Spectator’s view of the Tour de France: England vs France

Compressed by the huge crowd, with a child in each hand, I can see people’s chests, armpits, and the top of my children’s heads; but very little of stage 3 of the Tour De France I have come to watch.  My children are moaning –  understandably – that they are hot, but they can’t escape the heat of the crowd; they want to sit down, but there’s no space on the pavement and they can’t see a thing except for people’s groins! In stark contrast, two years before in the Midi-Pyrénées, we positioned ourselves wherever we liked on the sparsely-populated street.  Picnic in hand, residents offered us their chairs to sit in and we had an enviable view of the publicity caravan, the pick of the flying gizmos, as well as an up close and personal view of the peloton; with amazing photographs to boot!

2012 TDF, Midi-Pyrénées

2012 TDF, Midi-Pyrénées

Same event, different country!  My experiences of watching the Tour de France, cycling’s biggest and most prestigious stage race in the world,  in Britain and in France are vastly different! In 2012, we watched the Tour de France in the Midi-Pyrénées. Strategically-positioned towards the top of a hilly road so that we would get a longer view of the peloton, we were there early enough to soak in the sights: witnessing local French residents gradually appearing from their houses; coffee mugs, wine glasses and deckchairs in tow, this was clearly an annual and leisurely event!  With relatively few spectators lining the road, when the publicity caravan arrived, my children were inundated with gizmos flying through the air: mini packs of sweets, mini pens, mini baguettes, mini sausages; our picnic quickly lost its allure (for the children) to more exciting treats!  And such was the relaxed vibe that many gizmos falling near local residents’ feet, were brought over to our children with a welcoming smile.

Fast-forward two years and we were delighted that the Tour De France was coming to Britain.  We saw on television how the UK embraced the Tour’s Grand Départ in Yorkshire, with two million people turning up to watch the most-northerly stage in history!   Eagerly, we took the children along to Cambridge for stage 3 and fighting our way through the crowds, it immediately became apparent that we could not expect the same carefree French experience.    The crowd, in its thousands, was heaving, noisy and vibrant.  The unprecedented excitement was palpable in the air, but with constant jostling from the crowd, shouting reverberating through my ears and having my nose pressed into armpits (a drawback to being short!) whichever direction I turned, it was a completely different experience to France.  Impossible to not get caught up in the frantic excitement, yet with such a poor view of the actual event!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Whipping the crowd into even more of a frenzy, the publicity caravan made its debut; with its blaring music and many elaborately-crafted vehicles and dancing occupiers throwing gizmos into the crowd.   Watching  people – mostly adults – scrambling for the sparingly-issued (for a crowd of this size) freebies flying through the air, you would think the small packets contained French Champagne, or some exquisite French chocolate samples, rather than Bic biros or Haribo sweets!

Two weeks later, whilst holidaying in France, we decided we couldn’t miss the opportunity to watch stage 15 which was passing nearby.  Although not as quiet as our experience in the Midi-Pyrénées in 2012, this was still a more dignified, less frantic experience than in Cambridge.  Residents and holiday-makers watched the peloton, coffee in hand, from their café chairs or street-side, but pretty much everyone got a front row view if they wanted to!  The only erratic behaviour I witnessed in this laid-back environment was a man irresponsibly leaning into the peloton with his camera.   Seriously what was he thinking…!

Stage 15 TDF, 2014

Stage 15 TDF, 2014

Behind every smile

I feel my head bang against the stone floor; one time or repeatedly, I’m not sure.   In my dream-like state I am vaguely aware of my hands, and maybe my arms, shaking. And as a strange male voice creeps into my conscience – asking if I am okay – things gradually start clicking into place.  Disoriented I sit up and it slowly dawns upon me that I have just fainted and my front tooth possibly broke my fall, as it hurts like hell!

They say that behind every smile lies a story and this is mine; the most difficult and deferred post I have written.  For as long as I can remember I have had low blood pressure: feeling dizzy and having to lie down after a hot bath or sauna, eschewing the temptation of a bubbly hot tub and experiencing momentary blackness if I stand up suddenly. But it was okay, it was manageable.

Now that certainty has been thrown into disarray as I am no longer sure my low blood pressure has always caused my dizzy spells: in the past year and a half, I discovered I have ectopic heartbeats (an irregular heart rhythm).  News that was freshly and inconveniently delivered as my husband embarked on a four-month deployment overseas.  I threw myself into filling the lonely months ahead with an endlessly busy diary; anything to stop wandering thoughts about a dicky ticker!  I tried not to dwell [too much] on who would get the children ready for school, how I would get them to school, who would help with their homework and cook their dinners and who would look after me, if I experienced bad dizzy days whilst he was away.

Four months later my husband returned and I had thankfully only experienced one dizzy – yet perfectly manageable – day.  Interestingly, this was the day after he left, so in all likelihood it was caused by stress.  Many hospital appointments and tests later – 24 and 48-hour heartrate monitors, two echocardiograms, countless ECGs and one hour-long MRI  -and I am a patient at a specialist hospital and on the waiting list for catheter ablation.  Thankfully, it can be cured; through the wonders of modern technology I can have catheters inserted to zapp away the offending electrical impulse.  But should I; would you?

You see on the one hand I have been assured that my heart is perfectly healthy and that I can (unless having a dizzy day) carry on as normal.  I am very active: I spin, I cycle, I hoop and sometimes I even jump rope!  And in one a half years I have only had two bad episodes; both flu-related.  But on the other hand my recent faint was a bit of a turning point, my volte-face: when an operation suddenly didn’t seem so implausible.  After four days of worsening-dizziness, I reached a stage where I couldn’t walk more than a few paces.  It was debilitating and terrifying.

Hopefully the faint was a one-off, I suspect caused by the flu jab, as the only other time I have had bad dizzy spells was a year before, in the days leading up to the flu.  But a nagging doubt wonders if the dizzy episodes are worsening. I know that I don’t want my first thought every morning to be wondering whether it is a dizzy day or not.  I don’t want to worry about re-discovering the unforgiving stone floor every time I come up from bending down to retrieve my children’s dirty laundry, or unloading the dishwasher.  But, like most, the procedure is not without risks.  And so behind my smile is a furrowed brow as I weigh up the pros and cons of an-almost impossible decision.

I would love to hear from you.  Maybe you have had catheter ablation and felt it was the best thing you ever did.  Or maybe you decided to not risk tinkering with your heart and plough on without?

The cyclist’s The Birds!

Try to picture Tippi Hedren, in this image from Hitchcock’s, The Birds, on her bicycle and you’ll get a flavour of the momentary terror I felt on todays bike ride!220px-The_Birds_original_poster

Turning a corner on my bike, I encountered what seemed like hundreds of swooping and soaring birds ahead of me.  Flocking around a huge dome of freshly-dug potatoes, the birds were highly-vocal and erratic in their flying and I silently praised the protection of my helmet.

Gathering my thoughts quickly,  I wondered whether to ring my bell to attempt to clear my path, or try to pass unnoticed. Cowardly, or sensibly, I am undecided; I opted for the latter and although many scattered in different directions at my sudden appearance, I managed to miss any bird collisions and resumed normal breathing after a few metres!

The rest of the bike ride shook off the cobwebs from a week’s work, with the promise of spring in the air: a rather pleasant 12˚c, the sun breaking through the clouds and a not-too-bad 15 mph wind!

Approach with caution!

Approach with caution!

Me and my mini cooper

four-door-mini-cooper-convertible-of-mini-cooper-s-convertible-photo-styleI love my mini cooper!  Ever since I passed my driving test, nearly twenty years ago, I have yearned for a mini cooper.  I would walk past mini’s idly wondering which colour I would, hopefully, one day choose: classy cream with black highlights, elegant black with girly pink accents, or classic racing green? And my long-held dream was fulfilled nearly two years ago, when at last I sat behind the wheel of a convertible mini – a perfect fit I should add – and drove it home.

So you can imagine how this recent statement – foolishly uttered from my husband – went down:

Now that I am working in the same town we live, we only need one car, so you can sell your mini…..

I stared at him agog!  Incredulous! Astounded! Why would my lovely compact mini have to go?  Surely the cumbersome family car would be more-easily forgotten!  For crikes sake my mini is in my son’s I spy Cool Cars book!

A few days later, he went back to work and I put the house on the market.  A family home somewhere far from his work should do the trick…!

Never come between a girl and her mini cooper!


Gone with the wind: cycling insanity!

I questioned my cycling sanity today as I found myself having to adopt the tuck position time and time again to brace against forceful 21 mph gusts of wind.   Before I had even met Petra, my cycling partner, I could hear and see the lamp-posts clanging and wobbling in the gales; silently threatening to come crashing down!unnamed

So why would any sane person leave the comfort of their warm home to venture out on their bike in nine degrees celsius, when they can clearly see the trees and bushes swaying vigorously from their window? Because it was a beautiful sunny day with  a – rare for this time of year – blue sky!  It had to be done!  Leaving the Sunday traffic of the town behind us, we fought against the double potency of the drag of large vehicles combining with gutsy wind, through the first village.  But then, turning a corner, the blasts of wind came across and behind us and it was all worthwhile: blue skies as far as the eye could see with sunshine promising spring around the corner, to re-awaken this somewhat barren winter landscape!

Smiling through the gusting 21 mph wind!

Smiling through the gusting 21 mph wind!

Winter landscape

Winter landscape