Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Summer of Sport (Part 3)

"If it's outside Yorkshire, it's not worth bloody visiting." (Captain Boycott on Hale and Pace's Yorkshire Airlines sketch)

I suspect there won't be many times where I will be "telly and travelling" simultaneously. That I will be where I am watching, and watch where I am being. But thanks to Yorkshire's successful bid to win "Le Grand Départ" of the Tour de France, this is exactly what I managed to do on Sunday 6th July 2014.

Unforecast good weather made Yorkshire look nothing short of amazing on both opening stages of the Tour. The welcome given to the cyclists - joyful, uproarious hysteria as opposed to the gruff 'ey-up some may have been expecting - was possibly unprecedented on its opening leg abroad. Thousands of people lined the entire route, no matter how remote the cyclists were.

The atmosphere around our local York community has been fantastic for weeks. I have already shown you some pictures of our local shopping parade and yarn-bombed park. The streams of bunting continued to fly. The shopping parade, renamed "Bishy Rue" in honour of the occasion, won a Yorkshire Post award for the best-dressed neighbourhood. Even the semi-derelict Terry's chocolate factory clock tower up the road acquired a maillot jaune ready for the big day.

As we had my aunt staying, on Saturday night we were able to make the most of a Tour de France beer festival at the local pubs down the road. No French beer, mind, just Yorkshire brews with funny names. Mostly "On Yer Bike". Our favourites (in taste) were Salamander's "King of the Mountain" and Yorkshire Dales Brewery's  "Butter Tubs". For there's nowt so grand as t'Dales.
Yorkshire cuisine

A giant Fruit Shoot

Race day itself didn't disappoint. We were trapped here anyway, as all surrounding roads were closed and parking suspended. So you would have been churlish not to simply embrace and enjoy what was happening. All we had to do was walk fifty metres to the end of our street, and there was the race route. Or parade route, technically, since the cyclists didn't start racing properly until they were nearly at the Poppleton Road roundabout on the A59. (Miraculous how they managed to get the roundabout resurfaced on time, since a week ago it was still a mess of roadworks that had been there for months.)

First through came the famous caravan, with its pumping music and crazy floats topped with giant Fruit Shoots and packets of oven chips (or "performance enhancing substances" as they are known in Yorkshire), throwing freebies to the crowd and adding substantially to our daughter's keyring collection. Then there were a lot of gendarmes on motorbikes and sponsors' cars. Team Sky drove a nice Jag. Finally, after an hour's break and a flypast by a Spitfire and a Lancaster bomber, at last - whoosh! - came and went the bikes, 200 cyclists (minus injured Mark Cavendish) crammed into an impossibly small road surface area. The crowd went wild. And then there was just a smidgeon of anti-climax as you realised that after months of build-up, it was all over. In seconds.
Spitfire and Lancaster Bomber

Lots of men's bottoms clad in Lycra
Except it wasn't. We could then go and watch the remaining 200 kilometres of the gruelling race to Sheffield on t'telly. We dashed back so we could see the peloton circling York city centre, with the Minster as its backdrop. Annoyingly, ITV switched to an ad break as soon as the cyclists hit pretty Bootham, so they could be back broadcasting in time for the actual race start. The inconsiderate nature of commercial television towards us residents. Not that the commentators had much of interest to say when they were on air. They may have been reasonably briefed on the nuances of Le Tour (of this I have little knowledge myself so could hardly hold them to account), but they certainly knew bugger all about Yorkshire. They were clearly relying on some badly researched patronising flashcards, handed over one by one, and there had been no pronunciation training or accuracy checking. Harewood House or Harwood House? Haworth or Harworth? "Apparently it's quite nice walking country up here."  "They call these hills fells." "I think there is a song about wearing a hat on Ilkley Moor, isn't there?" and (going past Newby Hall): "Ah, look, it's Castle Howard." It's only when you are blessed with a bit of local knowledge that you realise just how full of crap television can be.

Local news coverage of course made the effort to explore what was going on throughout the whole county, but in the build-up to the race, most national news journalists sent up from London barely left the media hub outside Leeds station. A couple of cameramen and reporters wandered the few yards over to City Square where someone had stuck a yellow jersey on the Black Prince statue, but so much was left unshown to the world by them. Until race day, when they had no choice. Between the ad breaks, anyway.

Anyway, back in York, for more company we then went to our local park, which was meant to be a spectator hub, only someone had forgotten to deliver the giant screens. Probably because they had heard that the organisers were planning to show Sing-along-a-Grease instead of the cycling. (I bet you think I'm joking.) But there were at least some extortionate fairground rides for our children to go on instead.

So we quickly headed on to the wonderful street party down on Bishy Rue, which was deservedly crowded and all a bit much for our tired-out daughter. But as the perfect end to a perfect day, I managed to win second prize in the street party raffle - £200 in vouchers for local Bishy Rue shops, businesses and eateries. For me, Le Tour can live on a little while longer.

And my televisual highlight? Well, it would be impossible to choose from the footage of the crowds or the stunning Yorkshire scenery (as long as the commentary was switched off). I could plump for local hero Johnny Hayes, formerly of Pextons and now chair of the Bishy Road Traders Association (and we all thought he'd retired!), being interviewed (dressed as a Frenchman) on BBC Breakfast about the Bishy Rue street party. But instead I will go for Harry Gration (Look North presenter, York resident and pantomime cameo regular, who said our street party was one of his personal highlights) kissing Gary Verity (chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire) on both cheeks, French style, to say "Merci beaucoup" for bringing us the Tour de France. Now that does deserve an Ooh là là or two.

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