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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Quevilly's footballing fairy tale

Quevilly are on a roll at the moment here in France.

Don't worry if you've never heard of them, neither had most French sports fans until recently.

The amateur football team from the suburbs of the northern city of Rouen are through to the semi-finals of the Coupe de France (French cup) and that means just 90 minutes away from a possible appearance in the final at the Stade de France on May 1.

Their run in this year's competition is the sort of stuff from a Boy's Own annual and one that's surely guaranteed to warm the proverbial cockles of the heart of even those least interested in the beautiful game (cynics notwithstanding) let alone its fans.

In these days of multi-millionaire players and astronomical transfer deals US Quevilly, or Union Sportive Quevillaise, to give them their full name, are proving that the grass roots game is still very much alive and kicking.

On Tuesday the team, which plays in the French fourth division, became only the third amateur side in the history of the Coupe de France to make it through to the semi-finals of the competition.

And they did it in style, trouncing a top-flight club, Boulogne-sur-Mer, 3-1 in the process.

"We played well and we deserved to win," team coach Régis Brouard told French television.

"We scored three goals and made most of the play," he added.

"There's not really a lot more to say."

It was a game, which in the words of the Quevilly midfielder Fabrice Buchon, left the impression that, "Boulogne were the amateur side and Quevilly the from the top league."

But it was far from being the first time that the team nicknamed Le Canaris has provided an upset in this year's competition.

In both the previous rounds they knocked out higher ranked opposition; Angers (division 2) and Rennes (division 1).

All of which now means that the side is one the verge of making it through to the finals.

For that dream to come true though they'll have to make it past the Big Boys as all three of the other sides still left in the Cup are first division teams; Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco and Lens.

They'll find out in Sunday's draw who their opponents will be.

Perhaps understandably the club founded in 1902 hardly has a glowing past when it comes to Cup history. Quevilly last played in the semi-finals in 1968 when they lost to Bordeaux.

And you have to go back all the way to 1927 for their one and only appearance in the final, eventually losing to Marseille.

After Tuesday's win though, the president of the club, Michel Mallet, is confident that his players won't be overwhelmed by what they've already achieved.

"What has been interesting in the competition is that after each match the players haven't become bigheaded," he said.

"Anyway if they did, they know I would be there to bring them down to earth," he continued.

"Tonight we've not only won a match but also written a page in our club history and everyone (here) will now talk about the 'team of 2010' in the hope that we'll manage to repeat the exploits of the side from 1927," he added.

"Getting as far as the Stade de France? Well the dream is a little closer to becoming reality after last night."

Le bonheur du président de Quevilly
envoyé par Europe1fr. - Regardez plus de vidéo de sport et de sports extrêmes.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

More than just a tale of "Camel sits on grandmother"

Or even "crushes woman".

When a child's life is thought to be in danger some people don't think twice about trying to protect them no matter what the consequences might be.

Such was the case of a woman in France last weekend who saved her grandson from possibly being crushed by a camel belonging to a visiting circus.

Although the report that appeared in the regional newspaper, Le Dauphiné libéré, might have at first sight raised a smile in that it read along the lines of "Camel sits on grandmother", the injuries the woman sustained were far from being a laughing matter.

And perhaps it's a story that more accurately serves to show the prevailing instinct there is within all of us to protect the most vulnerable.

The incident happened in the Alpine French town of Thyez, which was playing host to a visiting circus.

And as is often the case here in France, when not performing, the animals were kept in an area where families could come during the day and see them up close.

That was exactly the treat the child's grandparents had in mind when they took him along to see the animals, among them a camel who they thought was correctly tethered and presented no danger.

"The three of us were walking along hand in hand about 15-20 metres away from the animals," the woman's husband told Le Dauphiné libéré.

"We thought that was a reasonable distance," he continued

But as things turned out they were mistaken.

Because the rope acting as a tether was longer than they had thought.

The little boy tripped just as the camel approached them and the woman, fearing that her grandson could end up being crushed, put herself between the advancing animal and the toddler to protect him.

That was when the camel stumbled and ended up sitting on the woman, who was still shielding her grandchild.

"She screamed at me to tell me that the child was underneath her and I just had enough time to pull him out," her husband said.

While the child survived the incident without a scratch, his grandmother wasn't so lucky and was taken to hospital with broken bones, fractured ribs and a dislocated hip.

A lucky escape for the grandchild and a painful end for the woman, but not a reason to lodge a formal complaint against the circus as far as her husband was concerned.

"It would only harm the reputation of all circuses," he said.

"That's not what I want and it would only mean that they would stop coming to towns such as ours and the children wouldn't be able to see the animals," he continued.

"But the animals certainly need to be kept on a shorter tether and temporary enclosures built so that there's no danger of them charging or breaking loose."

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A French crematorium's last minute bill for an overweight coffin

Imagine how you would feel if, just before the cremation of your nearest and dearest, you were asked by the company carrying out the ceremony to pay an additional fee because the total weight of the casket and the deceased was heavier than you had initially told them.

That's exactly what happened last week in France to the family of Michel Fontalirand.

Image Wikipedia Creative Commons
Onderwijsgek ({{Afbeelding Onderwijsgek| |omschrijving=Urnenmuur op Begraafplaats Rijnhof te Woerden. |datum=01-07-2007 |auteur=Onderwijsgek }} {{cc-by-sa-2.5-nl}})

Moments before he was due to be cremated at the Montussan crematorium five kilometres from the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Fontalirand's family was asked to stump up a surcharge because the weight of the coffin and body combined was more than had been originally registered with the undertakers.

"When I arrived at the crematorium, I was told there was a slight problem," explained Chantal Correia who had been the family member charged with the responsibility of organising her brother-in-law's funeral arrangements.

"I was informed that Michel actually weighed 25 kgs more than the 120 kgs I had registered when he died, and that the crematorium would have to charge €830 rather than the €565 originally quoted for the cremation," she added.

The news certainly came as a surprise to Correia, who had wrongly assumed that her brother-in-law had lost weight during the final weeks of his life when he was in a coma.

Instead the former amateur rugby player and self-acclaimed bon vivant who, while alive, had ordinarily weighed in at a portly 125 kgs (275 lbs) for 1.70 metres (five feet six inches) had put on an extra 25 kgs.

A fact the undertakers should have picked up on, according to Georges Virgo, the director of the company that runs the Montussan crematorium.

"We specialise in cremating 'corpulent' people and it's the responsibility of the undertakers to ensure that they do their job properly and explain everything to the family," he said.

"Getting the weight right is an important cost factor in our business," he said.

"And last year our furnaces broke down twice because of mistakes made (in registering the weight)," he continued.

"Each time it happened it cost us €150,000," he added.

Crématorium de Montussan -Crématoriums Montussan 33450 Gironde - kewego

Now you might be thinking that his rather hard-nosed business response was hardly the most delicate way of dealing with the extra weight problem on the day, and while it might have been upsetting to Fontalirand's family, they didn't feel in a position to react in any other way than to pay the surcharge.

But as Correia admitted, her brother-in-law would probably have seen the funnier side of events at his cremation.

"He enjoyed his food and loved a joke or two," she said.

"He didn't want flowers or wreaths or any fuss made when he died, just a coffin, to be cremated and basta," she added.

"If he had imagined that we would end up paying a surcharge for his 'extra weight' he would probably have smiled and said, 'I should have gone on a diet before dying'."

Monday, 22 March 2010

McDonald's withdraws blasphemous Happy Meal

Hamburgers and religion have proven to be a less-than-tasty combination here in France recently although they've certainly been making the news.

After the French fast food chain Quick sparked a row which took on political dimensions following its decision in November last year to take non-halal products and pork off the menu in eight of its 350 branches, McDonald's has found itself the target of criticism.

And at the centre of the controversy has been its Happy Meal for children, which has upset a Catholic priest in the southwestern département of Tarn, led him to call for a local boycott of the fast food giant and brought about a swift reaction and an apology from McDonald's itself.

It's not actually the food as such that has upset Xavier Cormary, the priest in the town of Saint-Suplice, although there are certainly those who would question its nutritional value and place within this country's cuisine. But that's quite another issue.

Instead it was the booklet that accompanied each meal and which contained a number of games and puzzles, one of which he and some of his parishioners found "bordering on the blasphemous".

The game in question shows a design, taken from the popular cartoon series and books for children, Kid Paddle, in which readers have to try to break a code to discover what a bishop is saying as he addresses a couple about to be married.

Harmless enough in the simple description perhaps, except the bishop, who along with the couple is drawn in the form of a misshapen potato, is holding a crucifix depicting Jesus as a frog, and his words, once the code is deciphered read, ""Do you accept to take Suzanne, here present, for dinner?"

Father Comary was incensed when he was made aware of the puzzle at the end of February and, being more than a little Internet-savvy, wrote exactly what he thought about it on his blog.

"Once again, the Christian faith is ridiculed," he wrote. "Marriage is violated, the bishop is mocked, and the crucifix is represented in a form that is offensive to beliefs that are at the heart of our Christian faith."

The 37-year-old didn't stop there though.

He called on parishioners to boycott branches of the fast food chain in the nearby towns of Gaillac and Lavaur, wrote directly to McDonald's France management and the publishers of the game and the original comic books.

And all to good effect it would appear, because according the local newspaper, La Dépêche, not only has he received an apology, but the booklet containing the game that had "caused offence" has been withdrawn.

Nathalie Febvre from McDonald's France customer services reportedly sent an email to the priest earlier this month in which she stressed there had been "no wish in any way to offend the sensibilities of its customers," and that "McDonald's would no longer be distributing Kid Paddle at its restaurants."

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Raffles hotel - the tale of the overdone egg and the uncooked burger

Now you're probably thinking that as this is a travel piece it'll be a rapturous review of what is probably one of the most famous names in luxury hotels in the world - Raffles in Singapore.

Well it's not.

"Been there, done that" so to speak, and if you're interested in taking time out to join me in a quick visit I made last year to Number One Beach Road, then you're more than welcome.


Instead this is purely anecdotal in illustrating how some tourists (mis)behave when abroad, with the focus being on those from my adopted home - France - and the country from which I hail, Britain.

And "the action", as such, took place as I made a return visit to Raffles just last week and featured two exchanges between guests and staff that left me with eyes agog, ears a-flapping and a fair measure of embarrassment.

The setting: it's mid morning around the rooftop pool and I'm recovering from a 13-hour trip, slouched over a cool drink in 32 degrees Celsius.

First up the French, who after all have a reputation for being among the most unwelcome when on holiday abroad as a survey of hoteliers carried out on behalf of the Internet travel agency illustrated last year.

"I want some eggs," said a woman in heavily accented and gutteral English to the barman.

"Certainly madam. How would you like them?" came the smiling response. "Poached, eggs benedict, as an omelette or scrambled perhaps?"

"No none of those," replied the woman. "Just simple...How you say?"

"Boiled?" came the helpful suggestion.

"Yes boiled - three my-newts (French pronunciation remember). One for me and one for my friend."

"Very good madam. And would you like anything else with your eggs?"

"Just toast and some tea," she replied. "Earl Grey for both of us."

"Certainly madam. Just to recap then that's two boiled eggs, toast and Earl Grey tea?"

"Yes. That takes how long?"

"About 10 minutes," came the reply.

"No longer than that," snapped the woman in response. "We're hungry".

Um. Do you notice anything missing?

You know, the simple words "please" and "thank you" that most of us are taught from an early age help jolly along a simple request and aren't exactly difficult to remember.

It was a point I made to my "Nearest and Dearest" (N 'n' D, who happens to be French) as I smugly maintained that what we had just overheard was evidence enough that the French abroad have appalling manners and that their reputation as "arrogant and rude" holidaymakers was more than deserved.

As if to add weight to my argument, when the eggs arrived and had been downed there came the complaint that they had "Obviously been boiled for more than three my-newts as they were almost hard."

There was clearly no pleasing the woman.

But I was to eat humble pie somewhat a few moments later when a fellow Brit proved that he could be even more obnoxious when it suited.

It happened when he requested that local speciality, burger and fries "With no trimmings such as onions, tomatoes, cheese or any other similar muck, just some meat and a roll please."

"Well at least the man had had the good grace, if not the taste, to round off the whole 'order' with a 'please'," I mouthed across the table to my N 'n' D.

But my sense of smugness quickly disappeared when the burger arrived, as it was far from being to the man's satisfaction because "It's raw," he insisted. "Inedible (he actually said uneatable but I'll let that one slide) and I wanted it medium to well done."

The manager was called for. The man repeated his complaint that his burger hadn't been cooked as he had requested, and he went to great (and noisy) lengths to demonstrate that - as far as he was concerned - it was not just under but completely uncooked.

"Look at that," he said to the manager.

"Does that look as though it has been medium to well done?" he continued.

"No it doesn't," he said emphatically, not pausing for breath and pointing at the barman.

"He clearly doesn't understand what 'medium to well done' means. This burger isn't cooked properly and I can't eat it."

Apologies were made by the manager on the barman's behalf and the irate Brit was told that the kitchen would be asked to cook another burger "exactly as requested."

Sadly when burger number two arrived, it didn't meet the demands of the guest either, and as his grievance levels rose a couple of decibels so his manners deteriorated accordingly before he swore at the staff, accused them of not being able to understand a simple request and stormed off in a huff - burgerless.

Within the space of half an hour the hotel staff had been subjected to some pretty appalling behaviour by my fellow Europeans.

Was it, I wondered, simply that some people didn't know how to behave and as it costs a pretty penny or two to stay at Raffles, did that mean some guests thought they could afford to be downright rude?

And did the hotel's principle of pampering visitors and responding to their every whim and caprice encourage guests to give free rein to the very worst sort of behaviour.

I didn't, and still don't, have the answer, but one thing is clear. That old adage "travel broadens the mind" certainly doesn't apply to everyone.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

New Year in Bali - the sound of silence

Happy New Year!

Yes you've read correctly.

Even though Tuesday is just another working day for most of us, for the people of Bali it's Nyepi Day or the "Day of Silence" which this year falls on March 16.

While most countries around the world welcome in the beginning of a new year with celebrations (and all too often those regrettable hangovers) the folk on this Indonesian island take the whole affair much more sedately and, as the name suggests, mark it in silence.

It's proceeded by an evening which provides a stark contrast of the day that is to follow with Nyepi ushered in by a carnival-like atmosphere as the local people proudly parade giant effigies or Ogoh-ogoh figures made especially for the occasion.

They represent "evil spirits" and their purpose is to purify the "natural environment of any spiritual pollutants emitted from the activities of living beings" - including man.

And after being paraded around towns and villages they're burnt as a symbol of self purification.

But on the following day this normally bustling island of just over three-and-a-half million takes on a totally different character.

There are none of those haphazardly driven scooters or cars on the streets. There's no entertainment of any sort even though the Balinese are known for their love of gamelan music and processions.

Shops, markets, bars and restaurants are closed as is the airport in the capital Denpasar.

The traditional terraced rice paddies remain untended, televisions and radios are turned off and the only sound you're likely to hear is ...well...silence - and perhaps the barking of the island's large dog population.

In short, Bali closes down for the day as the mainly Hindu population remains at home for a period of self reflection and fasting.

All of which might all be a little disconcerting for unsuspecting holidaymakers expecting to be able to top up their tans but to no avail. The beaches are closed and tourists are more or less confined to their hotels for the day.

But in taking time out to reflect not only on themselves but also their place in the "wider scheme of things" for a whole day, the Balinese are surely setting an example from which we could perhaps all learn a little something.

So from the island of Bali, "Happy Nyepi".

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Yeboah - a French lover in London

French men have something of a reputation - deserved or not - when it comes to "ardour and amour".

Whether they actually live up to it is, of course, open to debate.

But what of their male counterparts in the rest of the animal kingdom?

Can they turn on the charm when necessary? And does it work with the women?

Perhaps - no strike that - probably not a question you've really thought about.

But if the antics of one particular French ape and the attention he has received from three females at London Zoo are to be believed, then there might - just might - be something to it.

The ape in question is 12-year-old Yeboah, a gorilla who arrived in London from La Boissière du Doré zoo in western France last December.

Described as a "stud", Yeboah was shipped across the Channel to keep a bevvy of beauties (gorilla-cally-speaking) company after the death of their silverback mate "Bobby" back in 2008.

And the 127-kilogramme hunk certainly seems to have hit it off with all three; the more mature 35-year-old Zaire, the 16-year-old Effie and the slightly younger 11-year-old Mjukuu known as "Jookie".

Mind you perhaps it should come as no surprise.

You see when "les girls" learnt last summer that Yeboah would shortly be joining them, they apparently went "ape", "bananas" or whichever awful pun you wish to choose (and most of them seem to have been well and truly used).

They were given posters of their new beau several months before he made the trip across the Channel, and while one reportedly "shrieked in delight" and another "hid it in a tree", the third took matters a step further (too far?) and ate the thing!

Ah the path of true love...or lust.
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