Monday, December 10, 2012

Jarnac Cycling Club (Velo Club de Jarnac)

Following my post about integrating into the local community I thought it would be good to share my experience of joining the local cycling club.  If you're only interested in property related posts then turn away now.

Regular readers will know that I had a kind of epiphany before my 50th birthday last year and decided to get fitter and undertake a bit of a bike ride.  Getting up from the couch felt great and I have tried to stay active and keep cycling ever since.

I don't want to mislead you....I've never been particularly sporting and you don't shed thirty years of inactivity overnight.  I'm not going to be entering races but I do fancy riding regularly so I have joined Les Poissons Rouge which is the name of the Jarnac cycling club.

Bizarrely, there is no entry fee, nor annual subscription.  You do however need to pay €50 pa for your licence & insurances and you need a doctors certificate to say that you're in reasonable shape.  You're also encouraged to purchase some items of team kit so that the team looks good when out on a club ride.

It's a friendly club with an excellent local reputation.  There are around 60 members and the Patron is a professional cyclist called Lloyd Mondory who rides for AG2R.  He's from the area and his parents are members - each year he'll come back for a ride or two and I'm particularly looking forward to sharing the peloton with a guy who rides the Tour de France each year.

This week-end I went out for my first ever group ride which was quite a nerve racking experience.  I had no idea how fast they would go or what the etiquette is for riding in a bunch.  Would I be dropped after 500 metres and left to turn around and trudge home by myself?  Unlikely as my father-in-law (who devoted all of 2011 getting me up the Col du Tourmalet) was there too but he takes these rides seriously and you never know!

We met in Jarnac town centre, opposite the imposing Courvoisier chateau.  There were about twenty people there and they're a friendly bunch.  It was sunny & mild so I was bare-legged with no wind jacket.....this caused a mixture of hilarity & consternation as everyone else was wrapped up like polar explorers.  I was also the only person who didn't have a drop handlebar road bike (I ride a Boardman Hybrid Comp as I find it more comfortable and didn't need a second mortgage to buy it) but no-one seemed to give two hoots.

Off we went and it took me twenty minutes or so to get used to the hand gestures and general movement in a group.  Wind resistance is much reduced and you ride 20-30% faster than when on your own.

We cycled for around two and a half hours and the truth is that it was a breeze.  I struggled up the hills because I'm big & heavy but I didn't get dropped and I loved every minute.  I didn't time it but suspect we were averaging around 28-30 kmh and people were chatting throughout.

Whether you are contemplating expat life or are an established expat already I'd heartily recommend joining a club like this and I wish I'd done it sooner. You don't need to be ultra fit either, my friend Paddy joined Jarnac chess team as soon as he arrived here and was soon jetting all over Poitou Charentes for club matches.

As we were riding round, one of the regulars said he liked the fact that my father-in-law and I give the club an international flavour and that they have a Spanish chap join them from June each year.

Wonder if his name is Alberto something......

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Dismal failure of the Norman Tebbitt "cricket test"

I took my youngest through to Cognac last night for one of her bi-weekly gym practice sessions.

If there's a competition she's proud to wear the club colours but last night had a leotard with a sparkly union flag on the front.

It got me thinking back to 1990 and the infamous "cricket test" suggested by the Tory MP Norman Tebbitt.  He said that those immigrants who root for their native countries rather than the England cricket team lacked loyalty to their new country.

He'd have a fit at some of the things the Downie family get up to but I'd argue strongly that we have integrated well and are a positive force in both local and national life.

Let's start with the "well integrated" bit:
  • we all speak the language (albeit in my case with a horrible accent & plenty of mistakes in my conjugation). Indeed, both daughters are within the top 5% of their class in French.
  • we pay our taxes - 19.6% TVA on all our sales, income tax, professional tax, taxe d'habitation, taxe fonciere and, of course, the huge social charges to pay for the famously good healthcare, schooling et al.
  • we do our bit for the community. Whether it's being a member of the PTA, taking the local school children on field trips or simply frequenting the local bars and restaurants. My proudest moments in France have been when the girls have been chosen to read out the names of fallen soldiers at memorial services.
  • every year we help out with the grape picking at our mates vineyard. It's been in his family for generations and it's the highlight of the year.
  • we have oodles of other friends locally.  We go to them for dinner or they come to us.  We stopped being "La Famille Anglaise" years ago and are now simply "Les Downies".
Now for the bit that would make Mr Tebbitt choke on his fish & chips:
  • I read L'Equipe every day but it's the only French paper I like.  For news other than sport I'll go online to the Guardian, Telegraph or London Standard.
  • The only French TV we watch nowadays is the weather and the football on Canal Plus.
  • I'm joining the local Jarnac cycling club.  I'll happily wear the club kit on our Saturday club runs but the rest of the week I'll be in my Team Sky jerseys.  This July I'll be cheering on Wiggins & Froome not Thomas Voeckler & Pierre Rolland.
  • During the 6 nations I'll invite my French friends round as usual.  But they'll have to enter through a swathe of Union Flags and drink pints of English beer....strangely this never seems to be a problem for them.  They give it to me in spades if France win and they get it back if Les Rosbifs triumph.
I suspect you get my point.  France is my second favourite rugby team, Bordeaux are my second favourite football team and if a Brit doesn't win Le Tour then I hope a french cyclist does.

I don't think that makes me disloyal to France, I just think it makes me loyal to the country of my birth. 

That's as far as I'd got before the gym session ended and it was time to head home for supper.

French onion soup :-)