s new bike shop. I foresee heavily discounted  bike bling heading my way.

10 key questions

Today L’Equipe posed what it thinks are the 10 key questions in respect of the 2011 cycling season. The answers were supplied by its crack team of reporters.

1. Will Contador be at the start of the Tour de France? 

90% said No. What I want to know is which reporter said “Yes”? Either they misunderstood the question, or they can’t count. The Spanish Federation is not expected to render a ruling until 15 February. Such ruling will be challenged either by UCI or by Contador. TAS takes six months to opine, so Contador will remain suspended until 15 July, at the earliest. When does the Tour start? I rest my case. Of course, being numerate isn’t necessarily a requirement for a journalist.

 2. Has Andy Schleck already won the 2011 Tour?

80% said No. Again, which two journalists think all he has to do is turn up?  Andy’s going to find being the favourite a whole different proposition. He’s not going to have anyone to take the lead. Instead, other riders will be watching him, waiting and pouncing. There are a couple of things in his favour. It’s a course suited to climbers, with relatively little time-trialling. Andy, despite being on a new team, will be surrounded by those with whom he is familiar and whom he trusts, including his older brother.

3. Are we seeing the emergence of a better generation of French riders?

 60% said Yes. I think the French are right to be optimistic. They do have a large number of promising, younger riders who have shone at the junior and U23 level. But that promise has to be carefully nurtured and not snuffed out by the weight of expectations.

4. Will Philippe Gilbert be the King of the Classics?

80% said Yes. Again, it’s hard to disagree with this one. He’s only 28 and coming into his prime. He’s capable of winning races on the Cobbles and in the Ardennes and, indeed, throughout the season. But, please, don’t forget Spartacus!

5. Is Boonen in decline?

70% said Yes. A counter-point to the question above. His last three seasons have been disappointing in terms of the number of wins. He was clearly at the top of his game at the start of last season but lost out in the key races to Cancellara and Freire, before injuring his knee. At 30, he cannot expect to be as prolific as he once was but I’m sure we’ll see him picking up sprint wins in his favoured races, and at least another Cobbled Classic. 

6.  Will Team Leopard crush everyone this season?

80% said Yes. I suspect this is based on the assumption that Team Leopard will morph back into the winningest team a la CSC. However, the peloton has not stood still: witness the coming together of Garmin and Cervelo, the maturing of Sky, the continuing strength of Liquigas. I’m not sure I agree with this one. Moreover, I’m beginning to think I’ve identified at least one of the two journalists who are Schleck fans.

7. Is Mark Cavendish more than a great sprinter?

80% said No. Yes, I know he’s a bit of a chippy bugger but he has won Milan-San Remo and, while he’ll never win any of the Grand Tours, he might well win other Classics. It’s true that he is the finest proponent of pure sprinting in the peloton and has to be considered among the favourites for the Championship course in Copenhagen this year.

8. Will cycling regret Armstrong’s retirement?

60% said No. I sense a  few fence-sitters here. Whatever you think about Armstrong, he’s a larger than life personality who polarises opinion. He’s probably the only person in the sport capable of getting 10,000 people to turn up to ride with him on the basis of a message on Twitter. All sports need personalities, cycling has too few.

9. Romain Sicard, will he come good in 2011?

60% said Yes. What did I say about the weight of expectation? Luckily, Sicard has a mature head on young shoulders and he’s being properly developed within the Basque, Euskatel-Euskadi squad.

10. Will Ricco generate more interest in cycling?

100% said Yes. Spot on, again he’s a very talented a chap who divides opinion. But like Basso and Vinokourov, he’s served his time and has returned to the peloton with a point to prove.  A bit like Armstrong, I’m not sure I’d want to find myself sitting next to him at dinner, but he certainly provides plenty of fodder for the journalists.

Whether or not you agree with the august views of L’Equipe, 2011 is sure to be a great season. While there’s plenty of emerging talent, there’s also plenty of mature riders, unwilling to hang up their cleats, who are still capable of mixing it with the best of them.

Like many fans I have grave concerns over the current  business model employed by many of the teams. While cycling is becoming more professional in its approach, it still has a long way to go to enjoy maximum credibility and commerciality. Cycling is a great medium for building product awareness on a global scale, at a reasonable price, but you must have exposure at the world’s biggest race, The Tour.

Early bird

The alarm went off at 07:30 and I really didn’t want to know. I’d not slept well thanks to my beloved’s snoring. He’s now on a yellow card, one more and it’ll be the spare room for him. I’d left my kit handily placed so that not too much effort was required to get me ready to head down to the club’s rendezvous point. Usually I don’t bother, but there were a couple of licences I wanted to distribute so  we could register maximum points at today’s regional concentration.

I set off with the superfast group and soon realised the error of my ways but I wanted to get to the pointage relatively early so that if anyone had forgotten their licence, I could lend them one. Yes, I know it’s cheating but, trust me, this is a common practice. All’s fair in love, war and pointages. Unbelievably a couple of new members had forgotten their licences so I “lent” them ones from members who were missing from today’s ride.

Despite the brisk pace to Antibes, I was feeling chilled to the bone and, job done, decided to head for the relative warmth of one of my favourite watering holes to prevent hypothermia and/or the onset of frostbite in my feet. Nonetheless, I rode back along the coast road enjoying the clarity of the light, the pewter stillness of the sea and the thickly snow-dusted mountains on the horizon. It was one of those days where you could see for miles, or even kilometers. The temperature was rising slowly but it was still far too cold for me.

I grabbed the Sunday newspapers and a coffee before heading home to prepare lunch. Instead of collapsing on the sofa, we went for a long walk along the seafront and basked in the sun’s rays. The place was heaving with families, all with the same thought as us: enjoy it while you can.

Back home and I retreated to the sofa to watch the final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under, a 91km circuit race around Adelaide. I had deliberately not read anything which might give me a clue as today’s winner. Would Garmin-Cervelo manage to preserve Cam Meyer’s grip on the ochre jersey or would it be ripped from his grasp by the sprinters Matt Goss and Michael Matthews? Let battle commence.

Garmin’s strategy was obviously one of attrition and they largely succeeded, although both Goss and Matthews picked up bonus seconds at the first intermediate sprint, but not the second one. It went down to the wire with Goss and Matthews vying to win the sprint finish. In the event their respective parties were spoiled by Sky who set Ben Swift up for the stage win. The relentless pace since the off had probably taken the sting out of the legs of both HTC-High Road and Rabobank. Next up is the GP Marseillaise (30 January) and the Etoille de Besseges (2-7  February).

My sporting fun was not yet over, I still had the cup match, OGCN v OL, to watch.  It was a tightly contested game  with the goalkeepers, both of whom are Nicois, playing at the top of their games. Fittingly, OL were undone in extra time by the “curse of the returning player”. Shortly, thereafter, OL were reduced to 10-men and it was game over. I’m off to bed a happy bunny.

Close run thing

I finally got around to taking my beloved BMC I down to my LBS (Local Bike Shop) to have the set up changed to that of my beloved BMC II. I also splashed out on a new saddle, as the old one was looking kinda sad after close on 30,000km. I had suffered a puncture while out riding this morning thanks to a tack which had left a large hole in my rear tyre and deflated the inner tube.

The hole was so big that there was absolutely no point in replacing the inner tube without first replacing the tyre. I would only have been setting myself up for multiple punctures.  Of course, I cannot possibly have mismatched tyres. So both back and front tyres had to be changed. However, nothing will go to waste. All the rejected bits and bobs went straight into the Burkina Faso box.

We rode back home and, after a shower, I slipped into my favourite lounge wear,the Qatari Airways freebie jimjams, and settled down to watch Stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under, 131km to Willunga. We only caught the last 5 kilometers which ended with a sprint finish among the small leading pack , won by Movistar’s Francisco Ventoso ahead of in-form Michael Matthews and Matt Goss. Cameron Meyer, a world champion on the track and Australian time-trial champion, remains in the leader’s ochre jersey and is poised to take his first stage race in Gamin-Cervelo’s colours.

Euskatel’s Gorka Izagirre, whom we’d last seen winning  in the Basque country, took a bit of a flier but was reeled in just before the line. He’s animated a number of stages and races in Australia and I’ll be keeping a look out for him this year.

Meanwhile my beloved football team were hosting Man “Money’s no Object” City at Villa Park. I was praying that we would not suffer the fickle finger of fate from the returning players (Gareth Barry and James Milner). Furthermore, I was hoping for some sign that £18m spent on Darren Bent had been a wise investment on the part of Houllier.

We won 1-0, after Bent had scored on his debut in the 18th minute. A spirited display, particularly by the back four and the first clean sheet for months. Let’s hope that this is a turning point in our season.

After last week’s 2-0 home defeat by Lille, OGCN are  hosting Olympique Lyonnais tomorrow evening in the French League Cup where, frankly, anything could happen.

We’ll be watching the match on the television after (I hope) having successfully defended our Regional Championship. Like the Departmental Championship, which we narrowly lost this season, competition will be fiercest from two clubs which, unlike us, are chock full of veterans (maximum point scorers). M Le President has rallied the troops and I’ll be there to chivy everyone as, unfortunately, he’ll be working.

Wrong place, wrong time

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues apace. The last two mornings we’ve been woken by the roar of saws. I think it’s fair to say that with the exception of our olive trees, which were pruned last year, everything on the Domaine is fair game. No bush or tree has emerged unscathed. Now, I have no doubt this was long overdue. Witness what happened to one of my neighbours just before Xmas: Buche de Noel indeed!

Park in the wrong spot at your peril

The temperature has dipped by at least 8 degrees and so I’m back to being muffled like Michelin man and am restricting my rides to the coast road. The outlook for the next ten days is similar but I can live with cold but dry and sunny. This weather is, of course, good news for skiers.

Most evenings I’ve been catching up on the Santos Tour Down Under. While, I, and probably everyone else, had been expecting a Cav v Greipel sprint-fest, nothing could have been further from reality. The stages have by and large been owned by the young guns, and all bar one of these has been Australian. Good news then for the crowds of home supporters.

ASO has announced the teams for this year’s Paris-Nice and Tour de France. As anticipated, they have handed wild cards to the home teams.  I would anticipate that the organisers of the Giro and Vuelta will follow suit and also award wild cards to the home sides. Carlos Sastre has expressed his disappointment at not riding the Tour and is to focus on the Giro. Given that they may not receive an invite to the Vuelta,  one has to assume that too will be the focus of Denis Menchov. Tirreno-Adriatico will not feature in either of their training plans as Geox hasn’t received one of the two wild cards on offer.

Members of the UCI have ill-advisedly been opining on the case of Contador, a man who is still innocent until his home Federation comes to a decision. This is unlikely to be anytime before 15 February. Should the outcome be appealed, Contador will not be able to defend his Tour title (assuming he still holds it).

Will Contador’s absence make the outcome of this year’s Tour any less likely? Probably not as riders, in my opinion, tend to ride far too defensively and are unwilling to gamble a good placing on GC. However, the lack of individual time-trial kilometres should not unduly disadvantage the Schlecks and Basso by comparison with Evans and Vinokourov. Oh yes, I may not expect my favourite Kazakh to top the podium but I do anticipate he’ll be on one of the steps. In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out early on and say the podium will be 1. Basso 2. Evans 3.Vinokourov.  What no Schlecks you cry. Indeed not, the other three are all made of far sterner stuff and, baring injury, will prevail.

Post Tour postscript: Better not give up the day job. So much for my Tour prognostications.

Karaoke kings

Today was far less stressful and far more productive than Monday. I now had in my possession the “Master Document” and have been able to finish the draft of this year’s brochure for the Kivilev. It has been despatched via email to the printers and I’ll be checking on its progress tomorrow afternoon.

Yesterday evening at the club, my predecessor appeared to be suitably chastened. I do appreciate that he would have liked to continue with the job, but  root and branch change was required and he’s not the man to undertake this task.

My beloved had returned late yesterday evening from London and was today cluttering up the office and demanding to be fed at regular intervals. We rode over the lunch period stopping for refuelling on our way back home, thereby solving the latter problem. I solved the former by decamping to the kitchen and whipping up a batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies as a birthday present for one of my English students.

When I changed over to running the course in the evening, my previous students, all retirees, stopped attending, despite assuring me that evenings were just as convenient for them as the afternoons. I also received emails from a number of members who said they would be attending. I’m still waiting for any of them to put in an appearance. Meanwhile, I have literally been overrun with teenage boys.

Surprisingly, they are attending of their own volition, not at the urging of their parents. My youngest students are both eleven, while the others range from 15-18 years. The entire class is given over to English conversation. Generally about matters current, sport (cycling in particular) and English culture. By making the classes fun and on topics of their own choosing, I hope they’ll learn more easily. So far the theory appears to be bearing fruit.

Cunningly next week’s topic will probably involve more work for me. They want to translate their favourite “pop songs” into French. I’m just hoping that none of these involve any gansta rap. I’m pretty sure neither my grasp of French nor my dictionnary will be up to that task. Just so long as they don’t expect me to sing anything.