Everything and nothing

A combination of my recurring chest infection, the heat and a whole load of work has meant that I’ve probably spent more time than I would have liked indoors over the past week or so. On the plus side, this has allowed me to watch the Eneco Tour, Tour du Limousin, Tour of Ireland, GP de Plouay and some of the action from the athletics in Berlin.

Specifically, I had to check out how Romain Mesnil fared in the pole vault. You may recall this was the gentleman who ran around Paris naked, with only his pole for company, in order to attract a new sponsor. Apparently, it had the desired effect plus, according to L’Equipe, he now has a large female fan club. There were three Frenchman in the pole vault final, with Mesnil finishing second. This was sufficient for him to get his kit off yet again though his modesty, in the photos I saw, was safeguarded by the French flag.

The live racing I watched was notable for a couple of things: Boonen back to winning ways as the Eneco Tour went through his home turf; Cavendish notching up his 21st win of the season in Ireland; Russell Downing holding off a stellar bunch of names to clinch the overall in the Tour of Ireland and Simon Gerrans coming nicely into form with a win at GP de Plouay.

I am of course now looking forward to seeing Messrs Valverde, Sanchez and Vinokourov duking it out in the Vuelta. I already have an hors category mountain of ironing to keep me occupied during the first few days, while the Vuelta is in N Europe.

Cycling, even at a gentle pace, in this heat is tiring: doubly so with my cough. Last Friday, I rode up to Tourrettes-sur-Loup and had there been no one around I could have quite happily dived fully clothed into the village fountain. Instead, I had to be content with dousing myself with several bidons worth of cooling water.

It’s also been very humid which has a disastrous effect on my hair, when it’s not confined under my helmet. Do you remember that episode in Friends where Monica plays table tennis in the Bahamas and her hair looks as if she’d stuck her finger in an electric socket. Yes, well mine’s not quite that bad but you get the general idea.

A girlfriend has likened the effect of the current weather conditions as one big, long, hot flush. Since I’ve never had one of those, nor do I want one, I’m prepared to take her word for it.

Heaven

Looking back on some of my recent posts, I realise that my one regular reader now probably thinks that I don’t enjoy cooking. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although to be fair, it’s a passion that was almost extinguished in home economics classes at school.

I fortunately come from a long line of great cooks and parents with a background in food. My maternal grandmother had one of those old fashioned corner shops that was the hub of a small community, not a stone’s throw from Villa Park. While my father, having moved from Portsmouth to Birmingham to play for the Villa youth squad, ended up working for (and eventually owning) the  Chairman’s wholesale fish business.

As a child, I ate out frequently in some of the best restaurants in Europe. A habit which has persisted down the years and it’s my proud boast that, thanks to years of extensive training from my Dad, I can locate a good restaurant with my eyes shut.

I never cooked a great deal, or indeed with much success, until I got a part-time Saturday job in a restaurant. Initially, as a waitress, but later I started cooking breakfasts on Saturday mornings and soon received a ringing endorsement from the local press by being voted the provider of  “Best Breakfast in Birmingham”.

I continued cooking at University, where I pleaded for and got self-catering accommodation.  It’s said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Particularly true in the case of my better half, whom I met at University and wooed with my burgeoning cookery skills. Fortunately, he was an easy catch. His mother is, head and shoulders, one of the worst cooks I have ever had the misfortune to meet. I’m fond of saying “her cooking should carry a government health warning”. 

When we first married, I was still at University and we had very little money. As Xmas presents, I made up hampers with my home made preserves, Xmas cakes and puddings. I just loved spending hours in the kitchen. At one time I recall making over 20 Xmas cakes. It was almost becoming a cottage industry.

When we relocated to London, and I was working in the City, I rarely had much time to indulge myself in the kitchen. Though, whenever possible, I enjoyed entertaining friends and family, I still do.

For me one of the joys of living in France is daily access to some of the finest seasonal produce and having the time to experiment in the kitchen. For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I have started making my own preserves again, most of which get distributed among friends, neighbours and family. I enjoy baking cakes for my club’s pointages and afternoon tea with my neighbours. But probably, most of all, I just enjoy sharing wonderful produce with family and friends.

Hot, hotter, hottest

The weather this week has been very hot and steamy. Indeed, yesterday was officially the hottest day of the year. However, I have been holed up indoors thanks to the return of my chest infection. I can only attribute this to to my husband’s overenthusiastic use of the air conditioning in the car and our hotel bedroom last week. My lungs do not respond well to savage swings in temperature. Of course, I could have said that as a finely tuned athlete my immune system is compromised, but we all know that’s not true!

While it’s no fun being home alone and feeling ill. I can tell you it’s a lot better than being home with my husband and feeling ill. Since I am always so capable, any incapacity on my part seems to render him totally incapable. Yes, I could be at death’s door and he’ll still expect to be fed at regular intervals. My mother in law (aka the outlaw) is fond of saying that Richard arrived in time for breakfast and hasn’t missed a meal since – too right.

He’s in Canada until Sunday and has been emailing me regular updates on his horse fly bite. Yes, that is bite singular. Now, I admit, he was probably bitten by the jaws equivalent of the horse fly world but I really don’t think there was ever any danger of sepsis or loss of limb.  

I feel much better this morning and am hoping to get out on my bike

Tourette-du-Chateau
Tourette-du-Chateau

 tomorrow and Saturday for a couple of gentle rides. Gentle being a technical term for a Zone 1 training ride. Sunday’s pointage involves my first time up a steep climb to Tourette-du-Chateau via Bonson. I will need to get an early start, probably ahead of the club, as the pointage closes at 11:00am.

Postscript: I see I’m in good company. Bert “big brown eyes” Contador has pulled out of this week end’s GP de Plouay with a cold while Bert “too much to” Grabsch is out of the Tour of Ireland thanks to a bout of bronchitis.

Unwanted

I have worked as a volunteer at the last three Road World Cycling Championships making lots of new friends and much enjoying the experience. I volunteered this year for Mendrisio, offering, as requested, to work once again in Accreditations where my prior experience, multiple languages and knowledge of the cycling world was deemed to be a big advantage.

Having applied, I received confirmation of my application and then an email in mid-May advising that I would know my role by the end of July. I’m in regular contact with a number of those that I met last year in Varese, 10km down the road from Mendrisio, and they told me at the end of June that they would once again be working in Accreditations. Prior experience being much sought after. When I still hadn’t heard anything in early August, I sent a gentle and politely worded reminder to one of the organizers. I heard nothing.

Meanwhile, one of my German friends Ute, a veteran of volunteering, heard that her services would not be required. Having already booked her vacation, paid for her travel and accommodation, she successfully threw herself on the mercy of the organizing committee, who relented and gave her a job on the Press Centre Welcome Desk. She advised me to do the same.  I did, but was advised that the Committee had made an executive decision not to take any volunteers from outside the region.

To some extent, I can sympathise and understand. They already had plenty of volunteers with prior experience on their doorstep. Looking again at their mid-May email, I see all the addressees were from outside the area, so why not let us know early on, not 6-weeks before the start? Who knows?  Anyway, today I received official confirmation that I would not be required in a letter addressed to “Signor Sheree”. Shows how much notice they took of

Mendrisio 2009 pin
Mendrisio 2009 pin

 my application! To soften the blow they sent me a pin which would grant me free transport on the regional buses during the Championships. I shall of course still go and, to be honest, am now looking forward to having time to catch up with all the people I know who will be attending and, more importantly,  having both the time and the opportunity to ride the course.

Of course, this has not dented my enthusiasm for volunteering. Indeed, I have already pre-registered as a volunteer for Melbourne 2010.

First game

Yesterday evening I went to my first home match of the new season where OGC Nice were taking on Rennes and facing not only the curse of a returning

Nice v Rennes
Nice v Rennes

player in Rod Fanni but also a returning manager in Antonetti. Watching the players line up at the start, I had forgotten that Rennes are one of the biggest sides, in terms of the height of their players, in the 1st division while we’re one of the smaller sides.

The first half started in a lively enough fashion, and with the ground at almost capacity, the fans were very vocal. But it then descended, possibly thanks to the heat, into a bit of a boring kick-around. Incredibly, Nice scored just before half-time: a real screamer from Ben Saada. This was cancelled out two minutes later when Nice conceeded a penalty in a hand ball, goal mouth bundle.

The second half was much livelier, but neither team looked capable of scoring again and Nice were unable to profit from their numerical advantage once Rennes were reduced to 10 men. The draw was a fair result. To my mind more worrying was the number of scouts sitting behind us watching and taking notes on the players. I know the transfer window hasn’t closed but, please, hands off our players, particularly Remy and Apam.

There are two glaring differences between watching Premiership football and the French first division: alcohol and away fans. Yesterday’s match took place at 17:00. No one would have gone for a drink before the match though it’s entirely possible that fans may have stopped off on the way home to share a glass of wine and discuss the finer points of the match. This means I’m not leaping to my feet every five minutes during the match to let someone get past me to go to the toilet. Nor am I overcome by alcoholic fumes from those in the neighbouring seats.

There are away fans at the match. Generally, there’s so few that it’s possible to count them. They are segregated on their own in a corner of the ground and guarded by a couple of stewards. These will be the fans that have travelled to Nice on the Stade Rennais coaches. The biggest away crowds are generally Marseille and St Etienne. Equally, there will be a number of away fans sitting with the home fans. You would never be allowed through the home-side turnstiles of a Premiership game wearing a strip from the opposition. If you did, you would immediately be ejected by the stewards. Here there’s no problem, the French, largely family, crowd is very laid back.

In conclusion, while the standard of football in the Premiership is superior to that of the French, alas the behaviour of the fans is not. I much prefer the easy, non-threatening ambiance of French matches.

More of the same

We’ve just gotten back from 4 days riding in the Vaucluse. We had thought about making another assault on Mont Ventoux, this time by way of Bedouin, but it was just too darn hot – late thirties. So we rose early, ate a quick breakfast, before setting off along the quiet country roads riding from one walled village to another before the mercury rose too far.

Gordes
Gordes

The terrain tends to be undulating with a number of false flats or steady climbs, puntuated by the odd short, steep climb.

The jungle drums must have been busy. In no time at all, the insect world had been informed of our arrival and were feasting on both of us. Yes, just as the last lot of horse fly bites were beginning to subside, I had a new batch. The Vauclusian ones were even bigger, but not as itchy.

Stranded

While riding with my husband last week, about half-way into our ride, he had a puncture. He urged me to ride on ahead while he changed the inner tube. I said I would wait. This was his first puncture since buying the Bontrager wheels in early May. He had everything he needed in his saddle pouch to effect the change but he couldn’t loosen the washer on the valve. It seemed to be threaded.

We had stopped near a house where the owner was pottering about in the garden so we asked if we could borrow some pliers. Despite our best endeavours, we still couldn’t budge the washer. There was nothing else for it, I would have to cycle home and drive the car back to pick up my husband. Lucky I hadn’t ridden on without him!

I rode home quickly, jumped in the car and drove back. My husband has many virtues, but patience is not one of them. He had been waiting about 75 minutes. Fortunately, he was waiting near a fountain where many cyclists stop to refill their bidons, so he’d had plenty of company and some further assistance but no one could shift the washer.

I drove my husband and his bike to my LBS where it took two pairs of pliers and considerable brute force to finally remove the washer. This is why I always ride with money, credit card and mobile phone. Sometimes, however well prepared you are, nothing and no one but your LBS has the right tools.

My sister Lynn

I’m the eldest of three girls which gives me  bossing rights over the other two. Today’s my sister Lynn’s birthday and as it’s a landmark birthday her husband asked me to write a short piece about her. He was going to create a bound book chock full of memories  for her to treasure and has been rifling through everyone’s photo albums to find photos to illustrate the book. This is what I wrote.

To be honest it’s hard to know where to start: devoted and loving daughter, long-suffering wife, successful business woman, supportive and loyal friend, promising golfer, generous sister, canny blackjack player, gold-medal winning shopper and sun bather, ideal holiday companion, hostess with the mostest. The list just runs and runs………. Maybe, I should just start at the beginning.

Frankly, I was none too pleased to be getting a playmate. I hadn’t asked for one and I certainly didn’t need one. Having been “Numero Uno” for some years now, I was not keen to share the limelight with anyone. Attempts to soften me up with a replica pram to push my dollies spectacularly failed when I used it as a wheelbarrow.

She was a tiny thing, with a shock of dark hair and big bright blue-green eyes. My first tactic was to frighten her to death. As a consequence, she developed nervous alopecia and all her hair fell out. I next tried squeezing her feet as I simultaneously rocked her in her pram. So, Sis you can thank me for those dainty feet which allow you to pick up spectacular bargains in shoe sales.

An early attempt to drown her in Saguaro, Spain, was foiled by an eagle eyed Mum. Undeterred, I tried ignoring her. I would shut myself in my tent with my toys, marooning her on the outside. She fought back by breaking Tramp, my fluffy corgi dog. This was war!

I recently revisited Laiguealia, the scene of our first family holiday in Italy and where I attempted to push Lynn out to sea in our red and white plastic kayak. Little did I know that the tide had turned, she kept coming back. I tried that tactic the following year in Torquay, with the same result. I am nothing if not persistent.

I remember rounding on her angrily in Stratford-Upon-Avon one day when her antics had curtailed what would have been a pleasant day out culminating in afternoon tea at The Welcome. I recall saying that life hadn’t been fun since she turned up. You have to understand, Lynn was not a pleasure to take out. She would scream all the way to our destination and then promptly fall asleep on arrival. In restaurants, she would bang on her high chair table and demand her lunch. She was a faddy eater wanting only fish and chips, ham salad, or more correctly ham and beetroot, or Spaghetti Bolognese. She even pined when Mum and Dad went on holiday to Switzerland and they had to cut short their vacation to return.

As soon as we had separate bedrooms, I put a lock and chain on my wardrobe to stop her “borrowing” stuff. Frankly, if she got her hands on anything, you would never want to use it again, even if you could. I didn’t like sharing then and I don’t even today. When I went to university, the lock and chain were passed on to my youngest sister.

Given our rocky start, it’s a wonder she even speaks to me let alone spends time in my company. But time and distance lend perspective. We’re now good friends and I truly appreciate the support both she and her husband give to Mum and Dad, indeed to all our family. She once bought me a cushion which said “Happiness is having a large, loving family in another city”. I’m very lucky to have a sister who understands me.

Mission accomplished

You may recall that my modest ambition for La Ronde was to be lapped fewer times than last year.  The circuit starts and finishes with a climb which takes in three left hand turns, two at roundabouts.  I was dropped by the peloton just before the finish line on the first of nine circuits, again an improvement on last year.

Unfortunately, this year it was both hotter and windier, so being able to stay in the peloton would have been a big advantage, if only for a few circuits. Nonetheless, I ploughed on alone, only pulling over when being overtaken, so as not to hinder any of the faster riders ie everyone else.  But they only overtook me TWICE.

To keep myself amused while riding on my own I tried to recall all 37 hit tunes from the Abba greatest hits album which my better half had played over and over again the previous day. I managed all 37, but then I do have an elephantine memory.

Of course, one advantage of riding on one’s own is that you get loads of encouragement from your clubmates, course officials and general spectators. The president elect (and my partner from The Gentleman)  used the megaphone to encourage me every time I approached the finish line.  I even heard one small spectator tell his Dad that it was just like watching The Tour!

La Ronde winners
La Ronde winners

After the race, I doubled up as a podium girl. I’m at an age where I never pass up an opportunity to kiss a few fit, young guys. I even muscled in on the winners photo which was published in our local newspaper. For information, the gentleman clutching my hand is a team mate who’s kindly helping me with my fund raising.

Gross, gross error

Much as it pains me to admit, I have made a terrible mistake. In a momemt of weakness, I bought my husband the Abba compilation of hits. Yes, I know. What possessed me? It arrived this morning from Amazon and he has been playing it ever since. It’s not that I dislike Abba, but would you want to listen to all 37 of their relentlessly catchy hits, one after the other? No, exactly and, what’s worse, I’ll probably find myself humming them tomorrow when I take part in my club criterium. It can be lonely riding along in the peloton’s wake. I wonder what Kenny van Hummel did to keep himself amused?

The horse fly bites have subsided somewhat so I now look part-way human again and can again expose my arms and legs without people covering their eyes and fleeing while screaming in terror. Slight exagerration, but they were very unsightly.