'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Tour de France and Me

My connection to the famous Tour De France cycle race goes back a long way.

When I was in my early twenties I went to the UK with the intention of doing a cycle tour. On arrival I went into the nearest cycle shop, which happened to be in Chesham Bois, and looked at the bikes. I went for a sturdy-looking one with not too many gears and aluminium alloy wheel rims. I bought a small tool set and a spare inner tube. The bike had a name. Eddy. I didn't name it this; it was written on it: "Eddy Merckx". At the time the name meant nothing to me. In my colonial ignorance I didn't know that this famous Belgian had won the T d F no less than five times - no small feat. The year I bought 'his' bike, 1978, was the year after he lost the 'one tour too many'.
But his bike proved marvelous and I rode it from Chesham to a delightful tiny village called Yielden near Rushden where I found work as a rousie, tieing fleeces. After work and on rainy days when the sheep were too wet, I house-kept and cooked for the shearing gang boss.
After a month or so when the shearing was over, I jumped back on my bike and went back to London. Well, actually I skirted London and ended up in Rye on the coast. I biked (with a friend) all along the South Coast, avoiding Southhampton by getting on the ferry to Ryde, biking across the Isle of Wight, then taking the ferry up to Lymington in the New Forest.

We went as far west as Fowey (via Avebury, Salisbury and Winchester) then came back to Plymouth for a while.

Taking off again north across Dartmoor then Exmoor to Lynton and Lynmouth, we walked around the coastal path there and explored the lovely Valley of the Rocks before plunging down Porlock Hill (and going through a complete set of brake-pads) on our way back to London.

Me peeking over the battlements of Dartmouth Castle

The whole trip took three months and was really wonderful. We camped in fields (like that one above, near Powderham Castle), cooked over a little burner and had stand-up washes in pub loos. The weather was kind and I was fit and brown and glowing with good health by the end.

That was my Tour d'Angleterre avec Eddy.

My connection with the Tour de France continued when in 2003 I discovered the quirky and surreal French animated film "The Triplets of Belleville". I enjoyed this tremendously. Briefly, it is a story of a T d F competitor who is kidnapped by French mafia and taken to New York (thinly disguised as 'Belleville', but recognisable by a fat hamburger-munching Statue of Liberty), to be the object of an illegal betting game.

He is finally rescued by his old grandmother Mme Souza and dog Bruno, assisted by the former music-hall singing Belleville Triplets, now themselves elderly women.

Un jour, je vais voir le vrai Tour de France peut-être.


  1. I loved reading of your Tour d'Angleterre avec Eddy. I may be one of the few persons you know with this affliction, but I never learned how to ride a bike.

  2. Bonne nuit mon ami. Je m'excuse auprès de visite en utilisant la langue française. Je veux des amis avec vous.

  3. What a fantastic biking holiday.

    As you know, the Tour de France is on now and I can watch the whole day on TV if i want but I don't - I usually click on for the last hour. I've seen the tour finish several times in Paris - a wondrous sight.

  4. Robert - I know quite a few people who don't ride, but no-one who doesn't know how. Except you, now. You will always hold a special place in my memory.

    economie mondiale - Bienvenue à TLVD! Je suis allé sur votre blog. Mon français n'est pas assez bon pour moi d'obtenir des avantages beaucoup mais je suis sûr qu'il est très perspicace.

    Dad - I don't watch the telly here - I expect they show some of the finishes. It's a fantastic race of endurance.

  5. I never did anything like that when I was young. Come to think of it I wasn't young until very late on in life. In a way that's a Good Thing because I'm enjoying my youth now. Sorry - random thought.

    As a devotee of the Tour de France and as a lover of other people's exploits and things past, I enjoyed this post. Hoever I did wonder how the person who took the photo of you on the battlements managed to be suspended outside them!

  6. GB. Better late than never. In fact, perhaps you appreciate your present youth more as you have age to compare it with.

    As I recall the photo involved a handy internal corner and a zoom lens.

  7. Great memories.
    I was living in Holland that year, and was astounded that my host family spent so many hours watching cycling! they trried to explain the fascination to me, but I was young and not interested.

    And I LOVED The Triplets of Belleville. I even bought the DVD - highly unusual move for me to buy a movie! - but I also loved the soundtrack.

    Interestingly, the word verification is quid - do you remember how many quid you paid fgor your Merckx?

  8. Hello Violet! Nice to see your friendly ...er... icon back here on TLVD.
    The 'Triplets' soundtrack...yes, wonderful. Not many pieces of music are made with a refrigerator, vacuum cleaner and a piece of paper!

    Hmmm, How many quids?... Just off the top of my head I'd say 82, but I could be wrong. I brought it back to NZ with me, I remember that. But ended up selling it. I still have the panniers somewhere, though. With their NZ flag on them.

  9. Ah you've lived one of my dreams... amazing to me. What a wonderful memory- thanks for sharing it :)