The Tour de France has come and gone………

Apologies that I’ve been somewhat missing in action over the past week but I was just one of a large band of volunteers from the city of Nice entrusted with ensuring the Tour de France went ahead safely.

Two months late, the Tour de France has managed to do what the summer Olympics, and countless other sporting events couldn’t, largely thanks to the determination of Nice’s mayor Christian Estrosi who worked tirelessly with ASO, the Tour’s organiser.

Despite taking place under strict sanitary conditions, with heavy controls on spectators and press pack numbers, it should still bring in much needed funds to the  beleaguered French economy and the Tour’s broadcasters, advertisers, hoteliers and caterers.

To be honest, this could be one of the biggest ever tours, since the maiden one won by Maurice Garin in 1903, for a number of reasons, not all of them economic.

The race is broadcast in over 190 countries and will showcase France, the most-visited country on the planet, after months of lockdown, to around 3.5 billion people. This isn’t insignificant as it will remind the 10-12 million tourists, largely absent this year,  who usually line the route to cheer on the riders, what they are missing and where they should be looking to book their next holiday. Indeed, if we are to believe Eurosport, over 47% of those who watch the Tour do so to enjoy its truly magnificent scenery and its wealth of historical monuments.

So, what did I get up to and what did I see?

Funnily enough the answer to both those questions is not a lot. Let me clarify.

Tuesday evening we collected our instructions and missions for the Tour. Sadly, the promised Rapha t-shirts didn’t materialise and we were issued with a bright custard-yellow t-shirt, most certainly *not* one of my colours, with a black and yellow cap, plus a cheap and cheerful rucksack containing all manner of goodies! After the presentation, food and drinks had been laid on. I know only too well that an army of volunteers marches on its stomach.

Early on day one, bouyed with excitement, five of us set out for the Acropolis, home to Tour organisers ASO (and the press room) until Sunday. There was plenty going on as its logistics team was getting everything set up. The chap looking after us said I’d be able to put my language skills to good use pointing any foreign journalists in the right direction.

I hated to burst his bubble but the press couldn’t retrieve their accreditations until after 14:00 and my shift was due to finish at 13:30. In the six hours we were there, we answered just one query from the general public, which had absolutely nothing to do with the Tour.

I was sitting on the wall, in the shade, (rules one and two of volunteering) in front of the Acropolis when someone said that even with my cap and mask, they knew it was me. I should have worn my sunglasses too! This was a common refrain throughout the morning as I chatted with the long-standing ASO staffers that I know.

Later that day as I wandered around Nice, I did get asked lots of questions about the Tour by both visitors and locals alike. So not an entirely wasted day!

I’d chosen to stay in Nice and meet up with my beloved who, with his cycling club teammates, was taking part in the rehearsal of Thursday’s Team Presentation. Masqerading as former Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet of Team CCC, he rode up onto the stage several times with his teammates. This all took much longer than planned, so we had a quick bite to eat before heading back home. It was gratifying to see that Nice was busy with locals and holidaymakers alike

Less good were the numbers not wearing masks. During the rehearsals I was standing next to a policeman who must’ve asked at least 20 people to wear their masks in the space of 10 minutes. I said to him that he must do that a thousand times a day. More like 5,000 was his reply!

Yet another exciting day in prospect on day two and I was at one of the main tram terminii. This would’ve been where the VIPs parked their cars to get the tram into the centre of Nice. These VIPs would’ve been invited to the team presentation in Place Massena, starting at 18:30.

We were there from 11:30 until 18:00 with nary a sighting of anyone, much less a VIP. Luckily I had drinks, snacks and a book to hand (rules three, four and five of volunteering) and found myself a seat, in the shade, within sight of the pedestrian exit from the car park – just in case!

Of course, post-Covid and with Alpes Maritimes being classified “rouge”, VIP numbers were considerably reduced to just a handful of locals, including my hubby and a number of our ex-professional cycling friends, all of whom are familiar with how the local transport system functions.

Saturday, despite its very early start, seemed to hold more promise. A team of 16 of us were in the small bit of Place Massena not blocked off for the start of the first stage. We shared the space with eight French ambulance staff, eight firemen, eight armed gendarmes, plus a handful of well-armed soldiers who were constantly scanning the area for potential threats.

We were all standing adjacent to the entrance of the much reduced Village du Depart for the VIPs. Frankly, it was a wonder that there was any room for Joe Public to come and ask us any questions.

We had a frisson of excitement when HRH Prince Albert of Monaco and the Secretary of State for Sport turned up in their cavalcade of cars, flanked by gendarmes on motorbikes, lights flashing. Both stayed until the presentation of the jerseys.

Two very attractive German girls had unfortunately left their car for several days in the wrong car park, one they couldn’t exit until well after the stage concluded. As they were planning on driving back to northern Germany, this wasn’t exactly good news. Fearing an international incident, as the only German speaker, I intervened and duly asked ASO, the gendarmes and local police on their behalf. The answer was the same from all but at least I’d tried.

This time I was asked plenty of questions. Here’s the top 5, in reverse order.

5. Where’s the best place to watch the riders depart?

4. Where can I buy a ticket to get in there (VIP Area)?

3. How can I get across to the Old Town with all the roads blocked off?

2. How can I get to the beach with all the roads blocked off?

1. Where can I get some freebies?

Sunday I was back at yet another tram terminus, this time in Nice Nord. I was asked once if I had any change for the ticket machine. Slim pickins’ for another six hour shift. This time numbers had been reduced to four but there were also two people from the Metropole answering questions when people drove into the car park. Their presence rendered us rather surplus to requirements.

I later discovered that the volunteers’ roles had been fixed with ASO prior to Covid so we’ll never really know how busy we might’ve been. The team from Nice’s Sports department who managed the volunteers organised things well, and communication was excellent. It’s just that I hate not being busy. Remind me never to volunteer again!

The Tour de France is oh so close

Early this year the cycle club put out a call for volunteers for the Tour de France. Now, it’s been awhile since I last volunteered and given that our club is called Club Metropole de Nice, Cote d’Azur, and both the mayor and Prefet are members, I put up my hand. More accurately I filled in a form on line. I volunteered to help out for a week as we weren’t following the Tour as it departed Nice because my beloved was doing l’Etape, which has now been postponed until next year. And, as all you cycling fans know, the Tour itself was pushed back two months.

Mid-August I got a call from the Town Hall enquiring whether I was still available to volunteer. I replied in the affirmative and the lady on the other end of the line heaved a huge sigh of relief. Obviously, her task had not been going well. I imagine that many who might have been available in July were no longer free at the end of August. I basically said I would do whatever, whenever. It’s a strategy that has stood me in good stead in the past.

I’ve advised my beloved that he’ll be looking after himself for a week. I tempered it with saying I would ensure that there would be plenty of food in the fridge. He’s most unlikely to starve but I know from bitter experience that I’ll have to thoroughly clean the place after he’s been left to his own devices for that length of time.

We’re getting together outdoors this evening to receive our Rapha kit, luncheon vouchers, free masks, hand gel, tram passes and accreditation. I’ve been pre-advised of my role which is essentially meet and greet, something I’ve done before and where my linguistic skills and local knowledge are hugely helpful.

I’ll be honest, I’m not looking forward to wearing a mask all day but it has to be done. How much cycling I’ll see remains to be seen. In fact, I may not see any cyclists at all! Typically, I would get my press accreditation and be jostling with the thousands of journalists, TV and radio crews who follow the Tour. Most of these will be reporting from the studio rather than in situ and conducting interviews via Zoom or similar.

Hopefully, next week I’ll have something interesting to report back on. Meanwhile, here’s a few earlier posts about some of my volunteering at cycling events:-

World Championships: Part I

World Championships: Part II

La Kivilev

Tour de France 2009: Monaco

Postcard from Barajas

I spent last week in Barajas, a suburb of Madrid, home to both its airport and exhibition centre. I basically went from the former to the latter, staying in the hotel we found last year, which is a total steal and close to both.  I was giving my beloved a helping hand as running an exhibition stand on one’s own is a bit of a nightmare.

We and just four other companies were on the UK Exhibition stand which we set up on Monday. Fairly basic, but nonetheless effective, we just hung a series of laminated posters on the backboards. Luckily for my beloved, I bought essential supplies with me including scissors to cut the Velcro, wet wipes to clean the hired stand equipment and paper handkerchiefs to wipe greasy finger marks off the glass exhibition case.

Having worked in the dental industry for so long, my beloved knows everyone and vice versa. This meant it was only a matter of time before he went walkabout and disappeared for an extended period leaving me to deal with the hordes. I had my product sales pitch off pat and could answer all but the most technical of questions.

Time can often hang heavy at exhibitions, I speak from bitter experience. You always need something to keep yourself occupied to help the time pass. Luckily, we were inundated with visitors. This may have had something to do with the position of the stand, on route to one of the lecture theatres and near to the refreshment stand. Our full range of linguistic skills was tested and my so-called restaurant Spanish was regularly pressed into service to explain products benefits.

 

It’s a while since I’ve been to a Dental exhibition and inevitably I bumped into tons of folks I haven’t seen for some time  and some I couldn’t ever remember having met! Was I having a senior moment? No, I don’t think so, rather that the individuals weren’t particularly memorable. I mean, you wouldn’t forget when and where you met George Clooney now would you? Sadly, there are no George Clooney look-alikes in the dental industry because, if there were, trust me I would’ve made sure I met them.

Freebies! Matcha Kit-Kat only available in Japan

Days tend to merge one into another at exhibitions as you shuttle from hotel to exhibition centre and back again. Over the years I’ve learnt several important lessons:-

  1. Wear comfortable shoes, you spend a lot of time standing
  2. Remember to drink plenty of water, the air conditioning is very drying
  3. Wear plenty of moisturiser (see 2 above)
  4. Make sure you get the contact details of everyone who visits the stand
  5. If at all possible, try and grab some fresh air during the day
  6. Take your own refreshments (water) and lunch to avoid being ripped off by the exhibition centre’s catering services

It’s also important to stay at a hotel close to the exhibition centre with a gym and a good restaurant as you rarely get the time, opportunity or even inclination to stray far.

That said we did wander out of the hotel into downtown Barajas which had plenty of bars and great restaurants around its town square. These included a Polperia which we had to try, twice. You know how I love octopus! It wasn’t quite as good as the octopus in Galicia, but definitely up there.

It might seem odd that we didn’t venture into central Madrid but it’s a place we’ve visited a number of times before and have already fully explored the glories of the Museo del Prado, Madrid’s many parks, plazas, markets, shops and wonderful restaurants.

After a successful few days at the exhibition, where the visiting dentists from all over the globe showed much interest in the product and  we may have found distributors for a couple of key markets, we headed to Valencia – my beloved’s choice. He’s visited the place a couple of times on business and has raved about it but it’s unchartered territory for me. I had fondly imagined I might visit it one November for the last MotoGP race of the season – ah, well, another year. Watch out for my postcard from there.

 

 

 

 

Doubly tempting

All in all, I had somewhat of a frustrating day yesterday. First off, the weather was fantastic and the road was definitely calling. But Monday’s a rest day on my training programme and I’ve learnt to appreciate that rest is as important as training. It’s also the day I set aside to deal with administration and I skip it at my peril.

The morning passed reasonably well. I had sorted, analyzed and prepared everything to drop off at my accountants for the 4th quarter and, all important, year end. So far so good, I rewarded myself with a coffee and a quick read of L’Equipe.

When I got back home I discovered the postman had left a gi-normous box at the front door. I say postman, it must have been postmen. It was my delivery from Amazon with numerous cookery books: all very heavy tomes. Of course, I wanted to tear open the box and dive in. I resisted temptation. Postman Pat had also left me a parcel of chocolates: a belated Xmas/birthday present from my German friend who lives in the UK. It was lots of little squares of chocolate, lots of different delicious flavours, with which to give myself a little reward, from time to time. Ok, so there’s no chocolate allowed on the regime but if I don’t put it in my food diary, she’s not going to know, is she?

I packed my briefcase and headed into Nice. One of the club members kindly prints the brochures for the Kivilev, for free. I had everything I needed, or so I’d been assured at last week’s meeting of the Kivilev Committee. It was just a case of making the changes to last year’s brochure and rolling the printing presses.

I was planning a wee overhaul of the typefaces. My predecessor had used seventeen different ones, in a variety of sizes and colours. He’s a bit like a kid let loose in a sweetie shop, he doesn’t know when to stop. Since I’m of the “Less is More” school, I planned to unify the fonts and colours to make the brochure less of an eyesore.

I finally found the printers but couldn’t find a parking spot, even with the Smart. Eventually, I parked about 500m away and walked over. The reception was unmanned but there was a lady shuffling papers in the room behind. She studiously ignored me. Obviously, not the receptionist who had gone AWOL. Ok, I get it she was trying to make a point. I rang my clubmate to let him know I was in reception and he said he’d be down in a (French) minute.

Because I’d seemingly waited patiently, the paper shuffler came out of the office to ask me what I wanted. I explained that I had a meeting with my clubmate. She informed me that he wasn’t there. Furthermore, she’d not seen him for some time. Unperturbed, I replied that I’d spoken to him and he’d be here soon and so he was.

We went upstairs where he introduced me to one of his colleagues who was going to assist me. I gave them the key with the new documents and started to explain about the changes. They enquired where was the “Master Document”? They didn’t have it, it had been retained by my predecessor. We tried to contact him but he was playing boules and couldn’t be disturbed. I left him a pithy message on his mobile phone.

In the event that the “Master Document” couldn’t be located, we hatched Plan B. I left and promised to return later in the week, either with the MD or Plan B completed. I had assumed that I’d be at the printers until 7pm. I was planning to have dinner in Nice and then pop along to the F.S.G.T. meeting to pick up some licences. My plans had now been scuppered. I returned home: 300 minutes of my precious time having seemingly been wasted. I was not a happy bunny.

I worked all afternoon on plan B, casting lingering glances at the box of goodies: the books not the chocolate. I then returned to Nice to find the HQ of F.S.G.T. one of the three federations to which the cycling club belongs and the main organiser of races. Again, a parking place was hard to come by so I left it in a cycle lane.

I had just hoped to slip in, pick up the licences, pay and leave. I should have known better. These are meetings to be relished, spun out and endured. Everyone was seated around an enormous U-shaped table. On the one side were guys with the physiques of tight-head props, on the other the skinny cyclists. Clubs without a representative were named and shamed. I was easily identified as the “woman who makes delicious cakes” and, I could tell, they were most disappointed that I’d not bought any with me. Note to myself to remember to take some with me next time.

Despite the lack of cake, they kindly dispensed with my club’s business first so that I could go and retrieve the car. I then drove over the other side of Nice  to the restaurant of one of the members where I had promised to drop off his licence so that he could race this week end. The restaurant was closed. Fortunately, I had his mobile number. I called and left (another) pithy message. I returned to the car and prepared to drive off.

He rang me back and, as he lived opposite the restaurant, popped down to retrieve his licence. I drove home, opened both boxes of goodies and indulged. They were delicious.

Good intentions

I live my life largely by a few simple rules and philosophies:-

  1. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you
  2. Planning and preparation are key to success
  3. Keep it simple

I also belive that if you can help someone, you should. Now this doesn’t fall into 1 above. My assistance is unconditional. I’m not making a note and expecting the favour to be repaid: quite the contrary. Nor am I anticipating some reward in the afterlife. I have long realised that I derive enjoyment merely from being useful.

Sometimes I proffer my assistance, other times I wait until I’m asked. I received such a request this week from a friend, in respect of a mutual friend with a contractual problem. Sometimes an uninvolved third party can throw clarity on a problem because there is no emotional link. In this instance, I was able to make use of my knowledge of contract law, my use of the English language, a more than passing acquaintance with the UCI regulations and my contacts at the UCI.

The mutual friend in question is owed both a contractual and moral obligation by his team and I am hoping we can find an equitable solution to the problem. However, it was interesting to note his own approach to the issue which, if he’d gone ahead, might seriously have compromised his case.

My first point of call was the UCI Rulebook, readily accessible on its website in both English and French. Having confirmed the regulatory position, I then looked at the legal documents and associated supporting correspondence. I then rang the UCI to check my understanding and ask them for their advice which  we are following.

Now it’s easy for me to be sanguine, it’s not after all my problem. However, I don’t like to fail at anything. Not being able to satisfactorily resolve this issue for a friend would count as failure. So this is not the only route I’m pursuing because, as I’m fond of saying, there’s always more than one way to skin a cat.

Postscript: Surprisingly, this issue is still on-going but it’s slowly wending its way to a satisfactory solution. I must confess it’s been more of an uphill struggle than I anticipated but we have stuck firmly to our guns and, indeed, have brought in the heavy guns, namely the UCI. These problems often need a bit of a terrier like attitude, something at which I excel.

Busy as a bee

As per the cycling programme, this week is one of rest, recuperation and rejuvenation. I only have 41/2hrs of cycling spread over three days. Now, as I’m always telling my beloved, there’s no point in having a training programme if you’re not prepared to follow it to the letter.  This rest period fortunately coincides with preparations for the week end’s Ronde du St Laurent du Var and our club’s pointage. I would have liked to have ridden the Ronde, but we’re desperately short of volunteers, so it’s all hands on deck. My aim would have been to avoid being lapped more than once. The training in the Basque country on all those short steep hills would have been perfect preparation for the Ronde, but sadly we’ll never know.

I have something of a logistical problem. While Tom II, my beloved Smart car is surprisingly spacious, I have to drop my beloved husband off at the airport early on Sunday morning. There is room in the car either for all the food for the pointage and the apero after the Ronde, or my beloved. Yes, I think we know who’s going to be getting the boot!

I was rather disappointed with the fare provided at this event last year. You know my motto, “never knowingly under-catered” so I have taken charge of the catering this year. I have already made some of my “famous” pain d’epice and banana bread to enliven the usual pointage spread and plan to make some savoury cake to supplement the other nibbles for the apero. There’s no way we’re going to run short of food this year!

There’s a number of stage races taking place this week (Burgos, Portugal, Denmark, Poland) and yesterday afternoon I finally caught up with the Tour of Poland, which has been moved from September, no doubt on account of the weather. As I switched on the transmission, Johnny Hoogerland was up front in a breakaway. I’ve not seen too much of him this year largely on account of Vacansoleil’s lack of invites to the stellar events. However rumour has it that they’re looking to beef up their roster next year and are after one of my favourite Spaniard’s, Samu Sanchez (pictured below). They obviously feel he will be their ticket into those afore-mentioned stellar events.

Samu

One of Johnny’s team mates probably endured some good natured ribbing over the dinner table yesterday evening. After Johnny had been absorbed back into the peloton, Marco Mercato took off with a rider from Saxo Bank. The race finished with 3 circuits of the finishing town but either Mercato hadn’t looked at his route book or he can’t count. He sprinted away from the Saxo Bank rider,  raising his arms as he crossed the finishing line for only the second time. He realised his error too late to avoid the advancing peloton. The stage was instead won by Mirco Lorenzetto (who also took the leader’s jersey) ahead of Lampre team mate, Grega Bole. Today’s a very lumpy stage so the leader’s jersey will probably end up on someone else’s shoulder’s this evening.

Slip, sliding away

A bit of a hiatus this week due largely to  pressure of work and not an extended absence, as planned, watching the Giro. And what a Giro it has been. Cloud bursts made the TTT trial somewhat of a lottery and those men in lime green seized the opportunity to occupy the first three places on GC, and hence the maglia rosa, and the young rider’s jersey.

Thursday’s 5th stage to Novi Ligure was won by someone in the breakaway. Don’t you just love that when it happens? I do. Jerome Pineau won ahead of his breakaway companions, Julien Fouchard (Cofidis) and Yukira Arashiro (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) to record Quick Step’s 2nd stage win of this Giro, just 100 metres ahead of the advancing peloton.

And what do you know, a breakaway succeeded on Friday too. Matt Lloyd (Omega Pharma Lotto) and Rubens Bertogliati (Androni Giocattoli-Diquigiovanni) went away after 46kms and stayed away. The former beating the latter to the line in Marina di Carrara by over a minute. Danilo Hondo (Lampre Farnese-Vino) won the sprint for 3rd.

So, here we are, stage 7 to Montalcino and Liquigas are still occupying the podium. Yet another Aussi won today. Yes, Cadel “Cuddles” Evans won the mud fight on the strade bianche which had been turned brown by the rain. Indeed, it was hard to make out who was who as they were all literally covered in mud. The pink jersey slid off the wet, tarmac road taking out a number of his team mates and forcing a break in the leading group. Those ahead continued but, as per peloton protocol, didn’t force the pace. Evans bridged up to this group and, along with Vino, was responsible for finally whittling it down.

As they approached the finish line, Evans was ahead of Cunego with Vino in 3rd place. That’s how it stayed, as Evans rode strongly to victory. He’s really been a different rider since donning the rainbow jersey and now lies 1 min 12 secs back on Vino who’s looking pretty in pink again. Today’s biggest losers were Carlos Sastre and Xavier Tondo (Cervelo). But there’s still an awful long way to go.

We watched today’s stage after getting back from completing La Vencoise: 2000m of climbing over 105km. It’s the first time I’ve done this course which was well marshalled and organised. My beloved kindly kept me company until the final feed point at which point I set him free. I managed to avoid the cloud burst on the climb from St Pons to the top of Col de Vence on the run in for home. Riders faster than me, including my beloved, weren’t so lucky. Amazingly, I wasn’t the lanterne rouge, finished strongly and turned in a reasonable time (for me) of 5hr 48 minutes.  This should stand me in good stead for Thursday’s 175km ride  (2,713m) with the other volunteers for the Kivilev.  I guess I should do a time of around 11 hours which sounds like an awfully long time in the saddle.

Cabin fever

Following close on the “Big Chill”, we’re now experiencing the “Wash Out”. Leaving aside my cold, it’s not been possible to ride for the past 4 days and the outlook is little better. After spending a couple of days cooped up inside, I had a list of errands longer than my arm which occupied most of the morning.

This afternoon, a spot of ironing (yes, the Vuelta ironing mountain is slowly subsiding) and then off to the club for the weekly catch up with my fellow committee members. There’s more to running a cycling club than one might think. Initially, of course, there’s quite a steep learning curve for the new incumbents. One is taking over tasks that have been done well but in a particular fashion for a number of years. Next, one’s thinking  how to improve the processes but first one has to make sense of what’s already there.

When the then president-elect asked me if I’d like to become Club Secretary I had the sense that he had exhausted all other avenues but I was more than happy to agree to help out. He explained that he wished to delegate much more than the current incumbent; wholly necessary as he still works full-time.

The new president also wants the club to meet the requirements of all members, not just a select few. This is more difficult to achieve but, by splitting the club into sub-sets, each with their own budget, it should be  easier to achieve.

Some changes have been forced upon us. No one was willing to take responsibility for organising the annual club luncheon and dance. Attendances have been steadily declining over the past few years and feedback from the membership had indicated that the price per head was too high. A satisfactory compromise has been reached with a cold fork buffet after the AGM followed by a dance. The older members, of whom there are many, really enjoy the dancing.

We have increased the membership of the cycling school and the number of racers competing for the club, both of which are very encouraging and will garner plenty of positive press coverage for the club and its sponsors. We are now supporting increased participation in local sportifs and randonees. While my own section “Recreational Afternoons” will shortly have access to both the tv and internet to assist with teaching IT and English classes where numbers are growing slowly, but surely, thanks to my baked goodies.

Slim margins

And we're off!

Over 200 local cyclists supported yesterday’s Telethon ride from St Laurent du Var to Mandelieu, and back. As usual, the ride was monitored, marshalled, fed and watered by a large number of volunteers without whom this type of activity would simply not be possible. So, thanks guys, I had a great ride.

My clubmates wisely rode at the head of the peloton, generally a safer place to ride. I managed to hang with them, only sliding back briefly on the Garoupe climb. However, I did bob back and forth trying to say hi to those riders that I know, particularly from other clubs, returning each time to my beloved’s side.

The weather was fine but cold and even I acknowledged that it’s time for full-fingered gloves and thermal leggings. I tend to resist wearing the latter as long as possibly largely because of the time it takes me to get into them. I bought them when I first started riding. I thought I might need XL but they were too large in the beam and so bought L, without trying them on. The difference between XL and L seemed to be largely in the width of the legs and the past two winters I have taken at least 10 minutes to struggle into or out of them. My beloved reckons if he’d filmed the activity for YouTube it would have been one of their funniest and most popular videos.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I took them out of the drawer to wear this morning for the Departmental Championship. Well, all I can say is that the new regime is having some effect. While, they are still snug in the lower leg, I could slip into them with relative ease – whoopee.

Our reign as departmental champions (10 consecutive championships) was going to be under threat today thanks to either the non or late renewal of licences by a large number of members. Thankfully, the young, the old and the ladies (all high points’ scorers) turned out in their droves and I’m now anxiously awaiting the result.

Yesterday afternoon, we listened to my beloved boys in claret and blue win easily at home against lesser opposition, before heading off to watch the OGCN v Marseille derby match. I made the fatal mistake of underestimating how cold it was going to be. My layering of cashmere and down was insufficient: I should have worn old faithful. This is a black, down anorak purchased in the late 80s at half-price, but still nonetheless expensive, and which was my constant companion for football matches in the English Premiership. In fact, I recall wearing it for a whole season one year, even including the matches in July and August. It doesn’t get too many outings in Nice, just the odd match over the winter period.

OGCN, despite losing 1-3, played a blinder (a technical football term) in the first half: equalising not long after OM’s opening goal which was a brilliantly executed counter-attack, against the run of play. Sadly, we lost Apam just before half-time for elbowing Heinze. It was always going to be a struggle to contain OM with just 10 men. We ran out of steam in the last 10 minutes, succumbing to a further two goals, one of them from an OGCN old-boy – the curse of the returning player.

Spoilt

My regular reader(s) knows of my obsession in planning as much as possible, as far ahead as possible. I’ve volunteered to help out at the World Road Race Championships in Melbourne 2010, and I’ll be going irrespective of whether or not they avail themselves of my services. The challenge is to find the lowest club class fare. Yes, I know economy would be way cheaper but I don’t do long-haul steerage. When I get on the plane for a long-haul flight I want to either go upstairs or turn left, never right.

I confess to having been spoilt many years ago while working in the internal audit department of an American bank. At short notice, they needed someone to fly over to Hong Kong to conduct an audit of the loans department. Bizarrely, I was the only volunteer and, even as a fairly junior member of staff, I got to travel FIRST CLASS.

I flew first class on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, cocooned in the lap of luxury, where I had a truly fantastic time, largely because I was on my lonesome and could do what I wanted, when I wanted; always my preferred state of affairs. I would travel to the office each morning in the (free) air-conditioned, hotel limousine as far as the Star Ferry and then board the ferry. Evenings were spent wandering around Hong Kong’s different districts and visiting lots of wonderful restaurants, which included having  afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel, something of an institution or rite of passage. I also visited China and Macau.

I was then asked to fly down to the Singapore office which was having problems accounting for futures and options. I flew there on Singapore Airlines, again first class and similarly luxurious. Regrettably, I had to fly back to Blighty on British Airways.

This was in the early eighties before Lords King and Marshal had worked their magic on the airline. Suffice to say that the difference between the oriental airlines and BA was so marked that I was moved to write a letter to Lord King with a few constructive criticisms as to how he might bridge the yawning chasm, which stretched over 5 pages. I firmly believe you get what you’re prepared to put up with. So, if you’re not happy, speak up! I received a delightful, hand-written note from Lord King thanking me for my thoughts and advising that they would be taken into consideration in the forthcoming re-launch of BA. And, so they were.

On the other hand, Richard Branson, oft-cited as a business guru, could not find the time to respond to my letter outlining my dissatisfaction with Virgin Atlantic, as a consequence, I have never darkened his door again. Plus, I shudder to think how many people I have told about my dire experiences on his airline.

Contrast this, if you will, with my experience of Easyjet who refunded the cost of my flight, after a delay of in excess of 4 hours, before I had time to apply finger to keyboard . So, while I’m happy to support both Easyjet and BA, neither of these are going to get me a cheap, business class fare to Melbourne. We had planned to use our Airmiles with Lufthansa but this took us on a round the world odyssey going out via LA and back via Bangkok. The best deal I’ve found to date is on Qatar airlines, via Doha from Milan. Of course, I’ve already booked the hotels.

Postscript: Booked two club class return tickets to Melbourne on Qatar Airlines for Euros 5,224 – bargain!