Sunday, July 08, 2007

Le Tour de south London suburbia

It's 12: 50pm French time, and along with tens of millions in Europe and elsewhere, I have been watching the first stage of the so-called Tour de France.

But as everyone knows, it has made a rare return to British roads -a signal honour, one would think, especially given the recent blow to French pride re the awarding to London of the 2012 Olympics.

So you might have expected some care with the choice of route, to make it a treat for cyclists and TV viewers alike. I knew it was to end at Canterbury, a well-deserved favourite with French cross-channel day-trippers.

I also knew that the route is to take in a lengthy stretch of delectable Kent countryside, so-called Garden of England. But for the last 45 minutes I have seen nothing but unprepossessing south London suburb, with overpasses, long drab sections, industrial estates, power station chimneys.

London's delightful Thames Estuary, looking south from the Dartford Crossing towards route of Tour de France from Greenwich to Canterbury

The helicopter camera then lingered over the Dartford Crossing aka Queen Elizabeth Bridge, as desolate a stretch of Thames Estuary as one can imagine (see above), with that cheapo cable stayed-suspension bridge, with adjacent fuel storage tanks.

Which cretinous individual was responsible for choosing Greenwich (in itself a atmospheric place) as the starting point, ensuring that first 45 minutes at least of the route was the non-descript underbelly of London, tens of miles of urban sprawl ?

Why do we as a nation persistently squander these rare opportunities to show the world the stunning nature of our countryside. So what purpose was served by inflicting our built- up suburbia on the Tour de France, when we have a glorious Green Belt around our capital city ? We take the latter for granted , but it is something that has no counterpart in many less fortunate nations. Go to Belgium and you'll see interminable stretches that are neither suburb nor countryside, but something midway between the two. Do I detect the hand of Mayor Ken Livingstone in the decision to ensure that swathes of Labour voter-territory were the first thing the world would see for mile after grinding mile?

It's now 13:03, over an hour since the start, and my wife downstairs is saying that the scenery has improved marginally, with alternating shots of the good (eg church towers, greenery, castle on the river bank) but intermixed with yet more boring suburbia.

One wonders how many foreign viewers have switched off by now, suddenly realizing , if they did not already, why it is that so many of us Brits who prefer the built environment to country life choose to live abroad.
Ken Livingstone is apparently making plans for another "Tour d'Angleterre et France". After today, I'm minded to think the Tour organizers will not be rushing to return to Britain, a nation with no proper and fitting sense of occasion, one that is content to fob off Johnny Foreigner with second-best.

This is the same country that is spending billions to salvage, sorry, reinstate, industrial wasteland as the site for the 2012 Olympics. There are times UK plc makes me feel physically sick.

Back now to the TV, hoping to see real English countryside.
PS I did finally get some glimpses of glorious Kent (oast houses , Leeds Castle etc) but there were competing spectacles on this amazing UK sporting weekend, needless to say, from the F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone and the Wimbledon finals.
Tour de France ? Most of the action was in the final sprint finish. That's why the scenery is so important - watching the same peleton threading its way through country lanes can get ever so slightly eye-glazing if one's not an aficionado.

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