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Very, very simple guide to the Tour de France

July 17th, 2012 No comments

This is a public service for persons like myself who enjoy the beau paysage, the castles, the scenery, the quaint villages – oh, and all those amazing athletes in their pretty colours zooming along for 3,000 kilometres…


On the final rest day, I took a breather from watching those lithe bums en masse and the adorable scenery of la belle France, and attempted to work out what the hell is going on.

What is it?

The Tour de France is a very-big-deal cycling race that is held every summer, late June-July.

In France, yeah?

Mostly. They often dip into Spain and Italy because it’s Europe, man, there are countries wherever you look. One year they somehow or other included Ireland and have been to old enemy Angleterre three times – 1974, 1994 and 2007.

Cycling? Pedal-pushers?

It’s men only, for the same reasons (as far as I can make out) that the gentlemen’s singles at Wimbledon is men only: they’re goddam stronger than us, girls.


There are about  200, and these guys are part-man, part machine. They have to cycle a couple of hundred kilometres every day for three weeks, with just two rest days. They are professional cyclists, sponsored by big companies like Sky, which is in pole position this year. And they’re all in their twenties and thirties – the oldest guy to win, ever, was 36.


This is the really tricky bit. I have been surfing net for simple cycling sites (alliteration!) and listening to my husband’s patient explanations for years, and I’m still pretty hazy. However, I think this is right:

  • The overall winner is the guy who completes the course in the shortest time. He gets to ride through the last bit, the climax ride through Paris
  • The yellow jersey is given, each day, I am told! to the guy who has done the course in the quickest time at that stage. So it is cumulative – on day three, if Pierre Vitesse zooms through the 140 km in an hour, he will still not be the winner unless his times for the three days are still the lowest in the competition. The jersey winner gets to wear it all the next day. Isn’t that cute!
  • There is also a king of the mountains, who does the best time in the hilly bits (some of which are savage – think of cycling up the side of the new Shard building in London). This guy gets the spotted jersey.
  • There is also a junior winner, the best time under 25, who gets the white jersey (le maillot blanc – everything sounds better in French.)
  • There is also a green jersey, for the person who gets the most points for various speedy and good things done. Bit boring so that’s all you need to know.

Team Tactics

When you’re watching, you often wonder about the bunching of guys in the same team colours, and why their star rider is tucked away. It’s all strategy: like chess on bicycles, moving people here so they can advance somewhere else brilliant later. I don’t concern myself with this too much as I am admiring the chateaux – and the derrieres.

The Peloton

 This is the mass of riders – kind of like the lumpen proletariat of the Tour, only they are all aristocrats. There is a breakaway group of small speedsters, then the peloton. I don’t think they have a word for the laggards at the back – les aussi-courants?

 Most Famous T de F winner

For the general public it’s Lance Armstrong, the American who incredibly came back from having testicular cancer to win the Tour SEVEN TIMES (1999 to 2005). Unfortunately, his name has been linked with illegal drug use more recently. Some people do say that it would be impossible to ride the T de F without using some extraordinary substance, ie, it’s not actually humanly possible. It sure ain’t for ordinary mortals.

Big names

This year a British man, Bradley Wiggins, is looking good, riding for the Sky team. Early favorite Cadel Evans, the Aussie who won it last year, is beginning to catch up after a slowish start which wasn’t helped by some so-and-so throwing a packet of tacks all over the course.

This year’s finish

Will be on Sunday July 29, in Paris. This is the finishing-line cycle, and not as exciting to watch as the earlier days when they are sweating up mountains or gliding through beautiful villages.

And the money?

Fancy leaving this out the first time I uploaded! The total prize pool is around €2 million euros, and everyone gets something, even if only €400. The winner gets around half a million which they earn in blood, really. Again, the prize allocation stuff is complicated so here’s a link from some Kiwi experts

I would be very grateful if anyone cares to correct this very simple guide, written to help my own understanding, and with the thought that there are other vague-ohs out there like me. Thanks to John Sills, who helped me out with the yellow jersey! John is also omniscient – and passionate (seriously, correct use of word) – about pop music. He is at

In fact the Wikipedia entry is pretty good but too detailed if you don’t want to do a thesis on competitive cycling.

The official site is too much head-in-the-spokes for me – but there are pictures of the jerseys.

And here’s an interesting piece on the diet and general superhumanity of the Tour de France riders, from my friends at The Conversation website in Melbourne, Australia.

PS If anyone wants to read a pleasingly surreal account of man actually merging his atoms with that of a bicycle, there is the work of Irish genius Flann O’Brien, and The Third Policeman (although I don’t think the Tour de France ever gets a mention in this 1940s novel). 

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Can’t beat the rustle of the newspaper, the smell of the coffee, weekend morning

July 16th, 2012 No comments

Just ruminatin’…

MY local gym has many simple pleasures, including dim lighting (no glare on the guilty flab), friendly instructors, and compact TV screens wired up to the running machines. But best of all are the newspapers, arrayed in the old-fashioned way on wooden sticks, available for a good read on the comfy sofas in the little-used sitting room.

I usually pop in for a quick flick through The Irish Times – only for five, maybe 10 minutes. And it’s struck me how valuable this scanning session is for finding out what is going on in the society, and what’s coming up (or I missed). And yes, I am too poor to spend the couple of euro every day.

Yet I spend much of my day reading news or written studies of one sort or another, principally on screen.

The sensory ease and facility with which we flick through a newspaper is something that is being lost in the rush to digital. Personally, I think the digital move is inevitable and unstoppable. But I do believe – hope? – that there will be a remnant of written news material in the future. Perhaps this will take the same form as high-quality editions of hardbacks. Some people are prepared to pay for quality binding, good paper, intelligently-chosen fonts, and an appealing cover design. So there might be a parallel in news product, of newspapers surviving in printed form and with high-quality content and design.  Market forces will decide.

In the meantime, I get a happy warm feeling from the flick through the paper. This activity is like a bird flying from branch to branch, alighting where it sees something of interest or a tasty morsel. I’ll see an article by a favourite columnist, some surprising news from overseas, or a report of an upcoming conference I want to attend.

Somehow, this effect is not replicated on the internet. Surfing never quite did it., perhaps because those virtual waves can carry you too far from where you started.  Try to check out what play is on at the local theatre, and you could end up deep in a words-and-graphics explantion of fracking. It’s all information, Jim, but not as we used to know it.

News websites do their very best to show the ‘visitor’ the riches of the offerings they hold, a mouse click or two away. Hence we have the busy-busy-busy format of the successful sites such as the Huffington Post and Loads of headlines, taster paragraphs, some pictures, a barrage of voices and stories. But this can be too much at once (although admittedly those sites are the big successes in terms of page visitors). But do those page visitors walk away from the computer feeling they have checked out what’s happening in the world today, and that their trusted news provider has given them a fair summary?

Hail of hyperlinks and all, I don’t really think so.


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Let’s not have a debate – let’s DO something about the media!

May 1st, 2012 No comments

Angela suggests that the cliche ‘we need a healthy debate’ should go the way of the News of the World


‘What we need is a proper debate about the media.’ ‘We need a debate about all these issues.’ Boy, am I sick of hearing and reading that. The get-out clause of politicians seems to have leaked into the discourse of the dissenters and complainers, yet they should avoid this phrase like the plague.

The latest instance is in the surprisingly strong judgment of the Murdochs by the House of Commons Select Committee which heard their evidence on phone hacking and associated sins last summer. The ‘not a fit person to run a media company’ was adopted, apparently, at the urging of Tom Watson MP. Watson, a doughty campaigner who has his own history of pain with News International, has used stronger language for the Austral-American media moguls in the past, and not always well-advisedly. Watson calls News Corp ‘the Mafia’

However, the ‘not fit’ quote was not embraced with enthusiasm by half the committee, five out of 11. Surprisingly or not, depending on your degree of cynicism, the split went along party lines. The five dissenters are Tories, featuring the lovely novelist Louise Mensch. ‘We all felt that was wildly outside the scope of the select committee and was an improper attempt to influence Ofcom,’ Ms Mensch was quoted in the noticeably benign story about the report in Murdoch’s flagship paper in his homeland, The Australian. News Ltd story on the report (Australian)

But still. Today, it is as if someone has pointed up into the sky at night, at the white circular luminous object hanging there, and said “The moon!” The love (or hatred) that dare not speak its name has indeed been named. ‘Not a proper person’ – as I observed on Twitter, the wording has been used in the past about moguls Maxwell and Al-Fayed. Were you under the impression that Rupert Murdoch and co were running all those news organisations out of a desire to make the world a better place? Surely, the old guy loves newspapers, and I cannot fault him for that. I love newspapers, even as I prepare to wave newsprint goodbye from the stage of history. But balanced with love of the print, the sound of the presses – even the lining of the canary’s cage the next day – newspapers, as the press, have to play a central and responsible role in informing citizens about the world around them. This is the role of the media in democracies.

Murdoch senior’s well-judged performance at the Leveson inquiry – far better than the befuddled apologist of the cream-pie attack last summer – showed the flinty charm that has helped him forge a massive business empire. It also revealed a little more of the ruthlessness with which News Corp can treat those who stray from the party line..

But it didn’t indicate someone who was prepared to accept a responsible role in democratic societies – despite the risibly guileless contentions about his insouciance in the face of government changes, and his sunny lack of interest in how power shifts affect the commercial interests of his newspapers.

So…let’s not have a debate that goes on and on and all the windbags wave their bellows around about the media. Let’s get the Leveson report and insist that the Cameron government do something about limiting the power of media owners.

What? Well, maybe we can have a debate about that (only kidding).

Thanks to the Guardian, and other generous sharers, here’s the link to the full report of the Committee:

Commons Report on Murdochs and Phone Hacking

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Growth is on the agenda for women in business

April 20th, 2012 No comments

IRELAND has a hugely popular radio show with the catchline “Talk to Joe”, during which people phone up the host to complain about injustices in their lives. But after just one conversation with Paula Fitzsimons, it’s evident that businesswomen in search of a more positive and empowering experience should talk to Paula.

“The power of role models for women – personal context and contacts – is true in spades,” she declares. “It gives other women the permission to do the same.”

Paula heads Going for Growth, an initiative to develop businesses run by women.  Its menu includes mentoring, information and advice sessions, and practical how-to talks and seminars from successful role models. In various forms, it has been going for about four years and now enjoys government support and the endorsement of the national business development agency, Enterprise Ireland.

And its eyes are on the world.

Read more…

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Babel policy can be counter-productive

April 3rd, 2012 No comments

Angela considers the pros and cons of the comment-rich internet

Who guards the guardian?

Or maybe, The Guardian?

Is it ‘whimsicaleye’, who recently wrote….. ‘It’s time to smash the state.
Summer of Discontent 2012
F*** the olympics.
F*** the c**** jubilee’.

There, loud and proud, on the Guardian’s justly famed website with around 38 million unique users a month. Good stuff, eh?
Over at The Irish Times, are people reading it online for the humour of Frank McNally’s Irishman’s Diary, the polymathic brilliance of Fintan O’Toole, or the robust interventions of his well-behaved interlocutors? On, comments generally appear after Comment pieces, rather than any old bit of news on sites such as

The issue of who is providing journalistic content has gone well beyond the concept of the ‘citizen journalist’. This is the brave, public-spirited individual who reports on events, meetings, injustices, without the benefits of pay or professional training. They then post their accounts of what’s going on for the benefit of all.
But as well as the CJs, there’s a multitude of commentators, aggregators, and responders, who append their comments to news stories on websites. Some also blog and put across their view of the world – whether well-founded or not it’s often impossible to tell.
In last Saturday’s Irish Times newspaper, contributor Stephen O’Byrnes raised the issue of what you might call ‘user-generated content’, and how it should be handled. Here’s a sample…
‘Offering engagement and accessibility to Seán and Mary Citizen
is all well and good (“do keep your texts and tweets rolling in”),
but too often this is becoming a platform for political soreheads
of every hue.’

Although (as I said on Twitter) there was a whiff of elitism in O’Byrnes’ argument, he did raise a point of decision and discussion for ‘big media’ platforms. To what extent do you allow your product – which all news platforms are, if they want to make money – to go open-slather? Over the past five years there has been a mounting enthusiasm, or anxiety, among publishers and broadcasters for using and publicizing the reactions and comments of the audience. (Yes, even audience is a bit of a dirty word now, suggesting the ‘us and them’ structure of the old days of ‘gatekeeper’ journalism, when news was the sacred possession of the narrow and self-elected journalist class.) Read more…

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