Waving to the Queen and at concrete cows - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

Waving to the Queen and at concrete cows

SO WHAT I'm thinking of doing is setting off from here to ride up to St-Malo, which is a tourist port halfway along the north coast. The ferry runs one way at night and the other way by day. I shall have all of eight daylight hours to enjoy what I imagine Brittany Ferries wonder if they dare call a "cruise".

Years ago, Brittany Ferries took the Tour de France to Britain for the first time. Trade barriers were coming down in Europe and farmers on the north-west peninsula wanted to sell artichokes in England. They got tired of hauling them up to the Channel at Calais or paying what they saw as outrageous prices to use ports nearer home. So they bought a ship and started their own ferry company.

Shipping artichokes wasn't going to pay for it. They needed passengers as well. And for that they needed to make a splash. It was already tricky enough that they were sailing not to anywhere near London but to the far western port of Plymouth. But if people knew, then at least they could decide.

That was when the Tour de France was fading fast and desperate for any money it could get. When the farmers came up with a plan to ship riders and all the commotion of the Tour to Plymouth, where the locals would hold a stage of the race for the publicity it would get them, the Tour took the money and to heck with the inconvenience.

It was a catastrophe. The best course they could find in England was an unopened bypass outside the city. The riders resented being there and rode up and down all day in a sullen mob. The publicity caravan stayed home in France and drank pastis and wine until sanity returned. The expected crowds didn't turn up. Those who did went home disappointed. Next day the Daily Mirror had the headline TOUR DE FRANCE: CAN 40 MILLION FRENCHMEN BE WRONG?

The experiment wasn't repeated for decades.

Anyway, that's the way I'll go, although Brittany Ferries now sails to Portsmouth as well, which is a lot more convenient. From there, I'll ride north to skirt round the west of London and wave to the Queen as I pass Windsor Castle. I normally stay with her when I'm in England but we have agreed that I won't be dressed for the occasion this time and so I'll be camping instead.

After two or three days I'll get to Mike and Geneviève's house in Milton Keynes, a place that became comically famous for the concrete cows that roadbuilders installed at junctions to compensate for all the farming land they had swallowed. And then next morning we'll set off on our Great Adventure. Mike wrote yesterday to say he'd ridden 65km with a stop for coffee and a croissant and he's rightly feeling proud ofhimself. This, after all, is a man who hasn't owned a bike for 40 years.

He said he started feeling wobbly after 50km. We have since discussed the wisdom of eating and drinking. It is something we all discover in time.

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