The Tour De France in Essex

Yesterday, the world’s biggest sporting event (live audience measured in Millions… there’s nothing else that comes close) travelled through Cambridgeshire, Essex and into London through the rolling countryside that the Tour organisers call “flat” but actually sap strength with lots of short, punchy little climbs that tempt you into going anaerobic to keep your speed up and which eventually cause you to ‘bonk’, especially if you forget, as I did, to eat.

I set off from home just before 8, arriving in Finchingfield at about 11.15, just as the tour procession was about to go through, scattering bits of merchandising. I reckon there were 20,000 people in Finchingfield alone. Apparently Saffron Walden was packed to the rafters and the roads were lined with people. Everyone who owed a bike within 20 miles of the course had cycled to the route, and many thousands more had driven, the lanes were lined with cars for miles around. All I wanted was a coke, because I’d ridden 42 miles, I had an empty water bottle and no food, and needed some sugar. My bike and I got separated as the procession came through, and I watched helplessly as the floats squeezed past it. Thankfully, despite it being on the course, leant up against the railings, it wasn’t confiscated or crushed by a frenchman driving a float cart. I recovered it, and set about finding somewhere to watch the race, Jersey pockets bulging with haribo and coca cola.

I very kind Farmer had put a trailer next to the route, and when I asked whether I could join them on it, I was asked whether I wanted a beer. Talk about landing on one’s feet! A hot dog was subsequently thrust into my grateful hands and the only payment was to pass on my far-from-exhaustive knowledge of cycle-racing.

You can see my trusty steed, and the gang with whom I watched the race.

What’s remarkable is the length of the procession, there are cars and motorbikes passing through for a good hour before the first cyclists arrive, in this instance Jan Barta for NetApp Endura (in blue) and Jean-Marc Bideau of the Bretangne team (in white), who were around 4 minutes ahead of the peloton at this stage.

 Once they were through, there were a couple of service cars behind them, then another wait for the Peloton. Blink and you miss them. Then there’s the convoy of team vehicles, service vehicles and so forth, and a few groups of cyclists who’re drafting them to get back into the peloton following a comfort break.

Once they’re gone, it’s time to pack up and head home, after a stop in a pub to have a bite to eat and a few beers, and watch the rest of the race. I’d like to thank Miles and Stuart a couple of Enfield CC lads who then took it upon themselves to drag me me to Bruntingfield (halfway home for me, the location of their car) far, far quicker than I could have done it myself. It’s odd, pace-lining (OK, wheelsucking) on a fully-dressed touring bike. I descended quickly, but struggled as soon as the hill went uppy. I’d like to blame the weight, but also being a fat knacker didn’t help! 

Once they’d departed, I faced a long, lonely 20 miles or so in the rain, completely forgetting to eat, I started bonking with about 10 miles to go. I arrived home at around 7 o’clock. I sat in the bath eating a sausage roll and haribo. All in all a great day in the saddle, and amazing atmosphere around the course. If the Tour comes back to the UK, and I am sure it will, I highly recommend going to see it.

The Opening Ceremony

So. Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony.

It was a Triumph. After the Chinese display of might, with all the artistic integrity of a Red-Square parade of missile launchers, we got a fun, irreverent pop-concert from the UK.

After the Royal Wedding and the Jubilee, the world knows this moist North Atlantic archipelago can do pomp and circumstance. What this extravaganza showed the world is that a lot of the rock n roll which defines western civilisation is British, as is much of the technological and industrial inventions which make the modern world as it is. Britain is not a stuffy old country, we’re fun. Come here and get pissed with us.

I could have done without the NHS love-in but that’s by the by. The people are proud of our hospitals being state-owned, despite the fact they lead the world only in hospital acquired infections. Most artists are pinkos. I can live with their eccentricities, if they show the world that Britain is more than Guardsmen outside palaces. So what DID the world make of it?

The Washington Post: As the Olympics opens, Britain rocks
The Australian: Games Begin in British Spirit
The BBC has rounded up some of the rest.

Then there was the symbolism of the copper leaves, each nation contributing a small part, coming together into a magnificent whole the sum of which is greater and brighter than the sum of its parts. The tiny nations like Tuvalu sending a couple of Athletes stand equal to the mighty Americans or Chinese teams. Nations who exist in a state of war may end up competing in a spirit of friendship.

The scourge of international war is receding. For all the corporate bullshit, the Olympic games are part of a process that’s bringing the world together to trade, compete and enjoy a diversity of cultures to the benefit of all. Britain has played a huge part in this process, even though we remain the most warlike nation on the planet.

Far from being a declining power, What the Olympic ceremony showed is a country at ease in its own skin, comfortable with a bit of self-mockery, happy to take risks. No other country would think to put its octogenarian head of state in a skit with James Bond, and have Mr. Bean ruin ‘Chariots of Fire’ for Sir Simon Rattle. Our soft power, from the BBC world service, and musicians to businessmen and scientists still matter on the world stage.

The final motif of Sir Steve Redgrave handing the torch to another generation of young Athletes, was well judged. Then Sir Paul McCartney got everyone participating – in a chorus of ‘Hey Jude’ Not a great chest-beating roar of a rising power but a celebration of the real Olympic spirit. Having lit the torch, everyone joined in, in Friendship, peace and competition.

Publish & Be Damned

So. A footballer, whose name absolutely everyone with an Internet connection and an interest already knows, got a super injunction which prevents any media organisation reporting the fact that he had an affair with a Big Brother 7 contestant called Imogen Thomas, who to be fair to the guy, does have nice norks.

I’m not going to name him, because I am in no mood to be the blogger out of whom the law decides to make an example, but he plays for Manchester United and Wales, wears a number 11 shirt, and he’s suing Twitter, like, right now.

Now, to my legally untrained mind, the issue comes down to the competing rights of freedom of speech and the right to privacy; specifically articles 8 & 10 and possibly 12 (marriage) of the European convention on Human rights. Just because the public is interested in with whom footballers and their ilk play hide the sausage, doesn’t mean the newspapers have a right to publish and thereby invade peoples’ privacy. But, whatever Lord Justice Eady decides, freedom of speech is, to my mind, paramount. Without a presumption of free speech, it’s the rich and powerful who have the access to super-injunctions and less blessed unfortunates who come into the view of the tabloids but don’t have the resources, get monstered. In freedom of speech, truth should be the defence. Readerships should be asking “why am I interested, I really must be a nasty, stupid, prurient, fuck to be paying to read this drivel, but then I like football and big brother, so duh…”.

This may be a footballer, but if it’s a politician, or in America, a religious hypocrite, the right of people to know the private behaviour of public individuals is stronger. Though it still says more about the prurience of the public, “celebrities” must accept that one has to be able to defend one’s actions. The day of super-injunctions is past. Information is too difficult to suppress in this online world. Perhaps this is healthy – in a global village, every action has consequences. It’s as if the world knows you, just as if you lived in the 10th century. It’s equalising in it’s own way.

Courts can ban media organisations from divulging details, whilst the Internet is awash with the facts. An injunction probably worked until about a decade ago, when a few organisations controlled information. Now any dick-head with a key-board can find out, and spread information. There may be examples made, but you cannot prosecute every twitter user and blogger. To attempt to do so makes the law ridiculous. Sorry. EVEN MORE ridiculous. In this environment, seeking such an injunction merely renders the person seeking the injunction MORE famous than if you’d just said, “

Yes. The Gigg’s Up. I shagged her.”

Footballers, even Welsh ones with a yoga video to sell, shagging d-list tarts is not exactly a ‘man-bites-dog’ story and would be soon forgotten, but for the super injunction. The footballer, who scored a goal against in the second leg of Manchester United’s Champions league semi-final, would have been better advised to accept the media nonsense for a few days than expose himself to the cost and ridicule of legal action. Furthermore, the Footballer in question may be flying Ryan Air in future, as the cost of legal action, suing twitter and obtaining a super injunction may mean, that despite a long career of 875 appearances for Manchester United, he may end up bankrupt. Bankrupt and famous mainly for shagging Imogen Thomas, not the magnificent first goal in the second leg against Shalke, which ended a long goal drought for the 37 year-old forward.

Newspapers, even Britain’s notoriously prurient and intrusive press should have the right to publish the truth, even at the risk of invading the privacy of people paid £100,000 a week to kick a ball. Of course when a mere schoolmistress is “exposed” as a dominatrix, as a rather despicable second prize for the Sun in its campaign against Sir Max Mosley, the high cost of such legal action means people’s lives may be destroyed utterly, to no-one’s benefit. But they’re not famous, so who cares about THEIR privacy? A level playing field would see the truth being a defence in publishing details.

The moral of the story as far as footballers is concerned. If you didn’t shag a d-list slapper, prove it and sue the papers for libel if they print. If you did shag a d-list slapper, fess up, divorce or beg for forgiveness from your wife and accept that this will be tomorrow’s chip-wrapper. The Internet has rendered super-injunctions moot. This isn’t new: It was the Duke of Wellington who first said “publish & be damned”.

Unless this is all a clever strategy to build a media presence at the end of a football career. In which case, well done. I am sure there will be plenty of Giggs for you.

The Ashes

Is it cruel to read the Australian sporting press?

The final two days at Adelaide, we were assured, was when we would find out what this Australian team was made of. The results are not yet back from the lab, but it seems to be some sort of gooey, soft-centred material that melts rapidly when heat is applied, is easily removed from flat surfaces, does not bounce or spin and which stinks to high heaven.

They don’t like losing, do they? Which is why beating them is so satisfying! Go on… who stayed up to watch the Australian collapse last night….