I’ve just go back from a couple of weeks in France and, I have to admit, those Frenchies certainly have a couple of good ideas. I’m not talking about stuff like French fries – we don’t believe that chips were their idea – they are probably Belgium’s only culinary claim to fame. And anyway, that’s not what the French call chips, they call them pommes frites. Nor am I talking about food in general, although I don’t think it’s a bad idea to have a country that’s covered wall-to-wall with vineyards. Okay, so the French do know a thing or two about wine, and cheese, a food in general.
But let’s get away from gastronomy and look at life in general. There’s the Tour de France, undisputably (in this household) the pinnacle in bicycle racing, if not the ultimate sporting spectacle in the world. But still, that’s not really what I’m talking about, when I’m talking about good ideas. It’s more about how they live, how they treat one another, and especially how they treat their cyclists.
The French, in spite of driving on the wrong side of the road (or the right side, as the rest of Europe would claim), have a great respect for cyclists. If they see a cyclist in the road ahead they don’t hoot and drive as close as possible to the poor victim. No, they slow down, indicate to fellow drivers that they are pulling out, and give the feller on two wheels a wide berth. And just in case Johnny Foreigner (a Brit, in this case) forgets what they should do, the French also have signs like this one, which advise how much space motorists should allow for the velocipedist. In fact, quite a few countries have similar signs, but not the United Kingdom. No, here there are no similar signs because no one is prepared to say just how much space we should give to cyclists.
The Highway Code suggests simply that the driver gives the cyclist plenty of room when passing. “Plenty of room” gives a lot of room for argument. A recent Transport Research Laboratory study found that, on average, drivers left a gap of 1.18m, significantly less than the French requirement. But that 1.18m gap is an even more significant when compared with a similar survey in 1979, when drivers left 1.79m. I suppose cars are so much bigger now than in 1979, while roads (and cyclists) are still the same size. You could argue that the drivers of modern cars don’t have the space to leave such a large gap, but the corollary argument is that, because so many vehicles are so much bigger, they should leave an even greater margin for error. Especially when you think that any error could be fatal.
That’s all that I wanted to say, really, even though there are probably lots more great ideas that the French have had. Oh yes, I can’t forget the other wonderfully bright idea that I came across – the cappuccino dessert that I had in a restaurant in Castres, near Toulouse.
This delight consisted of a small tiramisu, panna cotta, crème brûlée, espresso and a dollop of cream – the perfect get-up-and-go-out-and-party-all-night-after-a-long-day’s-ride kind of dessert. Oh, alright, I admit that it was an Italian restaurant. But the dessert was put together by a French chef.