And two fingers of whisky - How to avoid a mother-in-law - CycleBlaze

And two fingers of whisky

Look at this picture... read the story about the gendarme on his motorbike... then pick up the twist to the tale at the end
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I solved the four euros problem by having another cup of tea at a café just before Barbotan. French bar-owners don't mind your eating your own food on the premises but I decided instead to ride to a grassy area a bit further on and sit there and munch baguette and jam. Barbotan is a village of natural thermal springs and the sort of place you come to when you feel sure you've got something wrong with you but you can't decide what, which is a feeling familiar to many cyclists who have ridden an hour longer than they ought to have done.

I was just on my second munch when along came a lovely man with silver hair combed in Einstein style, or maybe uncombed in Einstein style. He was wearing carpet slippers and a fawn sweater with a pig embroidered on it. If you think Paris fashions reflect what the everyday man and woman in the streets of France wears, you are wide of the mark, I fear.

He didn't ask me if I was on my bike.

"I'm 85," he said.

I told him he looked fine on it, adding in my usual slimy fashion that I'd have taken him for ten years younger.

"Used to be," he said.

"Used to be what?"

"I used to be ten years younger," he said, as though it was obvious and I was a fool for asking.

"What? Ten years ago, that sort of time ago?" I asked.

He nodded, desperate to keep a smile from his lips. He told me he was taking the waters. The doctors had told him to go out every morning for a 2km walk.

"Makes me feel better each day," he said. I said I wished I could always feel the same way about cycle-touring.

"Are you going far?" he said.

Labastide d'Armagnac: the cyclists' chapel is a couple of kilometres to the east
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If you ever come this way, it's worth taking a detour to Labastide d'Armagnac. There, a couple of kilometres outside the village and set back from the road is the Notre Dame des Cyclistes. It's a church full of old bikes and jerseys and magazines. Even the stained glass windows, made by a retired French champion called Henry Anglade, are of cycling scenes.

I'd never heard of it before, a decade or so ago, I rode through a red light while I was touring. I realised a moment too late that I had made a mistake. Because there on the diagonally opposite side of the junction was a great bullfrog of a gendarme on his motorbike.

There is only one thing to do in these circumstances and that is to get out your map. What you do is unfold it and hold it up in front of your face as though the junction has puzzled you and you are seeking the way. But of course, as anyone knows, if you hold out your map that way you can't see the policeman and therefore he can't see you.

I was just congratulating myself on the cleverness of this manoeuvre when I heard him start his motorbike. And when I lowered the map, the motorbike and Gendarme Bullfrog were right in front of me.It is a French tic that folk don't smile when they meet you, especially if you meet under formal circumstances. It doesn't mean anything and in fact it's a sign of polite respect, French genes insisting that grinning at strangers is to take them for nitwits. So the gendarme didn't smile. And to my own Anglo-Saxon genes that meant Trouble.

"Bonjour, monsieur."

"Bonjour, monsieur l'agent."

I waited for him to decide the direction of the conversation.

"Vous avez brulé le feu", I thought he was going to say.

What he actually said was: "Are you looking for a pretty way to ride because I come from round here and I know a lot of them." I was astonished. Even more so when he said that motorcycling was just work for him but what he actually liked was cycle-touring. That was all the more astonishing when I looked at his not-made-for-mountains dimensions.

He took my map, spread it on the tank of his BMW, then pointed out pretty roads, bridges by Eiffel and finally the Notre Dame des Cyclistes.And when he'd done all that he said: "And you know my philosophy of cycle-touring?"

I said I didn't but I'd love to hear it.

"To me," he said, "the essence of cycle-touring is a good hotel, a good meal and two fingers of whisky." He held out two fingers to make sure that I understood what he meant by two fingers. Their thickness suggested a more generous measure than I'd have got with mine.

Since living here, I've been back to that village several times in the hope of seeing my policeman again. But gendarmes aren't really policemen. They're soldiers, part of the army, and they get posted all over the country. Right now, outside Lille or in the Alsace or somewhere in Brittany, he's probably looking out for cycle-tourists in the hope of saying "...and two fingers of whisky."

THE TWIST TO THE TALE: I have told the story of the cycling gendarme many times. Eight years after it happened, and six years after I'd moved to France, I told it to the president of the bike club with which I ride. "Mais oui," he said, "c'est Jean-Claude."

My Laughing Policeman, it turned out, was one of my clubmates. We hadn't recognised each other.

"Vous avez brulé le feu..." To find you've been pulled up by a traffic cop who turns out to be a cyclist is enough to turn a man to prayer.
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